Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White - Vol. 1

By Andrew Dickson White | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
THE CIVIL WAR PERIOD -- 1857-1864

A RRIVING at the University of Michigan in October, 1857, I threw myself into my new work most heartily. Though I felt deeply the importance of the questions then before the country, it seemed to me that the only way in which I could contribute anything to their solution was in aiding to train up a new race of young men who should understand our own time and its problems in the light of history.

It was not difficult to point out many things in the past that had an important bearing upon the present, and my main work in this line was done in my lecture-room. I made no attempts to proselyte any of my hearers to either political party, my main aim being then, as it has been through my life, when dealing with students and the public at large, to set my audience or my readers at thinking, and to give them fruitful historical subjects to think upon. Among these subjects especially brought out in dealing with the middle ages, was the origin, growth, and decline of feudalism, and especially of the serf system, and of municipal liberties as connected with it. This, of course, had a general bearing upon the important problem we had to solve in the United States during the second half of that century.

In my lectures on modern history, and especially on the Reformation period, and the events which led to the French Revolution, there were various things throwing light upon our own problems, which served my purpose of arousing thought. My audiences were large and attentive, and I have never, in the whole course of my life,

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