Year of Eclipse Essay

October 22, 2017 March 26th, 2018 History

Louis Masur’s 1831: Year of Eclipse discusses several cardinal events in a polar twelvemonth in American history. utilizing that year’s much-vaunted but dissatisfactory solar occultation to border them. While the occultation is clearly the least of import event. its inclusion illustrates the disparities between modern-day thoughts of of import events and those that have digesting effects on history.

Masur chose the twelvemonth 1831 because it saw of import events and tendencies emerge that would. within a few decennaries. deeply and radically transform the United States: the Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia ; the outgrowth of extremist emancipationist William Lloyd Garrison and his newspaper. The Liberator ; the spread of Utopian Protestantism throughout the American backwoods. including the Oneida community and the Mormons ; the coming of railwaies. which helped transform the state into an industrial giant ; and Andrew Jackson’s controversial presidential term. which included the forced remotion of Native Americans from the Southeast.

( It besides included visits by several aliens. among them Alexis de Tocqueville. whose acute observations on antebellum America are still widely cited. ) Later in the 19th century. each event had reverberations for the state as a whole – the rise of abolitionism. the Civil War. and the Indian Wars – but. when they occurred. non all attracted the same attending as the occultation. The occultation on 12 February 1831 received considerable attending in the hebdomads before it occurred.

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Masur notes. some viewed the event with fright and apprehension. while others used the juncture to present pointed remarks on American society’s status ; he quotes one beginning: “If we would look for the marks of the displeasure of God toward a state. we can see them. non in occultations. but in national wickednesss and corruption of ethical motives. ” Of 1831’s of import events. two stand out as a related brace – the Nat Turner rebellion and the coming of Garrison and The Liberator. because they illustrated the tensenesss and divisions that finally brought the Civil War and slavery’s terminal. both the century’s most of import bequests.

The former. the nation’s largest and bloodiest slave rebellion. occurred six months after the occultation in rural Virginia and saw a literate slave preacher lead a set of fleeting slaves on a bloody violent disorder against their Masterss. Quoting a primary beginning. Masur remarks that. with this event. “Virginians knew they could ‘never be once more feel safe. ne’er once more be happy’” – at least non as slave owners.

The rebellion caused a national blare at the clip and reminded many Americans that bondage was an inhumane establishment. in which Masterss were rarely as sort or benevolent as they imagined and where slaves were ne’er content with their batch. It was besides a precursor of the monolithic force that extinguishing bondage would necessitate. Furthermore. as Masur suggests. it underscored “an insolvable tenseness at the nucleus of American civilization: whatever visual aspects might propose. world would turn out otherwise. ”

About every bit of import. and closely related in retrospect. is Garrison’s initiation of The Liberator. an sturdy emancipationist newspaper that reflected its creator’s unyielding. confrontational manner. Refusing to pacify or gently ground with the South on the topic of bondage. Garrison was so considered an flake on the periphery ; so. abolitionism was still considered an utmost thought. even among Garrison’s fellow Northerners. though it finally prevailed. Says Masur. “The job. thought most Southerners and Northerners. was a little but influential group of reformer rabble-rousers.

. . [ who ] fomented servile Resurrection. ” Possibly the least of import event is the occultation itself. which was unquestionably underwhelming and by no means the revelatory event some imagined ; as one modern-day perceiver claimed. “The darkness was that of a boom blast. ” However. one suspects that Masur used the event as a kind of straw adult male. exemplifying how modern-day events that many see notable frequently prove otherwise in the long historical position and lose their importance over clip.

It may besides be a convenient symbol for the at hand alterations that. in 1831. seemed less of import than they would turn out in hindsight ( except for Turner’s rebellion ) . If one were to take the least of import events among these. though. one may take the foreigners’ visits. since they did non themselves straight influence the way America would take for the remainder of the 19th century.

Though Britons James Boardman and Godfrey Vigne and Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville all recorded and published their penetrations for descendants. their impact would happen much later. Even so. though. their work was barely unimportant in American history. peculiarly that of de Tocqueville. who commented that bondage was the United States’ head job – which it had non yet begun to turn to ( but would. within a coevals. and the state would emerge from the great struggle indelibly changed ) .

In 1831. though. their presence was likely about unseeable compared to the other phenomena Masur describes. Besides. one might see the anti-Masonic motion unimportant. since few today are familiar with it. though even that had a permanent bequest by organizing portion of the political footing for what became the Republican Party. which finally included extremist emancipationists and waged the concluding conflicts against bondage.

1831: Year of Eclipse discusses a series of events and tendencies that emerged that twelvemonth but whose impact was non yet known. Masur’s concluding sentence. which returns to the occultation. talk merely every bit good for 1831 as a whole: “The twenty-four hours seemed cryptic. pregnant with significance ; its chromaticities would linger for a long clip to come.


Masur. Louis P. 1831: Year of Eclipse. New York: Hill and Wang. 2001.


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