Southern conservatives are experiencing difficulty dealing with government's role in America, historian Eugene D. Genovese told an audience of 60 in Emerson Hall yesterday.
Genovese's speech, "Political and Constitutional Principles," was the second of three in the William E. Massey Sr. Lecture series. This year's lecture series is titled, "The Southern Tradition: What is Living and What is Dead in American Conservatism."
The logic of the Southern conservative movement calls minimal government and for a return to traditional values, which government would have to play a large role in instituting, Genovese said.
Southern conservatives placed great faith in the Reagan Administration but were ultimately disappointed by both the Reagan and Bush years because they felt the change both presidents represented did not go far enough, he said.
Genovese discussed the long history of conservatism in the South and pointed out distinctions between Northern and Southern conservatism during the time of slavery.
"The slaveholders of the South and the commercial bourgeois of the North represented two types of conservatism," Genovese said. "They couldn't come together because of their differing conceptions of property and competing visions of the good life."
Northerners opposed to slavery cited it as a factor in the fall of the Roman republic, while Southerners said the decline of slavery led to the decline of empire, he said.
"But ultimately, the major issues were settled on the field of battle," Genovese said.
Genovese also spoke about broader issues relating to democracy in general. "Any government genuinely based on consent must rest on a system of private property," he said.
Genovese, who was a professor of history at the University of Rochester from 1969 to 1990, has written seven books on American history, focusing on the era of slavery.
The speech was sponsored by the Program in the History of American Civilization.