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Was the Civil War a Second American Revolution?

Jack Hays

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This is a question that has been debated ever since the guns fell silent in 1865. Here's a distinguished historian's commentary.


Democracy and Nobility

Was the Civil War a second American Revolution?
BY ALLEN C. GUELZO

Americans love revolutions. Our national identity began with a revolution, and a revolutionary war that lasted for eight years; and we cheer on other people’s revolutions, as though we find satisfaction in multiplying our own. “I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing & as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical,” wrote Thomas Jefferson. “No country should be long without one.” An excited James Garfield, in his maiden speech in the House of Representatives in 1864, asked whether his colleagues “forget that the Union had its origin in revolution.” Ralph Waldo Emerson thought of revolution as the authentic instinct of humanity. “Wherever a man comes, there comes revolution,” he said in his Harvard Divinity School address of 1838. “The old is for slaves.”

WELL.v20-17.2015.01.05-12.Guelzo.jpg
Lincoln’s Drive Through Richmond
Dennis Malone Carter (1866)

But sometimes our enthusiasm for revolutions blinds us to what is, and what is not, genuinely revolutionary. The English geologist and traveler George Featherstonhaugh took the temperature of American revolutionary fervor and dismissed it as mere patriotic puff, designed only to “stimulate that national vanity and self-sufficiency which are often so conspicuous in young countries, and to cherish in his fellow-citizens that inflated feeling of superiority over other nations.” So let us be clear about what a revolution is: A revolution is an overturning, a reversal of polarity, a radical discontinuity with what has gone before. It means, as the sociologist Jeff Goodwin wrote, “not only mass mobilization and regime change, but also more or less rapid and fundamental social, economic and/or cultural change, during or soon after the struggle for state power.”. . . .
 

Glen Contrarian

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This is a question that has been debated ever since the guns fell silent in 1865. Here's a distinguished historian's commentary.


Democracy and Nobility

Was the Civil War a second American Revolution?
BY ALLEN C. GUELZO

Americans love revolutions. Our national identity began with a revolution, and a revolutionary war that lasted for eight years; and we cheer on other people’s revolutions, as though we find satisfaction in multiplying our own. “I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing & as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical,” wrote Thomas Jefferson. “No country should be long without one.” An excited James Garfield, in his maiden speech in the House of Representatives in 1864, asked whether his colleagues “forget that the Union had its origin in revolution.” Ralph Waldo Emerson thought of revolution as the authentic instinct of humanity. “Wherever a man comes, there comes revolution,” he said in his Harvard Divinity School address of 1838. “The old is for slaves.”

WELL.v20-17.2015.01.05-12.Guelzo.jpg
Lincoln’s Drive Through Richmond
Dennis Malone Carter (1866)

But sometimes our enthusiasm for revolutions blinds us to what is, and what is not, genuinely revolutionary. The English geologist and traveler George Featherstonhaugh took the temperature of American revolutionary fervor and dismissed it as mere patriotic puff, designed only to “stimulate that national vanity and self-sufficiency which are often so conspicuous in young countries, and to cherish in his fellow-citizens that inflated feeling of superiority over other nations.” So let us be clear about what a revolution is: A revolution is an overturning, a reversal of polarity, a radical discontinuity with what has gone before. It means, as the sociologist Jeff Goodwin wrote, “not only mass mobilization and regime change, but also more or less rapid and fundamental social, economic and/or cultural change, during or soon after the struggle for state power.”. . . .

Generally speaking, the connotation of "revolution" is that of a revolt that succeeded...whereas a revolt that fails is generally referred to as a "rebellion".

I remember many times hearing my family and friends claim that the Civil War wasn't about slavery, but about economics. I wasn't really sure myself...until I read the first two paragraphs of Mississippi's Articles of Secession:

In the momentous step, which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.
 

Jack Hays

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Generally speaking, the connotation of "revolution" is that of a revolt that succeeded...whereas a revolt that fails is generally referred to as a "rebellion".

I remember many times hearing my family and friends claim that the Civil War wasn't about slavery, but about economics. I wasn't really sure myself...until I read the first two paragraphs of Mississippi's Articles of Secession:

In the momentous step, which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

Fair enough. The author's question refers to whether the North carried out a revolution.
 

Glen Contrarian

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Fair enough. The author's question refers to whether the North carried out a revolution.

I know my diatribe about MS's articles of secession didn't have much to do with the OP. It was just another one of my habitual rants about race that happen about once or twice a day...or sometimes per hour.... :doh
 

Jack Hays

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I know my diatribe about MS's articles of secession didn't have much to do with the OP. It was just another one of my habitual rants about race that happen about once or twice a day...or sometimes per hour.... :doh

Not a problem. You're among friends here.
 

apdst

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It was a revolution, as well as a war for independence.

In the words of General Jackson, in his speech to the Stonewall Brigade:


"...I hope by your future deeds and bearing you will be handed down to posterity as the First Brigade in our second War of Independence..."
 

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There was a difference of opinion about whether secession constituted a rebellion or not. Southern leaders didn't think so and thought that they had the right to leave the union. Lincoln and the North thought otherwise. That question was settled decisively. In retrospect we can all be glad about the outcome, which is the most prosperous, most just and least racist country the world has ever seen.
 

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Which side?

Lincoln violated the constitution; every person involved in the secession, formation or the CSA, and wared with the US are traitors. Every single CSA legislator and General should have been marched back to Montgomery and Hung by the neck until dead on the steps of the of the CSA capital building.
 

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There was a difference of opinion about whether secession constituted a rebellion or not. Southern leaders didn't think so and thought that they had the right to leave the union. Lincoln and the North thought otherwise. That question was settled decisively. In retrospect we can all be glad about the outcome, which is the most prosperous, most just and least racist country the world has ever seen.

Everyone debates whether "secession" is constitutional...that is up for debate. What is clear in the constitution, is that states did not...and do not... have the right to enter into a confederacy with each other.

Article I sec 10
No state shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; grant letters of marque and reprisal; coin money; emit bills of credit; make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts; pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts, or grant any title of nobility.

No state shall, without the consent of the Congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it's inspection laws: and the net produce of all duties and imposts, laid by any state on imports or exports, shall be for the use of the treasury of the United States; and all such laws shall be subject to the revision and control of the Congress.

No state shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any duty of tonnage, keep troops, or ships of war in time of peace, enter into any agreement or compact with another state, or with a foreign power, or engage in war, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent danger as will not admit of delay.
 

Jack Hays

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Lincoln violated the constitution; every person involved in the secession, formation or the CSA, and wared with the US are traitors. Every single CSA legislator and General should have been marched back to Montgomery and Hung by the neck until dead on the steps of the of the CSA capital building.

Hmmm. A bit extreme, don't you think?
 

apdst

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Lincoln violated the constitution; every person involved in the secession, formation or the CSA, and wared with the US are traitors. Every single CSA legislator and General should have been marched back to Montgomery and Hung by the neck until dead on the steps of the of the CSA capital building.

After a trial, of course...right?
 

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Lincoln violated the constitution

So what?

Technically, in every single case brought before the US Supreme Court, the claim is essentially that somebody violated the Constitution.

It is only when somebody is informed that they violated the Constitution and continued to do it anyways that we have a problem.
 

Gaius46

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Calling secession illegal and unconstitutional is really kind of silly considering that the revolutionary war was similarly illegal. As was, according to a number of people the drafting of the Constitution itself but that's another story.

Revolutions that fail are illegal, ones that succeed aren't.

The Civil War was a successful revolution in the respect that it completely overthrew the balance of power between the states and the Federal government that the Constitution originally put in place.
 

Oozlefinch

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Calling secession illegal and unconstitutional is really kind of silly considering that the revolutionary war was similarly illegal. As was, according to a number of people the drafting of the Constitution itself but that's another story.

Revolutions that fail are illegal, ones that succeed aren't.

The Civil War was a successful revolution in the respect that it completely overthrew the balance of power between the states and the Federal government that the Constitution originally put in place.

There are actually some rather large differences that can not be overlooked however.

In the colonies, great efforts were taken to try and resolve the issues peacefully though the legal system.

First you had each of the Colonies trying to work with their own assemblies and Royal Governors to address the issues. Specifically the Colony of Massachusetts had been having problems with England for over a century over the charter of the colony, as did most other English Colonies. Many times since King James II England tried to revoke these charters, which among their guarantees was self-rule and a say in how business was transacted with other colonies and countries.

Appeal after appeal, delegations and spokesmen and lawyers would go to England on behalf of the various colonies, only to be constantly logged down in red tape and ignored. It was only after almost 40 years of failure and the occupation of Boston and removal of all colonial rights that the First Continental Congress was assembled and eventually made the way for the Revolution to follow. In fact, the First Continental Congress and most of the Second Continental Congress were attempts to do all in their power to reconcile England with the Colonies, and remain what they were English subjects. It is only when England essentially declared war on Massachusetts that the Second Congress moved from reconciliation to separation.

In the case of the Civil War, you had almost none of this. Over and over the Congress and Supreme Court upheld the rights of property owners to own their slaves, even giving them the right to go into free states and reclaim them and return home with them (and even jailing anybody who tried to free slaves under property theft charges).

The simple fact is that the Southern States were not happy being restricted to their little area of the country, and wanted their institution to spread to more areas of the country. There is no example of the legal authority of the US restricting their rights, removing their rights, or even putting them under martial law and occupying them prior to the Civil War.

So looking at your claims objectively and with an eye on the history of both uprisings, it does not match.
 

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So what?

Technically, in every single case brought before the US Supreme Court, the claim is essentially that somebody violated the Constitution.

It is only when somebody is informed that they violated the Constitution and continued to do it anyways that we have a problem.

If you cherry pick and take my quotes out of context, your post are meaningless and irrelevant to me that's what.
 

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After a trial, of course...right?

More like a Military Courts-Martial which was the norm...as was hanging for treason. Unofficially declared martial law was most likely the norm in the South after the war until order was restored and reconstruction began.
 

apdst

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More like a Military Courts-Martial which was the norm...as was hanging for treason. Unofficially declared martial law was most likely the norm in the South after the war until order was restored and reconstruction began.

Executing the Southern leaders, especially Lee, Longstreet, Breckinridge et. all. would have ignited a guerilla war, that would have drug on for years. Lincoln knew that. He also knew he would need those Southern leaders to help put things back together.

Had he done as you believe he should have he would hung 18 former United States Congressmen, 4 former United States foreign ambassadors, 2 former United States district attornies, 1 former vice president, Zachary Taylor's son and Andrew Jackson's nephew, plus at least 3 veterans of San Jacinto, along with numerous state legislators, governers, attornies general, doctors, lawyers. 400, or so, men, in all. I'm fairly certain that Lincoln saw the mistake that that would have been.
 

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Executing the Southern leaders, especially Lee, Longstreet, Breckinridge et. all. would have ignited a guerilla war, that would have drug on for years. Lincoln knew that. He also knew he would need those Southern leaders to help put things back together.

Had he done as you believe he should have he would hung 18 former United States Congressmen, 4 former United States foreign ambassadors, 2 former United States district attornies, 1 former vice president, Zachary Taylor's son and Andrew Jackson's nephew, plus at least 3 veterans of San Jacinto, along with numerous state legislators, governers, attornies general, doctors, lawyers. 400, or so, men, in all. I'm fairly certain that Lincoln saw the mistake that that would have been.

Funny enough, a few years later it would be the Southerners who would want Longstreet hanged. Ah, the good old Lost Causers :roll:
 

apdst

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Funny enough, a few years later it would be the Southerners who would want Longstreet hanged. Ah, the good old Lost Causers :roll:

Yeah, Longstreet got a bum wrap.
 

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Executing the Southern leaders, especially Lee, Longstreet, Breckinridge et. all. would have ignited a guerilla war, that would have drug on for years. Lincoln knew that. He also knew he would need those Southern leaders to help put things back together.

Had he done as you believe he should have he would hung 18 former United States Congressmen, 4 former United States foreign ambassadors, 2 former United States district attornies, 1 former vice president, Zachary Taylor's son and Andrew Jackson's nephew, plus at least 3 veterans of San Jacinto, along with numerous state legislators, governers, attornies general, doctors, lawyers. 400, or so, men, in all. I'm fairly certain that Lincoln saw the mistake that that would have been.

You are arguing history with what I claimed should have happened. History happened for what ever host of reasons. My suggestion clearly did not.

Lets not compare the two.
 

apdst

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You are arguing history with what I claimed should have happened. History happened for what ever host of reasons. My suggestion clearly did not.

Lets not compare the two.

You believe history should have gone in another direction. I'm pointing out why I believe that direction would have been a mistake; probably more destructive to the country than the war itself.
 

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You believe history should have gone in another direction. I'm pointing out why I believe that direction would have been a mistake; probably more destructive to the country than the war itself.

That kind of response at the end of the war would have irrevocably separated the country in two internally, and the South would have always had to remain an "occupied territory" inside the United States.
 
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