Was the american civil war the second american revolution? Essay

The Civil War period has been hailed as the turning point of the American society and of molding the tolerant America evidenced today, redefining multiculturalism and racial relations. The importance of the Civil War cannot be understated. It represented a tumultuous era in the history of America, at a time when the very existence of the great nation was threatened and a disintegration of the union eminent. The American Civil War remains one of the most analyzed occurrences by scholars, its importance has been acknowledged and a number of historians have referred to it as the Second American Revolution. This emanates from what it entailed and the core issues at the centre of the conflict. Taking a look at the causes of the war, being the demands for liberty and states authority for the south and slavery abolishment by the northerners, the civil war indeed was the Second American Revolution.

A look at the American Revolution indicates that it was based on some key ideals. Americans were demanding for fair representation to justify their taxation. They were agitating for political reforms and removal of the economic hurdles that mitigates individual efforts. It revolved around “freedom, liberty and popular sovereignty that Americans were ready to defend with arms.”[1] The framers of the constitution captured these ideals believing that liberty and individual determination being demanded by Americans during the revolution had to be ingrained into the constitution. The right of the federal government viz a viz that of the state and of the American citizens was aptly outlined. The ideals of the revolution were formally put into the paper.[2] A look at the constitution indicates that the framers “proclaimed the freedom and independence of all men and declared that government originates from consent of the people and is instituted for the general good.”[3] Despite this profound proclamation, close to eight decades later, the union was on the brink of collapse and the ideals of the American Revolution were again being revisited. A portion of Americans were questioning the concept of individual liberty and the states’ rights[4]. It is this correlation to the ideals espoused during the American Revolution that prompts McPherson to refer to it as the second American Revolution[5]. Additionally, according to McPherson, taking a look at the civil war indicates that it revolved around the concept of individual freedom; it indicates how the ideals of liberty as provided by the constitution were being revisited and also the issue government’s authority over that of the states. The end of the civil war too reinvigorated the need to redefine liberties and embrace the inclusion of slaves into the economic and political mainstreams, through increased agitation for slavery abolition across America. [6]

Ransom refers to the civil war as the second American Revolution after analyzing its achievements and whether its successes resonated with Americans’ expectations. An analysis of commerce, economics and agriculture indicates that this war opened a floodgate of accomplishments and brought a new thinking to America. He refers to it as “a social war, ending in the unquestioned establishment of a new power in the government, making vast changes in the arrangement of classes, in the accumulation and distribution of wealth, in the cause of industrial development and in the constitution inherited from the fathers.”[7]

To understand the thinking of various scholars and the now popular reference of the Second American Revolution, it is important to provide a recap of the major causes of the civil war and its impact[8]. The major issue behind the civil war has been intensely debated by both historians and political analysts. There are those who maintain that it was a row over the states authority versus that of the federal government. This argument has it that southern states were aggrieved by the fact that the federal government was infringing on their rights as it lorded federal laws on them even when these laws were contrary to their states’ constitutions[9]. This was the reason behind the calls for nullification where the individual state would have the mandate to nullify federal acts that went parallel to their individual constitutional provisions. Others however believe that the civil war was caused by the standoff over slavery; all other grievances were enmeshed in this issue. Indeed the civil war was caused by slavery especially the insistence by the northerners to have it abolished and to admit the new territories as Free states rather than slave states as pushed by the south. The southern states’ economy literally depended on slaves who worked on the large plantations[10]. The North was however becoming urbanized and rapidly industrializing, slavery was no longer seen as a viable economic venture and was being blamed for the sluggard development in the South. It is this standoff and the non expansion stance by the federal government backed by the northerners that led to secession calls in the South and defensive calls by Abraham Lincoln.

Indeed the reference of the civil war as the second American Revolution cannot be complete without mentioning the contributions of Abraham Lincoln.[11] To Lincoln, the defiance demonstrated by the southern states and the calls for secession were not only a great test to his astuteness and decisiveness but were going against the very constitution he had vowed to defend. It was his prerogative to defend the unity of the union and as history has attested, like George Washington during the American Revolution, he was able to Marshall the troops towards achieving this cause[12].

The Civil War indeed had major impacts upon the lives of the Americans. America at the beginning of the war was on the verge of collapsing but by the end of the war it was transformed into a nation state. It also set the pace for reforms towards individual liberties and also racial relations. It laid down the foundations of abolishing slavery and through the reconstruction process that was initiated by Lincoln; the defiant southern states were brought into the political mainstream. Just as the American Revolution had produced a united nation, civil war cemented the unity and strengthened the bricks that glued the states together[13].

The American civil has been referred to as the Second American Revolution due to what it was able to accomplish. Before the war, America was divided and the secessionist calls by the confederate states were threatening its stability. The combined effort of the northern states under the command of Abraham Lincoln however was able to hold the shaky union together. The key issue behind the confrontation revolved around individual liberty of all individuals especially that of the slave and also the states authority allegedly being usurped by the federal governments. Like the American Revolution, the end of the civil war saw the unity of the nation affirmed and the threats of secession eliminated. America emerged from the conflict more united and new ground rules for racial integration and eradication of slavery were laid down. It is these achievements amongst others that confirm that indeed, the American civil war was the second American Revolution.

Bibliography

Conley  Patrick & Kaminski John. The Bill of Rights and the States: The Colonial and     Revolutionary Origins of American Liberties. Rowman & Littlefield, 1992

Turkington Grace  & Wyeth Newell .My Country: A Textbook in Civics and Patriotism   for Young Americans. Ginn and Company, University of California, 1918

Ransom Roger. Fact and Counterfact: The “Second American Revolution” Revisited;      Civil War History. Vol. 45, 1999.

McPherson James. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford University Press US, 1988.

McPherson James. Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution. Oxford         University Press, 1992, 35

Olmert Michael, Coffman Suzanne & Aron, Paul. Official Guide to Colonial        Williamsburg. Colonial Williamsburg, 2007

Milton David. Lincoln’s Spymaster: Thomas Haines Dudley and the Liverpool Network. Stackpole Books, 2003.

Snow Donald ; Drew Dennis. From Lexington to Desert Storm and beyond: war and    politics in the American experience. M.E. Sharpe, 2000.

Bassett John. A Short History of the United States. Macmillan, 1913.

Draper, John. History of the American Civil War. Harper, 1868,160

Garner, Roberta. Social Movements in America. Markham Pub. Co., 1972

Degler, Carl. Out of Our Past: The Forces that Shaped Modern America. Harper ; Row,           1984.

Wilson Reagan, Thomas James, Abadie Ann. The New Encyclopedia of Southern            Culture: History University of North Carolina Press, 2006

19

American Jewish Committee, Commentary. 1954

[1]Michael Olmert, Suzanne E Coffman, Paul Aron. Official Guide to Colonial Williamsburg. (Colonial Williamsburg, 2007) , 71

[2] Charles Reagan Wilson, James G. Thomas, Ann J. Abadie. The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: History. ( University of North Carolina Press, 2006),19

[3]Patrick T. Conley, John P. Kaminski. The Bill of Rights and the States: The Colonial and Revolutionary Origins of American Liberties. (Rowman ; Littlefield, 1992), 168

[4] American Jewish Committee, Commentary. 1954, 162

[5] James M. McPherson. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. (Oxford University Press US, 1988), 127

[6] Grace Alice Turkington, Newell Convers Wyeth .My Country: A Textbook in Civics and Patriotism for Young Americans. (Ginn and Company, University of California, 1918), 37

[7] Roger L. Ransom. Fact and Counterfact: The “Second American Revolution” Revisited; Civil War History. (Vol. 45, 1999), 1

[8] James M. McPherson. Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution. (Oxford University Press, 1992), 35

[9] Roberta Garner Social Movements in America. (Markham Pub. Co., 1972), 97

[10]Carl N. Degler. Out of Our Past: The Forces that Shaped Modern America. (Harper ; Row, 1984), 211

[11] David Hepburn Milton. Lincoln’s Spymaster: Thomas Haines Dudley and the Liverpool Network. (Stackpole Books, 2003), 1

[12] John William Draper. History of the American Civil War.( Harper, 1868),160

[13] John Spencer Bassett. A Short History of the United States. (Macmillan, 1913), 572