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lincolnThe American Civil War—the “War Between the States”—is the central event in American history, around which much of the rest of American history circles. The American Revolution was the defining event for the nation, and historians have claimed that the revolution was not complete until the issue of slavery was settled. The Civil War did that, and much more. The Civil War redefined the relationship between the government and the people, and between the federal government and the states. For that and other valid reasons, it has been called “The Second American Revolution.”

William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It's not even past," and since his writing was mostly about the South, he was certainly referring to that part of the country. Certainly there are other areas of the United States where the past still lives: Boston's “Freedom Trail”; New York's Ellis Island; San Antonio's Alamo; along the Oregon Trail; Indian reservations; Baltimore's Fort McHenry; Independence Hall in Philadelphia; Angel Island in San Francisco; and so on. But nowhere outside the South does the past pervade the lives of its people almost every waking moment.

The history of the American Civil War is still being written. In one recent year over 700 titles on the Civil War appeared. An online book seller lists over 10,000 volumes relating to the Civil War. No end is in sight—nor need there be. For a nation founded on the principles of freedom and individual liberty, the Civil War is the nation's largest event. We see frequent reminders of the legacy of the Civil war and slavery, Their impact will probably remain for decades to come.

A wag once said that the real winner of the Civil War was the American Booksellers' Association. The figures above confirm that. No one could possibly devour in a lifetime all that has been written about the great conflict. Nor can any web site encompass all there is to know about the period. As person who was born and raised in the North but has lived most of his life in the South, I will try to bring a measure of clarity to the debate by trying to understand the issues as seen not just from both sides, but from many sides. Resources on the Civil War are manifold. Among the most popular historic sites visited by tourists are battlefield sites such as Gettysburg, Antietam, and Vicksburg. Numerous television dramas as well as documentaries have covered the Civil War. Popular films have sometimes glamorized the conflict, mixing fact with fiction as they laid out the tragedy of the Civil War. For many people, the world depicted in the famous 1939 film Gone With the Wind epitomizes an ideal that may never have existed except in the imagination of Margaret Mitchell, who wrote the novel on which the film was based. It will not be possible in the context of this section of the site to dig deep into the many ramifications of Civil War history. We will cover the essentials, or at least the basics, and the thousands of volumes available on all aspects of the war remain at your disposal.

Much of the controversary surrounding the Civil War has centered on the issue of its causes. Was it about economic conflicts between the North and South, states' rights, or slavery? For many who have grown up believing in one of those causes, no amount of discussion will change their minds. But certain facts are inescapable. In South Carolina's Ordinance of Secession, the framers complained that a number of northern states were violating the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. If so, those states, which were enumerated by South Carolina, were exercising their states' rights. In that sense, states' right was an issue, but South Carolina was not on the commonly argued side. Although the South's economy was based in cotton, northern merchants profited handsomely from the trade. One bit of evidence seems inescapable: if slavery had not existed, the Civil War would not have been fought. As Abraham Lincoln put it in his Second Inaugural Address, "All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war." Although in recent years that particular discussion has lessened, recent turmoil over the proper placement of Civil War monuments, and the naming of public buildings named for Civil War figures remains in the news. The story continues.


Background Sources



R.E. Lee
Sage Home The 1850s Drift Toward War Expansion and Manifest Destiny Updated December 3, 2022