Today marks the Sesquicentennial of the first shots of the Civil War when South Carolina secessionists fired on Fort Sumter. As a historian and quasi-Civil War buff, it seemed appropriate to spend a few minutes today writing on the “War of Northern Aggression” and look a bit at the parallels of 1860 that continue today.
This week, CNN’s John Blake reported “4 ways we’re still fighting the Civil War.” Historians interviewed came up with some obvious, yet interesting observations. They stated: “The shutdown of the federal government, war in Libya, the furor over the new health care law and Guantanamo Bay — all have tentacles that reach back to the Civil War.”
- The disappearance of the political center
- How much power should the federal government have?
- Unleashing the dogs of war
- The president as dictator
The Civil War has long been the subject of debate and intense American interest over the last century plus. Thousands of books have been written, revised, and rewritten. There has been so much written this past week in the lead up to the anniversary that I honestly can’t remember where I read it, but we apparently are still debating the casus belli. In an era of warfare that pit brother against brother, to the tune of 600,000 lives lost over four years, to not understand the causes of the war to this day is unimaginable. It’s also fair to say that whatever reason I would offer for the causes of the war will be argued by readers.
To say the war was not about slavery is just plain wrong. It was about slavery – just not in the South (or the North for that matter). America’s Manifest Destiny was in full force in the middle of the 19th century and the primary issue debated in Washington DC was would new states be allowed to join the Union as a Free State or Slave State. The Missouri Compromise of 1820, and subsequent compromises prior to the war, set the stage for secession, based on the status of new additions to the Union. When it was clear to the South that as new states would be “forced” to enter the Union as Free vice Slave States, it was clear that the South would be isolated, politically and economically.
Regardless of the causes of the War, let’s look forward for a moment instead of backward. Are CNN’s historians prescient? Are the conditions such today that all that is missing is a match to begin a Second Civil War?
While I certainly agree the hatred exists in this country at a vitriolic level on par with 1860 and that for all intents and purposes, the political center has vanished, the geographic dividing lines for an even split are impossible to discern.
If one were to simply look at presidential election maps for the last 50 or so years, you might believe that America is pretty well divided into separate political camps with “liberal” democrats holding sway in the Northeast and the West Coast, while conservative republicans dominate the South and Mountain West states – with swing states existing in the middle of the country.
For nearly 100 years after the Civil War, this political landscape was nearly reversed entirely. Republicans dominated the Northeast and Democrats ruled the South. It wasn’t until Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that Southern Democrats defected, becoming Republicans. Like Ronald Reagan said, he didn’t leave the Democrat party – the party left him…Career politicians like Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond were once proud Democrats until the Democrats endorsed Civil Rights. Then they became proud Republicans, returned to Washington by their same, once-Democrat, constituents.
|From 1992 to 2008, Red and Blue America has coexisted, varying primarily in intensity. CLICK the map to watch the changes.|
While America’s political demographic shifted, the real story is just how purple the country is. Yes, there are large swaths of beet red and centers of dark blue, especially around urban areas; however, the country is divided along ideological lines within counties, cities, towns, and neighborhoods. We are at a point of exasperation with one another and not sure how to even hold a general conversation amongst ourselves that might touch on politics for fear of offending one another or pissing the other person off. While that won’t cause a Civil War anytime soon it certainly loads the powder kegs together. I seriously hope a match isn’t anywhere nearby. The last match that tried to set it off was Oklahoma City where a disgruntled citizen tried to push back against overreaching Federal government, hijacked by “Jack-booted thugs,” was stomping the rights of its people.
Thanks to QuiltinLady21 for telling me to write this 🙂