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Did the ACW destroy the Union?

Discussion in 'Civil War History - Secession and Politics' started by 1NCCAV, May 14, 2018.

  1. 1NCCAV

    1NCCAV Corporal

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    Professor James McPherson of Princeton University believes the American Civil War destroyed the Union (plural) and created The Union (singular):

    "The United States went to war in 1861 to preserve the Union; it emerged from the war in 1865 having created a nation. Before 1861 the two words "United States" were generally used as a plural noun: "the United States are a republic." After 1865 the United States became a singular noun."

    Complete essay: https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2010/spring/newnation.html

    Do you agree or not?
     
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  3. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Retired Moderator

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    IMHO Nationalism started by the Consitution, heated in the 1820-30s, forged in the violence of the Civil War reforged in the 1930s and still in process today.
     
  4. WJC

    WJC Moderator Moderator

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    Seems pretty accurate, although not groundbreaking. How many times over the years has someone said that before the rebellion we were "these United States" and afterward we were "the United States"?
     
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  5. CW Buff

    CW Buff First Sergeant

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    I agree that the ACW had a definite consolidating effect, and the emphasis changed from Union to Nation. But, I don’t believe such a change would not have occurred without the ACW. I see gradual movement in this direction over time from the beginning, with the ACW representing a giant leap forward in the process. The longer the Union remained unified, the stronger the bonds of union became, the more the concept of one nation over multiple states gains traction. Talk of nullification and secession, in one form or another, were common at first, and declined over time, with one exception. The longer state and nation were embodied in one country, the more the perception changes. American exceptionalism was already in place as of the ACW. But sans ACW, I don’t see the country not reaching the same point eventually, particularly by the close of WWII. Even the Framers referred to the Constitution as “the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence.”
     
  6. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Retired Moderator

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    IMHO nationalism expanded because it solved problems that compact theory or States Rights could not solve including Secession.
     
  7. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    No. The Union survived. Then came a connected rail transportation system and the effort to create a stable national currency.
    By 1884-85 there was uniform gauge and time zones. Then it looked a lot more like a nation.
    The physical structure of the capital had to change. Some one had to actually drain the swamps and pave the streets.
    Wars don't build nations. They make people mad. Wars are bad. They spread out and result in more violence in unpredictable ways, from Colfax, to the battle of Greasy Grass to Big Hole to the Philipines.
    Nation building involves sound money, a transparent legal system and other complicated stuff.
    I like James McPherson, but war is hell. Little good comes from it.
     
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  8. BillO

    BillO Captain

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    Nationalism expanded because that is our nature an it's what aspiring empires do.
     
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  9. civilken

    civilken 1st Lieutenant

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    I don't believe the Civil War split the country. If anything it made us one nation the North and the South had been drifting apart for years. The war was going to come sooner or later. The truth is the southern states did us a favor by going to war when they did unprepared. If they would've waited a couple years and an formed their state militias there could have been a much different outcome. The southern politicians went for the big bluff in the hopes that the North might capitulate to their demands but that didn't happen in the end as always the average people of the country suffered.
     
  10. 1NCCAV

    1NCCAV Corporal

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    I'm not sure about that.

    Did a Union like the one that existed when the constitution was ratified survive? Did a Union in the plural sense survive? Did these United States survive?

    I'm not sure it did. Especially since most citizens will give you a blank look if you mention the 10th Amendment to them and most in the federal government behave as if the 10th Amendment isn't there.
     
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  11. WJC

    WJC Moderator Moderator

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    No, it certainly was a different Union. But it was a Union, one that almost didn't survive and surely would not have survived had the rebels won.
    Put as you suggest, "these United States" did not survive; the United States survived... and prospered.
     
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  12. WJC

    WJC Moderator Moderator

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    Let's not make that the criterion or we'll have nothing to discuss....
     
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  13. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    I don't think the CW is best understood as an episode in some ongoing struggle between the federal government and the states. Its better understood as the last episode in the centuries old institution of slavery.

    The most profound division in the United States wasn't between North and South, it was between whites and blacks. The Civil War marked when the Constitution of the United States stopped being a government of white men, and started to be a government of mankind.

    There are other aspects to the war: the phrase Unionists often used was "the triumph of the government" "the preservation of the Union" Or as someone once said "government of the people, for the people and by the people" And you no longer needed a paper bag to determine who was a person anymore.
     
  14. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    In the twelve year period between President Lincoln's first inauguration and President Grant's second inauguration the country changed in tangible ways.
    The image, or illusion, that the 37 subdivisions called states were equal sovereigns on the level of Mexico, Belgium or the Netherlands, no longer existed. If that image is a necessary part of the Union, then that was ended. The explicit rules of the Constitution applied and 100% consent was no longer required. Therefore, the plantation areas of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina no longer had a veto power over national policy. To that degree, the minority interest of the southern agricultural system was coerced. Everybody in the United States can feel coerced if they want to, but most people just think that politics is just one revolution at a time.
    But in that 12 years the number of states had increased.
    A national citizenship was established, though attorneys had a hard time with this fundamental change.
    Slavery was gone. The coffles were eliminated and the sexual exploitation was reduced. Although the federal government could not enforce financial freedom, family autonomy, religious self determination and cultural freedom made significant progress.
    Banks no longer issued private currencies. The currency problem was national, though there were two different currencies.
    The idea that there was a limitless area of western territory into which the country could expand ended. The transcontinental railroad had crossed the mountains and deserts. That made it imperative that there be a solution to the Indian problem. People were advocating extermination of the Indians. Methodists like Grant, and Quakers contradicted this and searched for a better way.
    The process of making Washington, D.C. a decent place to live began, and I am surprised there aren't more photographs contrasting the capital in 1861 to the capital in 1873.
    The incredibly painful process, still incomplete, of auditing government expenditures, banks and publicly traded companies began. Instead of the **** shoot patronage system and the sheer gambling on the Wall Street stocks and commodities markets,some tiny steps were taken to catch up with London, Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin.
    I could go on, but I don't want to be boring.
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2018
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  15. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    If that old union had not ended, in my opinion, one of the world wars would have been fought in the United States.
     
  16. dlavin

    dlavin First Sergeant

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    The Union was altered by its Civil War, no doubt. Destroyed, I would say no, but its really a matter of symantics.
     
  17. Andersonh1

    Andersonh1 Captain

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    I don't think "survived" is the right word. The Union was "forcibly continued" would be more apt. The Union where 13 states banded together to win independence and then voluntarily changed their government in order to avoid coming apart and turning on each other certainly ended in 1861. The Union that was reassembled from victorious and conquered states with a much stronger central government is not the same Union the founders created.

    In 1776 and 1787, the existing southern states wanted to be in the Union. In 1861 they did not, and in 1865 they were forced to be a part of a nation they had tried to leave. In 1787 all states were equal, in 1865 Northern states were dominant, and Southern states were in ruins, controlled by the Congress and US military. That's quite a contrast.
     
  18. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    And there we are the states did this that or the other thing, as if they were real. But only people can secede. As soon as someone throws the term states into the dialogue they are trying to control the conversation.
    Who in the southern area of the United States wanted to create a separate political entity? What kinds of people wanted that?
    The country in which a regionally concentrated special interest could control several state governments and then attempt to control the federal government, ended. And it was going to end.
    It was either going to end in the era of gunboats and railroads, or later in the era of battleships, machine guns, bi-planes and early tanks. Take your choice. :smile coffee:
     
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  19. jackt62

    jackt62 Sergeant Major

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    From the northern point of view, the war started off as simply an attempt to preserve the existing union of states. After the promulgation of the Emancipation Proclamation and the understanding that the old union was gone forever, Lincoln himself, began using the term "nation" rather than "union" and expanded federal war aims to include a "new birth of freedom." So to answer the question, the CW did not so much as destroy a union, which was already frayed, as it did to knit the old union into a truly sovereign entity that could advance the ideals of the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independance, and the Constitution.
     
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  20. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    Furthermore, this is way over emphasizing the exceptional nature of the American experience. Our Danish, German and Russian friends may see this differently. Destroyed may be more like a war in which the Austrian, German, Russian and Ottoman Empires fall and new kingdoms and republics sprout up like flowers after the spring rains. Ask JFC Fuller about butchery and carnage and he would have mentioned Flanders and the Western Front. What about Virginia, we might have asked him? Pfff. He might have replied. More people died in a week at Ypres than died in the entire Virginia campaign, though I could not tell you exactly. Ask the Arapaho or the Lakota or the Blackfoot Indians what destroyed means and you may get an answer you do not like. The Cheyenne may have a stronger claim on the word destroyed than the former Confederate areas.
     
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  21. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    The OP is really an indictment of our intellectual passivity. He found a little idea in McPherson's writing that he is using to frame the conversation.
     

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