Civil War – James M. McPherson – This Mighty Scourge, Perspectives on the Civil War, part 1

Civil War – James M. McPherson – This Mighty Scourge, Perspectives on the Civil War, part 1


our guest of honore today is James
Macpherson the George Henry Davis 86 professor of
history emeritus i at princeton university he’s
published numerous volumes on the Civil War including Lincoln and the second
American Revolution drawn with the sword reflections on the American Civil War and for cause
and comrades why men fought in the Civil War I think of course he’s
also probably best known for his single volume history of the
Civil War battle cry for freedom he’s won the
prestigious Lincoln prize in now if you’ve been following the news to
prestigious Pritzker Prize a new prize from the Pritzker military
library in Chicago Jim when I was growing up in
Illinois in Chicago where the Pritzker family is
and where abe lincoln was in Illinois at least when I first started
reading a little bit about the Civil War in the fifties two points were always
impressed upon me one Lincoln was a great man because he
freed the slaves second the civil war had nothing to do with
slavery this created a certain amount of
cognitive dissension um you have taken a position
many times and now we’re getting your latest work which although I don’t know
how to pronounce the word I consider it your oeuvre that slavery was indeed the cause of the civil war the cause was not states rights it was
not economic class it was not economic divisions within the
country it was slavery plain and simple perhaps you could elaborate on that well
I don’t know if I would say it was slavery pure and simple slavery was never pure nor simple but slavery was at the
root the kinds of conflicts social political ideological the did polarize the country
in 1860 and 1861 what I usually like to say is that a slavery was at the of root the decision of the first seven southern states to
secede and that set in course a trail of
events that led to the war but that of course means that the war never would
have occurred had it not been for the controversy over slavery and
especially over the expansion of slavery you know the the issue of slavery had been a serious divisive issue going all
the way back to the Declaration of Independence if you will when the
southern delegates to the Continental Congress forced the deletion of jefferson’s indictment of
King George for the slave trade it was a divisive issue with the
Constitutional Convention that forced the delegates to that convention to a
series of compromises over the issue slavery without those compromises there would
have been no United States it was a divisive issue in 1820 at the
time the Missouri Compromise which Jefferson
called a fire bell in the night nelling the death of the union it was a divisive issue over the question the
annexation of Texas over the Mexican War and the annexation
of the territory from Mexico the Wilmot Proviso which stipulated that there would never be any slavery in
these territories acquired for Mexico which forced a showdown in congress in 1850 where southern
states were threatening to secede if something like wilmot proviso the wilmot proviso was adopted with threatening to succeed
if they didn’t get a more effective Fugitive Slave Law a and on the question of states rights the Fugitive Slave Law which was
demanded and past largely by southern votes in
congress was the strongest manifestation of centralized national power overriding the rights of northern states
who wanted to pass personal liberty laws that had ever been
enacted by the United States Congress and then I think everybody is familiar
with the controversies over the Kansas Nebraska Act kinda small-scale civil war in Kansas between pro-slavery
in Free State settlers the lincoln-douglas debates in 1850
focused almost entirely on the slavery issue or
more correctly I suppose on the question
of whether Congress had the power and should use that power
to prohibit the expansion of slavery into the territories and then when Lincoln was elected in
1860 on a platform pledging the prohibition of slavery in new territories the southern states saw that as the as the last straw the final straw it was clearly an indication that they
had lost control over the national government control that they had
basically exercised most of the time before 1860 and then used that power as in the case
of the Fugitive Slave Law in the case of the kansas-nebraska act
in the case of the Dred Scott decision since majority of the
court came from the slave states had used that
national power to protect slavery now they had lost and probably lost
permanently the control of the national government
because the president of the united states had been elected without a single
electoral vote from any slave state it meant that the North could dominate
the national government from then on and the Republican Party was a party based
on the idea of the superiority of free
labor over slave labor based on the idea that eventually the United States could no longer
remain a house divided that it would become all
one thing or the other which Lincoln had said in his house
divided speech and the Republican Party was pledged to make it free nation sometime ultimately in the future southern states
read that is the as the fire bell in the
night if you will nelling the death of slavery at sometime
maybe imminently maybe not for another several decades and they went out of the Union in
response to that and that set in train a series of events that led to the firing on Fort Sumter
none of those things train of events between Lincoln’s
election in November 1860 and firing on Fort Sumter in the secession of
four more slave states after that none of those things would have happened
had it not been for that fundamental underlying controversy over slavery and
especially over the expansion of slavery if memory serves me jim I think it was Alexander Stevens who said early on in the Civil War something to the effect that if our
theory of slavery is wrong then our whole theory of this war or our whole theory of this government wrong but after the war southern historians
lead the way in taking the position that the war had
been over states rights not over slavery perhaps surprisingly perhaps not northern
historians join them what were the reasons for for all of
this to what extent was it a somewhat
psychological necessity of the southerners to what extent were the
northerners influenced by a desire to unite the country into for lack of a
better word impose northern northern industrial
capitalism on the south and exactly who were the historians who did this north and south well I think to answer the first part of
that question men like Alexander Stevens and Jefferson Davis and others made no bones
about slavery as the reason the threat to
slavery posed by the by the incoming Lincoln
administration as the reason for their secession in 1861 the pro-slavery argument was
alive and well it was a respectable argument in the
south even a respectable argument in parts of
the North a they may not have wanted slavery for
themselves stephen douglas for example said we
don’t want it here in Illinois but any state or territory
where they do want it they should have the right to have it um and so there was nobody who was saying in the south or not I shouldn’t say
nobody but the majority opinion in the south the
majority consensus in the south is that slavery was a positive good once the war was over and slavery
had been abolished and once southerners realized that they had very little
support in the world if you will for slavery as
the basis of the good society that’s one of the
principal reasons why the British hesitated backed away once the North made it clear that they
were fighting for emancipation that’s one of the principal reasons the British
backed away from recognition of the Confederacy I think it came as something of a shock to southerners to realize that their
institution had not only been abolished but discredited in the eyes of the world and if that
institution was discredited in the eyes of the world then the Confederacy itself would be discredited in the eyes of
history so it became a psychological necessity I
think for them to deny that the war was about slavery that they were fighting for the
preservation defense perpetuation of that institution and so they developed a a series of
alternative explanations for their their raison d’etre for their their reason for existence and states
rights became one of those a kind of cultural nationalism became explanation for the South was different it ought to have the right to govern itself I’m and that they had
fought for this right of self-government for this there the the right to have their whatever institutions and it
wasn’t just slavery it was a lot of other institutions and that that was the reason that
was the that was the cause for which they were
fighting and I think the reason the that by the
end of the 19th century and well into the 20th century many non southern historians accepted
this this argument is the reason you
suggested a desire for reconciliation to bring the white south back into the Union a respect for the courage with which southerners had
fought to defend their independence a by the late 19th
century when Union and Confederate soldiers veterans
would hold their joint reunions which they did the major one at
gettysburg in 1913 but on the fiftieth anniversary
of the battle but there were many other such reunions it was a kind of love feast you
fought for what you believed was right we fought for what we believed was right we both fought courageously and we are
brothers in arms now as veterans and lets forget about any divisive issues like slavery and emancipation
that’s not what we want to talk about and I think that that desire for
reconciliation a desire to create a new kind of nationalism in the 20th century which was furthered
by the spanish-american war in 1898 when actually two former Confederate generals
one of them the nephew of Robert E Lee became generals in the United States Army it was furthered by world war one it was furthered by such movies as birth of a nation in 1915 where a southern director presenting a
southern point of view in this film nevertheless portrayed Lincoln as a hero
and as the civil war as the real birth of
this new United northern and southern nation so I think that that was the principal
reason why through the last decade or so of the 19th century and probably much of the first half of the 20th
century you get this kind of consensus among northern
and southern historians that this was a noble moment in American
history and let’s just forget about these issues that might continue to
divide us today and look at the positive parts of that
history mean I don’t know how many people know
it but there are actually movies of Joe wheeler and Fitzhugh Lee in the
spanish-american war astounding to see why did this why did this view of the the origins of the Civil War why was it
disestablished one might say starting in the 1960s I think the
principal reason was the civil rights movement and the cultural context of civil
rights movement thats to to speak personally that’s
how I got into this subject as my historical specialty I was
in graduate school in Baltimore from 1958 to 1962 and many of us in this room are of an age
to remember the the excitement and the ferment and the and the controversies of those years
overt the civil rights movement but what struck me as a graduate student
was the similarities in parallels between the early nineteen sixties and the early eighteen sixties confrontation
between north and south over an issue involving
race a confrontation between the national
government and southern political leaders who were vowing massive resistance to
national law federal troops being sent in to the south
violence and conflict Martin Luther King trying to get President Kennedy to issue
a new Emancipation Proclamation on the 100th anniversary of the original
in 1963 Kennedy who was still dependent on solid
support in congress refusing to do so so king and his
colleagues organized the famous march on Washington which took place where right at the
Lincoln Memorial and so all of these echoes of the events of the eighteen sixties
and the issues in the eighteen sixties we’re playing out again in the nineteen
sixties and I think that caused a good many historians to take a new look at what was at stake in the eighteen
sixties and how did it play out in terms of its its casting a shadow a century down to our own time in the nineteen
sixties and that caused historians I think to
pay I think it its major impact was a revision of reconstruction historiography but a very important side product of that that was a new emphasis on race and slavery as the route of the sectional conflict that lead to Civil War just as as it was at the route of what was going on in the
nineteen sixties Jim I have read perhaps you have said certainly I’ve read that back in the day eighteen sixties democracy was still a
sort of fragile plant in the world which is surprising to a lot of people
today because even the worst dictatorships claim to be
democracies today democracy had there’s been a march of
democracy from 1865 onward %uh Lincoln was well aware as I
understand it from this book and from others you’ve written Lincoln was well aware of the place in the world of american democracy of what had happened in 1848 the antagonistic views towards the
American experiment held by the European aristocracy and he felt that america did in view of
all this represent the last best hope of earth for the common man whom he thought should be able to arise
be able to rise as he had risen by means of what he called and the
republicans at the time called the labor theory of value and there were
also a lot of centrifugal forces operating
in the world at that time as in for example Italy and Germany well that that’s that’s a big question but it’s a
question maybe you can elaborate on all of that well americans of Lincoln generation
in fact going back to americans of thomas jefferson’s generation and then
on regarded the United States as a as an
experiment in a world that was really dominated
by monarchs by aristocracy by theories of the inequality of man and so America in a way was departing from that dominant motif in Western
thought there were routes to democracy of course
in philosophy and in political science but it was a fragile experiment in
this world this nineteenth century world and americans alive some americans alive
in 1860 had seen several French republics yeah rise and fall they had witnessed the democratic and Republican smaller republican
uprisings in European countries in 1848 and the repression of those uprisings and they had written witnessed the creation of
the second French Republic in 1848 and its overthrow by Louis Napoleon who created the Second Empire in 1851 and that’s why lincoln said that america was the last best hope for the
survival of republican liberties in the world that’s why he said in the
Gettysburg Address that this civil war is a great test whether any government so conceived and so carried out can survive or will perish
from the earth americans i think in the nineteenth
century were really quite obsessed with with the issue with their Republic could survive or would it go the way of most other republics which had
been swept into the dustbin of
history going back to the Roman Republic if you will and they were well aware that most of the the ruling class in countries like Britain which was of
course the country of most importance in American
perceptions sympathize with the Confederacy or if they didn’t sympathize
with the Confederacy at least were hostile were
anti-american if you will and would have been quite happy to see
the United States itself be swept into the dustbin of history as United states because I think the great fear
of Lincoln and other people in the North was that if the Confederacy succeeded in establishing itself as a separate nation through the process
seceding that that would constitute a fatal
precedent that anytime in the future when a disaffected section of the country or a
disaffected minority had lost a presidential election and
felt that it’s interests were no longer no longer represented by the United States
government it could invoke that precedent and go out of the united states
and that the the two words United states would become an oxymoron become the dis-United
States there would be no united states that was I think the issue that preoccupied Lincoln and I think obsessed a lot of
people in the United States would this Republic survive as one nation and would
the idea of a Republic of a democratic society be able to to survive this division this war I believe that lincoln said to an ohio regiment that the glory of America or the purpose of America is that there will be room for your sons to rise
to the top as there was for my father’s son to rise to the top this question of
personal mobility loomed large to lincoln it
certainly did in fact I think that was the fundamental underlying ideology of the
republican party its often called the free labor ideology
and an essential part of the free labor ideology is social mobility the right of people to move up through hard work
through exercise in their god-given talents that a society should be open to that kind of upward social mobility
we often call it the American dream and that I think was the main source for the opposition to slavery of a majority of the republican party in a
slave society not only were the slaves restricted for life to that subordinate status but the existence of slavery prevented whites born in the lower part at lower social part of the
social order from rising in the because they couldn’t
compete with slave labor that’s in fact one of the reasons not
the only reason one of the reasons that Thomas Lincoln took his family from
Kentucky to Indiana in 1816 it’s because it was a slave state Kentucky and
Indiana presented his son Abraham with that opportunity to rise southerners call some some of the people
mudsills up north yes mudsill this is I’m gonna ask my
last question of Jim now so those of you who have questions can prepare to ask
them and after I’m done you know just line
up the one of the two microphones and we’ll call on you Jim you have mentioned earlier on the
effects of the well you mention the the nature of the
governmental structures starting with the debates at the Constitutional Convention and indeed before that at the Declaration of Independence
removing the clause about slavery and the king you have said that and I find it hard to know why anybody would
think differently that for practical purposes from
1789 to 1860 the South controlled the United States some
of us think it’s done so after 1876 it did this by virtue of the three-fifths
compromise and the effect on both the congressional elections and
on the electoral college and by the vote in the Senate and of
course that led to concern that there be slavery in the
territories so it could maintain this control but if you would just briefly elaborate
on the effect of our constitutional structure in
enabling the south to control the government for seventy years well one of the essential parts of
our constitutional structure. that made that possible was unintentional in
the sense that it was not necessarily intended to give the South power and
that’s the clause in the constitution that
guarantees every state two united states senators now when that was adopted in 1789 it
was to protect the small states and not necessarily the slave states in fact I think many people living in
states like Virginia North Carolina South Carolina assumed that they would
grow as fast or faster than the northern states it didn’t turn out that
way so that the clause guaranteeing every
state two senators meant that as long as there
were as many slave states as there were free states and that remained true down right down to 1850 In fact one of the big issues about
the admission of California was that that would. tip the balance
to the free states there were 15 slave states and 15 free states in
1850 and the admission of California as a
free state would tip that balance and it became
difficult to see where the next slave state might come from it did become a factor in giving
basically giving the slave states a veto in the senate over any national
legislation but another key clause the 3/5 clause was in part intended to protect southern political power and during the course of the 19th century
down to 1860 that gave the slave states well it varied according to each census
but usually somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen to twenty more congressmen and more electoral votes than they would
have had if the slave were not counted as
three-fifths of a purpose person for purposes of representation I think another factor is that starting with the Virginia dynasty
presidents Washington and then of course Jefferson Madison and Monroe the slave states dominated the executive
branch of the government in fact for 2/3’s of the seventy-two years between 1789 and 1861 two-thirds of those years a southerner
and a slave holder was president of the united states and during two thirds of those
years also a southerner was Speaker of the House of
Representatives and President Pro Tem of the Senate and I think that’s because of the leverage that the South had within what
what was first called the jeffersonian Republican Party and then after eighteen twenty-eight the
Democratic Party as long as that party controlled the
national government which it did most of the time that party is in turn was
controlled by by the southern states in fact about the only two presidential
administrations that were not dominated by the south were for instance you’re all or most of you i think are from Massachusetts were the two Adams administration John Adams and John Quincy Adams some of you are probably familiar with
garry Wills book came out a few years ago called the negro president which is Thomas Jefferson if it hadn’t been for the three-fifths
compromise Adams would have won that election Jefferson was elected by the
three-fifths compromise and that was not necessarily true of
subsequent southern presidents but it it began that
process and is one of the examples of it and I as I suggested earlier I think one
of the reasons the southern states seceded in 1861 is that they saw the handwriting on the wall that that
domination in the national government which they had exercised through most of the previous seventy
years was now forever gone as long as the
North could elect a president like abraham Lincoln with no southern votes at
all I might add that as we found out in the New Deal times in as we finding
out again he who controls the political branches also controls the
appointment to the supreme court that’s exactly right and the South had a majority on the Supreme Court
through the entire antebellum period either 5 and one or two cases 6 of the nine justices when there were nine came from the slave states yeah yeah I
folks let’s open this up to questions from the audience and just lineup in the we’ll call on you and if you wouldn’t mind you might state
your name and you know your if your a teacher or just interested or
whatever sir art pieces recently retired teacher as a Monday I’ll be officially retired
the summer will be over I think I understand the the idea that slavery was a positive
good but it’s hard for me to believe that
there isn’t somewhere in the deep recesses of the southern mind the belief that maybe wasn’t right to
treat folks this way it is there any evidence of that that
that really back in there somewhere there was the
belief that perhaps this really is wrong well I think there was certainly up
until the eighteen thirties a a fairly strong tradition of
questioning the ultimate validity of slavery the the tag that we give the defensive
slavery in the jeffersonian period is necessary evil that’s an acknowledgement that there’s
something wrong with it but it’s necessary it will eventually in
God’s own good time disappear the idea of slavery as a
positive good I think came out the response to the anti-slavery
movement slavery came under increasing attack
in the eighteen thirties and after from abolitionists like William Lloyd
Garrison Wendell Phillips Frederick Douglass
theodore weld and so on and as a kind of defensive reaction to
that the pro-slavery argument developed a
thesis that slavery is a positive good it’s not only positive good for the
whites but also for the for the slaves themselves they’re a lot better off than they would
be if they were still in Africa was part of the argument they’re better off than workers in English factories they’re
better off than workers here in lowell was part of that argument now I think
Art that you’re probably right that deep in the recesses their mind they may
have wondered is this really true you know the slaves
on John C Calhoun plantation really better off than the textile workers in lowell but they didn’t publicly acknowledge any of these doubts and from the
eighteen thirties on I think that anybody in the south who went public with
these doubts was was really risking his neighbor neighbors displeasure and risking maybe even risking mob action against
him so that southerners who did want to say this publicly like James G
burney who was once a slave owner in Alabama
or the grimkey sisters from south carolina well sleeve only
or the grimly sisters from south carolina a slave owing family had to leave the south in order to speak out against slavery I may go left right left right that’s
right sir from Hingham a lot of German
immigrants came to this country obviously in the 1840s especially after 1848 revolutions and to what extent did they play a major
part in the formation of the republican party or is that
you know overdone or did they play like a major
role well i there’s there’s no question but
that some of the 48 ers those who had taken part in the
democratic uprisings in Prussia and in other German states became prominent in the Republican Party in the middle
and later eighteen fifties Carl Schurtz being the outstanding example of that but I think that the the the mass of German immigrants who really came
from a rural and largely peasant background most of them until 1860 and maybe even in 1860 voted democratic now the Republican Party did begin
the cut into that German vote a little bit in 1856 but
even more in 1860 but I I’d I think that the German vote
as such was not so important in the rise of the
republican party but some of these German radicals german-american radicals like
Carl schurtz being the outstanding example were important and they did begin to convert some of their fellow countrymen to the Republican
Party in states like Illinois and Wisconsin Pennsylvania between 1856 and 1860 and you could make the argument that lincoln may not have gotten a majority
of the German vote okay but he got a larger minority of it then
Fremont had gotten in 1856 and therefore the slight shift the
partial shift to the German vote may have helped to explain Lincoln’s victory in several key
northern states especially Pennsylvania and Illinois yes ma’am Maryanne burn history teacher
Canton High I’ve been to a number of
conferences & classes on the civil war and I was struck at at how white the
audience is and given your comments on how the views of race and slavery have influenced what the cause of the war was
both during and after why do you think that is that’s a
question that Civil War historians have asked
themselves many times and civil war Battlefield Park
superintendents have asked that question too because the
visitation at Civil War battlefield parks by
minorities especially blacks is far below their percentage of the population I I i’m not sure the answer to that
question but a large part of it is that in the minds of many
african-americans the Civil War is associated with or or Civil War buffs let me put it that way are associated
with this kind of neo Confederate glorification of the Confederacy and they don’t want any
part of that if if this were a session on
reconstruction there would be a larger a much larger black participation in it and I’ve been
to conferences on reconstruction where that is the case because reconstruction a lot of
african-americans see reconstruction as the asas the reference point in
history where they developed a kind of
identity a degree of political leadership and
participation and they feel more comfortable with that
then they feel with their popular image popular stereotype of
what civil war conferences are all about they’re about Robert E Lee they’re about
Stonewall Jackson they’re about the Army of Northern
Virginia and many blacks don’t want to have anything
to do with that a It’s a mistaken notion this conference
is not about those things and many of the civil war conferences I’ve
gone to are about slavery and emancipation and the role of
black soldiers and in the Union victory but until the movie
glory for example most blacks didn’t even most
blacks didn’t have any idea we never knew about this and that’s
because the popular literature on the civil war and popular images of the civil war for much of the 20th century
just as we were talking about earlier was this kind of Confederate glorification the lost cause really became the found cause for for many
decades you know gone with the wind was our image what the Civil War was all about Jim that’s the most cogent explanation of that
phenomenon that I have ever heard and is give me some pics and ideas for
future conferences sir good morning Jason Wright I teach
at Pope John the 23rd high school in Everett I was wondering if I could professor throw two facts that come from your own are research back at
you with this idea that slavery is the root
cause of the Civil War in that one the vast majority of those
southern states that first seceded were yeoman farmers who did not own slaves and secondly that there were
newspaper editorials in in the south at the end of the war who
were arguing for emancipation and yet the continuation of the war just
how would you fold that into what you’re arguing for now well actually in the seven states that
first went out The percentage of whites who
belong to slave holding families was at least 40 percent and the yeoman farmers who didn’t own
slaves in many cases aspired to own slaves the they had a second cousin who did own
slaves or or an uncle or a relative of some sort the kinda kinship
networks in the South were very tightly woven so that even if you’re own nuclear
family was not a slaveholding family there was certainly some kissing cousins out there who were
slaveholders but more important at all slavery is
what elevated you above mud seal status and if some yankee abolitionist is
coming down and saying we’re going to free the slaves you want have nothing to do with that
you might even be more resentful of that then they wealthy slave
owner who’s not going to lose prestige because he’s wealthy if the slaves are
liberated but you’re going to lose your going to lose white supremacy so at the root I think of the pro-slavery attitude of non slave holding whites in the south
was the issue of race the Upper South states that
went on I i’ve a good friend who teaches at the University in North
Carolina Joe gladheart is his name is doing a book on the army Northern Virginia and its social
composition is one of the themes in that he has found that even in this %uh in this army where
a lot of the soldiers came from other south states like
Virginia and North Carolina with a lower percentage of slaveholding than the Deep South states that something
like forty percent of the soldiers belong to slaveholding
households not families but households that is where
they grew up and lived forty percent of them were slaveholding
that’s a pretty high percentage of ownership of that kind of property the second part of your question 1865 the south is actually debating
emancipation sometimes that gets exaggerated what
they were really debating was whether to enlist slaves in the Confederate Army if they did would those slaves and maybe
their families earn freedom fighting for the Confederacy and the Confederate Congress in March
1865 did pass a bill called the Negro soldier bill providing for the enlistment of a
certain number of slaves but the they could not free those slaves
that would have to be up to the states themselves or to the Masters to free the slaves and and there was a
lot of ambiguity and ambivalence in the South about whether this really wasn’t
emancipation major maybe if a hundred thousand slaves help us turn this war around they might
earn their freedom as a reward for it but that won’t end the institution of
slavery and so there was actually a pro-slavery
dimension to this argument well we’ll free some of the
slaves in order to win this war but this was this was a last-gasp act of desperation and even then it
passed by only one vote in the Confederate Senate one vote in
March 1865 when the enemy was thundering at the gates so it doesn’t
necessarily represent Confederate repudiation of
slavery you know Jim one doesn’t know
whether to laugh or cry that the fact that Porter Alexander I
think it was after gettysburg but I’m not sure wrote home to his wife and said by a slave it’s a good investment yes he did oh my it’s quite true sir yes good morning
professor my names Sean Gallane I teach US history at west springfield high school I was wondering if you could comment
a little bit about the role politics and specifically political
parties in the coming of the war thinking of
historians like Michael holt who talk about the idea that the
political parties were kind of a mediating effect on holding off a conflict and when
those parties broke down on there was no mediating effect left
under that kind of an argument the war was avoidable if the parties had
maintained their hold and their control of what was going
on and I was wondering if you could comment on the role of politics and the inevitability of the war itself well I’m quite familiar with michael’s
argument and that of some other historians Bill Gnap who unfortunately died a few years ago
taught at Harvard was in this school too well there’s no question but that the breakdown of the what’s called by historians a second
party system in the eighteen fifties was a major step in the process toward breaking down
the union it’s quite true that the existence of
these two major parties from the 1830s to the eighteen fifties and you could
really take it back before you could take back to the 1820’s in which there were party
organizations in both the north and the south the whig party was had strong representation in
the south the 1830s and 1840s in the democratic
party of course was a bisectional party was strong in both the
south and the north and that didn’t mediate the the sectional conflict the party did
all they could to keep slavery out of national politics because they knew it was potentially
divisive and so there are all kinds compromises
within the parties to try to keep that as an issue that was was out of national politics and once that broke down in the 1850s
and once the Republican Party in effect replaced the whig party in the
north and also recruited a lot of anti -southern democrats who bailed out of that party after the
kansas-nebraska act that breakdown in the in the intersectional two-party system was a major factor in the coming of
the war because it was what it made it possible for the republican
party with only northern votes to elect their presidential candidate in
1860 but the the the problem with that
interpretation is that it doesn’t ask what caused this break down in the
second party system a lot of historians Michael Holt
among them argued that the immigration issue the anti-catholic issue the rise of the
American party and the know nothings in the 1850s had a lot to do with breaking down the
whig party in North and paving the way for the rise of the
republican party but what broke down the whig party in the south and to a considerable extent in the
North I think itself also was the slavery issue that’s why the whig party disappeared
from the south and why the South became solid for the republicans from the 1852 election on I mean for the democrats the lower south
especially and the the whig party’s broke down in the north from a complex variety of reasons but
the rise of the republican party had a huge amount to do with the question of slavery in the
territories it was a wilmont proviso party if you will and so the breakdown in the second party
system did have a lot to do with the coming of
the Civil War but you need to ask the next question
well what were the principal reasons for the break down of the second party
system in there slavery is a key part of the answer to that question I think sir morning John beagle Western New England College l’d like to go back to your comments about
America as an experiment for a moment arthur schlessinger junior argued for a
long time that americans have long lost the idea that america is a great
experiment fragile experiment capable of failure I was
wondering about your thoughts on that have we as Americans lost the notion of
America as an experiment and if so when and what role might Civil
War have played as perhaps a passing of the test in that sense yeah I think we probably
no longer think of the United States as an experiment as a fragile experiment
that might fail certainly we are aware that our policies
might fail whether its foreign policy or
domestic policy one sort or another but very few people fear that the United States might go the
way of yugoslavia or the soviet union but in the 19th century and right down
to I think 1865 this idea that the united states might fail was a prevalent part of American
political culture I’m the fear was there and I think that
%uh that northern victory in the civil war and in the reconciliation process
after that that we were talking about a little while ago by the end of the 19th century had eraced that fear from american
minds and I think also the success of this democratic experiment in
winning a war and consolidating the nation in the aftermath of the war was a powerful example had a powerful influence I should say
in other nations I have written and its in the outline
that that professor Velvel dean velvel has presented that the british Prime reform act of 1867 was powerfully
influenced by the outcome of the American Civil War
because it legitimated the idea of a broader that a nation based on
manhood suffrage could in fact defend itself survive and
the the British reform act of 1867 doubled the british electorate gave many
members of the working class the right to vote for the first time and from then on i think in Europe’s through
the end of the 19th century and into the twentieth century they were moving toward a form of
democracy of course France in 1870 the the Second Empire went down and the Third Republic based on a democratic political order was
established and other countries were moving toward
universal suffrage in the late 19th and early 20th century so the idea that america america was the sort of only democratic country and
therefore vulnerable to these counter democratic tendencies
in the Western world faded away because basically democracy
triumphed in 1865 and triumphed in Western
Europe in the next couple of generations so I
think that that idea of fragility of this
democratic experiment pretty much had disappeared from American political culture by 1900 or even earlier you know just to add a point jim i did read in one of your books
about the effect of the result of the American Civil War on
the 1867 act I have never read that anywhere else I
have asked leading civil war stories about it they know
nothing about it and if you hadn’t said it I wouldn’t
know it and I think it’s just amazing that this phenomenal result goes unknown in American historical work what an influence that what a to
have the british electorate expanded by a factor of 100 percent sir I teach at the McDonough School in owings mills maryland right outside Baltimore actually bringing up the impact at
the American rev of the American Civil War in europe kind of plays into my question what impact events in Europe may have
had on the decision of many people in the north to rewrite or
join southerners in rewriting the version of the Civil War I’m thinking
particularly about the Paris Commune at that point we’ve talked about the fact
that northerners wanted to see a reunification of the
country and I wanted to pose to you several
possibilities that would explain that I’m wondering if
the rise in immigration in the 1890s you spoke of lincoln and the
republicans emphasizing a system of equality well by
the time there’s a push of the rise in immigration in the
country have northerners reconsidered that idea of inequality and is burying
african-americans once again justified burying the Jews and
Italians and what not who were moving to the United States and also a fear that that opportunity for the working-class has been taken to
for the fear of the Paris Commune was very
real in the united states in fact one of your colleagues titled her a book on the post Reconstruction era standing at armageddon so is there possibly an explanation for northern
support for southern racism in the version of the
Civil War and perhaps is there an answer for that in in the in northerners wondering if this notion of equality has perhaps has gone too far its gotten out of hand for us as well yeah that definitely did happen I think in
the eighteen seventies and after it wasn’t only the Paris Commune I think
but it was also events in the United States itself the
Molly Maguires the Pennsylvania coalfields the great
railroad strike in 1877 the the rise of kind of anarchist radical political ideology among some elements of the working class in
the eighteen eighties they haymarket bombing in 1886 the Pullman Strike in 1894 the large-scale immigration from eastern
and southern European countries that began in the eighteen eighties and nineties I think that a lot of people in the
North of old anglo-american background upper-class having been having been committed to democracy in a republican form of
government as the ideal form of government in the
middle 19th century now begin and and have been committed to the
idea of equality of equal rights the 14th the 15th amendments to the Constitution begin to have a little have second
thoughts about this prominent journalists like edwin l bodkin who was editor of the
nation very influential prominent German journalists like George William Curtis editor of Harper’s
Weekly very strong radical an egalitarian in the eighteen sixties began to wonder if maybe democracy might go too far and social
equality might go too far as the country was being torn apart by capital by conflict
between labor and capital in the strikes by large-scale immigration and they began
to form more of a bond of sympathy with
upper-class southern whites who are saying well you know we know how to manage our lower classes of working-class of different ethnic
background than we are and maybe that’s not such a bad idea
so you do get a kind of current of a ideological congruence between some upper-class northern intellectuals
industrialists political scientists thinkers philosophers in the later decades of the 19th century on and and
saying well maybe democracy has its limitations and that meant greater degree of
congruence in sympathy with upperclass southern whites in their
attempt to to create a caste society in other words
they emergence of the emergence of a greater degree of
class consciousness on the part of the upper class and and
in the lower classes I think in the north created a greater bond of sympathy with the the caste system that
was emerging in the south the same time as the successor to
slavery I think you you know you think you get
and the Paris Commune did play a major role in that but I think it was
only part of a larger process both domestic and foreign that
was going on in these later nineteenth century decades jim thank you very much

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