Emancipation and Equal Rights: Politics and Constitutionalism in the Civil War Era

By Herman Belz | Go to book overview

6

The Significance
of Reconstruction

THE CIVIL WAR and Reconstruction marked a decisive phase in the nationalization of American life. During the American Revolution a national government had come into existence in advance of the social, cultural, and psychological attitudes that ordinarily sustain modern nationalism and nation-building. In a reversal of the usual pattern, the political structure that the Revolutionary crisis necessitated stimulated the growth of national identity and consciousness. 1. Through the first half of the nineteenth century cultural, social, and economic forces promoted the nationalization of American life and, despite vast diversity, encouraged a growing spirit of American nationality. Sectional and local attitudes also flourished, but there was nothing inconsistent about this development; multiple loyalties are by no means necessarily conflicting loyalties.

Yet in one important respect the tendency toward uniformity and integration that appeared in other aspects of American activity was notably absent. Distrusting centralization, Americans in their political and constitutional development emphasized local control, with the result that a polity in which, by original constitutional design, power was balanced, dispersed, and limited became in the nineteenth century even more decentralized. Under the states' rights outlook of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy, and then under the proslavery state sov‐

____________________
1.
Yehoshua Arieli, Individualism and Nationalism in American Ideology (Baltimore, 1966) 29-46 and passim.

-141-

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