The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict

The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict

The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict

The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict

Synopsis

It was no coincidence that the Civil War occurred during an age of violent political upheaval in Europe and the Americas. Grounding the causes and philosophies of the Civil War in an international context, Andre M. Fleche examines how questions of national self-determination, race, class, and labor the world over influenced American interpretations of the strains on the Union and the growing differences between North and South. Setting familiar events in an international context, Fleche enlarges our understanding of nationalism in the nineteenth century, with startling implications for our understanding of the Civil War.
Confederates argued that European nationalist movements provided models for their efforts to establish a new nation-state, while Unionists stressed the role of the state in balancing order and liberty in a revolutionary age. Diplomats and politicians used such arguments to explain their causes to thinkers throughout the world. Fleche maintains that the fight over the future of republican government in America was also a battle over the meaning of revolution in the Atlantic world and, as such, can be fully understood only as a part of the world-historical context in which it was fought.

Excerpt

On June 15, 1864, ERNEST DUVERGIER DE HAURANNE arrived in New York to observe the final act of what he would later call “five years of revolution, political turmoil and civil war” in the United States. The French liberal hoped to follow in the footsteps of Alexis de Tocqueville, a close family friend, by observing American democracy in action. While his illustrious predecessor had reported to French readers on the promise as well as the problems of a functioning republic, Duvergier de Hauranne would document how a democratic people dealt with the disintegration of their nation.

Federal and Confederate partisans wasted little time in outlining their positions. One Union officer explained to the visitor that the abolition of slavery and the defeat of the rebellion would ensure the survival of the United States. Slavery and rebellion were inextricably linked in the soldier’s mind. Slavery, he believed, posed a dire threat to America’s experiment in modern nation-building. The uncompensated labor of enslaved human beings, he held, had led to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a select few. The class interests of rich planters ran counter to the development of a united polity based on the sovereignty of all the people, making true nationalism impossible. Slavery, he told the French visitor, threatened to lead to the emergence of “a military aristocracy.” Destroying the institution would level the social hierarchy, thereby sustaining a nation based on representative government. “Give us a little more time,” the officer concluded, “and that arrogant class that calls itself the aristocracy of the South will sink into the mass of the common people.” Duvergier de Hauranne agreed. The newcomer to America immediately made connections between southern planters and the landed nobility that had so often resisted change in his native France. He became gradually convinced that “slavery in the South, bound up as it was with the ownership of land, was . . .

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