Liberty, Virtue, and Progress: Northerners and Their War for the Union

Liberty, Virtue, and Progress: Northerners and Their War for the Union

Liberty, Virtue, and Progress: Northerners and Their War for the Union

Liberty, Virtue, and Progress: Northerners and Their War for the Union

Excerpt

The passing of nearly a decade gives an author a great deal of time to second-guess what he has done. Now that Liberty, Virtue, and Progress is about to enter its second edition, it seems necessary to rethink and reinforce what I attempted to accomplish when I wrote it in the mid1980s. The book was, to put it simply, an effort to understand the ideological foundations of the Northern effort in the Civil War. The primary ideas that made up Northern ideology were illuminated by republicanism. The existence of republican rhetoric, to some degree or other, was widespread in the personal writings of Northern soldiers and civilians alike. When they resorted to ideals or values to make sense of the war, it was to republicanism that they came.

Ironically, republicanism had long passed its heyday in American political discourse. Even as the nation was being established by the Founding Fathers some eighty years before the firing on Fort Sumter, the validity of republican ideology was being questioned. The republican’s emphasis on public virtue as a safeguard of political liberty and his desire to balance the welfare of society with the urge to accumulate wealth seemed increasingly naive to many people. The American constitution was written so as to safeguard liberty through law, a system of checks and balances, rather than to rely on the virtuous impulses of the voters and the politicians. Throughout the early nineteenth century republicanism continued to weaken as increasingly large fortunes were . . .

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