The Union Sundered
The Election of 1860 • Secession Winter • “And the War
Came” • The Provisional Confederate Constitution • The
Permanent Confederate Constitution • Defects in the
Confederate Scheme • The Political Party as a War Tool •
Lincoln Takes Control • Ex Parte Merryman Judicial
Reorganization in Wartime • The Adequacy of the
Constitution • War Powers and the Rebellion • Defining
Rebel Status • The Growth of National Power • The
Emancipation Proclamation • The Thirteenth Amendment •
For Further Reading
SOUTHERN SECESSION AND the Civil War provided an opportunity for the United States to resolve the seemingly intractable constitutional issues that had plagued the nation since the Founding. In the end, secession and the war set the stage for the abolition of slavery—something that would never have been politically or constitutionally possible if the slave states had remained in the Union. Battlefield victories made these fundamental changes possible, while President Lincoln's practical political sense, steely resolve, and rhetorical skill shaped their implementation. At the heart of the fundamental changes brought about by the war, stood the question that Lincoln posed so eloquently at Gettysburg: whether the government “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” could endure.
In important ways Lincoln's persistent return to the Declaration of Independence reshaped American culture and politics by making equality the central meaning of American democracy and by reinterpreting the Declaration as the most important “text” of American society. In doing this, Lincoln relied on an idealized and historically inaccurate understanding of the Founders, and their views on race, equality, and slavery. Nevertheless, rhetorically, Lincoln provided a usable past, however misleading, to help justify the carnage of the Civil War and help rally Northerners to the cause of both perpetuating the Union and ending slavery.
The Civil War also raised issues of how a constitution, designed for a limited government, could function during what amounted to total war, complicated by the fact