No aspect of the Civil War, except for the fighting of it, has received as much attention from historians as the political developments that caused the war and shaped its effects. In the decades before and following the war, the second party system collapsed and the third party system began—and, after many controversies and convolutions, it still survives today. A sectional, minority party won the presidency, then struggled to become a national majority party and survived to enjoy great success, even as it and the nation changed. When one region elected the president, the other dissolved the Union rather than accept the result. That president s party doubted him enough to threaten his administration's survival and his renomination for a second term, even during the nation's bloodiest war. When the tide turned he won reelection, assuring freedom for about four million slaves as well as the redefinition of a nation and its mission. And with victory near, assassination made Abraham Lincoln a martyr.
These plot threads of the Civil War have prompted endless efforts to weave a coherent whole and endless explorations of those threads. A slew of publications shows the unflagging interest of both historians and the public in the Civil War. And, despite the increasing emphasis among historians on looking at the past "from the bottom up, " students of the subject have heeded Eric Hobsbawm's entreaty to examine the "history of society." Recent scholarship has extended well beyond the life and times of a great man or group. Biographies have probed the lives of prominent figures and their times. Studies of public policy and the party's economic vision have explained what Republicans did to win the war and remake the nation. Examinations of Lincoln's words and deeds have demonstrated how he broadened the war into "a new birth of freedom, " denied freedom to some of his foes, and refused to support full freedom for those whom the war freed from bondage. Other works on Northerners in military and political battles have analyzed why they fought and reelected the man who sent them to fight.