AMERICANS WENT TO WAR in 1861 to resolve fundamental ambiguities in the nature of the Union and the status of slavery as an institution in republican society. In the 1840s, in the context of territorial expansion that was bound to alter the relative political power of South and North as constituent sections of the country, slavery and the nature of the Union became inextricably related. Animated by mutual apprehension at the revolutionary threat which each section believed the other posed to its social order, a pattern of politics took shape that by the late 1850s demanded resolution of these issues. The question was whether the ambiguities at the root of the conflict would be resolved through political means, including constitutional amendment, legislative policy, and judicial decision, or the alternative of war.
The Civil War initiated the process of clarifying the nature of republican liberty in the United States. Reconstruction completed it--at least to the satisfaction of the generation of Americans who fought the war. Reconstruction was intended to resolve the substantive issues over which the war was fought. First, was the Union a political association of sovereign states in the nature of a compact, or a union of individuals in the aggregate constituting a sovereign nation? A second issue, arising out of the policy of slave emancipation made necessary by the war, concerned the status and rights of the country's black population. Were blacks to be recognized as citizens and integrated into society on an equal basis with the white population, or would they be assigned a separate classification on the basis of racial identity? A third issue was the relationship between the federal government and the states with respect to the regulation of personal liberty and civil rights. Before the war a subject almost exclusively within the state police power, wartime emancipation interjected the federal government into this sphere of public policy. Would reconstruction policy recognize the authority of the states with respect to civil rights, or would it revolutionize the