Government Changes post-Revolution War vs. post-Civil War
Close examination of the reasons for and the results of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War forces me to disagree with McPherson's position that more radical change in government occurred due to the Civil War than the Revolutionary War. In order to understand how this is true, one must look at several issues, such as the causes of each of the wars, the purposes and intentions, and the ultimate results.
The Revolutionary War was based on the struggle to become independent from Great Britain and this struggle began due to a series of taxes forced upon the citizens. So "taxation without representation" was the initial call to arms however, it grew to include other freedoms as well.
The Civil War was utterly a different process of situation. While claims by the South of freedom it was always an economic issue tightly woven with the issue of slavery. Southerners were outraged and afraid when the federal government decided to regulate the slavery issue in federal territories. This did not impact any previously slave state from continuing to use slaves, it merely deemed new territories would be free. The South viewed this as a threat to their control of government since more states would enter the Union as free thereby shifting the balance of power to the North. While this may be the case, the Southern argument for secession became the excuse to attack the Union. Indeed, relying upon the United States Constitution and the Articles of Confederation, South Carolina argued that the original framers, our "forefathers" intended to "expressly" delegate, not just delegate as stated in the 10th Amendment "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the States are reserved to the States or to the people" (United States Constitution). Before taking the steps for secession, the South waited for the presidential election to proceed
Fearful of the possibilities that the southerners viewed as detrimental to their way of life, Abraham Lincoln was their nemesis. He represented and personified that fear, despite protests from Lincoln himself that such fears were unfounded. While campaigning for the presidency in 1860, Lincoln was invited to speak in New York City at Cooper Union. In that speech, Lincoln got to the heart of matters and sought to reach out to the South. He addressed the issue of forefathers and their intentions, and in particular, enumerated the mistaken position held by the South. The words "expressly delegate" were the issue and while Southern politicians interpreted it to be implied in the U.S. Constitution, Lincoln made clear this was not the case. The Ordinance of 1787 which said that the federal government was not prohibited from regulating slavery in federal territories had support of many original framers of the Constitution as members of Congress (Cooper Union Address). In 1789, an act was passed granting the government federal control to enforce the Ordinance of 1787, again supported by numbers of the original framers (Cooper). As a matter of fact, there were twenty-three of the thirty-nine original framers serving in Congress at the time and support was unanimous regarding the issue that no line divided authority on slavery or precluding federal involvement or leaving it to the territories (Cooper). The federal government had the authority, not the territories or anyone else. Finally, Lincoln pointed to the fact that while the 10th Amendment is almost identical to the provision in the Articles of Confederation, the word "expressly does not appear in the Constitution (Cooper). The reason for this was not accidental. Inferring intent as the South wanted to do is a treacherous slope as Lincoln pointed out. Prior to passage of the 10th Amendment and inclusion in the Constitution, there was debate regarding adding the word "expressly" and despite the fact that it appeared in the Articles of Confederation, it was deliberately and intentionally left out of the 10th Amendment (Cooper).
Lincoln was elected president and this event constituted the basis for acting on Southern threats to secede from the Union. In response to the election, South Carolina was the first state to adopt a Secession Declaration in December 1860. Their basis for doing so rested upon constitutional interpretation allowing the state to exit the Union despite the actual facts as Lincoln stated. Obviously the reasoning was faulty. But they also claimed that the 4th Article of the Constitution regarding slavery was somehow a sound reasoning to secede (Confederate States Of America). While the Constitution did protect Southerners' slave rights, they complained that other states did not live up to the Constitution by refusing to return escaped slaves and assisting fugitive slaves to flee even farther. This was true, however, secession would fail to be the answer to the Southerners problems.
Following South Carolina's secession, it was joined by Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. By the time Lincoln would take office on March 4, 1861, he inherited a country clearly on the brink of disaster.
At the First Inauguration of Lincoln in Washington D.C., he addressed the country but very quickly directed his comments to the South in particular. Aware of their fears regarding property and peace he said there should be no such apprehension since had addressed the slave issue in the past. (First Inaugural Address). "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. (First). By disposing of this issue so forthrightly, he proceeded to the problem of secession. He pointed out that the country was formed as a union, and the Constitution was developed to form "a more perfect union" in perpetuity so an individual State or States cannot legally destroy this union (First). Acts against the authority of the federal government are unlawful and while he stated he planned no invasion or attack by armed forces on the South, he supported thoughtful deliberation instead of Civil War (First). The facts of war and its effect would do nothing to address the issues it was based upon (First).
Eventually war would become necessary and Lincoln would be situated to declare freedom for slaves in the Emancipation Proclamation. He would suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to the Constitution and have his hand forced on other issues but he never hoped for war nor did he seek it as a response to his own people.
The Revolutionary War was a different kind of war. The goal was independence from a power operating at great distance which instituted hardships on the citizens in the colonies. Seeking to redress issues about taxation without representation and other shredding of rights, the Revolutionaries sought to form a coalition. This group of people, primarily educated and enlightened men, prepared to develop a freer society, a nation of laws with checks and balances, and governed by the people for the people. In the midst of war, they created a nation.
The Civil War accomplished nothing so grand at least from the Southern perspective. A war that could have been avoided by more understanding and honesty effort instead created an embarrassing monstrosity of people dedicated to upholding slavery as a right of property. Did the Civil War cause change in the federal government? Of course it did. The abolition of slavery was the key effect. A stronger federal government emerged for having stopped a rebellion by members of its own nation. But it cannot be viewed as a radical change, more radical than the real revolution of 1776, It would be absurd to equate the formation of a government with the highest of ideals and dreams to a war about how to get out of a union in…