The Election of 1864

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Abraham Lincoln in 1864.

The summer of 1864 was one of dismay for President Abraham Lincoln and his administration: throughout the Union, the appetite for war had rapidly shrunk; particularly as compared to the heady days of 1860 that ushered Lincoln into the White House. While some voters in the North saw the continued prosecution of the war as nothing more than an attempt to manifest Lincoln’s wish to abolish slavery—and therefore a war not worth fighting—others had naturally, in view of the mounting casualties, developed a fatigue for war and, if they had a choice in the matter, would have opted for a negotiated peace. If Lincoln were to lose the election—so the argument ran—then families could be reunited and the violence could come to an end. For Confederates, northern voter despair was precisely the ingredient that was needed in the giant pot that was political discourse in the Union, but it was not all that was needed: the rebels had dreamt of forcing a negotiated peace, and now, with the election in sight, they had hope that Lincoln would be voted out and the war could be brought to a favorable end. Read more

On to Richmond

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Troops Assembled in Front of the U.S. Capitol Building in 1861.

Although the Confederacy had awakened the North’s spirit by initiating hostilities at Fort Sumter, both sides could have still hoped for reconciliation. While some advocated for immediate peace, others wished for a full prosecution of war against the South, viewing its expanding secession as nothing short of treason. By the end of spring 1861, there was a decisive answer to the question of whether there would soon be peace. Read more

The Election of 1860

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The United States Capitol in 1860. Courtesy: Library of Congress

Every presidential election is consequential, but the Election of 1860 would play a significant role in whether the United States would remain one nation. The division of the North and South on the issue of slavery threatened to cause a secession of the South. The result of the election would determine whether that threat would materialize and cause a Second American Revolution. Read more

A Deadlocked and Destructive Congress

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The United States Capitol in 1848. Unknown Photographer, credit Library of Congress.

During President James Polk’s administration, Congress grappled with resolving sectional tension arising out of whether slavery would be extended to newly acquired land from Mexico as well as the Oregon territory. Congress did not resolve that sectional tension but exacerbated it in what may have been one of the most deadlocked and destructive Congresses in American history. Read more

The Role of Slavery in Splitting America

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The Underground Railroad. By: Charles T. Webber.

Since the outbreak of the Civil War and continuing to the present day, the role of slavery in splitting America has been hotly debated. One may wonder whether there was merely a correlation between slavery and the Civil War or whether slavery was the cause. Investigating the nuances of the issue of slavery reveals that the Civil War resulted from sectionalism and slavery, which were practically synonymous.

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The Genesis of the Bill of Rights

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Magna Carta.

Prior to the American Revolution, the colonists had become familiar with the concept of charters. Charters, whether royal, corporate, or proprietary, operated “as the evidence of a compact between an English King and the American subjects.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 268; see also Leonard Krieger, The Politics of Discretion: Pufendorf and the Acceptance of Natural Law (Chicago, 1965), 121.

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Unalterable Constitutions

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Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By: Ferdinand Richardt.

As the constitutions of the states were implemented and executed during the Revolutionary years, the population began holding conventions for amendment of those constitutions, believing that “Legislatures were incompetent” to do so. Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 306 quoting Farrand, ed., Records of the Federal Convention, II, 91-93. In fact, James Madison believed that “it would be a novel and dangerous doctrine that a Legislature could change the constitution under which it held its existence.” Id.

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The Birth of the Senate

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City Hall of New York City in 1789, where Congress convened during the 1790s.

In the earliest years of the American Republic, theories were abound about the proper structure of government to best balance equality and wise decision-making. John Adams stated, in his Thoughts on Government, that “a people cannot be long free, nor ever happy, whose government is in one assembly.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 208-09 quoting John Adams, Thoughts on Government, Adams, ed., Works of John Adams, IV, 194, 196. These theories became tested throughout the young country, in each of the state’s constitutions.

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