How did the Civil War permanently alter the national definition of freedom and link freedom to the survival of the nation?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Civil War changed the national definition of freedom by making it universal for all US citizens. Although the Declaration of Independence said that “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The Civil War changed the national definition of freedom by making it universal for all US citizens. Although the Declaration of Independence said that “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” it was really only white citizens who could freely pursue happiness and enjoy their “liberty.” Conversely, those people who were enslaved did not have liberty or freedom.

With the Civil War ongoing, however, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation proclaimed "that all persons held as slaves ... henceforward shall be free." The Emancipation Proclamation did not actually end slavery, but it, along with the Civil War itself, was an important step in that direction. Ultimately, with the end of the war, slavery ended in the country. This meant that the national definition of freedom was extended to all citizens, including former slaves.

Moreover, the Civil War also linked freedom to the survival of the nation because the two concepts were intertwined. President Lincoln’s government did not accept the bid of the southern states to secede from the union in order to maintain a way of life that the north wanted to abolish, with an economy that included the labors of slaves. In other words, the union survived because the Civil War kept the southern states from leaving the union and the Civil War eventually also freed the slaves. Because of this, freedom—in particular the freedom of the newly freed slaves—became forever linked to the survival of the nation. When the war ended, the southern and northern states remained together in the union.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Civil War altered the national definition of freedom by clearing the way for the destruction of slavery as an institution. When Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, he redefined a conflict that was at its outset aimed at bringing rebel states (who had left the Union to protect slavery in the first place) back in the federal union. Tens of thousands of enslaved people fled to the Union army, and many African American soldiers joined the Union army after 1863. At the end of the war, the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery, thus establishing that the definition of freedom in the United States included African Americans. By redefining the war through his proclamation, Abraham Lincoln made it clear that, if the Union won, slavery would be destroyed. In other words, if the nation survived, slavery could not. If the Confederacy gained its independence, slavery would have continued to exist in what once was the Union. So the war meant that freedom and the survival of the Union were inextricably tied together.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Civil War was the result of decades of sectional crisis caused by the issue of slavery. The war redefined freedom literally, as the Union freed the slaves who lived in the states in rebellion during the war. Immediately after the war, the nation ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. This was important in American history because, for the first time, there was a statement prohibiting one human being from owning another. The postwar period saw the further development of freedom as lawmakers saw that one was free only with citizenship and suffrage rights as well. This development of the definition of freedom would be important in the twentieth century as women gained the right to vote in 1920.

The Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War made the war into a noble cause for many in the North as well as abroad. Abolition of slavery and the restoration of the Union then became the two goals of the war for the Union. In the minds of Union leadership and many within the Union public, ending the issue of slavery was the only way to restore the Union once and for all. Anything less would only lead to a continuation of the sectional crisis later.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Civil War was, without a doubt, the most transformational event in the history of the United States. Over the four years of fighting, 600,000 people lost their lives. Slavery, the economic backbone of half the country, was abolished. The definition of freedom changed radically during this time period, and the aftermath of the war tied the concept of freedom to the survival of the nation.

The Civil War made freedom a universal concept in the United States. No longer was freedom (or lack thereof) defined by skin color. The 13th amendment, which abolished slavery, stated that no one could be held under slavery-like conditions unless he or she had been convicted of a crime. Also, the 14th amendment extended freedom by ensuring that no state could suppress the rights of citizens. Though these freedoms were later undone by ‘Jim Crow’ laws that swept the American South, the 13th and 14th amendments laid the legal framework for a more equal and just society.

“The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the most famous song to come out of the Civil War, explains how the concept of freedom became linked to the survival of the United States. “In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea…as he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” Ending slavery became a religious necessity. Not only was the survival of the United States at stake, but as was the will of God.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team