Why was the Civil War considered the second American Revolution?

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Viewing the American Civil War as the Second American Revolution began during the Progressive Era in the early 20th Century. At this time, American history was being looked at in a new light, often through an economic lense. Many historians of the Progressive Era, looking at the corruption that defined...

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Viewing the American Civil War as the Second American Revolution began during the Progressive Era in the early 20th Century. At this time, American history was being looked at in a new light, often through an economic lense. Many historians of the Progressive Era, looking at the corruption that defined their times, often viewed history as clashes between economic interests. According to them, political, social, and philosophical ideologies were merely masks for historical figures to achieve their economic goals.

Two prominent historians at the time were Charles and Mary Beard (they were husband and wife). In the Beards' influential book, The Rise of American Civilization, they depicted the Civil War as a struggle between a northern industrial class and southern planters for control in the federal government. In doing so, the Beards' nearly wrote the issue of slavery out of the whole history. One chapter in this book concerning the Civil War is titled The Second American Revolution. In the view of the authors, the Civil War was indeed a revolution as it was the attempt of one class to seize the power held by another by taking control of the state. To the Beards and many others of their time, the Civil War was about the industrial North taking power from the agrarian South and removing them from the mechanisms of power in the government.

Of course, this is very much a revisionist look at history. These historians wrote slavery and political and social ideologies out of the equation almost entirely. By likening the Civil War to a revolution of this kind, they were arguing that it was fought as a power grab by the North against the economically weaker South.

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As is often the case with civil wars, the scale of carnage and the violent transformation of the underlying political entity that resulted from the American Civil War can be considered to have constituted a second revolution. As students of the American Revolution know, the Constitutional Convention concluded with some serious unfinished business. Chief among that unfinished business was the issue of slavery and the status of African Americans in the newly-emerging United States of America. So divisive were these issues that the nation’s founders essentially found them too unwieldy and intractable to resolve by the convention’s closing. The slavery can was, to apply a certain metaphor, kicked down the road. The failure to resolve the issue of slavery would, of course, lead to its eventual resolution by force of arms: the Civil War between the Northern states representing abolition and the Southern states seeking to retain that economically-vital and thoroughly racist practice of enslaving individuals with dark skin.

If the American Revolution represented the forced division of colonial ruler from colonialist, with the establishment of an independent political entity governed under the terms of the Constitution, the Civil War represented the forced reunification of that political entity following the Confederacy’s secession over the issue of states’ rights (read: slavery). In a sense, then, the Civil War was a sort of revolutionary era insofar as it involved the attempted overthrow by the southern states of the established nation with the goal of replacing it with two nations existing side-by-side.

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The Civil War can be considered the "second American Revolution" in a couple of ways.  The Civil War represented a radical shift in how beliefs and convictions would forever be seen in American democracy.  Prior to the Civil War, there was not a real discourse as to how the idea of convictions, passionate and non- negotiable values, could be destructive to the fabric of American democracy.  The Civil War was a revolution because it radically changed how Americans view their deeply held ideals.  John Brown had a conviction that slavery was wrong.  It led him to violence.  American slave owners had a conviction that slavery was right.  It led them to violence.  The death and destruction brought on by the Civil War convinced many that no belief can be so valuable when justifies the dissolution of the nation and the death of millions.  In this seismic shift of thinking, the Civil War can be seen as America's "second revolution" as it changed the scope of thought about what is essential to the sensibilities of a great democracy.

For people of color, the American Revolution was a "half a revolution."  As slavery continued in the wake of the American Revolution, many Americans saw that their lives had not changed.  The Civil War changed that.  The abolition of slavery and its enshrinement in the Constitution after the Civil War's conclusion proved to be revolutionary for so many Americans.  For people of color, specifically Black Americans/ African- Americans, the Civil War was for them what White colonists experienced in the wake of the American Revolution.  The idea of self- definition and acting upon one's autonomy becomes the result of the Civil War, helping to make it seen as the "second American Revolution."

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The American Revolution was, in a sense, a type of civil war, as the American colonists were considered British Citizens who seceded from their own country. 

The American Civil War was similar, in that the people of the South (the confederate States) seceded from their own country to the north (the Union).

It also is be considered a second revolution because African Americans were freed from the overbearing rule of white slavemasters, similar to the way the American colonists were freed from the overbearing rule of the British.

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