“Liberty and Union”: November 14, 2012
On Wednesday, November 14th, in the Kline Theatre of Gettysburg College, Professor Allen Guelzo delivered his lecture, “Liberty and Union”, as the second of his four part series entitled “A Walk Through the Civil War”. Throughout this lecture, Guelzo outlined the major turning points of the Civil War leading to heightened tensions between the North and the South. He described the military campaigns of 1861, the realities of Democratic and Republican Party politics, and the prominent leaders during this time of crisis.
The First Battle of Bull Run was a shocking wake-up call for Americans to the realities of war. If before the American people were under the impression that this was to be a quick war, they were no longer fooled by this illusion after the battle. At that time Bull Run was bloodiest battle on American soil – the battle had more casualties than the entirety of the American Revolution. As Guelzo indicated, Americans at the time recognized that the war was going to be long and it was going to be horrific. President Lincoln knew he needed to take desperate steps to hold his crumbling country together.
The United States was severely divided between the ideals of the Democratic and Republican parties. Hostility was high, as the two parties held opposing views on how to structure the very foundation of our country. The Democrats viewed Lincoln and the Republican Party as evil. Many Democrats believed that the war as an excuse to abolish slavery and allow for African Americans to enter the workforce and take jobs away from white men. Guelzo said, “[The Democrats] thought Lincoln was a tool of New England capitalists who would bankrupt ever farmer in the country.” Both the Democratic and Republican parties took more of an economic than social stance on slavery. Although there were many members of the Republican Party who were purely antislavery, the party also consisted of former whigs, such as Lincoln, who were interested in boosting the national economy. Lincoln, in fact, did not at first seem committed to the abolishment of slavery, and went through a series of half-hearted attempts of emancipation before issuing the final Emancipation Proclamation. This final proclamation, Guelzo explained, was a fit and necessary act of war, yet Lincoln was still hesitant to what would become of the slaves and the repercussions of their integration into society. Ultimately, Lincoln was concerned with creating a ‘vibrant national economy,’ and of winning the war.
Guelzo also discussed the leadership of George B. McClellan in the Union army. Lincoln first summoned McClellan to help rally northern troops after the devastation of Bull Run. McClellan was a solid figure: he was a professional soldier, successful businessman, and he brought new life and organization to the army. Guelzo even questioned that, perhaps, McClellan was more qualified than Lincoln himself to lead soldiers. McClellan, however, was unsuccessful against Robert E. Lee. Guelzo explained that “all eyes turned to Lee in the war” as both he and his army survived the campaigns of 1862. The Civil War had now reached an ultimatum. Guelzo, thus, ended his lecture with the measures the Union army was now to take to fight for their victory. He said, “The war was about to become a crusade”.
The next lecture of Professor Guelzo’s “A Walk Through the Civil War” will be held on Wednesday, February 20th, 2013 at Gettysburg College.
“Was the Civil War a Second American Revolution?”: November 18, 2012
At the Majestic Theater on Sunday, November 18, Dr. Allen Guelzo delivered a compelling lecture on modern interpretations of the Civil War. Afterwards, during the question and answer portion of the event, he posed a question for everyone in attendance to ponder as they filed out: “Is it revolutionary to have a revolution against a revolution?” The question not only underlined the ambiguity behind what makes a historical event truly revolutionary, it also exposed the difficulty in defining the Civil War as a revolution in our nation’s history.
Dr. Guelzo began his lecture by defining what a revolution actually is. He argued a revolution is the reversal of polarity – not just regime change, but, more or less, rapid and fundamental social and cultural change. A revolution creates discontinuities in the narrative of a population, and the Civil War can be defined as a turning point in our nation’s history.
The Civil War is often characterized as being the first modern war. The war saw the coming of new tactics and technologies. The rifled musket is perhaps the most evident military advancement. As Dr. Guelzo argued, however, Civil War battlefields were not the first testing ground for the new weaponry. The Crimean War was the first showcase for many new military technologies. In addition to the rifled musket, the Crimean war demonstrated the use of telegraphs and railroads as military tools.
Technology aside, the Civil War has often been depicted as a turning point for national politics and law. Lincoln’s use of executive power was against conventions of the time. Between 1860 and 1865, the federal budget soared from $76.8 million to $1.96 billion. As Dr. Guelzo demonstrated, however, the budget shrank drastically in the years following the war, and the change from the norm was not sustained. Furthermore, Lincoln did not exceed the powers already given through the Constitution.
On the other hand, the South’s secession from the Union had the characteristics of a revolution. The Southern States did not possess the right to form their own government and disconnect themselves from the authority of the presidency and the Constitution. But they did not consider their actions as revolutionary. State leaders feared that a revolutionary ideology would also put into question the power structure of the state and local governments. Secession was, at most, a revolution not recognized as such by the revolutionary party.
With this in mind, Dr. Guelzo argued that the Civil War came to its most revolutionary moment with the creation of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was unprecedented to have such a large slave population instantly given freedom without compensation to the master class. But the majority of abolitionists did not seek a radical change in racial equality. Instead, abolition was seen as a way to challenge the growing aristocracy of the slaveholding elite. As the North saw it, slavery was the foundation of a southern society with a growing class structure. Emancipation was the means to prevent the establishment of an aristocratic order.
If the Civil War was a revolution, the opposing parties took revolutionary means to maintain, not upturn, their established practices.
To find the lasting effects of the Civil War, Dr. Guelzo posed another question: “Why is there not socialism in America?” Democracy in America has survived, time-tested and tried. Dr. Guelzo attributed Democracy’s survival to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the self-sustaining ideology it promoted. By opposing the revolutionary notion of secession with a revolutionary doctrine of his own, Lincoln maintained the legitimacy of Democracy that was affirmed during America’s first revolution.