The Personal Website of Mark W. Dawson
Containing His Articles, Observations, Thoughts,
and some would say Wisdom (and some would say not).
Meaning of the American Civil War
As a complementary to my essay on “The
Meaning of the American Revolution” I have decided to
express my opinion on the meaning and consequences of the
American Civil War. The best summation of its meaning was given
by President Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863, at the
Gettysburg, PA battlefield site to dedicate a portion of the
site as a National Cemetery. In one of the finest speeches ever
given he said:
“Four score and seven years ago
our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation,
conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that
all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great
civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so
conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a
great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a
portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who
here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is
altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But in a larger sense, we cannot
dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow - this
ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here,
have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or
detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what
we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is
for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the
unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so
nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to
the great task remaining before us - that from these honored
dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they
gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly
resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that
this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -
and that government of the people, by the people, for the
people, shall not perish from the earth.”
As to the consequences of the American Civil War it did more
than just establish that the American ideal was for all. The
Civil War established that we were a society of all the people.
Prior to the Civil War many citizens thought that they were
citizens of their State first, and citizens of their Nation
second. After the Civil War Americans began to think of
themselves as a citizen of the Nation first, and a citizen of a
State second. As they comingled on the battlefield, so they
comingled in their national identity. This was also facilitated
by the vast movements of people who settled the western
territories and comingled with people from other States. As such
they lost their State identity and gained a national identity.
Their desire to become States and join the union cemented their
national identity. From sea to shining sea was a national vision
and not State oriented.
The Civil War also pitted the commercial interests of the North
against the agricultural interests of the South and established
the predominance of the commercial interests in our nation. It
also changed the dynamics of the political landscape. Politics
became less State oriented and more interests oriented.
And finally, the Civil War established that we were “one Nation
under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.