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American Civil War: Then and Now

Tom has written humor, poetry and training manuals for decades and decades...


How the Original American Civil War Started

Divisiveness over slavery first appeared as early as 1619, and increased over the intervening 240 years as the Southern economy relied increasingly upon slave trade and and labor while over time, the Northern colonies passed laws of emancipation and eventually eliminated slavery in the North by about 1860.

The end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, and the vast new territory gained as a result, added new urgency to the dispute over slavery. Northerners, driven by morality and/or a need to protect non-slave labor, came to believe that slavery must end. Southerners feared that limiting the expansion of slavery would be the death of it, and along with slavery would go their economy and way of life.

With the election of Abraham Lincoln, bringing with him the promise to outlaw slavery, Southerners responded by seceding from the United States to form a new country: the Confederate States of America. They then seized U.S. military installations across the south.

The United States fortified Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. The Confederacy bombarded Fort Sumter and forced the U.S. military to withdraw. So the war began.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Controversial Issues

Controversial issues divided and continue to divide America.

In 1820, Congress instituted a geographical boundary on slavery: the Missouri Compromise. Thomas Jefferson said about the act:

“… at once as the knell of the Union. ... A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.”

These words seem to have been prophetic, as the issue was weaponized by parties on both sides of the issue. The Detroit Free Press editorialized decades later, in 1854: “We deny to Congress the power to either establish slavery or to prohibit it, in a Territory or a State,” and, “We have no more respect for the Missouri compromise than we have for any other unconstitutional act.”

And in the same year, the Hartford Daily Courant attempted to use the Compromise to shame the South: “The South wilfully (sic) and wantonly violated the Compact of 1820, will be the cry, and they cannot be trusted again.” Both sides here are salting the wound.

In 1973, in the case of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled (basically) that the individual’s constitutional right to privacy prohibited the state (in this case, Texas) from intervening in the choice of a woman during the first trimester of pregnancy whether or not to have an abortion.

Once again, over time, proponents and opponents have both weaponized the issue. Soon after the decision, James Lineman (of a Connecticut Right to Life committee) questioned “how the Supreme Court can at one tie rule against capital punishment and then allow the wholesale slaughter of unborn children”—a statement that seems to simultaneously indict women, doctors and the Supreme Court.

Of equal efficiency is this tweet from U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:

“Abortion bans aren’t just about controlling women’s bodies. They’re about controlling women’s sexuality. Owning women. From limiting birth control to banning comprehensive sex ed, US religious fundamentalists are working hard to outlaw sex that falls outside their theology.”

This seems to implicate both church and state on a broader set of issues, using abortion as the starting point.

According to the Pew Research Center, about 43 percent of Americans approve of the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court of the United States.


Controversial Presidents and Escalating Rhetoric

When Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States, and the federal government gathered momentum toward making slavery illegal, states began to secede from the union, and the inevitable path to civil war was initiated. According to the American Civil War Museum:

“…Deep South states sent commissioners to the Upper South states to persuade them to leave the Union. Their arguments emphasized the mortal danger that the recent election of Republican Abraham Lincoln as president posed to slavery and to white people in the South.”

Concerns about a possible second American Civil War seemed to become more earnest after Donald Trump’s election to President of the United States. At the same time, divisiveness between the Republican and Democratic parties became more pronounced, and there was an overall escalation in provocative rhetoric.

Paraphrasing Time Magazine, politicians, along with elite business figures and religious leaders willing to make discriminatory appeals and pursue discriminatory policies use fear to persuade an ethnic group to support their causes, in effect, creating mutually hostile groups. It seems this has been somewhat of a constant everywhere, forever.

An example of this kind of incitement might be illustrated by the events of January 6, 2021. Preceding those events, outgoing President Trump said to a crowd of his supporters:

“All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical-left Democrats, which is what they're doing. And stolen by the fake news media. That's what they've done and what they're doing. We will never give up, we will never concede. It doesn't happen. You don't concede when there's theft involved … if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.”

Not long afterwards, insurgents stormed the U.S. Capitol Building in what some sources term was an attempted coup.

Second Civil War?

As of this writing, about 43 percent of Americans believe that a second civil war in the United States is likely. Will Americans go to war against each other again? Only America as a whole can answer.

Some say the attack on the Capitol Building on January 6th, 2021, was a dress rehearsal for the civil war to come. With the advantage of (apparent) surprise a relatively small contingent of loosely organized combatants seized the seat of government of the United States for a time. Is this a harbinger of things to come?

What differentiates our current state of affairs from those of 1860?

  1. Geography: In 1860 there was a clear division between states that were for or against. It was easy to delineate who was where. Today there are multiple factions within every state. In a civil war, every state may find itself at war with itself.
  2. Communication: In 1860, most communications were conducted in person, and the only news media was the newspaper, delivered by horse or rail. Today social media, news sources, email and texts instantly provide a steady barrage of messages from influencers. The more extreme the messaging, the more likely it will ultimately lead to some kind of violence. The volume of incendiary communications has mushroomed over the past decade.
  3. Weapons: America’s weapons of mass destruction today far exceed the capabilities of the 19th century. When the Confederacy seized U.S. military installations, they procured guns, artillery, horses and prisoners. If an organized insurgency seized military bases today, they may well have, in addition to guns and artillery, fighter jets, armored vehicles, rocket launchers and tactical nuclear weapons at their disposal. For this reason, a modern American Civil War might be far deadlier than the original.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Tom rubenoff