I am becoming legitimately concerned that we may be headed down the road to a second civil war in this country. It won't be exactly like the first one, but probably bloodier if that's even possible.
It seems to me that all the elements are there that were in place before. If we look at our country back then, while slavery seemed to be the defining issue, we had political and ideological divides in much of our society. In 1850, Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is impossible to grasp the effect that Uncle Tom’s Cabin had after its publication. It was an enormous bestseller, selling hundreds of thousands of copies at a time when the nation had only about 25 million people. It brought home, to a vastly increased proportion of the white North, the awful situation of black people living under slavery.
Violence became common. In 1856, on the floor of the Senate occurred an incident when Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, gave a powerful speech condemning what he called the “Crime against Kansas”—perhaps allowing slavery into Kansas—was caned on the floor of the Senate by Preston Brooks, a Representative from South Carolina. Beaten senseless and covered with blood, he collapsed on the floor. Charles Sumner, an abolitionist, left the Senate for three years as a result of this beating, and Massachusetts left his seat vacant.
In 1857, one of the most important Supreme Court cases in U.S. history was handed down, presided over by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. The decision in effect said that no black person could be a citizen.
Through the 1840s and 1850s it was felt that the national institutions that had been historically looked at to bring the nation together were failing. The churches split over the issue of slavery. There were divisions of Northern Baptists and Southern Baptists or Northern Methodists and Southern Methodists, rather than just Baptists and Methodists. Political parties were effected as well: the Whig and Democratic parties broke down. Those parties had been national parties, tending to hold things together because the parties would attempt to find compromises so they would have voters in both the North and the South.
The pre–Civil War years (1820–1860, or the “antebellum years”) were among the most chaotic in American history—a time of significant changes that took place as the United States came of age. The Market Revolution—the shift from an agricultural economy to one based on wages and the exchange of goods and services—completely changed the northern and western economy between 1820 and 1860.
The United States had been a land comprised almost entirely of farmers, but around 1820, millions of people began to move to the cities. They, along with several million Irish and German immigrants, flooded northern cities to find jobs in the new industrial economy. This change transformed the social fabric, giving birth to America’s first middle class. Comprised mostly of white-collar workers and skilled laborers, this growing middle class became the driving force behind a variety of reform movements. Among these were movements to reduce consumption of alcohol, eliminate prostitution, improve prisons and insane asylums, improve education, and ban slavery. Religious revivalism, resulting from the Second Great Awakening, also had a large impact on American life in all parts of the country.
The major political struggles during the antebellum period focused on states’ rights. Southern states were dominated by “states’ righters”—those who believed that the individual states should have the final say in matters of interpreting the Constitution. Others, such as President Andrew Jackson and Chief Justice John Marshall, believed that the federal government had authority over the states. The debate came to a head in the Nullification Crisis of 1832–1833, which nearly touched off a civil war
Today, our issues mirror much of what was going on almost 200 years ago. The individualists, those refusing COVID vaccinations, masks, protesting commerce shutdowns, and insisting on defying the authority of the government to put in place rules that are for the benefit of all of society are rising up, sometimes violently. Racism is still a powerful force in politics, driving redistricting and states changing laws to minimize the impact of people of color voting in elections.
The so-called gun-rights movement, calling out armed protesters with assault weapons and showing up at every demonstration imaginable are driving a wedge between conservatives and progressives. Courts and juries exonerating people who have shot others dead on the street. Other issues like a woman's right to choose, LGBTQ rights, and immigration reform are hot button issues for both sides of the political spectrum.
We regularly score elections as red or blue as if we were two competing sports teams. Big money is generally funding the conservative side in the hope that they will be protected from taxation. Political parties now appoint judges based on ideology, not their qualifications or past performance on the bench. The commitment by both the parties and the candidates for judicial appointment to a non-political and constitutional judgeship is almost a thing of the past.
And, like the 1800s, the churches are divided on almost all these issues with, it seems to me, a conservative majority siding with the more draconian view of governing. A major problem, as it was back then, is when a group of ideologically aligned people conclude that they have God on their side, and that they are somehow doing what they are convinced God wants done, they, like fundamentalist Muslims, Jews, or any religious fundamentalist sect, will not be moved from their mission. They are willing to become martyrs to their beliefs.
These are all the reasons I believe that we are in very real danger of having another armed conflict within our nation. Certainly, the extreme right not only views guns as a god-given right (where they get that is anyone's guess) but also see guns as an necessary and important tool to force their beliefs on the rest of a democratic nation. Rather than work within a system of laws and courts, they reach for the gun. All that is needed, now, is for the progressives to come to the conclusion that negotiation and compromise are no longer tools toward peace and that they too must take up arms to defend our constitutional form of government, just as happened in the mid-1800s.
I sincerely hope I'm wrong, but for the life of me, I see no way through this mess. Like the Confederacy of the past, the current religious/racist/states-rights hard core will only be stopped by another loss of a war. They won't go away anymore than the hardcore Confederates went away, but in defeat, they will withdraw for hopefully another century before rising again.