Time Magazine article on cause of Civil War
From: WTGroce@georgiahistory.com
To: cjcrawford@comcast.net
Thank you for sharing. This is an excellent summation of why Americans willfully forgot the central issue of the Civil War and how that amnesia has distorted the way we remember the conflict 150 years later. My only thought was that the author, when discussing what would have happened if secession had succeeded, missed a major point that was obvious to those at the time but less clear today. By focusing today (as we should) on one major result of the war–the destruction of slavery–we still tend to forget the war’s other major outcome, without which there could have been no Emancipation–preservation of the United States and our republican form of government.
For supporters of the United States the stakes seemed dangerously high in 1861. Democracy is the norm among the nations today but at that time it was not. The American experiment in self government was still ongoing and many monarchists, aristocrats, and anti-republicans around the world expected it to fail.  Secession appeared to be that predicted failure in self government. Slaveholders in 1860 lost for the first time a presidential election (there had never been a president openly hostile to slavery) and they resorted to secession in order to overturn the result of that election.
But once the right of secession was conceded, where would it end?  Unionists in North and South feared that one secession movement would follow another each time a group that refused to accept the result of an election seized control of a state or even local government.  If that were allowed to happen, they argued, then the handiwork of the Founders would be undone, and the country would devolve into a series of banana republics wracked by perpetual civil strife, anarchy, and eventual dictatorship. (It is interesting to speculate what would have happened the first time a Confederate state tried to secede from the Confederacy. Confederate nationalists could not argue that their new "union" was designed to be perpetual.)
In order for it to work democracy requires the acceptance of the results of elections. To redress grievances Americans resort to ballots not to bullets. Otherwise the system collapses. For Americans loyal to the U.S. during the war this, along with the idea that all men are created equal, formed the cornerstone of American exceptionalism. It is why supporters of the U.S. believed they were enforcing the law and the Constitution by suppressing the "insurgency" in the seceded states, why Lincoln feared that government of, by, and for the people would perish if the United States did not prevail, and why Frederick Douglass said Americans should never forget that Confederate victory would have meant "death to the Republic."
Scholars are beginning to recover this sense of the Union and what it meant to the people who fought against the anti-democratic forces of secession and slavery. One of the leaders in this is UVA’s Gary Gallagher who has a new book entitled The Union War (Harvard Univ. Press) in which he attempts to put Union and all it represented back in its place of preeminence as the motivation for those who fought for and supported the United States during the war. I’ve just started it, but based on what I’ve read so far I highly recommend it.