There is growing worry these days about whether or not we are headed for another civil war, and whether the divisions in American society are as bad as they were in the run-up to what is still the bloodiest war in American history. In fact, there is no comparison between the divisions between Americans today and in the run-up to the Civil War. The ones today are far worse. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we are headed for a shooting war, but we certainly may be.
A civil war is by definition a war between citizens of the same country, and the American Civil War was certainly that. Both sides revered Washington, Jefferson, and the other Founding Fathers. Confederate spokesmen often termed the war their own war for independence, insisting that it was a new iteration of the same desire for self-determination that had led to the American war of independence against Britain.
Both sides respected the United States Constitution to the extent that the Constitution of the Confederate States of America was essentially a copy of that of the nation the Confederates were leaving, with a few minor modifications. It protected the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, and the freedom of religion; it allowed for “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” it protected citizens from unreasonable search and seizure, and contained numerous other provisions taken from the earlier Constitution.
The similarity of the new Confederate nation to the Union the rebellious states were trying to leave was epitomized by the Confederate national flag, which featured the same stars and stripes arrangement as the American flag (although the stripes, or bars, were only three, and the stars thirteen, standing for the eleven Confederate states plus Kentucky and Missouri, which the Confederates hoped to entice or compel to join them). The two flags were so similar that they caused confusion in battle until Confederate armies began using the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, the familiar flag with stars in an X-shape that has become in contemporary America the symbol of all that is evil.
No less an authority than Abraham Lincoln noted the similarity of the two sides in his second inaugural address, even as he pointed out the one thing that sharply distinguished them: “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged.”
That was truly a civil war, a war between countrymen. But today, the two sides of America’s great divide do not read the same Bible or pray to the same God. In fact, Leftists are increasingly open about considering American Christians to be among their foremost enemies. If American Leftists were to create their own Constitution, it would not resemble the American Constitution, and judging from the behavior of Democratic governors and mayors during the coronavirus crisis, it would not likely protect the freedom of religion or the freedom of speech. A flag of Leftist America is more likely to feature a hammer and sickle than stars and stripes.
Rating America’s Presidents shows how Abraham Lincoln’s unique and incisive articulation about what exactly was wrong about slavery, something that was not at all as clear to many of his contemporaries as it is to today’s woke mob, helped break the logjam that had existed in American politics for the previous half-century. It still took a long and bloody civil war to lead to national reconciliation and the binding up of the nation’s wounds.
Today, as the book also demonstrates, Donald Trump has also articulated a way out of the impasse that has hamstrung the American political discourse since the end of the Second World War. Trump, like Lincoln, is heard only by one half of the American public, while the other half ridicules and excoriates him as evil, stupid, and worse. If the nation’s wounds can’t be bound up without another civil war, a second one promises to be even bloodier and more protracted than the one that still casts a long shadow over American public life.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 21 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.