The Political Thought of the Civil War

Edited by Alan Levine, Thomas W. Merrill, and James R. Stoner, Jr.

Why does the Civil War still speak to us so powerfully? If we listen to the most thoughtful, forceful, and passionate voices of that day we find that many of the questions at the heart of that conflict are also central to the very idea of America—and that many of them remain unresolved in our own time. The Political Thought of the Civil War offers us the opportunity to pursue these questions from a new, critical perspective as leading scholars of American political science, history, and literature engage in some of the crucial debates of the Civil War era—and in the process illuminate more clearly the foundation and fault lines of the American regime.

The essays in this volume use practical dilemmas of the Civil War to reveal and probe fundamental questions about the status of slavery and race in the American founding, the tension between moralism and constitutionalism, and the problem of creating and sustaining a multiracial society on the basis of the original principles of the American regime. Adopting a deliberative approach, the authors revisit the words and deeds of the most important political actors of era, from William Lloyd Garrison, John C. Calhoun, and Abraham Lincoln to Alexander Stephens and Frederick Douglass, with reference to the American Founders and the architects of Reconstruction. The essays in this volume consider the difficult choices each of these figures made, the specific problems they were responding to, and the consequences of those choices. As this book exposes and explores the theoretical principles at play within their historical context, it also offers vivid reminders of how the great controversies surrounding the Civil War continue to shape American political life to this day.

“An example of doing “political theory” at a truly excellent level.

—Civil War Book Review

“In addition to showcasing fine scholarship, the essays show how that era’s arguments over the core principles of the American political tradition—natural rights, federalism, constitutionalism, justice, and equality—remain relevant today and should inform current political debates. . . . Anyone who reads this volume will appreciate again the moral conviction and integrity required to preserve the timeless principles of the Founding during the Civil War era.

—Law and Liberty
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About the Author

Alan Levine is associate professor of government and director of special programs of the Political Theory Institute of Public Affairs at American University.

Thomas W. Merrill is associate professor of government and founding director of the Political Theory Institute in the School of Public Affairs at American University.

James R. Stoner Jr. is Hermann Moyse Jr. Professor and director of the Eric Voegelin Institute in the Department of Political Science at Louisiana State University.

Additional Titles in the American Political Thought Series