It’s a question students of the American Civil War argue: Was the Union victory a triumph of American federalism? Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis both faced decentralized federal systems as they enlisted the support of their states and resources to fight a war. The war’s eventual outcome in many ways reflected the solidification of the centralized government’s power over the individual states.
In this day-long series, Stephen Engle explores how President Lincoln won over opponents in the North and forged mutually beneficial relationships within the states that were vital to the war effort. This power-sharing arrangement proved critical to the ultimate preservation of the Union.
9:30 to 10:45 a.m. Is There a North? Gathering To Save a Nation (1860–1861)
The “Great Secession Winter” and the northern reaction to the southern states’ withdrawal from the Union lay the foundation for cooperative federalism in the North. Lincoln’s strategic journey from Springfield to Washington, designed to solidify support among northern leaders as war grew imminent.
11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. The Changing Nature of War: Northern Federalism Under Construction (1861–1862)
The home-front opposition to emancipation and the use of black troops—at a time when the Union armies were in desperate need of men.
12:15 to 1:30 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own)
1:30 to 2:45 p.m. Warring for the Union: Nation and State (1862–1863)
Mounting battlefield casualties demoralized Northerners and encouraged the rise of the Copperheads—northern politicians sympathetic to the South—and opposition to the administration’s expanded war aims, including national conscription.
3 to 4:15 p.m. Federalism Reconstituted: A More Perfect Union (1864–1865)
The war strengthened the ties between nation and state and established a new understanding of states’ rights. Did these ties form a new federalist structure, and if so, how long did it last?
Engle is professor of history and director of the History Symposium Series at Florida Atlantic University.