A Student of History

February 9, 2012

Did the Founding Fathers Lay the Foundation for Civil War?

Filed under: Early America — John Maass @ 9:43 am

This question is addressed in the Journal of Colonial Williamsburg, in an issue from 2011.

The piece was written by Barksdale Maynard. He is the author of five books on American history, including Woodrow Wilson: Princeton to the Presidency.

The opening:

Whether America’s founders could have sown seeds of a more perfect union without dooming a following generation to reap the whirlwind of civil war is a question yet on the minds of the nation’s historians. Could anything have been done to avoid the bloodbath that took the lives of 2 percent of America’s population? It’s a staggering figure: 2 percent in today’s terms would mean the deaths of everybody in Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. We usually think of nineteenth-century events—the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision—when we consider what precipitated the crisis. But the roots of the conflict go back further, back to the formative years of the United States.


  1. Not purposely. The founding fathers had little foresight that that Civil War would occur 85 or so years later. What has been ignored by Civil War historians, in particular, is the sectionalism that existed regardless of slavery. Slavery was just one of several factors and it was not the central factor. Greed of power was the central factor, which dominated the other issues including politics, expansion, economy, slavery and pursuits of necessity and happiness. Historians have been negligent in overemphasizing the romantic notions of Union, as though everyone just agreed to get on the same band wagon. They neglect to understand that each delegate, as well as each patriot, had their own reasoning to rebel against the British. Each Colony had benefactors with their sights on what they wanted to achieve for themselves. It was not a Union embraced in selfless love for everybody. It was a Union bent on selfish endeavors for what each sought and agreed upon and not everyone agreed with each other’s ideas or interests, but did what they could to achieve their own means. The Civil War was the most extreme conflict of self interest our nation has ever faced, but it is not the only war or conflict in our nation where self interests were central. In fact, history records dozens of wars and civil disputes that have been wars nonetheless, just not always leading to bloody fratricide or death between contending parties. Sectionalism remains even today, and is no less volatile given the unpredictable elements of overreaction to whatever issue is threatened by another section,or factions self interest.

    Comment by Michael C. Lucas — December 29, 2012 @ 9:53 am | Reply

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