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Why the Civil War Still Matters

James McPherson


The author describes the origins of what became the key focus of his research, the American Civil War, in the 1960s, with the overlapping of the one-hundredth anniversary of the Civil War and the rise of the Civil Rights movement. He discovered that “for better or for worse, the flames of Civil War forged the framework of modern America.” The conflicting (positive and negative) views on the concept of Liberty grew out of the Civil War and is reflected in the Amendments to the Constitution since the Civil War. He points out that “the presidential election of 2012 pitted the concepts of positive and negative liberty against each other more clearly than in any other recent election. How this tension will play out, in the midst of our Sesquicentennial observations of the Civil War, remains to be seen. In any case, it is another example of ‘Why the Civil War still Matters.’”

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