Crises and Power
Civil War
   Progressive Era
   World War I
   Great Depresssion
   World War II
   Cold War
   Gulf Wars
   Terrorist War
U.S. Foreign Policy

Quotes on Power

About the book Crisis and Leviathan

Center on Peace & Liberty Civil



Nothing illustrates how crisis fuels the growth of government better than the Civil War, or more precisely, the war against Southern secession. Historians endlessly debate the motives for the South’s secession and Abraham Lincoln’s violent effort to stop it. Southerners with an interest in perpetuating slavery surely feared for the future of their “peculiar institution.” But Lincoln’s reasons for preventing secession do not appear to have been related to slavery. His own statements indicate this, for example: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.” His preliminary “Emancipation Proclamation” was not issued until September 1862 and applied only to areas outside his jurisdiction, that is, “within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States.“ The slaves under his authority, such as those in the border states and the parts of the Confederacy under Union control, were not freed during the war. Had slavery been the principal motive for Lincoln’s war, he might have found a way other than war to emancipate the slaves. After all, England and other countries had managed to do so peacefully.

Regardless of motives on either side, the government in Washington, D.C., indisputably and dramatically expanded its power under the cover of the national emergency. For example, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, the venerable principle under which people held by the government can demand a hearing before an independent judge. While the U.S. Constitution authorizes Congress to suspend habeas corpus in an emergency, the president is delegated no such power. Nevertheless, President Lincoln had war dissenters, including newspaper editors and political leaders, taken into custody. He also had newspapers closed, in clear violation of the Bill of Rights. During the war Americans had their first experience with national conscription, one of the most extreme forms of rights violation.

The federal government also expanded its financing of internal improvements, aiding railroads with land and loans, and granting land to states for the establishment of colleges. The Department of Agriculture and the position of Commissioner of Immigration were created during this period. The war also occasioned a veterans pension program, which was transformed into a source of patronage and vote buying that lived on long after the death of the last veteran.

While many of these interventions were eventually ended or scaled back, the federal government never returned to its pre-war size. More important, the political culture of the United States changed from one favoring decentralized and limited government to one more favorable to European-style centralized and intrusive bureaucracy. This was especially true among influential intellectuals. America was never the same.

Also, click here for Bibliography for Crisis and Leviathan.

Growth of Government:

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—. The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War. Roseville, Calif.: Prima Publishing, 2002.

Engerman, Stanley L. “Review of the book Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel,” The Independent Review, Vol. II, No. 1 (Summer 1997), pp. 129-132.

Gordon, David, ed. Secession, State and Liberty. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1998.

Higgs, Robert. “The Bloody Hinge of American History,” Liberty (May 1997).

Hummel, Jeffrey Rogers. Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War. Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company, 1996.

Kousser, J. Morgan. “Review of the book Southern Paternalism and the American Welfare State: Economics, Politics, and the Institutions in the South, 1865-1965 by Lee J. Alston and Joseph P. Ferrie,” The Independent Review, Vol. IV, No. 3 (Winter 2000), pp. 452-456.

Marshall, John A. American Bastille: A History of the Illegal Arrests and Imprisonments During the Late Civil War. Philadelphia: T. W. Hartley, 1875.

Sprague, Dean. Freedom under Lincoln: Federal Power and Personal Liberty Under the Strain of Civil War. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1965.


Adams, Charles. When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession. Lanham, Mass.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.

Addington, Larry. Patterns of War Since the Eighteenth Century. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Beringer, Richard E., Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones and William N. Still, Jr.Why the South Lost the Civil War. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1986.

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DiLorenzo, Thomas J. “The Great Centralizer: Abraham Lincoln and the War between the States,” The Independent Review, Vol. III, No. 2 (Fall 1998), pp. 243-271.

Eaton, Clement. The Freedom of Thought Struggle in the Old South. New York: Harper and Row, 1964.

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Frazier, Edward F. Black Bourgeoisie. New York: Macmillan, 1962.

Gutman, Herbert. The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom. New York: Pantheon, 1976.

. Slavery and the Numbers Game: A Critique of “Time on the Cross”. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1975.

Johannsen, Robert W. Lincoln, the South, and Slavery: The Political Dimension. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991.

Jones, Virgil Carrington. Gray Ghosts, Rebel Raiders. New York: Ballantine Books, 2002.

Kerby, Robert L. “Why the Confederacy Lost the Civil War,” Review of Politics, 35 (July 1973), pp. 326-345.

McDonald, Forrest. States’ Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio, 1776-1876. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2000.

McElroy, Wendy. “The Abolitionist Adventure,” Fairfax, Virginia: Future of Freedom Foundation, 2003.

McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Richman, Sheldon. “Anti-war Abolitionists: The Peace Movement’s Split Over the Civil War,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Summer l981), pp. 327-340.

Rosenberg, John S. “Toward A New Civil War Revisionism” in Gerald N. Grob and George Athan Bilias, eds., Interpretations of American History, Vol. I. New York: The Free Press, 1972, pp. 459-479.

Springer, Francis W. War for What? Nashville: Bill Coats Ltd., 1990.

Stromberg, Joseph R. “The War for Southern Independence: A Radical Libertarian Perspective,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1 (1979), pp. 31-53.

Turner, Frederick J. The United States, 1830-1850: The Nation And Its Sections. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith Publishers, 1935.

Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1977.

Williams, William Appleman. From Colony to Empire: Essays in the History of American Foreign Relations. New York: John Wiley & Sons. 1972.

Williamson, James J. Mosby's Rangers. New York: Time Life, 1983.

Woodman, Harold D. “The Profitability of Slavery: A Historical Perennial,” Journal of Southern History (August 1963).

Total War:

Förster, Stig and Jörg Nagler, ed. On the Road to Total War: The American Civil War and the German Wars of Unification, 1861-1871. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Janda, Lance. “Shutting the Gates of Mercy: The American Origins of Total War, 1860-1880,” Journal of Military History, Vol. 59 (Jan 1995), pp. 7-26.

Livingston, Donald W. “A Moral Accounting of the Union and the Confederacy,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Spring 2002), pp. 57-101.

Sutherland, Daniel E. “Abraham Lincoln, John Pope, and the Origins of Total War,” Journal of Military History, Vol. 56 (Oct 1992), pp. 567-586.

Walters, John Bennett. “General William T. Sherman and Total War,” Journal of Southern History, Vol. 14, No. 4 (November 1948), pp. 447-480.

Wilson, Edmund. Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994.