Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 12, 1861: The Second Most Important Day In American History

The most important date in American history is July 4, 1776 Independence Day, the second most important day is April 12, 1861 , the day the Civil War began. The attention paid to this date is scant even on the 150th anniversary. Why is it important? First and foremost the war brought an end to slavery and led to citizenship being granted to all born in the United States . Beyond the monumental achievement of ending slavery, the Civil War  set the legislative stage for Lincoln to start the country moving from a loose collection of states, as Lincoln called them, to becoming the United States of America as we know it today.


1862 dollar

An equally lasting achievement, according to Thomas Barnett in his recent book Great Power: American and The World After Bush, was that Lincoln "front loaded" America's post-war recovery which spread people and connectivity across the continent so that within a quarter century, America was poised to become the the dominant power of the 20th Century. Using five bills passed in the 37th Congress, Lincoln set the stage that would shepherd America into the next century. The Homestead Act  transferred 270 million acres of federal land to private hands. The Pacific Railroad Act began to tie the nation together and linked those far flung homesteads with the developed east. To make it easier to conduct business across the nation, Legal Tender Note made the "Greenback" bill we came to know and love. To lay the groundwork for higher education, the Morrill Act was the first federal aid to education bill by providing land for colleges in each state. Finally, the Second National Bank Act stabilized the banking institutions with the issuance of Treasury bonds and created a uniform monetary policy. Lincoln pulled this off with the 37th Congress that was seated with a Republican majority in both houses after the Southern states withdrew their members.

So When you are next casting about for something profound to say at the next social get-together remember the second most important date in American history. And for those who like counter-factual considerations, imagine how we would have fought World War I or II or contronted the Cold War if we were still a loose collection of states. We'd have looked just like NATO, made up of European Union countries, trying to organize themselves to end Gaddafi's rule or muster more that token support for Afghanistan. 

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