Thursday, November 7, 2019

Booknotes: The Second American Revolution

New Arrival:
The Second American Revolution: The Civil War-Era Struggle over Cuba and the Rebirth of the American Republic by Gregory P. Downs (UNC Press, 2019).

Long dominated by diplomatic studies of relations between the dueling Union and Confederacy and the great European powers of Britain and France, scholarly publications dealing with the international dimensions of the American Civil War in the Atlantic World and beyond have significantly expanded in number and scope. Gregory Downs's The Second American Revolution: The Civil War-Era Struggle over Cuba and the Rebirth of the American Republic joins other recent works in interpreting the American Civil War as not just a shooting war between North and South but a truly international conflict situated within a worldwide debate and struggle over republican revolution (both proslavery and antislavery), self-government, and the meaning of freedom.

Focusing his study's attention on the two-way traffic in influence and rhetoric between the United States and Cuban rebel movements before, during, and after the American Civil War, Downs see the ACW as "an international conflict of ideas as well as armies. Its implications transformed the U.S. Constitution and reshaped a world order, as political and economic systems grounded in slavery and empire clashed with the democratic process of republican forms of government. And it spilled over national boundaries, tying the United States together with Cuba, Spain, Mexico, Britain, and France in a struggle over the future of slavery and of republics."

In The Second American Revolution, the author "argues that we can see the Civil War anew by understanding it as a revolution. More than a fight to preserve the Union and end slavery, the conflict refashioned a nation, in part by remaking its Constitution. More than a struggle of brother against brother, it entailed remaking an Atlantic world that centered in surprising ways on Cuba and Spain. Downs introduces a range of actors not often considered as central to the conflict but clearly engaged in broader questions and acts they regarded as revolutionary. This expansive canvas allows Downs to describe a broad and world-shaking war with implications far greater than often recognized."

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