Q: You point out in a new discussion that in the 1860s, modern states throughout the world were consolidating their power and reducing local autonomy. What connections do you make between these global events and the American Civil War?
A: The American Civil War arises out of American circumstances—the existence of slavery, the political debate over slavery, questions of states’ rights within the United States, and those aren’t exactly matched in other countries. But on the other hand, it is useful to see that this is also part of this process of what we call state formation, or nation formation. Out of the Civil War emerged a much more powerful national government than had existed before the war when the federal government was very, very weak. The process of mobilizing to fight a giant war like that tremendously enhanced the power of the national government. But all over the world this process is happening in the mid-nineteenth century—the unification of Italy from a bunch of separated local entities into a nation; Germany unified by Bismarck in the 1860s; the Meiji restoration in Japan where the central government is reclaiming power from local warlords and local autonomy. Lincoln falls into that pattern in a sense, of Bismarck, of Cavour, of the emperor of Japan. Not that he’s the same as those people, but he’s someone who’s trying to create a more powerful, centralized nation. And again, it’s useful to know that this is going on in other countries; it’s partly because of the rise of industrialism and the rise of mass communications, which is making possible centralized states that really couldn’t have existed before the industrial revolution of the first part of the nineteenth century.