While the issue of slavery provided strong motivation for both the North and the South in the war of southern secession, at stake was what kind of nation the United States would be.
The northern industrialists wanted the entire “American” portion of the North American Continent to be one country in which Important Decisions were made for the whole country by one central (Federal) government composed of representatives from each state. (Top Down)
The southern agriculturists wanted independence from America in order to form their own country in which Important Decisions would be made on the local (state) level, with a central government whose authority required a unanimous agreement of all the autonomous Confederate(d) states. (Bottom Up)
Morally, the Good Guys won. Slavery was a horrible institution which will forever be a blot on America’s history. But from a practical point of view, it’s unfortunate that the winners weren’t also the guys who were advocating for a Confederacy.
The story of America since that war—and particularly since WWII—has made it abundantly clear that the federal, top down, republic of Jefferson et al does not scale up well—certainly not to its current size, and most likely not even to the original thirteen states over time.
There are bunches o’ natural factors that determine the optimum number of people and the size of the geographic area that can be united behind a government empowered to make Important Decisions. In growing to fill all the available land mass, the USA has defiantly flown in the face of those natural laws, to the point where continuation in its present form is no longer sustainable.
As we watch America follow the same path of denial as the former Soviet Union, falling apart from the inside out, let’s remember that it’s within our power to stop it anytime we can amass the public will to do so.
It is within the power of the people to call a Constitutional Convention and start again from scratch. It’s scary to contemplate, but it might be the only way to avert the bloodshed that’s otherwise inevitable.
Are we adult enough yet as a culture to do that before the country falls apart completely? Time will tell.
For more information on the movement to call for Constitutional Convention, see http://www.callaconvention.org/, and read Lawrence Lessig’s “A Call for a Constitutional Convention” in Huffington Post.
UPDATE: See also http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lawrence-lessig/neoprogressives_b_704715.html?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=090310&utm_medium=email&utm_content=FeatureMore#, and although I’m no huge fan of the Coffee Party http://www.fixcongressfirst.org/blog/entry/coffee-party-national-convention/. And finally, thanks to reader Bill Walker for providing this link in comments: http://www.foavc.org