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US History in the Period between 1800 and 1860 Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 14th, 2020

U.S. History: 1800-1860

The period between 1800 and 1860 was one of the most turbulent times in American history. The foundling nation was trying to figure out its true identity through the help of the U.S. Constitution (McPherson 9). As national leaders and innovators reflected on that sacred document, many concluded that a house divided cannot stand the test of time. They were referring to the fact that people were living in America who were treated like beasts of burden. As a result, many called for the abolition of slavery. The right to own slaves divided the nation. It was a complicated subject matter.

One of the best ways to understand its core ideas is to study a film or a documentary. In this particular study, the Steven Spielberg movie entitled Lincoln and Ken Burn’s The Civil War documentary was chosen to serve this purpose. The film entitled Lincoln and the documentary entitled The Civil War are useful teaching tools to help a new generation of students and historians understand the significance and impact of the U.S. Civil War.

Freedom, Secession, and Union

It can be argued that the best way to discuss the impact and significance of the American Civil War is by touching on three key ideas, and these are: 1) The meaning of liberty; 2) The Union, and 3) Secession. There are many theories and ideas that people throw around when they talk about the Civil War. However, the failure to include these three main topics severely impacts the depth and validity of any discourse created to explain the Civil War.

Historians identified the significant issues that paved the way for the bloodiest war in U.S. history. Historians agree that the Confederate and Union armies fought to clarify the meaning of freedom and to preserve the Union. Based on this assertion, it can be argued that the producers of Lincoln and The Civil War made every effort possible to provide a historical depiction of the said war. Nevertheless, both media productions forged different paths when it comes to the focus of the story. In The Civil War, the focus was on the root cause of the conflict. In Lincoln, the focus was on the struggle to ratify the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Both productions are compelling teaching tools about the contextual background and end resolution of the Civil War. Ken Burn’s The Civil War answers some of the critical questions of that era. A significant number of people attempt to analyze the impact of the Civil War and criticized the leaders behind the declaration of war. However, the documentary explained the moral and political justifications for waging war against the southern states.

The criticism against the war is comparable to the criticism leveled at modern conflicts like the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. Critics tend to favor those who lost the battle, especially those who suffered against the onslaught of superior forces. Modern-day commentators wondered if there were choices available to national leaders like Abraham Lincoln. They asked if there was a way to avoid war. The documentary revealed the combined impact of different factors that compelled Lincoln and his team to order the destruction of the South.

One of the resource persons in the documentary was a historian who said that at its core, the Civil War was not about guns and armies. The Civil War was about contending forces fighting over the definition of critical ideas that affected the destiny of the United States of America. One of the key issues was how to interpret the concept of freedom. The documentary and the Lincoln film provide insights on how to answer this question. Eric Foner’s book, Give Me Liberty underscored the different world views regarding the said concept. Foner traced the evolution of the idea from European origins, and how it was applied to the American situation.

The documentary film provides different insights from different points of view. These insights will help the students understand the ramifications of the American Revolutionary War against Great Britain, especially when the founding fathers created the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution became the bible for nation-building, and in that document, a declaration was made that all men were created equal. The producers of both films did a great job in explaining that the war was not only a struggle for the right to own slaves; it was also a conflict against a particular perspective. It was to reinterpret how Americans view the marginalized members of the community.

In the documentary, one commentator said that without the Civil War, the idea of freedom and liberty would be discussed with certain exemptions. In other words, the U.S. Constitution declares every human being free, but people with African lineage are exempted. The commentator said that if this worldview continues, the exemption to the rule of law will not end with Negro slaves, because it will include minorities like Roman Catholics and other members of minority groups.

The Hollywood film Lincoln dramatized the significance of applying liberty for all. The film focused on the dilemma faced by the national government in the waning years of the Civil War. The film highlighted a critical juncture in the journey towards the reinterpretation of liberty and freedom when it depicted the consequences of the Emancipation Proclamation. The film does not only discuss the process that culminated in the ratification of the 13th Amendment, but it also showed why the Emancipation Proclamation was not enough to secure the freedom of all Americans.

At first glance, the Emancipation Proclamation provided the legal basis for the freedom of Negro slaves. However, opponents of abolition saw it as a stop-gap measure. The Lincoln film captures the nuances of the legal aspect of the war. It is difficult to explain this dilemma using history books alone. The film is a significant contribution to draw out critical insights. Due to the weakness of the Emancipation Proclamation, a document that was created at the time when Union forces invaded the South, President Lincoln was compelled to secure the passage of the 13th Amendment.

Both productions are excellent teaching tools when it comes to the impact of secession on the Union. Modern-day American citizens may take it for granted that the strength of the nation; its economic and military might is the direct result of the Union. However, the federation of states is only an effective deterrent against foreign invasion and other forms of threats if its people are united. When southern states seceded from the Union, the action set off a series of events that threatened to weaken the economic and military base of a foundling nation.

Ken Burn’s documentary provided critical insights about secession. In one of the dramatizations of historical events, one commentary from a Virginian politician asserted that it is not practical to build a republic out of a small territory. On the other hand, the secession revealed a fundamental truth about the United States government. It is a government comprised of freedom-loving people.

A careful study of historical narratives is needed to appreciate both films (Equiano 59) fully. The intense emotional struggle depicted in the Lincoln movie is supported by eyewitness accounts that justified the entry into the war. Olaudah Equiano was a slave imported from Africa. He learned how to read and write, and as a result, he was able to recount his harrowing experience as a Negro slave. It is stories like this that heightened the importance of the war, and why Lincoln was compelled to send Union soldiers into southern territory.


After scrutiny of historical narratives, it was discovered that Spielberg’s Lincoln and Ken Burn’s The Civil War are historically accurate when it comes to the depiction of three critical components of the Civil War. The producers of both films strive for authenticity when it comes to the dramatization of the impact of the debate regarding liberty, freedom, secession, and the Union. Due to the historical faithfulness of both productions, these two films will become effective teaching tools when it comes to an understanding of a critical period in American history.

Works Cited

Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. UK: The Bavarian State, 1794. Print.

Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. Print.

McPherson, James. What They Fought For. LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1994. Print.

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