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Fort Sumter cannons sound again: the Civil War 150 years later

Fort Sumter marked the start of the Civil War, with Confederates shelling it on April 12, 1861. Today, the cannon rolls still reverberate in a country that remains at peace, but torn by ideological divides.

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Furthermore, the idea of federalist government took hold after the war, defining legal rulings and political thought to the present day. But now it's being questioned by groups like the tea party and others worried about the weakening of the 10th Amendment, which guaranteed the states or the people all powers not specifically reserved for Washington.

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"What Lincoln did was effect a revolution where he took a constitutional confederate republic and turned it into a consolidated nation-state," says Mr. Hill at the League of the South. "I really think the dividing line in the country today is between those who accepted Lincoln's revolution as something permanent and good and those who see it as something to be overturned."

"The difficulties with the American system are we're not all one thing and we're trying to balance two competing values – liberty versus equality – and they're antithetical values," adds Mike Martinez, a Civil War expert at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. "Shelby Foote once said the genius of America is our ability to compromise, and the Civil War is the one time in history when that spirit of compromise broke down and 2 percent of the population was killed as a result."

While the enslavement of Africans – crucial to the South's plantation economy – was directly referenced by Southern politicians and in the Confederate Constitution, more Americans today believe the war began over states' rights (as Southern historians insisted after the war). Forty-eight percent of Americans believe the war was mainly about states' rights, and 38 percent say it was chiefly about slavery, according to Pew.

But if that revelation means that the South got to write at least part of the history of the Civil War, the cannon shots Tuesday at Fort Sumter were met not with regional glee, but with national solemnity.

"As this fort was a symbol, what they’ve done here is symbolically reflect that we were at war with ourselves,” Fred Kiger, a Civil War lecturer at the University of North Carolina, told The State newspaper of Columbia, S.C. “This is a very powerful moment, very sobering.”


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