Second American Civil War

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The American Civil War took place between 1861 and 1865, after which the Union was preserved. Rhetorical or hyperbolic references to a potential Second American Civil War have since been made on a number of occasions throughout the history of the United States.


The 1861–1865 war as Second American Civil War

Some historians name the 1861–1865 war as the Second American Civil War, since the American Revolutionary War could be considered a civil war (since the term can refer to any war to separate one political body from another). They then refer to the Independence War, which resulted in the separation of the Thirteen Colonies from the British Empire, as the First American Civil War.[1][2] A significant number of American colonists stayed loyal to the British Crown and as Loyalists fought on the British side while opposite were a significant amount of colonists called Patriots who fought on the American side. In some localities, there was fierce fighting between Americans including gruesome instances of hanging, drawing, and quartering on both sides.[3][4][5][6] As Canadian historian William Stewart Wallace noted:

It must be admitted that the Loyalists were guilty during the war of some unpleasant atrocities. But so were some of the Revolutionists. No one can take pride in tracing descent to the worst of the Green Mountain Boys, any more than to Bloody Bill Cunningham and his gang or to the raiders of Cherry Valley. And it is fair to remember that the Loyalists had been driven from their homes, that their property had been confiscated, and that they and their families had been subjected to persecution. They would have been hardly human had they not waged a mimic warfare. At the same time, it is no more surprising that after the war the victorious Revolutionists treated the Loyalists with scant generosity. They too would have been hardly human had they done otherwise.[7]"

As early as 1789, David Ramsay, an American patriot historian, wrote in his History of the American Revolution that, "Many circumstances concurred to make the American war particularly calamitous. It was originally a civil war in the estimation of both parties... . "[8] Framing the American Revolutionary War as a civil war is making its way to classrooms on both sides of the Atlantic.[9][10][11]

Reconstruction as Second American Civil War

After the American Civil War, the federal government started in 1865–1877 a process called Reconstruction, which aimed to restore the South to the Union and update the federal and state governance in accordance with the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Due to severity of the social, political and constitutional challenges and conflicts of the Reconstruction Era, the Reconstruction is sometimes called the Second Civil War.[12][13] The term was cemented by the American Experience episode "Reconstruction: The Second Civil War"[14] and made its way to the school curriculum.[15]

Culture war as Second American Civil War

In the 21st century, during an alleged ongoing culture war between American conservatives and liberals over opposing cultural, moral, and religious ideals, some political commentators have characterized the polarized political discourse as either an actual Second Civil War or a potential prelude for one. According to one 2018 Rasmussen poll, 31 percent of American voters feared that the intense partisanship following the 2016 presidential election and the victory of Donald Trump would cause a Second Civil War within five years.[16] In 2019, the national bipartisan Battleground Civility Poll by the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service revealed that "the average voter believes the U.S. is two-thirds of the way to the edge of a civil war."[17]

In 2017, conservative Dennis Prager claimed that Americans are actually in the midst of the Second Civil War, albeit not necessarily violent.[18] Two years later, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh stated that the United States had entered a "Cold Civil War" after the start of a formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump during the 2019 Trump-Ukraine scandal.[19] Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his website InfoWars made multiple claims that the Democratic Party planned to launch a civil war, most famously in 2018 when he claimed that the Democrats would launch a coup d'état against President Trump on Independence Day.[20] During the Special Counsel investigation by Robert Mueller, Sean Hannity claimed on his radio show that an attempt to remove President Trump from office would result in a civil war "fighting and dividing this country at a level we’ve never seen" between "those that stand for truth and those that literally buy into the corrupt deep state attacks against a duly elected president."[21]

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich similarly argued that deep-state theories could serve as an ideological justification for a insurgency supported by the U.S. Armed Forces [22] After the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the American political scientist and specialist in civil wars Barbara F. Walter argued that the recent increase in domestic terrorism and high rate of gun violence in the United States could be indicators of an impending second civil war.[23] In January 2019, Dmitry Rogozin, the Administrator of Roscosmos, cancelled a visit to the United States due to the effects of the 2018-19 United States federal government shutdown on NASA and claimed to TASS that "I think that America is actually engulfed by its second civil war now."[24]

On March 19, 2019, Representative Steve King posted an Internet meme reading "Folks keep talking about another civil war. One side has about 8 trillion bullets, while the other side doesn’t know which bathroom to use,” and was met with intense criticism.[25] In a response to a series of comments by President Trump perceived by critics as racist about a group of female Democratic congresswomen of color (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib) known as "the Squad," Susan B. Glaser described the political atmosphere of the United States as a "political civil war" in an article for The New Yorker.[26][27] Writing for the National Review, Victor Davis Hanson blamed the policies of President Barack Obama, the Digital Revolution, "campus radicalism," and globalization for bringing the United States to "the brink of a veritable civil war."[28] Thomas E. Ricks argued in an article for Foreign Policy that the current political tensions of the United States could escalate to asymmetric or irregular warfare with the help of increasing radicalization and digital propaganda, and speculated that "the likelihood of a second U.S. civil war in the next five years is between 20 and 40 percent but trending upward significantly."[29]

After the opening of the impeachment inquiry, President Trump made a Twitter post paraphrasing an evangelical Christian pastor and Fox News contributor, Robert Jeffress: "If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal." Trump's statement was criticized as incitement to violence by many of his opponents. Representative Adam Kinzinger posted in response "I have visited nations ravaged by civil war. @RealDonaldTrump I have never imagined such a quote to be repeated by a President. This is beyond repugnant."[30]

Other political and social commentators acknowledge that extreme partisan politics on Capitol Hill, accompanied by related commonplace verbal and occasional physical acts of aggression in the streets, are tearing apart the fabric of American society,[31][32][33][34][35][36] but point to the fact that culture wars cycles are imminent to the process of replenishing American values, and the first such cycle started after George Washington's retirement,[37] and that Americans have to find "America's middle again and return to civility."[38]

In popular culture


  • In the semi-satirical 1935 political novel by American author Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here, a second civil war breaks out due to the tyrannical policies of fictional President Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip. Published during the rise of fascism in Europe, the novel describes the rise of Windrip, a politician who defeats Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and is elected President of the United States, after fomenting fear and promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and "traditional" values. After his election, Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes a plutocratic/totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force, in the manner of Adolf Hitler and the SS. The novel's plot centers on journalist Doremus Jessup's opposition to the new regime and his subsequent struggle against it as part of a liberal rebellion. Reviewers at the time, and literary critics since, have emphasized the connection with Louisiana politician Huey Long, who was preparing to run for president in the 1936 election when he was assassinated in 1935 just prior to the novel's publication.
  • Philip K. Dick's 1974 novel, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is set in a futuristic dystopia, where the United States has become a police state in the aftermath of a Second Civil War. The story follows a genetically enhanced pop singer and television star who wakes up in a world where he has never existed.
  • In Canadian author Margaret Atwood's 1985 dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale, a secretive group of religious fundamentalists called "The Sons of Jacob" stages an attack that kills the U.S. President and most of Congress. In the ensuing political and social upheaval, the group launches a hostile revolution and suspends the United States Constitution under the pretext of restoring order. Within this autocratic new system, the group is quickly able to curtail or take away human, civil, and in particular women's rights. Under their newfound authority, The Sons of Jacob declare the establishment of The Republic of Gilead — a theocratic military dictatorship within the borders of what was formerly the United States of America. The new regime moves quickly to consolidate its power and reorganize society with an Old Testament-inspired social and religious fanaticism, and enshrines in law a militarized, hierarchical system of newly-created societal classes and cultural castes. At the same time, the Gileadian army continues to fight a Second American Civil War against various factions who oppose the new regime. The novel primarily takes place 16 years after the events that occurred during the establishment of Gilead, and depicts a grim picture of society, where pollution caused by nuclear and biological issues have caused near-universal infertility and a sharp rise in birth defects, where women are subjugated and valued only for their reproductive capacities, and where minorities of every stripe are persecuted.
  • In the 1995 alternate history/time travel novel ARC Riders by David Drake and Janet Morris, the United States is on the verge of collapse and possible nuclear civil war due to over two decades of harsh military rule as a result of the ARC Raiders meddling with the Vietnam War.
  • In the 1997 alternate history novel Back in the USSA by Eugene Byrne and Kim Newman, a Second American Civil War and a Second American Revolution occur as a result of the corrupt presidency of Charles Foster Kane, who becomes the 28th president after former president and Progressive Party candidate Theodore Roosevelt wins the 1912 presidential election, but is assassinated on December 19, 1912 before taking office by the sharpshooter and exhibition shooter Annie Oakley when he personally attempts to break up a labor strike at the Chicago Union Stock Yards with the help of the Rough Riders. Due to his being Roosevelt's running mate, Kane becomes president on March 4, 1913. By 1917, the U.S. becomes unstable politically and socially. That year, the Socialist Party led by Eugene Debs gains increasing support and both a Second American Civil War and Second American Revolution (both based on the Russian Civil War and Russian Revolution, respectively) breaks out, following which Kane is ousted from the White House, overthrown, and executed for treason. The United States becomes the United Socialist States of America (USSA) with Debs as its president, surviving until his death in 1926.
  • In the 2002 short story "Southern Strategy" by Michael F. Flynn that is collected in the anthology Alternate Generals II by Harry Turtledove, A shortened World War I leaves the German Empire a world power in the 20th century, while the United States all but collapses during a genocide-based second civil war.
  • In the 2002 novel A Disturbance of Fate by Mitchell J. Freedman, Barry Sadler gets elected President of the United States in 1984 and causes a second civil war due to his conservative politics. After much destruction of the nation, Sadler is arrested and a new Constitution is put into place, which abolishes the office of the presidency.
  • In one of the timelines in the 2003 novel Fuzzy Dice by Paul Di Filippo, George McGovern is narrowly elected president in 1972 after incumbent Richard Nixon had undergone an assassination attempt and become completely paranoid, waging a crackdown on real and imagined domestic foes as well as a huge escalation of the Vietnam War, and setting off a huge explosion of countrywide riots. The riots continue and even increase after McGovern's election and a call by the new president for a return to calm proves completely ineffective. McGovern rejects a call in Congress to use the Army to quell the riots, leading to an attempted impeachment. Some military commanders try repression on their own, killing civilians and only adding to the ferocity of the riots. Eventually, the country is plunged into chaos, an all-out Second American Civil War, and eventually the total collapse of the Old Order. When the book's protagonist arrives some decades later, he finds a "Hippie-style" dictatorship presided over by the monstrous Lady Sunshine and with Hells Angels acting as the police, and the final fate of McGovern is unknown.
  • In the 2012 novel by Billy Bennett titled By Force of Arms (part of a series by the author focusing on a victorious Confederacy), the United States (led by William Tecumseh Sherman) and the Confederate States (led by Robert E. Lee) fight "The Second American Civil War" in 1869 due to Confederate and French military involvement in Mexico with fighting spreading across the two countries from ironclads firing at each other in the Gulf of California, trench warfare in the Confederate state of Virginia, Buffalo Soldiers fighting in the west, pro-Confederate bushwacker partisans in the Union state of Missouri made even more deadly by the usage of the introduction of breech-loading rifles and Gatling guns.
  • The 2013 novel Pulse by Patrick Carman depicts a Second Civil War, escalating into a nuclear disaster, leaving only one area of land habitable, divided into 2 states constantly at war.
  • American War, the 2017 debut novel by Omar El Akkad, is told from the viewpoint of members of the Chestnut family who have experienced the War first-hand. The War begins in 2074, when anthropogenic climate change has led to a ban on fossil fuels, leading to the secession of several Southern states. The events of the novel themselves are influenced by widespread plagues, and culture wars over increased immigration of Muslims.[39]
  • Tropic of Kansas, the 2017 debut novel by Christopher Brown, is told from the points of view of Sig, an orphan running from the law, and Tania, a government investigator forced to hunt him. The two are foster brother and sister. In this setting, the US has broken into warring factions, with most of the action taking place in a new wasteland in the Midwest.[40]


  • The 1996 movie Barb Wire, based upon the 1994 comic book of the same name, is set in 2017 during the "Second American Civil War". Titular heroine Barb Wire (Pamela Anderson) owns the Hammerhead, a nightclub in Steel Harbor — "the last free city" in a United States ravaged by the civil war—and she brings in extra cash working as a mercenary and bounty hunter.
  • The Second Civil War: a 1997 made-for-TV movie wherein the title conflict erupts over immigration, with the country having become inundated with immigrants and refugees, and the president attempting to settle more refugees in a resistant Idaho.
  • The 2005 film adaptation of V for Vendetta mentions an ongoing civil war in the United States. However, the report comes from the fascist Norsefire regime's propaganda sources in the United Kingdom, leaving the existence of the war in question.


  • In season two of the 2006 TV series Jericho, a second American Civil War begins between the United States and the separatist Allied States of America.[41] Members within the US government conspire to bomb 23 American cities in order to kill the President and other heads of Government. After the power grid is knocked out, new leaders organize and make a new government called the Allied States of America, which occupy everything West of the Mississippi River, excluding Texas, which becomes independent. Everything East belongs to the remaining United States. War begins when it is revealed that leaders within the Allied States of America were ring leaders of the previous attacks on American cities.
  • In Family Guy episode "Back to the Pilot", Brian travels back in time to 1999 and tells his younger self to prevent the September 11 attacks. By doing so, George W. Bush is unable to exploit fears of terrorism and secure re-election. Bush reforms the Confederacy and declares war on the United States, resulting in a post-apocalyptic future.
  • A pilot film for a proposed TV drama, Civil, about a disputed election that slides into civil unrest and eventually war, was optioned by TNT in 2016.[42] However TNT decided not to proceed as it was felt to be too close to home for the 2016 U.S. presidential election.[43]

Video games

  • The Deus Ex video game series, first released in 2000, depict a United States reshaped by what is called the "Northwest War", where several states secede from the union due to an unpopular gun control law and increasing dissent with the federal government. The main antagonists for the first act of the game, the National Secession Forces, are descended from the Northwest Secession Forces who fought the United States during the war, although the newer NSF is more kin to a left-wing populist movement, and the original was more akin to a right-wing militia.
  • Shattered Union, a 2005 video game published by 2K Games, depicts a civil war between six factions of the former United States and the European Union, following the destruction of Washington, D.C. in a nuclear attack.
  • The science-fiction, action-roleplaying, third-person shooter Mass Effect series, first released in 2007, has this subject in its backstory, spawning from the creation of the United North American States.
  • The Hearts of Iron IV mod, Kasierreich: Legacy of the Weltkrieg, integrates a second civil war into its canon. The five major factions include: a loyalist junta led by Douglas MacArthur, a syndicalist Combined Syndicates of America led by Jack Reed, an American Union State led by Huey Long, a seccessionist republic on the Pacific Coast, and a Canada-backed New England.

See also


  1. ^ Eric Herschthal. America’s First Civil War: Alan Taylor’s new history poses the revolution as a battle inside America as well as for its liberty Archived 2017-06-26 at the Wayback Machine, The Slate, September 6, 2016.
  2. ^ James McAuley. Ask an Academic: Talking About a Revolution Archived 2018-01-07 at the Wayback Machine, The New Yorker, August 4, 2011.
  3. ^ Thomas Allen. Tories: Fighting for the King in America's First Civil War. New York, Harper, 2011.
  4. ^ Peter J. Albert (ed.). An Uncivil War: The Southern Backcountry During the American Revolution. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1985.
  5. ^ Alfred Young (ed.). The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1976.
  6. ^ Armitage, David. Every Great Revolution Is a Civil War Archived 2013-12-03 at the Wayback Machine. In: Keith Michael Baker and Dan Edelstein (eds.). Scripting Revolution: A Historical Approach to the Comparative Study of Revolutions. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015. According to Armitage, "The renaming can happen relatively quickly: for example, the transatlantic conflict of the 1770s that many contemporaries saw as a British "civil war" or even "the American Civil War" was first called "the American Revolution" in 1776 by the chief justice of South Carolina, William Henry Drayton."
  7. ^ William Stewart Wallace. The Text-Book Poison in Canadian-American Friendship, The Bookman: A Review of Books and Ideas, Vol. 48, September, 1918 - February, 1919, pp. 682-683.
  8. ^ David Ramsay. The History of the American Revolution Archived 2018-07-27 at the Wayback Machine. 1789.
  9. ^ Elise Stevens Wilson. Colonists Divided: A Revolution and a Civil War Archived 2016-10-17 at the Wayback Machine, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
  10. ^ Timothy H. Breen. The American Revolution as Civil War Archived 2017-06-24 at the Wayback Machine, National Humanities Center.
  11. ^ 1776: American Revolution or British Civil War? Archived 2018-07-27 at the Wayback Machine, University of Cambridge.
  12. ^ Howell, Kenneth W. Still the Arena of Civil War: Violence and Turmoil in Reconstruction Texas, 1865-1874. Denton, Tex: University of North Texas Press, 2012.
  13. ^ Smallwood, James, Barry A. Crouch, and Larry Peacock. Murder and Mayhem: The War of Reconstruction in Texas. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2003.
  14. ^ Second American Civil War on IMDb
  15. ^ Reconstruction (1865-1877): "The Second Civil War" Archived 2015-11-23 at the Wayback Machine, Bellows Free Academy
  16. ^ "Poll: Almost a third of US voters think a second civil war is coming soon". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  17. ^ NEW POLL: Voters Find Political Divisions So Bad, Believe U.S. Is Two-Thirds Of The Way To “Edge Of A Civil War”, Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service
  18. ^ Dennis Prager. Yes, America Is in the Midst of a Civil War Archived 2017-06-11 at the Wayback Machine, The Daily Signal, June 6, 2017.
  19. ^ "There Is No Whistleblower, Just a Leaker! We're in the Midst of a Cold Civil War". The Rush Limbaugh Show. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  20. ^ Ohlheiser, Abby. "A short history of Alex Jones claiming that the left is about to start a second Civil War". The Washington Post.
  21. ^ "Sean Hannity warns of civil war if Mueller goes after Trump". Media Matters for America. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  22. ^ Reich, Robert B. "Robert B. Reich: Is a second American civil war possible?". Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  23. ^ Hindmon, Jade. "Is The US Headed For A Second Civil War?". KPBS Public Media. Retrieved 2019-09-29.
  24. ^ O'Connor, Tom (2019-01-10). "Russian official cancels U.S. visit, saying "second American civil war" is underway". Newsweek. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  25. ^ "Steve King posts meme saying red states have '8 trillion bullets' in event of civil war". Los Angeles Times. 2019-03-19. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  26. ^ Glasser, Susan B. (2019-07-18). ""I'm Winning": Donald Trump's Calculated Racism". ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2019-09-29.
  27. ^ Smith, David (2019-07-21). "'It's a political civil war': Trump's racist tirades set tone for 2020". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 2019-09-29.
  28. ^ "The Origins of Our Second Civil War". National Review. 2018-07-31. Retrieved 2019-12-18.
  29. ^ Ricks, Thomas E. "What a new U.S. civil war might look like". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2019-12-18.
  30. ^ Vazquez, Maegan. "Trump circulates quote invoking 'civil war-like fracture' if he's removed from office". CNN. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  31. ^ Alex Zakrzewski. A Second U.S. Civil War: Inevitable or Impossible? Archived 2017-10-19 at the Wayback Machine,, March 23, 1916.
  32. ^ Kevin D. Williamson.From Americans to Americans: Cocooned by peace, some dream of a civil war Archived 2017-06-19 at the Wayback Machine, National Review, June 16, 2017.
  33. ^ Marshall Connolly. How close is America to another civil war? Archived 2017-06-18 at the Wayback Machine, Catholic Online, June 15, 2017.
  34. ^ Judson Phillips. Resist movement, violence are tearing America apart Archived 2017-06-29 at the Wayback Machine, The Washington Times, June 14, 2017.
  35. ^ Another 'Civil War'? Pessimism About Political Violence Deepens In A Divided Nation, NPR, October 31, 2018
  36. ^ Victor Davis Hanson. The Origins of Our Second Civil War, National Review, July 31, 2018
  37. ^ Stephen Prothero. Why conservatives start culture wars and liberals win them Archived 2017-07-20 at the Wayback Machine, The Washington Post, January 29, 2016.
  38. ^ Shooting shocks, but will it unite? Archived 2018-01-24 at the Wayback Machine The Columbus Dispatch, June 15, 2017.
  39. ^ Kakutani, Michio (2017-03-27). "A Haunting Debut Looks Ahead to a Second American Civil War". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2018-05-16. Retrieved 2018-06-04.
  40. ^ Sheehan, Jason (2017-07-09). "'Tropic Of Kansas' Rips Dystopia From The Headlines". NPR. Archived from the original on 2018-07-17. Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  41. ^ As stated at the end of the final episode, "Patriots and Tyrants".
  42. ^ Stanhope, Kate (2016-06-15). "Bradley Whitford, Courtney B. Vance Board TNT Drama Pilot 'Civil'". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 2017-02-10. Retrieved 2017-05-08.
  43. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (2016-12-13). "Modern-Day Civil War Drama Pilot 'Civil' Not Going Forward At TNT". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on 2017-04-28. Retrieved 2017-05-08.
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