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.
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. 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. 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."
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... . " Framing the American Revolutionary War as a civil war is making its way to classrooms on both sides of the Atlantic.
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. 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."
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."
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, 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, and that Americans have to find "America's middle again and return to civility."
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.
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 ChicagoUnion 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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. However TNT decided not to proceed as it was felt to be too close to home for the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
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.
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.
^Thomas Allen. Tories: Fighting for the King in America's First Civil War. New York, Harper, 2011.
^Peter J. Albert (ed.). An Uncivil War: The Southern Backcountry During the American Revolution. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1985.
^Alfred Young (ed.). The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1976.
^Armitage, David. Every Great Revolution Is a Civil WarArchived 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."