The historian Jill Lepore wrote recently in The New Yorker that a study by political scientists of congressional roll-call votes going back to 1789, together with longitudinal poll results and voter interviews, found that the electorate and its representatives are more polarized today than at any time since the South seceded.
It is no accident that the passions aroused by secession are still with us today since the issues raised by the War of the Rebellion, as it was called, have never been fully resolved. Rather, they have lain dormant to haunt us in various guises since the Confederacy was brought to heel. In the nearly 150 years since Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, these tensions have lain dormant, tamped down in collective amnesia and denial. Compromise was often achieved at the expense of the very people the Civil War amendments were supposed to liberate: the breach of faith that nullified Reconstruction, the “Separate but Equal” decision, the subsequent decades of Jim Crow, the pangs of the Civil Rights movement, and its abridgment in what has now become an undoing of the Second Reconstruction.