Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


James Oakes

Subject Categories

American Politics | Economic History | European History | Intellectual History | Labor History | Political Economy | Political History | Political Theory | Social History | United States History


American Civil War, Capitalism, Slavery, Abolition, Marxism, Revolution


Eric Hobsbawm, in his effort to explain the fundamental divide which produced the Second World War, convincingly argues that “the crucial lines in this civil war were not drawn between capitalism as such and communist social revolution, but between ideological families: on the one hand the descendants of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and the great revolutions including, obviously the Russian revolution’, on the other hand, its opponents.” This thesis argues that the American Civil War was a “great revolution” that represented a crucial transformative point in the formation of these two waring factions. The struggle was especially influential on the theory of Karl Marx, who declared in the preface to the First German Edition to Capital Volume I, that “As in the 18th century, the American war of independence sounded the tocsin for the European middle class, so that in the 19th century, the American Civil War sounded it for the European working class.” The death of slavery in the United States was not a inevitability, but the result of intense political struggle that emerged from a foundational material contradiction of North American settler colonialism and subsequent capitalist development which dramatically reshaped the transnational ideological dialectic between the forces for and against the rule of the masses.