Is there an issue today that could divide the nation and start a civil war?

Moving towards abolition of slavery got enough of the population mad enough to secede from the Union. True, there were other issues, but that was the main one. Is there anything in dispute today that could lead to a similar conflict? I’m thinking along the lines of something where a realistic change in either the majorities opinion and/or the law upset enough people, not scenarios like ‘Slavery is made legal again’ or ‘Women lose the right to vote’, but maybe something like abortion made illegal and punishable as murder or massive reductions in social spending.

I considered putting this in Great Debates, but I’m not really wanting to start a debate over the actual topics that might lead to a civil war or revolt (as by definition people would have strong beliefs and the subject of the thread might shift). I was just trying to get an idea of what other people thought might be big enough, if anything (most big issues don’t seem geographically divided enough).

Starting a good old fashioned civil war is a lot harder now than it was back in the 1800s. States really don’t have much control over armed forces anymore. All control is centralized in the president, with the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs controlling most activities.

So, anything that would start a real civil war would have to somehow tear apart the military. It would have to be something so powerful that full units of the army would break away and start fighting the parts of the army that stayed loyal to the government.

So, though I can think of quite a few things that would inspire nationwide riots in the streets (illegalization of abortion, for example), I don’t think there’s anything that would cause the military to split into competing factions, each loyal to one side of an issue.

Yeah, there’s always that military-led Coup d’Etat, but that’s a little too Clancyesque for real life, I think.

Yeah, I hadn’t really considered that…well, is there anything that could lead to at least an attempt at secession? These days the battles might remain mostly in the courts. I wonder how the government would handle that, especially if it was only one or two states. One thing that might do that was if we went to a straight popular vote, some states would lose a lot of power, and if there was something they disagreed with the majority enough on…something urban vs. rural could alienate a certain region, or a race-related issue could cause regional clashes, since portions of the U.S. are mostly white. A strong shift towards conservatism would cause bigger problems in states with more people dependent on government programs. When I think about it, a nationwide revolt seems more likely, though.

Is there anything that might spark rioting and revolt to the point where the government would have to apply martial law or take some other emergency measures on a national scale? I actually think things could get really bad if abortion was made illegal nationally (though I think if that did happen it would be on a state-by-state basis, which wouldn’t lead to as much violence). I also think if Libertarians got their way, there would be a lot of problems (even though I consider myself a Libertarian).

I don’t know. The tension over the “tastes great – less filling” debate is beginning to resurface. It’s a powder keg just waiting to go off!

The “tastes great”-ers are also fighting another front against the increasingly vocal “like hell it does” faction.

I can’t see ANY issue that could lead to a full-blown Civil War. But I can easily imagine scenarios in which one state or another tried to secede… and somehow, I don’t think future Presidents are going to want to follow Lincoln’s example.

Look at Hawaii, for instance. For the moment, everything there seems fine. But demographics could change that, and soon. The population of ethnic Polynesians is growing, and they are the poorest of Hawaiians. Suppose that, twenty years from now, ethnic Polynesians are a solid majority of the population, and they rise up as one and say “This land was stolen from us by the U.S. government. In the meantime, this place has been sold out to tourism, and everybody has gotten rich except us. We declare our independence- we are taking back the land white people stole from us.”

IF that happened- and I know it’s a far-fetched notion right now- I suspect the rest of the world would sympathize with the Hawaiian rebels. And whoever is President will NOT have a moral issue like slavery to justify sending in troops to force them to stay in the Union.

IF the U.S.A. is ever foolish enough to make Puerto Rico a state, I could imagine similar secession scenarios down the road.

Abortion would divide the nation, but I doubt state governments would get involved, leading to sucession.It might lead to riots and/or a Civil War though?

I think our last election shows it would VERY tough. Stuff like that turns countries into bloodbaths.

I think that for the nation to be divided there would have to be a series of events. Remember that the Civil War was the result of at least a hundred years of disagreement.

As an example, if abortion was made illegal nationwide, the only immediate result would be protest, or maybe a general strike at worst. It is likely, however, that the protests would turn violent, which could possibly lead to a police or national guard unit panicking and killing a lot of people. Although a civil war is unlikely even in this case, it might be possible.

SNenc’s point is a good one - it would be almost very difficult for whole blocks of the country to secede. I think it would be more likely (though still pretty darn unlikely) that sections of states might start armed resistance and claim territories.

California’s Power Crisis… or it could if Gray had balls.

I can envision a scenario in which the abortion debate could lead to a civil war.

If Roe v. Wade were overturned, and the states were allowed to make their own decisions on abortion, presumably some states would prohibit the procedure. If the Federal Government then made laws which treated abortion states differently from non-abortion states (say, providing certain types of health care funding to one group and not the other, or refusing to support the extradition of people charged with the “crime” of performing or undergoing abortions), the states which felt like they were on the losing end might decide to secede. If there were enough of them, the situation could be ugly and divisive enough to lead to war, particularly if the secessionist group were somewhat along the lines of the Confederacy and those old tensions were revived.

This would be my worst nightmare, and I would hope that our political/legal process and the power of the Federal government would be enough to prevent it, but the possibility is definitely there.

Remember, there are two main types of civil wars: wars where part of the country wants to break off, and wars where the leadership of the whole country is being contested.

As others mentioned, advances in communication have leveled the differences between regions, so although there are occasional mutterings, as long as we have fair elections I doubt that any regions would try to split off. (Although Hawaii and Alaska are a little more likely than the other states.)

I think a civil war triggered by a contest over political legitimacy would be more likely, although I don’t expect to see one in my lifetime. But it is possible to envision a war breaking out if an entrenched group tied to overturn a national election they lost by declaring martial law, or proclaimed their leader “President for Life”. Or if someone in control decided to do something immensely dangerous and unpopular, for example, declaring that the U.S. needed a land bridge between Washington and Alaska, and launching a nuclear attack to “ethnically cleanse” British Columbia.

Even though abortion is probably the most controversial US issue right now, I can’t imagine even totally outlawing abortions would lead to significant civil disturbances–at most an underground group of abortion providers would be formed. To get a civil war out of this issue, you’d have to have some sort of bizzare action, like a law that said everyone who had had an abortion in the last 30 years would be executed.

During the whole election controversy, I was wondering about this myself. Suppose the following things happen…

  1. During the campaign, Bush buddies up with the military. He goes from base to base to base throughout the country, and even a few foreign bases here and there, and basically makes friends with all the troops. He promises grandiose increases in military spending: 70% payroll increases, across-the-board upgrading of military housing, massive upgrading of equipment, etc. Basically he promises the world to the military, and they love him for it.

  2. The whole Florida recount thing ensues just as it did last fall, only this time the Supreme Court doesn’t intervene and Gore is allowed to keep demanding recounts until he wins.

  3. Bush tells Al Gore to kiss his ass, and that on January 20th he (Bush) will assume the role of Commander-in-Chief whether Gore likes it or not. And, should it come to it, Bush will gladly lead a few hundred tanks down Pennsylvania Avenue to bodily remove Gore from the White House.

  4. The military is now torn. Many will proclaim Gore as their Commander-in-Chief by virtue of his being elected president, regardless of how he won the offive. Most, however, will gladly accept Bush as their Commander-in-Chief, especially considering the grandiose promises he made them; they will consider Gore the Pretender-in-Chief, so to speak.

So now we have a nation at the very cusp of a civil war, in a manner of speaking. However, the worst case scenario is that the military fights with itself; that is, the Pro-Bush faction dukes it out with the Pro-Gore faction. I suppose we would see a fair number of civillians signing up to help out with either faction, presumably at the risk of their lives. A lot of bloodshed will ensue until the matter sorts itself out.

The only other scenario that I could see that would conceivably lead to Civil War is either a) a complete ban on guns, 2nd-Amendment-be-damned, or b) a repeal of the 2nd Amendment. Presumably, quite a large number of gun owners is going to take exception to this policy and gladly kill anyone who tries to force them to hand over their guns. It could get quite ugly in a few isolated areas, especially if the military gets involved in some way or another. Or maybe even a few gun owners would try to assemble an armed assault on Washington. But I doubt it would lead to the amound of bloodshed that took place during the Civil War.

I can’t believe I overlooked a gun ban. That also fits in having some geographic division between gun control supporters and gun control fighters. There are already states where there is a ban on certain weapons and it can be hard to get others. Texas migh talk secession if the 2nd Ammendment was overturned, and revert to our original Constitution. And if it went the other way and the Supreme Court made all gun control laws unconstitutional, states like New York might have some real problems.

Not as much violence at first. But imagine the tension as one state after another caved. When it got down to two or three states, it almost certainly would come to that.

Hey fellas,

Look North. There, above the US is a serene and beautiful wilderness called Canada. The country is made up of provinces as opposed to states. One of the most Eastern of these provinces is called Quebec.

This is where you will most likely see the next (North American) civil war.

There have been separists in Quebec for a long time. Terrorists even. Martial law. (October crisis) The government has laws in place that discriminate against the English. The political party in charge has made it clear that separation from Canada is their main goal. We have referendums on it every couple of years. The last one came within a percentage point or two.

So if you are curious about persecution, civil unrest, terrorism, separation and/or civil war, keep your eye on Quebec.

They used to try it with “litmus tests” for capital punishment and abortion, and ended up with two parties that aren’t divided from each other but nearly identical.