The Second American Revolution

The Civil War-Era Struggle over Cuba and the Rebirth of the American Republic

By Gregory P. Downs

232 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 6 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5273-3
    Published: November 2019
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-5274-0
    Published: October 2019

Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era

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Much of the confusion about a central event in United States history begins with the name: the Civil War. In reality, the Civil War was not merely civil--meaning national--and not merely a war, but instead an international conflict of ideas as well as armies. Its implications transformed the U.S. Constitution and reshaped a world order, as political and economic systems grounded in slavery and empire clashed with the democratic process of republican forms of government. And it spilled over national boundaries, tying the United States together with Cuba, Spain, Mexico, Britain, and France in a struggle over the future of slavery and of republics.

Here Gregory P. Downs argues that we can see the Civil War anew by understanding it as a revolution. More than a fight to preserve the Union and end slavery, the conflict refashioned a nation, in part by remaking its Constitution. More than a struggle of brother against brother, it entailed remaking an Atlantic world that centered in surprising ways on Cuba and Spain. Downs introduces a range of actors not often considered as central to the conflict but clearly engaged in broader questions and acts they regarded as revolutionary. This expansive canvas allows Downs to describe a broad and world-shaking war with implications far greater than often recognized.

About the Author

Gregory P. Downs is professor of history at the University of California, Davis, and author of After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War.
For more information about Gregory P. Downs, visit the Author Page.


"With graceful and forceful prose, Downs links the mid-nineteenth-century history of the United States to that of the broader Atlantic world--in particular, to Cuba and Mexico in their struggles against European powers to end slavery and establish anti-imperialist democracies."--Foreign Affairs

“[A] thought-provoking . . . compelling. . . . Innovative book that contains a clear, original argument about defining the Civil War as a revolutionary event. Furthermore, it is an expansive monograph that contains new insights about the transnational nature of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Downs’s work will undoubtedly spark stimulating debates and important conversations in the years to come about the meaning of one of the most significant and transformative periods in US history.”--H-Net Reviews

"A bold and refreshing interpretation of the Civil War that challenges scholars to bring the singular story out of its narrow, hyperspecialized confines of national history, reframing it into a watershed moment shaped by hemispheric and global forces that remade the nineteenth-century Atlantic world."--Matt D. Childs, author of The 1812 Aponte Rebellion in Cuba and the Struggle against Atlantic Slavery

"With beautiful, elegant prose, Downs takes the old topic of the revolutionary quality of the Civil War and moves it forward in unexpected and exciting ways by putting it in conversation with the revolutionary nature of the Atlantic in the same period. This is a truly pioneering and innovative book."--Michael Vorenberg, author of Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment

"A marvel of interpretation and innovation, this book should open a whole new wing of Civil War history. After reading it, I am more convinced than ever of the necessity of connecting the U.S. Civil War to more of the globe and more of the nineteenth century. Downs's arguments challenge existing ways of framing and understanding the conflict. I look forward to the conversation this book is sure to inspire."--Aaron Sheehan-Dean, author of The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War