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Article

Alison L. LaCroix

Federalism refers to the constitutional and political structure of the United States of America, according to which political power is divided among multiple levels of government: the national level of government (also referred to as the “federal” or “general” government) and that of the states. It is a multilayered system of government that reserves some powers to component entities while also establishing an overarching level of government with a specified domain of authority. The structures of federalism are set forth in the Constitution of the United States, although some related ideas and practices predated the founding period and others have developed since. The balance between federal and state power has shifted throughout U.S. history, with assertions of broad national power meeting challenges from supporters of states’ rights and state sovereignty. Federalism is a fundamental value of the American political system, and it has been a controversial political and legal question since the founding period.

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The US Civil War was the deadliest event in American history, but not the bloodiest civil war or even the worst conflict of the 19th century. Generations of writing about the Civil War from a domestic perspective have generated false impressions about which aspects of the conflict were unique and which more commonplace. The American conflict was one of a number of national struggles in the mid-19th century. Some of these—the wars for Italian and German unification, for instance—are well known but are rarely considered alongside the US experience. Other conflicts—the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Polish Uprising of 1863, or the Taiping Rebellion—occurred concurrently with the Civil War but because of their imperial context are usually treated separately. Americans, and people around the world, consumed news about all these conflicts. They compared, contrasted, and evaluated behavior based on what they saw, seeking both internal reassurance about their own ways of war-making and external validation in the form of allies and material support. Historians gain a better understanding of which Civil War participants experienced lethal violence and why by contextualizing those actions as the participants themselves did—within a global framework.