But even putting political hyperbole aside, the Civil War does still very much inform the American experience. The emancipation of blacks is not quite resolved and the disagreements between Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln throw their long shadows across issues like health-care reform and entitlements. Moreover, the tea party, promoting small government, has risen to challenge the post-Civil War view of government as a superior, benevolent force of good.
After the Civil War, "the older Jeffersonian tradition was suppressed by the new Lincolnian vision of a unitary nationalist regime, and it was never able to digest the Jeffersonian tradition," says Donald Livingston, a philosophy professor at Emory University in Atlanta. "But it's still there, suppressed, in the memory of Americans. What's interesting about the South is that it held onto the Jeffersonian tradition longer – which is why you can't understand America today without seeing this deep conflict between these two groups."