Was the act of secession in 1860-61 treason? This is one of the more important and lasting questions of the War. If so, then the lenient treatment of Confederate officers, political figures, and even the soldiers themselves following the War was a great gesture of magnanimity by a conquering foe never seen in the annals of Western Civilization. If not, then the entire War was an illegal and unconstitutional invasion of a foreign government with the express objective of maintaining a political community by force, an act that represented the antithesis of the American belief in self-government regardless of Abraham Lincoln's professed admiration for government "of the people, by the people, and for the people."
Until recently, the modern academy has not given the topic much scholarly attention. Post war discussions of secession and treason were best addressed in what is now classified as "Lost Cause Mythology."