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Causes Of The Civil War Essay, Research Paper
Causes of the Civil War
The tragic “fireball in the night”, imagined by Jefferson had finally rung. All compromises had failed. Northern and Southern civilians clashed in the streets and took up arms. The Civil War had begun. The American states had declared war with each other. The South, which was known as the Confederate States of America, seceded from the North, which was also known as the Union, as a result of four decades of great sectional conflict between the two. Between the North and South, there were deep economic, social, and political differences. Although these two distinctly contrary regions had been linked together by a common Constitution, they had drastically different perspectives on the reasons for their entrance into war. This idea can be further analyzed by examining the differences in their political, economical, and social views.
There were a few political and economical reasons that the South disagreed on which persuaded them to secede from the Union. Basically, the North favored a loose interpretation of the United States Constitution. They wanted to grant the federal government increased powers. They wanted a strong central government to govern the states and maintain order and unity among the separate states. They realized that a strong central government would be able to make laws to better enhance their lifestyle and also keep the states united as a country. However, Southerners wanted to reserve all undefined powers to the individual states. They had just fought a long, bloody war with the British for American Independence and did not want a central government governing them. They could remember how life was like before the revolution and did not want to fall back into a kind of governing system where their lives were decided by a small group of wealthy people. The Northern and Mid-Western States were becoming more and more powerful as the population increased. The Southern States were losing political power. Just as the original thirteen colonies fought for their independence almost 100 years earlier, the Southern States felt a growing need for freedom from the central Federal authority in Washington D.C. They felt that each State should make its own laws. The North also wanted internal improvements sponsored by the federal government such as roads, railroads, and canals. Contrary to the Northern views, the South did not want these projects to be done at all. Northerners wanted to develop a tariff that would serve as a protective shield for Northern manufacturers. It was controversial in the South because a high tariff would prevent Southerners from trading their cotton and tobacco for foreign goods. It angered the Southern people to have to pay more for the goods they wanted from Europe or pay more to get goods from the North. In addition, The North wanted a good banking and currency system and federal subsidies for shipping and internal improvements. However, the South felt that these views were discriminatory and that they favored Northern commercial interests.
While numerous problems had clearly been prevalent in the United States, the war could have been averted if a settlement had been reached on the issue of slavery. The abolitionist of the time had strongly opposed the concept, but a large number of Northern residents had remained pacifistic on the subject. The South had developed slavery to such an extent that without it, their economy would suffer enormous setbacks. This was the issue that overshadowed all others. At this time the labor force in the South had about four million slaves. These slaves were very valuable to the slave-holding class much in the same way that land was. The South especially needed more slaves at the time because they were now growing more cotton then ever because of the invention of the cotton gin. New machinery was changing the textile industry in New England and Britain. These mills needed more and more cotton, creating a great demand for cotton. Cotton production with slaves jumped from 178,000 bales in 1810 to over 3,841,000 bales in 1860. Within that time period of fifty years the number of slaves also rose from about 1,190,000 to over 4,000,000. Cotton became a cash crop for Southerners and slaves became a necessity for the cotton industry. The Southern slaveholders often found it perplexing that many Northerners had seen their treatment and use of these captive people as detrimental to society. Southerners compared it with the wage-slave system of the North. They said that the slaves were better cared for then the free factory workers in the North, and that slave owners provided shelter, food, care, and regulation for a race unable to compete in the modern world without proper training. Many Southern preachers proclaimed that slavery was sanctioned in the Bible. This is especially relevant when emphasizing the Northern opposition to the Southern ideals.
Shortly after the American Revolution slavery virtually died in the North, just as it was becoming more popular in the South. By 1804, seven of the northern most states had abolished slavery. During this time a surge of democratic reform swept the North and West. There were demands for political equality and economic and social advances. The Northerner’s goals were free public education, better salaries and working conditions for workers, rights for women, and better treatment for criminals. The South felt these views were of minimal importance. All of these views eventually led to an attack on the slavery system in the South, and opposition to slavery spread into whatever new territories that were acquired. Northerners said that slavery repealed the human right of being a free person. Now with all these views the North set out on its quest for the complete abolition of slavery.
When new territories became available in the West, the South wanted to expand and use slavery in the newly acquired territories. The North wanted to limit the number of slave states in the Union in order to obtain a majority in the congressional vote. But many Southerners felt that a government dominated by free states could endanger existing slave holdings. The first evidence of the North’s actions came in 1819 when Missouri asked to be admitted to the Union as a slave state. After months of discussion Congress passed the Missouri Compromise of 1820. This compromise was a legislative measure that regulated the extension of slavery in the United States for three decades. Now the balance of 11 free states and 11 slave states was in trouble. Maine also applied for statehood in 1819, in which it was admitted as a free state. Slavery would be prohibited forever from Louisiana purchased territories north of 36? 30′. Southern extremists opposed any limit on the extension of slavery, but settled for now. Missouri and Maine were to enter statehood simultaneously to preserve sectional equality in the Senate. For almost a generation this compromise seemed to settle the conflict between the North and South.
The monumental balance of power was severely shifted in 1848 when the Union acquired a huge piece of territory from Mexico. This opened new opportunities for the spread of slavery for Southerners. The distribution of these lands in small lots speeded the development of this section, and made the area especially important. Congress subsequently passed the Compromise Measures of 1850. This piece of legislation dealt mainly with the question of whether slavery was to be allowed or prohibited in the regions acquired from Mexico as a result of the Mexican War. This compromise allowed people into the slave trade in the District of Columbia and admission of California as a free state. Another part of the compromise was the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which provided for the return of runaway slaves to their masters. But many free states in the Union passed personal liberty laws in an effort to help the slaves escape. Even though this measure was taken by certain northern areas, the South was happy to be insured that their economically important property would be returned. This compromise also said that the territory east of California given to the United States by Mexico was divided into the territories of New Mexico and Utah, and they were opened to settlement by both slaveholders and antislavery settlers. This measure outdated the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Each of these compromise resulted in a gradual intensification of the hostility between the slave and free states.
Again another law was passed in 1854 called the Kansas-Nebraska Act. It authorized the creation of Kansas and Nebraska, west of Missouri and Iowa. It repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that had prohibited slavery in the territories north of 36? 30′, and stated that the inhabitants of the territories should decide for themselves the legality of slave holding. The Democratic senator of Illinois, Stephen A. Douglas sponsored this act. He hoped to simplify construction of a transcontinental railroad through these states rather than through the southern part of the country. The removal of the restriction on the expansion of slavery ensured southern support for the bill, which was signed into law by President Franklin Pierce on May 30, 1854. A conflict soon developed in Kansas between pro-slavery settlers from Missouri and antislavery newcomers who began to move into the territory from the northeastern states. The settlers waged a bloody battle to determine the fate of Kansas. It was referred to as “Bleeding Kansas.” The ratification of the act split the Democratic Party and destroyed the Whig Party as well. Abraham Lincoln, who was a member of the Whig Party, best voiced the opinions and views of many thousands of people when he wrote that, “the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused him as he had never been before.”
Soon after many northern Whigs joined antislavery Democrats to form the Republican Party in July 1854
The last main conflict that led to succession was during the presidential election of 1860. The newly formed Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln on the principles that he opposed the further expansion of slavery. The Southerners were not united in their decision and disputed over whether to nominate Douglas. Finally, they nominated John Beckinridge for president. Lincoln easily won the election as a result of the division amongst the Southern delegates. Now with Lincoln being elected, the South really felt that expansionism was being threatened, and because expansion was vital to the survival of slavery they also felt their way of life was being threatened. Because slavery was such an important part of Southern society, the South argued that they could not survive without it. They were convinced that they should make a bid for independence by secession rather than face political warfare. It was best described when a Southern man said “We have at last reached that point in our history when it is necessary for the South to withdraw from the Union. This has not been our seeking…but we are bound to accept it or self-preservation.” This was officially the end and now the South wanted to secede. Lincoln had made claims that secession was illegal and said that he intended to maintain federal possessions in the South. Southerners hoped the threat of secession would force acceptance of Southern demands, but it did not. Finally, the day came on December 20, 1860 when South Carolina adopted an ordinance of secession. The other states to follow and secede were Mississippi on January 9, 1861, Florida on January 10, Alabama on January 11, Georgia on January 19, Louisiana on January 26, and Texas on February 1. On February 4, delegates from all these states met in Montgomery, Alabama where they drafted a constitution for the Confederate States of America. This outraged the North. James Buchanan believed the Constitution did not allow the North to take any action against the South. An effort was made on February 4th by the Virginia Legislature in order to prevent the oncoming war. They called a conference of the states at Washington and representatives were sent from 7 slave and 14 free states. An amendment was passed saying Congress could never interfere with slavery in the states. This legislation was not ratified by the necessary number of states and was forgotten when the Civil War began. The existence of slavery was the central element of the conflict between the North and South. Other problems existed that led to secession but none were as important as the slavery issue. The only way to avoid the war was to abolish slavery, but this could not be done because slavery was essentially the fuel in the Southern machine. Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.” Because slavery formed two opposing societies, and slavery could not be abolished, the Civil War was virtually inevitable. The slavery issue accompanied by the severely differentiated societies in the United States had resulted in the Civil War. In the Southern point of view, slavery and other differences were valid, and necessary for the growth of the region. The north had viewed these as potential obstacles to overcome. Because of limited time, and growing tension, the result was war.
In conclusion, by examining the political, economical, and social views, we can determine that the Northern and Southern perspectives regarding the causes of the Civil War were radically different. Competing nationalisms, political turmoil, the definition of freedom, the preservation of the Union, the fate of slavery and the structure of society and economy could all be listed as significant contributing factors in America’s bloodiest conflict. Out of the ashes of the war rose a new America, one nation, under god, indivisible, with liberty, and justice for all.