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Prelude to war

What caused the American Civil War?

Who won the american civil war, who were the most important figures in the american civil war, why are confederate symbols controversial, should statues honoring the american civil war be taken down, should the federal government pay reparations to the descendants of slaves as intended after the american civil war.

American Civil War

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The American Civil War was the culmination of the struggle between the advocates and opponents of slavery that dated from the founding of the United States. This sectional conflict between Northern states and slaveholding Southern states had been tempered by a series of political compromises, but by the late 1850s the issue of the extension of slavery to the western states had reached a boiling point. The election of Abraham Lincoln , a member of the antislavery Republican Party , as president in 1860 precipitated the secession of 11 Southern states, leading to a civil war.

The Union won the American Civil War. The war effectively ended in April 1865 when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. The final surrender of Confederate troops on the western periphery came in Galveston, Texas, on June 2.

How many people died during the Civil War?

It is estimated that from 752,000 to 851,000 soldiers died during the American Civil War. This figure represents approximately 2 percent of the American population in 1860. The Battle of Gettysburg , one of the bloodiest engagements during the Civil War, resulted in about 7,000 deaths and 51,000 total casualties.

Important people during the American Civil War included Abraham Lincoln , the 16th president of the United States, whose election prompted the secession of Southern states; Jefferson Davis , the president of the Confederacy ; Ulysses S. Grant , the most successful and prominent general of the Union; and Robert E. Lee , Grant’s counterpart in the Confederacy.

The modern usage of Confederate symbols, especially the Confederate Battle Flag and statues of Confederate leaders, is considered controversial because many associate such symbols with racism , slavery , and white supremacy . The flag was revived as a popular symbol in the 1940s and ’50s by the Dixiecrat Democratic splinter group and others who opposed the American civil rights movement .

Whether statues honoring the American Civil War or other controversial ideas should be taken down is widely debated. Some argue the statues misrepresent history and are a painful reminder of the past, while other statues would better represent the county. Others argue the statues are part of the country's history that do not cause racism but could educate people, and removal of one statue is a slippery slope to taking down any statue anyone disagrees with. For more on the debate on historical statue removal, visit ProCon.org .

Whether the federal government should pay reparations to the descendants of slaves as intended after the American Civil War is hotly debated. Some say the wealth and health disparities caused by slavery should be addressed and other groups have been paid reparations. Others say reparations would be too difficult to implement, and slavery is long over so reparations would further divide the country. For more on the reparations debate, visit ProCon.org .

American Civil War , also called War Between the States , four-year war (1861–65) between the United States and 11 Southern states that seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America.

The secession of the Southern states (in chronological order, South Carolina , Mississippi , Florida , Alabama , Georgia , Louisiana , Texas , Virginia , Arkansas , Tennessee , and North Carolina ) in 1860–61 and the ensuing outbreak of armed hostilities were the culmination of decades of growing sectional friction over slavery . Between 1815 and 1861 the economy of the Northern states was rapidly modernizing and diversifying. Although agriculture—mostly smaller farms that relied on free labour—remained the dominant sector in the North, industrialization had taken root there. Moreover, Northerners had invested heavily in an expansive and varied transportation system that included canals, roads, steamboats, and railroads; in financial industries such as banking and insurance; and in a large communications network that featured inexpensive, widely available newspapers, magazines, and books, along with the telegraph.

Inspection and Sale of a Negro

By contrast, the Southern economy was based principally on large farms (plantations) that produced commercial crops such as cotton and that relied on slaves as the main labour force . Rather than invest in factories or railroads as Northerners had done, Southerners invested their money in slaves—even more than in land; by 1860, 84 percent of the capital invested in manufacturing was invested in the free (nonslaveholding) states. Yet, to Southerners, as late as 1860, this appeared to be a sound business decision. The price of cotton, the South’s defining crop, had skyrocketed in the 1850s, and the value of slaves—who were, after all, property—rose commensurately. By 1860 the per capita wealth of Southern whites was twice that of Northerners, and three-fifths of the wealthiest individuals in the country were Southerners.

1860 presidential campaign

The extension of slavery into new territories and states had been an issue as far back as the Northwest Ordinance of 1784. When the slave territory of Missouri sought statehood in 1818, Congress debated for two years before arriving upon the Missouri Compromise of 1820. This was the first of a series of political deals that resulted from arguments between pro-slavery and antislavery forces over the expansion of the “peculiar institution,” as it was known, into the West. The end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 and the roughly 500,000 square miles (1.3 million square km) of new territory that the United States gained as a result of it added a new sense of urgency to the dispute. More and more Northerners, driven by a sense of morality or an interest in protecting free labour, came to believe, in the 1850s, that bondage needed to be eradicated . White Southerners feared that limiting the expansion of slavery would consign the institution to certain death. Over the course of the decade, the two sides became increasingly polarized and politicians less able to contain the dispute through compromise. When Abraham Lincoln , the candidate of the explicitly antislavery Republican Party , won the 1860 presidential election , seven Southern states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas) carried out their threat and seceded, organizing as the Confederate States of America .

Encyclopaedia Britannica thistle graphic to be used with a Mendel/Consumer quiz in place of a photograph.

In the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, rebels opened fire on Fort Sumter, at the entrance to the harbour of Charleston , South Carolina. Curiously, this first encounter of what would be the bloodiest war in the history of the United States claimed no victims. After a 34-hour bombardment, Maj. Robert Anderson surrendered his command of about 85 soldiers to some 5,500 besieging Confederate troops under P.G.T. Beauregard . Within weeks, four more Southern states (Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina) left the Union to join the Confederacy.

American Civil War: Union army volunteer

With war upon the land, President Lincoln called for 75,000 militiamen to serve for three months. He proclaimed a naval blockade of the Confederate states, although he insisted that they did not legally constitute a sovereign country but were instead states in rebellion. He also directed the secretary of the treasury to advance $2 million to assist in the raising of troops, and he suspended the writ of habeas corpus , first along the East Coast and ultimately throughout the country. The Confederate government had previously authorized a call for 100,000 soldiers for at least six months’ service, and this figure was soon increased to 400,000.

What Were the Top 4 Causes of the Civil War?

The question “what caused the U.S. Civil War ?” has been debated since the horrific conflict ended in 1865. As with most wars, however, there was no single cause.

Pressing Issues That Led to the Civil War

The Civil War erupted from a variety of long-standing tensions and disagreements about American life and politics. For nearly a century, the people and politicians of the Northern and Southern states had been clashing over the issues that finally led to war: economic interests, cultural values, the power of the federal government to control the states, and, most importantly, slavery in American society.

While some of these differences might have been resolved peacefully through diplomacy, the institution of slavery was not among them.

With a way of life steeped in age-old traditions of white supremacy and a mainly agricultural economy that depended on the labor of enslaved people, the Southern states viewed enslavement as essential to their very survival.

Slavery in the Economy and Society

At the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the enslavement of people not only remained legal in all 13 British American colonies, but it also continued to play a significant role in their economies and societies.

Prior to the American Revolution, the institution of slavery in America had become firmly established as being limited to persons of African ancestry. In this atmosphere, the seeds of white supremacy were sown.

Even when the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1789, very few Black people and no enslaved people were allowed to vote or own property.

However, a growing movement to abolish slavery had led many Northern states to enact abolitionist laws and abandon enslavement. With an economy based more on industry than agriculture, the North enjoyed a steady flow of European immigrants. As impoverished refugees from the potato famine of the 1840s and 1850s, many of these new immigrants could be hired as factory workers at low wages, thus reducing the need for enslaved people in the North.

In the Southern states, longer growing seasons and fertile soils had established an economy based on agriculture fueled by sprawling plantations owned by White people that depended on enslaved people to perform a wide range of duties.

When Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, cotton became very profitable. This machine was able to reduce the time it took to separate seeds from the cotton. At the same time, the increase in the number of plantations willing to move from other crops to cotton created an even greater need for enslaved people. The Southern economy became a one-crop economy, depending on cotton and, therefore, on enslaved people.

Though it was often supported throughout the social and economic classes, not every White Southerner enslaved people. The population of the pro-slavery states was around 9.6 million in 1850   and only about 350,000 were enslavers.   This included many of the wealthiest families, a number of whom owned large plantations. At the start of the Civil War, at least 4 million enslaved people   were forced to live and work on the Southern plantations.

In contrast, industry ruled the economy of the North and less emphasis was on agriculture, though even that was more diverse. Many Northern industries were purchasing the South's raw cotton and turning it into finished goods.

This economic disparity also led to irreconcilable differences in societal and political views.

In the North, the influx of immigrants—many from countries that had long since abolished slavery—contributed to a society in which people of different cultures and classes lived and worked together.

The South, however, continued to hold onto a social order based on white supremacy in both private and political life, not unlike that under the rule of racial apartheid that persisted in South Africa for decades .

In both the North and South, these differences influenced views on the powers of the federal government to control the economies and cultures of the states.

States and Federal Rights

Since the time of the American Revolution , two camps emerged when it came to the role of government. Some people argued for greater rights for the states and others argued that the federal government needed to have more control.

The first organized government in the U.S. after the Revolution was under the Articles of Confederation. The 13 states formed a loose Confederation with a very weak federal government. However, when problems arose, the weaknesses of the Articles caused the leaders of the time to come together at the Constitutional Convention and create, in secret, the U.S. Constitution .

Strong proponents of states rights like Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry were not present at this meeting. Many felt that the new Constitution ignored the rights of states to continue to act independently. They felt that the states should still have the right to decide if they were willing to accept certain federal acts.

This resulted in the idea of nullification , whereby the states would have the right to rule federal acts unconstitutional. The federal government denied states this right. However, proponents such as John C. Calhoun —who resigned as vice president to represent South Carolina in the Senate—fought vehemently for nullification. When nullification would not work and many of the Southern states felt that they were no longer respected, they moved toward thoughts of secession.

Pro-slavery States and Free States

As America began to expand—first with the lands gained from the Louisiana Purchase and later with the Mexican War —the question arose of whether new states would be pro-slavery states or free states. An attempt was made to ensure that equal numbers of free states and pro-slavery states were admitted to the Union, but over time this proved difficult.

The Missouri Compromise passed in 1820. This established a rule that prohibited enslavement in states from the former Louisiana Purchase north of the latitude 36 degrees 30 minutes, with the exception of Missouri.

During the Mexican War, the debate began about what would happen with the new territories the U.S. expected to gain upon victory. David Wilmot proposed the Wilmot Proviso in 1846, which would ban enslavement in the new lands. This was shot down amid much debate.

The Compromise of 1850 was created by Henry Clay and others to deal with the balance between pro-slavery states and free states. It was designed to protect both Northern and Southern interests. When California was admitted as a free state, one of the provisions was the Fugitive Slave Act . This held individuals responsible for harboring freedom-seeking enslaved people, even if they were located in free states.

The  Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was another issue that further increased tensions. It created two new territories that would allow the states to use popular sovereignty to determine whether they would be free states or pro-slavery states. The real issue occurred in Kansas where pro-slavery Missourians, called "Border Ruffians," began to pour into the state in an attempt to force it toward slavery.

Problems came to a head with a violent clash at Lawrence, Kansas. This caused it to become known as " Bleeding Kansas ." The fight even erupted on the floor of the Senate when anti-slavery proponent Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was beaten on the head by South Carolina Sen. Preston Brooks.

The Abolitionist Movement

Increasingly, Northerners became more polarized against enslavement. Sympathies began to grow for abolitionists and against enslavement and enslavers. Many in the North came to view enslavement as not just socially unjust, but morally wrong.

The abolitionists came with a variety of viewpoints. People such as William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass wanted immediate freedom for all enslaved people. A group that included Theodore Weld and Arthur Tappan advocated for emancipating enslaved people slowly. Still others, including Abraham Lincoln, simply hoped to keep slavery from expanding.

A number of events helped fuel the cause for abolition in the 1850s.  Harriet Beecher Stowe  wrote " Uncle Tom's Cabin ," a popular novel that opened many eyes to the reality of enslavement. The Dred Scott Case  brought the issues of enslaved peoples' rights, freedom, and citizenship to the Supreme Court.

Additionally, some abolitionists took a less peaceful route to fighting against slavery. John Brown and his family fought on the anti-slavery side of "Bleeding Kansas." They were responsible for the Pottawatomie Massacre, in which they killed five settlers who were pro-slavery. Yet, Brown's best-known fight would be his last when the group attacked Harper's Ferry in 1859, a crime for which he would hang.

The Election of Abraham Lincoln

The politics of the day were as stormy as the anti-slavery campaigns. All of the issues of the young nation were dividing the political parties and reshaping the established two-party system of Whigs and Democrats.

The Democratic party was divided between factions in the North and South. At the same time, the conflicts surrounding Kansas and the Compromise of 1850 transformed the Whig party into the Republican party (established in 1854). In the North, this new party was seen as both anti-slavery and for the advancement of the American economy. This included the support of industry and encouraging homesteading while advancing educational opportunities. In the South, Republicans were seen as little more than divisive.

The presidential election of 1860 would be the deciding point for the Union. Abraham Lincoln represented the new Republican Party and Stephen Douglas , the Northern Democrat, was seen as his biggest rival. The Southern Democrats put John C. Breckenridge on the ballot. John C. Bell represented the Constitutional Union Party, a group of conservative Whigs hoping to avoid secession.

The country's divisions were clear on Election Day. Lincoln won the North, Breckenridge the South, and Bell the border states. Douglas won only Missouri and a portion of New Jersey. It was enough for Lincoln to win the popular vote, as well as 180 electoral votes .

Even though things were already near a boiling point after Lincoln was elected, South Carolina issued its "Declaration of the Causes of Secession " on December 24, 1860. They believed that Lincoln was anti-slavery and in favor of Northern interests.

President James Buchanan's administration did little to quell the tension or stop what would become known as " Secession Winter ." Between Election Day and Lincoln's inauguration in March, seven states seceded from the Union: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.

In the process, the South took control of federal installations, including forts in the region, which would give them a foundation for war. One of the most shocking events occurred when one-quarter of the nation's army surrendered in Texas under the command of General David E. Twigg. Not a single shot was fired in that exchange, but the stage was set for the bloodiest war in American history.

Edited by Robert Longley

DeBow, J.D.B. "Part II: Population." Statistical View of the United States, Compendium of the Seventh Census . Washington: Beverley Tucker, 1854. 

De Bow, J.D.B. " Statistical view of the United States in 1850 ." Washington: A.O.P. Nicholson. 

Kennedy, Joseph C.G. Population of the United States 1860: Compiled from the Original Returns of the 8th Census . Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1864.

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essay on what caused the civil war

What Caused The Civil War Essay

How geography impacted sectional differences.

Geography Impacted sectional differences that led to the civil war. The northerners were against slavery and the southerners were proslavery. It depended upon what state that you have lived in if you were a free state or not. In the south there were More than 4 million slaves many who worked on plantations.

North And South Dbq

Next, when the North had more upper class people due to wealth, it caused the North and South to disagree with how money should be obtained. The South argued that slavery was the answer and the North argued that factories were what had to be done. In one of the documents, it said, “There were 22 million people in the North compared with only 9 million in the South” (Document 7). This means there was more money being made in the North due to more people working in factories versus money being made selling cotton produced by slaves on plantations. The disputes on money were a huge factor in causing the Civil War. Secondly, according to the eighth document, the North had 81% of the bank deposits and 75% of the country’s wealth (Document 8). This

Why Did The North And South Lead To The Civil War

There are many differences between the North and South that lead to the Civil War. Some of these differences were mostly focused on the economy, political, and social of the North and South. The South 's economy were based on agriculture so in order to make money, the South needed slaves to do their planation

Discuss The Causes Of The Civil War Dbq

The Southern states utilized slaves to work their large plantations and to perform other work. Oftentimes, slaves were traded, rented, or sold to pay off debts, thus being treated like objects or property by the slaveowners (Document G). This demonstrates how the slaves dealt with injustice and discrimination while under the white man 's control. Although the Union disagreed with the Confederacy’s use of slavery, 12% of slaves lived in the border states of the North and the South (Document B). While the North had no slaves, the South owned 3,500,000. Slavery was perhaps the greatest cause of the Civil War because the Union and Confederacy did not come to an agreement, leading to more conflict between the

Did Slavery Cause The Civil War Essay

To a greater extent, slavery was the greatest cause of the outbreak of the civil war in 1860. Disputes of slavery caused economic and political troubles between the northern and southern states leading up to the civil war. The fact the the northern and southern states were different in almost every way caused them to turn out like completely different territories, one of their greatest differences was the fact that most southern states economy relied on hard labour, agricultural jobs like tobacco in Maryland, and cotton in Virginia; this caused their economy to be more based on the labour of slaves than the more developed territories in the north (Harrold), who after this time was starting to not need the slave labour in their territories because after early 1800’s, the industrial revolution had been spreading to America, and the country developed very quickly. But in this expansion, only the north states were getting the effect of the industrial revolution, meaning the north would not need slave

Causes Of The American Civil War

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” (Winston Churchill) Since the beginning, the United States have encountered many wars. During these wars, they have also gained great victories. Many of these wars were due to differences, whether economically or religiously. One war, in particular, changed the United States forever. This war was known as the American Civil War. What made this war so different from the others was that America was fighting against each other. We were our own enemy. Many things, such as slavery, economic and political systems, bought

The Primary Causes Of The Civil War

There are many causes of the most devastating war in American History. We know this war as the Civil War. The first cause of the war was the election of Abraham Lincoln. Although an election of a new president may not seem as such a big deal, it was. Abraham Lincoln was elected president during one of the most consequential periods in American history. Abraham Lincoln was against slavery which prevented the south from expanding slavery. As it would do to anyone, it unsettled the south that their own president was basically against them. This helps create some of the anger that powered this war.

Causes Of The Civil War Dbq Essay

April 12, 1861, the day that the Confederates and the Union squared off in a Civil War that ended with a disastrous number of 600,000 fatalities. Several Compromises failed to fulfill their purpose of slavery and the issue of tariffs began to deteriorate the United States economically. Popular sovereignty and representatives in Congress determined the states rights for themselves. The Civil War was caused by the state’s rights and their need to escape the Union, slavery which poised a great threat to the breakable United States, and the economic differences that identified the strength and weaknesses of the North and South.

Essay On What Caused The Civil War Dbq

The Civil War was caused by three main reasons are economic differences, interpretation of Constitution, and moral beliefs.

Differences Between North And South Civil War

During the antebellum period, the huge differences existed between the North and the South in many ways. To begin with, the economy of the North once was similar to that of the South; however, as the U.S. started to develop economically, the North became more industrialized. With the advent of the new technologies, factories in the North could produce more things than before to supply the strong market demand of the nation. On the contrary, the South still was a farming region where farmers mainly worded on plantations to grow cotton. To make more profits, the wealthy plantation owners in the South started to force slaves to labor on the plantations. As a result, slavery became an important part in the southern industry, which also led to the controversy of the slavery issue. Furthermore, the different economic system between the two camps widened the economic gap between the North and the South. While the former enjoyed more economic development and profits, the latter suffered seriously from economic losses.

Essay On Nat Turner Rebellion

Nat Turner struck back at the slave system with violence because he considered himself a prophet and felt that killing white people was God’s will. The original family that owned him gave him access to white children school books.The worst treatment of Nat Turner received as a slave was from Thomas Moore, who gave him a thrashing after Nat suggested that the slaves ought to be free and would be one day or another. I would not consider this abuse because many slaveholders would punish a slave for speaking against slavery. As a young adult, Nat Turner is said to have practically memorized all of the Old Testament. The Old Testament, the slave church, and extensive fasting deepened his faith, and he used his faith to justify his actions. As a Baptist preacher, he got the support of other slaves and was able to travel around the town and learn the layout of the land. He was also able to gain confidence in himself and his ability to complete what he thought was

What Caused The Civil War Dbq

Was the Civil War very “civil” at all? The Civil War had many factors that led into it but there was one major factor that started the war. Slavery was one of the biggest factors in the Civil War. There was a big issue that divided the North and South which was slavery. The wide spread of slavery was a big deal to most Americans; but some were not the biggest fans of the concept. When slavery divided the United States of America into the Confederacy and the Union, there was an outbreak in wars which eventually sparked the Civil War. What Caused the Civil War? After looking at the documents and evidence given, it is clear that the Civil War was caused by slavery. The following reasons are why this is true; economics,

The Pros And Cons Of The American Civil War

The Southern and Northern states differentiate on many issues, which ultimately led them towards a Civil War. There stood deep social, economic, and political disparities between the North and the South. These modifications stemmed from the understanding of the United States Constitution on both sides. In the end, most of these disputes about the rights of states directed to the Civil War. There existed reasons other than slavery on behalf of the South 's breakaway. The demonstrations of division in America coexisted many: utopian societies, clashes over public space, backlash alongside immigrants, urban rebellions, black demonstration, and Indian oppositions. America was a separated land in need of change with the South in the biggest demand. The South trusted heavily on agriculture, equally opposed to the North, which was vastly populated and an industrialized union. The South produced cotton, which remained its main cash crop and countless Southerners knew that hefty reliance on slave labor would damage the South ultimately, but their forewarnings were not regarded. The South was constructed on a totalitarian system.

Three Main Causes Of Civil War

There were three main causes of the civil war including slavery, sectionalism and secession. Slavery was a huge part of it and it led to the Missouri Compromise where any states below the border would be slave states and the anything north of that was free states. (Mrs. Wise) "The south feared the declaration of freedom for the slaves by government leaders in the North." Next, sectionalism. Sectionalism- loyalty to your state or lifestyle rather than to the whole country. The north was against sectionalism and the south liked it. The North wanted the government to rule laws for the whole country and south wanted to have each state choose their own laws individually. south also wanted to return any runaway slaves. (Mrs. Wise) "the Fugitive

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From States’ Rights to Slavery: What Caused the American Civil War?

The Northern and Southern sections of the United States developed along different lines. The South remained a predominantly agrarian economy while the North became more and more industrialized. Different social cultures and political beliefs developed. All of this led to disagreements on issues such as taxes, tariffs and internal improvements as well as states’ rights versus federal rights. At the crux of it all, however, was the fight over slavery.

Causes of the Civil War

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The burning issue that led to the disruption of the union was the debate over the future of slavery. That dispute led to secession, and secession brought about a war in which the Northern and Western states and territories fought to preserve the Union, and the South fought to establish Southern independence as a new confederation of states under its own constitution.

The agrarian South utilized slaves to tend its large plantations and perform other duties. On the eve of the Civil War, some 4 million Africans and their descendants toiled as slave laborers in the South. Slavery was interwoven into the Southern economy even though only a relatively small portion of the population actually owned slaves. Slaves could be rented or traded or sold to pay debts. Ownership of more than a handful of slaves bestowed respect and contributed to social position, and slaves, as the property of individuals and businesses, represented the largest portion of the region’s personal and corporate wealth, as cotton and land prices declined and the price of slaves soared.

The states of the North, meanwhile, one by one had gradually abolished slavery. A steady flow of immigrants, especially from Ireland and Germany during the potato famine of the 1840s and 1850s, insured the North a ready pool of laborers, many of whom could be hired at low wages, diminishing the need to cling to the institution of slavery.

Th e Dred Scott Decision

Dred Scott was a slave who sought citizenship through the American legal system, and whose case eventually ended up in the Supreme Court. The famous Dred Scott Decision in 1857 denied his request stating that no person with African blood could become a U.S. citizen. Besides denying citizenship for African-Americans, it also overturned the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had restricted slavery in certain U.S. territories.

States’ Rights

States’ Rights refers to the struggle between the federal government and individual states over political power. In the Civil War era, this struggle focused heavily on the institution of slavery and whether the federal government had the right to regulate or even abolish slavery within an individual state. The sides of this debate were largely drawn between northern and southern states, thus widened the growing divide within the nation.

Abolitionist Movement

By the early 1830s, those who wished to see that institution abolished within the United States were becoming more strident and influential. They claimed obedience to “higher law” over obedience to the Constitution’s guarantee that a fugitive from one state would be considered a fugitive in all states. The fugitive slave act along with the publishing of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped expand the support for abolishing slavery nationwide.

Harriet Beecher S towe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabins was published in serial form in an anti-slavery newspaper in 1851 and in book format in 1852. Within two years it was a nationwide and worldwide bestseller. Depicting the evils of slavery, it offered a vision of slavery that few in the nation had seen before. The book succeeded at its goal, which was to start a wave of anti-slavery sentiment across the nation. Upon meeting Stowe, President Lincoln remarked, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”

The Underground Railroad

Some abolitionists actively helped runaway slaves to escape via “the Underground Railroad,” and there were instances in which men, even lawmen, sent to retrieve runaways were attacked and beaten by abolitionist mobs. To the slave holding states, this meant Northerners wanted to choose which parts of the Constitution they would enforce, while expecting the South to honor the entire document. The most famous activist of the underground railroad was Harriet Tubman , a nurse and spy in the Civil War and known as the Moses of her people.

The Missouri Compromise

Additional territories gained from the U.S.–Mexican War of 1846–1848 heightened the slavery debate. Abolitionists fought to have slavery declared illegal in those territories, as the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had done in the territory that became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. Advocates of slavery feared that if the institution were prohibited in any states carved out of the new territories the political power of slaveholding states would be diminished, possibly to the point of slavery being outlawed everywhere within the United States. Pro- and anti-slavery groups rushed to populate the new territories.

In Kansas, particularly, violent clashes between proponents of the two ideologies occurred. One abolitionist in particular became famous—or infamous, depending on the point of view—for battles that caused the deaths of pro-slavery settlers in Kansas. His name was John Brown. Ultimately, he left Kansas to carry his fight closer to the bosom of slavery.

The Raid On Harpers Ferry

On the night of October 16, 1859, Brown and a band of followers seized the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), in what is believed to have been an attempt to arm a slave insurrection. (Brown denied this at his trial, but evidence indicated otherwise.) They were dislodged by a force of U.S. Marines led by Army lieutenant colonel Robert E. Lee.

Brown was swiftly tried for treason against Virginia and hanged. Southern reaction initially was that his acts were those of a mad fanatic, of little consequence. But when Northern abolitionists made a martyr of him, Southerners came to believe this was proof the North intended to wage a war of extermination against white Southerners. Brown’s raid thus became a step on the road to war between the sections.

T he Election Of Abraham Lincoln

Exacerbating tensions, the old Whig political party was dying. Many of its followers joined with members of the American Party (Know-Nothings) and others who opposed slavery to form a new political entity in the 1850s, the Republican Party. When the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election, Southern fears that the Republicans would abolish slavery reached a new peak. Lincoln was an avowed opponent of the expansion of slavery but said he would not interfere with it where it existed.

Southern Secession

That was not enough to calm the fears of delegates to an 1860 secession convention in South Carolina. To the surprise of other Southern states—and even to many South Carolinians—the convention voted to dissolve the state’s contract with the United States and strike off on its own.

South Carolina had threatened this before in the 1830s during the presidency of Andrew Jackson , over a tariff that benefited Northern manufacturers but increased the cost of goods in the South. Jackson had vowed to send an army to force the state to stay in the Union, and Congress authorized him to raise such an army (all Southern senators walked out in protest before the vote was taken), but a compromise prevented the confrontation from occurring.

Perhaps learning from that experience the danger of going it alone, in 1860 and early 1861 South Carolina sent emissaries to other slave holding states urging their legislatures to follow its lead, nullify their contract with the United States and form a new Southern Confederacy. Six more states heeded the siren call: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Others voted down secession—temporarily.

Fort Sumter

On April 10, 1861, knowing that resupplies were on their way from the North to the federal garrison at Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, provisional Confederate forces in Charleston demanded the fort’s surrender. The fort’s commander, Major Robert Anderson, refused. On April 12, the Confederates opened fire with cannons. At 2:30 p.m. the following day, Major Anderson surrendered.

War had begun. Lincoln called for volunteers to put down the Southern rebellion. Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee, refusing to fight against other Southern states and feeling that Lincoln had exceeded his presidential authority, reversed themselves and voted in favor of session. The last one, Tennessee, did not depart until June 8, nearly a week after the first land battle had been fought at Philippi in Western Virginia. (The western section of Virginia rejected the session vote and broke away, ultimately forming a new, Union-loyal state, West Virginia. Other mountainous regions of the South, such as East Tennessee, also favored such a course but were too far from the support of Federal forces to attempt it.)

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Essays on Civil War

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April 12, 1861 - April 26, 1865

United States

Confederate States of America, United States

Battle of Antietam, Fort Pillow Massacre, Battle of Gettysburg, Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack, Battle of Monocacy

James Buchanan, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, Richard S. Ewell

American Civil War, also called War Between the States, was a four-year civil war fought between the United States and the Confederate States of America. The conflict was the costliest and deadliest war ever fought on American land.

The central cause of the war was the extension of slavery into new territories and states as a result of the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican–American War. When Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election, seven Southern states (South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, and Texas) have been organized as the Confederate States of America.

Fort Sumter became the site of the first shots of the Civil War. Four more southern states – Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee – joined the Confederacy after Fort Sumter. President Lincoln called for 75,000 militiamen to serve for three months. Lincoln insisted that the Confederate states was not legally a sovereign country, but were instead states in rebellion.

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that all enslaved people in the states currently engaged in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free” after January 1, 1863. In fact, it made ending slavery a war goal.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The battle marked the turning point of the Civil War. After a great victory over Union forces at Chancellorsville, General Robert E. Lee marched his Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania in late June 1863.

The war ended on April 9, 1865, when Confederate General Lee surrendered to Union General Grant at the Battle of Appomattox Court House. By the end of the war, much of the South's infrastructure was destroyed, especially its railroads.

After the Confederacy collapsed, slavery was abolished, and four million enslaved black people were freed. The triumph of the North was partly due to the statesmanship of Lincoln. Following the American Civil War began the Reconstruction era.

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essay on what caused the civil war

The Causes of the American Civil War


The Civil War (1861-1865) was one of the most significant events in American history that paved the way for future generations to live in ways that were unimaginable a few years later. It preserved the unity of the nation, gave a much-needed boost to the American economy, and turned the country into the land of opportunity that it remains to this day. The positive outcomes came at a high price: the Civil War is by far the deadliest war that has ever been fought on American soil. It is now estimated that some 620,000 of 2.4 million soldiers lost their lives, millions more were injured, and much of the South was left in debris (Woodworth & Higham 1996). Still, decades after the Civil War ended, its causes and origins still generate controversies among historians. This essay argues that it was the political control, states’ rights, and economics that revolving around the issue of slavery that caused the Civil War.

The Causes of the Civil War

The great economic divide.

The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 was far from sudden or surprising: in fact, it was the logical result of the decades of simmering tension between the North and the South. The issue that led to the disruption of the Union was slavery – an exploitative institution dating back to the 15th century when the Transatlantic slave trade began. Fast forward to the mid-19th century, the United States was experiencing fast-paced economic growth as a whole, though with a growing divide in the economic capacity between the country’s Northern and Southern regions (Woodworth & Higham 1996). The North enjoyed well-established manufacturing and industry while its agriculture was primarily confined to small-scale farms.

In contrast, the South’s economy relied on large-scale farming sustained by the labor of African slaves that were growing certain crops with an emphasis on cotton and tobacco. By the year 1860, despite housing a fourth of the country’s free population, the South only had 10% of the country’s capital (Woodworth & Higham 1996). Other figures from back then are as convincing: after the Industrial Revolution, the North had five times more factories than the South (Woodworth & Higham 1996). Besides, nine out of ten skilled workers in the US resided in the North (Woodworth & Higham 1996). Since they were not enslaved, they could freely refine their skills, choose a workplace of their liking, and propel the economic growth.

The Start of the Abolitionist Movement

As early as the 1830s, the Union saw the emergence and development of the anti-slavery abolitionist movement in the North. It was probably triggered by the so-called Missouri compromise when in 1820, amidst growing tensions, the US Congress proclaimed Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state (Shi & Tindall, 2016). The majority of early abolitionists were religious, White people – they appealed to religion when making their argument and saw slavery as an abomination (Duberman, 2015). Soon, the movement was joined by Black men and women who escaped captivity. Together, abolitionists became an active group that was sending petitions to Congress, ran candidates for political office, and popularized anti-slavery literature in the South. In summation, by opposing slavery’s extension into the new territories and criticizing the entire institution, abolitionists were endangering the backbone of the Southern economy.

Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

Proposed by Abraham Lincoln’s main opponent, Stephen A. Douglas, The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 defeated the progress made by the Abolitionist movement. The new bill mandated “popular sovereignty”: essentially, settlers of a territory now had the right to decide whether slavery will be legal within a new state’s borders (Shi & Tindall, 2016). The Act repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that made slavery in the territories north of latitude 36°30´ illegal. It further aggravated the tension between the North and the South. The North considered the 1820 Missouri compromise an imperfect but mutually beneficial agreement. The South, on the other hand, was overwhelmingly in support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act because the issue of slavery now could be handled locally.

It was clear that the election in Kansas would settle the first important precedent after the law went into effect. For this reason, both supporters and opponents of slavery hastily moved to Kansas to tip the outcome of the first election. At first, it was pro-slavery settlers who led the elections; however, the results were found to be fraudulent by anti-slavery settlers that refused to accept them. Soon, the anti-slavery settlers organized another election, in which pro-slavery settlers refused to partake. The conflict led to the emergence of two opposing legislatures on the Kansas territory.

It was not long until the clashes between slavery opponents and supporters became violent. As the number of deaths was rising, the territory was nicknamed “Bleeding Kansas.” After a series of events that included President Pierce’s attempts to disperse violence, Congress did not recognize the constitution drawn up by the pro-slavery settlers. Eventually, the anti-slavery sentiment came to dominate the scene, and on January 29, 1861, right before the start of the Civil War, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state.

The Dred Scott Case

Following the controversial 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act , the Dred Scott case was yet another event that increased tension between pro- and anti-slavery factions in the Nothern and Southern regions of the US (Shi & Tindall, 2016). Also known as Dred Scott v. Sandford , the Dred Scott case was a decades-long fight for freedom by a Black enslaved man and his wife. Dred Scott and his wife, Harriet, were the property of John Emerson who moved several times throughout his life, taking his slaves to different states, including those where slavery was prohibited. After John Emerson’s death, his wife, Irene inherited the slaves who at that point, wanted to be freed. The woman refused, which led Dred and Harriet to file a lawsuit on the grounds of wrongful enslavement. After being brought to several courts, the case ended in the outcome favoring the pro-slavery sentiment, which, however, allowed the anti-slavery North to gain a momentum and consolidate around the issue.

The Election of Abraham Lincoln

Indeed, many events led to the eventual secession of several states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas) from the Union. Yet, the final straw that caused the start of the Civil War was the election of Abraham Lincoln. When he was elected, Lincoln was a little-known Illinois legislator. Yet, he led the newly formed Republican party to victory against three major party candidates. Today, it is argued that what enabled Lincoln’s victory was the deep schism and inability to see eye to eye in the Democratic party. Both Democrats Douglas and Breckinridge supported popular sovereignty, though they had opposing views on the federal slave code (Woodworth & Higham 1996). The candidate from another young political party, the Constitutional Union, Bell sought to avoid the slavery issue altogether (Woodworth & Higham 1996). The election of an antislavery northerner as the 16th President of the United States enraged many southerners. Lincoln won without a single Southern electoral vote, which made Southerners feel as if their interests were dismissed and neglected.

The Counterargument and Its Validity

Even though today, the majority of historians agree that it was the economic, political, and social issues of slavery that led to the 1861 outbreak, there is a minor group of historical revisionists who think differently. The Lost Cause of the Confederacy , or simply the Lost Cause , is an American pseudo-historical, negationist theory that defends the Confederate States and their motivation to fight in the Civil War (Bonekemper 2015). Namely, the Lost Cause states that the cause of the Confederate States’ military actions was not only just but borderline heroic. Allegedly, the states were fighting to preserve the Southern way of living in the face of increasing aggression from the Union (Bonekemper 2015). The Lost Cause theory almost completely ignores the reality of slavery and its impact on the dynamics between the Northern and Southern states. Today, it is argued that such historical negationism served the purpose of perpetuating white supremacy in the form of nationwide policies such as the Jim Crow laws.

The historical thought negating the role of slavery persisted to this day. The most widespread myth about the causes of the Civil War has found its way into history books and school curriculums. Loewen (2008), the author of “The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The ‘Great Truth’ about the ‘Lost Cause,’” reports that between 60% and 75% of school history teachers emphasize state rights as the cause of the Civil War. However, as argued by Loewen, the original documents of the Confederacy show how much the war revolved around slavery. For instance, when declaring its secession from the Union, Mississippi stated that “[its] position [was] thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world (Loewen 2008).” Similarly, Texas justified its decision to secede by saying that “[Black people] were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race.” According to the document, only slavery could make their presence on American soil “beneficial or tolerable (Loewen 2008).”

As seen from these two excerpts, the Confederate states were outspoken about their stance on slavery and its role in economics and politics. It was slavery that motivated them to make decisions as radical and profound as secession. Therefore, it is not correct to downplay slavery when discussing the causes of the Civil War. Yet, one can readily imagine why such views are likely to persist. Southerners may be reluctant to demonize their ancestors and feel defensive about their own legacy. Besides, the persistence of the Lost Cause helps to uphold institutionalized racism and serve White people’s interests before Black people’s interests.

The American Civil War is the deadliest war that has ever taken place on American soil. It was a turning point for the United States and shaped the way Americans live today. At present, there is little doubt that the main trigger for the Civil War was the issue of slavery and its political and economic implications. Before the start of the war, Southern states were inferior to Northern states economically as they relied heavily on slave labor and large-scale farming. The growing abolitionist sentiment endangered the very backbone of the Southern economy. After several acts and court rulings that could not reconcile proslavery and antislavery advocates, the election of Abraham Lincoln was the final straw that led to the secession of six states. Today, some people still support the Lost Cause theory that negates slavery as the main cause of the Civil War. The theory does not find any supporting historical evidence and is likely used by White supremacists to defend their views.

Bonekemper, Edward H. 2015. The Myth of the Lost Cause: Why the South Fought the Civil War and Why the North Won . New York: Simon and Schuster.

Duberman, Martin B. 2015. The Antislavery Vanguard: New Essays on the Abolitionists . Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Loewen, James W. 2008. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got wrong . New York: The New Press.

Shi, David E., & Tindall, George Brown. 2016. America: A Narrative History . New York: WW Norton & Company.

Woodworth, Steven E. & Robert Higham. 1996. The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research . Greenwood Publishing Group.

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    At present, there is little doubt that the main trigger for the Civil War was the issue of slavery and its political and economic implications. Before the start of the war, Southern states were inferior to Northern states economically as they relied heavily on slave labor and large-scale farming.

  8. Essay On The Causes Of The Civil War - 532 Words | Studymode

    The first ever civil war broke about between King Charles I and his parliament. To name, there are many causes which lead up to this, three major which are: money, power, and religion. It was said that Charles I wasn’t a strong king as was his father (King James VI and I) yet some blame parliament for their arrogance to the new power.