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Causes of the American Civil War


The South, which was known as the Confederate States of America, 
seceded from the North, which was also known as the Union, for many 
different reasons. The reason they wanted to succeed was because there 
was four decades of great sectional conflict between the two. Between 
the North and South there were deep economic, social, and political 
differences. The South wanted to become an independent nation. There 
were many reasons why the South wanted to succeed but the main reason 
had to do with the North's view on slavery. All of this was basically
a different interpretation of the United States Constitution on both 
sides. In the end all of these disagreements on both sides led to the 
Civil War, in which the North won.

 There were a few reasons other then the slavery issue, that the 
South disagreed on and that persuaded them to succeed from the Union. 
Basically the North favored a loose interpretation of the United
States Constitution. They wanted to grant the federal government 
increased powers. The South wanted to reserve all undefined powers to 
the individual states. The North also wanted internal improvements 
sponsored by the federal government. This was more roads, railroads, 
and canals. The South, on the other hand, did not want these projects 
to be done at all. Also the North wanted to develop a tariff. With a 

high tariff, it protected the Northern manufacturer. It was bad for 
the South because a high tariff would not let the south trade its 
cotton for foreign goods. The North also wanted a good banking and 
currency system and federal subsidies for shipping and internal 
improvements. The South felt these were discriminatory and that they 
favored Northern commercial interests.

 Now the main reason for the South's secession was the Slavery 
issue. Basically the South wanted and needed it and the North did not 
want it at all. The South was going to do anything they could to keep 
it. This was the issue that overshadowed all others. At this time the 
labor force in the South had about 4 million slaves. These slaves were 
very valuable to the slaveholding planter class. They were a huge 
investment to Southerners and if taken away, could mean massive
losses to everyone. Slaves were used in the South as helpers in the 
fields in the cultivation of tobacco, rice, and indigo, as well as 
many other jobs. The South especially needed more slaves at this time 
because they were now growing more cotton then ever because of the 
invention of the cotton gin. Cotton production with slaves jumped from 
178,000 bales in 1810 to over 3,841,000 bales in 1860. Within that 
time period of 50 years the number of slaves also rose from about 
1,190,000 to over 4,000,000. The plantation owners in the South
could not understand why the North wanted slavery abolished that bad.
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. Southerners said that slaveowners 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. But after the 
American Revolution slavery really died it the North, just as it was 
becoming more popular in the South. By the time of 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 Northerners 
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 not important. All of
these views eventually led to an attack on the slavery system in the 
South, and showed opposition to its spread into whatever new 
territories that were acquired. Northerners said that slavery revoked
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. 
But the North opposed to this and wanted to stop the extension of 
slavery into new territories. The North wanted to limit the number of 
slave states in the Union. But many Southerners felt that a government 
dominated by free states could endanger existing slaveholdings. The 
South wanted to protect their states rights. 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 legislative measures 
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. To please the South, slavery would be 
prohibited forever from Louisiana Purchase 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. But in 1848 the Union acquired a huge 
piece of territory from Mexico. This opened new opportunities for the 
spread of slavery for Southerners. But the distribution of these 
lands in small lots speeded the development of this section, but it 
was disliked in the South because it aided the free farmer than the 
slaveholding plantation owner. So now Congress passed the Compromise
Measures of 1850 during August of 1850. It 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 abolition of 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. Many Northerners set up underground railroads where the 
runaway slaves could hide and get food and be directed to Canada for 
freedom. This angered many Southerners. 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. All these 
compromise measures resulted in a gradual intensification of the 
hostility between the slave and free states. Again another law was
passed in 1854. It was called the Kansas-Nebraska Act. It authorized 
the creation of Kansas and Nebraska, west of Missouri and Iowa and 
divided by the 40th parallel. 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 slaveholding. This act was sponsored by the 
Democratic senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. 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. This act split the Democratic party 
and destroyed the Whig party also. The northern Whigs joined 
antislavery Democrats to form the Republican party in July 1854. A 
conflict developed in Kansas between proslavery settlers from
Missouri and antislavery newcomers who began to move into the 
territory from the northeastern states. This was what known as 
"Bleeding Kansas." There were also many people in the North known as 
abolitionist s who made the South look very bad. The abolitionists 
played a major role in shaping the views of many Northerners. These 
people were fully against slavery and its expansion and most of the 
time took matters into their own hands to get their point across.
Some of the most famous abolitionists were William Lloyd Garrison of 
Boston, Wendell Phillips, who in 1836 gave up his law practice because 
he couldn't support the United States Constitution, James G. Birney of 
Ohio who gathered all anti-slavery forces into one unit called the 
Liberty Party and Frederick Douglass, who was an escaped slave who 
became a black editor.

 The last main conflict that led to succession was during the 
presidential election of 1860. The newly formed Republican party 
nominated Abraham Lincoln on principles that opposed the further 
expansion of slavery. 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 a important part of 
Southern society, the South felt that they could not survive without 
it. Now they felt there was nothing more they could do. They were 
convinced that they should make a bid for independence by succeeding 
rather then face political encirclement. It was all 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 succeed. Lincoln said that succession was illegal and said 
that he intended to maintain federal possessions in the South.

 Southerners hoped the threat of succession would force 
acceptance of Southern demands, but it did not. Finally the day came 
on Dec. 20, 1860 when South Carolina adopted an ordinance of 
succession. The other states to follow and succeed were: Mississippi 
on Jan 9, 1861, Florida on January 10, Alabama on Jan 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 and what was led to the Civil War.

 Many different efforts were made to save the Union and prevent a 
war. 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 who called a conference of the states 
at Washington D.C. Representatives were sent from 7 slave and 14 free 
states. An amendment was passed saying Congress could never interfere 
with slavery in the states. But it 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 
succession but none were as big as the slavery issue. The only way to 
avoid the war was to abolish slavery but this was not able to be done 
because slavery is what kept the South running. But when the South 
seceded it was said by Abraham Lincoln that "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 never be abolished, the Civil 
War was inevitable." These were all the reasons why the South seceded
from the Union and there was really no other way to avoid succession 
because the North and South had totally opposing views.



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