Causes of the Civil War

Civil War Essay
Ever since the Constitutional Convention, the issue of slavery has been a ???sleeping serpent.??? While it had always been a pressing issue, slavery was never fully addressed by the U.S. government and was essentially avoided to prevent controversy. Although this avoidance kept the country relatively safe from the issue for now, it only let the issue grow more controversial as time went by. After the introduction of cotton and the influx of slave labor, slavery became a dominating reality in the South, but so did abolitionism in the North. With both sides opposing each other, the country slowly began to divide and the ???sleeping serpent??? began to awake. From 1848-1861, tension between the North and the South fiercely grew until the South ultimately seceded from the Union in 1860 and formed the Confederate States of America in 1861. For cultural, geographical, and political reasons, the U.S. found itself in the eve of war, for the ???sleeping serpent??? had finally arose and the issue of slavery could no longer be ignored.
The cultural differences between the North and the South demonstrated their view towards slavery and the inevitability of conflict after the secession of the South. The North, a primarily industrialized society, never had any use of slavery in the first place. However, the North heavily relied on the South for its textile industries and did not begin opposing slavery until abolitionist movements began in the 1830s. During these movements, abolitionists pushed for the immediate abolishment of slavery; while this idea did not appeal to most northerners, it began the political approach of preventing the spread of slavery. Abolitionists ultimately hit home in the North, however, through the media. William Lloyd Garrison, a famous abolitionist, radically opposed slavery in his newspaper The Liberator, which would turn many northerners against slavery for the next 30 years. Uncle Tom??™s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, would present the evil and cruelty of slavery in the South, while The Impending Crisis of the South, by Hinton Helper, would present the economic instability of slavery in the South. Both these works were a major driving force for northerners to oppose slavery, and they even discouraged the British to help the South should there be a conflict. Some abolitionists, like John Brown, even resorted to violence to oppose slavery. Brown led a raid in Harper??™s Ferry, Virginia that, while being unsuccessful, gave strength to the abolition cause but was also one of the leading causes that began the war. The South, however, was quite the opposite of the North. The South had always been a primarily agricultural society and, with the demand for labor, slaves quickly became a norm for the South. By 1850, 1733 families owned +100 slaves and it was they who ruled over the ???cottonocracy.??? The South was very defensive of slavery, as they argued that it was crucial to the Southern economy. In in fact was, for the South??™s economy revolved around cotton and could not have functioned without it. The South also defended slavery with their racist views towards blacks. Many Americans, primarily the South, viewed slaves as inferior to whites and believed that blacks should never be equal to whites. Yet they also argued that slave life was nicer than it was portrayed in the North; slaves were introduced to religion and lived much more leisurely compared to northern wage slaves. Southerners like Stephen Foster wrote songs about the happy life of the ???darkies??? in the South. Southerners even banned abolitionist books in the South to discourage the spread of abolitionism, but also to prevent slave uprisings. Furthermore, the South took great offense after the actions of John Brown. They were glad to see Brown hang for his attack on the South, yet were enraged with the North??™s reaction to Brown??™s ???martyrdom.??? The South heavily relied on slavery and avidly defended it from the North, who passionately moved to end it or prevent the spread of it. With these two conflicting views, tension built up between northern and southern culture, and the South ultimately seceded from the Union in order to protect its dear institution.
Not only were the North and the South culturally divided, but geographic issues would also lead up to the physical division of the U.S. Geography became crucial to the U.S. after westward expansion drove many people to new territory. With such a large influx of settlers in the West, territories could apply to be a state after having 60,000 residents in the area. With this law came new states but also the question, would the new states be free or slave states This issue was resolved through the Missouri Compromise in 1820. The Compromise made Maine a free state and Missouri a slave state, and established the line of 36?°30??™, north of which would be free states and south would be slave. This Compromise was crucial, as it was the first physical division of the U.S. and the line would serve as the basis for future geographical issues. The next crucial dispute over land was Compromise of 1850, which dealt with California and the Mexican Cession lands earned after the Mexican-American War. The Compromise deemed California a free state, but established popular sovereignty in the Mexican Cession lands. This decision was important because it ultimately favored the North and upset the balance between free and slave states. And although the South had a chance of gaining another slave state in the Mexican Cession lands, the soil could not be used for agriculture and therefore would not need slaves. This favoritism towards the North outraged southerners and once again added to the tension that divided the country. Finally came the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act. This act was created after Stephen Douglas made plans to build a transcontinental railroad. Douglas wanted to move the railroad more up north and establish the states of Kansas and Nebraska, but the South wanted something in return. The act was important in that it repealed the Missouri Compromise and opened Kansas and Nebraska to popular sovereignty. By repealing the Missouri Compromise, the South was no longer restricted to the line that prevented them from expansion. And with Kansas and Nebraska open to popular sovereignty, the South was sure to gain two more slave states that would tip the balance of free to slave states in their favor. This act led to incredible tension between both sides and it split the nation. The South now had an advantage over the North, but the North responded by abandoning the Fugitive Slave Laws which angered the South. This act had a permanent effect on the country, as both sides were furious with each other and now the borders for the impending and inevitable war were set.
Political differences between the North and the South were the ultimate and decisive causes for the division of the U.S. and the eve of war. For the longest time, presidents basically ignored the issue on slavery, avoiding ???stirring the pot.??? Even during the mid-1800s, when slavery was becoming a more prominent issue, presidential candidates, such as Lewis Cass and Zachary Taylor of the 1848 election, did not take stands on the issue so that voters would not turn against them. However, it was during this election that the Free Soil Party emerged; this party consisted mostly of northerners and was the first political party to take a stand against slavery. It was important because it affected the presidential elections up to Lincoln and they would later make up part of the Republican Party. But the issue of slavery also split political parties as well. The Whig party was first divided by the issue, and the Democratic Party soon followed after the Kansas-Nebraska Act. With so many members divided over the issue, the parties divided and many members fled to the North or South. Many Democrats remained in the South, while the remnants of political parties formed the Republican Party (which was banned from the South). Another political issue that was a leading cause for the war was the Dred Scott Decision in 1857. Dred Scott, a slave, sued for his freedom after living in a free state with his master, arguing that this technically made him free. Chief Justice Roger Taney handed down the infamous decision, which stated that Scott was not a citizen but property and was not entitled to sue. It also said that Congress could not outlaw slavery, and this therefore made the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional. This decision was huge for the South, for now they had the Supreme Court in their favor and according to the court??™s interpretation of the constitution, the North could not outlaw slavery. The South now had the president, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution on their side, leaving the North with Congress, whose power could no longer stop slavery. The North was obviously very angered by this loss, and once again the tension between both sides only grew. The final, yet very important political act that caused the South to secede and put the country at war was the election of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was nominated by the Republicans, a political party that was resented by the South. He was a free-soiler, and his stance on slavery was to prevent its spread. This clearly made him an opponent to the South. In fact, he was so disliked in the South that South Carolina pledged to secede from the Union if he won the election. Lincoln did win the election and to his surprise, South Carolina actually went through with its promise. Several southern states followed weeks later, totaling to 11 states that would make up the Confederate States of America in 1861. Although all the previous tension amongst the North and the South had driven them apart, the South finally carried through with their threat of secession after Lincoln??™s election. While it is unclear whether or not the South would??™ve remained in the Union if Lincoln wasn??™t been elected, it is important that he was. Lincoln becoming president finally carried out the tension between the two sides and it was only a matter of time before conflict emerged. Lincoln was also important as he would serve as a crucial figure in the Civil War, and the results that followed after the war.

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