The Civil War: Causes and Consequences
The American Civil War, also referred to as the War Between the States lasted between 1861 and 1865. When the confederacy, consisting of eleven Southern slave states led by Jefferson Davis declared their secession from the rest of the United States commonly referred to as the Union, composing of the Free states and five slave states or Border States, which advocated for abolition of slavery, the War was born. This was essentially fueled by Abraham Lincoln’s election under the Republican Party and his vow to extend the campaign on the abolition of slavery. Both the outgoing president’s administration, James Buchanan, and the incoming Lincoln’s administration were in high opposition of slavery. In March 4, 1861, seven southern states declared their secession from the Union just before Lincoln took office. Consequently, the Lincoln administration declared this as a rebellion and rejected its legality. On April 12, 1861, hostilities began. Confederate forces attacked at Fort Sumter in southern Carolina. Lincoln responded by calling for volunteer armies from the remaining states and declared an Emancipation Proclamation which prioritized end of slave trade in the south as a war goal. These lead to secession by four more states. Important battles won by the Confederate commander Robert E. Lee in the east were neutralized by various vital battles such as The Battle of Gettysburg and the Capture of Vicksburg which availed access to the Mississippi River splitting the confederacy into two. On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, ending all Confederate resistance. While both the Union and the Confederates believed that they fought against tyranny and oppression, the Lincoln administration prioritized the war against slavery while the Confederates defended their right to self-rule.
Various reasons have been put forward as to the reasons for the onset of the Civil War. Key to these were the economic and social disparities between the North and the South, the clash between state and federal rights, the controversy between opponents and proponents of slave trade, the growth of the Slave trade Abolition Movement and the election of Abraham Lincoln coupled with the consequent battle at Fort Sumter.
The disparity in the economy and in the society was key in triggering the Civil War. In 1793, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. This was very profitable since it reduced the time taken in separating the seeds from the cotton hence farmers were encouraged to shift into cotton farming. Most farmers in the South shifted to plantation farming which required a larger workforce. This was easily provided by slaves who were a cheap source. Therefore, the Southern economy chiefly depended on cotton and therefore slaves whereas the North depended chiefly on industry rather than agriculture. Hence, the north was more urbane and had a vibrant city life. This necessitated that different classes had to interact while the South upheld an antiquated social order.
Secondly, since Revolution, there had been an existing controversy on whether states should be given more power or whether the federal government should exercise more control. The Articles of Confederation loosely governed the relationship between member states since the American Revolution and independence. However, due to common problems experienced, the leaders came up with the United States Constitution at the Constitutional Convention. This usurped individual member states the power of nullification which enabled them to reject any federal acts they felt were interfering in their state rights. Consequently, strong proponents of state rights such as Thomas Jefferson, John C. Calhoun and Patrick Henry fought hard for nullification. This finally resulted in secession when the states felt that nullification was no longer being applied.
Thirdly, the fight between pro-slavery and anti-slavery proponents in new states gained from the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican War as to whether the states should be free or slave states was a major contributory factor. In 1820, the Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery in states gained from the Louisiana Purchase in the latitude 36 degrees 30 minutes north with the exception of Missouri. Controversy further erupted on the lands gained from the Mexican War. Tensions were heightened by the 1846 Wilmot Proviso which proposed ban of slavery in these states. It was shot down in the senate. Henry Clay’s Compromise of 1850 further sought to create a balance between the free and slave states. It incorporated the crucial fugitive slave act. Tensions reached a boiling point due to the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act which proposed use of popular sovereignty in determination whether the states would be free or slave. In Kansas, proslavery Missourians poured into the state in order to influence it. Consequently, fighting not only broke out termed as Bleeding Kansas but also on the floor of the senate between antislavery proponent Charles Sumner and South Carolina’s Senator Preston Brooks.
The growth in leaps and bounds of the Abolitionist Movement contributed to secession. The North was highly polarized against slavery prompting sympathy for abolitionists and against slaveholders. The publishing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown’s Raid and the Dred Scott’s Case and the passage of the fugitive slave act put pressure on the South.
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