Causes of the United States Civil War Essay

Pages: 4 (1537 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: American History

Civil War

The American Civil War: Causes and Repercussions

Although today for most Americans the existence of a united union is taken for granted, this was not the case for most of the antebellum period. In 1832, South Carolina even went so far as to suggest that a state legislature had superior authority to nullify the laws enacted by the federal government. The Confederate General John B. Gordon raged: "The South maintained with the depth of religious conviction that the Union formed under the Constitution was a Union of consent and not of force; that the original States were not the creatures but the creators of the Union; that these States had gained their independence, their freedom, and their sovereignty from the mother country, and had not surrendered these on entering the Union; that by the express terms of the Constitution all rights and powers not delegated were reserved to the States; and the South challenged the North to find one trace of authority in that Constitution for invading and coercing a sovereign State.

" Gordon's language reflects a common philosophical justification for the Confederacy: that the Union was behaving like the King of England towards the American colonies and revolt against tyranny was justified.

This, of course, raises the question as to why the South was so determined to exercise control over federal laws and nullify the U.S. government's legislation. Behind the philosophy of state independence there were many practical concerns, rooted in the fact that the South had vastly different economic interests than the North. Taxation was becoming an especially grievous divider between the two regions. Because factory labor dominated the North, the North wished to limit the import of goods from abroad, so residents would buy American products. However, the large cotton plantations in the South were export-driven. "Their crops were sold to cotton mills in England, and the ships returned with cheap manufactured goods produced in Europe. By the early 1800s, Northern factories were producing many of those same goods, and Northern politicians were able to pass heavy taxes on imported goods from Europe so that Southerners would have to buy goods from the North. These taxes angered Southerners.

The Civil War was thus not 'about' slavery, in the sense that abolitionists in the North were attempting to free African-Americans in the South and the federal government obeyed their dictates. "The curious thing is that although slavery was the moral issue of the nineteenth century that divided the political leaders of the land, the average American had very little interest in slaves or slavery. Most Southerners were small farmers that could not afford slaves. Most Northerners were small farmers or tradesmen that had never even seen a slave.

" In fact, even anti-slavery, pro-Union politicians like President Abraham Lincoln were willing to make concessions to the South, such as containing slavery to the states in which it currently existed, in the hopes of preventing war and preserving the Union. There can be no doubt that slavery was integral to Southern economic and political life -- the plantation was dependant upon slavery, and unless the South could retain control of the federal government as a slave-holding region, it feared it would lose the ability to enrich itself through slave labor. A better way of expressing Southern interests in slavery is to say: "Political leaders on both sides were very interested in slaves and slavery," because of the potential repercussions of slavery in shaping the future of the union.

Would the union be primarily industrial, or agricultural? What should be the criteria in admitting states into the union?

The difficulty balancing the influence of slave and free states further intensified with the expansion westward. The 'Missouri Compromise' meant to ensure that slave and free states would always exist in a proportional balance in Congress. "Through the efforts of Henry Clay, 'the great pacificator,' a compromise was finally reached on March 3, 1820, after Maine petitioned Congress for statehood. Both states were admitted, a free Maine and a slave Missouri, and the balance of power in Congress was maintained as before, postponing the inevitable showdown for another generation. In an attempt to address the issue of the further spread of slavery, however, the Missouri Compromise stipulated that all the Louisiana Purchase territory north of the southern boundary of Missouri, except Missouri, would be free, and the territory below that line would be slave.

" However, this compromise was thwarted as Kansas, Texas, and other states were incorporated into the union, causing a divide between advocates of state sovereignty -- letting the states choose if they wished to be free or slave states -- and those representatives still striving to achieve a balance between slave and free states in the Union. "Repealing the demarcation line between slave and free territory established by the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act declared that the question of whether slavery would be allowed in a new state would be determined by popular sovereignty -- the vote of the settlers of the territory. The contest for control of the territorial legislature and thus the state would be determined by which side of the slavery issue could rush the most settlers into the territory.

Runaway slave laws also caused a conflict between state sovereignty in North and South, as despite their insistence on state's rights at home, Southerners pursued slaves into the North, demanding that their property be 'returned.' Finally, the Missouri Compromise was declared unconstitutional -- and Northern Abolitionists were outraged when the U.S. Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision ruled that Scott, a slave, had to be returned to his master after he sued for freedom after spending two years in free territories. "The court ruled that Congress never had the right to ban slavery in territories because the Constitution protected people from being deprived of life, liberty, or property. Slaves, like cows or goats, were property and could be taken anywhere in U.S. jurisdiction.

" This outraged the North and further polarized the region, just as John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, in an attempt to violently end the slave regime, further enraged and polarized anti and pro-slavery forces in North and South.

The end of slavery was perhaps the most notable result of the war. "On Dec. 8, 1863, the president issued a Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. Except for high military and civil officers of the Confederacy or its states, all Southerners who took an oath of loyalty to the Constitution and swore to obey the wartime legislation and proclamations regarding slavery would be granted amnesty." Unfortunately, because of the passage of Jim Crow laws, the changes in American racial relations were not as seismic as abolitionists had hoped. Still, the war solidified the authority of the federal government over the states, "with the executive branch in particular exercising broader jurisdiction and powers than at any previous time in the nation's history. The U.S. Congress, meanwhile, enacted much of the legislation to which the South had objected so strenuously before the war, including a homestead act, liberal appropriations for internal improvements, and the highest tariff duties in American history to that date. Economically, the war encouraged the mechanization of production and the accumulation of capital in the North. The needs of the armies in the field resulted in the mass production of processed foods, ready-made clothing, and shoes, and after the war, industry converted such production to civilian use. By 1865 the U.S. was on its way to becoming an industrial power.

" Ultimately, in an immediate fashion, despite the end of slavery, white industrialists reaped more benefits from the Civil War than African-Americans, who remained oppressed and disenfranchised.

Works Cited

"Causes of the Civil War," KET, 2009, April 23, 2009, http://www.ket.org/civilwar/causes.html

Gordon, John B. "Causes of the Civil War." Reminiscences of the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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