Interpretive Narrative Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1627 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: American History

¶ … Civil War in American history. Specifically it will contain an analysis of James M. McPherson's Ordeal by fire: The Civil War and reconstruction regarding the question "Was Slavery the primary cause of the Civil War?" Many scholars point to numerous reasons from the economy to rapid growth as the main causes of the American Civil War. However, many of these reasons can be traced back to slavery, making slavery the primary cause of the Civil War.

In the Prologue to his book, McPherson writes. "The social and political strains produced by rapid growth provoked repeated crises that threatened to destroy the republic. From the beginning, these strains were associated mainly with slavery" (McPherson, 2001, p. 1). Thus, he makes his thesis clear in the opening of this text, and then goes on to elaborate on the many different strains facing the country, and how they can almost always be traced back to the division between North and South over slavery.

The economic growth of both the North and South was truly remarkable during the first half of the nineteenth century. The industrial revolution provided growth spurts throughout the country, and brought more people to the Northern cities for jobs and opportunities. As the North industrialized, the South grew too, and became must more productive agriculturally, rather than industrially, and this would cost them greatly during the Civil War, since they did not have the ability to create many of the materials they needed to continually supply their fighting forces as the war dragged on.

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Transportation also flourished during this time, and again, it flourished mainly in the North, as it connected industrial centers with population centers, and helped move people and goods much more efficiently and quickly. Railroads criss-crossed the Northern states, and there were some railroads in the South, but not nearly as many, which would again cost them greatly during the Civil War. It made it more difficult for them to move large amounts of men and materials, and it made them more vulnerable to railroad attack, because they did not have more railroads available as a back up.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Interpretive Narrative Assignment

All of this adds up to tremendous modernization going on throughout the country, and the need for more materials and labor to help industrialize the country. Education became more important, the American family changed, and immigration continued to populate the western United States. All of this change did not occur without tension and dissent, and this is part of how modernization and social unrest helped lead to the Civil War. For example, religious beliefs helped fuel debate throughout the country, and the largely Protestant North wanted to impose its values of temperance and modernism on the Catholic population of the country, largely Germans and Irish immigrants who did not appreciate the Protestant attempts at altering their lifestyles. There were clashes among classes and among religious beliefs, which helped draw a wedge between the areas of the country. For example, in the Midwest, Southern settlers began to mingle with settlers from the North, and they often did not get along, or share the same beliefs. McPherson writes, "The two streams of migration met in central Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana, where they mixed about as readily as oil and water" (McPherson 23). The largely agrarian South had different religious and moral values than the North, and these helped lead to the tensions that turned into the Civil War.

The political arena of the time also contributed to war. There were two main political parties, and again, they tended to split the country in two. Most temperance and black rights supporters tended to be Whigs, while those who opposed these issues tended to be Democrats. Again, they split the country nearly in half, and the roll call votes McPherson cites, showing a clear majority of Whigs in the North and Democrats in the South (McPherson, 2001, p. 26), indicates how the party platforms translated into strained relationships between the parties. The South was afraid of change, while the North relished it, and there was little that could bring the two sides together. Slavery was one of the key issues in this debate, because the North advocated change, while the South stubbornly refused to modernize, including their agrarian economy that was so dependent on slave labor to grow the labor-intensive crops like cotton, sugar cane, and tobacco.

The Southern economy was based on agriculture, and much of that agriculture was very labor intensive. That is why slavery grew in the South, while it never really caught on heavily in the North. McPherson notes, "While Southern per capita investment in manufacturing nearly doubled between 1840 and 1860, this increase lagged behind the Northern growth rate, and the South's share of the nation's manufacturing capacity actually declined" (McPherson, 2001, p. 31). Thus, the South relied on its slave labor for most of its economy, leaving fewer industrial and entrepreneurial opportunities. In fact, McPherson continues, "On a typical plantation the investment in slaves was greater than the investment in land and implements combined" (McPherson, 2001, p. 31), which indicates what a large part of the economy of the South depended directly on slavery. When the North began to seriously question the viability of slavery, and political candidates began to debate the issue, this threatened the South and their very livelihood, and this eventually helped lead to Civil War.

Another aspect of the modernization process that helped lead directly to Civil War was the westward expansion. This included the annexation of Texas, California, and much other westward territory. After the Mexican War, Mexico ceded vast amounts of western land to the United States. Many Proponents wanted that land to come into the Union as slave states, where slavery would be legal, while others did not. Many Americans felt the Southern Democrats dominated the Party and that included their very vocal views on slavery, and adding more slave states to the Union. A Pennsylvania senator proposed a provision that would abolish slavery in all of the newly acquired territory from the Mexican War, and the battle lines were drawn. McPherson writes, "[T]he political system had experience an ominous wrenching of the normal party division of congressional votes into an almost completely sectional division" (McPherson, 2001, p. 66). This division caused a great rift between the parties, and the main reason was this abolition clause, which passed the House and the Senate without the provision, even though it was a rocky fight. The same thing later happened in 1850 when California was admitted to the Union as a free state, without even existing as a territory. Politically, slavery was a very emotionally charged issue that helped lead directly to the break between North and South and the origins of the Civil War.

Another very controversial political cause of the war was the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Law of the same year. The Compromise admitted California as a free state, created the territories of Utah and New Mexico without any provisions for or against slavery, and created the Fugitive Slave Law, a harsh law that required anyone who knew of a fugitive slave to turn them over to authorities for return to their rightful owner. Southerners opposed the Compromise, even though it upheld their own rights as slave owners, because it admitted California as a free state, which created a shift in the balance of power in the Congress, and because it banned slave trade in Washington, DC. There was talk of secession after the bill passed, but in the end, the South settled down, and the Compromise held.

Finally, the Compromise was extremely unpopular in some areas of the South, which led to continued unrest. It also led to other legislation that inflamed both sides. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened new westward territory… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Interpretive Narrative" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Interpretive Narrative.  (2008, June 5).  Retrieved August 4, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Interpretive Narrative."  5 June 2008.  Web.  4 August 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Interpretive Narrative."  June 5, 2008.  Accessed August 4, 2021.