Civil War Essay, Research Paper
Q: Was the Civil War fought over the issue of slavery?
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. 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 slave owners 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. After the American Revolution slavery died in the North, as it became 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 slaveholdings. The South wanted to protect their state’s 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 had 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. As part of the compromise, 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 rather 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 pro-slavery 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 abolitionists 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. 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 an 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. 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.
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 could not be done because slavery is what kept the South running. After the succession of the South President Lincoln said that, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.” Since slavery formed two opposing societies, and slavery could never be abolished, the Civil War was inevitable. It is due to these radical differences in opinion that the South seceded from the North.