Civil War And Reconstuction Essay Research Paper

Civil War And Reconstuction Essay, Research Paper

Although some historians feel that the Civil War was a result of

political blunders and that the issue of slavery did not cause the conflict,

this interpretation fails to consider the two main causes of the war

itself: the expansion of slavery, and its entrance into the political

scene. By considering the personal opinions of people living in both the

North and the South at the time of the war, as well as the political

decisions made, one can understand the reasons behind the war, and then

determine its inevitability.

The revisionists believe that the issue of slavery was not a major

cause of the war. Some argue that the war was caused by careless decisions

made by politicians, who caused people to react with emotions that were

out of proportion with the issues involved. Others feel that the

slavery problem could have been solved without war. The problem with these

theories is that the revisionists do not recognize slavery as the main

difference between North and South. They also fail to realize that it was

not simply political blunders that caused the war, but the discussion

of slavery publicly among politicians.

In his theory of the war, Michael Holt primarily considers the timing

of the conflict. He feels that the breakdown in the two party system

created a panic among citizens and that this panic erupted into war. The

only problem with this theory is that it is not the citizens of a

country who decide whether or not to go to war, it is the politicians. The

reason that slavery could exist without war in the United States until

1861 was because up until that time there was always enough land to

expand. It was when the amount of land available for expansion became

scarce that the North and South began to feel friction as to who would

control more states, free or slave. The South wanted more slave states,

where the North wanted more free states, to give them more land and power

in the Senate. That tension, when publicly addressed, erupted into war.

Both the North and the South felt that the other was trying to enslave

them. This feeling among both Northerners and Southerners made the

expansion issue so powerful because the more land and as a result power the

South gained, the more afraid the north became; as a result the more

the North felt they must prevent the south from expanding.

Arthur Schlesinger feels that the war was fought over the moral issue

of slavery. In his essay, “A Moral Problem,” he says, ” A society

closed in the defense of evil institutions thus creates moral differences

far too profound to be solved by compromise. Such a society forces upon

everyone, both those living at the time and those writing about it

later, the necessity of moral judgment.” He goes on to say that because

slavery was “a betrayal to the basic values of our Christian and democratic

tradition,” it had to be challenged, however, He fails to realize that

the North did not care about the institution of slavery as long as it

stayed in the South. South Carolina seceded, because Abraham Lincoln, a

Republican, was voted into office. The Republican party threatened the

South’s expansionism and therefore Southerners felt that they had no

other choice but to secede or, “To abandon the institution of slavery to

Black Republicanism, and to trust the union for her safety.” The

Republican party, however, had no intention of ending slavery in the South or

freeing the slaves; they just did not want slavery to expand, “Because

the scene of intestine struggle will thus be transferred from the south

to the North.” He does argue that slavery, for whatever reason was at

the heart of the conflict between North and South, and that “The

extension of slavery…was an act of aggression”

The United States was divided into three groups by the time the Civil

War began: those who believed in the complete abolition of slavery,

those who were against the expansion of slavery, and those who were pro

slavery. Many historians like to believe that the moral aspect of slavery

is what made it an explosive issue. As Schlesinger notes, “It was the

moral issue of slavery, that gave the struggles over slavery their

significance.” They should realize, however, that the abolitionist

philosophies were considered radical at that time. The abolitionists were a

minority, compared to more conservative Northerners. The abolitionists,

however, did play a major role in shaping the views of many Northerners.

They wrote papers denouncing slavery, held rallies, and published works

such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Liberator which not only forced

people to discuss slavery openly, but also created a general distaste for

slavery and the South.

The majority of the North felt that, “to aid or abet the extension of

slavery is wrong” However, they had no problems with slavery as long as

it remained in the South. This opinion dates back to the 1820, when the

Missouri compromise forbade slavery to exist beyond the latitude 36′30,

in an attempt to keep slavery out of politics and out of the North. But

unfortunately due to the expansionism that followed with the annexation

of Texas, and debates over what should be done with the lands gained in

the Mexican War this proved to be impossible.

The Pro slavery South was, in many ways reacting to the North’s attack

on the slavery and its expansion. Slavery is an institution that must

continue to grow for its survival. The cotton that necessitated slaves

is also a crop that dries soil rapidly, necessitating new soil to be

used quite often. Moreover, expansion for the South meant growth,

politically, socially and economically, and it meant more political power. It

is human nature to want to make what one has larger and stronger, just

as the South wanted to expand and gain power. The Southern politicians

did this through political moves such as the Annexation of Texas,

“Bleeding Kansas”, the Ostend Manifesto, and through the Dred Scott decision.

All of which infuriated the North, and convinced them that the south

were trying to dominate the U.S with slavery, making the North ” [T]he

subservient subjects of a slave driven oligarchy”

The Republican party was formed in opposition to southern expansion.

Their platform was Free Soil, Free Men and Free Labor. The Republicans

were anti-South but they were in no way an abolitionist party. They

believed that slavery was a flawed system that made the south inefficient,

and that because the North’s free labor system was superior it must be

guarded from “southern aggression”.

When the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860,

the South felt that its 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 a substantial

part of Southern society, the South felt that they could not survive

without it. Therefore they were not willing to compromise with the north,

“We have at last reached that point in our history when it is necessary

for the South to withdraw from the Union. This has not been our

seeking…[but] we are bound to accept it for self-preservation.” Although

slave owners only made up 25% of the southern population it was a central

component of their society. To own slaves was a sign of wealth and

social prestige; poorer farmers who could not afford slaves had a goal to

work for, Evan those who were extremely poor and had no hope of ever

owning a slave supported slavery, for no matter how poor a white man was in

the South, they were still not at the bottom of the social system, as

long as there were slaves. If one looks at the figures for the election

of 1860 one will notice that Lincoln only secured 4% of the popular

vote in the South, only running a ticket in the upper 5 states, where in

the north he received 54% of the popular vote. This reveals the unity of

the South in their dislike for the Republicans and Lincoln. If the

South had been more divided they might have been more willing to negotiate

a compromise, but this simply was not the case. “There will be no

compromise–it is out of the question.”

The central cause of conflict between North and South was slavery, but

it was only in it’s expansion and attention that it was given through

politics that it became a powerful divisive force that could not be

solved by compromise. The entrance of slavery into politics made it into a

public issue, and once the issue became public the conflict had to be

solved. Tragically, compromise was impossible, as each section felt that

its personal liberty was at stake, and as a result this conflict could

not be solved without war.


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