The American Civil War

The American Civil War The American Civil War The Civil War was a brutal war between the North and South of America over the issue of slavery, which was spurred on by the secession of the southern states from the Union of a America. At the time slavery was one of the main issues in America that caused a disagreement between the north and south and these disagreements about humanity and slaves added to the tension that would finally lead to the out break of war. Slavery was almost totally abolished in the northern states after 1787 when the Constitution was drafted at the Philadelphia Convention and slavery was looked upon as the ‘peculiar institution’ of the southern states, by the north. The southern states looked upon slavery as a way of life and were in no way prepared to give up what they felt was there property and a very important part of their cotton and farming production. Another implication that caused great tension between the north and south over the issue of slavery was that even though their were anti-slavery supporters in the south; some of the abolitionists of the north would write notices and say that all southerners were evil and cruel slave owners, who would treat their slaves badly.

This angered the southerners who felt that the northerners were just being hypocrites and didn’t know what they were talking about, which turned pro anti-slavery southerners into stronger supporters of the south. It was thought by some anti-slavery groups in America that slavery would die out because America had in 1808 stopped the participation in the international slave trade, which meant no supplies of new slaves would be coming in. But this theory proved wrong because slavery in the south began to expand due to the great demand of raw cotton from cotton mills of the Industrial revolution from overseas places like Britain. Also the cotton-based expansion of slavery came due to the invention of the cotton gin, by Eli Whitney in 1793, which cleaned the cotton plant and refined it on a mass scale. The south started more tension over slavery when they decided they had to expand their territory westwards and gain more states because other wise they would be out voted in congress and slavery would be abolished completely, also they needed new land to replace all the over used farming land in the other southern states.

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The Abolitionists were another factor that came into the tension point of slavery. People such as William Lloyd Garrison who published the newspaper, “The Liberator”, which attacked southern slave owners. Making them and the slave traders out to be criminals. He and followers of his such as Wendell Phillips used these accusations against the southerners based on the fact that they said that slavery was a sin in the Christian religion and was in general, immoral. Another abolitionist that fought hard for the abolishment of slavery was Fredrick Douglass, an ex-slave who escaped from slavery and urged other black people to do so. Douglass became the “station-master and conductor” of the Underground Railroad in Rochester, New York which helped fugitive slaves escape to the north since the southerners had congress pass the Fugitive Slaves Act in 1850. This act meant that all American citizens had to help recapture fugitive slaves and that all Negroes were assumed slaves unless they could prove they were free. Douglass also established the abolitionist newspaper North Star, which he edited until 1860. Books such as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was published 1852 helped to strengthen the anti-slavery feeling in the North. Finally as one historian described the figure, “that was the single most important factor on bringing on the war”, was the most extreme abolitionist, John Brown.

Brown believed that he was ‘an agent of God’ and dedicated his life to the abolishment of slavery and believed the way to achieve it was by using force. He was a member of the radicals, who tried to abolish slavery by defying the law and not a member of the gradualists who tried to abolish slavery through legal means. Brown and his sons went to Kansas to fight against the pro-slavery terrorists there and finally his last venture was in 1859 when he and 18 men seized the US Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia and won control of the town. Later the US marines under the command of Robert E. Lee arrested and charged Brown with treason and murder, he was hanged on the 2 December.

People such as this contributed greatly to the cause against slavery that in the end was one of the most important causes of the start of the Civil War. The second major cause of the American Civil War was the extremely different societies of North and South. The north was none slave owning, as I’ve already mentioned, and the south was slave owning; these were not the only differences in their two societies. The South was extremely agricultural, produced cash crops-cotton, tobacco and sugar cane, which they would export either to the north or to Europe. The North on the other hand was very industrial, with many factories with paid laborers, and manufactured much of the equipment that the south required for their economic structure.

Not only were their two economic structures different but also were their life styles and the parts of America that they lived in. In the South there was a tropical climate with rivers and land inhabited by wild animals, such as alligators. Also the people in the south had different accents and they lived much a different lifestyle to the Northerners. In the North they too had a different climate, one where it would snow in winter and in general would be much colder then the south. Their lifestyle was very formal compared to the south and lastly the two sides had very different political ideas. These differences made the North and South seem like completely different nations and in the end led to a crucial cause to the start of the war. The third and most important cause that finally led up to the war was Secession.

But before the actual secession act happened there were other events that led up to this point. Firstly the Nullification crisis which happened in 1832-3 when the state of South Carolina declared the US’s tariffs to be unconstitutional by declaring this, the state put the ‘nullification doctrine’ in to operation. They used this to basically show that if the federal government were to exceed their powers, such as abolish slavery, any or all states could nullify this action, in other words a precedent. Later the controversy was resolved through a compromise which modified the US tariff but the wider issue remained and states such as South Carolina hung onto their right to nullify what ever they felt was unconstitutional. Later their came compromises such as the Compromise of 1850 where newly acquired states such as California were admitted to the union as none slave states but states like Utah and New Mexico, were set up with a choice of slavery or not and this would be decided by the settlers in the area. Then came the Missouri Compromise where slave-owning Missourians applied for statehood this started a problem as it upset the balance of free and slave states which were 11 each at the time.

This compromise led to the formation of the Republican Party that was committed to preventing the spread of slavery. Later it was to become clear that the issue of slavery in western expansion of starting new states and settlement had divided North and South and there would be no compromise to settle it, instead civil war would come. After all these hostile compromises and westward expansion in 1860 there was a general election where Abraham Lincoln was elected into power. Lincoln was not an abolitionist but believed that, “All men should have equal rights” and not just white men. He wanted to halt the spread of slavery but not destroy it immediately. To the Republicans Lincoln was a moderator but to the southerners he was an evil figure that became a sign that the union was to become radicalized. Just after the election of Lincoln South Carolina, followed by six other Southern states, took steps to secede from the Union.

Although secession was illegal the union had no power to oppose it and all alternative compromises failed and so in February 1861 a new southern government was inaugurated as the, “Confederate States of America.” This new government drafted its own constitution and elected its own president, General Jefferson Davis who was a Kentuckian like Lincoln. An as Lincoln so wisely said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”, which meant America divided in two couldn’t carry on. So that April morning in 1861 when the confederate army opened free fire on Fort Sumter a fort being held by the union on southern soil, it would be the final act that all these causes and tensions that I’ve mentioned would finally have built up to. Which would have set off one of the most horrific wars of all time. And as most Americans describe it, “It was a war that defined America’s character.” American History.