Ever wonder how the Civil War was started? Many historians believe that slavery was the main controversy that sparked the historical conflict. However, the national discussion about state’s rights and territorial expansion were also the straws that broke the camel’s back. Read on to learn more about what caused the civil war.
A nation divided
During the mid-1800s, America was a place of new beginnings for all. Nonetheless, there was still a financial gap between the Northern states and the Southern states. While the North capitalized on its manufacturing and industry sectors the South’s prosperity was gained through large agricultural farms and slave labor. Starting in the 1830s, there was an anti-slavery sentiment growing in the North. This lead northerner’s to reject the idea of expanding slavery into the western region of the U.S.
With four million African American slaves working in the South, slavery became an integral source of wealth for the Southern states. Its impact on the cotton and tobacco agricultural sectors was tremendous. Not only that, but slave ownership elevated one’s social status. Slaves were even used to trade and buy goods. Soon enough, slavery became a significant source of income for certain individuals and companies.
At the same time, the northern states had already abolished slavery. With the influx of emigrants from Ireland and Germany, the North had more than enough candidates for low-paying jobs. Therefore, they were able to dismiss the need for slavery in that region. Miraculously, abolitionists like John Brown, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman began anti-slavery protests that changed the minds of many American people. As a result, Southerners began to fear that their old way of supporting themselves was about to come to an end.
Brave new world
States’ rights was another issue that fueled that fire that led to the Civil War. For instance, the South wanted to overrule the federal government’s jurisdiction about slavery. This was particularly true when it came to the Southern state’s objection to anti-slavery laws. There were already several pro-slavery laws in place, like the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that was established by Southerner’s to deny the rights of the Northern states. Not to mention that the Constitution already gave the South permission to practice slavery. Of course, the Northern states had enacted anti-slavery laws to combat the South. The creation of the North’s state personal liberty mandates allowed them to deny their right to slavery.
By 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by Congress. This rule permitted all newly formed states to practice slavery, giving them the right to determine if they would allow slavery or not. While the South celebrated, the North’s opposition to the ruling resulted in the creation of the Republican Party. This new political party was fully against slavery, particularly its expansion into the West.
The Supreme Court shattered the North’s abolitionist dreams when it passed its Dred Scott decision in 1857. This meant that a slave was no longer considered to be a person and that they were “so far inferior that they [have] no rights which the white man [is] bound to respect.” The Southerners rejoiced at the nation’s verdict and enjoyed their right to transport slaves freely. The North became even more devoted to its pro-abolitionist views, leading to John Harper’s “Bleeding Kansas” battle in 1859. Brown’s abolitionist raid at Harper’s Ferry was even financially supported by the North. This moment marked the beginning of the end for the South’s “peculiar institution.”
Origins of war
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected as the nation’s first Republican president. This angered many Southerners, as Lincoln was a fierce advocate against slavery. The president had even declared at his 1858 speech in Chicago that, “I have always hated slavery, I think as much as any Abolitionist.” Right before Lincoln was sworn in as president the following year, seven states seceded from the union. The northerners were shocked when South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas announced their separation from the U.S. in 1861. Together, they formed the Confederate States of America.
Ruled by President Jefferson Davis and Vice President Alexander H. Stephens, the Confederate States of America lasted from 1861 to 1865. The newly segregated states agreed to maintain the institution of slavery. Meanwhile, the Southern press was full of reports that Lincoln intended to end their practice of enslavement. Tensions continued to build between the North and the South, with one Southern man stating, “I wish there was a river of fire a mile wide between the North and the South, that would burn with unquenchable fury forevermore, and that it could never be passable to the endless ages of eternity by any living creature.”
Historians believe that the Civil War could’ve been prevented if it weren’t for the South’s suspicion of Lincoln. Even though Honest Abe had pledged not to disturb areas where slavery was practiced, southerners still believed that he intended to abolish it. During this time, Lincoln was forced to squash several secession-related conflicts in the Border States of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and West Virginia. Yet, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina chose to join forces with the Confederacy. About the conflict, a Southern woman lamented, “because of incompatibility of temper, we have hated each other so. If we could only separate, a ‘separation a l’agreable,’ as the French say it, and not have a horrid fight for divorce.” Nevertheless, the Civil War had begun.