The Civil War is Perhaps
The civil war is perhaps the most studied time period in American history. Though the war was only four years, it would alter the course of history and change American culture forever. Among the changes caused by the war, the most prominent were the social and economic changes and the largest being slavery. The country was divided in many ways and all contributed to the start of the war. Most people would say that the war was solely dependent on the issue of slavery, but this is simply not the case. As stated above there were several contributing factors. However, the main two that will be discussed in this paper are the idea of slavery and the social/political factors.
A quote by Randy Golden that stands out and umbrellas the causes of the war is Some say simplistically that the Civil War was fought over slavery. Unfortunately, there is no simple reason. The causes of the war were several difficult sequences of events, including slavery that was started long before the first shot was ever fired. Political turmoil, the definition of freedom, competing nationalisms, the fate of slavery, the preservation of the Union and the structure of our society and economy at some point could all be listed as important contributing factors in America’s fierce and ferocious conflict.
It is important to know that yes slavery was a major contributor to the war, there were other factors that acted as a stimulus to the war. The main other stimulus under slavery and economics was state’s rights. Most people overlook this issue and forget that this was a problem long before slavery became the figurehead of the war. This is mainly due to the fact that everyone wants to focus on the big picture and overlook the fact that most people from this time period were invested in the well being of their own individual state instead of that of the nation.
Now, let’s talk about slavery. Since the war benefited the slaves and abolitionists the most, it is easy to see why the war is studied in a way that makes it seem to be only about slavery.
The institution of slavery itself was abolished in the north by the year 1787, but it proceeded to be a way of life in the south until after the war. How does this lead to the war? Well, the constitution contradicts itself on several principles. It boats the idea of all men are created equal and freedom for all but it still protects the institution of slavery. Whether the founding fathers didn’t see the slaves as people the way they saw people, or they simply ignored them is up to debate. However, while most white Americans acknowledged the constitution and praised it, it was the slaves who first put emphasis on its flaws towards slaves.
It is peculiar that those who fought so hard to be free from the British, fought tooth and nail for their freedom, would turn right back around and do the exact same thing to the slaves. If those of fought understood what they were fighting for, how could they turn their back on the slaves and allow the cruelty of slavery to exist and become a mainstay way of life for the south? These questions are why it’s so important to think about what the founding fathers meant when they created the idea of all men are created equal.
Now, most revolutionaries fought for freedom and liberty for themselves but ignored the needs of the slaves. Seeing this, could one come to the conclusion that even though they fought for freedom, that they were in support of the institution of slavery? This idea doesn’t fall in line with the image of the revolutionaries we have today, but it’s important to look at issue of slavery before there were abolitionists and antislavery coalitions. This is important to look at because of the fact that wars do not start overnight but in fact build up over years of issues stacking up until something boils over.
Now it’s time to look at the political and economic causes of the war. By now its extremely clear that slavery was a large part of the war, however another equally important issue was that of state’s rights. The main issue concerning state’s rights was the simple fact that not all states were getting equal representation in congress. In the beginning, it was believed that the constitution would create a federal government that just oversaw the states as an umbrella, not controlling them the way it actually did. Naturally, the state’s wanted to be able to govern themselves without too much federal interference. Unfortunately, the state’s government had to answer to a federal government that held the power of supreme law on many issues including slavery. Because of this there was automatically bad blood between the state and federal government.
To make matters worse, there was a massive population boom in the north making the issue of representation even worse. The boom was partly due to people leaving the agricultural south for better working opportunities in the industrialized north and partly due to immigrants coming to America for the opportunities of a better life. With this population boom comes the desire for proportional representation in congress between the states. On the other side of the issue you have the south with around half of its population being slaves who don’t get any representation in congress yet. So once proportional representation becomes enacted it doesn’t take long for the south to realize with its lower population that they would soon lose their importance and have less seats at the table.
As a result, the north gained more power than the south and in turn the idea of slavery being wrong gained more traction. This, compounded with the fact that the south was losing its power, created a political environment where war was unavoidable. John Gordon stated The South maintained with the depth of religious conviction that the Union formed under the Constitution was a Union of consent and not of force; and the South challenged the North to find one trace of authority in that Constitution for invading and coercing a sovereign State. The North, on the other hand, maintained that sovereignty was a unit and could not be divided; that whether or not there was any express power granted in the Constitution for invading a State, the right of self-preservation was inherent in all governments; that the life of the Union was essential to the life of liberty; or, in the words of Webster, liberty and union are one and inseparable. This quote essentially umbrellas the north vs south political issue.
All in all it appears to be a mix of issues that caused the Civil War. One cannot simply say there is one cause to the war. Between the blatantly obvious issue of slavery, the issue of state’s rights, and the economic issues between the industrial north and agricultural south, it is easy to see there are several causes to the war. To add fuel to the fire we have the debate about how each state should be represented in congress. Each and every one of these issues played a key role in the long chain of events that led up to the start of the bloodiest war in American history.