Causes Of The Civil War Origins of the Civil War Partisan politics have been an American institution since the days of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. During the youth of the new nation, political parties were often divided over issues such as the constitution and government, but during the nineteenth century problems arose that had never plagued America before. Ideas of the abolition of slavery and secession from the Union cut political lines right down the middle and made politics and economics a battle between the North and the South. With no compromise in sight, tensions rose and the thoughts of a more perfect union began to crumble. When blame is sought for the cause of the Civil War, slavery has always been at the forefront and is the most prominent reason, but also included are the economic differences between the North and the South.
No one reason can clearly explain why the events that led up to the Civil War caused the Union to divide, but by grouping together the economic consequences of the government’s actions towards the abolition of slavery, taxation of trade between the North and South, and the fight for state’s right we can begin to draw a clearer picture of what the sources of the Civil War were. Perhaps best stated by Major General of the Confederate States of America, John B. Gordon, Slavery was undoubtedly the immediate fomenting cause of the woeful American conflict. It was the great political factor around which the passions of the sections had long been gathered-the tallest pine in the political forest around whose top the fiercest lightnings were to blaze and whose trunk was destined to be shivered in the earthquake shocks of war. (Gordon pg. 2) Flatt 2 The arguments that arose before the Civil War were rooted in a set of tariffs placed on trade between the manufacturing North and the agricultural South.
Goods produced in Europe were often less expensive than goods in the North. In order to ensure Northern profits from manufacturing high tariffs were placed on foreign goods being imported to the South. The South argued they were being forced to pay a considerably higher price to purchased manufactured goods and blamed this for the recession the Southern economy was feeling during the 1820’s (Swogger pg.2). In 1828 vice-president John C. Calhoun said if a state felt that the federal government was using its authority beyond the limits of the Constitution, that state could revoke the law.
Arguments over taxation policies led to South Carolina passing an Ordinance of Nullification in November 1832 to override President Jackson’s tariff practices. The state refused to collect the tariff imposed on foreign trade, and threatened to withdraw from the Union. With the amendment of the Tariff of Abominations in 1833, South Carolina continued its statehood in the Union.(Golden pg. 2) After South Carolina set the precedent for actions toward state’s rights, the Southern states looked to extend their sovereignty and move away from what they saw as an oppressive federal government. After seeing the impact of the tariff regulations, tensions between state governments and federal law grew to a heightened level. Every legislative move was closely watched and weighed by the public and the local governments.
Citizens felt the state governments could better act in their own self interest Flatt 3 and that quarrels between state to state often left issues unresolved. During the presidential elections of 1848, 1852, and 1856 the issue of slavery had been vaguely debated and often ignored by the candidates. Reducing the power of the federal government and increasing the authority of state sovereignty was also guided by the opposing differences in economic systems of the North and the South. The manufacturing and trade industry of the North and the agricultural industry of the South relied on a certain amount of cooperation between the two sides, but also meant that each side could sustain itself financially to an extent. The Southern economy was flourishing before the Panic of 1837 and quickly rebounded from the depression.
Prior to 1861, the South and its plantations were economically soaring. Cotton and tobacco were constantly being harvested below the Mason-Dixon Line, bringing in tons money from all over the world. A new industrial wave was beginning in the North, but this futuristic wave was not grossing nearly as much as the plantations of the South. During the Panic of 1857 the North was shattered by the lack of consumption and trade due to the recession, but the Southern economy relying on an abundance of crop growth and sales was unscathed by the Panic. “The clash of a wealthy, agricultural South and a poorer, industrial North was intensified by abolitionists who were not above using class struggle to further their cause.”(Golden pg. 3) Pressure leading up to the war began to mount with the coming presidential election of 1860.
The candidates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas found Flatt 4 themselves in the midst of heated political issues on slavery and secession. Since 1832, not a single President had won reelection due to the negative views of presidential practices towards the resolution of the slavery issue. The Republican candidate of Lincoln was supported by the North and Democratic candidate Douglas was supported by the Upper South. Democrats in the South saw Lincoln’s possible victory in the election to be the grounds for secession. Less than two months after Lincoln’s victory, South Carolina legislature met to discuss secession and unanimously voted to leave the Union. By the end of February, six other states had left the Union and Jefferson Davis had become the first president of the Confederate States of America.
(Goldfield pg. 450) The progression towards the Civil War from this point on was inevitable. The United States of America citing its reasons for war as patriotism, nationalism, and preservation of the Union at all costs and the South’s reasoning of the federal government’s invasion of state’s rights on several issues, with the most glaring being slavery meant a compromise could no longer be reached, but an enigma of this proportion could only be settled by war. The defense of both of these sentiments can best be described by the leaders of both Americas. In a letter written to George Robertson, a friend of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln wrote, You are not a friend of slavery in the abstract. In that speech you spoke of ‘the peaceful extinction of slavery’ and used other expressions indicating your belief that the thing was, at some time, to have an end. Since then we have had thirty six years of experience; and this experience has demonstrated, I think, that there is no peaceful extinction of slavery in prospect for us..The Autocrat of all the Russias will sooner resign his crown, and proclaim his subjects free republicans sooner than will our Flatt 5 American masters voluntarily give up their slaves.Our political problem is ‘Can we, as a nation, continue together permanently–forever–half slave, and half free?’ The problem is too mighty for me.
May God, in his mercy, superintend the solution. (Lincoln pg. 1) During Jefferson Davis’s Inaugural Address as president of the Confederate States of America, he spoke, If a just perception of mutual interest shall permit us peaceably to pursue our separate political career, my most earnest desire will have been fulfilled. But, if this is to be denied to us, and the integrity of our territory and jurisdiction be assailed, it will but remain for us, with firm resolve, to appeal to arms and invoke the blessings of Providence on a just cause.(Davis pg. 3) Both men and their countries alike felt their side would prevail and it would be evident that they were bolstering the right convictions.
The Confederates were so confident in their impending victory over the Union that President Davis received a letter from then Governor of North Carolina, John W. Ellis, proposing “Declare by law that every soldier who has or will enlist in our Army, and who at the time of such enlistment was not a slave owner or landholder, shall receive a bounty or pension at the end of the war, upon being honorably discharged, one negro slave and fifty acres of land.”(Ellis pg. 1) This no doubt showed the Rebel’s positive view towards the outcome of the war. Volunteers from both sides rushed to aid the fight. Over 2.1 million men fought for the Union army, while 900,000 volunteered to fight for the Confederacy.(Goldfield pg.
464) The strong advantage for the North was the large amount of available resources at their disposal, whereas the South was an infant nation and had no formal army and limited Flatt 6 resources to rely on. It was those invaluable resources that lead the North to victory over the starved and depleted South in April 1865. In the past 135 years since the Civil War’s end, a search for cause and blame for the conflict has been examined by economists, politicians, and historians. No precise issue can be faulted for the clash between the North and the South and the ensuing secession of the slave states, but when looked at from a broad perspective the problems caused by tariffs on trade, fights for state sovereignty, and the abolition of slavery brought tension within the Union that could only be settled by war. In a fight that ended with over one million casualties to the men who participated in the battle for equality of all men and a nation once again united, we learned that each perspective side of the Civil War was ready to fight to the death to defend what they believed in and prove to their opponent that they would not be intimidated by idle threats against their opinions.