Civil war and reconstuction

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
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
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 ” The
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


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