Foundations of America
Causes of the Civil War
There were many causes of the Civil War.
While many causes occurred in the Antebellum years immediately preceding the Civil War, some causes involved longstanding issues in the nation that had never truly been resolved. For example, the states’ rights issue. Who would have the final say in political decisions: the state governments, or the federal government? Generally, the South supported stronger state governments, while the North supported a stronger federal government. This led to tension between Southern state governments and the federal government as well as tension between Northern and Southern political leaders. Tensions over abolition and slavery also contributed to the Civil War. Northerners increasingly felt that slavery should be abolished, while most Southerners felt slavery should be protected.
An additional cause of the Civil War was based on the fact that the northern and southern economies were very different. They were different in the Colonial period, and became increasingly different up through the 1800s. The South had a warmer climate, which allowed for more growing seasons. Thus, the economy was primarily agricultural. Large plantations growing mostly cash crops became the basis for the economy. The South relied on slave labor to maintain its agricultural economy. They did not do much manufacturing, and did not industrialize very much (there were not a lot of factories in the South, for example). By contrast, the North had cold winters and rocky soil, which limited the region to having small farms. This led to the development of a diverse commercial economy based on activities other than agriculture, such as fishing, lumber, and manufacturing. As a result, the North was more industrial and relied on wage labor more. In the 1800s, they built a lot of factories. There were not a lot of slaves in the North. Repeatedly, issues over the sectional differences in economic need and capacity led to clashes. One of these issues was over the National Bank. While access to a national bank had some advantages to all, it was a much greater need in the Northern economy. Many Southern political leaders, including Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson felt that the funding of a National Bank was against the best interest of the South. Another economic issue that seemed to never get resolved was over the tariff rate. The North felt that a high tariff was necessary to inspire production and make their factories more competitive. The South, in general felt that a high tariff hurt American consumers and led to reciprocal tariffs that hurt their cash crops sales abroad.
As the 1850s approached, Northerners and Southerners disagreed about more and more issues. These issues were political, legal, and cultural. One political issue was over whether new states such as Missouri, California, Texas, Utah, Kansas, and Nebraska entering the Union would be free or slave. Another political issue was over the treatment, return, and capture of fugitive slaves. To resolve these issues, albeit temporarily, there were compromises worked out in Congress and at the White House. While some issues were never resolved, such as the one that Wilmot proposed, others were worked into major bill/law agreements such as the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. Both sides felt that they lost when these agreements were worked out. For instance, after the Compromise of 1850, the South liked that Northerners would be forced to return runaway slaves, but Northerners hated this law. Also, when the Missouri Compromise decided that popular sovereignty could be a solution, each side accused the other of flooding the potential voting zones with partisan voters. At times, the violence was deadly as it was in “Bleeding Kansas.”
One cultural disagreement involved the publishing of partisan books and speeches. Books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin angered Southerners by portraying slavery and slave owners as horrible. Northerners who read the book often became abolitionists, when they hadn’t been before. Pro-slavery books by people like George Fitzhugh caused Southerners to defend the institution of slavery.
A legal issue that helped drive the country apart was the Dred Scott case. Dred Scott was a slave from Missouri (a slave state). His owner took him into a free state, and thus Scott sued for his freedom, believing that made him a free man. The Supreme Court ruled AGAINST him, forcing him to remain a slave. Many in the South celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision. However, in the North, the decision was widely criticized as unfair and racist. The North and South became even more separated by this court case, also helping to cause Civil War. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry was also a significant political reason for war. His attempt to incite and lead a slave rebellion in Virginia using violence failed, and he was executed after a trial. His execution was celebrated in the South, while in the North, anti-slavery people viewed Brown as a martyr, and were inspired to never rest until slavery was ended. This event further divided the country, leading to Civil War. The election of Abraham Lincoln as President in 1860 was perhaps the final political straw leading to Civil War. The vote clearly shows that the North supported Lincoln, who was against slavery, while the South did not. After his election, the South felt they had lost their voice in the federal government, which led to the states deciding to secede. Obviously, this also led to the outbreak of Civil War. All of these issues over which the North and South disagreed helped lead to the Civil War.
Read this narrative (pre reading) to get the main ideas. What is the subject of this narrative?
Create a comparison diagram for the second paragraph. Use separate paper or your ipad. Include all the issues given in the paragraph. (we will identify these in class)
Create an overall causes diagram for this whole reading. The event is the Civil War. in other words, you are looking for causes of the Civil War. Use separate paper or your iPad.
Analysis: do you see a common thread connecting many of these causes? What is that thread?