If asked, most people would blame as the cause of the civil war the issue of slavery. This is understandable; many people in the U.S. at the time were against slavery, going to far as to help runaway slaves escape to the free north. But, while slavery at face value was a major factor, international politics and economics played a major role. Several factors, including the election of Lincoln, the raid on Harper’s Ferry, the Dred Scott decision, and, most importantly, the fugitive slave law, contributed to the growing rift between the North and South and, eventually, the Civil War.
Abraham Lincoln is most always associated with the Civil War. But, he was not elected through a majority of the popular vote. In fact, with only forty percent of the popular vote, he wasn’t even close to a majority. His Republican platform reached out to many groups, but left out the South. Many southerners thought he was an abolitionist, although he did favor monetary compensation and a Union. As a result of southern fears over Lincoln, he was not allowed on the ballot in ten southern states, and many states threatened to secede if he was elected. His election prompted the first state, South Carolina, to secede from the Union, and started the Civil War.
This contributed to the growing rift greatly, in that the South not only felt their livelihoods were being threatened through the potential loss of their slaves, but also had a sense of disenfranchisement at the polls, because the minority candidate won. But, even though if Lincoln had not been elected, the Civil War would have been delayed, Lincoln was really just the straw that broke the camel’s back. The south was looking for an excuse to secede, and Lincoln gave it too him, which makes this election a relatively minor event in contributing to the civil war.
But, while Lincoln was the straw, the North had placed many other burdens on the South’s proverbial camel. In 1859, abolitionist John Brown decided to attempt to incite a slave uprising. At Harper’s Ferry, Brown attacked an arsenal. The result was seven people dead, no slave uprising (they were not aware of the endeavor), and John Brown martyred for the abolitionist cause. Zealous abolitionists praised Brown, but southerners saw him as a murderer. What angered the south most, however, was not that a fanatic murdered seven people, but that abolitionists in the North financed him. The rift widened between the North and South for southerners, who believed there was a conspiracy in the North to send armed gangs to steal slaves and murder innocent people. The Raid on Harper’s Ferry added more to the growing fissure between the North and the South than Lincoln’s election.
Whereas the Raid on Harper’s Ferry increased tensions in the south, the Dred Scott Decision worried the North. Dred Scott was a black slave on free territory who sued for his freedom. The Supreme Court ruled that he was not a citizen, but also included the more comprehensive judgment that slaves could be taken into any territory and held in slavery. Northern abolitionists were shocked; their plan for compromise was no more slavery in any territory, and this ruling shut down their cause. Abolitionists feared that slavery would now spread into more territories, and Northern democrats, who favored popular sovereignty, and southern democrats, who favored slavery, were divided further in the Dred Scott Decision. This case contributed to the division of the Democratic Party, who then nominated three separate candidates, resulted in the election of Lincoln, and set in motion the secessions that caused the Civil War.
Although Dred Scott did frighten many abolitionists, the most important contributor to the growing rift between the North and the South was the Fugitive Slave law. This law empowered every person to act as a slave catcher, forbid anyone from helping an alleged slave, and allowed slave owners to only state ownership of the slave in question in order to take him into custody. While originally a political move to appease the south, the result was a widening rift. The South was angered by a widespread refusal of Northerners to execute the law, another northern conspiracy to disenfranchise the south.
The North was angered because they were being forced to go against their principles, against their deepest beliefs, and send fugitive slaves, or even freeborn blacks, back to the south. The northerners were forced to choose between abiding by the law, and helping a fellow human being. It put a human face on slavery for northerners, and polarized the two regions. The Fugitive Slave law was the most significant factor in contributing to the rift between the North and the South, and, ultimately, the Civil War.
The Civil War had numerous, complicated causes. The tensions between the manufacturing North and the agrarian South had been growing for decades before it rose to a boil in 1861. Slavery was a major factor, both politically and morally. The Civil War kept the Union together, at the cost of thousands of lives, but at the same time resulted in a new lease on life for thousands of slaves. The Fugitive Slave Law, the election of Lincoln, the raid at Harper’s Ferry, and the Dred Scott decision all contributed to the Civil War, and thus, to the ending of slavery in America