The Civil War was mainly based on the different ideological beliefs of slavery between the North and the South. Almost all sectional conflicts such as the Nullification Crisis and Kansas-Nebraska Act revolved around slavery issues, which can be traced back to the earliest years of American colonization. With a Southern agrarian economy in contrast to a Northern industrial economy, the South felt threatened and felt that slavery was the only stable force that kept its economy grounded. Furthermore, prominent Southern and Northern politicians convinced the mainstream to follow their extremist and biased beliefs, further dividing the two regions.
With slavery underlying the South’s desire to seek independence, state rights, and ultimately the continuation of southern culture, succession was unavoidable. The Civil War was inevitable because of the result of extremism and failures of leadership on both sides.
The presence of slavery had slowly built up sectionalize tensions between the North and South during the 19th century. The history and economy of the North were very different from those of the South.
While the North developed booming factories, the South built large cotton plantations. By the early 1800s, Northern factories were producing many of those same goods as the South. Furthermore, Northern politicians were able to pass heavy taxes on imported goods from Europe so that Southerners would have to buy goods from the North. The North’s political fallacy of passing taxes angered Southerners and caused them to view the North more as a competitor than a partner.
When western territories were won by the US from the Mexican American War, complications arose at the question of which were free and slave states.
During the early 19th century, the South sought to defend slavery by retaining control of the federal government. However, when new states were added to the Union, it disrupted the balance of power that the South fought so hard to seek. In 1850, the South allowed California to enter as a free state in exchange for strengthening slavery laws. However, they were blinded by the fact that eight years later, both Minnesota and Oregon were added as a free state because the North had a denser population than the South. While the North incorporated industrialization into its economy, the South embraced an agrarian plantation economy. Hence, the North experienced a higher number of European immigrants and birth rates than the South. Unfortunately, the North’s population growth ruined Southern attempts to maintain a balanced federal government as it meant the future addition of more free states.
Extremism about slavery came from politicians in both the Senate and House of Representatives to resolve the issue (Document A and B). Essentially, slavery was the backbone of the South’s economical success. If the South lost its’ slaves, it would have to pay for workforce and labor, which will disintegrate the economic system of the South. Hence any political action that took place that threatened the slavery system of the South received the undivided attention of the South’s political leaders, many of whom were slave owners. David Wilmot attempted to prevent slavery in the new territories when he introduced the Wilmot Proviso in Congress. After extensive debate, it was defeated. The Wilmot Proviso created great bitterness between North and South and helped crystallize the conflict over the extension of slavery. Another failed attempt for resolution was the Compromise of 1850 which called for slavery in the unorganized lands received from Mexico to be decided by popular sovereignty, meaning that territorial legislatures and local people would make the decision whether slavery would be allowed.
Tensions arose when Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois repealed the line imposed by the Missouri Compromise bypassing the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Senator Douglas (Document D) felt that Kansas and Nebraska should have a right to be subjected to popular sovereignty like the other western territories. The Kansas-Nebraska Act resulted in the establishment of two opposing legislatures within the Kansas territory, further heightening the tensions between the North and South. Violence soon erupted, with the anti-slavery forces led by John Brown (Document H) against the pro-slavery settlers. Because President Franklin Pierce was more biased toward the pro-slavery legislature, he sent in federal troops to stop the violence and disperse the anti-slavery legislature. Stephen Douglas’s poor decision making resulted in increased sectionalise beliefs between the North and the South.
Although the majority of the American people including many moderate politicians like Abraham Lincoln (Document F) wanted to avoid the Civil War and were content to allow slavery to die a slow, inevitable death, the most influential political leaders of the 19th century were not. The South had an economic interest in the spread of slavery to the new territories so that new slave states could be created and the South’s political influence would remain strong. The North had an interest in limiting the spread of slavery into the new territories for both purposes of controlling Southern political power. Also, while Southern politicians believed that they were guaranteed the “right” to own slaves, Northern abolitionists believed that slavery offended their moral and ethical principles. The North was morally opposed to the idea that one person could “own” another. Abolitionists in the North wrote books, published newspapers spreading their ideas about slavery, and often assisted slaves to freedom when they ran away from their masters. Southerners believed that abolitionists were attacking their way of life and that the Federal government was not doing enough to protect their “property” from running away. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Document C) by Harriet Beecher Stowe gave a powerful and moving voice to the Abolition movement by turning the public against the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
The novel was so powerful that it forced the majority to look within its collective soul at the horrors of slavery. The leaders in both the Southern and Northern regions were able to convince the vast majority that it was necessary to go to the war using slavery as an oblique justification through either words or actions. Leaders in the North convinced the popularity that the secession of the South would upset the democratic government. On the contrary, Southern politicians persuaded the mainstream that the North was a threat to their culture and way of life. Because of the influence of the Northern and Southern politicians, extremist beliefs were ubiquitous. The Southern and Northern leaders were shrewd in the fact that they did not reveal the whole truth. Both sides knew that if the people knew that thousands of soldiers would be dying for slavery, the majority would not be in favor of war. Both leaders in the North and South were willing to make war because of their extremist beliefs about slavery.
When Abraham Lincoln, won the Election of 1860, the South recognized that their control of the government was slipping away. Lincoln was firmly against the further expansion of slavery, which threatened Southerners because expansion was vital to the survival of slavery and ultimately Southern society. Thus, convinced that they should bid for independence rather than face political encirclement, Southerners argued that the Tenth Amendment prohibited the federal government from obstructing their right of “property” into new territory. They also stated that the federal government was not permitted to interfere with slavery in those states where it already existed. They felt that a strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution in conjunction with nullification, or secession would protect their way of life. Therefore, South Carolina decided to write A Declaration of the Causes (Document I). Because of the threat that the North imposed to the South, the South felt that secession was inevitable to maintain their agrarian economy secure.
The Civil War was triggered by the extremism of both pro-slavery and anti-slavery parties and the sectionalize beliefs that influential politicians engraved on the minds of the majority. The existence of slavery was the key component that initiated tensions between the North and South; if there were no disagreements over slavery, the Civil War could have been avoidable. With the contrast of an industrial and agricultural economy, the South felt threatened by the balance of power between the two regions. Because the South felt that slavery was crucial to their economic stability, succession felt inevitable to them. Moreover, Southern politicians and Northern abolitionists further aggravated the division of the two regions by exposing sectionalize beliefs to the mainstream that would otherwise have been ignored.
Because slavery undermined the South’s desire to seek independence, state rights, and ultimately the continuation of southern culture, succession was inevitable. Lincoln once said that “A house divided against itself cannot stand….this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free (Document F).” Lincoln knew that because slavery formed two opposing divisions and that slavery could never be abolished, the Civil War was inevitable.