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The American Civil War (1861) was a war between the North (the Unionists) and the South (the Confederates) who disagreed on the use of Slavery. The North wanted the abolishment of slaves as it clashed with their desire for America to become industrialized whilst the South needed slaves to maintain their agricultural economy. There were a plethora of reasons as to why this war occurred from the insatiability of the political foundations dating back to the Constitutional Convention (1787) to the need for territorial expansion and the common belief of manifest destiny where people believed it was their God-given right to annex territory from the Native Americans.
Overall, Slavery was the main cause of the American Civil War given that the south was entirely dependable on the use of slaves and was willing to display large amounts of violence for the cause and the topic of slavery dominated the political circumstances within America causing a partition between the North and South. The overall debate on the causes of the civil war has separated historians.
The divide between historians is presented in the opinions of Stanley Harrold and Michael S. Green who have opposite interpretations of the main cause of the Civil War.
Harrold, who won the James A. Rawley Award in 2010, viewed slavery as the main cause of the civil war which is shown in his book ‘Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War’ which was published by ‘The University North Carolina Press’ in 2010, (Harrold, 2010).
Harrold believed that slavery was responsible for all the issues that the South faced and that ‘Black bondage controlled the South’s economic, social and political structure’ suggesting that slavery was influential in all aspects of the South.
The Cotton Gin 1793 (a notorious Southern invention) controlled the economic situation within the South and was only functional due to the use of slaves. Furthermore, slavery dominated political debates within the South with figures such as John C. Calhoun arguing for the use of slaves. This is convincing given that it demonstrates the reliance on slaves within the south and how dominating the topic of slavery was in America.
His judgment may have been influenced by his other publications and background. Harrold is a Professor of History at South Carolina State University which is convincing as it shows that he is knowledgeable within the subject of slavery, FIND SOURCE. However, the fact that he works in South Carolina is convincing given that during times of slavery, South Carolina were huge advocates for the use of slaves, therefore, Harrold acknowledging slavery as detrimental to America shows that he is not partisan. His vast amount of insight about African Americans is also re-enforced through his other publications such as African Americans: A Concise History (2008) showing that his expertise in African American history.
Harrold also states that the “Fear that slavery threatened northern interests (…) pushed the sections apart.” This is convincing as the North wanted to industrialize America and saw the South as an embarrassment to American civilization. Slavery offered the North an opportunity to loathe the South and the North often blamed the South for the existence of slavery, (Stanley, 2011). This is convincing as it shows the lengths that the North would venture to avoid liability for the immoral activities within America’s borders.
Harrold’s opinion could also have been influenced by the period in which this book was written. In 2008, just before the book was published, Barak Obama was elected as the first African American President of the United States, (Nielsen, 2018). This is convincing given that Barak Obama’s election brought an African American into a power position; a position which had been previously dominated by White Americans demonstrating a development in society from the times of the Civil War. Furthermore, in 2010, the state of New Jersey publicly showed remorse, becoming the first Northern state to do so, for the use of slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, (NPR Editors, 2008). This is convincing and could have possibly influenced Harrold’s opinion as it shows a public acknowledgment about the use of slavery and demonstrates that to this day, people are remorseful for the use of slaves.
On the other hand, Michael S. Green believes that politics and the poor assembling of the union were the main cause of the civil war in his book ‘Politics and America in Crisis: The Coming of the Civil War’ published by Praeger in 2010, (Green, 2010).
Unlike Harrold who recognized the clear divide between the two parts of the country (North and South), Green focused more on splits amongst those supporting the same beliefs and talked about how the “Democrats and Whigs, and the regions from which they came, were divided not only against one another but also among themselves”, The Whigs and Democrats were two opposing parties who believed in two different ideals; the Whigs wanted a federal government whereas the Democrats desired a state government. This quote is not convincing given that the Whig party were formed in 1834 and united in their hatred of Andrew Jackson; A Democrat who was responsible for signing the Indian Removal Act (1830) which granted him the ability to relocate Native Americans from their birthplaces, (Biography.com Editors, 2019). However, this statement is convincing as the party was incapable of deciding on a presidential figure which enabled Jackson to choose the next president.
Like Harrold, Green was a Professor of History which is convincing as it shows that he is well informed on the topic, however, this is not convincing as he doesn’t have a degree in politics, therefore, he might have limited knowledge on politics. Green has also published other books on politics based on the years 1763 and 1861 such as ‘Lincoln and the Election of 1860 (2011)’ which is convincing as it shows his plethora of knowledge. Unlike Harrold, Green has not won any awards for his research demonstrating limited credibility as his work hasn’t been academically recognized.
Green shows that there were attempts to rectify the divide between the North and South and shows that the separation was mutual whereas Harrold blamed the North for the tension between the North and the South. Green’s opinion about the cause of the tension is demonstrated in the phrase “In 1820 and 1833, compromises in Congress had settled disputes between the North and South that had reminded Americans of the tenuous quality of their Union”. This is convincing as the Missouri Compromise (1820) did attempt to create an equilibrium between the Northern and Southern states, however, the compromise increased the tension in sectional conflict given that there was more Northern territory, therefore, there would always be more free states. This phrase is also convincing as it shows that the quality of the union, created by the North and the South, is to blame for the divide and that the foundations of the union are unstable.
The book was written in 2010, like Harrold’s book. when 14 states including Virginia and Florida announced the arrangement to sue the federal government due to their disagreements with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, (Acosta, 2010). This is convincing as it once again demonstrates the disagreements within congress although the disagreements are between a range of states and not just between the North and the South.
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