Example International Studies Essay
Over the past one hundred and forty-five years, scholars and historians have suggested different causes of the American Civil War, and different schools of thought have gone in and out of favour.
The years immediately after the war regarded it as a clash between those supportingfreedom and those supporting slavery. Later scholars saw it as inevitable forother reasons. In the early 1900s the revisionist school emerged, arguing thewar was needless and caused by political blunders and extremism. Otherhistorians have focused on economic differences as the cause. Even AbrahamLincoln, in his speeches before, during, and after the war, wavered in what hestated as the need for war. Regardless of the arguments, however, the truecause of the American Civil War was slavery, prominent in the South andgenerally opposed in the North.
The cause of the Civil War at the time itwas fought and in the decades following it was stated slavery as the moralcause. The North believed that slavery was wrong and the slaves should be setfree. The South believed that slavery was right, and should continue. Thereare two problems with this belief. First, it assumes that thousands of whiteNortherners would be willing to die so that black slaves could be free. Thereis no indication, anywhere, that the North was willing to make the financialand life sacrifices it did just to free slaves.Second, it makes it hard to reunite as a country. According to this statementof cause, the North became the good guys and the South became are the badguys. All the death and destruction was the South's fault. This type ofreasoning bred resentment on both sides, and didn't help rebuild the U.S.
In an attempt to make the causes of thewar less good versus bad, and more logical and reasonable, the nationalistschool of thought emerged. They felt that the war was inevitable, but neitherthe South nor the North was wrong. The South was right in that slavery hadlegally and historically been allowed there, and there was no precedent forthat to be changed. They had a right to defend their way of life. The Northwas right in that they wanted to preserve the union. They had a right todefend their national government. Both sides were right, but reconciliationwithout war was not possible.
Woodrow Wilson, who was President of theU.S. during the First World War, was a historian of this belief. Wilsondescribed the pre-Civil War United States as a nation sectionalized anddivided by social and economic contrast to gross and obvious to be overlooked;a nation whose several regions whose interests diverse and separate, hardly tobe reconciled.He was careful not to judge slavery or portray it as evil. In his Historyof the American People, Wilson presented the notion that slavery was oftenbeneficial for the slaves, rejecting the portrait painted by Harriet BeecherStowe in her famous American novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. He said aboutthe novel, No one could read in it the real life of the Negro or take from itany just conception of the system of slavery as administered by the vastmajority of southern masters. Indeed, domestic slaves were treated with affection and indulgence and therewas almost always moderation, a firm but not unkindly discipline, a real careshown for their comfort and welfare.
His portrayal of Lincoln and theRepublicans was equally positive, holding that the people of the North, asconservative of law and of right as the men of the South, drew back, at thefirst shock and surprise of secession, form coercion or violence, questionedanxiously what they should do, and hesitated as their government did. The Northerners were also in the right. Both governments hoped to see theconflict tended by a mere show of force but were unwillingly drawn into actualwar.
Wilson argued that the South had kept tothe original intentions of the framers of the American government, and sincethe Southern States had freely entered into the Union, they felt they couldfreely withdraw.They expected the North to settle differences by negotiation, not by war. Itwas only when Lincoln called for soldiers did the Southerners realized a civilwar was upon them[ix].North and South disagreed on the contract between them, the constitution, andhow it should be interpreted. The conflict arose unintentionally, because ofreasons of interpretation and misunderstanding, not from any moral orissue-specific cause.
However, it is important to note thatthroughout the above arguments, slavery is still one of the main causes of theoriginal dissention. Both North and South may indeed have wanted to avoidwar. Neither may have planned on the war actually occurring. There werecertainly issues of States' rights and the rights of the Federal government.The issue that all these centred upon, however, was slavery. Slavery was theprimary issue of dissention and disagreement. Both sides' views on slaverycontributed to their actions.
The nationalist school was not the onlyone, however, to look beyond a moral, right versus wrong cause of the AmericanCivil War. Historians Charles and Mary Beard were some of the first to proposea new interpretation that saw the causes of the war as primarily economic. TheSouth and the North had different economic systems, and these were growing moreand more apart.They felt the antislavery party was not opposed to slavery for moral reasonsbut to gain political ascendancy and wanted to fasten the economicstranglehold of northern capitalism upon the South.
The progressive school, as this line ofreasoning was called, recognized the South before the war was more of anold-world classed society. The land and slave owners were the gentlepeople, andother white people were the commoners. Society, culture and the economyrevolved around one or a few large plantations in each community.The introduction of the cotton gin had made cotton a very profitable crop inthe South. However, growing cotton required cheap labour. The South becamemore dependent on slavery as cotton became more dominant in its economy.Unlike the nationalist school, however, they did not see slavery as beingmorally acceptable in the Southern context.
Beard and Beard also disagreed with theidea that different interpretations of State and Federal rights were a primarycause of the Civil War. They emphasised the differences in climate, inindustry, and in labour systems.[xiv]The economic needs of the South differed from those of the North, and these ledto the needs for differences in government.
The Beards' assertions, therefore, do notchange slavery as the initial and primary cause of the war. What caused thedifferent economic systems? Granted, the North was beginning to become moreindustrialized while the South remained agricultural, but the vast majority ofNorthern and Southern Americans were still small farmers at the time.The difference was that Northern communities were economically centring aroundbusinesses and factories, while Southern communities were centring aroundplantations. These plantations required slaves to be profitable.The root cause of the economic differences themselves, therefore, was stillslavery.
Avery Craven was an outspoken and oftenpublished historian who supported another idea of the causes of the AmericanCivil War. Craven belonged to what is called the revisionist school, andbelieved that the war was not inevitable. It could have been prevented, butwas brought upon the United States by the blunders, ineptitude, andmisunderstanding of the country's leadership.The issue of slavery, particularly in the new territories entering the UnitedStates, was mishandled on both sides.
In the two decades leading up to theAmerican Civil War, the South became increasingly inflexible and threatened bythe expansion in population and geography of the North.The North saw the South as uncompromising, and unwilling to accept anythingless than full right to slavery in the entire union.These attitudes only applied to a handful of extremists on either side, butthese extremists were able to dominate political debate and air their viewswidely in the newspapers of the day.
When Stephen Douglas, a senator from thestate of Illinois introduced the Kansas-Nebraska bill to the U.S. congress,controversy erupted. The bill divided the Nebraska territory into two parts,and allowed for each to decide the slavery issue for themselves.[xxi]Those who strongly opposed slavery saw this as an attempt to make the wholeterritory slave states. Those who adherently supported slavery saw it as a wayto make both states free states.At this point, according to Craven, politicians and leaders on both sides ofthe slavery issue began to overreact.Each side dug themselves into a hole, and the South began to threaten secessionin earnest. The North did not take the South seriously, and through a seriesof increasingly inflammatory political blunders, the sides became entrenched.There was no turning back from then on.
Although political idiocy has certainlyled to a number of disastrous situations throughout history, it is notsufficient to explain the cause of the American Civil War. This was a conflictthat pitted brother against brother at great personal and financial cost toboth sides. That extremists were able to stir the emotions of the populaceshows that there was something to be stirred about. People rarely get excitedin large numbers about issues that they don't care about. The slavery issuewas important to many Northerners and Southerners, which enabled them to becomeemotional. The misunderstandings and political refusals to work together allreturn back to the issue of slavery. It is this issue that underlies thepoints of Craven's arguments.
One can see in the speeches of AbrahamLincoln, the only one of the five historians mentioned to actually live duringthe civil war period, that he sees slavery as the main cause of the tensionbetween North and South. At that time there was much controversy over whetherwestern territories coming into the United States would be free or slave. Inhis unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 1958, Lincoln spent over half ofhis speech talking about slavery. He compared the situation in the UnitedStates to a reference from the Bible: A house divided cannot stand. Lincolnstated, I do not expect the Union to be dissolved but I do expect it willcease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it or itsadvocates will pus it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all theStates.
Lincoln took slavery again as one of hismain points in his run for president. He acknowledged the necessity ofallowing slavery to gradually fade away, rather than outlaw it in presentlyslave states. Lincoln reminded his listeners that importing slaves had beenbanned in most of the U.S. by this time. He strongly stood against the spreadof slavery, however, in new territories coming in, and advocated that eachstate entering the union be allowed to determine whether it was slave or free.Lincoln also specifically stated that states should not be allowed to withdrawfrom the government. He did this because some Southern states had said theywould secede if a Republican were elected president.[xxvii]
Most of the Northern politicians opposingthe Southerners threatened withdraw from the United States, hypocritically, didnot have a moral problem with the Mexican cession states (namely California,New Mexico, and Texas) seceding from Mexico and eventually joining the U.S.This lends support to slavery, as the cause of the secession, remaining theprimary cause of the war.
In his inaugural address in 1861, Lincolnspent the entire speech talking about the secession of Southern states and thecause of secession, slavery. One section of our country believes slavery isright, and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong, andought not to be extended. This is the only substantial debate.He again states four years later, in his second inaugural address, that slaveswere a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was,somehow, the cause of the war.
The President of the United States at thetime of the Civil War explicitly stated in both his inaugural addresses thatslavery was the cause of the war. Before the war Lincoln was willing to allowslavery to remain where it already existed. He said he believed it would dieout and there would eventually be no more slavery, and he wanted to avoidconflict. By his later speeches he is firmly standing against slavery as beingmorally wrong, and needing to be eliminated everywhere. While there is somedifference in the strength of his statements against slavery over time, Lincolnis still laying the cause of the Civil War on the slavery issue.
In conclusion, there are many things thatcan be said to have caused the American Civil War. Each of these causes,however, can be traced back to slavery as its own cause. Economic differenceswere caused by slavery. Differences in culture would not have developed asthey did without slavery. Arrogance amongst politicians may not even havebeen as extreme without slavery. Slavery remains, therefore, the primary causeof the war, and all subordinate causes must be viewed in its light.