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The American civil war was fought for four years, from 1861 to 1865. During this period, Abraham Lincoln was the sitting president of America. The civil was primarily between the northern and southern states of America. A lot of bloodshed in terms of soldiers and civilians was experienced with the bloodiest battle being the battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The war ended when the Confederate general, Robert E. Lee surrendered to the general Ulysses S. Grant. The causes of civil war are mentioned as ranging from conflicts and tensions about slavery, states’ rights, election of Abraham Lincoln among other causes. The focus of this paper will be on expounding on the main causes of the civil war in America.
To begin with, the issue regarding the future of slavery raised conflicting debates among the states. In the southern states, slaves were utilized in large percentages for labor purposes. This was so especially due to the presence of large plantations in the southern state. In addition, slavery had been integrated in to the southern economy (although only a small portion of the population owned slaves) such that slaves could be rented, traded or sold to pay debts. Ownership of slaves also had a social impact in terms of the social position of the owner in the economic community. To the southern states, slavery was their way of life and any attempts to change it was not welcomed (DeRosa, 130). On the other hand, the northern states had gradually abolished slavery one by one. This had resulted from the availability of labor from the steady flow of immigrants from Ireland and Germany in the 1840’s and 1850’s during the potato famine. These immigrants provided cheap labor and thus eliminating the need of slaves in the northern states. From the foregoing discussion, it is evident that the northern and southern states differed on the issue of slavery. The conflict was a reason for the civil war as each section fought to ensure their view is implemented in the other section of states.
It is also important to note the difference in the economic activities practiced in the northern and southern states. In the northern states, the economies had moved, especially in early 1800, from farming to industry. This switch in economic activities resulted in people moving into large cities such as New York and Philadelphia for employment purposes and thus eliminating the need for slaves (Isserman & Kazin, 201). On the other hand, the southern states had a large farming economy that was heavily dependent on slave labor and thus the need for slave. The perspective of the economies is important in understanding the views of both the southern states and northern states regarding abolishment of slave trade in the entire country.
The second cause of civil war was the fight for states’ rights. In this perspective, the arguments or conflict was between the powers of the states and the powers of the federal government. The conflict majorly focused on whether the federal government had the powers to regulate and even eliminate slave trade within the individual states. Prior to the civil war, the federal government was against slave trade. This was mainly from the fact that Abraham Lincoln, the president, had an opposing view towards slavery. However, the regulation and abolishment of slave trade was not an idea that welcomed by the southern states as it was their way of life (Isserman & Kazin, 149). The attempt by the federal government to abolish slavery therefore rose questions and arguments on the degree of powers possessed by the federal government to those of the states. In the view of the southern states, the federal government was taking away their powers. The conflict on power resulted in civil war as each party wanted to exercise their power.
The election of Abraham Lincoln was also another cause of the civil war. Abraham Lincoln was well known for his view against expansion of slave trade (DeRosa, 173). Being a member of the new anti-slavery democratic party, Lincoln was seen as a hero in the northern states and on the other hand a threat to the way of life in the southern states. The election of Abraham Lincoln therefore meant an end to slave trade in America. Such a move was not welcomed by the southern states and this led to recession where the southern state sought independence and declared themselves the Confederate states in a move to oppose Abraham Lincoln’s and his party’s idea on slavery. The recession move was not taken well by the northern states and was thus a major contributor to the civil war (Isserman & Kazin, 225).
The existence of the abolishment movement from the 1830’s as those who objected slave trade became more and more prominent led to various arguments in the United States. The abolishment movement, as their name suggests, insisted on the abolishment of slave trade in all the states. Their claim was supported by the establishment of the fugitive slave act. The actions of the abolishment movement were clearly showcased in Kansas in 1854 when the government passed the Kansas-Nebraska act that allowed residents to vote on either being a slave state or a free state. John Brown, one of the members of the abolishment movement became well known from his efforts in fighting the group in favor of slavery during the passing of the Kansas law (DeRosa, 184). The battle in Kansas went on for years and Kansas eventually became a free state in 1861. The battle in Kansas was a clear indication of what was to come in the event of a national law of abolishing trade being brought to the table and both sides went on to prepare for war. The novel Uncle Tom’s Cabins by Harriet Beecher Stowe on anti-slavery also played an important role in the creation of awareness with respect to the evils associated with slave trade. The novel became a nationwide and worldwide best seller within two years and achieved its goal of starting an anti-slavery attitude across the nation and across the world. The effects of the novel are clearly evident when the president’s, Abraham Lincoln, remarks when he met Harriet Beecher and asked her if she was the little woman who had started the big war.
In the mid 1850’s during the U.S-Mexican war, the United States continued to expand westward and gain new states. The northern states and the southern states fought for power in these states as coexistence was not possible due to their differences regarding slave trade. The abolishment movement on the other hand called for slavery to be abolished in the new states as it was done in 1787 by the Northwest Ordinance in the states of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois when the new territories were acquired (Isserman & Kazin, 365). Such a move was seen as a threat by the southern states. The view of advocates of slavery was that if slavery was prohibited in the new states it would increase the political power of those opposing slavery and would result in abolishment of slave trade in the entire United States. Such a view led to territorial battles between the northern states and the southern states.
During the slave trade, there were attempts by the abolition movement in conjunction with the northern states to free slaves from the southern states. These attempts were implemented through the construction of the underground railroad. During the freeing attempts, several attacks were made on the southern states especially on the men guarding the slaves as well as those sent to retrieve the freed slaves (DeRosa, 271). Such actions were interpreted by the southern states as attempts by the northern states to exercise on the portions of the constitution that was in their favor while expecting the southern states to adhere to the stipulations of the entire constitution. The forgoing led to the retaliation by the southern states leading to battles between the two sides.
To conclude, the American civil war cannot be attributed to a single cause or reason. As elaborated from the discussion, a number of reasons collectively culminated to the civil war that lasted for over five years causing a lot of bloodshed to both parties involved in the war. However, it is important to note that most of the causes heavily relied on the view on slavery by the people and states.
- DeRosa, M. (2018). The Politics of Dissolution: Quest for a National Identity and the American Civil War. Routledge.
- Isserman, M., & Kazin, M. (2000). America divided: The civil war of the 1960s. Oxford University Press on Demand.
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