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Social And Economic Causes Of The Civil War History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

This paper studies the causes of the American Civil War. There were many other factors that played an important role in the Civil War but most historians still feel that slavery was the main cause of the war although there were complex and difficult political and economic factors. Slavery marked the most controversial and oldest issues dividing the North and the South serving as the main catalyst for the Civil War but it was definitely not the only or main factor. South’s decreasing capability to mange the army of slaves and North’s advancing industrial power also fired up and added to the conflict. There were some political aspects also which included the problem of equal representation in the Congress and states’ autonomy, which needs to be considered as possibility of the causes of the war also.



Civil war is the most consequential and pressing period in the history of America. The war ended and halted centuries of slavery in the country and it also made a great deal of numerous political and social changes. The country was already ripped up and torn up by the negative fad in race relations and a number of cases of slave confusions were taking a toll on the country’s political and social structure. While the most common cause of the Civil war is said to be slavery, there were several other factors involved also. Although slavery was the major cause, so to speak, it was definitely not the only cause of the Civil War. As the former led to the latter, abolition of slavery and Civil War have become comparable terms. Still some historians feel strongly that slavery has been turned into a too suitable excuse in connection with the Civil War.

Randy Golden writes, “Some say simplistically that the Civil War was fought over slavery. Unfortunately, there is no “simple” reason. The causes of the war were several difficult sequences of events, including slavery that was started long before the first shot was ever fired. Political turmoil, the definition of freedom, competing nationalisms, the fate of slavery, the preservation of the Union and the structure of our society and economy at some point could all be listed as important contributing factors in America’s fierce and ferocious conflict.”

It is essential to know that while slavery was the major cause, it was the factors like politics and economy that also contributed towards the war. And apart from some tangible factors, there were some hidden psychological and social factors too that served as catalyst for the most momentous event in the history of the United States. We need to understand that since Civil War took place within the first century of the Confederation, people still had not come to terms with the new reality that they no longer belonged to independent states but were part of the Union. Naturally there was no sense of nationalism towards the Confederation; people were more interested in the matters of their own states, such conflicts also contributed towards the war.

Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter wrote in 1876, “The late civil war which erupted in the U.S. has been very generally appraised for the abolition of slavery as its cause. But greatly the cause in its far reaching aftermaths, the studying of the history very closely of the times will bring us to an ending that it was the doubt of a mischief far more great and deeper even than the one which led cool and contemplating in the minds of the people in the South that it would be better to make the death conflict all at once rather than appease tamely to what was unavoidable, unless its coming could be bypassed by force.”


But since Civil war best served the interests of African slaves in the South, Civil war is mostly studied in the context of a war against slavery. The institution of slavery had already vanished from the North by 1787, but it was very much present in the South all through the revolutionary period. We need to see how this led to the war. For one the Constitution and in fact the entire concept of the Union was based on the lofty noble principles of freedom and liberty and that all men were created equal. The American revolutionaries had fought for independence propagating these noble values, but they had failed to take into account the cause of the slaves in the South. While America and its Constitution were boasting of freedom for all, it sent a conflicting message to the slaves. If all men were indeed equal, did the founding father mean to say that slaves were not men like white Americans? This is a controversial question and upon closer study becomes the most important cause of slave uprising.

It is quite strange that even after the revolutionaries had fought for independence from the British, they never really showed much concern for the slaves who had been demanding freedom for a long time. If American revolutionaries understood the importance of free will and independent decision-making, how could they allow something so evil and cruel as the institution of slavery to exist? Therefore while the whole idea of all men being equal which served as the basis for the creation of our country was quite noble, it appeared to be a hollow fake promise to the slaves who were suffering at the hands of their white masters in some of the 13 colonies.

Slavery was inconsistent with the ideals incorporated in the Constitution and yet it was allowed by the founding fathers because they wanted to preserve the Union at all costs. We must here understand that it is absolutely impossible for a country or any institution to operate with conflicting values. This became quite clear when the war broke out. It is important to know that slavery became the major cause as it was an old issue, which was not being resolved by the American government, even when it constantly propagated its stand on freedom and liberty for all.

While the revolutionaries wanted liberty for themselves, they completely ignored the issue of independence for members of the black community. This is one reason why many historians maintain that revolutionaries were pro-slavery. This may be a harsh accusation against people who are remembered so fondly by American today, but we must study the issue of slavery and its role in the Civil war keeping in view the history of slavery and American Union before the war actually broke out. This is because we are all aware of the fact that causes do not develop in a single day, there is a long history behind them. Slavery as the primary cause also had a long complicated history where hatred for the whites reigned supreme. This hatred intensified after the Revolution of 1776 when America gained independence from the British. The mere fact that revolutionaries did not pay attention to the cause of the slaves was enough to spark intense animosity towards the whites and the Confederation. When Constitution was being framed, the question of slavery did arise, but heated debates and discussions only resulted in the preservation of this evil institution.


Though slavery was the major cause of the Civil War, it was the issues of state rights that played the second most important role. We must understand here Confederation was created with 13 colonies coming together and forming central government. But it was believed that all these 13 colonies would get equal representation in the Congress and all these states were also seeking autonomy so they could at least take decisions regarding their internal matters. Both these things became impossible. While the states were granted some rights, it was declare in the Constitution that central government would be allowed to interfere in all important matters and its authority would no be questioned. Such articles in the constitution naturally gave immense powers to the central government, which created a rift between the states and the government. States were granted limited powers later to help them retain some control over their internal affairs.

But these granted powers proved quite ineffective in appeasing the states when the government’s promise of equal representation to all states in the Congress was suddenly threatened by population explosion in the North. While by the year 1800, almost half the population was slaving in the South, this changed dramatically within a few years as hundreds of thousand of people moved to the North because of better work opportunities. Secondly, it was the industrial age, as America too had become center of attraction for the poor of many European countries. They abandoned their own countries to seek better jobs in the United States. All the immigrants decided to stay in the Northern states as South was mainly an agrarian society and agriculture was the least sought after profession in those days.

With population growing in the North, it became obvious that people in the Northern sates demanded representation in proportion to the size of its population. South was certainly left with lower representation in the Congress and it was obvious that if this trend continued, South would soon lose its importance. It was also clear that North was attracting more people because of growth in its industries while South was left behind as it dwelled mostly on agriculture. North was also a pretty sophisticated society of educated people while South was still plagued by the institution of slavery and white essentially rued like feudal lords with little or no regard for the rights of the slaves. It was natural then that North viewed the South as a pretty narrow minded society and with more people coming into its territory, North suddenly gained immense power over the South.

The balance of power shifted to the North, which was essentially against the institution of slavery. It is obvious then that the people in the North fueled the uprising of slaves against South, which eventually culminated in Civil war. Civil war was not only a conflict between whites and blacks, it was more power struggled between the modern states of the North and the agrarian states of the South. Since North believed in the fundamental human rights and wanted slavery to be abolished, they sided with the slaves in their freedom struggle. South was enraged at the Northern states but since it was losing its original strength and power, war became inevitable. Apart from this, there were other areas where North and South did not think on parallel lines.

John B. Gordon wrote, “The South maintained with the depth of religious conviction that the Union formed under the Constitution was a Union of consent and not of force; and the South challenged the North to find one trace of authority in that Constitution for invading and coercing a sovereign State. The North, on the other hand, maintained …that sovereignty was a unit and could not be divided; that whether or not there was any express power granted in the Constitution for invading a State, the right of self-preservation was inherent in all governments; that the life of the Union was essential to the life of liberty; or, in the words of Webster, “liberty and union are one and inseparable.””

This North and South conflict played a very important role in the Civil war as the two sides stood for starkly different moral and social ideals. It is important therefore to study the Civil war as a major conflict between the South and the North as has already been discussed above. While Civil war will always be remembered as a slave uprising that resulted in abolition of slavery, it must also be seen as North’s victory over South and as a war that resulted in the preservation of values upheld by the North.

Another very important cause of the Civil war was the weak economy of the South. As has been mentioned above, South’s was basically an agrarian economy. Farms and plantation were the major source of income. Before the industrial age, South was powerful and its economy was roaring. But this did not continue for long after the American Revolution. People started pouring into the Northern states from all parts of the world because North had become a rapidly developing industrialized economy. Not only did North’s manpower increased, its economy also picked up so quickly that South was left far behind. But South needed a steady growth in its economy more than other part that was because it had a huge army of slaves which was to be provided with food and shelter.

South was finding it extremely difficult to maintain its huge army of slaves and this gave North a chance to voice their opinions on the issue of slavery. Therefore economy and South’s waning ability to protect its slave trade from eradication were other important factors that gave North powers to wage a war on slavery. We must understand here that though there were several political, social, and economic issues, which gave rise to the most significant civil wars of all time, slavery was still the major cause.


After studying all possible issues connected to the Civil war, one feels that slavery was nonetheless the most important factor because this was what separated South from the North. Even if today we see Civil War as more a conflict between South and North, the fact remains that these two sides were essentially divided over the issue of slavery and every economic and political reason simply accrue from this one basic cause of contention.

It is important to understand that even if slavery was more an economic problem than a moral one; it was nonetheless the strongest factor that resulted in the most violent conflicts of all time. There are some who feel that slavery could have been abolished without a war, but the truth of the matter is that all attempts at abolition had failed previously and it was unwise to assume that slavery could simply vanish one day. War was thus inevitable and since South was so adamant to protect the institution of slavery, the conflict turned into an extremely violent where hundreds of thousand of people lost their lives. But they did not die in vain because it was their struggle against slavery that rooted this evil out of the American society for good.

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