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The Civil War: Causes And Consequences

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Published: Mon, 08 May 2017

The American Civil War, also referred to as the War Between the States lasted between 1861 and 1865. When the confederacy, consisting of eleven Southern slave states led by Jefferson Davis declared their secession from the rest of the United States commonly referred to as the Union, composing of the Free states and five slave states or Border States, which advocated for abolition of slavery, the War was born. This was essentially fueled by Abraham Lincoln’s election under the Republican Party and his vow to extend the campaign on the abolition of slavery. Both the outgoing president’s administration, James Buchanan, and the incoming Lincoln’s administration were in high opposition of slavery. In March 4, 1861, seven southern states declared their secession from the Union just before Lincoln took office. Consequently, the Lincoln administration declared this as a rebellion and rejected its legality. On April 12, 1861, hostilities began. Confederate forces attacked at Fort Sumter in southern Carolina. Lincoln responded by calling for volunteer armies from the remaining states and declared an Emancipation Proclamation which prioritized end of slave trade in the south as a war goal. These lead to secession by four more states. Important battles won by the Confederate commander Robert E. Lee in the east were neutralized by various vital battles such as The Battle of Gettysburg and the Capture of Vicksburg which availed access to the Mississippi River splitting the confederacy into two. On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, ending all Confederate resistance. While both the Union and the Confederates believed that they fought against tyranny and oppression, the Lincoln administration prioritized the war against slavery while the Confederates defended their right to self-rule.

Various reasons have been put forward as to the reasons for the onset of the Civil War. Key to these were the economic and social disparities between the North and the South, the clash between state and federal rights, the controversy between opponents and proponents of slave trade, the growth of the Slave trade Abolition Movement and the election of Abraham Lincoln coupled with the consequent battle at Fort Sumter.

The disparity in the economy and in the society was key in triggering the Civil War. In 1793, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. This was very profitable since it reduced the time taken in separating the seeds from the cotton hence farmers were encouraged to shift into cotton farming. Most farmers in the South shifted to plantation farming which required a larger workforce. This was easily provided by slaves who were a cheap source. Therefore, the Southern economy chiefly depended on cotton and therefore slaves whereas the North depended chiefly on industry rather than agriculture. Hence, the north was more urbane and had a vibrant city life. This necessitated that different classes had to interact while the South upheld an antiquated social order.

Secondly, since Revolution, there had been an existing controversy on whether states should be given more power or whether the federal government should exercise more control. The Articles of Confederation loosely governed the relationship between member states since the American Revolution and independence. However, due to common problems experienced, the leaders came up with the United States Constitution at the Constitutional Convention. This usurped individual member states the power of nullification which enabled them to reject any federal acts they felt were interfering in their state rights. Consequently, strong proponents of state rights such as Thomas Jefferson, John C. Calhoun and Patrick Henry fought hard for nullification. This finally resulted in secession when the states felt that nullification was no longer being applied.

Thirdly, the fight between pro-slavery and anti-slavery proponents in new states gained from the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican War as to whether the states should be free or slave states was a major contributory factor. In 1820, the Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery in states gained from the Louisiana Purchase in the latitude 36 degrees 30 minutes north with the exception of Missouri. Controversy further erupted on the lands gained from the Mexican War. Tensions were heightened by the 1846 Wilmot Proviso which proposed ban of slavery in these states. It was shot down in the senate. Henry Clay’s Compromise of 1850 further sought to create a balance between the free and slave states. It incorporated the crucial fugitive slave act. Tensions reached a boiling point due to the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act which proposed use of popular sovereignty in determination whether the states would be free or slave. In Kansas, proslavery Missourians poured into the state in order to influence it. Consequently, fighting not only broke out termed as Bleeding Kansas but also on the floor of the senate between antislavery proponent Charles Sumner and South Carolina’s Senator Preston Brooks.

The growth in leaps and bounds of the Abolitionist Movement contributed to secession. The North was highly polarized against slavery prompting sympathy for abolitionists and against slaveholders. The publishing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown’s Raid and the Dred Scott’s Case and the passage of the fugitive slave act put pressure on the South.

Finally, the election of Abraham Lincoln and the Battle of Fort Sumter were also factors that led to the American Civil War. Lincoln was elected in 1860 led to secession of South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida in the belief that Lincoln was in favor of Northern interests and anti-slavery. Compromisers’ efforts failed such as the Corwin Amendment and the Crittenden Compromise. Slave states faced a future as minorities in the Senate and Electoral College and were already greatly outnumbered in the House of Representatives. The Confederacy viewed secession as the best way to deal with the powerful north and its aim to eradicate slavery. When Lincoln came onto power in March 1861, he refused to turn over Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. The south’s president Jefferson Davis and his cabinet decided to attack the fort since it was impossible to have a foreign military camp in its territory. This led to the North calling for voluntary 75000 troops. Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas voted to join the south rather than furnish troops. There was hence an unstoppable and overwhelming urge for war and the upholding of national honor.

The Civil War resulted in various consequences. Among them were effects in agriculture, diseases, industrial revolution and the phoenix factor. In the south, agriculture, mainly through cotton plantation farming, was heavily affected. The North, which was the main market source, instilled a blockade, leading to loss of market for the South’s cotton. Hence, the south had to change from commercial farming in cotton and tobacco to food crops. In the North, demand for wool escalated since cotton, in order to make uniforms and blankets, was unavailable. Corn, grown in the Northern state of Ohio, was mainly marketed in the South. Hence, corn production temporarily declined though trade channels later opened in the East. In Iowa, the production of wool and sorghum was further boosted. Production of staples and substitute crops for those produced in the South was greatly boosted. Mechanization was further boosted by the Union armies who intensified activities in the abandon farms. Reforms in which four laws were established that enabled enactment of the United States Department of Agriculture and various colleges dealing with agriculture and engineering. Wartime also enabled changes from hand methods o animal power. Therefore, the Civil War stimulated increase in farm production through the advancement of commercial agriculture and farm mechanization.

The greatest cause of death to the soldiers was diseases and infections which resulted in more than half of the fatalities. Basically, there was minimal medical know-how and sanitation. Miasmas or Noxious effluvia and poisonous air were believed to be the causes of disease by doctors rather than invisible micro-organisms. Hence, chemicals such as mercuric chloride, alcohol, sodium hypochlorite, iodine, carbolic acid, nitric acid and bromine were used to disinfect so as to reduce mortality rates. Hospitals were built on the concept that quarantine and ventilation coupled with the use of blue mass, mercurous chloride, silver nitrate, lead acetate and castor oil so as to clean bowels and infections was vital. These were rather detrimental for it led to mercurial gangrene which has the effects of teeth loss and damage to soft tissues and gums in the mouth and the nasal palate. Most common infections were diarrhea and dysentery which resulted in the death of over 60,000 soldiers; typhoid fever which, if it was left untreated, led to the death of over 25% of its victims; typhus, pneumonia, smallpox, measles and chickenpox. After the civil war, a six-volume book, and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, was published. This was a documentary on the doctor’s experiences in the American Civil War. This enabled military and civilian hospitals to be built which greatly improved medical procedures, sanitation and diet.

The American Civil War, contrary to popular belief, was a great retardation of economic change and industrial revolution. Productivity in the pig-iron and copper fell almost to a halt. From 1860 to 1870, cotton textiles consumption fell by 6%. The construction sector also greatly declined. Immigration, a major force driving the economy at the time, declined and only increased after the war. The speculative effects of transferring income from wage, receivers of interest and salary to profit-makers which implied the concentration of savings to entrepreneurs who further invested in the new opportunities availed by the war and resulted to the boom in the economy in the later 1860’s was attributed to the war which research has disapproved. Studies indicate that there was minimal growth during wartime contrary to the wide held positive perception that in addition to the liberation of slaves, the war served as an economy booster.

Finally, the Phoenix factor comes into play. The mythological phoenix is a supernatural creature that lives for 1000 years after which it builds its own funeral pyre and throws itself in the fire. By so doing, it’s reborn again to live another 1000 years and further lays an egg in the ashes that leads into an offspring whereby the lifecycle is propagated. In this context, it’s clear that both winners and losers can rapidly recover from the after effects of war in a developed country. America recovered from the effects of the Civil War in less than 20 years, which, from a historical concept, is viewed as a short period. A general study of the states indicates that the states’ economies that stagnated before the war recovered to the condition applied before the war. A clinical look at Free states shows that they recovered from the losses incurred in less than 15 years with the exception of Massachusetts which was growing before the war and managed to recover in 20 years. States such as Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, which were not growing before the war, surpassed expectations and went on to achieve the status enjoyed by other states before the war. The Border States recovered their post-war losses between 15 years such as Missouri and 30 years such as Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware. The slave states economies were flat and stagnant before the war. Georgia’s economy remained flat as was the condition pre-war while Virginia’s economy severely declined after the war due to the split into West Virginia. However, states such as Arkansas and Texas which were growing pre-war kept growing post-war.

The American Civil War is classified as one of the earliest industrial wars whereby railroads, telegraph, steamships and mass weapons were used. Complex tactics such as total war employed by William Tecumseh Sherman and trench warfare defined the war. It is approximated that over 620,000 United States soldiers died with even a higher undetermined number of civilian casualties. The War was essential in the abolishment of slavery and the shaping of the Reconstruction Era.


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