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The Civil War was a major war that changed our United Nation even before the war had even started. History has shown us that even after the war, our country still seems to be affected by it today. Many historians cannot seem to agree whether this major event could have been avoidable or if it was truly inevitable. However, through course lectures and historical readings, (Harriet Tubman, Confederates in the Attic, What this Cruel War was Over) I have come to the conclusion that this war was undeniably going to happen.
Over time, there has been much speculation on whether the Civil War could have been prevented from ever happening. Many agree that it may have been possible, but I do not believe that was ever going to happen. The Civil War could have been averted, only if slavery would have never become an issue in the Americas. The desire for free labor in creating our country was the drive that led to the creation of the Atlantic slave trade. Because of the influx of people coming to this new nation, many wanted to establish roots and thrive in the farming/planation agriculture. However, this required working hands and paying for constant labor did not come cheaply. Many began to see that owning a couple slaves was more economic and hence, slavery began to thrive. As the13 colonies began to expand in numbers, the import of slaves was at a high demand. The mistake was that the Atlantic slave trade was created and that it was allowed to continue on as long it had. Of course, there were more issues as to what led to the Civil War, but this was the root of where this evil started.
As we read and discuss how certain events may have led to the Civil War, it is shocking for us to comprehend how a human could have been owned by another human. Its truly is baffling, but regrettably this happened in our nation. White people truly did dehumanize the black race. In their eyes these people were not humans. To them, they were like cattle or sometimes, they were even compared to life stock. Science was another factor that was used to determine that these people were an inferior race. The skull/brain comparison between whites and blacks was their proof that these people were not equally intellectual to them. However, whites approved of blacks physical strength and reasoned that they could endure harsher labor. Many in favor of slavery argued that slavery was in the bible and therefore it was approved by God. Some slave holders would teach their religious views to their slaves, but left certain stories out of the bible. One of the main stories they excluded was the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt. This was all done with the intention of keeping the black race in check and by making it known to them that unlike the Israelites, there was no escape from their bondage. There is no doubt that many people argued whether it was moral to kidnap blacks from their own country and force them into a lifelong service. In their eyes, they believed they were saving Africans from their savage customs and traditions. No matter how they tried to justify slavery, whites always made it know that they were superior to blacks. This mentality was carried on for generations and it was most certainly present in the minds of men during the pre-Civil War era.
Slavery was also a major issue in the development of our country. During the formation of our nation, the 13 colonies were struggling to construct a government that would lead them into the future. A government that would be unlike a monarchy and that would allow all 13 colonies to be part of its democracy. However, this government could not be created without having to discuss the issue of slavery. In the Constitutional Convention both northern and southern states had to deal with the issue of representation. The state’s population was used to determine legislative representation and it also dealt with taxation. Total population determined how many seats each state got in the House of Representation. The northerners pointed out that the south’s booming slave population could not be included, because southerners denied slaves the right to vote and other civil rights. Because of this, they could not use the slaves to increase their population numbers. This was a conflicting issue for both the south and the north. Unfortunately, they were able to make a compromise which would allow equal representation for all states. The 3/5 Compromise would count a black person as 3/5 of a person in an official census. This compromise was only a temporary fix for the north and the south. In time, even this comprise would bring up issues of its own. That is why this event also contributed to the many issues that led our nation to divide and to break out into war.
Overtime, the colonies continued to expand, and more and more colonists wanted to move towards the west. Westward expansion was not only a benefit to our country, but it would also bring many problems along with it. According to colonists, they had God’s blessing to go out into the west and they termed this movement as the Manifest Destiny. The belief was that the expansion of the U.S throughout the American continent was both justified and inevitable. According to them, God had destined this nation to “spread from sea to sea”. The mission that came with this expansion was to spread Christianity, civilization, and democracy. However, it became a complicated situation when new states wanted to enter the Union. For a while there were 11 free states in the north and 11 slave states in the south, but this balance was called into question when Missouri, a piece of land acquired from the Louisiana purchase, wanted to be admitted to the Union as a slave state. With tensions already high, the idea of Missouri entering as a slave state would bring up heated debates in congress and throughout the nation. Now the question was being brought up on how slavery would be factored in future states. The biggest problem that came with this issue was political power. The entrance of Missouri, as a slave state, would throw off the balance of power in congress. So, to keep things even, a comprise was created. In exchange for Missouri’s entrance as a slave state, the northern territory of Maine would be admitted as a free state. Again, this would bring equal representation amongst the north and the south. A second part of the compromise would band slavery throughout the remaining purchased land from Louisiana north of latitude 36◦ 30’. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 would limit the spread of slavery, but it sadly did nothing to abolish slavery in the states that already had it. Although this prevented conflict amongst the north and the south, it only paused the problem that was to come. This comprise would only prevent the Civil War for a while longer.
During this period of hate and racial separation, one unique individual took her destiny into her own hands and began to resist the chains of bondage. Many of those whom she had liberated knew her as Moses, most of our generation knows her as Harriet Tubman, but Araminta Ross was the name she was given at birth. Harriet Tubman was unlike any other slave in the south. Tubman wanted a life beyond chains and she used her wit to get her one true wish. Instead of using her resources to her own benefit, “…she seized the road to freedom – not just for herself, but also for her family and others during her decade-long association with the Underground Railroad” (Clinton x Preface). Its incredible to believe that a woman would take the task in risking her life to help others reunite with their loved one. This was not something a woman would do during this period, but as we read Clinton’s book, I began to see that Harriet would not be content with the gender norms. She didn’t have to be a man to lead, because she was prepared to go beyond the social norms and fight for what she wanted. During this era of slavery Harriet only thought of one thing, “…I only had a right to liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would not have the other” (Clinton 32). Reading such courageous words leads me to believe that those who heard Tubman’s words were also impacted to resist the institution of slavery, to speak up against it, and to fight for their freedom. Yes, Tubman was a heroic abolitionist/liberator who made an impact towards the future of slavery.
A certain law would also be an important factor that would enrage northers, but certainly please southerners love for slavery. While many African Americans were risking their lives by running away from bondage, a new law was created due to the increase of runaways. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, “… permitted masters to recapture slaves who fled to free states, but said nothing about the role of northern states or civilians in the process” (Manning 15). This law forced northerners to help recapture fugitives and if they did not comply, they would face certain punishments. This of course enraged northerners because they did not want to have anything to do with the south’s dirt business. The south kept interfering with their peace and the north was reaching their breaking point.
Abolitionist John Brown was another important man who caused worry for southerners and their institution of slavery. Brown was a man who detested slavery and who claimed he had been chosen by God to get rid of the horror known as slavery. Brown’s mission was seen as very problematic because, “… a white man marching South to arm blacks and end slavery corresponded to white Southerners’ worst nightmares” (Manning 17). Although his raid on Harper’s Ferry was unsuccessful, his death allowed northern abolitionist to portray him as a martyr. This title led many southerners to believe that the north was indeed ready to wage a war that would finish off white southerners. Brown’s death would lead to sectional tensions as well, because both the north and the south had different views about his actions against slavery. This raid would also prevent future accommodations between the north and the south and that is why Brown’s movement helped stimulate the Civil War.
I strongly believe that the final blow that caused the southern states to secede from the union was the presidential election of 1860. Lincoln’s election was the final event that pushed the south over the edge. The Republican Party’s victory was a major concern for the south, because they feared Republicans would attempt to undermine slavery. However, that was not the case, Lincoln had states he hated the expansion of slavery, but would not interfere were it was already established. Still, this was not enough assurance for the south and that is was led many southern states to secede from the Union. Slavery was to precious of an institution to lose and they were prepared to fight for it.
The Civil War caused much distrust within the country. No one trusted our nation to fix this issue and many did not want to fix it all. Although many outcomes of the war were good, there are many that were not. As we have seen throughout history, this war was inevitable. Many people during this time had different views upon the issue. As we read Confederates in the Attics, there were many people who continued to honor their past relatives who fought in this war. King acknowledges this perfectly in the book and he said, “Remember your ancestors, but remember what they fought for too, and recognize that it was wrong” (Horwitz 44). The Civil War was wrong, but that doesn’t change the fact that it did indeed happen. We can’t continue to wonder what would have happened if it were prevented, because that chance was there, but it was never taken.
- Clinton, Catherine, 1952-. Harriet Tubman : The Road to Freedom. Boston, Mass. :Little, Brown, 2004. Print.
- Horwitz, Tony. Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War. , 1998. Print.
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