Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What caused the Civil War?

To mark the United States 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I will be making a comprehensive summary of the events, people, and cause and effect of the Civil War. To understand how we got into this huge mess in the first place, we must first look at the causes for the war. I have read several articles talking about the fact that we as Americans really don't understand the Civil War and it's reasons for being fought. Time magazine even mapped out a time line that showed all the times that the issue of slavery was glossed over in our history of the Civil War. Well, I can say definitely that though there are many causes to our great war, there is one underlying cause; that being slavery. Anyone who argues that slavery had nothing to do with it is just plain ignorant of our history. I'll give you a simple run down of the unique causes for the war.

First off, you have to remember that the north and south were completely different beings. The north had taken advantage of England's Industrial Revolution and incorporated new innovations to help industry grow. Textile mills sprouted up in the northeast, needing the many fast moving rivers for water power. Factories were built incorporating Eli Whitney's interchangeable part. The north was a fine working machine, but needed certain things from the other region; in this case, cotton. The south operated under a more agrarian lifestyle, depending on cash crops to make a living. The cotton that was cultivated went to the north, who made the cotton into clothing and was thus sold all over the U.S. and other countries. Though the two large sections needed each other, and the western states that grew the food crops, they had been uneasy with each other for a long time. Why? Slavery of course! Slavery had been basically outlawed in the northern states (basically anything above Virginia, Maryland, and Kentucky) and they depended on the factory work and farming to make a living. Though facing a near death experience, slavery in the south came back with a vengeance after Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin was invented. All of a sudden cotton was easy to cultivate and slavery became a necessary thing for the large plantations.

You can blame the founders for letting future generations deal with the slavery issue, or the idea of manifest destiny, but slavery became a ticking time bomb. The U.S. began to realize that every time they added a state, there was a big fight over if it would allow slavery or not. How do they make it fair? They have to add another state at the same time to counter-balance. Why did they have to bring in two at a time? Because then there would be more slave states or more free states at one time. States equal representation in congress. If Missouri was accepted as a slave state and that's it, then the south would have an advantage in Congress and pass more laws that favored the agrarian society of the south. The same goes for the north. So came the Missouri Compromise, stating that anything under Missouri would allow slavery, but it be banned above that line that extended all the way to the coast. Missouri however would be a slave state, but only if Maine came in as a free state. Temporary fix for a long term problem. Fast forward to Polk's presidency. He beats up on Mexico and gains the southwest territories and California. Texas is technically ours already but Mexico finally signs it off as being ours and not theirs. Well now, California lays smack dab in the middle of the line. What will the U.S. do? The answer is the Compromise of 1850. Here it is in four bullet points:
  • California is a free state
  • The southwest territories are open to slavery
  • The slave trade ends in Washington D.C.
  • The Fugitive Slave Act is passed.
The Fugitive Slave Act basically said that if anyone in the north saw a runaway slave, they were required by law to capture said slave. If they refused or tried to help the runaway slave, they would be arrested, fined, or spend time in jail. Northerners were not happy that they had to go out of their way to catch runaway slaves and basically didn't follow the law. This pissed the south off....a lot. More animosity! So you can decide for yourself who got the better deal. It seems that the south did, but that's just my opinion.

Fast forward to four years later. Kansas wants to become a state, and the transcontinental railroad is in the works. The only issue is whether the railroad will be on northern soil or southern. This is a huge asset to each section so you know that each one wanted it to be in their area. So, they decided to let Kansas decide and discard the Missouri Compromise. Popular sovereignty, or letting people vote on issues, was now the main component of the new Kansas-Nebraska Act. Well, this caused a huge mess. Pro-slave and anti-slave factions met up in Kansas to try and vote, not caring that they didn't live in the territory to begin with. What resulted was Bleeding Kansas. It was literally a small war between the two factions. People were threatened, murdered, and hacked to pieces because of the new act. Enter John Brown.

John Brown was as big of an abolitionist (anti-slave person) as anybody. He believed he was sent by God to destroy slavery and basically stopped at nothing to achieve that end. When he heard what was going on in Kansas, he took his sons and traveled to the war torn area. Lets just say that he didn't stay long. He had to flee the area after he and his sons dragged pro-slavery men into the woods and hacked them to pieces with swords. Yes, you read that right. John Brown was scary determined. After fleeing Kansas, he set his sights on freeing slaves by starting a large scale rebellion. With his sons and a few other people, he would take over the armory at Harper's Ferry, Virginia (It's now in West Virginia, since the state broke in two in 1862) and rally slaves to join him and take slaves away from their masters by force. He had men go around to plantations to send word of his coming and asking them to join him at the armory. When the time came to take over the armory, no slaves showed up. It seems they had little faith in John Brown and his rebellion or couldn't get off their plantations. Brown held himself up in the armory with his sons and started to fight off the locals who caught wind of what was happening. Things got even worse when the military got involved led by Robert E. Lee. Two of Brown's sons were shot and another swam across the Potomac to get away. Brown was eventually subdued. Brown was tried and hanged for his act against the United States and it's military armory. Before Brown was hung he gave a slip of paper to his executioner that read, "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think vainly, flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done." Brown is still considered one of the most controversial figures in American history for his acts. Some love him for his fight against slavery and some despise him for his harsh methods of doing so. The north mourned his death and marked him a hero to the abolitionists cause. The south, as expected, were outraged that the north would mourn such a man. More animosity! Hooray!

To say that everyone knew about slavery in the south and it's harshness was not true. Many in the north had a odd picture of slavery and knew nothing of the terrible treatment. Then came Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The book told the story of slavery in the south, though it was written by a white woman. The book became a hit in the north and for the first time, the masses had a view of slavery. This helped the abolitionist movement in the north, but cries of slander were raised in the south. Claims of falsehoods in the story led it to be completely despised in the south.

Here is a common belief about the north and south at this time in history. Everyone in the north hated slavery and everyone in the south were slave owners. Not even close to true. There were very little of both. Many in the north were concerned that the freedom of slaves would lead to extra competition for jobs in the north. Many southerners were not slave owners, though they strove to be. You had to be pretty rich to afford slaves and almost all southerners were poor farmers.

The last straw for the south was the election of Abraham Lincoln. Though the north had bent over backwards to make the south happy with all the compromises and acts, the south still felt that they were being abused and their way of life threatened. The election of 1860 included two radicals and two moderates.
  • Abraham Lincoln- Though a moderate in his own party, his view that slavery should not be spread any further made him a radical in the eyes of the U.S. (Republican)
  • John Breckenridge- Having split the Democrats, Breckenridge was the other radical, calling for slavery to be protected by the government. (Southern Democrat)
  • John Bell- Wanted nothing else but to keep the union together and wanted more compromises. (Constitutional Union Party)
  • Stephen A. Douglass- The creator of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, he wanted to keep his idea of popular sovereignty and use it for all the other new states. (Northern Democrat)
Though Lincoln was not on the ballot in most southern states, he won the election over Breckenridge. This was too much for the south. They found Lincoln to be untrustworthy and his party to be the end of their way of life. South Carolina, the state that threatened to secede from the U.S. under Jackson, convened to try it again. They voted to secede unanimously and Mississippi and Florida followed suit. To see all of the state's declarations of succession, copy and paste this link:

The Civil War begins shortly after, when South Carolina considers it an act of war that Lincoln sent supplies to his troops stationed at Fort Sumter, a fort on the coast of South Carolina. After the attack, which led to no fatalities, Lincoln called for a gathering of troops. Several more southern states secede from the Union. Thus, the Civil War begins.

So, there you are. That is the somewhat short version of the reasons that the states went to war with each other. Though they all dealt with different issues, the cause for those issues was slavery itself.

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