American Civil War


Part B:


“The main cause of the American Civil War was undeniably Slavery.”


Assese the accuracy of this opinion on the causes of the outbreak of the American Civil War


The issue of slavery became the over-riding cause of sectionalism, which inturn lead to the Civil War. This was validated by historians like James M M. Mcpherson “Slavery is central to the creation of sections.” and, to a degree, B.Catton “It [Slavery] was not the cause of the war but unquestionably the one cause without which the war would not have taken place”. But it wasn’t until recently other possibilities have arisen for as to why a nation divided and headed to war within its own borders.


A difficult issue with this however, is why slavery became such an indelible aspect of American life. Slavery first came into being by southern persuasion soon after the Constitution was formed in 1789. The South argued that without a slave workforce in their plantations their very economic well-being would be in jeopardy. The North depended on a largely industrial economy, with factory workers supplying the manpower and so therefore would lose nothing from the abolition of slavery. The South however, relied wholly on slave labour and therefore argued that abolition would lead to collapse of their economy. This issue brought such a fundamental disagreement of opinion between North and South that as a result it was felt that there was no other option than war.


Slavery also was root of conflict when deciding the question of whether Western states acquired in the Mexican War (1846-1848) would become slave or free states. Naturally both sections were eager to enforce policy and so strengthen their postion. The new states, such as Utah, New Mexico and part of California would be the main debate on the eve of the war. Opponents of slavery didn’t want Western expansion to contribute to the number of slave states in such a volatile America.


Another major contributing factor to the Civil War that is concerning slavery was the issue of high tarrifs on imported goods. The North, being predominately industrial, manufactured goods to sustain its economy and population. The South, however, by 1860 was mainly producing cotton for export and this accounted for 57% of all U.S exports.The South relied on imported goods in order to sustain itself. The high tarrif was the federal government’s main income. Other taxes, personal or corporate, were non-existent at the time and so this made the government reluctant to lower the tarrif. Allied to this the North also wanted the tarrif to remain high in order to compete with cheaper foreign competiton . The workforce of the North was mainly fed by immigration from Europe. Immigrants worked in the factories, built the Northern railroads and settled the West. Few immigrants settled in the South and this futher contributed to Southern dependence on plantations and its essential component-slavery. This economic difference sharpened North-South hostility and aided in strengthing Southern dependence on slavery.


An aspect closely interwinded with the economy was the political situation at the time. Northerners wanted a strong central government to further their industrial prosperity and contruction of roads and railways. The South were less dependent on federal government and therefore felt no need to strengthen it. In fact , Southern patriots felt that strong centralised government might interfere with slavery.


A second aspect of the political situation that led to war was an inability to resolve the eventually over-whelming hostility between the two sections. Southern ‘fire-eaters’ (democrats from the South) and republicians, when confronted with the divide between North and South decided to ‘take sides’ instead of work together to create some resolution to the problem. Political figures of the time such as Lincoln and Stephen Douglas added clarity to the differences in sides. This in turn furthered the progression into war.


Infact, Lincoln’s participation in founding the Republican party led to support being situated in Northern states, and a similarly large backing of Southerners following the Democrats. Lincoln and Douglas agitated an all-ready restless split between the sections with a series of debates that created publicity over an significant area of the U.S. Lincoln and Douglas had seven debates overall, the content of these being the allocation of