Was Slavery the Cause of the Civil War? The American Civil War is the major military conflict between the United States of America and eleven Southern states that succeeded and organized as the Confederate States of America. Up until the end of the war in 1865 the primary source of labor in the United States were enslaved African Americans. Slavery can be defined as the most absolute form of human servitude and ownership. Their services or labor is obtained forcefully. Their physical bodies are considered as the property of another human being, meaning they could be sold, bought, traded, and be subject to anything else at their owner’s discretion. . Since the first purchase of African Americans as slaves in North America in 1619, slavery gradually became an accepted feature and an essential industry to the economy and society. But fortunately the dehumanization and these violating of human rights have not gone unnoticed. Although there are many different issues and events leading up to the war, it is clear that slavery is in fact the primary cause of the Civil War. There are many different causes for the Civil War. While the years leading up to the war were uneasy, they were also a time of tremendous growth for the United States. In 1800 only eight million people lived in America. By the beginning of the war in 1861, the population had soared to thirty- one million. The country also had vast new unexplored territories waiting to be settled. Strong foreign nations such as England and France were finally beginning to pay attention to this thriving young country. Although this growth brought the United States wealth and glory, it also created conflicts throughout the nation. As the country changed, two very distinct ways of life developed: one in the North and the other in the South. Throughout the North booming cities like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia were knee deep in the Industrial Age. Factories and mills rose up along the streets and gave jobs to millions of immigrants from foreign countries. Inventors developed new machines that turned out products at record- breaking speeds. These cities bustled with noise and excitement everyday. The South was quite a different a different scene. Life in the South revolved around huge estates called plantations where huge fields of cotton, tobacco, and other crops were grown. The largest city in the South was New Orleans with a population of 150,000 people. Yet compared to the industrial cities in the North New Orleans was just a little town. The people in the two sections were just as different as their cities and towns. In the North politicians and merchants accused Southerners of being backward and old-fashioned, while in the South men called Northerners miserable Yankees and complained that they were blind with greed. These bad feelings probably originate from the fact the two sides rely on each other for trade. The North depended on the rich fields of the South for raw materials and the South depended on the factories of the North to process their crops. This situation caused bad feelings, particularly from the Southern farmers. They felt that the price Northern merchants paid for their crops were too low and also that they were being charged too much for factory-made products from the North. In addition, Southern farmers needed the Northern merchants to ship their goods overseas and therefore had to pay whatever they charged. The North and South were two different nations in every aspect, similar in one aspect only, their hatred for each other. People from the North and the South had developed different ways of living and thinking. But nothing did more to stir anger between them than the subject of slavery. Although the slaveholding planter class was a small minority of the Southern population, it dominated Southern politics and society. Because slaves were the biggest investment in the South, the people unlike in the North overwhelmingly supported slavery whereas ownership of human beings had been outlawed for years in the North.
In order to maintain peace between the two sides political leaders tried to avoid the issue of slavery. But with growing opposition in the North to the expansion of slavery to new territories the issue had to be addressed. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 settled this problem temporarily by establishing the 36 30′ parallel as the line separating free and slave territory in the Louisiana Purchase. But the question arose again when the United States boundaries were extended westward to the Pacific. The Compromise Measures of 1850 allowed for the admission of California as a free state and the organization of two new territories Utah and New Mexico from the balance of the land acquired in the Mexican War. The principle of popular sovereignty was used there which allowed the local legislatures to determine their status of slavery. Although the Compromise of 1850 was originally hailed as a success, the peace proved to be brief. The people in the South once again grew distrusting of the ever- strengthening North that now had majority control in Congress and threatened their way of life. Adding to their discomfort was the growing number of abolitionist groups all over the North and in hidden parts of the South that wanted to abolish slavery. Strong supporters of the antislavery cause like William Lloyd Garrison held meetings and published pamphlets and petitions that angrily denounced slaveowners as criminals and sinners. Garrison went so far as to burn a copy of the United States Constitution in public, calling it “an agreement with hell” because it allowed and protected slavery. Such public movements also stirred up the slaves. In the summer of 1831, a Virginian slave named Nat Turner led a group of seventy blacks in a brutal revolt against a nearby town. During this march from farm to farm fifty-five whites were murdered. Bloody rebellions like these left Southerners terrified and led them to call for a change even more strongly than they have been. Each attack pushed the Southerners toward more resentment. Eventually, mentioning of the word slavery triggered bitter arguments. Although the Civil War was a cumulating of four decades of intense regional conflict and deep-rooted economic, social, and political differences, slavery was the one issue that became impossible to solve and as a result became the conflict that pushed the North and the South to war. The American Civil War was the most devastating event in American history. Over 620,500 lives had been lost, more than twice that wounded. More than four billion dollars of property was destroyed by the war. It was a sad war, a war that clearly showed that the United States had truly split apart, that fellow Americans could and did become fierce enemies. But the war was not a total loss. The subject of slavery was inevitable and this war addressed this problem head-on. The American Civil War made amends with the tragic fact that the ancestry of any black American can only be traced to a bill of sale and no further, by granting freedom to four million blacks and all the African Americans of the future. BibliographyDavis, Kenneth C. Don’t Know Much About the Civil War. New York: Avon Books,1970Lester, Julius To Be a Slave New York: Scholastic Inc. 1968Ray, Delia A Nation Torn Apart Washington: Lodestar Books 1990Bandon, Alexsandra African Americans New York: Macmillan Publishing 1994Kent, Deborah The Civil War Washington: Washington Square Press 1974