Was slavery the main cause of the Civil War?

I am doing a debate about the Civil War and I am arguing that slavery WAS the main cause of the civil war. I would like any sources that have specific quotes saying that slavery was the main cause of the civil war. Thanks

11 Answers

  • Best Answer

    If the question is whether the South seceded to preserve slavery the answer is "yes". If the question is whether the North chose to fight the war to end slavery the answer is "no", but I do believe that it is reasonable to say that the main cause of the war was slavery.

    The reason for the Southern Secession was not that they feared that Lincoln would strike at slavery where it existed, he had no constitutional authority to do so and he said as much himself. The fear in the South was that Lincoln would refuse to allow slavery to spread into the new western territories and future states as they entered the Union. Upon that, curtailing the spread of slavery, Lincoln himself had said that he would "hold firm as bound by a chain of iron". If slavery as an institution wasn't allowed to expand it would ensure a minority status in the congress for slave holding states. Upon Lincoln's election the Southern secession leaders could see that the die was cast against them and they elected to leave the Union rather than accept permanent minority status. Form that angle salvery was the cause of the war.

    Lincoln initially called for volunteers to preserve the Union and not to end slavery but after the Battle of Sharpsburg he issued the Emancipation Proclamation and in doing so transformed the Northern focus of the war to one of the destruction of slavery. This was for a host of reasons but there were three that really stand out. First, it ensured that no European nation would even consider recognizing the Confederacy as a legit nation state. The British aristocracy might have favored the South, Lord Palmerston the British PM did beyond a doubt, but the common British people did not and in any event the crown would not be seen to interject itself into a situation where it appeared to favor slavery. The same went for France. The second reason was that Linclon genuinly despised slavery and by attempting to seceede from the Union the Southern leaders played into his hands and gave him the ability to attack slavery in the areas which were in rebellion. Lincoln still lacked the constitutional authority to attack it where there was no rebellion and only an ammendment to the constitution could do that. The third reason was that it bolstered the Northern war effort while forcing the Southern war effort to be crippled even further by assuring that large numbers of Southern troops would be needed in the deep South the watch out for possible slave rebellion and would not be avaliable on the front line.

    Several people in the South during the war argued that the war was one of independence and that to win it the only choice was to move away from slavery. Confederate General Pat Cleburne, who would be later killed at the Battle of Franklin while bravely leading his men in a head on assault on an almost impregnable Union position, said publicly that the South should offer freedom to some slaves in return for their help in fighting the war. His idea was derided in the Confederate Congress and he was declared to be a traitor to his race. Senator Cobb declared that slavery was the very foundation upon which the Southern Confederacy was founded and that if the slave really could be made into a soldier, being an inherently inferior being, then the entire theory of Southern society was wrong. It is worth remembering that in the last days of the war enough of the Confederate Congress must have concluded that Cleburne had been right after all because, with Grant holding a death grip on Lee's proud Army of Northern Virginia, they approved a bill that would have allowed slave regiments to fight for the South with freedom for the slave and the slave's families as a reward for faithful service. By that time it was too late and none of the slave troops ever saw action because the war was over before they could be trained.

    Consider this, if slavery is removed from the equation would the war still be fought? I would say that the answer is, no it would not be fought. There were differences between the North and the South beyond slavery to be sure but civil wars are not fought over high or low tariffs. Slavery is the lynch pin of the war. Had the South abandoned slavery early in the conflict then they would have had a chance at European intervention but as protecting slavery was their reason for secesion in the first place that was never a possibility for the Southern leaders. If they had removed slavery then they might have, just possibly, had a chance at winning the fight but without their defense of slavery they had no reason for fighting.

    The average Southern soldier could have cared less for slavery one way or the other and was not fighting to protect it. They were fighting to protect their homes and families but the average Southern soldier didn't make policy on a national level. To the Southern leadership preserving slavery was, until the last days of the war when Grant was strangling Lee's army at Petersburg and Sherman was buring his way across the South, the real focus and sole reason for the war.

    Hope that helps.

  • 1 decade ago

    There are a lot of good answers here already so I'll just add that you might want to argue that "slavery" was the main cause of the Civil War because of the disagreement about the SPREAD of slavery. Read about the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the rise of the Republican party to start.

    Economy was certainly a factor, but I'm not convinced that the eleven seceding states would have done so for purely economic reasons. When Lincoln was elected, they understood him to be opposed to the spread of slavery into territories that were supposed to be free. They wanted the option of making them slave states -- for their economy, so there you go with the economy argument. But you have to take it back farther.

    Those territories were destined to be free, Lincoln was trying to play by the rules.

    Again, you should follow the advice of several of the reponders to your question and do a lot of reading. It's confusing as heck, but in the end, it will be more beneficial for you to come to your own conclusions.

  • 1 decade ago

    Since you are arguing that slavery was the main cause,

    look at A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, negrospirituals.com, Lincoln's Lyceum Address, and just to be knowledgeable of the opposing side, read John C. Calhoun's Slavery is a Positive Good.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Although Lincoln for political reason tried to make slavery a non-issue at the beginning of the war - it really was the effect that the ending of slavery would have on the ending of the southern way of life (this is well documented) that got all of the eleven southern states under the guise of "states rights" to cede from the Union. As for look for actually sources here I would look for any comments you can find on those politicans labels as the Radical Republicans http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_Republicans as well as any writings by William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass.

    Good Luck!!!

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  • Sandra
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

    The Civil War was about State's rights and interference from the Federal Government. Slavery was one of many issues, but probably the most important and most discussed due to how it affected the lives of individuals who really had no voice. Many would argue that as with most issues of this type, people were divided for many reason, not just one issue. Contrary to popular belief, most people from the south were NOT slave owners, and those that were (believe it or not), were rich southern DEMOCRATS.

  • 1 decade ago

    Yes and No. To the North it was in "retrospect", Lincoln didn't want to issue the "Emancipation" if it was going to cause a secession/civil war, but the South seceeding on word of his election resolved the question, but then he had to wait for some semblance of a victory (Antietam was more of a draw, but the Rebs left the field first) to issue it. To the agrarian South, it was all about "states rights" which as when drafted the "articles of confederation" allowed for any colony to withdraw if they felt so inclined, not many of the common soldiers owned slaves, or their own homes or even shoes. The North was more industrial, and it wasn't just on slavery that they differed in opinion but economic factors, and the North outvoted the South, so the South felt bullied, and defintely threatened by the idea of the slaves becoming citizens. Let's get one thing straight, even though the Northerner's may have took pity on the plight of the slaves, few of them wanted them living next door or working side by side with them. Most wars are brought on by economic factors or contests over limited resources, but making them into a moral crusade always helps cope with tragic loss and justifies them to other nations. What I'm saying is if the slavery issue had been peacefully resolved, many of the issues and seccessionist (to the South it was the "War of Rebellion" or "War of Seccession" as in civil wars you are wresting for control of the whole nation) movement could well have brought on this war anyways. Don't forget the strong bond between the South and England, that required Lincoln's naval blockade to interfere and narrowly skirted war with England and Canada. Part of drawing Irish into the conflict was promising to let them take their arms home and liberate their homeland, this actually lead to about a week of marching around in Canada (it was closer) and negotiated surrender after the war. These Irish were not fighting to end slavery, and many Northerners were fighting because they got a bounty to enlist or wanted to "save the Union", not because they were concerned about slaves. So, in hindsight, it's a whole lot more "poltically correct" to say the war was fought over slavery, but I'm afraid the truth is never as pretty.

  • Kev C
    Lv 4
    1 decade ago

    i had to do the same thing and argue that slavery was the main cause. the only problem was that I the main cause of the civil war was somewhat economical but more so political, in which the union wanted to preserve the union, and try to keep its economy intact however the south was poorer and didn't make as much money as the north did, because the north was industrious and the south was cash crops (no even much food crops)

    the best you can do is find quotes and sources of people saying the south needed to split to keep its economy(slaves) intact, and then the north needed to go invade the south to keep the union intact.

  • 1 decade ago

    slavery was no more a cause of the war of yankee aggresion than the extermination of the jews was a cause of wwII.

    slavery was mearly a simple rallying cause to justify a horrible waste of men and money.

    in point of fact, slavery would have died out on its own as cheaper, more productive forms of agriculture came into wide spread use. think about it....how many farmers do you know of plow thier fields with horses or mules?

  • 1 decade ago

    All wars are because of Economics. Any ideological difference is simply an add on. It has always been this way and will always continue this way.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Good luck because the main reason was economics...

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