Did slavery cause the Civil War?
Did slavery cause the Civil War? If not, what then was (were) the main causes of the civil war?
- bruhahaLv 71 decade agoFavorite Answer
Many think that answer TOO simple or even wrong... but when you start to look at it closely you see that it explains all other answers that have any substance to them (some are bogus to begin with!) . . . and there were leaders on BOTH sides who made that very clear at the time (even if they said different things AFTER the war). It was not "the whole" of what the war was about, but is perhaps the ONE thing you can say the war would not have happened without.
There is a lot of confusion about this -- partly because, as with nearly all historical questions related to "CAUSE(S)" and "REASON(S)" a number of different things work together. So pointing to ONE cause or reason does not mean all others played no role.
In this case, some of this confusion has come from the notion that the North's PURPOSE in entering the war is the same thing as the REASON for the war. But why do they have to be the same? Wanting to restore the Union with slavery still allowed hardly disproves that the disagreement about slavery was what CAUSED secession and thereby the war.
In fact, most of the Northern efforts before the war to bring Southern states back focused on assurances about the protection of slavery (esp. the Crittenden Compromise), demonstrating that they perceived this as THE key issue.
Another piece of the confusion, frankly, is propagandistic. AFTER the War many in the South put out explanations about the "real reasons" for the war and for Southern defeat. And the North was often willing to go along. But if you want to know the REASONS for the South seceding, etc, you ought to look NOT first at what they said LATER, but at the arguments they raised in the period leading up to the war!
You'll often hear "states rights", "Lincoln's election" and "economics". All have something to them. But those who use them often fail to look at WHY these issues prompted secession and war. In every case, if you go back, it was SLAVERY that MADE these such burning issues.
Look at each:
a) "Economics" (conflict of 'two systems') Important, but WHY were they in such conflict?
When I suggest that that 'slavery' was the ROOT issue, I am NOT talking about some abstract issue of the right to own slaves, but about a whole integrated way of life and economic SYSTEM that had been built in dependency on slave labor and that increasingly clashed with the Northern 'free labor' system. To some degree BOTH sides felt somewhat threatened by the other (Northern workers were adamant about "free soil" in part because they feared slavery would hurt THEIR chances to compete for work). In other words, there is much truth to those who say it was a political-ECONOMIC clash.
But make no mistake, at the heart of THAT clash was the institution of slavery. Not to say there would not have been the merchant vs. agrarian sectional competition, political clashes, etc., but would they ever have led to such extreme steps? To secession and Civil War? Only the issue of slavery could and did impel that radical a step... precisely as many had long predicted it might.
b) As for the favorite alternate answer -- "states rights" -- those who pick this OVER slavery seldom explain which exact "rights" of the states were at issue! It turns out that THE right they so wished to defend was the right to keep slaves, esp. to take them anywhere...
Also, contrary to much of their rhetoric, in the 1850s Southern leaders (including Jefferson Davis) FREQUENTLY sought to use the power of the federal government to support their SECTIONAL goals (not just that of individual states either) AGAINST the North -- including in the Fugitive Slave Law, in fighting to accept Kansas statehood under a BOGUS pro-slavery constitution, and in the efforts to have the federal government finance a SOUTHERN national railroad (a project of Davis's when he was Secretary of War).
c) the election of Lincoln as President (though it could have been ANY Republican). A perfectly Constitutional election, no fraud... why oppose it and quit when your candidate doesn't win??
BECAUSE they believed his election put SLAVERY at risk. NOT because Lincoln & his party had done anything to free their slaves... nor had they ever said they intended to! (quite the opposite).
They had become convinced (and radical pro-secessionists spread the view) that Republicans WOULD outlaw slavery once he took office (One REAL basis for this was that the Republicans DID want to restrict the GROWTH of slavery --to keep it out of new territories. Their hope was that this would mean that, in time, the institution would naturally die out, as many of the Founders had hoped.)
We could look at the campaign arguments of Southern Democrats vs. Lincoln & the Republicans, as well as their language in many Congressional debates during the 1850s about related matters.
Or we could read the letters and speeches of those who went as emissaries of the first states to secede to other states (as is done in a recent book, *Apostles of Disunion*) and who frequently and strongly appealed to the need to protect the threatened institution of slavery.
But perhaps the best place to look for those who believe slavery was NOT the true cause of secession, is the OFFICIAL statements of Southern states which make it clear that securing SLAVERY was central to THEIR purpose!
Look first at the statements of the states that LED the way in seceding, where they make very clear how central slavery was (the right to hold slaves, the fugitive slave laws, etc). Read the Declarations of Causes of Seceding States - South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas.
And note that the "violations of states rights" they refer to are specifically related to slavery issues!! So again, saying "it was about states rights" in the abstract, as if slavery was not THE central "states rights" concern, is at best misleading.
Note here that statements of various leaders of border states who joined the Confederacy LATER, or of officers like Lee, who followed their states, does nothing to disprove the causative role of slavery in the conflict. The reason for which these men (or even the states) joined the Confederacy, and their own purposes in fighting are not the same as the CAUSE of the conflict!
See also [Confederate Vice President] Alexander H. Stephens: Cornerstone Address (March 21, 1861)
Speaking of the draft Constitution for the Confederacy he notes:
"taking the whole new Constitution, I have no hesitancy in giving it as my judgment, that it is decidedly better than the old. Allow me briefly to allude to some of these improvements. The question of building up class interests, or fostering one branch of industry to the prejudice of another, under the exercise of the revenue power, which gave us so much trouble under the old Constitution, is put at rest forever under the new. We allow the imposition of no duty with a view of giving advantage to one class of persons, in any trade or business, over those of another. . . .
"not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other-though last, not least: the new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions-African slavery as it exists among us-the proper status of the ***** in our form of civilization. THIS WAS THE IMMEDIATE CAUSE OF THE LATE RUPTURE AND PRESENT REVOLUTION!! [emphasis mine]. . . .
"Those ideas [of the founders], however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it-when the "storm came and the wind blew, it fell." Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the ***** is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. . . ."
I made sure to include Stephens remarks about the revenue/tariffs issue, which was an old bone of contention between the sections. Indeed, at an earlier stage of the North-South conflict THIS "states rights" issue was at the fore, esp. in the "nullification crisis" with South Carolina, John Calhoun, etc. So we can see that there was a BROADER clash between North and South about a set of economic issues (and policies based on them).
But by 1860 the undeniable focal point of the clash was slavery, and this is what actually caused the break -- as Stephens himself explicitly states!!
And, very interestingly, the formal "Declaration of Causes" from Stephens's OWN state of Georgia (see link above) explicitly states that the tariff was NO LONGER an issue, but had been replaced by slavery (for which they blame Northern agitators, but the basic point is still clear).
Sure, there was confusion about reasons for FIGHTING but ultimately the war's mainl CAUSE should be clear. Lincoln summarized it well in his Second Inaugural. Looking back at the situation four years earlier he remarks:
"One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves. . . . These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. ALL KNEW THAT THIS INTEREST WAS SOMEHOW THE CAUSE OF THE WAR. . . "
- ShelleyLv 44 years ago
The north was not taxing the south in the common sense of the word . The federal government chose to place tariffs on imported manufactured goods such as steel and textiles . Slavery was not the principal cause but it was always just below the surface . The issue of a strong federal government or a weak federal government and strong individual state governments was always a point of contention . Make no mistake about it some of the earliest states to secede were about the slavery issue . The primarily agricultural economy in the south revolved around forced slave labor . There was a mindset among some of the southern people that the black people were literally sub human and not entitled to live as free people . This attitude flew in the face of our founding documents , " All men are created equal ..." and many people in the north sought to end slavery . The excuse that many plantation owners used was " I can't get anybody to do this work so I need to have slaves to do it ." While the statement may have been somewhat true as to the low skilled field work , many slaves were doing skilled work such as carpentry, masonry, and blacksmithing . The slave economy had the effect of depressing the wages of white people in the skilled trades because they had slaves that could do those jobs for room and board and the slaves had no choice in the matter. Slavery was this utterly immoral practice that had to be addressed sooner or later and 1861 was finally the time .
- 5 years ago
Yes, slavery caused the Civil War. It may not have been what every soldier was fighting for in 1862, but there can be no question slavery was the issue that tore the union apart. Yes, there were economic arguments, but the South's economy was all about slavery; it would have been impossible to end slavery without also destroying the South's livelihood and economic system. Civil war had to result.
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- Mike DLv 41 decade ago
Yes - ultimately it was. Look, ever since the Founding Fathers declared independence in 1776, slavery was an issue. Matter of fact when writing the Constitution, the matter of slavery was a compromise - putting the country together took precedence. Every major issue that presented itself from 1776 to 1860 was for the most part ironed out - except slavery.
Sure in 1860, there were other issues between the North and the South but slavery was the 1,000 pound elephant in the room. The Civil War was American Destiny - it was inevitable from the day America decided to become it's own country.
- Anonymous1 decade ago
Think if there was no slavery in America there would not of been divided states then no civil war and most importantly no USA there would be countries independent but heavily influenced from its European country I would say the USA today would be 5 separate countries if slavery never happened. So slavery was a major if not the source cause of the civil war.
- clcaliforniaLv 71 decade ago
Nope.....the war was caused by the north needing the south to support and encourage the econimical growth of the north. They needed the cotton, they needed the sea ports, and so on.
The south definatly, like now, have had their own sort of people. Nothing bad, Just differnt from the north. It is hard to explain.
The south wanted to stop being controled by the north becasue as a nation, the north, is what propelled the United "nations" even to the point of such slauter of human life that it is incomprehenable.
Ab Lincoln would enject the, what they wanted to have the world & the future to procieve is that it was, a totally honorable war to free slaves. Think about it. Why would nothern mothers and fathers send their son's to war to just end slavery? Think about the money was spent to save one group of people? Some northern people had slaves. How reasonable is this reason for war. Would you of sent off your husband and son's to die to save a people you didn't really have anything to do with?
Sad, but true, often the north would throw out the slavery issue to make some people think that it was a honorable war to reacue a population of people who were slaves? It isn 't all that long ago that this happened, compared to the time of the universe. It wasn't long ago that our country was founded ,compared to the history of mankind.
I have been in the south and I can feel, even to this day, the feeling that the south has against the north. It lingers to the point of being felt by me a person from the north.
You show wisdom to ask this question.
We can't change the past. We can learn from it.
- bigjohn BLv 71 decade ago
It was only one factor in the issue. There were four states having slaves that never seceded. Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky and W. Virginia. The war was a clash of cultures. The Northern States had moved closer to a true Representative Democracy. the Southern States had largely remained basically Aristocracies (govt by the "best people"). The North was urbanizing and the South remained rural, The North was industrializing and the South remained agrarian. the banking Industry was largely in the North as was the shipping and insurance companies. As the North grew industrially they sought and got higher tariffs to cause all to buy American, The Northern states were developing a transportation system in the form of canals and railroads, the South lagged. The North grew in population and the South did not.
The problem was that two sections had developed differently and the interpretation of the Constitution varied widely. The supremacy clause of the Constitution gave preference to the Northern system.
- Anonymous1 decade ago
lets start off like this; when our founding fathers wrote the constitution for this country they purposely forgot to address the issue of slavery. they didn't want to start the civil war as the union was being made. our fore fathers knew that it was going to be and obstacle and it would come back to haunt us. i think that the civil war was just a large destructive fight about misunderstandings. when the north was industrializing the south was farming. the north passed laws to help industrialization, and the south didn't have too much power. the south wanted an isolationist government and the north wanted to trade with everyone in the world. to finish this because you are not probably going to read any farther. it wasn't just about slavery. the north and the south were against one another in a way, and while the N. was growing the S. shut down. it was all about then not understanding each other.
- aidaLv 71 decade ago
Many people argue that the cause of the war was secession and states' rights, but if slavery had not existed in the South, it's doubtful whether those states would have seceded. "States' rights" is sometimes invoked in defense of a state's right to treat some of its people unjustly. The history of the period leading up to the war, in which serious fighting took place over whether a territory was to be admitted as a slave state or a free one, makes it pretty clear that the war was fought over slavery.
- Flying SoldierLv 61 decade ago
Social, economy and political factors cause the Civil War. Yes, slavery will go in social factor.