Brooke asked in Arts & HumanitiesHistory · 1 decade ago

Reasons slavery caused the civil war?

Writing a persuasive essay in Social Studies on what caused the civil war.

6 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Best Answer

    Slavery is the "simple" answer. Many think that's TOO simple or even wrong... but when you look closely you discover that it explains all the rest. . . and there were leaders on both sides who made that very clear at the time. It was not "the whole" of what the war was about, but is 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 PURPOSE of the NORTH in entering the war is the same thing as the REASON for the war. But why? 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 Northern efforts to bring Southern states back focused on assurances about slavery (esp. the Crittenden Compromise), demonstrating that all 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!



    The other answers you typically get are things like "states rights", "Lincoln's election" and "economics". Now all have something to them. But we need to consider WHY these issues prompted secession and war. In every case, if you go back, it was SLAVERY that caused these other things to even BE issues, at least to be issues big enough to break up the Union.

    Take a look:

    a) The "economic" reason -- the conflict of 'two systems'

    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? I think not. 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 most ardently defended was the right to keep slaves, esp. to take them anywhere...

    Note also that, contrary to their rhetoric, Southern leaders in the 1850s (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?? (and what a horrible precedent!)

    They did so 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).

    It was because they had become convinced (and their radical pro-secessionists had spread the view) that the Republicans WOULD outlaw slavery once he took office (even though Democrats would STILL control Congress & the courts!) Even their label for the party --"Black Republicans"-- hints at this. (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 all 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 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 and their officers. In fact, they make it clear that securing SLAVERY was central to THEIR purpose!

    Look first of all 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). Just 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.

    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. . . .

    "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. . . . 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 note that Stephens did comment on the tariff issue, which had long been a 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 the time of the Civil War it was clearly SLAVERY that was the focal point of the clash, and what actually caused the break -- and Stephens SAYS SO!!

    Yes, there was confusion about the cause of the war, but ultimately it should be clear. Lincoln summarized all this 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. . . "

    See also the Alabama Platform -- the platform "fire-eater" Southern Democrats tried to push on Douglas as a basis for their support. Its key feature was the DEMAND of strong support, from the federal and Northern state governments, of the rights of slave owners. The majority of delegates supported Douglas. But when this Southern effort was rejected, its architects orchestrated a walk-out from the convention, split the party and eventually chose their own candidate. THIS was the first "secession" -- the critical split of the Democratic Party that made a Republican victory, and so the threatened secession of Southern states, a virtual certainty. And the issue was -- SLAVERY!!

  • 1 decade ago

    Do not be fooled......Slavery ,or more precisely, the potential spread , or restriction,of slavery into new territories or states WAS the cause of the American Civil War. The arguments that it was about "States' Rights" are "shakey" at best and are often used as a cover for the real issue, that being.....that the Southern States, that had held the strength in the American Congress for decades, where starting to feel the pressure, from the potential free states that were joining the Union, that their long time grasp and control of the government was starting to fade.

    The election of a "northern" anti-slavery Presedent in 1861 caused the South to realise that the institution of slavery in the expanding US was probably not going to be in their favor.

    Anyone who reads the Constitution of the Confederate States of America can clearly see how important the issue of slavery and also how important the regulation of the "black" race to being inferior to the "white race" was to the basic idology of the forming of the Confederacy.

    Yes, the South had good reason to defend it's position on the slavery issue, as her economy was basically one of agriculture and the slave population was a very intrical part of the process, but to say that the war was about "States' rights" is silly. It was about States' rights, in the fact that it was about....THE RIGHT FOR STATES TO PRACTICE SLAVERY.

  • Anonymous
    4 years ago

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    Reasons slavery caused the civil war?

    Writing a persuasive essay in Social Studies on what caused the civil war.

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  • 1 decade ago

    The "excuse" of States Rights is constantly kicked around today by "new southerners" who refer to the Civil War as "the lost cause". I ran into a Virginian at a Civil War reenactment and his line was that the South was not wrong in any of their politics or actions, they just happened to lose the war.

    To be truthful about it, the argument about states rights originated directly over slavery. As new states were entering the union there was a battle going on in Congress over whether the new states could allow slavery of not. The Missouri Compromise was one such case. The southern states wanted each state to set its own policy, with no interference from the federal government, hence "states rights".

    There are many lies in our American "history". For example, the reason for the conflict between the Mexican government and the first American settlers in Texas was slavery. The settlers wanted to preserve their slave institutions, while the government of Mexico had outlawed slavery (in this regard Mexico was far ahead of the US in human rights). So the motivation of Texas' great patriotic leaders Sam Houston, David Crockett, Jim Bowie, and Steven Austin, over Texas was all to do with the American settler's wanting the right to keep slaves.

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  • 1 decade ago

    slavery was only a small part of the cause. The biggest deal was states rights. The federal government wanted to impose all of it's laws on all states and no state could make any law that pertained to any secion of those laws. They wanted full power which was accually against the Constitution and Virginia was the first to revolt. Of course if the fed had got their way from the start , slavery would have been abolished in 1859 instead of 1863.

  • beek
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    Slavery was one of the straw men used more for excuse than any real war issue. The issue was states rights. The north and south had great differences on tariffs, industry, and there was a struggle going on for power in the Senate. More and more the south felt threatened by the north and so after much turmoil they decided to take their constitutional right of seceding from the union. Virginia especially when signing the constitution held particular right to dissolve it if it infringed upon their sovereign sates rights. Well, the rest is history. They were denied their right to secede and forced by war back in. That was one of the major events in American history that took rights from the states and gave them to the federal government and led the over powering federal government we have today.

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