Secession and Civil War

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Explain four basic underlying causes of the American Civil War, which one cause was most significant

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The causes of the civil war have been a point of contention lately. First of all, its causes were economic. The North relied on the South's agriculture for its industrial wealth. When you add to this the problem with slavery, which was also economic but philosophical too.
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I would say that the Rights of States was the biggest underlying cause of the Civil War. The southern states wanted to be able to make their own laws and not necessarily go along with the Northern state. The biggest issue was probably slavery.

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See?  Ask five different historians and get five different answers, although I do agree with much of what has been posted above.  For my slightly different emphasis, let me organize my four underlying causes like so, with #1 being the most important:

4)  Slavery - The establishment of a divided country in terms of slavery and economics was a recipe for eventual disaster, but that disaster could still have been avoided without some other factors contributing to the onset of war

3) States' Rights - A social and political belief popular in southern states and among antifederalists that suggested the state should have the power to veto legislation or policy of the federal government they did not agree with, essentially acting as their own separate Supreme Courts.

2)  Manifest Destiny/Polk's War policy - Our national goal by the 1840s to finish expansion of our territories all the way through Mexican held lands to the Pacific Ocean made the Missouri Compromise untenable, and led directly to Bleeding Kansas, a dress rehearsal for the Civil War.

1)  Secession - When individual states, starting with South Carolina, voted one by one to declare independence from the United States, they claimed states' rights as the principle that allowed them to do this.  The Constitution, the courts and the federal government disagreed, but they did it anyway.  Secession is what the war was actually over, as the rest had the chance to be resolved through peaceful compromise.  Secession did not.

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I think some reasons for the American Civil War are 1) desire of northern industrialists and politicians for empire, 2) desire of the Republican Party for political hegemony, 3) idealism: many Northerners had a vision for America that did not include state rights, slavery, or differences in sections as to life styles. A few Northerners were fanatical in their support of this vision and in their opposition to the differences manifested by the South.  4)  Northern industrial interests supported the war because they wanted access to the labor force that was enslaved in the South, and they could have that access only if the slaves were freed.  I don't know that they went to war for this reason, but they definitely saw this as a reason to support the war once it had started. 5) a lot of Southern planters were in debt to Northern capitalists.  If the South seceeded, the Northern Capitalists might not be able to collect their debts.  Again, I don't know that they went to war for this reason, but they definitely saw this as a reason to support the war.

In the halls of Congress, mercantile and industrial interests and politicians from states where these interests held hegemony (the North), wanted to pass laws to tax the people for support of programs that would subsidize mercantile and industrial interests.  They wanted government to improve the harbors and rivers that they used.  They wanted government to build railroads for their use.  They wanted protective tariffs so they could charge more for their products.  Agricultural people opposed most of these measures because they did not want to pay the additional taxes for support of commerce and industry.  The slave-states were almost completely agricultural with very little industry.  As long as slave states and free states were equal in number, they each sent the same number of senators to Washington.  The slave states, having the same number of Senators, could defeat a lot of the expensive programs for subsidizing industry and commerce.  When the Republican Party moved to block slaves from the territories so that no more slave-states would be created, the slave-states saw that they would become mere colonies of the free-states.

This of course is not a reason for war; rather, this is a reason for secession.  The reason for war is that the North and its politicians were bent upon empire.  (They would soon bring under their control, the South, the Carribean, much of Latin America, Hawaii, the Philipines, and part of China.)  Letting the South seceed would reduce their empire just as they were starting to grow it.  The Republican Party would have lost the next election, if the South successfully seceeded, because northern voters would have seen the break-up of the Union as a failure of the Republican Party.  For these reasons, President Lincoln launched an invasion of the South to prevent secession.  These were the reasons for war.

The common men in the North who supported the war, did so because their flag had been fired upon at Ft. Sumper.

The commen men in the South who supported the war, did so because their home and hearth was invaded by hostile military forces.  (Lincoln launched an invasion fleet from New York to relieve Ft. Sumter; the South attacked Ft. Sumter to prevent that fleet from landing.)

The argument that secession caused the war is without foundation.  A number of the divisions of the Soviet Russian empire seceeded in the 1990s without war.  When the American states entered the Union, some of them did so with the expressly stated stipulation that they did so voluntarily and could withdraw voluntarily; the Constitution does not say otherwise, for if it did so, the thirteen original free and independent states would not have joined.  The U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of empire over free government only after the American War of 1861-1865.  Before the War, secession was considered a right by the vast majority of people.  The threat of secession must be available so that minorities can extract political compromises from the ruling majority; without the threat of secession, they are but subject peoples, not free and independent.  Of course, after the War, the party that had used illegality of secession as an excuse to prosecute the War, made a big argument that it was illegal.  The victor gets to write the history and might makes right, but

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I think the most important cause of the war was the idea of states' rights. The South had a long tradition of defending states' rights. In response to the Alien and Sedition Acts Thomas Jefferson and James Madison argued in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions that states could determine the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress and then ignore those they felt to be unconstitutional. This same idea can be found in the Nullification Crisis of 1832, when South Carolina nullified the Tariff of 1832, a law they felt was unfair to their state. This tradition of defending states' rights came to a head in 1861 when the South felt they had a right to maintain slavery, and if slavery was threatened, then states had a right to secede from the Union. Lincoln disagreed, believing that states had no right to secede, and he sent in the army to stop it--thus, the Civil War.
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In my mind, most of the analysis of causes of the Civil War comes down to the issue of slavery. The idea that the nation was coming apart at the seams was one where the slavery question became too big to negotiate, too large to compromise. Within this transcendent issue, I believe that other causes can be seen that helped move the nation to the logical consequence of war. Certainly, the conflicts between proponents of slavery and abolitionists were one such reason why the Civil War happened. Events such as Bleeding Kansas as well as the heated rhetoric that inflamed both sides’ belief systems helped make war a reality. I would say that John Brown would be another issue within this paradigm that made war a certainty. His crusading ways of seeking to abolish slavery and, in particular, arming slaves with his attack on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry helped to galvanize the issue so clearly, so precisely, that there was little room for negotiating. Southerners were convinced that all Northerners were like John Brown, waiting to advocate for their slaves to rise up and kill them. Northerners might have believed that Brown went too far, but their beliefs about the nature of slavery and the need for it to be stopped was shared to a great extent. The election of Lincoln was another polarizing experience for both sides. The South simply seceded with the election of Lincoln, making good on the promise that they would not be able to work with him. Finally, I would say that the Dred Scott Decision helped to move the nation to believe that negotiation was impossible. With the decision, the South believed that the nation’s highest court was in agreement with its principles. This feeling of validation was entirely opposed in the Northern states, who viewed the decision with a great deal of anger and belief that the court was “wrong.” I think that all of these and other factors held an equal amount of importance in moving the nation towards war.

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The seeds of the Civil War were planted way before the fighting broke out. The original 13 colonies had been developing in very different ways. The northern states and the southern states were divided by culture and geography and these regional differences were more important than even the slavery issue, because slavery was an outgrowth of the geographical differences. The south raised crops that required large plantations in order to be profitable – primarily cotton and tobacco. In order to harvest these crops, huge amounts of labor were needed. Since the cotton gin and other technology had not yet been invented, this meant that manual labor was needed. If the plantation owners had to pay for this work, however, the crops would not be profitable. Enter slavery – a cheap source of labor.

In the north, a more industrialized way of life was developing. This required roads and railroads to transport goods. Taxes were need to build and maintain these roads and railroads. The southerners did not think it was fair that their taxes and tarrifs were being used to build roads and railroads only in the north.

Because of these differences, the southern states felt their interests were not being represented. They did not, therefore, believe in a strong central government. They believed that states should have more rights than the federal government. This was especially important over the slavery issue. If they wanted to have slaves because the slaves were needed, but the federal government did not want slavery, then they should have the right to secede from the Union.

So, the four main causes of the Civil War were:




States rights

The most signifcant one was sectionalism, because it caused the other three.

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