What characterized the buildup to the Civil War?

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Building up to the start of the American Civil War was a century-long debate among the original thirteen colonies and, subsequent to the establishment of an independent nation comprised of, at the start of the Civil War, thirty-four states, the United States of America. That debate revolved primarily and overwhelmingly around the fundamental issue of states' rights: in effect, what would or should be the proper balance between the power of the federal government relative to that of each of the individual states? The location of where that line between the federal and state governments should be drawn remained elusive and, given the intractability of that existential question, highly poisonous, given the issue at the center of the debate over states rights: slavery.

As the United States of America grew in number (of states) and size, the issue of slavery remained contentious, with pressure from the British Empire to abolish the practice contributing to the political climate in Washington. The country was firmly and militantly split between the anti-slavery North and the pro-slavery South, with the latter heavily dependent upon slave labor for its agrarian-based economy. Ultimately, of course, the issue was resolved through a the protracted and enormously destructive Civil War. Across the South, slavery remained popular for both economic and racial reasons, with many Americans retaining the belief that African blacks were inferior to Caucasians of European heritage. This belief, combined with the economic dependence upon slave labor, made the South thoroughly resistant to demands by the North (in the person of President Lincoln) to consent to the abolition of slavery. The decision by most of the Southern states to secede from the Union forced President Lincoln to make the decision of either going to war to preserve the Union or watching the United States of America cease to exist.

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