At what point did the Civil War become inevitable? Can you identify any points where a different decision or course of action might have changed the historical trajectory? It is said that the Civil War ended slavery, but were the freed African Americans truly free? Why or why not? Explain and justify your answer.

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The American Civil War (1861–1865) became inevitable when the South opened fire on Fort Sumter in 1861.

By 1861, there were many obvious differences between the North and South. For example, the South's labor force was primarily agricultural. But less than half of the North's laborers worked in agriculture. The...

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South was rural while the North had most of the largest urban centers. Slavery was an important institution in the South and Southern leaders were almost always slave owners. Although there were many differences between the two regions, the United States was one nation in 1860. Not until shots were fired at Fort Sumter did they become enemies on the battlefield.

There had been numerous factious quarrels between the North and the South before war erupted, and these occurred between 1820 and 1860. In 1820, the Missouri Compromise dealt with the question of slavery in the West. Other disputes followed—especially after the United States annexed vast territories from Mexico in 1848. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln, the candidate of the Republican Party, was elected. South Carolina and six other states left the Union after Lincoln's election. The North tried to compromise with those seven states, but the Crittenden Compromise failed.

There were several Union forts in the seven Southern states and their disputed status led to war. The South wanted to take these over, but the North wanted to retain them. The most important of these was Fort Sumter, which was located in Charleston, South Carolina. On April 12, 1861, the South attacked Fort Sumter, and the Civil War started. The South could have tried to starve the garrison into surrender instead of using force. Had it undertaken this course of action, war might have been averted.

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The war became inevitable with the election of Lincoln in 1860. Lincoln did not appear on the ballot in many Southern states; this allowed fire-eaters in the South to loudly claim that Northern abolitionists would eventually destroy slavery in the South. Even though Lincoln was a moderate in his own party and only wanted to stop the spread of slavery, his election led to radical factions in the South coming to power. There were efforts to mollify the South, such as the Crittenden Compromise, but these only served to anger Northerners who felt that Southern slaveowners had been catered to for long enough.

If the South had been allowed to secede, then the Civil War would not have happened, as the nation would have been split without bloodshed. After the attack on Fort Sumter, this became less likely, as Northerners felt as though the attack was an insult against national honor. Secretary of State William Seward privately hoped for a war against Britain that would make North and South come together to fight a common foe; while this would have prevented the Civil War, such an alternative scenario would have also ruined the United States economically as American shipping would have been lost.

While the Civil War did free the slaves, the slaves were not truly free. Even in the closing days of the war and immediately thereafter, liberated slaves were told to grow cotton by the occupying Union Army. The slaves were free in 1865 but lacked the ability to sue in court until 1868, and they were denied the ballot until 1870. Without legal protections or a voice in government, one is at a distinct disadvantage. Even after this time, terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan tried to maintain the racial status quo in the South. There were also laws that persecuted former slaves at the state and municipal levels. African Americans were arrested for minor offenses and put on chain gangs for extended period of time disproportionate to white arrests. African Americans were also punished for not having jobs by having work forced upon them by civil authorities.

Even African Americans who were moderately successful still suffered under the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, which stated that separate facilities were constitutional provided that they were "equal." This "equality" under the ruling never took place, as African-Americans were given second-rate amenities.

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This question has two distinct components.

At what point did the Civil War become inevitable?

The Civil War came about as the result of a slow-moving sequence of events that led to a disastrous result. However, the point of inevitability occurred several decades before the actual outbreak of hostilities.

The 1828 Tariff of Abominations, enacted with overwhelming support of Northern representatives in the US Congress, placed an exorbitant tariff on the importation of goods from abroad. This adversely impacted the South's export-dependent agrarian economy. In response, South Carolina declared it would not enforce the tariffs within its own borders. Rather than immediately respond with force, as it threatened, the United States government slashed the tariff rate, substantially surrendering to South Carolina's demands. Though, on the surface, this had the appearance of compromise, it also signaled to the South that the federal government was not serious about the use of military force against states transgressing federal law.

Instead of capitulating to Southern demands, had the United States insisted on enforcement of the 1828 tariff ordinance, South Carolina might have been dissuaded from announcing its secession in 1860, which precipitated the Battle of Fort Sumter several months later and the onset of conflict. In that sense, the Civil War became inevitable in 1833.

It is said that the Civil War ended slavery, but were the freed African Americans truly free? Why or why not?

While the Emancipation Proclamation legally ended slavery in most areas of the South, it is not necessarily true that it "freed" African Americans. Rather, it set into sequence a series of events that gradually led to the freedom of African Americans.

Following Reconstruction, African Americans faced effective economic and political slavery in Southern states. They were resigned to disenfranchisement through intimidation tactics by extralegal groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and legal tactics like poll taxes. And, despite some attempts at agrarian reform, African Americans remained a largely landless class subject to deprecatory employment conditions.

Later measures such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, federal law enforcement intervention to combat groups such as the KKK, and a gradual shift in social attitudes combined to evolve and expand the freedoms envisioned by Lincoln's declaration of 1863 and, two years later, the Thirteenth Amendment.

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