What trends and events led to the outbreak of the Civil War?
The overall trend that led to the Civil War was the nation’s inability to compromise effectively on the issue of slavery. Starting at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, slavery became an issue that threatened to tear the nation apart. All references to it were removed from both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, which shows just how divisive an issues it had become.
Knowing that the population of the northern states would always exceed that of the south, two realities were acknowledged by the southern states who would eventually form the Confederacy; that slavery must spread west to survive, and that the number of slaves state must always equal the number of free states. This way, any anti-slavery bill could be blocked in the Senate, insuring slavery could not be legislated away.
Soon enough, slavery became an issue yet again. When the U.S. won the Mexican-American War, congress debated heavily about whether this new territory should be free or slave. California soon applied for statehood as a free state, and with no other slave states coming down the road, southerner’s refused to allow its admission without some major concessions. They demanded both a strengthening of the already hated Fugitive Slave Law (which required northerners to aid southerners by returning runaways) as well as the opening of both the Utah and New Mexico territory to slavery. The Compromise of 1850 made no one side totally content and added to the tensions between north and south.
With compromise failing, a young Senator named Stephan Douglas helped pass the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed the newly-formed territories of Kansas and Nebraska to decide the issue of slave or free by a simple vote upon entering the Union. This idea backfired, as full-on killing broke out between slave and free factions in Kansas. The killing reached such levels that the entire episode was dubbed, “Bleeding Kansas” by the press. The violence even reached the floor of the Senate where Senator Charles Sumner was nearly beaten to death by Senator Preston Brooks over the issue of Kansas. Soon, congressmen began arming themselves when they sat in session.
Another violent episode in the south rocked the countries already tenuous hold on peace. In1858, John Brown, a crazed abolitionist, tried to start a slave revolt in the south by arming the slaves and killing their owners. The slaves did not rise up, but angry townsfolk did, and soon John Brown was captured and hung for treason, but not before several people were killed. Brown was deified in the north as a hero, but in the south he was vilified. Southerners couldn’t understand how anyone could think Brown’s insurrection was positive, and soon southern militias were arming and drilling in case more crazed northerners tried to cause trouble in the future. It was the beginning of the Confederate Army.
About this time, the 1860 presidential election was gearing up. The Republican Party decided to run for office on a platform of stopping slavery’s spread. This was not an option for the south, but because they themselves were so divided, Lincoln managed to win the election. This showed that the power of the south to affect national politics was in decline. They feared that soon they wouldn’t have balance in the Senate. Eleven of them decided to secede and form their own nation, and act which started the Civil War.