What was the relationship between the institution of slavery and the outbreak and course of the Civil War?
Without a doubt, the issue of slavery was the underlying cause of the Civil War. However, for many people it was not the moral issue of slavery that was at stake, but rather its political ramifications.
The South needed slaves as a source of labor for its agricultural economy, but the South's reasoning in seceding from the Union had more to do with the right of individual states to make their own decisions regarding the institution of slavery, and the South's desire to extend the use of slaves into newly acquired territories to the west. Once Abraham Lincoln, a Republican with anti-slavery sentiments, was elected, the South felt it had no choice but to secede.
Although in the North, abolition was a growing movement, the Civil War was not started to free the slaves. The main motivation on the Northern side was the preservation of the Union after the South seceded.
Before the Civil War, Lincoln did not make slavery a political issue, although he was personally against it. Once the war started, several pieces of legislation concerning slaves were passed in the North. First, slaves who escaped to the North were contraband of war and would not be returned to their Southern owners. Another law freed these slaves, and a third allowed freed slaves to join the Union army.
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was a wartime measure, not a law to free all slaves. It stated that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in the Southern rebellious states would be permanently freed. Many of these freed slaves, close to 200,000 of them altogether, were then recruited into the Union army and navy. The war held larger stakes after this proclamation. It meant not only the preservation of the Union, but freedom for all slaves in the South. However, it took the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which was fully ratified and adopted on December 18, 1865, to end slavery finally and forever in the United States.
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