Secession and Civil War

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What were the goals in the beginning of the Civil War for each side?

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Both the North and the South hoped and even expected, to achieve a quick victory. They knew that a protracted conflict would be disastrous. Many felt that it would be a short war and would be over in a few months at most. Therefore their goal at the outset of the conflict was to score a decisive victory that would compel the other side to give up. This hope was quickly dashed when each side realized that the other was more determined than they had first assumed.

The overarching goal of the South was to break away from the Union and establish their own nation where they would be free to continue practicing the institution of slavery. Southerners had been growing concerned for some time that the abolitionist movement in the North would eventually lead to a ban on slavery. For decades, the balance between slave-holding interests and anti-slave movements had been teetering on a razor's edge. There had been many efforts to halt the expansion of slavery as the country grew. Many southerners saw this as an attack on their constitutional rights and a threat to their economy. The election of 1860 was the catalyst for secession as they feared that Lincoln would put a permanent halt to the expansion of slavery and eventually abolish it as a whole. For this reason, the South hoped to break away from the United States and start their own country where slavery could live on without threat.

The overall goal of the North was to prevent the southern states from seceding. Although the rebellious states claimed that they had voluntarily joined the Union and therefore were free to leave, many northerners, including Lincoln, viewed the founders' vision as one of perpetual union. There were some northerners who felt that slavery should be abolished. However, most northerners were apathetic or ambivalent about slavery. Most saw the secession of the southern states as a threat to the continued viability of the country. It would not be until later in the war that emancipation became the major goal of the North.

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The American Civil War (1861-1865) began shortly after the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln personally believed slavery to be a reprehensible institution, but he did not initially seek to abolish it like some of the more “radical” members of the Republican Party. On the contrary, in his inaugural address he assured the slave states, including the nascent Confederacy, that he had neither the intention nor, he believed, the legal power to end slavery. Abolition was therefore not among the early goals of the Civil War in the North. Initially, they sought only to quell the southern insurrection and prevent the expansion of the Confederacy.

The Constitution did not make slavery unlawful everywhere, but it did permit the federal government to restrict the expansion of slavery into free states and new territories. The South disagreed with this interpretation, arguing that policies regarding slavery fell under states’ rights. They depended on the slavery-based plantation system to...

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support their agricultural economy. Abolition would require them to restructure their entire business model, as well as their concept of property and social stratification. They felt they had no recourse against the affronts to their regional identity and state sovereignty but to secede from the union. Their goal was to preserve their institutions and way of life.

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The overall goal for the North was to bring the nation back together.  The overall goal for the South was to maintain its independence.  The North had the Anaconda Plan, devised by Winfield Scott, which included capturing the Mississippi River and controlling Southern ports.  This would cut the South off from the outside world and would lead to the implosion of the Southern economy and war effort.  The North passed the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 in order to encourage the slaves of the South to escape; it was hoped that such a thing would cause soldiers to return home in order to keep a closer watch on their slaves.  The North also hoped to achieve the moral high ground and discourage Europe from helping the South.  

The South hoped to make the North weary of war so that the Confederacy could successfully split away.  The Southern goal was also to win enough battles so European powers, especially Britain and France, would send overt help to both fund the Confederacy and end the blockade.  The South hoped that European dependence on cotton would lead to foreign intervention, but Britain and France turned to their own colonies in order to get the staple crop.

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When the Civil War began, both the North and the South has goals for the war. Those goals weren’t identical. The North has several goals in the Civil War. These goals included conquering the South and then bringing the South back into the Union. Another goal was to end slavery. Ending slavery became more important as the war was being fought. The North hoped to accomplish these goals by doing several things. The North wanted to control the South’s economy. Blockading the southern coast and controlling the Mississippi River would be ways to accomplish these goals. The North also wanted to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond.

The South had several objectives in the Civil War. The South wanted to stay independent, avoid invading the North, and use cotton to help encourage European countries to help the South. The South hoped to accomplish these goals by avoiding large battles. The South believed the longer the war lasted the less support there would be for the war in the North. Thus, if the South could force the North to chase them throughout the South, this would drag out the war. The South also believed if it refused to export cotton to Europe, the Europeans would help the South because they would want to buy cotton from the South. The South would sell cotton to European countries only if they supported the South.

Each side had different goals in the Civil War. Each side also had different strategies for accomplishing these goals.

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