Causes of the American Civil War that started in 1861 are too contradictory and multifaceted. Before the colonies of England declared independence and became independent states, a social hierarchy with two varieties – the north and south was witnessed in these lands. In the South, there was a wealthy class of planters. Negro slaves worked on vast plantations – tobacco, cotton, sugar, and rice. Even at that time, they were deprived of any rights. In the North, Negroes were formally free. However, compared to the white Americans, they were regarded as a lower category of people. Nevertheless, in the North, slavery did not exist. At first, these circumstances referred to the entire population. This situation prevailed until the early 20s of the XIX century when there appeared not individual opponents of slavery, but a group of people strongly opposed to slavery in the United States. According to them, slavery was incompatible with the rapid development of capitalism in the country and the bourgeois-democratic ethics. Slavery threatened the unity of the young republic. It is considered the main cause of the American Civil War. The purpose of this paper is to study causes of the American Civil War as well as its consequences for the country.
The Lack of Unity between the Colonies of the United States
Disagreements between the northern and southern states existed since the time when they were merely British colonies. The basis for the division of the United States into two separate states was laid by specifics of the development of the American continent by colonists. Initially, the US was the union of the thirteen colonies inhabited by people of different ethnic backgrounds (Schaller 518). By the 1770s, most of the population of the southern states was of Celtic origin. The settlers came from the western regions of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Without a doubt, the inhabitants of southern states of America were distinguished by a special character. For the most part, they were not of the Anglo-Saxon but Roman origin and had aristocratic traditions. Unlike inhabitants from the South, the majority of the settlers of the northern states were of the English, German, and Dutch origin. This division is quite natural because people of the common culture and belief always tend to settle together. It happened that the South was chosen by people close in faith and mentality. The North also united people whose mentality was far from that of the inhabitants of the South. This fact is one of the main causes of the internecine feuds.
Both northerners and southerners struggled for freedom. However, this word meant different things for them. The inhabitants of the northern states fought for the unlimited personal freedom. In contrast to the northerners, for the inhabitants of the southern states, freedom meant not only personal limitless possibilities but also voluntary cooperation, and the ability not to infringe on freedom and interests of other people. This principle became essential for the unification of the Southern states. Regarding the South, there should be the connection between the states based on honor, mutual trust, and mutual assistance. However, each state was to remain an independent unit with its order and government. This concept was different from the North where the central government sought to dictate its conditions and will to the states. According to the concept of the South, the union should have existed as a union of states united by the commitment to helping each other when needed and recognition of freedom and independence of each other.
There were fundamentally different approaches that firmly separated the North from the South. In such a way, the difference in mentality initially divided the US population into northerners and southerners. The country existed as a union of two separate states. Nevertheless, the central government sat in the northern part. It primarily supported pragmatic and business interests of northerners and not the aristocratic ideals of the South.
A serious factor that led to imbalance and the preponderance of the political course of the North was the uneven growth of the state’s population. At the time of ratification of the Constitution, the population of the North and South was approximately equal. Therefore, the number of northerners and southerners in the House of the Senate was also approximately equal. “In 1840, the population stood at 17 million; by 1860, it had reached 31 million” (Farmer 8). For example, the population of the state of New York increased by 1140% due to the influx of immigrants (Farmer 8). It was two and a half times more than the entire population of the state of Virginia. It was explained by the fact that the industrial North could take more immigrants than the agricultural South. “New territory drew a flood of people seeking a new opportunity, more wealth, and more prosperity” (“What Caused the Civil War?” n.p.). Due to the rapid population growth, the North had more votes in the House of Representatives.
This imbalance allowed the northern government to introduce unfair tariffs on industrial goods that the North sold to the South. The North established extremely high customs duties on goods imported from Europe. European goods became very expensive. Thus, it was economically unprofitable to buy them. The same industrial goods which the North supplied to the South were cheaper but of lower quality. As an example of the consequences of the introduction of unfair taxes and tariffs was the crisis of the 1830s. The Southern states tried to limit the effects of tariffs set in 1828 as they harmed the economy of the South. At that time, the crisis showed that the South was ready to secede. The inhabitants of South Carolina revolted against unfair tariffs on imported goods, which increased by 45-50%. South Carolina declared nullification of tariffs. Other southern states were willing to support this initiative. On the proposal of President Jackson, Congress adopted the Force Bill. According to it, the president could employ military force to implement the collection of customs duties on the territory of any state. The troops of General W. Scott were sent to South Carolina. In the same year, for the pacification of the conflict, Congress on the proposal of Henry Clay has decided to gradually reduce tariffs within 10 years. This compromise allowed keeping the Union considering that some southern states were ready to leave. Thus, the completely different North and South were in unequal political and economic conditions. The northern states could dictate their political will. The South was forced to obey even if the requirements of the North were unjust.
Since the 20s, arguments about slavery in the United States actively interfered in the political area of the country. They became the subject of heated discussions in the US Congress and assemblies of almost every state. In the South, the attitude toward slavery remained unchanged. “In the South, owning slaves, whether it was one or one hundred, was an acceptable practice taken for granted as a way of doing business” (Calore 13). The dependence of the local economy on cotton intensified. Its cultivation on vast plantations required a large-scale forced labor. The industrial North and the agrarian South increasingly moved away from each other having different views on slavery.
The first conflict occurred when Missouri sent a request to join the Union. It was the state that permitted slavery. As a result of a serious confrontation, the Missouri Compromise was reached in 1820. It approved the membership of the state in the Union in exchange for important restrictions on the dissemination of slavery. In the 1830s, there was the rise of the abolitionist movement in the North. The radical members not only campaigned for the abolition of slavery but also organized the “Underground Railroad”. It was a secret system of dispatch of runaway slaves into Canada. Some abolitionists were ready to resort to violence and tried to raise a rebellion of slaves in the South. The problem of the existence of slavery in the South was discussed in political debates. The debates revolved around the question of whether slavery could spread to other territories.
In the middle of the 1850s, in one of the regions in Kansas, there was a local civil war between supporters and opponents of slavery. This struggle led to the emergence of the new Republican Party claiming that the federal government should prohibit slavery in all territories. In 1860, the representative of the Republicans Abraham Lincoln was elected the president of the country. However, the southern states were not satisfied with this situation. They decided to withdraw from the Union, which soon led to the Civil War. “South Carolina acted first, with a special convention voting to leave the Union” (“What Caused the Civil War?” n.p.). Then, six other states made the same decision.
Initially, neither the North nor the South could imagine that the conflict over the issues of slavery would grow into a protracted and bloody civil war. Eventually, the economic superiority of the North brought it the victory. Negroes gained freedom and the US – unity. However, it was achieved with a high price.
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Slavery is considered the main cause of the Civil War. Since the beginning of the settlement of the territory, the population of the North and the South was radically different. In such a way, they had different mentality and attitude to slavery. The North and the South had also different economic situation. This fact is considered another reason of the Civil War. As a result of the American Civil War, the unity of the United States as a state was restored. The slavery system and the rule of planters were destroyed.