Jennifer Sanders

The Civil War Causes 

The name Civil War is misleading because the war was not a class struggle, but a sectional combat having its roots in political, economic, social, and psychological elements so complex that historians still do not agree on its basic causes. It has been characterized, in the words of William H. Seward, as the "irrepressible conflict." In another judgment the Civil War was viewed as criminally stupid, an unnecessary bloodletting brought on by arrogant extremists and blundering politicians. Both views accept the fact that in 1861 there existed a situation that, rightly or wrongly, had come to be regarded as insoluble by peaceful means.

In the days of the American Revolution and of the adoption of the Constitution, differences between North and South were dwarfed by their common interest in establishing a new nation. But sectionalism steadily grew stronger. During the 19th cent. the South remained almost completely agricultural, with an economy and a social order largely founded on slavery and the plantation system. These mutually dependent institutions produced the staples, especially cotton, from which the South derived its wealth. The North had its own great agricultural resources, was always more advanced commercially, and was also expanding industrially.

Hostility between the two sections grew perceptibly after 1820, the year of the , which was intended as a permanent solution to the issue in which that hostility was most clearly expressed–the question of the extension or prohibition of slavery in the federal territories of the West. Difficulties over the tariff (which led John C.  and South Carolina to  and to an extreme  stand) and troubles over internal improvements were also involved, but the territorial issue nearly always loomed largest. In the North moral indignation increased with the rise of the  in the 1830s. Since slavery was unadaptable to much of the territorial lands, which eventually would be admitted as free states, the South became more anxious about maintaining its position as an equal in the Union. Southerners thus strongly supported the annexation of Texas (certain to be a slave state) and the Mexican War and even agitated for the annexation of Cuba.

The  marked the end of the period that might be called the era of compromise. The deaths in 1852 of Henry  and Daniel  left no leader of national stature, but only sectional spokesmen, such as W. H. , Charles , and Salmon P.  in the North and Jefferson  and Robert  in the South. With the  (1854) and the consequent struggle over "bleeding" Kansas the factions first resorted to shooting. The South was ever alert to protect its "peculiar institution," even though many Southerners recognized slavery as an anachronism in a supposedly enlightened age. Passions aroused by arguments over the  (which culminated in the ) and over slavery in general were further excited by the activities of the Northern abolitionist John  and by the vigorous proslavery utterances of William L. , one of the leading Southern .

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The Election of 1860 

The "wedges of separation" caused by slavery split large Protestant sects into Northern and Southern branches and dissolved the . Most Southern Whigs joined the , one of the few remaining, if shaky, nationwide institutions. The new , heir to the  and to the , was a strictly Northern phenomenon. The crucial point was reached in the presidential election of 1860, in which the Republican candidate, Abraham , defeated three opponents–Stephen A.  (Northern Democrat), John C.  (Southern Democrat), and John  of the .

Lincoln's victory was the signal for the  of South Carolina (Dec. 20, ...

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