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American Civil War

Causes of the Civil War

History >> Civil War

Please note: The audio information from the video is included in the text below.



While there were many political and cultural differences between the North and the South that contributed to the American Civil War, the main cause of the war was slavery. Below we will discuss the impact slavery had in leading up to the war as well as some of the differences between the two sides that led to such a great divide.

Slavery

At the heart of the divide between the North and the South was slavery. The South relied on slavery for labor to work the fields. Many people in the North believed that slavery was wrong and evil. These people were called abolitionists. They wanted slavery to be illegal throughout the United States. Abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, and Harriet Beecher Stowe began to convince more and more people of the evil of slavery. This made wealthy landowners in the South fearful that their way of life would come to an end.

States' Rights

The idea of states' rights was not new to the Civil War. Since the Constitution was first written there had been arguments about how much power the states should have versus how much power the federal government should have. The southern states felt that the federal government was taking away their rights and powers.

Expansion

As the United States continued to expand westward, each new state added to the country shifted the power between the North and the South. Southern states began to fear they would lose so much power that they would lose all their rights. Each new state became a battleground between the two sides for power.

Industry vs. Farming

In the mid-1800s, the economies of many northern states had moved away from farming to industry. A lot of people in the North worked and lived in large cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. The southern states, however, had maintained a large farming economy and this economy was based on slave labor. While the North no longer needed slaves, the South relied heavily upon slaves for their way of life.

Bleeding Kansas

The first fighting over the slavery issue took place in Kansas. In 1854, the government passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowing the residents of Kansas to vote on whether they would be a slave state or a free state. The region was flooded with supporters from both sides. They fought over the issue for years. Several people were killed in small skirmishes giving the confrontation the name Bleeding Kansas. Eventually Kansas entered the Union as a free state in 1861.

Abraham Lincoln

The final straw for the South was election of Abraham Lincoln to President of the United States. Abraham Lincoln was a member of the new anti-slavery Republican Party. He managed to get elected without even being on the ballot in ten of the southern states. The southern states felt that Lincoln was against slavery and also against the South.

Secession

When Lincoln was elected, many of the southern states decided they no longer wanted to be a part of the United States. They felt that they had every right to leave. Starting with South Carolina, eleven states would eventually leave the United States and form a new country called the Confederate States of America. Abraham Lincoln said they did not have the right to leave the United States and sent in troops to force the Southern states to rejoin the Union. The Civil War had begun.

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