The United States Civil War occurred from 1861 to 1865. The war that claimed 618,000 lives has attracted considerable attention from historians as appertains to whether or not it was inevitable (Barwolf, 2010). It is commonly assumed that the war was caused by the North’s decision to shun slavery as they could not stand it anymore and that they had plans of having the vice abolished all over the United States. The South was opposed to these plans and this strained the relationship between the two regions. Alongside the issue of slavery, there were other significant factors that made the war unavoidable. This paper argues that the Civil War was inevitable owing to the South’s way of life, the question of the legitimacy of slavery, the rights of states, and the election of Abraham Lincoln.
As pointed out by Barwolf (2010), the North and the South had significant social and economic differences in the buildup towards the Civil War. The profitability of cotton was enhanced by the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1973, a machine that shortened the time it took to separate the cotton from its seeds. The same period experienced an increased need for cheap labor in the form of slaves to work in the large cotton plantations. The South turned into a one crop (cotton) economy thus becoming overly dependent on slaves. The North on the other hand perfected in industrialization as opposed to agriculture. This disparity in the economic activities of the two regions caused a major difference in their economic attitudes as the plantation system defined the South while the North was defined by city life. Similarly, while the South operated on an antiquated social order, the North encouraged the working together of people from different classes and cultures.
Additionally, the question of the legitimacy of slavery divided America into two. The Southern states argued that they had the right to keep their slaves and that the North had no right to interfere into their affairs. On the contrary, the Northern states believed that slavery was against the law and that it was right to abolish it. According to the North, the only way the principles of free government were going to be preserved in America was by respecting the law given that the country was free and independent. However, the South held that they were entitled to their domestic affairs, including quietness, peace, and right to keep their slaves (McPherson, 1997). This sharp ideological difference saw two blood brothers go against each other, with James Welsh supporting the North and even voting for Abraham Lincoln. On the other hand, his brother John Welsh supported the South and accused him of betraying his family and friends by siding with “black Republican rule” (McPherson, 1997).
Further, the war could not be avoided because the rights of states conflicted with federal rights. According to Farmer (2008), two camps emerged in the aftermath of the American Revolution. One camp argued that the federal government needed to exercise more control over states while another camp held that states deserved to have greater rights. Following the Revolution, the thirteen states had formed a loose confederation hence the first U.S. government through the Articles of Confederation. On realizing that the federal government was weak under this confederation, the leaders of that time convened a secret meeting whose result was the U.S. Constitution. Those who were pro states’ rights opposed this move and the states threatened to push for secession. The federal government refused to allow for secession and the Civil War had to follow.
Abraham Lincoln’s election as president also fueled the eruption of the Civil War. The South was already opposed to the North at the time of this election. The state of South Carolina issued a “Declaration of the Causes of Secession” after Lincoln had assumed office. This act was informed by the South’s stance that the new president was on the side of the North and would order abolition of slavery. They viewed the president as an added threat to their already threatened interests. With him in office, the Southern states vowed to continue with their resolve of secession and defend their interests from him and “his” Northern states (Stampp, 1991).
The American Civil War was bound to take place given the overly strained relationship between the North and the South. The North wanted a united American ruled by the rule of law and respect for human rights. On the other hand, the South believed in their rights of keeping slaves and operating on an antiquated social order. The two regions had clashing economic and social ideas and practices and hence clashing interests. They went up in arms against each another in defense of what they believed was right. While the North fought for the abolition of slavery, the South fought for it to continue. Similarly, while the North fought for the country to remain a single United States of America, the South fought for secession.
Barwolf, D. (2010). The Causes of the American Civil War. Munich: GRIN Verlag.
Farmer, A. (2008). Access to History: The American Civil War: Causes, Courses and Consequences 1803-1877 4th ed. London: Hodder Education.
McPherson, J. (1997). For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press.
Stampp, K. (1991). The Causes of the Civil War: Revised Edition. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
The Civil War was inevitable owing to the South’s way of life, the question of the legitimacy of slavery, the rights of states, and the election of Abraham Lincoln.
The North and the South had significant social and economic differences in the buildup towards the Civil War.
The question of the legitimacy of slavery divided America into two.
The rights of states conflicted with federal rights.
Abraham Lincoln’s election as president fueled the eruption of the Civil War.
The American Civil War was bound to take place given the overly strained relationship between the North and the South. The North wanted a united American ruled by the rule of law. On the other hand, the South believed in their rights of keeping slaves and operating on an antiquated social order.