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The election of Lincoln was the main cause of the Civil War because Lincoln’s platform of not letting slavery expand westward threatened the South’s political rights. However, some might argue that the Dred Scott Decision was the main cause of the Civil War because it disregarded the Missouri Compromise and fueled the abolitionist movement. When Lincoln ran for president in 1860, he ran as the representative for the Republican party, which meant he believed in what the Republican party platform stood for. Although Lincoln never once said that he would abolish slavery, the South saw their tenth amendment as being jeopardized simply because he believed slavery was morally wrong. The final straw that contributed to the war was the secession of several Southern states, each state stated clearly in their declaration of secession that their primary reason for leaving was the president’s open denunciation of slavery. The tensions between the North and South had been rising for a while, mainly surrounding the conflicting views on slavery and whether or not it should be able to expand westward. All the tension finally came to a point when Lincoln was up for election and being openly against slavery. The South feared that he would abolish slavery and take away their slaves, which would be detrimental to the Southern economy. Upon the election, the Southern states began to secede, one by one from the Union and used Lincoln as their reason.
As Lincoln ran as a Republican in the 1860 election, he carried the Republican party platform with him that openly denounced Democratic principles, which created worry among the Southern states. In article ten of the platform, the Republican party points out the Democratic ideas of non-intervention and popular sovereignty in relation to the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. . They go on to to call the bill a “demonstration of the deception and fraud involved therein” (Republican party platform 1860). The Democrats and Southerners saw this as the Republicans calling bluff on their threats to secede from the Union, giving them even more reason to leave. Once Lincoln was elected, the South became scared that not only would he try to change the Kansas-Nebraska act but abolish slavery as well. The platform goes on to openly condemn slavery in the U.S. territories explaining that “… the new dogma that the Constitution, of its own force, carries slavery into any or all of the territories of the United States, is a dangerous political heresy …” and calling it “subversive of the peace and harmony of the country” (Republican party platform 1860). The Republicans considered slavery to be harmful to the country’s peace, as if they were acknowledging the potential for war. Essentially, they wanted to show that they are refusing to accept the Kansas-Nebraska act.
The Southern states considered their tenth amendment to be at risk because the thought Lincoln would try to abolish slavery. Slavery was, to some extent, considered to be protected under the tenth amendment of the U.S. Constitution, stating that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, not prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people” (U.S. Constitution). The State’s rights clause was a way for some states to preserve laws that the federal government could potentially deem unconstitutional. A large majority of the North believed Slavery was something the federal government should rule on because it was becoming such a large issue. However, the Southern states used the tenth amendment to argue that the individual states should decide for themselves whether or not slavery should be allowed within their borders as it would affect each state differently. For example, the Southern economy depended heavily on plantations and slaves, but the Northern, factory-based economy would suffer less impact if slavery were to be abolished. Although Lincoln repeatedly insisted he would not abolish slavery, the South considered the fact that he did not want it to spread Westward as a precursor to abolition. Charles Sumner, an abolitionist from Massachusetts, strongly believed that the Civil War was brought on by this controversy over State’s Rights and Slavery. “Therefore, there are two apparent rudiments to this war. One is Slavery and the other is State Rights. But the latter is only a cover for the former. If slavery were out of the way there would be no trouble from State Rights” (The Barbarism of Slavery). Although Sumner was an abolitionist, the dispute over how much power the tenth amendment gave the states and if slavery was included in that power. The Southern states did not get defensive when it came to their rights until Lincoln and the Republican party threatened them from their point of view with the platform of not allowing slavery to expand Westward.
Some might argue that the Dred Scott Decision was the main cause of the Civil War because it disregarded the Missouri Compromise and fueled the abolitionist movement. The final ruling on the Scott v Sanford case was essentially that slaves were considered to be property of their owners regardless of where in the U.S. they were. Many Southerners argued that their use of slaves was protected by the fifth amendment, which states that men will not “… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation” (U.S. Constitution). This amendment also averted any possible laws that the federal government could put in place to take away slaves from their owners. However, the decision didn’t abide by the rules of the Missouri Compromise because Dred Scott had been taken to territory where slavery was prohibited according to the compromise (Brinkley 356). The Supreme Court justice justified their ruling by declaring the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional as they believe that the power that Congress had was limited to the extent that it could not get new territory and set up a government system within that territory. This decision made people in the U.S. uneasy because Chief Justice Roger Taney believed that the federal government had no power in this situation and had no right to act on this decision (Brinkley 359). While the ruling showed the bias of the Supreme Court, it also fueled the abolitionist movement. The movement rested on the simple truth that all men are created equal and that includes slaves as well. The South frequently feared that the slaves would revolt and overpower the slaveholders, something some abolitionists attempted to kick start, like John Brown. These events, started by the Dred Scott Decision, could arguably be the main cause of the war because the decision brought together Northern abolitionists and led them to begin to fight harder for what they believed in.
While the Dred Scott Decision may have been one of the causes of the Civil War, it was not the main cause because in the secession declarations of several Southern states, they ultimately blamed Lincoln. Several of the secession declarations of the Southern states had the same reason for seceding from the Union, which was Lincoln. Specifically, in South Carolina’s declaration, they said “all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery” (South Carolina Declaration of Secession). This statement is directly blaming the election of Lincoln for South Carolina’s secession from the Union. They continue to explain that the mere fact that Lincoln believes slavery is morally wrong will eventually lead to the “extinction” of slavery. Another common Lincoln-related reason for seceding from the Union was because common association between the North and abolitionism. “For twenty years past the abolitionists and their allies in the Northern States have been engaged in constant efforts to subvert our institutions and to excite insurrection and servile war among us” (Georgia Declaration of Secession). The South believes the coming war and tension surrounding slavery had been building for twenty years. They consider the North to be trying to undermine the South’s institution of slavery by trying to create laws that limit the power of Southern states. Considering the newly elected president Lincoln was blatantly against slavery was enough for the Southern states to secede from the Union.
In essence, when Lincoln was elected in 1860, his platform upset the Southerners because he did not want slavery to expand westward, making Lincoln’s election the main cause of the war. However, it is arguable that the Dred Scott Decision was the main cause because it declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional and led to a rallying point for the abolitionist movement. The Republican party platform of 1860 added to the tensions, that had existed for years before, surrounding slavery and the platform supported views of not allowing slavery to expand that the South did not agree with. In their point of view, their tenth amendment was at risk because Lincoln was opposed to slavery, even though he never acted on this opposition. While the Dred Scott Decision was a potential main cause of the war because it greatly affected the abolitionist movement, the secession statements from the Southern states directly blamed Lincoln for their secession. Collectively, Lincoln’s beliefs on slavery and his opposition to it expanding Westward was the main cause of the Civil War.
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