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The Civil War is one of the most pivotal moments in the shaping of our country today. In 1858, a Republican candidate for a senator named Abraham Lincoln remarked, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln, referencing the widening economic, political and cultural division between the progressive, industrial, free North and the slave-dependent agricultural-based economy of the south, foreshadows what’s to come in the following years as he is elected president. The North and South already had preexisting tension due to their different political views and values. The South was unwilling to end slavery as its economy would collapse because of its reliance on slavery. While many in the north did not agree with the practice, they believed it was better to keep the peace in the young country than to be divided. The crops grown in the south were very labor-intensive, so if all slaves were freed they would be unable to harvest or grow their crops. Following Abraham Lincoln’s victorious election in 1860, eleven southern states seceded from the United States as they realized they no longer had any control of the federal government. Their attempt to form the independent Confederate States was not solely because of the election of Abraham Lincoln, but alternatively arose from a multitude of disruptive events going back many years. The outbreak of the Civil War was rooted in the failed compromises and political upheaval of the 1850s. The three absolutely critical causes of the Civil war are discussed in this essay.
One of the most pivotal causes of the Civil War was the Westward Expansion. The Westward Expansion was a movement in the 1800s in which settlers moved further west in search of success and prosperity. The Westward Expansion created a lot of tension due to the decision of which states would be slave states and which would be free. Northerners, abolitionists from the north, petitioned that there should be no new slave states. The southerners obviously disagreed with this notion as slaves are the only reason they have a thriving economy. Westward expansion pushed sectionalism into the forefront of American society and politics during the mid-19th century because it brought about questioning of the differences and ethics in American ways of life. Southerners, since the founding of America, had made a thriving economy built on the backs of black slaves. While many in the north did not agree with the practice, they believed it was better to keep the peace in the young country than to be divided. Racism also played a major role in keeping the institution alive as those that may have disagreed with slavery were kept quiet by their view of blacks as inferior beings. As James Henry Hammond said, “ No society has ever yet existed . . . without a natural variety of classes. In all countries save ours, these two classes, or the poor rather, who are presumed to be necessarily ignorant, are by law expressly excluded from all participation in the management of public affairs”. Hammond shows the ignorance and stubbornness of the south, as he believes that Black Americans are not capable of being in a higher class and do not deserve to be treated equally. However, as the nation continued to grow, the differing beliefs about slavery continued to hold a large effect on the American political system. Westward Expansion caused many arguments over which states should be slave states and which should be free states. Politicians had to balance war with Mexico, diplomatic relations with Britain, and the future of slavery in western America. Abolitionists in the north argued that no new slave states should be added to the union. Southern opposed the idea as slavery was the root of all their prosperity. Other cultural differences like female empowerment and temperance added to the divergence between the north and south. America, despite all its prosperity, was becoming more divided than ever. Westward Expansion wasn’t the only cause of the Civil War.
Another crucial cause for the Civil War is the failure of the Compromise of 1850 and popular sovereignty and a couple of other failed compromises. The Compromise of 1850 acted as a temporary truce on the issue of slavery, primarily addressing the status of newly acquired territory after the Mexican-American War. A part of the compromise was the fugitive slave act. It required that all escaped slaves, upon capture, be returned to their masters and that officials and citizens of free states had to cooperate. In order to ensure the statute was enforced, the 1850 law also placed, “control of individual cases in the hands of federal commissioners. These agents were paid more for returning a suspected runaway than for freeing them, leading many to argue the law was biased in favor of Southern slaveholders”. The north felt that this part of the bill was very biased which increased tension even more between the North and South. The north was completely opposed to this act refusing to return the fugitive slaves back. “The flagrant violation of the Fugitive Slave Law set the scene for the tempest that emerged later in the decade.” This infuriated the South, as the Fugitive Slave Act was one of the biggest pros of the bill for the south. Another part of the compromise was the admission of California as a free state. The south was absolutely infuriated by this as, “California was the crown jewel of the Mexican Cession, and following the discovery of gold, it was flush with thousands of emigrants”. Making California a free state was thought to be an attempt to balance the bill as the fugitive slave act was clearly favoring the south. California, under Mexican rule, also had a ban on slavery and that had remained in effect. Popular Sovereignty also played a role in the beginning of the Civil War. Utah and New Mexico were given popular sovereignty, “This allowed white residents of the territories to decide for themselves whether to allow slavery”. This was another win for the south, as these southern states were thought to become slave states.
A third major cause of the Civil War was the South’s fear that abolitionism would sweep the country. As westward expansion continued, and more and more states were admitted as free states, the south became concerned about the future of slavery, which was the backbone of their economy. Slavery was a tradition of the south since the founding of our country. It exploited and abused African people based on ideas of racial superiority and white supremacy only to benefit the American economy. Frederick Douglass shows the ignorance of the South when he states, “If there are two ideas more distinct in their character and essence than another, those ideas are “persons’ and ‘property,’ ‘men’ and ‘things.’…Many Americans are in the habit of treating the negro as an exception to general rules. When their own liberty is in question they will avail themselves of all rules of law which protect and defend their freedom; but when the black man’s rights are in question they concede everything, admit everything for slavery, and put liberty to the proof. They reverse the common law usage, and presume the negro a slave unless he can prove himself free”. Frederick Douglass uses irrefutable evidence in the constitution as to why African Americans should be treated equally. While it may seem nobler that northern Republicans believed this institution was wrong because of its mistreatment of black people, this was not the case. Republicans believed slavery was detrimental to the labor of poor whites. As they saw it, slavery took away key opportunities from white workers while also associating the ideas of hard work with black people. While there possibly were some that did see the ugliness of racism and disgust for black people, most whites throughout the country did not, even within the abolitionist community. Slavery had become such a defining trait between southern and northern states that the mention of abolition was seen as extreme. Westward expansion and the argument over whether slavery should be allowed within the new territories also fueled the issue. Southern saw the idea of abolition as an act against their liberties and would only lead to a more tyrannical ruling by the northern elite. Northerners saw the expansion of slavery as a detrimental piece of American society that, if spread across the country, would lead to a supreme rule by a southern planter elite.
This essay shows three main causes of the Civil War in America. The outbreak of the Civil War was rooted in the failed compromises and political upheaval of the 1850s. Westward expansion played a large role at the beginning of the Civil War due to the decision of which states would be slave states and which would be free. Northerners, abolitionists from the north, petitioned that there should be no new slave states. This controversy led to the south’s fear that abolitionism would sweep the country. As more free states would get admitted into the United States, the South was fearful for the future of slavery as their whole economy was dependent on slaves doing intensive labor on their agriculture. Without the slaves, the Southerners would not be able to grow or harvest their crops. The compromise of 1850 was also a pivotal cause of the Civil War. The fugitive slave act also drastically increased the hostility between the north and south as the North refused to return slaves as they felt it was a biased and unfair law. The Civil War would eventually occur and completely transform the United States’ future.
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