Causes To Civil War

Causes To Civil War

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Slavery as a cause of the War
Focus on the slavery issue has been cyclical. It was considered the main cause in the 1860–1890 era. From 1900 to 1960, historians considered anti-slavery agitation to be less important than constitutional, economic, and cultural issues. Since the 1960s historians have returned to an emphasis on slavery as a major cause of the war. Specifically, they note that the South insisted on protecting it and the North insisted on weakening it.
For Southern leaders, the preservation of slavery emerged as a political imperative. As the basis of the Southern labor system and a major store of Southern wealth (see "Economics," below), it was the core of the region's political interests within the Union. The section's politicians identified as Southern "rights" the equal opportunity to introduce its labor system and property (i.e. slaves) into newly opened territories, and to retrieve escaped slaves from the free states with federal assistance.
Northern resistance to slavery fell into the categories of self interest and moral (largely religious) opposition. In the small-producer economy of the North, a free-labor ideology (see "Ideologies," below) grew up that celebrated the dignity of labor and the opportunities available to working men. Slavery was seen as unfair competition for men attempting to better themselves in life. Slavery was also seen as a threat to democracy; Northerners believed that a corrupt oligarchy of rich planters, the Slave Power, dominated Southern politics, and national politics as well. Northerners also objected on moral grounds to being legally required to enforce fugitive slave laws.
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Abolitionism as a cause of the war
By the 1830s, a small but outspoken abolitionist movement arose, led by New Englanders and free blacks, including William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Lucretia Mott. Many people North and South considered slavery an undesirable institution, but by the 1840s the militant abolitionists went much further and declared that owning a slave was a terrible sin, and that the institution should be immediately abolished. Southerners bitterly resented this moralistic attack, and also the stereotypical presentation of slave owners as heartless Simon Legrees in the overwhelmingly popular (in the North) book and play by Harriet Beecher Stowe, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1852). Historians continue to debate whether slave owners actually felt either guilt or shame (Berringer 359-60[1]). But there is no doubt the southerners were angered by the abolitionist attacks. Starting in the 1830s there was a widespread and growing ideological defense of the "peculiar institution" everywhere in the South.

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By the 1850s Northern teachers suspected of any tinge of abolitionism were expelled from the region, and abolitionist literature was banned there as well. The secessionists rejected the denials of Republicans that they were abolitionists, and pointed to John Brown's attempt in 1859 to start a slave uprising as proof that multiple northern conspiracies were afoot to ignite bloody slave rebellions. (No evidence of any Brown-like conspiracy has been discovered by historians.)
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Economics
The free-labor and slavery-based labor systems of North and South both reflected and heightened an economic differentiation between the sections. The states of the Middle Atlantic and New England regions developed a commercial market economy in the first half of the nineteenth century, and gave birth to the nation's first factories. The Midwest, the free states west of the Appalachians, had an agricultural economy that exported its surplus production to the other U.S. regions and to Europe. The South depended upon large-scale production of export crops, primarily cotton and (to a lesser extent) tobacco, raised by slaves. (Slaves were a key component in Southern wealth, comprising the second most valuable form of property in the region, after real estate.) Some of its cotton was sold to New England textile mills, though much more of it was shipped to Britain. The dominance of this crop led to the expression "King Cotton." But shipping, brokerage, insurance, and other financial mediation for the trade was centered in the North, particularly in New York City.
These contrasting economic interests led to sectional agendas that, at times, competed in Congress. Pennsylvania politicians, for example, pushed for a protective tariff to foster the iron industry. Southerners, tied to an export economy, sought free-trade policies. There was some demand in the West for federally funded improvements in roads and waterways, but less support in the agricultural South. However, there was no unanimity of support for such programs even within each region. Northern farmers also depended upon exports; early railroad managers desired reduced tariffs on imported iron; many Northern Democrats opposed any federal role in the nation's infrastructure,
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