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Causes of the American Civil War can be traced back to a mixture of causes, dating back to the years of its colonization. The major causes of this war include, but are not limited to the following; slavery, regions on different paths - the economic and social differences between the South and the North, 'bleeding Kansas', abolitionist, John Brown's raid, the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, beginning of secession, collapse of the two-party political system, rights of the states, slavery in different territories, fight between Non-slave and Slave State proponents, and slavery and control of the government by the southern politicians. These causes, looked into deeply, bring out the reasons for the American Civil War.
Slavery in America began in 1619 in Virginia. After the American Revolution, almost all the Northern states stopped the vice, but it still flourished in the Southern plantation economy. Before the Civil War began, all conflicts went around the issue of slavery. The slaves were a very valuable asset to the South since they were used as workers in the cultivation of indigo, tobacco and rice, as well as doing other jobs as assigned by their bosses. The South needed more slaves as they grew more cotton than before due to the invention and innovation of the gin. The Southerners could not understand the reason behind the North's insistence of the abolishment of slavery since they compared it to the system in the North, which was wage-slave system. They argued that their slaves were well taken care of than the North's free factory workers. The Northerners had a view that slavery denied the human being the right of being free, whereas the Southerners even preached that slavery was accepted in the Bible. This difference in view eventually led to the attack on slavery in the South, and fought its spread into the acquired new territories.
Invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1793 saw cotton farming becoming the most profitable business in the South. This machine largely reduced the time it took separating cotton from the seeds, thus increasing the number of large farms switching to cotton farming from other crops. This move, however, called for an increase in labour, and cheap labour would only be gotten from one source - the slaves. The Southern economy started depending solely on cotton as a one crop economy thus more dependence on slavery. The Northern economy, on the other hand, was based on industry and not agriculture. This enabled them to purchase raw cotton from the South and turn it into finished products. The North moved towards city life as the South based itself on the system of plantation. The South held to a social order which was antiquated whereas, on the other hand, the change found in the North produced a society of people of varied classes and cultures working together.
Illinois' Senator Stephen Douglas proposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act which repealed essentially the line previously imposed by the Compromise of Missouri. Stephen, who was a strong believer in democracy even from the grassroots, believed that the territories should all be subjected to popular sovereignty. Douglas' act led to an inflow of anti-slavery and pro-slavery forces into Kansas, since to the South it was like a concession. This led to the 'Border Ruffians' and the 'Free Staters' engagement in violence for more than two years, both operating from respective rival territorial capitals. Fighting in Kansas heightened tensions further between the South and the North since President James Buchanan opted for the Lecompton Constitution and offered it to the Congress even though the pro-slavery forces in Missouri had improperly and publicly influenced elections in the territory. The Congress turned down this constitution, called for a new election, and in 1859, a new Constitution, the anti-slavery Wyandotte was accepted.
Abolitionist movement heightened the issue of slavery in the 1820s and 30s. Starting from the North, those adherents to abolitionism believed that slavery was not just a social evil, but was morally wrong. Abolitionists, in their beliefs, ranged from those who called for the immediate release of all slaves, (F. Douglas, William L. Garrison) to those who called for the gradual emancipation (Arthur Tappan, Theodore Weld), to those who wanted to stop the spread and influence of slavery (Abraham Lincoln). These abolitionists greatly campaigned for the end of slavery, supporting all anti-slavery causes like that of the Free State movement in Kansas. When the Abolitionists rose, a debate which was ideological arose, with the South giving the morality of slavery and both sides citing Biblical references frequently. Following the publication of an anti-slavery novel, 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' in 1852, the Abolitionist cause got an increased attention. The book, written by Stowe B. Harriet, helped in turning the general public against the 1850s Fugitive Slave Act.
The presidential election of 1860 led to succession. The Republican Party, which was newly formed, nominated Abraham Lincoln who opposed the total expansion of slavery. The South felt that, with Lincoln elected, expansionism of slavery was being threatened, and since it was vital to them, the Southerners felt that what was being threatened was their way of life. Survival without slavery to the Southern society was not going to be easy since slavery formed an important part of their livelihood, thus they opted for independence by succeeding instead of facing political encirclement. Even though the Southerners expected that the threat of succession would make the Union yield to their demands, it could not, for Lincoln insisted that the succession was illegal and he intended to hold to federal possessions down in the South. However, on 20th December 1860, South Carolina managed to succeed from the Union. Their success story inspired other states which opted out of the Union almost at the same time.
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In 1861, January 9th, Mississippi succeeded and the following day, Florida did the same. On January 11th, Alabama succeeded followed by Georgia on January 19th. Louisiana opted out on January 26th and by first of February Texas succeeded. Later, delegates from these states met in Alabama to draft a Constitution to govern the Confederate States of America. This act outraged the North thus leading to the Civil War.
John Brown, a fervent abolitionist, first made himself known during the "Bleeding Kansas" crisis. Brown, together with his sons, attacked anti-slavery forces and were known for killing five of the pro-slave farmers in what was later called the "Pottawatomie Massacre". Whereas other abolitionists were pacifists, Brown and his group advocated insurrection and violence to end slavery. In 1859 October, Brown together with eighteen men tried raiding the government armoury, after being financed by an extremist wing of the Abolitionist group. Having a strong belief that the slaves were willing to rise up, Brown and his men attacked the armoury with the aim of getting weapons for their insurrection. Their success was short-lived, for they were cornered by local militia in the engine house of the armoury and shortly after, Brown was arrested. He was tried for treason and hanged in December, but before his death, Brown predicted that without blood, the crimes of their guilty land would never be purged away.
As parties turned to themselves, the ugliness of the whole political process began to show quickly. National politics became more like Georgia's local politics. In-fights and feuds were very common in political arenas and from 1837 to 1861, eight people were elected presidents, but none managed more than a term in office. This breakdown of the political system saw one sitting president missing the re-nomination by his party and another withdrawing his name after being the nominations.
New political parties came into existence with strange names like American, Constitutional Union, Republican and even Free-Soilers. In Georgia where Democrats were strong, the party was broken down by factional fighting along the States Rights and pro-Union lines. The political unrest escalated in 1850s with the collapse of the Whig party. The former House speaker, Howell Cobb, brought together the Democrats from North Georgia, with the former Whigs grabbing governorship the following year. Cobb attempted to help slaves, but his efforts fell on deaf ears of the legislature. Even though Georgia prospered during Cobb's first year, the Democrats united again leading to the falling apart of the coalition. Meanwhile, there was increased power from the West and politicians, who were self-serving like Stephen Douglas, churned the environment as the South and the North fought for philosophic control.
The tension between the South and the North was narrowed to a growing schism in political parties of the nation. Following the crisis in Kansas and the Compromise of 1850, the two major parties of the nation, the Democrats and the Whigs, began to split along regional lines. As seen in the North, the Whigs turned into a new party: the Republicans. This new party, formed in 1854, offered, as an anti-slavery party, a progressive vision for the future. Their vision included emphasis on education, homesteading and industrialization. Even though John C. Fremont, their presidential candidate, was defeated, the party polled highly in the North, showing its credibility as the party of the future for the Northerners. In the South however, the Party was viewed as an element of conflict and division.
The other factor that caused the Civil War was the federal rights versus the states' rights. There existed two major camps; those who believed that the federal government had to have more power and control, and those who fought for greater states' rights. After the Revolution, the first, quite organized government in America was formed under the Confederation Articles. The states, thirteen in number, formed a confederation with a weak federal government. When problems came by, however, it was the weakness of these rules that caused the leaders of these states to come together and create, without the others' knowledge, the US Constitution. Strong supporters of the states' rights were not present at this Constitutional Convention meeting and the likes of Thomas Jefferson felt that the new constitution assumed the rights of the states to act independently. They had a strong belief that the states should hold to their rights of deciding whether or not to accept some of the federal laws. This brought about the idea of nullification, which meant that states would nullify and pass some federal laws as unconstitutional. However, the federal government declined to give the states this right thus proponents of states' laws ended up fighting vehemently for nullification. When it could not work, these states felt that their rights were no longer respected, thus they opted towards secession.
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