The Northern and Southern states had been in conflict long since before the Constitution was signed in 1789. A number of formal compromises had eased the tension but it began to flare up again in the early 1800s. The American Civil War was a combination of four decades of intense social conflict and reflected economic, social and political differences between the Northern and the Southern states. Through the four years of bitter conflict and sacrifice, America would emerge a stronger and unified nation.
This first main issue that the war was fought over was the industrial differences between the North and the South. In 1793, Eli Whitney, invented the cotton gin. At this time cotton became very profitable as a source of trade and the cotton gin revolutionized how cotton was harvested. “This machine was able to reduce the time it took to separate seeds from the cotton” (Kelly). At the same time that the cotton gin was created, there was an increase in the number of plantations willing to move from other crops to cotton. This meant that there was a greater need for large amounts of cheap labor. Because of this the Southerner economy became a one crop economy who depended on cotton and therefore on slavery. “Utilizing slave labor, cotton planters and farmers could cut costs” (Kelly). The South produced cotton to sell to other regions and for export to England. In exchange, Southerner farmers and planters purchased manufactured goods from the North. They also bought food items from the West and imported luxuries from Europe (Kelly). The growth of the Southern cotton industry served as big boost for the entire nation’s economy in the antebellum years. The Northern economy was based more on industry than agriculture. “The North had five times the number of factories as the South, and over ten times the number of factory workers. In addition, 90% of the nation’s skilled workers were in the North”(Economics of the Civil War). The labor forces in the North and South were primarily different as well. In the North, labor was expensive, and workers were very mobile and active. The Northern industries began purchasing raw cotton and turning it into finished goods.
Another economic issue that divided the North from the South was based on tariffs. Tariffs are taxes placed on imported goods. “Throughout the antebellum period, whenever the federal government wanted to raise tariffs, the South generally opposed it and the North generally supported it. Southerners generally favored low tariffs because they kept the cost of imported goods low” (Economics of the civil War). This was important because the South was an import economy. Southern planters and farmers were concerned that high tariffs might make their European trading partners raise prices on manufactured goods. In the North, high tariffs were viewed favorably because the tariffs would make imported goods more expensive (Economics of the Civil War). Because of this, goods produced in the North would seem relatively cheap, and Americans would want to buy American goods instead of European goods. Many politicians at the time were in favor of the high tariffs because they protected the industry form foreign competition (King). Americans in the West were also divided on the issue. In the Southwest, where cotton was a primary commodity, people generally promoted low tariffs. In the Northwest, people supported high tariffs because of other resources (Economics of the Civil War).
State verses federal rights were another big reason that the North was fighting against the South. During the time of the American Revolution two sides developed. There were those arguing for greater states rights and those arguing that the federal government should have more control.
The Confederate States of America fought to preserve Constitutional Limited Federal Government as established by America’s founding fathers that were primarily Southern Gentlemen from Virginia. Thus Confederate soldiers were fighting for rights that had been paid for in blood by their forefathers upon the battlefields of the American Revolution (King).After the American Revolution, the first organized government was under the Articles of Confederation. The original thirteen states formed a loose confederation and a very weak federal government (Kelly). Because of this many problems began to develop. “This weak government caused the leaders of the time to come together at the Constitutional Convention and create, in secret, the US Constitution” (Kelly). Many people felt that the new constitution ignored the rights of states. They felt that it did not let them continue to act independently as they once did. States felt that they should still have the right to decide if they wanted to accept certain federal acts. (Kelly) As a result the process of nullification resulted. Nullification is a constitutional theory that gives an individual state the right to declare “null and void” any law passed by the United States Congress that the state deems unacceptable and unconstitutional. The federal government would later deny states this right however. John C. Calhoun, vise president in the Jackson administration, promoted nullification as a moderate alternative to secession (Harlow). When nullification would not work and states felt that they were no longer respected, they moved towards secession (Kelly).
Indirectly slavery was a cause of the war. Many Southerners during this time did not own slaves. This is why they did not fight for the protection of slavery at the time. They did however believe that the North had no Constitutional right to free slaves held by citizens of the Sovereign Southern States. In the South as in the North, prior to the war, there were five times as many abolition societies (King). Nearly all of the southerners at the time were fighting for emancipation from the slaves. “During the Mexican War, conflict started about what would happen with the new territories that the US expected to gain upon victory” (King). In 1846, David Wilmot proposed the Wilmot Proviso. The Wilmot Provision would ban slavery in the new lands. The Wilmot Proviso justified many Southern’ fears that the North was against slavery. Many people worried that if politicians in the North prevented slavery from expanding westward, they feared they would be attacking in the South as well (The Civil War 1850-1865). Because of this, Southerners in both parties rejected the proviso after much debate. The great support was unprecedented and demonstrated just how serious the South really felt about the issue (The Civil War 1850-1865) At the end of the Mexican War, many new lands west of Texas were yielded to the United States including the lands gained from the Louisiana Purchase (The Civil War 1850-1856). The problem now was whether or not the new states admitted to the union would be slave or free (King). The Missouri compromise was passed in 1820. The compromise prohibited slavery in states from the former Louisiana Purchase, except in Missouri. Henry Clay created the compromise to deal with the balance between slave and free states (Kelly).
The last issue that further increased tensions was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. “It created two new territories that would allow the states to use popular sovereignty to determine whether they would be free or slave” (Kelly). The Act opened a vast area in the nations heartland to the possible spread of slavery by repealing the Missouri compromise and providing that settlers would determine the status of slavery in these territories (Foner). The real issue occurred in Kansas where proslavery Missourians began to pour into the state to help force it to be slave. They were called “Border Ruffians.” Problems came to a head in violence at Lawrence Kansas. The fighting that occurred caused it to be called “Bleeding Kansas.” “The fight even erupted on the floor of the senate when antislavery proponent Charles Sumner was beat over the head by South Carolina’s Senator Preston Brooks” (Kelly).
The Civil was one that resulted over a necessary combination of many factors. Their combatant had many separate views and believes that ultimately let them to war. The war was one that changed not only the country for the better but also changed the views of my individuals. Slavery, a key issue of the war was never looked at the same again after it.
Harlow, Jennifer. “Nullification” The web chronology projects October 15, 1997
King, James. “The 10 Causes of the War Between the States” The Confederacy Projects May 30, 2007
“The Civil War 1850-1865” Sparknotes History Study Guides 2007
Kelly, Martin. “Top Five Causes of the Civil War” About.com History on the Web 2007
Foner, Eric. “Give Me Liberty, An American History” W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright 2005.