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Causes of the Civil War

Expert Information
Many different viewpoints and events resulted in the Civil War. However, many of these were
related to the concept of sectionalism, loyalty to a specific section of the country rather than to
the nation as a whole. Other related causes included disagreements on states’ rights, tariffs, and
By 1819, different sections of the United States began to pull apart and support
sectionalism. Sectionalism is defined as a strong sense of loyalty to a state or section instead of
to the whole country. This happened because of westward expansion, the rise of “King Cotton” in
the South, the growing industrial North, and conflicting economic and political interests between
the North and the South. Each section of the country wanted national laws favoring its section
of the country. Conflicts arose when one law was made to help one section, but harm another.
So what did each section want? The Southerners developed an agricultural society based on the
plantation system – growing cotton using slave labor. Southerners saw themselves as “gentlemen
farmers” or the “gentry” (lords of the manor with a high social standing in the community). The
Southern planter wanted low land prices to expand slavery and cotton farming. Southerners also
wanted low tariffs in order to export raw farm products on favorable terms, and to keep down
the cost of buying manufactured goods from Europe.
Southerners traded with Europe and wanted low tariffs so
they could make more profit.

In contrast, the Northerners developed an industrial society based on manufactured
goods and free labor. The Northern industrialist wanted high land prices to discourage the
westward migration of their labor force. The Northern industrialist wanted a high tariff to
protect U.S. goods from foreign competition.
States’ rights is the right of the states to limit the power of the federal government.
Most people living in the southern part of the United States believed in state sovereignty –
state power. Southern states felt that a state had the power to cancel a federal law that it
considered unconstitutional. The idea of a state declaring a federal law illegal is called
nullification. In the 1820s, and 1830s, this idea was put to the test.
In 1828, and 1832, the United States passed two tariffs. These tariffs (or taxes) were
designed to help Northern manufacturers fight against foreign competition. The tariffs made
European goods more expensive and difficult to acquire. Southerners traded cotton for goods
made in Europe, and the tariffs hurt the South’s ability to trade and save money. Southerners
protested by declaring these tariffs illegal. The idea of a state declaring a federal law illegal is
called nullification. For this reason, the tariff dispute added fuel to the fire.


several events took place that made compromise impossible. only about one-fourth of white southerners owned slaves. the liberty of a state was more important than saving the Union. one and inseparable. President Jackson was ready to send in federal troops when South Carolina decided to remain in the Union. that affected the very livelihood of the other. Political power. “Liberty and Union. To many Northerners the institution of slavery was an evil one. The question of slavery was very important when new states were considering entering the Union. this only put off the Civil War temporarily. In contrast.” To him. 2 . “The Union . then. But as the debate over the spread of slavery (especially to the west) grew.S. several compromises were created. “Our Federal Union – it must be preserved.” Calhoun continued to challenge the Union even threatening to secede or withdraw South Carolina from the United States. a senator from Massachusetts. A tiny slaveholding elite held a majority of slave property in the South. Both the North and the South wanted to keep the number of slave states and non-slave states equal. More than half of all slaveholding families owned fewer than four slaves. The issue of slavery had been debated since the creation of the U. slavery was an economic necessity. now and forever.” President Andrew Jackson agreed with Webster and said.Senator John C. such as tariffs. The section controlling the federal government established economic policies. Unfortunately. became crucial to economic interests. Calhoun of South Carolina led the fight to get rid of the tariffs. most dear. The great majority of white southerners owned no slaves at all. To keep this issue from ripping the nation apart. He said. All to our liberty. Daniel Webster. However. so did the need for compromise. two percent of slave owners owned more than fifty slaves each. These sectional views caused a political power struggle between the free labor states of the North and the slave labor states of the South. This would keep the balance of power in the United States Congress even. By 1861 the political power struggle between the North and South resulted in the Civil War. Constitution. disagreed with Calhoun and stated. To Southerners.

Congress drew an imaginary line across the southern border of Missouri. The issue of slavery seemed to be solved. In Clay’s plan. Once again. Manifest Destiny had been achieved! 3 . The debate lasted for months when Senator Henry Clay (who was called the Great Compromiser). to which I owe my allegiance. the South would have a majority in the Senate. no North. But as the debate and violence increased. Missouri was the only exception. no East. The problem was that the admission of Missouri as a slave state would upset the balance of power in the United States Senate.Events That Led to the Civil War Expert Information: Events in history can force people to make difficult decisions. at least until something else happened! Missouri – Slave Maine . As part of the compromise. although a Southerner. Americans came to understand that the issue of slavery increased sectionalism. compromise seemed possible. the United States had acquired vast amounts of land in the west when Mexico was defeated in the Mexican War (1846-1848). The problem was that the Missouri Compromise only pertained to the Louisiana Purchase. suggested a compromise called The Missouri Compromise (1820). Slavery would be permitted in the part of the Louisiana Purchase south of that line. the Missouri territory wanted to become a state. That year. the borders of the United States reached to the Pacific Ocean. If Missouri joined the United States as a slave state.” During the debate Maine had applied for statehood. but north of that line slavery was banned. Determined not to lose power.Free Free States Slave States In 1848. In the end. “I know no South. to the late 1840s. One of the first events that led to the Civil War was in 1820. this led to war. From 1803. Maine would be admitted as a free state and Missouri would be admitted as a slave state. The citizens had to decide whether slavery would be allowed in the new territories. said. Northerners fought against letting Missouri enter the Union. Clay. no West. the question of slavery in the territories arose and made the sectional issues between the North and South grow stronger. At first.

two new territories were created from the Louisiana Purchase: Kansas and Nebraska.Southerners supported allowing slavery in the new territories. Congress had tried compromises. which had banned slavery in certain areas. to the state court of Missouri. but there were still so many people who disagreed on how to solve the problem. Slaves were property 3. In 1860. touched readers emotionally. which had prohibited slavery in this area by declaring the Louisiana Purchase free of slaves north of the southern boundary of Missouri. To settle the debate Henry Clay once again proposed a compromise. California was admitted as a free state. violence raged between proslavery settlers and antislavery settlers. This novel dramatized the cruelties of slavery. led one of the most violent campaigns to end slavery. and the Mexican Cession was divided into the territories of New Mexico and Utah. and created widespread antislavery support among Northerners. Dred Scott Decision declared Missouri Compromise unconstitutional! In 1854. and finally to the Supreme Court of the United States. Congress could not ban slavery from the territories. By the mid 1850s. In 1852. The Southerners believed Lincoln was an abolitionist who would destroy the South’s way of life. was unconstitutional. Harriett Beecher Stowe wrote a book called Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 4 . Stephen Douglas a senator from Illinois proposed a solution. the court made the following decisions. so they could not bring suit in court. voters would decide the slavery question according to popular sovereignty (control by the people). but Northerners were opposed to the spread of slavery. Slaves were not citizens. but to Southerners the novel was abolitionist propaganda. For the first time. In each territory. One of the most influential books ever written it sold 300. Scott moved with his owner from a slave state to a free state. Once again there was a debate on letting slavery spread to the west. the first Republican president was elected – Abraham Lincoln. a harsher Fugitive Slave Law was enacted. there was a widespread feeling in the country that the slavery question should be settled in the courts. In the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. 4. Southern states began to secede from the Union. Feeling threatened by Lincoln. The act pleased Southerners but outraged many Northerners because it repealed the Missouri Compromise. 1. Then his owner died and Scott sued for his freedom. sectional political parties developed as the North and South divided over the slavery issue. In 1856. This event was known as “Bleeding Kansas. In the Compromise of 1850. To Northerners this novel represented everything that was evil about slavery. 2. Sanford.000 copies the first year. In the case of Dred Scott v. In 1856. Northerners committed to stop the expansion of slavery in the west created the Republican Party. Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise! Popular sovereignty caused a small-scale civil war in Kansas. The Kansas conflict proved a dark forecast of things to come. The Missouri Compromise.” John Brown an antislavery supporter. A court case concerning a slave named Dred Scott made its way from the local court of Missouri. Kansas and Nebraska would use popular sovereignty to answer the question of slavery.