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Rhyannon Hayes

October 29, 2017


T. A. Devin Short
Section AA
Question 3

Nicknamed the War to End Slavery, the Civil War is often mistakenly thought to have

been fought to abolish the institution of slavery. This is false, however, because the original

cause of the Civil War was a long series of events which escalated the political factionalism

within the federal government and the difference in economic and industrial development in

northern and southern states. The build up to the Civil War was born first out of the nations

founding and the way the founding fathers structured and restructured governmental powers

through the Articles of Confederation and then the Constitution. Still holding immense feelings

of patriotism and freedom, states were caught between the desire to govern independently and

the need to unite under a central government to strengthen the nation as a whole. As this discord

occurred, factionalism grew within the government, slowly dividing states and their ideas. At the

same time, economic changes within different regions led to different routes taken in

development that eventually produced a rich industrial north region that was far ahead in many

ways and more economically prioritized through tariffs than its southern counterpart. Southern

states felt increasingly oppressed by the federal government regulating their labor system and

economy that upon the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 southern slave states realized that

southern interests would forevermore hold a political minority in government and the first state,

South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed shortly by ten of its fellows.

When declaring independence and creating a new, independent government, the founding

fathers of the United States sought to make some explicit distinctions between the new United

States and its mother country. Being the most democratic country in the world at the time, the
United States was truly a land of opportunity for white men; more white men had property and

thus voting rights than in England, while giving substantially less rights to free and enslaved

African-Americans--barring them from as much upward social mobility as possible. The new

freedom given to white men changed how they perceived the government and its purpose, as

stated by John Adams, This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and

affections of the people was the real American Revolution. This change of ideas led to a desire

for small government and under the Articles of Confederation, most federal power was within

territories, not significantly affecting the self-governing states. This seemed like an ideal plan

having just broken free of a strong central monarchical and parliamentary government but it

simply led to interstate and taxing difficulties. This conclusion was hard to accept for many

revolutionaries who had dreamed of freedom for years and it led to resistance to the Constitution.

Under the Constitution, supported by the Federalists, the United States would split powers about

equally between federal and state governments including giving taxing power to the federal

government. Here is one of the first instances that can be traced to causing the Civil War. Now

with the power to tax, in 1790 Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton had the government

assume all state debts and then taxed the states to pay off the costs of the Revolutionary War.

Many Southern states, like Virginia, had already paid off their debt though and there was

massive opposition to being forced to pay for Northern states debt. At that time the United

States was not seen as the large single body it is today but was a collection of independent

coexisting bodies. This act was a breach of states independence when people were a citizen of

their state before the country. The southern revolutionaries were not ready to submit completely

to a large central power again and thus emerged the first political party system, which was a

novel concept to people who had never dealt with a loyal opposition before and were now split
between the centralized Federalists and Anti-Federalists, defenders of states rights and limited

central government. Though the party system introduced more diversity of ideas, it also

factionalized the people so they slowly stretched apart to the point of breakage in the Civil War.

Along issues of governmental power balance, the North and South were fundamentally

different in their labor systems. The emergence of the market economy in the 1790s emphasized

a need for agricultural surplus in the South to trade thereby increasing the demand for slaves, this

effect on demand for slaves was further amplified when the invention of the cotton gin in 1794

led to a cotton boom in the South. Northern states for the most part had already outlawed slavery,

as led by Vermont in 1777, and only became more entrenched in free labor through the market

economy. As told by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, the birth of the market economy in the North led

away from specialty skills such as midwifery by about 1820 and instead created an industrial

wage labor system putting women and men to work in factories (Ulrich ch. 7). The same

economic force had created two totally different effects on the states labor systems. As the

regions progressed further in their respective economies and the Northwest territories entered the

Union, industrialization and the transportation revolution reached into states like Illinois as well,

creating more free states. The Industrial Revolution exploded in the north, bringing in massive

amounts of income and northern industry was hence prioritized by the national government to

protect. Thus during the war of 1812, to protect northern manufacturing interests, a 20% tariff

was imposed on British goods. This benefited the economies of Northern states at Southern

farmers expense. Such an exclusively northern-beneficial action was typical in the eyes of the

southern farmer and thus the North and South became locked in a political battle for entering

territories to be either free or slave states, determining the representation of such interests in

Congress. Across about 70 years, the Three-Fifths Compromise, the Act Prohibiting the
Importation of Slaves of 1808, Missouri Compromise, Compromise of 1850 including the

fugitive slave act, and Kansas-Nebraska Act chronicled the tug of war that occurred between

slave and free states as each sought to avoid becoming a minority and not having their interests

represented. It was the fugitive slave act that allowed southern masters to enter free states in

search of runaway slaves (or really just any black person) that turned more northerners against

slavery. This act was allowing immoral men to invade their state and kidnap its members. Its not

much surprise then that as Pauli Murray tells us, when a Maryland slaveowner that came into

Pennsylvania was killed trying to capture four of his old slaves, not a single conviction resulted

[because] feeling ran so high against slaveowners (Murray 93). The Dred Scott case only

further jeopardized this separation of slavery from the North when it ruled that slaves could

never be citizens and in fact were only property and thus existed as such under their master, no

matter where they were living.

The racist denunciation of the personhood of slaves in the Dred Scott decision went

beyond the simple labor system motivations of the North and South but also reflected the moral

feelings of southerners towards blacks. Southerners tended to have a cynical view toward blacks,

believing them to be lazy and incapable of improving or fending for themselves. When the

Second Great Awakening hit in the early 19th century, Northerners had more optimistic ideas of

reform which included abolition in some intellectual circles. Even to those who did not originally

believe in abolition, the purpose of life was seen to be self improvement and slavery kept blacks

at a single level unable to change their life at all. In the Antebellum period of reform, slavery was

a dark contrast to the idealism of Northern utopian ideas. Southerners reacted to the second Great

Awakening differently though, masters became more patriarchal and defended slavery, asserting

that they were merely protecting helpless blacks throughout their life. Instead of being an evil
that barred them from salvation, slavery was supposedly a protection. Additionally, southern

masters feared the potential of slaves if they did have freedom. William Byrd gives a great

example of this fear by asking if enslaved African-American men [would] still submit to

working his Eden if they believed they could become Adams of their own gardens? (Raibmon

25). Northern reformers were ever present though and written works like William Lloyd

Garrisons The Liberator and Harriet Beecher Stowes Uncle Toms Cabin drew even more

white northern sympathy for slaves. This perceived threat to the institution of slavery made

southerners tighten their grip on it even further and continued even after the Civil War as

bitterness over losing led whites to describe colored people as ex-slaves to remind them of

their place in society (Murray 56).

Ultimately, the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 was the last straw for southern slave

states. His winning of the election with only 40% of the popular vote but still 59% of the

electoral vote led southern states to conclude that they would no longer have representation in

government. Much like their revolutionary ancestors, these southerners thought they couldnt

function in a government where their interests werent represented and thus seceded. Because

they were in a nation consensually founded by united states, they felt they had the right to leave

that union and did so one by one after South Carolina in December of 1860. This explains how

the secession of southern states and the Civil War was not started in a fight over slavery but was

in fact the diverging of economies/labor systems and growing dominance of the Northern region

over the South. The South couldnt stay in the helpless position under Northern authority that

threatened probable future manipulations to the Southern way of life.

While not born with the purpose of ending slavery, the Civil War slowly did become the

war to end slavery as well. Through military necessity, blacks were admitted into menial
positions in the Union Army giving eager young colored men from the northern and middle

states [a chance] to prove themselves (Murray 119). Hesitantly, the Union Army also began

accepting run-away slaves and finally through the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 freed all

slaves in seceded states for the purpose of depleting confederate resources and adding to the

Union armys. This change in circumstance for African-Americans was a heavenly opportunity

that gave them not only a road to freedom but to citizenship as well, just as Murrays grandfather

did menial tasks he was earning his citizenship (Murray 120).

Preceding the Civil War was a nearly 80 year cold war of political rivalry motivated by

differing regional interests in the economy based on the free labor system in the North and slave

labor in the South. This tense period between Northern and Southern states was littered with

heaps of compromises and a Supreme Court ruling in the Dred Scott case leading finally to a

Southern break away from the Union done in the same name of liberty as the founding fathers of

the nation to escape what was seen as tyrannical rule from a central government. Only later in the

war and after; however, was the fight for liberty for a different group, African-Americans

became free citizens as a result of the Civil War, but it did not start as a War To End Slavery.

Works Cited

Ulrich, Laurel T. A Midwifes Tale. Knopf Doubleday, 1990.

Murray, Pauli. Proud Shoes. Beacon Press, 1999.

Raibmon, Paige. Naturalizing Power: Land and Sexual Violence ALong William Byrds

Dividing Line. Seeing Nature Through Gender, edited by Virginia Scharff, University

Press of Kansas, 2003.