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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Essay on Five Causes of Civil War

The Federal System of government is a system where the powers of government are shared between the federal government and the state government.  Though there is only one nation, there are two sovereign powers that govern the country which are the federal government and the state government.  In order to make the system works, there must be a clear delineation of powers between the two sovereign authorities.  As the adage goes – strong fences make good neighbours.  However, there was a time in American history where conflict prevailed between the federal government and the state government.  The conflict emerged from a number of legitimate issues which can be argued from either side.  This was the time when there was a bitter conflict resulting in a war between the Confederacy and the Union.  According to Lieutenant General John B. Gordon:

It will be a glorious day for our country when all the children within its borders shall learn that the four years of fratricidal war between the North and South was waged by neither with criminal or unworthy intent, but by both to protect what they conceived to be threatened rights and imperilled liberty: that the issues which divided the sections were born when the Republic was born, and were forever buried in an ocean of fraternal blood."

The war between the Confederacy and the Union was the American Civil War which took place from 1861 to 1865.  The Confederacy was the name adopted by the eleven Southern states which seceded from the Union in view of a number of issues.  The Union refers to the remaining states which are mostly represented by the Northern States.  Basically, the American Civil War can be described as a military conflict between the Northern and the Southern States.

Sentiments of the Northern and Southern States on Different Issues
There were many issues that led to the American Civil War.  Among these issues were slavery, politics, disagreements on the extent of the rights of the states versus the power of the federal government, expansionism, sectionalism, and economics. While there is no issue on the actual events that led to the Civil War, there is a disagreement over the exact causes that led to the war. 

A. Slavery
Generally, however, one of the main causes that led to the Civil War was the issue of slavery.   Though slavery was not the only reason why the civil war broke out, it is considered as main reason that led to the conflict between the Northern and the Southern States.  Slavery was an important issue not only because of moral or religious grounds.  On the part of the Southern States, they protected continuation of slavery because their whole economic system depended upon the continuation of slavery. (Chadwick 8)  The Northern States, however, objected against the issue of slavery not only because of religious and moral grounds but also because self-interest.

Politically, the continuation of slavery was essential as it was a major source of wealth for the wealth plantation owners in the South.  The Southern States chiefly relied on production and exportation of cotton and tobacco for their source of income.  Since large tracts of land devoted to the cultivation of cotton require a large number of workers the plantation owners relied on their slaves who undertook the task of cultivating and harvesting cotton and tobacco.  Consequently, the political leaders in the South who were also plantation owners opposed any move on the part of the federal government to abolish slavery. 

In contrast, Northern States relied on manufacturing as their source of income.  They were more industrialized compared to the Southern States.  Though laborers were needed for production, they did not need tolerate slavery.  Moreover, states in the North believed in a free-labor ideology that emphasized on the inherent dignity of labor and equality among men.  Further, the Northern State considered slavery as an unfair competition since it uses men as means to acquire more wealth.  They also feared that in the future the plantation owners who dominated and controlled the politics in the South may soon threaten democracy which the Northern States enjoy.  Because of these reasons, the Northern States sought to abolish the institution of Slavery in the South.

B. Arguments over States Rights vs. Federal Rights
The issue of the rights of the states over federal rights was also considered as a major contributing factor to the American Civil War.  In order to protect the Southern States’ economic system, they used the argument of the rights of the states over the federal rights to justify their secession from the United States and their formation of the Confederate States of America.  It was the argument of the Southern states that the individual states have rights which are even more superior to the rights of the federal government.  The states’ rights flow from the concept of state sovereignty which is the theory that the ultimate source of political authority is in the separate states. 

Further, those in the Southern States argued that the federal government was prohibited by the Tenth Amendment from interfering with the rights of the slaveholders on their property.  They also argued that the federal government cannot deprive the rights of the slave owners to keep slaves and to transfer slaves to the new territories of the Union.
On the other hand, the Northern States thought that the federal government is the supreme authority in the Union.  The Northern States argued that it has the right to abolish slavery and to prevent the transportation of slaves from one state to another.

C. Conflict over Tariffs and Taxes
Because the economy of the Southern States depended on the exportation of cotton and tobacco, the Southern States favoured free trade policies.  They also needed to import manufactured goods from other countries so as to meet its needs.  Consequently, the Southern States sought to maintain the existing tariffs and taxes.  They want the least intervention from the Union in the passage of the law that will increase the tariffs and taxes as it will mean a consequent increase in the price of the goods they import.     Thus, they opposed any attempts on the part of the federal government to raise the tariffs and taxes on their imported goods.   

On the other hand, the Northern States whose main source of wealth was the manufacture of goods and commodities to be sold to the Southern States supported any law that sought to increase tariffs and taxes.  An increase in the tariffs and taxes in the goods imported to the country will mean increase in the prices of goods from other countries that enter the United States which will force the Southern States to buy manufactured goods from them.  Because they produced manufactured goods, they do not want those in the South to import manufactured goods from other countries.  It was in their interest if a law will be passed raising taxes because that would mean those in the South will be forced to purchase goods from them.  Thus, the Northern States were against any measure passed by the federal government to reduce taxes for imported goods because that would mean influx of competition for their goods.

D. Addition of New Territories
Though the interests of both the Southern States and the Northern States were conflicting and contradictory, there was generally peace between them.  Status quo was maintained so long as the number of pro-slavery states equalled the number of the anti-slavery states there was status.  This meant that the number of Senators in the Senate representing pro-slavery and anti-slavery was also equal.  The leaders in the Northern States and the Southern States deemed that it will be better to maintain status quo to diffuse any tension between them.  Despite the differences in their economic systems and political views, strife and war was avoided by maintaining the status quo.  Tension however did not die down as both parties were suspicious about the actions of the other.    

The peace between the Northern and the Southern States was put to test when the Union began expanding its territories after the end of the Mexican War.  With the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Mexico was required to cede to the United States the territories that are known today as California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and parts of Colorado and Wyoming.

The political leaders from both the Northern States and the Southern States wanted these new states to join them.  The Southern states thought that it will be better if these new states will adopt pro-slavery because it would mean ensuring the perpetuation of slavery.  The Northern States thought that they wanted the new states to become anti-slavery to ensure that the number of states advocating slavery will not increase in number. 

The first threat to the balance of power between the Northern and the Southern States came when Missouri sought for statehood and admission to the Union.  If it will be admitted as a pro-slave state then it would mean that the balance will tilt in favour of the Southern States.  If it will be admitted as anti-slave state it will also mean that the balance will be tilted in favour of the Northern States.  The two years of tension and conflict ended only in the enactment of the Missouri Compromise. 

Under the Missouri Compromise, to ensure that a balance is maintained between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery states, two states will be admitted to the Union.  The Missouri will be admitted as a slave state while Maine will be admitted as a free state.  This compromise also formally organized a boundary in Missouri providing that in case future states join the Union slavery will not be allowed territories north of 36°30’ while slavery will be allowed south of it.  This temporarily defused the tension between them.
With the continued expansion of the United States in view of the Mexican War, the strife and tension was renewed.  Northern States advocated that these new territories must be anti-slavery while those in the South wanted these new states to become pro-slavery.  Tension was only partially reduced with the Compromise Measure of 1850 which among others provided that California will be allowed as a free state.

E.  The Election of Abraham Lincoln
It is generally recognized the Abraham Lincoln’s election as the president in 1860 as it is one of the most influential reasons that led to the Civil War. In one of his debates, Abraham Lincoln said “I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.”  He also said that, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  Because Abraham Lincoln was clearly anti-slavery, South Carolina, in an effort to protect its own interest, seceded from the union.  The secession was followed by six other states which are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

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