The causes of the civil war
The causes of the civil war can be directly linked to the resistance of the slave to their own enslavement. This agitation for freedom and emancipation all started in the 18th century; the Quakers and a few other whites opposed the ideals of slavery. During the 1820s and 1830s, a considerable amount of Middle-class Northerners began the agitation for the immediate emancipation of slaves. In 1835, various amounts of literatures that contained anti-slavery agitations were sent through mails, white Americans viewed this literature as being detrimental to the union of America (Johnson & Woloch, 2007). Then in 1836, black abolitionists sent hundreds of petitions to the congress that were mainly based on the abolishment of slavery (Johnson & Woloch, 2007). The defenders of slavery believed that the abolitionists and their followers were threats to the course of the race and social security, the abolitionists on the other hand believed that the defense of slavery was an assault on their fundamental human rights; which include their rights of speech and petition. Hence, the defenders of slavery and the agitators for the emancipation of slaves (abolitionists) were always at loggerheads with one another. These irreconcilable differences fuelled the crisis that developed into the civil war.
By the middle of 1850, the status quo of the old American political system was already shattered. An antislavery party took control of the white house when it elected the revered Abraham Lincoln as president of the United States of America in 1860. As a result, the southern states that were majorly involved in slavery planned to secede as it felt that the Union no longer had anything to offer as an antislavery government now ruled it. The union then refused to them go and this sparked off the civil war, which eventually started in1861 (Johnson & Woloch, 2007).
What enraged the abolitionists in the fugitive slave act that was passed in 1793 and 1850 was the fact that the law was pro-slavery in nature (Wyatt-Brown, 2007). It stated that a captured slave had no right to testify on his or her own behalf or be granted trial before a jury. The abolitionists believed that the law infringed on civil liberties in the north and could turn Northerners who were previously not involved in slavery to direct participants believed in Southern slavery. The law also stated that any slave that escaped from the south and captured in the north be returned back to the south. A situation that could increase the number of participants in slavery and this really infuriated the abolitionists.
What further angered the abolitionists was the Kansas-Nebraska act in 1854. An act, that was passed, and which ultimately legalized slavery in Kansas. These act enraged the abolitionists as it repealed the Missouri compromise in 1820 that prohibited slavery in some territories of the north and stipulate that the inhabitants of the territories should decide for themselves the legality of slaveholding. Then in May 1856, proslavery activists in Kansas attacked an antislavery refuge in Lawrence. In retaliation, an antislavery activist named “John Brown” murdered five proslavery settlers in what was later known as the Pottawatomie Massacre (Johnson & Woloch, 2007). These laws (the Kansas-Nebraska act and the Fugitive slave act) ultimately brought dissatisfaction and created rancor round the country. Unavoidable fighting started between proslavery settlers and new antislavery settlers in Kansas, these fights continued for several years and eventually led to the civil war in 1861 (Wyatt-Brown, 2007).
In 1831, a black abolitionist from Boston named “William Lloyd Garrison”, an agitator for the emancipation of the slaves published an antislavery newspaper called The Liberator (Mayer, 1998). This paper was meant to facilitate the emancipation of slaves. As a means of attacking the institution of slavery, he also helped to form the American Anti-Slavery society in 1833 (Mayer, 1998). This new movement also has Northeastern Quakers, Unitarians and Northern blacks as its members. In his articles on various newspapers, he attempted to stimulate northerners from their apathy on the question of slavery in the United States of America. He appealed through the Liberator and through his speeches for a practical application of Christianity in demanding freedom for the slaves. As a means of attacking the slavery institution, he openly burnt a copy of the federal constitution of the United States of America.
Frederick Douglass on his part helped campaign against slavery by publishing three versions of his autobiography. His autobiographies included Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas (1845), My Bondage and my freedom (1855) and Life and Times of Frederick Douglas (1881). In these autobiographies, he narrated his experiences as a slave in the south and as a run away slave (fugitive) in the north. He thus exposed the immorality in this beast called “slavery”. He joined Garrison in championing the course of emancipation in the 1840s (Douglas, 1855). He later parted ways with Garrison following differences in their approach to the fight for emancipation. In 1847, as a means of waging war against slavery, he published a weekly paper called “North Star”. Subsequent publications followed and these papers were mainly based on exposing the travails of the black slaves. These papers, thus helped to champion the course of the black race, it fought for the protection of the free blacks and the emancipation of the slaves. He believed that in order to liberate the slaves, abolitionists should hold political posts in the country. This step, he believed would help to fight slavery directly with participation in the political system. As a result of this, the antislavery Liberty party was formed.
Nat turner, an American slave born 1800 in Virginia and leader of a black slave revolt believed that he was ordained by God to help liberate the blacks. And on August 22, 1831, he and seven slaves killed their master and his family. Later, a number of about sixty blacks joined the group of revolters and together, they initiated an uproar that killed about fifty whites.
John C. Calhoun who was a former vice president and a senator from Northern Carolina was very influential to the defense of states rights, as he held various political posts, He held every major post except President, serving in the House, Senate and Vice Presidency, as well as Secretary of War and Secretary of State. A powerful intellect, Calhoun eloquently spoke out on every issue of his day, from 1812 to 1850, but is best known for his intense and original defense of slavery as a positive good and for pointing the South toward secession from the Union. He was the chief spokesperson for the white South, portraying it as a minority that was threatened by the North. He justified slavery; he believed that if they consent to the agitations of the slaves that concession would follow concession, until the present conditions of the slaves become reversed. He went on to state that the abolitionists and their Northern allies would be the masters and they “the Southerners” the slaves. A situation he believed would generate an avoidable war. He also believed that enslaving the blacks was a positive good rather than an evil. He argued that in every wealthy and civilized society a part of the community lived on the labor of the other.
It could be concluded explicitly that the American civil war has its root cause in the institutionalization of slavery. The abolitionists on one hand agitated for the emancipation and the Southerners defended slavery as they gained from this abominable act. Due to these irreconciliable differences, the civil war became inevitable. During the course of the civil war, the actualization of the emancipation of the slaves was facilitated as President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, abolishing slavery in states rebelling against the United States.
Douglas, F. (1855). My Bondage and My Freedom. New York and Auburn: Miller, Orton and
Johnson, P.E., and Woloch, N. (2007) “United States History.” Microsoft Student 2008
[DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation.
Mayer, H. (1998). All on Fire. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Wyatt-Brown, B. (2007) “Fugitive Slave Laws.” Microsoft Student 2008 [DVD]. Redmond,
WA: Microsoft Corporation.