The issue of slavery became the over-riding cause of sectionalism, which inturn lead to the Civil War. This was validated by historians like James M M. Mcpherson Slavery is central to the creation of sections. and, to a degree, B. Catton It [Slavery] was not the cause of the war but unquestionably the one cause without which the war would not have taken place. But it wasnt until recently other possibilities have arisen for as to why a nation divided and headed to war within its own borders. A difficult issue with this however, is why slavery became such an indelible aspect of American life.
Slavery first came into being by southern persuasion soon after the Constitution was formed in 1789. The South argued that without a slave workforce in their plantations their very economic well-being would be in jeopardy. The North depended on a largely industrial economy, with factory workers supplying the manpower and so therefore would lose nothing from the abolition of slavery. The South however, relied wholly on slave labour and therefore argued that abolition would lead to collapse of their economy.
This issue brought such a fundamental disagreement of opinion between North and South that as a result it was felt that there was no other option than war. Slavery also was root of conflict when deciding the question of whether Western states acquired in the Mexican War (1846-1848) would become slave or free states. Naturally both sections were eager to enforce policy and so strengthen their postion. The new states, such as Utah, New Mexico and part of California would be the main debate on the eve of the war. Opponents of slavery didnt want Western expansion to contribute to the number of slave states in such a volatile America.
Another major contributing factor to the Civil War that is concerning slavery was the issue of high tarrifs on imported goods. The North, being predominately industrial, manufactured goods to sustain its economy and population. The South, however, by 1860 was mainly producing cotton for export and this accounted for 57% of all U. S exports. The South relied on imported goods in order to sustain itself. The high tarrif was the federal governments main income. Other taxes, personal or corporate, were non-existent at the time and so this made the government reluctant to lower the tarrif.
Allied to this the North also wanted the tarrif to remain high in order to compete with cheaper foreign competiton . The workforce of the North was mainly fed by immigration from Europe. Immigrants worked in the factories, built the Northern railroads and settled the West. Few immigrants settled in the South and this futher contributed to Southern dependence on plantations and its essential component-slavery. This economic difference sharpened North-South hostility and aided in strengthing Southern dependence on slavery.
An aspect closely interwinded with the economy was the political situation at the time. Northerners wanted a strong central government to further their industrial prosperity and contruction of roads and railways. The South were less dependent on federal government and therefore felt no need to strengthen it. In fact , Southern patriots felt that strong centralised government might interfere with slavery. A second aspect of the political situation that led to war was an inability to resolve the eventually over-whelming hostility between the two sections.
Southern fire-eaters (democrats from the South) and republicians, when confronted with the divide between North and South decided to take sides instead of work together to create some resolution to the problem. Political figures of the time such as Lincoln and Stephen Douglas added clarity to the differences in sides. This in turn furthered the progression into war. Infact, Lincolns participation in founding the Republican party led to support being situated in Northern states, and a similarly large backing of Southerners following the Democrats.
Lincoln and Douglas agitated an all-ready restless split between the sections with a series of debates that created publicity over an significant area of the U. S. Lincoln and Douglas had seven debates overall, the content of these being the allocation of new states as either slave or free constitution. Douglas stood firm to his doctrine that defined a state being able to choose for itself slavery. Although Lincolns views on slavery are questionable, he was opposed to the progression of it to new states and in speeches made in debates was quoted as saying all men are created equal.
These growing tensions and widening gulf between the sections was heightened by the publication of a provacative book (especially in southern eyes) called Uncle Toms Cabin in 1851. The book was read across America and aboard. It depicted slavery very negatively and helped the North win support. Southerners indignantly denied the picture of slavery portrayed in the book and this in turn heightend sectional hostility. An event that affected Lincoln, sectionalism and the prosperity of slavery was the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854).
This decreed that no restriction on slavery was to be put on Kansas or Nebraska territories for settlers. This Doctrine revoked the Missouri compromise and hit the North with the concequence of slavery spreading further. The new method was dubbed Popular Sovereignty. The degree of friction between pro and anti-slavery supporters within the territories quickly led to violence breaking out. This act was a success for Douglas and the South, but also spurred Abraham Lincoln (formerly a member of the Whigs) and other anti-slavery activists to form the Republic party.
By 1856 the Republicians had enough strength to put forward a national ticket, headed by John. C. Fermont, into the presidential election and become recognised as a major opposition to the Democrat party. Slavery served as the main reason for Lincoln and others forming the Republician party. A second victory for the South was the Dredd Scott case that decreed that an enslaved or free African American did not have American citizenship. The case involved a black slave named Scott attempting to sue for his freedom on the grounds that his owner had died.
Scott had been resident in the free territory of what is Minnesota today for two years previously therefore denouncing ownership of him. A twelve man jury ruled that he had a right to freedom. However in 1857 Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney reversed this decision and stated that blacks had no right to sue, free or slave, because they were not citizens but property. Furthermore, the judiciary pointed out that congress had no power to decide the designation of slavery in new territories and therefore the Missouri compromise and other legislature of this kind was ruled unconstitutional.
This was a boost for slavery and an increase in sectionalism because of it. The complete withdrawal of rights enforced on the black population outraged the North and almost caused the Civil War as a result of hostillity between North and South, before it actually took place in 1861. Due to the Dredd Scott case, sectionalism was aggrivated further by the judiciary revoking such a morally significant law for the North. In fact, Northern frustration with slavery was such that in the last years before the war, some extremists took physical action.
John Browns raid (October 16, 1859) was the catalyst that sparked the War and personnified the views of the North in its rawest aspect. The outlawed Brown and his followers seized the federal arsenal and armoury in Harpers Ferry, Virginia and threatened to march into the South and forceabley free slaves. Brown was arrested and sentenced to death after surrending two days later. He was praised as a martryr in the North but predictably hated in the South. This was followed immediately by the election of 1860 which was surrounded by great controversy due to such events and was overshadowed by the question of slavery.
Lincoln and the Republican party won the election, partly due to division within the Democrat party. South Carolina seceded from the Union shortly after the news of Lincolns victory was official (December 20th 1860 ) and was subsequently followed in seceding by eleven other pro-slave states by June 8th 1861. This created the final separation between North and South and meant that reconciliation was almost impossible. In conclusion, the actions of politicians at the time helped to define the sectional split and aggravate the two sides and extremists like John Brown hastened the beginning of the War.
However, I believe slavery was at the root of the majority of hostility between the two sections of the U. S. The prospect that the North might deny the Southern agriculture its very means of sustainment and expansion, and similarly passionate morality felt by the Northern abolitionists over slavery was the cause of the Civil War. A phenomona that held such fundamental controversy and importance and also carried such extremely different contrasts of opinion within the same country was inevitably going to resolve itself by some extreme means .