The main explanation for the origins of the American Civil War was slavery, especially the issue of the expansion of slavery into the territories. States' rights and the tariff issue became entangled in the slavery issue, and were intensified by it. Other important factors were party politics, expansionism, sectionalism, economics and modernization in the Antebellum Period.
The United States was a nation divided into two distinct regions separated by the Mason-Dixon line. New England, the Northeast and the Midwest had a rapidly growing economy based on family farms, industry, mining, commerce and transportation, with a large and rapidly growing urban population and no slavery outside the border states. Its growth was fed by a high birth rate and large numbers of European immigrants, especially Irish, British, German, Polish and Scandinavian.
The South was dominated by a settled plantation system based on slavery, with rapid growth taking place in the Southwest, such as Texas, based on high birth rates but low immigration from Europe. There were few cities or towns, and little manufacturing except in border areas. Slave owners controlled politics and economics. Two-thirds of the Southern whites owned no slaves and usually were engaged in subsistence agriculture, but support for slavery came from all segments of southern society.
Overall, the Northern population was growing much more quickly than the Southern population, which made it increasingly difficult for the South to continue to influence the national government. Southerners were worried about the relative political decline of their region because the North was growing much faster in terms of population and industrial output.
In the interest of maintaining unity, politicians had mostly moderated opposition to slavery, resulting in numerous compromises such as the Missouri Compromise of 1820. After the Mexican-American War, the issue of slavery in the new territories led to the Compromise of 1850. While the compromise averted an immediate political crisis, it did not permanently resolve the issue of the Slave power (the power of slaveholders to control the national government).
Amid the emergence of increasingly virulent and hostile sectional ideologies in national politics, the collapse of the old Second Party System in the 1850s hampered efforts of the politicians to reach yet one more compromise. The compromise that was reached (the Kansas-Nebraska Act) outraged too many northerners. In the 1850s, with the rise of the Republican Party, the first major party with no appeal in the South, the industrializing North and agrarian Midwest became committed to the economic ethos of free-labor industrial capitalism.
Arguments that slavery was undesirable for the nation had long existed. After 1840, abolitionists denounced slavery as more than a social evil: it was a moral wrong. Many Northerners, especially leaders of the new Republican Party, considered slavery a great national evil and believed that a small number of Southern owners of large plantations controlled the national government with the goal of spreading that evil.
In 1860, the election of Abraham Lincoln, who won the national election without receiving a single electoral vote from any of the Southern states, triggered the secession of the cotton states of the Deep South from the union and their formation of the Confederate States of America.
The admission of the new state of Missouri as a slave state would give the slave states control over the Senate. Whenever a new state was added to the Union, there was always controversy over whether the state would be slave or free. Since every state has the same number of Senators regardless of population, the way to prevent conflict between slave and free states was to allow each section to have the same number of states, which would result in each side having the same number of Senators. Since the admission of Missouri would upset this balance, many national leaders shared Thomas Jefferson's fear of a war over slavery, a fear that Jefferson described as "a fire bell in the night". The crisis was solved by the Compromise of 1820, which admitted Maine to the Union as a free state at the same time that Missouri was admitted as a slave state. The Compromise also banned slavery in the Louisiana Purchase territory north and west of the state of Missouri, a compromise that preserved the peace until this ban on slavery was repealed by the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854.
Although only a small share of free southerners owned slaves, southerners of all classes often defended the institution of slavery threatened by the rise of free labor abolitionist movements in the northern states as the cornerstone of their social order.
Based on a system of plantation slavery, the social structure of the South was far more stratified and patriarchal than that of the North. In 1850, there were around 350,000 slaveholders in a total free southern population of about six million. Among slaveholders, the concentration of slave ownership was unevenly distributed. Perhaps around seven percent of slaveholders owned roughly three-quarters of the slave population. The largest slaveholders, generally owners of large plantations, represented the top stratum of southern society. They benefited from economies of scale and needed large numbers of slaves on big plantations to produce profitable labor-intensive crops like cotton. This plantation-owning elite, known as "slave magnates," was comparable to the millionaires of the following century.
In the 1850s, as large plantation owners out-competed smaller farmers, more slaves were owned by fewer planters. Yet, while the proportion of the white population consisting of slaveholders was on the decline on the eve of the Civil War—perhaps falling below around a quarter of free southerners in 1860—poor whites and small farmers generally accepted the political leadership of the planter elite.
Several factors helped explain why slavery was not under serious threat of internal collapse from any moves for democratic change initiated from the South. First, given the opening of new territories in the West for white settlement, many non-slaveowners also perceived a possibility that they, too, might own slaves at some point in their life.
Second, small free farmers in the South often embraced hysterical racism, making them unlikely agents for internal democratic reforms in the South. The principle of white supremacy, accepted by almost all white southerners of all classes, made slavery seem legitimate, natural, and essential for a civilized society. White racism in the South was sustained by official systems of repression such as the "slave codes" and elaborate codes of speech, behavior, and social practices illustrating the subordination of blacks to whites. For example, the "slave patrols" were among the institutions bringing together southern whites of all classes in support of the prevailing economic and racial order. Serving as slave "patrollers" and "overseers" offered white southerners positions of power and honor. These positions gave even poor white southerners the authority to stop, search, whip, maim, and even kill any slave traveling outside his or her plantation. Slave "patrollers" and "overseers" also won prestige in their communities. Policing and punishing blacks who transgressed the regimentation of slave society was a valued community service in the South, where the fear of free blacks threatening law and order figured heavily in the public discourse of the period.
Third, many small farmers with a few slaves and yeomen were linked to elite planters through the market economy. In many areas, small farmers depended on local planter elites for access to cotton gins, for markets, for their feed and livestock, and for loans. Furthermore, whites of varying social castes, including poor whites and "plain folk" who worked outside or at least in the periphery of the market economy, might be linked to elite planters through extensive kinship networks. For example, a poor white person might be the cousin of the richest plantation owner of his county and share the same militant support of slavery as his richer relatives.
Thus, by the 1850s, Southern slaveholders and non-slaveholders alike felt increasingly encircled psychologically and politically in the national political arena because of the rise of free soilism and abolitionism in the Northern states. Increasingly dependent on the North for manufactured goods, for commercial services, and for loans, and increasingly cut off from the flourishing agricultural regions of the Northwest, they faced the prospects of a growing free labor and abolitionist movement in the North.
Southerners waged a vitriolic response to political change in the North. Slaveholding interests sought to uphold their constitutional rights in the territories and to maintain sufficient political strength to repulse "hostile" and "ruinous" legislation. Behind this shift was the growth of the cotton industry, which left slavery more important than ever to the Southern economy.
After J. D. B. DeBow established De Bow's Review in 1846, it grew to become the leading Southern magazine, warning the planter class about the dangers of depending on the North economically. De Bow's Review also emerged as the leading voice for secession. The magazine emphasized the South's economic inequality, relating it to the concentration of manufacturing, shipping, banking, and international trade in the North. Searching for Biblical passages endorsing slavery and forming economic, sociological, historical, and scientific arguments, slavery went from being a "necessary evil" to a "positive good." Foreshadowing modern totalitarian thought, especially Nazism, Dr. J.H. Van Evrie's book Negroes and Negro slavery: The First an Inferior Race: The Latter Its Normal Condition setting out the arguments the title would suggest was an attempt to apply scientific analysis.
Latent sectional divisions suddenly activated derogatory sectional imagery which emerged into sectional ideologies. As industrial capitalism gained momentum in the North, Southern writers emphasized whatever aristocratic traits they valued (but often did not practice) in their own society: courtesy, grace, chivalry, the slow pace of life, orderly life, and leisure. This supported their argument that slavery provided a more humane society than industrial labor. In his Cannibals All!, George Fitzhugh argued that the antagonism between labor and capital in a free society would result in "robber barons" and "pauper slavery," while in a slave society such antagonisms were avoided. He advocated enslaving Northern factory workers, for their own benefit. Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, denounced such Southern insinuations that Northern wage earners were fatally fixed in that condition for life. To free soilers, the stereotype of the South was one of a diametrically opposite, static society in which the slave system maintained an entrenched anti-democratic aristocracy.
When secessionists protested in 1861 that they were acting to preserve traditional rights and values, they were correct. They fought to preserve their constitutional liberties against the perceived Northern threat to overthrow them. The South's concept of republicanism had not changed in three-quarters of a century; the North's had.... The ascension to power of the Republican Party, with its ideology of competitive, egalitarian free-labor capitalism, was a signal to the South that the Northern majority had turned irrevocably towards this frightening, revolutionary future.
Harry L. Watson has synthesized research on antebellum southern social, economic, and political history. Self-sufficient yeomen, in Watson's view, "collaborated in their own transformation" by allowing promoters of a market economy to gain political influence. Resultant "doubts and frustrations" provided fertile soil for the argument that southern rights and liberties were menaced by Black Republicanism
J. Mills Thornton III, explained the viewpoint of the average white Alabamian. Thornton contends that Alabama was engulfed in a severe crisis long before 1860. Deeply held principles of freedom, equality, and autonomy, as expressed in republican values appeared threatened, especially during the 1850s, by the relentless expansion of market relations and commercial agriculture. Alabamians were thus, he judged, prepared to believe the worst once Lincoln was elected.
The politicians of the 1850s were acting in a society in which the traditional restraints that suppressed sectional conflict in the 1820s and 1850s the most important of which being the stability of the two-party system were being eroded as this rapid extension of mass democracy went forward in the North and South. It was an era when the mass political party galvanized voter participation to an unprecedented degree, and a time in which politics formed an essential component of American mass culture. Historians agree that political involvement was a larger concern to the average American in the 1850s than today. Politics was, in one of its functions, a form of mass entertainment, a spectacle with rallies, parades, and colorful personalities. Leading politicians, moreover, often served as a focus for popular interests, aspirations, and values.
Historian Allan Nevins, for instance, writes of political rallies in 1856 with turnouts of anywhere from twenty to fifty thousand men and women. Voter turnouts even ran as high as 84% by 1860. A plethora of new parties emerged 1854-56, including the Republicans, People's party men, Anti-Nebraskans, Fusionists, Know-Nothings, Know-Somethings (anti-slavery nativists), Maine Lawites, Temperance men, Rum Democrats, Silver Gray Whigs, Hindus, Hard Shell Democrats, Soft Shells, Half Shells and Adopted Citizens. By 1858, they were mostly gone, and politics divided four ways. Republicans controlled most Northern states with a strong Democratic minority. The Democrats were split North and South and fielded two tickets in 1860. Southern non-Democrats tried different coalitions; most supported the Constitutional Union party in 1860.
Many Southern states held constitutional conventions in 1851 to consider the questions of nullification and secession. With the exception of South Carolina, whose convention election did not even offer the option of "no secession" but rather "no secession without the collaboration of other states," the Southern conventions were dominated by Unionists who voted down articles of secession.
The cotton gin greatly increased the efficiency with which cotton could be harvested, contributing to the consolidation of "King Cotton" as the backbone of the economy of the Deep South, and to the entrenchment of the system of slave labor on which the cotton plantation economy depended.
The tendency of monoculture cotton plantings to lead to soil exhaustion created a need for cotton planters to move their operations to new lands, and therefore to the westward expansion of slavery from the Eastern seaboard into new areas (e.g., Alabama, Mississippi, and beyond to East Texas).
After 1950, only a few mainstream historians accepted the Beard interpretation, though it was accepted by libertarian economists. As Historian Kenneth Stampp—who abandoned Beardianism after 1950, sums up the scholarly consensus: "Most historians...now see no compelling reason why the divergent economies of the North and South should have led to disunion and civil war; rather, they find stronger practical reasons why the sections, whose economies neatly complemented one another, should have found it advantageous to remain united.
The problem that this caused for resolving the slavery question was that the Bible, interpreted under these assumptions, seemed to clearly suggest that slavery was Biblically justified:
Protestant churches in the U.S., unable to agree on what God's Word said about slavery, ended up with schisms between Northern and Southern branches: the Methodists in 1844, the Baptists in 1845, and the Presbyterians in 1857. These splits presaged the subsequent split in the nation: "The churches played a major role in the dividing of the nation, and it is probably true that it was the splits in the churches which made a final split of the national inevitable." The conflict over how to interpret the Bible was central:
There were many causes of the Civil War, but the religious conflict, almost unimaginable in modern America, cut very deep at the time. Noll and others highlight the significance of the religion issue for the famous phrase in Lincoln's second inaugural: "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other."
Antislavery movements in the North gained momentum in the 1830s and 1840s, a period of rapid transformation of Northern society that inspired a social and political reformism. Many of the reformers of the period, including abolitionists, attempted in one way or another to transform the lifestyle and work habits of labor, helping workers respond to the new demands of an industrializing, capitalistic society.
Antislavery, like many other reform movements of the period, was influenced by the legacy of the great Second Great Awakening, a period of religious revival in the new country stressing the reform of individuals which was still relatively fresh in the American memory. Thus, while the reform spirit of the period was expressed by a variety of movements with often-conflicting political goals, most reform movements shared a common feature in their emphasis on the Great Awakening principle of transforming the human personality through discipline, order, and restraint.
"Abolitionist" had several meanings at the time. The followers of William Lloyd Garrison, including Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass, demanded the "immediate abolition of slavery", hence the name. A more pragmatic group of abolitionists, like Theodore Weld and Arthur Tappan, wanted immediate action, but that action might well be a program of gradual emancipation, with a long intermediate stage. "Antislavery men", like John Quincy Adams, did what they could to limit slavery and end it where possible, but were not part of any abolitionist group. For example, in 1841 Adams represented the Amistad African slaves in the Supreme Court of the United States and argued that they should be set free. In the last years before the war, "antislavery" could mean the Northern majority, like Abraham Lincoln, who opposed expansion of slavery or its influence, as by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, or the Fugitive Slave Act. Many Southerners called all these abolitionists, without distinguishing them from the Garrisonians. James McPherson explains the abolitionists' deep beliefs: "All people were equal in God's sight; the souls of black folks were as valuable as those of whites; for one of God's children to enslave another was a violation of the Higher Law, even if it was sanctioned by the Constitution.
Stressing the Yankee Protestant ideals of self-improvement, industry, and thrift, most abolitionists most notably William Lloyd Garrison condemned slavery as a lack of control over one's own destiny and the fruits of one's labor.
The experience of the fifty years… shows us the slaves trebling in numbers—slaveholders monopolizing the offices and dictating the policy of the Government—prostituting the strength and influence of the Nation to the support of slavery here and elsewhere—trampling on the rights of the free States, and making the courts of the country their tools. To continue this disastrous alliance longer is madness.… Why prolong the experiment?
Abolitionists also attacked slavery as a threat to the freedom of white Americans. Defining freedom as more than a simple lack of restraint, antebellum reformers held that the truly free man was one who imposed restraints upon himself. Thus, for the anti-slavery reformers of the 1830s and 1840s, the promise of free labor and upward social mobility (opportunities for advancement, rights to own property, and to control one's own labor), was central to the ideal of reforming individuals.
Controversy over the so-called Ostend Manifesto (which proposed the U.S. annexation of Cuba as a slave state) and the Fugitive Slave Act kept sectional tensions alive before the issue of slavery in the West could occupy the country's politics in the mid-to-late 1850s.
Antislavery sentiment among some groups in the North intensified after the Compromise of 1850, when Southerners began appearing in Northern states to pursue fugitives or often to claim as slaves free African Americans who had resided there for years. Meanwhile, some abolitionists openly sought to prevent enforcement of the law. Violation of the Fugitive Slave Act was often open and organized. In Boston a city from which it was boasted that no fugitive had ever been returned Theodore Parker and other members of the city's elite helped form mobs to prevent enforcement of the law as early as April 1851. A pattern of public resistance emerged in city after city, notably in Syracuse in 1851 (culminating in the Jerry Rescue incident late that year), and Boston again in 1854. But the issue did not lead to a crisis until revived by the same issue underlying the Missouri Compromise of 1820: slavery in the territories.
I am a believer in that portion of the Declaration of American Independence in which it is set forth, as among self-evident truths, "that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Hence, I am an abolitionist. Hence, I cannot but regard oppression in every form—and most of all, that which turns a man into a thing—with indignation and abhorrence.
(Thomas Jefferson's) ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error.... Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.
The assumptions, tastes, and cultural aims of the reformers of the 1830s and 1840s anticipated the political and ideological ferment of the 1850s. A surge of working class Irish and German Catholic immigration provoked reactions among many Northern Whigs, as well as Democrats. Growing fears of labor competition for white workers and farmers because of the growing number of free blacks prompted several northern states to adopt discriminatory "Black Codes".
In the Northwest, although farm tenancy was increasing, the number of free farmers was still double that of farm laborers and tenants. Moreover, although the expansion of the factory system was undermining the economic independence of the small craftsman and artisan, industry in the region, still one largely of small towns, was still concentrated in small-scale enterprises. Arguably, social mobility was on the verge of contracting in the urban centers of the North, but long-cherished ideas of opportunity, "honest industry" and "toil" were at least close enough in time to lend plausibility to the free labor ideology.
In the rural and small-town North, the picture of Northern society (framed by the ethos of "free labor") corresponded to a large degree with reality. Propelled by advancements in transportation and communication especially steam navigation, railroads, and telegraphs the two decades before the Civil War were of rapid expansion in population and economy of the Northwest. Combined with the rise of Northeastern and export markets for their products, the social standing of farmers in the region substantially improved. The small towns and villages that emerged as the Republican Party's heartland showed every sign of vigorous expansion. Their vision for an ideal society was of small-scale capitalism, with white American laborers entitled to the chance of upward mobility opportunities for advancement, rights to own property, and to control their own labor. Many free-soilers demanded that the slave labor system and free black settlers (and, in places such as California, Chinese immigrants) should be excluded from the Great Plains to guarantee the predominance there of the free white laborer.
Opposition to the 1847 Wilmot Proviso helped to consolidate the "free-soil" forces. The next year, Radical New York Democrats known as Barnburners, members of the Liberty Party, and anti-slavery Whigs held a convention at Buffalo, New York, in August, forming the Free-Soil Party. The party supported former President Martin Van Buren and Charles Francis Adams, Sr., for President and Vice President, respectively. The party opposed the expansion of slavery into territories where it had not yet existed, such as Oregon and the ceded Mexican territory.
Relating Northern and Southern positions on slavery to basic differences in labor systems, but insisting on the role of culture and ideology in coloring these differences, Eric Foner's book Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men (1970) went beyond the economic determinism of Charles Beard (a leading historian of the 1930s). Foner emphasized the importance of free labor ideology to Northern opponents of slavery, pointing out that the moral concerns of the abolitionists were not necessarily the dominant sentiments in the North. Many Northerners (including Lincoln) opposed slavery also because they feared that black labor might spread to the North and threaten the position of free white laborers. In this sense, Republicans and the abolitionists were able to appeal to powerful emotions in the North through a broader commitment to "free labor" principles. The "Slave Power" idea had a far greater appeal to Northern self-interest than arguments based on the plight of black slaves in the South. If the free labor ideology of the 1830s and 1840s depended on the transformation of Northern society, its entry into politics depended on the rise of mass democracy, in turn propelled by far-reaching social change. Its chance would come by the mid-1850s with the collapse of the traditional two-party system, which had long suppressed sectional conflict.
A continuous strain on these unifying forces, from roughly 1820 through the Civil War, was the issue of trade and tariffs. Heavily dependent upon trade, the almost entirely agricultural and export-oriented South imported most of its manufactured needs from Europe or obtained them from the North. The North, by contrast, had a growing domestic industrial economy that viewed foreign trade as competition. Trade barriers, especially protective tariffs, were viewed as harmful to the Southern economy, which depended on exports. In 1828, Congress passed protective tariffs to benefit trade in the northern states which were detrimental to the South. Southerners vocally expressed their tariff opposition in documents such as the "South Carolina Exposition and Protest" in 1828, written in response to the "Tariff of Abominations."
Having waited four years for Congress to repeal the "Tariff of Abominations", South Carolinians reacted with anger as Congress enacted a new tariff in 1832 that offered them little relief, resulting in the most dangerous sectional crisis since the Union was formed. Some militant South Carolinians even hinted at withdrawing from the Union in response. Calhoun, however, persuaded the most ardent opponents of the tariff to adopt the doctrine of nullification refusing to recognize or to enforce a federal law not secession as their strategy. The newly-elected South Carolina legislature then quickly called for the election of delegates to a state convention. Once assembled, the convention voted to declare null and void the tariffs of 1828 and 1832 within the state. President Andrew Jackson responded firmly, declaring nullification an act of treason. He then took steps to strengthen federal forts in the state.
Violence seemed a real possibility early in 1833 as Jacksonians in Congress were introducing a "force bill" authorizing the President to use the Federal army and navy in order to enforce acts of Congress. No other state had come forward to support South Carolina, and the state itself was divided on willingness to continue the showdown with the Federal government. The crisis ended when Henry Clay and Calhoun worked to devise a compromise tariff. Both sides later claimed victory. Calhoun and his supporters in South Carolina claimed a victory for nullification, insisting that it, a single state, had forced the revision of the tariff. Jackson's followers, however, saw the episode as a demonstration that no single state could assert its rights by independent action. Calhoun, in turn, devoted his efforts to building up a sense of Southern solidarity so that when another standoff should come, the whole section might be prepared to act as a bloc in resisting the federal government.
South Carolina dealt with the tariffs by adopting the Ordinance of Nullification, which declared both the tariffs of 1828 and 1832 null and void within South Carolina state borders. The legislature also passed laws to enforce the ordinance, including authorization for raising a military force and appropriations for arms. In response to South Carolina's threat, Congress passed a "Force Bill" and President Jackson sent seven naval vessels and a man-of-war into Charleston harbor in November 1832. On December 10, he issued a resounding proclamation against the nullifiers.
The issue appeared again after 1842's Black Tariff. A period of relative free trade after 1846's Walker Tariff reduction followed until 1860, when the protectionist Morrill Tariff was introduced by the Republicans, fueling Southern anti-tariff sentiments once again.
A series of resolutions beginning with a Pinckney Resolution banned petitions for ending slavery from being introduced before the United States House of Representatives from 1835 to 1844. These petitions were known as the Gag Rule, with Southern Representatives supporting the gag and Northern Whigs (especially John Quincy Adams) opposing the gag.
Soon after the Mexican War started and long before negotiation of the new US-Mexico border, the question of slavery in the territories to be acquired polarized the Northern and Southern United States in the most bitter sectional conflict up to this time, which lasted for a deadlock of four years during which the Second Party System broke up, Mormon pioneers settled Utah, the California Gold Rush settled California, and New Mexico under a federal military government turned back Texas's attempt to assert control over territory Texas claimed as far west as the Rio Grande. Eventually the Compromise of 1850 preserved the Union, but only for another decade. Proposals included:
States' rights was an issue in the 19th century for those who felt that the federal government was superseded by the authority of the individual states and was in violation of the role intended for it by the Founding Fathers of the United States. Historian Kenneth M. Stampp notes that each section used states' rights arguments when convenient, and shifted positions when convenient. For example, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was justified by its supporters as a state's right to have its property laws respected by other states, and was resisted by northern legislatures in the form of state personal liberty laws that placed state laws above the federal mandate.
Echoing Schlesinger, historian Forrest McDonald wrote that “the dynamics of the tension between federal and state authority changed abruptly during the late 1840s” as a result of the acquisition of territory in the Mexican War. McDonald states:
As early as 1830, in the midst of the Nullification Crisis, Calhoun identified the right to own slaves as the chief southern minority right being threatened:
Until the 1860 election, the South’s interests nationally were entrusted to the Democratic Party. In 1860, the Democratic Party split into Northern and Southern factions as the result of a “bitter debate in the United States Senate between Jefferson Davis and Stephen Douglas.” The debate was over resolutions proposed by Davis “opposing popular sovereignty and supporting a federal slave code and states’ rights” which carried over to the national convention in Charleston.
Davis defined equality in terms of the equal rights of states, and opposed the declaration that all men are created equal. Jefferson Davis stated that a "disparaging discrimination" and a fight for "liberty" against "the tyranny of an unbridled majority" gave the Confederate states a right to secede. In 1860, Congressman Laurence M. Keitt of South Carolina said, "The anti-slavery party contend that slavery is wrong in itself, and the Government is a consolidated national democracy. We of the South contend that slavery is right, and that this is a confederate Republic of sovereign States.
Stampp mentioned Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens' A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States as an example of a Southern leader who said that slavery was the "cornerstone of the Confederacy" when the war began and then said that the war was not about slavery but states' rights after Southern defeat. Stampp said that Stephens became one of the most ardent defenders of the Lost Cause.
The historian William C. Davis also mentioned inconsistencies in Southern states' rights arguments. He explained the Confederate Constitution's protection of slavery at the national level as follows:
The victory of the United States over Mexico resulted in the addition of large new territories conquered from Mexico. Controversy over whether these territories would be slave or free raised the risk of a war between slave and free states, and Northern support for the Wilmot Proviso, which would have banned slavery in the conquered territories, increased sectional tensions. The controversy was temporarily resolved by the Compromise of 1850, which allowed the territories of Utah and New Mexico to decide for or against slavery, but also allowed the admission of California as a free state, reduced the size of the slave state of Texas by adjusting the boundary, and ended the slave trade (but not slavery itself) in the District of Columbia. In return, the South got a stronger fugitive slave law than the version mentioned in the Constitution. The Fugitive Slave Law would reignite controversy over slavery.
Most people thought the Compromise had ended the territorial issue, but Stephen A. Douglas reopened it in 1854, in the name of democracy. Douglas proposed the Kansas-Nebraska Bill with the intention of opening up vast new high quality farm lands to settlement. As a Chicagoan, he was especially interested in the railroad connections from Chicago into Kansas and Nebraska, but that was not a controversial point. More importantly, Douglas firmly believed in democracy at the grass roots—that actual settlers have the right to decide on slavery, not politicians from other states. His bill provided that popular sovereignty, through the territorial legislatures, should decide "all questions pertaining to slavery", thus effectively repealing the Missouri Compromise. The ensuing public reaction against it created a firestorm of protest in the Northern states. It was seen as an effort to repeal the Missouri Compromise. However, the popular reaction in the first month after the bill's introduction failed to foreshadow the gravity of the situation. As Northern papers initially ignored the story, Republican leaders lamented the lack of a popular response.
Eventually, the popular reaction did come, but the leaders had to spark it. Chase's "Appeal of the Independent Democrats" did much to arouse popular opinion. In New York, William H. Seward finally took it upon himself to organize a rally against the Nebraska bill, since none had arisen spontaneously. Press such as the National Era, the New York Tribune, and local free-soil journals, condemned the bill. The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 drew national attention to the issue of slavery expansion.
Convinced that Northern society was superior to that of the South, and increasingly persuaded of the South's ambitions to extend slave power beyond its existing borders, Northerners were embracing a viewpoint that made conflict likely; but conflict required the ascendancy of the Republican Party. The Republican Party campaigning on the popular, emotional issue of "free soil" in the frontier captured the White House after just six years of existence.
The Republican Party grew out of the controversy over the Kansas-Nebraska legislation. Once the Northern reaction against the Kansas-Nebraska Act took place, its leaders acted to advance another political reorganization. Henry Wilson declared the Whig Party dead and vowed to oppose any efforts to resurrect it. Horace Greeley's Tribune called for the formation of a new Northern party, and Benjamin Wade, Chase, Charles Sumner, and others spoke out for the union of all opponents of the Nebraska Act. The Tribune's Gamaliel Bailey was involved in calling a caucus of anti-slavery Whig and Democratic Party Congressmen in May.
Meeting in a Ripon, Wisconsin, Congregational Church on February 28, 1854, some thirty opponents of the Nebraska Act called for the organization of a new political party and suggested that "Republican" would be the most appropriate name (to link their cause to the defunct Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson). These founders also took a leading role in the creation of the Republican Party in many northern states during the summer of 1854. While conservatives and many moderates were content merely to call for the restoration of the Missouri Compromise or a prohibition of slavery extension, radicals advocated repeal of the Fugitive Slave Laws and rapid abolition in existing states. The term "radical" has also been applied to those who objected to the Compromise of 1850, which extended slavery in the territories.
But without the benefit of hindsight, the 1854 elections would seem to indicate the possible triumph of the Know-Nothing movement rather than anti-slavery, with the Catholic/immigrant question replacing slavery as the issue capable of mobilizing mass appeal. Know-Nothings, for instance, captured the mayoralty of Philadelphia with a majority of over 8,000 votes in 1854. Even after opening up immense discord with his Kansas-Nebraska Act, Senator Douglas began speaking of the Know-Nothings, rather than the Republicans, as the principal danger to the Democratic Party.
When Republicans spoke of themselves as a party of "free labor," they appealed to a rapidly growing, primarily middle class base of support, not permanent wage earners or the unemployed (the working class). When they extolled the virtues of free labor, they were merely reflecting the experiences of millions of men who had "made it" and millions of others who had a realistic hope of doing so. Like the Tories in England, the Republicans in the United States would emerge as the nationalists, homogenizers, imperialists, and cosmopolitans.
Those who had not yet "made it" included Irish immigrants, who made up a large growing proportion of Northern factory workers. Republicans often saw the Catholic working class as lacking the qualities of self-discipline, temperance, and sobriety essential for their vision of ordered liberty. Republicans insisted that there was a high correlation between education, religion, and hard work—the values of the "Protestant work ethic"—and Republican votes. "Where free schools are regarded as a nuisance, where religion is least honored and lazy unthrift is the rule," read an editorial of the pro-Republican Chicago Democratic Press after James Buchanan's defeat of John C. Fremont in the 1856 presidential election, "there Buchanan has received his strongest support."
Ethno-religious, socio-economic, and cultural fault lines ran throughout American society, but were becoming increasingly sectional, pitting Yankee Protestants with a stake in the emerging industrial capitalism and American nationalism increasingly against those tied to Southern slave holding interests. For example, acclaimed historian Don E. Fehrenbacher, in his Prelude to Greatness, Lincoln in the 1850s, noticed how Illinois was a microcosm of the national political scene, pointing out voting patterns that bore striking correlations to regional patterns of settlement. Those areas settled from the South were staunchly Democratic, while those by New Englanders were staunchly Republican. In addition, a belt of border counties were known for their political moderation, and traditionally held the balance of power. Intertwined with religious, ethnic, regional, and class identities, the issues of free labor and free soil were thus easy to play on.
Events during the next two years in "Bleeding Kansas" sustained the popular fervor originally aroused among some elements in the North by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Free-State settlers from the North were encouraged by press and pulpit and the powerful organs of abolitionist propaganda. Often they received financial help from such organizations as the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company. Those from the South often received financial contributions from the communities they left. Southerners sought to uphold their constitutional rights in the territories and to maintain sufficient political strength to repulse "hostile and ruinous legislation."
While the Great Plains were largely unfit for the cultivation of cotton, informed Southerners demanded that the West be open to slavery, often—perhaps most often—with minerals in mind. Brazil, for instance, was an example of the successful use of slave labor in mining. In the middle of the eighteenth century, diamond mining supplemented gold mining in Minas Gerais and accounted for a massive transfer of masters and slaves from Brazil's northeastern sugar region. Southern leaders knew a good deal about this experience. It was even promoted in the pro-slavery DeBow's Review as far back as 1848.
In Kansas around 1855, the slavery issue reached a condition of intolerable tension and violence. But this was in an area where an overwhelming proportion of settlers were merely land-hungry Westerners indifferent to the public issues. The majority of the inhabitants were not concerned with sectional tensions or the issue of slavery. Instead, the tension in Kansas began as a contention between rival claimants. During the first wave of settlement, no one held titles to the land, and settlers rushed to occupy newly open land fit for cultivation. While the tension and violence did emerge as a pattern pitting Yankee and Missourian settlers against each other, there is little evidence of any ideological divides on the questions of slavery. Instead, the Missouri claimants, thinking of Kansas as their own domain, regarded the Yankee squatters as invaders, while the Yankees accused the Missourians for grabbing the best land without honestly settling on it.
However, the 1855-56 violence in "Bleeding Kansas" did reach an ideological climax after John Brown regarded by followers as the instrument of God's will to destroy slavery entered the melee. His assassination of five pro-slavery settlers (the so-called "Pottawatomie Massacre", during the night of May 24, 1856) resulted in some irregular, guerrilla-style strife. Aside from John Brown's fervor, the strife in Kansas often involved only armed bands more interested in land claims or loot.
Of greater importance than the civil strife in Kansas, however, was the reaction against it nationwide and in Congress. In both North and South, the belief was widespread that the aggressive designs of the other section were epitomized by (and responsible for) what was happening in Kansas. Consequently, "Bleeding Kansas" emerged as a symbol of sectional controversy.
Indignant over the developments in Kansas, the Republicans—the first entirely sectional major party in U.S. history—entered their first presidential campaign with confidence. Their nominee, John C. Frémont, was a generally safe candidate for the new party. Although his nomination upset some of their Nativist Know-Nothing supporters (his mother was a Catholic), the nomination of the famed explorer of the Far West with no political record was an attempt to woo ex-Democrats. The other two Republican contenders, William H. Seward and Salmon P. Chase, were seen as too radical.
Nevertheless, the campaign of 1856 was waged almost exclusively on the slavery issue—pitted as a struggle between democracy and aristocracy—focusing on the question of Kansas. The Republicans condemned the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the expansion of slavery, but they advanced a program of internal improvements combining the idealism of anti-slavery with the economic aspirations of the North. The new party rapidly developed a powerful partisan culture, and energetic activists drove voters to the polls in unprecedented numbers. People reacted with fervor. Young Republicans organized the "Wide Awake" clubs and chanted "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, Frémont!" With Southern fire-eaters and even some moderates uttering threats of secession if Frémont won, the Democratic candidate, Buchanan, benefited from apprehensions about the future of the Union.
The Lecompton Constitution and Dred Scott v. Sandford were both part of the Bleeding Kansas controversy over slavery as a result of the Kansas Nebraska Act, which was Stephen Douglas' attempt at replacing the Missouri Compromise ban on slavery in the Kansas and Nebraska territories with popular sovereignty, which meant that the people of a territory could vote either for or against slavery. The Lecompton Constitution, which would have allowed slavery in Kansas, was the result of massive vote fraud by the pro-slavery Border Ruffians. Douglas defeated the Lecompton Constitution because it was supported by the minority of pro-slavery people in Kansas, and Douglas believed in majority rule. Douglas hoped that both South and North would support popular sovereignty, but the opposite was true. Neither side trusted Douglas.
The Supreme Court decision of 1857 in Dred Scott v. Sandford added to the controversy. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney's decision said that slaves were "so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect", and that slavery could spread into the territories even if the majority of people in the territories were anti-slavery. Lincoln warned that "the next Dred Scott decision could threaten Northern states with slavery.
President James Buchanan decided to end the troubles in Kansas by urging Congress to admit Kansas as a slave state under the Lecompton Constitution. Kansas voters, however, soundly rejected this constitution— at least with a measure of widespread fraud on both sides— by more than 10,000 votes. As Buchanan directed his presidential authority to this goal, he further angered the Republicans and alienated members of his own party. Prompting their break with the administration, the Douglasites saw this scheme as an attempt to pervert the principle of popular sovereignty on which the Kansas-Nebraska Act was based. Nationwide, conservatives were incensed, feeling as though the principles of states' rights had been violated. Even in the South, ex-Whigs and border states Know-Nothings— most notably John Bell and John J. Crittenden (key figures in the event of sectional controversies)— urged the Republicans to oppose the administration's moves and take up the demand that the territories be given the power to accept or reject sovereignty.
As the schism in the Democratic party deepened, moderate Republicans argued that an alliance with anti-administration Democrats, especially Stephen Douglas, would be a key advantage in the 1860 elections. Some Republican observers saw the controversy over the Lecompton Constitution as an opportunity to peel off Democratic support in the border states, where Frémont picked up little support. After all, the border states had often gone for Whigs with a Northern base of support in the past without prompting threats of Southern withdrawal from the Union.
Among the proponents of this strategy was The New York Times, which called on the Republicans to downplay opposition to popular sovereignty in favor of a compromise policy calling for "no more slave states" in order to quell sectional tensions. The Times maintained that for the Republicans to be competitive in the 1860 elections, they would need to broaden their base of support to include all voters who for one reason or another were upset with the Buchanan Administration.
Indeed, pressure was strong for an alliance that would unite the growing opposition to the Democratic Administration. But such an alliance was no novel idea; it would essentially entail transforming the Republicans into the national, conservative, Union party of the country. In effect, this would be a successor to the Whig party.
Republican leaders, however, staunchly opposed any attempts to modify the party position on slavery, appalled by what they considered a surrender of their principles when, for example, all the ninety-two Republican members of Congress voted for the Crittenden-Montgomery bill in 1858. Although this compromise measure blocked Kansas' entry into the union as a slave state, the fact that it called for popular sovereignty, rather than outright opposition to the expansion of slavery, was troubling to the party leaders.
In the end, the Crittenden-Montgomery bill did not forge a grand anti-administration coalition of Republicans, ex-Whig Southerners in the border states, and Northern Democrats. Instead, the Democratic Party merely split along sectional lines. Anti-Lecompton Democrats complained that a new, pro-slavery test had been imposed upon the party. The Douglasites, however, refused to yield to administration pressure. Like the anti-Nebraska Democrats, who were now members of the Republican Party, the Douglasean insisted that they— not the administration— commanded the support of most northern Democrats.
Extremist sentiment in the South advanced dramatically as the Southern planter class saw its hold on the executive, legislative, and judicial apparatus of the central government wane. It also grew increasingly difficult for Southern Democrats to manipulate power in many of the Northern states through their allies in the Democratic Party.
Despite their significant loss in the election of 1856, Republican leaders realized that even though they appealed only to Northern voters, they need win only two more states, such as Pennsylvania and Illinois, to win the presidency in 1860.
As the Democrats were grappling with their own troubles, leaders in the Republican party fought to keep elected members focussed on the issue of slavery in the West, which allowed them to mobilize popular support. Chase wrote Sumner that if the conservatives succeeded, it might be necessary to recreate the Free Soil Party. He was also particularly disturbed by the tendency of many Republicans to eschew moral attacks on slavery for political and economic arguments.
The controversy over slavery in the West was still not creating a fixation on the issue of slavery. Although the old restraints on the sectional tensions were being eroded with the rapid extension of mass politics and mass democracy in the North, the perpetuation of conflict over the issue of slavery in the West still required the efforts of radical Democrats in the South and radical Republicans in the North. They had to ensure that the sectional conflict would remain at the center of the political debate.
William Seward contemplated this potential in the 1840s, when the Democrats were the nation's majority party, usually controlling Congress, the presidency, and many state offices. The country's institutional structure and party system allowed slaveholders to prevail in more of the nation's territories and to garner a great deal of influence over national policy. With growing popular discontent with the unwillingness of many Democratic leaders to take a stand against slavery, and growing consciousness of the party's increasingly pro-Southern stance, Seward became convinced that the only way for the Whig Party to counteract the Democrats' strong monopoly of the rhetoric of democracy and equality was for the Whigs to embrace anti-slavery as a party platform. Once again, to increasing numbers of Northerners, the Southern labor system was increasingly seen as contrary to the ideals of American democracy.
Republicans believed in the existence of "the Slave Power Conspiracy," which had seized control of the federal government and was attempting to pervert the Constitution for its own purposes. The "Slave Power" idea gave the Republicans the anti-aristocratic appeal with which men like Seward had long wished to be associated politically. By fusing older anti-slavery arguments with the idea that slavery posed a threat to Northern free labor and democratic values, it enabled the Republicans to tap into the egalitarian outlook which lay at the heart of Northern society.
In this sense, during the 1860 presidential campaign, Republican orators even cast "Honest Abe" as an embodiment of these principles, repeatedly referring to him as "the child of labor" and "son of the frontier," who had proved how "honest industry and toil" were rewarded in the North. Although Lincoln had been a Whig, the "Wide Awakes" (members of the Republican clubs), used replicas of rails that he had split to remind voters of his humble origins.
In almost every northern state, organizers attempted to have a Republican Party or an anti-Nebraska fusion movement on ballots in 1854. In areas where the radical Republicans controlled the new organization, the comprehensive radical program became the party policy. Just as they helped organize the Republican Party in the summer of 1854, the radicals played an important role in the national organization of the party in 1856. Republican conventions in New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois adopted radical platforms. These radical platforms in such states as Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, and Vermont usually called for the divorce of the government from slavery, the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Laws, and no more slave states, as did platforms in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Massachusetts when radical influence was high.
Conservatives at the Republican 1860 nominating convention in Chicago were able to block the nomination of William Seward, who had an earlier reputation as a radical (but by 1860 had been criticized by Horace Greeley as being too moderate). Other candidates had earlier joined or formed parties opposing the Whigs and had thereby made enemies of many delegates. Lincoln was selected on the third ballot. However, conservatives were unable to bring about the resurrection of "Whiggery." The convention's resolutions regarding slavery were roughly the same as they had been in 1856, but the language appeared less radical. In the following months, even Republican conservatives like Thomas Ewing and Edward Baker embraced the platform language that "the normal condition of territories was freedom". All in all, the organizers had done an effective job of shaping the official policy of the Republican Party.
Southern slave holding interests now faced the prospects of a Republican President and the entry of new free states that would alter the nation's balance of power between the sections. To many Southerners, the resounding defeat of the Lecompton Constitution foreshadowed the entry of more free states into the Union. Dating back to the Missouri Compromise, the Southern region desperately sought to maintain an equal balance of slave states and free states so as to be competitive in the Senate. Since the last slave state was admitted in 1845, five more free states had entered. The tradition of maintaining a balance between North and South was abandoned in favor of the addition of more free soil states.
Recent historians have rejected the Beardian thesis. But their economic determinism has influenced subsequent historians in important ways. Modernization theorists, such as Raimondo Luraghi, have argued that as the Industrial Revolution was expanding on a worldwide scale, the days of wrath were coming for a series of agrarian, pre-capitalistic, "backward" societies throughout the world, from the Italian and American South to India. But most American historians point out the South was highly developed and on average about as prosperous as the North.
A few historians believe that the serious financial panic of 1857 and the economic difficulties leading up to it strengthened the Republican Party and heightened sectional tensions. Before the panic, strong economic growth was being achieved under relatively low tariffs. Hence much of the nation concentrated on growth and prosperity.
The iron and textile industries were facing acute, worsening trouble each year after 1850. By 1854, stocks of iron were accumulating in each world market. Iron prices fell, forcing many American iron mills to shut down.
Republicans urged western farmers and northern manufacturers to blame the depression on the domination of the low-tariff economic policies of southern-controlled Democratic administrations. However the depression revived suspicion of Northeastern banking interests in both the South and the West. Eastern demand for western farm products shifted the West closer to the North. As the "transportation revolution" (canals and railroads) went forward, an increasingly large share and absolute amount of wheat, corn, and other staples of western producers once difficult to haul across the Appalachians went to markets in the Northeast. The depression emphasized the value of the western markets for eastern goods and homesteaders who would furnish markets and respectable profits.
Aside from the land issue, economic difficulties strengthened the Republican case for higher tariffs for industries in response to the depression. This issue was important in Pennsylvania and perhaps New Jersey.
Meanwhile, many Southerners grumbled over "radical" notions of giving land away to farmers that would "abolitionize" the area. While the ideology of Southern sectionalism was well-developed before the Panic of 1857 by figures like J.D.B. DeBow, the panic helped convince even more cotton barons that they had grown too reliant on Eastern financial interests.
Thomas Prentice Kettell, former editor of the Democratic Review, was another commentator popular in the South to enjoy a great degree of prominence between 1857 and 1860. Kettell gathered an array of statistics in his book on Southern Wealth and Northern Profits, to show that the South produced vast wealth, while the North, with its dependence on raw materials, siphoned off the wealth of the South. Arguing that sectional inequality resulted from the concentration of manufacturing in the North, and from the North's supremacy in communications, transportation, finance, and international trade, his ideas paralleled old physiocratic doctrines that all profits of manufacturing and trade come out of the land. Political sociologists, such as Barrington Moore, have noted that these forms of romantic nostalgia tend to crop up whenever industrialization takes hold.
Such Southern hostility to the free farmers gave the North an opportunity for an alliance with Western farmers. After the political realignments of 1857-58—manifested by the emerging strength of the Republican Party and their networks of local support nationwide—almost every issue was entangled with the controversy over the expansion of slavery in the West. While questions of tariffs, banking policy, public land, and subsidies to railroads did not always unite all elements in the North and the Northwest against the interests of slaveholders in the South under the pre-1854 party system, they were translated in terms of sectional conflict—with the expansion of slavery in the West involved.
As the depression strengthened the Republican Party, slave holding interests were becoming convinced that the North had aggressive and hostile designs on the Southern way of life. The South was thus increasingly fertile ground for secessionism.
The Republicans' Whig-style personality-driven "hurrah" campaign helped stir hysteria in the slave states upon the emergence of Lincoln and intensify divisive tendencies, while Southern "fire eaters" gave credence to notions of the slave power conspiracy among Republican constituencies in the North and West. New Southern demands to re-open the African slave trade further fueled sectional tensions.
From the early 1840s until the outbreak of the Civil War, the cost of slaves had been rising steadily. Meanwhile, the price of cotton was experiencing market fluctuations typical of raw commodities. After the Panic of 1857, the price of cotton fell while the price of slaves continued its steep rise. At the 1858 Southern commercial convention, William L. Yancey of Alabama called for the reopening of the African slave trade. Only the delegates from the states of the Upper South, who profited from the domestic trade, opposed the reopening of the slave trade since they saw it as a potential form of competition. The convention in 1858 wound up voting to recommend the repeal of all laws against slave imports, despite some reservations.
Initially, William H. Seward of New York, Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, and Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, were the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. But Abraham Lincoln, a former one-term House member who gained fame amid the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858, had fewer political opponents within the party and out-maneuvered the other contenders. On May 16, 1860, he received the Republican nomination at their convention in Chicago, Illinois.
The schism in the Democratic Party over the Lecompton Constitution and Douglas' Freeport Doctrine caused Southern "fire-eaters" to oppose front runner Stephen A. Douglas' bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Douglas defeated the proslavery Lecompton Constitution for Kansas because the majority of Kansans were antislavery, and Douglas' popular sovereignty doctrine would allow the majority to vote slavery up or down as they chose. Douglas' Freeport Doctrine alleged that the antislavery majority of Kansans could thwart the Dred Scott decision that allowed slavery by withholding legislation for a slave code and other laws needed to protect slavery. As a result, Southern extremists demanded a slave code for the territories, and used this issue to divide the northern and southern wings of the Democratic Party. Southerners left the party and in June nominated John C. Breckinridge, while Northern Democrats supported Douglas. As a result, the Southern planter class lost a considerable measure of sway in national politics. Because of the Democrats' division, the Republican nominee faced a divided opposition. Adding to Lincoln's advantage, ex-Whigs from the border states had earlier formed the Constitutional Union Party, nominating John C. Bell for President. Thus, party nominees waged regional campaigns. Douglas and Lincoln competed for Northern votes, while Bell, Douglas and Breckinridge competed for Southern votes.
"Vote yourself a farm vote yourself a tariff" could have been a slogan for the Republicans in 1860. In sum, business was to support the farmers' demands for land (popular also in industrial working-class circles) in return for support for a higher tariff. To an extent, the elections of 1860 bolstered the political power of new social forces unleashed by the Industrial Revolution. In February 1861, after the seven states had departed the Union (four more would depart in April-May 1861; in late April, Maryland was unable to secede because it was put under martial law), Congress had a strong northern majority and passed the Morrill Tariff Act (signed by Buchanan), which increased duties and provided the government with funds needed for the war.
With the emergence of the Republicans as the nation's first major sectional party by the mid-1850s, politics became the stage on which sectional tensions were played out. Although much of the West the focal point of sectional tensions was unfit for cotton cultivation, Southern secessionists read the political fallout as a sign that their power in national politics was rapidly weakening. Before, the slave system had been buttressed to an extent by the Democratic Party, which was increasingly seen as representing a more pro-Southern position that unfairly permitted Southerners to prevail in the nation's territories and to dominate national policy before the Civil War. But they suffered a significant reverse in the electoral realignment of the mid-1850s. 1860 was a critical election that marked a stark change in existing patterns of party loyalties among groups of voters; Abraham Lincoln's election was a watershed in the balance of power of competing national and parochial interests and affiliations.
Once the election returns were certain, a special South Carolina convention declared "that the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other states under the name of the 'United States of America' is hereby dissolved", heralding the secession of ten more Southern states by May 21, 1861. With Southern opposition removed in Congress, the Republicans did not attempt to satisfy Southern demands in a way that could have produced a compromise.
Abraham Lincoln's rejection of the Crittenden Compromise, the failure to secure the ratification of the Corwin amendment in 1861, and the inability of the Washington Peace Conference of 1861 to provide an effective alternative to Crittenden and Corwin came together to prevent a compromise that is still debated by Civil War historians. Even as the war was going on, William Seward and James Buchanan were outlining a debate over the question of inevitability that would continue among historians.
Two competing explanations of the sectional tensions inflaming the nation emerged even before the war. Buchanan believed the sectional hostility to be the accidental, unnecessary work of self-interested or fanatical agitators. He also singled out the "fanaticism" of the Republican Party. Seward, on the other hand, believed there to be an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces.
The irrepressible conflict argument was the first to dominate historical discussion. In the first decades after the fighting, histories of the Civil War generally reflected the views of Northerners who had participated in the conflict. The war appeared to be a stark moral conflict in which the South was to blame, a conflict that arose as a result of the designs of slave power. Henry Wilson's History of The Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America (1872-1877) is the foremost representative of this moral interpretation, which argued that Northerners had fought to preserve the union against the aggressive designs of "slave power." Later, in his seven-volume History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the Civil War, (1893-1900), James Ford Rhodes identified slavery as the central—and virtually only—cause of the Civil War. The North and South had reached positions on the issue of slavery that were both irreconcilable and unalterable. The conflict had become inevitable.
But the idea that the war was avoidable did not gain ground among historians until the 1920s, when the "revisionists" began to offer new accounts of the prologue to the conflict. Revisionist historians, such as James G. Randall and Avery Craven, saw in the social and economic systems of the South no differences so fundamental as to require a war. Randall blamed the ineptitude of a "blundering generation" of leaders. He also saw slavery as essentially a benign institution, crumbling in the presence of 19th century tendencies. Craven, the other leading revisionist, placed more emphasis on the issue of slavery than Randall but argued roughly the same points. In The Coming of the Civil War (1942), Craven argued that slave laborers were not much worse off than Northern workers, that the institution was already on the road to ultimate extinction, and that the war could have been averted by skillful and responsible leaders in the tradition of Congressional statesmen Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. Two of the most important figures in U.S. politics in the first half of the 19th century, Clay and Webster, arguably in contrast to the 1850s generation of leaders, shared a predisposition to compromises marked by a passionate patriotic devotion to the Union.
But it is possible that the politicians of the 1850s were not inept. More recent studies have kept elements of the revisionist interpretation alive, emphasizing the role of political agitation (the efforts of Democratic politicians of the South and Republican politicians in the North to keep the sectional conflict at the center of the political debate). David Herbert Donald argued in 1960 that the politicians of the 1850s were not unusually inept but that they were operating in a society in which traditional restraints were being eroded in the face of the rapid extension of democracy. The stability of the two-party system kept the union together, but would collapse in the 1850s, thus reinforcing, rather than suppressing, sectional conflict.
Reinforcing this interpretation, political sociologists have pointed out that the stable functioning of a political democracy requires a setting in which parties represent broad coalitions of varying interests, and that peaceful resolution of social conflicts takes place most easily when the major parties share fundamental values. Before the 1850s, the second American two party system (competition between the Democrats and the Whigs) conformed to this pattern, largely because sectional ideologies and issues were kept out of politics to maintain cross-regional networks of political alliances. However, in the 1840s and 1850s, ideology made its way into the heart of the political system despite the best efforts of the conservative Whig Party and the Democratic Party to keep it out.
(Jefferson's) ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error.... Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery
In July 1863, as decisive campaigns were fought at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, Republican senator Charles Sumner re-dedicated his speech The Barbarism of Slavery and said that desire to preserve slavery was the sole cause of the war:[T]here are two apparent rudiments to this war. One is Slavery and the other is State Rights. But the latter is only a cover for the former. If Slavery were out of the way there would be no trouble from State Rights.
The war, then, is for Slavery, and nothing else. It is an insane attempt to vindicate by arms the lordship which had been already asserted in debate. With mad-cap audacity it seeks to install this Barbarism as the truest Civilization. Slavery is declared to be the "corner-stone" of the new edifice.
Lincoln's war goals were reactions to the war, as opposed to causes. Abraham Lincoln explained the nationalist goal as the preservation of the Union on August 22, 1862, one month before his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation:I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." ... My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.... I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.
On March 4, 1865, Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural Address that slavery was the cause of the War:One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.
- Donald, David Herbert, Baker, Jean Harvey, and Holt, Michael F. The Civil War and Reconstruction. (2001)
- Ellis, Richard E. The Union at Risk: Jacksonian Democracy, States' Rights and the Nullification Crisis. (1987)
- Freehling, William W. and Craig M. Simpson, eds. Secession Debated: Georgia's Showdown in 1860 (1992), speeches
- Hesseltine; William B. ed. The Tragic Conflict: The Civil War and Reconstruction (1962), primary documents
- McDonald, Forrest. States' Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio, 1776-1876. (2000)
- McPherson, James M. This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War. (2007)
- Perman, Michael, ed. Major Problems in Civil War & Reconstruction (2nd ed. 1998) primary and secondary sources.
- Stampp, Kenneth, ed. The Causes of the Civil War (3rd ed 1992), primary and secondary sources.
- Wakelyn; Jon L. ed. Southern Pamphlets on Secession, November 1860-April 1861 (1996)
- Beale, Howard K., "What Historians Have Said About the Causes of the Civil War," Social Science Research Bulletin 54, 1946.
- Boritt, Gabor S. ed. Why the Civil War Came (1996)
- Crofts Daniel. Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis (1989), pp 353-82 and 457-80
- Foner, Eric. "The Causes of the American Civil War: Recent Interpretations and New Directions." In Beyond the Civil War Synthesis: Political Essays of the Civil War Era, edited by Robert P. Swieringa. 1975.
- Kornblith, Gary J., "Rethinking the Coming of the Civil War: A Counterfactual Exercise". Journal of American History 90.1 (2003): 80 pars. detailed historiography; online version
- Pressly, Thomas. Americans Interpret Their Civil War (1966), sorts historians into schools of interpretation
- SenGupta, Gunja. “Bleeding Kansas: A Review Essay.” Kansas History 24 (Winter 2001/2002): 318-341.
- Woodworth, Steven E. ed. The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research (1996), 750 pages of historiography; see part IV on Causation.
"Needless war" school
- Craven, Avery, The Repressible Conflict, 1830-61 (1939)
- The Coming of the Civil War (1942)
- , "The Coming of the War Between the States," Journal of Southern History 2 (August 1936): 30-63; in JSTOR
- Donald, David. "An Excess of Democracy: The Civil War and the Social Process" in David Donald, Lincoln Reconsidered: Essays on the Civil War Era, 2d ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), 209-35.
- Holt, Michael F. The Political Crisis of the 1850s. (1978) emphasis on political parties and voters
- Randall, James G. "A Blundering Generation," Mississippi Valley Historical Review 27 (June 1940): 3-28 in JSTOR
- James G. Randall. The Civil War and Reconstruction. (1937), survey and statement of "needless war" interpretation
- Pressly, Thomas J. "The Repressible Conflict," chapter 7 of Americans Interpret Their Civil War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954).
- Ramsdell, Charles W. "The Natural Limits of Slavery Expansion," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 16 (Sept. 1929), 151-71, in JSTOR says slavery had almost reached its outer limits of growth by 1860, so war was unnecessary to stop further growth. online version
Economic causation and modernization
- Beard, Charles, and Mary Beard. The Rise of American Civilization. Two volumes. (1927), says slavery was minor factor
- Huston, James L. Calculating the Value of the Union: Slavery, Property Rights, and the Economic Origins of the Civil War. (2003)
- Luraghi, Raimondo, "The Civil War and the Modernization of American Society: Social Structure and Industrial Revolution in the Old South Before and During the War," Civil War History XVIII (Sept. 1972). in JSTOR
- McPherson, James M. Ordeal by Fire: the Civil War and Reconstruction. (1982), uses modernization interpretation.
- Moore, Barrington. Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. (1966). modernization interpretation
- Thornton, Mark; Ekelund, Robert B. Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War. (2004), stresses fear of future protective tariffs
Nationalism and culture
- Crofts Daniel. Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis (1989)
- Current, Richard. Lincoln and the First Shot (1963)
- Nevins, Allan, author of most detailed history
- Ordeal of the Union 2 vols. (1947) covers 1850-57.
- The Emergence of Lincoln, 2 vols. (1950) covers 1857-61; does not take strong position on causation
- Olsen, Christopher J. ''Political Culture and Secession in Mississippi: Masculinity, Honor, and the Antiparty Tradition, 1830-1860" (2000), cultural interpretation
- Potter, David The Impending Crisis 1848-1861. (1976), Pulitzer Prize-winning history emphasizing rise of Southern nationalism
- Potter, David M. Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis (1942).
- Miller, Randall M., Harry S. Stout, and Charles Reagan Wilson, eds. Religion and the American Civil War (1998), essays
Slavery as cause
- Ashworth, John
- Slavery, Capitalism, and Politics in the Antebellum Republic. (1995)
- "Free labor, wage labor, and the slave power: republicanism and the Republican party in the 1850s," in Melvyn Stokes and Stephen Conway (eds), The Market Revolution in America: Social, Political and Religious Expressions, 1800-1880, pp. 128-46. (1996)
- Donald, David et al. The Civil War and Reconstruction (latest edition 2001); 700-page survey
- Fellman, Michael et al. This Terrible War: The Civil War and its Aftermath (2003), 400-page survey
- Foner, Eric
- Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: the Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War. (1970, 1995) stress on ideology
- Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press. (1981)
- Freehling, William W. The Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 1991., emphasis on slavery
- Gienapp William E. The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852-1856 (1987)
- McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. (1988)], major overview, neoabolitionist emphasis on slavery
- Morrison, Michael. Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War (1997)
- Ralph E. Morrow. "The Proslavery Argument Revisited," The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 48, No. 1. (Jun., 1961), pp. 79-94. in JSTOR
- Rhodes, James Ford History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the McKinley-Bryan Campaign of 1896 Volume: 1. (1920), highly detailed narrative 1850-56. vol 2 1856-60; empasis on slavery
- Schlesinger, Arthur Jr. "The Causes of the Civil War" (1949) reprinted in his The Politics of Hope (1963); reintroduced new emphasis on slavery
- Stampp, Kenneth M. America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink (1990)
- Stampp, Kenneth M. And the War Came: The North and the Secession Crisis, 1860-1861 (1950).
- Civil War and Reconstruction: Jensen's Guide to WWW Resources
- State by state popular vote for president in 1860 election
- Tulane course - article on 1860 election
- Onuf, Peter. "Making Two Nations: The Origins of the Civil War" 2003 speech
- The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
- CivilWar.com Many source materials, including states' secession declarations.
- All Declarations of the Causes of Secession
- Alexander H. Stephens' Cornerstone Address
- An entry from Alexander Stephens' diary, dated 1866, reflecting on the origins of the Civil War.
- The Arguments of the Constitutional Unionists in 1850-51
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