What do the words “civil war” make you think of? For many people these words represent a fight of good against evil, and in the case of the American civil war, the war over slavery. But these assumptions about the American Civil War aren’t always true. The Civil War was fought from 1861-1865, after 7 states seceded from the United States in January 1861. These 7 states grew to 11 and were known as the Confederacy or the South. They were fighting the North, known as the Union. The Civil War is commonly thought of as the fight to end slavery although this is not exactly true.
The North and South had very different economies and culture, and the real causes of the Civil War are more complex than just one issue. The factors that most contributed to the start of the Civil War were not only slavery, but also economic and cultural differences between the North and the South. One of the main factors affecting the start of the Civil War was differing economies in the North and the South. The North and the South developed at different rates, so their economies developed differently as well. The North had more European immigrants, and they used this to further their economy.
James R. Arnold, a military historian, said that, “More and more immigrants, especially from Germany and Ireland, came to the Northern cities to do the same work. The North’s economy depended on industry and manufacturing. This also made the North different from the South. ” This is an example of the different development of economy between the North and the South and illustrates how it split them. The North utilized the flow of immigrants to further an industrial economy that made them even more isolated from the South in terms of issues. Meanwhile, the South continued to rely on a traditional gricultural economy because of their access to slaves. And instead of slavery leading to differing economies, it was really differing economies that led to debate over slavery. G. O’mur, author of “Causes and Effects of the American Civil War”, says that, “Differing economies in the North and South led to differing opinions about slavery.
By the late 1700s, the North was a center of trade and was building an industrial economy. There were some slaves but also thousands of free blacks. The Southern states still relied on an agricultural economy. The North no longer had an economy dependent on slavery so they wanted to get rid of it for ethical reasons. However, the agricultural economy of the South was not in the position to change. As the industrial economy of the North developed and brought in larger amounts of income, the South lost the ability to change to an industrial economy. The South already got less income than the North so they could not change the core of their economy without falling into financial ruin. The North and the South had different economic needs, and this made it difficult for them to agree on issues.
Another argument between the two regions that factored into the Civil War was debate over the preservation of separate culture in the South. The South had lived in a very different way than the North for years, and they did not want to change their ways. However, many Northerners thought this culture was a product of slavery, and did not understand the importance of this issue to the South. History professor Carey M. Roberts said, “Setting aside the fact that only 25 percent of white Southerners owned slaves in 1860, there was more to the South than slavery.
Strong evidence suggests that what was definitely “Southern” in the nineteenth century developed before slavery became entrenched. African slaves lived in the colonial South as early as the 1610s, though their numbers remained relatively low until the 1670s when Virginia planters began shifting away from indentured European labor. Until then Africans and slavery exhibited little impact upon the developing Southern culture relative to the influence of British ethnic groups. Cultural historians such as David Hackett Fischer maintain that the first settlers in an area determine its cultural features if the native population is forced out. This shows that the South developed a different culture than the North naturally. It even suggests that slavery adapted to Southern culture and not the other way around. The South knew that they had a different culture and simply wished to be able to maintain it. Roberts also says that, “Amid this diversity of views and opinions, no strong evidence exists to suggest that Southerners were either obsessed with the preservation of slavery at the national level or that most American politicians and voters self-consciously voted along sectional lines.
Some historians and political scientists, such as Lee Benson and Joel Silbey, have examined the voting patterns of various districts and states in the North and South as well as the voting patterns of Congressmen and found no discernable increase in sectional voting during the 1840s and 1850s. People voted chiefly along party, rather than regional, lines. Even on the highly controversial compromises involving slavery in the territories, Congressmen displayed great willingness to move beyond sectional concerns.
Throughout the country even on issues like slavery, votes were based on party, not region. This gives the impression that the South considered what was best for the country and voted based on that. This also again proves the point that the South has a different culture that they only wanted to preserve. The South’s different culture and the preservation of such created another misunderstanding that contributed to the Civil War. But the most surprising cause of the Civil War is political decisions. Many important historical compromises ended up contributing to the Civil War.
A famous example of this is the three-fifths compromise. On the issue, O’mur says, “The number of representatives each state sent to the House of Representatives depended on the state’s population. This presented a problem for many Southern states that were largely populated by slaves. Without counting the slaves (often thought of as property rather than as people), they would have fewer representatives and less voting power. These states worried that antislavery states would gain power in Congress.
A compromise was reached that counted each slave as threefifths of a person. This shows that political decisions were actually a cause of the civil war because the South disagreed with the North that their slaves should not be counted as people, even though many Southerners did not consider slaves to be people. Because the Southerners were able to get more political power by counting slaves, they were angry when the North decided on the three-fifths compromise. The North was also angry as they wanted power in Congress to be spread equally, and they knew that the South’s views on slaves were not those being stated in Congress. Political decisions like these separated the North and the South even more.
Political decisions that affected the start of the Civil War date back as far as to the writing of the Constitution. O’mur says, “The Constitutional Convention’s representatives disagreed about how to divide power between the federal and state governments. Some worried that a strong federal government would take away the rights of the individual states. The colonies had experienced unfair laws under the British government. Would a strong federal government repeat this power struggle? Many people felt more loyalty to their state and its interests than to their nation.
This disagreement during the writing of the Constitution represents a key ideology that propelled the start of the Civil War. In the government it was argued whether slavery could be restricted via national law. The South felt that they were being limited by the federal government in the federal government’s decisions about slavery while the North disagreed. Political decisions played a bigger role in the start of the Civil War than many people think. In conclusion, the factors that most contributed to the start of the Civil War were not only slavery, but also economic and cultural differences between the North and the South.
Because of differing economies, preservation of Southern culture, political decisions, and yes, slavery, the Civil War began. The Civil War tragically resulted in over 620,00 American deaths, and though we can’t change the past, we can prevent this from happening in the future. At a time like today with so much political conflict, it is important for everyone to be informed and willing to compromise. If we can truly understand history, history won’t repeat itself, but everyone has to be willing to take the first step for a better future.