The Civil War in America lasted for four years between 1861 and 1865 and contributed to the deaths of over 618,000 people. The causes of the Civil War may be traced back to the events that shaped the early development of the nation. Among the causes, the following three are the most prominent: differences in the views on the economic and social life in the South and the North, disputes between the opponents and supporters of slavery, and the opposition between state and federal rights.
Industry Versus Agriculture
With cotton becoming very profitable at the end of the 1790s, the economy of the South placed a great focus on crops and thus a higher demand for cheap labor of slaves. The cotton revolution made slaves in the South the most profitable than they have ever been (Torget 4), which also contributed to the anti-slavery movements within the political structures of the United States. Contrary to the crop-focused economy in the South, the North put forward the efforts to improve the industry; for example, the northern businesses were buying raw cotton and turning it into finished products (Kelly). Such a disparity between the economic attitudes could be equated to the creation of two polarly different societies: while in the North, people of different cultures and classes worked together, in the South, the old social order continued to persist.
The Debate Over Slavery
Since the cotton boom made slavery very popular, there was an escalation of the fight between the supporters and the opponents of slavery. With the gaining of new states such as Louisiana, the government had to decide whether slavery would be admitted in new states. In 1820, the government passed the Missouri Compromise that admitted the district of Maine as free of not recognizing slavery. In the course of the Mexican War, disputes started to arise about the fate of the new territories and whether they would also be eligible for prohibiting slavery on their lands. The tensions increased with the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 that made it possible for new territories to use popular sovereignty to decide whether they would allow slavery (Kelly). The situation exasperated when pro-slavery Missourians started helping Kansas and Nebraska become slave states by crossing the borders. In the end, the issue reached its pinnacle during violent events in Lawrence, Kansas (later called “Bleeding Kansas”). The fight between the opponents and the supporters of slavery even occurred in the walls of the Senate where South Carolina’s Senator Preston Brooks beat the anti-slavery proponents Charles Summer (Kelly).
State Versus Federal Rights
In the aftermath of the Revolution (1765-1783), two views on the system of governance emerged: while some argued that states should have possessed more rights, others supported the higher control from the federal government (Kelly). The Articles of Confederation created after the Revolution was a formation of 13 states participating in a confederation with a weak federal government. Such weakness of the Articles made the leaders create the U.S. Constitution in secret from Jefferson and Henry who advocated for the rights of states. Thus, many had a view that the Constitution ignored the rights of the states to make independent decisions, contributing to the strong ideas of nullification. After Lincoln being elected president, South Carolina was the first take action in the process of Secession from the Union, followed by South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia (Kelly), getting a step closer to the war between the Union and the Confederate States of America.
Kelly, Martin. “Top Five Causes of the Civil War.” Thoughtco, 2017. Web.
Torget, Andrew. Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850. The University of North Carolina Press, 2015.