Civil War (Ap Paper) Essay, Research Paper
The name Civil War is misleading because the war was not a class struggle, but a sectional combat, having its roots in political, economic, social, and psychological elements. It has been characterized, in the words of William H. Seward, as the ?irrepressible conflict.? In another judgment the Civil War was viewed as criminally stupid, an unnecessary bloodletting brought on by arrogant extremists and blundering politicians. Both views accept the fact that in 1861 there existed a situation that, rightly or wrongly, had come to be regarded as insoluble by peaceful means.
In the days of the American Revolution and of the adoption of the Constitution, differences between North and South were dwarfed by their common interest in establishing a new nation. But sectionalism steadily grew stronger. During the 19th century the South remained almost completely agricultural, with an economy and a social order largely founded on slavery and the plantation system. These mutually dependent institutions produced the staples, especially cotton, from which the South derived its wealth. The North had its own great agricultural resources, was always more advanced commercially, and was also expanding industrially.
Hostility between the two sections grew perceptibly after 1820, the year of the Missouri Compromise, which was intended as a permanent solution to the issue in which that hostility was most clearly expressed?the question of the extension or prohibition of slavery in the federal territories of the West. Difficulties over the tariff (which led John C. Calhoun and South Carolina to nullification and to an extreme states’ rights stand) and troubles over internal improvements were also involved, but the territorial issue nearly always loomed largest. In the North moral indignation increased with the rise of the abolitionists in the 1830s. Since slavery was unadaptable to much of the territorial lands, which eventually would be admitted as free states, the South became more anxious about maintaining its position as an equal in the Union. Southerners thus strongly supported the annexation of Texas (certain to be a slave state) and the Mexican War and even agitated for the annexation of Cuba.
The Compromise of 1850 marked the end of the period that might be called the era of compromise. The deaths in 1852 of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster left no leader of national stature, but only sectional spokesmen, such as W. H. Seward, Charles Sumner, and Salmon P. Chase in the North and Jefferson Davis and Robert Toombs in the South. Robert Toombs, for example, stated that ?northerners? tried ?to fix national degradation upon half the states of this Confederacy,? adding that he is ?for disunion.? (Congressman Robert Toombs of Georgia, Response on the floor of the House to northern efforts to keep slavery out of the territories, December 13, 1849) Daniel Webster, from the northern side, supported the Compromise of 1850, criticizing the ?abolition societies?: ?Their operations of the last twenty years have produced nothing good or valuable, *?* they [with sending incendiary publications into the slave states] created agitation in the North against Southern slavery.? (Daniel Webster, Speech in the Senate supporting the Compromise of 1850, March 7, 1850)
With the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) and the consequent struggle over ?bleeding? Kansas the factions first resorted to shooting. The South was ever alert to protect its ?peculiar institution,? ?The bill does equal and exact justice to the whole Union, and every part of it; it violates the rights of no state or territory.? (Speech of Stephen Douglas defending the Kansas-Nebraska Act, 1854), although many Southerners recognized slavery as an archaism in a supposedly enlightened age.
Abraham Lincoln, who was Douglas?s opponent, favored prohibiting slavery in all new territories, hoping thereby that the institution will die out. ?A house devided against itself cannot stand. *?* The government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.? (Abraham Lincoln, Speech at the Republican state convention, Springfield, Illinois, June 17, 1858) From his side, Stephen Douglas was sure that ?the government can endure forever, devided into free and slave States as our fathers made it, – each state having the right to prohibit, abolish, or sustain slavery, just as pleases.? (Stephen Douglas, Speech at Alton, Illinois, October 15, 1858)
Passions also aroused by arguments over the fugitive slave laws and over slavery in general were further excited by the vigorous proslavery utterances of William L. Yancey, one of the leading Southern ?fire-eaters,? and the activities of the Northern abolitionist John Brown, who was later called the man who ?begin the war that ended slavery.? (Frederick Douglass, Speech at Storer College, Harpers Ferry, Virginia, May, 1882)
The ?wedges of separation? caused by slavery split large Protestant sects into Northern and Southern branches and dissolved the Whig Party. The crucial point was reached in the presidential election of 1860, in which the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, defeated three opponents. Lincoln’s victory was the signal for the secession of South Carolina. ?We affirm that these ends for which this government was instituted have been defeated and the Government itself has been destructive of them by the action of the nonslaveholding states,?- declared South Carolina, feeling discontent about the government ?encouraging and assisting thousands of slaves to leave their homes.? (A Declaration of the Causes Which Induced the Secession of South Carolina, South Carolina, December 24, 1860) Lincoln responded to this action that no state has a right to leave the Union: ?In doing this there needs to be bloodshed and violence; and there shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national authority.? (Abraham Lincoln, The US History, Chapter 17, p.338, 1977) But the southern answer was war!
Hence, although the Civil War was the result of extremism and failures of leadership on both sides, or, sometimes, as an irrepressible conflict, it was difficult to avoid it.