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Cause of the Civil War

Causes Of The Civil War

The Northern and Southern sections of the United States developed along different lines. The South remained a predominantly agrarian economy while the North became more and more industrialized. Different social cultures and political beliefs developed. All of this led to disagreements on issues such as taxes, tariffs and internal improvements as well as states rights versus federal rights.


"Bleeding Kansas"

Proposed by Sen. Stephen Douglas of Illinois, the Kansas-Nebraska Act essentially repealed the line imposed by the Missouri Compromise. Douglas, an ardent believer in grassroots democracy, felt that all the territories should be subject to popular sovereignty. Seen as a concession to the South, the act led to an influx of pro- and anti-slavery forces into Kansas. Operating from rival territorial capitals, the "Free Staters" and "Border Ruffians" engaged in open violence for three years.

Though pro-slavery forces from Missouri had openly and improperly influenced elections in the territory, President James Buchanan accepted their Lecompton Constitution, and offered it to Congress for statehood. This was turned down by Congress which ordered a new election. In 1859, the anti-slavery Wyandotte Constitution was accepted by Congress. The fighting in Kansas further heightened tensions between North and South.


States' Rights

As the South recognized that control of the government was slipping away, it turned to a states' rights argument to protect slavery. Southerners claimed that the federal government was prohibited by the Tenth Amendment from impinging upon the right of slaveholders take their "property" into a new territory. They also stated that the federal government was not permitted to interfere with slavery in those states where it already existed. They felt that this type of strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution coupled with nullification, or perhaps secession would protect their way of life.



The burning issue that led to the disruption of the union, however, was the debate over the future of slavery. That dispute led to secession, and secession brought about a war in which the Northern and Western states and territories fought to preserve the Union, and the South fought to establish Southern independence as a new confederation of states under its own constitution.

The agrarian South utilized slaves to tend its large plantations and perform other duties. On the eve of the Civil War, some 4 million Africans and their descendants toiled as slave laborers in the South. Slavery was interwoven into the Southern economy even though only a relatively small portion of the population actually owned slaves. Slaves could be rented or traded or sold to pay debts. Ownership of more than a handful of slaves bestowed respect and contributed to social position, and slaves, as the property of individuals and businesses, represented the largest portion of the region’s personal and corporate wealth, as cotton and land prices declined and the price of slaves soared.

The states of the North, meanwhile, one by one had gradually abolished slavery. A steady flow of immigrants, especially from Ireland and Germany during the potato famine of the 1840s and 1850s, insured the North a ready pool of laborers, many of whom could be hired at low wages, diminishing the need to cling to the institution of slavery.

Slavery In America summary:

Slavery in America began in the early 17th Century and continued to be practiced for the next 250 years by the colonies and states. Slaves, mostly from Africa, worked in the production of tobacco crops and later, cotton. With the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 along with the growing demand for the product in Europe, the use of slaves in the South became a foundation of their economy.

In the late 18th century, the abolitionist movement began in the north and the country began to divide over the issue between north and south. In 1820, the Missouri Compromise banned slavery in all new western territories, which southern states saw as a threat to the institution of slavery itself. In 1857, the decision by the Supreme Court known as the Dred Scott Decision said that slaves that escaped to the north where not free but remained the property of their owners in the south, antagonizing abolitionists.

With the election in 1860 of Abraham Lincoln, who ran on a position of anti-slavery, the south felt that slavery was sure to be abolished, causing many southern states to secede from the union.

During the war, Abraham Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation, ostensibly freeing all slaves in the confederate states. But it wasn’t until the Union had actually won the war and the subsequent passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that the American slaves were officially freed.

Abolitionist Movement

By the early 1830s, those who wished to see that institution abolished within the United States were becoming more strident and influential. They claimed obedience to "higher law" over obedience to the Constitution’s guarantee that a fugitive from one state would be considered a fugitive in all states. The fugitive slave act along with the publishing of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped expand the support for abolishing slavery nationwide.

The Abolitionist movement in the United States of America was an effort to end slavery in a nation that valued personal freedom and believed "all men are created equal." Over time, abolitionists grew more strident in their demands, and slave owners entrenched in response, fueling regional divisiveness that ultimately led to the American Civil War.

Slavery Comes To The New World

African slavery began in North America in 1619 at Jamestown, Virginia. The first American-built slave ship, Desire, launched from Massachusetts in 1636, beginning the slave trade between Britain’s American colonies and Africa. From the beginning, some white colonists were uncomfortable with the notion of slavery. At the time of the American Revolution against the English Crown, Delaware (1776) and Virginia (1778) prohibited importation of African slaves; Vermont became the first of the 13 colonies to abolish slavery (1777); Rhode Island prohibited taking slaves from the colony (1778); and Pennsylvania began gradual emancipation in 1780.
                The Maryland Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Free Negroes and Others Unlawfully Held in Bondage was founded in 1789, the same year the former colonies replaced their Articles of Confederation with the new Constitution, "in order to form a more perfect union."
                When the U.S. Constitution was written, it made no specific mention of slavery, but it provided for the return of fugitives (which encompassed criminals, indentured servants and slaves). It allowed each slave within a state to be counted as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of determining population and representation in the House of Representatives (Article I, Section 3, says representation and direct taxation will be determined based on the number of "free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons.")
                The Constitution prohibited importation of slaves, to begin in 1808, but again managed to do so without using the words "slave" or "slavery." Slave trading became a capital offense in 1819. There existed a general feeling that slavery would gradually pass away. Improvements in technology—the cotton gin and sewing machine—increased the demand for slave labor, however, in order to produce more cotton in Southern states. By the 1830s, many Southerners had shifted from, "Slavery is a necessary evil," to "Slavery is a positive good." The institution existed because it was "God’s will," a Christian duty to lift the African out of barbarism while still exerting control over his "animal passions."

The Abolitionism Movement Spreads

Although many New Englanders had grown wealthy in the slave trade before the importation of slaves was outlawed, that area of the country became the hotbed of abolitionist sentiment. Abolitionist newspapers and pamphlets sprang into existence. These were numerous enough by 1820 that South Carolina instituted penalties for anyone bringing written anti-slavery material into the state.
                These publications argued against slavery as a social and moral evil and often used examples of African American writings and other achievements to demonstrate that Africans and their descendents were as capable of learning as were Europeans and their descendents in America, given the freedom to do so. To prove their case that one person owning another one was morally wrong, they first had to convince many, in all sections of the country, that Negroes, the term used for the race at the time, were human. Yet, even many people among the abolitionists did not believe the two races were equal.
                In 1829, David Walker, a freeman of color originally from the South, published An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World in Boston, Massachusetts. It was a new benchmark, pushing abolitionists toward extreme militancy. He called for slaves to rise up against their masters and to defend themselves: "It is no more harm for you to kill a man who is trying to kill you, than it is for you to take a drink of water when thirsty." As early as 1800, a Virginia slave known as Gabriel Prosser had attempted an uprising there, but it failed when two slaves betrayed the plan to their masters.
                Walker’s publication was too extreme even for most abolition leaders, including one of the most renowned, William Lloyd Garrison. In 1831, Garrison founded The Liberator, which would become the most famous and influential of abolitionist newspapers. That same year, Virginia debated emancipation, marking the last movement for abolition in the South prior to the Civil War. Instead, that year the Southampton Slave Riot, also called Nat Turner’s Rebellion, resulted in Virginia passing new regulations against slaves. Fears of slave revolts like the bloody Haitian Revolution of 1791–1803 were never far from Southerners’ minds. Publications like An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World led white Southerners to conclude Northern abolitionists intended to commit genocide against them.
                In 1833 in Philadelphia, the first American Anti-Slavery Society Convention convened. In a backlash, anti-abolition riots broke out in many northeastern cities, including New York and Philadelphia, during 1834-35. Several Southern states, beginning with the Carolinas, made formal requests to other states to suppress abolition groups and their literature. In Illinois, the legislature voted to condemn abolition societies and their agitation; Delegate Abraham Lincoln voted with the majority, then immediately co-sponsored a bill to mitigate some of the language of the earlier one. The U.S. House of Representatives adopted a gag rule, automatically tabling abolitionist proposals.
                The first national Anti-Slavery Convention was held in New York City in 1837, and the following year the second Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women met in Philadelphia; the latter resulted in pro-slavery riots. The Liberty Party, a political action group, held its first national convention, at Albany, N.Y., in 1839. That same year, Africans mutinied aboard the Spanish slave ship Amistad and asked New York courts to grant them freedom. Their plea was answered affirmatively by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1841.

Frederick Douglass: A Black Abolitionist

Frederick Douglass—a former slave who had been known as Frederick Bailey while in slavery and who was the most famous black man among the abolitionists—broke with William Lloyd Garrison’s newspaper, The Liberator, after returning from a visit to Great Britain, and founded a black abolitionist paper, The North Star. The title was a reference to the directions given to runaway slaves trying to reach the Northern states and Canada: Follow the North Star. Garrison had earlier convinced the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society to hire Douglass as an agent, touring with Garrison and telling audiences about his experiences in slavery. In England, however, Douglass had experienced a level of independence he’d never known in America and likely wanted greater independence for his actions here.
                Working with Douglass on The North Star was another black man, Martin R. Delaney, who gave up publishing his own paper, The Mystery, to join with Douglass. Born to a free mother in Virginia (in what is now the eastern panhandle of West Virginia), Delaney had never been a slave, but he had traveled extensively in the South. After Uncle Tom’s Cabin became a bestseller, he attempted to achieve similar success for himself by penning a semi-fictional account of his travels, Blake: The Huts of America. In 1850, he was one of three black men accepted into Harvard Medical School, but white students successfully petitioned to have them removed. No longer believing that merit and reason could allow members of his race to have an equal opportunity in white society, he became an ardent black nationalist. In 1859, he traveled to Africa and negotiated with eight tribal chiefs in Abbeokuta for land, on which he planned to establish a colony for skilled and educated African Americans. The agreement fell apart, and he returned to America where, near the end of the Civil War, he became the first black officer on a general’s staff in the history of the U.S. Army.

Abolitionists Invoke A Higher Law

Abolitionists became increasingly strident in their condemnations of slave owners and "the peculiar institution of slavery." Often, at Fourth of July gatherings of abolition societies, they reportedly used the occasion to denounce the U.S. Constitution as a "covenant with death, and an agreement with hell." Many of them came to believe in "higher law," that a moral commitment to ending slavery took precedent over observing those parts of the Constitution that protected slavery and, in particular, they refused to obey the Fugitive Slave Act. Slave owners or their representatives traveling north to reclaim captured runaways were sometimes set upon on abolitionists mobs; even local lawmen were sometimes attacked. In the South, this fueled the belief that the North expected the South to obey all federal laws but the North could pick and choose, further driving the two regions apart.
                The abolition movement became an important element of political parties. Although the Native American Party (derisively called the Know-Nothing Party because when member were asked about the secretive group they claimed to "know nothing") opposed immigrants, they also opposed slavery. So did many Whigs and the Free Soil Party. In 1856, these coalesced into the Republican Party. Four years later, its candidate, Abraham Lincoln, captured the presidency of the United States.


The Seneca Falls Convention

In 1848, the first Women’s Rights convention was held, in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Outside of the Society of Friends ("Quakers"), women were often denied the opportunity to speak at abolitionist meetings. The women’s rights movement produced many outspoken opponents of slavery, including Elizabeth Cody Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. In fact, women’s equality and abolition became inextricably linked in the minds of many Southerners. In the 20th century, that lingering animosity nearly defeated the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote.
                Although Delaney’s planned African colony failed, in 1849 Great Britain recognized the African colony of Liberia as a sovereign state. It had been founded in 1822 as a colony for free-born blacks, freed slaves and mulattoes (mixed race) from the United States. A number of Americans who opposed slavery (including Abraham Lincoln for a time and the aforementioned Delany) felt that the two races could never live successfully together, and the best hope for Negroes was to return them to freedom in Africa. However, the slave trade between Africa and the Western Hemisphere (the Caribbean and South America) had never ended, and many American ship owners and captains were enjoying something of a golden era of slavetrading while the U.S. and Europe looked the other way. Even if freed slaves had been sent to Africa, many would have wound up back in slavery south of the United States. Only in the late 1850s did Britain step up its anti-slavery enforcement on the high seas, leading America to increase its efforts somewhat.
                When the federal government passed a second, even more stringent fugitive slave act in 1850, several states responded by passing personal liberty laws. The following year, Sojourner Truth (Isabella Baumfree) gave a now-famous speech, "Ain’t I a Woman," at the Women’s Rights convention in Akron, Ohio. Born a slave in New York, she walked away from her owner after she felt she had contributed enough to him. In the late 1840s, she dictated a memoir, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave, published by Garrison in 1850. She began to tour, speaking against slavery and in favor of women’s rights.


Harriet Tubman and The Underground Railroad

While Sojourner Truth, Douglass, Delaney and others wrote and spoke to end slavery, a former slave named Harriet Tubman, nee Harriet Ross, was actively leading slaves to freedom. After escaping from bondage herself, she made repeated trips into Dixie to help others. Believed to have helped some 300 slaves to escape, she was noted for warning those she was assisting that she would shoot any of them who turned back, because they would endanger herself and others she was assisting.
                Tubman was an agent of the Underground Railroad, a system of "safe houses" and way stations that secretly helped runaways. The trip might begin by hiding in the home, barn or other location owned by a Southerner opposed to slavery, and continuing from place to place until reaching safe haven in a free state or Canada. Those who reached Canada did not have to fear being returned under the Fugitive Slave Act. Several communities and individuals claim to have created the term "Underground Railroad." In the southern section of states on the north bank of the Ohio River, a "reverse underground railroad" operated; blacks in those states were kidnapped, whether they had ever been slaves or not, and taken South to sell through a series of clandestine locations.


Harriet Beecher Stowe: Abolitionist and Author

In 1852, what may have been the seminal event of the abolition movement occurred. Harriet Beecher Stowe, an abolitionist who had come to know a number of escaped slaves while she was living in Cincinnati, authored the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It presented a scathing view of Southern slavery, filled with melodramatic scenes such as that of the slave Eliza escaping with her baby across the icy Ohio River:
                The huge green fragment of ice on which she alighted pitched and creaked as her weight came on it but she stayed there not a moment. With wild cries and desperate energy she leaped to another and still another cake;—stumbling,—leaping,—slipping—springing upwards again! Her shoes are—gone her stockings cut from her feet—while blood marked every step; but she saw nothing, felt nothing, till dimly, as in a dream, she saw the Ohio side and a man helping her up the bank.
                Critics pointed out that Stowe had never been to the South, but her novel became a bestseller in the North (banned in the South) and the most effective bit of propaganda to come out of the abolitionist movement. It galvanized many who had been sitting on the sidelines. Reportedly, when President Abraham Lincoln met Stowe during the Civil War he said to her, "So you’re the little woman who started this big war."


The Missouri Compromise And Dred Scott

Missouri’s appeal for statehood brought a confrontation between free and slave states in Congress in 1820; each feared the other would gain the upper hand. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 set a policy of admitting states in pairs, one slave, one free. (Maine came in at the same time as Missouri.) The compromise prohibited slavery above parallel 36 degrees, 30 minutes in the lands of the Louisiana Purchase, and it included a national Fugitive Slave Law requiring all Americans to return runaway slaves to their owners. The Fugitive Slave Law was upheld in Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 1842, but the Missouri Compromise’s prohibitions on the spread of slavery would be found unconstitutional in the 1857 Dred Scott decision.

Dred Scott V. Sanford

The 1857 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Dred Scott v. Sanford denied citizenship to anyone of African blood and held the Missouri Compromise of 1820 to be unconstitutional. While Southern states had been passing laws prohibiting "Negro citizenship" and further restricting the rights even of freemen of color (Virginia in 1857 prohibited slaves from smoking and from standing on sidewalks, among other restrictions), one Northern state after another had been passing laws granting citizenship to their black residents. The Court’s findings upended that, and the ruling outraged many Northerners. Abraham Lincoln revived his personal political career, coming out of a self-imposed semi-retirement to speak out against the Dred Scott decision.
                The year 1859 saw two events that were milestones in the history of slavery and abolition in America. The ship Clotilde landed in Mobile, Alabama. Though the importation of slaves had been illegal in America since 1808, Clotilde carried 110 to 160 African slaves. The last slave ship ever to land in the United States, it clearly demonstrated how lax the enforcement of the anti-importation laws was.

The Missouri Compromise

Additional territories gained from the U.S.–Mexican War of 1846–1848 heightened the slavery debate. Abolitionists fought to have slavery declared illegal in those territories, as the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had done in the territory that became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. Advocates of slavery feared that if the institution were prohibited in any states carved out of the new territories the political power of slaveholding states would be diminished, possibly to the point of slavery being outlawed everywhere within the United States. Pro- and anti-slavery groups rushed to populate the new territories.

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was an effort by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to maintain a balance of power between the slaveholding states and free states. The slaveholding states feared that if they became outnumbered in Congressional representation that they would lack the power to protect their interests in property and trade.

In 1819, the slaveholding territory of Missouri applied for admission to the Union. Northern states opposed it, feeling that Southern slaveholding states held too much power already. The Constitution allowed states to count each slave as three-fifths of a person for purposes of determining population, and therefore, the number of Congressional representatives the state was entitled to. This had given the South an advantage in Congress.

The Missouri Compromise, after much debate, passed the Senate on March 2, 1820, and the House on February 26, 1821. Though the compromise measure quelled the immediate divisiveness engendered by the Missouri question, it intensified the larger regional conflict between North and South. It served notice to the North that Southerners not only did not intend for slavery to end, they wanted to expand its presence. In the South, the belief grew that Northerners were using slavery as a smokescreen behind which they could resurrect the Federalist Party and strengthen the central government at the expense of states’ rights.
                For nearly 30 years, the compromise worked, with two states being admitted together, one slave, one free. Then, in 1850, California was admitted as a stand-alone free state, upsetting the balance 16–15, in exchange for a Congressional guarantee no restrictions on slavery would be placed on the territories of Utah or New Mexico and passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, which required citizens of all states to return any runaway slaves to their masters. In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Congress had no right to prohibit slavery in territories, as part of the decision in the Dred Scott case. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 repealed the 36-30 dividing line for slavery in the Louisiana Purchase area.


Slavery In The Northwest Territory

Slavery had already been creeping into the Northwest Territory (the area between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes), even though the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 prohibited slavery there. Southerners migrating into that region took their slaves with them under the guise of indentured servitude, which was legal in the area. Northerners, most of whom favored "free states" in which slavery was prohibited, feared slavery would become de facto in the states carved from the Northwest Territory. The admission of Missouri, which came from lands obtained through the Louisiana Purchase and lay outside the Old Northwest, added to their fears of the expansion of slavery.
                Representative Jame Tallmadge, Jr., of New York offered two amendments to the Missouri statehood bill on Feb. 13, 1819. The first prohibited any further importation of slaves into Missouri; the second required gradual emancipation for the slaves already there. The House passed his amendments, along strictly regional voting lines, but the Senate, where representation of free and slaveholding states were balanced, rejected it.
                Congressional debates on the issue raged for a year until the District of Maine, originally part of Massachusetts, sought statehood. Henry Clay of Kentucky, the Speaker of the House, maintained that if Maine were to be admitted, then Missouri should be, too. From this came the notion that states be admitted in pairs, one slave and one free. Senator Jesse B. Thomas of Illinois proposed an amendment allowing slavery below the parallel 36 degrees, 30 minutes in the vast Louisiana Purchase territory, but prohibiting it above that line. That parallel was chosen because it ran approximately along the southern border of Missouri.


John Brown: Abolitionism’s Fiery Crusader

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 allowed the citizens of those territories to determine for themselves whether the state would be slave or free. Proponents of both factions poured into the Kansas Territory, with each side trying to gain supremacy, often through violence. After pro-slavery groups attacked the town of Lawrence in 1856, a radical abolitionist named John Brown led his followers in retaliation, killing five pro-slavery settlers. The territory became known as "Bleeding Kansas."

In Kansas, particularly, violent clashes between proponents of the two ideologies occurred. One abolitionist in particular became famous—or infamous, depending on the point of view—for battles that caused the deaths of pro-slavery settlers in Kansas. His name was John Brown. Ultimately, he left Kansas to carry his fight closer to the bosom of slavery.

The Raid On Harper’s Ferry

On the night of October 16, 1859, Brown and a band of followers seized the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), in what is believed to have been an attempt to arm a slave insurrection. (Brown denied this at his trial, but evidence indicated otherwise.) They were dislodged by a force of U.S. Marines led by Army lieutenant colonel Robert E. Lee.

Brown was swiftly tried for treason against Virginia and hanged. Southern reaction initially was that his acts were those of a mad fanatic, of little consequence. But when Northern abolitionists made a martyr of him, Southerners came to believe this was proof the North intended to wage a war of extermination against white Southerners. Brown’s raid thus became a step on the road to war between the sections.

John Brown’s Raid On Harpers Ferry

Nearly 1,000 miles northeast of Mobile, on the night of October 16, 1859, John Brown—the radical abolitionist who had killed proslavery settlers in Kansas—led 21 men in a raid to capture the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). Though Brown denied it, his plan was to use the arsenal’s weapons to arm a slave uprising. He and his followers, 16 white men and five black ones, holed up in the arsenal after they were discovered, and were captured there by a group of U.S. Marines commanded by an Army lieutenant colonel, Robert E. Lee. Convicted of treason against Virginia, Brown was hanged December 2.
                Initial reaction in the South was that this was the work of a small group of fanatics, but when Northern newspapers, authors and legislators began praising him as a martyr—a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier eulogizing Brown was published in the New York Herald Tribune less than a month after the execution—their actions were taken as further proof that Northern abolitionists wished to carry out genocide of white Southerners. The flames were fanned higher as information came out that Brown had talked other abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass, about his plans and received financial assistance from some of them.


The Election Of Abraham Lincoln

Exacerbating tensions, the old Whig political party was dying. Many of its followers joined with members of the American Party (Know-Nothings) and others who opposed slavery to form a new political entity in the 1850s, the Republican Party. When the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln won the 1859 presidential election, Southern fears that the Republicans would abolish slavery reached a new peak. Lincoln was an avowed opponent of the expansion of slavery but said he would not interfere with it where it existed.

Abraham Lincoln: Abolitionist President

Following Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860, Southern states began seceding from the Union. Though personally opposed to slavery and convinced the United States was going to have to be all free or all slave states—"a house divided against itself cannot stand"—he repeatedly said he would not interfere with slavery where it existed. But he adamantly opposed its expansion into territories where it did not exist, and slave owners were determined that they had to be free to take their human property with them if they chose to move into those territories.
                Less than two years into the civil war that began over Southern secession, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It freed all slaves residing in areas of the nation currently in rebellion. Often ridiculed, both then and now, because it only freed slaves in areas that did not recognize Lincoln’s authority, it meant that Union Army officers no longer had to return runaway slaves to their owners because, as the armies advanced, slaves in the newly captured areas were considered free. It also effectively prohibited European nations that had long since renounced slavery from entering the war on the side of the South.


Southern Secession

That was not enough to calm the fears of delegates to an 1860 secession convention in South Carolina. To the surprise of other Southern states—and even to many South Carolinians—the convention voted to dissolve the state’s contract with the United States and strike off on its own.

South Carolina had threatened this before in the 1830s during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, over a tariff that benefited Northern manufacturers but increased the cost of goods in the South. Jackson had vowed to send an army to force the state to stay in the Union, and Congress authorized him to raise such an army (all Southern senators walked out in protest before the vote was taken), but a compromise prevented the confrontation from occurring.

Perhaps learning from that experience the danger of going it alone, in 1860 and early 1861 South Carolina sent emissaries to other slave holding states urging their legislatures to follow its lead, nullify their contract with the United States and form a new Southern Confederacy. Six more states heeded the siren call: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Others voted down secession—temporarily.


Fort Sumter

On April 10, 1861, knowing that resupplies were on their way from the North to the federal garrison at Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, provisional Confederate forces in Charleston demanded the fort’s surrender. The fort’s commander, Major Robert Anderson, refused. On April 12, the Confederates opened fire with cannons. At 2:30 p.m. the following day, Major Anderson surrendered.

War had begun. Lincoln called for volunteers to put down the Southern rebellion. Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee, refusing to fight against other Southern states and feeling that Lincoln had exceeded his presidential authority, reversed themselves and voted in favor of session. The last one, Tennessee, did not depart until June 8, nearly a week after the first land battle had been fought at Philippi in Western Virginia. (The western section of Virginia rejected the session vote and broke away, ultimately forming a new, Union-loyal state, West Virginia. Other mountainous regions of the South, such as East Tennessee, also favored such a course but were too far from the support of Federal forces to attempt it.)



The secession of Southern States led to the establishment of the Confederacy and ultimately the civil war. It was the one serious secession movement in the United States and was defeated when the Union Army defeated the Confederate Army in the Civil War.

Causes Of Secession

Before the civil war, the country was dividing between north and south. Issues included States Rights but centered most around the issue of slavery which was prominent in the south but increasingly banned by northern states.

With the election in 1860 of Abraham Lincoln, who ran on a message of anti-slavery, the southern states felt it was only a matter of time before the institution was outlawed completely. South Carolina became the first state to officially secede from the United States on December 20. 1860. Four months later, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana seceded as well. Later Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee joined them, and soon afterward, the people of these states elected Jefferson Davis as president of the newly formed Confederacy.

Secession Leads To War

The civil war officially began with the Battle Of Fort SumterFort Sumter, which was a Union Fort on Confederate land. After refusing to vacate the fort, Confederate forces opened fire on the fort with cannons. It was surrendered without casualty, but led to the bloodiest war in the nation’s history.

The Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865 and led to over 618,000 casualties. Its causes can be traced back to tensions that formed early in the nation's history. Following are the top five causes that led to the "War Between the States."

1. Economic and social differences between the North and the South.

With Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin in 1793, cotton became very profitable. This machine was able to reduce the time it took to separate seeds from the cotton. However, at the same time the increase in the number of plantations willing to move from other crops to cotton meant the greater need for a large amount of cheap labor, i.e. slaves. Thus, the southern economy became a one crop economy, depending on cotton and therefore on slavery. On the other hand, the northern economy was based more on industry than agriculture. In fact, the northern industries were purchasing the raw cotton and turning it into finished goods. This disparity between the two set up a major difference in economic attitudes. The South was based on the plantation system while the North was focused on city life. This change in the North meant that society evolved as people of different cultures and classes had to work together. On the other hand, the South continued to hold onto an antiquated social order.


2. States versus federal rights.

Since the time of the Revolution, two camps emerged: those arguing for greater states rights and those arguing that the federal government needed to have more control. The first organized government in the US after the American Revolution was under the Articles of Confederation. The thirteen states formed a loose confederation with a very weak federal government. However, when problems arose, the weakness of this form of government caused the leaders of the time to come together at the Constitutional Convention and create, in secret, the US ConstitutionStrong proponents of states rights like Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry were not present at this meeting. Many felt that the new constitution ignored the rights of states to continue to act independently. They felt that the states should still have the right to decide if they were willing to accept certain federal acts. This resulted in the idea of nullification, whereby the states would have the right to rule federal acts unconstitutional. The federal government denied states this right. However, proponents such as John C. Calhoun fought vehemently for nullification. When nullification would not work and states felt that they were no longer respected, they moved towards secession.