Modern World History

American Civil War

American Civil War (1861-1865) was a civil war between the United states (the Union) and the Southern slave states of the newly formed Confederate States of America under Jefferson Davis. The Union included all the free states and the five slave holding Border States. Abraham Lincoln and the Republican army led the union. The Republicans opposed the expansion of slavery into territories owned by the United States and their victory in the presidential election of 1860 resulted in seven southern states declaring their succession from the union even before Lincoln took office. The Union rejected succession and regarded it as a rebellion. This conflict initiated the American Civil War that threatened the unity and integrity of newly formed United States. The victory in the war ended slavery in the United States and restored the union by settling the issue of nullification and succession and strengthened the role of the federal government. The social, political, economic and racial issues of the war continue to impact contemporary American thought.

The main explanation for the origins of the American Civil War was slavery and its expansion into the territories. States’ rights and the tariff issue became entangled in the slavery issue and were intensified by it. Other important factors party politics, expansionism, sectionalism etc. 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 rapidly growing urban population and no slavery outside the Border States. A high birth rate and huge number of European immigrants fed its growth. 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 and low immigration from Europe. There were few cities or towns and little manufacturing units. Slave owners controlled politics and economy of the region. Overall the northern population was growing much more quickly than the southern population that made it increasingly difficult for the south to continue to control 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 opposed slavery moderately resulting in numerous compromise such as 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. Amid the emergence of increasingly 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 the 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 mid west became committed to the economic ethos of free labor industrial capitalism.

After 1840 abolitionists denounced slavery as more than a social evil. 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 southern states from the union and their formation of the Confederate State of America.

Beginning of the War

Abraham Lincoln’s victory in the presidential election of 1860 triggered South Carolina’s declaration of secession from the Union. By February 1861 six more Southern states made similar declarations. On Feb 7 the seven states adopted a provisional constitution for the confederate states of America and established their temporary capital at Montgomery, Alabama. A pre-war February peace conference of 1861 met in Washington in a failed attempt to resolve the crisis. The remaining eight slave states rejected pleas to join the Confederacy. Confederate forces seized most of the federal forts within their boundaries. President Buchanan protested but made no military response aside from a failed attempt to resupply Fort Sumter via the ship Star of the West and no serious military preparations. However governors in Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania started buying weapons and training militia units.

On March 4 1861 Abraham Lincoln in his presidential address argued that the Constitution was a more perfect union than the earlier Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union that it was a binding contract and called any secession legally void. He stated that he had no intent to invade Southern states nor did he intend to end slavery where it existed but that he would use force to maintain possession of federal property. His speech closed with a plea for restoration of the bonds of union.

Outcome and Significance

American Civil War was fought by armies whose numbers increased steadily until the Federal forces crossed one million mark. The battle was found at land between New Mexico and the Eastern Sea. Washington and Richmond were the main targets. The Confederates outnumbered with much less resources fought under General Lee. The Union fought under Generals Sherman and Grant and became victorious over ruined South. In October 1864 a federal army led by Sherman penetrated the Confederate left and charged from Tennessee through Georgia to the coast right across the Confederate country and then passing through the Carolina came from behind the Confederate armies. Grant engaged Lee at Richmond and on 9th April 1865 Lee and his men laid down arms and within a month all the remaining secessionist armies had surrendered and the Confederacy came to an end.

Both sides suffered heavy causalities. Federal armies suffered about 6.53 lakh causalities in which 3.6 lakh dead and rest wounded. Confederate forces suffered 4.83 lakh causalities with 2.58-lakh dead and high material loss. In spite of the marked economic differences between the North and the South both sides issued paper money to meet obligations both initially bought supplies in Europe and both converted existing industrial facilities and developed new ones to meet emergency demands. The South’s attachment to a traditional society, state’s rights, slavery and agrarian structure hindered its capacity to change its political, social and economic structure sufficiently to meet the exigency. The Civil War relegated the rights of the states behind the rights of the nation, did away with slavery, smashed the South’s economic and political power, organized Northern industry and left animosity and intolerance. Defeat gave the south an explanation for failure, an excuse for inaction and a unity it has never experienced before. It was out numbered, defeated but still defiant and determined to salvage as much its societal norms as possible. It tried hard to maintain its ideas, institutions and its way of life.

Northern leaders agreed that victory would require more than the end of the fighting. It had to encompass the two war goals- secession had to be totally repudiated and all forms of slavery had to be eliminated. They disagreed on the degree of federal control that should be imposed on the south and the process by which the southern states should be reintegrated into the union. All slaves in the Confederacy were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation that stipulated that slaves in Confederate held areas but not in Border States or in Washington were free. Slaves in the Border states and Union controlled parts of the south were freed by state action or by the Thirteenth amendment although slavery effectively ended in the US in the spring of 1865.The full restoration of the Union was the work of a highly contentious post war era known as reconstruction. Reconstruction that began early in the war and ended in 1877 involved a complex and rapidly changing series of federal and state policies. The long-term result came in the three Civil War Amendments to the Constitution the Thirteenth amendment that abolished slavery; the Fourteenth Amendment that extended federal legal protections equally to citizen regardless of race and the Fifteenth amendment that abolished racial restrictions on voting.

The Missouri Compromise

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 a question whether the state would be slave or free. Since every state has same number of senators regardless of population the way to prevent conflict between the slave and free states was to allow each section to have the same number of states that would result in each side having the same number of senators. Since the admission of Missouri would upset this balance many 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 resolved by the Compromise of 1820 that 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 the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854 repealed this ban on slavery.

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