The Civil War lasted 5 years, took 600,000 lives and yet there exists doubt in what is the main reason behind it. I myself feel that the major issue that triggered the war was slavery, which for the South threatened economy. I am going to discuss how issues of slavery existed before the war, how it was in the minds of soldiers during the war, and then still existed after the war. The North favored a loose interpretation of the United States Constitution, they wanted to grant the Federal Government increased powers.
The South on the other hand wanted to reserve all undefined powers to the individual states. The North wanted improvements such as more railroads, canals, and roads to be sponsored by the Federal Government, while the South did not want any of these projects to even be taken into consideration. The North and the South had deep economic, social, and political differences. Even though all these reasons existed for them wanting to succeed from the North, I believe the main reason was slavery.
The South not only wanted but they needed slavery, for it was the basis of their economy. The labor force in the South was made up of about four million slaves. These slaves cultivated tobacco, rice, and indigo, they were also in high demand because of the invention of the cotton gin which required growing more cotton than ever before. The North, being Pro Abolition had denounced the immoral institution of slavery. The North’s opposing views led to attack on the system of the South and showed opposition to slavery’s spreading into new territories.
Because it was difficult to decided what the status of states would be the North took action and passed the Missouri Comprimise. This comprimise stated that the status of a state of free or slave would depend if it was above or below 36 degree Latitude. States above the line would be free states and states south of that point would be Slave states. This Compromise created a balance of 11 free states and 11 slave states, it settled conflicts between the North and the South for almost a generation. This all changed when Mexico had been admitted into the Union and people began getting upset.
Many compromises were created but they proved to be unsuccessful they resulted in gradual intensification of hostility between the free and slave states. In 1854, another law was passed it was the Kansas and Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise. This new Act stated that inhabitants of territories should decide for themselves the legability of slave holding which was known as “Popular Sovereignty”. This was yet another failure as people began to take matters into their own hands and violence was highly present. The last main conflict came with the election of Lincoln in 1860.
Lincoln was a moderate, he stood in the center not really having a problem with slavery. He did though hope that slavery would die out and he was some what opposed to the expansion of slavery. The South felt that expansion was threatened and because the expansion of slavery was vital to the survival of slavery they felt their way of life was being threatened. That was what finally drove the southerners off the ledge. The South hoped that succession would pose a threat and would force the Union to accept southern demands, but unfortunately for them it did not.
They had all they were going to have finally on December 20, 1860 South Carolina adopted an ordinance of succession, other states followed and by February 4th of the next year delegates from all those states met in Montgomery and drafted a Constitution for the Confederates states of America. This outraged the North and led to the Civil War. It is obvious that all the issues that brought on the war were concerned with slavery, one way or another. In the book Killer Angels one learns what is going through the minds of the soldiers.
The book includes a part where we see what America means to a Colonel of the North and why he feels he is fighting in the war. We also get knowledge of what the Southerners feel they are fighting for. The Colonel was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and when the narrator is introducing him we learn that he is an ideal northerner who grew up believing in America and that this was a land where no one had to bow. In this place at last a man could stand up free of the past, free of tradition and blood ties and become what he wished to become. This was the first place on earth where the man mattered more than the state.
He felt he was fighting for the dignity of man, if men were all equal in America, all these former Poles, English, Czechs, and blacks, then they were equal too. He felt Americans fought for mankind, for freedom; for the people not the land (Page 27). Those were the type of ideas that motivated the men from the North to fight, it was for freedom and equality for all. The South on the other had was fighting because they felt the North had deprived them of their rights. They actually thought it was a shame that so many people felt the war was about slavery, when it was really about a question of the Constitution.
Southerners were fighting for their pride, a Major General, George Pickett gives what he feels is a fair analogy of what they’re fighting for. He says: “we all joined a gentleman’s club, and then the members of the club started sticking their noses into our private lives, and then we up and resigned, and then they tell us we don’t have the right to resign” (Page 66). With those two pieces from the novel we get an idea of what the mentalities were during the war. By 1865 the Confederate forces were truly beaten and now the Reconstruction Period was on its way.
This was going to allow the South back into the Union and reconstruct American society on new lines. This reconstruction business was going to be no easy matter. The southerners were not totally accepting this whole freedom for slaves concept. They even created a myth about the Reconstruction, which stated that blacks would not work, they’d just lay around and would respect no one. All that of course was a myth and proved to be very false, as blacks worked very hard and as for respect they did respect but they were finally saying what they felt.
The Reconstruction Period did not really do all that it was expected to do. The newly freed slaves had no money, no food, no work and no land. Unfortunatley, that led to many ex-slaves to work with ex-slave owners who still treated them harshly by starving them and whipping them as if they were still slaves. Not all slaves were in that situation many practiced their rights right away and moved to other places seeking opportunity and family members they had been separated from. The North kept battling to try and make sure the ex-slaves where being treated fairly.
States that rejoined the Union had to add anti-slave laws to their Constitutions. A Freedsman Bureau was created where schools, social services, help with relocation and protection was offered to ex-slaves. The South though wasn’t giving up in fact, the South created a set of harsh local and state laws called “Black Codes” passed to control blacks in the South. After a while the North began to back off and all their power issues over the South began to die down. The soldiers from the North then return to the North and no one was left to reinforce the laws that were written which concerned the blacks.
The South then began to gain political power and things began to go their way again, blacks were discriminated against and their lives became difficult again even though they were free. It was not difficult to notice the issues of slavery from before the war, during the war, and after the war. Slavery formed two opposing societies, and slavery could never be abolished, the Civil War was inevitable. The Civil War was very painful for America, it brought social and economic hardship but it was necessary to bring “These United States” to “The United States”.