29 Mar 2022


Slavery and Civil War in the US

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The civil war, fought from April1861 to May 1865, marked a dark era in the United States history. It led to the destruction of infrastructure and massive loss of lives. According to the estimates given, about 850,000 people perished, a number that surpassed the total fatalities in the First and Second Wars combined (Foner, 1980). On the one hand, the African Americans slaves were fighting for their liberation, while the Native Americans wanted secession from the larger America. The secession calls led to the splitting of the United States into the Confederate States and the Union. The Union comprised of the majority American states in the North, Eastern and some parts of West America. The Confederacy on the other hand had only eleven states backing its bid. Historians allege that the civil war was triggered by the extension of slavery into the North-Western parts of the United States (Foner, 1980). The ideology of the civil war emerged from the desire to liberate the slaves in America. Critics have often wondered whether America could have remained half-slave and half-free and yet fight the civil war. The actual war took a different direction and there was no direct bearing on the institution of slavery, raising the question as to whether there were any deep-seethed problems that triggered the civil war or it was merely the threat on the institution of slavery.

Forerun to the War

The Republican presidential contender, Abraham Lincoln, had ridden to office on the pledge of abolishing slavery in the United States. Upon his successful election to the White House, there was disquiet among the Southern States that had the majority slaves. These states were mainly cotton producers and had a whopping 48.5% of the slaves in the United States (Long, 1971). There was every indication that if the directive came to pass, the slave owners will lose free labor, leading to a decline in their profits. Before the inauguration ceremony, about seven states came together and forged a confederacy to challenge the directive. Coming as a government directive, the most plausible way to counter it was through secessionist threats. At the risk of losing its territory, the central government would have caved in to the demand and revised the move. However, the government remained relentless in its desire and the states resolved to war to make their point, after the collapse of the secessionist quest.

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Throughout the war, slavery remained a central issue. To the southerners, the move to abolish slavery portended hard economic times ahead. To the northerners, the freeing of slaves presented an opportunity for equitable development and strengthening of the army base. The freed slaves in the north were convinced to join the army to fight for the freedom of their companions in the south. Each of the two factions, the Union and the Confederacy, used slavery to their advantage, albeit with different outcomes. Eventually, the southern states comprising the confederacy were defeated and the war ended in May 1865, three years after the emancipation proclamation in 1862. However, the question as to whether the civil war would have occurred with slavery in the Southern states remains a puzzle. To answer this puzzle, the discourse must examine the curious case of northern states that did not free slaves yet remained part of the Union and the economic and political ideologies prevailing at the time.

Prevailing Economic and Political Ideologies

The European states and the large America depended heavily on the cotton produced from the southern states. The confederacy relied on this factor to inhibit the government’s move to liberate the slaves and force recognition from other countries, especially Europe. Unfortunately, the government intimated that it would proceed with the agenda. During the inauguration of President Lincoln, he stated that he would not interfere with the institution of slavery in the south. However, the political directives that followed indicated otherwise. In addition, America had come of age and there was a wave of democratic tendencies in the country. Activists were agitating for the extension of basic rights to the African Americans as a way of achieving social unity and cohesion (White, Bay, & Martin, 2013). Despite the fact that the issue of slavery fuelled animosities between the two factions and led to the civil war, there were other underlying factors such as the lack of political integration, protectionism, and sectionalism (Foner, 1980). There were factions that needed to defend their territories while others just wanted to overhaul the prevailing economic, social, and cultural ideals. These factors would have triggered the war at a later time in history. President Lincoln’s agenda merely provoked the issue and brought the war to a nearer date.

The civil war led to the massive destruction of infrastructure and great loss of lives. Emanating from the divisive directive of abolishing slavery, the confederacy waged war with the Union for four years. The war was primarily caused by the move to emancipate al the slaves. However, even without the slavery agenda, there was a high likelihood of a civil war outbreak due to sectionalism and protectionism. Some states felt that the prevailing economic and cultural ideals did not favor them. Others were keen to protect their territories. The directive to ban slavery in the United States was only a trigger mechanism. The civil war would have erupted, though not at the time it actually did.


Foner, E. (1980). Politics and ideology in the age of the civil war. Oxford: Oxford University 


Long, E. (1971). The civil war day by day: An almanac, 1861-1865. Garden City, New York: 


White, D., Bay, M., & Martin, W. (2013). Freedom on my mind: A history of African Americans. 

New York: Bedford/St. Martins’.

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