10 May 2022


What Was The Root Cause Of The Civil War?

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The question regarding the original cause of the Civil War has been discussed since the end of the war in 1865. Many historians and scholars have opined that there was no single primary cause of the Civil War. However, just like many other wars, it culminated from significant disagreements concerning the social and political life of America. The Northern and Southern people and politicians clashed over several factors that ultimately resulted in the war. Some of the issues included cultural values, political interests, the control of the states by the federal government, and most fundamentally, slavery in the American society. Although most of these issues found solutions using diplomacy, slavery proved to be an emotive issue that only brewed more tension. The Northern states' decision to implement the abolitionist laws to end slavery upset the Southerners, who depended on an agrarian economy that required the slaves for workforce. 

After the Declaration of Independence in 1776, slavery continued to play a significant role in the economy and social life in all the 13 colonies. Since slavery was restricted to people from the African ancestry, white supremacy began a critical discourse in the society. However, there was a growing concern amongst the Northern regarding slavery leading to the enactment of abolitionist laws that would lead to the abandonment of slavery. The North had a steady influx of immigrants from Europe, and furthermore, its economy was primarily based on industrialization as opposed to agriculture. As a result, there was a decreasing need for slavery in the North. On the contrary, the South experienced immense agricultural success with the white-owned plantations depending on the slaves to engage in a meaningful production of goods. Abraham Lincoln in his 1858 speech at Springfield noted the division caused by slavery in the nation and asserted that "a house divided against itself cannot stand.” In rallying the nation to seek a permanent solution that would end slavery, Lincoln noted that "we are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation” (House Divided Speech).

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The primary cause of the American Civil War is usually attributable to the irreconcilable social and political views between the North and the South. The rise in the number of immigrants in the North played a significant role in the declining need of the slaves ( Dubin) . It further led to the creation of a cosmopolitan culture where different people came to live and coexist. However, the Southerners held on to the long-held views on White Supremacy both in the political and private domain (What to a Slave is the 4th of July?). The differences between North and South further shaped people's views on the likelihood that the federal government would control the cultures and economies of the states. There are, however, abolitionists such as John Brown who believed that the only way to end slavery was to start an armed insurrection. John Brown was accused of hurling "the country into a conundrum. He convulsed the nation into dangerous delirium. He ensured that North and South were standing in battle array" (John Brown’s Smoldering Spark). 

The conflict between the North and the South emanated largely from the policy differences regarding slave policies (Federick Douglass). One of the areas of contention was known as the Fugitive Slave Law. It provided that any runaway slave would be tried by a special commissioner. The commissioner would go ahead to receive $10 if the fugitive in question was returned to slavery but only 5$ if they were let free. However, the Northerners were critical of this policy and saw it as a way of targeting the black slaves and holding them accountable for their actions. The Fugitive Slave Law led to a lot of resentment in the North, a factor that further brew tension between the two factions that ultimately resulted in war. As a result, the law was massively rejected as the Northerners counted the laws with the personal liberty policy that “prohibited state officials from assisting in the return of runaways” (The Fugitive Slave Law).

Secession was another major factor that played a role in the eruption of the war between the Northerners and the Southerners. The Southern states ultimately seceded due to the differed principles on slavery thereby leading to the establishment of the Confederacy. The secession is considered as one of the most prominent in the history of the United States, and it thus resulted in the onset of the Civil War. However, the Confederacy was ultimately defeated by the Union leading to the end of the American Civil War. One of the proponents of the secession movement was John C. Calhoun, a Southerner who noted that "a state, as a party to the constitutional compact, has the right to secede,-acting in the same capacity in which it ratified the constitution" (John C. Calhoun, 1853).

In conclusion, the Civil War was primarily a political conflict between the Northern and the Southern states as a result of unresolved differences regarding the issue of slavery. The North and South fundamentally differed in many vital areas regarding the institution of slavery. Whereas the North wanted abolition, the South feared for its agricultural and economic wellbeing ( Campbell) . The differed philosophy eventually led to the secession of the Southerners and subsequent war. In the end, the Union won, slavery abolished, signaling the beginning of a new America.


Campbell, Stanley W.  The Slave Catchers: Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, 1850-1860 . UNC Press Books, 2012.

Dubin, Michael J. United States presidential elections, 1788-1860: The official results by county and state. McFarland & Company, 2002.

Federick Douglass, "What to the Slave is the 4th of July?" Retrieved from: file:///C:/Users/ADMIN/AppData/Local/Temp/Rar$EXa5268.38454/DBQ%20Assignment%20Page2.html

House Divided Speech, Abraham Lincoln: Retrieved from: http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/house.htm

John Brown’s Smoldering Park: Retrieved from: http://www.civilwar.org/hallowed-ground-magazine/Fall-09/john-browns-smoldering-spark.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/

John C. Calhoun, (1853). Senator from South Carolina, “A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States”   in the Works of John C. Calhoun Vol. I, New York: D. Appleton and Company.

The Fugitive Slave Law: Retrieved from: http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3276

What to a slave is the 4th of July: Retrieved from: http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july/

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 14). What Was The Root Cause Of The Civil War?.


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