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What Made it Happen?
by Renee Lara


      The American Civil War can be seen as one of the most crucial events in American History. The war was a conflict between eleven southern states known as the Confederate States of America, and the United States Federal government. The eleven states' purpose was that of seceding from the Union. The conflict destroyed slavery and the agrarian society of the South which depended on it, stimulated Northern industry, and ensured supremacy of the federal government over the states. For a long time, the answer to the question "What were the causes that led to the Civil War in America?" has been debated by many historians. Some say that slavery was the cause; others say that the causes were the conflicts between the North and the South. The immediate cause for the war was the North’s refusal to recognize the right of the states to secede from the Union. However, the underlying cause was the political differences and the socio-economic division between the North and the South after 1820.


      An assumption of some historians is that the Civil War of the United States emerged since the first slaves arrived to Virginia in 1619. In the beginnings of the 1600s, when tobacco plantations became an important industry, the transportation of Africans to America became a very profitable business. Due to growing population of Africans in this area, the Virginia Assembly made laws that regulated blacks' behavior and relations towards whites. The Virginia Slavery Legislation attempted to strictly control the behavior of Africans by giving severe punishments to any offenders of the law. Throughout this time, the newborn children of slaves were free; however, in 1662, Virginia made slavery hereditary by declaring that the children of slave women would be considered slaves also. The plantation of rice in the South also helped in the spreading of slavery; South Carolina was a main rice growing community. Before the 1700s, slaves did not have a common culture or community because they worked on very small groups of two or three, on scattered plantations. But by mid 1700s, slaves were concentrated in larger plantations and were put away from the white communities. This made it possible for them to start communication among each other, to create a common language from a combination of English and African tongues, to begin a culture, and to share a religion. This developments united them, but it was not seen right by the slave owners. Due to the new culture developed by the slaves, they began complaining about they way white treated them and showed some signs of rebellion like challenging orders or escaping farms. This nonconformity in the black communities can be seen by some historians as a way in which slavery led to the civil war. One of the most famous rebellions was the Stono Rebellion of 1739, in which 20 armed slaves gathered at the Stono River in order to march south. Other slaves joined, making the group add up to 100, but when they arrived to Charleston, planters were ready to confront them. Eventually all slaves were executed. Due to this rebellion, South Carolina reformed its slave codes; the amount of armed patrols were doubled, rewards for the capture of runaway slaves were increased, and slave law punishments were made more severe. The anxiety for the end of slavery, especially by slaves themselves, was the first step towards Civil War.


      Between the 1660s and 1770s, political leaders like Thomas Paine and Benjamin Rush, campaigned against slavery and encouraged manumission, the voluntary freeing of one's slaves. In 1780, Pennsylvania passed an emancipation policy that would gradually end slavery. It would set free the children of laves born after 1780, after they had worked for an indenture period of 28 years. More attempts were made to gradually end slavery; several pamphlets were made in order to get the attention of whites, and some were directed to blacks mainly. This was the case of David Walker's 'Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World.' Walker, having been born a free black in North Carolina, traveled throughout the South. Walker decided to write his appeal because while traveling, he saw slavery, the kind of work it involved, the treatments towards slaves, and their living conditions. In the appeal, he mentioned that blacks were the most wretched and degraded beings that had ever existed, and he asked his fellow African Americans to try to do something about it. He also condemned whites for their cruelty, inhumanity, and insensitivity, and demanded the end of slavery and the right of blacks to be treated as human beings. When the pamphlets arrived to the south most white people saw it as a threat, and complained that it might provoke more riots and thought that the pamphlets should be suppressed. According to some historians this was another way that the slavery issued led to the Civil War.


      However, slavery could not have been the only issue that initiated the Civil War. Several conflicts after 1820, between the main regions in the United States, were the cause. One of the first struggles between the North and the South was over tariffs on imported goods. Industrialists in the North needed for tariffs to be set as high as possible in order to prevent any foreign competition that might be given to their products. However, high tariffs meant that the prices on imported, manufactured goods would increase; this bothered the south, since it was an agricultural region and depended much on imports. In 1828, the South Carolina legislation published John C. Calhoun's 'South Carolina Exposition and Protest.' Calhoun stated that Congress did not have the right to levy protective tariffs; therefore, the tariff was unconstitutional, and the states had the right to nullify it. In 1832, a second tariff and the one from 1828 were declared unconstitutional and nullified for South Carolina. A second difference in opinion regarding the economy, that led towards the civil war, was that of the Bank of the United States. The bank marketed Government securities, too care of the government's funds, and made loans to businessmen. Republicans like Henry Clay, eastern merchants, and businessmen agreed with the bank's doings, and thought that it performed an important function in managing the finances of the country. But the bank was not supported by everyone; when President Andrew Jackson received a recharte bill for the Bank of the United States, he vetoed it. On July 10, 1832, Jackson stated in his 'Bank Veto Message' that the ban bill was unconstitutional because it violated the states' rights, and that the bank only benefited foreign countries instead of benefiting the poor people of the nation. When Jackson was reelected in 1832, he ordered that all government funds be deposited in state banks. Before the total collapse the BUS, the bank's president, Nicholas Biddle, raised the interest rates as a way to trigger business panic that might force Jackson to change his mind about putting the government's money in state banks. This action led to a financial crisis and eventually to a depression in 1837. After all the changes and political issues that had shifted the economy, many Americans tried to find a way to end the stresses they felt. They looked for spiritual relief. Several joined agricultural communes like New Harmony, or religious communities like Oneida Community. Some were moved by the feeling of revivalism and the Second Great Awakening; many decided to listen to Charles Grandison Finney and observe the new measures he used to Revive Religion. Others decided to live in Individualistic, Romantic, or Transcendentalistic ways. Unfortunately, all these only increased the tension and anxiety felt throughout the society; these different views contributed to the initiation of the civil war.


      Another problem that would push towards the Civil War involved the thought of western expansion. Manifest Destiny was the term used by some to define the continuation of westward expansion in the United States. But manifest destiny, to some, was more than just a term. It was the desired view of the way the American nation should be: vivacious, thirsty, and destined to obtain the land and its benefits, that would, by destiny, be theirs anyway. Thomas Hart Benton Ames this thought evident in his 1846 publication of 'The Destiny of the Race.' Benton tried to persuade American society not only to expand into the western united states, but also encouraged to continue abroad towards Asia. Expansionism was quite a persuading and inviting thought to many, and both regions of the United States wanted it. The North wanted to obtain a western area that would be free for many diverse economic developments. However, Northerners did not want the spreading of slavery into this new area, since it would mean an open competition with slaveholders and slaves for jobs and their monetary gains. The South was mainly interested in gaining areas that would be suitable enough to continue the growing of cotton. With more cotton growing zones, cheap labor would be necessary; therefore, slavery had to continue. That was a main disagreement between the regions, because each one wanted to use expansion as a way to increase their power in congress and eventually their economic and political demands. The economy of the South, based on the plantation system of agriculture, depended on slave labor, which bothered the industrialized non-slave-owning North. Would slavery be allowed in the new states or would it just be confined to the South? In order to solve this problem, the Compromise of 1850 was produced, but later nullified by the Kansas Nebraska Act in 1854. However, the Dred Scott Decision, which ended all possible legal resistance to slavery, inflamed the situation. Northerners, did not care about the slaves as individuals. Actually, they were fearful of Southern economic competition and control of Congress due to the majority of representation the South could gain in Congress. Because of this, the Republican Party gave new speeches for antislavery that were aimed at the common man; they were designed to appeal to emotions. The Republican Party Platform of 1860 combined the ideas of maintaining the Union, ending the extension of slavery, and it contained economic planks that favored protective tariffs. The victory of its candidate, Abraham Lincoln, in the election of 1860, took the nation towards the beginning of the Civil War.


      In conclusion, the roots of the Civil War emerged from the difficult relations between the North and the South in the United States during the period after 1820. Disputes over economy issues, such as the protective tariff of 1828 and the recharte bill of the Second Bank of the United States, formed resentment between the two regions. Difference in opinion regarding restoration movements or the anti-slavery reforms, provoked anxiety and stress among Americans. And fight for political power by the North and South and the different political parties, divided the nation. The outcome was the beginning of the bloodiest war in American history. The Civil War devastated the South and ruined its economy, but the North became stronger than before. Slavery was abolished; however, the balance of power between the states and the Federal government remained a problem that had to be solved in the United State’s Reconstruction period.


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