The American Civil War, also known as the War Between the States, was one of the worst in American history and fought between the northern and southern states of the nation.
After independence in 1776 the northern states constituting the areas north of Pennsylvania and the southern states comprising the territories south of Maryland developed along different lines.
The South was primarily agricultural. The climate in the south was favourable for the growth of plantation products like cotton, tobacco, sugarcane, indigo etc. Cotton was an important crop and much of it was exported to the mills in England.
The planters in the south required cheap labour supplied by slaves from Africa. Slaves were considered a ‘necessity’ in the predominantly agricultural Southern States and also an indicator of social status.
The North, on the other hand, had a different economic structure. Between 1815 and 1860, an industrial revolution had taken place in the northern states and the region focused on industrial wealth.
The development of industries gave rise to a social system in which free workers could thrive. The northern states did not need slave labour in their industries and did not approve of slavery.
Thus, there was a fundamental difference in the socio-economic systems that the two halves of the country followed. Differences between the northern and the southern states became so pronounced that a civil war broke out in 1861.
The Civil War started when the group of slave states of the south founded the Confederate States of America with Jefferson Davis as president. The northern states, under, President Abraham Lincoln, were totally against slavery. Southern States opened fire on Fort Sumter, Lincoln declared war on them. Although the Confederates won some early battles, the Union defeated the southern states in 1865, marking the end of civil war.
Causes of the Civil War:
Debate over slavery
The controversy that started over the question of the abolition of slave labour culminated in a civil war between the North and the South.
The plantation interest of the south directly clashed with the industrial interest of the north. The predominantly agrarian Southern states, dependent upon cheap manual physical labour provided by slaves.
The northern states on the other hand, opposed slavery. The growth of industries in the region demanded cheap, skilled labour which was unlikely to be provided by slavery. Given their inhumane treatment, the slaves „ere inherently rebellious. They were difficult to discipline and their displeasure would result in violent protests.
Apart from economic reasons, social justice also demanded the abolition of slavery.
Slaves in America were treated very cruelly. They had no family life and were treated as movable property by their owners. If a slave ever attempted to run away and was caught, he was punished brutally. Such practices were considered a black spot, on American society whose constitution guaranteed equal status to everybody. In northern states, the slavery was abolished in 1804 itself and they became ‘free states.
A strong movement for the abolition of slavery throughout USA began in the northern states. Some of the writers published books severely denouncing slavery. ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, written by Harriet Bucher Stowe and published in 1852, was a stirring tale depicting the horrors of slavery and the miseries of the slaves. These writers helped to arouse popular indignation against the institution of slavery. The movement called for the correction of the controversial Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
Role of Lincoln
The election of Abraham Lincoln as the President of the United States of America and the right of secession of the Southern States from the Union were the two major factors responsible for the outbreak of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln contested the election to the Senate as a candidate opposed to slavery and eventually won the election to become the President of the United States in 1860. Lincoln’s victory in precipitated conflict as southern states declared their intention to secede from American Union during this period.
“A house divided against it cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.”Lincoln
Anticipating that President Lincoln would emancipate the slaves, seven Southern States seceded from the union and formed a separate union called the Confederate States of America. The very unity of the USA was at stake. Lincoln was determined to save the Union and believed that no state could lawfully leave the Union.
Thus, on the issue of secession, the Civil War broke out in 1861 and in 1863 Lincoln abolished slavery in the South. Interestingly, the civil war was not fought on the issue of slavery. It was fought because the Southern States had left the Union.
End of civil war
After a prolonged war for four years, the southern army was completely defeated. The Confederate army under General Lee surrendered to General Grant of the Union in April 1865. The Civil War came to an end, the unity of America was restored and slavery was abolished.
Unfortunately, a few days after the peace, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a sympathizer of the Southern States.
Significance of the American Civil War:
- For all time to come, the war settled the question whether states could withdraw from the Union. The doctrine of state sovereignty was laid to rest, the supremacy of the nation was vindicated, and the Union was declared to be perpetual.
- The Civil War also strengthened the foundations of the United States by resolving the North-South tension permanently.
- The slavery was abolished everywhere in America. The provision was added in constitution with passage of 13th Amendment. It prohibited the enactment of discretionary laws against African Americans.
- The southern states lay in ruins and there began the age of industrial growth. Plantations had been badly affected and new businesses emerged. A special economic package for industrialization in southern states was launched to decrease the dependence of southern states on slave labour.
- Though the American civil war brought about an abolition of slavery, blacks were yet to be granted political voting rights. The segregation in public places continued. These underlying tensions eventually resulted in the American Civil Rights movement of 1950s and 60s.