Causes of the American Civil War

Four years of American bloodshed on American soil. Why? The reasons are varied. From the formation of America to 1860, the people in this country were divided. This division was a result of location and personal sentiments. Peace could not continue in a country filled with quarrels that affected the common American. There is a common misconception that the American Civil War was fought only over slavery, when in fact there were several other reasons for why the War Between the States was fought.

The Civil War (or the War of the Rebellion as it is officially known) lasted for four years, from 1861-1865. It was between the American people; primarily the northern states vs. the southern states. The South was called the Confederate States of America (also known as the Rebels) and was led by President Jefferson Davis. The North was still known as the United States of America, or the Union, and the people were called the Yankees or sometimes the Federals. They were led by president Abraham Lincoln.

If one were to ask the average person the causes of the War Between the States, that person would most likely answer with one word: slavery. But this was not the only cause. Slavery had been a historical problem before the war. Slavery came up in debate during the making of the American Constitution, and both Northern and Southern states held slaves.

In 1611, a group of Scottish women and children were sold as the first slaves in America, and in 1618 the first African slaves were sold in America. Between 1611 and 1865 people of many cultures were sold as slaves in America. So you see it is also a fallacy that American slaves were only African, because many were not.

In the eyes of some Southerners slavery was a necessary evil. The South accepted this idea as a way of life. The South found slavery highly profitable and knew their economy would collapse without it. Slavery, they believed, had to slowly die out not instantly be destroyed, or the South could no longer raise the crops on which the American economy depended.

Many slave holders were not as cruel to their slaves as many people today believe and only five percent of the Southern population even owned slaves. So although many people did not believe slavery was all together correct, they accepted the practice and wondered how to end it.

Northern states held slaves too. Many Northerners opposed slavery but still believed that blacks were inferior to them. One of their main concerns was a the fear of a mass black movement to the North. This would mean fewer jobs for the whites, who would now have to compete with the freedmen. In fact, several Northern passed laws making it nearly impossible for blacks, freedmen or escaped slaves, to live in their states. When former slaves first tried to enlist in the Federal Army during war the North turned them down. They were only later accepted in to the army when the South started to use them as soldiers, and the North saw they were valuable as soldiers. Both North and South were racist, and yet still the slaves tried to help fight for what they believed in. So while many freed slaves fought for the North, others fought for the Confederacy that was their home.

Slave holders felt morally degraded by anti-slavery crusades. The slave holders wanted security for their social class and vindication for their social respectability and personal honor. Slave holders were afraid of losing at what the time, was valuable property, and not getting compensated for it.

Lincoln believed slavery was "wrong but necessary." During the Lincoln-Douglas debates he stated, "I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. I am not, nor have ever been, in favor of makign voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I willl say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live," he added, "while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."

Before the War Between the States Lincoln left the door open for the South to return and just as he had stated in the elections he told the South he would not free any slaves. Lincoln later said to the writer Horace Greeley that he would do whatever it takes to win the war. In a letter dated August 22, 1862, he wrote, "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any.