History Week 12. The beginning of the Civil War

Beginning of the American Civil War

Introduction

In this essay, I discuss the beginning of the bloodiest wars in the history of the United States. The essay is comprised of several paragraphs that discuss the background and buildup to the American Civil War. At the end of the essay there is a conclusion paragraph that sums up the essay content.

Background

When you ask someone, “What started the American Civil War?” You might get a blank face, or the answer “slavery”. Slavery is more accurate than a blank face, but was slavery really the underlying cause of the American Civil War? While modern historians and state textbooks will tell you the war was all about slavery, there were some other important causes. 

By the mid 19th century, the United States of America had grown significantly. From the thirteen original colonies which had seceded from Britain, there had grown a large and soon-to-be world power. In the seventy years following the birth of America, twenty-four new states had been added to the growing nation. But there was something else that had grown increasingly popular alongside the United States. Slavery. This practice had existed in the world for a long time, but had increased worldwide in the late 18th century. 

The slave triangle, where slaves were taken from Africa by European merchants and then sold to the colonies in America, was a practice that had begun as early as the 16th century. America, Britain and many other European countries prospered from the terrible slave trade. America was also the home of many plantations were slaves were forced to work. 

But by the mid 19th century, slavery had begun to diminish. Britain had abolished the Slave Trade in 1807, abolishing slavery itself in the British Empire around 1833. Many other slave-trading nations followed by making the trading of slaves illegal. America abolished the slave trade in 1807, but slavery was still allowed within southern America. The continuation of slavery in America, most notably the southern states (the northern ones had abolished slavery in 1804) was vital to their economy. Soon though, whenever a new state was formed, the question had to be asked: “Would this be a slave or non-slave state?” If there were a majority of non-slave state representatives in congress, the slave states would be outnumbered and subject to any new laws that the non slave states wanted to be ratified. This was also the case the other way round.

This “choosing” had led to resentment, especially in the south, as southerners realised that the abolition of slavery would result in a crash of the southern economy. Many abolitionists in the north however, argued that slavery was wicked and had to be abolished in the south. When Abraham Lincoln became president in 1860, he supported the end of slavery. Many of the southern states, who had already felt threatened by the north, now declared that forcing themselves to abolish slavery shook the southerners constitutional rights. Even before Lincoln had been inaugurated, seven southern states seceded from the United States in 1860. 

These seven states (Texas, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Luisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina) now formed their own government, the Confederate States of America in 1861. Abraham Lincoln however, refused to recognise the Confederacy to be a separate nation. Hostilities started when, in April 1861, South Carolina militia opened fire on federal-held Fort Sumter. Although there had been no official declaration of war, this attack showed where the Confederates were going and so it is safe to say that the Battle of Fort Sumter was the beginning of the American Civil War. 

The attack at fort Sumter resulted in the immediate Confederate occupation of that post and the start of the war. The southern states barely had time to raise an army to meet federal forces and the two sides started fighting in April 1861. During the war, six other states seceded to the Confederacy. The war would last from 1861, all the way to 1865, when Confederate forces were finally defeated and the Union was preserved. Thousands of lives were sacrificed to end slavery. Or were they?

While the south definitely fought to preserve slavery, a cause that is sinful to the root, what did the north fight for? The common belief of today, is a simple one. The south fought for slavery and the north fought against slavery. The truth is, it is not as simple as that. In fact, no conflict that has ever happened can be classified as “simple.” There are always hidden causes and beliefs. This is because everyone has different and unique world views.

The fact is, not everyone in the north was fighting against slavery. Abraham Lincoln himself, was not pouring everything into fighting slavery. In fact, it has been found that Lincoln cared more about putting tariffs on the south, rather than his sole cause being to abolish slavery. This is also related to the southern states feeling threatened by the power of the north. While there were many in the union who believed that this war was against slavery, it was also an opportunity for the federal government to secure and centralise its power. 

The south had unwittingly allowed this to happen. By fighting for a wicked cause, they were immediately viewed as the bad-guys in the war. The federal government used this opportunity to establish themselves as the good people fighting slavery, while actually centralising power for themselves. The Civil War has led to the United States becoming the world’s ‘Police Force.’ And the Irony of all this, is that the government was fighting on the right side. The south were on the wrong side, so while their zeal for freedom from the federal state was not altogether wrong, they were supporting a horrible cause, which put them on the wrong side of history.

Conclusion

To conclude the essay, I discussed the beginning of the American Civil War. First I listed the historical events that led to this horrible war in which eleven southern states of America separated from the union. One of these events was the battle of fort Sumter, which kickstarted the conflicts. After this, I discussed some of the underlying issues of the war. This included slavery and the centralisation of the federal government.

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