South’s secession from the Union and the reasons for the Civil War
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Between 1848 and 1861 there were many issues the northern and southern states of America were disagreeing on. These disagreements eventually led to the Civil War. The common myth of the Civil war is that it was a war fought over the issue of slavery. So if slavery was not the reason for the war, what was? The war was fought to preserve the union, to keep the United States as one. Understanding the reasons for the south’s secession and the war requires the examination of the opposing views of the North and the South, the Dred Scott Decision, the Fugitive State Law, and the election of Abraham Lincoln.
The south depended on slavery for economic reasons and the loss of them would be devastating to the cash flow they were receiving from their slave-worked plantations. Northerners said that slavery revoked the human right of being a free person. But the south justified their use of slaves for free labor by arguing that slave-owners provided shelter, food, care, and regulation for a race unable to compete in the modern world without proper training. When new territories became available in the West, the South wanted to expand and use slavery in the newly acquired territories. Nevertheless, the North opposed to this and wanted to stop the extension of slavery into new territories. The North wanted to limit the number of slave states in the Union. However, many Southerners felt that a government dominated by free states could endanger existing slaveholdings. But the north and south did not just disagree on slavery; they also had very different views on the constitution. The North favored a loose interpretation of the United States Constitution. They wanted to grant the federal government increased powers. The South wanted to reserve all undefined powers to the individual states. The issues were addressed and battled over in events occurring before the Civil War even began.
The Fugitive State Law empowered every person to act as a slave catcher, forbade everyone from helping an alleged slave, and slave owners only had to state ownership of a slave for him to be released into their custody. While originally a political move to pacify the south, the result was a widening rift. The South was angered by the refusal of Northerners to execute the law. The North was angered because they were being forced to go against their principles and send fugitive slaves, or even freeborn blacks, back to the south. The northerners were forced to choose between abiding by the law, and doing what they believed was right. It polarized the two regions. The Fugitive Slave law was the most significant factor in contributing to the rift between the North and the South.
Dred Scott was a black slave on free territory who sued for his freedom. The Supreme Court ruled that he was not a citizen, but also included the more comprehensive judgment that slaves could be taken into any territory and held in slavery. Northern abolitionists feared that slavery would now spread into more territories. The Dred Scott Decision divided Northerners, who favored popular sovereignty, and southern democrats, who favored slavery, further. This case caused a division between the Democratic Party, jeopardizing its ability to keep the northern and southern wings together.
It is perhaps the election of Abraham Lincoln though that was the “straw that broke the camels back”. Southerners thought he was an abolitionist, although he did favor monetary compensation and a Union. As a result of southern fears over Lincoln, he was not allowed on the ballot in ten southern states, and many states threatened secession if he was elected. He was elected, and the south not only felt their livelihoods were being threatened through the potential loss of their slaves, but also had a sense of disenfranchisement at the polls, because the minority candidate won. Many blame Lincoln for the war but it was a war that was brewing for quite some time. Lincoln’s election gave the south an excuse to do what they would have done eventually anyway.
By looking at the south secession from the Union, the different beliefs of the North and South, the Dred Scott decision, the Fugitive State Law, and the election of Abraham Lincoln, its easy to see that a war was brewing for quite some time. The Civil War was a war fought to keep America united and not a war over slavery as it is commonly believed to be. The events between 1848 and 1861 clearly show just how vast the gulf between the North and South was before the war took place.