While the causes of the Civil War can be attributed to various factors, the principal cause is considered to be sectionalism. Sectionalism is a term that describes a situation in which the needs or desires of individual parts become more important than the well-being of the greater whole. Such was the situation between the Northern and Southern states leading up to the Civil War. The two regions were marked by various differences, and the war was ultimately the result of both sides staunchly refusing to concede to the other on specific issues.
Between the years 1800 and 1860, arguments between the North and South grew more intense. One of the main arguments was about taxes paid on goods brought into this country from foreign countries. Southerners felt these tariffs were unfair and aimed specifically at them because they imported a wider variety of goods than most Northern people. Southern exporters sometimes had to pay higher amounts for shipping their goods overseas because of the distance from southern ports and sometimes pay unequal tariffs imposed by a foreign country on some of their goods.
An awkward economic structure allowed states and private transportation companies to do this, which also affected Southern banks that found themselves paying higher interest rates on loans made with banks in the North. The situation grew worse after several “panics”, including one in 1857 that affected more Northern banks than Southern. Southern financiers found themselves burdened with high payments just to save Northern banks that had suffered financial losses through poor investment. In the years before the Civil War the political power in the Federal government was changing.
Northern and mid-western states were becoming more and more powerful as the populations increased. Southern states lost political power because the population did not increase as rapidly. Southerners believed that state laws carried more weight than Federal laws, and they should abide by the state regulations first. This issue was called State’s Rights and became a very warm topic in congress. The Southerners did not consider the practice of owning slaves to be morally reprehensible. The Northerners, on the other hand, began to denounce the South’s slave-owning practices, and the louder these voices grew, the louder the
South defended itself. when Southerners migrated West, they wanted to be able to bring their slaves, but Northerners objected to slavery in the Western territories. Abraham Lincoln campaigned against the expansion of slavery beyond the states in which it already existed. Many slaves were also used to provide labor for the various household chores that needed to be done. This did not sit well with many northerners who felt that slavery was uncivilized and should be abolished. They were called abolitionists and thought that owning slaves was wrong for any reason. They loudly disagreed with the South’s laws and beliefs concerning slavery.
Yet slavery had been a part of the Southern way of life for well over 200 years and was protected not only by state laws, but Federal law as well. The Constitution of the United States guaranteed the right to own property and protected everyone against the seizure of property. A slave was viewed as property in the South and was important to the economics of the Southern cotton industry. The people of the Southern states did not appreciate Northern people, especially the abolitionists, telling them that slave ownership was a great wrong. This created a great amount of debate, mistrust, and misunderstanding.
As the nation grew in size, so did the opportunities for expansion westward. Many felt that slavery should be allowed in the new territories such as Kansas and Missouri, while others were set against it. This led to “bleeding Kansas”, a bitter war that pitted neighbor against neighbor. In 1859, a radical abolitionist from Kansas named John Brown raided the Federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in the hopes of supplying weapons to an army of slaves that would revolt against their southern masters. Though John Brown’s raid had failed, it fueled the passions of northern abolitionists who made him a martyr.
It was reported that bells tolled in sympathy to John Brown in northern cities on the day he was executed. This inflamed passions in the South where southern leaders used the incident as another reminder how little the South’s interests were represented in Federal law, labeled as sympathetic to runaways and anti-slavery organizations. The debate became very bitter. Southern politicians outwardly charged that their voices were not being heard in congress. Some Southern states wanted to secede and govern themselves. Emotions reached a fever pitch when Abraham Lincoln was elected President of he United States in 1860. He was a member of the Republican Party and vowed to keep the country united and the new western territories free from slavery. South Carolina was the first state to officially secede from the United States soon after the election and they were followed by six other Southern states. These states joined together and formed a new nation which they named the Confederate States of America. On April 12, 1861 the Confederate States of America attacked Fort Sumter, South Carolina. The war that President Lincoln had tried to avoid began anyway.
War talk was on everyone’s lips and sharp divisions took place, even among families and neighbors. When the new Republican party won the Presidential election of 1860, the Southern states seceded and the nation plunged into Civil War. Sectional identities persisted after the Civil War, notably in the Democratic party’s long control of the “solid South. ” In conclusion, Sectionalism can be seen as a major cause of the Civil War. It has raised issues from slavery, economy growth, and political standings. Arguments about these issues eventually led to Americas’ most deadliest war.
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