The tragic fireball in the night that Jefferson had envisioned had become a reality. The failure of the Missouri Compromise led to clashes and armed conflicts between proslavery and antislavery civilians, sparking the onset of the Civil War. Numerous Northerners were prepared to lay down their lives for their convictions as states entered into war with one another. This division between the North and South was inevitable due to economic, political, and moral concerns. The primary cause was the rising demand for cotton, which resulted in the establishment of a divide between two territories within an expanding nation. With the introduction of new machinery, both New England’s textile industry and Britain underwent significant transformations that heightened their reliance on cotton from Southern regions.
The United States’ exports of raw cotton to Europe accounted for one-third in 1812 and half by 1830. This increase in demand made cotton a profitable cash crop in both the North and South economies. However, this high demand led to an increased need for slave labor. Enslaved blacks became a cheap and efficient solution for picking cotton on plantations. Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin facilitated their work by quickly removing seeds from upland cotton, which was the main type grown in the South. The process involved rolling raw cotton along wooden slats while sharp metal teeth removed fibers from the seeds.
In 1794, Whitney obtained a patent for a machine. However, the machine’s popularity led to low earnings for him as it was easily copied by manufacturers. Despite its ability to increase cotton production, slaves were still required to work harder and produce more. This resulted in an unjust and harsh life for black people who were held captive, as white Southerners believed it was their rightful place. On the other hand, Northerners had a better understanding of the situation. Harriet Beecher-Stowe, a black female abolitionist, aimed to bring attention to these conditions. Her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in 1852 and vividly portrayed the cruelty and horrors of slavery. Stowe’s goal was to make the entire nation realize how repulsive slavery was. Within one year, her novel became extremely popular and sold 300,000 copies.
The novel carried a powerful anti-slavery message that resonated universally. The author’s peaceful intention was to use her book as a means to end slavery; however, it had the unintended consequence of exacerbating tensions and pushing the nation closer to conflict. It is essential to recognize that not all Southerners supported slavery, just as not all Northerners opposed it. Nevertheless, opposition against slavery was on the rise in the North, while only a minority of white Southerners held extreme views on the subject. Their primary concern revolved around preserving the existing plantation system. While receiving significant support from Northerners involved in the anti-slavery movement, this literary work also stirred anger among many Southerners. Consequently, this literary work became one of several factors contributing to mistrust between the North and South.
The North distrusted the South due to their refusal to aid Southern plantation owners in capturing slaves—a crucial source of income for them—and because they heavily relied on slave labor for cotton production. This disparity created apprehension among Northerners regarding potential competition.
The North was concerned about the South gaining control of crops and eliminating competition, which would ultimately lead to an increase in slavery. The North faced a dilemma as it struggled to balance slaves’ rights with economic stability. While desiring unity with the South, the North also had to confront its desire to secede from the union. This conflict served as the main catalyst for the Civil War, with the South advocating for states’ rights and their ability to invalidate federal laws they deemed unconstitutional. Their right to secede was based on the existence of separate original states prior to forming the United States. By establishing their own confederacy, the South aimed to preserve their use of slaves and dominance in the cotton industry.
The Civil War was caused by political issues related to territorial matters and slavery acts, such as the Missouri Compromise in 1820. This compromise allowed Missouri to be a slave state and Maine to be a free state. It also prohibited slavery in other American territories west of the Mississippi River and north of Missouri’s southern boundary. Later on, Stephen A. Douglas introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which aimed to divide the region into two territories: Kansas and Nebraska. The understanding was that Kansas would become a slave state while Nebraska would remain free from slavery. Additionally, popular sovereignty gave voters in each territory the right to decide whether they wanted to be a free or slave state.
Together, the North and South made the Missouri Compromise irrelevant, as the Southern reliance on slavery grew from 1790 to 1860. This resulted in a widening gap between the Southern cotton-based economy and the industrial economy of the North. The conflicting goals and needs of both regions caused a deeper conflict that ultimately led to war. The North primarily fought to preserve the unity of the country and grant freedom to black slaves, while the South fought to protect their way of life, their homes, and their economic interests. The northerners prioritized moral concerns, while the Southerners were determined to maintain their plantations and cotton production without relinquishing their ownership of slaves. Given the multitude of conflicts between the two territories, they resorted to armed conflict as a means of resolution.
According to John Brown, a vengeful abolitionist, the only way to cleanse the guilty land from its crimes was through bloodshed. As a result, the war was won by the north, leading to the breaking of ties and the ultimate crumbling of the barrier they had long ago begun constructing.