June 17, 2012.Category: Civil War Term Papers
In my previous blog post How NOT to write a term paper on the Civil WarI suggested that you narrow the focus of your Civil War term paper in order to have a topic that is more manageable. In the next several blog posts I will suggest manageable Civil War term paper topics that you can explore and write about. The topic “Causes of the American Civil War” is an interesting one that is highly debated and has a lot of readily available material available on the web.
Generally the causes of the Civil War can be broken down into economic, political, and social/cultural. Since the issue of slavery spans all three of these categories, it is widely seen as the primary cause of the war. However, it is certainly not the ONLY cause.
The economies of the northern and southern states were quite different because the North was much more of a manufacturing-based economy and the South was an agriculturally-based economy. In the South, cotton was “king,” and its production and export was the South’s primary cash crop. Cheap cotton required cheap labor, and slaves were essential in its production. The North’s economy was more diverse, based on heavy industry such as steel production, light industry such as textile production, and agricultural products such as corn. These different economies resulted in conflict over tariffs and trade agreements in congress.
Politically there had been a relative “balance of influence” in congress between the North and South ever since the American Revolution. This was true, in spite of the fact that approximately 70 percent of the population was from northern states. The South’s political influence was disproportionately high because of several factors. Among them is the fact that the Constitution had awarded the South additional representation in congress because of the slaves—a slave counted as 3/5 of a person (even though the slaves had no right to vote). Also, the South had produced a large number of influential statesmen, such as Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Clay. But if the western territories had limits placed on them regarding the introduction of slavery (as had been done by the Missouri Compromise of 1820), the South would eventually lose its influence and the slavery’s legal status could be ended. So when the question of allowing the extension of slavery into the new territories came up with the Kansas-Nebraska act of 1854, both southern and northern politicians took an intense interest in it.
Culturally, the North and South differed tremendously. The South, with its agrarian economy based on slavery and its absence of significant industry and rail transportation, had more of a homogeneous, slower paced society whose political leaders were frequently from the wealthy planter class. Life in the North was more cosmopolitan and faster-paced, due to its more diverse economy, more robust transportation system, and more modern communication infrastructure. Political leaders in the North had broader interests, having come from more diverse economic backgrounds and social classes than their counterparts in the South.
In the mid-1850’s the Republican Party formed, coalescing primarily around the anti-slavery cause. Nationally known northern leaders such as William H. Seward and regionally-known leaders such as Abraham Lincoln became united around the cause of halting the expansion of slavery into the new territories. They were joined by vocal abolitionists such as the famous preacher William Lloyd Garrison who called not only for the halt of the expansion of slavery, but for its immediate abolishment everywhere.
This is but a brief review of the many social, cultural, economic and political issues that resulted in the American Civil War. To continue research on the subject of the causes of the American Civil War, go to Great American History’sCauses of the Civil War: A Balanced Answer, The Fire Eaters, and Outline of the Civil Warweb pages.
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