The Civil War is one of the most complex, studied and written about events in U.S. history and was fought from April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865. Although many theories have been considered, it is now generally agreed that the main cause of the conflict was the long-standing controversy over the enslavement of Black people.
There were 34 states in the Union in February 1861. Seven Southern slave-holding states seceded, formed the Confederate States of America and planned a rebellion against the U.S. Constitutional government. The Confederacy grew to control at least a majority of territory in eleven states, and it claimed the additional states of Kentucky and Missouri, which were given full representation in the Confederate Congress. The two-remaining slave-holding states, Delaware and Maryland, were invited to join the Confederacy, but they were blocked by the intervention of Union troops.
The Confederate states were never diplomatically recognized as a joint entity by the government of the United States. The Confederates assumed that European countries were so dependent on "King Cotton" that they would intervene, and recognize the Confederacy as an independent country. They were wrong and none did.
The Union and the Confederacy quickly raised volunteer and conscription armies that fought mostly in the South for four years. Intense combat killed an estimated 620,000 men and at least that many were wounded or simply disappeared. The Civil War total exceeded the total military deaths incurred in World War 1, World War 11, Vietnam and Korea. The Civil War is one of the most complex, studied and written about events in U.S. history and was fought from 1861 to 1865. Although many theories have been considered, it is now generally agreed that the main cause of the conflict was the long-standing controversy over the enslavement of Black people.
REASONS FOR THE WAR
Slavery was illegal in much of the North, having been outlawed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was also fading in the border states and Southern cities, but it was expanding in the highly profitable cotton districts of the rural South and Southwest. But it was the central source of escalating political tension in the 1850s. The Republican Party was determined to prevent any spread of slavery, and many Southern leaders had threatened secession if the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, won the 1860 election. After Lincoln’s victory, many Southern leaders felt that disunion was their only option, fearing that the loss of representation in Congress would hamper their ability to promote pro-slavery acts and policies.
Although there were opposing views even in the Union States, most Northern soldiers were mostly indifferent about slavery, while Confederates fought the war mainly to protect a Southern society of which slavery was an integral part. From the anti-slavery perspective, the issue was primarily about whether the system of slavery was a moral evil that was incompatible with republicanism. The strategy of the anti-slavery forces was containment—to stop the expansion and thus put slavery on a path to gradual extinction. The slave-holding interests in the South denounced this strategy as infringing upon their Constitutional rights. Southern whites believed that the emancipation of slaves would destroy the South's economy, due to the large amount of capital invested in slaves and fears of integrating the ex-slave Black population.
In addition, most Southerners feared a repeat of the successful slave revolt in Haiti in 1804, known in America as "the horrors of Santo Domingo." After Jean-Jacques Dessalines proclaimed Haiti as an independent nation, the massacre of French and French Creoles took place, in which nearly all the white population – including men, women, children, and even many sympathetic to abolition – were killed. Haiti became the first nation to be run by former slaves. These fears were exacerbated by the 1859 attempt of John Brown to instigate an armed slave rebellion in the South.
Outbreaks of emotional expression had been witnessed in the Compromise of 1850, the vivid and dramatic presentation in 1852 of Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The last led to the issuance of an "Appeal of the Independent Democrats," which called for the rejection of the program of slavery extension in the Territories. This split in the ranks of the Democratic Party was widened and, combined with widespread dissatisfaction with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, led to the formation of the Republican Party March 20, 1854 at Jackson, Michigan.
THE EMERGENCE OF LINCOLN
The Republican Party, had antislavery origins reaching back into the 1840's, and for this reason the party leaders were anxious to cultivate men who were willing to oppose slavery. In 1856, when the party held its first national convention to select a presidential candidate, Lincoln barely missed the vice-presidential nomination. The Republicans lost the election, but Lincoln retained his support in Illinois.
Lincoln, whose ancestors had been poor pioneers, was imbued with ambition and drive. Although he had received no formal education, his determination and his logical and quick mind helped him forge ahead despite this handicap. Probably his greatest asset in a Western state like Illinois was his warm, affable personality, his "belonging" to the common people and his complete lack of pretense or affectation. He was known as an honest man, not merely for the way in which he handled his clients' money, but also because he sincerely and candidly stated his convictions.
Lincoln earlier had been elected as a Whig to four terms in the Illinois legislature. He also had served one term in the United States House of Representatives. While serving in Congress, Lincoln had introduced a bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia. Blacks were bought and sold in the nation's capital, according to Lincoln, "like a sort of Black-livery stable"; and he found this practice "offensive in the nostrils of all good men, Southerners as well as Northerners." At the conclusion of his term, Lincoln had returned to Illinois and to his law practice, but he had maintained an active interest in politics.
A study of Lincoln's life in these years as it relates to the slavery issue becomes a matter of interpretation. His background and his personal make-up reveal him to have been basically conservative. He was not an outstanding reformer but rather was personally revolted by the concept of enslaving human beings to the will and domination of a master class. He was opposed to the institution of slavery but expressed a willingness to abide by the laws that sustained it.
In 1854, Congress had passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which provided for the extension of slavery into the Territories. And Lincoln, for either political or moral reasons, or both, had voiced his opposition to the act in a manner that had been noticed by the leaders of the newly formed Republican Party.
The following year, when the United States Supreme Court handed down the Dred Scott decision, Lincoln became more vocal about the question of slavery. He took the stand that the Roger B. Taney Court had erred in declaring that a slave had no power to sue in the courts; and he said that the implications of the case went far beyond Dred Scott. However, it is difficult to evaluate Lincoln's position because, although he opposed the Dred Scott decision, he qualified his opposition with the statement that he was not in favor of Black citizenship.