Slavery and Civil War

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The American civil war is one of the defining events in the history of America. Previous wars could not just match its scale and casualties it left behind. It also had numerous consequences on the political and social developments within the United States. It saw the preservation of the Union, and abolition of slavery in American soil and territories. And above all, it marked a new dawn between the Confederate states and the federal government. However, the causes and the outcome of the war are still hotly debated today.

Some these debates have centered on the relationship between the institution of slavery and the outbreak of the war. The contested issues have also been on the role of slavery on the southern states quest to secede and why the north was so adamant not to let the southerners peacefully secede. This paper will shade some light on these issues as it traces the development and causal relationship between the institution of slavery and the American civil war.

The development of Slavery The history of slavery can be traced back to 1611 at Jamestown, Va. where a number of women and children from Scotland were traded as slaves. Contingents of Africans were later traded in Jamestown seven years later. Between 1611 and 1865, North America was actively involved in slave trade which involved people from all races in the world. Slavery became a common practice in all the thirteen colonies; however, in the turn of 19th century, slavery was considered a southern institution. The coastal states of the south had large contingences of black slaves.

But the inland states had relatively higher number of white and Native Americans as slaves than Africans (Manning, 2007). The institution of slavery was considered a dying one by most Americans led by the Georgians in 1789. However, the increased production of the cotton in 1793 created a higher demand for slaves and instead of the institution withering, it prospered at unprecedented rate (Kelley, & Lewis, 2005). The 1787 Northwest Ordinance had outlawed slavery in the northwest states and in 1798; Georgia banned importation of more slaves into its territory.

This was followed by prohibition of slave trade and importation of slaves by the Congress in 1808. After this, fewer conflicts related to slavery were reported in the next forty years except the Compromise of 1820 (Manning, 2007). Slaves were subjected to mean treatment by their masters and as a result suffered horribly. Only trusted slaves could be allowed to move freely without escort. Conditions in most of the northern factories were very pathetic just as the working conditions faced by other slaves elsewhere.

In 1840, tension over slavery started to emerge and the 1850’s Compromise led to the split in the Democratic Party in Georgia. Notable figures like Lloyd Garrison, David Wilmot and others started to fuel the abolition demands. But even as the calls for abolition grew, the southerners got some reprieve through the Fugitive Slave Laws, Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scot decision. After the split in the Whig party, the new Republican Party accommodated the isolated abolitionists who were very few.

They nevertheless used abolition of slavery to rally other party members to nominate Abraham Lincoln who won despite contesting as an underdog. Because Lincoln was associated with the abolitionists, the south thought he would destroy their economy by ending slavery and therefore pull out of the Union. A north determined to stop expansion of slavery did not like this and so war broke out with the first attacks on Fort Sumter (Kelley & Lewis, 2005). The historical events in the first half of the 19th century clearly indicate that slavery was at the heart of the war.

However, there were some factors that also fueled the American civil war which still were related to slavery. One of these factors was the growing differences between the south and the north both socially, economically and ideologically (Kelley & Lewis, 2005). When the nation was founded, the two regions had more similarities than differences. The predominant economic practice in the two regions was agriculture-based and slavery was a common practice in all the 13 colonies.

But the institution was marginally practiced in the north except in some parts of New Jersey, Rhode Island and Hudson River valley in New York. After the American Revolution, most states from the north had abolished the practice while others had started a gradual emancipation process. The war also fueled by the south’s increasing sense of isolation. After 1850, slavery was continuously being abolished around the world and the southerners began to see themselves as being surrounded by enemies and as a result grew very defensive of their practices (Kelley & Lewis, 2005).

The split in the political parties also gave credence to the abolition calls. It was in the 1850s when the Whig party collapsed and gave way to new sectional parties – the republican and the Democratic Party split into two between the north and the south. Although, slavery did not lead to the breakdown in the party system, the Republican Party emerged to stifle westward expansion of slavery. The sectional parties also gave platform to outspoken views on secession and slavery, which might not have been heard in the strong and big parties.

One of the major factors perhaps was how the north and the south perceived and interpreted events. The events in 1850s made the northerners believe that the Southern Slave Power would not backtrack on their desires to expand slavery westward and if necessary they would undercut the northerners’ civil liberties to achieve their goal. Meanwhile, the southerners were strongly convinced that the north was out to ruin their economy and was keen on abolishing slavery (Kelley & Lewis, 2005). The events that preceded the attacks on the Fort Sumter only echoed these differences.

Attempts to reach a compromise so as to avert the war was thwarted because Lincoln who agreed that a compromise could be achieved, maintained that such a compromise should not require a retreat by the republicans from their quest to stop slavery expansion. Conclusion Tracing the historical development of the American civil war cannot be done in isolation without looking into the institution of slavery in America. Slavery was the root cause of almost all the developments that led to the war. And it is interesting to note that the end of the war marked the end of slavery on American borders and territories.

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