What Was the Main Cause of the Civil War? (poll)

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What Was the Main Cause of the Civil War?

  • Mainly About States' Rights

    Votes: 31 19.5%
  • Mainly About Slavery

    Votes: 95 59.7%
  • Both Equally

    Votes: 31 19.5%
  • Don't Know

    Votes: 2 1.3%

  • Total voters
    159

James N.

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Normally I avoid threads on subjects like this like the plague; however, with so few choices it's relatively easy to say the States' Rights fuss that actually started the war was mainly over rights to continue to own slaves, making them about equal in my view.
 

Polloco

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I'm of the "Opinion" that ones interpetation of history is an opinion. I dont know,I'm no master of the English lanquage like some of the people here. Watch, there will be some nit pickers here who are going to drag out a dictionary.
 
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unionblue

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I'm of the "Opinion" that ones interpetation of history is an opinion. I dont know,I'm no master of the English lanquage like some of the people here. Watch, there will be some nit pickers here who are going to drag out a dictionary.
And I am just as certain that some "opinions" given on this forum would be ruled 'incorrect' by many history teachers and professors.

As the man said, "History is not history, unless it is the truth."
 
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Thanks for your response.
From their contemporary speeches, letters and documents, it is clear that the single most important 'States' Right' that the secessionists wanted to protect was the 'right' to own slaves. They argued- rightly- that whether to allow slavery was a decision left to the States. They saw it threatened by possible Federal action. It was only following their defeat that they began using the term to mean anything other than the right to own slaves: the ambiguous term 'States' Rights' served them well for a hundred years.
Well said, and I do not deny that one of the main rights that they placed under state's rights was slavery. However, it is still a state's right to choose. Or at least it was for a while with an exception of some compromises made to extend its stretch. But nonetheless, it was still left up to the state to decide whether or not to own slaves. If they, meaning the legislature of each sovereign state, decided that they did not want slaves, they would not. If so, they would. But I must also remind everyone that my poll vote was that both are equally responsible, as the right to own slavery was left into the hands of the state. The state's right to own a slave if its legislature decides so. I cannot deny that slavery played a large role, but I cannot say that it was the only role.

In fact, I shall propose my own "Cause of the War": greed. But not just greed in general; I shall break it into two forms that BOTH sides contributed to:

1) Complacent Greed
2) Desire Greed.

If you'd like a more in-depth explanation, I would gladly give it, but that is my opinion.
 
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ForeverFree

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I think it was the scholar Bruce Levine (author, The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War & the Social Revolution that Transformed the South; also Half Slave & Half Free: The Roots of Civil War; and others) who said that to determine why there was a Civil War, two questions must be answered:
1) why did some states secede?
2) why did some states want to preserve the Union?

RE: the first question: the following text is from South Carolina's secession declaration, whose full text is here. The declaration is representative of the key, essential argument that was made for leaving the Union by the rebelling states:

A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.​
This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.​
On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.​

The white southern elite believed that the incoming Republican administration was pro-abolition, would put forward pro-aboition policies.This, they reasoned, would result in emancipation and Negro equality, which would ruin the South. Similar arguments were made throughout the South. Go to this thread which provides more examples of statements from secessionists explaining why they wanted to leave the Union.

RE: the second question: Unionists sought to preserve the Union because they believed their country was threatened by traitors who annulled an election that didn't go their way, attacked US properties, and had become a military, economic, and geo-political threat to the United States.

This thread, Why preserve the Union?: Unionism vs Secessionism, might be useful for looking at this subject.

Basically, the issue of slavery created a sectional divide, between free states and slave states. The catalyst for the War was the election of Lincoln, who was seen as the vehicle for pro-abolitionism in the Executive branch. That is, the Lincoln election is the contingency that brought the sectional conflict to a boil. The shooting war began when the Union and the newly formed Confederates fought over Ft Sumter.

- Alan
 

wausaubob

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Not really. The Republicans did not have the power to put an immediate end to slavery. So a strategy of political opposition would prevent war, and preserve most of the benefits of slavery for many years. The only people who would lose if that was the strategy would be politicians who would be part of a minority, and farms that wanted to sell excess slaves at good prices.
Without secession, most farm operations could have used slave labor for 10-20 years, and saved the costs of the war. Secession only makes sense if one takes it as true that the North will not fight which means there will be no costs, or that the south would win, and slavery would be undamaged and unrestricted forever.
As soon as people saw the north would win, and that war accelerated the rate of emancipation, the logical reasons for secession, disappeared and war emotions, loyalty and self sacrifice took over.
The paid labor states were eliminating a competitor. The so called slave power was the main target. Once they had thoroughly weakened that power, by 1874, the Republicans withdrew from the south, and let the cotton economy control those southern areas. The paid labor states have to be judged by the results. The southern Democrats became an adjunct of the northern Democrats. They could no longer win on their own. The principal of secession was removed from main stream political platforms. The worst abuses of slavery were decreased, though the Republicans had only a passing interest in black civil rights.
The paid labor states were fighting for a destiny that they thought was manifest: a continental empire reaching from ocean to ocean without serious competition in North America.
The political power of slavery was threatened. The expansion of slavery was going to end, and the slave trade was going to be attacked. But the cotton growers had plenty of allies in the northern areas. Changes still would have been gradual.
 
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ForeverFree

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Not really. The Republicans did not have the power to put an immediate end to slavery. So a strategy of political opposition would prevent war, and preserve most of the benefits of slavery for many years. The only people who would lose if that was the strategy would be politicians who would be part of a minority, and farms that wanted to sell excess slaves at good prices.
Without secession, most farm operations could have used slave labor for 10-20 years, and saved the costs of the war. Secession only makes sense if one takes it as true that the North will not fight which means there will be no costs, or that the south would win, and slavery would be undamaged and unrestricted forever.
As soon as people saw the north would win, and that war accelerated the rate of emancipation, the logical reasons for secession, disappeared and war emotions, loyalty and self sacrifice took over.
The paid labor states were eliminating a competitor. The so called slave power was the main target. Once they had thoroughly weakened that power, by 1874, the Republicans withdrew from the south, and let the cotton economy control those southern areas. The paid labor states have to be judged by the results. The southern Democrats became an adjunct of the northern Democrats. They could no longer win on their own. The principal of secession was removed from main stream political platforms. The worst abuses of slavery were decreased, though the Republicans had only a passing interest in black civil rights.
The paid labor states were fighting for a destiny that they thought was manifest: a continental empire reaching from ocean to ocean without serious competition in North America.
The political power of slavery was threatened. The expansion of slavery was going to end, and the slave trade was going to be attacked. But the cotton growers had plenty of allies in the northern areas. Changes still would have been gradual.
RE: Not really. The Republicans did not have the power to put an immediate end to slavery.

The secessionists did not say that Republicans would put an immediate end to slavery. For example, SC says in its Sec Dec

On the 4th day of March next, (the Republican) party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.​

SC says the Republican will wage a "war... against slavery," but it is a political war, in which the Republicans will use the powers of the Executive branch to end slavery. One way is noted explicitly: President Lincoln is expected to nominate judges with "sectional interests"; such judges would overturn the Dred Scott decision for example.

The process of gradual, but eventual abolition activism was suggested by Edmund Ruffin (January 5, 1794 – June 18, 1865), a wealthy Virginia planter and slaveholder, who is known as a prominent Fire Eater. In 1860, Ruffin published a book of speculative fiction called Anticipations of the Future, to Serve as Lessons for the Present Time.

In the book, Ruffin predicted the Lincoln election would be followed by the election and re-election of William H. Seward as President. After a period of being cautious, Seward and pro-abolitionists in Congress end slavery in Washington, DC, and accept negro ambassadors. They discuss breaking the largest free states into two separate states each, to increase their power in the Senate. Patronage and appointments to positions of power and influence are given solely to Northerners who are abolitionists. Abolitionists are appointed to the Supreme Court, including Salmon Chase of Ohio, who replaces Taney as Chief Justice. Not so coincidentally, the number of slave escapes escalates; they are emboldened by what they see as a pro-abolition government that will take steps to protect these freedmen.

In Ruffin's imagination it is only until the winter after Seward's re-election in 1867 that states will begin to secede, an event that his book says will be followed by a Civil War. During the battle, the Union will enlist slaves as soldiers, with surprising results that I won't discuss.

Ruffin, as with many southerners, did not think the end of slavery would be immediate. He did believe that it was only a matter of time before an all-out abolitionist like Seward was elected by the more populous North, followed by an eventual slew of pro-abolitionist polices and government officials.

The secessionists were not going to wait for this doomsday scenario to eventually happen. Faced with the possibility of a long period of Republican/abolitionist rule and power, during which the abolition power would reach a zenith, they opted out.

- Alan
 
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5fish

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The true name for our Civil War should be "The Great Slaveholder's Revolt" because it was the Slaveholders that lead the Southern states into secession and war to save their institution of slavery, even thou, there was no true threat to the insitution of slavery 1860.
 

wausaubob

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However the immediate crisis was manufactured. Lincoln would have been constrained with respect to slavery, as it existed in the south. The Republican program would have concentrated on growth in the Midwest and Far West.
 
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wausaubob

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Had it been a gradual change, the political institutions might have handled it better. But the changes in apportionment, in favor of Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, with the pending admission of Kansas and Nebraska as paid labor states, meant the southern states were not a major factor in politics once the 1860 census determined reapportionment. Secessionists did want to talk about that, because it would lead in a bad direction with respect to chances of success for secession.
 

wausaubob

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The southern states had been dominant, even up to 1820. The cotton boom helped them keep up until 1844. But both northern parties became pro immigration parties: the Dems for a long time, but the Republicans only temporarily. A party cannot truly be pro immigration and pro slavery at the same time. The pro slavery southern party was running out of allies in the northern areas, so they took an enormous gamble on beating a country that was on a very long winning streak.
 

ForeverFree

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However the immediate crisis was manufactured. Lincoln would have been constrained with respect to slavery, as it existed in the south. The Republican program would have concentrated on growth in the Midwest and Far West.
I think we tend to Lincolnize what happened during secession, which is not the best way to look at things. Lincoln was a political unknown. I have seen some secessionists who didn't think that Lincoln, the man himself, was a problem.

The problem was that abolitionists, who were demonized in the white South, were seen as having influence in the Republican Party. The "enemy" was the abolition-leaning Black Republicans. The crisis was that this radical, fanatic, pro-abolition political party had just made an electoral breakthrough, and white Southerners weren't having it. It was not really about Lincoln per se.

What they did was launch a pre-emptive strike. Yes, the threat was not immediate, but if you know what's coming, why wait? What we see in the secessionists is a total loss of faith in the ability of Republicans to protect their interest in property in man. If you have no faith, there's no use waiting for 4 or 8 years to see what will happen, the time to get out is now.

But the changes in apportionment, in favor of Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, with the pending admission of Kansas and Nebraska as paid labor states, meant the southern states were not a major factor in politics once the 1860 census determined reapportionment. Secessionists did want to talk about that, because it would lead in a bad direction with respect to chances of success for secession.
The Ruffin book does make hay over the growth in the northern population. Southerners were aware of it and were worrying about it.

Again, southerners were worried about what would happen eventually. Eventually, the size of the free state population would give Northern politicians a power that the slave states couldn't match. In fact, that was the case in 1860. For southerners, the crisis was that a president from a pro-abolition political party could be elected president, and there was a good chance it would happen again and again. So it was time to skedaddle.

- Alan
 
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wausaubob

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The election of President Lincoln is an unmistakable sign that neither national party depends on southern electoral votes to win the Presidency. Hence neither party has to do much for the slave owners section of the country. The fact that the change was so sudden meant that people who could remember southern dominance, and what the cotton economy had received from that dominance, had to deal with a new situation. The Constitution did not have enough federalizing factors to force people to adjust to that new circumstance.
 

wausaubob

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The Constitution did preserve representation of the states in the Senate. There was not a federal currency. The navy was mainly concentrated on NE and Mid-Atlantic states. The railroad system was strong in the northern states, but had just reached the point of interstate connections on through routes.
Whigs had been in favor of developing these federal forces, but the southern Democrats had been blocking them, to preserve their local power.
 
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wausaubob

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There were several secessionist states that had not been in the US as states for very long, and for some of them the capital was far away.
The sensation of separateness was still strong.
 
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