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Was The American Civil War Really About Slavery?

It seems to me a really bizarre idea that a country would actually go to war with itself over the right to have slaves. Why did Democracy and compromise fail over such an absurd topic?
Was Abraham Lincoln that bad a negotiater?

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  • Quaterma says:

    The war was not about slavery. “Why then was the Civil War fought? As with most wars, there’s no single answer. But the predominant cause was taxation. Before his election, Lincoln had promoted very high tariffs (federal taxes on foreign imports), using the receipts to build railroads, canals, roads, and other federal pork-barrel projects. The tariffs protected Northern manufacturers from foreign competition, and were paid mostly by the non-manufacturing South, while most of the proposed boondoggles were to be built in the North. Thus the South was being forced to subsidize Northern corporate welfare. Certainly the Southerners were concerned about the future of slavery. But there was no threat in 1861 that the federal government would be able to outlaw it. When Lincoln was elected, South Carolina saw a grim future ahead and seceded. Other Southern states quickly followed suit. Lincoln asserted that no state had a right to secede from the Union — even though several geographical regions had considered secession before. Few people thought the Union couldn’t survive if some states decided to leave. Upon seceding, the Confederates took over all federal forts and other facilities in the South, with no opposition from Lincoln. The last remaining federal facilities were Fort Pickens in Florida and Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Lincoln at first promised to let the South have Fort Sumter, but then tried to reinforce it. The South moved to confiscate it — shelling the Fort for many hours. (No one was killed or even seriously injured.) Why was Fort Sumter important? Because it guarded a major tariff-collecting facility in the harbor at Charleston. So long as the Union controlled it, the South would still have to pay Lincoln’s oppressive tariffs. Although there had been only scattered Northern opposition to the secessions, the shelling of Fort Sumter (like the bombing of Pearl Harbor almost a century later) incited many Northerners to call for war against the South. The South’s seizure of Fort Sumter caused many Northerners to notice that the South would no longer be subsidizing Northern manufacturing. As the war began, the sole issue was restoration of the Union — not ending slavery. Only in 1863 did the Emancipation Proclamation go into effect, and it didn’t actually free a single slave — just like so many laws today that don’t perform the purpose for which they were promoted.”

    February 5, 2013 at 6:07 am
  • ej_bront says:

    It actually has to do with state’s rights. The North believed that the federal government should be much stronger than state government. The South felt that the states should have more power. The south believed that a strong central government would take away their right to decide if they should have slavery or not. For southerners the institute of slavery was a right that their state had picked to have, thus representing the freedom of states to choose their own laws. This was actually an argument that began before the Constitution was even ratified and continued until after the Civil War. Most Southerners did NOT own slaves, in fact it was a very small minority who did. Most of the people who fought for the South in the Civil War were fighting not to keep slaves (most didn’t have any) but to keep the North and the Central Government from telling them what to do.

    February 5, 2013 at 6:22 am
  • psyop6 says:

    Democracy tried to compromise; unfortunately, with the numbers of pro-slave residents of the new states dropping (look at California–by the practice of the time, it should’ve been brought into the Union as a pro-slavery state, but the residents had other ideas) the probability of slavery remaining constitutional was dwindling. The abolitionist movement, which for years had been regarded as part of the political lunatic fringe, was gaining acceptance and becoming a mainstream philosophy…but not that quickly. At the time of the Gettysburg Address, where Lincoln effectively refocused the Union’s war aims on the defeat of the Confederacy and the elimination of slavery, there were still plenty of Northerners who believed that preserving the Union was the sole goal of the fighting. You have to remember that the question of slavery was less a moral issue to most Americans at this time than it was an economic one: the South’s largely agricultural economy was supported by servile labor and the North’s industrial economy was supported by paid workers (however *bad* the pay and working conditions in too many places!). The South had feared the North’s growing political power (read control) going back to the Declaration of Independence. Finally, no, Mr Lincoln was not a bad negotiator. Frankly, he was willing to do just about anything to keep the Southern state within the Union. However, the mass of opinion in the Southern states was that his election was a signal that there was to be no compromise. He did his best, but was fighting against a force that had been in motion from before his birth. This is, regrettably, a rather simplified version of a complex set of questions. Your best bet is to visit your local libraries and look up their books on the Civil War’s causes.

    February 5, 2013 at 11:41 am
  • bobbutle says:

    Initially, no. It was originally for economic reasons, as the North was industrialized and the South was agrarian; and it was the policies of the North which were causing financial hardships on the south, which lead them to move for Independence. Slavery only entered the picture when Northerners were looking for reasons to justify their domination of the South. Harriett Beecher Snow’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was one of those such reasons, plus it made her wealthy. Another reason was when the south was having many successes, Mr. Lincoln used the ploy of “Freeing the slaves” to disrupt the South. Therefore our Civil War eventually did become a major effort at ending slavery. Today those descendants of slavery face a more insidious form of slavery perpetrated upon them primarily by the North. That is the “Welfare” system; hopefully they will be freed of that, too, then assimilate equally, to be judged only as individuals.

    February 5, 2013 at 3:45 pm
  • Ben says:

    No, it was not. Slavery was used only to enhance the main reason, which was to safeguard the Union. The policy in the South was of more and more power for the individual States, but also only as a contra-reaction to the increasing power of the North in dictating policies in the South. And yes, Abraham Lincoln was indeed a bad negotiator.

    February 5, 2013 at 9:34 pm
  • Chance Gardener says:

    It was far more to do with the threatened break-up of the Union rather than slavery. It’s highly unlikely that white men from the northern states would go to fight over the freedom of slaves. The “slavery” issue was a spin given by historians to make the northern staes appear to be the “good guys” and the southern states appear to be the “bad guys”. History is written by the winners.

    February 6, 2013 at 12:05 am
  • onetruth says:

    No, actually abolishing slavery was an afterthought to get support for the North, not to mention freed slaves and anti-slavery activists to be soldiers for the North. It was actually about industrialism (North) and agriculture (South). The North needed the South more than vise-versa as far as bringing in trade money from other countries and the South could have supported itself at the time better than the North could have as independent states/countries. The civil war was well on it’s way before slavery even became a factor.

    February 6, 2013 at 1:42 am
  • Tony C says:

    Slavery was the catalyst that caused the war to happen when it did but it was not THE cause of the war. Certainly in the 20-years or so leading up to the war it was slavery that caused the most obvious conflicts between the southern and northern states. BUT SLAVERY DID NOT CAUSE THE WAR. See, I can use capitals too…. The war was caused by geography and was, I believe, inevitable. The early United States was divided by geography into relatively small, mountainous northern states and larger, flat southern states. Each developed in very different ways…… The industrial revolution caught on fast in the north because there were ample fast-flowing rivers that offered power and, later, good communication routes for the new railways. The north became an industrialised, city-based country, where foreign trade in manufactured goods was crucial. These states became outward-looking and desired a strong central federal government. The southern states were always perfectly suited to agriculture. The lack of fast flowing rivers was a barrier to industrialisation and the sheer size of the states made communication difficult. Most southerners had never been outside their own state before the war. The invention of the “cotton-gin” made the south a single crop area which was exported to long-standing customers (chiefly England and France). Apart from cotton, foreign trade was almost non-existent because there were almost no manufactured goods to trade. These states became inward-looking and saw no need for a centralised federal government. It was this divide in the development of the country that really caused the war. All that was needed was a spark to ignite the deep differences between go-ahead northerners and stay-as-we-are southerners. Slavery was that spark. Nothing more.

    February 6, 2013 at 2:57 am
  • Bill says:

    The short answer is “yes.” However, it is not accurate, truthful or fair to state that the American Civil War was fought to end the institution of slavery. Whether you want to claim it was about states’ rights, a breakdown in communications/negotiations, the almighty dollar, etc… every single one of the root causes of the American Civil War is connected to the institution of slavery.

    February 6, 2013 at 9:50 am
  • alex says:

    the main reason we had a civil war was seccession & states rights. the southern states felt that their rights were being trampled on. that is why when lincoln was elected, the south carolinians cheered for then they had a good reason to leave. what they failed to realize is that the south had the supreme court and house of reps. when congress declared war on the south, lincoln said that it was to preserve the union, for if he had said it was to free the slaves, he would have lost the valuable, slave holding border states that were vital to the success of the union. when he declared the emancipation proclamation, it only took effect in the areas that were in rebelion or had suceeded, not the border states, so in one respect, it was a usless document because he didn’t have any power in the south, so he couldn’t do anything to enforce it, except the war. what he did do was that he made it so that when the south lost, slavery was gone because the border states gave up their slaves as well. lincoln didn’t have much choice to be a negotiator because the south wouldn’t have come back, and the president before him didn’t step in to try to stop the south before lincoln even took office. hope this helps.

    February 6, 2013 at 3:57 pm
  • Yarx says:

    No, however it was the catalyst for the war. The real issue was the right of southern (or for that matter any) state to secede from the Union. The North maintained (and maintains) that the Union is indissoluable. The South maintained that they had the right to join and leave the union. I tend to support the right to secede as I would like the UK (where I live) to leave the super-state EU. EDIT: I don’t think ‘sunshine’ above understands his own history. There was never any intention by the South to invade the North and impose ‘redneck’ speech. They merely wanted to leave the union and Northern dominance. EDIT 2: ‘Sunshine’s’ answer seems to have disappeared. So my previous edit may not make sense – sorry!

    February 6, 2013 at 9:35 pm
  • Its not me Its u says:

    In view of the fact that the border states that did not secede, still had slaves up to the Battle of Antietam where shortly thereafter Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation…..almost a year and half AFTER the start of the Civil War. So what does that tell you?

    February 7, 2013 at 12:35 am
  • Ties that bind says:

    yes it boils down to money the more land the more workers who u have to pay slavery is free so more profit for land owner u do havethe world wide web why not read up on this instead of looking for faults in America

    February 7, 2013 at 4:13 am
  • Rich says:

    Slavery WAS the issue that caused the Civil War – it was not secondary in the least. You have to first understand that it wasn’t a series of misunderstandings that got out of hand. The secession of the Confederate states was a plan that was many years in the making. The secessionist leaders began their plans in the early 1850’s, and while they certainly hoped they could pull it off without war, they prepared for that every step of the way. SLAVERY WAS THE PRIMARY ISSUE THAT LED TO THE CIVIL WAR. “State’s rights” in the South were only important insofar as it involved the right to own slaves. Revisionist historians like to use “state’s rights” as a way to defend the actions of secessionists, but outside of slavery secessionists cared very little about state’s rights. If you go to the books, the newspapers, the magazines, and the speeches OF THE TIME, like I have for the last 30 years, and ignore all the dirivitive crap written 100-150 years after the war, you’ll find that slavery was THE issue, in the North and in the South. What right did the South fight to protect? Slavery. What were the leaders of the North trying to stop slavery. The rest were minor differences. Go to the sources, and you’ll see. Yes, they used the term “states rights” from time to time, because that was the polcitically correct terminology for saying they wanted to keep their slaves. What right were they almost exclusively talking about when talking about state’s rights? Slavery. Sometimes it would be thrown in with “opression” and “economics” but it always came down to slavery. No slavery – no war, period. You had two very opposite groups involved in this conflict. The slave states were run largely by a group of secessionists, although they weren’t publicly admitting that in the 1850’s. They desperately wanted to maintian their hold on the power they currently enjoyed at that time – they had enough votes in congress to demand compromise after compromise and to control most legislation. They used that power to repeal the Missouri Compromise and allow the reintroduction of slavery into areas it had previously been prohibited. They are occasionally portrayed as the downtrodden oppressed, under the thumb of the terrible North, but nothing could be further from the truth. They were strong, and they wanted to keep that power, lest their ability to promote and maintain slavery be taken from them Meanwhile the North was largely anti-slavery, that sentiment was growing almost daily, and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise was taken as a betrayal by most people of the North. While those who favored immediate abolition were not the majority, those who demanded the stop to the expansion of slavery were. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the introduction of the Kansas-Nebraska Acts so enraged and worried the North that adversaries gathered together to form a new political party, the Republican Party, in 1854. They considered the repeal as a betrayal of trust and a surrender to the slave powers (see the notice at the end) To those who say that slavery wasn’t the main issue, keep in mind that the platform of the Republican Party (formed by Whigs, Free-Soilers, Know-Nothings, Free Democrats, and other parties that dissolved their past affiliations in order to form the Republican Party) was primarily to stop the spread of slavery immediately and to eliminate it from the coutry as quickly as possible – it’s why the Party was formed, and the evidence that slavery was the issue in the North as well as the South is plain in the fact that the Republican Party won the Presidency and majority control of government just 6 years after it was formed! This signaled a ticking clock to the secessionists, because they saw the anti-slavery senitment gaining strenth and the Republican Party gaining power throughout the 1850’s. They new that in 1860 their hold on power would be gone, and they had to act. They knew as far back as 1857 that they would be taking these steps a few years later. On March 4, 1857 Jefferson Davis took the oath of the Senate, vowing to uphold the Union and the Constitution with his very life, meanwhile he and other secessionist leader continues their plans of rebellion. During the late 1850’s President Buchanan and the other secessionist leaders and slavery sympathizers worked their plan. Arms were sold to secessionists, forts in the South were emptied of arms and troops, the Army and Navy were spread thin and wide so they could not respond in an emergency. The propoganda campain to keep the southern people in fear of the North and unsettled continued. Lincoln’s election in 1860 was used by the secessionists to rally support of the people, and called “the last straw.” The funny thing is that Lincoln, of all the possible Republicans, was the last person they had to fear, because Lincoln had already said many times over that he would not mess with slavery where it existed. But who the candidate was didn’t matter – it was time for the secessionists to act before it was too late, so they portrayed Lincoln as a radical abolitionist and an enemy of the South. Truth is, it could have been anybody elected. The Confederacy was planned a long time before anyone ever heard of Abraham Lincoln in the South. You asked if Lincoln was a bad negotiator – well, most of this was cast long before Lincoln was in a position to do anything to prevent it. When the North refused to accept secession, and the North wouldn’t make the first agressive move, the Confederacy fired – on a fort manned mostly by musicians with few weapons. So, was it possible to end slavery without War? I’m not saying there weren’t ways, but first you have to know that there were people plotting treason and betraying their oaths for years prior to 1860, and that they were not going to stop short of their goals. The only thing that would have prevented war would be the acceptance of slavery by the United States and/or the surrender of the United States of all the states and territories it held that called itself the Confederacy. Since that would not have ended slavery, then the answer is that there was no alternative but to have some kind of conflict, some kind of war. Slavery was the issue, it was the reason. It was a calculated plan by those who chose to protect slavery by betraying their countrymen and turning traitor – to protect slavery, and not some mythical idea of “state’s rights” because the only right they cared about was the right to enslave another race. MORE EVIDENCE THAT SLAVERY WAS THE ISSUE Below is one of the annoucements of a meeting (1854) called to form this new party. This was from Michigan, and was one of many such announcement and meetings. It’s a fascinating story: “TO THE PEOPLE OF MICHIGAN A great wrong has been perpetrated. The slave power of this country has triumphed. Liberty is trampled underfoot. The Missouri compromise, a solemn compact, entered into by our fathers, has been violated, and a vast territory dedicated to freedom has been opened to slavery. This act, so unjust to the North, has been perpetrated under circumstances which deepen its perfidy [treachery]. An administration placed in power by Northern votes has brought to bear all the resources of executive corruption in its support. Northern Senators and representatives, in the face of overwhelming public sentiment of the North, expressed in the proceedings of public meeting and solemn remonstrances [protest], without a single petition in its favor on their table, and not daring to submit this great question to the people, have yielded to the seductions of executive patronage, and, Judas-like, betrayed the cause of liberty; while the South, inspired by a dominant and grasping ambition, has, without distinction of party, and with a unanimity almost entire, deliberately trampled under foot the solemn compact entered into in the midst of a crisis threatening the peace of the Union, sanctioned by the greatest names of our history, and the binding forces of which has, for a period of more than thirty years, been recognized and declared by numerous acts of legislation. Such an outrage upon liberty, such a violation of plighted faith, cannot be submitted to. The great wrong must be righted, or there is no longer a North in the councils of the nation. The extension of slavery, under the folds of the American flag, is a stigma upon liberty. The indefinite increase of slave representation in Congress is destructive to that equality between freemen which is essential to the permanency of the Union. The safety of the Union — the rights of the North — the interests of free labor — the destiny of a vast territory and its untold millions for all coming time — and finally, the high aspirations of humanity for universal freedom, all are involved in the issue forced upon the country by the slave power and its plastic Northern tools. In view, therefore, of the recent action of Congress upon this subject, and the evident designs of the slave power to attempt still further aggressions upon freedom — we invite all our fellow citizens, without reference to former political associations, who think that the time has arrived for a union at the North to protect liberty from being overthrown and downtrodden, to assemble in mass convention on Thursday, the 6th of July, next, at 4 o’clock, P.M., at Jackson, there to take such measures as shall be thought best to concentrate the popular sentiment of this State against the aggression of the slave power.” This meeting was attended by people from all parties, and they formed an election ticket of Free Democrats, Free Soilers, Whigs, and more – now all calling themselves Republican. Zachariah Chandler, a devout Whig, said: “Misfortunes make strange bedfellows. I see before me Whigs, Democrats and Free-Soilers, all mingling together to rebuke a great national wrong. I was born a Whig; I have always lived a Whig and hope to die fighting for some of the Whig doctrines. But I do not stand here as a Whig. I have laid aside party to rebuke treachery.” The Republican Party was founded on, and throughout the 1850’s primarily existed to, stop slavery. Without slavery, there was no conflict important enough to form new parties, to bring traitors to the forefront, to cause a country to fire upon itself. Beginning a few years after the War it became desired to make both sides “honorable” in their actions. Suddenly it was important that Jefferson Davis not be a traitor, but a revolutionary hero, and that other Confederate officers be honorable, not criticized for their part in the attempted overthrow of legitimate government. To accomplish this the reasons behind the war had to be “altered,” too — to have the Wra about slavery would suggest to fufute generations that one side was right and the other wrong. So, the “state’s rights” argument was brought forth again. Go to the sources of the time — it was about slavery.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:43 am
  • Steve S says:

    I would disagree. It was about 2 different groups of people that didn’t want to be affiliated with each other. The South was tramped and the ability to hear there side of the story was not made available since all the printing presses were in the North. Another thought to ponder, Even President Lincoln had to free his slaves when war was over. That is why I say NO.

    February 7, 2013 at 2:41 pm
  • Chariotm says:

    Slavery, despite all the hype, was a secondary issue. The real cause was import and export taxation which benefited the industrial North and compromised the South. Unfortunately most Americans do not have the intellectual capacity to analyse and understand their own history. I thought I might stir up a few people with that last sentence, true though it is! I seem to have succeeded

    February 7, 2013 at 7:52 pm
  • WDOUI says:


    February 8, 2013 at 1:45 am
  • tickytac says:

    basically all wars come down to control,control means money money gains control

    February 8, 2013 at 2:18 am
  • Woodman says:

    yarx got it in one

    February 8, 2013 at 4:08 am

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