Causes of the American Civil War (1861-1865): How Did Abraham Lincoln Change History?

Updated August 11, 2022

It was the deadliest war between the U.S. constitutional government and the Confederates States of America. The combat claimed some 620,000 to 750,000 people death. The American Civil War, also called the War Between the States. It was continued for four years between the northern states loyal to the Union and 11 Southern States that had seceded from the Union to form the Confederates States of America.

In chronological order, the secession of the Southern states- South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina in 1860–61 and the ensuing outbreak of armed hostilities over the northern states. This civil war was the culmination of decades of growing sectional friction over slavery, it was one of the root causes of the American Civil War.

A Topical View American Civil War

The civil war broke out in 1st April 1861 when the Confederate States of America forces attacked the Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The Secessionist attacked the Fort Sumter shortly after the Abraham Lincoln had been inaugurated as the President of the United States. Abraham Lincoln had changed history, in spite of the trouble he faced. He abolished the system of slavery. Lincoln played a great role in keeping the America united. He helped the citizen in getting citizenship and equal rights.

When American Independence was obtained in 1776, there were only 13 colonies which formed the federal government. After the American Revolution, the colonies of America expanded and forming 34 states until 1861. Although America covered vast areas or States there were many social and political differences in the northern and southern states- which resulted in the American Civil War.

The ideological difference between the northern states and southern states towards slavery can be seen as the root cause of the American Civil War. It can be seen that there are many small and big causes which resulted in the American Civil War or the War Between the States.

Causes of the American Civil War

The difference in the attitude towards slavery can be seen as the root or main cause of the War Between the States or Civil War. This had a great effect on the economic and political sphere too. The factors which led to the outbreak of the Civil War in America can be consolidated as below.

1. The issue with the attitude towards slavery

This war began primarily as a result of the long-standing controversy over the enslavement of black people. Industrialized northern states were against the enslavement of labour but the southerners supported the system of slavery. Even, industrialized northern states preferred paid labourers while agricultural southern states which had large plantations relied on slave labour. Northern states abolished the system of slavery in 1804 and they became ‘The Free States’.

2. A key issue was states’ rights

The Southern states wanted to assert their authority over the federal government so they could abolish federal laws. They didn’t support the federal laws because they interfered with south’s right to keep slaves and take them wherever they wished.

3. Economic Disparity between Northern and Southern States

Between 1815 and 1861, the economy of Northern states was rapidly industrializing and diversifying Industrialization has taken root over the northern states. Moreover, Northerners had invested heavily in an expansive and varied transportation system that pertained roads, canals, steamboats, and railroads; in financial industries such as banking and insurance; and in a large communications network that is newspapers, magazines, and books, along with the telegraph.

While southern states economy had largely based on large farms (plantations) that produced commercial crops such as cotton and that relied on slaves as the main labour force. Southerners had invested their money more on slaves rather than invest in factories or railroads. According to the southerners, it was a sound decision to business on slaves.

In short, Northern states were industrialized while southern states where primarily agricultural. Northern states wanted a tax on imports from Britain while southern states wanted tax-free trade with Britain.

4. Conflict Over Territorial Expansion

The South wished to take slavery into the western territories, while the North was committed to keeping them open to White labour alone. Meanwhile, the newly formed Republican party was gaining prominent support for the decision of exclusion of the westward expansion of slavery into new states. When Abraham Lincoln, the candidate of the explicitly antislavery Republican Party, won the 1860 presidential election, sealed the deal. He managed to get elected without a single Southern electoral vote, and it made clear views to the southern states that they had lost their influence.

After the presidential election, the southern members felt excluded from the political system, and after that, they turned to the alternative of secession. This political decision was one of the main causes of the American Civil War.

5. Movement for the abolition of slavery

The South relied on slavery for labour to work in the fields. Many people in the North believed that slavery was wrong and evil. These people were called abolitionists. They wanted slavery made illegal throughout the United States. Abolitionists such as John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Harriet Beecher Stowe began to convince more and more people of the evil of slavery. This made the South fearful that their way of life would come to an end.

A strong movement for the abolition of slavery began in the north. It called for the repeal of the controversial Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 (this act had mandated the return of runaway slaves to their masters).

6. Bleeding Kansas-

The first clash over the slavery issue took place in Kansas. In 1854, the government passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowing the residents of Kansas to vote on whether they would be a slave state or a free state. Even, it was one of the small causes of the American Civil War. The region was thronged with supporters from both sides. They fought over the issue for years. Several people were killed in the small conflict and this rivalry is called Bleeding Kansas. Eventually, Kansas entered the Union as a free state in 1861.

7. The fear of reforms by Abraham Lincoln & the Republican party

The immediate cause of the American civil war was the Presidential election in which Abraham Lincoln, the candidate of the Republican Party got the victory. The Democratic candidate Stephan Arnold Douglas wanted the system of slavery to continue while Abraham Lincoln stood for freedom of slaves. When Abraham Lincoln, the candidate of the Republican Party got elected in 1861, the resentment among the southerners spread and led to the outbreak of the Civil War.

The Course of the American Civil War

The American Civil War began in 1861, after decades of simmering tensions between northern and southern states over states’ rights, slavery, and westward expansion. After the victory of Abraham Lincoln in the presidential election in 1860, it caused seven southern states to secede from the Union and form a Southern government – the Confederate States of America on February 9, 1861.

The four more states soon joined the Confederate States of America. The conflict was the costliest and deadliest war ever fought on American soil, with some 620,000 of 2.4 million soldiers killed, millions more injured and much of the South left in ruin. The Confederacy adopted its own Constitution. Jefferson Davis was its President.

War broke out in April 1861 when the Confederates attacked a U.S. fortress (Fort Sumter) at South Carolina.

In the First Battle of Bull Run (known in the South as First Manassas) on July 21, 1861, 35,000 Confederate soldiers under the command of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson forced a greater number of Union forces (or Federals) to retreat towards Washington, D.C., dashing any hopes of a quick Union victory and leading Lincoln to call for 500,000 more recruits.

The War of Virginia- In the spring of 1862, McClellan led his Army of the Potomac up the peninsula between the York and James Rivers and capturing Yorktown. But, the combined forces of Robert E. Lee and Jackson successfully drove back McClellan’s army in the Seven Days’ Battles (June 25-July 1). When he asked for more reinforcements of soldiers, Lincoln refused to order to withdraw his army to Washington.

Afterwards, on September 17th the Union’s Army attacked Lee’s Forces and it became the bloodiest single day of fighting. Total casualties at the Battle of Antietam (also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg) numbered 12,410 of some 69,000 troops on the Union side, and 13,724 of around 52,000 for the Confederates. It was the major victory of the Union, as they halted the advancement of Lee in Maryland and forced Lee to retreat Virginia. Abraham Lincoln had used the occasion of the Union victory at Antietam to issue a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which freed millions of slaves.

In the Gettysburg battle, almost 50,000 soldiers were killed. Here, Lincoln gave the famous Gettysburg Address – where he put forward a task of preserving the Union and democracy. His vision for a democratic should be- of the people, by the people and for the people.

The war ended with the surrender of all the Confederate armies and the collapse of the Confederate government in 1865. General Lee surrendered his Confederate army to General Ulysses S Grant.

Significance of the American Civil War

(a) The war led the foundation for a modern country to abolish slavery.
(b) The War Between the States eradicated the Institution of Slavery.
(c) The war completely destroyed the idea of secession of states for all times.

(d) In the economic sphere, the war led to the growth of large-scale manufacturing industries.
(e) More area came under cultivation – particularly in the western regions on North America.
(f) This war helped to use more advance machine which resulted in more production.

(g) The growth of the nationwide business- Regulation of banking system (National Banking Act) and the use of paper currency in the northern states contributed to the growth of the nationwide business.
(h) They started to use new and advance weapons and technology.

(i) The war led to the improvement of large transportation and communication industries.
(j) While the Revolution of 1776-1783 created the United States, the Civil War of 1861-1865 determined what kind of nation it would be.

How did Abraham Lincoln make a Difference in history?

(a) Lincoln believed in the power of human reason to advance society.

(b) Abraham Lincoln believed that American democracy meant equal rights and equality of opportunity. But he drew a line between basic natural rights such as freedom from slavery and political and civil rights like voting.

(c) Lincoln’s political hero was Henry Clay. He studied collections of masterful speeches by the Henry Clay. He became a distinguished lawyer and great orator.

(d) Lincoln also believed in the idea of providing government aid to the freed slaves, enabling them to establish colonies abroad. Moreover, Lincoln believed that in their own black nations, they would finally enjoy equal political and civil rights.

(e) In 1832, Lincoln began his political career in Illinois, he joined Henry Clay’s Whig Party. But, at that time, he made a little impression. Afterwards, Lincoln became the 16th President of the USA as a Republican Candidate, in 1860. He refused to give southern states the right to secede from the Union.

(f) After the civil war, Abraham Lincoln helped the USA citizens in getting citizenship and equal rights.

(g) It was Abraham Lincoln who gave the famous principle of democracy – i.e. government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Beyond American Civil War Causes Under Awareness Reads

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