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Civil War Module 5 Writing

Civil War


According to the former New York Senator William Seward, the American Civil War arose as a consequence of irrepressible conflict between the opposing forces. He believed that had there been a compromise between these forces, then the nation could have avoided the war. The paper agrees with the senator’s view and resorts to the perception that these opposing forces and not just the failure to compromise by politicians were the origins of the war. Politicians could only have achieved so much, but these opposing forces held a stronger bargaining power than the politicians. The paper discusses these forces and concludes by offering a compromise that could have forestalled the war.

The Difference in the Northern and Southern Economic Market

            The northern states were experiencing an economic boost because of the many family farms and industrialization in the region. It consequently resulted in the increase of population in the area as most European immigrants were attracted by the booming economies and settled in the area (Finkelman, 2011). The northern states also traded with the Midwestern states and became more prosperous compared to their southern counterparts. On the other hand, the states of the South concentrated on cotton farming with slaves providing the farm labor. There was very little industrialization in the region. The situation led to the irrepressible economic conflict between the two regions. Although this conflict was silent, it was manifested during the war when the Midwestern states joined forces with the northern states as they found it economically viable to assist those whose economies complemented theirs (Finkelman, 2011).

Federal versus State Authority

In 1850, there was the Missouri Compromise over the territories that America acquired in Mexico, where it was agreed that territories would decide for themselves whether they were for or against slavery (Etcheson, 2005, p.480). The compromise also brought forth the Federal Fugitive Slave Act that required northern states to assist the southern states in reclaiming their fugitive slaves. The states of the North were against the law. Instead, they passed personal liberty laws meant to prevent the removal of fugitive slaves who had escaped from their owners. The situation raised the issue as to which law between federal and state laws was superior to the other. In the mid-1800s, the Supreme Court sitting in Virginia declared the Federal Fugitive Slave Act to be superior to the northern liberty state laws (Finkelman, 2011, p.14). The judgment infuriated northern states which decided to start emancipating the slaves from the southern owners. The Southerners retaliated. They denied any free blacks from the North access to the South. In New Orleans, any black passenger aboard was jailed until the vessel’s captain paid for their release.

The Dred Scott case proved the superiority of the federal laws. Scott’s master, Doctor Emerson, had died in Missouri. Before his death, Scott, his wife, and their master also lived in Illinois and Wisconsin. Scott applied for his and his wife’s freedom, but the Supreme Court ruled that they were still slaves and the territorial legislature of Wisconsin, which made them free persons because they had previously lived there, could not change federal laws (Carnes & Garraty, 2012). To the northern states, the decision proved that the southern states were using aggressive means to ensure that the institution of slavery existed. The situation just compounded the conflict between the two regions.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

In 1852, the above-titled novel by Harriet Stowe amplified anxiety between the northern and southern states. In the story, Miss Stowe exposed the evils associated with slavery. The Southerners accused her of trying to awaken hatred that would undermine national unity, while the Northerners praised her work for exposing the evils of slavery. The novel fueled abolitionist sentiment while also enraging Southerners. Future President Lincoln referred to the author as “the little woman who started the war” (Carnes & Garraty, 2012, p.351).

Kansas-Nebraska Act

The issue of slavery was discussed again in Kansas in 1854 by Stephen Douglas, the Illinois senator. He negotiated the Act that opened Kansas and Nebraska territories for settlement. It also advocated for territorial legislatures to have the power to decide on all slavery issues (Carnes & Garraty, 2012, p.354). The Act repealed the Missouri Compromise. Northern states vehemently opposed the Act as it led to an increase in the locality of slavery. In passing the law, the nation took the greatest single step in its march toward the abyss of civil war. The northern states reacted by forming a nationwide political party that they would use to advocate their views.

The Republican Party

The party was a product of the argument over the Kansas-Nebraska legislation. All the opponents of the law joined forces and formed the Republican Party. It presented itself as the party of freedom. Although the party members did not consider themselves abolitionists, they advocated that the Southerners keep slavery away from their states. In the elections held in 1854, the party won over a hundred of seats in the House of Representatives (Etcheson, 2005, p.501). The situation infuriated the southern states who were afraid of the northern states gaining control of the government.

Bleeding Kansas

The Kansas-Nebraska Act had opened Kansas territory for settlement. However, there was confusion as none of the lands were available yet for sale. Surveying of public lands was still ongoing. The legal status of slavery in the area also compounded the problem. Both the northern and southern states wanted to establish their authority over Kansas. In November 1855, Kansas elections were held to choose the territorial legislature. The proslavery Southerners rigged the election by allowing Missourians to vote as citizens of Kansas. A census held in Kansas before the elections counted 2,905 people as eligible to vote. However, on the election date, 6,307 votes were counted (Carnes & Garraty, 2012, p.357). The proslavery legislature immediately enacted slave laws that prohibited abolitionist agitation in Kansas. Some citizens who were against slavery refused to accept the government; and the following year, they conducted their own polls and chose their regime. Two parallel regimes existed in the town. President Pierce made the situation worse when he acknowledged the proslavery government. He then encouraged the recognized government to fight for the Kansas lands. The proslavery settlers attacked the antislavery town of Lawrence and killed five people. In retaliation, the antislavery settlers led by John Brown entered a settlement in Potta Watomie Creek and killed five people (Carnes & Garraty, 2012, p.357). The two actions resulted in a full-fledged war that caused death of over two hundred people. Brown and his people escaped the federal troops and went into hiding outside Kansas. The situation compounded the conflict between proslavery and antislavery settlers.

Senator Sumner: The Martyr

Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was vocal about his fight for the abolition of slavery. In the spring of 1856, in his speech in the Senate, the senator targeted Andrew Butler, South Carolina’s Senator, and Stephen Douglas, Illinois’ Senator. He blamed them for the continued persistence of slavery in the nation. He specifically targeted Senator Butler who was absent from the sitting exposing him as a slave owner who loved turning his slaves into harlots to have sexual relations with them (Carnes & Garraty, 2012, p.358). Three days later while at his Senate office, Senator Sumner was physically attacked by Congressman Preston Brooks, Senator Butler’s nephew. The situation psychologically affected him, making him leave the Senate until 1859 (Carnes & Garraty, 2012, p.359). Congressman Brooks resigned, but the South Carolina people who viewed him as a hero with some even sending him souvenir canes re-elected him. The Northerners, on their part, saw Senator Sumner as a martyr. The situation polarized these two opposing regions even further.

John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry Raid

John Brown, the vocal anti-slavery activist, stopped hiding in 1859, and with the help of eighteen followers, he raided Harper’s Ferry in Virginia, a town that was harboring slaves. He succeeded in rescuing a few slaves; however, this time, he was overpowered by federal troops who arrested him and hanged him (Carnes & Garraty, 2012, p. 356). Southerners reacted to Brown’s actions with rage. Consequently, they attacked and drove out dozens of innocent Northerners present in their southern states. The Northerners viewed John Brown as a martyr who believed in racial equality.

The Emergence of Lincoln and the 1860 Elections

Senator Stephen Douglas, the Illinois senator, was a good choice for the Democrats in the Illinois Senate elections. The Republicans needed a person who would manage a good standing against him; therefore, they chose Abraham Lincoln, an ambitious Illinois lawyer who had a reputation for speaking against slavery (Carnes & Garraty, 2012). Lincoln proved stronger than Senator Douglas during their debates and thus won the Illinois Senate seat. In other northern states, the Republican’s economic manifestos on the introduction of higher tariffs, transcontinental railroads, and the free homestead bill attracted a lot of people. Republicans won all northern state seats. The Southerners became alarmed at the political progress of the Northerners. The population of the North was also growing, making them assume that with the increasing numbers the North could amend the Constitution and emancipate all slaves. In the 1860 general election, Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate, won as the Democrats’ votes were divided between Stephen Douglas, endorsed by the Northern Democrats, and John Breckenridge, supported by the Southern Democrats (Carnes & Garraty, 2012, p.370). With the Republican president, the Southerners felt that their fears were confirmed. Soon after the election, seven southern states led by South Carolina seceded from the Union. The Lincoln administration found the secession unconstitutional and fought to return them to the Union. Consequently, the civil war started.

Although President Lincoln was not to blame for the war that was the result of years of conflicts between the opposing forces, it is believed that had he compromised with the southern states, he could have forestalled the war. If the president had spoken publicly before his inauguration and laid the fears of the Southerners to rest, then the war could have been avoided. Instead, he refused to compromise with any political party that had lost the election. He also misjudged the seriousness of the secession threat. A good temporary compromise was the Crittenden Compromise by Kentucky Senator John Crittenden that forbade the Congress from interfering with slavery in the southern states (Cooper, 2012). The compromise would have temporarily forestalled the war, while they amended any sections of the agreement that they were against.


The paper has clearly shown that the Civil War was never the result of politicians who took hard stances. It was the result of years of conflicts like slavery, economic developments, and superiority of laws between the southern and northern states. These conflicts were irrepressible and eventually led to the full-fledged war. Most of the time, the two conflicting regions used these confrontations to prove their superiority over the other. However, even though these conflicts led to the war, actions taken by the Lincoln administration could have forestalled the war. Had President Lincoln agreed to the Crittenden Compromise, the war would undoubtedly have been averted if not avoided altogether.

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