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Causes Of The Civil War

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Rhys Arnott

The American Civil War is one of the most significant and controversial periods in American history. The Civil War was caused by mounting conflicting pressures, principles, and prejudices, fueled by differences and pride, and set into motion by unlikely set of political events.

At the root of all of the problems was the establishment of slavery, which had been introduced into North America in early colonial times. The American Revolution had been fought to confirm the idea that all men were created equal, yet slavery was legal in all of the thirteen colonies throughout the revolutionary period. Although it was largely gone from the northern states by 1787, it was still enshrined in the new Constitution of the United States, not only at the request of the Southern ones, but also with the approval of many of the Northern delegates who saw that there was still much money to be made in the slave trade by the Yankee shipping industry. Eventually its existence came to influence every aspect of American life.

It seemed to Thomas Jefferson and many others that slavery was on its way out, doomed to die a natural death. It was becoming increasingly expensive to keep slaves in the south. Northern and Southern members of Congress voted together to abolish the importation of slaves from overseas in 1808, but the domestic slave trade continued to flourish. The invention of the cotton gin made the cultivation of cotton on large plantations using slave labor a profitable project in the deep South. The slave became an ever more important element of the southern economy, and so the debate about slavery, for the southerner, gradually evolved into an economically based question of money and power. It became an institution that southerners felt bound to protect.

But even as the need to protect it grew, the ability to do this from the South's perspective was diminishing. Southern leaders grew progressively more sensitive to this condition. In 1800 half of the population of the United States had lived in the South. But by 1850 only a third lived there and the gap continued to widen. Even though slave states were added to the Union to balance the number of free ones, the South found that its representatives in the House had been overwhelmed by the North's explosive growth. More and more emphasis was now placed on maintaining equality in the Senate. Failing this meant that the South would find itself at the mercy of a government, in which it no longer had an effective voice in.

Of course there was protest in the North for the abolition of the slavery on purely moral grounds. Abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison, holding up a copy of the Federal Constitution before a crowd in Massachusetts called it "a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell." The abolitionists believed not only that slavery was wrong, but that the Federal government should move to abolish it. Although they were always a small minority they were very vocal about their beliefs, and projected themselves into the minds of southerners as a threat out of all proportion to their actual power and influence. This threat was greatly exaggerated in 1859 by John Brown's seizure of the Harper's Ferry arsenal and his call for a general rebellion of the slaves. This caused many of the Southern states to implement plans for more effective militias for internal defense.

While some in the North hated slavery because

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