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Civil War Debate

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Where it all begins

In American History very few actions change the course of American history like the Civil war. The Dred Scott decision through America into chaos. Compromise was no longer possible and the only way to solve the nations pronlems seemed like war. As a result America was further divided, more Northerners became abolitionists and America was further than ever from being a unified nation. Political issues and disagreements began soon after the American Revolution ended in 1782. Between the years 1800 and 1860, arguments between the North and South grew more intense.

The years before the Civil War the political power in the Federal government, centered in Washington, D.C., was changing. Northern and mid-western states were becoming more and more powerful as the populations increased. Southern states lost political power because the population did not increase as rapidly. As one portion of the nation grew larger than another, people began to talk of the nation as sections. This was called sectionalism. Just as the original thirteen colonies fought for their independence almost 100 years earlier, the Southern states felt a growing need for freedom from the central Federal authority in Washington. Southerners believed that state laws carried more weight than Federal laws, and they should abide by the state regulations first. This issue was called State's Rights and became a very warm topic in congress. One of the main quarrels was about taxes paid on goods brought into this country from foreign countries. This tax was called a tariff. Southerners felt these tariffs were unfair and aimed toward them because they imported a wider variety of goods than most Northern people. Taxes were also placed on many Southern goods that were shipped to foreign countries, an expense that was not always applied to Northern goods of equal value. An awkward economic structure allowed states and private transportation companies to do this, which also affected Southern banks that found themselves paying higher interest rates on loans made with banks in the North. The situation grew worse after several "panics", including one in 1857 that affected more Northern banks than Southern. Southern financiers found themselves burdened with high payments just to save Northern banks that had suffered financial losses through poor investment. Another quarrel between the North and South and perhaps the most emotional one, was over the issue of slavery. A slave was viewed as property in the South and was important to the economics of the Southern cotton industry. The people of the Southern states did not appreciate Northern people, especially the abolitionists, telling them that slave ownership was a great wrong. This created a great amount of debate, mistrust, and misunderstanding. As the nation grew in size, so did the opportunities for expansion westward. Many felt that slavery should be allowed in the new territories such as Kansas and Missouri, while others were set against it. This led to "bleeding Kansas", a bitter war that pitted neighbor against neighbor. In 1859, a radical abolitionist from Kansas named John Brown raided the Federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in the hopes of supplying weapons to an army of slaves that would revolt against their southern masters. A number of people were taken hostage and several killed, among them the mayor of Harpers Ferry. Brown was cornered with several of his followers in a fire engine house, first by Virginia militia and then by Federal troops sent to arrest him and his raiders. These troops, commanded by Colonel Robert E. Lee, stormed the building and captured Brown and several of his men. Brown was tried for his crimes, found guilty, and hung in Charlestown. The debate became very bitter. Southern politicians outwardly charged that their voices were not being heard in congress. Some Southern states wanted to secede, or break away from the United States of America and govern themselves. Emotions reached a fever pitch when Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States in 1860. He was a member of the Republican Party and vowed to keep the country united and the new western territories free from slavery. Many Southerners, who were Democrats, were afraid that Lincoln was not sympathetic to their way of life and would not treat them fairly. The growing strength of the Republican Party, viewed by many as the party friendly to abolitionists and northern businessmen, and the election of the party's candidate was the last straw. Southern governors and political leaders called for state referendums to consider articles of secession. South Carolina was the first state to officially secede from the United States soon after the election and they were followed by six other Southern states.

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