Causes of the American Civil War


North Vs. South: Population.

The North had a bigger population, reaching 75% of the nation's population by 1860.

The North had a growing immigrant population - most of the 5 million immigrants settled in the North.

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North Vs. South: Economy

The North had more industry than the South. The American industrial revolution was centered on New England and the rest of the North eastern states. Textile mills, iron and steel factories, along with railroads and canals, came to dominate the landscape of New England, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In 1860, the North held about 140,000 factories which employed nearly a million and a half workers who produced almost $2 billion worth of goods. By 1860, the North had twice as much rail track as the South. The South only produced 10% of the USA manufactured output in the 1850s.
The South was more dependent on agriculture. In 1800, 82% of the South was involved in agriculture, 68% of the North. By 1860, 81% of the South was involved in agriculture compared to 48% of the North.

The South had economic grievances. The manufacturing economy of the North demanded high tariffs to protects its own products from cheap foreign competition. The South had little in the way of industry and almost all manufactured goods had to be imported. Therefore, Southerners oposed high tariffs arguing it benefitted the Northern industrialists at the expense of Southerners. Before the Civil War, the federal government's chief source of revenue was the tariff. It paid for most improvements made by the federal government, such as roads, turnpikes and canals. To keep tariffs low, the South preferred to do without these improvements.

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North Vs. South: Urbanisation

The North was more urban. In 1860 the Southern states had only 20 towns with over 50,000 people. Only New Orleans with 175,000 inhabitants was comparable in size to the major Northern cities. Southern cities like Richmond and Charleston had populations of under 40,000 people. Only 1 Southerner in 14 was a town dweller compared to 1 in 4 Northerners.
1820: 10% Northern in towns, 5% Southern
1840: 14% Northern, 6% Southern
1860: 26% Northern, 10% Southern

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North Vs. South: Slavery

The South had slavery, the North did not. Slavery had initially existed throughout all of the US but had gradually been abolished in the Northern states so that by the beginning of the 19th Century it was concentrated in the Southern part of the US.

It was a very divisive issue between the North and South. Some Northerners protested against slavery on moral grounds and wanted to see it abolished. These abolitionists were a minority but became increasingly vocal.

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North Vs. South: Politics

Since the Revolution the South had enjoyed a great deal of influence on American politics. There were 16 presidents between 1789 and 1861; 10 of them were from the South and 8 of them were slave owners or from slave owning families. Many Northerners resented this influence. Some began to believe in a slave power conspiracy: the idea that Southern planters were intent on using their power and influence to expand slavery.

Southerners worried about the growing power of the North. The North had a bigger population which appeared to be rising due to immigration. This meant they could gain a majority in the House of Representatives. They could use the growing influence to threaten the existence of slavery.

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North Vs. South: Social and Cultural Values

Southerners had a very romantic and traditional outlook. Southerners thought they were polite, gracious and hospitable. They thought Northerners were materialistic, aggressive and rude. Many rich planters liked to see themselves as more than just fine gentlemen, but as aristocratic, even knightly. They placed a lot of value in chivalry, etiquette and honour.

There was better education in the North. In the Northern states, only 6% of the population were illiterate. In the South it was as much as 20%, 50% if slaves were included. Of the 143 inventions patented in the US between 1780 and 1860, 93% were from Northern states.

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After the Revolution the Northern states abolished slavery. In 1787 Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance which kept slavery out of Northwest territory. The Founding Fathers realised they could not tamper with slavery in the South as Southerners were committed to their "peculiar institution". Slaves were accepted, for taxation and representation purposes, as three-fifths of a person. Events in Haiti in the 1790s, where slaves had won their freedom, massacring most of the white population, convinced most whites that slavery must be maintained as a means of social control.

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Why didn't slavery die out?

  • King Cotton (see next card).
  • In 1860 there were nearly 4 million slaves, compared to some 8 million whites, in the 15 Southern states. They were concentrated mainly in the lower South. Slaves even outnumbered whites in South Carolina.
  • In 1850 one in three white Southern families owned slaves. By 1860, as a result of the rising cost of slaves, one family in four were slaveowners. The decline in the number of slaves worried some Southern politicians who believed that the South would be more united if every white family owned a slave and thus had a vested interest in slavery.
  • In 1860, 50% of slave owners owned no more than 5 slaves. Over 50% of slaves lived on plantations with over 20 slaves.
  • Most slaves were held by about 10,000 families.
  • 55% of slaves worked in cotton production, 10% in tobacco and 10% in sugar, rice and hemp, while 15% were domestic slaves. About 10% of slaves lived in towns or worked in a variety of industries.
  • Slavery was more than just an economic institution - it was also a system of social control. It kept black people in their place and ensured white supremacy. Even the poorest, non-slaveholding whites felt they had a vested interest in preserving slavery.
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King Cotton

In 1790 only 9,000 bales of cotton were produced in the USA. Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin in 1793 revolutionised Southern agriculture. It enabled short-fibre cotton to be quickly separated from its seed. Suddenly it became highly profitable to grow cotton and Southern farmers cashed in. By the 1830s the South was producing 2 million bales per year. "King Cotton" soon outstripped all other plantation crops in economic importance. Such was the demand and such were the profits that the cotton-growing areas spread westwards - to Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas. Cotton production needed a large amount of unskilled labour so slaves were ideal. Cotton and slavery were, therefore, interlinked.

Slavery may well have impeded the economic development of the South in the long-term but that was not how Southerners saw it. Cotton was king - planters were making huge profits from selling cotton and in 1860 there was still a huge worldwide demand for cotton and therefore no valid reason to believe that slavery was simply going to die out. Prices for slaves also doubled in the 1850s and by 1860 the value of 4 million slaves in the South was $3 billion - more than the land and the cotton.

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  • Pre 1830s: quite a conservative, moderate movement with Gradual Emancipation - free the slaves gradually and compensate the slaveowners. It was also suggested that slaves could be sent back to Africa though this was never a very popular or successful scheme.
  • 1830s onwards: became more radical under the influence of William Lloyd Garrison who launched the Liberator in 1831. He supported immediate emancipation and formed the American Anti-Slavery Society.
  • Key abolitionists included the ex-slaves, Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman who ran the Underground Railroad - a secret network of safe-houses to help runaway slaves.
  • Abolitionists published pamphlets, organised petitions and formed a political party (Liberty Party). The movement helped popularise the idea that slavery was immoral and also an economically backward system but it was never a popular movement as most Northerners still held very racist attitudes and feared the prospect of thousands of freed slaves moving North who would be potential competition for jobs. Most Northerners were also opposed to equal rights for blacks. In 1837 an abolitionist, Elijah Lovejoy, was attacked by a mob in Illinois and murdered.
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Opposition to Abolition

Abolition was deeply unpopular in the South. In fact, at the same time the movement became more radical in the 1830s, there was a major slave revolt in Virginia (the Nat Turner revolt). Southerners became very defensive about their peculiar institution and began to publish literature defending the virtues on moral, religious, economic and scientific grounds. They began to perceive the North as being increasingly supportive of abolition. Southerners also used their political influence to ensure the Gag Rule 1837-44 was passed which prevented the discussion of abolitionist petitions in Congress.

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The Role of Women

Abolitionism also faced internal divisions over the role of women. Garrison and his supporters felt women should have an equal role in running abolitionist societies. Others within the movement were more conservative and felt women should not take an active role. They did not like the idea of women addressing mixed crowds which the Grimke sisters were doing. The election of Abby Key to a senior administrative role within the AASS by Garrison and his supporters proved too much for the conservatives. The AASS split in 1840. Conservatives formed the less radical American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society (AFASS) and the American Missionary Society (AMS). There was a further split in the same year when the Liberty Party was formed. The party was formed to work within electoral politics to try to influence people to support their goals; the radical Garrison, by conteast, opposed voting and working within the existing American political system. He believed, for example, that the constitution should be condemned as a pro-slavery document.

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Western Expansion

America began to expand westwards in this period. For example, it purchased a large area land from France in 1803. Land in the west became territories. Eventually, as people settled there, the territories would apply to become states: this raised the issue of whether new states should be free or slave. This had the potential to upset the delicate balance in the Senate between free and slave states. Generally:

  • Southerners favoured the creation of slave states to prevent the North from growing too powerful and to protect their peculiar institution.
  • Northerners tend to favour free states. Many began to see slavery as an old-fashioned, backwards economic system that devalued hard work and free labour. Many also felt that rich Southern planters had too much nfluence on American politics and wanted to extend slavery westward to create a slave empire.
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The Missouri Compromise (1820)

In 1819 there were 22 states, 11 free and 11 slave. Missouri applied to join the Union as a slave state. The free states opposed this, slave states supported it. After a debate in Congress, a compromise was reached - it was put forward by Henry Clay, a Southern Whig.

  • Missouri would become a slave state.
  • A new free state was created (Maine)
  • Slavery would not be permitted in any territory that existed in the Louisiana Purchase territory north of the line of latitude 36 degrees 30'. South of that line slavery would be permitted.

This eased tensions at the time but as America expanded further westward the issue of whether to allow the expansion of slavery re-emerged.

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1840s - USA expanded further westward

Manifest Destiny - the belief that the USA had a god-given right to take over the North American continent. It was popular among Southerners and some mid-westerners. Some Northern Whigs felt it was part of a conspiracy to expand slavery.

Texas was originally part of Mexico which abolished slavery in 1829. The Mexicans objected to continued immigration by US settlers who were moving into the area of Texas with their slaves. The Americans living in Texas declared independence from Mexico and after a brief armed stuggle Texas became an independent republic. However, Texas did not join the Union because slavery existed in Texas and many Northerners opposed to it entering the Union as a slave state. For a number of years it remained an independent republic. There even emerged the possibility that it could come under the protection of Great Britain who could use the area as a source of cotton. However, a major stumbling block was that Britain abolished slavery in the British Empire. Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren refused to consider Texas joining the Union for fears it would spark divisions between Northerners and Southerners. Southerners exploited patriotic fears that Britain would gain influence over an important part of the continent at the expense of the USA to encourage the idea that it should join the Union. The Democrats won the 1844 election on a platform that promised to bring Texas into the Union and in 1846 it joined as a single slave state.

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The Mexican War, The Wilmot Proviso and The Calhou

The annexation of Texas into the Union and the gain of new territory by the treat of Guadalupe Hidalgo at the close of the Mexican war aggravated the hostility between North and South concerning the extension of slavery into the territories. The antislavery forces favoured the proposals made in the Wilmot Proviso to exclude slavery from all the lands acquired in Mexico. This, naturally, met with Southern opposition.

  • Wilmot Proviso (1846), proposed by David Wilmot, a Northern Democrat. Slavery would be excluded from any territory gained in war with Mexico; supported by many Northerners (regardless of Whig or Democrat) or free-soilers.
  • Calhoun Doctrine or The Platform of the South(1847), proposed by John C. Calhoun, Southern Senator from South Carolina. A series of resolutions: US citizens have the right to take their property (including slaves) anywhere in the US; Congress has no right to restrict slavery and if they continued to try then the South had the right to secede. Supported by many Southerners. Those who supported secession were known as fire-eaters.

The Wilmot Proviso was defeated in the Senate but continued to be a rallying cry for anti-slavery forces.

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The Actions of President Taylor

  • The 1848 Gold Rush and the migration of Mormons to Utah ensured that there would soon be large populations out west which forced the issue of whether the new states should be slave or free. Taylor decided to act decisively to settle this question by sending agents to New Mexico and California to encourage settlers to establish constitutions and apply immediately for statehood without going through the process of becoming territories first. The status of slavery in these territories would be determined by popular sovereignty. He was confident enough people in California and New Mexico would vote for free state constitutions.
  • Taylor's actions angered the South. Many realised the climate and terrain in California and New Mexico was unsuitable for cotton and therefore slavery but, having defeated Mexico, most Southerners believed they were being deliberately excluded from the spoils of victory. At the very least, they felt the South should receive compensation if any free states were admitted.Others went further: In October 1849 Mississippi urged all slave states to send representatives to a convention to discuss the ways of resisting Northern aggression. In other words: secession.
  • Taylor, however, was determined to make no concessions to the South. On the one hand, he was quite prepared to call their bluff over secession, on the other; he was prepared to lead an army into the South to prevent secession.
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The 1850 Compromise

When Congress met in 1849 many Southern fire-eaters were invoking the Calhoun Doctrine and calling openly for secession. Congress was bitterly divided along sectional lines. Fist-fights even broke out. Southerners also raised the issue of the Fugitive Slave Law 1793, claiming that Northerners were not enforcing it by not cooperating with slaveholders who were trying to capture runaway slaves. Northerners also objected to the fact that the buying and selling of slaves was still permitted in Washington DC, the capital. In January 1850, Senator Henry Clay offered the Senate a set of resolutions as a basis for compromise:

  • California to be admitted as a free state
  • Utah and New Mexico were to be organised as territories without restriction on slavery.
  • Territory disputed between Texas and New Mexico to be surrendered to New Mexico with Texas receiving compensation.
  • Abolition of the slave trade in Washington DC
  • A stricter Fugitive Slave Law.
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The Omnibus Bill

Over the next few months, Clay's proposals, rolled into a single Omnibus Bill, were debated in Congress but this Great Debate did not bring North and South any closer to an agreement. Though moderates like Daniel Webster spoke eloquently in support of the compromise, he actually angered many Northerners who did not want to make any concessions to the South. Fire-eaters, like John C. Calhoun, again argued that the South had a right to leave the Union and William Seward's "higher Law Speech" inflamed the passions of the South.
The bill was eventually passed in September 1850 for two other reasons:

  • President Taylor, who had not supported Clay's bill, died suddenly and was replaced by Millard Fillmore, who was in favour of the compromise.
  • Senator Stephen Douglas came up with an ingenious solution of ********* the bill down to its five parts and was able to pass each part by combining the support of one section with the moderates who had supported the Omnibus Bill.
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Problems with the 1850 Compromise

The compromise was delivered by political skill, not because each side had come to accept the legitimacy of each point of view as the voting on separate parts of the bill was sectional; Northerners voted for the parts they liked and Southerners did likewise.

Ominously, the South had also come to see the Calhoun Doctrine as a legitimate course of action in the right circumstances.

Finally the compromise did not lay down any guiding principles for the future and just four years later divisions between North and South about westward expansion and slavery would erupt yet again over Kansas-Nebraska.

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The Kansas-Nebraska Bill, 1854

Nebraska was still unsettled by Americans in the early 1850s. Northerners were keen to see the area developed into a territory. Southerners were not so keen because it lay north of the Latitude 6 degrees 30' so any new states would enter the Union as free states. In 1854, Stephen Douglas (Democrat Senator for Illinois) was keen to see the issue of Nebraska settled.

  • He was a supporter of Manifest Destiny and hoped the bill would make him appear as a champion of Western expansion and so imrpove his presidential chances.
  • The territory covered the likely route that a Northern transcontinental railroad might follow. He hoped to improve his position in Illinois by bringing the railroad terminus to the major city in Illinois: Chicago.

Initially he proposed that Nebraska be admitted as one territory and the issue of slavery should be decided by popular sovereignty, ignoring the Missouri Compromise, but he needed the support of Southern Senators so Douglas agreed to two compromises

  • To divide the territory in two: Kansas and Nebraska. There was little chance of slavery taking root in Nebraska but Southerners felt it could take root in Kansas.
  • An amendment that specifically rejected the ban on slavery in these areas.
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Problems with the Kansas-Nebraska Bill

The bill provoked a hell of a storm, re-igniting the sectional tensions of 1849-50.

  • Northerners were outraged by the bill. They saw it as proof of a Slave Power Conspiracy.
  • Southerners became outraged by Northern accusations and took up the Kansas-Nebraska Bill as a cause to fight for.
  • The bill was passed because, realising that Southern votes were very important to the Democrat party, President Pierce made it a test of party loyalty and urged all Democrats to support it. Despite this, voting was still very sectional: 94% of Southerners voted for the bill, while 64% of Northerners voted against it,
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Tom Brown's Cabin

The popularity of Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tomb's Cabin (published in 1852, it sold 300,000 copies in its first year) led to sectional tension. It helped to develop and popularise the view of slavery as cruel, unacceptable and immoral among many Northerners. It convinced many in the South that most Northerners were in favour of abolition.

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Fugitive Slave Law

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was part of the 1850 compromise. It put in place a much stricter set of rules to recapture escaped slaves, e.g. federal marshals could raise posses to pursue fugitives on Northern soil. In many Northern states the law was enforced without much trouble but in some it was not:

  • 9 Northern states passed Liberty Laws to prevent federal officers from returning slaves.
  • In Boston in 1854 an armed mob broke into a courthouse to try and free a slave called Anthony Burns.
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The policies of President Pierce which appeared to

  • Unofficial approval of filibustering (a military adventure to overthrow a government). John Quitman planned an expedition to seize Cuba in 1853-4 that Pierce gave unofficial approval for at a private meeting. Ended in failure.
  • Ostend Manifesto - an official attempt to buy Cuba from Spain for $130 million. Ended in failure.
  • Gadsden Purchase - the federal government purchased some land from Mexico for $10 million. This land had the potential to be used as part of the route for a Southern transcontinental railroad.

As a result of the above points more and more Northerners began to believe in the credibility of the Slave Power Conspiracy in which Southerners were planning to expand slavery and create a slave empire that would run from one end of the country to the other.

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In 1856 the Democrats won the election and the new President was James Buchanan. His policies also proved to be very divisive and some Historians blame Buchanan for failing to heal the right between North and South.

  • Bleeding Kansas
  • Bleeding Sumner
  • Dred Scott Case
  • John Brown and the Raid on Harper's Ferry
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Bleeding Kansas, pt 1

The settlement of Kansas was extremely problematic. Northerners and Southerners tried to influence the vote on whether the state cons***ution would be pro- or anti-slavery.

  • The Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company sponsored over 1,500 Northerners to settle in Kansas in 1854-5.
  • Senator Atchison of the Southern slave state of Missouri which bordered Kansas organised hundreds of pro-slave Missourians to cross the border and vote in Kansas.

Officially the pro-slavers won but vote rigging cast doubt on the validity of the result and consequently two different governments were established in 1855.

  • A pro-slave government in Lecompton
  • A free state one at Topeka

A minor civil war erupted between 1855-6. The most extreme examples of the ***-for-tat violence that broke out between pro- and anti-slavery forces were the attack on a town called Lawrence by pro-slave forces and a retaliatory attack on a pro-slave camp at Pottawatomie Creek where John Brown and his gang hacked to death 5 men using broadswords.

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Bleeding Kansas, pt 2

Another rigged election in 1857 resulted in a victory for the pro-slavers, and anti-slavers actually boycotted the election. A new pro-slave constitution was drawn up at Lecompton which protected slave property.

Despite the evidence of serious corruption in the voting results President James Buchanan insisted on supporting the Lecompton constitution and recommended Kansas enter the Union as a slave state. This proposal passed the Senate but was defeated in the House of Representatives. Voting was sectional: Buchanan was opposed by Northerners in his own Democrat party led by Stephen Douglas. In this way, Bleeding Kansas weakened the unity of the Democrat party and persuaded many Northerners that a Slave Power Conspiracy was at work.

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Bleeding Sumner

A very dramatic illustration of the growing sectional tension was when Southern represenatative Preston Brooks beat unconscious Senator Charles Sumner in revenge for a verbal attack Sumner had made on one of his relatives, Senator Andrew Butler. Brooks became a hero in the South where he was not only re-elected but many Southerners sent him lots of new canes in the post.

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Dred Scott Case

Dred Scott was a slave from Missouri who had moved with his owner to the Northern part of the western territories, where slavery was forbidden under the terms of the Missouri Compromise. Scott sued for his freedom and eventually the case reached the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court under Chief Roger Taney ruled on 6th March 1857 that:

  • No black slave could be a US citizen and therefore Scott could not bring his case to federal court.
  • Slaves were property and therefore Congress had no right to prevent US citizens taking their property into territories. Therefore, the Missouri Compromise was illegal.
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Reaction to Dred Scott

North: They were outraged by the decision. It was further proof of a Slave Power Conspiracy. 5 of the 9 judges who made the ruling, including Chief Justice Taney, were Southerners and Northern newspapers ran stories that Taney colluded with the newly elected Democrat president James Buchanan. It also seemed to undermine the concept of popular sovereignty, supported by Northern Democrats like Douglas, because if slave property was protected then how could a territory vote to ban slavery? Some Northerners saw it as a conspiracy to outlaw the Republican Party who were committed to preventing the expansion of slavery. As a result, the Dred Scott case actually led to greater support for the Republican Party.

South: Initially very happy with the decision. It seemed that slavery was protected and could expand. They also hoped it would deliver a knockout blow to the Republican Party. However, Southerners were lated angered by Senator Stephen Douglas' argument that territories could still exclude slavery by refusing to enact any laws that gave legal protection to owning slaves in the Freeport Doctrine. This seemed to undermine the Dred Scott ruling and caused further division between Southern and Northern Democrats.

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John Brown and the Raid on Harper's Ferry, pt 1

In October 1859 abolitionist John Brown led an attack on a federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry in Virginia. He had hoped to gain enough weapons to launch a slave rebellion but the attack ended in failure and he was hanged. Southerners were appalled by Brown's actions. It was their worst fear: an abolitionist trying to stir up a slave revolt. They were also appalled by the reaction to Brown's death in the North, for while many Northerners did not approve of his actions, some sympathised with the cause of ending slavery and he was seen by some as a martyr. For example, the writers Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson even compared him to Christ. Brown had also received financial backing from some prominent Northern abolitionists, called the secret six.

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John Brown and the Raid on Harper's Ferry, pt 2

The Republican Party tried to distance itself from the raid. Lincoln was very critical of Brown's actions and tried to present himself as a moderate. In the light of Harper's Ferry, the most prominent Republican nominee, William Seward, began to be seen as too extreme a candidate for the position of Republican nominee due to a controversial speech he had made a year before when he talked of a state of conflict existing among the North and the South. It was felt he may actually lose the Republicans votes among Northerners whereas the moderate Lincoln would be a safer choice.
Democrats in the North tried to blame the Republican Party, and some Democrat newspapers reprinted Seward's speech in an attempt to link him to the raid. The Democrat president, Buchanan, launched a bipartisan enquiry into Harper's Ferry headed by Virginian James Mason.
Southerners were outraged by the sympathy for Brown and, to many Fire-eaters, Harper's Ferry and its aftermath were proof that all Northerners were committed to abolishing slavery. Over the winter of 1859-60 local vigilante committees were set up, Southern state governments began to purchase additional weaponry and Southern state militias began to drill much more regularly than before. Many Southerners really begun to believe they were under attack. Support for secession began to grow.

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The Rise of the Republicans

The Republicans formed in 1854 and initially were a group of abolitionists, free soilers, Northern Whigs and some Northern Democrats.
They were committed to the prevention of the spread of slavery which threatened the capitalist system of free labour.
They were convinced that a Slave Power Conspiracy was at work and that Southerners had gained control of the Democrat party for the purposes of expanding slavery.
Initially, the Republicans faced competitions for votes in the North from the American Party or Know-Nothings: a group concerned with the rise in immigration that they saw as a threat to the traditional American way of life. However, immigration began to decline in the mid 1850s just as the issue of slavery began to re-emerge in the form of Kansas-Nebraska. As a result, support for the Know-Nothings began to decline and support for Republicans began to increase.
The Republicans emerged as a real force in the 1856 election which they fought largely on one issue: preventing the expansion of slavery. They realised it was possible to win the presidency by just capturing Northern states because these states had a larger population and therefore more electoral college votes, but they would need to adopt some new policies to broaden their appeal.

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Abraham Lincoln

Until 1858 Lincoln was a relatively unknown figure in American politics. He came to national prominence in 1858 when he ran for Senate in Illinois and came up against Democrat candidate Stephen Douglas.
During the campaign both men made a series of speeches and although Douglas won, Lincoln did attract a lot of support and was subsequently seen as a potential Republican candidate for president.
Douglas attacked him for being an abolitionist and a supporter of racial equality, which was far from true, but many in the South increasingly saw Lincoln and the Republican Party as supporting abolition.
Lincoln personally appealed to Northerners.

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Why did Lincoln win the 1860 Election?

Lincoln's victory in the 1860 election was an extremely significant event in American history. It is usually seen as the trigger for secession in the South and set in motion a chain of events that led directly to civil war.

  • The Republican's main rivals, the Democrats, were split sectionally over the issue of slavery.
  • The Republicans were successful because they adopted a platform that appealed to Northern voters on a wide variety of issues, including the all-important issue of slavery.
  • The personal appeal of Lincoln
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The Sectional Split in the Democrat Party

Southerners were unhappy with the choice of Stephen Douglas as the Democrat presidential candidate because of his support for the Freeport Doctrine and popular sovereignty, while they supported the decision of the Dred Scott case. At the two Democrat conferences they staged walk-outs. Eventually they formed the Southern Democrats. In some states during the 1860 election, the anti-Republican parties did try to work together but it largely failed because of bitter feuds between the parties.

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The Republican Platform

Events such as the Dred Scott case as well as the Lecompton Constitution had convinced many Northerners that a Slave Power Conspiracy was at work through which Southerners were trying to expand slavery. The Republicans were opposed to the expansion of slavery so a vote for them was a vote against slave power. Many Northerners were openly racist and did not want equality for blacks, so the Republicans presented themselves as a moderate party who would not abolish slavery entirely.
Republicans also called for higher protective tariffs which was a vote winner among Northern businessmen. Promising free 160-acre homesteads for western settlers appealed to people planning to move west. This was important because people in the north-west usually voted Democrat. A proposal for a Northern transcontinental railroad appealed to people living in the key states of Illinois and California as they stood to benefit from an increase in jobs.

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The Appeal of Lincoln

Lincoln was presented as an honest man of the people, while the Democrat's reputation had been damaged. Republicans made much of Lincoln's background. He had been born in an one room log cabin and used to split rails to earn money. In this way, he was seen as an honest, hard-working American success story. This was in contrast to the Democrats, whose campaign was marred by rumours about scandal and corruption during Democrat President James Buchanan's time in office.

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Events in the 1850s had heightened divisions and tensions between North and South. The 1850 compromise had not settled the crucial issue of whether new states admitted to the Union should be free or slave. Violence had already erupted in Kansas over this very issue and John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry in an attempt to start a slave rebellion had convinced many Southerners that the Northerners favoured the abolition of slavery.

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Why did the Lower South secede?

  • The Election of Lincoln
  • The failure of compromise
  • States' Rights and the Calhoun Doctrine
  • The determination of South Carolina to secede
  • Economic reasons

On 4th February 1861, the Confederate Government was formed: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas.

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The Election of Lincoln

The election of the first Republican president was crucial to the Lower South's decision to secede. The Lower South was at the heart of the cotton belt, and for white Southerners slavery was crucial to the economy and social structure. Republicans were committed to stopping the expansion of slavery and Southerners increasingly began to see them as sympathising with abolitionism. The election of Lincoln also angered the South because he had become president without winning a single Southern state. In fact, he did not appear on the ballot in 10 states in the South. There was a feeling the powers of a Northern Republican president could be used against the South, such as the appointment of Supreme Court judges and postmasters in the South.

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The Failure of Compromise

Lincoln was not inaugrated president until March 1860 and so could do little to prevent the Lower South from seceding. During that period, James Buchanan was still in charge. He blamed the Republicans for the crisis and took no action. The Crittenden Proposals recommended extending slavery south of the 36 degrees 30' to the Pacific. This was unacceptable to Lincoln and the Republicans as they were committed to the prevention of slave expansion and had just won an election on that basis.

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States' Rights and the Calhoun Doctrine

Southerners believed that a state right was the right to have property protected. They believed the Republican victory in the North threatened the protection of slave property. The Republican Party also threatened Southern influence and power. The Southern states were clearly influenced by the Calhoun Doctrine: they believed they had voluntarily entered the Union of states but because the government of that Union no longer represented their interests and was perceived as a threat to their way of life, they had the right to secede from the Union.

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The Determination of South Carolina to Secede

Carolina was a hotbed of secessionism and home to many Fire-eaters. It had tried to secede once before, during the Nullification Crisis in the 1830s, and it was where the late John C. Calhoun was from. To ensure they would not be alone, South Carolina actively canvassed other Southern states to secede.

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Economic Reasons

The Republicans believed in higher protective tariffs. These were seen as unfair by the South who had to pay high taxes on goods they imported and exported. The tariffs would be used to fund internal improvements in the North and were to protect Northern manufacturing industry. The depression of 1857, which mainly affected the North, convinced many Southerners that they didn't need the North and that their economy was actually being held back by Northern economic concerns. "King Cotton" would ensure that if the South broke away it would not only survive, but actually experience economic growth.

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Why did some of the Upper South secede?

  • Fort Sumter and Lincoln's call-to-arms

So the Upper South had to decide which side it was on. Faced with this decision between country and section, many in the Upper South chose their section. They were not prepared to fight fellow Southerners.

  • The Calhoun Doctrine
  • Virginia's Decision to Secede
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Fort Sumter and Lincoln's Call-To-Arms

Fort Sumter was a federal fort within Charleston Harbour in South Carolina, the very heart of the Confederacy at the time. The fort had a garrison of 70-80 men and needed resupplying. Lincoln realised to do so could provoke an attack by the South, while to let Sumter fall would be seen as a sign of weakness for the new president. After some initial hesitation, Lincoln resolved to send food but not reinforce the fort thus placing any responsibility for starting a war in the hands of the South. The fort was shelled by batteries on the shore before any supply ships reached it and was forced to surrender. The North was outraged and Lincoln issued a call-to-arms, requiring all Union states to commit men to put down what Lincoln saw as a rebellion.

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The Calhoun Doctrine and Virginia

The Calhoun Doctrine was also particularly important to the Upper South - they respected the right of the Lower South to secede and were not prepared to force the Lower South to rejoin the Union.

Virginia's decision to secede was crucial. Its industrial capacity was as great as the seven original Confederate states combined. If it had decided to remain in the Union it is unlikely the Confederacy would have lasted very long. Its decision to secede encouraged the three other states to do the same.

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States' Rights

The issue of States' Rights can be traced back to the time of the American War of Independence. The Americans were influenced by the Enlightenment and, in particular, John Locke's Social Contract theory which argued that people have the right to overthrow a tyrannical government. The American political system was a federal one meaning that power was shared between a central government and the individual states. In this way, many Southerners would later argue they had the right to leave the Union if their rights were not being protected. After the war prominent Confederate politicians such as Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens would claim that the war was not caused by problems with slavery but that the South fought to protect the principle of States' Rights. However, most Historians today do not take these claims seriously; most of the rights that Southerners complained about were concerned with the right to protect their slave property and Davis was simply just trying to promote a more noble image of the South after it had been defeated.
It could be argued that States' Rights was just part of the political language of the time that both sides used at various times to justify their position. The South, for example, argued for stronger federal powers to enforce a stricter Fugitive Slave Law and federal protection for slavery in new territories, yet claimed the Union no longer represented Southern interests, and the North implemented Liberty Laws and popular sovereignty.

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The Nullification Crisis

In 1828, John C. Calhoun, a prominent Southern politician from South Carolina, and exponent for States' Rights, proclaimed:
- The right of any state to overrrule or nullify any federal law deemed unconstitutional
- Calhoun also explicity argued for the state's right to secede from the Union if necessary.
In 1832 Calhoun's ideas were put to the test when South Carolina nullified two tariffs acts by passing the Ordinance of Nullification. President Jackson threatened to use force. Faced with this and unable to muster support from other Southern states, South Carolina pulled back from declaring secession.
Although none of the other Southern states backed South Carolina during the crisis, many Southerners declared their sympathies to be with the people of South Carolina, and thus the conflict planted the seedlings of an idea that would grow into secession and ultimately lead to the American Civil War.
Increasingly in this period Southerners felt that the right to protect their property was under threat:
- 1846/7: Wilmot Proviso vs. Calhoun Doctrine
- Northern Opposition to Kansas-Nebraska
- Northern Opposition to Lecompton Constitution
- Northern Opposition to Dred Scott
- Secession and the importance of the Calhoun Doctrine

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Economic Causes

  • Tariff of Abominations, 1828 - High tariff that lead to the Nullification Crisis
  • Force Bill, March 1833 - Authorised the right of the President to use force to ensure collection of federal tariffs.
  • Compromise Tariff 1833 - reduced the tariff.
  • Black Tariff 1842 - increased the tariff
  • Walker Tariff 1846 - reduced the tariff
  • Morrill Tariff 1861 - a higher tariff introduced by the Republicans which Southerners could easily have blockred in the Senate had seven lower Southern states not seceded.

Increasingly in this period Northerners wanted to prevent the spread of slavery. Many began to see slavery as an old-fashioned, backwards economic system that devalued hard work and free labour and actually made life worse for white people as it lowered wages. In 1857 a book called 'The Impending Crises of the South', which argued that slavery was holding back Southern economic development, became very popular in the North. In contrast, Southerners argued that slavery was a benign and benevolent system unlike the Northern factory system.
The depression of 1857, which mainly affected the North, convinced many Southerners that they didn't need the North and that their economy was actually being held back by Northern economic concerns.

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The Collapse of the Two-Party System

Kansas-Nebraska contributed greatly to the collapse of the two-party system in the USA.
It divided Democrats along sectional lines and increasingly the Democrats began to be seen as a Southern party.
The Whigs split along sectional lines and never recovered. Many Northern Whigs joined a new party: the Republican party.
The rise of the Republican Party is seen as proof of the collapse of the two-party system. They were a Northern party and after the 1856 election, they realized it was possible to win the presidency by just winning enough Northern states because these had a higher population and therefore more electoral college votes.
In the 1860 election the Democrat Party split permanently along sectional lines.
Southerners were unhappy with the choice of Stephen Douglas as the Democrat presidential candidate because of his support for the Freeport Doctrine and refusal to support the Lecompton Constitution.
Southerners also wanted a stricter federal slave code which could protect the rights of slaveholders taking their slaves into the territories. Northerners argued this contradicted popular sovereignty.

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The invention of the telegraph, along with the railroad and the steam-press, vastly increased the influence of newspapers, the country's principle medium of communication. The price of a single issue dropped from 6 cents to 1 or 2 cents by 1850. Circulation increased twice as fast as population. The "latest news" became hours rather than days old. Fast trains carrued weekly editions of metropolitan newspapers to farmers as thousand miles away, where they helped shape political sentiments.
- Events in Kansas in the 1850s were reported nationally, with Northern newspapers siding with free-state settlers, while Southern ones with Border Ruffians. This only served to increase sectional tension.
- The Lincoln-Douglas debates in Illinois were also reported nationally. Douglas' attempt to portray Lincoln and the Republicans as abolitionists would have therefore found a favourable audience in the South and increased the false perception of Republicans being in favour of not only ending slavery but delivering civil rights to blacks.
- Newspapers such as the Charleston Mercury played an important part in building support for secession in the Deep South.
- Newspaper editors became powerful figures, such as Horace Greely, of the New York Tribune. His paper was an early support of the Republican Party and his support for Lincoln in 1860 helped him win the Republican presidential election.

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Abolitionist literature played an important role in establishing support for anti-slavery ideas:
- Slave narratives - memoirs of former slaves helped bring the horrors of slavery to white people, such as 'Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave' (1845) and '12 Years A Slave' by Solomon Northup (1853). This book shed light on the kidnapping of free blacks occurring even before the stricter Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.
- Harriet Beacher Stowe's novel 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' helped to develop and popularise the view of slavery as cruel, unacceptable and immoral among Northerners. It convinced many in the South that most Northerners were in favour of abolition.
- 'The Impending Crises of the South' (1857) by Hinton Rowan Helper argued that slavery held back the economic development of the South and created a class of impoverished whites because it lowered wages for free labour. The book was promoted by Republicans.
Southern response to abolitionist literature:
- In response the South published anti-Tom novels such as 'Aunt Phillis' Cabin' by Mary Henderson Eastman. The novel sold 20,000-30,000 copies. The novel plantation owners and slaves were mutually respectful, kind and happy beings.
- 'A Sociology for the South' (1854) by George Fitzhurgh criticised the free labour system of the North, arguing that slavery was benevolent.

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