American civil war that broke out in April 1861 at Fort Sumter was precipitated by various causes. There was a sharp division between the South and the North on the basis of political ideologies and socioeconomic policies. Slavery was among the controversial issues that created tension between the two sides. In addition, the Southerners believed that they had unique challenges that could not be addressed appropriately under the Union and considered seceding to form an independent government. The tension between the South and the North escalated with the presidential election of 1860 that saw a republican president, Abraham Lincoln clinch the presidency. Coupled with other long term differences between the two sides, the election of Lincoln prompted secession with South Carolina leading the way. While the attack on Fort Sumter prompted the Civil War, it was much anticipated owing to the persistent tension between the government and the slave holding sates in the South regarding state rights and slavery.
The major factor that precipitated the animosity between the South and the North and the subsequent armed conflict was slavery. While the South was a purely agrarian, the North was an industrialized society that depended on mechanized processes. As a result, the perception of slavery differed greatly between the two regions. Prior to the Civil War, a majority of southern plantation farmers had enslaved millions of colored people in their lands. Their economic stability basically depended on the institution of slavery. Slaves were commodities that could be rented, sold, or used to settle debt obligations. They also signified wealth since they were accorded monetary value. On the other hand, the northern states that did not depend much on slavery welcomed abolitionist sentiments and gradually abolished the practice. While a majority of northern states considered slavery inhuman and contemplated abolishing it from the U.S., the south southern states considered spreading of slavery to other parts of the nation. The Northerners viewed slavery as incompatible with basic democratic values and were cautious of the South’s desire to control the federal government and use it to expand slavery (Ladenburg 84). These differences in perception of slavery impacted negatively on the relationship between the South and the North.
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Another contributor to the tension between the North and the South was the rise of Southern Nationalism. As 1860 approached, the southern states were aware that political unity was very critical amid the anti-slavery debate that had penetrated into politics. Ai significant group of Southerners considered positioning outside the union as favorable to them considering their unique southern problem (Foner 493). The South was grappling with economic difficulties occasioned by the high prices of slaves which made it difficult for some farmers to become planters of their own right. Fears for economic dependency and loss of slaves elicited session feelings among a sizable southern population. As the South fell deeper in debt, they fear of falling under northern bondage increased. They desired to expand and include new regions where slavery was still in practice. While the North focused on emancipating slaves, the South enacted laws that complicated emancipation. The division between the union states and the southern slave states intensified by early 1860 when southern leaders sought for a Democratic platform to protect slavery in all territories that had not joined the union. Nationalists known as fire-fighters plotted to split the party and the entire country and form an independent southern confederacy (Foner 494). With slavery at the center, the South was determined to go to any length to protect itself from the union influence.
The split of the Democratic Party that had been a mantle for national unity compromised efforts for peaceful coexistence between the South and the North. The split emanated from failure of Douglas to attain the two-thirds requirement for presidential nomination in 1860. The Deep South deemed him unsuitable and incapable of political leadership since his refusal to support the congressional laws to impose slavery on all territories was against the interest of the south. When Douglas was nominated six weeks later to run for presidency, the southern Democrats nominated John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky who was a solid supporter of slavery and who supported slavery in western territories. The split of the Democratic Party was critical to national peace. Efforts to reconcile southern and northern Democrats were not successful and left the nation divided along political lines.
Another major contributor to the tensions between the South and the North was the nomination of Abraham Lincoln as the presidential candidate under the republican ticket and his subsequent victory in the 1860. Lincoln was a supporter of the abolitionist movement and his election implied that the desire of the South to expand slavery would be compromised. The entire South voted for Democrat candidates who competed amongst themselves whole Lincoln won the whole of North apart from New Jersey. He received 1.8 million popular vote and 180 electoral votes (Foner 495). Almost all the slave sates votes for Breckinridge while Bell carried close to forty percent of Southern vote. Having a republican president who was against the spread of slavery was a difficult blow for the southern slave states to deal with. Despite his victory, Lincoln was aware of an impending crisis. The fact that he had failed to win any vote from the ten southern states implied that he was not the people’s ultimate choice. However, he elected the nation’s sixteenth president despite failing to secure a majority of the national popular vote. His election was followed by a secession movement in the south which divided the country in two opposite camps.
The 1860 elections served as the final act of the secession crisis since the South had demonstrated their rejection of Lincoln through then ballot and his victory left them no choice other than seceding. Even though the secession advocates had not expected Lincoln to take immediate steps against slavery, they were aware that a shift of power from the Democrats to the Republicans would impact on the institution of slavery. The fact that the northern antislavery sentiments would dominate the political scene for five or ten years was a matter of concern to the Southern Democrats. Rather than submit to the minority status for unpredictable period, the Southerners decided to secede and form their own independent unit. A few months after the elections, eleven states had seceded beginning with South Carolina which had the highest slave percentage. On December 20, 1860, the legislature anonymously voted for cessation and declared immediate departure from the Union (Finkelman 14). Secession of the southern states was an indication that the president would have a problem in establishing universal governance where he could make presidential decisions affecting all Americans. The division challenged some leaders to seek for solutions and make suggestions on how to resolve the stalemate. Buchanan was not ready to led the states secede. Senator John J. Crittenden offered a widely supported compromise which sought to permit future slavery in states where it already existed where the Missouri compromise line to the Pacific Ocean would divide between slavery and free soil territories. The seceding states considered it too little and rejected the compromise.
The failure the policy of non-invasion that Lincoln attempted to reaffirm as a response to the secession was an indication that the battle lines had been drawn. Lincoln feared that confrontations between the South and the North would lead to the loss of federal government’s property in the South (Poast 512). In addition, the blocked that Lincoln imposed failed to prevent an impending armed conflict from taking course. Despite his reluctance to resolve to war to address the stalemate with the confederacy, President Lincoln did not subscribe to the compromise plan but instead insisted since the republicans had won the elections, they were not to surrender to those they had defeated since that would mark the end of government. The president persisted with his antislavery sentiments while the seceded states proceeded to adopt a constitution and chose a Jefferson Davis as their president.
Even though Lincoln had rejected the Crittenden compromise to solve the slavery stalemate, he still believed the differences between the union and the confederacy would be solved without war. In his inaugural address on March 4, 1861, Lincoln used a reconciliatory tone. Even though he den denied the right to secession, he reiterated that he did not intend to interfere with the slavery states. He was careful to prevent more states from seceding to join the union. The tensions were high with all signs pointing on a civil war. Lincoln resolved to ensure that the union maintained peace and prevented possible scenario of firing the first shot at the Confederates. At the height of these tensions, Lincoln had informed the governor of South Carolina of his intention to replenish the dwindling food supplies of the garrison. On April 12, the confederates declared armed offensive to the Fort forcing the Major Anderson to surrender. President Abraham Lincoln’s request for volunteers to suppress the southern rebellion was not successful as the Southerners considered it inappropriate to fight against amongst themselves. In addition, they considered Lincoln’s request as out of order and overstepping his mandate. Consequently, Lincoln mobilized troops to contain the insurgency in the South. This call fueled the cessation that was ongoing in most southern tastes following Lincoln’s victory. Lincoln marked the beginning of a bloody civil war that lasted for four years.
The tensions that existed between the South and the North were mainly as a result of differing opinions on the institution upon which the southern economy thrived. Election of a Republican antislavery president prompted secession of the southern states from the union intensified the divisions making war almost inevitable. President Lincoln’s blockade and reaffirmation of non-invasion policy failed to prevent the impeding war. Lincoln declared war on the confederacy after the armed attack of Fort Sumter leading to a four year Civil war.
Works Cited Finkelman, Paul. Slavery, the Constitution, and the Origins of the Civil War. OAH Magazine of History, Vol. 25.2, (2011): 14–18. Oxford University Press http://booksc.xyz/book/39602204/e8f818 Foner, Eric. Give me Liberty: An American History. 2nd Ed., Vol. 1. New York: Norton & Company. 2008. Print. Poast, Paul. Lincoln’s Gamble: Fear of Intervention and the Onset of the American Civil War. Security Studies, 24.3, (2015). 502-527, DOI: 10.1080/09636412.2015.1070621. Accessed Nov. 17, 2018.