One of the most significant events that determined the course of further economic and social development of the United States was the Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865. The war was the natural result of a sharp aggravation of the economic and legal contradictions between the capitalist North and the slave-owning South (Grayson 2). It was a reaction of the advanced capitalist production relations of the North to the conservatism and stagnation of the South, where slavery was the central part of the economy. The northern states acted to strengthen federalism, territorial integrity, and to create a single economic space throughout the U.S., and not to abolish slavery, at least during the initial stages (White et al. 266). The process of war was not straightforward for the North as some decisions raised controversies not only on the battlefronts but on the home front as well.
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The Coming of War
There is no one particular reason for the eruption of the war. The Battle of Sumter on April 12, 1861, was a legal excuse and the official start of armed conflicts between the Union and the Confederates (Locke et al.).Some precedents played a crucial role in fostering the fights, however, and the war was caused by several factors that fueled controversies between the South and the North
By the mid-50s of the 19th century, a revolutionary situation began to emerge in the U.S. The inevitability of the escalation of the contradictions of the two social systems into an armed conflict for the victory of one of the social institutions on a national scale became increasingly apparent. Slavery has become a significant obstacle to the development of capitalism in the U.S., and the need to destroy it has become unavoidable (Grayson 6). Bleeding Kansas, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, and the strengthening of the movement to eradicate slavery indicated the approach of sharp disagreement.
In 1860, the candidate of the Republican Party Abraham Lincoln was elected the President of the United States. For the Democratic Party, where there was a powerful influence of slave owners, Lincoln’s victory meant the loss of power on a national scale (Grayson 6). In response to the election of Lincoln, slaveholders announced the withdrawal of southern slave states from the Union. The main goal of the northerners in the war was the preservation of the Union and the integrity of the country. The southerners sought recognition of the independence and sovereignty of the Confederation.
Seizing of Freedom
Lincoln acknowledged that slavery was the primary cause of the war but refrained from declaring that the abolition of slavery was the principal purpose of it. According to the Constitution, the president did not have the right to abolish the system of slavery. Therefore, he hoped that this work would be taken over by state legislatures. The president was aware that any step aimed at the destruction of slavery would cause vigorous resistance of the white northerners. And finally, strategically, it was a dangerous step, for it could lead to the discontent of the residents of the bordering states (White et al. 266). Many slaves, however, were forcing emancipation as the purpose of the war because they had freed themselves and fled to the Union lines.
The slaves who worked for the Confederate army and who worked on the plantations helped the Confederation by providing it with necessary supplies and making white men available for military service. Leaving everything as it is meant supporting the rebellious states. More and more slaves, however, fled from their owners and joined the Union. By the end of the spring of 1861, many northern officers changed their attitude towards fugitive slaves by considering them as “contraband” (Remini 130). Some officers went even further and started to free the slaves. In Congress, Republicans passed confiscation acts that established the procedure for seizing runaway slaves from their former owners.
African American Agency during the Civil War
From the very start of the civil war, blacks in the North made determined efforts to get the right to serve in the federal troops and uphold their right to freedom with arms in their hands. During the war, Frederick Douglas tirelessly explained that the crucial political issue was the abolition of slavery and requested the admission of blacks to the Union army (Grayson 47). Until mid-1862, however, the government denied them that (White et al. 267). It was only under the influence of military setbacks, massive losses on the front, and growing pressure from the people it was decided to enlist the blacks to the Union army.
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Before the civil war, blacks could be employed in the navy, but only for non-combat positions without a right to bear arms. Most blacks on both sides served as nurses, cooks, and blacksmiths. Almost two years of the war, blacks were not allowed into the military, and only several serious defeats forced the Republicans to accept black volunteers, and this was one of the turning points. Blacks started to be used not only to build fortifications but also as spies and recruits. The first authorized black regiments began appearing in 1863 and were designated as colored troops. They did not receive equal pay in the beginning, but in 1864 this issue was solved by Congress. Racial discrimination was prevalent even in the northern states, which posed hindrances to African American activities.
Complexities of Civil War
Guided by military necessity and his vision, Lincoln decided to support the decision to free the slaves by the summer of 1862. Freeing slaves would not only bring benefits on the battlefield but would also help win political support from observing countries, such as Great Britain (Boyer 56). In reality, however, the “Emancipation Proclamation” did not necessarily grant freedom to all slaves, but only to those who were under the control of the Confederate forces.
What began as a confrontation to the spread of slavery, grew into an open fight against the very existence of slavery in the south. During the war, some bordering states abolished slavery in their territories. The Thirteenth Amendment became part of the Constitution, and many former slaves immediately took advantage of this amendment. Almost 200 thousand black Americans enlisted in the army of the Union (White et al. 273). The anti-war sentiment, however, intensified among the northern population. In several cities crowds of people took to the streets protesting conscription. The behavior of Republican officials and the appearance of African Americans only fueled public discontent. These events raised complexities for Lincoln as he was getting ready to run for his second term as the president.
Slave-owning was one of the reasons why the country was involved in the war. The Proclamation, first introduced in 1862, was adopted on January 1, 1863. In it, Abraham Lincoln carefully formulates the provisions and actions that will not only ensure the victory of the Union but also free those who are currently enslaved. Lincoln first declares that all slaves should be released in rebellious states, leaving slavery to still exist in the border states to guarantee their loyalty. Lincoln also states that all slaves who decide to fight for the Union will be given freedom.
More than 180 thousand African American soldiers joined the ranks of the Union, proving that the proclamation played a vital role in the victory of the Union (White et al. 273). The document itself was the key to ending both the civil war and slavery in the United States. It is one of the turning points in the history of the U.S. The emancipation led to the ratification of the 13th and the 14th Amendments which granted African Americans freedom and a right to vote.
The Civil War remains the bloodiest in the history of the United States. The losses of the northerners amounted to almost 360 thousand people killed and more than 275 thousand wounded (“Civil War Casualties”). The Confederates lost 258 thousand and had 100 thousand wounded. U.S. military spending reached nearly three billion dollars (“Civil War Casualties”). As a result of the war, the unity of the U.S. was preserved, and slavery was abolished. The prohibition of slavery was ensured by the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The war did not solve all the problems faced by the country. Some of them found a solution during the Reconstruction of the South, however.
Boyer, Paul S. American History: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2012.
“Civil War Casualties.” American Battlefield Trust. 2019, Web.
Grayson, Robert. The U.S. Civil War: Why They Fought. Compass Point Books, 2015.
Locke, Joseph L. et al., eds. The American Yawp: A Massively Collaborative Open US History Textbook, Vol. 1: To 1877. Stanford University Press, 2019.
Remini, Robert Vincent. A Short History of the United States: From the Arrival of Native American Tribes to the Obama Presidency. HarperCollins Publishers, 2008
White, Deborah Gray, et al. Freedom on My Mind, Volume I: A History of African Americans, with Documents. Macmillan Higher Education, 2012.