The Civil War is among the most widely studied events in American history. It had an essential role in shaping American society and securing the national identity of the United States. The Civil War began in 1861, shortly after the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, and lasted for over four years, leading to thousands of deaths. Although the primary cause of the war is believed to be the controversy over slavery, the events that led to the war are rather complex. Based on the analysis of these events, the Civil War could have been postponed, but the conflict between the Southern and the Northern States would have resulted in war eventually. This is evident from the discussion of the economic and political problems that contributed to the Civil War.
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Economic causes of the conflict
One of the primary causes for the conflict was the differences in the economic development of the North and the South. According to Davidson et al., the economic changes that came with the fast development of a railroad network had left the Southern states in a dependable position (270). As a result, Southern states capitalized on cotton production, which required cheap labor. Additionally, the decreased rate of immigration to the Southern States increased their reliance on slavery (Davidson et al. 273). Although the prices for slaves grew during this period, there was no other option for farmers to continue developing the cotton trade and other agricultural industries without slavery. The abolition of slavery would have contributed to their unfavorable position compared to the Northern states. Hence, when the debates over slavery sparked before the Civil War, it was inevitable for the Southerners to object to the abolition of slavery in their states.
From the political viewpoint, what made the Civil War inevitable was the imbalance of power, which caused the Southern States to feel threatened. According to Calhoun, the people of the Southern States believed that they could not remain in the Union “consistently with honor and safety” (1). Indeed, Davidson et al. note that the Southerners feared that the North was using its power in banking and commerce to turn the South into a colony (273). The pattern of industrialization and the trade relations between the North and the South, with the fees and commissions that benefitted Northerners, largely shaped these beliefs. Although the idea of the colonization of the South was inaccurate, the perceptions of the Southerners contributed to their reactions to the political imbalance, thus causing increased tensions.
The imbalance of power
The power conflict was further escalated by the instability of regulations, which prevented achieving a lasting compromise. This instability was particularly evident in the case of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise. The bill was presented by Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois in 1954 and led to an increase in tensions on the basis of the slavery controversy (United States Senate). The bill was based on the demands to organize the territories of Nebraska in an attempt to develop railroads there (Unites States Senate). In order to pass a policy that would organize the territory, Douglas needed the support of Southern Senators, which required addressing the issue of slavery explicitly by repealing the Missouri Compromise (Davidson et al. 273). Therefore, Douglas moved to draft a bill that would satisfy their demands.
Escalation of the conflict
Although the idea of repealing the Missouri Compromise was risky due to the growing tensions between pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups, supporting the development of railroads from east to west was the Senator’s priority. As explained by Davidson et al., “the bill created two territories: Kansas, directly west of Missouri, and a much larger Nebraska Territory, located west of Iowa and the Minnesota Territory. […] Douglas’s doctrine of popular sovereignty was to determine the status of slavery in both territories” (274). This caused pro-slavery and anti-slavery activists to flood both areas in an attempt to influence the decision. Davidson et al. explain that the tensions in Kansas escalated exponentially, leading to violent episodes that would come to be known as Bleeding Kansas (276).
These events caused a further increase in the opposition between the South and the North, which would culminate with the election of Abraham Lincoln and the secession of 11 Southern States (Liu 68). As evident from Lincoln’s speech “A House Divided,” he believed that it was not possible to reach a middle ground and then one side of the conflict would ultimately prevail in the end, thus fostering unity in the nation (Lincoln). This idea opposed the arguments of Calhoun and other supporters of middle ground measures. The election of Lincoln as the President of the United States thus meant supporting the idea of bringing resolution through a crisis, not compromise.
Based on the analysis above, it is possible to conclude that the Civil War could have been postponed through means of compromise. Indeed, upholding the Missouri Compromise and achieving a balance of power and economic development between the North and the South could have eliminated the most urgent causes of the war. However, the division between states on such a fundamental issue as people’s constitutional rights would have led to a violent conflict eventually. Had the war started later in American history, it could have led to more significant consequences, such as the permanent secession of certain states. Hence, Lincoln’s position to resolve the conflict once and for all helped to preserve the unity of the nation and secure American national identity.
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Calhoun, John C. John C. Calhoun, senator from South Carolina, Speaking before the Senate, March 4, 1850. 1850, Web.
Davidson, James West, et al. U.S.: A Narrative History. 8th ed., vol. 1, McGraw-Hill Education, 2018.
Lincoln, Abraham. House Divided Speech. 1858, Web.
Liu, Han. “Three Arguments of Right to Secession in the Civil War: International Perspectives.” Hastings International & Comparative Law Review, vol. 41, no. 1, 2018, pp. 53-97.
United States Senate. “The Kansas-Nebraska Act.” Senate.gov, n.d., Web.