Causes of the American Civil War: Facts, Information, History
Union and Southern Perspective: Discussion and Analysis
The causes of the civil war are many and are complex. Every man, woman and child fought for their own individual reasons. Many of these reasons were brewing long before the first shots at Fort Sumter were fired. The Northern states claim that the main cause of the civil war was preserving the union. The Southern states claim it was States rights. However, all the reasons for the war evolved from slavery, which upon further analysis points to economics.
The meaning of the Constitution of the United States was a point of issue. People argued the definition and constraints of the relationship between the states and the federal government as cited in the Constitution. Vice President John C. Calhoun, (1826) felt that if a federal law conflicted with the rights of a state, then that state had the right to ignore the law. However, President Andrew Jackson felt that the federal governments' authority took precedence over the states authority. (1) The Constitution guaranteed the right to life, liberty and property. Property, in the south, included slaves. Slave prices were considerable. Below is a table with a conservative estimate of the price of slaves based upon age.
Classification and Price of Slaves Male each Female
|Infants ages 0 -5||$0.00||$0.00|
|Children ages 6-13||$300.00||$250.00|
|Prime ages 14 - 52||$2000.00||$1800.00|
|Older ages 53-66||$1200.00||$300.00|
Slave prices based on age 2
A large plantation with 900 slaves with an equal distribution of ages would be valued over $900,000. If sold all at once, the value would be far less because of the sudden influx on the market. Therefore, the earning potential of slave labor was the real value of slavery from a Southern perspective. "What I really have in my slaves is not a million dollars, but the opportunity to earn from their labor a return of about thirteen percent a year." (3) From this viewpoint, slavery was the backbone of southern economy, representing more than three billion dollars of property. (4) Prior to the 1800's, slavery was legal in the Northern states, but soon became obsolete. It was not economically feasible for Northern industry to use slave labor due to the maintenance costs of slavery. Immigrants supplied cheap labor for Northern Industry without the overhead costs. " Conditions in northern factories were as bad or worse than those for a majority of the slave" (5)
In contrast, Southern slaveholders had to supply medical treatment, house, feed and clothe their slaves. The monetary investment of a slave was lost if the slave was injured or otherwise incapacitated. As Northern industry expanded, its desired trade with the southern market, which was rich due to the slave-driven agricultural business. However, the South could purchase goods cheaper abroad. In order to counter the economic consequences for the north and protect northern industries, President Andrew Jackson (1833) put high tariffs on imported goods that the North manufactured. This act further divided the nation. (6) The South threatened to secede at this outrage.
The economic depression that seized the North in 1857 (The Panic of 1857), further divided the nation. The Southern economy was unaffected. A class struggle between the rich, Southern agricultural system and the poorer, industrial north evolved. Abolitionists rallied around this class struggle. In an attempt to incite the Northern population, Abolitionists denounced slavery and related it to the state of the economy. The Northern population suffering from the economic downturn was easily provoked. (7)
Abolitionists who represented three percent of the total population aligned themselves with the Republican Party. To placate the abolitionists, the abolishment of slavery was added to the Republican Platform. Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln to run for President. Lincoln won because three other candidates split the vote. The South was infuriated that Lincoln had been elected without any Southern votes. Convinced that Lincoln was steadfast on freeing the slaves without compensating slaveholders, the main body of the South withdrew from the Union. When Lincoln called for troops to put down the rebellion and preserve the union, the upper southern states joined in the rebellion. In addition, the Cherokee, Seminole, Choctaw, Chickasaws, and Creek Indians joined the Southern cause, not over slavery but for self-preservation. (8)
Northern troops invading the South rallied all Southerners, slaveholders and non-slaveholders. Invading troops do not discriminate between loyal citizens and rebels. To defend their homes, family, and life, many Southerners took up arms. The war became personal. Every man, woman and child had their own agenda to meet. There were many complex reasons for the Civil War. People who fought in the war had their own personal reasons for fighting. However, all the reasons for the war evolved from slavery. The Southern economy depended upon slavery and flourished because of it. In essence, the reasons for the Civil War were economic.
Main causes of the Civil War