What Caused the Civil War?

Events Determining What Caused the Civil War

          There is an abundance of historical data and corresponding opinion exploring the causes of the Civil War. Many arguments advanced emphasize that the origin of the Southern rebellion was the lack of economic parity, states rights as defined by the Constitution, and the nuances of differing cultures--the clash between industrialized and agrarian societies. None of these causes incited the passion that would stoke such a bloody conflict---700,000 dead. These sources of discord were significant, but resolvable by the rational men on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. The genesis of this war was something so visceral that made a peaceful resolution unreachable by men of good will. In its most basic terms, were white men inherently superior to black men? The evidence is overwhelming that the question of African slavery transcended the boundaries of logic and touched the primal instincts of men. Therein lies the fuel that was stronger than the belief in a united nation.

          As early as the mid 16th century, we note that African slavery was introduced into England, and an English slave trading syndicate began operation about the same time introducing African slavery to plantations in the Caribbean.

          British common law struggled to develop a legal philosophy to deal with issues of black slavery. This common history, shared with their English colonial brethren, served as a conceptual backdrop to actions in the new American settlements. White indentured servitude, usually for a fixed period of time, gradually gave way to black slavery lasting lifetimes and generations.

Unlike most historical timelines, single events portraying slavery in America rarely had immediate dramatic consequences. This timeline depicts the forces that sought emancipation, and like the birth of volcanic activity, growing strength, aggressively exerting pressure against intractable, entrenched resistance. The explosion was inevitable. WAR 1861-1865

After your review of this timeline, detailing what caused the Civil War, we call your attention to the additional links located below this table relating the decisive elements of this war.

17th Century

What Caused the Civil War? The over riding issue: Slavery

1607 British transport white, convicted criminal to colonial Virginia sentenced to a life of slavery. First evidence of introduction of slavery to American mainland.
1619 Each century planted a seed to define what caused the civil war.Dutch trader introduces black African slaves into Jamestown, Virginia colony to enhance tobacco crop. Early tip to planters of the economic benefits of black slavery relative to white, indentured servitude.
1660-1670 British respond to need of under populated colonies (Carolina planters) and deliver African slaves to the colonists and stock black slave labor in Maryland and Virginia.

18th Century

A New Century, But the Answer To What Caused The Civil War Is Unchanged.

What Caused the Civil War: Event
1700's British institute a “Triangular Trade” pouring African slaves into the plantations on the Caribbean islands. Think triangle- -British goods carried south to the west coast of Africa, trade goods for slaves, north to the America’s and trade slaves for sugar and back to English ports.
1729 English solicitor general signs York-Talbot agreement declaring slavery legal in Great Britain and influences the mind set of a generation of colonists.
1774 Delegates to first Continental Congress pledge to stop importation of slaves and led by George Washington, John Adams and Patrick Henry. Both Washington and Henry were slave holders.
Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush found Pennsylvania Society to promote abolition of slavery. Abolition of slavery gains momentum as a national movement.
British born Thomas Paine, author of “Common Sense”, the intellectual spirit of the American revolution, publishes an attack on the immorality of the slave trade.
1775 General Washington forms the continental army and offers freedom to slaves who serve. Estimates that both free and black slaves amounted to about 5,000 men in the ranks. Loyalist British authorities make similar counter offer.
1776 Second Continental Congress resolves to end all future importation of slaves.
Delegates of 13 colonies sign Declaration of independence and declare “that all men are created equal”, but does not reference slavery by eliminating original Jefferson version.
1777 Vermont prohibits slavery.
1778-1784 Massachusetts follows Vermont and momentum over several years reaches other northern states, Pennsylvania and Connecticut in particular, provide for gradual emancipation of slaves.
1779 George Washington provides in his will for the emancipation of his slaves upon his death. “Upon the decease of my wife, it is my Will and desire that all the slaves that I hold in my own right, shall receive their freedom”. Caveat: note that Washington, as president, was not reluctant to attempt to recover one of his slaves who escaped and crossed a state line under the extant Fugitive Slave law.
1785-1786 Abolitionist societies formed in Maryland and Delaware.
1787 Northwest Ordinance creates a federal territory bounded by the Great Lakes in the north, running south to the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River. Supersedes Land Ordinance Act of 1784. Act prohibited slavery in the proscribed territory, but critically did not extend it to the future states to be created in the territory (Supreme court: Strader v. Graham 1851). Congress still operating under Articles of Confederation. Nor did it exclude slaves already held by settlers in the territory.
Constitution of the United States signed by the delegates of the Constitutional Convention. Creates a congress that confirms the Northwest Ordinance. The Constitution establishes a methodology for apportioning representatives to congress based on state population and counts each slave as 3/5 of a person. Adoption of the 13th amendment, post civil war, apportionment counting provision no longer legally significant by freeing all slaves and reaffirmed under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
New congress grants itself right to revisit question of importation of slavery post 1808. Congress rejects attempts to bar slavery stirs abolitionist sentiments adding to what caused civil war.
1788 Federalist Papers 54- James Madison questions morality of slaves as property.
Many northern states outlaw slave trade, but do not resolve ownership.
1792 Kentucky first slave state admitted to the Union. Another direct step adding a deed to what caused the Civil War.
1793 Fugitive Slave Law denies trial by jury to a run away slave. Law tested and upheld in 1842 before Supreme Court (Prigg v. Pennsylvania).
Eli Whitney invents cotton gin. Technology increases profits for cotton and induces wider production of the cotton crop. Picking cotton was a labor intensive cost and hence the utilization of free labor increasing the need of African slaves. Technology directly adds to events answering the question what caused the Civil War.

19th Century

History Records The Definitive Response To What Caused The Civil War: Slavery

1800 Gabriel Prosser plot exposed. Slaves in Virginia plan uprising to murder whites. State executes 25 slaves.
1807 Great Britain abolishes slave trade and includes all of its possessions. Follows in 1834 total abolition of slavery, and by 1838 includes all of its colonies.
1808 U.S. follows Britain and abolishes international slave trade. Domestic slavery unresolved.
1817 Charles Osborne sets course for Quaker abolitionists and publishes newspaper supporting emancipation, “The Philanthropist”.
1819 Congress authorizes president to send ships to Africa to interdict slave ships.
Congress repeals Act that would have prohibited slavery in Arkansas.
1820 Congress declares slave trade as piracy.
Missouri Compromise prohibits slavery in northern part of Louisiana Purchase. A, obvious add-on to the list of what caused the civil war.
1821 Missouri admitted to the Union as a slave state.
1825 Supreme Court overturns ruling of lower court in the matter of the vessel Antelope and holds that the right of another nation to engage in slave trade must be respected and compensated for its loss. Francis Scott Key, of national anthem fame, represented the United States in losing argument before the Court.
1831 Nat Turner slave rebellion kills 70 whites and directly affected the Virginia debate that rejected the gradual abolition of slavery. When the reader seeks the most significant elements to answer what caused the Civil War, history will point to the Nat Turner affair as one that stiffened the resolve of southerners to maintain slavery.
1833 South Carolina propounds the nullification theory that a state adversely affected by federal legislation has the right to nullify same and consequently withdraw from the Union. This pitted a state against a tariff supported by President Andrew Jackson that imposed a tariff on northern goods imported into the south. A compromise backed by Senators Clay and Calhoun was ultimately passed which reduced the tariff over a period of time. “Nullification” unresolved. This theory of state sovereignty was the later under pinning to withdrawal from the union.
1836 In response to Senator Calhoun’s ardent support for slavery (1837- “slavery is a positive good”), congress enacted a “gag rule” which tabled abolitionist petitions to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia. Closed debate on the subject. Ultimately repealed in 1841 through the efforts of John Quincy Adams.Texas declares its independence from Mexico, ultimately recognized by the United States, but the slave question is unresolved and sectional antagonism appreciates.
1841 United States v. The Amistad: the lower court ruling was essentially affirmed by the Supreme Court which held that the slaves on board the ship should be freed because they had been illegally obtained, “kidnapped”. The Court distinguished between the Amistad ship and the Antelope vessel case in that the latter dealt with the slaves as property which predated U.S. law declaring the trade illegal, and under the new law the slaves were individuals and not property. John Quincy Adams represented the Africans famously remarked that President Van Buren, advocating for the property rights of Spain, said that Van Buren was a” northern president with southern principles”.
1845 Irish potato famine introduces new immigration wave into the United States and a new labor source in conflict with the economics of slavery.
Texas annexed and U.S. statehood approved with slavery over heated abolitionist voices.
1846 Mexican American war opens up huge territories for American expansion and extends the slavery question and leads to formation of Free Soil Party in 1848.
1850 Missouri Compromise: formulated by Senator Henry Clay and supported by northerners, Stephen Douglas and Daniel Webster. A package of bills provided state admission criteria for New Mexico and Utah and without reference to slavery, enforcement of stronger fugitive slave laws (impacting northern states and legalizing slave catchers), prohibiting slave trade in the District of Columbia, and California admitted as a free state.
1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes her story; “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” infuriates the south. She meets with President Lincoln in 1862 and he remarks, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war”.
1854 Congress repeals Missouri Compromise of 1820 and reopens slavery question in the northwest territories.
1855 Lincoln speaks abhorring negro oppression and satirically misquotes the Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal—except negroes”.
1856 John Brown, radical abolitionist, kills five pro slavery advocates.
1858 President James Buchanan fails to admit Kansas as a slave state. Ultimately admitted as a free state in 1861.
Lincoln - Douglas, in Illinois senatorial contest, debate slavery with Lincoln advocating for “ultimate extinction” of slavery.
1859 John Brown raids Harpers Ferry U.S. arsenal with the intent to arm slaves and create an insurrection. Plan fails and Brown executed.
1860 Lincoln in New York City speaks at Cooper Union school and declares that federal government has the right to exclude western expansion of slavery. Speech widely distributed and supported by Horace Greely’s Herald Tribune and Abraham Lincoln elected president.
South Carolina secedes from Union.
1861 Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana secede from Union Southern states form under the banner of the “Confederacy” and new constitution.
Jefferson Davis elected president of confederacy and declares “white race is superior to Negroes”.
South Carolina fires on federal facility, Fort Sumter, and its Commander, Robert Anderson, surrenders three days later to forces of General Beauregard. What caused the Civil War? This critical and concluding act caps this question that began with slavery and forced the hand of the southern states.

Every American war was defined and illuminated by thousands of moving parts. In a sense, a war machine is like a huge wheel designed to advance a strategy, a goal, but inherently capable of sudden stops and reversals. When you have concluded your review of "What Caused the Civil War", we suggest you examine the wheel and its component spokes (links) that propelled the American war machine, all trans-formative, and the human hands that created the turns and pivots that marked this war and our times.

Civil War Battles (Chapter 1, 1803-1862)

Battles of the Civil War (Chapter 2, 1863-1865)

Civil War Facts (Chapter 3, 1861-1865)

Civil War Flags

Civil War Generals

Civil War Uniforms

Civil War Weapons

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