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The Causes of the American Civil War

Seminararbeit 2006 13 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Landeskunde



1 Introduction

2 The situation in Northamarica in the 1850´s and the time before

3 The war against Mexico and the question of slavery in the territories

4 The South and its problems with fugitive slaves

5 The “Kansas- Nebraska-Act” and “Bleeding Kansas”

6 Lincoln, Douglas and the last steps to secession of

7 Conclusion

8 Literature:

1 Introduction

The American Civil War of 1861 to 1865, was one of the most important and worst events in American history. This extremely bloody and cruel war, in which Americans fought against themselves, had many causes. From the Decleration of Independence 1776 to the war itsself, many problems concerning morality, the Westward movement, slavery and ethnicity occured. Nowadays many people think that there was only one reason for the Civil War – namely slavery. Keeping this strong generalisation in mind, I want to explain that here were quite a lot of factors and events piled up over decades to explode in the 1860´s.

The following chapters will explain the situation from 1820 to the beginning of the Civil War. I am going to start with the situation in the 1850´s and before and go on with the war against Mexico an its aftermath. After that I want to decode the complicated situation about the decisions on slavery, based on the two chapters before. In the last two parts of the text the last steps to the Civil War will be described in detail. That includes the “Kansas-Nebraska-Act” and the election of Abraham Lincoln to president. All these events named are known as the maincauses of the Civil War by historians, on which this assignment is based.

2 The situation in Northamarica in the 1850´s and the time before

In the 1850´s the USA was growing very fast in every way. The population grew so fast that the USA became the third biggest country after Russia and France. That caused the moving of the people to the West and South of Northamarica, so that it looked like people were escaping from the North. It also caused urbanisation and citygrowth. In economy the cleft between poor and rich people increased because of the per capita income which doubled in the first half of the 19th century. The moving of people to the West made the farmers produce not only for their own need but also for the US-market. This also caused toll problems in the territorries which were not yet part of the Union. So there was a need for the foundation of new states. The first state which became part of the Union was Missourie which was the first territory that lied beyond the Appalachian Mountains. Missourie became a Union-state in 1820 with a great discussion about its slavery status. This dicussion was one of the first causes of the Civil War, but I will come back to that topic later on, when I am going to analyse the slavery problem.[1]

Because of the fast growing economy and the increasing needs of people, the traditional production methods did not work anymore and totally new and more effective methodes had to be invented. This industrial revolution needed more jobs and new professions, whereas some old professions disappeared. All these fast developpements caused a lot of social tensions and nearly risked a social class war. Another reason for this gap was the dicussion about salary work and slavery. With the creation of monopolies and labor unions, salary work with its very low payment and hard working conditions, workers saw this circumstances tantamount to slavery. People also realized this new industrial capitalism as the worst thing ever. So some parties like the Whigs saw their great chance in coming up now. The Whigs developed a concept of free work with the ideal of capitalism. They proclaimed that employees are also workers who keep economy going on[2]. With that proclamation the Whigs started the idea of the “Self-made-man” because their concept was justified by the right of self-determination. The other side of these ideas was inventing a nickname for northeners, namely “Yankees”. A Yankee is a person who lives in the North, especially in New England. Such people created 93% of all inventions made until 1700. The southern people called all northeners arrogant, crazy and cruel by using this term constantly during the Civil War .[3]

The huge immigration waves from Ireland and Germany fastened that negative developements in the USA. These new ethnical groups of Roman Catholics were difficult to arrange with the Protestant tradition in the main part of the US-population and so nativistic organisations were formed to stop the so-called ´spreading of the catholic idea`. The parties of North and South were involved in that problem and composed new programms. The Whigs where conservative and the perfect party for young Protastants who did not want the new Americans to be discriminated. They attended to the ideas of the “second great awakening”[4]which was a Protestant movement with moral and cultural reforms. The Democrates had an attitude against the brutal capitalism. They protested against the loss of tradional professions, they hated the new Americans with their Catholisism, they supported little farmers and the slave power in the South. With these moral differences, both, North and South, began to put emphasise on their contrasts more and more.[5]

All these industrial and ecomical developements mainly took place in the North. The reasons for that fact were based on the political, moral and social conditions of both parts of the country. On the one hand, the North was the industrial part which yearned for modernity, reforms, changes in all parts of society, democracy and different ways of producing raw materials as an alternative to slavery. This improvement lay the foundation of abolitionism in the late 1950´s. So most of the northern states became free states which are states whithout slavery and oppression during that time.[6]The northern people realy lived up the Manifest Destiny which proclaimed that the Americans had to spread their experiment of democracy and freedom all over the states. So the Northerners also wanted the territories to become unionist states. But the losers of that Manifest and the Moving-West were the natives who lived there in freedom for ages. Now they were squeezed together in small reservations on useless grounds, what happened in the so-called “Trail of Tears” in 1838.[7]

On the other hand, the South was the agricultural part of the country and had a very static and hierarchial structure. The southern economy was only able to survive because of slavery and cotton production on wide plantations. Slavery was not anything offensive for the Southeners – it was a part of their everyday life. They justified it with the right of ownership, based on the American Constitution. So they wanted to spread slavery into the western territories, what caused much trouble with the North until the beginning of the war. But that static ideas made the Industrial Revolution develope very slowly, too.


[1]McPherson, James. Battle Cry of Freedom – The Civil War Era.New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

[2]Boritt, Garbor S.:Why the Civil War Came, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

[3]McPherson, James. Battle Cry of Freedom – The Civil War Era.New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

[4]McPherson, James. Battle Cry of Freedom – The Civil War Era.New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.


[6]Heideking, Jürgen:Geschichte der USA, Tübingen: UTB Verlag, 2003 (3.Auflage).



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
530 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena – Anglistisch/Amerikanistisches Institut
Causes American Civil



Titel: The Causes of the American Civil War