What Caused the American Civil War?

In the early- to mid-1800s, as the Northern sections of the United States developed in terms of industrialization, the Southern aspects to the country remained predominantly an agrarian economy. As a result, political beliefs and social culture altered accordingly. Combined, this all led to various disagreements on issues like tariffs, taxes, and rights of the individual state as opposed to federal rights.


The key issue that led to the union’s disruption was the heated debate over slavery. The dispute degenerated to secession, which in turn witnessed the Northern and Western states fighting to preserve the Union, while the South vied for independence under their own constitution.

In the South, ownership of a few slaves bestowed a level of respect and, in turn, was seen to afford social position. In the North, however, gradually each state in turn had abolished slavery. Further, there was a ready pool of laborers as immigrants flowed in from Germany and Ireland during the 1840s and ‘50s. Thus, there was little necessity to cling to slavery as an institution.

Abolitionist Movement

Those who had a preference to see the abolishment of slavery within the United States were strongly influential by the early part of the 1830s. Those same individuals and collectives were obedient to a “higher law” as opposed to serving obedience to a guarantee from the Constitution that a fugitive in one single state would then be considered as a fugitive in every state.

The support in favor of the abolishment of slavery nationwide grew ever stronger with the onset of the fugitive slave act, together with the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin authored by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

The anti-slavery novel known as Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was published in 1851 in an anti-slavery newspaper, and then in 1852 as a novel. Within merely a two-year period, it had become a worldwide bestseller.

Stowe’s work offered an insight into slavery that not many people were entirely aware of. And thus, Stowe’s goal, which was to generate a wave of sentiment in terms of anti-slavery nationwide, was achieved.

When President Lincoln met Stowe, he said, “So, you’re the lady who wrote this book that instigated the great war.”

The Underground Railroad

A number of abolitionists were active in aiding slaves to escape by means of the “Underground Railroad.” Relatively frequently, those that were dispatched to retrieve runaways, including lawmen, were attacked by abolitionist mobs.

In terms of the slave holding nations in the South, what this represented was that Northerners had a preference for electing which aspects of the Constitution they would stand by, whereas, the expectation was that the entire South would have to honor the full document.

The most famed underground railroad activist was the nurse, Harriet Tubman, also referred to as the Moses of her people.

John Brown

Kansas witnessed many a violent clash between clans of proponents of both ideologies. In particular, one abolitionist stood out for being responsible for the development of battles that were to cause numerous deaths of settlers in Kansas that held a pro-slavery ethos and stance. This man’s name was John Brown. Brown did eventually leave Kansas for Virginia, in order to take his fight closer to the heart of slavery.

However, he was tried for treason and hanged. And although in the South, peoples merely considered the man as an insane fanatic, whose death was of little consequence, in the North, he was made a martyr.

In return, many Southerners started to believe that this alone served as proof that the North had an intention of war as a way to exterminate all white Southerners. Thus, as it happens, Brown’s raid served as a thoroughly notable event in the divide between the two sections.

The Election of Abraham Lincoln

While the old Whig political party died out, thereby exacerbating tensions even further, many of its followers began to associate themselves with the American Party. While others, who were in opposition to slavery, formed the Republican Party in the 1850s.

Abraham Lincoln, a Republican candidate, was elected as president in 1860. At which time, the fear in the South that the main repercussion from this would indeed be the abolition of slavery, reached new heights. Although Lincoln was a definite opponent of slavery, he did vow that he would offer no interference to where it still existed.

Visit Gettysburg Museum of History to witness a vast collection of civil war relics.