American Civil War Causes. Term Paper


"Let the south be protected in all her rights but let the rights of the North also be respected." (Gillette, 27.) The country stood divided, and while the North stood strong knowing its military capabilities were powerful and comforted by the nobility and justice in its ideals, the economic tensions between the North and South were irreparably compromised. The plantation system that defined the structure of Southern Society posited the white, land-and-slave owning men at the top of the system, with the slaves at the bottoms and the "plain folk" making up the rungs of the ladder in an external market economy. The economic driving force of the north would have comforted the destitute middle class of the south, but cultural differences made imperious the popularity of a wide Union movement in the Deep South. Instead, the cotton country was rife with militant defense of slavery, even when the South became increasingly dependent on the North for manufactured goods and the commercial services required to operate the large plantations of the 1850s.

At the same time, while southerners expropriated academic and then-scientific knowledge to advance their purposes, the cotton industry boomed. The stakes were getting higher, and the tension was undeniable. Each state had to take sides. In New Jersey, where Southern affiliation was reputed, the battle was real and multi-faceted. "New Jerseyans feared that the mistrust between the North and South would break the bonds holding the Union together." (Gillette, 27.) Their fear was well-placed; sectional divides took new form, and Lincoln was forced to choose sides, ultimately forced to denounce the institutions and ideologies key to the Southern way of life.

Mass politics, the much-criticized social fabric of the south, split parties, and the Industrial Revolution took the country by storm. In 1857, the tensions leading up to the war were brought to a new head, as polarized parties became more vitriolic in their ideological battle cries as the Dred Scott case took shape. Dred Scott v. Sanford brought a new contention to the forefront of American government; no longer was the split multi-political, no longer was it North-South, but now the very lifeblood of the American system - the protection of its Constitution - was put under shaky scope. The Dred Scott case came to be a fundamental cause of the Civil war, and later the source of ratification for the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.

Scott was an American slave who was taken first to Illinois then on to Minnesota and Missouri. Although his last state was a slave state, the first two were free, and after his master's death, he sued for his own freedom. A lower Missouri court gave him his freedom, but the Missouri Supreme Court disagreed and remanded the trial. Summarily, Scott filed suit in federal...


Supreme Court. The decision ruled in favor of the slaveholders, establishing that no Negroes, including those freed, could ever be citizens of the United States. In fact, it argued that they were "beings of an inferior order" excluded by the phrase "all men" in the Declaration of Independence and later in the Constitution. (Potter 1977, 281.) Potter focuses his attention on the Dred Scott case on the Supreme Court Justice who penned its decision, Roger B. Taney. He arguest that, "Taney's valuable contributions to American Constitutional development remained unorganized because of the Dred Scott decision," despite his long tenure. (Potter 1977, 290.) Additionally, he added, "probably no other decision history affected the daily lives of so few people." (Potter 1977, 291.)
Nevertheless, reaction was far spread. Frederick Douglass took arms with other abolitionists, citing the unconstitutionality of the decision and furthering the chasm between the North and South. "The highest authority has spoken," he said. (McPherson, 173.) "The voice of the Supreme Court has gone out over the troubled waves of the National Conscience. But my hopes were never brighter than now. I have no fear that the National Conscience will be put to sleep by such an open, glaring and scandalous issue of lies." (McPherson, 173.) True to form, the issue was no longer economic nor social, but truly ideological. The issues ignored by Potter in his earlier books - the importance of financial vicissitude in the ongoing struggle between sides in Americna life - were washed under the gate after the Dred Scott case, the final straw for most Americans as the formed their opinions about the war.

Despite their 1856 loss, the Republican party kept form. In the 1860 campaign, Republicans successfully cast "Honest Abe" as an embodiment of the principles they held dear. They blocked the nomination of William Seward and dwarfed southern interest with the resounding defeat of the Lecompton Constitution, forcing the nation into a cultural tug-of-war only solved by bloodshed and bayonette. The Panic of 1857 and diverging Federal policy ideas and paralleled Southern hostility greeted Lincoln when he assumed office, and the Nullification Crisis that began the Civil War began. McPherson, Gillette, and Potter all provide a cultural analysis for the causes that led to the civil war, and despite other issues, their point is clear, if sometimes revisionist. The multi-faceted situation that Lincoln faced when he assumed office was untenable to the founding fathers, and the very nature of the American regime was put into question; it was through social-cultural assertion in politics and national policy that the Civil War was born and the ideas so defining of Americanism cemented.

Gillette, William. Jersey Blue: Civil War Politics in New Jersey, 1854-1865. New Brunswick, NJ: 1995.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Ballantine Books, 1989.

Potter, David M. Division and the Stresses of Reunion. Glenview, Ill: Scott Fresoman, 1973.

Potter, David M. Impending Crisis:…

Sources Used in Documents:

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Ballantine Books, 1989.

Potter, David M. Division and the Stresses of Reunion. Glenview, Ill: Scott Fresoman, 1973.

Potter, David M. Impending Crisis: 1848-1861. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.

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