Two Nations from One is Most Certainly a Negative Thing
The founding fathers had lacked the foresight of how quickly the country would grow. Along with threats of conspiracy, the issue of slavery, which had been a hush-hush subject for years, became the divisive blow to the Union. Therefore, the Civil War became inevitable, and only through bloodshed and the emancipation of the slaves in the rebelling states could the nation be saved.
Lincoln was correct in saying during his Second Inaugural Address that slavery “constituted a peculiar and powerful interest.” Southerners had actually based their entire economy on it, and the majority hated it. The racism in America was still dominant, but many people understood that the institution of slavery was against the very liberty on which America was based. Unfortunately, the majority of people, while aware of the contradiction between slavery and America’s founding principles, were not pro-black, either. The statement in the Declaration of Independence “all men are created equal” was not guaranteed in the Constitution in its original form. Because slavery could not be legally stopped, it led to sectional differences that tore the country in two.
Territorial expansion, John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, the Fugitive Slave Act, and the sectional breaks in Christianity were more factors that intensified sectional differences and provided evidence for conspiracy. In reality, there was not actually a concrete conspiracy. Rather, the country had found itself involved in a political war for two decades before the Civil War itself began. The factors so named were just more problems that the nation could not deal with particularly well.
The United States was growing very quickly, far past what anyone had ever dreamed possible. There was now an incredible deal of land for America to move into. So, the major question of whether slavery would exist or not in the territories began a chain reaction of legislation and disputes.
However, while the territorial disputes began the visible chain reaction that inevitably ended in total war, the true root of the problem lay in the country’s very beginnings. It all began with the Constitution began in 1787. Whether people liked to admit it or not, slavery was indeed written into the great founding document of America. While the word itself was not mentioned, it is contained within the document in complicated language. Because of this, the federal government had no right to stop slavery where it already existed. Basically, slavery was a state institution that the federal government had no constitutional right to stop.
Many Northerners did not want slavery to expand, while Southerners overwhelmingly wished for expansion. The South felt that with continuing pressure against slavery from the North, the territories were the only place whether the institution could survive. Northerners decided that slavery could be kept out of the new territories, however, which constitutionally looked to be right.
But, the Dred Scott decision that reversed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the act that would have let popular sovereignty in the named territories decide whether they would allow slavery or not on their lands, showed that the Southern-controlled Supreme Court would not let slavery die. The North was outraged. Sectional differences of the nation had come to the point that the government itself could not operate effectively.
Because of a lack of consensus within the political system, parties themselves fractured. The Whig and Democrat parties split into Northern and Southern factions. The Whig party became so divided that they could no longer produce candidates to run for elections, and they inevitably vanished. They were eventually replaced by the Republican Party, which ran on an anti-slavery, free-soil platform that was not at all supported by the South.
Not all Republicans were abolitionists, but they came to all agree that slavery was definitely not something that should be allowed to spread. The Democrats, on the other hand, were split into clearly Northern and Southern Democrats and did not share the Republican Party’s views at all. Northern Democrats wanted to preserve the Union with slavery intact, while Southern Democrats were willing to keep slavery intact at any cost, including, inevitably, secession from the United States.
Another factor that led to the war was John Brown’s raid. While not condoned at all by Northern politicians, it was a major scare for Southern plantation owners and politicians. While Brown would be executed by a consensus of both Northern and Southern politicians, the popular opinion in the North was that Brown was a martyr for a great cause.
But Brown's raid did not really help the cause of abolition all that much; in fact, the cause was hurt by Brown’s actions. Slave owners began keeping their slaves on even tighter leashes and the fear of uprisings led to paranoia in the South. Their very way of life was at stake. In reality, the South was a popular minority which did not agree with what the rest of the Union was doing. They opposed urbanization and were quite content with the set-up of their slave-based economy just as it was.
The Fugitive Slave Act was also a major point of tension between North and South as well. The law said that the federal government was responsible for returning escaped Southern slaves. There were several problems with the law, however. A major one was the number of slaves that were being hidden in the North and the Northerners that were helping escaped slaves to freedom, especially those along the Underground Railroad.
Another major problem was that freed black men were sometimes being accidentally sent back to slavery. Because the Fugitive Slave Act gave stricter laws for the catching of slaves, free black men were sometimes confused for slaves. Also, while racism was still very much a part of American culture, there were many people that were happy to help escaped slaves find freedom and often did all that they could to make sure that they got to safety.
Religion was also a very big factor in the sectional tensions. As the political parties split up, denominations of Christianity also split into Northern and Southern factions. The Presbyterians and Baptists were the two major groups that split, and Southern Baptists would actually remain their own denomination even after the war was long over. Two forms of Christianity appeared in America. The Southern denominations were supportive of slavery and the Northern denominations were generally against it. As Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural Address, however, they were both praying to the same God, and neither side’s prayers would completely be answered.
Two distinct cultures had formed in the North and South, and both used their different religious denominations to justify their actions. The South was very sure they were right that slavery was the way to go. The North just did not want to see it expand, but the South preached white supremacy and black servitude to white masters and saw it as a necessity in expanding into the new territories of the nation.
Lincoln’s election was just the last straw for the South. None of the state majorities in the South voted for him, and it is hard to say that there was a soul in the South who would have even thought of voting for Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln won the electoral votes in 1860 because of the more populous states in the North, especially Pennsylvania and New York.
Fittingly, it would be South Carolina that would be the first to call for secession. About eighty years before in disputing a federal tax, they had tried nullifying the law and threatened secession. This time, however, they felt they had even better reasons: a president had just been elected that the popular majority of the South, and that majority was overwhelming, had not voted for to be in office. But Lincoln had said nothing about stopping slavery, and did say that he had no intention of even trying to stop slavery in the Southern states.
The South, however, saw the Republican Party itself as a major threat, as well as a Northern conspiracy, to end their very way of life. That belief was actually far from the truth, but with how different the South had developed compared to Northerners, it is not hard to see why slavery was so important for them to see survive. Slavery was the basis of the Southern economy. Without it, the South would lose all of its power.
Now that Abraham Lincoln was in office, a President that the entire South had popularly opposed, South Carolina felt betrayed. They felt that their state’s rights allowed them to secede from the Union if they did not agree with the federal government. Calling on Thomas Jefferson’s ideas of nullification, South Carolina saw their signing the Constitution as a contract that they could nullify if they felt that agreement had been broken.
In the Declaration of December 24, 1860, the South Carolina convention said that in the election of the Republican Party, a purely Northern party, the pro-slavery states would “no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.” Not only that, the convention actually went as far to say in their declaration that upon the Republican party taking office the South would be excluded from the Union.
Inevitably, South Carolina led the way to the secession of eleven States: itself, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas, and Florida. The battle lines had been drawn, and sides had been taken. Now the Confederacy was born, and South Carolina pretty much told the North to bring it on. The war would soon begin.
While the war would be fought for the restoration of the Union, slavery would end up being the overriding reason that war had been reached in the first place. The numbers of people that would die because of the institution were enormous. In fact, the only way in which the war could really be won was to destroy the slave-holding infrastructure that the South was so dire to protect.
After twenty-five years of escalating sectional tensions, America now had to face a terrible, hypocritical contradiction in its society. How could a country built on the ideals of freedom and liberty for all enslave people within its borders? Whether America was still mostly racist at the time or not, it was clear that this contradiction could not continue with slavery intact. Therefore, it was indeed the main cause of the war, but far from the only thing. To keep slavery intact in the very beginning was the main reason the war began.
It is a cruel contradiction that the American experiment allowed slavery to continue within its borders for so long. Unfortunately, human history is laden with them. The American experiment of democracy looked as if it were about to fail because it had split into two sides with quite different views of how the country should grow. Inevitably, it would be that one-eighth of the population that would finally unite America into a singular, unified nation with one vision: a place with no slavery, a place where there really could be liberty and justice for all.