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Causes of the Civil War

The American Civil War, was perhaps the only event in American history, that threatened to shake its very foundations. It was a war that took place in the years 1861-1865, between the eleven “slave” Southern American states and the “free” Northern states. There were a host of reasons that led to the American Civil War. Here is a list of causes of the Civil War, followed by the timeline of events that led to it.

Main Causes of the Civil War

Causes of the Civil War: North-South Divide

The Civil War history has to be traced to the invention of the cotton gin, in the late eighteenth century. As cotton production became a profitable venture, many industries and mills flourished in the Northern economy. The Southern economy was an agrarian economy which produced the raw materials for the Northern economy, to be processed and converted into cotton. Thus, the South, primarily an agrarian and traditional economy was left far behind the North, which was an industrialized, modern society. These social differences between the two, were the foremost causes of the American Civil War.

Causes of the Civil War: Slavery

The Southerners, in order to run their large cotton plantations, depended a lot on slaves. Slavery had been a way of life in Southern America, since two hundred years. It was even accepted under the state as well as federal laws. But, post the flourishing of the industries in the North, people developed many modern ideas and became totally against slavery. This did not go well with the Southerners, and an environment of hostility was created between the two, leading to the American Civil War. Read more on slavery during the Civil War.

Causes of the Civil War: State’s Rights

The Southerners felt that the federal government was passing certain laws which were against the economics of the South. They were totally against the laws passed by the federal government against slavery. They began to feel that “nullification”, i.e. right of the state government to declare any law null or void which it considered was against it, or “secession” from the federal government, and forming a separate country, were their only options to resist the oppression of the Northerners. Read more on interesting facts about the American Civil War.

Causes of the Civil War: 1860 Elections

In the 1860 elections, the Southerners nominated John C. Breckinridge. But when the results came, he was defeated by a large margin by the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln. In fact, he even got lesser votes than Democrat Stephen Douglas. This defeat developed fear among the leaders of the Southern states, that the “free states” will completely take-over the government. This defeat in the elections in 1860 was another major cause of the American Civil War.

Causes of the Civil War: Timeline

Here is a chronology of the events that lead to the American Civil War.

1619 A.D. – Commencement of slavery in the United States.

1787 A.D. – Three-fifths compromise reached at the Philadelphia Convention. According to this compromise, three-fifths of the total population of the slaves will be counted for the purpose of taxation as well as for appointing members at the United States House of Representatives. Proponents of this theory were James Madison and Roger Sherman, who were against slavery and actually wanted that only the free people of the states should be counted. The reason behind this was that the slaves did not have voting rights and thus, the slave owners had the advantage of getting increased representation in the electoral College as well as the Unites States House. Read more on three-fifths compromise.

1820 A.D. – Missouri Compromise was reached which restricted slavery, just to the western territories. Slavery was prohibited in former Louisiana area with the exception of the proposed Missouri territory.

1820 A.D. – State of Maine, was declared a “free state”. A compromise was reached wherein a balance between “free states” and “slave states” was maintained, to keep both the Northerners, who were anti-slavery and the Southerners, who were pro-slavery, satisfied.

1820-1830 A.D. – Rise of the Abolitionist movement, which declared slavery a “social evil”, takes place. Important leaders of this movement included the likes of Abraham Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Theodore Weld and Arthur Tappan. Their modern outlook and anti-slavery stands were appreciated and accepted by the Northerners. Thus, the abolitionist movement gained weight, and became one the causes of the Civil War.

1846 A.D. – Mexican-American war takes place.

1848 A.D. – America wins the war and the “Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo” is signed whereby, present day states of Utah, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and Wyoming, were all ceded to the United States.

1846-1848 A.D. – Wilmot proviso, introduced by David Wilmot, which proposed banning slavery in all the territories acquired in the Mexican American war, is vehemently opposed by the Southerners, and finally defeated in the United States house.

1850 A.D. – Compromise of 1850 is reached, wherein California becomes a “free state”. According to the compromise, the inhabitants of the new territories acquired from the Mexican-American war to decide the issue of slavery through voting, slave trade is prohibited in the district of Columbia, and the “Fugitive Slave Act” is passed. Read more on compromise of 1850 – summary.

1854 A.D. – Kansas-Nebraska Act passed, wherein people of both these territories, through voting, would decide whether to allow slavery or not. This act was against the compromise of 1820 which declared that these territories are “free”, and hence, became one of the main causes of the Civil War. Due to this act, a clash between the pro-slavery proponents, led by John Brown, and the anti-slavery proponents took place. There was wide spread violence in the area and hence, it was nicknamed “Bleeding Kansas”. Kansas is not given statehood as no compromise is reached between the anti-slavery and pro-slavery proponents.

1858-1859 A.D. – Minnesota and Oregon, declared “free states”. An imbalance between “free states” and “slave states” is created, increasing unrest among the Southerners.

1860 A.D. – Elections take place. Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln wins, creating a distrust among the Southerners about the government. This fear and distrust became another of the causes of the Civil War. Read more on who was the US president during the American Civil War.

1861 A.D. – Kansas declared a “free state” and becomes a part of the American Union.

1861 A.D. – Civil War begins. States of South Carolina, Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia Alabama and Louisiana secede from the Union. Pro-slavery forces take over the federal buildings and installations. To know about the events that took place during the Civil War, including the Civil War battles, Civil War generals, Civil War dates and the abolition of slavery in 1865 A.D., read American Civil War facts and timeline.

Casualties of the American Civil War are estimated to be just below seven lacs. The loss of human life that took place during the Civil War is more than all the other wars, right from the time of American revolution to the recent Iraq war put together. That is why, knowledge of the causes of the Civil War for kids, who are the future of the country is very important. It is very essential that they learn from the very beginning, that wars should be avoided at all costs. Wars lead to nothing, but hatred and blood-shed. As Benjamin Franklin puts it, “There never was a good war or a bad peace”.

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