Reflections on the Causes of the Civil War:
Just a Few Views

"A honest and intelligent person will always question, and their beliefs will not be set in stone, until they find the truth.

Even then, they may fluctuate and question, and if they come back to the same conclusion or truth, their belief is strengthened."

-Carlene M. Wojahn

At Times One Must Stop and Feel the Past

Written by Carlene M. Wojahn

The Civil War took more American lives than any other war in history. In fact, 620,000 soldiers died !! This was is almost as many as the combined American dead from the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) through the Viet Nam War !! The Union lost about 360,000 troops, and the Confederacy about 260,000. More than half of these deaths were caused by disease. Another statistic is that one third of all Southern soldiers died in the war, compared to one-sixth of the Northern soldiers. And those that did not die were injured if not physically, emotionally.

But it wasn't only the soldier that felt this pain and loss, families felt it just as much, no one was immune to this pain. This War had scarred and devastated our nation, the victory that was won, was not a glorious one...not when so many had to die. This War was unlike any other, fathers fought against sons, brothers fought against brothers. The soldiers of each side fought for what they believed, fought for their convictions; that, in itself, is an admirable quality.

Why did the South feel they had a right to secede ? Why did they ? The reasons and the causes of this war are not dried cut. There would be more than one reason, more than one cause, with slavery being one of them, and the preservation of the Union being another. But is was more than that, much more than that. This was a war of passion, a war of principles, a war that would tear away at the heart and soul of this county, and of the individual.

Let us look at these reasons again, what could cause this type of division ?? The Civil War was between the Southern States, who were trying to preserve slavery and their agricultural way of life, and the Northern States dedicated to a more modern way of life, ending of slavery, as well as the preservation of this great country of ours. However, it even goes deeper than that.

Let us first concentrate on the issue of slavery, and reflect on some comments made by Gabor S. Boritt (a historian). He stated that "In colonial times most Americans regarded slavery as a necessary evil. The Founding Fathers of the United States had been unable to abolish slavery and compromised over it in the writing of the Constitution."

After seeing this comment, I looked at the Constitution, and this is what I found, that indeed there was conflict. Even then, over the queston of slavery and the northern states wanted the power to forbid the foreign slave trade, while the southern delegates did not. A compromise was reached that stated that Congress would not be allowed to regulate the foreign slave trade till 1808.

By the early 1800's, many Northerners had come to view slavery as wrong. Abolitionists in the North began a movement to end it. Some of this same sentiment existed in the South, however it is said that "Southerners found slavery to be highly profitable and in time came to consider it a postive good." Within this same article it states, "that even though many of the white Southerners who did not own slaves supported slavery, for they accepted two main ideas that without slavery the South's economy would collapse and that blacks were inferior to whites."

In 1858, Senator William Seward of New York referred to the differences between the North and the South as "an irrepressible conflict." He placed slavery at the heart of that uncontrollable conflict. In fact, it is said that "debates over slavery raged in Congress between the Northern and Southern lawmakers during most of the 1850's."

But like I stated before it goes much deeper than that. It began in colonial times which resulted from the differences in the cultures of people that settled in each as well as from geographical differences. In the South, the climate was found ideal for growing tobacco and other plantation crops. After the plantations were started black slaves were brought here from Africa to provide most of the labor. While up North, the cooler and rocky soil in the north was not suitable for plantations or large farms. As a result of this North became dependent on trade, more than agriculture. Due to this dependeny on others, this type of economy favored the growth of cities.

This sectional division between the two grew enormously by the mid-1800's and it was by then the United States had expanded all the way to the Pacific Ocean and was rapidly becoming "a major industry and commericial nation." However, most of this was centered in the north Factories developed mass-production techniques and as they (these businesses) sprung up cities started to grow and flourish.

The Northerners (Yankees) welcomed this modernization and the constant changes it brought to their way of life. Again it is said that "the ideals of Yankee Protestantism encouraged modernization. Those ideals included hard work, economic independence and the belief that the community had the right to determine whether an action was immoral or moral. While the northerners looked forward to a different and better future, Southerners held the present and past dear."

So as you see, it is the differences between the sections of this nation that was at the "core" of this devastating war. The differences in cultures, economies, ideals and ways of life. As well as the conflict on where the power of the government should lie; should the federal government be strong while and the power lie in Washington, D.C. or should the States be able to decide what their fate is without any regard to the federal government ? I have merely glance over some of the differences here, between the two sections and some of the causes of the war. However, I can not trivalize it and say these are all of the causes for historians have long debated them. I have listed two aricles that may intrigue you, read those, but don't stop there, continue your study and come to your own conclusions of what were/are the causes of this war.


"After the Constitution was adopted by all of the States in 1789, uniting the States into one nation, differences between the States had been worked out through compromises. By 1861, these differences between the Northern States (which included the Mid-Western and Western States) and the Southern States had become so great that compromise would no longer work. Thus, a conflict started within our nation that was called the Civil War.

For more than thirty years, arguments between the North and South had been growing. One of these quarrels was about taxes paid on goods brought into this country from foreign countries. This kind of tax is called a tariff. In 1828, Northern businessmen helped get the "Tariff Act" passed. It raised the prices of manufactured products from Europe which were sold mainly in the South.

The purpose of the law was to encourage the South to buy the North's products. It angered the Southern people to have to pay more for the goods they wanted from Europe or pay more to get goods from the North. Either way the Southern people were forced to pay more because of the efforts of Northern businessmen. Though most of tariff laws had been changed by the time of the Civil War, the Southern people still remembered how they were treated by the Northern people.

In the years, before the Civil War the political power in the Federal government, centered in Washington D.C., was changing. The Northern and Mid-Western States were becoming more and more powerful as the populations increased. The Southern States were losing political power. Just as the original thirteen colonies fought for their independence almost 100 years earlier, the Southern States felt a growing need for freedom from the central Federal authority in Washington D.C. They felt that each State should make its own laws. This issue was called "State's Rights". Some Southern States wanted to secede, or break away from the United States of America and govern themselves.

Another quarrel between the North and South, and perhaps the most emotional one, was over the issue of slavery. Farming was the South's main industry and cotton was the primary farm product. Not having the use of machines, it took a great amount of human labor to pick cotton. A large number of slaves were used in the South to provide the labor. Many slaves were also used to provide labor for the various household chores that needed to be done.

Many Northerners thought that owning slaves was wrong, for any reason. Some of those Northerners loudly disagreed with the South's laws and beliefs concerning slavery. Yet slavery had been a part of the Southern way of life for well over two hundred years ! The Constitution of the United States guaranteed the right to own property and protected against seizure of property. A slave was property. The people of the Southern States did not like the Northern people telling them that owning slaves was a great wrong. A person either believes that slavery is right or that slavery is wrong, so how can two people arguing over such an issue compromise?

Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States in 1860. He vowed to keep the country united and the new western territories free from slavery. Many Southerners were afraid that he was not sympathetic to their way of life and could not treat them fairly. South Carolina was the first State to secede from the United States soon after the election of Abraham Lincoln. Six other Southern States quickly followed and also seceded. These States joined together to form a new nation which they named the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis was elected their first president.

On April 12, 1861 the Confederate States of America attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina, which was held by Federal (Union) troops and flew the United States flag. As open conflict increased, other United States seceded and joined the Confederacy. The fighting of the Civil War would take four long years to end. This country would remain united and slavery would come to an end."

(Courtesy of U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service)

Slavery as the Cause?

(A Long Winded Sermon)

Submitted by "T. Groves"

There is some confusion over terms here. Yes, slavery was a reason, probably "the reason" that led to the southern states' succession. But, I don't know that a reason is the same as a cause. Seems to me that the issue of slavery was merely the pinnacle of a whole mess of problems, a litmus test of sorts.

There was much more dividing the south from the north in 1860 than simply slavery. There were two distinct cultures developing at that time. One agrarian or rural and one industrial or urban. These cultures have some distinctly different views on life. Individualism was part of the early American character, along with a strong desire for self governance.

As populations increase this attitude is lessened. It no longer seems reasonable to expect that everyone can have a voice in government. No longer can men function individually. Their happiness and safety become dependent upon others. A sanitation strike means garbage is piled in the streets, a teamster strike means the merchants run out of goods. Crime becomes a problem for law enforcement personnel.In such an inter-woven culture it can seem perfectly reasonable to surrender some liberties for the sake of order. It seems to me that the more dense a population becomes, the less concern there is over individual rights. The attitude becomes more of one, where "if it doesn't affect me it doesn't concern me."

In a rural society individualism is still practical. A farmer can live off of the fruit of their own labor. When a resource isn't available he either makes it or makes do without. It is expected that he defend his rights and property personally. There is no nearby government enforcer to curtail or enforce his individual rights. He has no time-clock or supervisor, he is required to be self disciplined. He fails or succeeds based on what he does. Therefore he does what seems best to him not what seems best to society. He'll tell no man what to do and tolerate no man telling him what to do.

Slavery was an issue. In 1860 you had one society condemning the practices of another. The Yankee didn't own slaves and was perfectly willing to go along with those who said the practice should be stopped. "Slavery made the nation look bad in the eyes of God and the world." So it seemed reasonable to the Yankee that those folks with slaves should get rid of them.

The Southerner was more intimately familiar with the problem. Slavery worked, and it didn't seem practical for the plantation owner to run a plantation without slaves. Additionally, slavery was legal and always had been, what right was it of anyone to tell his neighbor what to do. There were the practical problems of what do you do with the slaves if you free them and how do you compensate their owners. Slavery seemed necessary. This by no means meant that Southerners didn't oppose slavery. Many Southerners (no not all, many embraced slavery) saw the evils of slavery and worked to bring changes.

Prior to the war, there were more groups in the South then in the North that opposed slavery. They generally helped the Negro by purchasing the freedom of slaves and working for legislation that protected slaves. These groups were keenly aware of the plight of the free Negro, a plight that often seemed worse than that of a slave, and spent a great deal of their energy assisting freed men. Equal rights were more than a hundred years off, and most states (including some Northern) had laws that prohibited free blacks from immigrating, employment was difficult to come by, and free blacks were often forced into the most horrible situations.

Southerners were concerned over the fiery rhetoric of the Yankee abolitionist. The Yankee response to the violent actions of John Brown strengthened that concern and unified the South against the Yankee abolitionists. It appeared that the Yankees were so opposed to slavery that they were willing to curtail the rights of slave owners to end it, and indeed many were.

In a rural society neighbors are much more important than in the city. It is unthinkable not to come to the aid of a neighbor who was in need. When a band of villains threatened to take the legal rights of some Southerners away, it was only natural that the others stand beside them in protection of those rights whether they believed in them or not. Many believed slavery was a problem, but a problem best left to Southerners not some outside force. The Yankees didn't have slaves or even plantations, so what business was it of theirs, how dare they threaten the rights of a Southerner. Whether a man believed slavery was right or wrong was not the issue.

Indeed the South didn't secede because Lincoln freed the slaves, that didn't happen till after the war. The Southern States seceded because they felt disenfranchised with the Federal Union. The Southern States had long expressed concern that they were losing their voice in Congress. Southerners felt they had no say in the governing of the nation.

The election of Lincoln caused many Southerners to lose faith in the Federal Union. It illustrated for many, that the Federal government was beyond their control. No longer was the Union a government of the people, they had become a governed people. No one likes to be told what to do, especially a rural Southerner. When the Southern citizen saw that the government no longer heard his voice it became time to form a new government. No the South didn't secde because it wanted to keep its slaves. People felt like they were losing control of their own lives and slavery was the most glaring example. When the South saw its freedom at risk it decided to act.

Mr. Lincoln's War was about freedom, not the freedom of Negroes but the freedom of the South. Sadly, war did bring an end to Negro slavery. I say this not because I support slavery but because I abhor it. I regret that the rights and freedoms of so many had to be violated to achieve this noble result. I would rather that the slaves had risen up and cast off the yokes of their oppressors than that the States had been subjugated by Federal rule. The war may have freed the slaves from their masters rule, but its legacy has enslaved us all. No longer can we say we we govern ourselves, but we have inherited a government that requires more and more of our liberties.

Humanity voluntarily enters into social contracts. Since the beginning of time this has been done. Men and women joined together and formed families. Families united to formed tribes. Tribes formed villages. Villages formed cities. Cities united and formed nation states, and nations formed unions. Unity is beneficial but at every level the individual surrenders more and more of his right and ability to govern himself. At what point does a social contract become too costly. When do the costs of surrendered freedoms outweigh the benefits? The South decided it was in 1860 with the election of Mr. Lincoln. The citizens of southern states decided that having a voice in their government was more important than the benefits offered by the Federal Union. Were they right?

I for one have chosen to live free. I believe there are rights which cannot justly be taken from me. I inherited this Nation, the government forced upon my ancestors, but I will not meekly succumb to any injustice of it. It had noble beginnings, but if I have no voice in my government, I have no option but to fight. I believe that my rights end at the tip of another man's nose and will not voluntarily violate the rights of another. But I will fight with all my strength should someone try and violate my rights. I will willingly disobey any government or legislation that takes my liberty by force. I have but this life, and I surrender that to no man without a fight. How much freedom do we give up before it is too much? It is a question everyone must ask. Thomas Jefferson longed throughout his life for the freedom and independence offered by his home at Monticello. He simply wanted to live his life independently as best he could. I want nothing more.

"If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live." -Martin Luther King Jr., June 23, 1963. Speech in Detroit, Michigan.

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