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Causes of the Civil War


     The Civil War has politics and economics as its two major causes with slavery, taxes and tariffs, and Constitutional difficulties as underlying problems.  The antislavery movement began around 1817 but the main group responsible for the movement the American Colonization Society challenged slavery but not property rights under the laws or the Constitution.  This was to change though after the Congress became involved in the fight to free the slaves. Once this happened the North/South divisions became increasingly serious.  There were primarily four groups in the discussions.  Those in both the North and the South who wanted slavery to continue, those who wanted all slaves to be emancipated immediately, those who wanted them emancipated and removed from American soil, and finally those who wanted to see a reconciliation and emancipate the slaves but at a slower pace and incorporate them into society.  Another problem in the issue was the fact that through Prigs v. Pennsylvania and the Dred Scott decision the Supreme Court was siding with the South on too many issues.  Thus the Congress stepped in and began passing legislation.

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     The first such provision was the Missouri Compromise, next was the Compromise of 1850 and finally was the Kansas Nebraska Act.  All of these laws attempted to limit slavery's power, limit its expansion into the territories, and protect Northern interests as well as force abolition of the slaves.  Another political issue was over nullification  of federal laws and states rights.  This basically argued that the states laws took precedent over Federal laws where ever the Constitution did not specifically state what was to be done, or not to be done.  States rights was that the states were more important than the Union and also dealt with the Southern interpretation of the Constitution in that they felt  the North and the Federal Government was infringing on their rights of property and freedom, etc.

     Economically, the basic quarrel was over taxes and tariffs imposed both by the Northern industrialists and the Federal Government against the South in an attempt to one keep cotton in the North and not put into European mills, as well as weaken the Southern economy in an attempt to twist the South's arm into letting the slaves go free.  Also the fact that the North controlled not only the mills but also the shipping and transportation of the cotton between the North and South.  The South saw this as an attempt of the North to get rich off the South and as unfair interstate commerce.  The taxes and tariffs were also put into place as a way to force the South to pay as equal a share as the North was paying towards national defense, road building and repair, railroad building and maintenance, etc.


Brinkley, Alan. American History: A Survey 6th Edition Vol. I To 1877 McGraw-Hill, Inc. NY, NY 1995. pp.342-366.

 "The Civil War" Columbia Encyclopedia. Vol. 5 Columbia University Press, NY, NY 1979. pp.1446-1447.

Edited, Researched and Written by: 
Daniel Ryzner
December 14, 2000

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