Black Gold of the South
No matter the various reasons given for the eventual outbreak of the American Civil War, one thing remains certain: the main reason for the Civil War (1861-1864) can be traced back to one giant reason; economics (the making, using and passing on of wealth). However, the two most cited reasons for the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 are often blamed on the issues of States’ Rights and Slavery.
The Production Engine of the South
Slavery was the backbone of the Southern economy. Given the South’s heavy reliance on labor intensive agricultural production of cotton, tobacco and sugarcane, a vast labor force was needed to drive this production. This labor force was primarily made up of enslaved Africans. Even after those crops were harvested from fields, slave labor was utilized in factories to convert some of the raw goods into value-added products, and to ready those materials and goods for the export markets either within the United States or overseas.
Slaves and Slavery: The Commodity
Slavery brought tremendous wealth to many farmers in the slave holding states. Wealthier farmers had bigger plantations, and therefore they needed more slaves. Having slaves was a symbol of wealth and prestige, and the more slaves you had the more power and influence you had on local or even national politics. The Africans in bondage were chattel. This means that they were a commodity, an item that can be traded or bought and sold. The value of all of the slaves in the United States was more valuable than anything else in the United States of America at the time. By looking at the chart, figure C, you can see that slaves were among the most important commodity of the United States. For example, the value of the slave population was almost 3 times more than the total value of capital invested in banks in both the free and slave holding states combined.
Figure C: 
Election of Abraham Lincoln
During the run-up to the election of 1860 there was a bitter debate among Democrats about what to do about slavery. Southern Democrats wanted the party to champion the virtues of slavery; however, Northern Democrats wanted the slave issue to be solved using popular sovereignty. That meant that when new states joined the Union, the people of that state would vote on whether or not they wanted to be a slave state or a free state. On the other hand, Southern Democrats wanted a balance of free and slave States whenever new states joined the Union. This was the South’s effort to maintain their voting power in government. This would guarantee, at least, that the South would have equal amounts of representatives in the Senate. By law, each state has a representative in the Senate no matter the size or population of that state. This maintains the balance of power in government, therefore, larger and more populous states would not have absolute or total power. This divide caused a huge rift within the Democratic Party. As a result of this divide, the party practically became two parties: the Southern Democrats and the Northern Democrats.
The possibility of Lincoln’s victory sent tremors through the South. The four parties that were vying for the National Election were the Southern Democrats, Northern Democrats, Republican Party and the Constitutional Union. The Constitutional Union had a strong following among non-seceding and bordering states; they are sometimes referred to as neutral states. It is important to note that even though neutral states did not secede, some of them eventually fielded volunteers with most of them joining the Confederate Army. With the Southern Economies so reliant on the slave economy, Southerners felt as though a Lincoln victory would be the end of their lifestyles and way of life; especially with slogans, art and whispers coming out of the North that Lincoln was going to bring liberation to the slaves.
Many of Lincoln’s pro abolitionists encouraged the liberation of the slave rhetoric that further frightened Southerners at the prospect of losing, not just their slaves, but maybe the most valuable thing they owned. Even one of Lincoln’s own campaign songs championed the liberation of the slaves. When election came around, many Southerners went to vote without Abraham Lincoln’s name on ballots; that is because his name was removed from the ballot in Southern States. Therefore, in essence, there were two elections to elect one leader and a further North-South division of the country. Eventually, the North selected Abraham Lincoln. By looking at the table below you can see that Lincoln won the election based on the popular vote: the majority of the electorate and on the amount of Electoral Votes (EV).
Table of Election Day Winners
Map of Election Day winners
States’ Rights (Nullification)
During campaigning for the elections of 1860, Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, promised the nation and slave holding states that he would not abolish slavery if he won elections. However, Southern Democrats did not trust him, because Lincoln was being heavily supported by Northern abolitionists and free Blacks in the North. Therefore, the Southerners threatened to leave the Union (Nullification) under the cover of States’ Rights. The idea behind States’ Rights is that states are free to make decisions on their own terms and in ways that are in the best interest of the states. With the Missouri Compromise holding the balance of power, neither section of the country had voting rights over the other.
The Southern states were of the belief that Northerners were constantly attacking their way of life. Many Northerners were willfully breaking laws that were meant to protect slave holding states. These laws included the Fugitive Slave Act. The Fugitive Slave Act made it a crime for any United States Citizen to help slaves escape to freedom. This law was passed to appease Southern slave holders. Additionally, Southerners felt that they should not be taking orders from the federal government; especially in matters that would cause them to be at a disadvantage. The Fugitive Slave Act angered many people in the North, including abolitionists such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown.
The Issue of Taxes
As the North’s economy became more industrialized it was looking to expand its market share, especially to the South. However, to encourage southern states to buy products made in America, the government imposed levees, or taxes, on products that were being imported into the United States that were already being produced in the US. This increased levee made importing goods from Europe more expensive, thus forcing Southerners to buy the products from the North at higher prices than if they were an independent country. This increased tensions between the South and the federal government.
1. Deyle, Steven. Carry Me Back: The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life. New York: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.
2. “Forcing Slavery down the Throat of a Freesoiler.” Forcing Slavery down the Throat of a Freesoiler. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2014.
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