American Civil War with reference to Abraham Lincoln and the Abolition of Slavery


  • The American Civil War was a civil war fought from 1861 to 1865 to determine the survival of the Union or independence for the Confederacy.
  • Among the 34 states as of January 1861, seven Southern slave states individually declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America, known as the “Confederacy” or the “South”. They grew to include eleven states, and although they claimed thirteen states and additional western territories. The Confederacy was never diplomatically recognized by a foreign country.
  • The states that remained loyal and did not declare secession were known as the “Union” or the “North”.
  • The war had its origin in the fractious issue of slavery, especially the extension of slavery into the western territories.
  • After four years of combat that left over 600,000 Union and Confederate soldiers dead and destroyed much of the South’s infrastructure, the Confederacy collapsed and slavery was abolished. Then began the Reconstruction and the processes of restoring national unity and guaranteeing civil rights to the freed slaves.

Series of Events Leading to Civil War:

The Three-Fifths compromise (1787):

  • It was a compromise between southern and northern states that helped insure ratification of the Constitution.
  • Three-fifths of the population of slaves counted for purposes  of the distribution of taxes and the number of members each  state was allowed in the House of Representatives. (means one  slave = 3/5 man)
  • Effect: Led to increasing sectionalism

The Northwest Ordinance or The Ordinance of 1787:

  • The ordinance created the Northwest Territory, the first organized territory of the United States, from lands beyond the Appalachian Mountains, between British Canada and the Great Lakes to the north and the Ohio River to the south. The upper Mississippi River formed the Territory’s western boundary.
  • The prohibition of slavery in the Northwest Territory territory had the practical effect of establishing the Ohio River as the boundary between free and slave territory in the region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.
  • This division helped set the stage for national competition over admitting free and slave states, the basis of a critical question in American politics in the 19th century until the Civil War.

Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin (1793):  

  • It revolutionized the cotton industry in the United  States. Removal of cotton seeds became 50 times faster.
  • Led to greater demand for slaves in the deep south.
  • Effects: Increase in numbers of slaves –slavery expands.

After the Louisiana Purchase (from France) in 1803 : 

  • The United States doubled in size.
  • Manifest Destiny principle spurred Westward Expansion and the fight over slavery.
  • This purchase gave the United States control of the vast lands west of the Mississippi.
  • Effect: As Americans pushed west, the issue of slavery came to the forefront. Would the new territories of the United States be slave or free?

Missouri Compromise (1820): 

  • The first confrontation over slavery in the West.
  • Missouri applied as a slave state. The admission of Missouri would upset the balance of power in the Senate where at the time there were 11 free states and 11 slave states.
  • In 1820, it was suggested that Missouri enter as a slave state and Maine as a free state to keep the balance of power.
  • Effect: Cools sectional differences for a short time. Shows how volatile issue of slavery is.
MO. indicates Missouri
  • Furthermore, with the exception of Missouri, this law prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude line.
  • In 1854, the Missouri Compromise was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Three years later the Missouri Compromise was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision, which ruled that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories.

Nullification Crisis (1832):

  • South Carolina nullified the tariffs of 1828 and 1832  within their borders and threatened to secede if the federal government attempted to collect those tariff duties.
  • President Jackson immediately offered his thought that nullification was tantamount to treason and quickly dispatched ships to Charleston, SC.
  • Crisis was avoided with a new tariff acceptable to South Carolina.
  • Effect: First act of defiance in south threatening secession over policies in the north.
 The Compromise of 1850: 
  • The Compromise of 1850 consists of five laws passed in September of 1850 that dealt with the issue of slavery.
  • In 1849 California requested permission to enter the Union as a free state, potentially upsetting the balance between the free and slave states in the U.S. Senate.

The Compromise of 1850 :

  1. California entered as a free state. The rest of the Mexican cession was divided into New Mexico and Utah. In each state, voters would decide (popular sovereignty) the issue of slavery.
  2. Fugitive Slave Act was amended and the slave trade in  Washington, D.C., was abolished.
  • Effect: Intensified battle over slavery in new territories by making the decision the responsibility of the state’s citizens.
  • The Compromise of 1850 accomplished what it set out to do — it kept the nation united — but the solution was only temporary. Over the following decade the country’s citizens became further divided over the issue of slavery. The rift would continue to grow until the nation itself divided.

The Fugitive Slave Act (1850):

  • Effects: For slaves attempting to build lives in the North, the new law was disaster. Many left their homes and fled to Canada. Passage of the Fugitive Slave Act made abolitionists all the more resolved to put an end to slavery. The Underground Railroad became more active. The act also brought the subject of slavery before the nation. Many who had previously been ambivalent about slavery now took a definitive stance against the institution.
  • It required that all (north and south) citizens were obligated  to return runaway slaves. It denied a fugitive’s right to a jury trial. People who helped slaves escape would be jailed and fined.
  • The law was the most controversial in 1850 Compromise and passed as a compromise of 1850.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852):

  • Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a novel that told the story of Uncle Tom, an enslaved African American, and his cruel master.
  • In the novel, Stowe wrote of the evils and cruelty of slavery. The novel had an enormous influence in the north. It helped change the way many Northerners felt about slavery.
  • Effect: Slavery was now a moral problem/issue, intensifying the animosity and debate between North & South.

Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854):

  • The Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise, allowing slavery in the territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude. Introduced by Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois who proposed that Nebraska be divided into two territories — Kansas and Nebraska.
  • The settlers of the new territories would decide (popular sovereignty) whether they would be slave or free.
  • Southerners supported the act, while Northerners felt it was a betrayal.
  • Effect: Thousands of pro and anti slavery supporters flood Kansas to vote and fight for their position on slavery – Civil War about to erupt.
  • The Act set off bitter violence in the Kansas territory. The area became known as Bleeding Kansas. Anti- and pro-slavery forces set up rival governments. The town of Lawrence was destroyed by pro-slavery forces.
  • Effect: Little room left for compromise. Both side swilling to fight for their beliefs.

Founding of Republican Party (1854):

  • It emerged in 1854 to combat the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which threatened to extend slavery into the territories and which was viewed by Free-Soil and Abolitionist Northerners as an aggressive, expansionist maneuver by the slave-owning South.
  • Its aim was also to promote more vigorous modernization of the economy. The Party had almost no presence in the South, but by 1858 in the North it had enlisted former Whigs and former Free Soil Democrats to form majorities in nearly every Northern state.
  • With its election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, and its success in guiding the Union to victory and abolishing slavery, it came to dominate the national political scene.

Dred Scott Supreme Court Decision (1857):

  • Dred Scott was a slave who claimed that because his master had taken him to the free territories of Illinois and Wisconsin, he should be free.
  • The court ruled that because Scott was not considered a citizen, but property, he could not file a lawsuit.
  • The Court also ruled that Congress had no power to decide the issue of slavery in the territories. This meant that slavery was legal in all the territories and the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional.
  • Effect: The issue of slavery reaches a boiling point. Becomes a moral issue in north and constitutional issue in the south – NO MORE ROOM FOR COMPROMISE!

Harper’s Fery and John Brown (1859):

  • John Brown and a group of abolitionists organized a raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, a federal arsenal.  Brown hoped that slaves would come to the arsenal and he would then lead a massive slave uprising.
  • Brown was unsuccessful and captured. He was found guilty of murder and treason and sentenced to death.
  • Many northerners saw Brown as a hero. Southerners felt that the North wanted to destroy slavery and the South along with it.
  • Effect: Convinced many southerners that war was inevitable.

Lincoln elected as President (1860):

  • The Southerners’ reaction to the election of President Lincoln was strong. They felt that the country had put an abolitionist in the White House. The South felt that secession was the only option.
  • The South felt they had the right to secede. The Declaration of Independence stated that “it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish” a government that denies the rights of its citizens. Lincoln, they believed, would deny them the right to own slaves.
  • Effect: In 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union. By February of 1861, Alabama, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi had seceded.

Fort Sumter (1861):

  • After Lincoln took the oath of office in 1861, he announced that no state can lawfully leave the Union. He declared, however, there would be no war unless the South started it.
  • The South started to take possession of all Federal buildings — forts and post offices. The South took control of the three forts in Florida and was ready to take control of Fort Sumter in South Carolina. In April, 1861, the Confederates asked for the fort’s surrender. Major Robert Anderson of the Union refused to surrender. The Confederate troops proceeded to shell Fort Sumter. Anderson ran out of ammunition and was forced to surrender.
  • Effect: America’s brutal, but inevitable, Civil War had begun.
File:US Slave Free 1789-1861.gif
The free/slave status of U.S. states and territories, 1789–1861.

Other Causes of Civil War:

  • The causes of the Civil War were complex and have been controversial since the war began. Slavery was the central source of escalating political tension in the 1850s.
  • The Republican Party was determined to prevent any spread of slavery, and many Southern leaders had threatened secession if the Republican candidate, Lincoln, won the 1860 election.
  • After Lincoln had won without carrying a single Southern state, many Southern whites felt that disunion had become their only option, because they felt as if they were losing representation, which hampered their ability to promote pro-slavery acts and policies.

(1) Slavery:

  • The slavery issue was primarily about whether the system of slavery was an anachronistic evil that was incompatible with Republicanism in the United States, or a state-based property system compatible with and protected by the Constitution, as had been the case in the Roman Republic. The strategy of the anti-slavery forces was containment — to stop the expansion and thus put slavery on a path to gradual extinction.
  • To slave holding interests in the South, this strategy was perceived as infringing upon their Constitutional rights.
  • Slavery was being phased out of existence in the North, where coloured men had in some cases been granted the franchise or even served as representatives; it was fading in the border states and urban areas, but was expanding in highly profitable cotton districts of the south.
  • Despite compromises in 1820 and 1850, the slavery issues exploded in the 1850s. Causes include controversy over admitting Missouri as a slave state in 1820, the acquisition of Texas as a slave state in 1845 and the status of slavery in western territories won as a result of the Mexican–American War and the resulting Compromise of 1850.
  • Following the U.S. victory over Mexico, Northerners attempted to exclude slavery from conquered territories in the Wilmot Proviso; although it passed the House, it failed in the Senate. (The Wilmot Proviso was designed to eliminate slavery within the land acquired as a result of the Mexican War (1846-48))
  • Northern (and British) readers recoiled in anger at the horrors of slavery as described in the novel and play Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) by abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe.
  • Irreconcilable disagreements over slavery split the Democratic Party between North and South, while the new Republican Party angered slavery interests by demanding a definite end to its expansion. Most observers believed that without expansion slavery would eventually die out; Lincoln argued this in 1845 and 1858.
  • Meanwhile, the South in the 1850s saw an increasing number of slaves leave the border states through sale, manumission and escape which increased Southern fears that slavery was threatened with rapid extinction in this area.
  • With tobacco and cotton wearing out the soil, the South believed it needed to expand slavery. Some advocates for the Southern states argued in favour of reopening the international slave trade to populate territory that was to be newly opened to slavery.
  • To settle the dispute over slavery expansion, Abolitionists and proslavery elements sent their partisans into Kansas, both using ballots and bullets. In the 1850s, a miniature civil war in Bleeding Kansas led pro-South Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan to attempt a forced admission of Kansas as a slave state through vote fraud. The 1857 Congressional rejection of the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution (the second of four proposed constitutions for the state of Kansas) was the first multi-party solid-North vote, and that solid vote was anti-slavery to support the democratic majority voting in the Kansas Territory.
  • Anti-slavery Northerners mobilized in 1860 behind moderate Abraham Lincoln because he was most likely to carry the doubtful western states.
  • In 1857, the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision ended the Congressional compromise for Popular Sovereignty in Kansas. According to the court, slavery in the territories was a property right of any settler, regardless of the majority there. Chief Justice Taney’s decision said that slaves were “… so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect”. The decision overturned the Missouri Compromise.
  • Republicans denounced the Dred Scott decision and promised to overturn it; Abraham Lincoln warned that the next Dred Scott decision could threaten the Northern states with slavery. The Republican party platform called slavery “a national evil”, and Lincoln believed it would die a natural death if it were contained.
  • The Democrat Stephen A. Douglas developed the Free port Doctrine to appeal to North and South. Douglas argued, Congress could not decide either for or against slavery before a territory was settled. Nonetheless, the anti-slavery majority in Kansas could stop slavery with its own local laws if their police laws did not protect slavery introduction.
  • Most 1850 political battles followed the arguments of Lincoln and Douglas, focusing on the issue of slavery expansion in the territories.
  • But political debate was cut short throughout the South with Northern abolitionist John Brown’s 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry Armory in an attempt to incite slave insurrections.
  • Lincoln’s assessment of the political issue for the 1860 elections was that, “This question of Slavery was more important than any other; indeed, so much more important has it become that no other national question can even get a hearing just at present.”
  • The Republican administration enacted the Confiscation Acts that set conditions for emancipation of slaves prior to the official proclamation of emancipation.
  • Both Union and Confederate fighting soldiers believed that slavery caused the Civil War. Union men mainly believed the war was to emancipate the slaves. Confederates fought to protect southern society, and slavery as an integral part of it.
  • In a historical context with multidimensional political, social and economic variables, several causes united in the moment by a consolidating nationalism. A social movement that was individualist, egalitarian and perfectionist grew to a political democratic majority attacking slavery, and slavery’s defense in the Southern pre-industrial traditional society brought the two sides to war.

(2) Other Factors  in Slavery:

  • Based on a system of plantation slavery, the social structure of the South was far more stratified and patriarchal than that of the North.
  • Small free farmers in the South often embraced racism, making them unlikely agents for internal democratic reforms in the South. The principle of white supremacy, accepted by almost all white southerners of all classes, made slavery seem legitimate, natural, and essential for a civilized society. White racism in the South was sustained by official systems of repression such as the “slave codes” and elaborate codes of speech, behavior, and social practices illustrating the subordination of blacks to whites.
  • Many small farmers with a few or no slaves were linked to elite planters through the market economy. In many areas, small farmers depended on local planter elites for vital goods and services including, access to cotton gins, access to markets, access to feed and livestock, and even for loans (since the banking system was not well developed in the South). Southern tradesmen often depended on the richest planters for steady work. Such dependency effectively deterred many white non-slaveholders from engaging in any political activity that was not in the interest of the large slaveholders.
  • Whites of varying social class, including poor whites and “plain folk” who worked outside or in the periphery of the market economy (and therefore lacked any real economic interest in the defense of slavery) might nonetheless be linked to elite planters through extensive kinship networks. Since inheritance in the South was often unequitable (and generally favored eldest sons), it was not uncommon for a poor white person to be perhaps the first cousin of the richest plantation owner of his county and to share the same militant support of slavery as his richer relatives.
  • It is also emphasizes that the role of slavery was as an economic institution. The cotton gin greatly increased the efficiency with which cotton could be harvested, contributing to the consolidation of “King Cotton” as the backbone of the economy of the Deep South, and to the entrenchment of the system of slave labor on which the cotton plantation economy depended.
  • King Cotton was a slogan summarizing the strategy used during the American Civil War by the Confederacy to show that secession was feasible and there was no need to fear a war by the United States. The idea was that control over cotton exports would make an independent Confederacy economically prosperous, ruin the textile industry of New England, and—most importantly—would force Great Britain and Perhaps France to support the Confederacy militarily because their industrial economies depended on Southern cotton.

(3) States’ rights

  • Everyone agreed that states had certain rights—but did those rights carry over when a citizen left that state?
  • The Southern position was that citizens of every state had the right to take their property anywhere in the U.S. and not have it taken away—specifically they could bring their slaves anywhere and they would remain slaves. Northerners rejected this “right” because it would violate the right of a free state to outlaw slavery within its borders. Republicans committed to ending the expansion of slavery were among those opposed to any such right to bring slaves and slavery into the free states and territories. The Dred Scott Supreme Court decision of 1857 bolstered the Southern case within territories.
  • Secondly, the South argued that each state had the right to secede—leave the Union—at any time, that the Constitution was a “compact” or agreement among the states. Northerners (including President Buchanan) rejected that notion as opposed to the will of the Founding Fathers who said they were setting up a “perpetual union”.
  • Of all these interpretations, the states’-rights argument is perhaps the weakest. It fails to ask the question, states’ rights for what purpose? States’ rights, or sovereignty, was always more a means than an end, an instrument to achieve a certain goal more than a principle.

(4) Sectionalism:

  • Sectionalism refers to the different economies, social structure, customs and political values of the North and South. It increased steadily between 1800 and 1860 as the North, which phased slavery out of existence, industrialized, urbanized and built prosperous farms, while the deep South concentrated on plantation agriculture based on slave labor, together with subsistence farming for the poor whites. The South expanded into rich new lands in the South-west (from Alabama to Texas).
  • However, slavery declined in the border states and could barely survive in cities and industrial areas, so a South based on slavery was rural and non-industrial. On the other hand, as the demand for cotton grew, the price of slaves soared.
  • Historians have debated whether economic differences between the industrial Northeast and the agricultural South helped cause the war. Most historians now disagree with the economic determinism and emphasize that Northern and Southern economies were largely complementary. While socially different, the sections economically benefited each other.
  • Fears of slave revolts and abolitionist propaganda made the South militantly hostile to abolitionism.
  • Southerners complained that it was the North that was changing, while the South remained true to historic republican values of the Founding Fathers (many of whom owned slaves, including Washington, Jefferson, and Madison). Lincoln said that Republicans were following the tradition of the framers of the Constitution (including the Missouri Compromise) by preventing expansion of slavery.
  • In the 1840s and 50s, the issue of accepting slavery (in the guise of rejecting slave-owning bishops and missionaries) split the nation’s largest religious denominations into separate Northern and Southern denominations.
  • Industrialization meant that seven European immigrants out of eight settled in the North. The movement of twice as many whites leaving the South for the North as vice versa contributed to the South’s defensive-aggressive political behavior.

(5) Protectionism:

  • Historically, southern slave-holding states, because of their low cost manual labor, had little perceived need for mechanization, and supported having the right to sell cotton and purchase manufactured goods from any nation. Northern states, which had heavily invested in their still-nascent manufacturing, could not compete with the full-fledged industries of Europe in offering high prices for cotton imported from the South and low prices for manufactured exports in return. Thus, northern manufacturing interests supported tariffs and protectionism while southern planters demanded free trade.
  • The Democrats in Congress, controlled by Southerners, wrote the tariff laws in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s, and kept reducing rates so that the 1857 rates were the lowest since 1816. The South had no complaints but the low rates angered Northern industrialists and factory workers, especially in Pennsylvania, who demanded protection for their growing iron industry.
  • The Whigs and Republicans complained because they favored high tariffs to stimulate industrial growth, and Republicans called for an increase in tariffs in the 1860 election. The increases were finally enacted in 1861 after Southerners resigned their seats in Congress.
  • The tariff issue was not of central importance to southerners like the preservation of slavery.

(6) “Slave power” and “Free soil”:

  • Antislavery forces in the North identified the “Slave Power” as a direct threat to republican values. They argued that rich slave owners were using political power to take control of the Presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court, thus threatening the rights of the citizens of the North.
  • “Free soil” was a Northern demand that the new lands opening up in the west be available to independent yeoman farmers and not be bought out by rich slave owners who would buy up the best land and work it with slaves, forcing the white farmers onto marginal lands. This was the basis of the Free Soil Party of 1848, and a main theme of the Republican Party.
  • Free Soilers and Republicans demanded a homestead law that would give government land to settlers; it was defeated by Southerners who feared it would attract to the west European immigrants and poor Southern whites.

(7) Territorial crisis:

  • Between 1803 and 1854, the United States achieved a vast expansion of territory through purchase, negotiation, and conquest. Of the states carved out of these territories by 1845, all had entered the union as slave states: Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Florida and Texas, as well as the southern portions of Alabama and Mississippi. These were balanced by new free states created within the U.S.’ original boundary east of the Mississippi River, and the free state of Iowa in 1846. With the conquest of northern Mexico, including California in 1848, slave holding interests looked forward to the institution flourishing in much of these lands as well.
  • Southerners also anticipated garnering slaves and slave states in Cuba and Central America. Northern free soil interests vigorously sought to curtail any further expansion of slave soil. It was these territorial disputes that the proslavery and antislavery forces collided over. The Compromise of 1850 over California, tried again to reach some political settlement on these issues.
  • The existence of slavery in the southern states was far less politically polarizing than the explosive question of the territorial expansion of the institution westward.
  • Moreover, Americans were informed by two well-established readings of the Constitution regarding human bondage: first, that the slave states had complete autonomy over the institution within their boundaries, and second, that the domestic slave trade – trade among the states – was immune to federal interference. The only feasible strategy available to attack slavery was to restrict its expansion into the new territories.
  • Both the South and the North drew the same conclusion: “The power to decide the question of slavery for the territories was the power to determine the future of slavery itself.”
  • By 1860, four doctrines had emerged to answer the question of federal control in the territories, and they all claimed they were sanctioned by the Constitution, implicitly or explicitly. Two of the “conservative” doctrines emphasized the written text and historical precedents of the founding document (specifically, the Northwest Ordinance and the Missouri Compromise), while the other two doctrines developed arguments that transcended the Constitution.
  • The first of these “conservative” theories, represented by the Constitutional Union Party, argued that the historical designation of free and slave apportionment in territories (as done in the Missouri Compromise) should become a Constitutional mandate. The Crittenden Compromise of 1860 (an unsuccessful proposal aimed to resolve the U.S. secession crisis of 1860–1861 ) was an expression of this view.
  • The second doctrine of Congressional preeminence, championed by Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party, insisted that the Constitution did not bind legislators to a policy of balance – that slavery could be excluded altogether (as done in the Northwest Ordinance) in a territory at the discretion of Congress– with one caveat: the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment must apply. In other words, Congress could restrict human bondage, but never establish it. The Wilmot Proviso announced this position in 1846. (The Wilmot Proviso was designed to eliminate slavery within the land acquired as a result of the Mexican War (1846-48). Although the measure was blocked in the southern-dominated Senate, it helped widen the growing sectional rift.)
  • Of the two doctrines that rejected federal authority, one was articulated by northern Democrat of Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas, and the other by southern Democratic Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and Vice-President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky.
  • Douglas proclaimed the doctrine of territorial or “popular” sovereignty – which declared that the settlers in a territory had the same rights as states in the Union to establish or disestablish slavery – a purely local matter. Congress, having created the territory, was barred, according to Douglas, from exercising any authority in domestic matters. To do so would violate historic traditions of self-government, implicit in the US Constitution. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 legislated this doctrine. In Kansas Territory, years of pro and anti-slavery violence and political conflict erupted; the congressional House of Representatives voted to admit Kansas as a free state in early 1860, but its admission in the Senate was delayed until after the 1860 elections, when southern senators began to leave.
  • The fourth doctrine is the theory of state sovereignty (“states’ rights”), also known as the “Calhoun doctrine“, named after the South Carolinian political theorist John Calhoun. Rejecting the arguments for federal authority or self-government, state sovereignty would empower states to promote the expansion of slavery as part of the Federal Union under the US Constitution – and not merely as an argument for secession. The basic premise was that all authority regarding matters of slavery in the territories resided in each state. The role of the federal government was merely to enable the implementation of state laws when residents of the states entered the territories.
  • “States’ rights” was an ideology formulated and applied as a means of advancing slave state interests through federal authority.
  • By 1860, these four doctrines comprised the major ideologies presented to the American public on the matters of slavery, the territories and the US Constitution.

(8) Nationalism and honor:

  • Beginning in the American Revolution and accelerating after the War of 1812, the people of the United States grew in their sense of country as an important example to the world of a national republic of political liberty and personal rights. In the world of 19th century self-made Americans, growing in prosperity, population and expanding westward, “freedom” could mean personal liberty or property rights. The unresolved difference would cause failure—first in their political institutions, then in their civil life together.
  • Nationalism was a powerful force in the early 19th century, with famous spokesmen such as Andrew Jackson. While practically all Northerners supported the Union, Southerners were split between those loyal to the entire United States (called “unionists”) and those loyal primarily to the southern region and then the Confederacy.
  • While the South moved toward a Southern nationalism, leaders in the North were also becoming more nationally minded, and rejected any notion of splitting the Union. The Republican national electoral platform of 1860 warned that Republicans regarded disunion as treason and would not tolerate it.

(9) Lincoln’s election:

  • The election of Lincoln in November 1860 was the final trigger for secession. Efforts at compromise, including the “Corwin Amendment” and the “Crittenden Compromise“, failed. Southern leaders feared that Lincoln would stop the expansion of slavery and put it on a course toward extinction. 
  • The slave states, which had already become a minority in the House of Representatives, were now facing a future as a perpetual minority in the Senate and Electoral College against an increasingly powerful North. Before Lincoln took office in March 1861, seven slave states had declared their secession and joined to form the Confederacy.

Analysis of Victory of North:

  • Historians have debated whether the Confederacy could have won the war. Most scholars argue that Confederate victory was at least possible. North’s advantage in population and resources made Northern victory likely but not guaranteed. Also if the Confederacy had fought using unconventional tactics, they would have more easily been able to hold out long enough to exhaust the Union.
  • Confederates did not need to invade and hold enemy territory to win, but only needed to fight a defensive war to convince the North that the cost of winning was too high. The North needed to conquer and hold vast stretches of enemy territory and defeat Confederate armies to win.
  • Lincoln was not a military dictator, and could only continue to fight the war as long as the American public supported a continuation of the war. The Confederacy sought to win independence by out-lasting Lincoln; however, after Atlanta fell and Lincoln defeated McClellan in the election of 1864, all hope for a political victory for the South ended. At that point, Lincoln had secured the support of the Republicans, War Democrats, the border states, emancipated slaves, and the neutrality of Britain and France.
  • Union held an insurmountable long-term advantage over the Confederacy in industrial strength and population. Confederate actions only delayed defeat. Even as the Confederacy was visibly collapsing in 1864-65, most Confederate soldiers were fighting hard.
  • Also important were Lincoln’s eloquence in rationalizing the national purpose and his skill in keeping the border states committed to the Union cause. Although Lincoln’s approach to emancipation was slow, the Emancipation Proclamation was an effective use of the President’s war powers.
  • The Confederate government failed in its attempt to get Europe involved in the war militarily, particularly Britain and France. Southern leaders needed to get European powers to help break up the blockade the Union had created around the Southern ports and cities.
  • Lincoln’s naval blockade was 95% effective at stopping trade goods; as a result, imports and exports to the South declined significantly. The abundance of European cotton and Britain’s hostility to the institution of slavery, along with Lincoln’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico naval blockades, severely decreased any chance that either Britain or France would enter the war.
  • The Union victory had a major impact on the course of world history. The Union victory energized popular democratic forces. A Confederate victory, on the other hand, would have meant a new birth of slavery, not freedom.

Emancipation Proclamation:

  • President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, announcing, “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious areas “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
  • Abolitionists had long been urging Lincoln to free all slaves. In the summer of 1862, Republican editor Horace Greeley of the highly influential New York Tribune wrote a famous editorial entitled “The Prayer of Twenty Millions” demanding a more aggressive attack on the Confederacy and faster emancipation of the slaves. Lincoln responded in his Letter To Horace Greeley from August 22, 1862, in terms of the limits imposed by his duty as president to save the Union:

    If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union…. I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.

  • While not all Southerners saw themselves as fighting to preserve slavery, most of the officers and the rank of army had close family ties to slavery. To Northerners, in contrast, the motivation was primarily to preserve the Union, not to abolish slavery. Abraham Lincoln consistently made preserving the Union the central goal of the war, though he increasingly saw slavery as a crucial issue
  • So, the Civil War between North and South was fought by the North to prevent the secession of the Southern states and preserve the Union. Even though sectional conflicts over slavery had been a major cause of the war, ending slavery was not a goal of the war. That changed on September 22, 1862, when President Lincoln issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which stated that slaves in those states or parts of states still in rebellion as of January 1, 1863, would be declared free. One hundred days later, with the rebellion unabated, President issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious areas “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

Political Impact:

  • Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation angered both Peace Democrats (“Copperheads”, a vocal faction of Democrats located in the Northern United States of the Union who opposed the American Civil War, wanting an immediate peace settlement with the Confederates) and War Democrats (adherents of the Democratic Party who rejected the Copperheads/Peace Democrats who controlled the party. The War Democrats demanded a more aggressive policy toward the Confederacy and supported the policies of Republican President Abraham Lincoln when the Civil War broke out ) but energized most Republicans.
  • The Copperheads also saw the Proclamation as an unconstitutional abuse of Presidential power. The Copperheads saw the Proclamation as irrefutable proof of their position and the beginning of a political rise for their members.
  • The promises of many Republican politicians that the war was to restore the Union and not about black rights or ending slavery, were now declared lies by their opponents citing the Proclamation.
  • War Democrats who rejected the Copperhead position within their party, found themselves in a quandary. While throughout the war they had continued to espouse the racist positions of their party and their disdain of the concerns of slaves, they did see the Proclamation as a viable military tool against the South, and worried that opposing it might demoralize troops in the Union army. The question would continue to trouble them and eventually lead to a split within their party as the war progressed.
  • Lincoln further alienated many in the Union two days after issuing the preliminary copy of the Emancipation Proclamation by suspending habeas corpus. His opponents linked these two actions in their claims that he was becoming a despot.

International impact:

  • As Lincoln had hoped, the Proclamation turned foreign popular opinion in favor of the Union by gaining the support of anti-slavery countries and countries that had already abolished slavery (especially the developed countries in Europe). This shift ended the Confederacy’s hopes of gaining official recognition.
  • Since the Emancipation Proclamation made the eradication of slavery an explicit Union war goal, it linked support for the South to support for slavery. Public opinion in Britain would not tolerate direct support for slavery. British companies, however, continued to build and operate blockade runners for the South. As an American Historian noted, “The Emancipation Proclamation has done more for us than all our former victories and all our diplomacy.”
  • In Italy, Giuseppe Garibaldi hailed Lincoln as “the heir of the aspirations of John Brown (a white American abolitionist who believed armed insurrection was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States).


  • Because it was a military measure, however, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Union control.
  • Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.
  • Lincoln was not an abolitionist or Radical Republican. He did not favor immediate abolition before the war, and sometimes held racist views typical of his time. But he was also a man of deep convictions when it came to slavery, and during the Civil War displayed a remarkable capacity for moral and political growth.


  • The Proclamation represented a shift in the war objectives of the North—reuniting the nation was no longer the only goal. It represented a major step toward the ultimate abolition of slavery in the United States and a “new birth of freedom”.
  • Lincoln’s bold step to change the goals of the war was a military measure and came just a few days after the Union’s victory in the Battle of Antietam. With this Proclamation he hoped to inspire all blacks, and slaves in the Confederacy in particular, to support the Union cause and to keep England and France from giving political recognition and military aid to the Confederacy.
  • Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the nation, it did fundamentally transform the character of the war. After January 1, 1863, every advance of Federal troops expanded the domain of freedom.
  • Slaves had been part of the “engine of war” for the Confederacy. They produced and prepared food; sewed uniforms; repaired railways; worked on farms and in factories, shipping yards, and mines; built fortifications; and served as hospital workers and common laborers. News of the Proclamation spread rapidly by word of mouth, arousing hopes of freedom, creating general confusion, and encouraging thousands to escape to Union lines.
  • Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom. 
  • From the first days of the Civil War, slaves had acted to secure their own liberty. The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed their insistence that the war for the Union must become a war for freedom. It added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union both militarily and politically. As a milestone along the road to slavery’s final destruction, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom.

13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery (1865)

  • Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment formally abolished slavery in the United States.
  • On February 1, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln approved the Joint Resolution of Congress submitting the proposed amendment to the state legislatures. The necessary number of states ratified it by December 6, 1865.
  • The 13th amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
  • In 1863 President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation as mentioned earlier. Lincoln recognized that the Emancipation Proclamation would have to be followed by a constitutional amendment in order to guarantee the abolishment of slavery.
  • With the adoption of the 13th amendment, the United States found a final constitutional solution to the issue of slavery.
  • The 13th amendment, along with the 14th and 15th, is one of the trio of Civil War amendments that greatly expanded the civil rights of Americans.

Positive Effects of Civil War:

(1) Reconstruction Amendments:

  • Amendments 13, 14 and 15 of the U.S. Constitution are called the Reconstruction amendments because they address the legal and political status of African-Americans.
  • The 13th Amendment abolished “slavery and involuntary servitude.”
  • The 14th Amendment guaranteed citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized” in the United States, including African-Americans. It declared every state must provide equal protection to all people within its jurisdiction, including African-Americans.
  • The 15th Amendment gave all male citizens the right to vote regardless of “race, color or previous conditions of servitude.”

(2) Union saved and Reconstruction:

  • The nation was reunited and the southern states were not allowed to secede. The South was placed under military rule and divided into military districts. Southern states then had to apply for readmission to the Union.
  • The Civil War was a surgical operation, “severe indeed, but necessary,” and by it the normal health of the Nation has been restored.
  • (Reconstruction is discussed at the end of this chapter.)

(3) Medical Advances:

  • In June 1861, The U.S. Sanitary Commission was created to help reduce disease in field hospitals. The Commission stressed the importance of well-ventilated hospital tents, clean water and good food, but few field hospitals had access to such necessities.
  • Twice as many soldiers died from disease than war wounds. Union Gen. George McClellan authorized a trained ambulance corp, and both armies incorporated them.
  • Also, field hospitals were permanently staffed with doctors, nurses, and volunteers, which led to greater efficiency in military hospitals.

(4) Professional Nursing:

  • Approximately 2,000 women volunteered as nurses in military hospitals. Dorothea Dix and Clara Barton were instrumental in creating a professional Nursing corps, which significantly increased the occupational and educational roles of women in American society.
  • Barton helped create the American branch of the International Red Cross after the war ended.

(5) New Military Technologies:

  • Civil War is called the “first modern war” because of the new military technology in which it was fought.
  • It was the first to use more rifles than smoothbore muskets, which increased reloading speed, range, and accuracy. The “minie ball” bullet, which was developed with these rifles in mind, made the rifles even deadlier. As a result, the full-on frontal assaults common in war until then were more likely to fail. Generals had to rethink how they could assault or protect a position, which led to concepts like trench warfare.

(6) Baseball Culture:

  • Before the war, baseball was mainly a Middle Atlantic states game. The National Association of Baseball created in 1857 consisted of 16 New York teams.
  • Many soldiers passed the time in their camps playing baseball. So did Union prisoners held in Confederate camps. That exposed the game to the South.
  • By 1867, just two years after the war ended, the National Association of Baseball consisted of 400 teams all over the United States.

(7) Impact on American Culture:

  • The Civil War, its causes and legacies have had an enormous impact on American culture like literature, music, painting, movies and sculpture.
  • Industrialism began as a result of the increase in wartime production and the development of new technologies.

(9) America As a World Power:

  • Within a few decades of the Civil War, an American nation consolidated by Union victory stepped onto the world stage.

Cost of Civil War:

  • The war produced about 1,030,000 casualties (3% of the population), including about 620,000 soldier deaths—two-thirds by disease, and 50,000 civilians. The war accounted for roughly as many American deaths as all American deaths in other U.S. wars combined.
  • Union army dead, amounting to 15% of the over two million who served due to many reasons like killed in action, died of disease, died in Confederate prison camps. Black troops made up 10% of the Union death toll.
  • The wealth amassed in slaves and slavery for the Confederacy’s 3.5 million blacks effectively ended when Union armies arrived; they were nearly all freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Slaves in the border states and those located in some former Confederate territory occupied before the Emancipation Proclamation were freed by state action or on December 6, 1865 by the Thirteenth Amendment.
  • The war destroyed much of the wealth that had existed in the South. All accumulated investment Confederate bonds was forfeit; most banks and railroads were bankrupt. Income per person in the South dropped to less than 40% of that of the North, a condition that lasted until well into the 20th century.
  • Southern influence in the US federal government, previously considerable, was greatly diminished until the latter half of the 20th century. The full restoration of the Union was the work of a highly contentious postwar era known as Reconstruction.

Reconstruction (1863-1877):

  • Reconstruction began during the war, with the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 and continued to 1877.
  • It comprised multiple complex methods to resolve the war, the most important of which were the three “Reconstruction Amendments” to the Constitution, which remain in effect to the present time: the 13th (1865), the 14th (1868) and the 15th (1870).
  • From the Union perspective, the goals of Reconstruction were to guarantee the Union victory on the battlefield by reuniting the Union; to guarantee a “republican form of government for the ex-Confederate states; and to permanently end slavery.
  • Reconstruction era witnessed America’s first experiment in interracial democracy. Just as the fate of slavery was central to the meaning of the Civil War, so the divisive politics of Reconstruction turned on the status the former slaves would assume in the reunited nation.
  • Northern victory in the Civil War decided the fate of the Union and of slavery, but posed numerous problems. How should the nation be reunited? What system of labor should replace slavery? What would be the status of the former slaves?
  • Central to Reconstruction was the effort of former slaves to breathe full meaning into their newly acquired freedom, and to claim their rights as citizens. Rather than passive victims of the actions of others, African Americans were active agents in shaping Reconstruction.
  • President Johnson took a lenient approach and saw the achievement of the main war goals as realized in 1865, when each ex-rebel state repudiated secession and ratified the Thirteenth Amendment.
  • Radical Republicans demanded strong proof that Confederate nationalism was dead and the slaves were truly free. They came to the fore after the 1866 elections and undid much of Johnson’s work. Congress passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which temporarily divided the South into five military districts and outlined how governments based on universal (male) suffrage were to be organized. The law also required southern states to ratify the 14th Amendment, which broadened the definition of citizenship, granting “equal protection” of the Constitution to former slaves, before they could rejoin the Union.
  • By 1870, all of the former Confederate states had been admitted to the Union, and the state constitutions during the years of Radical Reconstruction were the most progressive in the region’s history.
  • The result was a Republican coalition that took power in ten states for varying lengths of time, staying in power with the help of U.S. Army units and black voters.
  • Blacks won election to southern state governments and even to the U.S. Congress during this period.
  • Among the other achievements of Reconstruction were the South’s first state-funded public school systems, more equitable taxation legislation, laws against racial discrimination in public transport and accommodations and ambitious economic development programs (including aid to railroads and other enterprises).
  • Grant was elected president in 1868 and continued the Radical policies. Meanwhile the Freed men’s Bureau, started by Lincoln in 1865 to help the freed slaves, played a major role in helping the blacks and arranging work for them.
  • In opposition, white paramilitary groups such as the Ku Klux Klan used violence against African Americans in the South to thwart these efforts.

End of Reconstruction:

  • After 1867, an increasing number of southern whites turned to violence in response to the revolutionary changes of Radical Reconstruction. The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations targeted local Republican leaders, white and black, and other African Americans who challenged white authority.
  • Though federal legislation passed during the administration of President Grant in 1871 took aim at the Klan and others who attempted to interfere with black suffrage and other political rights, white supremacy gradually reasserted its hold on the South after the early 1870s as support for Reconstruction waned.
  • The “Liberal Republicans” argued the war goals had been achieved and Reconstruction should end.
  • In 1874–after an economic depression plunged much of the South into poverty–the Democratic Party won control of the House of Representatives for the first time since the Civil War and opposed any more reconstruction.
  • When Democrats waged a campaign of violence to take control of Mississippi in 1875, Grant refused to send federal troops, marking the end of federal support for Reconstruction-era state governments in the South.
  • By 1876, only Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina were still in Republican hands. In the contested presidential election that year, Republican candidate Rutherford Hayes reached a compromise with Democrats in Congress: In exchange for certification of his election, he acknowledged Democratic control of the entire South. The Compromise of 1876 marked the end of Reconstruction as a distinct period

Failure of Reconstruction:

Reconstruction is considered a failure because:

  1. Taking the right to vote or hold office away from Southern whites was a violation of republicanism.
  2. Northern Republicans’ lack of effectiveness in guaranteeing political rights to blacks.
  3. Not giving land to the freed men so they could have their own economic base of power.
  4. The states’ inability to suppress the violence of Southern whites when they sought reversal for blacks’ gains. The violence crushed black aspirations and the abandonment by Southern Republicans. “The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.”
  5. The failure to fully incorporate Southern Unionists in the Republican coalition.
  6. For much of this century, Reconstruction was widely viewed as an era of corruption and misgovernment, supposedly caused by allowing blacks to take part in politics. This interpretation helped to justify the South’s system of racial segregation and denying the vote to blacks, which survived into the 1960s.
  • For all Americans, Reconstruction was a time of fundamental social, economic, and political change. The overthrow of Reconstruction left to future generations the troublesome problem of racial justice.
  • The gains during Reconstruction for African Americans were not entirely extinguished. The legalization of African-American marriage and family and the independence of black churches from white denominations were a source of strength during the Jim Crow era. Reconstruction was never forgotten among the black community and remained as a source of inspiration. The system of share-cropping allowed blacks a considerable amount of freedom as compared to slavery. (The Jim Crow laws were racial segregation state and local laws enacted after the Reconstruction period in Southern United States that continued in force until 1965 mandating de jure racial segregation in all public facilities in Southern U.S. states of the former Confederacy, starting in 1890 with a “separate but equal” status for African Americans )



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