Sectional Crisis in Unites States of America
In the middle of 19th century, when Industrialization was at its high, America was plunged into a miserable crisis known more popularly as civil war or sectional crisis. It was perhaps the most significant event of century in the History of America. More for its political, economic and social relevance. A war which united America against all odds. A war which had almost become compulsion to revive the Union. A war which ruined the lives of millions of people but saved the misfortune of future's uncertainty. A war where Americans were fighting against their own countrymen and still held firm. A war where political economic and social agendas like that of North becoming Industrial Pioneer and South remaining untouched of Industrial growth, North fighting for the abolition of Slavery and South for retaining it and North developing more in terms of a better lifestyle, education and awareness –South segregated in all these, became the driving force of the war.
Some people wonder if War had not taken place, America would not be what we see it today; not at least the most powerful nation of the World. Thanks to Lincoln that his efforts bore fruit but how unlucky that he could not live to see this with his eyes and was assassinated by a Confederate extremist. Lincoln’s contribution cannot hence be overlooked as far as civil war is concerned. Had it not been for Lincoln, Union would perhaps not take such a step as declaring a war. Nor would anyone else be as diplomatic as to come back to power even after being unpopular for a while.
Authorities even agree that this was not a traditionalwar but a modern one with advanced weaponry and fighting techniques being introduced and the results becoming more lethal and disastrous.
Where at the one hand causes were considered to have prevailed for long time, consequences were even more time feeding. My paper will specifically deal with the causes and consequences part of the Civil War of America. An introspection will be done into available literary sources to bring to the notice of all so as to what led to this major historical event. Critiques have much to say when the aftermath of the war is taken into account. But it hardly bothers us as we do not have certainty to change the past. My optimism would therefore lead me to find the better scopes of it. So do I look at it to extract the mere positivity of it but of course in pure unbiased sense.
The cause is something that lies at the base of the event. It might not be definite or certain always but is the epicentre of the development, distress or retrogression. Causes of American Civil War were also numerous. They can be elaborated under the genre of Economic, Political and Social. They all added up to become a reason of the Civil War.
America was not a nation as such since the very beginning. Small states came together voluntarily and formed the UNION. A federal system came into force. But it was not until the end of War that a uniform centralized system of governance was introduced. Meanwhile North and South had their own way of progress adopted. North on the one hand took up Industrialization as a tool of development and South on the other was content with Agrarian Growth, most important being in the cash crops like cotton, tobacco, sugar and rice. This created a rift in development of North and South. This gap widened with the passage of time and at time became irreparable.
The Industrial Revolution of North led the work of home and farm being done in Industries. This also grew large with the introduction of steam power. Industrialization to America was gift of Europe but developed more rapidly here than in mother nation. 19th century in America was the time of boost in discoveries and inventions. This altogether revolutionised Communication, Transport and Industry. Small time traders turned into investors, big time business tycoons and bankers. Profitable ventures shone bright on the horizons of North America. This led to a considerable rise of wealth and affluence in the North.
Now North was far more industrially groomed than South or even West. At this moment, West shifted from subsistent farming to commercial agriculture. They even produced more foodstuffs like corn and wheat than North or South. The surplus went to North and in return, westerners became the consumers of commercial and industrial products of the North. This mutual reliance helped both North and South which had forged their way to Industrial and Commercial growth together. North developed now more rapidly with Banking, Shipping, Insurance, Small and large business houses, Subsistence and Commercial Farming. North had now divergent interests and expectations from the Federal Govt. Their political objectives had paved the way for even further progress. They advocated of a Protective Tariff (Imposition of duties on the goods being imported) to protect the growing Industries of the North. They wanted federal aid in the development of Infrastructure: things necessary for business to flourish such as roads, canals, bridges and railroads. A loose immigration policy was suggested to facilitate cheap labour. They wanted cheap or free lands being made available in the West for settlement and investment opportunities, creating new markets for Northern manufactured goods. And the last political objective was to contain the slavery as they considered this practice to be inhumane.
Other than cotton, South also grew cash crops like rice and tobacco extensively but cotton still remained the most important commodity. Southerners were so certain about the national dependence on cotton produced by the South hence it was declared that “Cotton is King”. Cotton in 19th century formed a very important commodity of the World as well. Giant industries of France and Britain fed on the surplus cotton of South. Hence South was very important from the raw material producer point of view. The most powerful producers of cotton were planter slave holders. These planters had defined their political, economic and social authority. Fear of loss became prevalent in the minds of such planters if Slavery was to be abolished from South.
Characteristic features of Southern Economy included dependence on plantation system which was the centre of all political, economic and social affairs of South. Slave Labour which was perhaps the cheapest and readily available option. Majority of white population engaged in subsistence farming. There was only a little proportion of bourgeois or middle class.
Political objectives of South in no way matched with that of North. Southerners favoured low tariff as planter class depended on trade with Britain-cotton in return for consumer goods. They wanted slavery to expand for political, economic and ideological reasons. They opposed the cheap land policy in the West as this would lead them to direct competition with the independent farmers of the West.
There were many political reasons too for the sectional crisis of America. Some of these had already started casting their shadows in the beginning of 19th century.
Slavery was introduced in Virginia in 1790. Institution of Slavery was made a right to property by US Govt. Though in the first quarter of the 19thce, Slavery had been prohibited by the Constitution but it was still in practice. By 1860 almost half of the population in the South was that of slaves. Slaves were granted two square meal and narrow quarters by their owners. Most of the slaves were land tillers but some of them learnt other skills too.
Initially Slavery was allowed in South and Northerners did also not react to this. But differences only arose when southerners demanded for expansion of Slavery to the Free states and new states of USA. Northerners were of the view that a volunteer labour was better than the forced labour. They gave wages to the labourers. Such labourers by South were called wage slaves. This rose to a critical slavery and anti-slavery debate. Northerners argued that Slavery was a cruel institution and violated the liberty that was provisioned in Law. Whereas pro-Slavery argument was that Nigger was a service class created by God. Their purpose of life was to serve their master. Slaves were to be treated as property. But the truth was that Slavery had become an indispensable tool to develop the agrarian economy of the South. The gap further widened and finally led to movements such as abolitionist movements of North. But all this did not happen at once and there was whole series of events behind it which we will deal with one by one.
Missouri Compromise of 1819
In 1819, Misssouri applied as 23rd state of the Federal Union. This would disturb the existing balance of the Union were 11 were slave states and 11 free states so far. Missouri entering as a 12th slave state would also upset the balance in the Senate. This bothered many political dignitaries. But a temporary solution was sought and Missouri was entered as a Slave state and Maine as a Free State to the Union.
Nullification Crisis and Compromise of 1833
In 1828 congress passed a protective tariff that protected Northern Industries but lead to hike in domestic prices. This offended Southerners cited nullification of the Tariff to be followed immediately. Crisis finally ended when Congress passed a bill that reduced protective tariff the following year.
Compromise of 1850
One reason behind the crisis of 1850 was the exploration of gold riches of California. Thousands of people in the quest of getting rich rushed to the newly explored state. By 1850 approximately 100,000 settlers had poured into California. Finally there was demand that California be added as a free state to the Union and President Taylor supported its admission. Southerners threatened to pull their states out of the Union. Finally compromise of 1850 was brought into force. Its provisions were: Admission of California as a free state, stricter fugitive slave law being brought into force, slave trade but not the ownership of slaves will be banned and the land taken from Mexico will be divided into two new territories, New Mexico and Utah. Status of Slavery in both areas will be decided by the means of popular sovereignty.
Kansas Nebraska Act 1854
Senator Stephen A. Douglas favoured a bill which would route a major railroad through Illinois thinking that this would hike the value of his landholdings in the region and would further stimulate the settlement of the West. A deal was struck and the features of the Kansas-Nebraska Act were that Nebraska territory will be divided into Kansas and Nebraska Territories and settlers in those areas will decide slavery by means of popular sovereignty. Bill sounded reasonable to the Southerners but did not go down easy with the Northerners. Reason being that both regions were to the North of Missouri which under the Missouri had been closed to Slavery. But still the Bill was passed by both houses of the congress and was signed by the President. This forced the Northerners and Westerners to form a political front against the aristocracy of the South.
Dred Scott Decision
Supreme Court did not have any significant say in the matter of Slavery until the case of Dred Scott. Dred Scott was a slave who was taken by his owner from Missouri, a slave state to Wisconsin, which was a free territory . He resided there for two years before being taken back to the region of Missouri. Scott now sued for his freedom, contending that his residence in a free state made him free citizen. But unfortunately for Scott the Chief Justice of Supreme Court turned out to be a pro-Southern Democrat. So he simply ruled out the case. Verdict was reached at that 1. Congress did not have power to deny citizen the right of his/her property and owner could take his property anywhere he desired. Thus Missouri compromise was held invalid. Therewere no limits of expansion of slavery. Court further went on saying that Constitution had not provided citizenship rights for blacks. Therefore Scott had no constitutional right to sue his master in Federal Court.
The South relished this moment of decision by the Supreme Court. Douglas also found it difficult to reconcile support of popular sovereignty with Dred Scott. To Northerners, Republican Party seemed to represent their interests best which was the coalition of various groups and included, Free Soilers, a political party formed in 1848 to represent westerner farmers by advocating homestead law of cheap federal lands. It also included Northern capitalists who favoured the high protective tariff, internal improvements, liberal immigration laws, sound money and banking system.Also the social reformers, abolitionists, Northern Democrats, members of Whig party who were in favour of abolishing slavery and various labour groups in the North. The fate of Republican Party shone only in 1861 when Lincoln swore in the oath of President of United States.
In 1856, conflict arose whether Kansas would enter Union as a free state or a slave state. Since popular sovereignty was to decide the question of slavery, it seemed that most of the farmers of Kansas would align Kansas with free states. This did not go well with pro-slavery settlers of Missouri which was neighbouring State. Soon border ruffians crossed into Kansas with the intention of making it a slave state. Northern opponents of slavery also sent supporters to Kansas. Fighting erupted and soon proslavery people massacred antislavery people of town of Lawrence. In retaliation, an abolitionist named John Brown organised his own massacre on proslavery people. Much of bloodshed took place and the incident came to known as bleeding Kansas popularly. Ultimately Kansas became a free state.
John Brown’s Harper Ferry Raid
John Brown had good intention but a violent method to eradicate slavery. He believed to end the violent practice of slavery only by means of violent method. Brown and his supporters seized federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry hoping that slaves would rise to his cause and take to arms. But Brown instead was confronted by US Army under the command of Robert Lee. He was captured and hanged. He became a martyr to the Northerners and finally there was the last but not the least incident which flared up the war. This incident was perhaps the most significant one.
Election of 1860 and Secession of South
In 1860, four different candidates sought Presidency. Republican candidate was Abraham Lincoln whose political agenda was containment of Slavery. Democrats split into two, one against the slavery and another favouring it. Douglas represented Northern Democrats and favoured popular sovereignty. John C. Breckenridge opposed the containment of slavery. John Bell represented Constitutional Union. Advantage of democrat splitting went to Lincoln and he came to power though he received only 39% of popular vote. Lincoln was seen as abolitionist by most of the Southerners. His coming to power threatened the existence of South in the Union. South Carolina was first to secede and six other southern states followed. They together formed Confederate Govt. and nominated Jefferson Davis as President and Alaxander Stephens as Vice President. Other states waited to see if Lincoln would take any strict action against the Southern Confederacy. But seeing the absurd action of Southern states, Lincoln changed his objective. Now his primary aim was to revive the Union and for this he would go to any extent. Slavery became the secondary issue now. Lincoln finally declared war on South in 1861 with help of 75000 volunteers.
Social Causes of the Crisis
The society of America developed not like the uniform society of any other nation. It furcated in the geographical bounds of the region. Unlike North which gave importance to infrastructure, banking, insurance, industry and developmental activities like education and awareness, South was more concerned with its agrarian hype. It did not bother much to develop in the fashion of Northern America. If at all they were interested in any technique or research, it was always things related to their production Like Eli Whitney’s invention was appreciated for the reason that it was associated with the efficiency of separating cotton from seed. Also other agricultural innovation found appraisals. But South did not pay much heed to infrastructure, railroads and education. This is how that till 1860, immense network of rail was woven in the Northern and Western America but South was devoid of it.
Big planters of South led a life of isolation. There was no dearth of money but they contained it to themselves. Most of such planters were called absentee as they also did not bother to visit their farms. Communication was rare and so was social life drab and dry. This might also be because of population density of the South which was only 30% as compared to North.
Education also found no significance as its need was considered to be rare. But in the later half of the 18th century, Southerners realised that they had been betrayed by the North. They thought that North had developed on their cost. Cotton was considered to be the God and they comprehended to be the reason for boost in American Economy. They believed if they stopped growing cotton, Union would not be able to rise to a might economy. Whereas it seems that they were mistaken in this regard. In the meanwhile, North and West had developed and had been in perfect synchronization with each other to fulfil the needs. This is how the hopes of South went in vacuum when war actually took place. North remained unaffected rather in the later half boosted its economy.
All these factors added up to a major event in the history of America. Come what may, the sectional crisis will always be counted as a most significant event of history. This altogether changed the fate of the nation. Union was revived, Slavery was contained, Homestead Act was passed, emancipation proclamation was announced and internal empowerment took place. Though America saw the challenging time ahead but slowly and steadily normalcy returned and America became what we see it today.
But nothing comes free and we have to pay a price. So did Americans have to pay a price. They lost an intellectual, a scholarly President, Lincoln and lives of as many as six million people. May God bless America!