The cause of the Civil War

  • Written by Don C. White

History-Don-White-logoCivil War was the last possible means to resolve the slavery issue.
It came down to what Lincoln told the people of Illinois in 1858 which was basically that the nation could not remain half free and half slave; it had to become one or the other.
All options had been exhausted: the Kansas – Nebraska bill of 1854, the Dred Scott case in 1857 and John Brown’s raid in 1859 were the final pieces of the puzzle.
By the time of the presidential election of 1860, each side was stronger in their beliefs and some on each side were willing to act upon them.
The question in my mind, as well as in many others who have studied the Civil War period, is why didn’t we follow England’s course and abolish slavery thirty or forty years before the war came? One reason was because the country did not have a William Wilberforce in its midst. He spent his lifetime working to rid England of slavery.
It is seems clear today that the South was not going to do anything to end slavery.
As the presidential election of 1860 drew near, and if Abraham Lincoln were elected, some of the southern states were ready to secede. He was elected and South Carolina on December 20, 1860 voted to secede.
In the 1790’s slavery was losing ground in America. In his book, “Meet General Grant,” W. E. Woodward strongly suggests that without Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin slavery would not have survived as long as it did. In my reading of the Civil War and its causes I believe that Mr. Woodward is correct in how important the cotton gin was and how it saved slavery from an early demise.
Another quote from Mr. Woodward’s book, “Slavery was concentrated in the warm, damp lands of the seacoast, where the chief crops were rice, indigo and tobacco.
In the cultivation of these products animal drudgery was worth more than intelligence.”
As we know, cotton became king and slavery was perpetuated in the South and was spreading westward. Any talk of gradual emancipation soon died off.
Mr. Woodward also states that “Whitney’s invention was the most momentous achievement of a single individual that has ever occurred on the American continent.”
Of course he wrote this in the 1920’s and at that point in our history it may have been true. What the cotton gin did to perpetuate slavery into the 1850’s and bring about the
Civil War that cost the lives of 620,000 plus Americans is both monumental and horrendous in the effect it had on our country.
Slavery was the cause of the American Civil War. Any attempt to change history only takes away from what Lincoln and those that survived the war and those that died for the cause – both North and South – did. They answered the question; should slavery be continued and expanded or should it be abolished? Some historians are still debating this question yet today.
I believe Lincoln did what he could to solve the question of slavery. He was one of the first, if not the first president to welcome Negroes in the front door of the White House. Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and others visited him in the People’s House. Although on Douglass’s last visit on the occasion of a reception for the second inauguration, he was stopped twice before being allowed in. When he finally got in and Lincoln saw him, he said for all to hear, “Here comes my friend Douglass.”
When Sojourner Truth came to visit Lincoln he signed her autograph book to “Aunty Sojourner Truth.” There is a picture of her with Lincoln on her visit but it is a composite.
Few Negroes ever saw Lincoln and fewer still would have talked to him. He was well thought of by them throughout the land and the following will illustrate just how much they thought of him.
“The [black] people of Baltimore, to show their appreciation … of President
Lincoln in the cause of human freedom, contributed $580.75 to have a copy of the Bible bound in purple velvet, mounted in gold and engraved with a representation of Lincoln striking the shackles from a slave, . . .”
The Bible was given to Lincoln at the White House in September of 1864.
Don C. White is a historian from Palos Hills who has written a book on the Civil War