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American Civil War

Image: American civil war

1. Background

The American Civil War, also known as the War Between the States, was one of the worst wars in the American history which was fought between the northern and southern states of the nation.

After independence in 1776, the northern states constituting the areas north of Pennsylvania and the southern states comprising the territories south of Maryland developed along different lines.

The South was primarily agriculturalist and the climate was favourable for the growth of the plantation products like cotton (important crop mainly exported to mills in England), tobacco, sugarcane and indigo etc. Thereby, the planters in the south required the cheap labour to be supplied through the slaves from Africa who served both as a necessity and as an indicator of the social status for the people of the southern states.

The North, on the other hand, had a different economic structure. Between 1815- 1860, an industrial revolution marked its onset in the north. Hence, the development of the industries gave rise to a social system in which the free workers could thrive. The northern states, moreover, did not need slave labour in their industries and did not approve of slavery.

Thus, there was a fundamental difference in the socio-economic systems that the two halves of the country followed. The differences between the northern and the southern states became so pronounced that a civil war broke out in 1861.

mage: Map representing areas of American civil war

The Civil War started when a group of the slave states of the south founded the Confederate States of America with Jefferson Davis as its president while the northern states under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln were totally against the notion of slavery.

Thus, one day the southern states opened fire on the Fort Sumter, forcing Lincoln to declare war on them. Although the Confederates won some of the early battles, however, the Union defeated the southern states in 1865 while marking the end of civil war.

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2. Causes of the Civil War

2.1 Prevalence of Slavery

The controversy that started over the question of the abolition of slave labour culminated in a civil war between the North and the South. The interests of the planters in the south who were dependent on the slaves for cheap labour directly clashed with the industrial interests of the north who held opposite views and opposed slavery.

The north believed that the growth of industries in the region demanded cheap and skilled labour which was unlikely to be provided by slavery. Given their inhumane treatment, the slaves were inherently rebellious and difficult to discipline. It was because of this reason that their displeasure resulted in the violent protests.

Apart from the economic reasons, social justice also demanded the abolition of slavery.

Slaves in America were treated very cruelly. They had no family life and were treated as a movable property by their owners. If a slave ever attempted to run away and was caught, he was punished brutally. Such practices were considered as a black spot on the American society whose constitution guaranteed equal status to everybody. In northern states, the slavery was abolished in 1804 itself and they became the ‘free states’. Hence, a strong movement for the abolition of slavery throughout USA began in the northern states.

Image: Slavery in Southern America

Some of the writers such as Mary Chestnut and Stephen Crane published books severely denouncing slavery. For instance, the ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ written by Harriet Bucher (1852) was a stirring tale depicting the horrors of slavery and the miseries of the slaves. These writers helped to arouse the popular indignation against the institution of slavery. The movement called for the correction of the controversial Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

2.2 Role of Abraham Lincoln

“A house divided against it cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.”

Abraham Lincoln

The election of Abraham Lincoln as the President of the United States of America and the right of secession of the Southern States from the Union were the two major factors responsible for the outbreak of the Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln contested the election to the Senate as a candidate opposed to slavery and eventually won the election as the President of the United States in 1860. Lincoln’s victory in elections precipitated conflict as the southern states declared their intention to secede from American Union during this period.

Anticipating that the President Lincoln would emancipate the slaves; seven Southern States seceded from the union and formed a separate union called the Confederate States of America, threatening the unity of America. However, the President Lincoln was determined to save the Union and believed that no state could lawfully leave the Union. Thus, on the issue of secession, the Civil War broke out in 1861 and in 1863 Lincoln abolished slavery in the south.

Interestingly, the civil war was not fought on the issue of slavery but on the demand of withdrawal by southern states from the Union.

3. End of Civil War

After a prolonged war for four years, the southern army was completely defeated. The Confederate army under General Lee surrendered to General Grant of the Union in April 1865. Thus, the Civil War came to an end, the unity of America was restored and the practice of slavery was abolished.

Unfortunately, a few days after the peace, the President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a sympathizer of the Southern States.

4. Significance of the American Civil War

Like all the wars fought in the history, the American civil war too left various lessons to be learnt for the upcoming generations of America in particular and the world in general.

Firstly, for all the time to come, the war settled the question whether states could withdraw from the Union. However, the doctrine of the state sovereignty was laid to rest and the supremacy of the nation was vindicated; and hence, the Union was declared to be perpetual.

The Civil War also strengthened the foundations of the United States by resolving the North-South tension permanently.

The slavery was abolished everywhere in America and the provision was added in the constitution, with passage of the 13th Amendment which prohibited the enactment of discretionary laws against African Americans.

The southern states, now, lay in ruins as the plantations were badly affected. However, the situation created the space for new business to emerge in the south marking the beginning of the new age of industrial growth. A special economic package for the new phase of industrialization in the southern states was also launched to decrease the dependence of the southern states on the slave labour.

Moreover, the American civil war brought about an abolition of slavery, blacks were still not provided with the equal voting rights and the segregation in public places also continued which eventually resulted in the American Civil Rights movement of 1950s and 60s.

5. Summary

The American civil war was a result of the conflict among the northern and southern states of America over the question of slavery and the withdrawal of the south from the union, accompanied by the social and economical differences prevalent in the societies of these states.

The southern states, however, lost the ground and were made to turn towards the era of industrial growth and new businesses. The 13th amendment was also made in the constitution which leads to the abolition of slavery in American mainland.

  • According to UPSC Syllabus
  • Includes Previous Year Questions
  • PYQ Analysis
  • Plenty of Maps, Images for Illustration
  • Also useful for State PSC Examinations
  • A must-have book for all UPSC Aspirants

6. Multiple Choice Question

1] The main reason of conflict in America was:
a) Prevalence of slavery
b) Demand of withdrawal from union
c) Both a and b
d) None of the above
Ans: c) Both a and b

Show Answer

Ans: c) Both a and b

2] Which crop dominates the interiors of southern states?
a) Tobacco
b) Millets
c) Sugarcane
d) Cotton
Ans: d) Cotton

Show Answer

Ans: d) Cotton

3] Uncle Tom’s cabin book highlights which situation:
a) Brutal bloodshed in America
b) The condition of slaves
c) The industrial revolution
d) Works done by Abraham Lincoln
Ans: b) The condition of slaves

Show Answer

Ans: b) The condition of slaves

4] Confederates states of America represented:
a) The American union as a whole
b) The northern states
c) The southern states
d) African Americans
Ans: c) The southern states

Show Answer

Ans: c) The southern states

5] Which amendment is related to abolition of slavery?
a) 13th amendment
b) 11th amendment
c) 1stamendment
d) 24th amendment
Ans: a) 13th amendment

Show Answer

Ans: a) 13th amendment

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