To What Extent Was the Civil War Inevitable?
America’s transformation into the country we live in today has been formed through numerous events during its short history but the event that will split the United States into North versus South is truly one of the most defining events in American history. Through numerous events leading up to the start of the Civil War, I will attempt to show how the United States was destined for conflict and that the Civil War was inevitable. The first way I will show how the war could not be avoided will deal with the issue of slavery. Slavery should be the first mentioned because many conflicts within the United States leading up to the Civil War and the division of the United States dealt with slavery.
In the case of the American civil war, Southern secession was the opportunity seized upon by the North. The lack of a strong anti-violence movement in the events leading up to the civil war strongly suggests the acceptable nature of war in order to resolve issues and illustrates the extent to which sectionalism had grown and divided the country into two separate nations. Hence one could argue that the very nature of nineteenth-century global politics made the civil war an inevitable event. Avery Craven and James G. Randall were two of the most prominent revisionist historians who challenged the inevitability of the Civil War. However their anti-war thesis was dismissed by Arthur M. Schlesinger who proposed one key question which they had not taken into account “: if the war could have been avoided, what course should American leaders have followed?” Schlesinger provided three possible alternatives: “that the South might have abolished slavery by itself if left alone; that slavery would have died because it was economically unsound; or that the North might have offered some form of emancipated compensation.” Schlesinger found all three alternatives to be completely unviable. In conclusion, the civil war was an inevitable occurrence; too many factors leading up to the civil war had the effect of exacerbating the fundamental differences between the North and the South. Lincoln as well as many other statesmen believed that the country could not continue to exist as two nations under one government. In some form the two incompatible ideologies had to settle their differences. However, because the differences were so fundamentally important to each section, political compromise would have ultimately led only to one side’s economic and social ideology being wiped out; both sides were unwilling to let their institutions be damaged by the other. Eli Whitney’s invention changed the stakes as it revived a dying institution and set it in place as king of the southern economy without which the South felt it could not survive. The North and the South did not develop along similar economically or ideologically. That created an inherent instability in America. At some stage the two opposing sections would inevitably come into military conflict once all compromises were exhausted.
In turn, Abraham Lincoln (1858) also focuses on the problem of slavery. In his opinion, the Union could not remain sustainable if the problem of slavery was not resolved. He refers to the notorious Dred Scott decision, which highlighted the potential conflict between two regions of the country. Moreover, in his view, the spread of slavery had to be stopped. This is why he focuses on the Kansas-Nebraska Act according to the status of slavery could be determined with the help of popular vote (Lincoln, 1858). In his opinion, this decision was completely unacceptable. Overall, one can say that both politicians recognize the importance of slavery, and they have the opposite opinions on this issue. Moreover, they are unwilling to consider the interests of one another. Therefore, these dramatic differences in opinions indicate that the civil conflict in the United States could eventually break out. This is one of the arguments that can be made. Nevertheless, it is important to remember several details indicating that the conflict was not inevitable. In particular, one should mention that Southern state did not secede from the Union simultaneously. This process was led by South Caroline, but it was not immediately supported by the legislators in other states. For instance, one can mention Tennessee, which was the last to join the Confederacy. Moreover, West Virginia emerged as a state because local policy-makers did not want to secede from the Union. Furthermore, they abolished slavery before the end of the Civil War. Moreover, there were some slave states did not secede; for instance, one can mention Missouri and Delaware. Thus, one cannot say that the problem of slavery was irreconcilable. This is one of the exceptions that should be taken into account. Overall, the pattern of secession does not fully support Calhoun’s idea that all Southern states did want to be a part of the Union because the government wanted to restrict or abolish slavery. These are some of the issues that should be taken into account. Much attention should be paid to the willingness or unwillingness of the local elite to accept the policies of the federal government. In some cases, they did not want to secede from the United States only because of the conflict which emerged as a result of the slavery debate. Moreover, the support of cession was particularly strong in the states in which the economy was very dependent on slave labor (Heyrman, Lytle.& Stoff, 2010).
Given these points, the southern states were agricultural in nature. Hence they relied heavily on slavery as the main means of labor provision. This is what underpinned the high economic growth experienced by these states prior to the crush of the 1850s. Hence when the abolitionist was campaigning for equal rights and equality, these were viewed as a direct threat to there means of survival and wealth creation. The implication of slavery vibrated through the political, social and economic dimension in the relationship between the southern states and the northern states. Thus this was the primary reason for the civil war and these factors made the slide to the civil war inevitable.
Calhoun, J. (1850). The Clay Compromise Measures. Web.
Heyrman, C., Lytle, M., & Stoff, M. (2010). U.S.: A Narrative History. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Lincoln, A. (1858). House Divided.Web.