The Beginnings and Causes of the American Civil War

Subject: History
Pages: 4
Words: 1228
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: College


The Civil War had a lot of internal and external causes, which formed a challenging atmosphere of crisis in the country. Some of these reasons were long-term and permeated US politics and culture, and some were short-term; that is, they resulted from the first causes and an event that led to tragic consequences. The long-term causes were slavery, a new political culture, sectionalism, moral changes in society, fragmentation, and centralization of power; to short-term – the coming of Abraham Lincoln and the counterweight of the North in Congress.

Causes of the Civil War

Long-Term Causes

The slave-owning system and its strong incorporation into American society is now the most popular reason for the outbreak of the Civil War. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 only put aside the problem of slavery but did not solve it. Entering the Union with Maine, Missouri remained a slave state and did not recognize the reforms (Missouri Compromise (1820)). The government sought to smooth things over and avoid the growing discontent of the planters. In 1850, politicians tried a new compromise between the warring factory workers and aristocratic farmers (Compromise of 1850). It was allowed to catch enslaved people for arrest in states free from slavery.

A new political culture was brewing and welcomed charismatic leaders such as Abraham Lincoln. People became increasingly interested in politics and their awareness grew (Heidler, D. and J. Heidler). They took part in political life with pleasure; and it formed an opposition in politics and a delicate balance, initially reflected in the fight between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. In its classical form, it was a struggle between the industrial North and the rural South, which had many cultural and economic claims against each other.

The balancing act proved exhausting, and sectionalism was becoming the norm in the Southern states, historically accustomed to self-government. They demanded separate sovereignty for each state to follow the principle of ‘do what you want, but do not interfere with others’ (Heidler, D. and J. Heidler). The Northerners wanted to achieve centralized power in the hands of an educated and experienced leader. Not tolerating contradictions, the Southern states, owning cotton and sugar, decided to trade with Europe, for which Congress subsequently put forward giant tax duties. Trade with Europe ceased, and the Southern states were again forced to deal with the Northern; they owned an extensive processing and packaging industry.

A sincere moral demand for freedom and equality has matured in society. It was combined with the religious ideas about the chosenness of the United States and God’s creation of people equal. People were more motivated to help and did not remain indifferent to other people’s problems. The first attempts were made to live in communes according to comfortable rules. People were sincerely concerned about the issue of reforming society and opening the way to improvement. Abolitionist sentiments and the first official formulations for defending human rights were maturing (Harrold). Americans participated in discussions about equality, revolutions, and changes in politics and society. A number advocated revolutionary changes, but others preferred evolutionary development, stage by stage. The discourse was changing towards caring for a person as such and the value of his life despite unjust laws.

Fragmentation within the country remained an unhealed wound as the states raised uprisings and expressed discontent. Fragmentation was not only within the differences between the North and the South but in their struggle for new territories. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, relations between the North and the South became even tenser, and the real threat of armed conflict grew (Louisiana Purchase Treaty (1803)). The Southerners realized they had lost control over a vast territory, which was already a demographic threat. While the North was filled with migrants, promising, ambitious, strong, and educated, the South was composed mainly of enslaved people without the right to vote. Therefore, the South needed new territories not only for agricultural purposes but also for demographic ones. The Destiny Manifesto was the center of American ideology and philosophy. Destiny’s manifesto has become almost a dream for many, convinced that the country should look like it has the shores of two different oceans. This manifesto became a severe basis for justifying the colonial past and expansionist sentiments (Kiser). The manifesto has become an essential part of the culture in both the South and the North.

Regarding territorial expansion, slavery always went side by side with administrative disputes. Recognizing the state as a country unit, it was difficult to decide by agreement where the management of this unit would lie. The southern states stubbornly defended their positions on self-government, arguing for historical development, cultural and agricultural wealth, and ownership of cultivated crops. The southern states tried to manipulate their power and push for self-government by gradually claiming territories (Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854)). Therefore, in 1854, after the shape of the states of Nebraska and Kansas, the South finally lost hope of expanding its power, and the Northern administration spread to new formations.

Short-Term Causes

The coming of the presidency of Abraham Lincoln made the Southern states seriously think about their representation in Congress. The Southerners could not provide their votes to speak for their candidate and support him since they have many enslaved people (Harrold). The Northern states won a landslide victory, although ten Southern states voted against Abraham Lincoln. A conflict was brewing, the precedent for which happened precisely during the central tension.

The reasons for such a large and significant event as the Civil War intersect. One of the short-term reasons was a sharp increase in the number of North citizens, which worsened the position of the South, including in Congress. The North was developing economically, socially, and urbanistically, while the South was stuck in agricultural activity, having only the ability to manipulate plantations (Kiser). Southerners saw in the enemies in the Northern state with whom it was impossible to try on.

Connection with the Founding of the United States

Founded as land for freedom, the USA was founded by the strength of 13 colonies, which formed the state in the political and economic sphere. This fundamental contradiction became one of the most profound causes of the outbreak of the Civil War (Locke and Wright). The following contradiction was the territorial division into states and the mechanisms of self-government that arose in them. People in these states sought to engage in their economy and culture and were influenced by various factors. The state could not demonstrate unity in its ideology since it initially contained the potential for fragmentation. The third contradiction that caused the Civil War was the search for political balance in the two-party system. Such a system has demonstrated its usefulness in the quiet times of a developing economy and culture. However, during an economic crisis or at least stagnation and during social unrest, this balance has shifted to the negative side of the confrontation between two diametrically irreconcilable coalitions.


The causes of the Civil War included slavery, a new political culture, sectionalism, a moral demand in society, fragmentation, centralization of power, the rise of Abraham Lincoln, and the predominance of the North in Congress. These reasons reflect the contradictions inherent in the formation of the United States as an independent state. The colonial basis, the political balance of the two forces, and the territorial division slowly influenced internal social, economic, and political processes until they led to war.

Works Cited

“Compromise of 1850 (1850).” National Archives, 2022.

Harrold, Stanley. American Abolitionism: Its Direct Political Impact from Colonial Times into Reconstruction. Illustrated, University of Virginia Press, 2019.

Heidler, David, and Jeanne Heidler. The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics. Illustrated, Basic Books, 2018.

“Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854).” National Archives, 2022.

Kiser, William. Coast-to-Coast Empire: Manifest Destiny and the New Mexico Borderlands. New, University of Oklahoma Press, 2018.

Locke, J., and B. Wright. “The American Yawp.” The American Yawp, 2022.

“Louisiana Purchase Treaty (1803).” National Archives, 2022.

“Missouri Compromise (1820).” National Archives, 2022.