The Causes of the American Civil War

Subject: History
Pages: 4
Words: 949
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: Bachelor

The Northern and the Southern states of America were on a collision course for many years before the Civil War. Although the people living in the U.S. shared a common history, language, traditions, and religion, they saw the country’s future differently. The reasons for the outbreak of a military conflict include different approaches to economic development, social and cultural foundations manifested in attitudes towards slavery, and political differences. The beginning of the armed confrontation was the battle for Fort Sumter, which was preceded by several skirmishes.

The variety in approaches to economic growth was the main driver of the escalation of the confrontation. The northern states focused on industrial production; most of the large enterprises were located in this region. Since new technologies were introduced to raise productivity, the industry began to develop intensively, increasing its volume. Most of the labor force was volunteer migrants from European countries. At the same time, the country’s southern states developed mainly due to the extensive territories obtained through the Mexican-American war. Favorable conditions for agriculture made it possible to form large plantations across the region, which supplied raw materials for the factories of the North. Although 75% of the population were small landowners who independently worked on their lands, control over the territory belonged to a small stratum of wealthy planters who massively used slave labor (Capek, 2017). The constant need to reclaim new lands and forced labor slowed the pace of growth in the South.

Different attitudes towards the use of slave labor caused not only economic disagreements but, above all, social unrest. In the northern states of the country, slave labor was prohibited. Even though in the American society of the 17-18 centuries, the attitude towards African-American people was ambiguous regardless of the region, in the southern states, this led to massive manifestations of xenophobia and racism (Capek, 2017). Driven by the ideas of the Enlightenment, many political and public figures, as well as entrepreneurs of the North, supported the prohibition of slavery. The large landowners of the South, in turn, were influenced by the racial theories of the time, according to which, they had every right to use slave power on their plantations. Although the differences between the regions on the eve of the Civil War became more perceptible, it was the attitude towards slavery that was the critical factor for the outbreak of open hostilities.

Political differences in the country mainly consisted of new territories’ legal status in the West of the continent. The North advocated the prohibition of slave labor on the new lands, which directly influenced the large slave owners and ordinary farmers from the South who were not involved into forced labor relationships. In this regard, the South decided to unite in a Confederation of thirteen slave states under the presidency of Davis Jefferson (Capek, 2017). The Confederation adopted its Constitution and decided to secede from the United States. President Lincoln agreed to start military operations to preserve the constitutional order and prevent certain regions’ secession from the state. Thus, the main reason why the Civil War began in the United States was the slave system that was influencing other aspects of public life.

Before the outbreak of the Civil War, some population groups attempted to resist the slave system. One of the most prominent figures was John Brown, one of the abolitionists who believed that armed struggle was the only possible way to destroy the existing system. He rose to prominence after raiding the Harpers Ferry arsenal to arm slaves and raise rebellions. Although his actions ended in defeat and subsequent execution, the example of John Brown inspired many volunteers who joined the ranks of the Federation army during the Civil War. The manifestation of acts of aggression, which was not limited only to the case of John Brown, suggests that some parts of the country’s population have already tried to resolve slavery by armed means. Moreover, such acts of aggression indicate that some progressive Americans considered solving the problem of forced labor only through the armed conflict.

The start of the American Civil War is considered to be an attack by Confederate forces on Fort Sumter, after which Abraham Lincoln declared the southern territories in a state of mutiny. The first combat encounter of the war in which there were casualties is the Battle of Fairfax Court House (June 1861) in Virginia. During the armed clashes, such as The Battle of Bull Run (July 1861), The Battle of Cheat Mountain (September 1861), The Battle of Ball’s Bluff (October 1861), neither side managed to achieve an advantage. The Battle of Shiloh (April 1862) was the bloodiest battle in American history, in which both sides lost more than ten thousand soldiers (Capek, 2017). First of all, the massive human losses in both camps were due to the soldiers’ low military training level. Most of the armies of the North and South were volunteers or young people called for service with no combat skills. This impacted the impossibility of domination by either side in the early stages of the Civil War.

Thus, the American Civil War was caused by systemic divisions between the northern and southern states. While the North advocated the prohibition of forced labor, the South relied on large planters willing to use free work. Attempts were made between the abolitionists to a revolt among the slaves. However, although success was not achieved, this had an impact on society. The initial stages of the civil war are distinguished by many military clashes, during which the advantage passed from one side to the other. Furthermore, large losses were recorded among the soldiers, which slowed the war and testified the troops’ low readiness for combat conditions.


Capek, M. (2017). The battle over slavery: Cause and effects of the US Civil War. Capstone Press.