A House Divided: Slavery, Sectional Tensions, And The Causes Of The Civil War

1234 words - 5 pages

On April 12, 1861, squadrons of soldiers opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort 33 hours later. Sumter was one of the United States’ last outposts in the recently formed Confederacy of former Southern states. With its fall, the American Civil War began. Lasting four years, the Civil War tore apart what Abraham Lincoln had termed the “bonds of affection” between the North and South. Yet it was not a spontaneous occurrence. What incited the Confederacy to fire on Fort Sumter had its roots in deeply entrenched divisions that had been on the verge of bursting for years. The Civil War owed its existence to three crucial factors: the never-ending debate over slavery, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, and sectional tensions fueled by the Republican Party. Each of these contributed majorly to the development of what would become the most devastating war fought on American soil.
The fundamental cause of the Civil War was the debate over slavery. As early as 1837, South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun stated that “We of the South…cannot surrender our institutions [of slavery]. To maintain the existing relations between the two races…is indispensable to the peace and happiness of both. It cannot be subverted without drenching the country in blood.” Moreover, every sectional pre-Civil War crisis had slavery at its roots. Henry Clay’s Compromise of 1850, meant to quell Southern radicals’ calls of secession over the issue of slavery, addressed slavery in each of its provisions. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, which deepened Southern dislike of the Northern Republican Party, was meant to start a slave uprising. And when South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860, it wrote in its “Declaration of Causes of Secession” that it was withdrawing from the “destructive” government that “denounced as sinful…slavery,” and complained that “Slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.” Each of these incidents clearly shows that the debate over slavery undoubtedly played the most prominent role in instigating the Civil War.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act, a key manifestation of the slavery debate, was also an important cause of the Civil War. Passed in 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed the citizens in Kansas and Nebraska to decide for themselves whether to allow slavery in their respective territories. Written by Stephen Douglas, the Act was a textbook application of the doctrine of popular sovereignty. Douglas assumed that Kansas would become a slave state and Nebraska free. His Act would thereby have preserved the relative balance of free and slave states that had kept both the North and South happy in the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. But in the subsequent referendum over whether Kansas was to be slave or free, ballot box-stuffing and violence broke out in what was dubbed “Bleeding Kansas.” Pro-slavery Missouri settlers hopped across the border to rig the...

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