Political and Economic Causes of the American Civil War

Updated on June 28, 2016

White House, residence and office of the President of USA

On the one hand, political and economic reasons were mutually exclusive; on the other hand, these were overlapping

To the question "What were the political and economic causes of the civil war?" I assume the question is referring to the American Civil War.

Political causes

One political reason was that the Confederate States of America (also called South) wanted each state more sovereign than the federation, or confederacy. This was demonstrated after the Confederacy was established in February 1861. Its constitution was almost an exact copy of the United States of America except for the sovereignty of state over the confederacy (Geise, R. D. Editor. American History to 1877.1992).

This was also demonstrated in the structure of the army of the South. Each estate had its own army separate from the overall army commanded by President Jefferson Davis (for 14 months) then later on by Gen. Robert Lee (for 13 months). The army for the South Carolina and North Carolina was commanded by Gen. Joseph Johnston who was defeated by Gen. William T. Sherman in the latter's "March to the Sea" with 60,000 troops. Gen. Lee' army, which was the Confederacy's army, was deployed in northern Virginia against which Gen. Grant erected a siege. Gen. Lee could not get any reinforcement from any of the 11 states of the South, Gen. Johnston could not send a single soldier either because his army was engaged by Gen. Sherman's army At that time, armies of the 9 estates had been destroyed by Gen. Sherman. In nine months of siege, when his soldiers laid prostrate and horses dropped off, Gen. Lee surrendered his army to Gen. Grant without the approval by President Davis on April 9, 1864.

Another political reason was that the South wanted to protect their rights to own slaves. Slaves worked the plantations owned by whites planted mainly to cotton, the main export (50%) of the south. In the United States of America (also called Union or North) hired labor was already employed to work the farms.

The increasing number of free blacks contributed to the political reasons. From 60,000 in 1790 the number of freed blacks increased to 500,000 in 1860. More than half of them lived in the South. However, their freedom was restricted by law and racial prejudice. Sometimes political rights were denied them. Restrictions in the North were less severe but there was also racial prejudice. Freed black and white immigrants fought for jobs. Violence owing to race usually arose in cities.

Imperial expansion of the United States contributed to political reasons. More territory was welcome to slave owners. Haiti was annexed. There was a move to purchase Cuba. New markets had to be found. President Filmore sent Commodore Mathew Perry to Japan in 1853 and scared the shogun with his black ships. Then Townsend Harris signed a trade treaty with Japan five years later.

Disunity within the Whig and Democratic Parties arose over territorial expansion, impinging on slavery. The Southern (cotton) Whigs went over to the Democratic Party. The Northern (conscience) Whigs drifted to the Republican Party. The defeat of Mexico in the Mexican-American war in 1846 added one-third to the contiguous land territory of the United States.

The decision of the Supreme Court on the case of Dred Scott in 1857 added fuel to the slavery issue. The Supreme Court ruled that a state has no right to prohibit slavery in a territory. In the senatorial campaign in 1858 Lincoln wanted to debate with incumbent senator Stephen Douglas on the sovereignty implications of the ruling. Lincoln made clear his anti-slavery position during the presidential campaign in 1860. The South threatened that if Lincoln won the election, they would secede from the Federation.

The spark of the American Civil War was the bombardment, upon orders by South's Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard, of Fort Sumter of the North on April 12,1861.

Economic causes

The North was economically dominant over the South. For example, by sheer territory. The South had 10 states while the North had 23 states. At the time of the establishment of the Confederacy, Texas was forced to join it that finally consisted of 11 states.

Manufacturing was more robust in the North while the South fared better in agriculture like cotton farming. The trade balance was in favor of the North.

The pro-secession states resisted taxation by the Federation. This was demonstrated concretely when the Confederacy finally came into being.that could only collect 1% of taxes due.

Acquisition of new territory from Mexico added to the economy of the USA. However, it raised issues over slavery. Economic and political ramification of this acquisition played out and contributed to the American Civil War.

Expansion of the American empire in the Pacific, Hawaii, and opening up of Japan also meant opening up of markets for American goods, especially cotton. This firmed up more the desire among the South to own slaves to work the cotton plantations.

New entries as of September 9,2012

The South believed that cotton would largely tip the balance in its favor. At that time the cotton factories in France and Britain got their raw material from the South. The thinking was that to keep their factories running, and largely their economies, France and Britain would intervene in the civil war to get their cotton supply. In that case the American Civil war would turn into an international war. It would have been like the American revolution in the 1700s that started as a civil war in the British empire that turned into an international war owing to the intervention by France, Spain and The Netherlands. France landed an expeditionary force and engaged Britain in naval battles in American waters; Spain and The Netherlands stalemated Britain in the European seas. The prospect was that the North would be at war against the South, France and Britain with Russia remaining neutral or friendly to the North. So, cotton was an economic item that was employed as a political lever.

The North erected a naval blockade on the South as part of the Scott's anaconda strategy, limiting the amount of cotton that could pass through for export then cutting it almost completely toward the end of the civil war. The objective was to deprive the South of income to finance the war.

However, the South mishandled the cotton strategy. It withheld exports, practically an embargo. It failed to see that Britain could resort to an alternative supply. It supported the growing of cotton in Egypt, according to fellow Huber Alastar Packer. .


Submit a Comment
  • conradofontanilla profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Philippines


    If I understand "bloodiest war" to mean number of casualties I should compare the casualties in the American civil war with that of WWII. I have not done that. Thank for the info.

  • profile image

    Jurnee Hicks 

    6 years ago

    I loved the facts about the American civil war did you know that the civil war was the bloodiest war in history

  • conradofontanilla profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Philippines

    Catherine of Russia came from the lower class who rose up the ladder to rule Russia through marriage. Plus the fact that the Russians did not seem to mind her blood lineage. She wanted to institute reforms favoring the lower class. She called her advisers consisting of the upper class and told them what she wanted to do. The advisers said all she had to do was to rule with the present dispensation. They feared freedom for the lower class might deluge the upper class out of their privileges. If Catherine had her way, who knows, Lenin might have been remote.

  • SilentReed profile image


    8 years ago from Philippines

    Although Britain was officially neutral there were efforts to push a bill through Parliament to officially intervene on the side of the Confederate States. This was stalled over the question of slavery which Britain had abolished. Like the France monarchy of Louis XVI that supported the American break from Britain, It was the British aristocracy that gave support to the south secessionists. They raise an amount the equivalent of 215 million US dollars today through the sale of what was called the Confederate Cotton Bond. The British upper class feared that democracy or social equality ideas would embolden the English working class to demand for political reforms which did eventually happen.

  • conradofontanilla profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Philippines

    In fact, Britain built some ships for the South. Britishers on the furlough manned the blockade runners. (The North erected a naval blockade on the South). But Britain saw that the South would not succeed. It could not risk to spark an international war that may weaken it as what happened with France when it intervened in the civil war in the British empire that saw the birth of the United States. That intervention lead to the depletion of France's coffers that King Louis XVI had to call the National Assemblies to raise taxes. The deputies of the masses seized the opportunity to assert themselves as the true congress, beheaded the king, went into the reign of terror, then came full circle to the enthronement of a usurper of the French revolution in 1799 as emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. I have a Hub "How Did the North Preempt Britain and France From Intervening for the South?"

  • SilentReed profile image


    8 years ago from Philippines

    England may have also encourage the American Civil war. Geopolitics made it expedient that the young upstart nation not threaten the world dominance of the British empire. It was to their advantage to split the U.S. or at the very least weaken it by internal strife. Preserving the Union eventually led to American expansionism in it's "Manifest destiny" to promote democracy around the world. Some call it imperialism and like all empires in history, there is the rise and the fall....

  • conradofontanilla profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Philippines

    One Hubber said that we are discussing the civil war as if it were only a year away when in fact it now 150 years had passed. I like history and I take an extra interest in US history because the Philippines was annexed by the US empire and is now part of its neocolonial sphere. I am saddened the US is being eroded from within, as if Sen. Robert Kennedy had predicted it when he wrote a book, "Enemies from Within" and he is a veritable victim.

  • Danette Watt profile image

    Danette Watt 

    8 years ago from Illinois

    My husband is from the south (I'm the only Yankee in the family) and feelings are still very strong about the Civil War down south. They will be quick to tell you it wasn't about owning slaves but states' rights.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)