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Political and Economic Causes of the American Civil War

The White House, the residence and office of the president of US

The White House, the residence and office of the president of US

What Caused the War Between the North and South?

Political Causes of the Civil War

One political reason was that the Confederate States of America (also called the 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 the 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) and then later on by Gen. Robert Lee (for 13 months). The army for 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's 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, and Gen. Johnston could not send a single soldier either because his army was engaged by Gen. Sherman's army At that time, the armies of the 9 estates had been destroyed by Gen. Sherman. After nine months of siege, when his soldiers laid prostrate and horses dropped off, Gen. Lee surrendered his army to Gen. Grant without the approval of 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 and planted mainly 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 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.

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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.


conradofontanilla (author) from Philippines on February 03, 2014:


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.

Jurnee Hicks on February 03, 2014:

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

conradofontanilla (author) from Philippines on April 02, 2012:

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 from Philippines on April 02, 2012:

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 (author) from Philippines on April 02, 2012:

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 from Philippines on April 02, 2012:

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 (author) from Philippines on March 31, 2012:

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 from Illinois on March 31, 2012:

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.