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What were the causes of the Civil War? Most people when asked this question would answer with single word slavery. While slavery was ultimately the cause of the war, many historians offer several different schools of thought regarding the causes of the war. The first school of thought is the Partisan school, which has slavery as the root cause of the war. This view when written by northerner s states that the South was wrong for seceding from the Union and that the North fought to preserve the Union.
They hold to the belief that since the Constitution was silent on the issue of secession, then it was wrong to secede and the very act of secession was a violation of the Constitution. Southerners writing about this same view feel that since the Constitution was silent on the issue of secession, then they could secede. They hold to the belief that the South fought to preserve the peculiar institution of slavery and to obtain Southern independence. Another school of thought written in the 1890 s is the Nationalist school. These writers maintain that the war was irrepressible and that neither side was wrong or right. They write that the Civil War was inevitable and no one should be named as the responsible party.
This school of thought was written right after the war with Spain when Americans were once again fighting a common foe. America was now a unified nation, joining together against Spain. Former Confederate generals were again fighting in American armies; fighting side by side with former Union generals. Since America was united once again, no one wanted to point the finger at either side to say one side was responsible for the war. After World War I, another school of thought surfaced called the Economic Determinist School. Charles and Mary Beard wrote this new view citing economics as the cause of the Civil War.
The writers believe that the war was brought on by the struggle between the agricultural South and the industrialized North for control of the government. If the South gained control of the government, then they could place tariffs on the North. Likewise, if the North gained control of the government, then they could place tariffs on the South. This would ultimately mean that a hostile government could control the economic future of the country. The inherent flaw of this view is that it assumes the North was completely industrial and the South was completely agricultural. This assumption is not true.
The North was still largely agricultural, and the South did have industry. Economics was not the cause of the war, but did play an important part in the war. The South s poorer economy could not support the Confederate army and the soldiers suffered greatly. The Blundering Generation is a school of thought that points out the inept leadership of the time. By 1852, all the great Nationalists in Congress were dead. Among the greats were Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John C.
Calhoun. These great men were followed by a group of bungling politicians including, Stephen A. Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and John J. Crittenden. Stephen Douglas, a slave owner himself, was not really concerned with the issue of slavery, but used it to further his own means. His real ambition was to have the Transcontinental Railroad to come through his state and his land, therefore providing profit for himself.
To make this goal a reality, Douglas needed the Southern vote. To ensure their support, he promised that if the South would vote for Chicago as the railroad terminal, he would in turn allow settlers bring slaves into the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska. These areas were above the border that Congress had already established between free states and slave states. The result of this campaign was that enough Southerners voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act to pass it, thus setting into motion the unraveling of the Union. The final school of thought is the Contemporary view of American Negro slavery with all its racial implications.
This view holds to the basic belief that the root cause of the war was slavery. If all the slaves had been white, there probably would have been no problem freeing them. If all Southerners had been black, there would have been no problem freeing the slaves. But the fact remains, the slaves were black and the southerners were white and there was a great problem freeing the slaves. Most historians lean towards this view of slavery being the cause of the Civil War, although most agree that the other factors contributed as well.
I personally agree with this last school of thought that has the issue of slavery as the root cause of the war. When the country was founded, all states had the institution of slavery and all were overwhelmingly rural and agricultural. But slavery was relatively marginal in the Northern states, and during and after the Revolution, they abolished it. Their economy began to develop in the direction of a more diversified, commercial and industrial as well as agricultural economy, while the cotton boom in the South made the area even more dependent on slave labor. The South was overwhelmingly rural, overwhelmingly agricultural, and primarily dependent in its economy on slave-grown agricultural crops. The institution of slavery, by the 1830 s, was being increasingly attacked by the Northern abolitionists as contrary to the ideals that the country had been founded on.
The South grew increasingly defensive and turned aggressive in its defensiveness, defending slavery as a positive good. As tensions grew, the South stood firm in their belief of state s rights and the right to secede from a Union who challenged those rights. The North stood just as firm in their belief that the Union must be preserved at all cost. The South was not going to give up their beliefs and the right to own slaves. The North was not going to let the integrity of the Union be challenged by rebellious southern states. So, it seems that war was inevitable and the only way they would ever settle the issue was to fight for their beliefs.
The Civil War was the war of American unification, because it forged a modern nation that had a greater bond than ever before and a people with intense patriotism for their country.
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