Information furnished by O.T. Fargo
associated with Green Valley AEA (Area Education Association)

There were a lot of factors involved in the cause of the Civil War. My opinion is that the conflict was inevitable and had been brewing since the days of the revolution. Most people say economics was a root cause. To me, economics includes the use of slaves and hence the slavery issue. However, this really didn't surface as a cause in most people's minds until the second year of the war. The south was a rural agricultural economy, the north was more industrial. Any laws or policies that were made would impact one and generally not the other.

The issue of states rights was also an issue. The South had maintained since the constitution that "United States" was plural, not singular, and they had little obligation to heed any federal mandates when they came in conflict with what they considered their own best interests. I wrote the following in my new book on the subject:

A number of problems simmered in the country since the early 1800s. Westward expansion heightened sectional differences that had been around since the 1700s. Both sides saw the prospective new states in the west as partners to increase their votes in congress and thereby push their own agendas and ways of life. The impact of cotton on the South and industrialism on the North widened the gulf between the two sections. As the spread of cotton made slavery more profitable, intense opposition to protective tariffs grew, and resentment over Northern attacks on slavery became more intense. Embattled Southerners became increasingly hostile.

The South saw the North as wanting to diminish the rights of a state in favor of an all-powerful federal government and shift power from their farm-based economy to the Northern industrialists. But of all the differences separating the North and South, slavery was most open to attack. Southern extremists asserted that slavery must be protected, both in existing and future states, and Northern extremists believed it must be prohibited, at least, in the new territories.

Large planters in the South and abolitionists in the North were the vocal minorities. Southerners, even the majority who didn't own slaves, rallied to the defense of the homeland, its economic policies, way of life, and slavery. Abolitionists aroused anti-slavery sentiment and helped to make slavery a political issue. Most of the country, Iowa included, could not conceive of Blacks as equals and feared an influx of free Blacks into white society and its labor force.

The Fugitive Slave Act (1850) said that a slave would always be a slave unless freed by a master, and the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision (1857), which maintained Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories, inflamed the North. President Buchanan further angered the North by urging Congress to admit Kansas as a slave state rather than abiding by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1864 which left the question of slavery in the territories to the inhabitants. This started a guerilla war in Kansas with outrages by pro-slave, Missouri-based "border ruffians" and anti-slave fanatics like John Brown which kept the nation in a state of turmoil.

By the 1850's the issues dividing North and South became very emotional. Fugitive slave rescues, Kansas atrocities and debates, the widespread Northern acceptance of Harriet Beecher Stowe's portrait of slavery in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Southern attempts to reopen the African slave trade and inflammatory speeches by leading politicians were capped by John Brown's raid (October 16-18, 1859) on the Harpers Ferry arsenal in Virginia.

But 1860 both sides had been scowling at each other for so long that, like belligerent schoolboys, they believed the stereotypes they held of one another. In addition, the great compromisers such as Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and Stephen A. Douglas had either died off or lost interest. Many historians feel the real issues could have been adjusted by rational men who wanted to work them out. Still others believe that they just got tired of shouting at each other.


Another voice was heard: The North fought the South because they hated Tara (the life­style on the plantation in "Gone With the Wind"). Because they knew that Lee and Davis and others were trying to grow in America that which was most un-American. . . because they had enough of the Ancient Curse, "You and Yours Will Never Rise. You are a serf, your children will be serfs; you are a cobbler, your children will be cobblers, and we will always have our boots on your neck." America offered them an end to that hopelessness, and the simplest of them could see the Confederacy as an old Acquaintance, a threat to the Unique American Idea of Opportunity. Aside from the slave-owners trying to prevail over northern labor, aside from the cultural divide which encouraged Old World Aristocracy, aside from growth of southern poor white unemployment, it was cherishing the American Experiment, that determined the struggle.

David Harner views causes from his perspective of a degree in history, seeing that no war has been a solution but each has led to the next one. He wrote: I think it is necessary to look at the historical perspective and what was happening at the time the wars occurred. The reason for WWI may have been an ambitious German monarchy, but it is necessary to look at what led into that and what were the additional causes. Just as in WWII, there was Hitler who promised the Germans to get back for them what they lost in the Treaty of Versailles in WW1, so it is necessary to look at what people in Germany wanted, what people in France and other nations wanted, and how those things came into conflict. By treaty and otherwise, Japan held Pacific islands, which cost thousands of lives taking them in WWII. Who knows where the next will be, but it will probably be a result of a previous war.





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Last Revised April 4, 2015