Have Historians Overemphasized Slavery
As a Cause of the Civil War?
The Civil War took more American lives than any other war in history. It was a war of division. It was brother against brother; north against south; and person against person fighting that left a heritage of grief and bitterness that in part still remains to this day. It was a great turning point in American history. It abolished slavery completely in the United States, and also cemented the Union of the states. What was the cause of such a transformation? To this day, historians have not agreed on one general cause of the Civil War. Some argue that slavery was the main cause. Others believe that the war resulted from economic rivalry between the industrial North and the agricultural South. Do historians overemphasize the issue of slavery as the cause of the Civil War? No, slavery was the basic problem behind the start of the war. It was the root of all other issues that came up between the north and the south.
According to Webster's American Heritage Dictionary, a slave is " A bond servant digested of all freedom and personal rights; a human being who is owned by and wholly subject to the will of another." Therefore, the definition of slavery is, "The owning and keeping of slaves as a practice or institution." Is this an acceptable way of living? With an issue like this, there is bound to be differing opinions between people. The South depended on slavery. It had become their way of life. Not every Southerner owned a slave, but all Southerners favored the slavery system. They saw it as a permanent basis to their society. The Northerners were getting ideas that the South wanted to enslave the entire country through their control of the national government. They believed that the Slave Power would overthrow the Republican Government. The definition of slavery had gone from the institution of black slaves in the south, to the absence of liberty and equality with absolutely no Republicanism present. Slavery was taking over the nation. The main focuses of the Republican campaigns from 1856 to 1860 were to enlist Northern voters in plans to drive the Slave Power from its control over the country's government (holt, pg. 299). Holt states that, "Much more important was the campaign [the Republicans] ran to obtain power, their skill in politicizing the issues at hand in such a way as to convince Northern voters that control of the national government by an exclusive Northern party was necessary to resist Slave Power aggressions" (pg. 299). All in all, the North and the South had completely different views on the subject of slavery, and both sides were going to do whatever they could to prove the opposite side was wrong. Holt believes that, "The Republicans won more because of what they were against than because of what they were for, because of what they wanted to stop, not what they hoped to do "(holt, pg. 299).
Slavery was the basis for all political debates during the mid-1800's. Slavery and other issues were the dividing factors between political parties. For example, Henry Clay lost votes to the abolitionist Liberty party because he was a slaveholder. The slavery issue was widespread, affecting most everyone's way of life in some way. Joel H. Silbey argues that the slavery was just on of the many factors attributing to the Civil War (silbey, pg. 286). Silbey believes that the complexities of human behavior and the political tensions were conflicting, and the Civil War was caused for those reasons (silbey, pg. 292). Holt still proves that the Civil War was caused chiefly due to slavery and its related issues. The North and the South were bitter toward each other, and the Slave Power that the Southerners were achieving finally pushed the North over the edge.
In conclusion, have the historians overemphasized the effect of slavery on the Civil War? In short, no, they have not, because slavery was taking over the country. The South depended on it as a way of life, and the North saw this as a threat to the national government. The north was afraid that the overpowering Slave Power would eventually rise above the government and the South, in a sense would overtake the North. Therefore, the North fought for what they were against, and eventually won the Civil War. This war was a turning point in American history, and we still are learning from it to this day.