The most contributing factor to the coming of the Civil War was slavery, an economic issue to the South and a moral issue to the North. Slavery was the driving force for the Southern slave states to leave the Union. The Civil War was ultimately caused by the secession of the Southern states from the Union.
Slavery had caused a great division in our country by the 1850's. The abolitionists of the North proclaimed that slavery was immoral and wrong, and the Southern "fire eaters" were dependent upon slave labor to run its large plantations where the "cash crop" of the South, cotton, was grown. The South, being predominantly agricultural, needed these slaves as workers in the fields of their plantations.
The North, on the other hand, was heading more and more towards manufacturing. They were less dependent on slavery as many of the workers in the factories were immigrants. Because of the factory atmosphere, many of the immigrants settled in the large cities on the North where jobs were easier to find.
Citizens of the South believed that slaves were better off than the immigrants because their owner took care of their basic needs. Southerners often tried to show the plantation life of a slave as a family atmosphere. They said that "Immigrants were underpaid and over worked" and "often working conditions were unsafe and unhealthy."
States rights also played a role in the start of the Civil War. The first state to secede from the Union was South Carolina. In their declaration of secession they stated that they were leaving the Union on two defining factors: "the right of a State to govern itself; and the right of a people to abolish a Government when it becomes destructive of the ends for which it was instituted." Southerners believed that it should be up to the state to become a free or slave state and that the federal government should make no bill having to do with slavery. South Carolina is quoted as saying in their secession speech " A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery . And that the public mind must rest in the belief that Slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction."
At the end, the fate of the Union rested on one event: the national election of 1860. The campaign saw the emergence of four different candidates. Abraham Lincoln beat out William H. Seward for the representative of the newly formed Republican Party. The Democratic Party was also divided by the issue of slavery as two parties emerged from this single party. The Northern Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas and John Breckinridge was declared a candidate for the Southern Democrats. John Bell filled the fourth slot as he ran for the Constitutional Union party.
The South was almost entirely against Lincoln from the outset, as 10 states in the South did not even have him on the voting ballot. Although he promised not to touch slavery in the states where it already existed, Southerners saw his election as a detriment to their way of life because Lincoln was against almost everything they believed in: the expansion of slavery, popular sovereignty, and secession, which he called unconstitutional. The South made it very clear that if Lincoln won the election, secession from the Union would follow.
The outcome of the election of 1860 was exactly what put many Southern states over the edge. On December 19, 1860, a convention was held at St. Andrew's Hall in Charleston, South Carolina, to vote on secession. One day later on December 20, 1860, the delegates voted by a unanimous 169-0 vote in favor of secession. " The union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States under the name of the United States of America is hereby dissolved." - South Carolina secession speech.
Between January 9 and February 1, 1861, six other Southern slave states followed suit: Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Following Lincoln's inauguration, the second wave of secession occurred with Virginia leading the way for Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
In conclusion, it was the secession of the Southern states that ultimately led to the first shots of the Civil War. Lincoln saw the Southern attempt to secede as a rebellion, and he vowed to preserve the Union at all costs. On April 12, 1861, the South Carolina militia, commanded by P.G.T. Beauregard, fired on Fort Sumter, thus commencing the Civil War.