Weekly Feature

Associated Press
Abraham Lincoln takes the oath of office as the 16th president of the United States.

The American Civil War: North and South

February 27, 2009
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Civil War was a divisive time in the United States, with two sides fiercely devoted to their causes. The country was faced with talk of secession. The South said it was ready to fight for honor. Tensions were approaching the breaking point.

The Northern Cause

For the moderate Republicans of the Union, both of Lincoln’s inaugural addresses exhibited a high level of national pride along with a clear directive about the future of slavery and the meaning of secession. In the first address, in 1861, Lincoln calls the idea of secession “the essence of anarchy,” and impresses upon us the righteousness of union and the impossibility of physical separation. There would be no “impassible walls,” he declared, between one branch of the country and the other.

“Causes of the Civil War—A Northern Perspective,” from the Georgia travel site Blue and Gray Trail, outlines some of the prominent issues north of the border, including economic concerns, race issues and the Missouri court case, Dred Scott v. Sanford of 1857 (that a slave who moves to a free state is still a slave).

While a decision like Dred Scott might seem to clarify matters, regardless of its dire consequences for African Americans, in fact it was a patchy and convoluted matter and seemed to propel the country toward revolution by warfare. A decisive change was imminent.

Sectioned Off

By the time the Dred Scott case was decided, just shy of the outbreak of the Civil War, sectionalism had taken hold. States argued over many issues, not just slavery. The North was looking toward a future of big industry. Rather than see their aims as potentially united, many in the North and South viewed their stances on agriculture and industry as irreconcilable. The election of Abraham Lincoln, a moderate Republican, seemed to widen this rift. The Civil War Center at Louisiana State University discusses this issue further in its overview of the Civil War.

What’s in a War’s Name?

Long after the war was over, the former combatants could not agree on what to call the war. At the National Archives site, Michael Musick gives us a primary document—a correspondence from the War Department about naming—and discusses the nomenclature of a “War by Any Other Name.”

To defend that claim, Ken Burns’s “Civil War” tells us that the war was also known as “the War Between the States, the War Against Northern Aggression, the Second American Revolution, the Lost Cause, the War of the Rebellion, the Brothers’ War, the Late Unpleasantness.” Walt Whitman had his very own name for it: “The War of Attempted Secession.”

The Southern Chorus

Because of the tendency to condemn the South for being morally wrong to fight for slavery, it’s not always easy to find evidence of the sentiments that took hold in the South. But there is plenty of proof that its people felt they were fighting not only for the right to own slaves, but for the chance to preserve “Southern honor, wealth, and regional character.” That “character,” though it might sound largely symbolic, embraced much more: agriculture; an economy that subsisted on slavery; an elimination of tariffs imposed by the North; and less interference from the country’s central government.

The University of Virginia documents some of the South’s perspective with an article series on the events that led up to the Civil War and inevitably engulfed all. The focal point is political cartoons, but general facts and analysis abound.

“Causes of the Civil War—A Southern Perspective,” from Blue and Gray Trail, draws on catalysts like the federal tariffs. The article also touches on states’ rights; the power of the executive government; and how old issues going as far back as the U.S. independence from England caught up with—and divided—the heirs to that imperial freedom.

The presidential “turmoil” of the preceding few decades—“nine presidents in 24 years”—certainly contributed to the country’s instability. Not one of those nine men was reelected, and sandwiched in this changeable time was economic depression—specifically, the Panics of 1837 and 1857.

In Writing

The election of President Lincoln was viewed as a call to secession, if not to arms. It provoked the drawing up of a constitution that could stand for the beliefs and motives of the southern states. The Constitution of the Confederate States of America, created in 1861, was the official document of an interim government for South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, and can be viewed on PBS’s Civil War site.

Most Recent Features