Thursday, April 27, 2006

The American Civil War The Road to war

The American Civil War marked a turning point in the history of conflict. Between 1861 and 1865 the world would witness devastating new weapons and tactics that finally brought an end to Napoleonic warfare and ushered in a brutal and bloody new era which would culminate in the horrendous casualties of the Western Front. The war that divided a nation would have implications that affected the entire world – introducing new concepts from mass production and ironclads to machineguns – it would usher in the age of modern warfare and would leave a nationBackground The war was essentially a battle between two sides that were, on the face of it, almost totally alike. Comrades who had fought side-by-side defending a young nation now found themselves at loggerheads, families were divided and bitterness and destruction littered the land of the free. However, the roots of the conflict are not as simple as is often believed. Far from being the great crusade to free the slaves the conflict had its roots in the very independence won from Britain a century before. The revolutionary state that had established its autonomy in 1783 was not as unified as is often believed; indeed the seeds that would eventually lead to civil war were sown almost 100 years before the first shot was fired. It was in the days of the and the adoption of the Constitution that fundamental differences between north and south were created. At the time these divides were dwarfed by their common interest in establishing a new nation but, once established, the political divide that split the country gradually asserted itself. mourning hundreds of thousands of its children. Keeping the peace The of 1820, which aimed to uphold the balance between slave and free-states within the Union, was intended as a permanent solution to the issue of the extension or prohibition of slavery in the Western federal territories. It saw the admission of Maine to the Union as a free-state, while Missouri joined as a slave state. It also contained a clause forbidding slavery in the remainder of the .However, despite the attempt to ensure a status quo within the system, tensions continued to mount as the expansion of the United States continued and the carefully maintained balance of the Union came under increasing pressure. Since slavery could not be implemented in the vast amount of territory constituting free states, the south became more anxious about maintaining its position as an equal in the Union. Southerners thus strongly supported the annexation of Texas (certain to be a slave state), the and even agitated for the annexation of Cuba. The which saw the admission of California to the Union, ushered in a series of measures which many people, North and South, hailed as a final solution to the question of slavery in the territories. However, as with the Missouri Compromise, it was not long before the two sides were posturing once again. Less than four years after the deal that was intended to heal the divisions of the nation, the first blood was shed as the two sides resorted to violence over the struggle for Kansas. The which became law on May 30, 1854, saw the establishment of the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. The bill contained a provision stating that the question of slavery should be left to territorial settlers themselves. This was the famous principle that became known as popular sovereignty. In its final form the bill provided for the creation of two new territories instead of one. The obvious inference was that the first would be slave, the second free. The new measure flatly contradicted the provisions of the Missouri Compromise (under which slavery would have been barred from both territories); indeed, an amendment was added specifically repealing that agreement. This aspect of the bill in particular enraged the antislavery forces, but after three months of bitter debate in Congress, it was finally adopted.Undeclared war The effect of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was anything but reassuring to those who had hoped for a peaceful solution. The popular sovereignty provision caused both proslavery and antislavery forces to marshal strength and exert pressure to determine the popular decision in Kansas. Before long an undeclared war was taking place in the region. The result was the tragedy of ‘bleeding Kansas’ as violence across the region rose. Northerners and Southerners were aroused to such passions that sectional division reached a point that precluded reconciliation. The political map now began to change to reflect this growing divide and a new political organization, the , was founded. By 1855 the new party was gaining momentum in the North. Anti-slavery figures such as William Seward and Thurlow Weed were dominant in the new grouping. The party opposed the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the extension of slavery, and favoured the admission of Kansas as a free state. Generally belligerent toward the South, the Republicans were regarded by Southerners with mingled hatred and fear as sectional tension increased. famous 1858 speech, declaring the Republican belief that slavery was a “moral, social and political wrong” upset southern slaveholders and poorer whites who enjoyed their superior social status over slaves. Passions were further inflamed by arguments over the fugitive slave laws and the, which saw a Southern-dominated supreme court declare that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. The activities of extremists now entered the fray, particularly the Northern abolitionist , whose short-lived capture of the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry sparked wild fears in the South. (Brown and his party were quickly overpowered by a company of U.S. marines, commanded by one Colonel ). Political upheaval and civil war The widening gulf now split large Protestant sects into northern and southern branches and resulted in the dissolution of the . Most southern Whigs joined the Democratic Party, one of the few remaining nationwide institutions. The new Republican Party remained a strictly Northern phenomenon. Events came to a head with the presidential election of 1860, in which the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, defeated his opponents. Lincoln's victory was the signal for the of South Carolina on December 20th, 1860. It was followed out of the Union by six other states: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. This new coalition formed the Confederate States of America and, under President Jefferson Davis, declared their intention to remove Federal forces from their land.


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