Avoiding the War


The American Union was at an extremely crucial point at the time of 1861. It was a time when the Union itself was in jeopardy. Given the situation as it stood in 1861, the Civil War was virtually unavoidable. There were many longstanding issues such as slavery and the question of states rights that had been revived and were causing diversions in thinking. There were also many immediate issues such as Bleeding Kansas, Harpers Ferry, and the Succession of South Carolina that added to the hostile feelings on both sides. Clearly something was going to happen to break the tension and settle these issues.

The Longstanding issues of slavery and states rights were both equally important causes of the war. The issue of slavery is definitely and issue that could not have been completely resolved peacefully by any amount of negotiation or compromise. The Fugitive Slave Law is an example of how no law pertaining to slavery would be accepted peacefully by both the pro-slavery and antislavery factions. The law stated that federal marshals could return escaped slaves to their master and it placed heavy fines on Northern citizens who aided in the escape of a slave or failed to aid in the recapture of a slave. This law angered some Northerners to the point of violence. They would sometimes attack slave catchers and free their prisoners. The differing views of slavery between the North and the South could not help but raise the question of states rights. The South believed that it was the right of each state to decide on the issue of slavery and it was no concern of the national government. They felt that it was the right of a state to make these fundamental decisions on their own.

There were also many short-term issues that aided in the hostile tensions between the North and the South, which ultimately led to the Civil War. Bleeding Kansas was a major event on the rode to war. Both the abolitionist and the supporters of slavery were determined to have control of Kansas. When elections were held for a territorial delegate to Congress, thousands of “border ruffians” crossed into the territory to vote for a pro-slavery delegate. One was easily elected and laws against the abolition of slavery were passed. The antislavery settlers refused to accept these laws and held elections of their own. They eventually established their own government. President Pierce encouraged the pro-slavery settlers to take action and they sacked the antislavery town of Lawrence. In retaliation an extremist named John Brown took six men with him and murdered five innocent men. After this, both sides took up arms and by the end of the chaos, over 200 people had died. The Republicans exaggerated the story and helped to further the division between the two sides and further crush any hope of a peaceful compromise.

In October of 1859, John Brown and 18 other men attacked Harpers Ferry, Virginia. He and his men were able to occupy the arsenal and a rifle factory. This situation was obviously beyond any peaceful solution. General Robert E. Lee was called to lead the federal troops to subdue the resistance. He and his men laid a two-day siege to the city and there was a loss of ten federal troops. Brown was eventually captured. The Southerners reaction to Brown’s attack was one of rage. Northerners in the Southern States were sometimes arrested, or beaten. One Northerner was lynched because he was suspected of being an accomplice of Brown. Brown was tried for treason and sentenced to death by the state of Virginia. This was just one more example of how the longstanding issue of slavery would eventually result in violence and even war.

The succession of South Carolina was a major contributor to the tension and hostile feelings in America. South Carolina had warned that if Lincoln were to win the election, they would secede. In December of 1860, South Carolina passed an Ordinance of Secession. They stated the abolitionist propaganda, the Underground Railroad, Northern personal liberty laws, the formation of the Republican Party, states right, and the end of slavery as their reasons for secession. Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, and Texas followed South Carolina and these states formed the Confederate States of America. This issue may have been able to be resolved peacefully if the North would allow them to break away from the Union. However, the North was not about to allow them to secede and South Carolina was ardent in their position also. When both sided are uncompromising in their ideas, it is nearly impossible for a peaceful solution.

Given the situation as it stood in 1861, the Civil War was virtually unavoidable. The longstanding issues of slavery and states right, as well as the immediate issues of Bleeding Kansas, Harpers Ferry and the Secession of South Carolina all contributed to the Civil War. Both the North and the South were both unwilling to compromise. Their unwillingness to compromise led to small incidents of violence, which in turn resulted in the Civil War. Because the division in thinking had become so great, there was no chance for a peaceful solution. The Civil War had to come.

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