Why Study the War Between the States?
The War Between the States was the pivotal point in American history. Not only were 600,000 American lives lost in those four years of bloody carnage, but the conflict completely altered the nature of the American constitutional system. According to historian James McPherson, "[After the war] the old decentralized federal republic became a new national polity that taxed the people directly, created an internal revenue bureau to collect these taxes, expanded the jurisdiction of federal courts, established a national currency and a national banking structure. The United States went to war in 1861 to preserve the Union; it emerged from war in 1865 having created a nation. Before 1861 the two words 'United States' were generally used as a plural noun: 'The United States are a republic.' After 1865 'the United States' became a singular noun. The loose union of states became a nation." Thus, no one may really understand current events in this country without studying the War Between the States.
What Were the Causes of the War Between the States?
Most Americans have been taught that the War Between the States was fought over the issue of slavery. However, while slavery did in fact play an important role in the dispute between North and South, there were many other factors involved. As most wars have been throughout modern history, the War Between the States was at bottom a financial conflict. With the demise of the Whig Party and the split of the Northern and Southern branches of the Democratic Party, the opportunity afforded itself for the recently organized Republican Party to increase its political power in both chambers of Congress and to successfully elect Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency. Radical Abolitionist Wendell Phillips acknowledged that the Republican Party was "a sectional party, organized against the South." Several other leading Republicans even went so far as to advocate civil war in order to keep the Southern States in a condition of subordination to a Northern majority. Southern leaders, such as John Caldwell Calhoun, had warned that if the North ever gained control of the federal Government the rights of the Southern people would be lost. The Republican pledge to confine slavery within the existing States and to prevent its spread into the common Territories was perceived as an intent to destroy the rights of the Southern people wholesale. Many Republicans, such as Lincoln the former Whig and Henry Clay admirer, also openly advocated a high tariff and internal improvement system (which Clay had named, "The American System"). Historically, high tariffs benefited Northern industry and had adverse effects on the price of exported Southern cotton. Consequently, the War Between the States had much more to do with differing views on the relation of the States to the federal Government, the extent of State power, and economics rather than the issues of slavery or Negro civil rights. In fact, some of the Northern people deplored Abolitionism and were opposed to Negro equality. Even Lincoln openly declared himself in opposition to Negro citizenship. Most of the Northern States had various anti-Negro laws on the books and Lincoln's own State of Illinois altered its constitution in 1862 to prohibit the immigration of free Blacks entirely.