General Grant and General Lee“At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, a single mortar round was fired on Fort Sumter, S.C., and the Civil War began. By the time it ended in 1865, approximately 620,000 soldiers’ lives had been lost, and America had changed in profound, immutable ways. One hundred and fifty years later, we’re still examining why.” – Parade Magazine

There were many reasons for the Civil War and political issues and disagreements began very soon after the Revolution ended in 1782. Arguments between 1800 and 1860 grew more intense and one of the major quarrels was about tariffs being paid on goods brought into this country from overseas.

The South believed these tariffs were aimed specifically at them because they imported a larger variety of goods than the North. In addition to this southern exporters often had to pay higher amounts for shipping their goods overseas because of the longer distance from ports in the south from tariffs imposed by foreign countries.

An unbalanced economic structure permitted states and private transportation companies also affected southern banks who paid higher interest rates on loans made with banks in the north.

The situation escalated after several panics in the world of finance, including one in 1857 that affected more northern banks than southern. This resulted in southern financiers have to make higher payments to save the northern banks that had suffered financial loss because of poor investment strategies.

During the years before the Civil War, political power in the Federal government centered in Washington, D.C. was changing. The northern and mid-western states were becoming more and more powerful as populations increased. And, because the southern populations did not grow at the same rate, they lost political power.

As the Northern states grew bigger than the Southern states, people began to talk of the nation as if they were sections. Just as the original thirteen colonies fought for their independence one hundred years before, the southern states felt an ever increasing need to have freedom from the central Federal governing body in Washington.

Southerners believed state laws carried more weight than Federal laws and state regulations came first (sound familiar).  These states rights became a very hot topic in Washington.

Of course, another quarrel between the North and the South and the most emotional issue was slavery. This country was an agrarian nation and crops like cotton, sugar, rice and other cash crops were grown in the south.  Labor, in the form of slaves, was used on large plantations. Eli Whitney’s invention of the Cotton Gin made cotton more profitable for southern growers and radically cut the time it took to process cotton. Unfortunately, slaves were a central part of that industry.

In 1859, an abolitionist named John Brown raided the Federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, with the intention of supplying weapons to an army of slaves to rebel against their southern masters.

Troops, commanded by Colonel Robert E. Lee, stormed the building capturing Brown and several of his men. Brown was tried, found guilty, and hung in Charlestown. Although Brown failed, it fueled the passions of northern abolitionists who made him a martyr.

The situation reached a fever pitch when Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States in 1860. He was a member of the Republican Party and vowed to keep the country united and the new western territories free from slavery.

Many Southerners belonged to the Democrat party and were concerned that Lincoln was not sympathetic to their way of life and would, therefore, not treat them fairly. The growing strength of the Republican Party, viewed by many as the party friendly to abolitionists and northern businessmen, and the election of Lincoln was the last straw.

Southern governors and politicians called for state referendums to consider articles of secession. South Carolina was the first state to officially secede from the United States and soon after the election and they were followed by six other Southern states. These southern states joined together and formed a new nation that was named the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis, a Democratic senator and champion of states’ rights from Mississippi was named the first president.

On April 12, 1861 the Confederate States of America attacked Fort Sumter, South Carolina commencing four years of bloodshed and division that ended only after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865.


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2 Comments on The battle began 150 years ago today. What caused the Civil War?

  1. M. Brewster says:

    This is a terrific post and allows me to see the Civil War from a different perspective with a lot of politics involved. Most of the time when we think of it I think about the war because Lincoln freed the slaves.

  2. Jeanne C. says:

    I tend agree with M. Brewster but will now start reading more about Abe Lincoln. Reading between the lines it appears to be politics as usual. As I said, I need to learn more before jumping to conclusions.

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