Research on Causes of Civil War

The difference between the states of the Upper South and the Lower South did not appear overnight. But by 1805, a definite trend was emerging: the reduction of the slave population of the Upper South and the Lower South. This occurred for one primary reason: cotton and tobacco were not cultivated as easily nor as readily the farther north one traveled.

Indeed, a contemporary of John C. Calhoun wondered, with the increasing pressure to abolish slavery that was evident almost from the beginning of the nation’s history, coupled with the inefficiency a slave economy brought to these middle states, how long the people of “Maryland, Western Virginia, Kentucky, [and] eastern Tennessee would feel it in their interest to retain slaves?”.

Many others foresaw a day when slavery would die out naturally, beginning in these border areas. Although the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was intended to settle the slavery question once and for all, it had the opposite effect, becoming a catalyst for reopening this debate. Now framed in terms of political power rather than economic necessity, the slavery question took on new dimensions as the nation struggled to come to terms with an issue that threatened to tear the Union apart. The Border States would have to consciously choose their destinies soon enough.

Previously, most Americans viewed slavery as merely a convenient economic system. Political debates focused on other pressing issues. Still secure from the attacks of an abolitionist movement that was still in its infancy, slavery was seen as a method of ordering labor that would, in time, die a slow natural death.

With the rise of abolitionism, however, southern slaveholding interests began to see their way of life challenged and began to view political power as polarized either toward slavery or away from it. Thus, while the U.S. House of Representatives contained more delegates from Free states than from slave, the Senate was split, Free State senators and slave state senators. In 1856, this precarious balance was at stake. “The fate of the South is to be decided with the Kansas issue,” wrote South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks. “If Kansas becomes a free state, slave property will decline to half its present value in Missouri and abolitionism will become the prevailing sentiment”.