Secession of the South: Causes for Tension

Throughout the 1840’s and 1850’s a growing tension developed between the Northern and Southern states of America. That tension was primarily focused on the existence of slavery in the Southern states. Most Northern states had abolished slavery by 1850 and made a promise to the people to end slavery completely. They wanted the South to begin to become similar to the North, and to live under the concept of free labor, and not rely on slavery for productivity. The resentment for the interference of the North angered southerners because they felt that it was not the place of the federal government to interfere.
Ever since the American Revolution sectional differences arose, the first being those favoring greater states rights and those favoring greater federal rights. Ever since the Revolution more and more dissimilarities arose between the North and the South due to differences in modernization and societal development. These different ideals caused tensions between the two sections and difficulties in staying together as a single union. The Southern ways of life were being targeted and altered by the North’s inconsiderate decisions of their societies foundation, though the North had a strong basis.
The southern secession in 1860 was in direct result of the inability for the North and South to cooperate and coexist, and was the only possible alternative, in the minds of the southerners, for the different methods of living to remain. There were many aspects that varied among the North and South states that lead to the Civil War and among these were economic, social and political differences. Economic and social divergences between the North and the South were one of the most prominent factors leading to Southern secession.

The Southern economy was heavily supported on cotton, due to Eli Whitney’s invention of the Cotton Gin, which made cotton extraordinarily profitable for most southern plantation owners. The southerner’s focus shifted from all other previous crops to cotton, but cotton still required labor to be taken from the fields. Slavery became an institution that, in a sense, was the foundation for southern economy because of the fact that it was an inexpensive and vastly available labor source. Completely opposing southern society was that of the North, which was an industrial based economy instead of an agricultural one.
The North utilized the raw materials and turned them into finish goods, making slavery neither an immediate necessity nor a foundation for their economy. The economic attitudes that differentiated the North and the South were exceedingly dissimilar and there was not a great deal flexibility for change. The southern reliance on slavery for labor and the northern perception of the institution as cruel and inhumane, were conflicts that challenged the southerners’ way of life and arose much tension between the two.
Social differences between the North and the South coincided with their economic differences. The South, being agriculturally based could not relate and could not be related to by the North. The North experienced industrialization and drastically modernized, but the South continued with the traditional plantation system and strict social order it had began with, creating the lack of connection between the two due to two completely polar opposite societies. The North’s attitude towards the South was perceived as the attacking of another societies lifestyle and existence.
With the limitations on the expansion of slavery, the growing abolitionist movement in the north and the election of Abraham Lincoln, secession was the only way to escape the North’s condemnation of the South as a whole. States rights versus federal rights, was a problem that arose from the time of the Revolution, a problem that undermined the union of the north and the south. After independence from Great Britain was acquired, the issue of states rights versus federal rights was in need of a solution.
The Articles of Confederation was the first government succeeding the Revolution, in which states rights were favored, and states were united under a weak confederation. Ultimately failing due to conflicts that developed within the nation, the United States Constitution was established which put power primarily in the hands of the federal government. The new form of government was not popular among many states because they felt that their own individual states rights were being disregarded and lost the ability to act autonomously.
The Nullification Crisis, being one of the biggest conflicts, occurred when South Carolina attempted to void and not follow laws implemented by Congress if they were deemed unconstitutional by the state. This problem arose from the Tariff of Abominations, which taxed goods from Great Britain and disrupted the trade of cotton in exchange for manufactured goods. The southern economy was being threatened by the new ideas of the north, enraging southerners that the north was abusing the power they had over the country as a whole.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was an addition to the compromise of 1850, stating that if a slave escapes and flees into another state, being free or slave, the return of said slaves was mandatory. The North, being for the most part anti-slavery, defied the Fugitive Slave Act and harbored escaped slaves without returning them (Northern Sate Defies Fugitive State Act, 1). The inability for the North to understand the situation of the South and the South to understand the northern way of thinking added more and more tension to the already unstable union of the two.
Western territorial expansion was a major problem among pro-slavery and anti-slavery proponents. The immense amount of land attained from the Mexican war and the Louisiana Purchase was beneficial for the completion of the United States but the slavery issue was only worsened. In 1820, to lessen the tension without creating any hasty conflicts, the Missouri Compromise was passed to decide whether new states added to the Union from the Louisiana Purchase would be slave or free states. The agreement stated, frankly, that states that were admitted to the south were slave states and those of the north were free states.
In 1850, after the Mexican war the question arose again whether states would be free or slave states and this time solution was different than the Missouri compromise. The Compromise of 1850 was a bill that clarified the controversies that came with the New Mexico territory and did not follow the aforementioned Missouri compromise. James C. Calhoun, in reaction to the Compromise stated, “that the agitation of the subject of slavery would, if not prevented… end in disunion” (A Dying Statesman Speaks out Against the Compromise of 1850, 1).
The southern pride in their societal and economic structure openly accepted from the beginning that if slavery remains the issue, then secession remains the solution. In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, which repealed the Missouri Compromise and stated that to decide whether these new territories would be free or slave, popular sovereignty among the settlers would be the ultimate decision. The passing of the law was to settle all unfairness and let the people decide, but the law was taken advantage of by pro-slavery Missourians.
Kansas immediately was filled with Missourians who wanted to ensure that Kansas was in favor of slavery and intended to do so by increasing the pro-slavery concentration there. Northerners, desiring slavery to be banned and abolished, did the same to ensure that the pro-slavery Missourians did not make Kansas a slave state (Free State Convention, 1). The accumulation of angry pro-slavery southerners and anti-slavery northerners in Kansas resulted in open warfare in the city of Lawrence, Kansas (Kansas Begins to Bleed, 3).
This physical conflict, “Bleeding Kansas”, over the sectional differences of the North and South defined the division of the United States as a whole. The Election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 resulted in the immediate secession of the many southern states, and the formation of the Confederate states of America. Lincoln’s statement “ I believe this government cannot endure permanently half-slave and half-free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all of the other.
Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it… or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful states, old as well new – North as well as South” (Abraham Lincoln, A House Divided, 1). Stated straightforwardly by the president, Lincoln addressed the issue of slavery and sectional differences by stating that either slavery will be abolished and put into extinction or will be an institution in the North and the South, because “ a house divided against it self cannot stand” (Abraham Lincoln, A House Divided, 1).
Abraham Lincoln was perceived by the south as a Republican that would further limit states rights and therefore, acting as the final catalyst, forced South Carolina to secede from the Union. Slavery was not the reason that the American Civil War was fought, but it was an underlying area of focus. Slavery was an institution that was much less appealing to northerners but crucially essential for southerners. The northern intent was to completely abolish slavery but could not completely do so immediately due to the southern dependence on the institution.
Southerners knew that if slavery was not permitted to expand with the countries borders then the institution could not progress and would fade away and taking along with it the southern way of life. The tensions arose from the belief that the northerners were dominating the South, and the last resort of the southern states, after countless attempts to coexist, was to disaffiliate and form an independent union in which they could live as they leased with no repercussions. The initial and overall conflict for the actual war between the North and the South were the issue of federalism versus anti-federalism and the lacking of a strong connection between the two, making them act as if they were separate entities. The Civil War was fought to keep the southern states from seceding and a consequence of the North’s winning was the abolition of the institution of slavery

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