Essay Example on How Slavery Caused the Civil War

Published: 2023-08-02
Essay Example on How Slavery Caused the Civil War
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  American Civil War Slavery American history
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 1003 words
9 min read

While a significant number of historians believe and argue that the bloodiest armed conflict in the North American continent was caused by the differences in states’ rights, the truth is that the American civil war was a result of the institution of slavery. It was more about the economic aspects of slavery than the moral issues surrounding the ownership, use, selling, and renting out of African slaves in the South. In the southern states, the institution of slavery was so deeply interwoven into the economic system that immediate abolition would have serious consequences on the agriculture-dependent South. It is critical to point out that while slavery was an integral part of the economy of the South, the number of people that actually owned slaves in the region was relatively low. The slaves were the main source of labor in the South, where extensive plantations produced tons upon tons of cotton and other cash crops. The abolitionist efforts by the northern states sparked a sharp conflict between the Confederates and the Union states, a conflict that would eventually burst into the darkest moment in American history – the American civil war.

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Since the states of the South had expressed a deep interest in continuing to keep and control slaves, something that the Northern states were strictly opposed to, they sought to secede and to consider themselves an independent confederation of states that were ready to maintain slavery. In other words, the institution of slavery caused and catalyzed secession politics, which would further increase the levels of tension between the two regions – the North and the South. Secession, which is the basis of the politics of separatism, was meant to undermine the Emancipation Declaration by Abraham Lincoln, which sought to set free about 4 million African slaves held in the South. The Union was ready to defend the Emancipation Declaration by all means possible, which saw many slaves strive to escape from their Southern masters to join the Free states and to serve in the Union military forces against the South.

Another prominent way of explaining how slavery contributed to the American civil war is the development of the Underground Railroad, a complex system of escape routes designed by northern abolitionists and African escapees. The routes were meant to help the slaves that had escaped from their masters to reach their Free State destinations and were responsible for cementing the fame of such personalities as Harriet Tubman. The network system contained routes and safe houses where the slaves could make stop-overs. The Underground Railroad fuelled the starting of the civil war because the Southern states saw it as a big blow to their efforts to retain the slaves. In addition to crafting the Underground Railroad, the antislavery movement of the North had taken several measures to block the westward expansion of the institution of slavery. The western states joined the union in combating the expansion efforts by the confederate south, which would further intensify the tension and suspicion between the two factions.It is critical to also point out to the reality that the African Americans, descendants of the slaves, supported the war in different ways. In the north, they offered wage labor and took part in the actual fight as soldiers. In the South, they offered slave labor, which would offer the financial assistance and resources needed by the southern confederate fighters in the civil war. During the war, many slaves in the South escaped to the Free States in huge numbers. They often celebrated northern victory but their masters thought the slaves were still loyal at heart. Toward the outbreak of the war, the slaves in the South had already started going slow, vandalizing property, organizing revolts, feigning sickness and other efforts. The reality that the southern slave owners overestimated their loyalty also contributed to the war because the northern states and the abolitionists were assured of the slaves’ support. More than one hundred thousand Africans participated in the war, fighting for the Union. During the conflict, about five hundred thousand more escaped to the Union states.

The refusal by the Union armies to return escaped slaves further fuelled the tension and suspicion between the Union and the Confederacy. In May 1861, Benjamin F. Butler a Union General commanding Fort Monroe in Virginia one-sidedly refused to return some slaves that had escaped from their southern masters. The reasoning of the General, which Lincoln ratified, was that returning the escaped slaves was tantamount to aiding the enemy to hit back even harder. The slaves were employed to work in the quartermaster section. On August 6, 1861, following Lincoln’s support for Butler’s decision, Congress ratified the first Confiscation Act which authorized the federal government to seize all property used by the confederates, including the slaves.

In conclusion, the above-discussed points reveal that slavery, rather than the rights of the states, sparked and catalyzed the American civil war. First, the slavery institution was so deeply interwoven into the economy of the South that letting it go could cause an economic crunch of sorts. Secondly, the Union blocked the westward expansion of slavery. Thirdly, the African slaves were used by both sides for military purposes. Also, the efforts to help the escaping slaves led to the development of the Underground Railroad. Ownership of slaves was considered a source of high social position in the South, something that the masters were not willing to let go of. The Emancipation Declaration by Abraham Lincoln also tore the two regions apart. When it got to the extent that the North was not willing to let go of escaped slaves, an armed conflict became an inescapable reality.


Finkelman, Paul. "Slavery, the Constitution, and the Origins of the Civil War." OAH Magazine of History 25, no. 2 (2011): 14-18.

Ransom, Roger L. Conflict and compromise: the political economy of slavery, emancipation and the American Civil War. Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Tenzer, Lawrence Raymond. The forgotten cause of the civil war: a new look at the slavery issue. Scholars Pub House, 1997.

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