The Causes of the American Civil War

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The Civil War also is known as the American Civil war was one of the major and memorable parts of the American History which played a role in defining the characteristic of the United States of America; especially in governance, constitutional and human rights matters. It began in the mid-nineteenth century from 1861, lasting four years up to 1865. Various issues raised tension between the northern and southern states of the nation. The issues were based on governance of the states and regions which were not yet states, all which were centred on the matter of slavery and liberty to all people. The Northerners fought for a united country with consolidated states run under a sovereign government with the abolition of slavery. The Southerners fought to have secluded southern states with their own government and constitution that also allowed slavery. The four years and the most destructive war ended in 1865 with the Northerners' victory, a period during which the American nation was under Republican President Abraham Lincoln.

With the conflicting interests, what really spurred the genesis of the war is explained differently by different historians. In this essay, the explanations of the cause of the war are derived from Arthur Bestor and Frank Owsley. The historian, Bestor, points out that the Civil war was brought about by constitutional crises that America experienced before, during the war. He also indicates that the crisis did not end with the war, but instead continued even after the Civil war with the new dawn of the Reconstruction period (Bestor, 327).

The second historian, Frank Owsley points out that the American Civil war was innate of the difference in the economic structure of the two sides, the North and the South. Owsley, in his article, highlights that there was no difference between the Northern and Southern States and populations with regard to the democratic ideology of a free government. That assumptions made that the South was up for a dismantled government while the North wanted a united one, is an erroneous one. He also states that the economic structure of the section plays a major role in its political set-up (Owsley, 4).

Bestor defines a constitution as an incorporation of different traditions, laws and insights. He supports his account by indicating that the difference in ideology, economic structure and social structure created the constitutional crises (Bestor, 328). The author states that with conflicts, policies are revised in terms of political power that supports or refutes it while logic is shunned and measured in form of legality; this implies that the constitution is the ultimate tool that conflict arises and is solved. Bestor defines the War as one between already established political units, both of which are founded from the very constitution that united them. Economic issues and interests existed within these conflicting federations and so did the controversial issue of slavery (Bestor, 329-330).

In his article, Owsley gives the differences of the economies of the two sections and how their economic structures influenced the existence of a free democratic government; and based on factors of wealth distribution and ownership, the economic structure is elucidated. The Northwesterners were farmers who owned their own significant measure of land while only a few had large pieces of land while few people rented land. The Northeast part was more modernized with industries and means of production was held by minority high-class citizens. These owners depended upon the lower-class people as tools of production; these people did not adequately receive the required employment protection from relevant authorities (Owsley, 5). As for the other section, the South, the industrialized eastern side also had a minority who owned means of production but owned little or no land within the black belt. A greater percentage of the population owned their own farmlands in equal measures with a minority owning large portions (Owsley, 6). Also, the slaves were held by small farmers, not the owners of large farms. Owsley highlights that the highly subdivided economic structure of the Northeast, could not fully support the idea of a free democracy. On the other hand, the South was well structured with economic liberty and hence their economy could support a free democracy and hence came the idea of secession from the Union.

Of the two historians, Arthur Bestor is more credible since his argument is based on not only one issue that led to the Civil War, but also includes the role of the constitution and gives evidence of his arguments with the succeeding period of Reconstruction. Bestor includes the difference in social issues that existed especially slavery, for example, while the southern farmers kept slaves, the comparable Northern farmers did not. The constitution called for a free democracy and human liberty but the difference in ideology and social structures created a conflict. On the other hand, Owsley gives an account from the Southern perspective and only points out the economic difference as a source of political difference; he does not identify utmost social and ideological issues at the time. Bestor, in his article, highlights facts that can be traced in history, before, since and after the war. A constitutional crisis cannot be solved through violence and war but progressively and that explains Bestor’s historical account that even during Reconstruction, the issues persisted.

Works Cited

Bestor, Arthur. "The American Civil War as a Constitutional Crisis."The American Historical Review (1964): 69(2): 327-352.

Owsley, Frank L. "The Fundamental Cause of the Civil war: Egocentric Sectionalism."The Journal of Southern History (1941): 7(1): 3-18.

November 24, 2023

History War

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Civil War

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