Causes of Civil War






Causes of Civil War

The American Civil War in the United States of America began on April 12th 1861. It wasn’t between just two states, but instead, many states against one another. One part wanted to keep the Union and believed that slavery should not be abolished, while the other part wanted to abolish slavery and break away from the Union. The major causes of the American civil war included sectionalism, slavery, cultural and economic change, expansion of the federal government, nationalism and populism.

In regards to sectionalism, at the time of the Civil War 1861-1865 there was a widespread agreement that slavery should be abolished. The Northern states had begun to pass laws which outlawed slavery in their own states, but Southern states continued to allow it in their own territories (Wilpone-Welborn, 2018). The majority of these were slave states and many Southern leaders had attempted to convince their state governments to adopt anti-slavery laws as early as 1829. Southerners argued that they could not survive without slavery and that their economy was heavily dependent on it. Northerners reacted to this by saying that slavery was morally wrong because it prevented people from working in whatever job they choose, rather than what they were naturally good at. They also needlessly mistreated those who were inherited into slavery and said that there was no excuse for holding another man as property. Southern leaders counter-argued that the North was trying to attack their rights as a state by banning slavery from their own territories and therefore had no right to dictate to them. This disagreement led directly to six separate states in the south deciding to form their own central government called the Confederacy, which meant simply ‘separateness’. Excessive devotion to their respective interests led to the civil war between the Northerners and the Northerners.

Slavery as another factor: the North wanted to abolish slavery whereas the South wanted to keep it. Prior to the Civil War, slavery was a huge part of the Southern economy. The South was very dependent on slave labor for their economy because of the nature of their work, and therefore could not survive economically if they had to free their slaves. It is important to remember that slaves were not only used for agricultural labor but also in mining and household duties amongst other things. According to David Williams, “Slavery provided an extremely strong motivation for secession, since states needed direct access to the international slave trade in order to grow and develop (Mathisen, 2018). In addition, the slave trade financed some of the costs of fighting a war”. In addition, “slaves were literally property and as such were considered to have certain rights under the Constitution. Thus, they had a monetary value”. The South also felt that they had been wronged by the North because before secession was declared, North Carolina’s governor and their legislature had made it very clear that if their state seceded “they would not sell or otherwise give away any portion of their slaves”.

Cultural and economic change affected the civil war in that the increase in Northern industry and the shift away from agriculture motivated abolitionists to call for the outlaw of slavery (Wilpone-Welborn, 2018). When the North began to undergo a lot of cultural changes, they also started to challenge slavery. Many people in the North felt that it was wrong to prohibit tradesmen and mechanics from working at their jobs, as well as forcing them into doing physical labor because they were a natural fit for it. They believed that this was morally wrong and that we live in a world where we should all be able to freely choose our future professions. Many Northerners also viewed slavery as an evil that they were trying to eliminate, but the southern states did not feel this way at all. The South disliked the fact that they were constantly being criticized for allowing slavery in their territory and believed that it was a local matter (Wilpone-Welborn, 2018). This difference of opinion led directly to the beginning of the American civil war between the north and south over slaves.

Expansion of the federal government was also a major cause of the civil war. It was important to the United States government that they were able to go into foreign territories and take hold of them by force, as well as bring them under their control (Wilpone-Welborn, 2018). They believed that if they did not expand west and take control over these new territories that other countries would take what is rightfully the United States’. They also felt it was necessary for the safety of the United States if this were to happen. This expansion of the federal government had been going on for a long time and was implemented by the party in power. George Washington tried to limit government, but former presidents Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson had both tried to expand it. This expansion stood in direct opposition to the concept of state’s rights that many southerners believed in, and as a result, aggravated the civil war.

The last major cause of the civil war was nationalism and populism (Wilpone-Welborn, 2018). The North and South had very different views on this subject as well, with the South believing that it was essential for them to remain one nation because they felt that they were one people. They also argued that since they were culturally similar, it was important for them to stay together because they would not be able to survive as two separate nations. The North felt that they were two separate countries and wanted to maintain this way of life. Many Northerners also viewed the South as “a sort of whipped dog” that was being held back by the dominance of the South’s slave labor. In these two countries, nationalism and populism were mainly being used as reasons to support their factions’ positions in the civil war.


Mathisen, E. (2018). The second slavery, capitalism, and emancipation in Civil War America. journal of the civil war era, 8(4), 677-699., H. (2018). The Civil War in the United States ed. by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Civil War History, 64(4), 390-391.