After the Constitution was adopted by all of the States in 1789, uniting the States into one nation, differences between the States had been worked out through compromises. By 1861 these differences between the Northern States (which included the Mid-Western and Western States) and the Southern States had become so great that compromise would no longer work. Thus, a conflict started within our nation that was called the Civil War.
For more than 30 years arguments between the North and South had been growing. One of these quarrels was about taxes paid on goods brought into this country from foreign countries. This kind of tax is called a tariff. In 1828 Northern businessmen helped get the “Tariff Act” passed. It raised the prices of manufactured products from Europe which were sold mainly in the South. The purpose of the law was to encourage the South to buy the North’s products. It angered the Southern people to have to pay more for the goods they wanted from Europe or pay more to get goods from the North. Either way the Southern people were forced to pay more because of the efforts of Northern businessmen. Though most of tariff laws had been changed by the time of the Civil War, the Southern people still remembered how they were treated by the Northern people.
In the years before the Civil War the political power in the Federal Government, centered in Washington D.C., was changing. The Northern and Mid-Western States were becoming more and more powerful as the populations increased. The Southern States were losing political power. Just as the original thirteen colonies fought for their independence almost 100 years earlier, the Southern States felt a growing need for freedom from the central Federal authority in Washington D.C. They felt that each State should make its own laws. This issue was called “State’s Rights”. Some Southern States wanted to secede, or break away from the United States of America and govern themselves.
Another quarrel between the North and South, and perhaps the most emotional one, was over the issue of slavery. Farming was the South’s main industry and cotton was the primary farm product. Not having the use of machines, it took a great amount of human labor to pick cotton. A large number of slaves were used in the South to provide the labor. Many slaves were also used to provide labor for the various household chores that needed to be done. Many Northerners thought that owning slaves was wrong, for any reason. Some of those Northerners loudly disagreed with the South’s laws and beliefs concerning slavery. Yet slavery had been a part of the Southern way of life for well over 200 years. The Constitution of the United States guaranteed the right to own property and protected against seizure of property. A slave was property. The people of the Southern States did not like the Northern people telling them that owning slaves was a great wrong. A person either believes that slavery is right or that slavery is wrong, so how can two people arguing over such an issue compromise?
Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States in 1860. He vowed to keep the country united and the new western territories free from slavery. Many Southerners were afraid that he was not sympathetic to their way of life and would not treat them fairly. South Carolina was the first State to secede from the United States soon after the election of Abraham Lincoln. Six other Southern States quickly followed and also seceded. These States joined together and formed a new nation which they named the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis was elected their first president. On April 12, 1861 the Confederate States of America attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina, which was held by Federal (Union) troops and flew the United States flag. As open conflict increased, other United States seceded and joined the Confederacy. The fighting of the Civil War would take four long years to end. This country would remain united and slavery would come to an end.