Relationship between the slavery and the American Civil War

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Introduction

While the connection between slavery and Civil War has been fiercely debated for decades, distinct writers, assent to the fact that, indeed, there was an overriding relationship between Civil War and slavery. Although other causes of civil war such as deep-rooted political and economic differences between different political factions as stipulated by Morrison exist, there was a direct and linear relationship between slavery and civil war. Morrison rejects the fact that Slavery was the sole factor that is directly related to the civil war that is proposed by Harold. The disputes regarding the relationship between slavery and civil war include disagreements of major events such as Missouri compromise, congress slave laws of 1850, and the role of great leaders and political factions. This analysis seeks to find out diverse views of various authors regarding the relationship between slavery and civil war.

Discussion

According to Harold, during the 1840s and 1850s, a precarious ferment aggrieved the North-South boundary region, opposing the slave states of Virginia, Maryland, Missouri and Kentucky against the free states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. This view was also supported by Morrison who argued that exposed slavery was the single most probable institution that separated the South and North. However, Morrison argued that the information regarding the fact that slavery was the sole cause of the civil war was a controversy and therefore unacceptable. Morrison disputes the fact that southern states used slave power to undermine the union. Consequently, while slavery had a conspicuous relationship with the civil war, there were other differences that divided the country. Fundamentally, slavery was an additional factor but the greatest cause of separation between the north and the south thus leading to war. The subservient northern allies and the resistance southerners used slavery only as a notion of conspiracy.

However, according to Harold, the struggle between the states was primarily driven by implementation of the fugitive slave laws, sectional politics and mob actions against slave hunters. Accordingly, according to Harold, dramatic occurrences associated with slavery prominently and conspicuously, had the significant role in the changes that culminated in the Civil War. The draconian slave laws especially the ones related to slave escapees from slave states like Maryland to Free states, such as Pennsylvania culminated to the enactment of stringent laws by the Congress in 1850. The laws emphasized that, if the persons of the Northern borders could not adhere to the established laws, they would have to face the law of the rifle or the sword. The disagreement on the implementation of these laws as well as the action of the northerners to enforce the laws heightened the crisis leading to war. In 1842 the journal published in Louisville featured an article that warned the abolitionists that they faced atrocious outrage. Consequently, such warning was taken seriously in that many abolitionists of state like Illinois bought guns in preparing to respond to the to the warning. Harold also argued that earlier tensions caused by disagreements between slave and free states such as Missouri crisis lead to compromises, such as that of 1820, to dilute the growing tension between slave and Free states.

Nevertheless, Morrison persuasively argues that incidences such as the Missouri crisis of the years leading up to 1820 were derived from struggle within federal government. Missouri crisis, which entailed tension between anti-slavery and pro-slavery factions within the United States, was rooted in conflicting conceptions of federal government and not arguments about slavery. Although Morrison denied the significance of the slavery as a sole events leading to the Civil War, he fails to explain why Congress refused to receive petitions between 1836 and 1844 by imposing the gag rule. Morrison fails to examine the issue and only mentioned it in passing yet John Quincy Adams prayed crucial in raising the slavery question in Congress within the same period without success.

Morrison examines the relationship between civil war and the territorial, diplomatic and political issues. While Morrison argues that there was paramount relationship between slavery and civil war, he also postulates that individuals’ policies, rather than unproven ideologies, are the greatest causes of civil war. Essentially, conflicting issues arose because there were divisions in various regions and political camps (Whigs and Jacksonian Democrats). Each party was convinced that the other was invading the doctrines of equality and liberty that were proclaimed at the beginning of the republic. According to Morrison, there were the issues of western settlement and expansion which created differences between Whigs and Jacksonian Democrats. The expansion and territorial and expressly the territorial issues caused fragmentation and disintegration leading to two-party systems.

According to Harold, an escaped slave amounted to the loss approximately $50,000 to $80,000 when converted into today’s dollars. Debt contracted to obtain a slave was not forgiven irrespective of whether slave escaped. From the Slave States, there were always running away slaves as well as captors trying to capture and return them to owners. These systems resulted in frequent confrontations between different parties which were often violent. Free Blacks and Northern Whites joined escaped slaves to fight captors trying to recapture them. Although the Southern states attempted diplomacy to establish their rights to own slaves under the law, the northern courts rejected. Because the northerners returned no slave, the southerners turned their attention to the government. On the other hand, Morrison argued that slavery extension, legalization and other conflict associated with slavery was a symbolic issue and not a substantive.

According to Morrison, the Whigs accused the south as slave oligarchy and that they were determined to tyrannize more than four-fifths of the Southerners. Consequently, Southerners or the aristocratic minority and lords of slavery could not be permitted to dictate issues regarding national territorial policy. Accordingly, slavery may have been the main issue that caused the division leading to civil war, but it was a creation mainly by the Whigs to cause more division between the southerners and northerners. According to Harold, there was violence resulting from the detailed analysis of the renditions and kidnappings aimed at returning fugitive slaves to their owners in the South. Fundamentally, there was a direct cooperation between white and African Americans aimed at resisting the slave captors with force. Organized activities between slaves and white population designed to tracking down slave catchers and mobbing them so that to protect the black brethren. Harold extensively discusses the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793, as well as its practical relation and implementation to political developments. Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 did not influence Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 because the latter was strict. A slave was treated as a property leading to resistance in an attempt to fight for the right of the slave by giving them the human face.

On the other hand, Morrison insists on the disagreement between Whigs and Democrats spread to the people because of the notion demonstrated by Democrats that people’s freedom was being subjugated. Morrison describes the Jacksonian Democrats as advocates of liberty who took territorial expansion as a way of expanding freedom to the extent of denying the federal government the power to interfere with the process. Morrison argues that the Democrats believed that the decision regarding expansion was supposed to be left to the people to decide. The government had no role in enacting significant policies regarding expansion. According to Morrison, while slavery may have been the most culpable source of conflict that culminated in the civil war, it did not occur until the territorial debates held on 1848-1850.

Division in the American politics, mainly betwee1840s and 1850s, on the issue of territorial expansion, offers a comprehensive analysis that leads to the fact that, an intersection between slavery and territorial expansion were the major events that lead to Civil War. Although issues of territorial expansion had been in existence since American Revolution without disputes between American citizens, the extension of slavery further created divergent understandings leading to war. Morrison demonstrates that the revolution entailed a conventional prism over which the southerners and the northerners viewed these pre-war events. The major factor that made it difficult to have a consensus was slavery itself.

These writers belong to different historiographical schools. Morrison is a revisionist historiographer while Harold belongs to the Consensus school. The reason is that he identifies, re-interprets and offers the additional view on the historical record that maintained that slavery was the only factor that was directly related to the civil war. Morrison challenged the orthodox views, held by Harold, a professional scholar and introduces new view regarding the war with factual evidence. However, he accepts that slavery leads to the actual outburst leading to civil war. On the other hand, Harold belongs to the Consensus school that maintains that slavery was the sole cause of the war. According to Harold, violation of American values regarding slavery was the primary cause of the war thus downplaying complexities.

Conclusion

According to Harold, during the 1840s and 1850s, an unjustified confusion aggrieved the North-South because of ongoing slavery leading to uncontrolled tension. Besides, the struggle between the states was primarily driven by the implementation of the fugitive slave laws. The laws emphasized that, if the persons of the Northern borders could not adhere to the established laws, they would have to face the law of the rifle or the sword. The disagreement on the implementation of these statutes heightened the crisis leading to war. Harold also argued that earlier tensions caused by disputes between slave and Free states such as Missouri crisis lead to a compromise such as that of 1820 to dilute the growing tension between slave and Free states. However, according to Morrison Missouri crisis leading to Missouri compromise of 1820 was a way of diluting tension between free and slave states.

However, although Morrison approves that slavery had the huge relationship with civil war, he insists that other factors lead to civil war. According to Morrison, the fact that slavery was the sole cause of the civil war was a controversy and therefore unacceptable. Morrison argued that slavery extension, legalization and other conflict associated with slavery was a symbolic issue and not a substantive issue. He claimed that there were the matters of western settlement and territorial expansion which created differences between various parties such as the Whigs and Jacksonian Democrats. The expansion and territorial and expressly the territorial issues caused fragmentation and disintegration leading to two-party systems. Thus, slavery caused the outburst, but other factors also fueled the civil war. Morrison is a revisionist historiographer while Harold belongs to the consensus school of historiography. 

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  1. Harrold, Stanley. Border War: Fighting Over Slavery before the Civil War. 2010.
  2. Morrison, Michael A. Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War. Chapel Hill; London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
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