The American civil war played a pivotal role in forming and shaping the future of the Unites States of America. The war would last from 1861 to 1865 and would come to take the lives of hundreds of thousands Americans. It pitted the Union, or the North, in a civil war against the forces of the confederate states of America, or the South. There might have been several causes for the Civil War in the United States, but by far the most significant and relevant cause for the eruption of one of the bloodiest armed conflicts in US history, was slavery.
Slavery had played a crucial role in the economic development of the Unites States, both in the North and South, leading up to Civil War, but as times were changing and slavery was continuously being more downplayed as a financial pillar in agriculture and economic development. More common ideologies of freedom and democracy were becoming more pivotal in modern society, leading to an ever increase in tensions between the confederacy and the union. This essay will explore briefly the rise of slavery and more extensively the extension of slavery and the roles slaves played in the outbreak of the Civil War, as well as the role slaves played in US society during the Civil War. In order to further discuss slavery’s importance in the civil war and during the civil war, one has to go over the introduction of slavery in US society and the development of the importance of slaves in society from the early colonies of the Unites States to the aftermath of the Civil War.
With the colonization of North- and South-America, came a need of labor in order to cultivate the large, vast land the Europeans had now found themselves in. Both men and women were paying their way over the Atlantic Ocean with intended labor, but this did little to quench the thirst of labor in the newly established colonies of the Unites States. Early in the seventeenth century, European colonizers found the salvation to their problem as a Dutch merchant ship unleaded African slaves to the eastern coast of North America.
The Transatlantic slave trade had begun, and would prove to be an essential part of US economic growth until its abolition in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Slavery was practices all throughout the US colonies and through slaveries importance in the cultivation of key US commodities, such as tobacco and cotton, was the US able to become the dominant powerhouse on the global scale, which it had become by the twentieth century. European settlers quickly looked to the usage of slaves for efficient and cheap labor, and proved a much easier and more accessible source to plantation owners of the West Indies and North America. This early thought process would prove to have the same effect as pouring gasoline over a fire, as this just increased the demand for slaves, and as demand increased so did the supply.
As time passed and the North, who of which were never as dependent on slavery as the south, began to industrialize and focus more on democratic policies as well as human right policies. While the North was evolving with the time, the South remained ever so dependent on slavery as an institution and foundation for all economic purposes to sustain their society. Even with the transatlantic slave trade ceasing to exist, the total number of slaves was still growing and would continue to grow in to the latter part of the nineteenth century. Leading into the nineteenth century, maritime laws were becoming more in place, and as transatlantic protectionism was seeing a decline, free trade was increasing, to the delight of southern slaveholders. Southern plantation/farm owners were dependent on trade to Europe, as they represented the biggest demand of southern products, such as cotton and tobacco.
This is reflected in The Civil War as Global Conflict, “The decline of transatlantic protectionism in the late 1840’s, along with a rapid rise in cotton prices—which climbed from under eight cents per pound to more than eleven cents in 1847 alone—left many southern elites, by the end of the decade, richer and more confident about the global marketplace than they had ever been before.” The book goes on to explain how cotton, sugar, tobacco, rice and coffee were all products which dominated the global commercial market, and all of these products were cultivated in the Unites States, of which slave labor was used brutally and extensively. The book then goes on to further explain the souths, as well as the norths and the worlds, dependence on slavery, “Whatever Europeans—and northerners, too—pretended to believe about slavery, they could not escape their dependence on it”.
This goes to show the extent of all Americans dependence on slavery as a workforce, but also how Europeans were dependent on the Americas usage of slave labor. However, as the nineteenth century continued to move on, more and more thoughts of antislavery began to arise. Abolition began to actually take roots leading up to the civil war, something which was to the major dismay of the south. Leading up to the civil war, the south began to see more and more differences between their way of governance with the North. They decided that they wanted to secede in order to preserve their own financial and political interests. The question was how to do so? Around this era of time, many other nations had first become so from breaking away or seceding from their previous nation, or through separatist rebellion. This was a widespread and popular way of creating your own state, which was widely used by the people who wanted to be granted new nationhood.
As Doyle mentions in The Cause of All Nations, “Roughly half of today’s nearly two hundred UN members originated as breakaway states.”. The Confederate States then went on to proclaim their independence and necessity to become a separate and independent nationhood, not to be affiliated with the Northern Union States. South Carolina was the first state to secede December 24th 1860, and were soon followed by Mississippi first, then by Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. The Montgomery convention soon followed, thus ensuing the creation of a separate and independent; flag, currency, cabinet, constitution, vice-president and president. Abraham Lincoln had been elected president roughly three months before the last of the southern states had seceded. Though Lincoln had strong abolitionist views, this would only prove to be secondary to the primary mission on his agenda, which was preserving the United States as a nation in itself.
Abolition would not prove to become a central goal for many before after the US civil war. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, slaves were still playing a central role in the conflict, both in terms of political justification for waging the actual war, but also as a central workforce in the war efforts. To reiterate how many African Americans actually lived in the United States, as slaves or as freemen, The Civil War as Global Conflict pulls in the Supreme Court’s Dred Scottı decision of 1857, “The Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision in 1857 declared that even free blacks, as the descendants of slaves, as the descendants of slaves, we’re not citizens. One-seventh of the population was thus defined out of American nationality”.
As months rolled by, many slaves escaped the South, fleeing to the North, especially in the earlier months and years of the war. This number turned to be far greater than the North had expected, and congress quickly realized that they had to move fast in order to face this new issue. Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act in July 1862. This followed a the first part which regarded the seizing of all rebel property, the second act thus put into effect that all slaves that belonged to confederate masters where now free. Lincoln would in a few months go on to sign the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, this would be ratified and further signed into effect as the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863.
The Emancipation Proclamation— “declared immediately, thenceforward and forever free all the slaves in the areas under Confederate control. The Proclamation also provided the union army with the legal means to support the freedom acquired by the slaves and the legal basis for the enlistment of African Americans”. Lincolns Emancipation Proclamation worked as the finger pulling the trigger for social revolution, as slave rebellions and social movements were playing a more pivotal role in the inner workings of the Southern Confederacy. It was at this time, that American slaves officially played a crucial role for both parties of the Civil War, it had become a war for the rights of slaves, creating an even more extended reasoning for slaves to rebel against the confederates, backed by Unionists.
The number of American slaves fleeing to the North and joining the Union army increased dramatically after the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation was met with varied consensus abroad, and as the South was beginning to see the light fade away from the end of the tunnel, the North kept on proving to gain more widespread recognition on an international basis. With their anti-slavery views and abolitionist policies, the proclamation was not the final step, but would prove to create the foundation of what was needed to not only conclude the brutal American Civil war, but also end with the freedom of every individual in the United States.
Moving into the last days of the civil war, the South were not seeing any support from abroad and many senators, military men and members of the Confederate leadership began to sue for peace. In February 1865, the Northern House of representatives passed the Thirteenth amendment, however it would not come fruition before the vast majority of states ratified it. The war kept on going for a few weeks, Confederate elites were making their way one by one over to Union territory in order to further discuss what was to happen next with President Lincoln.
“On Sunday, April 9, Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Grant at Appomattox Court House, marking the effective end of the fighting”. The war was officially over, but there would still be remnants of fighting and Confederate loyalty throughout the south for the coming weeks. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln, by John Wilkes Booth, proved to further reignite the fire for secession amongst some Confederate loyalists, but all for naught as nothing fully came into fruition. With Davis’ capture in May, the South had officially failed in their attempt to secede from the United States. The fight for freedom was, however, still not completely fulfilled and won.
The thirteenth amendment was fully ratified by the required number of states later that year. Officially slavery was abolished when the thirteenth amendment was fully ratified by the states required and “by 1868, slavery had been abolished nationwide, and the fourteenth amendment created the new constitutional category of national citizenship, guaranteeing equal legal protection to all citizens, whether black or white”. However, remnants of the dark days of slavery would continue to haunt US society way into the twentieth century.