How Slavery Contributed to American Civil War

Slavery and its contribution to the American Civil War: Could the United States have become half-slave and half-free and not fought the Civil War?…Could the American Civil war have been avoided-Why or Why not?

This research paper explores whether America could have avoided Civil War and continued to exist as a Union in which Southern States continued to practice slavery while the Northern States abolished it.

Scholars have explored several factors that led to the American civil war, including slavery. In that regard, most scholars argue that slavery was the main contributing factor and the leading cause of the civil war between America’s Northern states and the Southern states.

Slavery and American civil war battle of Fort Sumter
Start of American Civil War at Battle of Fort Sumter

How Slavery Contributed to the American Civil War

Slavery was a major cause of the American Civil War. The conflict over slavery was based on the fact that, American republicans who resided in the Union’s Northern States were opposed to slavery and supported its abolishment.

On the other hand, American democrats who occupied the Southern States supported slavery and were opposed to abolishment and granting of equal rights to slaves and their masters. This created a conflict of interest between the Northern (Union States) and Southern (Confederate States).

Worth noting is the fact that, although slavery was a major factor of the American Civil War, it was not the only contested issue that caused divisions between the North and South. In addition to slavery, several political, economic, and constitutional differences also led to the American civil war (Rugemer, 2009).

Economic Causes of the American Civil War

Economic differences triggered the American Civil War by undermining the American Union’s economic homogenity and stability. The Southern and the Northern States operated on different economies due to the institution of slavery.

The Southern States practiced agriculture, which was the backbone of their economy. On the other hand, the Northern States of America’s Union were developing rapidly in terms of industrialization and and their economy was largely based on manufacturing (Bhat, 2014).

The different economies of the North and South States affected the balance of trade between the two regions, which attracted differences in trade tariffs and formed the basis of sharp ideological differences.

The economy of America’s Southern states was heavily dependent on slavery since slaves provided the highly needed labour for large-scale plantation farming. Therefore, the idea of abolishing slavery was strongly opposed by the South as it was expected to have devastating effects on the region’s economy.

Northern States viewed slavery as an immoral and unconstitutional vice. Contrary to the South, Northern states passed liberty laws that granted freedom to former slaves and prohibited the recapture and forceful removal of fugitive slaves that migrated from the South to the North in pursuit of freedom. To Northern States, immigrant slaves provided more market for their manufactured products.

Legal Causes of American War

To curb the rapid escape of slaves from enslavement in the South states to freedom in the North, Southern States established the Fugitive Law that allowed the recapture of fugitive slaves.

The South also campaigned for the enactment of the Fugitive Law by Northern States to make it illegal for escaping slaves to find refuge in the North and also to ease the pursuit and recapture of slaves by their masters (Finkelman, 2011). However, the Northern states rejected the Fugitive Law, a move that was viewed as hostility by the Southerners.

The law on State Rights also contributed significantly to the American Civil War. To support their rejection of Fugitive Law, Northern States cited their right to self determination under the State Rights law.

In that regard, being part of the Union did not make them bound to enact the Fugitive Law of the South. The difference in slavery laws further increased the hostility between Southern and Northern states, making it difficult for them to exist together as a union.    

Southern States opposed the slave abolishment policies of the North and related political ideologies. Feeling aggrieved by the North’s opposition to slavery, which was worsened by the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of America on a slavery abolishment campaign, the Southern States pushed for secession from the union to form an independent confederate.

However, the American constitution provided that no state could leave the union by its own will or declare itself independent from the union. Therefore, despite the secession concerns troubling Southern States, seeking secession allowed Northern States to declare the South as rebellious to the Union and the federal government.

The conflict over State Rights could not be resolved. Therefore, the raging North and South States resulted into an armed civil war with each side claiming its State Rights. In the end, although the constitution protected slavery in the states where it was practiced, the Southern States’ rebellion and resulting civil war gave President Abraham Lincoln the opportunity to abolish slavery in America  (Kent, 2010).

Could the American Civil War Have Been Avoided?

The analysis of the causes of America’s Civil War leads to the conclusion that it was nearly impossible to avoid the civil war even if the Southern and the Northern states agreed on a half-slave and free-slave policy.

This is because slavery was only one of the many divisive factors that led to the civil war. The economies of Southern and Northern States were completely different and hard to co-exist. As a result, any push for the state rights of opposing members was bound to end in a civil war.

Bhat, V. N. (2014). Economic Conditions of the States before and after the American Civil War. Journal of Social Sciences, 10(3), 97.

Finkelman, P. (2011). Slavery, the Constitution, and the Origins of the Civil War. OAH Magazine of History, 25(2), 14-18.

Kent, A. (2010). The Constitution and the Laws of War During the Civil War.notre dame law review, 85(5), 1839.

Rugemer, E. B. (2009). Explaining the Causes of the American Civil War, 1787–1861. Reviews in American History, 37(1), 56-68.


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