American History Civil War Slavery Research Paper

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The Civil War was one of the most defining events in the nation’s history, and at the time was the most important event since the American Revolution. Whereas the Revolution embodied the ideals, values, and principles of the new nation, setting it apart from the British Crown and forever altering the geopolitical landscape, the Civil War revealed the persistent hypocrisy that continues to plague American society. Unresolved conflicts left brewing in the American psyche led to built-up tensions, exposing fissures in the society along the lines of culture, ethnicity, religion, race, gender, and socioeconomic class. The causes of the Civil War can be traced in fact to the inability of the original framers to take a firm stance on slavery, and to divest too much of the federal government’s power to the states. At the same time, protecting states’ rights was critical in the late eighteenth century when the nation was born. Rural residents of the new United States did need to ensure that the federal government did not unnecessarily infringe on the rights of the people, or that the federal government was not only representative of an elite segment of society. Had the framers considered female members of the society to be real people and given them the full rights of citizenship including the power to own property and to vote, then it would also have been possible to have eliminated the scourge of slavery much sooner than 1863, when Abraham Lincoln finally issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

A disproportionate number of abolitionists happened to be female, which is one reason why disempowering and disenfranchising women can be considered one of the main causes for the extension of slavery throughout the nineteenth century in the United States. Even when a litany of other nations abolished slavery, decrying America for perpetuating the institution, white males continued to show up to the polls in favor of gross human rights abuses. The women and men who supported abolition would have gained more political traction had women been able to actually exercise their rights instead of being pushed to the sidelines, their cause sideswiped by shrill capitalists. After all, slavery started simply as a system of labor exploitation and then degenerated into a race-based system of social hierarchies that was far worse than any of the oppressive measures, laws, or institutions perpetrated by the British Crown against its own citizens.

A clash between federalists and anti-federalists precipitated the string of acts and legislation that led eventually to war. Federalism was feared for the wrong reasons; it could have easily imparted a cohesive national character based on the principles of “liberty and justice for all,” but was instead viewed as an attempt to create a tyrannical regime. Driven by self-interest and unwilling to work together with their compatriots in the northeast, settlers eyeing new western territories laid the seeds for Civil War. They embraced anti-federalist sentiments during Westward Expansion because of a sense of entitlement and a belief in white supremacy.

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These settlers twisted their own Christian ethics into a warped, sociopathic worldview that culminated in the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans. Yet because the agricultural base of the budding American economy proved essential to the new nation, allowing it to gain power, prestige, and leverage in trans-Atlantic trade, Washington cowed.

Instead of remaining true to the values and principles embedded in the Constitution, lawmakers entered into Faustian bargains like the Missouri Compromise, and outright deals with the devil such as the Kansas-Nebraska Act and most notably, the Dred Scott decision. In the Dred Scott case, the Supreme Court hid its decision behind presumed legal arguments but in fact, the Court could easily have used it as an opportunity to evaluate the Constitutional legality of slavery itself. The decision meant that the federal government did not have the right to stop slavery from expanding into the new territories, but that the states did have this right. The idiocy of this decision and all the people that supported it inevitably led to war, and for good reason. Slavery was in fact worth fighting against, even if union with the Deep South was not necessary worth fighting for. From a purely utilitarian or financial perspective taking a stand against slavery was something that the federal government needed to do to maintain its integrity with its trading partners like Britain, which had already abolished slavery in 1833. The United States risked isolating itself as one of the few remaining bastions of incivility, and as a joke of a country that proclaimed liberty and justice for all while keeping people in shackles and condoning all sorts of violence including whips and rapes.

Legally speaking, the Emancipation Proclamation was itself weak, a direct reflection of a decades long American tendency towards compromise over effective solutions. For example, Lincoln’s mandate to emancipate slaves “applied only to states that had seceded from the United States, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states,” (“The Emancipation Proclamation,” 1). The Emancipation Proclamation was a public relations statement, something that the president needed to do in order to declare victory over the Southerners and to establish a new ethical system that would more truly represent the values upon which the country was founded. In the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln used lofty language about a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” which did align public policy with the principles that had been outlined in the Constitution. This language connects the reasons for the war with the reasons for the Revolution itself. Lincoln refers to the “consecration” of the ground by the blood of the soldiers who fought bravely in battles throughout the Civil War (Lincoln 1). Given that the Civil War was even bloodier than the Revolutionary War, with more lives lost, it meant….....

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Works Cited

“Causes of the Civil War.” PBS.
Dred Scott v. Sandford.

“The Emancipation Proclamation.” National Archives.

“Dred Scott Fights for Freedom.” PBS.

Lincoln, Abraham. The Emancipation Proclamation. National Archives:

“Missouri Compromise.” Library of Congress.

Oakes, James. “The War of Northern Aggression.” Jacobin. 2012.

United States Constitution. Legal Information Institute.

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