Civil War in the United States of America

Civil War in the United States of America (April 12, 1861 – May 9, 1865) was a civil war in the United States fought between states supporting the federal union (the Union or the North) and southern states that voted to secede and form the Confederate States of America (the Confederacy or the South).

Introduction of Civil War in the United States of America:-

The United States of America was about to break up in the middle of the nineteenth century. As in other countries, internal dangers threatened the unity of the country. The federal government was weak, and it seemed that local ambitions and parochialism might thwart the growth of political unity. Fortunately the forces of nationalism were victorious, and in the revised constitution the center secured more powers. In 1832 South Carolina challenged the authority of the National Government in connection With a dispute. But President Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) firmly declared that the Central Government was superior to State Governments, which could not decide issues pertaining to the whole country independently.

In spite of the best efforts of well-meaning leaders, a national crisis developed. The Northern States and the Southern States, the parties to the conflict, could not strike a line of compromise. A civil war, which lasted for four years (1861-1865), took a heavy toll and caused great destruction of life and property. However, owing to the lead given by great men like Abraham Lincoln, the country was saved from disintegration.

The war is called Civil War, or War of Secession or War of Rebellion, or War between States, or War between the North and the South.

Causes and Course of the Civil War:-

We may briefly review the causes of the Civil War.

Difference in Economic Structure of Northern States and Southern States:

The difference in the economic structure of the Northerner States and the Southern States of, the United States of America was the basic cause of the Civil War. The Northern States were highly industrial and commercial, and agriculture, which was conducted in small farms, had a subordinate place farms. The climate of the Northern States was cold, and in the small the Americans worked with their own hands. Climate conditions were unfavorable for agriculture on a very large scale and the development of large plantations. On the other hand, the Southern States, which had huge plantations, were primarily agricultural. The vast difference between the North and the South created a sectional spirit, as the two parts thought differently,  and made a different approach to the national problems.

Problem of Slavery:

The difference between the Northern States and the Southern States in the economic field takes us to the problem of slavery, which became the immediate cause of the Civil War.

Right from the time America was discovered and colonized,thousands of Negro slaves were captured from Africa and forced to work in the plantations, which were mostly in the Southern States. The Red Indians who had been conquered by the white people, were ready to fight and die, but were unwilling to work as slaves. After long conflicts, the white men,who committed genocide, wiped out the Red Indians.

The climate in the South was very Hot and the white men found it impossible to work themselves in the plantations. They found the Negro slave as a cheap, convenient and efficient tool for the development of the large sprawling plantations. He was tall, strongly built, hard-working, and at-the same time obedient and loyal to the white masters. In course of time, the South had a huge population of Negro slaves. Towards the end of the 18th century, there were as many as 700,000 Negroes condemned to life long slavery. The number steadily increased, and by 1967 America owned about four million slaves.

Even in the South there were people, who were convinced that slavery should be removed, but their opposition was a cry in the wilderness, as slavery was held as an Indispensable institution.

Undoubtedly, the prevalence of slavery on a large scale was a matter of shame and disgrace to the Americana, They had fought against Britain in the War of American Independence (1776 1788), They had coined great slogans like Give me liberty or give me death. They had inspired the French Revolution (1789) and had roused the oppressed people of France to raise the battle cry of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. But it was very clear that the Americans Were not prepared to follow what they were preaching, While they were ready to die for having liberty, they did not feel ashamed to deny it to the unfortunate Negroes, who became hewers of wood and drawers of water.

Though they knew that the practice of slavery was a blot on American civilization, Americans did not have the moral courage to speak the truth. On the contrary, they tried to justify the ugly institution of slavery in order to save the economy of the plantations. It was argued that the Negro slaves were treated better by the white Christians in America than by the ruthless Arab slave owners or the African chiefs. The Negroes would remain slaves anywhere, and therefore there was nothing wrong to use them as slaves in America. They further argued that slavery was beneficial to the slaves themselves, as they were treated well and provided with food, clothing and shelter. Even if occasionally the slaves were beaten by the white masters, it was not with any hatred or malice. The spirit of the master was the same as shown by a father to discipline his son. It was also said that the Negro slaves in America were much better than the white workers of Europe. The Negroes were never exposed to the danger of unemployment or starvation, as the plantation owners in their own interests would take proper care of the slaves. People in the South firmly believed that it was not possible to abolish slavery on which their social and economic systems were based.

Despite the arguments justifying slavery, the hard fact remained that Americans were violating the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. One human being could not treat another as slave under any circumstance and on any pretext, Full employment and bread could not be taken as substitutes for human liberty and dignity of the human personality. In Britain, William Wilberforce and the Wesley brothers raised a hue and cry against slavery, and through sustained efforts succeeded in getting it eradicated. The British Parliament, which abolished slavery in 1833 by an Act, voted twenty million pounds for the liquidation of slavery. A movement was bound to sweep over the United States of America also. Slavery was fully exposed and strongly condemned by Harriet Beecher Stowe in her famous book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Whittier, the poet, and Emerson, the philosopher, also wrote against slavery. In 1833 an anti-slavery society was formed. In course of time, more and more individuals and institutions championed the cause of slaves. Garrison conducted anti-slavery propaganda in his paper, the Liberator.

The Northern States did not need slaves for their economy. All men were free in the North, and slavery had been abolished in 1804. They criticized the Southern States, where it was rampant. The Southern States defended it strongly on various grounds. This created a great misunderstanding between the North and the South. Both assumed strong postures, and gradually ugly passions and deep enmity arose. The hiatus between the North and the South became-so wide that it seemed impossible to bridge it, and the two sets of states would soon fall apart, completely jeopardizing the integrity of the nation.

Clash between Lincoln and Douglas:

A great clash took place between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Arnold Douglas. The former stood for freedom and emancipation of slaves, while the latter wanted slavery to continue. In the Presidential election of 1860, Lincoln contested as a candidate of the Republicans, and Douglas stood as a Democratic candidate.

Douglas justified slavery on the ground that slaves were & the property of their masters, and the abolition of slavery would mean the-violation of the basic right to property. Lincoln rebutted this argument by saying that slaves as human beings should be given the right to freedom in the same way in which others enjoyed the right. The right to freedom of slaves was not less important than the right to property of the plantation owners. Lincoln affirmed that all men are endowed, by their Creator, with certain inalienable rights among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The citizens of the United States of America did honor to themselves and served the cause of liberty when they elected Lincoln as President and defeated Douglas in December 1860.

Problems of President Lincoln:-

Lincoln entered Presidential office on February 11, 1861. Between his election and the actual occupation of the Presidential chair, Lincoln was only the President elect and the ministers of the earlier cabinet continued in office, Lincoln found his august seat of power a bed of sharp thorns, The Southern States had clearly said that if Lincoln became President, they would break up the United States by seceding from the Federal Union and forming, their own Federation.

Lincoln was not absolutely sure about the loyalty of the army, as most of the military officers were from the Southern States. Then again, some of the members of the earlier Ministry were from the South. Knowing the developments, they had astutely dispersed the army and the navy, and had placed great obstacles on the path of mobilization. The finances of the nation were at sixes and sevens.

On the eve of Lincoln taking office, seven Southern States of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas formed a Federation of their own with Jefferson Davis as President, after they had seceded from the Union.

No Right to Secede:

President Lincoln found his nation overcast by dark and dangerous clouds. Though he wanted to abolish slavery lock, stock and barrel, he exercised moderation in order to avert a civil war, He made it clear that his objective was to prevent the spread of slavery in the new States of the West, which were joining the United States and not to get rid of it in the States in which it already existed. But at the same time he warned that while a State was free to join the Union voluntarily, no State had the right to secede after joining, This meant that the seven States which had withdrawn and formed their own Federation were to be treated as rebel States within the Union, and he would take action against them. He was prepared for an honorable compromise, but he would hit hard, if necessary with the army, against the States threatening the integrity of the country.

Lincoln Prepared to Wait:

The Southern States were getting more and more restless and were ready to accept the challenge of the Northern States on the battle-field. Lincoln wanted to avoid war and bloodshed. Therefore he said that the preservation of the Union was to get top priority, while the problem of slavery could wait for settlement. This did not mean, that he was weak-kneed. He wanted the gap between the North and the South to be filled, and concord to take place of discord. Though he held out the maximum concessions to the Southern States with a spirit of friendliness and wise statesmanship, the Southern States spurned his spirit of conciliation and compromise.

Slaves Freed:

Lincoln proclaimed that if any State continued to revolt till January 1, 1863, it should be-presumed that the slaves in it were automatically free and the masters had no right over them. Thus Lincoln liberated thousands of slaves who continued in a state of rebellion even after the proclaimed date.

Slavery Conflict Transformed into Civil War:

The slavery conflict was transformed into a civil war for the preservation of the integrity of the United States of America. The war dragged on for four long years and casualties were heavy on both the sides. While the Northern States had numerical superiority and better sources, they did not have very good generals to match those of the South. Later, however, Grant and Sherman were discovered. Both the sides fought recklessly, and the fortunes of war were wobbling, making it difficult to forecast the result. Lincoln had to face an avalanche of difficulties. Differences of opinion in his own cabinet, set-back on the battle-field, disloyalty and interference by foreign countries caused great anxiety. But as he was a man of iron will and determination he overcame the seemingly insuperable difficulties.

Robert E. Lee, a great general, was the commander-in-chief of the Southern army. Next to him in command was Thomas (Stone wall) Jackson. The Northern army was under the command of Ulysses S. Grant and Sherman. The war was waged on land and sea, and there were about 2,200 battles.

The war ended, when Lee completely surrendered to Grant on April 9, 1865.

Results of the Civil War:-

The Civil War had far-reaching results. Though the losses Were very heavy, in a way the war proved to be a blessing in disguise, as some of the vexed questions were settled once and for all.

Heavy Loss of Life:

The loss-of life was heavy on both the sides, Out of the 2,800,000 soldiers in the Northern army, ore than 67,000 died on the battle-field, and more than 43,000 led later in hospitals. On the Southern side, out of an army of 600,000 more than 74,000 died in war and about 60,000 died of disease.

Slaves Freed:

The war freed thousands of slaves, who were exploited in the Southern States. Negroes, the human tools, became persons.

Union Strengthened:

The American nation emerged stronger in 1865 than what it was in 1861. The war was a turning point in American history. It was finally decided that no State had a right to secede. The war welded the people of the United States into a strong Nation. It was a great victory for healthy American nationalism.

Greater Prosperity to the North:

The Northern States became more prosperous, as their industries during the war got a tremendous encouragement.

Inspiration to Other Countries:

The emancipation of slaves was of great significance to the whole of humanity.  Other countries were also inspired to remove slavery.

Abraham Lincoln:-

Abraham Lincoln (18091865) is one of the greatest figures in world history. All lovers of freedom in the world regard him as a great man of noble ideals, a friend of the weak and the down-trodden, and a man, who had the courage to act according to his convictions.

Lincoln was the son of Nancy Hanks and Thomas Lincoln. The family was poor, and Lincoln took birth on February 12, 1809  in a log cabin in the State of Kentucky. While he was being brought up in great hardship, his mother died in 1818. He was only 9 years old at that time.

In 1831, he became a clerk in a small store in Illinois. Later he started his own grocery store, which was a failure. For some time, he was woodsman and Surveyor, and later a postmaster.

In 1834, he was elected as member of the State Legislature. He studied law and commenced practicing Springfield in 1837. In 1847, he was elected to the Congress and retained his seat till 1849, The Anti-Slavery Bill be introduced in 1849 failed. In 1855 he failed in his contest for the Senate. In 1858, he failed again.

Lincoln came to be widely known owing to his debates on slavery with Douglas. In 1860, he was elected President as & candidate of the Republican Party, defeating his three rivals including Douglas of the Democratic Party. He had made , slavery an election issue.

As President he was a staunch advocate of the integrity of the United States and refused to give the Southern States the right to secede from the Union on the issue of slavery. He was prepared even to wage war to prevent the break up of the nation. When the Civil War began in 1861, sympathy was divided in Europe. The conservatives, reactionaries and business men supported the South. The working class supported the North.

In 1862 by his Emancipation Proclamation he freed all slaves. When war broke out, he took great personal interest and full responsibility of conducting it successfully till the end. In 1864, he was re-elected President, when he was in the last stage of the war.

On April 14, 1865, that is, five days after winning a complete victory in war, he was assassinated at the age of 56 at Ford’s Theater in Washington by John Wilkes Booth, a fanatical conspirator and supporter of the South. His death was one of the greatest tragedies in the United States. It left post-war reconstruction in the hands of men, who were smaller than he. They were prepared to be just, but were not 20 broad-minded.

Lincoln had complete mastery over language, written and spoken. His Gettysburg Address dedicated to a battle-field cemetery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863 was a masterpiece expressing great and noble sentiments. His true greatness was known after victory in exercising moderation. He said he had no will towards the South, and wanted to follow a policy of conciliation.

His greatest achievements were the preservation of the American Union against extraordinary odds and the emancipation of slaves. Many regard him as the  greatest American President. His great aim is given in the Gettysburg Speech that the Civil War should end in a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

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