Yes, Slavery Did Cause the American Civil War

Slavery as the cause of war

The central pillar of the Lost Cause Myth is the notion that somehow slavery was not the ultimate cause of the Civil War. While this seems laughable on its face, the fact remains that almost every day I encounter some perfectly intelligent, reasonably well-educated person who still says, at the very least, “But there was other stuff too, right? Tariffs and stuff?” So clearly, our “Civil War memory” (which, by the way, is an excellent blog) is not as good as we could hope, and we have some work to do. But once we demolish this pillar of the neo-Confederate argument, the whole ridiculous edifice collapses.

Before we do this, let’s get this one thing absolutely clear:

Slavery was the ultimate cause of the American Civil War.

Anyone who asserts anything else is either grossly uninformed or willfully misrepresenting the facts. Plainly stated, if slavery didn’t exist, there would have been no Civil War. This is simply incontrovertible. And so the question before us is, how did slavery cause the war?This is a fine question, and one worth answering at length. But, for those of you interested, here is the short answer:

The Southern slaveholding states felt that Lincoln’s election in 1860 was a direct threat to slavery, in spite of the fact that Lincoln never claimed to have any power or jurisdiction over slavery where it existed. Because of this perceived threat, seven states of the Deep South seceded from the Union. After this new “Confederates States of America” fired on Ft. Sumter, Lincoln called for volunteers to put down the insurrection. This provoked four more states to join the new Confederacy.

These Southern slaveholding states asserted an alleged right to peacefully secede from the United States, while Lincoln maintained that the Union was perpetual and no state could unilaterally secede. Thus, both sides could technically claim that the war was not over slavery.

That’s the short version. Some may quibble, but these are the salient points. However, the short version doesn’t explain why slavery was so central to the dispute. My purpose, then, will to use subsequent blog posts to discuss “the long version” of why slavery caused the Civil War.


About Christopher Shelley

Christopher Shelley teaches American history and American Indian history at Portland Community College. He is fond of border collies, and bleeds Dodger-blue. Any and all opinions expressed here are those of the expressors themselves, and in no way represent the views of Portland Community College.
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