Was The Civil War Avoidable Essay

Was the Civil War Inevitable?

Many reasons tell us that the answer to the question, 'Was the Civil War inevitable?', is a yes. But could there be another side to that debate? Read on to find out...
The American Civil War is one of the most prominent events in American history, and it changed many things not just in America alone, but in the world as well. Rapid thought tells us that yes, this was an inevitable event. But historical events are not that easy to decipher. There are numerous examples that show us that, prominent and important historical events do not occur due to one reason or due to some easily identifiable reasons. Instead, a confluence of a large number of unpredictable and seemingly, unrelated events lead to the specific outcomes, we have studied for many years.
The American Civil War was no different in this regard, and no one can say that they truly saw it coming. It is easy to speculate in retrospect and say that the war was unavoidable, but the truth is far more complicated than that. In reality, the American Civil War was not inevitable and it could have easily been avoided. But, once it crossed a certain threshold, there was no turning back.
The Civil War was fought in the years 1861-1865 over the issue of slavery. In simplistic terms the primary causes of Civil War were the differences in opinions about the issue of slavery, and politics about the same. Political agendas are rife in situations such as these, and history has shown us that wherever multiple factions of people have collided, politics has played a sneaky underhand role in some way or the other. Many people often wonder if the Civil War fought over slavery, and the answer is yes, but without the catalytic part that politics played, the Civil War may have never happened at all.
At first, slavery in the Southern states was a common and accepted practice, since individual states could make their own laws about such matters. However, the glitch came when the Southern states insisted that Southerners relocating to Northern states that had outlawed slavery must be allowed to carry their slaves as personal property. While allowing the practice of slavery in the South itself, the Federal leaders would not allow the 'carryover' of slaves into the North.
The sharp conflicting differences in opinions and views between states of the Northern and the Southern American region saw a firm embodiment of the typical polarized feud. The Northern states wanted slavery abolished, while the Southern states wanted to continue with it. Since American Independence was achieved, the habits, income generation methods and views of the Northern and Southern states started drifting apart. The Northern states became more industrialized and required less manual work and slowly began to view slaves as an unwanted burden. The issue of their human rights surfaced much later of course. The Southern states had a lot of plantations and farms, and required the manual use of these slaves to carry on their production. Hence, a conflict was unavoidable.
Another undying cause of the Civil War was the insistence by the Northerners for the strengthening of the Federal Government. Infrastructure is sorely required in areas where industry flourishes, and the Northerners knew this could only be achieved by a strong and powerful Federal Government. The Southerners, on the other hand, lived in self-sufficient states and had no use for a strong Federal Government. Their demands revolved around granting increased powers to the individual states. The question, therefore, has to take into consideration the damaging effects of all these factors. In theory, it seems like nothing could prevent the Civil War from occurring, but in reality a calm, authoritative central leadership could have helped avoid the whole situation altogether.
When Abraham Lincoln won the Presidential elections in 1860 and publicly announced his plans of abolishing slavery, it was widely protested against in the Southern states. As a result 11 Southern slave states set up their own Government known as the Confederate States of America. They publicly declared their secession from the United States and vehemently upheld the concept of slavery. The Union declared this action as illegal and this eventually led to the outbreak of the American Civil War.
There are plenty of 'Was the Civil War inevitable' essays that can be found across many sources and most of these claim that the war was in fact inevitable. This is true only to a certain extent as the emergence of the conflict had to happen sooner or later. But the spread of the revolution to such a large extent that it led to the death of about 600,000 American soldiers and an unknown amount of civilian casualties, is something that should have been curbed at an earlier stage. There were some bad elements involved in the entire process who somehow escalated the situation further and caused this widespread mayhem.
At the end of the day, if a student of history is asked this question, his most likely answer would be yes, the war was inevitable. But an in-depth look into the many factors that actually led to the outbreak of war, prompts one to instinctively think that war with fellow countrymen was never an inevitability.

Was The American Civil War Avoidable?

Rather than asking whether it was "worth it," the important historical question regarding the Civil War is whether it could have been avoided.

Doug Mataconis · Saturday, June 22, 2013 · 42 comments

On Thursday, James Joyner wrote about a Tony Horowitz piece at The Atlantic questioning whether the American Civil War was “worth it.” Given that we’re talking about a war that resulted in the deaths of some 700,000 men and the infliction of gruesome, life-altering, injuries on many, many others, it is, I suppose, a legitimate question to ask. However, as I noted in a comment to James’s post, I’m not sure it’s the right question to ask:

I’m not sure that the question “Was the American Civil War Worth It?” is really the right question for historians to ask.

The correct question should be “Was the American Civil War Preventable?” Well, without delving into some long alternate history speculation about what might have been the one conclusion that one reaches after reading the history of the United States from the Founding to the eve of war itself is that the answer to that question is “probably not.”

As a preliminary matter, I would suggest that asking whether a war, any war was “worth it” has never been the right question. Wars, for whatever reason they’ve been fought throughout human history, can rarely be characterized as being “worth it.” At best, one could possibly say that some wars, though by no means all or even most of them, were necessary for one reason or another. In our own history, the Revolutionary War, World War II, the Korean War at least until MacArthur crossed the 38th Parallel, for international strategic reasons the Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan up to a point somewhere around 2006 or so, and yes the Civil War, all arguably fall into that category. That leaves plenty of wars — the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War One, Vietnam, and Iraq to name a few — that I would arguably classify as unnecessary, or having been fought because of diplomatic failures, mistaken information, or in two cases (World War One and Vietnam) something close to utter deception by the political leadership at the time. That, on some level is why it’s proper to recognize and honor the veterans who fought, and those who died, in the wars that our nation has fought. Not because such recognition is meant to legitimize the war itself, but because they weren’t the ones who made the choice to go there.

The Civil War, though, is a unique event in American history, and it will remain as such for as long as there is a United States of America. As many historians have stated, it was ultimately the final resolution of contradictions in the vision of what the United States was supposed to be that had been present when the ink from John Hancock’s signature on the Declaration Of Independence was still drying. The inherent contradiction between the Declaration’s exhortation that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights” and the institution which existed in America’s south was apparent even to observers then. When the time came to draft the Constitution 11 years later, there were several provisions written into the document that helped to preserve slavery in the states in which it existed. In both cases, the issue was swept under the rug in the name of national unity.

That practice of sweeping the issue of slavery, and the sectional divide it created in the country, under the rug was one that continued in the decades between the ratification of the Constitution and the start of the secession crisis that led to the Civil War. The most prominent of these, of course, were 1820’s Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850, both of which attempted to deal with the issue of the expansion of slavery into the western territories that, with the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican War, had made the United States a Continental nation. Neither “compromise” actually accomplished anything, of course, it merely served to push the issue aside so that the nation could get on with the important business of expanding. Meanwhile, slavery and the other sectional differences that had been developing between North and South continued to boil under the surface just waiting for the right moment to erupt.

It’s true that there was more to the secession crisis that followed President Lincoln’s election in 1860, and the war that followed that, than just the issue of slavery or its expansion into the west. Economic differences between the increasingly industrialized North and the largely agrarian South had become quite extreme and there difference over trade policy and the appropriate level of tariffs. More than a half million Americans didn’t die in four year long war over tariff policy, though, they died in a war that was at its base tied securely to the issue of human slavery. In that regard, it’s worth remembering that while slavery was often condemned even in the South during the Founder’s era, by sometime in the 1820’s or so southerns have come to view it as not only morally acceptable, but perfectly natural. That attitude continue to embed itself in the region’s zeitgeist until it reached its full form in the form of Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens’s “Cornerstone Speech”:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

There really is no compromising with that kind of attitude, which is likely one of the reasons why those last efforts to avoid secession and war in the months between November 1860 and April 1861 failed so completely. Given that, it’s hard to see how the war itself could have been avoided.

FILED UNDER: General, American Civil War, History

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