Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Civil War

I questioned the name of this war because I connected the word "civil" with "civility," which means polite behavior or courtesy. I discovered that "civil" means having to do with citizens, such as civil service or civil rights. This definition means that the name of the war makes sense: it was a war between the citizens of the nation.

The Civil War was the greatest crisis and bloodiest war that the United States has ever experienced. It took more American lives than any other war in history and divided families and communities as well as the nation. It was basically between people in the Southern States who wanted to preserve slavery and an agricultural way of life and people in the Northern States who wanted a more modern way of life and to end slavery.

The Civil War started on April 12, 1861, when Southern troops fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. It ended four years later on April 9, 1865, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. The United States in 1861 had 19 free states and 15 slave states.

Abraham Lincoln said that the country was "a house divided." There were many basic differences between free and slave states besides slavery; therefore, there were numerous reasons for the war. The root cause was slavery but there were differences in economies, ideals, and ways of living.

The conflict over slavery began in colonial times when most Americans considered slavery to be evil. Numerous of our Founding Fathers wanted to end slavery, but they had to compromise over it to get the Constitution written and ratified. Many Northerners in the early 1800s thought slavery was wrong, and Abolitionists there started a movement to end slavery. Most Southerners believed slavery was good even though only 25-35 percent of them were members of slave-owning families.  

The Compromise of 1850 was made in Congress in an attempt to settle the slavery question. It allowed new territories to decide for themselves whether to permit slavery. It also admitted California as a free state. This compromise included a fugitive slave law that required Northerners to return runaway slaves to their owners. Northerners resisted this law by operating the underground railroad, a system of safe houses and escape routes for runaway slaves. Uncle Tom's Cabin, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, was one of the most effective attacks on slavery and the fugitive slave law. If you have not read this book, I highly recommend that you read it.

In 1854 Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The act created Kansas and Nebraska as territories and allowed slavery in them. It also said that when the people in the territory organized as a state, the people could decide whether to continue slavery. Kansas voted against slavery and joined the Union in 1861 as a free state.

In 1857 the United States Supreme Court tried to settle the slavery issue with its Dred Scott Decision. Dred Scott was a slave who claimed freedom because he lived in a free state and territory for a time. The Court ruled that no black could be a United States citizen and that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories. This ruling aroused anger in the North and showed that the courts didn't have the answer.

In 1859 John Brown and his followers tried to start a slave rebellion by seizing the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, VA (now West Virginia). Brown was captured by Colonel Robert E. Lee the next day. He was soon convicted of treason and hanged. Many Southerners blamed the North for plotting to force an end to slavery.

Abraham Lincoln joined a new political party called Republicans and was elected President in 1860. He won all the electoral votes from every freed state except New Jersey, which gave him four of seven votes. He won the electoral vote but gained only 40 per cent of the popular vote. Almost none of the popular vote came from Southerners because they were afraid he would end slavery or at least restrict it. By the time he was inaugurated, seven Southern states - South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas - had seceded and established the Confederate States of America. Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee joined the Confederacy after Fort Sumter, for a total of eleven Confederate states.

Staying loyal to the Union were California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

The territories of Colorado, Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Washington were also on the Union side. Each side included slave states located on the border where some citizens supported the North and some supported the South. Border states on the Southern side were Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas. The western part of Virginia remained loyal to the Union and formed the new state of West Virginia in 1863. Border states that stayed in the Union were Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, but groups in both Kentucky and Missouri seceded, set up state governments and sent representatives to the Confederate Congress.

When the Civil War first started, neither the North nor the South planned to draft soldiers, but as the war continued both sides started drafting men. The Confederate army reached its peak in 1863 and then started declining in numbers. The Union army continued to grow. After the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln announced his decision to use black troops. About 180,000 blacks served in the Union army, two-thirds were Southerners who had escaped to the North. About 20,000 blacks were in the Union navy.

Most of the Civil War was fought from Pennsylvania to Georgia and from Virginia to Memphis and New Orleans. By 1864 the Confederate army was declining due to battle losses, war weariness, and Northern occupation of large areas of the Confederacy. Southern railroads had almost stopped running, and supplies were short. The war finally ended when Union armies crushed Confederates enough to force surrender.

The Union won the war and THEN started showing their humanity by helping to rebuild the South. The Civil War took a great toll on our nation. About 620,000 soldiers died, almost as many as the combined American dead of all other wars from the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) through the Vietnam War (1957-1975). Both North and South suffered economically, but direct damages were most severe in the South. Towns, farms, industry, and trade as well as lives of men, women and children were ruined in the South. The entire way of life in the South was destroyed.

The Declaration of Independence states "all men are created equal," but America remained the largest slave-owning nation in the world until the Civil War. Soon after the end of the Civil War, Americans ratified the Thirteen Amendment to the Constitution, which officially abolished slavery throughout the United States. Even though Congress passed the Civil Rights Amendment in the 1960s, there are still problems in our nation about a real or at least perceived inequality for blacks.

The Civil War did establish two facts: 1) Every human being has the right to be free and 2) No state has the right or power to end the Union. Many of the facts and information for this blog post are from an article written by Gabor S. Boritt, World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, 614-635.

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