Was the America Civil War fought over slavery?

At this point it’s hard for me to say if this is a factual question or a great debate, but I fear the latter:

Was the Civil War in the US fought over (the abolition of) slavery?

When I was a kid (80’s, Western Europe), I was taught a very simple view: the bad guys in the south had black slaves, the good guys in the north found that inhumane; they went to war and the good guys won.

Later on, a friend told me a ‘revisionist’ view: the war wasn’t about slavery, Lincoln only abolished slavery as a matter of economic warfare: no slaves, no cotton, no money etc.

I could go on and on about what I read and heard, but the point is: I’m not buying the simple view anymore. I find it very hard to believe that in the 1860’s the Union spent millions and sent thousands of young men into battle over a late 20th century abstract idea of universal human rights. The cities in the north didn’t have slavery but I’m pretty sure the average WASP didn’t consider a black man as his equal, so why care so much how they were treated in the deep south?

(I apologize - on behalf of the rest of Europe - for my lack of knowledge on US history; from a European perspective the US disappeared after the War of Independence, only to resurface in the 20th century to save us in the World Wars …)

Thanks in advance for your views and info!

Yes, though it wasn’t the simple view you were taught in the 80s. Basically, the South (the white leadership, anyway – the millions of black Southerners probably felt quite differently) was afraid that, if they remained in the USA, they would not maintain control over the institution of slavery and eventually it would end somehow. So they declared secession and started a war.

So yes, it was about slavery, although the Union wasn’t primarily motivated by ending slavery, but rather by maintaining the USA.

IMHO The main reason for secession was over slavery. The main reason for war was over seccession.

Slavery was the main reason for Secession. The Union went to war to preserve the Union. Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation to influence European opinions–and to give a more positive reason for the conflict. (He felt the entire USA had been guilty of the sin of allowing slavery.)

Small detail: WASP means White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Some Irish Catholics in the North rioted against the War. Many more fought for the Union. (And some fought for the Confederacy–but the Southern states had never been as attractive to immigrants.)

There are books on US history! Do “go on and on”–what have you read? It was a complicated matter–beginning before the US Revolution & continuing today.

So, that’s what we’re going to do now? We’re going to fight.

It was about states’ rights. Specifically, the right to allow slavery.

No. The war was started when the Confederates (or, maybe, technically, Confederates-To-Be) fired on Fort Sumter. The South fired the first shots, and no rational person would seriously expect the United States government to ignore that. This transcends the debate over the legality of secession: The South initiated violence. They started the shooting war.

It really is as simple as that. Trying to complexify it is not enlightening, it’s distracting, and, at worst, an attempt to muddy the waters to dilute the moral responsibility of the Confederate States of America.

And the states’ right to not hand over runaway slaves. The South wanted to abolish the right of states to not hand over runaway slaves. The CSA, and the Antebellum South before it, was greatly against states having that right.

To drive this part home: Abraham Lincoln won the election of 1860 without having been on the ballot in any of the states which would go on to join the CSA. (Technically, the state of South Carolina didn’t have ballots for Presidential elections in 1860, but, well, if you think Lincoln was even under consideration for getting electoral votes from South Carolina in 1860 I have some oceanfront property on Mercury to sell you.)

The election of 1860 was, in effect, two elections running in parallel: Lincoln versus Douglas in the North, Bell versus Breckinridge in the South. The sticking point was that only one of the two victors could win, and, in the end, Lincoln got almost 60% of the Electoral College’s votes (180 out of 303) and almost 40% of the whole country’s popular vote from the North alone.

My point is, the South knew that they were being outvoted because the North was growing faster, economically and in terms of population, that not even the Three-Fifths Compromise could save them, and that secession was the last chance to preserve slavery.

The fact they were going to war because they no longer had enough free white men to preserve slavery electorally somehow didn’t quite register as a reason they might have difficulties on the battlefield…

And this is something I want to highlight: The causes of wars don’t have to be symmetric. The CSA apologists frequently try to smuggle in that unstated premise by harping on how racist the North was during the Civil War, so obviously they weren’t going to war to end slavery. That’s a fallacy of relevance: It isn’t relevant why the North went to war because the South started the war. The war wouldn’t have happened had the South not attempted violent secession, and the South attempted violent secession almost entirely to preserve slavery.

Where is Fort Sumter and why was it fired at?

I think what you are asking is what was the cause of the Civil War.

And unequivocally, the cause of the Civil War was slavery.

It can be argued that the immediate trigger of the war was secession, states rights or the firing on Fort Sumter.

But it’s really this simple: No slavery = no war pure and simple. If there isn’t slavery, none of the above actions take place. All roads lead to slavery.

All of that other discussion is just an academic exercise.

I’ll take leading questions for $1000, Alex.

The cause of the shots on Fort Sumter are also complicated, as most things are at this level.

The south - piecemeal - declares secession.
The north - understandably upset - attempts to resupply Fort Sumter, which had been cut off from resupply by land.
The resupply ship heading to Fort Sumter - which is at the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, SC (about 20 miles from where I type this) - is considered by the Governor of South Carolina to be a hostile act as the fort places a major port under US guns.
South Carolina units fire on Fort Sumter and we’re underway.

There’s an idea out there that Lincoln et al needed a cassus belli and were waiting for the hotheads in the south to do something. Predictably, it occurred in South Carolina, a true hotbed of anti-federal views under pretty much any circumstance (and which largely continues to this day).

Whether resupply of a fort is sufficient cause for attempting to kill US soldiers will always be debated. Act of war? Routine resupply? It can depend upon where ones sympathies lie.

In the United States of America.

Because a band of failed secessionists wanted to stop it from being resupplied.

And, just to move this discussion on a bit, it is not legal to deprive the citizens of the country as a whole land which belongs to the country as a whole due to a political disagreement, unless there is a peaceful referendum and the country as a whole has a fair and honest say in the process. Peaceful bilateral secession is legal. Unilateral, and inevitably violent, secession is not.

Southern states committed numerous acts of aggression even before Fort Sumter was fired upon.

Federal arsenals were seized by southern forces in late December 1860 and early in 1861, and Georgia troops grabbed Fort Pulaski.

As for Sumter, the excuse that “we had to attack because we were afraid you had hostile intent” is laughable in light of events leading up to it.

And yes, the South (as confirmed in state manifestos discussed on this board in previous threads) overwhelming saw maintenance of slavery as the reason for secession and war. Northerners overwhelmingly fought to preserve the Union.

They didn’t. The South fought the war to keep slavery. The North fought the war to keep the South from seceding. Towards the end, it became more about slavery for The North, but it really wasn’t in the beginning.

Make no mistake, though: The South wanted to preserve the institution of slavery, and if not for that, there would not have been an American Civil War at that time. Even if many of the poorer southern folk didn’t own slaves, it was the wealthy folk who controlled the legislatures who took the Southern States to war. And the did so to preserve slavery.

And just so you know, we’ve done this debate over and over on this MB, so don’t expect anything new. Here is thelatest thread, just last year. There are many others.

For those SDMB folks outside the USA and not interested in deep studies, this is about as succinct and correct as you need to explain to anyone else in your country that asks. Most other posts simply build on this.

Fort Sumter is a National Historical Monument and can still be visited today: http://www.nps.gov/fosu/index.htm

The Southern states, when the seceeded, usually took over US Government property (such as forts and arsenals), mostly without a struggle, as they were minimally manned and more than a few officers and soldiers were sympathetic to the South.

In Charleston, SC, the few (around 100, IIRC) Federal soldiers were on the mainland at Fort Moultrie, which was pretty much indefensible (sand dunes came right over the battlements, if reports from that time are accurate), so the commander moved his troops to Fort Sumter, an unfinished work in the middle of Charleston harbor. This became a focal point (there were one or two others) where the Southern states (and then the Confederacy, once organized), said that since they had left the Union all nice and legal like, it should be there property (and they sent negotiators to Washington to work out the details) while the Federal government said it was still ‘National’ property and could not be abandoned.

It was the decision by Lincoln to resupply the fort by ship that triggered the South to undertake a violent bombardment (which surprisingly killed none of the defenders) that led to the surrender of the fort when supplies and ammunition ran out. This rallied the Northern states, much as Pearl Harbor would do for America 80 years laters, and the war that even Thomas Jefferson had predicted came into being.

Sorry for rattling on, like a lot of Americans, The Civil war can still inspire a lot of conversation.

I’m going to go back to the exact question - if we ignore the part in parenthesis, yes. If we count it, then no. The South attempted to secede from the US in a desperate bid to preserve slavery, which was key to the southern economy and philosophy. The institution was becoming harder to maintain, the South was losing political power, and they essentially threw a tantrum over Lincoln winning the election. The legitimate government of the US fought to stop the south from seceding, and only used military force after treasonous rebels fired on US forces and seized US property.

No, there’s really nothing complicated. The US government sent supplies to a US fort on US property, and some rebels illegally used military force to stop the US government from using US property. Even if secession was considered legitimate, South Carolina had no more right to fire on the US for resupplying a US military base than Cuba does when the US supplies Guantanamo Bay. There is no legitimate space for debate on it; people who sympathize with a traitorous government built on the principle that slavery is good try to argue the legitimacy, but there’s no real basis behind those arguments.

As has been explained, the South seceded to preserve slavery and the North waged war to preserve the union. But why was it so important to preserve the union? Why not just let the bastards go and provide safe harbor to all the escaped slaves?

The best explanation I have read on this board was that the South had been using the democratic process set forth in the constitution to not only keep the US a slave nation but to force other states to return escaped slaves then as the tide of democracy turned and it looked like they were going to be on the losing end of the democratic process, they decided they were going to take their ball and go home.

You make them sound like the tea party.

Now, you’re making them sound like the Bundy’s

If not for the issue of slavery there would have been no Civil War. You can close the thread now.

Why preserve the Union?