CIVIL WAR, THE BEGINNING
In December of 1860 the legislature and governor of South Carolina declared their intent, and announced their secession from the United States of America. That act, and the subsequent firing on Fort Sumter initiated the Civil War. The circumstances that led this nation to the most horrific war in our history and the causes of the strife that raised the passions of a nation remain unknown to most, and contentious to many who do understand. The intent of this short essay is to chronicle the events and circumstances that led the nation to war.
The first African slaves to arrive in North America were purchased from a Portuguese privateer in 1619. They had been taken as prize from a Spanish slave ship headed for the mines of Mexico. That group of unfortunate souls, and those who soon followed, were entered into the English system of "indentured servitude". The intent was that once their "debt" to their masters was "worked off", they would achieve freedom. The demand for workers in the very labor intensive business' of tobacco and cotton farming soon led the plantation owners to extend the time required to relieve the "debt" for both English indentures and their African counterparts. As a solution the distinction of skin color was used to differentiate the groups, the English could achieve their independence, the Africans would remain as slaves.
North America was established as an extraordinary profit center and colony of the English, slaves existed in every colony. In the North there were fewer, mostly serving as household help and apprentice workers in craft shops.
In the Southern Colonies life was very difficult for African slaves, the work hard, most diseases incurable, life expectancy was short, demanding a continuous supply of workers. For their supply of labor Southern planters depended on the Northern shippers, who made fortunes from the trade.
The landowning, slave holding elite of the South prospered incredibly on the world demand for their products and the lives of the slaves who worked the fields. Free Blacks and poor whites in the south led hard lives with little participation in the larger economy.
The North developed with yoemen farmers, small craft shops, shipping and processing mills, operated by families or small crews of trained employees.
By the time of the Revolution and the Continental Congress slavery and it's future were on the minds of all participants. The contentious nature of the subject and the overwhelming need to establish a unified nation, put decisions about the "peculiar" institution off, into the future.
The Constitutional Convention would not have addressed slavery, but for the desire to maintain a balance between the feudal South and the industrial North. The framers all foresaw an end to slavery "sometime" in the future. To maintain a representational balance in Congress they arrived at a human value of slaves as 3/5 of a human being. This system kept the fragile relationships between North and South on nominally friendly terms for 70 years. The delicate balance was consciously maintained by carefully bringing in new states in pairs, one "free" one "slave" together.
The Mason/Dixon line was first drawn in the late 17th C. That survey, between Pennsylvania and Maryland was necessary because of serious contention along the border caused by clerical errors in the Royal Grants that delivered title to the land. Some of their stone markers remain in place. Later, it would be used as the demarcation line between the free North and the slave holding South.
In 1787 Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, primarily outlining the path to statehood for the vast territory, a provision was included banning slavery in the territory. In 1807 a French Canadian sued for return of his runaway African slave. The judge in that case, Augustus Woodward, ruled, based on the ordinance, (every) "".man coming into this Territory is by the law of the land a freeman." The Northwest Territories compromise the land that now makes up the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota.
In 1794 Eli Whitney filed patent on the Cotton Gin. One machine could produce up to 50 pounds of clean cotton in a day. That rate of production made cotton farming a profitable activity in the southern states, as a very labor intensive effort, that invention served to more firmly establish slavery as the accepted labor source in the South. Ironically, Whitney profited very little from that invention, yet achieved great success manufacturing firearms.
In 1821 Missouri was finally admitted into the Union as a state. The compromise was that the rest of the Louisiana Purchase land above the lower level of Missouri would be free territory, and the state could not restrict free blacks from entering the state.
Throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries the English empire had depended on the work of slaves in the lucrative sugar, tobacco, and cotton farming operations of the Americas. The slave trade itself was a profit center for England. Quaker activism finally ended the slave trade and slavery in the Empire in 1833 by act of Parliament.
Throughout the first half of the 19th Century Southerners watched with trepidation as the population of the North exploded with immigrants seeking a better life in America, escaping the oppressive and rigid society of royalist Europe. These freemen settled in New England, where the jobs were, or the West, where the free land was. This demographic is important because it relates directly to Congressional balance.
The United States, and the world, experienced several economic crisis' and diplomatic problems during this time, resulting in Henry Clays development of what became known as "The American System." That plan compromised a series of tariffs designed to encourage domestic manufacturing. One side effect was a stress placed on the South. Taxes on British imports made it more difficult for English mills to purchase the cotton that the South depended upon, and with little water power the South held little opportunity for processing or manufacturing. Tariffs were also at the center of the Nullification Proclamation. South Carolina proposed the idea that acts of Congress that were not equal in their effect on all member states could be denied by any state, under threat of secession. President Jackson, in denying the principle, also promised to reduce the tariffs.