It would be difficult to find a more authoritative source for the causes of civil war than Abraham Lincoln. According to Lincoln, what factors caused the civil war?
'"A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall— but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction or its advocates will push it forward, till shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South." June 16,1858 Springfield, Illinois, (Lincoln Douglas debates]
This quote exemplifies Lincoln’s dignified approach to the problem of slavery which was tearing the nation apart. Lincoln had a clear eloquence in his being and also was possessed of a very clear and progressive mind for argument. His speeches usually lasted for several hours at a time and while his close friends saw him intimately as a person of considerable wisdom, there was also an ungainly humanity which was personified by his very tall figure and expressive intensity. In this debate, he tackles the problem of slavery head on leaving Stephen Douglas little room for manoeuvre.
“Planters like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington devoted years to the design of this house” (p 337). Ironically both former Presidents owned large number of slaves although the former set his free almost immediately after becoming President already foreboding the Civil War.
So the issues that caused the Civil War were the intransigence of the Southern States to accept the fact that slavery was not something that could last and this persistence led to the final clash between states. Additionally an unwillingness to compromise by the Northern abolitionist states hastened the South’s demise. The country was also changing since it was becoming more industrialised and this eventually led to the North taking sway over the South’s moribund economy which depended almost solely on cotton and slavery to survive.
One issue which undoubtedly continued to add fuel to the fire of the eventual Civil War was the Dredd Scott decision which left Lincoln completely appalled and which also hastened his will to contest the 1860 election on a Republican ticket.
“Although most enslaved African Americans were held on fairly sizeable plantations, some slaves worked in other settings” (p 337). Oakes here describes the conditions for the slaves which were quite appalling in several places.
The Chief Justice presiding over the case was Roger Taney and he ruled against Dred Scott. Dred Scott was a slave who sued the court for his freedom and also for that of his family. He thought he had a good case because although his wife and two daughters were still slaves, he had lived with his master in states which no longer maintained slavery. According to Dred Scott, he was not a slave as slavery had already been abolished in these states.
When the case went to court, however, Dred Scott was regarded as a slave. Therefore he had no voice in the court and no right to sue for his freedom. He was not considered to be a citizen of the United States of America and neither were any of the other slaves. Slaves were deemed to be less than human in some American states while in others, they were already being freed and also had rights (Oakes et al pp 215).
Roger Taney thought that by his decision, he would resolve the matter of slavery in the United States. However, this had the opposite effect and eventually brought about the Civil War. States in America did not agree amongst themselves regarding the issue of slavery. Some wanted to abolish slavery whilst others enjoyed being envied by their peers according to the number of slaves they owned.
This indicated the Southern Way of life which would not disappear in a hurry.
"Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afforded let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but con we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty forbids: this then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it." February 2,1860, Cooper Union, New York City
Lincoln was undoubtedly one of the best documented Presidents of the modern era and this address also focuses on the theme of slavery which was part and parcel of his humanistic outlook. It was said that Lincoln’s voice was slightly squeaky and without much character but this certainly improved with time. Here he is focusing intensely on the problem of slavery and how this can be solved without perhaps engaging in civil war which was sadly not the case at all.