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Civil War: Causes of the War

Trivia powered by Prof. ABEThe American Civil War also known as the War Between the States and several other names, was a civil war in the United States of America. Eleven Southern slave states declared their secession from the U.S. and formed the Confederate States of America (the Confederacy). Led by Jefferson Davis, they fought against the U.S. federal government (the "Union"), which was supported by all the free states and the five border slave states.

In the presidential election of 1860, the Republican Party, led by Abraham Lincoln, had campaigned against the expansion of slavery beyond the states in which it already existed. The Republican victory in that election resulted in seven Southern states declaring their secession from the Union even before Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861. Both the outgoing and incoming U.S. administrations rejected secession, regarding it as rebellion.

Try this Civil War Causes quiz.

True and False?

1. Abraham Lincoln did not propose federal laws against slavery where it already existed.

2. Much of the political battle in the 1850s focused on the expansion of slavery into the newly created territories.

3. Northern fears of losing control of the federal government to antislavery forces, and Southern fears that the slave power already controlled the government, brought the crisis to a head in the late 1850s.

4. The Civil War was not about slavery but states' rights.

5. Almost all of the inter-regional crises involved states' rights.

6. The extremely popular antislavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe greatly increased Northern opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

7. The 1854 Ostend Manifesto was an unsuccessful Southern attempt to annex Cuba as a slave state.

8. Twice as many whites left the South for the North as vice versa, contributed to the South's defensive-aggressive political behavior.

9. The election of Lincoln in 1860 was the final trigger for secession.

Check Your Answers


Civil War: Causes of the War (Answers)

1. True. Abraham Lincoln did not propose federal laws against slavery where it already existed, but he had, in his 1858 House Divided Speech, expressed a desire to "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".

2. True. Much of the political battle in the 1850s focused on the expansion of slavery into the newly created territories. All of the organized territories were likely to become free-soil states, which increased the Southern movement toward secession. Both North and South assumed that if slavery could not expand it would wither and die.

3. False. Southern fears of losing control of the federal government to antislavery forces, and Northern fears that the slave power already controlled the government, brought the crisis to a head in the late 1850s. Sectional disagreements over the morality of slavery, the scope of democracy and the economic merits of free labor vs. slave plantations caused the Whig and "Know-Nothing" parties to collapse, and new ones to arise (the Free Soil Party in 1848, the Republicans in 1854, the Constitutional Union in 1860). In 1860, the last remaining national political party, the Democratic Party, split along sectional lines.

4. False. Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens said that slavery was "the cornerstone of the Confederacy" after Southern states seceded. After Southern defeat, Stephens said that the war was not about slavery but states' rights, and became one of the most ardent defenders of the Lost Cause. Confederate President Jefferson Davis also switched from saying the war was caused by slavery to saying that states' rights was the cause.

5. False. Almost all of the inter-regional crises involved slavery, starting with debates on the three-fifths clause and a twenty year extension of the African Slave Trade in the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

6. True. The extremely popular antislavery novel Uncle Tom'sCabinCabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe greatly increased Northern opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

7. True. The Ostend Manifesto was a secret document written in 1854 by U.S. diplomats at Ostend, Belgium, describing a plan to acquire Cuba from Spain. The document declared that "Cuba is as necessary to the North American republic as any of its present members, and that it belongs naturally to that great family of states of which the Union is the Providential Nursery." The aggressively worded document, and Soul'sadvocacy of slavery, caused outrage among Northerners who felt it was a Southern attempt to extend slavery. American free-advocacy of slavery, caused outrage among Northerners who felt it was a Southern attempt to extend slavery. American free-soilers, just recently stirred with the Fugitive Slave Law passed as part of the Compromise of 1850, decried the manifesto. Thus, Cuba did not become part of the United States.

8. True. There was the polarizing effect of slavery that split the largest religious denominations (the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian churches) and controversy caused by the worst cruelties of slavery (whippings, mutilations and families split apart). The fact that seven immigrants out of eight settled in the North, plus the fact that twice as many whites left the South for the North as vice versa, contributed to the South's defensive-aggressive political behavior.

9. True. The election of Lincoln in 1860 was the final trigger for secession. Efforts at compromise, including the "Corwin Amendment" and the "Crittenden Compromise", failed. Southern leaders feared that Lincoln would stop the expansion of slavery and put it on a course toward extinction. The slave states, which had already become a minority in the House of Representatives, were now facing a future as a perpetual minority in the Senate and Electoral College against an increasingly powerful North.

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