American Civil War, Its Short- and Long-Term Causes


According to Norton et al. (371-375), the American civil war took place after the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln. The war lasted for four years from 1861-1864 and mainly occurred in the southern states. Initially, eleven southern states disengaged their membership from the union made up of the rest of the states. They formed the Confederate State of America to cushion their economies against the perceived ideologies of free labor embodied by President Lincoln.

At the end of the war, the Confederate State of America lost, and so their claims were for the war that included continued slavery practice. Tensions caused by the northern states calling for the abolition of slavery and the southern states’ refusal to abolish slavery, arguing that their economies and welfare of their citizens relied on the effective harnessing of slave labor, largely contributed to the American civil war. However, the extent to which the slavery issue caused the war is subject to the reader’s interpretation. This paper explains that slavery forms under both long term and short term causes of the civil war. Other causes of civil war include ideological differences, economic issues, state sovereignty, and a quest for power and state jurisdiction expansion.

Long-term Causes of the Civil War

The abolitionist movement that started in 1930 in New England advocated for abolishing slavery, backing their claims with ideological reference such as religious literature. The abolitionists emphasized the importance of equality and declared that it was sinful to own a slave. According to the abolitionists, all slave owners were heartless. The southerners did not take the accusations kindly and were strongly opposed to the moral attacks of their institution of slavery. The push and pull for and against slavery built-up tensions from 1830 that cumulated to the civil war in 1860 (Gallagher & Nolan, p.19).

The different economic systems of the north and south ensured that there were resentments from both sides towards each other on the issue of trade fairness. The Senate dealt with contentions for fairness and managed to lower tension levels for an extended period. The south relied on export earnings of cash crops. They grew these crops on a large scale that was heavily dependent on slave labor. The south exported most of its cotton to Britain and believed that staging a war would compel Britain to assist the south in safeguarding its cotton source. On the other hand, Northerners feared the economic advantage of the south and sought tariff protection such as an iron tariff in Pennsylvania. Due to the antagonistic nature of the demands by each side, there was never a unanimous agreement on the issues.

Each state’s demand for rights also contributed to the buildup of tensions leading to the civil war. The south viewed slaves as property and therefore felt that the federal government had no authority to prevent the movement of slaves into other states. The southerners also demanded that the federal government return escaped slaves to their owners. The northern side held opposing views of the state right. The issue of state rights grew deeper because of ideological differences between the two sides. While each believed in republican principles emphasizing democracy and civic benefit for all, their views toward each other were skeptical. Each side thought the other was violating the constitution (Gallagher & Nolan, p.20-24).

Short-term Causes

The southern states had contributed a large share of the nation’s president, speakers, and even chief justices of the Supreme Court. Therefore, the south played a key role in the federal government. The northerners were unhappy because they saw leadership by a small group of wealthy slave owners that controlled the affairs of the south as undemocratic. Their conviction in the war was to destroy slave power from the nation’s leadership.

Just before the Confederate State of America formation, there was a dispute between the north and south concerning the expansion of slavery in the new territories acquired after the Mexican war of 1846 to 1848. Northern states were against the southern state’s intention to bring their slaves into the new territories arguing that this act would constitute an unfair business practice that favored Southerners who enjoy cheap slave labor. The southern states defended their intentions to argue that the movement of their property – slaves, was legal anywhere within the nation. There was open warfare in 1954 between northern immigrants who were anti-slavery and proslavery groups from Missouri, which borders Kansas on the south (Bärwolf p.5).

Southerners felt that President Lincoln’s election was the final blow to their interest in maintaining and expanding slavery (Bärwolf p.10). Their loss of control of the Senate informed their decision to quit the union. The north witnessed growing hostility in the north, and the southerners feared that their fate was to end as a minority region.


Slavery appears in both short-term and long-term causes of the war. It forms a linkage of the other causes and appears as the main motive for the war, with each side fighting for its interpretation of slavery. The Civil war lasted for four years; however, the causes and consequences lasted more than that. The northern states’ victory led to the discard of most of the issues fought for by the south.

Works Cited

Bärwolf, Doreen. The Causes of the American Civil War. Norderstedt: GRIN Verlag, 2006.

Gallagher, Gary W and Alan T Nolan. The myth of the lost cause and Civil War history. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Norton, Mary Beth, et al. A People and a Nation, Volume 1: To 1877,. 9th. Boston, MA: Wordsworth Cengage Learning, 2011.

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