The Inevitability of the Civil War
Published 27 Dec 2016
A whole set of disagreements engaged the United States into a civil war, with slavery being the most contentious issue. The Missouri compromise, tariffs, nullification moods, Henry Clay’s compromise bill of 1832, and the Mexican War – all those created favorable opportunities for the civil conflict and simultaneously made it impossible for the slavery and non-slavery states to engage into a full-scale war. Had the mentioned agreements and compromises been abolished or misbalanced, the states would finally pave the way to real military conflict.
Unfortunately, the growing number of bills and compromises left many issues unresolved and in many aspects, also led to another civil war. Obviously, even though the military at that time was not in its best shape, the opposition between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces would gradually grow enough to create a favorable military environment, with the civil war being the ultimate, but nevertheless the most effective and inevitable measure of resolving slavery tensions in the U.S.
Throughout the course of its history, the U.S. engaged into numerous conflicts, seeking to resolve the issue of slavery. The Missouri compromise and the admission of Maine and Missouri to the U.S. territory signified the growing tensions between the north and the south, as well as the impossibility to find a common agreement on the most contentious political conflicts. Although the Louisiana Purchase had almost doubled the American territory, it was not before 1818 that the Missouri Territory applied for statehood (Forbes, 2007). Given the growing number of slave owners in Missouri, the latter could not be admitted as a non-slave state.
However, such admission would have broken the balance between slave and non-slave states: the eleven slave and the eleven non-slave states had equal number of senators and governmental representatives, with this equality being fragile but nevertheless a necessary precondition for temporary political reconciliation. In the same way, Maine was refused admittance in 1819 (Forbes, 2007). In one of the his poems Timothy Claimright expressed the will of the growing political majority against making Maine a part of the U.S. “If the South will not yield, to the West be it known, That Maine will declare for a King of her own; And three hundred thousand of freemen demand” (Forbes, 2007).
The conflict was heating the political tensions, which could have resulted in a real civil conflict, if not for the Missouri Compromise brought to life in 1820. Under the Compromise, Missouri was admitted to the U.S. as a slave state, while Maine was granted statehood as a free state (Forbes, 2007). True, the Missouri Compromise made it possible to maintain the existing balance between slave and non-slave states, but it left the issue of slavery unresolved; and as a result, the civil war remained as possible and inevitable, as all further conflicts and disagreements associated with the need to abolish slavery in the United States.
It would be fair to say that the growing civil tensions were not limited to slavery, and were also caused by a whole set of economic controversies. For many years since the time of Alexander Hamilton, the United States economy had been ruled by a system of tariffs designed to protect the growing American industry from external influence. The Tariff of 1789, as well as the Tariff of 1816 established a new set of price relationships, to make the American goods more competitive in foreign markets (Wait, 2002). Tariffs would have probably remained an acceptable form of economic regulation if not for the Tariff of 1824, which brought the conflict between the North and the South to the surface.
Still, it was only in 1828 that the Tariff of Abominations was passed to impose a 62% tax on 92% of all goods imported from Europe (Wait, 2002). The tariff severely hit the whole economy of the South, which heavily depended on the imports of cotton from Britain. The Tariff of 1828 ignited the conflict between the senators, who either voted for protectionism or viewed tariffs as the form of economic discrimination.
Daniel Webster was confident that if the U.S. citizens were not satisfied with the then state of political and economic affairs, they could have the right to sue the federal government or to seek the means to initiate amendments into the Constitution; for President Jackson, however, the issue of nullification stood out as the measure needed to preserve the union: “Our Union: It must be preserved” (Wait, 2002). Neither the Tariffs of 1832 and 1833 nor the Tariff of 1842 could improve the economic situation in the U.S. The north and the south interpreted economic changes initiated by the government as the federal striving to promote inequalities among slave and non-slave states. Not only did the Tariffs leave the most problematic issues intact, but they also created an atmosphere, in which any civil conflict could be the only relevant source of political and economic agreement.
To some extent, Daniel Webster might have been correct in that nullification as a political doctrine could not lead to anything beyond anarchy and civil war. On the other hand, the southern states were given no other chance to balance their economic interests with the then realities. Nullification was expected to give unsatisfied states “that deemed themselves oppressed by a law of Congress the right to declare this law null and void and to release their citizens from the duty of obedience” (Freehling, 1966), but in no way could nullification guarantee the constitutionality of actions initiated by states. South Carolina went far enough to declare the Tariff of 1828 and the Tariff of 1832 null and void, with the state raising an army to reduce nullification trends that threatened the state’s integrity (Freehling, 1966).
This is where Jackson finally realized the real threat of nullification, and that nullification made the real military conflict as real as never before was obvious.The tariffs, the nullification crisis, and the preceding legislative attempts to bring in political balance, consent, and agreement did not lead to any positive results, and could not resolve all economic and political issues altogether, unless the issue of slavery was resolved. That was not possible without engaging northern and southern states in a military opposition, due to the fact that only predominance and military force could confirm the relevance of non-slavery, and could guarantee that slave states gave up their positions for the sake of democracy, freedom, and equal rights.
Objectively, it was due to the fact that neither of the opposing political parties was ready to surrender to the growing political tensions. Moreover, it was due to the fact that the legislative acts designed and passed by Congress in the 19th century not only left many issues unresolved, but also created a whole set of related controversies. The federal intervention and nullification crises only confirmed the existing dramatic differences between the American north and south. Moreover, the federal military intervention and the political decision to grant the military the right to collect taxes was the starting point of military mobilization in the U.S., which gradually expanded during the new Mexican-American War (1846-1848).
“In many ways, the Mexican War was, indeed, the forerunner of the Civil War, for most of the great warriors of 1861-1865 actually had their first taste of battle, and tested their character, in the Mexican War” (Henry, 1990). Again, the Mexican War resulted in the growing dominion over the Mexican lands that became a part of the U.S., and here the issue of slavery became the cornerstone on the American way to prosperity; and again, it was obvious that political agreement was not possible. The United States was going through a terrible economic crisis; the whole nation was morally torn between the two opposing beliefs; Jackson’s violent victory over South Carolina could not go without an acute military response; finally, the 40 years of the compromise did not resolve, but worked to conceal the existing slavery issues.
To pretend that the fight between slavery and non-slavery was a normal political state was no longer possible. Throughout the 19th century, it was due to military actions that the U.S. managed to resolve its most problematic issues and to eliminate its most problematic spots. The Mexican War and the Civil War proved and confirmed the relevance of military mechanisms of political resolution, where the opposing sides of the issue were too reluctant to look for a peaceful agreement. Given the seriousness of slavery issues, as well as the consequences to which they led, the Civil War was inevitable. Moreover, had Civil War been prevented, the United States would hardly come to exemplify freedom and democracy of political ideals in the modern world.
The Civil War was the inevitable consequence of the slavery conflicts in the 19th century America. The growing economic tensions, the system of tariffs, the growing misbalance between pro-slavery and anti-slavery movements, as well as the persistent states’ reluctance to seek common agreement and to sacrifice their own ideals and ambitions for the sake of the common peace did not leave any place for choice, but made the Civil War the only relevant instrument of political resolution. Throughout the course of the 19th century, the United States was persistently trying to balance the interests of several political parties, but only the bloody military conflict could confirm the dominance of anti-slavery principles in America.
- Forbes, R.P. (2007). The Missouri Compromise and its aftermath: Slavery & the meaning of America. UNC Press.
- Freehling, W.W. (1966). Prelude to the Civil War: The nullification controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1836. Harper & Row.
- Henry, R.S. (1990). The story of the Mexican War. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, Co.
- Wait, E.M. (2002). The second Jackson administration. Nova Publishers.