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Support your opinion: could the Civil War have been avoided? After reading this unit’s materials, be sure to include the influence of at least one cultural, political, economic, or social movement on whether or not the Civil War was avoidable. Your response must be at least 200 words in length.

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American Civil War
Course Learning Outcomes for Unit VIII
Upon completion of this unit, students should be able to:
9. Summarize the factors leading to the American Civil War.
9.1 Identify individuals, events, or ideas related to the American Antebellum and Civil War periods.
9.2 Describe the socioeconomic impact of the 1850s and 1860s on American morale.
Learning Outcomes
Learning Activity
Unit VIII Lesson
U.S. History reading passages
Unit VII Assessment
Unit VIII Lesson
U.S. History reading passages
Unit VIII Assessment
Reading Assignment
Throughout this course, you will be provided with sections of text from the online resource U.S. History. You
may be tested on your knowledge and understanding of the material listed below as well as the information
presented in the unit lesson. Click on the link(s) below to access your material.
Click here to access this unit’s reading from U.S. History. The chapter/section titles are also provided below.
Section 14.3 (review): The Dred Scott Decision and Sectional Strife
Section 14.4 (review): John Brown and the Election of 1860
Chapter 15 (Sections 15.1-15.4): The Civil War, 1860-1865
Section 16.1: Restoring the Union
Section 16.2: Congress and the Remaking of the South, 1865-1866
Section 16.3: Radical Reconstruction, 1867-1872
Unit Lesson
In the previous unit, we concluded with a close look at the rising political discourse emerging in the significant
changes to the American population. What is often an overlooked fact is that the idea of America as a
“melting pot” was perhaps never truer than in the northern cities along the Atlantic coast. This was especially
true in terms of New York, which, with its room to sprawl and natural access to miles of coastline perfect for
shipping, was a natural starting point for many Europeans.
HY 1110, American History I
European Migrations
Among the most desperate would be the Irish, suffering from
a potato crop famine and blatant subjugation by wealthy
English landlords. The Potato Famine, coupled with limited
opportunities on the European mainland, made America the
most likely chance for a better life. Unfortunately, for many,
this was not found. Many Irish would end up in cheaply built
and over-occupied shacks called tenements. With poor to no
sewage systems and rampant malnutrition, the region was a
cesspool of disease. Those healthy enough to work often
could not find employment, as many established businesses
displayed “No Irish” signs, fearing that the expected cheaper
labor would still not make up for the lost business to be
expected. On top of everything, the Protestant nation still
held grave bias against loyal Catholics, which included the
Irish, and used this as motivation against supporting them.
The Irish, however, were not the only group to migrate, and
not all experiences were equal. Another of the largest
migrations at this time were the Germans. Fueled by political
unrest in their homeland, many Germanic families would
come to America. Unlike the poverty-stricken Irish, however,
they often had the collateral or capitol to settle west of the
coast. In fact, one could say that these Germans were
Composition dedicated to the Irish struggles.
among the first to truly take advantage of the expansion
(Thayer, 1844)
fever in America, eventually settling much of what is now the
Midwest, including cities like Chicago. Still, religion would be a factor for many, and as most of the German
migrants were Catholic, this too caused rampant segregation in these early settlements.
Just as the East and Midwest were growing, so was the quickly developing West, but for different reasons.
The Gold Rush of 1849 drew more than just prospectors from the east. It caught the eye of another major
migration group seeking fortune: the Chinese.
Like most prospectors, very few Chinese migrants would find the treasures they came for, but with expansion
came opportunity. The railroad was quickly carving up the western landscape, and this demand required
cheap, unskilled labor. The Chinese would become a major labor force with this process, and this led to the
deaths of many from explosives, breathing in dangerous particles, or simply workplace accidents. Like the
Irish, where they drew ire was with their willingness to work for near nothing to survive, which undercut many
non-Chinese family men, making them unable to obtain work.
This fear of job loss was not unique to these migrations. There was one additional group that perhaps caused
the most concern, even to immigrants: freed slaves.
As became clear when we discussed abolition in Unit VI, and in the pre-war North, this was especially a
concern. While slavery was felt by many to be an unnecessary, racist charge, many of those same people
feared what would happen if all of those laborers were suddenly equal. For persons who knew nothing of
ownership or possession, and who had for generations lived in and on the absolute bare minimum, an influx
of new labor into the northern market was a legitimate fear.
For generations, new immigrants had fulfilled the unskilled labor need in factories and ports. Successive
generations were able to improve their situations or move out. But would this still be possible with the sudden
release of millions of workers desperate to get away from their abusive owners?
HY 1110, American History I
I can not but hate [the prospect of slavery’s expansion]. I hate it because
of xthe
injustice of
slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its
just influence in the world—
enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites—causes the real
friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity
– Abraham Lincoln 1854
Lincoln / Douglas Debates
Lincoln’s first test was not in Washington, but in Illinois where he practiced law and was raising a young
family. The Republicans needed a forum for his ideas, and the Senatorial election of 1858 was just that forum.
Illinois was a free-soil state that was, for the same reasons just discussed, still very much divided concerning
the issue of abolition. Though Lincoln did not advertise himself as an abolitionist, as it was political suicide, he
did hold strong convictions that containment was not at all enough. To challenge him would be the incumbent
Senator Stephen Douglas. Douglas had burst onto the scene with his successful proposal of the Compromise
of 1850, but had since had a less-stellar record. He was recognized by many as a deciding factor in the
controversial Kansas vote. Douglas himself was not an advocate of slavery, but his party was, and his
platform of popular sovereignty had taken a sure victory out of the hands of free-soil supporters. However, his
unwillingness to vote with the party caused a rift between him and President Buchanan.
I deny the right of Congress to force a slaveholding State upon an unwilling people. I deny their right
to force a free State upon an unwilling people. I deny their right to force a good thing upon a people
who are unwilling to receive it. The great principle is the right of every community to judge and decide
for itself, whether a thing is right or wrong, whether it would be good or evil for them to adopt it; and
the right of free action, the right of free thought, the right of free judgment upon the question is dearer
to every true American than any other under a free government.
– Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas, 1858 (as cited in Political Debates Between Lincoln and
Douglas, 1902, p. 12)
For Douglas, this election was a necessary victory for his political career.
The campaign tour would be a series of stops throughout the state of Illinois for the two candidates. In the
northern areas, Lincoln’s strong anti-slave stand came to great applause, whereas Douglas generally
dominated in the southern stops. The greater significance of this campaign, however, were the debates
themselves, as Douglas was a national figure, and Lincoln fed off of that press. Also significant, this was a
state election; for a national issue such as slavery to be the main platform was rare. It was clear from the
divided receptions that this was the topic on many American minds, even over local affairs. Even committed
states were not universal in their support one way or the other. Douglas would narrowly keep his seat, a
position that also kept him in a key position for a run at the Presidency in 1860. More significantly, however,
Lincoln was now a national name, and the Republicans had an outspoken leader.
The Election of 1860
With the multitude of
individual battles throughout
the nation, it was clear that
both sides had dug in and
were unwilling to budge.
Each side had great orators
and political strategists, both
had specific examples of
aggression egged on and
supported by the opposition,
and both found ways to
justify their perspective as
the constitutional and
religious right.
At the center of everyone’s
attention was an election.
HY 1110, American History I
Lincoln standing next to opponent Douglas in front of a gathered crowd
(Lincoln Debating Douglas, n.d.)
So divided were the causes and views that the majority of states came down to
a battle
candidates. In the North, it was a rematch between Lincoln and Douglas, whileTitle
in the South it came down to
Buchanan’s Vice President John C. Breckinridge and Tennessee Senator John Bell. Lincoln’s chances at
victory being so unlikely, his name only appeared on one third of Southern ballots. Despite this, Lincoln would
win all but one Northern state outright, and despite not gaining a popular majority or even a single Southern
electoral vote, his electoral totals far surpassed his closest contender, Breckinridge.
Lincoln’s election proved that a united North now politically trumped the South. With this understanding, the
secessionist rhetoric was never stronger. On December 20, 1860, before Lincoln was even inaugurated into
office, South Carolina formally seceded, followed closely after by Mississippi (Jan. 9th), Florida (Jan 10th),
Alabama (Jan 11th), Georgia (Jan 19th), Louisiana (Jan 26th), and Texas (Feb 1st). Representatives of each
would meet on February 7th in Montgomery, Alabama, to officially designate themselves unprotected by the
Northern states and form a separate nation: the Confederate States of America (CSA).
Lincoln would officially take his oath of office on March 4, 1861, and the six border states of Virginia,
Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri would also secede later that year and join their
neighbors as part of the CSA.
“You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in
Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and
defend’ it.”
– President Abraham Lincoln, Inaugural Address, 1861 (as cited in “President Lincoln’s First
Inaugural Address, 1861” n.d.)
“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”
— Robert E. Lee, at Fredericksburg, 1863
The War of Northern Aggression
If you were completely unaware of American history and were to look at the situation in 1861, having only the
quotes of leaders from both the Union and Confederacy, it might be impossible to think that either side could
possibly be the aggressor. Both considered their cause justified by both political and divine reason, and each
considered the actions of the other as inexcusable actions towards an unpardonable end.
In total, thirteen states left the
Union, the first wave in the
span of six months. Looking at
the map and timeline, the
issues were at least partially
geographical in nature. The
aggressive situations that had
separated the two sides
stemmed not from a question
of creed, belief, or personal
defense, but what was a direct
attack on culture. In just over
eighty years, the nation had
rallied to defeat the most
dominant military on earth,
aggressively more than tripled
its size, and held off what
seemed like countless outside
pressures. Now it had started
to finally unravel due to an
internal struggle.
Social commentary about the four presidential candidates in 1860
A civil war is different than any
other conflict. In international
campaigns, you can quantify
your wins and losses based on casualties and damage statistics. But when you are fighting your neighbor,
(Maurer, 1860)
HY 1110, American History I
every casualty, destruction, and theft is your loss. Each loss is just one more example
of how GUIDE
separate the
two sides of the same coin can be, and ultimately serves as one more issue that
will have to be rectified
before peace can be made.
As passionate as many were when discussing secession, no one truly wanted it to come to that. Southerners
would ultimately blame the election of Abraham Lincoln, an outspoken nationalist with clear abolitionist views,
to the nation’s highest office as the catalyst of the war, but that is only the last in a series of events. Perhaps
the more honest reason would be admitting that Lincoln’s election to office was proof that the South no longer
had the ability to defend its values nationally, and that the expanding nation was headed in a different
direction than the tradition-laden South. Lincoln did not capture even forty percent of the popular vote, but the
power of the government had swayed so much against slave-holding states in the preceding years that
Southern votes ultimately did not matter. Perhaps the most important lesson learned from the Revolutionary
era was that when your voice is shunned, it is time to either speak louder or reconsider the other half of the
Even for the states that seceded, the choice to actually take up
arms against a neighbor was not an easy one. The states with
the greatest conviction, such as South Carolina, were not going
to be the site of the majority of the destruction. It was the
Border States whose devotion would be ultimately most
strenuously tested.
For states such as Kentucky and Maryland, who had both a
nationalist and a slaveholding tradition, this was a nightmare.
Both would ultimately remain loyal to the Union, but inside of
these Border States there was a second internal conflict, as a
literal neighbor-fighting-neighbor scenario erupted in many
In those that would eventually secede, much of the same
tension was seen. In Tennessee, for example, the
mountainous east did not share the pro-slavery cause of the
central and west. Many who had or would support secession
also had hoped a peaceful resolution would come before
hostilities. Instead, this internal rift would be the cause of some
of the most heinous examples of vicious behavior, not unlike
the rapport between Patriots and Loyalists on the path toward
independence. Maryland, which would ultimately reject
Confederate Political Leadership.
secession, was first stripped of its civil liberties and invaded to
(Confederate Statesmen and Leaders, 1912)
add pressure on the local government. In the already divided
Missouri, political loyalty to the Union did not stop individuals
who took up arms and terrorist tactics in support of the Confederacy. Kentucky would be nearly divided in two
between the opposing sides. With Virginia already wavering toward supporting the South (and ultimately
choosing to), this border was an essential acquisition for the Union, despite its long-standing pro-slavery
I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we can not
hold Missouri, nor, as I think, Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for
us. We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capitol. –
President Abraham Lincoln to Illinois Senator Orville Hickman Browning, 1861 (as cited in “Collected
Works of Abraham Lincoln,” para. 4)
Northern Interests
In the North, some would say the war was to combat a continued evil practice, and that liberation of an
oppressed population was a priority. However, it is clear from the ideas of their own splintering parties that
abolition was not the ultimate priority.
In fact, as we have already discussed, abolition’s potential impact on the economy, especially for many lowerclass workers, caused some political platforms to even advocate segregationist policies. More honest reasons
HY 1110, American History I
could include how the loss of the Southern states drastically impacted the potential
growth in the
UNIT for
North, and that much of the nation’s military tradition was rooted in the South, Title
so the adoption of new territory
did not mean that separation from old bonds was a positive thing. The nation was fractured and weak after
the southeastern separation, and while the nation had become astute at the gaining of land through economic
and military means, salvaging lost territory was a foreign concept.
Abraham Lincoln knew the
mess he was walking into.
He was shrewd in his
rhetoric and understood that
his only hope at eventually
reuniting the nation required
keeping the focus of the war
firmly on reunification and
not abolition.
Lincoln’s initial strategy was
simple: remind the Southern
leaders that his platform did
not threaten slavery as it
existed and hope that the
pockets of abolition support
throughout the nation would
fight that battle. Jefferson
Davis, named President of
the Confederate States of
A depiction of Lincoln’s cabinet.
America, too was
(Collier’s New Encyclopedia, 1921)
methodical in his
preparations. Not wanting to be singled out as the chief aggressor, or to aggravate additional support, Davis
awaited Lincoln’s reaction to the secession of the first wave of states.
Fort Sumter
For the stalemate to end, there had to be a catalyst. Interestingly enough, South Carolina once again led the
way, as a federally manned small fort off the Charleston shore would not change its alliances with the U.S.
just because of its current situation. The barrage at Fort Sumter had a cataclysmic effect in much the same
way as Concord hosted the “shot heard around the world.” This seemingly minor skirmish would become
accepted as the first shots of the war.
On April 12, 1861, during an attempted resupply of basic necessities, Davis ordered a two-day bombardment
of Fort Sumter. When the dust cleared, the South took the strategic fort, but for this next generation of
soldiers, who had little to no wartime experience, their world changed overnight—the nation was at war.
Lincoln used Fort Sumter as a rallying cry in his message to Congress. On April 15th, along with the
declaration of war, so too came an overabundance of volunteers for the cause. Even former competitors
strengthened Lincoln’s oratory, lavishing zealous support and nationalistic praise that served to multiply the
production and resources necessary for what was widely assumed and publicized as a short, aggressive
The second wave of secession hit with the abdication of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas.
Finally, the hotly contested State of Missouri evolved into a battlefield within its own borders. In total, 13 of
possible 15 states seceded. One new state would even split during the war itself—West Virginia, but this is
often mistaken as a political measure when it actually had much more to do with economics. Like Eastern
Tennessee, West Virginia is mountainous and generally survived on coal mining and logging, while the
remainder of Virginia is flat and encouraged a strong agricultural tradition. The two geographies were so
distinct in needs and perspective that the war was only one example of the infighting that would lead to its
HY 1110, American History I
The Union’s Advantage

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