The American Civil War waged from 1861 to 1865, consisting of intense battles between the northern and southern United States primarily over the issue of slavery and its role in the nation’s economy. Conflict had waged long before the beginning of the war, however, and it appears that the irreparable division of the nation had inevitably led to a war of two bickering sides, unable to reach an agreement. The tension between the two regions culminated in a battle of wills and total violence, setting the stage for the showdown that had been a long time coming and thus quite inevitable.
The dissimilarities between the North and the South in lifestyle, culture, governments and society and each of those related to slavery were too great to create a compromise. The conflict had been long coming over the moral and economic issues of slavery and both sides were unable to understand one another. The North detested slavery, considering it a gross and egregious violation of human rights; the South, on the other hand, found it a necessity as the basis of both its social and economic systems (Geyl 1951, p. 147). Prior to the Battle of Fort Sumter on April 12-13, 1861, several events had added fuel to the fire that was the Northern and Southern conflict, one of them being the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 into law, which displeased Northerners, who feared a “slave power conspiracy” and the potential for an uprising of an aggressive and well-organized slave revolution (Nye 1946). The Fugitive Slave Act was enforced by President Franklin Pierce who saw abolitionism as a threat to the nation, stating that the Congress would provide for returning slaves who had escaped from one state or territory to another. For the North, this meant that free African Americans could potentially be forced into slavery as the rules for capturing one were quite lax.
The Dred Scott v. Sanford Supreme Court decision in 1857 also had a significant impact on the impending American Civil War. Dred Scott had sued the widow of his master for his freedom, asserting that he had inadvertently gained freedom while being escorted up to Illinois—a northern state (Finkelman 1997). The battle between slave states in the South and free states in the North, both of which were looking to increase their respective populations, got worse when the Supreme Court decided that laws could not be used to keep slaves out of a place and that having a slave in itself was a property right. This dealt another blow to the Northerners, who feared slaves coming from the South to be workers that would compete with their established local farms and laborers for less pay. In this case, the South would get to maintain slavery as its main economic driver. This further solidified the views in the South and gave it ammunition for believing in the benefit of slavery for its economy.
In the year prior to the first battle of the Civil War, the Democratic Party had officially split itself between Northern and Southern factions over the expansion of slavery into new U.S. territories. The Republicans, Democrats and Whigs were all at odds and were unable to compromise similar to the North and the South. Politicians on both sides took up the same cause and umbrage of their respective regions over whether or not slavery was a moral injustice and/or an economic necessity. This is one of the earlier signs of polarization surrounding the issue that threatened both the North and the South. The 1860 presidential election was framed by this division of political camps and soon, campaign messaging became based in antislavery and pro-slavery sentiment.
The Civil War’s inevitability was driven by several factors and events that placed the entire nation in turmoil. The hope for compromise had been long gone by 1861 as evidenced by the events that continued to chip away at possibly bridging the divided between the North and the South. In the years that led up to the Civil War, the opposing sides of the nation were continually at odds, with either side refusing to see the other, dashing hopes of a compromise. The split between citizens seeped into the government as well, and being that the government was and still is a nation’s authority, a split between political parties into antislavery and pro-slavery factions spoke to how divisive the issue of slavery was in that time period.