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American Civil War

Causes of the Civil War

History >> Civil War

There are many causes that led to the American Civil War. While slavery is generally cited as the main cause for the war, other political and cultural differences between the North and the South certainly contributed. Below we will discuss some of these differences and how they created a divide between the North and the South that eventually caused the Civil War.

Industry vs. Farming

In the mid-1800s, the economies of many northern states had moved away from farming to industry. A lot of people in the North worked and lived in large cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. The southern states, however, had maintained a large farming economy and this economy was based on slave labor. While the North no longer needed slaves, the South relied heavily upon slaves for their way of life.

States' Rights

The idea of states' rights was not new to the Civil War. Since the Constitution was first written there had been arguments about how much power the states should have versus how much power the federal government should have. The southern states felt that the federal government was taking away their rights and powers.

Expansion

As the United States continued to expand westward, each new state added to the country shifted the power between the North and the South. Southern states began to fear they would lose so much power that they would lose all their rights. Each new state became a battleground between the two sides for power.

Slavery

At the heart of much of the South's issues was slavery. The South relied on slavery for labor to work the fields. Many people in the North believed that slavery was wrong and evil. These people were called abolitionists. They wanted slavery made illegal throughout the United States. Abolitionists such as John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Harriet Beecher Stowe began to convince more and more people of the evil of slavery. This made the South fearful that their way of life would come to an end.

Bleeding Kansas

The first fighting over the slavery issue took place in Kansas. In 1854, the government passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowing the residents of Kansas to vote on whether they would be a slave state or a free state. The region was flooded with supporters from both sides. They fought over the issue for years. Several people were killed in small skirmishes giving the confrontation the name Bleeding Kansas. Eventually Kansas entered the Union as a free state in 1861.

Abraham Lincoln

The final straw for the South was election of Abraham Lincoln to President of the United States. Abraham Lincoln was a member of the new anti-slavery Republican Party. He managed to get elected without even being on the ballot in ten of the southern states. The southern states felt that Lincoln was against slavery and also against the South.

Secession

When Lincoln was elected, many of the southern states decided they no longer wanted to be a part of the United States. They felt that they had every right to leave. Starting with South Carolina, eleven states would eventually leave the United States and form a new country called the Confederate States of America. Abraham Lincoln said they did not have the right to leave the United States and sent in troops to stop the South from leaving. The Civil War had begun.

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