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The True Cause of the American Civil War

Hello Tedsters, I'm a student of an Advanced Placement United States History Class or APUSH in short. Recently for the class, we had to write an essay about the Civil War, and it's inevitability due to extremism and failure of leadership. We discussed how the cause for the Civil War was not merely slavery and definitely not only slavery. Our teacher also emphasized that we should "DIG DEEPER". One of the few examples she gave us was; the riots of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry led to the South's nervousness and responded to Lincoln's victory in the Election of 1860 by establishing the Confederacy and proposing secession.
One of my arguments was that the South wanted economic freedom to continue their agricultural lives, practice of slavery and trade with Britain. I agreed with a comment stating this was a Second Revolutionary War, due to the South desiring to escape the economic restrictions from the North (such as the Tariffs), like how the colonies did from Britain during the American Revolutionary War.

Now when I look back to the regular history classes I've taken in the past years, I thought to myself, why isn't this taught in basic classes? Must a student be eligible to be in an AP class or wait till College just to realize history isn't that vague, and everything taught in the textbooks isn't exactly true but merely one of the many perspectives on a single issue? So I have two main questions:

Why isn't this concept of thinking taught in basic classes in middle school or high school? Is it because there's a fear that students can't learn or understand such concepts? Isn't it a bit problematic that while I can argue a couple of deep causes to the Civil War, a few of my friends believe and only believe the true cause is slavery?

My second question is:

What do you think the true cause of the Civil War was? If you’re going to say without an explanation, slavery and only slavery, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to dig deeper or at least explain why.


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  • Jan 2 2013: "What do you think the true cause of the Civil War was? "

    IMO, we will never fully understand the fundamental cause.

    I have heard a very good argument that the true cause of the Civil War was that a very few leaders in the South just could not abide having Lincoln as President. Their attitude was much more emotional than rational. Having Lincoln as President did not really change the power balance in Congress, and future compromises were still possible and likely. But Lincoln's statements about slavery, and especially about secession, stirred up so much anger that having him as President became unbearable. These leaders then led the South into secession. Lincoln responded as he said he would.

    Perhaps this is what you mean by failure of leadership,

    I completely disagree that the Civil War was inevitable. People made choices. These choices were the result of a sad mix of principles, arrogance, emotion and poor information. No human act is inevitable. We are each responsible for our actions. The true cause of the Civil War was that people chose to go to war. If you remove choice and responsibility from the cause, you will never understand the true cause.
    • Jan 8 2013: True, but the choices of a lot of people would have to change in order to make the Civil War inevitable. For example the south's zealous desire for secession, Steven Douglas's choice to pass the Kansas Act for the desire of constructing a railroad passing through Kansas from Idaho and or Lincoln's choice to be more lenient with the south. Many things can be inevitable but I guess what my teacher intended to ask was what made it seem so inevitable. But I still agree with the points you made. It's hard to state or even know the true full, absolute cause of anything.

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