Events Leading Up to the American Civil War

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There were many events, people, and opinions that caused the U.S. Civil War in 1861. But the three biggest causes were states rights versus federal rights, the abolition movement, and the controversy of allowing slavery in the territories. Although these may appear to be vague, it was the events inside that made the difference.

The South had a vested interest in not allowing the federal government to interfere with their state rights. The South claimed the federal government is prohibited by the tenth amendment-which implies the federal government is limited to only the powers granted in the constitution-and that the federal government can't take away their "property," or in other words their slaves. This led to the idea of nullification, where the states would have the right to rule federal acts unconstitutional. However, when the federal government denied this right, the South had more of a reason to secede from the Union.

The issue of slavery was further heightened by the rise of the abolitionist movement between the 1830s and 1850s. In 1859, John Brown led a group of 18 men across the Potomac River to seize the Federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Their goal was to arm slaves and lead a slave revolt to stop slavery. Although Brown wasn't successful, the raid showed an act of aggression from the north the south, driving them farther apart than they already were.

Allowing slavery to be legal in the territories was yet another cause of the civil war. When the Missouri Compromise was passed in 1820, it permitted slavery in the Louisiana Purchase south of 36°30'N latitude line. A resolution to this issue was attempted in 1850. The Compromise of 1850 called for slavery in the unorganized lands received from Mexico to be decided by popular sovereignty. This meant that the people and their territorial legislatures would decide for themselves whether slavery would be permitted or not. This further increased tensions between the North and the South. The...
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