The American Civil War

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Background to the War

After the War of Independence the United States of America was governed by the Articles of Confederation. This provided for a weak central government and strong state governments. However, it proved unworkable and a new Constitution was adopted that resulted in a stronger Federal government with powers which included regulating interstate commerce as well as foreign affairs. 

The different states had varying policies concerning slavery. In some areas of the country where religious groups such as the Quakersplayed a prominent role in political life, there was strong opposition to having slaves. Rhode Island abolished slavery in 1774 and was soon followed by Vermont (1777), Pennsylvania (1780), Massachusetts (1781), New Hampshire (1783), Connecticut (1784), New York (1799) and New Jersey (1804). The new states of Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Oregon, California and Illinois also did not have slaves. The importation of slaves from other countries was banned in 1808. However, the selling of slaves within the southern states continued. 

Conflict grew in the 19th century between the northern and southern states over the issue of slavery. The northern states were going through an industrial revolution and desperately needed more people to work in its factories. Industrialists in the North believed that, if freed, the slaves would leave the South and provide the labour they needed. The North also wanted tariffs on imported foreign goods to protect their new industries. The South was still mainly agricultural and purchased a lot of goods from abroad and was therefore against import tariffs.

In 1831 Arthur Tappan and Lewis Tappan established the first Anti-Slavery Society in New York. When two years later it became a national organization, Tappan was elected its first president. William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Weld, Samuel Eli Cornish, Angelina Grimke, Sarah Grimke Robert Purvis, Wendell Phillips, John Greenleaf Whittier, Frederick Douglass, Lucretia Mott, Lydia Maria Child, William Wells Brownsoon emerged as the main figures in the organization. Its main supporters were from religious groups such as the Quakers and from the free black community. By 1840 the society had 250,000 members, published more than twenty journals and 2,000 local chapters. 

The growth in the Antislavery Society worried slaveowners in the South. They feared that the activities of the abolitionists would make it more difficult to run their plantation system. Where possible they wanted to see an expansion of slavery into other areas. They therefore supported the annexation of Texas as they were certain it would become a slave state. They also favoured the Mexican War and agitated for the annexation of Cuba. 

Conflict grew in the middle of 19th century between the northern and southern states over the issue of slavery. The northern states were going through an industrial revolution and desperately needed more people to work in its factories. Industrialists in the North believed that, if freed, the slaves would leave the South and provide the labour they needed. The North also wanted tariffs on imported foreign goods to protect their new industries. The South was still mainly agricultural and purchased a lot of goods from abroad and was therefore against import tariffs.

In 1850 Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law. In future, any federal marshal who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave could be fined $1,000. People suspected of being a runaway slave could be arrested without warrant and turned over to a claimant on nothing more than his sworn testimony of ownership. A suspected black slave could not ask for a jury trial nor testify on his or her behalf. Any person aiding a runaway slave by providing shelter, food or any other form of assistance was liable to six months' imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Those officers capturing a fugitive slave were entitled to a fee and this encouraged some...
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