Among the main reasons that have been states, concerning why the American civil confrontation came to pass was because of the issue of the abolition of slavery in the United States. Many of the southern states could not accept this situation, mainly because their economies depended heavily on slave labor. They believed that if slavery was abolished in their states, then there was a likelihood of economic collapse. To counter this challenge to their economy, mainly from the northern states of the union, whose economies did not depend on slaves, the southern states declared themselves independent of the union and instead chose to create their own. These came to be known as the Confederate states, all of whose members were slave-owning states. Barbara Fields, however, disagrees with this assumption stating that, the United States made war on the Confederates not because of the slavery abolition, but because it wanted to preserve the Union (Rios). The Emancipation of all the slaves in the Union was simply an excuse made to start the war that would force the southern states back into the Union. According to Fields, the northern states only declared war on the Confederate states because they not only wanted to preserve the Union, but also to ensure that they did not have a powerful rival. In essence, the northern states wanted to retain their advantage as the leading states in the Union by enforcing their dominance. This situation led to the coming to prominence of two men, whose views on slavery were entirely opposite of one another. The first is Abraham Lincoln was among the biggest proponents of the eradication of slavery in all the states within the Union as well as the preservation of the latter (Pinsker 59). The other is Jefferson Davis, who was a principal proponent of the institution of slavery and believed that it was a necessary part of the southern economy.
While many in the non-slaveholding north supported the declaration, many in the south viewed it as the federal government’s attempt to interfere with their internal affairs. According to Shelby Foote, among the most prominent advocates of this viewpoint was none other than Jefferson Davis, who was a staunch believer in the right of all the states within the union to make their own decision without interference. He believed that all the states in the union had joined it voluntarily, and this gave them the independence to decide what was and what was not best for them. If the federal government were to keep interfering in the domestic dealings of the states, then these states would inevitably lose their sovereignty, defeating the purpose of the formation of the union (Dawson 592). He is noted to have stated that since all states had joined the union of their own free will, they also had the right to leave it if they felt that their interests were not being represented in a manner to their liking. Furthermore, Davis believed that the decision to end slavery lay with the individual states themselves, and not with the federal government. It is extremely likely that it was because of this stance that when the southern states chose to leave the union, they chose him to be their leader. His vision was to maintain slavery in the Confederate states and to expand this institution south into Mexico as this new slave owning federation grew (Norton et al 384). According to Foote, therefore, the American Civil war did not take place because of the need for the southern states to retain slavery, but for them to be able to determine their own destiny without any interference from the northern states, which dominated the United States at the time (Bolin 38). Many southerners at the time felt that the northern states wanted to enforce their will upon them so that they would remain a backwater and this is the reason why they chose to break from the Union.
In the matter if abolition, however, many have come to believe the reasons for Lincoln going to war, who stated that maintaining slavery in the United States would be a mockery of the democratic ideals on which the federation was founded. Moreover, it was not right to keep the black people slaves just because of their skin color or the belief that they were less intelligent than the whites were. Such beliefs were by the time of the American Civil War, become outdated, and one would speculate that it was inevitable that this conflict took place. It was a war, not only to force the emancipation of the slaves in the south, but also one to destroy those beliefs which kept the democratic progress of the United States bogged down. Foote and Fields have come to challenge the above beliefs by introducing their own theories concerning why the war took place. Their most common belief is the fact that while the civil war took place in the name of abolition, this was in fact not the case, since it was a war more for political dominance than for the freeing of slaves.
Bolin, James Duane. “The Sins of the Fathers: Clifton Rodes Breckenridge Remembers the Civil War.” Civil War History 44.1 (1998): 35-51. Print.
Dawson, Joseph G. “Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy's “Offensive-Defensive” Strategy in the U.S. Civil War.” The Journal of Military History 73.2 (2009): 591-607. Print.
Pinsker, Matthew. “Abraham Lincoln, Constitutionalism, and Equal Rights in the Civil War Era.” Civil War History 46.1 (2000): 59-60. Print.
Rios, Delia M. “A Civil Debate | Re-Airing Ken Burns' Documentary, “the Civil War,” Spurs Discussion Amongst Historians.” The San Diego Union – Tribune: G. Sep 22 2002. Print.
Norton, Mary B, et al. A People & A Nation: A History of the United States: To 1877. Stamford: Cengage Learning. 2011. Print.