Having lasted from 1861 to 1865, the American Civil War was undoubtedly the longest Civil War in United States history. It was also probably one of the most devastating wars that the United States has ever fought, having claimed the lives of 650, 000 Americans. The failure by the Southern and Northern States to agree on the issue of slavery was the main cause of this war. However, the most important question that has dogged historians for centuries now is whether the American Civil War was inevitable, that is, unavoidable. This essay uses historical primary documents including Calhoun's last speech of 1850 and Lincoln's speech of 1858 to analyze this question of the inevitability or otherwise of the civil war and argues that the Civil War could have been avoided and hence was not inescapable.
To begin with, the Compromise of 1850 has been largely blamed for bringing about the Civil War by setting the wagon down the hill directly towards a warpath (Davidson et al., 2012). According to the Compromise, the States of Oregon and California were to be admitted as free slave states and a Federal Fugitive Law was to be enacted (Davidson et al., 2012). While the compromise looked promising on paper, it led to the civil war because it empowered and fueled rather than arrest the growing opposition to slavery. It was Senator C. Calhoun's speech written during the great debate over the Compromise of 1850 that indicated just how fragile the Union was. In his Speech, Calhoun argued that it was clear to everyone then that the Union was disintegrating and that the bonds that had held the South and the Northern States together were slowly breaking and falling apart. In the speech, he also expressed his belief that the longstanding dispute between the South and North over Slavery, if not settled, would result in disunion. I believe that the failure to heed Senator Calhoun's warning about the State of the Union and the need to find a solution to the North-South feud was one of the factors that led to the Civil War.
Calhoun also observed in his speech that the main cause of the disintegration of the Union was the universal discontent that pervaded the Southern States. The evidence from the readings that support this claim is the fact that by 1850, tensions between the South and North over enslavement were already simmering to boiling point and hence lending credence to Calhoun's assertion that discontent was the immediate cause of the war. The fears that Calhoun expressed in his speech inclouded that eventually, the Union between the South and North would be upset and that the major political parties, Democrats and Republicans were equally divided. He also expressed concerns over the growing population of the Northern States which he feared would economically dominate the South (Voice of America, 2014). Hence, according to him, the choices that the South had was to have a full and final settlement of the issues through justice to the South. Calhoun disowned the Compromise as bein the solution.
Further, Abraham Lincoln's speech on June 16, 1858, in Springfield, Illinois titled "House Divided Speech" helps explain how and why the American Civil War could have been avoided. In the Speech, Lincoln bejan by the Biblical phrase "A house divided against itself cannot stand." He argued that the US government could not endure half slave and half free states and that a compromise had to be reached. According to him, the only way to achieve unity was to abolish slavery and have a country that was based on freedom for all, Black and White (Lincoln, 1858). He also observed that "a living dog is better than a dead lion" while urging members of the House and Union to consider a peaceful resolution, urging them to stand together as a Union. Lincoln supports his argument by referring to historical events and figures. His speech compares to Calhoun's in that both wanted a peaceful solution to the North-South dispute over slavery, only that they disagreed on the best approach to do this. According to Black (2017), it is clear from these speeches that the Civil War could have been avoided if Members of Congress from both Southern and Northern States heeded Lincoln's advice to find an amicable way of keeping the Union intact instead of takin hardline positions.
The issue of secession also led to the civil war and hence had it been properly handled, the war could not have become inevitable. The secession of states from the Union led by South Carolina in December 1860 was prompted by Southern States' fears over Lincoln who then headed a completely sectional party and who was hellbent on ending slavery in America. Therefore, the only logical conclusion that can be reached from this information is that the war could have been avoided if Lincoln had instead south to reach a compromise with the Southern States. According to Susan (2016), the war could have been avoided if the federal government permitted the North and South to freely decide on whether they wished to secede or not. The decision by some states including Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware not to secede immediately from the Union was influenced mainly by the fact that they were slave states. The pattern of secession from the Union thus supports Calhoun's argument that the Union was slowly falling apart one by one.
In conclusion, the American Civil War was not inevitable and could have been avoided if warnings from the speeches of Calhoun and Lincoln about the state of the Union were headed. Also, a series of events ranging from sectional changes in American society, political realignments of the 1850s, the growth of the railroad network, industrialization, immigration, the raid at Harper's ferry, a sectional election of 1860, and the secession all paved a path for the American Civil War (Davidson et al., 2012). Had these historical events and changes been properly managed and responded to politically, the Civil War could have been avoided.
Black, W. (2017). Why couldn't the Civil War have been worked out? Some smart people takethe question seriously. The Vox. https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/5/11/15599148/civil-war-trump-slavery-Jackson-compromise-history
Davidson, J.W., DeLay, B., Heyman, C.L., Lytle, M., & Stoff, M (2012). U.S.: A narrativehistory, seventh edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Education
Lincoln, A. (1858). House divided speech. Abraham Lincoln Online. http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/house.htm
Susan, E.E. (2016). Was the Civil War inevitable? Hankering for History. https://hankeringforhistory.com/was-the-civil-war-inevitable/
Voice of America. (2014). Calhoun: The South asks for justice, simple justice. VOA News. https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/compromise-1850-slavery-calhoun-clay-webster/1923963.html
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