The American Civil War Time Line

The American Civil War time line. Also discussed are issues, causes, and factors in the dreaded call to war between the North and the South in the United States.

In the years preceding the American Civil War, the political powers of the Federal government were rapidly changing. An explosive increase of population in the Northern and Mid-western states gave way to an increase of power to these territories. Southern states, meanwhile, were slowly losing political power. Tension and animosity between the North and South seemed overnight to propel the southern states into a readiness to become free from authority in Washington.

The southern states felt zealously that each state must be allowed to create and live by its own laws. This issue was known as "State's Rights," and some southern states asserted that soon they would be seceding from the Union and begin to govern themselves.

One very large issue the South wanted resolved was how slaves were to be counted for taxation and representation purposes. A compromise, used many times before the war to avoid full-out military combat, was reached on this issue. The Three-Fifths Compromise, calling for slaves to be represented as three fifths of the population for the issue of taxation and representation in Congress, stalled for a time the inevitable---a call to war.

*The South also held firmly that the Union as it was formed under the Constitution was to remain a Union of consent. They believed that the North was attempting to enact a Constitution of force, not will, and felt that with their gain of independence from England they were free to continue on as self-governing bodies with powers of autonomy. The Southern states also asserted that the government in Washington was demanding, in their view wrongly, a surrender of the freedom, independence, and sovereignty gained after victory over the mother country.

*Another sore spot with the South was the old argument of the Tariff Act, passed with the help of Northern businessmen in eighteen twenty-eight. This act allowed Congress to raise the prices of a variety of products manufactured in Europe, products which almost exclusively were sold to the Southern states. Breaking down to little more than pressuring the South to buy goods from the North or pay heavy taxes on imported European goods, Southerners were angered at the passing of this act, and felt they had been burdened unnecessarily by the traitorous, as they saw it, actions of businessmen in the North. Either way, as the South saw it, they were paying more for the goods that were needed to succeed in the business of farming, the major industry of the South. They either bought from the North or from Europe; either way, they were required to pay more for products that greatly enhanced their livelihood. Although the strictness of the tariff laws had been changed to eliminate most of the hardship brought to Southerners, many of those in the South still felt a bitter resentment against their neighbors to the North; their memories were long and they felt unjustly treated by their countrymen.

*Most Americans agree that perhaps the issue of slavery was the largest contributor to the declaration of civil war. While other disagreements, as outlined above, factored in among the causes of war, it is the issue of slavery that took hold the minds and hearts of the vast majority of Americans, both above and below the Mason-Dixon line.

For more than two hundred years, slavery had been a part of the lives of many Americans who lived in the South. The United States constitution guaranteed to its citizens, regardless of where those citizens resided, the right to own property. It also guaranteed protection against unlawful seizure of property. To a very large majority of those in the South, slaves were considered just that: personal property, owned and used at one's own personal disposal. To those in the South who considered slaves personal property, the North's ever increasing demand against the practice of slavery was tantamount to stealing; to slave owners, the threat of abolishing slavery was considered traitorous and against the grain of their Constitutional rights.

For every slave owner in the South, there was an opponent of the practice in the North. Northerners felt it an infringement upon human rights to own other humans; their take upon the issue was that the power which gave to them their freedom from England and its oppressions was the very power which gave man the freedom to not be enslaved to another. Throughout the course of the two hundred plus years that slavery had been practiced throughout the South, those in the North had tirelessly preached upon its evils.

In eighteen sixty, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. To Lincoln's way of thinking, slavery was an absolute evil, to both the people enslaved and to those who enslaved them. To his solemn vow, made public, of keeping his country united and the newly formed territories in the West free from slavery, Southerners took great offense and were held in fear of losing not only the men and women whom they claimed as property, but their very own existence.

Fear that Lincoln would not at all be sympathetic to their imagined plight, and that as President, in a mighty seat of power, he could without recourse treat them unfairly, one by one the Southern states began to secede from the Union. First to denounce the Union as its own was South Carolina, very soon after Lincoln's election to the White House. Following suit with South Carolina was Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Not long after these states seceded four more followed---Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Eleven in all, these slave holding states would form what was eventually known as the Confederate States of America.

In February of eighteen sixty-one, at a convention in Montgomery, Alabama, the first seven states to secede met to create their own version of the United States constitution. This document, (written as Jefferson Davis was named provisional president of the Confederacy until which time elections could be held,) was formed in a similar vein as the original Constitution. The greatest difference between the two was made clear in the stress put forth by the Confederate document to the complete autonomy of each individual state.

In the same month that a new government had been created for the citizens of the South, President Buchanan, with just two months remaining in his presidency, refused to surrender to the seceding states federal forts in the South. With this refusal, the southern troops seized the forts, claiming their rights to them. At Fort Sumter, South Carolina, troops forced to return to New York a supply ship trying to reach the federal forces that were based at the fort.

One month later, in March of eighteen sixty-one, Abraham Lincoln gave his inauguration speech. In it, he proclaimed that while he would not plan to end slavery in those states where it already existed, he would absolutely not accept the secession of those states that had proclaimed it. He claimed with hope his resolve to end the issue of slavery, by now almost a national crisis, without the horrors of war.

In an effort to hold at bay any further hostilities or animosity between the North and South, Lincoln, readying a shipment of supplies to Fort Sumter, alerted the state of South Carolina in advance, hoping for a peaceful disposal of the much-needed supplies. With suspicion and anger, South Carolinians began to suspect an unfair twist in the President's endeavor at peace. The commander of Fort Sumter, Robert Anderson, was asked to immediately surrender; he offered to comply but only on the stipulation that he be allowed to exhaust the supply of the fort.

This offer by Anderson was soundly rejected, and on the twelfth of April, eighteen sixty-one, shots were fired on the fort.

Thus was the beginning of the war between the north and south, otherwise known as the American Civil War.

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