The American Civil War (1861-65)!

The American Civil War (1861-1865) was one of the bitterest civil wars in the world. Almost 600,000 people were killed and many others wounded.

The war began when the Southern States opened fire on Fort Sumter. Lincoln declared war on them. The Battle of Gettysberg was the bitterest of the battles.

In the second half of the 19th century, Europe was marked by the triumph of nationalism.

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Between 1866 and 1870 Italy was unified. The German unification followed in 1871. The United States of America, however, presented a different picture.


Her very national unity was at stake. Differences between the Northern States and the Southern States became so pronounced that a civil war broke out in 1861. After the USA gained her independence, the Northern and the Southern States developed fundamentally along different lines, leading to a sort of a rivalry between them. The Northern States constituted the areas north of Pennsylvania; the Southern States comprised the territories south of Maryland. The South was primarily agricultural.

The climate in the south was favourable for the growth of plantation products like cotton, tobacco, sugarcane, indigo etc., the most important being cotton-growing. Much of this cotton was exported to the cotton mills in Lancashire in England where the Industrial Revolution had created a huge demand for it.

The planters required cheap labour which was supplied by slaves brought in from Africa. The Southern States claimed that they needed slaves for their cotton and sugar plantations. Slaves were considered a ‘necessity’ in the predominantly agricultural Southern States.

A Cotton Plantation

The North, on the other hand, had a different economic structure with a focus on industrial wealth. Between 1815 and 1860, an industrial revolution had taken place in the Northern States. They needed free labour to work in their factories. Due to a remarkable industrial development there was a growth of urban population.

The type of economic activities that flourished in the North gave rise to a social system in which free workers could thrive. The industrialised Northern States did not need slave labour in their industries and did not approve of slavery. Thus there was a fundamental difference in the socio-economic systems that the two halves of the country followed.

Causes of the American Civil War:

The controversy that started over the question of the abolition of slave labour culminated in a civil war between the North and the South. The plantation interest of the South directly clashed with the industrial interest of the North.

A System of Slavery

Apart from economic reasons, social justice also demanded the abolition of slavery. Slaves in America were treated very cruelly. They had no family life and were treated as movable property by their owners. If a slave ever attempted to run away and was caught, he was punished brutally. This was considered to be a black spot on American society as its Constitution guaranteed equal status to everybody.


A literary movement against slavery swept across the Northern States. Some of the writers published books severely denouncing slavery. ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, written by Harriet Bucher Stowe and published in 1852, was a stirring tale depicting the horrors of slavery and the miseries of the slaves. These writers helped to arouse popular indignation against the institution of slavery.

The Southern States threatened to secede or break away from the union. The election of Abraham Lincoln as the President of the United States of America and the right of secession of the Southern States from the Union were the two major factors responsible for the outbreak of the Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln had contested the election to the Senate as a candidate who was opposed to slavery. Lincoln had asserted, “A house divided against it cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.” Lincoln eventually won the election to become the President of the United States in 1860.

The movement for secession was a corollary to the election of Abraham Lincoln to the President ship. Anticipating that President Lincoln would emancipate the slaves, seven Southern States seceded from the union and formed a separate union called the Confederate States of America. Thus the very unity of the United States of America was at stake. Lincoln was determined to save the Union. He believed that no state could lawfully leave the Union.

Civil War broke out in 1861 on the issue of secession. In 1863 Lincoln abolished slavery in the South. The civil war, however, was not fought on the issue of slavery. It was fought because the Southern States had left the Union.

The American Civil War (1861-1865) was one of the bitterest civil wars in the world. Almost 600,000 people were killed and many others wounded. The war began when the Southern States opened fire on Fort Sumter. Lincoln declared war on them. The Battle of Gettysberg was the bitterest of the battles.

Almost 50,000 soldiers were killed. In the famous address (1863) delivered at the national cemetery at Gettysberg, Lincoln spoke about the survival of a nation dedicated to freedom. He justified the abolition of slavery on grounds of the principles of liberty and equality cherished by the founders of the United States of America. “Four score and seven years ago,” he said, “our Fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal….” Lincoln also upheld the principle of a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

This speech has become famous in history as the Gettysberg Speech. It is said that this address “will live as long as the language in which it was written”.

A Depiction of the Civil War

Most of the wars were fought in the Southern States. After a prolonged war for four years, the southern army was completely defeated. The Confederate army under General Lee surrendered to General Grant of the Union in April 1865. The Civil War came to an end. The unity of America was restored. Slavery was abolished. A few days after the peace, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a sympathizer of the Southern States.

Lincoln's Gettysburg Speech

If America owes her freedom to George Washington, she owes her unity to Abraham Lincoln. By abolishing slavery Lincoln recognized the inherent right of every man to be free. His political concepts influenced future political theories. His idea of the “government of the people, by the people and for the people” has become the keystone of modern democracy.

Results of the American Civil War:

The American Civil War produced important results.

First and foremost, the war settled for all time to come the question of whether states could withdraw from the Union. The doctrine of state sovereignty was laid to rest. The supremacy of the nation was vindicated. The Union was declared to be perpetual.

Secondly, the Civil War strengthened the foundations of the United States by resolving the North-South tension permanently.

Thirdly, slavery was abolished everywhere in America. The Federal Government took certain measures that prohibited the enactment of discretionary laws against African Americans.

Finally, the Southern States lay in ruins and there began the age of industrial growth. Plantations had been badly affected and new businesses emerged. As a result, the next ten years in American history may be called the period of ‘reconstruction’.