Spread of Slavery Map

Scholars agree that slavery helped to cause the Civil War but disparate views on its role in the outbreak of hostilities persist. Some believe that the peculiar institution was a necessary cause, that without it the Union would have never been torn asunder. Others believe that it was simply one of a number of issues – most importantly banking, land, transportation and tariff policies – that evoked deep mistrust of the North among the many Southern advocates of states’ rights (a doctrine that held that the federal government’s only powers were those expressly granted to it by the Constitution). Such people called the conflict the War Between the States or even the War of Yankee Aggression.

A new perspective holds that the North did essentially force a confrontation with the South not over slavery per se, but over the problems that southern slavery caused in the North, especially the truncation of national markets due to the South’s relative economic underdevelopment, the same relative dearth of financial markets, manufacturing capacity and transportation infrastructure that allowed the Union armed forces to eventually defeat brave, well-led Confederates on their home turf. Slavery, in this view, had to be ended because it heavily taxed the national economy by reducing the work effort of millions of Americans and by imposing excessive labor control costs on society in the form of slave patrols, fugitive slave acts and other pro-slavery policies. Slavery, in other words, cut into Northern profits and net wages.