Civil War expert talks about causes of war
A history professor spoke to the public about the causes of the Civil War at Huntersville Presbyterian Church on July 6. The title of the presentation was "The Causes of the Civil War: A Primer." The Huntersville Historic Traditions committee sponsored the lecture, which was free and open to the public.
Dr. Mark Snell, Director of the Center for the Study of the Civil War at Shepherd University, provided the lecture. Snell is a retired Army officer and a former assistant professor at the U.S. Military Academy. The professor said his lecture was scheduled for 45 minutes but he went into great detail during the presentation and spoke for more than two hours. He generously took time to answer questions both during and after the lecture.
To begin, Snell gave the following quiz (see answers at end of article):
1. The main difference between the North and South was (were): a. Religious beliefs. b. Basis of their economy - industry (North) vs. agriculture (South). c. Transportation systems. d. All of the above. e. None of the above.
2. The immediate cause of secession was: a. John Brown's Raid. b. Kansas-Nebraska Act. c. The results of the 1860 presidential election. d. Recently passed high tariff law. e. None of the above.
3. Which of the following state rights did Southern political leaders feel were threatened by the federal government in March 1861? a. The right to bear arms. b. Freedom of speech. c. The right to own certain types of property. d. All of the above. e. None of the above.
Snell stated unequivocally that slavery was the major cause of the Civil War. The professor said the issue of slavery had been a dividing issue from the time of the nation's founding until the outbreak of war in April 1861.
The expert described several examples of how slavery divided the nation.
During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, delegates hotly debated the issue of slavery. A compromise was reached under which states would regulate slavery and every five slaves would count for three persons for representation purposes in the newly-formed Congress.
The debate over expansion of slavery into western territories greatly divided the nation in the early 19th century. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibited slavery in the former Louisiana Territory above 36ﾰ30' north, except for Missouri, in which slavery was allowed.
Further contention erupted over expansion of slavery into vast areas acquired from Mexico. Anti-slavery Congressmen attempted to include a provision into the treaty ending war with Mexico, which would have prohibited expansion of slavery into new territories. The clause, known as the Wilmot Proviso, was approved by the House but never ratified by the Senate. Debate over the Wilmot Proviso created great bitterness between North and South.
The Compromise of 1850 prevented war for another decade. The South avoided the Wilmot Proviso but California was allowed to enter the Union as a free state, including areas south of 36ﾰ30'. The New Mexico and Utah territories were allowed to decide their own status regarding slavery and the South won a stronger Fugitive Slave Act.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 outraged anti-slavery Americans. Under its provisions, a federal commissioner was appointed to decide runaway slave cases. The commissioner was paid more if he decided to return the slave to his owner. The slave had no right to testify and no right to a jury trial. U.S. Marshals were authorized to deputize citizens to hunt runaway slaves and anyone who refused to help the Marshals could be fined or jailed. Marshals were fined $1,000 if they refused to recapture runaway slaves.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 further inflamed tensions by repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and allowing people in territories to determine whether to allow slavery. The law led to warfare between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces in the Kansas Territory, which became known as "Bleeding Kansas." The fighting in Kansas included massacres by both sides.
Radical abolitionist John Brown moved from Connecticut to Kansas to fight against slaveholders. In retaliation for an earlier murder of anti-slavery settlers, Brown led a raiding party that murdered five pro-slavery settlers at Pottawatomie Creek on May 24,1856.
In October 1859, Brown led a raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, hoping to incite a slave insurrection. The attacked was squashed by Marines under Colonel Robert E. Lee and Brown was hung for treason against Virginia. Brown's raid was wholly unsuccessful, but led to panic in the South that there was a widespread Northern effort to incite a slave rebellion.
The election of Abraham Lincoln as president in November 1860 was the immediate cause of the war, according to Snell. The South saw a full-out assault on the institution of slavery and resorted to war to prevent further domination by their northern counterparts. In the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, Confederate batteries opened fire and bombarded Fort Sumter in South Carolina for 34 straight hours.
Dr. Snell's lecture was supported by the West Virginia Humanities Council.
Renowned author and Civil War expert W. Hunter Lesser will present a Civil War presentation on September 17 at 5 p.m. at the Hillsboro Library. Lesser is the author of "Rebels at the Gate," a history of the Civil War in West Virginia.
Answers to quiz: 1-e (reliance on slavery and unwillingness to relinquish valuable "property."); 2-c; 3-c.