The Civil War: No Split but an End to Slavery
As explained in the previous chapter, a confederacy of eleven southern slave states declared secession from the United States upon the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860. The Confederacy raised an army and prepared to defend its declared right to self-determination by force if necessary. Despite this, the Lincoln government was not willing to allow the Confederate states to break away from the union, and when neither side backed down, war broke out between Lincoln’s Union army and the Confederate army.
As the Civil War began, the southern Confederate army had fewer soldiers than the northern-based Union army, but their men were highly motivated. As they saw it, their slave-based economy and their way of life could be crushed by the northerners’ anti-slavery agenda if the Union army prevailed, meaning that winning the war was a must. Furthermore, beyond the issue of slavery, Confederate soldiers were driven by a general desire to decide their own fate and not, as they feared, have what was soon-to-be a majority of northern states or the federal government dictate what they could and could not do in various areas of life.
With the important political issues of slavery and self-determination at stake, the Civil War became long and arduous, leaving hundreds of thousands of people dead on both sides. Finally though, in 1865, the fighting and the human suffering ended when the northern-based Union army won the war, a victory partly based on relatively better railway infrastructure. The southern states, on the back of their defeat, were now forced to remain in the union and slavery was soon formally abolished all over the country. However, slavery was not abolished by way of additional northern states entering the union, as the slave owners of the American south had previously predicted. Instead, bypassing any nation-wide vote, during the Civil War, Lincoln had used his war powers to unilaterally abolish slavery in rebellious states as a strategy to weaken the Confederacy. Thereafter, with necessary changes to the law being pushed through Congress by war’s end, Lincoln’s strategically compassionate decision became permanent.
A great milestone
Obtaining legal freedom all over the United States by way of the new anti-slavery laws was a great milestone for former slaves. However, in terms of lifestyle, for many of them little changed after having been set free. Just like countless whites, after war’s end in 1865, in order to get by, former black slaves still had to toil for little compensation in factories or on plantations.