• Photo of cannon at Antietam National Battlefield

    The Civil War

Causes

Engraving of a slave being whipped.

The Civil War grew out of longstanding tensions and disagreements about American life and politics. For more than 80 years, people in the Northern and Southern states had been debating the issues that ultimately led to war: economic policies and practices, cultural values, the extent and reach of the Federal government, and, most importantly, the role of slavery within American society.

Against the backdrop of these larger issues, individual soldiers had their own reasons for fighting. Their motivations often included a complex mix of personal, social, economic and political values that didn't necessarily match the aims expressed by their respective governments.

Stories from Causes

Showing results 1-5 of 10

  • Fort Scott National Historic Site

    Bleeding Kansas

    John Steuart Curry's

    Violence escalated in the Kansas Territory from 1854-1858 as anti-slavery Free-Staters and pro-slavery Border Ruffians battled to determine whether Kansas would enter the Union as a slave or free state. Read more

  • Confronting Slavery and Revealing the "Lost Cause"

    Woodcut image of an African American male slave in chains

    The Civil War culminated eighty years of sectional tensions - tensions begot at various times and places by debate over economic policies and practices, cultural values, the extent and reach of the Federal government, but, most importantly, the role of slavery within an American society striving for identity and economic strength on the world stage. Read more

  • Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

    Dred Scott Case Trials

    Painting of Dred Scott

    For decades the Supreme Court moved carefully around various controversies regarding slavery, but in 1857 it did no such thing. In the Dred Scott decision, it swept away decades of equivocation and ruled that the United States government had no legal right to limit the expansion of slavery into any part of the nation. Abolitionists and free-soilers were stunned. Read more

  • Emancipation and the Quest for Freedom

    Slave family seated in front of their house

    Although the abolition of slavery emerged as a dominant objective of the Union war effort, most Northerners embraced abolition as a practical measure rather than a moral cause. The war resolved legally and constitutionally the single most important moral question that afflicted the nascent republic, an issue that prevented the country from coalescing around a shared vision of freedom, equality, morality, and nationhood. Read more

  • Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

    John Brown's Raid

    Photo of

    John Brown's failed attempt to lead a slave insurrection by arming them with weapons seized from the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry remains a subject of passionate debate more than 150 years after it occurred. Read more