There are contradicting opinions about the “cause” of the Civil War. Most people understand the Civil War from a modern day perspective. From this vantage point, slavery was the direct cause of the Civil War. It was an issue that reached Congress and no one could turn away. The North wanted the institution abolished and the South wanted it maintained. This created the conflict, resulting in the Union against the Confederates. This perspective is not clear cut when understanding American society and the political environment leading to the Civil War. America was young and fragile. She was the end result of the Revolutionary War. America was founded on liberty and independence. Therefore, the south felt violated when delegates considered abolishing slavery. Slavery was the bread and butter of the South. Democrats and southerners could not give up the foundation of their economic success without a fight. Slavery was their way of life and the source of their economy. Observing the issue from this perspective, slavery was the “cause” of the Civil War. However many did not see slavery as the case of war. For people living in 1850’s America, slavery stood for freedom and liberty.
Reading the Republican platform, the party took an immediate stance on slavery. They compared slavery to the words of the Constitution. Republicans understood the Constitution to be taken literally, that all men are created equal and should have equal opportunities to the pursuit of happiness. The constitution contradicted the institution of slavery, therefore slavery was unconstitutional. The Republicans felt bound to stand behind these words. It was the framework of the country and was founded on opportunity and liberty. Yet Democrats felt the exact opposite. Democrats felt slavery prohibition was a threat to the freedom granted to them, based on the same concepts of equal opportunity and pursuit of happiness. This can also be observed from Civil War Confederate soldiers. In his journal, one solider expressed why he joined the infantry. He does not associate the war with slavery, instead he considered the Union a threat to his way of life. “Our sons will take the arms from our hands and spill their lives, if necessary, in battling for liberty and independence”, (Confederate Officer, 1862). From his perspective, the war was not about slavery but about infringement upon his liberty and his independence. For this solider it is not about slavery but about freedom. The theme of the debate still relates to slavery. The source of liberty and independence is the freedom to maintain the institution of slavery which is also his way of life.
The Union fought to protect to protect its self the authority of the Constitution. Confederates decided to separate from the Union to form their own nation. Republicans had vision for the future. This could be seen in their 1856 platform document. While Democrats debated finances, banks, the economy, and domestic control, Republicans resolved issues concerning the western frontier, the pacific railroad, improving harbors, and restoring roads. Republicans had a clear design for the future. Democrats continued to restrain against progression.
Republicans and members of the union stood behind the words of the Constitution. A Union solider expressed this when he states, “the men are not patriotic enough to volunteer and save the country”, (Union Solider, 1862). Therefore, he felt it was his duty to serve his country. He was not at war for himself he was fighting to save the people of America and what America stood for. The solider did not want to go to war and it took him some thought. However, the reason he enlisted was “in service to God”, (Union Solider, 1862). The solider was fighting to sacrifice himself for his country. The Union wanted to abolish slavery which caused the war between the North and South. The Union stood in favor of prohibition. Thus, the solider enlisted in support of his country.