Slavery and the Coming of the Civil War

Slavery and the Coming of the Civil War

History 1376- Paper Assignment: Slavery and the Coming of the Civil War

In February 1861, the seven Lower South states that had seceded from the United States of America created a new country, the Confederate States of America.  Although the official beginning of the American Civil War was still a few months away, people in both regions braced for the response of political leaders.  At his inaugural address in March 1861, President Abraham Lincoln argued that secession was unconstitutional.  He reminded the nation that the “only substantial dispute” was that “one section of our country believes slavery is right, and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong, and ought not to be extended.”[1] 

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A few weeks later in Savannah, Georgia, Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederate States of America, elaborated on this sectional difference.  In his “Corner Stone” speech, Stephens outlined the critical distinctions between the Constitution of the United States of America (1788) and the Constitution of the Confederate States of America (1861): 

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The new [Confederate States of America] constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution, African slavery, as it exists amongst us, the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. . . . The prevailing ideas entertained by [Thomas Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution [1780s], were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. . . . Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. . . . Our new government [Confederate States of America] is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.[2]

From the statements and speeches of these two political leaders, it is clear that problems over slavery had plagued the country for decades, even generations.  Your task in this paper assignment is to clearly explain the THREE most significant or critical events that led to the coming of the American Civil War.  (In other words, what do you think were the three most significant/critical events leading to the Civil War and why?)  In addition, when do you believe the Civil War became inevitable and why? (This can be a 4th event, or one of the three you already picked).

In developing your paper:

  • YOU CAN ONLY USE significant/critical events presented in lecture (the key terms at the beginning of every lecture outline).  Significant/Critical events include historical events, people, or concepts/ideas.  You may use information from the course textbook to support your lecture information- but your paper must be based on material presented in lecture.
  • YOU CAN ONLY USE ONE EVENT PER DECADE.  The purpose of this assignment is to analyze change over time- not to see how well you took lecture notes for the last two days of the semester.  Do not use events prior to 1780 because you need to focus on the post-American Revolution period.  Do NOT use events from 1860 or later (this means you cannot use the Election of 1860 or Fort Sumter).
  • Clearly explain the role slavery played in driving a wedge between the north and the south.
  • Clearly explain the details of your three most significant/critical events.
  • Clearly explain WHY you think each of these events are among the most significant/critical events leading to the Civil War.
  • Clearly address the question: when do you believe the Civil War became inevitable and why? This can be one of your three critical events, or you can introduce it as a separate event.
  • Sources you can use: lecture, course textbook, digital materials posted for Lab Assignment week 6 (American Panorama and the maps).
  • Be sure your paper has an argument in the introductory paragraph that addresses the assignment question.  Please underline that argument so you know exactly what you are trying to prove (and so does your TA).  If you cannot clearly explain your position, and underline that argument, how do you expect your TA to know your argument?  Your paper will be penalized if you do not underline your argument. 
  • All evidence needs to be cited with footnotes/endnotes (one citation per paragraph is a good rule to follow). 
  • Any use of internet sources or texts not assigned for this course will result in an F on the assignment and may be grounds for Academic Misconduct.  Using a friend’s paper from a previous semester WILL result in an F for the course and a file with Academic Affairs.  Do not do “additional research” on any internet sources.  Use only the sources provided in the course (lecture, textbook, posted materials for week 6 lab work).

Your paper must be 4 full pages (not to exceed 5 pages) in length, 12 pt font, Times New Roman or Calibri, double-spaced, and 1” margins (be sure to check the default settings in your word program).  This is approximately 1000-1250 words (not including citations). Submit your paper to the “Paper Assignment” Turnitin link, in the Paper Assignment Folder.  Be sure you hit the final “submit/confirm” button and get your electronic receipt.  If you do not receive the electronic receipt- your paper is not uploaded. The electronic receipt is your proof that you submitted the paper on time.  The paper link will close after the 11:00 pm deadline and NO LATE PAPERS will be accepted.  (The University sets grading deadlines, and late papers will prevent us from meeting those mandatory deadlines.)  No emailed papers to the TA or instructor will be accepted.  Do not procrastinate.

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.”

– Benjamin Franklin


[1] President Abraham Lincoln, Inaugural Address, 4 March 1861.

[2] Alexander H. Stephens, “Corner Stone” Speech, 21 March 1861.

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