Unfinished Work of the Declaration of Independence
Causes of the American Civil War
The causes of the Civil War stem from three fundamental issues: the preservation of the Union, the spread of slavery to new territories and the fundamental rights of citizenship — in short, what it means to be an American. When visiting Gettysburg, explore the exhibits of the Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War at Gettysburg National Military Park’s Museum and Visitor Center and gain understanding of the causes of the Civil War and the importance of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Origins of the Conflict: Causes of Civil War
After the Revolutionary War, the United States became a nation. The Constitution of the United States provided guidance for the new nation, coupled with personal beliefs about freedom. But the issue of slavery resulted in dissension among the population. Some believed slavery was evil; others believed it was lawful.
As the United States grew in size and wealth, the strains present at its creation began to pull the country apart. The fundamental documents governing the nation, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, fostered compromise, but both documents further simmered the conflict. The Constitution had provisions for slavery written into its text, since representatives from slave-holding states refused to sign the Constitution without them. Even the most basic words from the Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal,” had different meanings for different people.
Economies of North and South
By the middle of the 19th century, the economy of the North depended on manufacturing, while the Southern economy depended on agriculture. Most of the agricultural labor was provided by slaves.
By 1860, the end of the United States loomed on the horizon. Northern abolitionists insisted, “No union with slaveholders.” Southerners felt they needed a new nation to preserve their way of life and the right to own slaves. The question of expanding slavery into the territories also proved problematic, with Northerners opposing slavery’s expansion into the territories. For decades, the battle over the expansion of slavery smoldered, and in 1861, it erupted into civil war.
Consequences of Civil War
While the Civil War was the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil, it also brought about fundamental changes to the United States Constitution. The ratification of the 13th Amendment put to rest, once and for all, the issue of slavery. The 14th and 15th amendments further identified the rights and benefits of citizenship.
Today, the United States continues to struggle with the fundamental questions of citizenship, as issues with immigration have entered our national conversation. The job of each of us remains: to ensure each person’s rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
And today, Gettysburg is like a living classroom for democracy. Visit Gettysburg National Military Park and learn about the beliefs and causes of the Civil War, the strategies set forth to act on those beliefs and the healing that occurred at the end of the conflict.