We the Teachers

Session 17: The Causes of the Civil War

Dr. James M. McPherson:  

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Focus

Why did the South secede? Why did secession lead to war? For a half century the northern, free states coexisted politically in the same nation with southern, slaveholding states. Why and how did that national structure fall apart in the 1850s? Was this breakdown inevitable, or could wiser political leadership have prevented it? Why did the election of Abraham Lincoln as president precipitate the secession of seven lower-South states? Why did both sides prefer war to compromise? Could this terrible war have been avoided? Could the positive results of the war (Union and freedom) have been achieved without war?
Readings
  • James M. McPherson, “What Caused the Civil War?,” North and South, IV (Nov. 2000), 12-22, and response to this article in subsequent issues of North and South.
  • Hans L. Terfousse, The Causes of the Civil War, 91-125 (excerpts from Ramsdell, Potter and Current).
  • Charles B. Dew, “Apostles of Secession,” North and South, IV (April 2001), 24-38.

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