Economic History of the United States

By Chester W. Wright | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVIII
THE PERIOD OF THE CIVIL WAR

Introduction. The Civil War marks another period in the country's economic history when the immediate course of events was completely dominated by the abnormal conditions arising out of war. Consequently, a satisfactory and coherent account of these events can be given only in a separate chapter devoted exclusively to the war years. From the economic point of view the events of these years will be of interest as illustrating the economic problems of war and also as showing the way in which conditions arising out of war may have relatively enduring effects upon the subsequent economic development of a nation. Although the reactions of the war upon our later economic history were not so fundamental and wide-sweeping that they can be said to mark the beginning of a new epoch in the country's economic development, they were still of such importance that later events in many phases of our economic life cannot be understood without a knowledge of the Civil War period.

Fundamentally the war had its origin in the conflicting attitude of different sections of the country toward the institution of slavery which the dominant element in the South deemed essential for its economic progress and the existence of which it felt was threatened. This issue brought to the front the political principle of states' rights and the question as to the real character of the Union that had been formed when the Constitution was adopted. The conditions of Southern life, the economic interests of the South, and its political relations to the rest of the country had from an early date led that section, in the desire to protect its economic interests, to adopt the states' rights point of view so that when the break came many Southerners, whatever their interest in, or attitude toward, slavery, felt that this political principle was the main issue involved and took their stand with the Confederacy accordingly. This attitude was accentuated by the position taken by most of the people in the North. Many of those most strongly opposed to slavery were quite willing to let the South secede. The attitude of the great majority was that, although some compromise might be possible on the question of slavery, there could be none on the question of secession; the Union was inviolable and must be preserved. It was primarily for this ideal that the North fought.

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