The Civil War: 10 Things You Should Know (but Probably Don't): We All Know the Basics, but America's Bloodiest Conflict Was Full of Twists and Turns, and the Way It Unfolded Was More Complicated Than You Think

By Ayers, Edward L. | New York Times Upfront, April 4, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Civil War: 10 Things You Should Know (but Probably Don't): We All Know the Basics, but America's Bloodiest Conflict Was Full of Twists and Turns, and the Way It Unfolded Was More Complicated Than You Think


Ayers, Edward L., New York Times Upfront


You probably know that the Civil War began 150 years ago this month at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Maybe you can even name the major players, battles, and issues at stake for both the Union and the Confederacy. And maybe you're aware of the staggering loss of life on both sides.

But to really understand the war, you have to put yourself in the mind-set of Americans at the time, who were by no means convinced that war was inevitable--or the answer to the nation's most intractable problems.

Americans of the 1850s took peace and growth for granted. While other countries had to fight off enemies at their borders, the United States had no adversaries in any direction. Mexico had been defeated in the Mexican-American War in 1848, British-ruled Canada posed no threat, and tens of thousands of American Indians had been moved to territories west of the Mississippi. Vast oceans to the east and west brought only trade and immigrants, not warships. Americans couldn't imagine a war that would envelop the nation.

Slavery as an economic institution was the strongest it had ever been in 1860 because the cotton produced by enslaved people in the South was selling for record prices on the international market. The entire nation benefited from cotton, which accounted for more than 60 percent of American exports. The 4 million people who lived in bondage had no reason to believe that would change in their lifetimes. Even abolitionists, who hated slavery and fought against it, did not imagine that it would be destroyed over the next five years.

One compromise after another--from the Missouri Compromise of 1820 to the Compromise of 1850--had patched over the differences between slave and free states since the ratification of the Constitution in 1789. Americans expected that new compromises of one sort or another would save the nation again in the 1860s.

But as often happens, events unfolded in ways that hadn't been anticipated. For starters, no one would have guessed that Abraham Lincoln--a relative unknown in the election of 1860 from a brand-new party, the Republicans--would be elected President. He received virtually no votes in the South and only about 40 percent nationwide in a four-man race.

But as the 1860 election approached, it had become clear that Lincoln was going to win despite his lack of Southern support, so secessionists began to plan their next steps. Once war broke out, it took turn after turn that no one had foreseen.

Here are 10 aspects of the Civil War that surprised people at the time--and still surprise people today:

1 Secession took a long time to unfold, and slavery almost became a constitutional right.

Seven slave states left the Union between Lincoln's victory in November 1860 and his inauguration in March 1861, while the other slave states argued among themselves about what to do.

Lincoln called for the states that had not seceded to provide troops to put down the rebellion in South Carolina following the Battle of Fort Sumter in April. Four of the remaining slave states--including the largest one, Virginia, along with North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas--decided to join the Confederacy. The other four--Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri--remained in the Union throughout the war and were often called "border states?'

But before the states started seceding, Senators and Congressmen looked for ways to pacify the South. In 1860, they hammered together a compromise--a proposed 13th Amendment to the Constitution--that would have protected slavery forever. Had the amendment been ratified, it would have extended the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific, guaranteeing the right of slaveholders to move, with the people they enslaved, into any of those territories; prohibited the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia; and prevented federal interference with the domestic slave trade. The compromise was supported by many Southerners and their Democratic allies in the North and South but opposed by Lincoln and other Republicans; it was tabled in December 1860. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Civil War: 10 Things You Should Know (but Probably Don't): We All Know the Basics, but America's Bloodiest Conflict Was Full of Twists and Turns, and the Way It Unfolded Was More Complicated Than You Think
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.