Did democracy cause the US Civil War? (UCL)

[ Music ]>>The United States in the early 19th century
was the world’s first mass democracy. There was White manhood suffrage
by the 1820’s or the 1830s. The United States was also
the only slave holding nation in the western hemisphere
in the 19th century to have experienced warfare
on anything like the scale that it did as it
went by the process, this very painful process
in the united states of emancipating its slaves. More than 600,000
people were killed. And the great figure that came out of the American civil war is
Abraham Lincoln whose statue is here in London in
Parliament Square. So, we think of the American
civil war often in a way that Lincoln wanted us to
think of the American civil war as a triumph of democratic
values. The triumph of the union over the slave holding
confederacy represented the triumph of the democratic idea and that was profoundly
how Lincoln and most of the northerners and
many people in Britain at that time saw that great
conflict in North America. We can also see the
democratic practice, a free unconstrained press,
politicians who were dependent on popular support and very
frequent election exacerbated the conflict between northerners
and southerners over the issue of slavery in the run up
to the American civil war. It would be absurd to say that democracy caused
the American civil war. If you want a one word
answer to the question of what caused the
American civil war, that one word answer
has to be slavery. Without slavery, the American
civil war would have been literally inconceivable,
but the important question for historians is to understand
how exactly it was that slavery, which had been an issue of
conflict between among Americans since at least the time in
the American Revolution. What we need to understand
as historians is why that underlying conflict
exploded into actual warfare
when it did in 1861. So, what happened
in the 1850s was that there was a popular revolt
against politics as usual. The old party system of
wigs and democrats collapsed and the old ways of doing
politics in the United States which were about
negotiation and conciliation and sectional compromise
became fatally tainted. There were a number
of corruption scandals in the 1850s, but
more importantly than that there was
the perception that the political system was
corrupt in a republican sense. In other words, there
was a lack of virtue, of patriotism among a self
serving class of politicians or to use the 19th
century phrase, the wire pullers what we would
now call, the spin doctors, the people behind the scenes
who were manipulating politics for their own fundamentally
selfish ends. And this antipathy to politics as usual created
the circumstances in which a new political party, the Republican Party
could emerge in the northern states only
attempting to seek votes in the free states,
not attempting at all to build bridges
with southerners as all previous political
parties and all serious national
politicians had been forced to do up until that moment. And it was that political
development driven certainly by slavery, but also by this
frustration with politics as usual which led
to the circumstances in which Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican President
was elected in 1860 and it was that political event which
led to the succession of the first tier of
deep south states, the first seven states even
before Lincoln was sworn in as president. What’s very interesting to
me is that in 1860-1861, on the eve of civil war,
far from putting pressure on politicians to pull
back from the brink, public opinion often exerted
a quite opposite pressure. War was seen as a catharsis. It was imagined on both sides
that if there was a conflict, it will be resolved
very quickly with honour and that their side
will be triumphant. And those convictions
were often based on fundamental misconceptions
about the other society and above all, newspapers
served to feed both the northern and the southern publics with
a vision of the other side as the embodiment of a
threat to their own society. Both sides in other words
created very negative caricatures of the others and
what those caricatures did was to reinforce the idea that
this would be an easy military victory and that therefore quick
military conflict would be a solution to the sectional
problems that the United States
have been struggling with almost since its founding. What you can clearly see
in the 1850s are ways in which the political system
exacerbated the prospect of war. And it’s that relationship
between an open free press and politicians manoeuvring
for votes, in other words, between democratic politics
and the coming of the war that is the critical factor to
add in to understand how it was that slavery caused
the American civil war. [ Music ]

Maurice Vega

2 Responses

  1. This man does not know real history. The United States was founded on a Constitutional Republic, not a Democracy. The United States did not fight to free the slaves. The United States could have free the slaves in the Union at any time during the war. But, it took them two years after the war to accomplish that goal. The United States could not free any slaves in the Confederacy. Because the Confederacy became a separate nation. According to the 9th & 10th Amendments of the Constitution, what powers that was not given to the federal government belongs to the free States. Which means the free will to leave the Union. This right is also written in the Declaration of Independence which is the free will of the people. the Articles of Succession was the requirements by the Declaration of Independence. The United States went to war over greed and power. To create a central socialist government. This was done by in-slaving the Confederate States of America, stripping the Rights of all of the States, and binding each State by regulating the powers of the States, instead the other way around. In time the industrial revolution would have replace the slaves.

  2. Lincoln represents the tyranny of a centralized government over the right of the people to self govern. Lincoln used freeing the slaves as a tactical move and excuse virtuously after the war started over unconstitutional tariffs of the north causing the south to secede.

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