This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives 3.0 License. Of the many issues in nineteenth-century American history perhaps no question has attracted the attention of historians more consistently than the causes of the Civil War.
Please contact [email protected] use this work in a way not covered by the license. As scholars have debated the possible origins, including the blundering politicians, economics, states' rights, and slavery, a growing consensus suggests that the inviolability of the Union, the failure of the political system, and the moral issue of racial slavery made the war an irrepressible conflict. Boritt has brought together the insights of seven of the nation's most respected authorities to address various aspects of this ongoing debate.
He argues that the coming of war represents "the complete breakdown of the American political system" and "the greatest single failure of American democracy" (p. Gienapp is especially concerned with the issue of party realignment and why the Jacksonian system of two strong national parties, Democrats and Whigs, was replaced in the mid-1850s by a sectional alignment.
With the introduction of the Wilmot Proviso in 1846, a proposal that would have banned slavery in all Mexican War territories, North and South each saw the other as a threat to its vital interests.
As spectators in courtrooms, they sometimes unnerved pro-slavery jurists and attorneys. As active supporters of war and emancipation, women, argues Matthews convincingly, played a far more central role than is usually recognized.
Denied an actual decision-making role, they nonetheless directly influenced those who did control events. Blight, the author of (1989), accents the central role blacks played before and during the war in "They Knew What Time It Was: African Americans and the Coming of the Civil War." To slaves and free blacks, says Blight, the war would test whether or not they had a future in the United States, for many, like Douglass, feared a peaceful disunion with slavery left in tact.
Gienapp is open to further criticism when he discusses the decline of the Whig party and rise of the Republican party.
As a new political historian, he stresses temperance, nativism, and the rise of the American (Know-Nothing) party as central to the downfall of the Whigs and thus the second party system.
Thus, as the war came blacks clearly knew what time it was, for although the white community may not yet have realized it, African Americans recognized that indeed there was a future for them and that the war would destroy the peculiar institution. Gienapp returns the debate on Civil War causation to a breakdown in the two-party system.
The author of (1987) and among those classified as new political historians, Gienapp says amazingly little about slavery itself as a cause of the war, although he recognizes that it was clearly the catalyst behind the political changes of the 1840s and 1850s that he views as so critical.