E. Slavery as a Cause of the Civil War

Historians have long debated whether slavery was the single driving force behind the regional tensions in the United States that eventually led to the Civil War. “Although some scholars have held that slavery was the cause [of the Civil War], others have developed complex analyses that draw distinctions between immediate and ultimate causes and that explore a variety of ways other than war that could have settled or at least contained the issue of slavery.” Id. at 411. This much, however, is clear: by 1861, tensions between the North and the South had escalated to the extent that maintaining peace would have required that the Northern states allow the permanent “existence of an independent confederacy dedicated to the promotion of slavery.”Id. at 413. In other words, by 1861, tensions between the North and the South had increased to such a pitch that the only way slavery would be abolished throughout the entire nation was through armed conflict.

A great deal of the tension between the North and the South had to do with the Northern states' promulgation of Personal Liberty Laws. “In his annual message to Congress of December 3, 1860, [President] James Buchanan warned that the South ‘would be justified in revolutionary resistance to the Government of the Union’ if northern states did not repeal their Personal Liberty Laws.” Thomas D. Morris, Free Men All: The Personal Liberty Laws of the North 1780–1861 202 (1974). These laws were devised and implemented by many Northern states to make it very difficult for slave owners to capture escaped slaves who had taken up residence in those states.

The court does not claim objective knowledge of the ultimate cause of the Civil War. Certainly, however, tensions marked by the North's moral outrage at the institution of chattel slavery, and the South's indignation at the North's promulgation of Personal Liberty Laws, contributed significantly to the advent of war.