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All Roads Lead to War: Part II
Cultural Origins of the Civil War
Although the issue of slavery has been the focal point of conversation when analyzing the central cause of the Civil War, the cultural differences that were at play in the United States have proved to be equally important in the role of causation. Many, if not a large percentage, in the North were ardent bigots, and wanted nothing to do with supporting black equality or an armed conflict, and argued for the containment of slavery. In the South, the culture there was centered on the idea of honor, and defending it to the death was perfectly acceptable. Either way, the vast cultural differences between North and South proved to be too great to overcome, and armed conflict was perhaps the only road.
The sectional difficulties that arose did not stem from the North’s staunch opposition to slavery, but from their fervent anti-black prejudice. Slavery, they argued, should be confined to the South and should not be allowed into the Western territories. Such rhetoric sounds very similar to the policy of containment that was center in America’s Cold War foreign policy. In any event, Northerners wanted nothing to do with either slavery or blacks, and argued that the land available in the West should be open to Free Soil whites that would not have to compete with slave labor. Many settlers were openly vocal in their racist attitudes toward blacks and their belief that western lands remain free of racial equality. “I kem [sic] to Kansas to live in a free state and I don’t want niggers a-trampin’ over my grave.” (David M.Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861. New York: Harper Collins, 1976,pg. 203.) Such notions served to undermine the abolitionist movement, which called for an immediate emancipation of all slaves and has been deemed by many historians as a minority fringe movement. The strength of the anti-black argument is that it clearly identifies the position incorporated by the average citizen in regards to slavery. Northern whites may not have approved of slavery, but they certainly did not want blacks living in their midst.
The central element of Southern culture was that of honor, and the people of the South were fanatical in their defense of personal honor. This sense of honor allowed them to view themselves as being superior to nearly every other member of society, including Northern whites and slaves. To slight Southern honor was to place a Southerner on the same level as blacks, who, according to Southerners, lacked honor completely. Southern men refused to participate in any activity that could possibly associate them with the lower classes, and instead involved themselves with more honorable pastimes that conveyed a sense of power and leadership. Additionally, the culture of the South was steeped in militancy, an element which points convincingly to future armed conflict with the North. Southern men of honor engaged in personal warfare with each other, and dueling became the ultimate test of courage. The establishment of Southern military training facilities and the various attempts made by Southern filibusters to acquire future bastions for slavery in regions outside of the United States equally proved that the people of the South were more than willing to use violence in order to retain their distinct way of life.
The cultural differences between the North and South had become too vast and ideologically different to reconcile. The North had, for many years, been moving down the road of modernization, which included rapid urbanization, industrialization, and the development of a strong economic and political structure. The South was viewed as being “pre-modern,” or “backward,” and had to be forced back into line in order for the nation to continue to prosper in the global community.