Root Causes and Timeline of the American Civil War

Words: 1046
Pages: 4
Subject: World History

The Civil War, one of the most pivotal and tragic events in American history, was primarily fought over the issue of slavery and the deeply entrenched economic, social, and political differences between the North and the South. This conflict between the Northern states, known as the Union, and the Southern states, referred to as the Confederacy, resulted in a devastating and bloody war that lasted from 1861 to 1865. The core issue that ignited the flames of war was slavery, a divisive institution that had been a contentious point of contention since the founding of the United States. The South’s dependence on slave labor for their agrarian economy clashed with the North’s growing industrialization and abolitionist sentiments. This fundamental disagreement eventually led to a series of events and developments that placed the two regions on an inevitable collision course.

The timeline leading to the outbreak of the Civil War is marked by significant events and developments that intensified the divide between the North and the South. Here is a detailed account of ten key events that contributed to the eruption of the conflict:

  1. American Revolution (1775-1783): The American Revolution laid the foundation for discussions about individual rights and freedom, as well as states’ rights versus federal authority. While the Revolution itself did not directly lead to the Civil War, the concepts of liberty and self-governance emerged as important themes that would later influence the conflict.
  2. Constitutional Convention and Compromises (1787): During the Constitutional Convention, debates arose over the balance of power between states and the federal government. The issue of slavery was already a concern, resulting in compromises like the Three-Fifths Compromise that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for representation and taxation purposes.
  3. Missouri Compromise (1820): As the United States expanded westward, the question of whether new states would allow slavery became a point of contention. The Missouri Compromise temporarily maintained a balance between free and slave states by admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, while also drawing a line across the Louisiana Territory, prohibiting slavery north of 36°30′ latitude.
  4. Compromise of 1850: With the acquisition of new territory from the Mexican-American War, tensions escalated again. The Compromise of 1850 attempted to settle the issue by allowing California to enter as a free state while instituting a stricter Fugitive Slave Law. This law intensified tensions, as it required even free states to assist in the capture and return of escaped slaves.
  5. Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854): This act, proposed by Stephen A. Douglas, repealed the Missouri Compromise line and allowed the residents of new territories to decide whether to allow slavery through popular sovereignty. The resulting conflict in “Bleeding Kansas,” with pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers clashing, highlighted the divisive nature of the issue.
  6. Dred Scott Decision (1857): The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case declared that African Americans, whether free or enslaved, were not U.S. citizens and therefore could not sue in federal court. Additionally, the decision declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, effectively permitting slavery in all territories.
  7. John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry (1859): Abolitionist John Brown’s failed attempt to incite a slave rebellion by seizing a federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, further inflamed tensions. While Brown’s raid was unsuccessful, it deepened the divide between North and South.
  8. Election of Abraham Lincoln (1860): The election of Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln, who opposed the spread of slavery into new territories, was a breaking point for the Southern states. Fearful that their way of life was under threat, several Southern states began seceding from the Union shortly after Lincoln’s victory.
  9. Secession of Southern States (1860-1861): Following Lincoln’s election, seven Southern states, including South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. This marked a formal split between North and South.
  10. Attack on Fort Sumter (April 12, 1861): The conflict came to a head when Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter, a federal military installation located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. This event marked the beginning of the Civil War, as it prompted President Lincoln to call for volunteers to suppress the rebellion.

These ten key events and developments provide a comprehensive timeline that showcases the escalating tensions between the North and the South, culminating in the outbreak of the Civil War. The issue of slavery, deeply rooted in the Southern economy and culture, clashed irreconcilably with the North’s changing social and economic landscape and its growing anti-slavery sentiment. The quest for control over new territories and the fear of the erosion of their way of life prompted the Southern states to secede and form their own nation, setting the stage for a brutal and devastating conflict that would ultimately reshape the United States.

In conclusion, the Civil War was fought due to the deep-seated disagreements over slavery, states’ rights, and the economic and social differences between the North and the South. A series of pivotal events, from the American Revolution to the attack on Fort Sumter, gradually escalated tensions, highlighting the irreconcilable divisions between the two regions. The war that ensued would not only determine the fate of the nation but also leave an indelible mark on its history, shaping the course of civil rights, federal authority, and national identity for generations to come.


  1. McPherson, James M. “For Cause and Comrades.”
  2. Ross, John. “Our Hearts Are Sickened.” September 28, 1836. In The Papers of Chief John Ross, Vol. 1, 1807-39, ed. Gary E. Moulton. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.