The Civil War was a major event in the history of the United States. No previous American war came anywhere close to it in scale or in the casualties it caused. Its social and political consequences were vast. It preserved the Union, led to the total abolition of slavery, and dramatically altered the relationship between the states and the federal government.
The war has also generated debates about the conflict's causes and outcome. The most discussed issues are why the Southern states seceded and the extent to which it was slavery that motivated secession and why the North did not let the Confederacy peacefully secede. Historians continue to debate how to evaluate military leadership and strategy during the Civil War and the reasons for the North's victory and the South's defeat.
Historians continue to debate why the country's tradition of compromise broke down in 1861. Several factors contributed to the outbreak of civil war. One was a growing divergence between the North and South-economically, socially, and ideologically. At the new nation's founding, the two regions were superficially quite similar. Slavery could be found in each of the thirteen states and each region had a predominantly agricultural economy. But except in parts of Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York's Hudson River Valley, slavery was a marginal institution in the North, and following the Revolution, each Northern state either abolished slavery or adopted a gradual emancipation plan.
A related factor was the South's growing sense of isolation. By 1850, slavery was becoming an exception in the world and the South came to see itself as ringed around by enemies. It grew increasingly defensive as it was attacked as an economic backwater.
Yet another factor was the breakdown of the party system, which had suppressed the slavery issue for more than half a century. During the 1850s, the Whig Party collapsed, the Democratic Party split into Northern and Southern factions, and a new sectional...