Harry Beecher Stow’s epochal novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, started appearing serially in 1851, and in a book form in 1852. It became a national bestseller by 1854. The book depicted all the ills of slavery and offered a vision to the anti-slavery movement. The book is considered as one of the most important Civil War causes. Even Lincoln, upon meeting Stowe, said: “So you’re the little woman who wrote the books that started this great war?”
Several abolitionists helped runaway slaves escape via the underground railway. There were instances where even lawmen, sent to retrieve the fleeing slaves, were beaten up by abolitionist mobs. To the South, it meant the North was following parts of the Constitution they found convenient to follow, expecting the former to do likewise. Harriet Tuban was the most well known underground railway activist. She was a nurse and also a spy during the Civil War and was known as Moses to her people.
Territories that were gained from the war with Mexico from 1846-48 fueled the debate on slavery. The abolitionists wielded their influence to ban slavery in these newly acquired territories, as the Northwest Ordinance (1787) did for territories that later became the states of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio. The supporters of slavery apprehended that political power of the southern states would be greatly reduced if any new state is carved out from the new territories, and possibly leading to slavery being banned in the entire US. Both pro and anti-slavery groups started populating the new territories leading to frequent clashes.
White abolitionist John Brown, along with some followers, seized a federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia (then Virginia). The incident was allegedly an attempt towards an armed slave insurrection. Though Brown denied the allegation, he was tried for treason, found guilty, and was later hanged. Initially, the southern states viewed Brown’s act like that of some fanatic. They thought it won’t have much effect on the anti-slavery movement. But the northern abolitionists made Brown a martyr. The South took it as an indication that the North is about to start a war. The Harper’s Ferry raid is considered one of the most imperative Civil War causes.
Adding to the already simmering tension and the Civil War causes, was Lincoln’s election as the US President. The old Whig political party became irrelevant as many of its activists, along with members of American Party, and those opposed to slavery, came together to form the new Republican Party in the 1850s. When Lincoln, the Republican candidate, won the 1860 presidential election, the southern states feared that slavery would now be abolished. They increasingly became paranoid. While Lincoln was a staunch opponent to the institution of slavery, he said of not interfering with the states where it existed. His election is believed by historians as one of the major civil war causes.
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