Cause of the Civil War

Cause. Singular. Not plural. We talk about the cause of the American Civil War because there was one overwhelming cause — slavery. Not tariff disputes. Not states’ rights. The Civil War was fought over the preservation of slavery in the south and its expansion to the west. But, perhaps no other aspect of the history of the United States has been so distorted and mythologized as the causes of the Civil War. Professor Philip Nash joins us to explain why slavery was such a dominant issue from the founding of the United States until 1865.

Buzzkill Bookshelf:

Bruce Levine, Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War Revised Edition (2013)

More than 60,000 books have been published on the Civil War. Most Americans, though, get their ideas about the war–why it was fought, what was won, what was lost–not from books but from movies, television, and other popular media. In an engaging and accessible survey, Gary W. Gallagher guides readers through the stories told in recent film and art, showing how these stories have both reflected and influenced the political, social, and racial currents of their times.


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  1. colin woodward on September 18, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Very good episode. The percentage of southerners in 1860 who owned slaves, however, was 5%, not 25%. The 25 percent number is the number of slaveholding families in the South (usually consisting of about 5 people on average). On the internet and in books, neo-Confederates like to trot out the 5% number to “prove” the war wasn’t about slavery (as if 380,000 slaveholders was an insignificant number). However, the percentage of slaveholders of the white population was much higher in the eleven states of the Confederacy. And slaveholders were vastly overrepresented in Congress, state legislatures, and the Confederate officer corps. Numbers aside, the war was about slavery. There is no other reason why there would have been a war.