The American Civil War (1861-1865) officially began with the battle of Fort Sumter on April 12th-13th, 1861 and fundamentally shifted the trajectory of American history. Arguably the first instance of modern total war for the United States, the war impacted virtually every facet of American society. However, different perceptions of its origins and legacy persist across regions and demographics in the United States. One of the most contentious differences in opinion is around what the primary cause of the Civil War is.
SlaveryShow moreShow less
Slavery was prevalent throughout the South due to its primarily agrarian economy. While the majority of the Southern population did not own slaves themselves, slavery still held great social and political influence across the region.
Dred Scott (1799-1858) was a slave in Missouri and from 1833 to 1843, he traveled with his master, John F. A. Sanford, to the free state of Illinois and the Louisiana territory. Returning to Missouri, Scott sued Sanford, arguing that he was made a free man as he was residing in areas declared free according to the Missouri Compromise of 1820. After a 7-2 decision announced in 1857, the Supreme Court held that African Americans were not, and never were, citizens of the United States according to the Constitution. Therefore, Scott did not have standing to sue in a federal court. Furthermore, the majority held that slaves were property under the Fifth Amendment, and that any law that would deprive a slave owner's property is unconstitutional. The case caused an uproar and resulted in a further polarized the national debate over slavery.
The Supreme Court's ruling was based on the standard of precedent while the debate over slavery had already been ongoing.
[P1] The Supreme Court made its ruling based on the belief that slaves were not qualified to be or become citizens.
[P2] The Supreme Court's ruling did not settle the national debate of slavery, but instead intensified it.