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What caused the American Civil War? Show more Show less
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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.

Slavery Show more Show 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.
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John Brown at Harper’s Ferry

Northern abolitionist John Brown failed to launch an armed slavery insurrection at Harper's Ferry, Virginia on October 16-18, 1859. The failed insurrection gave rise of suspicion among Southerners of a Northern conspiracy to launch slave revolts across the South.
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The Argument

John Brown, a staunch Northern abolitionist whom spent several years fighting for abolition in “Bleeding Kansas,” attempted to launch an armed state-wide slave revolt in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia on October 16-18, 1859. The insurrection attempt failed and ended with Brown executed on December 2nd.[1] Public opinion was mixed following the attempted insurrection. A high level of support for Brown emerged from Northern public opinion. Southerners, disgusted with Northern sympathy and suspicious of a conspiracy led by the Republican party to launch slave revolts across the South, were deeply concerned that Brown’s failed raid would encourage future slave revolts across the South. This difference in reaction to Harper's Ferry would increase the ferocity of the slavery debate, arguably being the real starting point of the war.[2]

Counter arguments

John Brown's failed insurrection was ultimately a large publicity stunt with Brown arguably acting as a terrorist.[3] It was not effective enough to be a cause of the Civil War.


[P1] John Brown attempted to spark an armed insurrection to overthrow slavery. [P2] The attempt failed and further polarized the U.S. on the debate of slavery.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P2] The stunt did not have this much impact.


This page was last edited on Monday, 27 Apr 2020 at 14:44 UTC

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