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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.

States’ Rights Show more Show less

Under a specific interpretation of the American, it was outside of the Federal Government's jurisdiction to outright restrict a state institution - including slavery.
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Limited Federal government power

Under the American Constitution, the Federal government could not impose the removal of institutions installed by State governments.
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The Argument

A theory based on the Constitutional interpretations notably championed by John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis that upheld the notion of championing individual State sovereignty. This debate began with Thomas Jefferson who believed that the United States government's power was derived from its social contract with individual states willing to join the union. Included in this doctrine is the notion that states had the legal right to both join and secede the Union. Many Southerner leaders interpreted the constitution to allow individual state the right to nullify any federal law that the state deemed unconstitutional.[1]

Counter arguments

The primary state institution that was the arguments of states' rights and nullification defended is the institution of slavery. Thus, slavery is still at the core of this issue.


[P1] Southern states felt it was unconstitutional for the federal government to impose rule over state mandated institutions. [P2] The tension around this led to the Civil War.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P2] This does not mean that States' Rights were the primary cause of the Civil War.




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This page was last edited on Tuesday, 28 Apr 2020 at 13:26 UTC

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