Was the Civil War caused by states' rights or slavery?
Slavery was the most divisive issue the United States has ever faced and it led to a bitter Civil War. The early political conflicts were not about slavery in the South but its extension as new states joined the Union. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 established an east-west line along the southern border of Missouri that its supporters hoped would forever divide free and slave settlement. States to the south could allow slavery; states to the north (with the exception of slave state Missouri) could not.
Iowa: A Free but Complicit State to Slavery
Settlers knew that Iowa would be a free state. Most Iowans of the time were willing to let slavery exist in the South. Like most white Americans of the time period, they believed in the superiority of the white race and opposed granting equal rights or opportunities to African Americans. They passed laws attempting to discourage blacks from coming to the state. On the national level, they wanted most of all to find compromises that would keep the Union together. Iowa did have a small population of abolitionists who wanted to abolish slavery everywhere as a moral evil.
In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act that allowed the settlers in any new territory to decide the slavery issue there for themselves. This opened the possibility that Nebraska on Iowa’s western border could become a slave state. Most Iowans opposed that prospect. The Republican Party emerged strongly opposed to any further extension of slavery into western territories.
The Election of Abraham Lincoln and the Dawn of the Civil War
In 1860, Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected president. Several southern states seceded (withdrew) from the Union, formed the Confederate States of America, and took over federal forts and other buildings. In April, southern cannons opened fire on Ft. Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, and the Civil War began.
Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to enlist for three months to put down the rebellion. Iowa quickly exceeded its quota. The war did not end quickly, as most expected and hoped, but instead dragged on for four very bloody years. Iowa soldiers fought mainly in the western battles, including Shiloh and Vicksburg. Disease took a fearful toll on the troops. By the end of the war, 3,000 Iowa soldiers had been killed and around 8,000 had died from diseases.
Women Take Charge of the Home Front
On the home front, women had to shoulder the workloads of husbands, brothers and sons who had left to fight. Their burdens were especially heavy on the farms. Women also organized to provide the troops with clothing, food and medical supplies. Annie Wittenmyer of Keokuk became a national leader in improving conditions for the sick and wounded in Union hospitals. General Grenville Dodge proved his skill as a railroad builder and created an efficient spy network.
The war had a huge impact on the political landscape. After Southern surrender in 1865, the state became strongly Republican. Democrats were tarred as the party of the South. A constitutional amendment in 1868 granted the right to vote to African-American men, though women could not vote until 1920. Memories of the war would be strong for the next half century. The Union was preserved.
North vs South: Who thought they were right?
How was slavery and the extension of it reflected as a cause of conflict?
- Petitions from Iowa Recorded in the U.S. Senate Journal, between 1850 and 1864 (Document)
- "The Great Exhibition of 1860" Political Cartoon, 1860 (Image)
- Alexander Hamilton Stephens' Papers, January 10 to February 14, 1861 (Document)
How did Southerners justify secession?
- "The North the Aggressor - - - The South on the Defensive" Newspaper Article, October 4, 1860 (Document)
- "We Are Out of the Union" Newspaper Article, January 3, 1861 (Document)
- Constitution of the Confederate States of America, 1861 (Document)
- "The Dis-United States. Or the Southern Confederacy" Cartoon, 1861 (Image)
What factors contributed to conflict between North and South?
- "The Hurly-Burly Pot" Cartoon, 1850 (Image)
- "The Hercules of the Union, Slaying the Great Dragon of Secession" Cartoon, 1861 (Image)
- President Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861 (Document)
"Cornerstone Speech" by Alexander Stephens in Savannah, Georgia, March 21, 1861
Petitions from Iowa Recorded in the U.S. Senate Journal, between 1850 and 1864
"The Great Exhibition of 1860" Political Cartoon, 1860
Alexander Hamilton Stephens' Papers, January 10 to February 14, 1861
"The North the Aggressor - - - The South on the Defensive" Newspaper Article, October 4, 1860
"We Are Out of the Union" Newspaper Article, January 3, 1861
Constitution of the Confederate States of America, 1861
"The Dis-United States. Or the Southern Confederacy" Cartoon, 1861
"The Hurly-Burly Pot" Cartoon, 1850
"The Hercules of the Union, Slaying the Great Dragon of Secession" Cartoon, 1861
President Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861
- An Anxious Christmas Eve
A diary entry by Benjamin Tucker Tanner, who was a powerful church leader and later, a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Tanner’s entry rejoiced the approach of Christmas in 1860, but also expressed worry over the state of the country as the nation was on the brink of civil war. He described the decisive issue as slavery.
- The Life of James W. Grimes
The book contains primary source records of Grimes, who served as both a governor of Iowa and a U.S. senator. Notably, the book contains his address to the General Assembly when he became governor in 1854.
Iowa Core Social Studies Standards (8th Grade)
Listed below are the Iowa Core Social Studies content anchor standards that are best reflected in this source set. The content standards applied to this set are middle school-age level and encompass the key disciplines that make up social studies for eighth grade students.
- SS.8.13. Explain the powers and responsibilities of citizens, political parties, and the media in a variety of governmental and nongovernmental contexts. (21st century skills)
- SS.8.21. Analyze connections among early American historical events and developments in broader historical contexts.
- SS.8.22. Explain how how and why prevailing social, cultural, and political perspectives changed during early American history.
- SS.8.23. Explain multiple causes and effects and developments in early American history.
- SS.8.24. Critique primary and secondary sources of information with attention to the source of the document, its context, accuracy, and usefulness such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, Washington's Farewell address, the Louisiana Purchase treaty, Monroe Doctrine, Indian Removal Act, Missouri Compromise, Dred Scott v. Sanford, and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo.