Almost a century after its independence, the United States of America suffered the greatest political crisis in its history.
The discrepancies between the Member States were close to making the project generated by those original Thirteen Colonies fail.
Finally, the victory of the defenders of the Federation in a bloody Civil War allowed the country to come out of the crisis stronger and, a few decades later, occupy a privileged role in the international order.
When dealing with the issue of slavery, the US Constitution enshrined the sovereign condition of each State to dictate what it deemed convenient on the matter.
The problem of slavery
However, the abundance of slaves, as well as their living conditions, gave rise, in the mid-19th century, to a public opinion in favor of their freedom.
While these ideas spread rapidly along the Atlantic coast, a movement defending the enslavement of African Americans took shape in the southern territories.
Over time, the two blocs grew further apart. In this way, at the beginning of the 1860s, an anti-slavery group could be distinguished, backed by the northern states, and another slave group, with great acceptance in the south.
The dividing line was marked by the Missouri Compromise (1820), under which seven territories abolished slavery: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Vermont, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois later rounded out this group of eleven states.
In order to maintain the balance between abolitionists and slaveholders in the Senate, the agreement contemplated numerical equality between one tendency and another.
In this way, the aforementioned States were opposed by another eleven slaveholders: Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. In turn, any subsequent incorporation in the westward expansion would follow this equilibrium criterion.
Four decades after the Missouri Compromise, the confrontation between both positions reached its maximum degree of tension. While in the north the slavery practiced by the southern states was harshly criticized, they began to see secession as the only way out of the conflict.
However, the calm remained until the arrival to power of the Republican Abraham Lincoln.
He declared that slavery, as a moral issue, was the province of Congress. In response to the Republican leader’s policy, seven states – South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Lusitania and Texas – left the union, forming a Confederation of States on their own in February 1761.
The armed conflict between the North and the South
In April 1861, in response to the independence of those six states, Abraham Lincoln declared war on the Confederates. From that moment on, the slave states that had remained on the sidelines took action: Arkansas and North Carolina joined the Confederacy, while Delaware and Kentucky decided to remain neutral.
The conflict between the Yankees and the Confederates continued until May 1865. Throughout this period, the North based its strategy on its demographic and industrial potential, as well as its best infrastructure and command of the sea.
For its part, the South had in its favor the experience of its high command and a better trained army. This allowed the balance to be maintained until the middle of 1863.
The battle of Gettysburg was decisive in the defeat of the Confederacy, as it tipped the scales definitively in favor of the North. Finally, the armistice was signed, which highlighted the importance of the reconstruction and reintegration of the South, and the abolition of slavery.
The construction of the North American giant
In the years that followed the conflict, the northern states came out quite favored, both for the benefits obtained by their industry and for the amount of their exports.
However, the south, isolated and ravaged during the war, was economically devastated. The time had come, therefore, for a reconstruction that, although it was quite selective in terms of the favored territories, as a whole allowed the country to become an industrial and political giant.
The unstoppable process of growth experienced by the US throughout the last stretch of the 19th century turned the nation into a great power.
This, as in the European countries, was gradually reflected in its imperialist policy.
In this regard, both the purchase of Alaska from Russia (1867) and the war against Spain (1898) are a good example of this.
In short, the US came out of its classic isolationism. They soon became the arbiters of continental American politics, while directing much of their economic efforts to the Pacific. In this way, under the mandate of Theodor Roosevelt, the US became a major power. Thus arose the so-called “Manifest Destiny”: the role of Americans as defenders of freedom.
Journalism student. Publishing in digital media since 2015. I am passionate about writing and I take my work very seriously: I consult sources, I seek impartiality and objectivity as a good professional.