Top 5 Causes of the Civil War Video
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Video:Top 5 Causes of the Civil War

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The causes of the Civil War involved a number of different factors. In this video, learn what the top, five, causes were.See Transcript

Transcript:Top 5 Causes of the Civil War

The American Civil War cost of 620,000 American lives, which is roughly only 1% of the African lives lost to the slave trade. However, to say the Civil War was fought over slavery is an over simplified answer. Here are the top five causes of the civil war.


By the mid 1800's the Northern and Southern Sates were almost two entirely different countries. Eli Whitney's cotton gin that took hold early in the century nearly tripled Southern cotton output, making the South the world's first agricultural powerhouse. With this massive output, the industrial North equally grew to utilized the southern crop.  However, while the North economy diversified, the South became a nearly a one crop economy which quadrupled its dependency on slavery.

States Rights

Originally, the Articles of Confederation established a weak federal government, an issue that was addressed with the US Constitution, which strengthened federal power. However, both Northern and Southern states began to disagree with some federal laws, one explosive example being the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which dictated that runaway slaves were to be returned to their masters, even if captured in free states. 

With this, northern states felt the federal government was robbing them of the right to regulate slavery in their districts. With tensions building on both sides, John C. Calhoun's idea of nullification –the ability for states to rule federal laws unconstitutional – gathered support. However, the federal government did not agree with nullification, which in the eyes of some further belittled state's power.

New Territory Status

As the US continued expansion West, new territories had to be divided into slave or free states, which lead to a power struggle on both sides. While in previous acts, the federal government decided a state's status, the Compromise of 1850 introduced popular sovereignty, the right for a state's populace to vote it slave or free.  However, popular sovereignty would fail in the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.  Pro-slavery Missourians crossed the border to vote Kansas 'slave', and became a barometer of the nation as their actions lead to an outbreak of fighting garnering the name 'Bleeding Kansas'.


At its core, the US was divided by its people's viewpoints.  Abolitionists faced off against slavery calling for the freedom of all people in the US. This movement grew rapidly in response to new and continuing treatment of slaves. With the publication of Harriet Breecher Stowe's 'Uncle Tom's Cabin', the passage of the fugitive slave act, the Dred Scot Case (regarded as one of the worst supreme court decisions of all time, it stated that neither free nor enslaved African-American could be American citizens), and John Brown's Raid.


All of this came to a head with the Election of the abolitionist Abraham Lincoln, to which, fearing the end of slavery at a federal level, South Carolina issued it's 'Declaration of the Causes of Secession' which outlined why, as a slave state, it had been wronged by the federal government and must leave the union. In all, 7 of the states that would secede did so prior to Lincoln's inauguration.

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