The American Civil War (part 1 of 3)

Our three part series on the American Civil War began on Friday 14 April 2023. The sessions are led by Harry Goldstein who has a post graduate degree in American History. The three sessions will deal with: 1) How the war started; 2) The war itself; and 3) A review of the positions at the end of the war.

Many people will tell you, when asked, that the American Civil War was caused by slavery, but Harry – with the use of several on-screen maps – made it clear that the issue of slavery led to the war over a substantial period of time, without the war being fought over slavery. In fact the war was fought over power, just like nearly all the other civil wars past, present and future! Slavery was the issue that divided the two factions.

We learned about the importance of the Mason Dixon line, the Ohio River boundary and the Missouri Compromise (1820). We also learned about the mentions of slavery in the original draft of the United States Constitution, and how omissions in that document led to the question of the status of slavery being decided on a State by State basis. There was also an explanation of the Three Fifths Compromise (1787) which counted 5 slaves as 3 people for the purposes of representation and taxation, and postponed any federal decision on slavery for a minimum of 20 years.

Lastly, there was the question of the territories and unallied lands which, on converting into States, had to decide whether they would opt to become a slavery accepting state or a slavery rejecting state. With a line being drawn between slavery and non-slavery at latitude 36° 30′, there was intense rivalry and competition to ensure that the balance in Congress between slavery supporting members and slavery opposing members could be maintained. Some members saw this as an opportunity to alter the balance in Congress to their own advantage.

Harry led us through all these complications in a light-hearted and intriguing talk with plenty of maps and illustrations that made his subject clear. We are all looking forward to his next talk on 28 April. The series concludes on 26 May 2023.

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