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The Civil War 1850–1865

History SparkNotes

The Union Side: 1861–1863

The Election of 1860 and Secession: 1859–1861

The Confederate Side: 1861–1863

Events
1861 Congress passes Morrill Tariff Lincoln suspends writ of habeas corpus Trent Affair occurs
1862 Congress passes Legal Tender Act, Homestead Act, and Morrill Land Grant Act
1863 Congress passes National Banking Act Drafts initiated in the North Draft riots in New York City France invades Mexico
Key People
Abraham Lincoln -  16th U.S. president; tested limits of constitutional powers with several controversial executive orders during the war

The Border States

When South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1860, only ten of the other fourteen slave states followed. The legislatures of the remaining four—Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri—chose to remain in the Union. West Virginia eventually seceded from Virginia in 1861 and then in 1863 was admitted as a nonslave state in the Union.

To ensure the continued loyalty of these border states, Lincoln always had to maintain a moderate course in his policies. At times, he had to resort to force to prevent the border states from joining the Confederacy. In the spring of 1861, for example, Lincoln declared martial law in Maryland and sent troops to occupy the state after protesters attacked Union soldiers marching to Washington, D.C.

Importance of the Border States

Had the border states seceded with the other slave states, the outcome of the Civil War might have been very different. First, the border states provided a geographical and ideological buffer between the combatants: had Maryland seceded, Washington, D.C., would have been entirely surrounded by Confederate territory. Second, the border states were important economic engines for the Union, primarily because Maryland and Delaware had so many factories. Had just those two states seceded, the Confederacy’s manufacturing capabilities would have nearly doubled. Because the Civil War was in many ways an economic war as much as a military one, doubling Southern manufacturing output could have seriously altered the duration and even the outcome of the war.

The fact that these slave states chose to remain in the Union also weakened the South’s claim that it had seceded to save its slavery-based economy. Nevertheless, Lincoln had to be careful not to offend slave owners in the border states, which is why, for example, the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation declared slaves free in only the secessionist states—not the loyal border states.

Controversial Wartime Acts

During the war, Lincoln faced opposition and criticism from a variety of groups in the North. Peace Democrats accused him of starting an unjust war on one side, while Radical Republicans in his own party accused him of being too soft on the Confederacy on the other.

In addition, many criticized Lincoln for using unconstitutional powers to achieve his goals. To prevent an insurrection in Maryland, he arrested several proslavery leaders in the state, suspended the writ of habeas corpus (which requires police to inform suspects of the charges against them), and imprisoned them until the war was over. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney ruled that the suspension was illegal and unconstitutional, but Lincoln ignored him, believing that his actions had been necessary to prevent further rebellion.

Lincoln also illegally ordered a naval blockade of the South (which only Congress could do), illegally increased the size of the army (again, a power reserved only for Congress), and authorized illegal voting methods in the border states. Congress generally supported all of these decisions. Lincoln justified them by claiming that desperate times called for desperate measures and promised to obey the Constitution once the war was over.

The Morrill Tariff

The 1862 Congress, for its part, passed a flurry of progressive new laws as soon as the South had seceded from the Union. First, Northern congressmen passed the protective Morrill Tariff , which essentially doubled the prewar tariff. They passed the tariff not only to win more support from manufacturers but also because they realized how important the economy would be during the war.

The Legal Tender Act and National Bank Act

Next, Congress passed the 1862 Legal Tender Act, which authorized the printing of a national currency of paper money that was not redeemable for gold or silver. The next year, the National Bank Act provided for the federal charter of banks and supervision of a system of national banks, all of which were required to comply with the Legal Tender Act.

The Homestead Act

Congress also passed the Homestead Act, which gave individual settlers 160 acres of western land if they promised to live on the land and improve it by farming and building a house. In addition, Congress passed the Morrill Land Grant Act, which provided federal lands to state governments to build new agricultural colleges.

Congress Without Southerners

As one historian put it, Congress was so productive in 1861, 1862, and 1863 precisely because there were no conservative Southerners to oppose new legislation. Without any states’ righters, Northern Republicans could pass higher tariffs, write a wide variety of badly needed reform bills, strengthen the national economy, and bolster the federal government.

The new laws eliminated countless different currencies in circulation that had been issued by individual states or banks and replaced them with a single dollar backed by gold in the U.S. Treasury. The new greenback dollar (named for its color) gave the North great economic stability, which eventually helped it beat the South. Together, the acts gave the federal government unprecedented power over the economy. The Morrill Land Grant Act and the Homestead Act, meanwhile boosted settlement and the agricultural development of the West during the war and for several decades afterward.

The Draft and Draft Riots

In 1863, Congress passed a conscription law to draft young men into the Union army. The law demanded that men either join the army or make a $300 contribution to the war effort instead. The “$300 rule” thus effectively condemned the poorer classes to military service while giving wealthier men a way out. Outraged, many Northerners engaged in massive protests, and draft riots broke out in dozens of cities throughout the North. The worst erupted in New York City in mid-1863, when whites from poorer neighborhoods burned and looted parts of the city. By the time federal troops arrived to suppress the rebellion, more than 100 people had been killed.

The Trent Affair

Surprisingly, Lincoln spent a great deal of effort trying to preserve diplomatic ties with Britain during the war. Soon after the war began, Union naval officers boarded the British mail ship Trent in 1861 in order to arrest two Confederate diplomats. The Trent Affair outraged Britain, which threatened Lincoln with war if he failed to release the Southerners. The situation became so serious that thousands of British troops were dispatched to Canada to prepare for a possible invasion. Lincoln eventually apologized and let the Confederates go.

The United States, in turn, later threatened war if Britain refused to stop building warships—such as the CSS Alabama —for the Confederacy. This time, Britain conceded. War between Britain and the U.S. almost broke out a third time in 1864, when Canada harbored Confederate fugitives. Britain sent more troops to Canada to prepare for war, but an agreement was reached before any shots were fired.

The Northern Economy

Ultimately, it was the North’s booming industrial economy—assisted by the Morrill Tariff, the Legal Tender Act, and the National Bank Act—that won the Civil War. When war broke out in 1861, almost all of the nation’s factories were located in the North. Manufacturers also increased production of agricultural equipment to help the farmers in the West produce more wheat and corn to feed the troops. Oil production and coal mining became big industries during these years as well.

Because the Confederacy had virtually no textile factories, Confederate troops often fought in tattered homespun uniforms. The South also had precious few rifle factories, so its troops were forced to fight with pistols, smuggled guns, and even old Revolutionary War muskets instead of the newer and more efficient rifles that Union soldiers used. Furthermore, the South had the misfortune of suffering severe droughts several summers during the war, so its troops were not as well fed as the Northern forces

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