Civil War Exhibit: Before the War

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The forces that led to the American Civil War from 1861 through 1865 stretch back through American History. Ideologies, people, and places shaped the landscape of the new country. The effects of the Civil War remain with us today. Examples like the Founding Fathers’ insecurities on slave-holding in the 18th Century, the binding ties of shipping and trade in the 19th Century, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the development of the modern U.S. Navy in the 1860s, and the current disagreements over states’ rights all prove that the roots of the war have woven themselves through our past and our future.

Following the Revolution, frontier settlers campaigned for separation from Massachusetts. After the War of 1812, powerful coastal merchants joined the cause when they realized that Massachusetts was unable and unwilling to provide adequate protection for the people in the northern district. At this time, Missouri also campaigned for statehood. The balance between slave and free states was threatened by Missouri’s admission as a slave state; Congress would only allow it if Maine joined the Union as a free state.

 There already existed a strong anti-slavery tradition in Maine. Although Maine had been fighting for statehood for quite some time, when citizens learned that their state would be admitted with the pro-slavery Missouri, Mainers looked to give up their own quest for statehood. Maine Congressmen opposed the Missouri Compromise in the House vote. With their protests ignored, Maine became a state with Missouri in 1820. The Compromise also outlawed slavery above the 36o 30 latitude line in the United States.

[Lock of Henry Clay’s Hair]

 Henry Clay, Sr., a politician who represented Kentucky in both the Senate and the House, was instrumental in brokering the Missouri Compromise, preserving the balance between 11 slave and 11 free states in the Union in 1820.

The Civil War remains the deadliest war in American history, with over 750,000 soldiers dead by the end of the war in 1865. In the disagreement over the legality of slavery, state’s rights versus federal rights came into question, as it still does today. Northern and Southern states differed greatly. The South depended heavily on the cotton trade whereas the North experienced a growth in industry, and survived economic change more easily.


[Object: framed image of Lincoln and Hamlin]


When Lincoln announced his stand on slavery, Southerners saw this as a threat to their rights in each state. The contention over slavery was simply the last straw that caused the South to secede. Like today, political topics were widely discussed and often disagreed upon. In 1861, Kennebunk store-owner Andrew Walker wrote about his view of the war: “This war in my opinion is the bitter result of Republicanism. The party has led on a mad, furious crusade against the South because they hold slaves. It began in the hypocrisy that the people of the North were holier than the planters of the South and had the right in their purity to lecture them from the pulpit…upon their sins against humanity. Such are my views whether they are correct or not.”


In November of 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States with almost no support from the south.



As tension began to grow between the north and the south, southern states began taking extreme measures by seceding from the Union. Southern States felt that Lincoln posed a threat to their states rights and saw that seceding was the best and only option to preserve their freedoms. By February of 1861, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, and Louisiana has all seceded from the Union and had elected Jefferson Davis to be president of the Confederate States of America.

On April 12, 1861; the war began. The Confederate Army attacked Union troops at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Being overrun, the Union had no choice but to surrender the fort to South Carolina. Shortly after, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina joined the Confederate States of America and Richmond, Virginia became the Confederate States capital.

 [ interactive timeline?]