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United States Comparison – Civil War

Posted by on Monday, September 23, 2013 in Ezra.


United States Civil War and Human Development

By Henry Bogardus

The United States’ civil war was a brutal campaign that left a staggering amount of America’s youth crippled or dead. The most popular reasons for the occurrence of the war are almost completely political, stemming from the pro and anti-slavery arguments that eventually intensified to the point where the two ideologies went to war with each other. However, the other component present in the origin of the war was the economic differences between the North and the South and how those superimposed themselves over the political differences that resulted in the war.

As I defined earlier, human development is the process of enlarging people’s choices.  In order to do so, they must have a long life (measured by life expectancy), an education (measured by years of schooling and percent of children in school), and decent living conditions (measured by GNI per capita). When looking at a war that occurred 150 years ago, the data presented for the three categories is scarce and in the case of GNI per capita, non-existent. However, life expectancy and education statistics represent a very clear trend in data that shows how both categories take a turn for the worse during a civil war, as life expectancy and education both markedly decrease.

In the years leading up until the civil war, there seemed to be very little decline of human development; in fact, it was seemingly improving. Life expectancy in the years leading up to the war was on the decline, which could suggest a reason for a disgruntled Southern population, but in reality the “mortality increase in the few decades preceding 1860 [was] associated with increasing urbanization and declining sanitary conditions” that was mostly a factor in Northern cities where large concentrations of European immigrants had been congregating for decades (Hacker, 46). During the period between 1840 and 1859 (the year before the Civil War began), the national life expectancy dropped from 43.5 to 40.8 years; however, it is important to note that the national life expectancy had been held constant for 40 years between 1800 and 1840 at around 44.4 years (Hacker, 47). Between 1931 and 1940, 599,125 immigrants arrive in America; then between 1841 and 1850, almost three times that number immigrated to America when 1,713,251 got off the boats (INS 1998, 19). The immigrants of those two decades combined with the 2,598,214 that came between 1851 and 1860 formed a huge influx of poor people into dirty, expanding urban centers (INS 1998, 19). That massive growth of northern, urban areas combined with poor sanitation led to the constant decrease of years of life expected during that time. During the 10-year period before the civil war, education improved as the percentage of children between ages 5 and 19 rose from 47.2% to 50.6% (Snyder, 14). This statistical change takes into account both America’s white and black student populations, which is important to note as there is a very small change in black student enrollment in schools (1.8% to 1.9%) and most of the change is due to a large influx of white students (Snyder, 14).

The civil war’s driving cause was that the two opposing ideologies that represented northern and southern difference had grown to a point where the south had announced its secession from the union; however, the economics at stake for each of the warring sides was a driving force for the commencement of the war. Slaves made up about 38% percent of the population of the southern states (Ransom, 2001). Even more shocking was that the fraction of southern earnings brought in by slave labor was about 25.9% of the total income in the south (Ransom, 2001). If slaves were to be liberated, then the south as a whole was at risk to lose over a quarter of its economy. In some Confederate states, however, slavery represented an even larger portion of the economy, responsible for 41.7% of income in Alabama (Ransom, 2001). In the northern half of the country, the large, poor, unskilled, immigrant population provided a massive labor force for the backbone of northern economy: wage labor. “Mature capitalism only exists when wage labor becomes central to the economy…the northern economy transformed into a mature capitalism as the percentage of wage laborers increased from 12 percent in the time of Jefferson to 40 percent in the time of Lincoln” (Rugemer, 2009). In his article, Rugemer asserts, “the maturation of Northern Capitalism was ‘a key cause’ of abolitionism” (Rugemer, 2001). The two quotes contrast the economics of the slave states and display how an economy could be very successful without being dependent on slave labor. The south, having always been afraid of free blacks, never industrialized and urbanized, and thus never had a solid base for wage labor should the African-Americans be freed from slavery. According to a study conducted on the topic of the causes of African civil war, “the objective of rebellion is either to capture the state or to secede from it” (Collier, 564). Collier also explains that a group will only aim to rebel if “the incentive for rebellion is sufficiently large relative to the costs” (Collier, 563). The quote suggests that the southern economy would be so much better with slaves than without them that they would risk their lives if it meant that the economy could be bolstered by slave labor. Another point Collier makes is that “a government which rewards its supporters by exploiting a section of the population will increase the incentive for rebellion” (Collier, 563). Collier describes the situation of the confederacy perfectly, as the slaves are the population that could be exploited if the south were to come away from the war with a victory. The differences between the north and the south economically provided each with enough incentive to engage in the civil war.

The American civil war resulted in a stagnation of human development in the United States. The war was characterized by advanced military technology and inferior medical techniques, resulting in unprecedented casualties for both sides. As a result, the life expectancy in the United States between 1860 and 1865 continued its decline from the previous three decades. Between 1860 and 1864 the average American citizen would live for 40.5 years, and between 1865 and 1869, it dropped to 40.0 years (Hacker, 47). After that 5-year span, life expectancy began to rise at a steady rate again, averaging out at 44.5 by 1880 (Hacker, 47). Education, too, worsened during the war, as less people attended school in order to fight for their side of the country. While the total percentage of 5 to 19-year olds in school only decreased 2.2%, this was due to a 9.0% increase in the percentage of African-Americans attendance in school (Snyder, 11). White participation (white participation is measured because the overwhelming majority of both armies was white), however, decreased by 5.2% to 54.4% during the war and the years after, showing how education was secondary to the war in almost half of students’ minds (Snyder, 11). However, between 1870 and 1880, after the war ended, education became more important as 62.0% of white children attended school (Snyder, 11).

One contradicting argument is that the United States Civil War was mainly perpetuated by the Southern states’ push for states’ rights, especially concerning the institution of slavery and how it was handled in the south. However, this viewpoint in contingent on the desire of southern slave owners to continue owning, buying and selling slaves. That desire was not based around pride and state’s rights as it was boasted, but around the Southerners’ desire to continue making money just as they had since the Constitution was signed. The state’s rights argument was nothing but an excuse for the southerners to argue that they were being cut out of biggest source of profit.

By looking at the data and non-political causes of the civil war, it becomes apparent that while human development wasn’t a huge factor in inciting the secession, it was affected greatly by the war itself. The main cause of the war seemed to be economic as the south believed that slavery was so necessary for wealth that it would go to war to protect it.


Works Cited


Collier, Paul, and Anke Hoeffler. “Oxford Economic Papers.” On Economic Causes of Civil War. Oxfd. Econ. Pap., 1998. Web. 23 Sept. 2013. <http://oep.oxfordjournals.org/content/50/4/563.full.pdf html>.

Hacker, David J. Decennial Life Tables for the White Population of the United States, 1790-1900. Historical Methods. Taylor & Francis, Inc., Apr.-May 2010. Web. 23 Sept. 2013. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/747080015/abstract?accountid=14816>.

Ransom, Roger L. “The Economics of the Civil War.” Economic History Services. Eh.net Encyclopedia, 24 Aug. 2001. Web. 23 Sept. 2013. <http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/ransom.civil.war.us>.

Rugemer, Edward B. Explaining the Causes of the American Civil War, 1787-1861. Reviews in American History. John Hopkins University Press, Mar. 2009. Web. 23 Sept. 2013. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/218111882/140AE4F41B261E9F9FA/4?accountid=14816>.

United States. U.S. Department of Justice. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1998. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1998. Web. 23 Sept. 2013. <http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/statistics/yearbook/1998/1998yb.pdf>.

USA. NCES. Education Report. By Snyder. NCES, 1991. Web. 23 Sept. 2013. <http://nces.ed.gov/pubs93/93442.pdf>.


One Comment on “United States Comparison – Civil War”

Yo he recuperado muchas fotos deterioradas

Javier on June 1st, 2016 at 2:13 am

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