American Heritage

"The Crisis of the Union"

Overview

The philosophical divide that led to the Civil War was rooted in opposing interpretations of the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence. At the time of the Founding, the institution of slavery was seen as a necessary evil that would eventually wither and die. By the 1850s, prominent politicians such as John C. Calhoun and Alexander Stephens argued that slavery was a positive good—for both the slaveholder and the slave—and that liberty and equality, far from being natural rights belonging to every human being, were privileges to be earned.

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