An economic perspective on the causes of the Civil War

Published a century ago, Expansion and Conflict by William Edward Dodd, tells the back story of the Civil War.   Born in North Carolina, Dodd was a leader in the Southern school of history.  He was a liberal, a politically active Democrat, and distinguished professor at the University of Chicago. He served as Ambassador to Germany (1933-1937), where within the bounds of proper diplomatic behavior, he opposed the Nazi regime.


William Edward Dodd (1869-1940)

Expansion and Conflict tells the story of conquest of the West and its connection to the issue of slavery, from the time of Andrew Jackson through the end of the Civil War.

Dodd sees the approaching conflict as a matter of economic competition.  He divides the nation into three regions–the Northeast, the old Northwest (basically the original Northwest Territory of 1787) and the South.  The Northeast was concerned about tariffs.  The Northwest was concerned about settlement of the Great Plains.  The South was concerned about expanding slavery into the West and the Caribbean.

Except for the minority of people in the North (basically the Northeast and the Northwest) who were abolitionists, slavery was not a moral issue but an economic issue.  At various times, there were calls for secession from groups in the Northeast and the South, should their interests not prevail.

Though Dodd expresses a Southern perspective, he is not an apologist.

Though Indian removal is most associated with the South, it was also demanded by the Northwest. Indians from Illinois and neighboring areas were deported to Nebraska.  When Nebraska was found to have rich agricultural potential, the Indians were removed to Oklahoma.   The South took offense, seeing a Northern plot to use the Indian settlements in Oklahoma as a barrier against the westward expansion of slavery.

As the Civil War drew near, Northern interests proposed that the Utah Territory and the New Mexico territory be granted statehood.  The population in both territories were too sparse to support statehood, but from a Southern view, their premature admission to the Union as free states would further block the expansion of slavery and add more anti-slavery representation in Congress.

Dodd portrays slavery from an economic perspective rarely heard today.  According to Dodd, slaveholders appreciated the cash value of their slaves.  European immigrants were hired to dig ditches and drain swamps.  The slaveholders preferred that hired laborers rather than valuable slaves die from tropical diseases.  Dodd says that slaves were provided medical care, to protect the cash value of slaves and the breeding value of slave mothers.

Expansion and Conflict is a fast moving history, easy to read, and not overloaded with unnecessary detail.  It is available as a free ebook from the Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg, and Amazon.


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