Ultimate Causes of the Battle: The 11 Southern states that formed the Confederacy had an economy that was based on large plantations growing cotton, tobacco and other cash crops. But these plantations were crucially dependent on slave labor (Burgan 7). Slavery had been increasingly a part of American life since the late 17th century, and in South it became an accepted and integral part of everyday life. Though there was no significant active opposition to the practice of slavery in the North, except for the abolitionists and anti-slavery societies, it was declared illegal in a few important Northern states to use black people as slaves.
Towards the middle of the nineteenth century, a new development intensified the clash between the proslavery and antislavery camps. This was the recent acquisition of a few Western territories in the Mexican War (1846-1848), including New Mexico, Utah and part of California, which initiated a debate about whether slavery should be allowed in these states or not. Opposition to slavery was motivated not only on humanitarian grounds but also for economic reasons.
The competition from slave labor was seen as detrimental to the welfare of lower class of white Americans, and many championed the abolishing of the institution of slavery in order to provide better work prospects for the poor white people. Slavery was a central issue that highlighted the various political, economic and social differences between the North and the South. A good number of these differences could have been resolved through peaceful compromise in the Congress, but the South was vehemently opposed to ever giving up slavery.
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected as the President of America and the Southern states rightly perceived this political development as a threat to their way of life which was heavily dependent on slavery and launched a preemptive strike against the North. The armed conflict ignited by the South soon flared up into a monstrous conflagration that swallowed a whole nation in flames of death and destruction. Gettysburg was nothing but a prime example and representative of the intensely bloody armed conflict that Civil War was.
There are other aspect of pre- Civil War America that made the North-South confrontation inevitable. In the times leading up to the Civil War, the North comprised 60 percent of the total population. Only 30 percent of the population, about half the Northern size, lived in the South, and significant proportion of them were blacks. Most of the remaining fraction of people lived in the so-called Border States (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri), which had characteristics of both sections. Only a minuscule amount lived in the Far West. The Northern states constituted the industrial powerhouse of the nation.
A considerable percentage of people in the North were either factory workers or factory owners, though farmers were in abundance too. The North clamored for the government to impose high tariff on imported goods in order to protect American-made manufactured goods from foreign competition. The South, on the other hand, because of its thriving slave economy, was reluctant to move towards industrialization. It had to import all its manufactured goods. Understandably, the people in the South were opposed to proposals for high tariffs on imported goods.
However, if slavery were to be abolished, the South would have no option but to move towards industrialization. There were many economic reasons related with slavery that intensified the conflict between the largely anti-slavery North and the largely pro-slavery South. Politically, the North was in favor of a strong federal government that can provide proper infrastructure for its budding industries. The Southerners, however, had no need for and were opposed to an increase in the strength of the federal government.
They believed that a strong central government could interfere or outlaw the deeply entrenched practices of slavery. Towards mid 19th century, vast territories were added in the West and the Southwest, acquired through the Mexican War and the Louisiana Purchase, which had to be carved up and recognized as independent states in their own right. At this juncture, whether to permit or ban slavery in these newly emerging states became a burning issue that aggravated the differences between the South and the North.
Thus, though there were various political and economic reasons that created the widening rift between the Northern and the Southern states in the period preceding the Civil War, these were all in one way or another bound up with the issue of slavery. Once slavery is abolished, a whole aristocratic culture that is based on the exploitation of slave labor would die off in the South, paving the way to the gradual melding of the differences between the North and the South.