Causes of the Civil War

Welcome to the study center for War Between the States: Causes of the Civil War! Here you will find text, audio and video material to further your understanding of what caused America’s bloodiest war. To begin, select one of the episodes below.


How did a nation united in Christian faith become divided by war? In this episode, we begin with the Calvinism of the founding and the Great Awakening, and trace the ensuing religious movements that split the nation. We’ll tell the story of how the Unitarians through the universities and the Arminians through the revivals became the religious leaders of the North, and set the nation on the road to division. View study materials for this episode here.


When we think of the causes of the Civil War, our first thought is usually of slavery. In this episode, we’ll examine how slavery came to America. We will travel to see the true conditions of Southern slaves,  and whether they were as terrible as most think today. We’ll explore the abolitionist movement against slavery and why they opposed it to the point of taking up arms. View study materials for this episode here.


One of the major dividing lines between the North and South in the 19th century was economics. The most influential sector in the North was manufacturing, while in the South it was agriculture. In this episode, we’ll examine the development of the economic divide between the North and the South, and how their differing views of government involvement created tension throughout the country. View study materials for this episode here.


A seminal event in the years leading up to the Civil War was John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry. In this episode, we’ll travel to Harper’s Ferry, where Brown planned to start a slave insurrection by seizing the United States’ Arsenal.  We explore the story of John Brown, the “Secret Six” who funded him, the fate of his daring raid, and the monumental impact it had on the nation. View study materials for this episode here.


The Federal government in the 1800s was a battleground between two sections – North and South, slave and free. In this episode, we’ll examine the power struggles over new territories, the Kansas Conflict and the Dred Scott decision. We see the conflict accelerate until Abraham Lincoln is elected president, which drives some of the Southern states to secede and form a new nation under Jefferson Davis. View study materials for this episode here.


The nation exploded in civil war on April 12th, 1861, when the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. In this episode, we’ll examine the choices made in the secession crisis that caused the first shots to be fired. We’ll travel to Charleston to study its strategic importance, learn about the military and its commanders, and see how the siege and bombardment of Fort Sumter unfolded. View study materials for this episode here.


Whether states had the right to secede was the crucial issue after secession, for it determined whether there would be a peaceful separation or a bloody conflict. In this episode, we’ll examine whether there is a right to secession in the Constitution, and what the founding fathers thought of it. We study previous attempts to secede in America, and learn how the Civil War changed the understanding of state’s rights. View study materials for this episode here.


Final Test

You can download a printable PDF of the final test here on Discerning History. You can also download the answer key.