Yes, the United States Civil War could have been avoided if things had been handled differently. Many nations around the world ended slavery without wars, and our nation could have, too. The U.S. could have done some things differently.
In an interview scheduled to air today, Monday, May 1, 2017, United States President Donald Trump states that the Civil War could have been avoided, as noted in a CNN piece and others. He is right. Though I disagree with Trump on many things, and even the specifics on this issue, I strongly feel that the Civil War was avoidable.
A Few of the Many Ways the War Could Have Been Avoided
Perhaps the simplest solution would have been to outlaw slavery from the beginning. But Thomas Jefferson's words criticizing slavery were edited out of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
The United States did take a step in the right direction in 1807. President Jefferson signed a law in March 1807 banning the importation of slaves into the United States. The law became effective January 1, 1808, and is discussed in a 2008 NPR piece that featured Columbia University history professor Eric Foner.
Even some southern Congressmen voted in favor of that law, probably partially due to the fact that it allowed existing slaves and their future descendants to remain in slavery. If that law had been followed by laws requiring slaves to be taught skills to be self sufficient and then later by laws freeing the slaves after a certain period of time, maybe slavery would have ended peacefully before the Civil War.
Making gradual changes would have been easier to do peacefully than totally abolishing all slavery instantly. And, even before the Civil War, there were many free African-Americans in the southern states, in addition to the slaves. A significant minority of slaves had received freedom for various reasons.
But, even many among those in the early 1800s who opposed all slavery felt that typical slaves could not survive on their own. As they saw it, slaves often lacked the education, training, etc., needed to be self sufficient. Passing laws requiring all slaves to be taught basic skills and to be treated humanely, accompanied by enforcement of such laws, would have been a major step in the right direction.
Indeed, after the Civil War ended in 1865, many slaves who moved north still experienced major problems due to lack of basic skills, etc. Unfortunately, due to their limited education and opportunities, they often ended up in slums. Some of their descendants remain in slums in 2017.
Though they had their freedom, these former slaves who traveled north after the war were in many respects worse off than the best treated slaves. The best treated slaves (who possessed more education, nicer homes, better food, and higher quality clothing compared to typical slaves) often remained in the south, working for wages for their former owners.
Would it have been better to have a gradual emancipation that included quality training and education, teaching these slaves and former slaves how to be self sufficient? Maybe. It definitely would have been better to provide more support for the former slaves after their freedom.
The Civil War
Unfortunately, some states committed to withdraw from the country if Abraham Lincoln won the Presidential election of 1860. They followed through on that decision. Lincoln, committed to keeping the United States together even if necessary by military force, followed through on that decision as well. War came.
Electing a different President in 1860 could have prevented the war. A President more acceptable to the south could still have taken steps to improve conditions for slaves and for their future freedom.
This, sadly, would have delayed the end of slavery. But, even President Lincoln was willing to delay the end of slavery to preserve the Union. Lincoln, in speeches before he became President, apparently stated this. In his first Presidential inaugural address on March 4, 1861 he quoted from one of his earlier speeches, stating "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists."
Many southerners perhaps questioned the sincerity of his statement about allowing slavery to continue where it existed. The Republican Party Platform included strong language on slavery. But if the southerners had believed him to be sincere and he was sincere, maybe secession and war would have been avoided.
Even during his Presidency when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation effective on January 1, 1863, Lincoln's proclamation only promised freedom for slaves in areas that were part of the Confederacy. It did not offer freedom for slaves in states that did not secede (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri). It did not even offer freedom for slaves in parts of Confederate states that were under Union control.
The Civil War created deep divisions within the United States that still have not completely healed, over 150 years since the war ended.
Avoiding the Civil War likely would have delayed the end of slavery in the United States. But, it also could have prevented hundreds of thousands of deaths, a huge number of injuries, and an enormous amount of property damage. Finally, even the slaves and their descendants could have been better off with a better emancipation plan produced during peacetime.
NOTE: This article is virtually identical to one the author published on another website earlier today.