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What Is the War of Northern Aggression?

The War of Northern Aggression, often termed the Civil War by others, reflects a perspective emphasizing Northern imposition on Southern states. It's a narrative of conflict sparked by deep divisions over states' rights and slavery. This framing reveals how history's interpretation can vary by region and belief. What's your take on this contentious term in American history? Share your thoughts below.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The War of Northern Aggression is one of the alternate names for the military conflict that took place in the United States between 1861-1865. The generally accepted term for this conflict is the Civil War, and this is the term that is most commonly found in textbooks and other references. Some people continue to refer to this conflict as the War of Northern Aggression, however, and the disputes over naming the Civil War reveal lingering resentments and a variety of cultural attitudes.

The conflict began when several Southern states seceded from the United States, known as the Union, and formed the Confederate States, known as the Confederacy. The secession was provoked by the election of President Abraham Lincoln, a known opponent of slavery, although a number of other factors were involved as well. Rather than allowing the Southern states to separate peacefully, the Union fought to force the Confederacy to rejoin the Union, and was eventually successful.

Abraham Lincoln, who was the president during the so-called "War of Northern Aggression".
Abraham Lincoln, who was the president during the so-called "War of Northern Aggression".

In war, the victors tend to name the conflict, as well as telling most of the stories. In the immediate wake of the war, many Northerners referred to the conflict with names referencing slavery and the union, such as the "War of Insurrection" and the "Slaveholder's War." Southerners, embittered by what they felt was interference, used terms like the "War of Secession" and "Mr. Lincoln's War." Some people stuck with more neutral phrasing such as the "War of 1861 to 1865." Eventually, people settled on "the Civil War" as a term for the conflict.

Slavery was a major factor in the onset of the Civil War, which is also known as the "War of Northern Aggression" in some circles.
Slavery was a major factor in the onset of the Civil War, which is also known as the "War of Northern Aggression" in some circles.

Terms like the "War of Northern Aggression" and the "War Between the States" are in use by some residents of the South. They reflect a certain amount of Southern pride, as well as beliefs about why the war was fought, placing the blame for the events on the North and its refusal to allow the Confederacy to secede and form its own government. Some critics have suggested that people who use terms like the "War of Northern Aggression" are romanticizing the events of the Civil War and the antebellum South.

The "War of Northern Aggression" was fought on various battlefields.
The "War of Northern Aggression" was fought on various battlefields.

Since the North's version of events tends to dominate textbooks and references about the Civil War, the insistence on referring to the conflict as the War of Northern Aggression could be considered a subtle form of rebellion on the part of some Southerners. Historians have written extensively about the conflict from a number of perspectives, using a variety of terms to refer to it. The diverse stories that have emerged illustrate that it can be difficult to report with neutrality on a conflict.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the War of Northern Aggression?

The U.S. Civil War pitted the northern and southern states against each other.
The U.S. Civil War pitted the northern and southern states against each other.

The term "War of Northern Aggression" is an alternative name used by some in the Southern United States to refer to the American Civil War, which took place from 1861 to 1865. This name reflects a Southern perspective that the conflict was initiated by the aggressive policies of the Northern states towards the Southern states, particularly regarding the issue of states' rights and the legality of slavery. It is important to note that this term is considered controversial and is not commonly used in academic or international contexts.

Why do some people refer to the American Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression?

Union soldiers have been considered the Civil War's aggressors by those sympathizing with the Confederacy.
Union soldiers have been considered the Civil War's aggressors by those sympathizing with the Confederacy.

Some people, particularly in the South, may refer to the American Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression to emphasize their view that the conflict was caused by the North's encroachment on the rights of Southern states. This perspective suggests that the North was the aggressor in the conflict, imposing its will on the South, particularly in relation to the issue of slavery and the federal government's authority over the states.

What were the main causes of the American Civil War?

Several southern states attempted to secede from the United States of America and form the Confederate States of America during the U.S. Civil War.
Several southern states attempted to secede from the United States of America and form the Confederate States of America during the U.S. Civil War.

The main causes of the American Civil War were deeply rooted in disagreements over states' rights, the expansion of slavery into new territories, and economic differences between the industrial North and the agrarian South. The election of Abraham Lincoln, who was seen as anti-slavery, in 1860 led to the secession of several Southern states and the formation of the Confederate States of America, which ultimately triggered the war. According to the National Park Service, the issue of slavery was central to the conflict.

How did the term 'War of Northern Aggression' come into use?

Terms like the "War of Northern Aggression" and the "War Between the States" are in use by some residents of the South.
Terms like the "War of Northern Aggression" and the "War Between the States" are in use by some residents of the South.

The term 'War of Northern Aggression' came into use as part of the Lost Cause narrative, which emerged in the post-war South. This narrative sought to recast the Civil War as a noble defense of the Southern way of life against Northern domination, rather than a rebellion primarily aimed at preserving the institution of slavery. The term has been perpetuated by some groups to emphasize a Southern identity and viewpoint.

Is the term 'War of Northern Aggression' widely accepted by historians?

No, the term 'War of Northern Aggression' is not widely accepted by historians. Most scholars prefer the term "American Civil War" as it is more neutral and accurately reflects the nature of the conflict as a war between two regions of the same country. The term 'War of Northern Aggression' is seen as part of a revisionist history that downplays the role of slavery as a cause of the war and is not supported by the consensus of historical research.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a UnitedStatesNow researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a UnitedStatesNow researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

amypollick

@anon991615: It passed through both houses of Congress, true, but was never fully ratified by the required number of states. In fact, it was submitted for ratification as late as 1963 (yes, 1963).

In any event, many Constitutional scholars are of the opinion that the 13th-15th amendments would not have been permissible had the Corwin amendment been fully ratified.

As with any amendment, had the Corwin amendment actually been ratified, it could have been repealed at any time by Congress without fighting. I refer you to the 18th Amendment, which established Prohibition in the U.S. in 1920, and the 21st Amendment, which repealed the amendment in 1920. No war necessary.

Had slavery been outlawed at the same time as indentured servitude, it could indeed have been eliminated without a war.

anon991615

The Corwin amendment passed in 1861 and in the process of ratification protected the institution of slavery by Constitutional amendment.

The only thing at that time that could destroy slavery in the South was going to war.

Wisedly33

I always thought the term "The War of Northern Aggression" was amusing, more than anything. I'm a Southerner, so I can speak with some authority on the subject.

Like it or not, scream States' Rights or not, the crux of the conflict always comes back to slavery. The problem was that those in Congress were the principal slaveholders. The average Southerner sired children to work the land; they were cheaper than slaves. Fewer than 5 percent of all Southerners owned slaves, and fewer than 2 percent lived on plantations. That's verifiable. Look it up. None of my ancestors that I can find ever owned slaves. They were all dirt farmers, coal miners and itinerant preachers. They couldn't have afforded to buy a slave if they had wanted one.

The average Southerner was fighting for their land, which was the one thing they could be said to own outright. The planters were fighting for slavery, though, and they were the ones who pushed for the fight.

Slavery was a heinous institution and a terrible page in American history. But lest the Northern folks grow too proud, let them remember the first slave ships flew the American flag. Let them also remember the extreme prejudice against the Irish and the Jews, the tenement slums and the factories where children were chained to machines. Child labor laws were passed because of the working conditions in the North, not in the South. We all bear a portion of blame in ugly things done in this country. No one's hands are clean.

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    • Abraham Lincoln, who was the president during the so-called "War of Northern Aggression".
      By: jay clark
      Abraham Lincoln, who was the president during the so-called "War of Northern Aggression".
    • Slavery was a major factor in the onset of the Civil War, which is also known as the "War of Northern Aggression" in some circles.
      By: iMAGINE
      Slavery was a major factor in the onset of the Civil War, which is also known as the "War of Northern Aggression" in some circles.
    • The "War of Northern Aggression" was fought on various battlefields.
      By: macropixel
      The "War of Northern Aggression" was fought on various battlefields.
    • The U.S. Civil War pitted the northern and southern states against each other.
      By: Bill Perry
      The U.S. Civil War pitted the northern and southern states against each other.
    • Union soldiers have been considered the Civil War's aggressors by those sympathizing with the Confederacy.
      By: Donnie Nunley
      Union soldiers have been considered the Civil War's aggressors by those sympathizing with the Confederacy.
    • Several southern states attempted to secede from the United States of America and form the Confederate States of America during the U.S. Civil War.
      By: peteri
      Several southern states attempted to secede from the United States of America and form the Confederate States of America during the U.S. Civil War.
    • Terms like the "War of Northern Aggression" and the "War Between the States" are in use by some residents of the South.
      By: Refocus Photography
      Terms like the "War of Northern Aggression" and the "War Between the States" are in use by some residents of the South.