Did democracy cause the American Civil War?
By Ben Stevens H P Stevens, on 2 December 2011
The beauty of UCL’s Lunch Hour Lectures is that you don’t need any prior knowledge of the topic in question to enjoy one. This was certainly the case with Dr Adam Smith’s (UCL History) talk on 24 November, ‘Did democracy cause the American Civil War?’ – which is just as well, as my knowledge of that conflict is patchy at best.
Although I studied political history up to A level, American history rarely troubled the syllabus. However, I did learn, as every history student does, that wars very rarely have one, discrete cause.
In recognition of this, Dr Smith began by giving a succinct answer to the question in the lecture title: “No”. In fact, he said, the question was “phenomenally difficult to answer”, because although slavery is often cited as the main cause, it is actually the complex and unexpected interplay between democracy, slavery and modernity that lies at the heart of the conflict.