I’m a history nerd, okay? My passion started when my grandfather and I would constantly get into debates about the causes of the civil war during dinner time, annoying everyone at the table… Even while arguing though, my grandfather and I enjoyed talking about the past. There’s something about America’s stories that has always been a feature of interest to me, and I couldn’t tell you why. Possibly because of my interest in psychological sciences… Why do we keep making the same mistakes even when we know the consequential outcomes? Why do we conform to dictators when our consciouses warn us otherwise? These are all fascinating questions that even the most well renowned psychologists struggle to find an answer to. That said, I guess you could say my fascination with history is the “why” part of it. I want to know the background to all of the arrogance and evilness there was and is to the world, maybe then we can find a clear solution to the problems we face today.
I could ramble about this for hours but then, what exactly would it help? Moving on, I really want to talk about the Civil War era. I know it sounds sadistic to say that this was my favorite time period in history, but there is a truckload of background as to why we had to go to war because one region of our nation couldn’t see the most basic natural rights. I mean, wouldn’t you like to know why?
In all honesty, it started from the very beginning. Slavery had been around for about a century earlier in America when the White Lion ship brought 20 African slaves to the colony of Jamestown, Virginia. Our nation basically began on the grounds of slavery. Flash forward about a 140 years later and the 13 colonies just gained their independence. The founding fathers knew we needed a government so they created a constitution that we live and breathe today. However, no mention or reference was made to slaves in our government which meant that nothing had changed with the attainment of independence. Flash forward another 45 years and America has undergone several economic and technical changes IN THE NORTH. Due to the south’s refusal to industrialize, their agrarian economy pursued – more agriculture, more money, more slaves. The north saw no more need for slavery because of its new economy, and as a result the growth of free blacks increased. The north and south were at odds for years and many laws were passed, such as the Missouri Compromise which allowed Slavery to be below the 36* 30′ latitude line but not above. This allowed an equal distribution of slavery. However, America was united on one ideal: The Manifest Destiny.
Almost everyone at the time agreed that moving westward was an absolute necessity for America to become the best it could be. However, that meant adding more territory and states which meant more controversy on the strive for an equal distribution of slavery. As a result, outbreaks of violence such as Bleeding Kansas and John Brown’s Raid on Harper Ferry surged in the 1850’s which led to more people getting involved in the fight against or for slavery. Eventually, politicians such as Abraham Lincoln ran for office on anti-slavery platforms which fueled the South’s anger and resistance towards the North’s politics and laws. Finally, when Lincoln won the presidency, most of the southern states seceded and the Civil War had begun.
There you have it, the background. Everything that I just explained above led to the Civil War (and more). Most would probably think that the causes of the war were purely economic, I mean that’s what the evidence suggest, anyway. While this is a contributing factor in the buildup, I have another theory that adds into the economic factors. It has to do with groupthink and conformity.
First of all, what is groupthink? Groupthink is a psychological term that describes the phenomenon when people in a group strive for conformity and as a result make more impulsive and rash decisions that lead to long lasting consequences. A good example of this is the Bay of Pigs invasion when the US attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro. Kennedy made an impulsive decision with his cabinet in an effort to contain communism but it led to detrimental consequences. That said, think of the south as a big group that is debating with another group (the north). This group’s goal is to convince everyone else that they are in the right and their way is the best way. In order to achieve this goal, they agreed that they needed to act fast and make an impression to show that they were not backing down from this fight. As a result, the south made a decision to secede from the nation and start a new country where they could live the way they believed was right. They acted irrationally because of their urge to conform and make impulsive decisions that would eventually lead to destruction in the south.
Groupthink is very common when countries are on the verge of war because of the rocky decision making process that they tend to have. It’s hard to make decisions when it could lead to the fall of one’s country, right? However, groupthink can be beneficial in some cases. It can lead to a united front in leaders when they are not planning to go to war… Unity can be easier to come across because of the agreeableness the group may feel. For example, when a group of college kids have an assignment to come up with a pitch for a mock business meeting. If groupthink is utilized, they collaborate more quickly and efficiently for their pitch to have the outcome they want.
Why am I talking about this? For one thing, it’s to help me practice my psychological critical thinking skills; for another, to help my audience look at things from a different perspective. Think about it, it’s hard to see things from a different point of view. For example, when you’re a writer, you can’t see your book from the perspective of your readers unless you take a different approach. Same thing for history: when you’re a historian, it’s hard to see things from a psychologist’s point of view. Historians may understand the political, economic, and geographic causes of things but psychologists examine the people and the why behind their decision to do X and not Y. That’s why I’m telling you both perspectives: to show you that there are multiple ways of approaching history. This is also why it is so hard to come up with a singular underlying cause for a phenomenon: there are too many factors involved! To me, this is fascinating because we have so many talented individuals in the world who find these reasons for why something happens through years of research and consults from other field specialists. Anyway, this was only a fragment into a larger field of reason, but I wanted to explore these perspectives on a basic level before I dove into it a little more later.
I hope this post was educational and somewhat interesting for you! It was for me.
Stay safe and healthy out there!