The civil warSlavery, which had up to now received little public attention, suddenly assumed enormous importance. In colonial times, coloured slaves had first been brought from Africa to work on the plantations of the south. As the demand for raw cotton increased in England, large numbers of slaves were required. By 1818, when Illinois became the 21st state, 10 permitted slavery and 11 forbade it.
By the middle of the nineteenth century the U.S., owing to the differences between the economies of the North and the South, was a divided country. During this period the question of slavery was hotly discussed. At this time, Harriet Beecher Stowe described, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the conditions under which the slaves lived and worked. The book, which was soon translated into many languages, inspired widespread enthusiasm for the antislavery cause, among young and old. The matter came to a head in 1858, when Abraham Lincoln, Republican candidate for the Presidency of the U.S.A., made the emancipation of slaves his principal aim.
Lincoln was elected President in 1860. Soon after his election the states of the south seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. On April 12, 1861, fighting broke out. The small Southern army fought bravely, but the war ended with the victory of the northern forces and the abolition of slavery.