Officially, it began at 4:00 A.M. on Friday, April 12, 1865, at Ft. Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.
The argument could be made, however, that it really began in 1619, when the first slaves arrived in Jamestown, Virginia. Slavery is THE issue that led to the Civil War, and so the roots of the war began then. It would be a problem throughout the existence of the U.S. Northerners wanted the South to get rid of slavery during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The South threatened to leave the convention and form their own Union, so the North gave in. The North would repeat this behavior many times.
The Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1833, the Compromise of 1850–all were efforts by Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky to deal with the fact that one side of the country believed it was okay to own people, while the other, increasingly, did not.
During the 1850’s, the problem became more difficult, as many more in the North saw slavery as a moral issue. The North and South split further and further apart during this decade. Such events as the publication of UNCLE TOM’S CABIN by Harriet Beecher Stowe, an anti-slavery novel, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed for the possibility of slavery to exist as far north as the border with Canada (and convinced Abraham Lincoln to return to politics), the Dred Scott Case of 1857, where the Supreme Court ruled that blacks had no rights that the government had to respect.
Some people today say that slavery was not the cause of the war, but they are blind to the truth. In his inaugural speech, delivered on February 22, 1861, Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens stated that the cornerstone of the Confederacy was slavery.
It was slavery that led us to war on that Friday morning in April. In a bit of an ironic twist, the war began on Henry Clay’s birthday, April 12. But Clay had died nine years before.