|PinkMonkey Study Guide - American History
The Union and Confederate soldiers
5. 3 A brief account of the Domestic scene
on the eve of the Civil War
The election of 1848 brought the Republican candidate
General Zachary Taylor to power. On assuming office on March
4, 1849, the new President faced the issue of solving the question
of slavery in the Mexican territory. According to an amendment (called
the Wilmot Proviso) proposed in the Congress "neither
slavery nor involuntary servitude" should exist in the territory
acquired from Mexico. Though the Lower House voted for the amendment,
the Senate defeated it. The question of whether slavery should be
allowed in the newly acquired territories, was fiercely debated
both within the Congress and in several parts of the country. In
fact, the Wilmot Proviso sharpened the differences between the north
and the south over the issue of slavery.
To resolve the problem, Mr. Taylor suggested that
the new states of California and Mexico should prepare Constitutions
and apply for admission to the Union. California prepared a Constitution,
which prohibited slavery. In fact, it went on to elect its own congressional
delegation, without consulting the Congress. The leaders of the
south were horrified at the thought of new states joining the Union
as free states.
The atmosphere was tense in the country. Moreover,
there was hardly any chance of resolving the controversial issue
as neither the south nor the north could have their way in both
houses of the Congress. Two attempts to solve the problem, made
by John Clayton (Delaware) and Stephen Douglas (Illinois)
failed miserably in 1848. In 1849, Henry Clay, a statesman from
Kentucky convinced the opposing sides that the only solution lay
in a compromise.
The Compromise of 1850
Henry Clay presented to the Congress a set of proposals
in an attempt to solve the question of slavery in the new states.
In his proposals, he stated that:
a) California be admitted as a free state
b) The territorial governments be set up
in the remaining part of the Mexican territory (Utah & New Mexico)
must decide for themselves whether slavery should be allowed.
c) Texas should give up her claim on New
Mexico in return for the federal government’s assuming her debts.
d) Slavery in California should now be abolished
without the consent of California’s and Maryland’s residents. Moreover,
slavery could be abolished here only after due compensation was
given to the owners of slaves within California.
e) Slave trade was to be abolished in the
district of California.
f) More stringent laws on fugitive slaves
g) Reasonable limits to the Western boundary
of Texas be established.
h) The Congress should not interfere with
slave trade between states.
These resolutions were debated upon for a period
of 7 months. Clay was aware that his new proposals gave more to
the south. Therefore he appealed to the north to be large hearted.
Clay found an ally in Daniel Webster who urged the Congress
to adopt the proposal through his skillful oratory. In fact he even
began one of his speeches by saying: "I speak today for the
preservation of the Union. Hear me for my cause."
The southern leaders opposed these proposals by
stating that they were of no use. These leaders like John Calhomn
(South California) and Jefferson Davis (Mississippi)
blamed the anti-slavery agitation led by the north, for the sectional
After a lot of debate and emotional speeches, the
Congress adopted Clay’s proposals. This was largely due to the efforts
of Senator Stephen Douglas who split the bill into five separate
statutes. Thus the compromise of 1850 was passed. It stated that
1) California would be admitted as a free
2) Mexico and Utah would be formed without
the Wilmot Proviso.
3) The decision on slavery would be made
by the residents of the 2 states.
4) Slave trade would be abolished in Columbia.
5) The Fugitive Slave Act was passed which empowered
federal enforcement agencies to help slave-owners.
The Pierce Administration and the Slavery Question
After the sudden death of Taylor, there were fresh
elections in 1852. And the Democrat candidate Franklin Pierce
was victorious. When Pierce took over the reigns of the government,
many people hoped that the Compromise of 1850 would weaken the pro
and anti-slavery movements. But that was not to be the case. Instead,
the Fugitive Slave Act become a topic of controversy between the
north and the south. The north criticized the Act, which required
the return of fugitive slaves to the owners. Some abolitionists
refused to obey the Act. Several northern states found legal loopholes
in the Act, to render the enforcement of the laws in-operative.
States like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, New England and Indiana
enacted the Personal liberty laws. These laws kept the judges
from helping southerners and gave habeas corpus rights to the Negro
The Southern states saw the Personal liberty laws
as a conspiracy of the north against southern institution of slavery.
And as if to add salt to the wounds of the southerners, many abolitionists
tried to send fugitive slaves across the border to Canada, so that
they were far from the reach of American laws.
Another event that gave a weapon in the hands of
the anti-slavery movement was the publication of Uncle Tom’s
Cabin in 1852. Written by Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe,
the novel expressed hatred for the institution of slavery. The graphic
description of the suffering of slaves in the novel turned many
against slavery. In its first year of publication, the writer sold
more than 300,000 copies. It contained the most influential statements
ever made against slavery.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854
The temporary truce brought about by the Compromise
of 1850 was totally destroyed by the Kansas Nebraska Act (1854).
In 1830, the territory west of the River Missouri was set aside
for the Indians. The greed for land and the government’s interests
to construct railroads through the area, changed everything. Thus,
there was a need to enact a suitable legislation so as to help the
expansion in the west.
In January 1854, Senator Stephen A. Douglas,
introduced a bill which decided to break the treaty with Indians.
The aim was to develop the lands west of Missouri and Iowa into
states. The Bill went on to divide this land into 2 territories
namely - Nebraska (the northern part) and Kansas (southern region).
The Bill once again raised the question: whether slaves should be
taken in the new territories? Moreover, as the lands in question
lay with the Louisiana Purchase and north of 360 300
line, the entire region was closed to slavery. This was stated in
the Missouri Compromise (1820). To secure the votes of the
southern states, so as to pass the Bill in the Congress, Douglas
recommended that the new settlers and inhabitants should take a
decision on the question of slavery through a referendum. Under
pressure from the south, Douglas also agreed to add the clause that
made the Missouri Compromise "inoperative and void."
Though the Bill became law in May 1854, it caused
a furore in the country. As Henry Parkes puts it "The Kansas-Nebraska
Bill proved to be one of the most catastrophic political blunders
in American history." For the Bill only served to undo whatever
patch up the Compromise of 1850 had brought about between the north
and the south. The passage of Bill opened up old wounds and worsened
the sectional conflict in the country. Douglas, himself was mobbed
in his own state, Illinois by abolitionists so much so that his
words have gone on record. He had commented on public sentiment
thus: "I could have traveled from Chicago to Boston by the
light of my burning effigies."
When the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed in the
Congress, the debate on slavery shifted from the Congress hall to
the streets in Kansas. According to the Act, the people of Kansas,
through a referendum could decide if they wanted their state to
be a ’free’ state or not. (free meant free from slavery).
But the rivalry between the pro and anti-slavery groups in Kansas
was so strong that, in March 1855, the people voted a legislature,
which gave the pro-slavery a majority. The anti-slavery group or
free settlers on the border refused to recognize the legislature.
They elected a legislature of their own! So by late 1855, Kansas
had 2 rival governments. Militant groups from both sides got involved
in street battles. The situation became rather grave, when the pro-slavery
men raided the ’free state’ area. In return 7 followers of John
Brown - who was anti-slavery, caught hold of 5 supporters of
slavery and hacked them to death. These constant battles, raids
and counter raids led to further debates in the Congress. Heated
debates even turned violent.
This period of struggle and bitter bloody fights
in Kansas is called Bleeding Kansas. The incidents in Kansas
further polarized the country, which was already divided on the
issue of slavery.
The Republican Party
The immediate effect of the Kansas-Nebraska Act
was the rapid disintegration of old parties and the birth of the
Republican Party. This new party took in the northern Whigs under
its folds, along with several anti-slavery Democrats. It should
be noted that the new party did not revolve under any particular
leader. William Seward (New York), Salmon P. Chase (Ohio)
and Lyman Turnbull (Illinois) can be considered its Chief
Leaders. Though the party had varied opinions on several issues,
it was united against the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the extension
of slavery in the new territories.
The Republican Party was a sectional Party, which
represented the interests of the north. It succeeded in disguising
these sectional interests as national interests. The Party gathered
a lot of support in the country and seriously damaged the support
base of the Democrats.
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates
Abraham Lincoln, an attorney by profession, joined
the new Republican Party. Soon, he became the Republican leader
in Illinois. In 1858, he succeeded in securing a nomination to run
for Senate. When his nomination was accepted, he made the famous
speech in June 1858, where he declared: "I believe this
government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.
I do not expect the house to fall - but I do not expect it will
cease to be divided."
Lincoln then challenged Douglas to a series of
debates on the question of slavery. These debates were important
as they helped in bringing young Lincoln into the national political
arena. As Samuel Morison has aptly stated: "No recorded
debate in the English language has surpassed those between Lincoln
and Douglas for keen give and take, crisp sinewy language and clear
exposition of vital issues."
After the elections of 1858 went heavily against
the Democrats, Lincoln emerged as an articulate and popular leader
of the Republican Party.
The Emancipation Proclamation
During the course of the war, the Union President,
Lincoln proclaimed that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in the
rebel states were free. With this proclamation, the army began recruiting
black volunteers in the war to preserve and protect the Union.
The Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863)
This was a speech delivered by Lincoln at the dedication
ceremony, for a national cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The
main speaker at this ceremony, Edward Everett, gave a two
hour long oration. Lincoln’s remarks have become a classic statement
on slavery and the American Government. In the speech, he expressed
grief for the dead and stressed the need to maintain the principles
they have died to uphold. He ended the speech with the hope that
the "Government of the people, by the people and for the
people shall not perish from earth." This speech, known
as the Gettysburg address has had a deep impact on the Principles
of American Government.