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PinkMonkey Study Guide - American History

Exhibit 5.3

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 be enacted.

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 tension.

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 state.

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 slaves.

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."

Bleeding Kansas

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.

[Next Page]

Table of Contents

5.0 - Chronology of Major Events in this Period
5.1 - Sectionalism
5.2 - The Anti-Slavery movement
5.3 - A brief account of the Domestic scene on the eve of the civilwar
5.4 - Events Leading to the Civil War
5.5 - The Course of the war
5.6 - Points to Remeber

Chapter 6


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