In this module, you will learn about the precipitating events of the Civil War: The Compromise of 1850, the Kansas/Nebraska Act and "Bleeding Kansas," the Dred Scott decision, and John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia.
The acquisition of territory from Mexico created acute new dilemmas concerning the expansion of slavery, especially for the two major political parties, which had long tried to avoid the issue. The antislavery Free Soil party pushed the issue into the election of 1848. The application ofgold-rich California for admission to the Union forced the controversy into the Senate, which engaged in stormy debates over slavery and the Union.
After the death of President Taylor, who had blocked a settlement of the territorial slavery question, Congress resolved the crisis by passing the delicate Compromise of 1850. The compromise eased sectional tension for the moment, although the Fugitive Slave Law aroused opposition in the North.
As the Whig Party died, the Democratic administration of Franklin Pierce administration became the tool of pro slavery expansionists. Controversies over Nicaragua, Cuba, and the Gadsden Purchase showed that expansionism was closely linked to the slavery issue.
The desire for a northern railroad route led Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas to ram the Kansas-Nebraska Act through Congress in 1854. By repealing the Missouri Compromise and making new territory subject to popular sovereignty on slavery, this act aroused the fury of the North, sparked the rise of the Republican Party, and set the stage for the Civil War.
The 1850s were punctuated by successive confrontations that deepened sectional hostility. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin fanned northern antislavery sentiments. In Kansas, pro slavery and antislaveryforces fought a bloody small-scale preview of the coming war. President James Buchanan's support of the pro slavery Lecompton Constitution alienated moderate northern Democrats such as Douglas.
In Congress, in1856, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner stood in the Senate to denounce the Kansas-Nebraska Act. He lampooned its principle authors, Stephen A. Douglas and South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, calling the former "Don Quixote" and the later "Sancho Pancho." Sumner's literary allusion proved to be one of the least offensive portions of his speech, however. He called Douglas a "noisome, squat, and nameless animal" who had no business in the Senate, and declared that Butler had an erotic attachment to the institution of slavery, which Sumner called Butler's "mistress." But the coup de grâce of Sumner's billowing was the mockery he made of Andrew Butler's speech (slurred) and posture (askew), both of which were the result of a stroke Butler had suffered some time earlier. Northerners cheered Sumner's ungentlemanly behavior. Southerners were appalled. Several days later, Andrew Butler's nephew, Preston Brooks, himself a member of Congress, appeared in the Senate chamber, with Virginia congressman Laurence Keitt in tow. The pair strode to Sumner's desk, declared that he had insulted Brooks' uncle, the state of South Carolina, and the entire South. Sumner was denied the chance to respond. As Keitt held other senators at bay with his revolver, Brooks lashed his gutta-percha (a kind of natural plastic) cane across the Massachusetts senator's head, ripped his desk from the floor when he cowered under it to escape the beating, and left the senator so severally reduced that his recovery required extended stays in European sanitariums. Southerner's sent Brooks gutta-percha canes by the wagon load and the phrase "hit 'em again!" became popular across the South.
The 1856 election signaled the rise of the sectionally based RepublicanParty. The Dred Scott case delighted the South, while northern Republicans pledged defiance. The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 deepened the national controversy over slavery. John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry made him a heroic martyr in the North, a terrorist in the South, and led outraged southerners to fear a slave uprising.
In the 1860 presidential contest, the Democratic Party split along sectional lines, allowing Lincoln to win the four-way election. His election spurred the Seven southern states quickly seceded and organized the Confederate States of America.
As southerners optimistically cast off their ties to the hated North, lame-duck President Buchanan proved unable to act. The last-minute Crittenden Compromise effort failed because of Lincoln's opposition.
Upon the completion of this module, you will be able to:
- Point out the major terms of the Compromise of 1850, and indicate how this agreement attempted to defuse the sectional crisis over slavery.
- Explain why the Fugitive Slave Law included in the Compromise of 1850 stirred moral outrage and fueled antislavery agitation in the North.
- Describe the nature and purpose of Douglas's Kansas-Nebraska Act, and explain why it fiercely rekindled the slavery controversy that the Compromise of 1850 had been designed to settle.
- Explain how the Dred Scott decision and John Brown's Harpers Ferry raid deepened sectional antagonism.
- Analyze the election of 1860, including the split in the Democratic Party, the four-way campaign, the sharp sectional divisions, and Lincoln's northern-based minority victory.
- Describe the secession of seven southern states following Lincoln's victory, the formation of the Confederacy, and the failure of the last compromise effort.
Readings and Lectures
Before reading the materials below, review the Module Eleven Terms. As you progress through the material, take note of information which helps answer, identify, and explain those items.
Read the following in Kennedy, et al., The American Pageant, 14th ed.:
- Chapter Eighteen, "Renewing the Sectional Struggle, 1848-1854."
- Chapter Nineteen, "Drifting Toward Disunion, 1854-1861."
Watch the "Compromise of 1850 - Bleeding Kansas - Brooks-Sumner Affair" and "Slavery and the Constitution" [41:07] lectures below:
- Click here to view the "Compromise of 1850 - Bleeding Kansas - Brooks-Sumner Affair" [73:14] in a seperate tab.
- For a podcast version of "The Compromise of 1850 - Bleeding Kansas - Brooks-Sumner Affair," click here.
- Click here to view "Slavery and the Constitution" [41:07] in a seperate tab.
- For a podcast version of "Slavery and the Constitution," click here.
"The Compromise of 1850 - Bleeding Kansas - Brooks-Sumner Affair"
"Slavery and the Constitution"
Assessment (one)Complete the Module Eleven Terms Quiz by clicking on the Assessments link selecting Module Eleven Terms Quiz. (20 pts.)
Click here for a pre-formatted Word document upon which to complete your Module Eleven assignments. Complete all assignments using a single Microsoft Word, or a compatible word processor, file with Times New Roman, 12-point font. Save the file to your computer as "yourname_m11." Once you have completed your assignments, submit it for grading by accessing the Assignments tab in the Course Tools menu, selecting Module Eleven Assignment, attaching your Word document, and clicking the Submit button.
- The case of Dred Scott v. John F. A. Sandford 60 U.S. 393. Read the articles linked in section "a." Once you have read the articles, respond to the questions in section "b."
This rubric will be used to score your response question assignments. (20 pts.)
- How did this case help "hasten the arrival of the American Civil War"?
- On what basis did Scott claim that he should be considered "free"?
- Why had such a suit for freedom worked fourteen years earlier but failed in 1850? (What was different about this case, as opposed to the one fourteen years earlier?)
- On what basis was this case heard in federal court? (What was the legal reason for this case being heard in federal court?)
- Why did most leading politicians believe that the case properly belonged before the Supreme Court?
- How did the anti-slavery dissents in this case work to force a more pro-slavery majority opinion? (What happened to allow Taney to craft a very pro-slavery decision?)
- Despite all the retinue that surrounds the case, the decision, itself, answered only one legal question – did the Supreme Court have jurisdiction in this case. They found that they did not have jurisdiction. How so? (What was the reasoning behind their decision that this case should not be heard before the Supreme Court?)
- Why, according to Taney, was the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional? (What was his legal reasoning for ruling that the Missouri Compromise was illegal?)
- Why did Republicans have an advantage in the court of public opinion during the weeks that followed Taney's decision?
Once you have completed the assignment for Module Eleven, submit it as one, single Word file by accessing the Assignments tab in the Course Tools menu and selecting Module Eleven Assignment, attaching your Word document, and clicking the Submit button.
When you have completed the work in Module Eleven, proceed to Module Twelve.