United States History I & II
United States History I & II

United States History I & II

Lead Author(s): Sara Eskridge

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Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Roark, Johnson, Furstenberg, Stage, and Igo, The American Promise, 2 Volumes, 8th Edition


Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Visions of America, 2013


Average price of textbook across most common format

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device


Hardcover print text only


Per volume


Digital only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Constantly revised and updated by a community of professors with the latest content

In-Book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost


Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform


Average price of textbook across most common format

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Hardcover print text only


Roark, Johnson, Furstenberg, Stage, and Igo, The American Promise, 2 Volumes, 8th Edition


Per volume


Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Visions of America, 2013


Digital only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Content meets standard for Introduction to Anatomy & Physiology course, and is updated with the latest content

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

In-book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition


Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

About this textbook

Lead Authors

Sara Eskridge, Ph.DRandolph-Macon College, VA

Dr. Eskridge is a Professor of History at Western Governors University. She specializes in Civil Rights, Cold War, Southern, and Cultural History. She is the author of Rube Tube: CBS as Rural Comedy in the Sixties (University of Missouri Press, 2019) as well as several articles and book chapters on southern mediated images during the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War.

Contributing Authors

Andrew WegmannLoyola University

Michael CarverCalifornia Polytechnic State University

Michael FrawleyUniversity of Texas of the Permian Basin

Linda ClemmonsIllinois State University

Angela HessCameron University

Sam NelsonRidgewater College

Volker JanssenCalifornia State University

Lance JandaCameron University

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Read the fully unlocked textbook below, and if you’re interested in learning more, get in touch to see how you can use this textbook in your course today.

Chapter 14: Unravelling the Union

Pre-Chapter Discussion - Level 2

What do you know about the causes of the American Civil War? Before reading the rest of this chapter, write down your own impressions about how and why the war began. At the end of the chapter, refer back to this. Did your ideas change?

Chapter Overview

Figure 14.1: Slavery was the only real issue in politics in the 1850s, it drove all other discussion, and no other issue could be separated from it. [1]​​

From a modern perspective, the Civil War may appear to have been inevitable. Slavery remained a stain on the nation, and it seems clear that the election of Abraham Lincoln would start the conflict that ultimately eliminated the institution from American soil (Figure 14.1). In the 1850s, however, no one saw the horrific war that lay just over the horizon. War came despite numerous opportunities to avoid it, and the actions of those who worked to prevent it. Each section of the nation had a distinct view on how the country should function, particularly in relation to slavery. As Southerners saw it, the Constitution protected slavery, and abolitionists were responsible for all problems between the sections. Northerners, meanwhile, saw slavery as unnatural and aggressive. Slavery had to expand to survive as a viable institution, and Northerners believed that planters were conspiring to distort national policy and the Constitution to preserve slavery and their own power. Northerners called this the Slave Power Conspiracy and were convinced that it would tear the nation asunder. Both sides firmly believed their version of events, and many people were willing to fight if necessary to defend their way of life. The 1850s was a decade of crises. The United States seemingly lurched from one crisis to another, each one making reconciliation more difficult. No single event caused the war to begin, but taken altogether, it seems as if it could not have been avoided. 

Chapter Objectives

  • Understand the role that California played in precipitating a sectional crisis in the United States and evaluate the compromise solution
  • Explain the Free Soil movement, review their arguments, and explain how they fit in with the larger abolitionist movement
  • Summarize the major political crises of the 1850s and how these events created increasing sectional tension
  • Explain the reasons for southern secession, highlighting the role of the 1860 election

California Opens the Door

Figure 14.2: A Sketch of Sacramento City in late 1849, showing the development of California as it applied to become a state.​ [2]

After becoming part of the United States at the end of the Mexican War, California literally became a land of golden opportunity for Americans, as well as a source of conflict for the nation. When the Gold Rush broke out in 1849, settlers flocked to the territory (Figure 14.2). Once there, they discovered the wonderful climate and many stayed on to build lives. California could easily have been a slave state, as cotton grows well there, and California is now the largest cotton producer in the nation. However, the government of the territory wrote a Free State constitution to bring the state into the Union. 

California as a free state caused an imbalance in the Senate, as the free states suddenly outnumbered the slave states. This had happened before in American history, in 1820, when leaders forged a compromise to hold the nation together. But as there was no slave state ready for admission, Southerners saw their position in the Union slipping away from them. They could no longer control the Senate and use it as a block on the House of Representatives, which already had more free-state Congressmen because the northern states had much larger populations. Moreover, other problems existed in the United States, many of them over the issue of slavery. Thus, discussion of the California issue gave Congressmen the chance to vent their anger as well as allowing other problems to emerge, such as fugitive slaves, the slave trade, status of territories, and other points of contention. Compromise was the foundation of the nation, though, and many leaders thought that it would be possible to reach a compromise over these problems again even though both sides were heavily entrenched in their points of view. While legislators cobbled together a semblance of an agreement called the Compromise of 1850, that legislation merely led to a 10 year armed truce. The problems did not go away, and they simply festered until they again erupted into public view.

Question 14.01

14.01 - Level 2

Why did so many people stream into California after the United States took it from Mexico?

Click here to see the answer to Question 14.01.

Question 14.02

14.02 - Level 3

Why did Southerners want an equal number of free and slave states? In which body of the federal government would this affect their position most?

Click here to see the answer to Question 14.02.

The Free Soil Movement

Figure 14.3: Free Soil Party banner [3]​

Out of all of the tension over slavery grew a new political movement: the Free Soil Party. The Free Soil movement was not an abolition movement. As a movement, it never called for the complete end of slavery in the United States, even though some members did support the idea. The goal of the Free-Soilers was to keep slavery out of the territories, thus allowing free labor to dominate these areas (Figure 14.3). Free Soil supporters claimed that slave and free labor could not co-exist because slavery degraded everything with which it came into contact. This philosophy was a direct challenge to the South, as Southerners believed that the Constitution protected their property, and that they should be able to take their slaves to any land controlled and administered by the federal government. 

Many Northerners believed that keeping slaves out of the territories was the only way to fight slavery because the federal government did not have the power to force individual states to give up the “peculiar institution.” Many future Republicans would hold this belief right up to the outbreak of the Civil War. Thus, the fight over slavery moved to the territories, with disastrous and violent consequences. Although the government could not end slavery in the South, it could potentially prevent the institution from expanding. It was commonly believed by most in the North that slavery needed to expand in order to survive. 

Theoretically, if there were no new slave states, the slave population would become so large that not enough work could be found for them all, and it would be too expensive to keep them. Slave owners would then be forced to find a way to end slavery on their own. There was no real proof to support this point of view, but anti-slavery forces repeated it so often, and northern newspapers published it so frequently, that Northerners believed and acted upon this idea. This movement, while never large, was an extreme threat to the South. Southerners believed that if they could not move their property to the territories, they would become second class citizens; additionally, many feared that the government would take their property from them. Moreover, keeping slavery out of the territories meant the creation of more free states, meaning that eventually, the free states would overtake the slave states and unite to end slavery. This was the slippery slope that John C. Calhoun had warned against before his death, and Southerners had to resist it vigorously if the Southern way of life was going to survive. 

The fight over slavery became the major theme of the 1850s, and almost every major political issue of the decade touched on slavery in the territories. The Free Soil Party put forward Martin Van Buren as its first candidate for president during the 1848 election. He only carried 10% of the popular vote and received no Electoral College votes. While his performance in that contest was not strong, his presence in the race gave a hint of what was to come in American politics. Moreover, the party did send some men to Congress—two Senators and fourteen Representatives—thus giving the Free Soilers an important voice. The issue of slavery was never again going to fade into the background.

Question 14.03

14.03 - Level 3

Why did many northerners believe that stopping the expansion of slavery into the territories would ultimately result in the demise of the institution?

Click here to see the answer to Question 14.03.

14.04 - Level 1

Free Soil supporters wanted to keep slavery out of what part of the nation?

14.05 - Level 1

The Free Soil Party ran its first candidate for president in what election?

Question 14.06

14.06 - Level 4

Why did many northerners think that the only way to combat slavery was to limit its ability to expand? Why did that line of thought become much more widespread than more immediate or proactive approaches like abolitionism?

Click here to see the answer to Question 14.06.

Question 14.07

14.07 - Level 3

Explain why many southerners thought they should be able to take slaves into any territory or state.

Click here to see the answer to 14.07.

14.08 - Level 1

How many legislators did the Free Soil Party send to Congress in the 1848 elections?

The Election of 1852

Figure 13.4: Franklin Pierce circa 1850 [4]​

When the election of 1852 began, both major parties were looking for new candidates. After losing in 1848, the Democrats needed someone to appeal to both the North and the South. They turned to Franklin Pierce, a New England Democrat. Pierce had served in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and was also a general in the Mexican War (Figure 14.4). Pierce modeled himself on Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun, both of whom were wealthy slave owners. Pierce, like his heroes, believed in a strong presidency and the preservation and defense of slavery. Thus, while a northern man, he was a safe bet for the Southern wing of the party to support, giving him broad, national appeal. Pierce was an ideal compromise candidate, but he still did not gain the nomination until the 49th ballot at the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore. 

Figure 14.5: General Winfield Scott, Whig Presidential Candidate, as seen during the Mexican-American War. [5]​

With Zachary Taylor dead and Millard Fillmore an uninspiring choice, the Whigs needed a new candidate, so they followed the old pattern of nominating a successful and popular general. Thus Winfield Scott, the general of Mexican War fame, became the Whig nominee (Figure 14.5). Scott desperately wanted to be president and was still upset that he had been passed over for the nomination in 1848. Unfortunately, Scott had not aged well and his genius on the battlefield did not transfer over to the political arena. He had become a very large man; he ate a lot, had gout, was not a popular figure, and furthermore, he was not a great politician. He made an almost comical figure as he needed help getting on and off of his horse, something that newspapers of the opposition used against him in the campaign. He also did not have a way with people, and when the election took place, Pierce crushed him. 

14.09 - Level 1

Before 1852, all successful Whig presidential candidates came from what profession?

Figure 14.6: Results of the Election of 1852

Scott, while winning 44% of the popular vote, only won four states and 42 electoral votes. The Free Soilers ran a candidate in this election, John P. Hale, who would prove to be their last. He did win 10% of the popular vote again, showing that Free Soil ideology had some staying power. However, a New England Jacksonian Democrat was now president. And as Pierce’s policies would prove, he was a Southerner to the core in his sympathies and ideas. However, as his election and domination of the Electoral College demonstrated, the American people were still relatively united as late as 1852, despite growing sectional tension (Figure 14.6). 

14.10 - Level 2

In which regions of the country did the Whig Party enjoy the most support in the early 1850s?


New England and Appalachia


The Deep South and California


The Midwest and the Gulf Coast



Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Figure 14.7: Title page of the 1852 edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe [6]

In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom's Cabin, a book that became a phenomenon (Figure 14.7). This book is the second best-selling book in American history, behind only the Bible. In short, the book dealt with the lives of slaves on a plantation in Louisiana. Stowe wrote based on her understanding of slavery and its evils. When she was young, Stowe saw a major race riot in Cincinnati in which an abolitionist newspaper editor was murdered and his press thrown in the river for printing anti-slavery information. This shocked her and influenced her later writings, which came in response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. 

The title character, Uncle Tom, was a slave who suffered a great deal while trying to stick to his Christian ideals. The main antagonist, Simon Legree, was evil personified—a New Englander who had done something awful at home and moved to Louisiana to live an immoral life, which included the abuse of slaves. The book caused a visceral reaction in its readers. Southerners burned the book, while Northerners took it as gospel. For many Northerners, this was the only account of plantation life they saw, and it shaped their view of the South as well as how they reacted to future problems between the regions. Meanwhile, just owning a copy of this book in the South could invite mob action, an event that took place on more than one occasion. For example, a mob forced a book seller in Mobile, Alabama out of town for stocking the book in his store. Based on the popularity of the book, Southerners began to believe that all Northerners were abolitionists, and both sections of the nation had increasing trouble relating to the other. 

14.11 - Level 2

Mark on this map where the majority of the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin takes place.

Question 14.12

14.12 - Level 3

How did Uncle Tom’s Cabin become so popular? What technique did Harriet Beecher Stowe use to make northern readers sympathize with the enslaved characters?

 Click here to see the answer to 14.12.

The Fugitive Slave Act In Action 

Figure 14.8: Anthony Burns, drawn by Barry from a daguerreotype by Whipple and Black. [7]

As part of the Compromise of 1850, Southerners received a new, stronger fugitive slave law. Under this law, the federal government had to assist in the return of fugitive slaves. The law went so far as to require locals to assist in the return of any slave captured in their area. In 1854, the nation saw the Fugitive Slave Act in action in the form of the Anthony Burns case. Burns hid on a ship from Virginia to Boston to escape slavery on the Underground Railroad. Those who were helping Burns planned to eventually get him into Canada. Slave catchers, paid with United States Treasury funds, caught Burns in Boston. The court ruled that Burns was a fugitive and thus had to be returned to his owner. 

The city of Boston erupted in indignation, not only over Burns, but also over the law that forced Bostonians to help return him to captivity and bondage. People opposed to the law gathered in a large mob while Burns spent the night in jail. Burns had to be taken to the harbor in order to board the ship back to Virginia, but the authorities would have to navigate a mob of 10,000 angry citizens to complete this. Black cloth draped every window along the route Burns took to the ship. Police and the military had to line the route in order to keep them back. In the end, it took the entire Boston police force and a thousand Marines at a cost of one million dollars to return a single man to slavery (Figure 14.8). If this was what it took to return every escaped slave to the South, the fugitive slave law would become impossible to enforce. Southerners were furious over the North’s refusal to follow the law. Northerners had agreed to the Compromise of 1850, which was a federal law, and they now thumbed their noses at federal authority. How could the nation exist, Southerners wondered, when half of the people in that nation refused to follow the law of the land? 

14.13 - Level 1

Who was responsible for assisting an escaped slave to be returned to his owners under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850?

Question 14.14

14.14 - Level 3

Explain why northerners—and Bostonians in particular—were outraged at the Anthony Burns case. Why did they object to the Fugitive Slave Law?

Click here to see the answer to Question 14.14.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act

In 1854, the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act proved to be the next major crisis and ultimately one of the most important of the period. This act repealed the Missouri Compromise, passing through Congress due to the efforts of Stephen Douglas and David Atchison. Douglas, a senator from Illinois, wanted a transcontinental railroad built with the eastern end terminating in Chicago, as he had extensive land interests along the proposed route. Douglas was a nationalist, and he felt that the nation needed a railroad to tie it together. However, there were numerous routes that this railroad could take. There was no money in the Federal budget to support a transcontinental railroad in 1854. Even if some money existed, there would only be enough to build one line. Thus, if anyone wanted a railroad built, they would need to find investors. Additionally, the territory that the railroad would have to pass through from Chicago was uncertain because of slavery issues. 

Douglas needed to obtain the support of others to get his route approved. Atchison was a senator from Missouri. He had promised his constituents that they could take their slaves across the border into the Kansas territory, but the Compromise of 1820 had made this territory free soil, outlawing slavery. Kansas’s slave situation needed to be settled, and this brought Douglas and Atchison together. Douglas would not be able to pass a bill to organize the Kansas territory without southern support. Atchison came to Douglas with a proposal. Douglas could get southern support for his territorial organization bill if he also repealed the Missouri Compromise. This would allow Atchison to keep his promise to his constituents, opening more land to settlement by slave owners. Douglas agreed to Atchison’s request by opening Kansas to popular sovereignty, which allowed the local population to vote on the status of slavery in a territory, something that had served him well in 1850. 

Question 14.15

14.15 - Level 3

Why was the status of Kansas so controversial across the nation? What previous agreements and/or compromises did it challenge?

Click here to see the answer to Question 14.15.

Douglas’s first attempt to organize the Kansas territory in 1853 did not specifically call for the repeal of Missouri Compromise, but allowed for the spread of slavery in Kansas by putting forward the idea of popular sovereignty. He wanted to allow the people of the territory to decide on the slave status of where they lived—a very democratic idea in his eyes. However, Americans, especially those in the North, understood that this bill would throw the Missouri Compromise out the window. Douglas did not realize how important the Missouri Compromise had become to Northerners. To the North, this compromise had become quasi-constitutional, and overturning it meant that slavery could never be contained. Douglas did not see the problem with opening Kansas to the potential of slavery. Slavery could not take root in Kansas as far as Douglas was concerned. The state was not suited to the kind of agriculture that would support slavery (specifically, the cotton plantation-based economy of the South). Northerners noted that there was nothing stopping slave labor’s use in wheat and corn production or even industry, all of which could exist in Kansas, and anywhere in the nation. Northerners, even in Douglas’s home state of Illinois, were enraged. His own Democratic supporters burned him in effigy in Chicago because he had become so unpopular. 

14.16 - Level 1

In what year did popular sovereignty first pass into law at any level of government?

14.17 -Level 1

The Kansas-Nebraska Act served as a compromise over which two issues?


Slavery and migration


Slavery and Infrastructure


Tariffs and Immigration


Slavery and Taxes

Bleeding Kansas

The problems of slavery then shifted to the frontier, from the halls of Congress to the Great Plains. Popular sovereignty quickly proved to be an untenable solution in Kansas. Settlers, both slave owners and free labor supporters, quickly entered the territory. Many of these settlers came simply to settle in new lands and create new lives for themselves and their families. Politics and slavery made this very difficult and dangerous. Missouri slave owners then complicated the matter by crossing the border to vote in local elections, attempting to ensure that Kansas would become slave territory. This practice, known later as squatter sovereignty, became a major political problem both for Douglas and the nation. 

Northerners rushed settlers of their own to preserve the territory for free labor, and they also sent money and supplies, including firearms. Raids on free and slave settlements began as each side tried to intimidate the other into leaving. The first blood of the Civil War, initiating fighting between North and South, was shed in Kansas, and this violence would continue for a long time. It got so bad in the territory that free state settlers created a free state constitution for Kansas in 1855, while slave state settlers created their own constitution at the territorial capital of Lecompton in 1857. The people of the territory voted on both constitutions. Free state settlers boycotted the vote on the slave state constitution, and slave state settlers boycotted the vote on the free state constitution. This fight over the constitution spilled over into Congress and would later help tear apart the Democratic Party.

14.18 - Level 1

What was the name given to popular sovereignty when it was challenged and undercut in Kansas?

Birth of the Republican Party

In the aftermath of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the outbreak of violence in the Kansas Territory, many people were disillusioned with the political party system of the time. Many felt that slave owners dominated both the Whig Party and the Democratic Party. Voters wanted a way out from the control of the “Slave Power Conspiracy.” Moreover, the American party system seemed to be broken if one section of the nation could use it to manipulate politics for their own ends. Members of both parties felt that their own issues were being neglected in favor of securing slavery. Thus, issues like the protective tariff, which many Northerners supported as it helped to build up industry in their region, received no support from southern slave owners. Southerners were concerned that a high tariff would negatively impact their economic status, as they had to pay more for the manufactured goods they needed. It was therefore very difficult to keep any form of national party together as a cohesive whole. While the Free Soil movement may have been an option, its platform was too restrictive to generate mass appeal. Thus, a new party formed with an anti-slavery base: the Republican Party.

The party began by gathering up many of the disgruntled elements of other parties, and there were plenty to choose from in the mid-1850s. This was an almost exclusively northern group, including Democrats who were losing ground in the North because of the perceived power of the southern branch, conscious Whigs who could no longer ignore the issue of slavery, Free Soilers hoping to push their agenda to a larger audience, northern manufacturers who felt that southern resistance to protective tariffs hurt them and the nation, and even anti-immigrant groups who hoped to be able to push their agenda as part of a larger organization. From the beginning, the Republican Party tried to cast a rather large net to make themselves a viable political organization. The first meeting to use the term “Republican” for this new party took place in March of 1854 in Wisconsin, and the first official party convention took place in Michigan in July 1854. The party put forward its first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont of western exploration fame, for the 1856 election. 

14.19 - Level 1

What year did the Republican Party first run a candidate for president?









Figure 14.9: Early political cartoon attacking the Republican Party that also shows the wide appeal of the party in the North. [8]

14.20 - Level 4

From right to left, identify who is being parodied in the political cartoon above.


Catholic Priest


Free-love advocate









Most, if not all, Republicans were against slavery in some way. Some of them considered themselves abolitionists (Figure 14.9). There were three types of abolitionists, each with their own goals: gradualists, immediatists, and separatists. Gradualists wanted to see an end to slavery sometime in the indeterminate future, although not immediately, because they believed that slaves were unready to become part of society and needed to be eased into freedom. For some, this meant perhaps freeing the children of slaves at the age of 18 so that they would have a chance to learn a skill while still working for their masters. This was the process by which many northern states had ended slavery. Some abolitionists, known as immediatists, wanted slavery ended immediately. They felt that African Americans were more than capable of being part of American society and that slavery was such an abomination that the country needed to be rid of its stain without further delay. 

It is important to note that while immediatists were the smallest in number, they were the most vocal, and many Southerners believed that all Northerners fell into this category. Finally, some people wanted to free the slaves and re-settle them overseas. These separatists, including Abraham Lincoln for a time, could not see a way for the different races to live peacefully and happily together. Thus, the only reasonable solution was to return them to their homes in Africa. This was almost hopelessly delusional. The importation of slaves from Africa had become illegal in the United States in 1808. Thus, almost all slaves had been born in the States and many had lived there for generations. They were as much a part of America as anyone else living in the country. They had no African “home” to return to—most had no idea what part of Africa their ancestors were from. Some re-colonization did take place, supported by various American colonization societies. Most famously, the colony of Liberia was created as a home for re-settled slaves. The Republican Party was a hodgepodge of different viewpoints. What they all had in common was a hatred of southern domination of American politics and the power that slave holders ostensibly held over the republic. 

14.21 - Level 1

Name one of the three types of abolitionists active in the 1850s.

14.22 - Level 2

Which type of abolitionism would inspire the creation of the nation of Liberia?









Sumner and the Crime Against Kansas

​Figure 14.10: A depiction of Preston Brooks’s attack on Charles Sumner in 1856 [9]

In 1856, an event that truly showed how far the North and South had diverged took place on the floor of Congress. Senator Charles Sumner was a very abrasive man with strong opinions on many subjects, especially slavery. Sumner was a Free Soil party member from Massachusetts, and he would go on to later join the Republican Party. In the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the violence in Kansas, he gave a speech denouncing the events there. Sumner’s speech was entitled “Crime against Kansas.” 

Spotlight on Primary Source

On May 19th and 20th 1856, Charles Sumner gave a scorching speech attacking the South and the institution of slavery. Sumner attacked the institution of slavery itself and made personal attacks on slave-owners, especially a Senator from South Carolina. Sumner would be attacked on the floor of Congress for his speech and this act intensified the growing tensions between North and South leading up to the Civil War.

Charles Sumner’s Speech “The Crime Against Kansas” 

Question 14.23

14.23 - Level 4

After reading Sumner's speech, why do you think southerners found this attack on one of their own so detestable, especially with the imagery that Sumner used?

Click here to see the answer to Question 14.23.

Sumner’s speech was perhaps one of the most important speeches given about slavery in the halls of Congress. It set off tremendous violence against Sumner and forced the country to truly take sides in the debate over the institution, which had not yet happened. Moreover, from this point forward, any debate over slavery would be extremely contentious, as violence had become enmeshed in the debate.

Sumner filled the speech with dramatic imagery and made a personal attack on Andrew Butler, a well-liked senator from South Carolina. Butler was a very rich slave owner who supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act specifically as well as slavery as a whole, and he had a physical disability that prevented him from closing his mouth all the way, and he therefore drooled constantly. Sumner made fun of his disability and denounced the evils of slavery, claiming that it infected all of American society. Sumner said that Butler had taken up with the harlot slavery, and God had inflicted him with a disability because of that. Although Butler was not there for the speech, his cousin Preston Brooks, a member of the House of Representatives from South Carolina, heard the insults. Stephen Douglas had also heard Sumner speak and predicted that Sumner’s abrasive approach to politics would eventually bring others to commit violence against him, a prediction that soon came true.

Later in the day, Sumner was working at his desk in the Senate, as was common at that time, busily answering letters to constituents and supporters back home. A few others were present and some ladies were in the gallery above the chamber taking a tour. Sumner ignored them all as he scribbled away at his huge and heavy desk, which was spiked to the floor to hold it in place. Preston Brooks had resolved to himself to avenge the honor of his kinsman Butler, as honor was very important to most Southerners. He carried with him a heavy cane with a large brass ball at the end. Brooks waited for the women to leave the gallery, then walked up to Senator Sumner and hit him with the cane over and over. He hit Sumner so hard and so often that he broke his cane in half (Figure 14.10). Sumner could not get up from his nailed down desk, and Brooks continued to beat him with the brass ball until Sumner finally ripped the desk out of the floor and collapsed. Friends rushed Brooks from the room before the authorities arrived. The violence of Kansas had come home to roost.

Question 14.24

14.24 - Level 2

Why did Preston Brooks feel the need to attack Charles Sumner?

Click here to see the answer to Question 14.24.

Congress censured Brooks for his violence in the Senate chamber. Instead of accepting his censure, he resigned and returned home to South Carolina. He was immediately re-elected to his congressional seat. People from all over the South who supported his actions sent him replacement canes, some engraved with statements such as “Good job” and “Hit him again.” Sumner was forced to return home to recuperate and was absent from the Senate for a long period of time. He made tours of Europe during this time, talking about the problems of slavery in the United States. The brutal attack traumatized Sumner; any loud noise startled him for the rest of his life. However, he became a hero at home and abroad for standing up to the Slave Power and showing the world how “evil” southern slave owners were. The state of Massachusetts kept his Senate seat open in his honor, and whenever an abolitionist wanted to make a point in Congress about the evils of slavery, he simply stood by Sumner’s empty desk. Thus, Sumner served as a very effective martyr for the anti-slavery cause.

Beecher’s Bibles, John Brown, and more Bleeding in Kansas

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s brother, Henry Ward Beecher, was a New England-born abolitionist minister. To support the Free State settlers in Kansas, he shipped a large number of crates marked “Bibles” to the region. While in transport, one of the crates accidentally broke open, revealing rifles instead of books. This deception led to the nickname “Beecher Bibles” for rifles in Kansas. The violence was starting to spiral out of control.

In May 1856, the Free State town of Lawrence was “sacked” by pro-slavery men. They took over the town, intimidated the population, and burned two anti-slavery printing presses as well as the Free State Hotel in the middle of town. As much of the population had fled, they proceeded to loot the town. The only death was a pro-slavery man killed by falling debris. This “sacking” became a major national headline. Southerners applauded the defense of slavery and called the attackers heroes, but this attack on peaceful settlers incensed Northerners. Many across the North spoke of the importance of fighting this evil. One man, though, had heard the call much earlier, and he now planned on acting.

14.25 - Level 1

When sending guns to Kansas, what did Henry Ward Beecher mark the shipping crates?

Figure 14.11: John Brown [10]​

John Brown had a very harsh childhood. Beaten by his father, he developed into a very stern man, and he was committed to ending slavery at any cost. After hearing reports of the violence against Free State settlers in Kansas, Brown took one of his sons, collected money from supporters, and headed to the Kansas Territory (Figure 14.11). While many shrank away from Brown’s violent rhetoric, he found enough supporters to fund what he felt was his duty in Kansas. After the “sacking” of Lawrence, seeing the weak response of the anti-slavery forces, Brown saw a need for dramatic action. He carried out a horrific attack on pro-slavery settlers and a small settlement at Pottawatomie Creek. While none of these families actually owned slaves, they did support slavery, and that was enough for Brown. Brown’s men took five slave owners from their homes and used broadswords to murder the men in front of their families. The fighting continued in Kansas and Brown was at the center of much of it, fighting off pro-slavery forces at Palmyra and losing one of his sons in fighting near Osawatomie. After the attack, Brown left Kansas to dredge up support for an even greater attack on slavery and slave owners. He hoped this large-scale attack would ignite the nation enough to guarantee that slavery would be wiped from the nation, even if it required a tidal wave of blood.  

14.26 - Level 1

Where did John Brown lose one of his sons?









Election of 1856

Figure 14.12: Election of 1856 map

It was in this atmosphere of fear, hate, and violence that the election of 1856 took place. The nation had polarized, with each section using words like freedom and democracy to represent different meanings. Each section of the country was slowly morphing into an armed camp and, like in Kansas, violence was apt to break out. The Republicans nominated General John C. Fremont as their candidate. A famous and likable man with a very ambitious wife who pushed him to run, Fremont was a candidate of the old Whig mode. While he was anti-slavery, he was also a dashing war hero, something the American electorate had taken to before. Stephen Douglas also wanted to be president and hoped to gain nomination as the Democratic candidate, but the violent reaction to the Kansas-Nebraska Act had doomed him in 1856. There was no way the Democrats could put him forward as a candidate. Instead, he helped push James Buchanan, a Pennsylvanian, as the next candidate. Buchanan had the good fortune to be one of the few Democrats not tainted by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. When it was debated and passed, and in its violent aftermath, Buchanan had been serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. In this election, their first as a party, the Republicans carried the entire northern tier of states. The Democrats, with the middle states and the southern states, won the election for Buchanan over Fremont. The Republicans, however, were not far from winning a national election. With a few middle states, such as Pennsylvania, they could win the presidency without receiving a single vote in the South (Figure 14.12). Leaders in both the North and the South took notice. 

Question 14.27

14.27 - Level 3

Stephen Douglas was the most well-known political figure in the country in 1856. Why, then, did he fail to win the presidency?

Click here to see the answer to Question 14.27.

Dred Scott

Figure 14.13: Dred Scott, wood engraving in 'Century Magazine', 1887 [11]

After winning the 1856 presidential election, president-elect Buchanan travelled to Washington D.C. for his inauguration. Presiding over the inauguration and giving Buchanan the oath of office was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney. Buchanan knew that a very important case was before the court, which could perhaps settle the issue of slavery and keep Buchanan from having to make any decisions about the institution, thus potentially keeping the nation together. Before the inauguration, Buchanan asked Taney to settle the issue once and for all and Taney told him not to worry, declaring that the decision would be definitive. The two men were discussing the Dred Scott v. Sandford case.

Dred Scott was a slave (Figure 14.13). His owner, an army officer, moved him from a slave to a free state. With support from abolitionists, he sued for his freedom, arguing that the minute he touched the soil of a free state, he was free. This case quickly moved through the federal courts and eventually reached the Supreme Court, headed by Taney. Andrew Jackson had appointed Taney to the court. He was a Southerner and at this point, he was a very old man. Instead of simply ruling on the issues of the case, Taney decided to step into the political arena and issue a decision far more sweeping than anyone expected. Firstly, he ruled that Scott was still a slave. According to Taney, African Americans were not citizens and could not become citizens, so Scott had no standing before the court to even bring a suit. He went further and affirmed the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, striking down personal liberty laws that allowed Northerners to refuse participation. Owners could now take their slaves anywhere in the Union because they were property protected by the Constitution—specifically, the 5th Amendment. Thus, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Compromise of 1850, and the Missouri Compromise were all unconstitutional. As far as the nation was concerned, this showed the might of slave power in action. Northerners believed that slave owners controlled the entire government and had perverted the Democratic Party into their instrument of their control. This was the crowning proof for Northerners that the South controlled all three branches of the federal government.

14.28 - Level 1

While the Dred Scott decision upheld—and indeed protected—Scott's enslavement, what northern laws did it rule unconstitutional?

Question 14.29

14.29 - Level 4

Why was the Dred Scott case so controversial? Why did Chief Justice Taney think he had just settled the slavery issue once and for all?

Click here to see the answer to Question 14.29

Lincoln-Douglas Debates – A House Divided

Figure 14.14: Ambrotype of Abraham Lincoln taken in 1858 by Abraham Byers. [12]

In the aftermath of the election and the Dred Scott decision, the nation divided further. The Democrats were the only party that even made a pretense of being a national organization, and in the North it was hard even to do this. By 1858, the debate over slavery had become very public and spilled over into an important electoral contest: Abraham Lincoln versus Stephen Douglas for a Senate seat from the state of Illinois. While Lincoln and the Republican Party knew that Lincoln had no chance of winning, a good showing could vault Lincoln into the national spotlight while also weakening Douglas as a national candidate, which was especially important with the election of 1860 on the horizon (Figure 14.14). Lincoln and Douglas therefore held a series of debates across the state to stake out their positions on the issues, focusing on slavery in particular.

Douglas claimed horrible things about Lincoln because Lincoln supported ending slavery. For example, he claimed that Lincoln wanted slaves freed so that he could have a black woman as his mistress. Lincoln responded that just because he wanted someone to not be a slave did not mean he wanted to sleep with her; he could just leave her alone. Lincoln took the discussion to a slightly higher level, delivering one of his most famous orations, the “House Divided” Speech. 

Spotlight on Primary Source

Lincoln’s “House Divided” Speech, given during his campaign for Senate against Stephen Douglas, is one of the most famous speeches in American history. Lincoln stated unequivocally that the nation could no longer go along as it had in the past. The country could not be half free and half slave and still function as a nation. If it continued to do so, it would collapse. This speech not only attacked slavery, but also made Lincoln a national figure, spawned speaking engagements around the nation, and helped pave his way into the White House, where he worked to make the nation free.

Harpers Ferry

All of the hopes and fears of the Nation came to a head in October 1859. It was on that date at Harpers Ferry, a little crossroads town in western Virginia, that John Brown and his followers reappeared to try and bring about his vision of ending slavery. Brown planned to ignite a bloody slave revolt in Virginia, which he hoped would sweep the entire South. Slaves would hopefully rise up and slaughter their masters to take back their freedom themselves. This was the greatest fear of many Southerners. Brown, however, could not have picked a worse place to try to bring his plan to fruition. While Harpers Ferry was in a slave state, it was in the western part, a mountainous section of the state that contained few slaves and would soon break away to become the free state of West Virginia. It did have a federal arsenal that could be captured and used to arm slaves who flocked to Brown’s banner, but there simply were not enough in the area.

The Secret Six, a group of northern abolitionists who believed that slavery would never end in the nation without violence, funded Brown. The group included Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Samuel Gridley Howe, Theodore Parker, Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, Gerrit Smith, and George Luther Stearns. These men were not prepared to be the cause of that violence. However, as they worked with Brown, they discovered that he was really the one in charge. Brown tried to get Frederick Douglass to support his plan in a meeting in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, but Douglass knew the plot was a suicide mission, and felt that attacking the federal government would turn the entire nation against the abolitionist cause, and therefore declined. 

Figure 14.15: Harper's Weekly Illustration of U.S. Marines attacking the firehouse which John Brown used as a fort during his raid on Harper's Ferry. [13]

Brown’s plan to seize the arsenal, raise up a slave army, march south, and liberate more slaves went wrong from the beginning. Brown’s men did not cut the telegraph lines in time, so Washington D.C. got notification of his actions and reacted quickly. Meanwhile, the townspeople took up their guns and counter-attacked. Brown and his men took over the engine house of the armory. Brown also kidnapped a relative of George Washington’s so he could have one of Washington’s swords belted around his waist during the ensuing conflict. The federal government sent in troops, led by Robert E. Lee, to put down this rebellion (Figure 14.15). 

Lee and his men stormed the building, taking Brown prisoner. Despite this ignominious end, Brown got the reaction that he wanted from his plot. His trial was a show of a martyr willing to die for what he believed. Northerners saw him as a hero and Southerners wanted him hanged. Brown had committed a federal crime, an attack on federal property, but President Buchanan allowed the state of Virginia to try and execute him in an attempt to make Southerners happy. In the end, all this did was firmly put the nation on the road to war. Brown’s actions and trial raised the rhetoric to a level that would not lessen until the war broke out. Brown scared Southerners to their core. Governor Henry Wise of Virginia visited Brown before his execution and Wise found himself shaken by the visit. He said he saw the future in Brown’s eyes and feared that most Northerners were like Brown.

14.30 - Level 1
No correct answers: No correct answer has been set for this question

John Brown first made a name for himself in an attack in Kansas at _______?




Harpers Ferry





Question 14.31

14.31 - Level 5

Were John Brown's violent actions in the name of abolitionism justified?

Click here to see the answer Question 14.31.

The Last Straw – The Election of 1860

By the time the election of 1860 took place, there were two distinct narratives of slavery in the antebellum United States. Southerners saw the institution as paternalistic. They believed that they took care of and loved their slaves, and that the slaves returned this love and care. They maintained that they watched over their slaves from cradle to grave, and that no one ever faced abandonment or starvation. Slave owners expressly stated that while they maintained discipline, that was for the slaves’ own good because there was no other way to get slaves to learn or to work. In the end, southern slave owners were supposedly working to raise their slaves to become part of the civilized Christian world. While greedy factory owners used up and dumped northern and mostly immigrant workers, Southerners cared about their workers. Northerners saw slavery in the United States as a life dominated by whippings, the rape of black women by their owners, and the forcible separation of families for profit.

Along with these two views of slavery, there were also two competing narratives of American history up to this point: a southern and northern version. Southerners saw a long series of violations of their Constitutional rights by an abolitionist minority in the North bent on destroying their way of life. The end of the Washington D.C. slave trade in 1850, the 1854 rejection of compromise over Kansas and the forming of Republican Party, the defiance of the federal law on fugitive slaves through personal liberty laws, and the nomination of Lincoln, a “black” Republican, all showed northern disdain for southern rights. His election would be the last straw. If Southerners did not react, slavery, as well as their entire way of life, faced destruction.  

14.32 - Level 2

When slaveowners defended the institution of slavery as "paternalistic," what did they mean?









Question 14.33

14.33 - Level 4

Compare and contrast the two markedly different perceptions of slavery held by northerners and southerners.

Click here to see the answer to Question 14.33.

At this point, Northerners felt that they were living in a world dominated by slave owners, where nothing could be considered sacred. The Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise, a document so important to Northerners that they considered it quasi-constitutional. Pro-slavery men in the Kansas territory had sacked the town of Lawrence with no repercussions from the government. Slave patrols dished out violence to anyone and everyone that questioned slavery. There was no freedom of thought or speech in the South, and slave owners wanted to push these restrictions on the North. Southerners burned books and intercepted and censored U.S. mail. Moreover, the North had to constantly compromise to appease the South and keep the Union together. Finally, the Dred Scott ruling proved to Northerners that slave owners ruled the nation and they feared that slave owners would bring their property into northern states and take jobs away from Northerners.

In the face of all that had happened in the 1850s, the election of 1860 was pivotal—and both sides understood the consequences. Disunion hung in the balance. Republicans knew that they would not get a single vote in the slave South, as the Republican nominee would not even appear on the ballot in most states in the South. If a Republican won the election, the South had lost all power in the federal government. Thus, the two party’s conventions would be extremely important, as those chosen as candidates would help to determine if the nation would hold together or tear apart. 

Figure 14.16: William H. Seward, Lincoln’s chief rival for the Republican Nomination in 1860 [14]

The Republican Party held their convention in Chicago, Illinois in 1860. This was Abraham Lincoln’s own backyard, but he did not enter the convention as anyone’s first choice for the presidential candidacy. There were many better known Republicans at the convention who believed that they should be president, such as William H. Seward, who went on to an important place in Lincoln’s cabinet as Secretary of State (Figure 14.16). The Illinois Republican Party set up the convention hall and made the seating charts. Because of this, they were able to rig the setup of the hall to help get Lincoln the nomination. They made sure that Lincoln’s supporters occupied the middle of the convention hall, thus separating the supporters of the other delegates from each other, keeping them apart and using their position to influence delegates for the other candidates. They worked to make Lincoln the only choice for a compromise candidate. On the third ballot, against all odds, Lincoln won the Republican Party’s nomination for presidential candidate. Southerners immediately decried this choice, but, in reality, they would have ranted against any Republican candidate. The important southern journal, Debow’s Review, explained to its readers how bad this “Black” Republican would be for the nation. Moreover, many southern states promptly declared that they would leave the Union if Lincoln won the election. This was a serious threat considering how strongly the Republican Party had performed in 1856.

Figure 14.17: William L. Yancey, the Alabama Fire Eater who led the walkout of southern delegates from the 1860 Democratic National Convention in Charleston. [15]​

The Democratic National Convention in 1860 was held in Charleston, South Carolina, and for an election that might potentially decide the fate of slavery in the country, this was an apt choice. Charleston was arguably the most pro-slavery city in the most pro-slavery state in the Union. Stephen Douglas was the front runner for the nomination. A man with a national reputation, even with the stain of Kansas still on him, Douglas wanted to be president badly. However, delegates from the lower South, led by fire eaters like William Yancey, did not want Douglas as a candidate because he was not pro-slavery enough for them (Figure 14.17). Fire eaters were Southerners who pushed for the South the leave the Union as soon as possible to protect slavery. Thus, they worked with the committee to make the party platform so pro-slavery that Douglas would never accept it. The platform recommended by the committee upheld the Dred Scott decision and pushed for more protection of slavery from Congress. Northern Democrats refused to accept this and a new, more moderate platform won adoption by the convention. 

At this point, led by southern fire eaters, the lower South, including the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas, left the convention in protest and no one was nominated. A few weeks later another Democratic Convention met in Baltimore, Maryland. Much of the South, again boycotted this convention after some initial fighting, but those in attendance went on to nominate Douglas. Those who left the second convention convened at another location in Baltimore and nominated John C. Breckinridge as their choice for president with a pro-slavery platform. The last major national political organization in the nation had finally split under the weight of the slavery question.

Figure 14.18: Election of 1860 map

14.34 - Level 3

Identify one of the states that voted for the so-called "compromise" candidate in the 1860 election.

14.35 - Level 4

You are a white male businessman living in Ohio. You do not particularly care for slavery, but you think the problem can only be solved through incremental legislation. Of utmost importance in your view is the preservation of the Union. Which candidate in the 1860 election best reflects your values?


Abraham Lincoln


Stephen Douglas


John C. Breckinridge


John Bell

There was another party that won a few states in this election. The Constitutional Union Party, led by candidate John Bell, won states in the border and upper South. This party’s platform dealt entirely with saving the Union by sticking to a strict interpretation of the Constitution and enforcing law. In the end neither the Democrats nor Bell’s party could cobble together enough votes. The Republicans won the election, in an entirely predictable pattern. Lincoln won the entire North and thus won the election without a single southern vote. While he only won 40% of the popular vote, the lead in the electoral vote was so high that even if you combine the electoral votes of the other three candidates, Lincoln still would have won the election quite easily (Figure 14.18). This happened because the population of the North had grown by leaps and bounds as immigrants poured into northern states looking for work in newly established industry. Immigrants had not entered the South in the same numbers, as their opportunities for jobs and advancement did not exist on the same scale as in the North.

14.36 - Level 1

Where did the Republican National Convention meet in 1860?

14.37 - Level 1

Where did the Democratic National Convention first meet in 1860?

Question 14.38

14.38 - Level 3

Explain why Southern Democrats split from the national party in 1860.

Click here to see the answer to Question 14.38.

Figure 14.19: Secession order map​

Many times in the past, southern states had threatened to leave the Union—at the time of the Constitution, in 1820, in 1850—and they again threatened to do so after the election of 1860. They had threatened this so many times that Northerners began to ignore this threat as bluster. This time, however, Southerners held true to their threats. From their point of view, what choice did they have? Northerners had elected a president without any votes in southern states. This meant that the North controlled the governmentm and that they could end slavery and manipulate the South to their whim. This was an intolerable situation, as far as Southerners were concerned. On December 20, six weeks after the election of Lincoln, South Carolina seceded from the Union, and the rest of the lower South quickly followed (Figure 14.19). 

Figure 14.20: Picture of the interior of Fort Sumter after its surrender, taken sometime between 1862 and 1865. [16]

Immediately, South Carolina demanded the surrender of the federal forts in Charleston Harbor, Forts Sumter and Moultrie. Fort Moultrie, on the land side of Charleston Harbor, was completely indefensible, so federal troops retired to Fort Sumter under commander Robert Anderson. Anderson did this without permission, but he believed that he had no choice. Sumter was on an island in the middle of the harbor. The only way to take it would be to reduce it by shelling it with cannons as ironically, the builders had constructed it out of thick, New England granite. South Carolina, outraged by the federal occupation of Sumter, began to gather troops around the harbor. No one was willing to fire the first shot, so a stalemate developed. Little but heated talk occurred as the South tried to organize a government in Montgomery, Alabama, and President Buchanan felt that he could do nothing to force the seceded states back into the Union. 

The one person who may have been able to lead at this point, Lincoln, refused to say or do anything until he officially took office in March. Thus, a power vacuum formed in the nation. The seven states that left the Union met in Montgomery to create a government almost completely based on the United States Constitution, but with a few changes to enshrine slavery in the document. Once the Confederate government was in place, the new president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, had to find a way to deal with the situation in Charleston. Davis was well suited for his new role. He had served in Congress as the Secretary of War and had seen combat in the Mexican War. Davis was in a very difficult position, though. Charleston was filling with hot-headed Southerners who wanted nothing more than to fire on Sumter. While Davis did dispatch general P.G.T. Beauregard to the city to take command of the forces gathered, there was no guarantee that he could control the situation. After taking office, Lincoln decided to try to resupply the fort with food so that federal troops could remain, but the resupply ship was fired upon and had to retreat. If Southerners in the city fired on the fort without permission, the central government in Montgomery would look very weak, something Davis could not risk. Taking all of these factors into consideration, Davis called for the reduction of the fort by cannon fire, and on April 12, 1861, at 4:30am, the first shots of the war flew through the air (Figure 14.20). The firing at Sumter forced Lincoln to call for volunteers to stop the rebellion in the southern states. This call for troops forced the upper South states, such as Virginia, to secede, drawing the lines for the upcoming conflict.

14.39 - Level 2

Click on the state where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.


The 1850s, then, were a winding road to war. Leaders in the nation did little to stop this march as both sides talked past each other on every issue. Northerners and Southerners simply did not understand each other during this time, and few wanted to put forth the effort. Each had their own view of how the nation should function, primarily shaped by their stance on slavery. For Southerners, minority rights and the protection of property were paramount. For Northerners, resisting domination of the government by a slave owning minority and respecting freedom took center stage. Thus, there was very little room for compromise. Each side jockeyed for position, using politics and the government to attempt to control things to their satisfaction. Political parties crumbled over slavery, and new ones rose to fill the gaps and challenge the traditional attempts to keep the discussion of slavery completely out of politics. Moreover, violence marked this period—violence on the frontier, violence in Congress, and the ever present violence against African Americans. Of course, this violence was nothing compared to the conflict about to engulf the nation. 

Pre-Class Discussion Questions

Class Discussion 14.01

Class Discussion 14.01 - Level 2

What was the Slave Power Conspiracy?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 14.01.

Class Discussion 14.02

Class Discussion 14.02 - Level 5

What was squatter sovereignty and why was it important?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 14.02.

Class Discussion 14.03

Class Discussion 14.03 - Level 2

Why did the potential entry of California into the Union so greatly destabilize the Union?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 14.03.

Class Discussion 14.04

Class Discussion 14.04 - Level 4

What lesson did the 1856 Presidential Election teach the Republican Party?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 14.04.

Class Discussion 14.05

Class Discussion 15.05 - Level 2

Why was Franklin Pierce an acceptable choice to be the Democratic Candidate in 1852?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 14.05.

Class Discussion 14.06

Class Discussion 14.06 - Level 5

What do you think of the idea of popular sovereignty?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 14.06.

Class Discussion 14.07

Class Discussion 14.07 - Level 4

Why do you think John Brown’s raid was so terrifying a spectacle for many Southerners?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 14.07.

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Suggested Additional Material

  • Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis: 1848-1861. New York: Harper and Row, 1976.
  • Huston, James. Calculating the Value of the Union: Slavery, Property Rights, and the Economic Origins of the Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
  • Freehling, William W. The Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • _______. The Road to Disunion: Secessionists Triumphant, 1854-1861. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Stampp, Kenneth M. America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Answers to In-Chapter Discussion Questions

Answer to Question 14.01

First, the Gold Rush, which touched off in 1849, brought thousands of people to the territory to try to strike it rich. But, while gold did not make many people rich the climate and location of California did. Crops grew well here and it was an excellent place to live and work.

Click here to return to Question 14.01.

Answer to Question 14.02

Representation in the U.S. Senate is by state, with each state getting two senators. Thus, if there are an equal number of slave and free states, then the Senate is balanced, and slavery continues as an institution without interference. If the North gets more states, then laws can be passed by the Senate about slavery, no matter what Southerners felt about it. As the North already had a larger population and controlled the House of Representatives, keeping balance in the Senate was the South’s only hope to preserve slavery.

Click here to return to Question 14.02.

Answer to Question 14.03

Since slaves were a self-reproducing population, the institution constantly required new places in which to use slave labor. If the slave population expanded but there wasn’t enough work to go around, keeping slaves would become too expensive, so it would no longer be profitable. 

Click here to return to Question 14.03.

Answer to Question 14.06

Slavery was not going to end unless it stopped expanding because of population growth. Slaves reproduced, and the slave population grew naturally. Given time, if no new land opened to slavery, then there would be far too many slaves for the available amount of work, thus, Southerners would be forced to free their slaves or go bankrupt trying to take care of them. There is no proof though that this would actually take place, it was just an idea.

Click here to return to Question 14.06.

Answer to Question 14.07

Southerners felt that they should be able to take slaves anywhere because they were property that they owned. Thus, if a northern farmer could take a cow or a horse wherever they wanted, then a slave owner should be able to take their slaves. Property rights were protected in the Constitution and they should apply anywhere in the Union.

Click here to return to Question 14.07.

Answer to Question 14.12

Stowe’s work was so popular because it was really the first major publication in the genre that attacked slavery in such a personal and violent way. It brought home for the reader the evils of slavery and, for the first time, Northerners felt that they were getting a good look at what slavery was like in the South. Moreover, it created many of the stereotypes that we associate with slavery today. Taken altogether, this is one of the most popular books in American history.

Click here to return to Question 14.12.

Answer to Question 14.14

Northerners, and especially Bostonians, were especially upset about the Burns case and the law in general, because it now effected them personally. Now, by law, they could be forced to help return men to slavery. Moreover, slave owners had to provide very little proof to return slaves South. Thus, many felt that the evil of slavery had taken over the government itself and could not reach into their lives and force them to participate in this great moral evil.  

Click here to return to Question 14.14. 

Answer to Question 14.15

Directly to the east of Kansas was a slave state, Missouri. Most settlement in this nation went from east to west. The land just across the border from Missouri, in the Kansas territory, could support slavery, and slave owners wanted to move into it. But, the Compromise of 1820 forbid slavery in this area.

Click here to return to Question 14.15.

Answer to Question 14.23

Southerners always have been protective of their honor. This attack by Sumner was not just an attack against slavery, or against the Kansas-Nebraska Act, it was an attack against one of their own, an attack on the honor of Southerners themselves. This required a response that a generic attack on slavery would not, and in the past had not, received. Sumner was trying to arouse the passions of the populous with his speech, and it worked, just not in the way he planned.

Click here to return to Question 14.23.

Answer to Question 14.24

Brooks considered himself to be a true southern gentlemen and his honor and the honor of his family could only be preserved by some action on his part. Many times this would have been settled by a dual, but, perhaps Brooks saw Sumner as beneath him and instead of using a duel between to equals, he beat him like someone lower on the social scale them him, perhaps a slave.

Click here to return to Question 14.24.

Answer to Question 14.27

Douglas killed his political chances when he pushed for the Kansas-Nebraska Act. When this was passed and Kansas descended into violence his national statue was destroyed. He was burned in effigy in Chicago for his work repealing the Missouri Compromise and thus he was unable to even run, let alone win.

Click here to return to Question 14.27.

Answer to Question 14.29

The Dred Scott case was so controversial because it basically overturned all laws on slavery. Northerners could no longer keep slavery out of the territories, or really out of their own states. Slaves were property, and property was protected everywhere in the Union. Thus, every compromise over slavery was unconstitutional, and the southern slave power was in complete control of the government and the nation.

Click here to return to Question 14.29.

Answer to Question 14.31

While the answers here are subjective value judgments, it should spur some interesting discussion regarding the ends justifying the means, and the proper way in which to enact change in society. 

Click here to return to Question 14.31.

Answer to Question 14.33

1) Southerners saw slavery as a paternalistic institution, where slaves were cared for and even loved by their masters. If anything, they were doing Africans a “favor” by bringing them into civilization. They saw the arrangement as superior to the conditions that poor immigrants suffered under in Northern factories. Furthermore, they believed that slavery was protected by the Constitution. 2) Northers saw slavery as an intolerable, barbaric institution based on systemic violence, inequality, and dehumanization. They understood slavery as an antiquated practice that was being abandoned by the rest of the western world.

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Answer to Question 14.38

Southern Democrats split from the party in 1860 over slavery. They wanted to ensure that slavery was completely protected in the Union, and, moreover, they wanted the party, and the nation, to recognize that slavery was a good thing. Thus, they pushed for a platform that stated that slavery was good for the nation. When this was rejected, they left the hall and split the party.

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Answers to Pre-Class Discussion Questions

Answer to Class Discussion 14.01

The Slave Power Conspiracy was the belief by Northerners that southern slave owners completely controlled the federal government to expand their own power and preserve and expand slavery. Beginning with the Mexican War, a war fought to expand slave territory they believed, every act of the federal government supported slave owners, from the fugitive slave act to the Dred Scott decision. Nothing could stop this but unified action.

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Answer to Class Discussion 14.02

Squatter sovereignty was a corruption of Douglas’s idea of popular sovereignty, where the people of a territory would vote to decide the status of slavery in a given area. In Kansas, non-residents flooded into the territory to vote and swing elections their way, often with the use of violence. This was a corruption of democracy and the reason that the Republican party was formed.

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Answer to Class Discussion 14.03

California entering the Union would unbalance the Senate, making Southerners fear that they were losing their protections in the federal government. When the debate over this issue broke out, other issues, which were simmering under the surface, broke through into open debate, making any kind of resolution difficult to find.

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Answer to Class Discussion 14.04

Republicans learned that they did not need a single vote in the South to win an election. They won most of the northern tier of states. All that they would have to do is flip a few states, such as Pennsylvania and Illinois, and they could win the White House. Thus, a truly sectional party could take over the government.

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Answer to Class Discussion 14.05

Pierce was a New Englander. This meant that he could be put forward to the northern wing of the party as a man who understood them and supported their interests. He also had southern views though and supported slavery, as did his political hero, Jackson, making him acceptable to the South.

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Answer to Class Discussion 14.06

Popular Sovereignty is a very American and democratic idea. It allows the people of a territory to vote on the status of slavery in their own area. On paper, it was a fair policy. In practice, it was another matter. Both sides rushed people to the territories and held sham elections where most of the voters had just come to vote before returning to their home states. It turned democracy into a mockery and enflamed emotions on both sides.  

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Answer to Class Discussion 14.07

The raid was terrifying because all of their deep seated fears were coming true. Southerners lived in a region where, in many place, they were outnumbered by their slaves. They had seen what had happened in Haiti when slaves revolted, and it was a constant fear for them. Now, slaves were being given help and support from a Northerner too. Thus, the lived in constant fear of being murdered in their beds by slaves, who Southerners claimed, loved them and enjoyed the lives that they led.

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Image Credits

[1] Image courtesy of the National Archives ARC# 533232 in the Public Domain.

[2] Image courtesy of Rl in the Public Domain.

[3] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division in the Public Domain.

[4] Image courtesy of Scewing in the Public Domain.

[5] Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions in the Public Domain.

[6] Image courtesy of University of Missouri Archives in the Public Domain.

[7] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division in the Public Domain.

[8] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division in the Public Domain.

[9] Image courtesy of  the Boston Athenaeum In the Public Domain.

[10] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division in the Public Domain.

[11] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[12] Image courtesy of Scewing in the Public Domain.

[13] Image courtesy of U.S. Federal Government National Park Service in the Public Domain.

[14] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[15] Image courtesy of Encyclopaedia Britannica  in the Public Domain.

[16] Image courtesy of the National Archives ARC# 533430 in the Public Domain.