The following deals with events, conflicts, and people during the years 1854-1861.
DISCLAIMER: This does NOT serve as a replacement for reading Chapter 19.
Slavery was on everyone’s mind. Kansas became bloody solely because of it and when the Dred Scott court decision effectively ended the Missouri Compromise of 1820, all hell broke loose.
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, portrayed how brutal slavery truly was and swayed many to the side of abolition. The book is said to have helped win the Civil War because though France and Britain wanted to help the South, popular opinion had turned against slavery and the move would’ve been unliked. Hinton Helper published another book about how the slave trade badly affected the poor farmers of the South, but it was banned there and made little difference.
The New England Emigrant Aid Company sent many northerners to Kansas on the excuse that they were looking for good land. The South cried betrayal because they voted for the Kansas-Nebraska on the assumption that Kansas would become a slave state. Even worse, when the first legislature elections were held there in 1855, many proslavery border ruffians came over from Missouri to fix the election. Things worsened in 1856, when a group of proslavery ne’er-do-wells burned down the town of Lawrence.
After hearing about the sacking of Lawrence, the crazed abolitionist John Brown led a group of followers down to Pottawatomie, killed five proslavery men, and inadvertently started the Kansas Civil War. In 1857, Kansas had amassed enough people to apply for statehood and vote on the slavery issue. The proslavery legislature presented the Lecomption Constitution to the people, in which voters had no choice but to vote for the Constitution with or without slavery. The Constitution had a clause that if the slavery option was voted down, all slaves already in the state would remain slaves. With the free-soil boycott of the polls, Kansas approved a slave state constitution in 1857.
Senator Stephen Douglas, architect of the K-N Act, got word of this and was enraged. He threw the Lemcomption Constitution up for popular vote in the US, where free-soilers took to the polls and voted it down. Without a constitution, Kansas stayed a territory. President Buchanan had supported the Constitution and the southern Democrats, which hopelessly divided his party. With the Whigs dead, the only party truly left was the Republicans.
In May 1856, Senator Charles Sumner gave a speech about the crimes in Kansas committed by the proslavery men . He had especially offended South Carolina and one of its representatives, Preston Brooks, promptly beat him with his cane. Though Sumner’s speech was out of line, it was cheered by many free-soilers in the North and won over many Republican votes. It was clear the sectional disagreement was going to be violent.
James Buchanan was nominated by the Democrats in 1856 while Kansas was still bleeding. The Republicans nominated explorer John C. Frémont. Both men hadn’t been involved in the Kansas mess and had clean records. Frémont wanted to stop the expansion of slavery while Buchanan opted for popular sovereignty. The nativist Know-Nothing party nominated Millard Fillmore and got support from the nearly dead Whigs. Buchanan was teased for being a bachelor, while Frémont’s illegitimate birth troubled many.
Frémont lost the election in most part because most people believed that the US would secede from the South under him. Businessmen with connections in the South had no choice but to vote from the Democrats. Had Frémont won and the South seceded in 1856, the North would have let them leave peacefully without any want of getting them back. What would follow in the subsequent years would enrage northerners to a point where they wanted to fight against the evils of the South.
The Republican Party, though just two years old, had made amazing gains in the election.
Right after James Buchanan was sworn in, the Dred Scott case was decided by the Supreme Court. Dred Scott had lived for a number of years on free soil with his master and sued for freedom after he died. The Court decided that Scott was not a citizen and didn’t have the right to sue in a federal court. Chief Justice Taney then decreed that under the Fifth Amendment, Congress had no right to interfere with property, and since slaves were property, they were slaves in every state. Suddenly, the Compromise of 1820 was ruled unconstitutional and Congress was forbidden, according to the Southern majority Supreme Court, from forbidding slavery.
People were feeling pretty blue about Dred Scott. But don’t worry, the Panic of 1857 put a smile on everyone’s face. Newly found California gold inflated our currency and the Europeans’ Crimean War had exhausted our grain production. This time, the South fared fine, while the North got the short end of the stick. There was loads of land speculation and a high unemployment rate as well.
People now urged the federal government to stop selling off public land for revenue and instead give 160 acres each to worthy pioneers. Northern businessmen thought that they would lose their workforce and the South thought it unfair because slavery could never flourish on 160 acres. Congress would finally give in with the Homestead Act of 1860, which would sell public land at 25 cents an acre. Buchanan swiftly vetoed it.
The Tariff of 1857 was the main scapegoat for Northern businessmen as it lowered duties big time. What little surplus we had had was waning away. Going into the election of 1860, the Republicans would be able to focus on two big issues- farms and economic protection.
The Illinois Senate race in 1858 proved to be the opening salvo for the general election. Abe Lincoln was a brilliant lawyer and orator. He had only served one term in Congress as a Whig, but had made leaps and bounds in the infant Republican Party. Lincoln would face off against incumbent Stephen Douglas in a series of seven famous debates. Lincoln relied on logic in the debates while Douglas made his case by shouting and wagging his finger.
The main issue between the two men became popular sovereignty. The Freeport Doctrine, as Douglas called it, held that a state had the right to vote down slavery if it so chose despite what the Supreme Court ruled. Since back then, Senators were elected by the state legislatures, Douglas won easily. The Senate race had put Lincoln in the national limelight, where he would remain for the rest of his life.
John Brown, the ruthless abolitionist who practically started Bleeding Kansas, had another scheme. With money from the ‘secret six’, a few wealthy abolitionists, he planned to capture the federal arsenal of Harpers Ferry and incite a slave revolt all across the South. In October 1859, he began his raid on the Ferry, which was doomed to fail when no slaves showed up to help him and his small band of followers. He was then captured by Robert E. Lee and some US Marines.
Many wanted Brown to plead insanity (it was clear to see why), but he wouldn’t have it. Brown wanted to die a martyr for the abolition cause. The South saw his execution as justice– he was cold-hearted murderer who would only incite slaves to rebel if he was kept alive. The North got a huge hard-on for John Brown, believing him to be a reformer who died for nothing more than his beliefs. With Brown dead, he was compared to none other than Jesus.
Stephen Douglas was the natural choice for the Democratic Presidential nomination. But his position on the Lecompton Constitution and the Freeport Doctrine caused southern delegates to leave the convention. A Southern Democratic convention then took place in Baltimore, with John C. Breckinridge getting the nod. Breckinbridge wanted slavery in the western territories and the annexation of Cuba, while Douglas stuck to his guns and supported popular sovereignty again. Another party ran John Bell as if it mattered.
The Republicans met in Chicago and their first pick was Young Guard Senator William Seward. Alas, recent radical comments about the end of slavery made Seward unelectable and Lincoln was then nominated. The Republicans wanted to appeal to the North– they supported free-soilers, immigrants, businessmen, and wanted to stop the extension of slavery. They also wanted internal improvements, a railroad, and free homesteads. Lincoln secretly hated slavery, but kept it on the DL so he didn’t lose crucial support.
Abe Lincoln was another minority President, 60% of the popular vote wanting someone else. Lincoln wasn’t even on the ballot in most southern states while Douglas started the tradition of candidates campaigning for themselves. Before that, it was all up to the party. The factions in the Democratic Party cost them the election. While Lincoln was elected President, the Republicans controlled no part of Congress and there would be no abolishing slavery for now.
South Carolina had threatened to leave the Union if Lincoln was elected. In December of 1860, they did just that. Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed suit in the next six weeks. They then met in Montgomery, Alabama and created the government of the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis, a senator from Mississippi, was elected President. Buchanan was still in his lame duck period and Lincoln couldn’t take office until March 4th.
Buchanan, had he been more aggressive, would have sent the US army down South to stop the insurrection. But alas, they were off fighting Indians in the West. Many northerners also believed that the South was just going through a hissy fit and would be back in no time. Had Old Buck used force, it only would have started the Civil War three months earlier and the North would have been seen as the aggressor and driven pivotal border states to secession.
James Henry Crittenden, a Senator from Henry Clay’s state of Kentucky, proposed a Constitutional amendment in order to appease the South and make them want to return to the Union. Slavery would be prohibited in territories, not states, north of the 36’30 line and everything south of it would have federal protection to enter the Union as a free or slave state. This would give slaveowners full rights while the territories were still in that status. Lincoln had been elected on the promise of not expanding slavery and denied it right away.
The burning question now was the reason behind the secession of the South. Above all else, they were tired of the northern interference and policies. They wanted to be left alone. ‘Somebody’s watching me… And I have no privacy!’ sang many southerners, who believed that the northern businessmen wouldn’t dare fight against King Cotton. The South also owed a lot of debt to the North, which wouldn’t be paid for a long time. With an independent South, they could pass low tariffs and do all their shipping on their own. They also couldn’t be sure when the Republicans would win over Congress and dethrone cotton.
Not many in the South felt that they were in the wrong. The Declaration of Independence talked a lot about self-determination and that’s exactly what this was. Just like the thirteen colonies seceded from the British union nearly one hundred years before, eleven states in the South were doing the same. King Lincoln was planning to oppress them and what they did was justice.