This installment will cover the events and compromises that led to armed conflict and the secession of the southern states.
This country was founded upon the Articles of Confederation which were designed to bring the states together and repel any threat of invasion by foreign powers. If your state was threatened then all would join in the effort to repel the invaders. The Revolutionary War was fought under this authority. When our Founding Fathers gathered in 1787 to write the Constitution the most divisive issue was slavery. The first compromise came when the Northwest Ordinance was adopted. The future states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan were the northwest territory at that time. The agreement was that this area would be slave free, and in the southern states, slavery would remain legal. The Mission Statement of the Constitution was to “form a more perfect Union” however, the Constitution failed to address the 17% of the population who were slaves and would remain less than equal by law.
In 1807 Congress outlawed the importation of slaves but the slave population increased through the natural breeding process to 4 million by 1860.
The Compromise of 1820 allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state while Massachusetts was divided, Maine became a free state. This is what is known as “The Missouri Compromise”. In the years to follow many attempts were made to keep the balance even, but westward expansion would make this impossible.
In 1831 Nat Turner, a slave, broke away and led a slave rebellion which caused the death of 50 whites. This rebellion was put down with extreme cruelty and put the south into a panic from which they would not recover. Brutality became the norm with slave masters as they feared northern abolitionist would sponsor more rebellions.
In 1832 South Carolina passed the Ordinance of Nullification saying that the state had the power to nullify any federal law they didn’t like. In this case it was a tariff and not slavery that caused the Congress to soon pass the Force Act which gave the federal government authority to compel states to comply with federal laws.
In 1833 slavery was outlawed by the British Empire fueling the abolitionist with a fervor to end it here as well. This deepened the divide between the states and the south went into a fierce defensive mode and began demanding that slavery be allowed to expand into the western frontier. After the Mexican War allowed Manifest Destiny to become a reality it became clear that more would be needed to maintain the Union.
The Compromise of 1850 was a complex package of 5 bills that allowed expansion of slavery into New Mexico and Utah if the people in those states chose to allow slavery. The term Popular Sovereignty became the concept of the time. The compromise allowed the Fugitive Slave Act to be enforced in northern states allowing for roving bands of slave catchers. Wanted posters began appearing in public places as the industry of slave catching became lucrative. These posters began a major upswing in the number of northerners who joined the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad was formed.
In 1852 “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was published and millions of neutral northerners became abolitionists. Harriet Beecher Stowe became an overnight celebrity and the galvanizing point for the abolitionist movement. Next to the Bible, this book became a force for freedom as it was being read by everyone. It is said that Abraham Lincoln said when meeting her “so this is the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war?”
In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed guaranteeing that popular sovereignty would decide the fate of these two states. Chaos ensued as border ruffians went about terrorizing abolitionists. Slavery became a poison to everyone who came near it. Violence was everywhere and the term Bleeding Kansas was first used to describe what was going on.
In 1857 the Dread Scott Decision came down enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The judges decided that because Mr. Scott moved to a free state it did not make him a freeman. Chief Justice Taney stated “beings of an inferior order… so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect”. This infuriated abolitionists who pointed to The Declaration of Independence as being compromised by the inequities of bondage. Northerners began to take notice of a former U. S. Congressman who had written three years earlier “I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world, enables the enemies of free institutions with plausibility to taunt us as hypocrites, causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many good men among ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty, criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.” Abraham Lincoln became the front runner for the new Republican Party because of those words. The question became insoluble, America had the wolf by the ears and could not let her go. Ready or not when Abraham Lincoln was elected to the Office of the Presidency, civil war was inevitable. It would be our last chance to build a “more perfect Union”.