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Chapter 19: Drifting Toward Disunion (1854-1861)

Art History
History of the Bible
World History
United States History


Uncle Tom's CabinJohn Brown's Holy War: American ExperienceYoung Mr. Lincoln



Uncle Tom's Cabin by Stowe Beecher Stowe: Book Cover


Chapter Outline

I. Stowe and Helper: Literary Incendiaries

  1. In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a popular book that awakened the passions of the North toward the evils of slavery.
    • In one line, it’s about the splitting up of a slave family
      and the cruel mistreatment of likeable Uncle Tom by a cruel slave
    • The book sold millions of copies, and overseas, British people were charmed by it.
    • The South cried foul, saying Stowe’s portrayal of slavery was wrong and unfair.
    • The book helped Britain stay out of the Civil War because its
      people, who had read the book and had now denounced slavery because
      they sympathized with Uncle Tom, wouldn’t allow intervention on
      behalf of the South.
  2. Another book, The Impending Crisis of the South, written
    by Hinton R. Helper , a non-aristocratic white North Carolinian, tried
    to prove, by an array of statistics, that the non-slave-holding
    Southern whites were really the ones most hurt by slavery.

    • Published in the North, this book and Uncle Tom’s Cabin were both banned in the South, but widely read in the North. They drove the North—South wedge deeper.

II. The North-South Contest for Kansas

  1. Northerners began to pour into Kansas, and Southerners were
    outraged, since they had supported the Compromise of 1850 under the
    impression that Kansas would become a slave state.
  2. Thus, on election day in 1855, hordes of Southerners “border
    ruffians” from Missouri flooded the polls and elected Kansas to
    be a slave state; free-soilers were unable to stomach this and set up
    their own government in Topeka.

    • Thus, confused Kansans had to chose between two governments: one
      illegal (free government in Topeka) and the other fraudulent (slavery
      government in Shawnee).
  3. In 1856, a group of pro-slavery raiders shot up and burnt part of Lawrence, thus starting violence.

III. Kansas in Convulsion

  1. John Brown, a crazy man (literally), led a band of followers to
    Pottawatomie Creek in May of 1856 and hacked to death five presumable

    • This brutal violence surprised even the most ardent abolitionists
      and brought swift retaliation from pro-slaveryites. “Bleeding
      Kansas” was earning its name.
  2. By 1857, Kansas had enough people to apply for statehood, and those
    for slavery devised the Lecompton Constitution, which provided that the
    people were only allowed to vote for the constitution “with
    slavery” or “without slavery.”

    • However, even if the constitution was passed “without
      slavery,” those slaveholders already in the state would still be
      protected. So, slaves would be in Kansas, despite the vote.
    • Angry free-soilers boycotted the polls and Kansas approved the constitution with slavery.
  3. In Washington, James Buchanan had succeeded Franklin Pierce, but
    like the former president, Buchanan was more towards the South, and
    firmly supported the Lecompton Constitution.
  4. Senator Stephen Douglas, refusing to have this fraudulent vote by
    saying this wasn’t true popular sovereignty, threw away his
    Southern support and called for a fair re-vote.
  5. Thus, the Democratic Party was hopelessly divided, ending the last
    remaining national party for years to come (the Whigs were dead and the
    Republicans were a sectional party).

IV. “Bully” Brooks and His Bludgeon

  1. “Bleeding Kansas” was an issue that spilled into
    Congress: Senator Charles Sumner was a vocal anti-slaveryite, and his
    blistering speeches condemned all slavery supporters.
  2. Congressman Preston S. Brooks decided that since Sumner was not a
    gentleman he couldn’t challenge him to a duel, so Brooks beat
    Sumner with a cane until it broke; nearby, Senators did nothing but
    watched, and Brooks was cheered on by the South.
  3. However, the incident touched off fireworks, as Sumner’s
    “The Crime Against Kansas” speech was reprinted by the
    thousands, and it put Brooks and the South in the wrong.

V. “Old Buck” versus “The Pathfinder”

  1. In 1856, the Democrats chose James Buchanan, someone untainted by
    the Kansas-Nebraska Act and a person with lots of political experience,
    to be their nomination for presidency against Republican John C.
    Fremont, a fighter in the Mexican-American War.
  2. Another party, the American Party, also called the
    “Know-Nothing Party” because of its secrecy, was organized
    by “nativists,” old-stock Protestants against immigrants,
    who nominated Millard Fillmore.

    • These people were anti-Catholic and anti-foreign and also included old Whigs.
      • The campaign was full of mudslinging, which included allegations of scandal and conspiracy.
      • Fremont was hurt by the rumor that he was a Roman Catholic.

VI. The Electoral Fruits of 1856

  1. Buchanan won because there were doubts about Fremont’s honesty, capacity, and sound judgment.
  2. Perhaps it was better that Buchanan won, since Fremont was not as
    strong as Lincoln, and in 1856, many people were still apathetic about
    slavery, and the South could have seceded more easily.

VII. The Dred Scott Bombshell

  1. On March 6, 1857, the Dred Scott decision was handed down by the Supreme Court.
    • Dred Scott was a slave whose master took him north into free states
      where he lived for many years. After his master’s death, he sued
      for his freedom from his new master, claiming that he had been in free
      territory and was therefore free. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed,
      freeing him, but his new master appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court,
      which overruled the decision.
  2. Outcomes or decisions of the case…
    • Chief Justice Roger Taney said that no slave could be a citizen of the U.S. in his justification.
    • The Court said a legislature/Congress cannot outlaw slavery, as
      that would go against the 5th Amendment saying a person’s
      property cannot be taken without due process of law. This was the
      bombshell statement.
    • The Court then concluded the Missouri Compromise had been
      unconstitutional all along (because it’d banned slavery north of
      the 36 30’ line and doing so was against the second point
      listed above).
  3. The case inflamed millions of abolitionists against slavery and even those who didn’t care much about it.
  4. Northerners complained; Southerners were ecstatic about the decision but inflamed by northern defiance, and more tension built.
  5. The North—South scoreboard now favored the South undeniably.
    The South had (1) the Supreme Court, (2) the president, and (3) the
    Constitution on its side. The North had only Congress (which was now
    banned from outlawing slavery).

    • Reasons the Constitution favored the South…
      1. the Supreme Court just said so with the Dred Scott decision and it is the Supreme Court that interprets the Constitution
      2. the 5th Amendment said Congress could not take away property, in this case, slaves
      3. it could be argued that slavery is in the Constitution by way of the Three-Fifths Compromise
      4. it could be argued slavery is not in the Constitution
        since the word “slavery” is not present, but using this
        argument, the 10th Amendment said anything not in the Constitution is
        left up to the states, and the Southern states would vote for slavery.

VIII. The Financial Crash of 1857

  1. Psychologically, the Panic of 1857 was the worst of the 19th
    century, though it really wasn’t as bad as the Panic of 1837.
    It’s causes were

    • California gold causing inflation,
    • over-growth of grain,
    • over-speculation, as always, this time in land and railroads.
  2. The North was especially hard hit, but the South rode it out with
    flying colors, seemingly proving that cotton was indeed king and
    raising Southern egos.
  3. Also, in 1860, Congress passed a Homestead Act that would provide
    160 acres of land at a cheap price for those who were less-fortunate,
    but it was vetoed by Buchanan.

    • This plan, though, was opposed by the northeast, which had long
      been unfriendly to extension of land and had feared that it would drain
      its population even more, and the south, which knew that it would
      provide an easy way for more free-soilers to fill the territories.
  4. The panic also brought calls for a higher tariff rate, which had been lowered to about 20% only months before.

IX. An Illinois Rail-Splitter Emerges

  1. In 1858, Senator Stephen Douglas’ term was about to expire, and against him was Republican Abraham Lincoln.
    • Abe was an ugly fellow who had risen up the political ladder slowly
      but was a good lawyer, had a down-home common sense about him, and a
      pretty decent debater.

X. The Great Debate: Lincoln Versus Douglas

  1. Lincoln rashly challenged Douglas, the nation’s most
    devastating debater, to a series of seven debates, which the Senator
    accepted, and despite expectations of failure, Lincoln held his own.
  2. The most famous debate came at Freeport, Illinois, where Lincoln
    essentially asked, “Mr. Douglas, if the people of a territory
    voted slavery down, despite the Supreme Court saying that they could
    not do so (point #2 of the Dred Scott decision), which side would you
    support, the people or the Supreme Court?”

    • “Mr. Popular Sovereignty,” Douglas replied with his
      “Freeport Doctrine,” which said that no matter how the
      Supreme Court ruled, slavery would stay down if the people voted it
      down; tsince power was held by the people.
  3. Douglas won the Illinois race for senate, but more people voted for Abe, so he won the moral victory.
    • Plus, Douglas “won the battle but lost the war” because
      his answer in the Freeport Doctrine caused the South to dislike him
      even more.

      • The South had loved Douglas prior to this due to his popular
        sovereignty position, but then came the Kansas pro-slavery vote which
        he’d shot down.
      • Then the Freeport Doctrine came down where he turned his back on the Supreme Court’s pro-South decision).
    • This Freeport statement ruined the 1860 election for presidency for him, which was what he really wanted all along.

XI. John Brown: Murderer or Martyr?

  1. John Brown now had a plan to invade the South, seize its arms, call
    upon the slaves to rise up and revolt, and take over the South and free
    it of slaves. But, in his raid of Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, the
    slaves didn’t revolt, and he was captured by the U.S. Marines
    under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee and convicted of
    treason, sentenced to death, and hanged.
  2. Brown, though insane, was not stupid, and he portrayed himself as a
    martyr against slavery, and when he was hanged, he instantly became a
    martyr for abolitionists; northerners rallied around his memory.
    Abolitionists were infuriated by his execution (as they’d
    conveniently forgotten his violent past).
  3. The South was happy and saw justice. They also felt his actions were typical of the radical North.

XII. The Disruption of the Democrats

  1. After failing to nominate a candidate in Charleston, South
    Carolina, the Democrats split into Northern and Southern factions, and
    at Baltimore, the Northern Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas for
    president while the Southern Democrats chose John C. Breckinridge.
  2. Meanwhile, the “Know-Nothings” chose John Bell of
    Tennessee and called themselves the Constitutional Union party. They
    tried to mend fences and offered as their platform, simply, the

XIII. A Rail-Splitter Splits the Union

  1. The Republicans, sensing victory against their split opponents,
    nominated Abraham Lincoln, not William “Higher Law” Seward.
  2. Their platform had an appeal to every important non-southern group:
    for free-soilers it proposed the non-expansion of slavery; for northern
    manufacturers, a protective tariff; for the immigrants, no abridgement
    of rights; for the West, internal improvements at federal expense; and
    for the farmers, free homesteads.
  3. Southerners threatened that Lincoln’s election would result in Southern secession.
  4. Lincoln wasn’t an outright abolitionist, since as late as
    February 1865, he had still favored cash compensation for free slaves.
  5. Abe Lincoln won the election despite not even being on the ballot in the South.

XIV. The Electoral Upheaval of 1860

  1. Lincoln won with only 40% of the popular vote, and had the
    Democratic Party been more organized and energetic, they might have won.
  2. It was a very sectional race: the North went to Lincoln, the South
    to Breckinridge, the “middle-ground” to the
    middle-of-the-road candidate in Bell, and popular-sovereignty-land went
    to Douglas.
  3. The Republicans did not control the House or the Senate, and the
    South still had a five-to-four majority in the Supreme Court, but the
    South still decided to secede.

XV. The Secessionist Exodus

  1. South Carolina had threatened to secede if Lincoln was elected
    president, and now it went good on its word, seceding in December of

    • Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas (the
      Deep South) followed in the next six weeks, before Abe was inaugurated.
    • The seven secession states met in Montgomery, Alabama in February
      of 1861 and created the Confederate States of America, and they chose
      Jefferson Davis as president.
  2. President Buchanan did nothing to force the confederacy back into
    the Union, partly because the Union troops were needed in the West and
    because the North was still apathetic toward secession; he simply left
    the issue for Lincoln to handle when he got sworn in.

XVI. The Collapse of Compromise

  1. In a last-minute attempt at compromise (again), James Henry
    Crittenden of Kentucky proposed the Crittenden Compromise, which would
    ban slavery north of the 3630’ line extended to the Pacific
    and would leave the issue in territories south of the line up to the
    people; also, existing slavery south of the line would be protected.
  2. Lincoln opposed the compromise, which might have worked, because
    his party had preached against the extension of slavery, and he had to
    stick to principle.
  3. It also seems that Buchanan couldn’t have saved the Union no matter what he would have done.

XVII. Farewell to Union

  1. The seceding states did so because they feared that their rights as
    a slaveholding minority were being threatened, and were alarmed at the
    growing power of the Republicans, plus, they believed that they would
    be unopposed despite what the Northerners claimed.
  2. The South also hoped to develop its own banking and shipping, and to prosper.
  3. Besides, in 1776, the 13 colonies had seceded from Britain and had won; now the South could do the same thing.


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