History of America 1850-1860
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Our digital history of America 1850-1860 focuses on the issue of expansion of slavery in the new territories out West. This had seemingly been settled by the Compromise of 1850. This agreement provided for the admission of California as a free state in return for the right to practice slavery in Utah and New Mexico. Thereby, it would preserve the balance of free and slave states in Congress. But the Fugitive Slave Act, which required even free states to cooperate in returning escaped slaves to their owners, was stridently denounced by abolitionists. In recounting the narrowing ordeal of escaping slavery, the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe further inflamed anti-slavery sentiment.
The Compromise of 1850 was repealed in 1854 in favor of the Kansas–Nebraska Act. This legislative sleight-of-hand was orchestrated by Sen. Stephen Douglas in the name of “popular sovereignty” and democracy. As such, it allowed a territory’s residents to decide on whether slavery should be allowed in their territory. This enabled Douglas to adopt a neutral position on slavery. Various factions rushed to Kansas to vote for or against slavery, adding fuel to the terrifying political tempest of Bleeding Kansas. As a result, abolitionist forces rose in anger and formed the Republican Party which, by the late 1850s, dominated nearly all northern states and their electoral college votes. Indeed,Republicans insisted they would never allow slavery to expand, assuring that the South’s “peculiar institution” would slowly die out.
The South saw Abraham Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 election as the death knell of slavery and the Southern way of life. Seven Southern states seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. Soon after, the Confederacy attacked Fort Sumter, a federal installation in Charleston harbor, South Carolina, and began the Civil War.
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1850-1860 Index | Manifest Destiny | Migration: Westward Migration: Oregon • Texas • Life on the Trail | Power: Law • Millard Fillmore • Franklin Pierce • James Buchanan: Governance| Stephen Douglas | Abraham Lincoln: Election of 1860 | Sectionalism: Compromise of 1850 • John Brown’s Raid • Kansas: Bleeding Kansas • Kansas-Nebraska Controversy • Pro-Slavery Argument
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