Widely strengthened either the abolitionist cause, pro-slavery cause or

thought of as the bloodiest war in the history of the United States, the Civil
War lasted from 1861 to 1865. The seeds of struggle started well before 1861 as
many events occurred during the preceding fifteen years to cause seven states,
known as “cotton states”, to secede from the Union. The Kansas-Nebraska Act, the
raid on Harper’s Ferry, Uncle Tom’s Cabin being released, the Mexican-American
War ending, the Dred Scott Decision and the Lincoln Election in 1860 are
several of the factors leading to the secession and the beginning of the Civil
War. These events strengthened either the abolitionist cause, pro-slavery cause
or both respectively and made southerners wish to get out of the Union while
northerners insisted on war to keep the Union intact.

            The United States won the
territories, wholly or partially, of Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas,
Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming after the Mexican-American War
victory in 1848. The question was whether to bring these new states into the
Union as slave or free states. The Compromise of 1850 was penned by Henry Clay,
a Whig, and Stephen Douglas, a Democrat, to try and curb the conflict between
the slaving South and free North. Its
creation didn’t have the desired effect as it seemed to cause more controversy
and increase the likelihood that a war would be waged between the two factions.

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The Compromise of 1850
was met with mixed feelings from the people of both sides. In 1848, the Senate consisted
of fifteen states for both the free and slave states; therefore, any state to be
entered into the Union would unbalance the power in one sides favor or the other.
It consisted of five bills. The first stated California was to enter the Union
as a free state; the second abolished the slave trade in Washington, D.C; the
third allowed the people of New Mexico and Utah to decide if they wanted to
enter the Union as a slave or free state (popular sovereignty); the fourth bill
passed the Fugitive Slave Act; the fifth bill decreased the size of Texas (trimmed
off the western land), the purpose of which was to lessen some of their debt.
This was the most controversial bill, and also the one with the most impact.
The Fugitive Slave Act forced federal officials to return runaway slaves, or be
charged a fine. Abolitionists doubled down on their efforts to get rid of slavery,
as they considered this act to be favoring the pro-slavery crowd. The Underground
Railroad was spawned from the backlash and helped many slaves find their way to
freedom in the North and beyond to Canada. Those in the South were angered since
they felt not enough was being done by the government to protect their property.

Lincoln called her
the “little lady who started this Great War.” Harriet Beecher Stowe was,
indeed, one of the most prominent people behind the cause of the Civil War.
Stowe’s brother, father and husband were evangelical priests who supported
abolitionism. Having been captivated by the Second Great Awakening, Stowe
preached how slavery undercut the Christian values of both whites and blacks.
Her Uncle Tom’s Cabin (published in 1852) was one of the most significant
responses to the Fugitive Slave Act; it was a pivotal example of pre-Civil War
propaganda—it empowered the abolitionist cause, but also infuriated the
southerners. In her book, Stowe revealed the ghastly lives of slaves on
southern plantations, which caused many northerners to draw upon their disgust of
slavery that had been previously ignored, or never thought about, in an out of
sight out of mind mentality. The fight against slavery now became a moral
crusade rather than a constitutional one. Her book was widely popular, mostly
because of the captivating characters she created. The lifelike situations,
like Tom being whipped to death, upset many Northerners. However, considering
the fact that she was an abolitionist, many southerners believed that her
opinion was unfairly biased—they though she would say anything bad about
slavery in order to further her cause. Many States in the South even banned her
book from being produced or sold; however, the fact that the book was illegal
made it even more appealing to people. Some southerners tried to reverse the
effects of the book by writing about Christian masters that did no harm to
their slaves. The Northerners, however, were already fired up over the
institution of slavery, and soon, the fight to end slavery became an underlying
motive of the Northerners during the Civil War.

With the addition of
the Territories of Kansas and Nebraska, people began to wonder, just like they
did with the western territories won after the Mexican-American War, whether or
not they would be free states or slave states. Stephen Douglas drafted the
Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which, just like the Missouri Compromise of 1820
and the Compromise of 1850, became one of the most controversial acts passed
before the Civil War. The original purpose of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was to
help further the Mideastern Transcontinental Railroad. However, the idea of
popular sovereignty was written into the act, which allowed for Kansas and
Nebraska to choose whether or not they would allow slavery. Douglas thought
that the act would ease tensions between the Northerners and the Southerners
because the Southerners could further slavery to new states, while Northerners
could still disallow slavery in their states. However, the Republican Party,
which emerged from the opposition to the act, thought that the Kansas-Nebraska
Act was helping the Southerners to extend slavery to the whole nation. Soon, in
1858, former Illinois Congressman Abraham Lincoln engaged in a series of
debates with Senator Stephen Douglas over the Kansas-Nebraska Act (known as the
Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858). Lincoln argued against slavery, citing many
moral, religious, economical, etc. reasons. Douglas, however, was much more
tolerant toward slavery (he thought it was fair that Kansas and Nebraska were
able to choose). However, by 1856, Kansas was known as Bleeding Kansas because
of the constant fighting between pro- and anti-slavery activists, who were
arguing over the future of Kansas (whether it will be a free or slave state).
The violence in Kansas was only a small glimpse of what the violence of the Civil
War would be like.

Known as the lawsuit
that helped cause the Civil War, the Dred Scott Decision of 1857 helped further
the abolitionist cause. Dred Scott was a slave that lived in Missouri with his
master, Dr. John F. A. Sandford. However, Dr. Sandford soon moved his family
(and his slave) to Northern states, which were deemed free almost a hundred
years earlier. Upon reaching a free state, Dred Scott sued his master for his
freedom in 1856, which sparked one of the most controversial Supreme Court cases
in American history. Aided by abolitionist lawyers, Scott claimed that, since
he was brought on to free soil, he should no longer be considered a slave (he
claimed that the Northern states he lived in did not allow slavery). However,
in March of 1857, the Supreme Court ruled (7-2) that Dred Scott could not sue
for his freedom in court because of the fact that he was a non-citizen, and
therefore, had no rights. In addition, the Supreme Court ruled that any slave,
or descendant of a slave, could not be (nor could they ever have been) a United
States citizen. Furthermore, they ruled that Congress could not stop slavery in
new territories, and, they subsequently ruled the Missouri Compromise of 1820
(which stated than any states north of the Missouri Compromise line were free)
unconstitutional; according to them, their Fifth Amendment was being violated because
Congress was trying to keep them from their property because slaves were
nothing more than property. The Dred Scott decision furthered the gap between
the North and the South, for obvious reasons. The Northern anti-slavery
activists thought that the decision was unduly biased, considering the fact
that most of the Supreme Court Justices were pro-slavery; in fact, the Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court, Roger Brooke Taney, was a former slave owner in
Maryland. Also, many abolitionists believed that the decision allowed
Southerners to spread slavery all throughout the nation. On the other hand,
Southerners thought that the decision was just because Congress had no rights
to prohibit slavery in the new territories. In addition, pro-slavery activists
believed that, since slaves were property, they could be taken anywhere,
including being taken to free states. The abolitionists furthered their efforts
in order to stop slavery from being extended throughout the country.

Two years after the
Dred Scott Decision (in 1859), a radical abolitionist, named John Brown,
executed one of the largest raids in American history on the nation’s arsenal
at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). His goal was to arm slaves
with the nation’s weapons in order to start a massive slave rebellion. However,
after capturing a couple of buildings, troops led by Colonel Robert E. Lee
surrounded and captured John Brown, as well as many of his men. Later, Brown
was tried and hanged for treason against the United States. His radical
uprising against slavery in the South caused a lot of controversy in the couple
of years following it. Many Northerners and slaves thought of him as a martyr
for dying to end slavery, while many Southerners thought of him as a terrorist.
The fact that an abolitionist participated in open warfare against those who
were pro-slavery made many Southerners further their efforts to stop the
Northerners from trying to end their “way of life” (i.e. slavery in the South).
The last event that helped cause the Civil War was the
Presidential Election of 1860. Although there were four candidates, Stephen
Douglas (Democrat) and Abraham Lincoln (Republican) were the two candidates
that everyone was turning their eyes to because of their longstanding conflict
with one another (other two candidates were John Bell (Constitutional Union)
and John C. Breckinridge (Southern Democrat)). All the states knew, per their
debates years earlier, where Lincoln and Douglas stood on the political
spectrum (specifically, where they stood on the argument of slavery). Although
he didn’t receive any electoral votes from any southern state, Abraham Lincoln
was declared President of the United States on Tuesday, November 6, 1860,
having received 180 electoral votes (out of 303). Though his views on slavery
were not harsh during his nomination and election, South Carolina still threatened
to secede from the Union if Lincoln won. This is not surprising considering
Lincoln’s stance on slavery. For example, Lincoln publicly spoke out against
the Dred Scott Decision, as well as against slavery and Stephen Douglas in
1858. Lincoln also spoke about how powerful the Southern states were becoming,
and he made it known that he would not allow slavery to be extended to any more
areas, or any new territories (or states) admitted to the US. Indeed, South
Carolina, whose beliefs obviously conflicted with Lincoln’s, seceded from the
Union on December 20, 1860. Six other states, which included Mississippi,
Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, followed in suit by seceding
from the Union. With South Carolina, they formed the Confederate States of

The circumstances and
events that occurred in the fifteen years prior to the Civil War — The
Kansas-Nebraska Act, the raid on Harper’s Ferry, Uncle Tom’s Cabin being
released, the Mexican-American War ending, the Dred Scott Decision and the
Lincoln Election in 1860 —produced
conditions that Southerners felt that seceding from the United States (because
it threatened their “way of life”) was the best option. Also, it produced
conditions that Northerners considered going to war with the Southern
Confederacy to keep the Union intact. The Civil War comes as no surprise
considering the North was powered by the industrial revolution, and the South
driven by the agricultural way of life. Had the two halves of the country
attempted to resolve the differing issues, instead of trying to force feed
their beliefs down the others throat, the bloodiest war this country has ever
seen could have possibly been prevented.


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