Lecture Notes From Summer Institutes

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Dr. John Nevin--Claremont University

Ph.D. Columbia University

Session I


Notes from the Lectures of Dr. John Niven, 1990

  1. Introduction:

  1. The federal government based upon “fragile” compromise

  2. Madison and his followers persuaded convention to accept division (separation of powers.

  3. The first seventy years was a defining time for federalism

  1. Genesis of Colonial Slavery

  1. Throughout Virginia and the South slavery was gradually rooted In:

  • Chesapeake Bay area

  • Tidewater Region

  • Lower South: Georgia, Florida, & Alabama

  • Lower Mississippi Valley

  1. Southern colonies had been settled for cash crops

  2. North engaged in diversified farming

D. New England and Mid-Atlantic States had a different climate

  1. North was not conducive to wide scale “extractive farming” of the South

  2. There was a lack of serviceable transportation system between the sections

  1. The Constitutional Debate Over Slavery—a major economic argument of difference between the North & South.

  1. The Deep South was beginning to move west for virgin land

  2. Needed cheap labor supply and had none.

  3. Luther Martin declared: “ there should be a gradual emancipation of the slaves already in the states…it [slavery] was inconsistent with republicanism.”

  4. One must recognize the ramifications of slavery on the development of sectionalism.

  5. General factors that contributed to the war were:

  • Sectionalism

  • Industrialism: resources, labor, technology, transportation, markets, & capital were the necessary elements

  • Industrial technology—the railroads, steam power, and communications

  • Cultural differentiation

  • Slavery as a stable labor supply. A question of a society with slaves or a slave society itself.

  • Irresponsible journalism Wm H. Seward’s “Irrepressible Conflict.”

  1. The impact of reform

  • The modernizing process of the middle class to reform

  • Reform was force to embrace world peace (After 1815)

  • American reformers had broad vision & spectrum of reform, one of which was abolition of human slavery.

  • Manifest destiny almost blasted the Union in 1850

4. The slow growing virus of 1619 was now a full-blown case of paralysis & war.

Session II
“ I must go into the Presidential chair the inflexible opponent …to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia against the wishes of the slaveholding states…and to resist the slightest interference with it in the states where it exists.” –Martin Van Buren

  1. Abolitionism and national politics

  1. Wm Slade of Vermont gave a scathing attack on the institution of slavery

  2. John Quincy Adams and the gag rule petition. “Old man eloquent.”

  3. 1844, by 108 to 80 the gag rule was lifted

  4. The controversy revealed the wide spread between the sections

  5. There was a growing disparity in population, wealth, and material resources

  6. Most immigrant from Europe—especially Britain and Germany were anti-slavery

  7. Texas gained it independence, but Van Buren quashed statehood for four years.

  8. John C. Calhoun and John Tyler tried to capitalize on the Texas issue

  1. Emerging sectionalism.

  1. Leaders such as Henry Clay perceived the union to be imperial.

  2. Jacksonian orators claimed there had been a restoration of 18th century value.

  3. Party leaders offered by an industrializing society in the North and expanding

Slave-plantation system in the South provide the basis of sectionalism

  1. Immigrant crowded into the northern urban centers.

  2. The South’s need for labor turned ever so surely to more and more slave importations.

  3. Horace Greeley founded the New York Tribune that became the oracle of free states.

  4. De Tocqueville and Chevalier both condemned the slave system.

  1. States Rights: Theory and Practice:

  1. Still, from its formation in 1828, this uneasy coalition of slave owning planters and northern entrepreneurs clashed frequently over the direction of the policy of states rights.

  2. The tariff of 1828 was such a case in point. But behind Calhoun’s theory of nullification was an elaborate legal and institutional defense of slave-plantation system.

  1. Depression and Second Party System:

  1. The depression deeply affected the north working men

  2. Then came the Anti-Masonic from New England to Virginia

  3. The Whigs came into being largely as the work of Thurlow Weed

  4. Harrison nomination and Daniel Webster’s colossal mis judgment for the VP

  5. Whigs sought to capitalize on executive tyranny and dedicated themselves to legislative supremacy.

  6. Role-played by abolitionists: Wendell Phillips, Edmund Quincy, Wm Ellery Channing, and Wm Lloyd Garrison. Much of the lunatic fringe may have given abolitionism a bad name.

  7. Governor William H. Seward of New York, declared that freedom, not slavery, was the natural condition of mankind.

  8. The Southern Press was outraged at all of this.

  1. Southern Fears:

  1. Mob actions against abolitionists in northern cities were expressions of mounting social and economic crisis.

  2. By 1840, despite the low cotton prices, the amount of capital required to become a medium sized planter was largely beyond the reach of most white southerners.

  3. The isolation of the rural south from the mainstream of world opinion on slavery and comparative lack of educational opportunity made Southerners susceptible to xenophobic encouragement.

  4. Northerners were not entirely free from exaggerated suspicions of southern culture. Railroad and telegraph in the North estranged the North from the South. Even though they shared a language, a heritage, and other social institutions they would separate in a very short time. 20 years.

  5. Calhoun was the most articulate and controversial spokesman for the slave states.

  6. Perhaps the most disturbing thing to the southern mind was the attitude of the entire World on slavery!

  7. Slavery was a minor issue in 1840 election. They sensed the beginning of concerted movement to abolish it.

  1. The High Tide of Reform:

  1. Calhoun was right. Abolition of slavery had become the distinct goal of a widespread reform movement.

  2. Middle-class women were liberated from the hard work of the self-contained farm.

  3. Revivalism swept middle-class America

  4. Women rights under Mott and Stanton electrified the middle-class and reform movement.

  5. The most extraordinary man was William Lloyd Garrison and his newspaper.

  6. Publication of Douglass’ Narratives… demonstrated black abolitionism at its best.

  7. Most Black publication dealt with emancipation.

  8. Southern statesmen like Henry Clay lent their prestige to the movement.

  9. The wellsprings of reform that began in 1830’s featured, abolition, temperance, and cultural identify

  10. Some southerners too, began to seek an American society where slavery would eventually be abolished—Helper, Grimke sisters, etc.

Session III


  1. As Van Buren prepared to turn over the Presidency to Harrison, the nation was still mired in a worldwide depression.

  2. Neither Calhoun nor the abolitionists took any heart from the new President.

  3. Horace Greeley disgust with his party’s behavior pointed out that it was “nothing but the professionalization of party politics

  4. It became an age of Tippecanoe, Tyler, and Texas—in other words Manifest Destiny

  5. Harrison’s death propelled John Tyler to the Presidency. He was man very unprepared for the job and the events that would ensue.

  6. Tyler believed passionately in States Rights.

  7. Whig leaders saw the most important elements of their program of national interests being frustrated

  8. Calhoun was obsessed with his mission to protect the south and slavery.

  9. John M. Niles (Conn) represented a group of capable politicians who would introduce the Wilmot Proviso to restrict from the territory that might be gained as a result of peace settlement with Mexico

  10. Expansion and War With Mexico:

  • There was the Texas expansion and hence the expanse of slavery issues there.

  • There was the settlement of Oregon with Great Britain

  • Westward expansion had been a compelling theme since the American Revolution

  • The election of 1844 became the referendum on Manifest Destiny as proclaimed by John L.:’O Sullivan.

  • Polk used Manifest Destiny as his official public policy.

  1. Polk’s foreign policy was run rather effectively

  2. Just before the Mexican-American War began, Polk settled the Oregon Question.

  3. War with Mexico was belated considered dangerous.

  4. There were anti-slavery groups in both parties.

  5. Needless to say, the concept of popular sovereignty was an anathema not only to individuals but also to extreme southern states rights advocates.

  6. Meanwhile, gold had been discovered in California and the territory had a dramatic influx of new immigrants with a booming economy. They sought admission to the Union as a state without going through the territorial status. Californians wanted nothing to do with slavery so the sides were drawn and the dye was cast for permanent sectionalism.

  7. On March 7, 1850, Webster threw his prestige and oratorical skill behind the compromise measure

  8. Shortly before his death on March 31, 1850, John C. Calhoun made a prophetic statement.

“I fix its [war] probable occurrence within twelve years or three presidential terms…the probability is, it will explode in a presidential election.” What Calhoun had seen with clarity came before any of his contemporaries understood the impending crisis. Calhoun spent the last years of his life seeking to build a sectional coalition

19. The Compromise of 1850 was but a temporary truce in the contest between the sections that would lead to war on grand and colossal scale.


  1. Causes of migration to the US

  • Crop failures in Europe

  • Liberal Revolutions

  • Autocratic Government in Germany & Italy

  • Profitable cotton transportation, shipbuilding, and technology

  • Railroad development

  1. Disintegration of the Whigs over issues of slavery and national expansion

  2. The Whit party as a national institution was beset with factionalism and partisanship

  3. Wm H. Seward and Thurlow Weed were the northern leaders of Whigism

  4. The decade of 1850’s was sectional, discordant, and full of disparity.

  5. The issues of the decade became:

  • Compromise of 1850

  • Kansas Nebraska Act

  • Popular Sovereignty and States Rights

  • Publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin

  • Disappearance of Clay, Calhoun, and Webster

  • Westward Movement of the Railroads

  • Divestiture of the public domain by federal government to railroads

  1. The apostles of western development were:

  • Thomas Hart Benton

  • Stephen A. Douglas

  • Brigham Young

  1. Birth of the Republican Party in 1856 was the long awaited decisive section act.

  2. Lincoln-Douglas Debates

  3. The Bleeding Kansas issue

  4. The murderous acts of John Brown

  5. Sumner-Brooks escapade

13. Dred Scott was the Constitutional turning point in all of this maneuvering

  1. The court case upheld the South’s view of the constitutionality of slavery. This action set the stage for a final definitive and military show-down just as Calhoun had predicted

  2. And it was the election of Abraham Lincoln was the spark that ignited the Civil war


August 2, 2002

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