Was the Civil War Inevitable?

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Was the Civil War Inevitable?

The following events were crucial in what led up to the secession of the southern states and the Civil War. Do you think that a different outcome of any one of, or several of these events, could have changed the course that led to civil war or do you think that regardless the Civil War was inevitable?

To answer this question you need to become familiar with each of these events. With a partner (B4), a small group (A4), you will need to complete the following:

  1. Write a summary of each event.

  2. Determine the reaction of the North and South to each event. If it is not stated reason what their response would be.

  3. Answer, “Did this event lead to the inevitability of the Civil War? Why? Why not?”

  4. Do you think that a different outcome of any one of, or several of these events, could have changed the course that led to civil war or do you think that regardless the Civil War was inevitable?


Mexican War

Missouri Compromise

Fugitive Slave Act

Compromise of 1850

Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 and Bleeding Kansas

Presidential election of 1856

Senator Charles Sumner Attacked by Preston Brooks

Dred Scott Decision

John Brown’s Raid

Lincoln–Douglas Debates

Election of 1860

Missouri Compromise
Agreement passed in 1820 between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in the United States Congress, involving primarily the regulation of slavery in the western territories. It prohibited slavery in the former Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30' north except within the boundaries of the proposed state of Missouri.

During the congressional session (1819-1820), the House passed a bill with an amendment allowing Missouri into the union as a slave state. The question had been complicated by the admission in December of Alabama, a slave state, making the number of slave and free states equal. In addition, there was a bill in passage through the House (January 3, 1820) to admit Maine as a free state.

The Senate decided to connect the two measures. It passed a bill for the admission of Maine with an amendment enabling the people of Missouri to form a state constitution. Before the bill was returned to the House, a second amendment was excluding slavery from the Missouri Territory north of the parallel 36°30' north (the southern boundary of Missouri), except within the limits of the proposed state of Missouri.

Compromise of 1850
An intricate package of five bills, passed in September 1850, defusing a four-year confrontation between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North that arose following the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). The compromise, drafted by Whig Henry Clay and brokered by Democrat Stephen Douglas avoided secession or civil war at the time and quieted sectional conflict for four years. The Compromise became possible after the sudden death of President Zachary Taylor, who, although a slave owner himself, tried to implement the Northern policy of excluding slavery from the Southwest.

  1. California was admitted as a free state. It passed 150-56.

  2. The slave trade was abolished (the sale of slaves, not the institution of slavery) in the District of Columbia.

  3. The Territory of New Mexico (including present-day Arizona) and the Territory of Utah were organized under the rule of popular sovereignty. It passed 97-85.

  4. The Fugitive Slave Act was passed, requiring all U.S. citizens to assist in the return of runaway slaves. It passed 109-76.

  5. Texas gave up much of the western land which it claimed and received compensation of $10,000,000 to pay off its national debt.

Henry Clay takes the floor of the Old Senate Chamber; Millard Fillmore presides as Calhoun himself and Webster look on.

Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 and Bleeding Kansas
The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, opened new lands, repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, and allowed settlers in those territories to determine if they would allow slavery within their boundaries. The initial purpose of the Kansas–Nebraska Act was to create opportunities for a Mideastern Transcontinental Railroad. It became problematic when popular sovereignty was written into the proposal. The act was designed by Democratic Sen. Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois.

The act established that settlers could vote to decide whether to allow slavery, in the name of popular sovereignty or rule of the people. Douglas hoped that would ease relations between the North and the South, because the South could expand slavery to new territories but the North still had the right to abolish slavery in its states. Instead, opponents denounced the law as a concession to the slave power of the South. The new Republican Party, which was created in opposition to the act, aimed to stop the expansion of slavery and soon emerged as the dominant force throughout the North.

Bleeding Kansas was a series of violent events, involving anti-slavery Free-Staters and pro-slavery "Border Ruffian" elements, that took place in the Kansas Territory and the western frontier towns of the U.S. state of Missouri roughly between 1854 and 1858. At the heart of the conflict was the question of whether Kansas would enter the Union as a free state or slave state. As such, Bleeding Kansas was a proxy war between Northerners and Southerners over the issue of slavery in the United States

The United States had long struggled to balance the interests of slaveholders and abolitionists. The events later known as Bleeding Kansas were set into motion by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the idea of popular sovereignty resulted in immigration en masse to Kansas by activists from both pro-slavery and anti-slavery sides. At one point, Kansas had two separate governments, each with its own constitution, although only one was federally recognized. The two governments promoted their separate agendas and bloodshed occurred in the name of both the pro and anti-slavery ideal. On January 29, 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state, less than three months before the Battle of Fort Sumter which began the Civil War.

Dred Scott Decision
Dred Scott v. Sandford, (1857) aka Dred Scott decision

In 1846, a Missouri slave, Dred Scott, sued for his freedom. Scott argued that while he had been the slave of an army surgeon, he had lived for four years in Illinois, a free state, and Wisconsin, a free territory, and that his residence on free soil had erased his slave status. In 1850 a Missouri court gave Scott his freedom, but two years later, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed this decision and returned Scott to slavery. Scott then appealed to the federal courts.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves (or their descendants,[2] whether or not they were slaves) were not protected by the Constitution and could never be U.S. citizens.[3] The court also held that the U.S. Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories and that, because slaves were not citizens, they could not sue in court. Furthermore, the Court ruled that slaves, as chattels or private property, could not be taken away from their owners without due process.

Portrait of Dred Scott

Lincoln–Douglas Debates
The Lincoln–Douglas Debates of 1858 were a series of seven debates between Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate for Senate in Illinois, and incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas, the Democratic Party candidate. At the time, U.S. senators were elected by state legislatures; thus Lincoln and Douglas were trying for their respective parties to win control of the Illinois legislature. The debates previewed the issues that Lincoln would face in the aftermath of his victory in the 1860 presidential election. The main issue discussed in all seven debates was slavery.

The main theme of the debates was slavery, especially the issue of slavery's expansion into the territories. It was Douglas's Kansas-Nebraska Act that repealed the Missouri Compromise's ban on slavery in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, and replaced it with the doctrine of popular sovereignty, which meant that the people of a territory could decide for themselves whether to allow slavery. Lincoln said that popular sovereignty would nationalize and perpetuate slavery. Douglas argued that both Whigs and Democrats believed in popular sovereignty and that the Compromise of 1850 was an example of this. Lincoln said that the national policy was to limit the spread of slavery, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which banned slavery from a large part of the modern-day Midwest, as an example of this policy.[

As a result of the debates the Illinois legislature re-elected Douglas. However, the widespread media coverage of the debates greatly raised Lincoln's national profile, making him a viable candidate for nomination as the Republican candidate in the upcoming 1860 presidential election. He would go on to secure both the nomination and the presidency, besting Douglas (as the Northern Democratic candidate), among others, in the process.

John Brown’s Raid
John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry was an attempt by white abolitionist John Brown to start an armed slave revolt by seizing a United States Arsenal at Harpers Ferry in Virginia in 1859. Brown's raid was defeated by a detachment of U.S. Marines led by Col. Robert E. Lee. John Brown had originally asked Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass to join him when he attacked the armory, but illness prevented Tubman from joining him and Douglass believed his plan would fail and did not join him for that reason.
John Brown was taken to the courthouse in nearby Charles Town for trial. He was found guilty of treason against the commonwealth of Virginia and was hung on December 2. (This execution was witnessed by the actor John Wilkes Booth, who would later assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.) On the day of his execution, Brown wrote his last prophecy, which said, “I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done.”

Election of 1860
The United States presidential election of 1860 set the stage for the American Civil War. The nation had been divided throughout most of the 1850s on questions of states' rights and slavery in the territories. In 1860, this issue finally came to a head, fracturing the formerly dominant Democratic Party into Southern and Northern factions and bringing Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party to power without the support of a single Southern state. Hardly more than a month following Lincoln's victory came declarations of secession by South Carolina and other states, which were rejected as illegal by outgoing President James Buchanan and President-elect Lincoln.
The contest in the North was between Lincoln and Douglas, but only the latter took to the stump and gave speeches and interviews. In the South, John C. Breckinridge and John Bell were the main rivals, but Douglas had an important presence in southern cities.

Throughout the general election, Lincoln did not campaign or give speeches. This was handled by the state and county Republican organizations, who used the latest techniques to sustain party enthusiasm and thus obtain high turnout. There was little effort to convert non-Republicans, and there was virtually no campaigning in the South; indeed, the party did not even run a slate in most of the South.

Abraham Lincoln was elected President in the 33 states on Tuesday, November 6, 1860.

Mexican-American War
The Mexican–American War was an armed conflict between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 in the wake of the 1845 U.S. annexation of Texas, which Mexico considered part of its territory despite the 1836 Texas Revolution.

In addition to a naval blockade off the Mexican coast, American forces invaded and conquered New Mexico, California, and parts of what is currently northern Mexico. Another American army captured Mexico City, forcing Mexico to agree to the sale of its northern territories to the U.S.

Territorial expansion of the United States to the Pacific coast was the goal of President James K. Polk, the leader of the Democratic Party.[1] However, the war was highly controversial in the U.S., with the Whig Party and anti-slavery elements strongly opposed. Heavy American casualties and high monetary cost were also criticized. The major consequence of the war was the forced Mexican Cession of the territories of Alta California and New Mexico to the United States in exchange for $18 million. Mexico accepted the Rio Grande as its national border, and the loss of Texas. Meanwhile gold was discovered in California, which immediately became an international magnet for the California Gold Rush. The political aftermath of the war raised the slavery issue in the U.S., leading to intense debates that pointed to civil war; the Compromise of 1850 provided a brief respite.

Fugitive Slave Act
Fugitive Slave Act was passed by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850 between Southern slave holding interests and Northern Free-Soilers. This was one of the most controversial acts of the 1850 compromise and heightened Northern fears of a 'slave power conspiracy'. It declared that all runaway slaves be brought back to their masters. Abolitionists nicknamed it the "Bloodhound Law" for the dogs that were used to track down runaway slaves.

In 1843, several hundred slaves every year successfully escaped to the North, making slavery an unstable institution in the border states.

The earlier Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was a Federal law which required the return of runaway slaves. It sought to force the authorities in free states to return fugitive slaves to their masters.

Some Northern states passed "personal liberty laws", mandating a jury trial before alleged fugitive slaves could be moved. Otherwise, they feared free blacks could be kidnapped into slavery. Other states forbade the use of local jails or the assistance of state officials in the arrest or return of such fugitives. In some cases, juries simply refused to convict individuals who had been indicted under the Federal law. Moreover, locals in some areas actively fought attempts to seize fugitives and return them to the South. And everywhere that was not tied with slavery, abolitionists spoke against this.

The new Fugitive Slave Law brought the issue home to anti-slavery citizens in the North, since it made them and their institutions responsible for enforcing slavery. Even moderate abolitionists were now faced with the immediate choice of defying what they believed an unjust law or breaking with their own consciences and beliefs.
Presidential election of 1856
The United States presidential election of 1856 was an unusually heated election campaign that led to the election of James Buchanan. Republican candidate John C. Frémont condemned the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and crusaded against the Slave Power and the expansion of slavery, while Democrat James Buchanan warned that the Republicans were extremists whose victory would lead to civil war. The Democrats endorsed the moderate “popular sovereignty” approach to slavery expansion utilized in the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Former President Millard Fillmore represented a third party, the relatively new American Party or “Know-Nothings”. The Know Nothings, who ignored the slavery issue in favor of anti-immigration policies, won a little over a fifth of the vote.

The incumbent President, Franklin Pierce, was defeated in his effort to be renominated by the Democrats (their official party slogan that year was "Anybody but Pierce"), who instead selected James Buchanan of Pennsylvania; this was due in part to the fact that the Kansas-Nebraska Act divided Democrats. The Whig Party had disintegrated over the issue of slavery, and new organizations such as the Republican Party and the American Party competed to replace them. The Republicans nominated John Frémont of California as their first standard bearer, over Senator William H. Seward, and the Know-Nothings nominated former President Millard Fillmore of New York. Perennial candidate Daniel Pratt also ran.

Frémont received fewer than 600 votes from slave states—those all coming from Delaware and Maryland. The electoral college results indicated, however, that the Republicans could likely win the next election in 1860 by winning just two more states—such as Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Senator Charles Sumner Attacked by Preston Brooks
In 1856, during the "Bleeding Kansas" crisis, Sumner denounced the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In the "Crime against Kansas" on May 19 and May 20, Sumner attacked the authors of the Act, Senators Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina. Sumner's three-hour oration later became particularly personally insulting as he mocked the 59-year-old Butler's manner of speech and physical mannerisms, which were impaired by a stroke.
Representative Preston Brooks, Butler's nephew, was infuriated and intended to challenge Sumner to a duel. Brooks however concluded that since Sumner was no gentlemen, it would be more appropriate to beat him with his cane.

Two days later, on the afternoon of May 22, Brooks confronted Sumner as he sat writing at his desk in the almost empty Senate chamber: "Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine." As Sumner began to stand up, Brooks beat Sumner severely on the head before he could reach his feet, using a thick cane with a gold head. Sumner was knocked down and trapped under the heavy desk (which was bolted to the floor), but Brooks continued to strike Sumner until Brooks ripped the desk from the floor. By this time, Sumner was blinded by his own blood, and he staggered up the aisle and collapsed, lapsing into unconsciousness. Brooks continued to beat the motionless Sumner until his cane broke at which point he left the chamber. Several other Senators attempted to help Sumner, but were blocked by Keitt who brandished a pistol and shouted, "Let them be!”

The outrage heard across the North was loud and strong. Historian William Gienapp has suggested that Brooks' "assault was of critical importance in transforming the struggling Republican party into a major political force." Conversely, Brooks was praised by Southern newspapers; the Richmond Enquirer editorialized that Sumner should be caned "every morning", praising the attack as "good in conception, better in execution, and best of all in consequences" and denounced "these vulgar abolitionists in the Senate" who "have been suffered to run too long without collars. They must be lashed into submission." Many Southerners sent Brooks new canes, in endorsement of his assault.

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