Kurt Smetana

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Kurt Smetana

Period 1


Although a civil war seemed to be unavoidable since the acquisition of slavery in the United States, the 1850s truly sparked the feelings of the Northerners and Southerners. Within the 1850s, many major impacting events occurred including territorial disputes, revolts, literature, elections, and U.S Supreme Court decisions. To add on to the conflict between the two regions of the country, economic trouble arose to further deepen the situation. When looking upon this decade, one can consider it to be the darkest ten years in American history. One can trace the sectionalism of the states to as early as the Missouri Compromise of 1820. It was apparent then that matters would only escalate until a major conflict solved the problem. The 1850s truly define this statement as the North and South began to become stronger and more violent in their approaches to make their grievances happen.

1850 marked the year of the decade's first slavery dispute, in this case on the issue of how to distribute new territory. The result of the matter was the Compromise of 1850. A heated conflict on this issue occurred in Congress as John Calhoun gave the last speech of his career. He wished for the south to be left alone and for there two be two presidents, each with the power of veto. He approved of Henry Clay's concessions in the Compromise of 1850, but believed it did not provide enough safeguards for the south. Daniel Webster rose to defend Clay's measures in his last great speech. Another establishment in this compromise that sparked emotions was the Fugitive Slave Law. This law stated that all slaves were to be returned to their owners with no trial. This met steaming opposition in the north, where freedom-loving northerners previously had helped slaves escape from the south. Another land dispute came about over the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The Nebraska-Kansas territories were divided into two parts and left to popular sovereignty. Northerners were angered by what they condemned as an act of bad faith by the "Neb-rascals."

In 1852, literature began to severely disrupt the unity of the states. In this year, Harriet Breecher Stowe published her heartrending novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. This novel displayed the terrible inhumanity and wickedness of slavery, arousing passion and hatred against the "evil" south.

In 1856, matters became violent as gray-bearded, iron-willed John Brown, a dedicated abolitionist, led a band of followers ti Pottawatomie Creek and hack five men to pieces. This butchery besmirched the free-soil cause and brought vicious retaliation from proslavery forces. This clash in Kansas came to be known as the Civil War of 1861-1865. John Brown would later lead another attack on proslavery citizens. In October, 1859, he led followers to Harpers Ferry, where he seized the federal arsenal. He incidentally killed seven innocent people. However, his plan failed when the slaves did not rise. Violence further escalated to the point when it was even occurring on the very floor of the Senate. In 1856, Congressman Preston S. Brooks pounded Senator Charles Sumner to the point of unconsciousness because he was offended by insults Sumner made toward his state and her Senator. This event brought violence directly into to United States Government, instead of the American public, where it began. Nearing succession, the U.S. Government further inflicted conflict during the Dred Scott case of 1857. In this case, the Supreme Court turned a simple legal matter into a complex political issue. Dred Scott sued for his freedom on the basis of his long residence on free soil. The Supreme Court ended the matter by stating that Scott was not a legal citizen and hence could not sue in federal courts.

Finally, in 1860, Abraham Lincoln acquired the presidency. This single event is what initiated the Civil War, thus making it the most impacting. But, in the 1850s, the single most important even to foreshadow the civil war was Uncle Tom's Cabin. This novel brought passion and humanity into the Northern cause, greatly intensifying their efforts to abolish slavery. The Civil War was surely unavoidable after the Missouri Compromise. Tensions would eventually have to build up enough to permanently end the matter. In 1861, seven states seceded to form the Confederate Sates of America.

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