The Politics of Sectionalism

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Growing Sectionalism – Ch. 14, “The Politics of Sectionalism,” pgs. 350-365
Overall main idea: Between 1846 and 1858, sectionalism in the U.S. grew stronger over the issue of slavery, especially in regards to its status in new territories.

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which personalized the issue of slavery for many northerners who had previously considered it mostly a political issue.

After 1846, political clashes over slavery grew more frequent and more difficult to resolve
Slavery in the Territories

Main idea: The question of slavery in the new western territories brought slavery issues to the front of national politics in the late 1840s.

Key proposals for resolving question of slavery in new territories:

  1. Outright exclusion of slavery

  2. Extension of the Missouri Compromise line

  3. Popular sovereignty in allowing the territory’s residents to decide

  4. Protection of individual slaveholders’ rights to own slaves

The Wilmot Proviso

Main idea: The Wilmot Proviso proposed eliminating slavery in territories gained from the Mexican War and ignited sectional tensions in the Federal government.

David Wilmot proposed Wilmot Proviso in 1846, purposely using Jeffersonian language from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 – that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory”

Wilmot hoped to link the blockage of slavery to freedom of white people to generate anti-slavery support in the North and even the Upper South

Some Southerners are offended, feeling the Proviso degraded Southerners; Georgia’s Robert Toombs called for the possibility of disunion

Northerners were a majority in the House of Rep., yet the Senate is still even between slave states and free states

The Election of 1848

Main idea: Zachary Taylor was elected President in 1848 as a previously non-political Whig who avoided the slavery issue.

Democratic candidate Lewis Cass introduced popular sovereignty – residents of territory, not Congress, decide on the status of slavery in their territory

Taylor is Native American wars and Mexican War hero (similarly to previous Whig President, Harrison), a plantation owner from Louisiana; first president from the Lower South

Free-Soil Party – “free soil, free speech, free labor, free men!” – antislavery “Conscience Whigs,” Liberty Party, Northern Democrats; nominated Martin Van Buren for President
The Compromise of 1850

Main idea: The Compromise of 1850 was passed as an attempt to settle slavery issues in the western territories.

California gold rush of 1849 – “Forty-Niners” were mostly northerners, but included some slaveholding southerners

The population influx led to calls for statehood; the residents wanted it to be a free state to prevent slave competition for labor and mining; U.S. Congress is still evenly divided with 15 slave and 15 free states

Pres. Taylor did not oppose slavery, but hated the slavery issue in politics as it threatened national unity

Henry Clay’s Compromise of 1850 – admit California as a free state; allow popular sovereignty in New Mexico and Utah; end the slave trade in D.C., pass a new fugitive slave law

Senate originally rejected the compromise and Taylor vowed to veto it; Taylor died in 1850 before it’s finally passed; VP Millard Fillmore became Pres.

Three famous “elder statesmen” senators involved in debates – Clay, Calhoun, and Daniel Webster

Stephen Douglas, “the Little Giant,” senator from Illinois, pushes for the compromise again, and it finally passed; Fillmore signed it

Fugitive Slave Act – required Northern authorities to assist Southerners in returning escaped slaves to the South

Response to the Fugitive Slave Act

Main idea: The Fugitive Slave Act increased sectional division and northern black militancy regarding anti-slavery.

Black abolitionists had to focus on protecting escaped slaves in the North in addition to helping free slaves in the South; formed organizations; Frederick Douglass is highly involved

Made slavery issue more personal to many northerners

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Main idea: The book Uncle Tom’s Cabin further increased sectionalism, pushing slavery as more of a moral issue rather than a political one.

Written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, daughter of Lyman Beecher, a well-known evangelical minister and reformer

Best-selling nationally and internationally, personalizing, emotionalizing, and moralizing the slavery issue; hated by Southerners and denounced as a lie, a political tract disguised as a book

The Election of 1852

Main idea: Whig division over the Compromise of 1850 led to Democrat Franklin Pierce winning a landslide victory in 1852.

Democratic campaign slogan: “We Polked you in 1844; we shall Pierce you in 1852!”

Pierce is from New Hampshire; “good looking,” charming, Mexican War veteran

Low voter turnout for 1852 election
Political Realignment

Main idea: Franklin Pierce’s administration pushed for a nationalistic agenda, but was unsuccessful and unpopular, unable to avoid the divisive slavery issue.

“Young America” movement – advocated territorial expansion southward, support of Republican values abroad; associated with some Democrats in 1840s-1850s

Pierce struggled with leadership and personal problems

Young America’s Foreign Misadventures

Main idea: The Pierce administration failed and embarrassed itself in aggressive foreign affairs.

Ostend Manifesto – 1854 document by Pierce diplomats that claimed Spanish-held Cuba belonged under the influence of the U.S., who would buy it or take it if necessary

Ostend Manifesto caused an uproar domestically and internationally

Stephen Douglas’s Railroad Proposal

Main idea: Stephen Douglas proposed building a trans-continental railroad, forcing Natives to move from the Nebraska Territory and pushing for its statehood.

Nebraska Territory was Indian territory set aside by the U.S. government.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act

Main idea: The controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed popular sovereignty to decide the slavery issue in the new states of Kansas and Nebraska.

Proposed by Stephen Douglas in 1854, he expected Kansas to become a slave state and Nebraska to become a free state

Huge uproar over the act in Congress, but it barely passed; Pierce signed it into law

Douglas is unpopular among many northerners; to a Chicago crowd: “It is now Sunday morning. I’ll go to church; you can go to hell!”
Bleeding Kansas”

Main idea: The dispute over the popular sovereignty of Kansas led to “Bleeding Kansas,” a regional civil war between pro-slavery and anti-slavery advocates.


John Brown became prominent as a leader of anti-slavery forces; he was involved in the Pottawatomie Massacre in Kansas, killing five pro-slavery advocates in retaliation for the sacking of anti-slavery Lawrence, Kansas

Know-Nothings and Republicans: Religion and Politics

Main idea: Sectional tensions and religious and ethnic prejudice led to the reformation of American political parties with the creation of the Know-Nothing and the Republican parties in 1854.

Old Immigration of Germans and esp. Irish was sometimes met with Nativism; some Northern Protestants viewed immigrants as competition for jobs and feared Catholic influence

Know-Nothing Party, a.k.a. the “American Party” was founded in 1854 as anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic party and feared slavery was destroy union; originally a secret organization, party members would respond to questions about the party with “I know nothing.”

Know-Nothings could not avoid slavery and split, with some joining the new Republican Party, along with Conscience Whigs, anti-slavery Democrats, and Northerners in general

Republican Party – supported strong government, northern commerce and industry, reform, and esp. opposed extension of slavery into new territories; basically anti-slave South – the first truly sectional party

Southerners hated the new party, calling it “the Black Republican Party”
The Election of 1856

Main idea: Democrat James Buchanan won the election of 1856, despite a strong show of support for the Republican Party among Northerners.

Democrats are divided over Kansas and slavery issue; Buchanan had been abroad for years and so had not been tainted by the Kansas issue; lots of political experience though

Know-Nothings nominated Millard Fillmore, former VP and Pres. after Taylor died; Republicans nominated John C. Fremont, a military hero and explorer

Republican showing in election worried Southerners
The Dred Scott Case

Main idea: A southern slave-state majority in the Supreme Court issued the Dred Scott decision in 1857, a victory for pro-slavery forces in the U.S.

Dred Scott was a slave of a Missourian who traveled to Illinois and Wisconsin for an extended stay in numerous instances; Scott sued, saying he should be free because Illinois and Wisconsin did not allow slavery

Chief Justice Roger Taney and the Supreme Court ruled against Scott – Scott was not free, blacks had no citizenship or legal rights in the U.S., Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, limiting slavery in new territory was unconstitutional (deprived citizens of their property without due process)

Decision met with resistance among Northerners, especially the Republican Party; the fears of “Slave Power” were exacerbated
The Lecompton Constitution

Main idea: The controversial Lecompton Constitution, a pro-slavery constitution for Kansas, was rejected in Congress but supported by President Buchanan.

1857 – Kansas tried to create a constitutional convention, but was met with controversy, irregularities, and disputes; proslavery advocates narrowly outnumber antislavery advocates and draft the Lecompton Constitution in Lecompton, Kansas.

Territorial governor Robert Walker disapproves, but Buchanan approves, sending it to Congress despite the popular sovereignty provision of the Compromise of 1850 – senate rejects it with the help of Stephen Douglas

Panic of 1857 hits the North especially hard while the South is barely affected
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Main idea: Abraham Lincoln’s debates with Stephen Douglas in 1858 expressed defining differences between the Democrats and Republicans and the inescapable issue of slavery.

Douglas is running for reelection as Illinois senator

Lincoln is 49 years old, Illinois lawyer originally from modest Kentucky beginnings; former Whig; reputation as a great speaker; challenges Douglas to debates across Illinois

Douglas expressed Freeport Doctrine – reconciled ideas of popular sovereignty and Dred Scott decision, saying slavery existed only if the people passed laws protecting it

Slavery was not a moral issue for Douglas; it was a moral issue for Lincoln; Lincoln only said, however, that he wanted to limit its extension into new territories, though he privately disapproved of it altogether; did not believe in racial equality, though

Douglas wins the race, but Lincoln becomes more well-known; Republicans gain more support in the Congressional elections
Overall main idea: Between 1846 and 1858, sectionalism in the U.S. grew stronger over the issue of slavery, especially in regards to its status in new territories.

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