The Road to the Civil War

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Northwest Ordinance

1787

The Northwest Ordinance was a document that Congress adopted in 1787. It outlawed slavery in Northwest areas and set up the process of adding additional states. Future states would include Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. This ordinance was one of the few positive impacts that the Articles of Confederation employed.

Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions

1798

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison wrote these resolutions secretively. The documents argued for states rights and also called for the nullification of federal laws that the states deemed unconstitutional, which supported the idea of strict constructionism. Years later, the resolutions were used to justify the South’s secession from the Union.

Hartford Convention

1814

Completely opposed to the War the 1812, The Federalist Party held a convention in order to make their claims heard. At the convention, held in Hartford, Connecticut, the Federalists introduced ideas such as the limitation of congressional war making and a single-term presidency. When news of this reached DC, news of the American victory in New Orleans had just arrived. Because of this, the Federalist Party was utterly humiliated. In all, this Convention served as the Party’s ultimate downfall, which led to the emergence of a one-party system and ushered in the Era of Good Feelings.

Missouri Compromise

1820

In the name of westward expansion, Americans were beginning to inhabit our newly acquired territories out west. As this occurred, the question of whether or not slavery should be allowed came to the forefront of political matters. The Missouri Compromise eased tensions over slavery for the time being because it allowed two states, Missouri and Maine, to enter the union as slave and free, respectively. The Compromise also declared that slavery would not be tolerated anywhere north of the 36’30 line in the remaining portion of the Louisiana territory.

Tariff of 1828

1828

The Tariff of 1828, also known as the Tariff of Abominations, was the highest tariff in the history of the United States. The tariff was proposed by Calhoun in an effort to make Adams look bad, but his plan backfired when the Tariff passed. Although the tariff would benefit the northern manufacturers, it would also place an impossibly high tax on imports that would wreck the South’s economy when they couldn’t export their crops.

Nat Turner's Rebellion

1831

Nat Turner was a slave in Virginia who spearheaded the most notable slave rebellion in United States history. The infuriated slaves in the rebellion killed 57 white men, women, and children. This uprising terrified the whites, and it directly led to the institution of Black Codes, which restricted education, freedom of movement, and freedom in general for slaves and freed blacks.

Nullification Crisis

1832

The Nullification Crisis was a primarily sectional crisis that took place during Jackson’s presidency. Caused by the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832, nullification was spearheaded by South Carolina because the Tariff of 1832 still didn’t fix what the 1828 Tariff of Abominations had done. In late 1832, South Carolina passed the ordinance of nullification, which threatened secession if the tariff was forcefully collected and also declared that the tariffs were unconstitutional; they would be considered null and void within the state’s borders.

Texas Annexation Debate

1844

After it gained its independence from Mexico, Texas was seen as a threat with its new foreign allies. The United States sought to annex the little “lone star” republic. However, many Americans vehemently disagreed with this idea. Northerners feared that annexing Texas would be an expansion the “southern slaveocracy” that would tip the majority in Congress to the slave power side. On the contrary, the South was excited to gain more slave territory.

Wilmot Proviso

1846

A repercussion of the Mexican-American War, the Wilmot Proviso was introduced by the free-soilers in 1846 directly after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed. The bill proposed to ban slavery in all territories taken from Mexico, pleasing the North, which wanted to abolish or at least limit slavery. This bill was passed in the House yet shot down in the Senate, which was controlled by the pro-slavery South. Due to the rejection of the Wilmot Proviso, the Compromise of 1850 was introduced instead which only temporarily calmed sectional tension.

Fugitive Slave Act

1850

The South created the Fugitive Slave Act in order force the North to return all of the runaway slaves to their Southern owners. The Southerners felt very threatened by the overwhelming voice of radical anti-slavery abolitionists in the North, but this bill ironically motivated abolitionists even further with their open rejection of the Act. The Northern abolitionists still continued to use the underground railroad as a tool to save slaves from the Southerners which only server to further infuriate the South.

Compromise of 1850

1850

Clay, Calhoun, and Webster, all part of the Old Guard, tried to preserve the Union at all costs. In Clay’s eloquent speech to the Senate concerning this act, he proved himself once again to be the “Great Compromiser.” From the Compromise, California entered the Union as a free state, the slave trade was abolished in DC, a tougher federal fugitive slave law was passed, the Texas territorial dispute was resolved, and the New Mexico and Utah territories would decide slavery based on the idea of popular sovereignty.

Gadsden Purchase

1853

James Gadsden and Jefferson Davis agreed upon a negotiation with Mexico concerning the annexation of the southern portion of modern day New Mexico. They would pay $10 million to annex this area in order to establish a transcontinental railroad. Specifically, this southern route was chosen because of topographical advantages that couldn’t be found elsewhere. Despite this practical reasoning, it seriously angered the North. The Purchase eventually led to the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which played a direct role in the destruction of the Union.

Kansas-Nebraska Act

1854

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was by far the most significant piece of legislation regarding slavery. It repealed the Missouri Compromise by allowing slavery to be determined by popular sovereignty in the new Kansas and Nebraska territories. This was a concession in order to get the southern concession for the transcontinental railroad. Once again, the slavery issue was revived despite the fact that it had just been calmed down with the Compromise of 1850. The Southerners were tolerant and accepting of the act, but the Northern Republicans united to protest.

Ostend Manifesto

1854

The Ostend Manifesto justified the United States’ attempt to purchase Cuba from Spain. The excessively overpriced offer of $130 million was rejected, but the Americans truly believed that they were entitled to expand; the rejection of the purchase was the necessary means for war. This outraged anti-slavery Northerners because they saw it as the expansion of slavery by the “Southern Slave Power.”

Sumner-Brooks Affair

1856

The Sumner-Brooks Affair signifies the movement of the “Bleeding Kansas” violence from Kansas to Congress.
Senator Charles Sumner delivered his “The Crimes Against Kansas” speech, an insulting antislavery speech to the Senate. In response, Senator Preston Brooks violently attacked him with a cane. After striking Sumner 35 times with the cane on the Senate floor, Brooks was seen as a hero in the South. Sumner, the victim, was seen as a martyr in the North. People that had been previously uncertain about the slavery controversy jumped to the abolitionist side, and the South took extreme offense at the rude things that Sumner had said in his speech, which further solidified the North versus South mentality.

Presidential Election of 1856

1856

With “Bleeding Kansas,” “Bleeding Sumner,” and “Bully Brooks” on the frontlines of politics, the Election of 1856 was sure to be an interesting one. The Democrats dropped Pierce off the ticket and replace him with “mediocre” Buchanan, who was pro-south after being out of the country for 4 years. The Republicans nominated Fremont, Californian hero and the pathfinder of the West. The “Know Nothings” nominated Fillmore, and the Southern fire-eaters threatened to secede if Fremont won the election. The campaign period was full of scandal and mudslinging that severely hurt Fremont when he was accused of being a Catholic. In the end Buchanan won, but his presidency was already set to doom because of the Dred Scott decision, trouble in Kansas with the Lecompton Constitution, and the Panic of 1857.

Bleeding Kansas

1856

The race to Kansas would ultimately determine the fate of the state’s slave status because it was to be decided through popular sovereignty. It was the Northern Jayhawks versus the “Border Ruffians.” In early 1856, the proslavery raiders attacked and burned free-soil Lawrence in the “Sack of Lawrence.” In retaliation, John Brown lead antislavery forces against opposition at Pottawatomie Creek. After this, open war broke out and 200 died by the end of 1856. Following this violence, federal troops were sent into Kansas to stop the violence and bloodshed.

Dred Scott vs. Sanford

1857

In 1857, the Supreme Court heard the case of Dred Scott, a slave whose master moved him to a free state and then died. Roger B. Taney, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at the time, was completely proslavery and anti-Republican. Therefore, his decision went accordingly, ruling that slaves are property, and property can’t be taken away without due process of the 5th Amendment. This translated that Congress didn’t have the authority to ban slavery anywhere because it is unconstitutional to take property. In accordance with this ruling, the Northwest Ordinance, Missouri Compromise, Wilmot Proviso, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act were all deemed unconstitutional. This proved to be a major victory for the South since slavery could be constitutionally moved anywhere now, but the North denounced this decision.

John Brown's Raid

1859

John Brown was a radical abolitionist who attempted to spark a slave revolt and invade the south. He did this by trying to capture an arsenal at Harper's Ferry, but his plan failed, and he was captured, convicted of treason, and put to death. The pro-slavery South saw this event as a Northern conspiracy against slavery rather than the isolated radical act that it actually was. In contrast, the North viewed John Brown as a martyr.

Presidential Election of 1860

1860

The Presidential Election of 1860 saw four candidates running for office. These candidates were Lincoln, a Republican, Breckinridge, a Democrat, Bell, a Constitutional Unionist, and Douglas, a Democrat. By nominating two candidates of their party, the Democrats destroyed any chance they had to win the election. Because of this fateful decision by the Democrats, Lincoln won. His victory angered many Southerners because of his support of sectionalism. As threatened, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union when Lincoln won.

Battle of Fort Sumter

1861

The Battle of Fort Sumter was the first battle of the Civil War. After seven states declared secession from the Union, South Carolina demanded that the U.S. army would abandon its facilities in Charleston Harbor. After a many-month siege, shots were fired in April, and Lincoln called for 75,000 Union volunteers to suppress the South's Confederate rebellion, which started the Civil War. This signifies the breaking point of sectional tension in the U.S.