The North and South in the nineteenth century were different in lifestyle and morale as well as economy. The north had a booming industrial economy while in the South, cotton was king. Because of this, congress was continuously addressing controversial matters and providing answers that did not satisfy either one side or both. The early 1800s were full of the North and the South making many attempts at reconciliation that just fell short. Among those were the Missouri Compromise of 1820, and the Great Compromise of 1850. Other tempestuous attempts led to the Tariff/Nullification Controversy, anti slavery debates in congress, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Whether it was one side or the other, there was always someone to oppose – and in some cases, defy – the laws put in place, which eventually led to the succession of the southern states and the Civil War. The issue of slavery became an even greater concern when the Louisiana Purchase territories were to enter the Union as states. The question was, would new territories enter the Union as slave or free states?
The South wanted a balance of power. They knew that if the North were to have more free states, then slavery in the south could be facing extinction through congress. In an attempt to conciliate with the South, the North agreed upon the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Through this, slavery was banned above the 36 degrees 30 minute line and Missouri entered as a slave state, Maine a free state. For a while, it retained the balance of power. However, tempers in the south rose again later in the 1820s over high tariffs. The tariffs benefitted the north but threatened southern cotton exports. In 1828, the tariff was around 50%. President Jackson modified it to around 33% in 1832 only to have South Carolina nullify it in the state. It raised the question of whether or not the federal government could legally impose protective tariffs and whether it was constitutional for a state to nullify a federal law.
“South Carolina…by a course of legislation…can defeat the execution of certain laws of the United States….it is utterly impracticable…” [Document A] Henry Clay believed it impractical for South Carolina to oppose the federal law and also believed that South Carolina had no intention of leaving the Union, which depicts just how blind people were to just how great the rift really was. In 1833, the Compromise Tariff was put into place and would reduce rates to 20% by 1842. At this time, most people considered compromise to still be possible. As time goes on, slavery becomes as much of a moral issue as a political one. The American Anti-Slavery Society believed that the practice of slavery was against God’s teaching and that those who kept slaves were man stealers. [Document B] Slaves should be set free and slaveholders shouldn’t be compensated a dime. “…we concede the Congress…has no right to interfere with any of the slave states…But we maintain that Congress has a right…to suppress the domestic slave trade…” [Document B]
As abolitionists started to make an even greater fuss over slavery, congress was backed into a corner. To release the slaves and prevent slavery in the new territories would incite the wrath of the South, however to allow more slave states to enter the Union would anger the abolitionists. Eventually, the gag rule was put into place. “All petitions, memorials, [etc.]…to the subject of slavery or the abolition of slavery, shall…be laid on the table and that no further action whatever shall be had thereon.” [Document C] However, each time a territory wanted to become a state, whether slavery would be permitted or not was a forefront issue – starting with the lands gained from the Mexican War. The Compromise of 1850 was put into place here. California was admitted as a free state and New Mexico and Utah entered under popular sovereignty (the citizens would decide whether they wanted slavery or not.) From this compromise also came a stronger Fugitive Slave Law (all escaped slaves were to be turned in and returned.)
Northerners blatantly ignored this federal law which angered the Southerners, for when they had tried not to comply to a federal law, they had been punished. [Document D] The Southerners felt wronged, and rightly so. Compromise seemed less and less possible. In 1854, there were questions on whether there should be slavery in the Kansas-Nebraska territories, even though it was prohibited by the Missouri Compromise. The South was unhappy about this however because the shaky balance of power would then decisively shift to the North. The South needed more slave states. Because of this, the Missouri Compromise was then repealed. Popular sovereignty was then ruled in the territories. At the sound of that, abolitionists and pro-slavery citizens began to rush Kansas in spades.
Fighting broke out so horrifically it was given the name Bleeding Kansas. During this, a new political party arose: the Free-Soilers. They were against slavery and fought state constitutions such as the Lecompton Constitution. After this, slavery issues began to spin out of control. Things like the Dred Scott Decision and John Brown’s Raid and other slave revolts kept slavery at the forefront of everyone’s minds. The Free-Soilers then turned into the Republicans who firmly believed in the end slavery. Compromise was now nearly impossible.
The possibility of compromise was then nailed shut when a Republican, Abraham Lincoln, won the election of 1860. North Carolina then seceded from the Union and other southern states soon followed suit. It’s possible that if the South had only picked one candidate, they could have won the election. [Document H] But because they hadn’t, the South then felt threatened. And because they felt threatened, they seceded. The reasons and events stated led to the eventual conclusion of the impossibility of compromise by 1860.
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