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Myths & Misunderstandings: What Caused the Civil War

Categories Civil War, History, The American Civil War

Essay, Pages 6 (1346 words)

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Essay, Pages 6 (1346 words)

What started the Civil War? Historians debate whether the Missouri Controversy, the Nullification Crisis, the Annexation of Texas, the Compromise of 1850, or the Kansas-Nebraska Act sparked the Civil War. Many agree that The Compromise of 1850 is the primary event that led to the war. This event was a set of laws, passed in the middle of fierce wrangling between groups who favored slavery and groups who opposed it, that attempted to give something to both sides.

“The Compromise of 1850 marked the start of a decade of contention and controversy.

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” (Schaffer). When California wanted to be emitted into the Union as a free state this disrupted the balance of slave states and free states in the Senate, so to fix this, slavery was not regulated in the remainder of the Mexican cession all while strengthening the Fugitive Slave Act, a law which compelled Northerners to seize and return escaped slaves to the South. While the agreement succeeded in postponing outright hostilities between the North and South, it did little to address, and in some ways even reinforce, the structural disparity that divided the United States.

Racial, gender, spatial, and economic are just a few structural disparities that divided the United States at the time, but the racial disparity was the one that hit home with both the North and the South. But the Compromise of 1850 was weak and destined to a short life.

The first law of the compromise was that California was to be allowed entry into the Union as a free state.

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“Can you expect, if there is a dissolution of the Union that you can carry slavery into California and New Mexico? You cannot dream of such a purpose.” (Clay). This is the first of many problems with the Compromise of 1850 that led to the Civil War. The Missouri Compromise stated that there had to be an equal number of slave states and free states, but with California joining as a free state there would be more free states than slave states. This caused unbalance in the Senate and unrest in the states. With this statement, people knew there was no way for California to become a slave state or to be separated into two states so that there would be an equal number of slave states and free states.

The second law of the Compromise of 1850 was that the remainder of the Mexican cession was divided into the two territories of New Mexico and Utah. “The president\’s eventual support for the prohibition of slavery in California and New Mexico enraged southerners, who organized state and sectional conventions and, in some quarters, began openly advocating secession.” (Bell). Under the concept of popular sovereignty, the people of each territory would decide whether or not slavery would be permitted. New Mexico and Utah decreed slave codes, technically opening the territories to slavery even though popular sovereignty was supposed to be in play. Popular sovereignty interferes with what the Missouri Compromise says, because now the state can be both a free and a slave state. “Some southerners might agree to California’s admission if all the other territorial issues could be resolved to their satisfaction.” (Bordewich).

The third law of the Compromise of 1850 was that congress would abolish the sale of slaves, but not slavery, in D.C. This prohibited the slave trade in D.C., but slave ownership would persist in the South. This was not enough for abolitionists who wanted slavery banned altogether in the capital. Southerners would not accept a Union’s capital where slavery was illegal as it would set a precedent. They had to reach a compromise and it was in the middle, by banning the trade of slaves. “Are you safer in the recovery of your fugitive slaves, in a state of dissolution or of severance of the Union, than you are in the Union itself?” (Clay). Even though this law was created to settle disagreements, it just created more problems for everyone.

The fourth law of the Compromise of 1850 was that Texas would give up much of the western land which it claimed and would then receive reimbursement of ten million dollars to pay off its national debt. The western boundary of Texas was highly disputed by many. The Republic of Texas, which had seceded from Mexico in the Mexican War, had been admitted to the United States and claimed the territory that comprised the modern-day New Mexico. Texas also had ten million dollars in state debts it could not pay off easily. The compromise was for the United States to pay off the debts, while Texas allowed New Mexico to become a state.

The fifth and final law of the Compromise of 1850 was that a Fugitive Slave Act would order all citizens of the United States to assist in the return of enslaved people who had escaped from their owners. “As it now stands, the business of seeing that these fugitives are delivered up resides in the power of Congress and the national judicature.” (Webster). It would also deny a jury trial to slaves that had escaped their master’s hold on them. The Fugitive Slave Act made any federal marshal or other officials who did not arrest an ostensible runaway slave liable to a major fine of one thousand dollars or more depending on the situation. Law-enforcement officials everywhere in the United States had a duty to arrest anyone suspected of being a fugitive slave on no more evidence than a claimant\’s sworn testimony of ownership. The suspected slave could not ask for a jury trial or testify on his or her own behalf. In addition, any person aiding a runaway slave by providing food or shelter was to be subject to six months imprisonment and a one thousand dollar fine. Officers capturing a fugitive slave were entitled to a fee for their work.

With each of these laws as a part of the Compromise of 1850, they still left the overall issue of slavery unanswered. The Fugitive Slave Act was one of many reasons why the Compromise of 1850 did not succeed in solving whether slavery was to be abolished or not. The law, which was originally put into play in 1793, and authorized slave owners to recapture slaves that escaped beyond the state lines, appalled Northern abolitionists. However, Southerners complained that the laws were bypassed, due to legal deficiencies, and the growing popular hostility towards enforcement. Personal state laws over-ruled the Fugitive Slave Act. During the 1850s, several new Northern State laws were passed with the intent to make it more difficult to enforce federal laws in each of the states. Even with this act, no one knew whether slavery was abolished or not.

The Compromise did prevent the war for a decade, but it is probable it was mostly to blame for the Civil War. The North’s economy was based on the trade industry, which came from Southern cotton plantations that were run by slaves. Thus, even though many Northerners did not like slavery and the growth of the South’s interesting institution, most likely in some ways they were afraid to be completely against slavery, in fear of the effects to the economy. However, many Northerners who did resist slavery probably had a free labor ideology; that Northern farmers could grow cotton to help fuel the trade industries of the North, as a replacement to the South’s slave-run cotton plantations. Even though it did hold back the war for a decade, the war was inevitable, and the Compromise of 1850 was just adding more fuel to the already huge fire.

So, what did start the Civil War? The Compromise of 1850 was the spark that set off the war. Each of the five acts did not address whether slavery was to be abolished or not was a major part of this. The Compromise of 1850 was like a band-aid in the way that it would fix it for a little bit but not in the long run. Many agree that this was the primary event that set off the Civil War.

Cite this essay

Myths & Misunderstandings: What Caused the Civil War. (2020, Nov 15). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/myths-misunderstandings-what-caused-the-civil-war-essay

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