The American Journey Modern Times © 2009
Toward Civil War
Section 1: Slavery and the West
When Missouri applied for statehood in 1819, the United States Senate was evenly divided between slave and free states. In 1820 the Missouri Compromise temporarily resolved the issue of balancing the interests of both the North and the South by admitting Maine, a free state, along with Missouri, a slave state. The debate erupted again, however, after the United States gained California and New Mexico following the Mexican War. The Compromise of 1850 tried to settle several issues, including slavery in the territories.
Section 2: A Nation Dividing
As part of the Compromise of 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act that required all citizens to help catch runaways. In spite of the penalties, many Northerners refused to cooperate. They often participated in the Underground Railroad, a network of free African Americans and whites that helped runaways escape to freedom. Four years later, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act that allowed popular sovereignty to determine the state’s position on slavery. Pro-slavery groups were able to legalize slavery in Kansas, but anti-slavery groups set up a rival government, which led to an outbreak of violence.
Section 3: Challenges to Slavery
Opponents of slavery from different political parties joined to form the new Republican Party. Their candidate in the presidential race of 1856 lost to John Buchanan, a Democrat from the South, in an election that was split along rigid sectional lines. When the Supreme Court considered the Dred Scott case, its decision—that the Constitution allowed slavery—further divided the country.
In the 1858 Senate race in Illinois, little-known Abraham Lincoln faced off against the incumbent Democrat Stephen A. Douglas in a series of debates around the state. Shortly after the election in which Douglas won by a narrow margin, abolitionist John Brown led a raid on Harper’s Ferry, an event that brought America to the brink of war.
Section 4: Secession and War
With the Democratic Party divided, the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election in 1860. South Carolina feared Lincoln would not protect Southern rights and voted to leave the Union. Other Southern states followed and together they formed the Confederate States of America, with Jefferson Davis as their president. While some abolitionists in the North accepted the split, Lincoln vowed to hold the country together.
When Lincoln sent an unarmed group to deliver supplies to Fort Sumter, a fort that the Confederates had seized, Davis ordered his forces to attack. The Civil War had begun.