13 August 2009

ch.5: The 1850s

summary: The United States should have been ecstatic after the territorial gains from the Mexican War. But all it really did was reopen the slavery controversy that had been festering for some time. The 1850s is one of the most fascinating decades in American history. So many things happened; yet it remains difficult to gauge the importance of each event since we know that a Civil War will take place at the end of the decade.

It is clear, however, that one extremely important event was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Of all the divisive things that took place, this was the one that probably caused the most damage (although the misguided Dred Scott decision might make a good case for the top spot). All the efforts to forge a North-South compromise starting in 1820 were swept away by the Kansas-Nebraska legislation. It’s still hard to believe that an otherwise intelligent Stephen Douglas (pictured above) would have thought that simply allowing people in the states to vote slavery up or down would be the answer. But Douglas, like many others, was blindly searching for a solution that might keep the country together.

When reading this chapter, think about how people in each section heard the political rhetoric. How did Southern political demands appear to a Northern farmer or worker? And when a Southerner heard Northern abolitionists talking, what might they have thought?

Discussion Questions
1. What did the South want from the North? And why did Southern demands become more radical as the decade progressed?

2. What was the Fugitive Slave law and why was it so important to each section?

3. How did the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 change the political situation in the country?

4. How was Lincoln’s career affected by the Kansas-Nebraska bill?

5. Was popular sovereignty a potential solution to the sectional problem? Why or why not?

6.
Was this sectional divide inevitable? Why or why not?

17 comments:

  1. To quote the author: "The Dred Scott case, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter later said, was 'one of the Court's great self-inflicted wounds.'" I would add: This would not be the last time in our Country's history when nine un-elected judges would render decisions that even today have devastating consequneces for the health of our democracy.
    Tim Utter








    Tim Utter

    Noteworthy, too, was the author's reference to seventy-three-year-old Henry Clay's prophesy in 1850 that "dissoultion would bring a war 'so furious, so bloody, so implacable and so extermininatin' that it would be marked forever in the pages of history." Certainly, those naive civilian specators who showed up for the opening Battle of Bull Run could never have imagined what Clay predicted eleven years earlier.

    Tim Utter

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Chapter 5, Question 3. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act would mean that the Missouri Compromise was null and void, opening the possibility of slavery to land that had previously been granted freedom. Also, the debate over the Kansas-Nebraska Act began against strong feelings of antislavery in the North.

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  4. Chapter 5, question 4: Lincoln's career was profoundly affected by the successful passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. It permanently recast his views on slavery. He could no longer maintain that slavery was on the course to ultimate extinction. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise convinced him that free society was in peril if the North mobilized into action against proslavery forces.

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  5. Chapter 5, Question 1: The South wanted the North to allow them to expand slavery out West into the newly aquired Missouri compromise and the Mexican War. This has been the major topic for years in the House. The North then tried to make compromises with the South by doing things like allowing California's new legislature to decide if they want to have slavery or not. This did not please the South which lead to them succeding from the union.

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  6. Chapter Five: The Turbulent 50’s
    Question 1: What did the South want from the North? And why did Southern demands become more radical as the decade progressed?
    “The constitutional compromise that protected slavery in states where it already existed did not apply to newly acquired territories. Thus, every expansion of the nation reignited the divisive issue. (page 141 pbk)
    . . . “Calhoun warned that secession was the sole option unless the North conceded the Southern right to bring slavery into every section of the new territories. . . .” (page 144 pbk)

    The author does not speak of some newly forming trade unions in Northern states like Massachusetts. It seems reasonable to consider that European laborers could see the disadvantage of having to compete with institutionalized slavery.
    Interesting, from my perspective, is that women were the first to organize unions in America.

    Question 6: Was this sectional divide inevitable? Why or why not?
    Yes, it seems it was. Not only did Henry Clay have visions of future war as the previous poster Tim Utter gives reference to; so did President Andrew Jackson, seventeen years earlier when he said, “ The nullifiers in the south intend to blow up a storm on the slave question . . . be assured these men would do any act to destroy this union and form a southern confederacy . . . “ (page 141 pbk)

    Suzanne Jones

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