The 1819 application for statehood by the Missouri Territory sparked a bitter debate in Congress over the issue of slavery in the new territories that had been created as a result of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
Concerned that the South would have a representational advantage, Congressman James Tallmadge of New York introduced a bill that would prohibit any further growth of slavery in Missouri, and would eventually set the children of Missouri's slaves free. The bill passed in the House but failed to pass the Senate. Leaders of the slave South were appalled by Tallmadge’s efforts; Sen. John C. Calhoun predicted that unless slavery were more formally sanctioned and protected by the federal government, the union would eventually dissolve.
The issue was resolved with a two-part compromise. First, the northern part of Massachusetts became Maine and was admitted to the Union as a free state at the same time that Missouri was admitted as a slave state, thereby maintaining a balance of 12 slave and 12 free states.
Second, a line was drawn at 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude, and any portions of the Louisiana Territory lying north of the compromise line would be free. But the compromise provided that fugitive slaves "escaping into any... state or territory of the United States...may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labour or service." And even in the free territories, "slavery and involuntary servitude... in the punishment of crimes" was not prohibited. South of 36/30, slavery was permitted.
What do they mean? How did white Southerners – masters, in particular – interpret them? How did the rise of abolitionism in the North affect such Southerners? Why did the rebellions occur in these particular years?
There are conflicting visions of the “just” society and social order in the North & South. This conflict informs the debate over slavery expansion prior to the Civil War. Most of the new territory west of the Mississippi River comes to the U.S. as a result of its War with Mexico in the 1840s.
Slavery traditionally kept out of politics Congressional power over slavery includes setting conditions to accept territories as states forbidding slavery in new states Mexican Cession of 1848 directly raises the question of slavery in new territory
Mexican War mobilizes antislavery groups Antislavery – Free-Soilism – is not the same as Abolitionism Very few Northerners were abolitionists – less than 1%, in fact. Wilmot Proviso of 1846 seeks to outlaw slavery in the new territories gained from Mexico. Why? To ban black Americans, and thereby to preserve the new territories for white farmers. This encapsulates the politics of Abraham Lincoln – see Hofstadter. Proviso passes in House, fails in Senate
Taylor proposes admitting California and New Mexico as states immediately The White South reacts angrily Proposed Nashville convention prompts the possibility of Southern secession
Henry Clay’s compromise package California admitted as a free state slave trade, but not slavery, prohibited in District of Columbia strong fugitive slave law enlarged New Mexico/Utah territory will be admitted on basis of “popular sovereignty” This overturns the territorial ban on slavery enacted by the Missouri Compromise, therby enraging “Free-Soilers”
Whigs and Democrats manage controversy in 1850 But the territorial question destroys both parties in 1850s
1854--Stephen Douglas introduces Kansas- Nebraska bill apply popular sovereignty to Kansas, Nebraska Formal repeal Missouri Compromise line Act passes on sectional vote Most Northerners outraged
Mass defection among Northern Democrats “Anti-Nebraska” candidates sweep North in 1854 congressional elections Democrats become sole Southern party Republican Party is organized
Republican party unites former Whigs, Know- Nothings, Free-Soilers, Democrats Appeals to Northern sectional sympathies Defends West for white, small farmers “Bleeding Kansas” helps Republicans struggle among abolitionists, proslavery forces for control of Kansas territory Republicans use conflict to appeal for voters
Republican John C. Frémont seeks votes only in free states Democrat James Buchanan defends the Compromise of 1850, carries election Republicans make clear gains in North
Sectional quarrel becomes virtually irreconcilable under Buchanan Growing sense of deep cultural differences, opposing interests between North and South
Major Protestant denominations divide into northern and southern entities over slavery Southern literature romanticizes plantation life South seeks intellectual, economic independence Northern intellectuals condemn slavery Uncle Tom's Cabin an immense success in North
Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857): Supreme Court can decide on slavery in the territories Court refuses narrow determination of case Major arguments Scott has no right to sue because neither he nor any other black person, slave or free, a citizen Congress has no authority to prohibit slavery in territories, Missouri Compromise unconstitutional Ruling strengthens Republicans
Lincoln, in 1858 race for the U.S. Senate: decries “Southern plot” to extend slavery promises to work for slavery’s extinction casts slavery as a moral problem defends white supremacy in response to Douglas Douglas accuses Lincoln of favoring equality Lincoln loses election, gains national reputation
October, 1859--John Brown raids Harper’s Ferry Brown executed, mourned as martyr by abolitionists Republicans seen as radical abolitionists Most white Southerners convinced they must secede on election of Republican president
Party splits Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas Southern Democrat John Breckenridge
Candidate John Bell Promises compromise between North and South
Abraham Lincoln nominated home state of Illinois crucial to election seen as moderate Platform to widen party’s appeal free homesteads for small, white farmers Lincoln wins by carrying North, mostly on a campaign grounded in “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men”
Republicans a strict sectional party Fundamental conflict of values Southern values paternalism, generosity, white supremacy slavery defended on the grounds of race Northern values Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men each person free and responsible slavery tyrannical and immoral White supremacy