Key Concept 5.2 II: How did debates over slavery dominate political discussion in the 1850s, and culminate in the bitter election of 1860 and the secession of Southern states?
After the Mexican-American War, the Mexican Cession raised great debates over whether or not slavery should be allowed in the new territories. While the South sought to expand slave territories in order to gain representation in government, the North sought to suppress slavery in the new regions, suppressing Southern representation. As a result, debates over the fate of the new territories wracked the country in this era.
Initially, the conflict of free and slave states were resolved by the Missouri Compromise. However, in 1846, the Wilmot Proviso, which sought to eliminate slavery from all of the newly acquired territory from Mexico, was proposed. Even though the Proviso did not pass, the voting distribution highlighted the impact of sectional tensions within the US. Later, Henry Clay proposed the Compromise of 1850: California enters the US as a free state, the slave trade is abolished in Washington DC, the Fugitive Slave Act would be tightened, popular sovereignty would determine the fate of the remaining territories, Texas’s debt would be paid by the US. Although the compromise seemed to satisfy both the North and South to a certain extent, the idea of popular sovereignty, in which voters could decide whether or not slavery was allowed in each state, caused conflicts to arise. Douglas proposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in which popular sovereignty was a key aspect of the act. However, when Kansas held elections regarding the slave situation in the state for the first time, extremists from both sides resorted to violence in expressing their opinions and suppressing the opposition. Bleeding Kansas exhibited the incompatibility of slavery in the US. Furthermore, the Dred Scott decision, in which the slave Dred Scott appealed for freedom after residing on free land, declared that blacks had no rights in the US, whether free or slave. However, debates continued over the legality of slavery. In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln and Douglas argued over the ethics of slavery and its role in American politics. Even though these debates and compromises discussed a number of issues regarding slavery, none of them truly resolved the issue, but only increased confusion and indignation.
Traditionally, the two party system in the US protected against sectional divide as citizens were divided by party rather than by region. However, in the face of the slavery debate, the parties began changing and reforming based on regional beliefs rather than political beliefs. After a number of ineffective political compromises which only highlighted the imminence of the slavery issue, the Whig party disappeared and the Democratic party split along sectional lines. The Republican Party rose in the North, embodying the ideology of antislavery Democrats, northern Whigs, Free Soilers and certain Know-Nothings. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party became a Southerner dominated party, expressing proslavery ideals.
In the election of 1860, Lincoln represented the Republican Party while the Democratic Party split according differing views on the growing conflict. While some Democrats sought to secede from the Union, others believed slavery could survive under given conditions. In the election, not a single Southern electoral vote went to the Republican party. On the other hand, most Northerners supported the Republicans and their anti-slavery sentiment. The election map illuminated the intense sectional divide over the slavery debate. However, even though there was no Southern support for Lincoln, Lincoln still won the election by a significant amount. As a result, Southerners were dismayed by their lack of representation. They believed their efforts were futile in the face of the anti-slavery party. Many Southerners agreed that, with an anti-slavery party in office, secession may be the only option in order to preserve the slave institution. Shortly after, Lincoln’s election, a number of slave states seceded from the Union, precipitating the Civil War.
Key Concept 5.3 I: Why did the North’s greater manpower and industrial resources, the leadership of Abraham Lincoln and others, and the decision to emancipate slaves eventually lead to the Union military victory over the Confederacy in the devastating Civil War?
At the beginning of the Civil War, both sides were relatively unprepared. Transportation networks were inefficient and governments struggled to raise funding for the war. On the other hand, both sides mobilized their citizens to support the war. Pamphlets were published and propaganda was posted in encouraging participation in the war.
Initially, Lincoln’s goal was strictly to preserve the Union. He did not address slavery as a concern in the war. On the other hand, the Confederacy sought to fight a defensive war, in which successful secession was the only goal. In the beginning, both sides seemed to be evenly matched, each winning a handful of battles. However, as the war progressed, Radical Republicans sought to bring slavery into the conflict. Lincoln realized that the emancipation of slavery would decrease the likelihood of foreign countries supporting the Confederacy since most European countries were anti-slavery. Additionally, the emancipation of slaves would result in former slaves joining Union lines. Thus, because of the potential military advantages, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, liberating slaves in Confederate states. Although not all slaves were emancipated, many escaped to the North where they joined the Union army, significantly increasing the number of Union soldiers. Additionally, the lack of slaves in the Confederacy hurt the Southern economy as whites were forced to rely upon their own labor and production for the first time.
Furthermore, Lincoln sought to reunify the country by appealing to common democratic ideals. In his Gettysburg Address, he describes the new philosophies of freedom: all men are created equal. Through his passionate speeches, Lincoln sought to unite all men, regardless of race or gender. Because of this, many minorities supported the Union in their effort to restore the United States.
Over time, Union resources far outstripped the Confederacy’s in many different aspects. After the Union began enacting the Anaconda Plan, in which Union ships blockaded Confederate ports, the Confederacy began to struggle. Because the South had very little manufacturing industries, but many raw materials, the blockade prevented them from acquiring much needed resources from foreign countries. Furthermore, because the South rarely produced farm crops, food supply began running short later in the war. Southern women, especially, struggled to feed their families, resulting in widespread protest against the policies of president Jefferson Davis. Moreover, two key battles resulted in loss of morale for the Confederacy. In the Battle of Gettysburg, General Robert E. Lee sought to attack the Union, rather than defend, for the first time. However, both sides had significant casualties. The loss was particularly devastating for the Confederacy as they were already at a disadvantage to the North in terms of army size. In the Battle of Vicksburg, General Ulysses S. Grant captured the Mississippi Valley, cutting off the major transportation network along the Mississippi. As a result, the Confederacy lost another supply line. Finally, because the Union could afford to lose soldiers while the Confederacy could not, Grant attacked Confederate lines mercilessly, without regard for casualties. Eventually, the depletion of resources as well as the loss of men resulted in the death of the Confederacy and the victory of the Union.
Key Concept 5.3 II: How did Reconstruction and the Civil War end slavery, alter relationships between the states and the federal government, and lead to debates over new definitions of citizenship, particularly regarding the rights of African Americans, women, and other minorities?
Near the end of the Civil War, the 13th amendment officially abolished slavery in the US, addressing the issue in the Constitution for the first time. However, the 13th amendment did not offer newly freed blacks any rights yet. Radical Republicans sought to give blacks citizenship and thus the right to vote. But Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, a loyal Democrat, took pity on the Southern states and did not try to help the free blacks. Despite Johnson’s opposition, Congress discussed the Civil Rights Bill, which defined all people born in the US as citizens and gave them certain rights. Eventually, Congress passed the 14th amendment, which gave all people born in the US citizenship and equal protection under the law, by giving Southern states the choice to lose representation or ratify the amendment. After Grant’s election in 1868, the 15th amendment was passed, giving all citizens the right to vote, regardless of race. Through these three key amendments, basic rights were granted to African Americans for the first time.
Even though the amendments expanded the rights of certain groups in the US, both the 14th and 15th amendment failed to expand the rights of women. The 14th amendment explicitly stated that only males could vote. Similarly, the 15th amendment dissolved racial boundaries but disregarded other discriminating factors such as gender. Before the War, generally, the abolitionist movement worked together with the women’s rights movement to grant rights to more people. But Radical Republicans did not act in favor of women’s rights. This caused a split between the abolitionists and women’s rights movement for the first time. Reformers such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony separated from the abolitionist movement and denounced the Radical Republicans.
The Reconstruction Act, passed despite Johnson’s disapproval, temporarily divided the South into 5 military districts and removed current Southern officeholders. In fear of Johnson’s retaliation, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act which prevented the removal of certain Radical officeholders. However, Johnson declared the act unconstitutional and proceeded to remove Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton from office despite the Act’s restrictions. As a result, the House of Representatives impeached Johnson, but the Senate did not convict him. Even though Johnson remained in office till the end of his term, the impeachment trial established that Congress has the power to subdue the executive branch. After the trial, the government became largely controlled by Radical Republicans, who sought to grant rights to free blacks. Under the rule of the Radical Republicans, African Americans began participating in the political government for the first time. New state constitutions were drafted with new public responsibilities such as public education and better penitentiaries. African Americans took office for the first time in all levels of government. However, over time, the South began to pursue more aggressive and racist policies. Terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan attacked blacks and Northerners, generating an atmosphere of fear in the South. Grant responded through the Enforcement Acts, crushing the organization. But many Southerners were still dismayed with the situation: corruption was prevalent; taxes were high; former slaves were enjoying the luxury of equality. Liberal Republicans in Congress argued that Reconstruction should come to an end since they’ve already invested a number of resources in the process. Eventually, the South’s insistence and the North’s unwillingness lead to the end of Reconstruction, reviving previously racist ideologies in the South.
The Freedmen’s Bureau, which was delegated the task of rebuilding the South and helping former slaves meld into society, struggled to distribute land to the newly freed blacks. They sought to give forty-acre plots of land for rent to former slaves, fulfilling the democratic ideal of owning property. However, Andrew Johnson quickly returned the land to the former owners. Freed blacks complained that they did not truly experience freedom unless they could own land. Because of the lack of land distributed, many former slaves had to work under their former masters again. In the sharecropping system, blacks could own rent land from a white landowner and pay back part of the rent by splitting the crops between landowner and sharecropper. However, over time, the sharecropper became dependent upon the landowner for resources. Thus, most believed that the sharecropping system was no better than slavery. Similarly, poor white farmers struggled under the crop lien system after the war. Small farmers would exchange cotton for resources from merchants. But because interest rates were high and the price of cotton was low, many farmers fell into debt. The only way to pay off debt was to produce more cotton, repeating the cycle. Even though, the end of the Civil War promised the beginnings of new freedoms, the lack of property limited the rights of the people.
Initially, Johnson’s plan of Reconstruction was extremely lenient to the South. Many Southern leaders returned to power in the state governments. Additionally, many Southern states adopted Black Codes which regulated the lives of the newly freed blacks. The Black Codes drew controversy as people debated as to whether they restricted African Americans too much. However, with the rise of Radical Republicans, unfair laws such as black codes were eliminated and Southern leaders were punished for their crimes. Later, as the North began allowing the South to regain its control, many racist doctrines resumed, limiting the freedom of African Americans.