Chapter 18

Renewing the Sectional Struggle



The Popular Sovereignty Panacea

Popular Sovereignty: the idea that the people of a territory should determine their territory's status of slavery. It was popular with politicians because it was a compromise between the abolitionists and the slaveholders.

At the Democratic National Convention at Baltimore, the Democrats chose General Lewis Cass, a veteran of the war of 1812, as their candidate for presidency.  Cass was not against slavery; he supported popular sovereignty.


Political Triumphs for General Taylor

The Whigs, who met in Philadelphia, chose Zachary Taylor as their candidate for presidency.  Taylor did not have an official stance on slavery, but he did own many slaves.  Henry Clay had not been chosen because he had too many enemies.

The Free Soil Party was created by antislavery men of the North who didn't trust Cass or Taylor.  They supported federal aid for internal improvements.  They argued that with slavery, wage labor would wither away and with it, the chance for the American worker to own property.

Zachary Taylor won the election of 1848 (sworn into office in 1849).


"Californy Gold"

In 1848, gold was discovered in California.  The influx of people associated with the California gold rush brought violence and disease that overwhelmed the small Californian government.  Needing protection, the Californians bypassed the territorial stage of a state, drafted their own Constitution (excluding slavery) in 1849, and applied to Congress for admission into the Union. 

The southerners objected to California's admission as a free state because it would be upset the balance of free and slave states in the Senate.


Sectional Balance and the Underground Railroad

Harriet Tubman: an illiterate runaway slave who helped rescue hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad, a network of anti-slavery homes that passed slaves from the slave states to Canada.

By 1850, southerners started to demand stricter fugitive-slave laws.  (The old fugitive-slave law passed by Congress in 1793 was very weak.)


Twilight of the Senatorial Giants

The congressional debate of 1850 was called to address the admission of California to the Union and threats of secession by southerners.  Known as the "immortal trio," Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and Daniel Webster spoke at the debate.

Henry Clay, the "Great Compromiser," proposed a series of compromises.  He suggested that the North enact a stricter fugitive-slave law. 

John Calhoun, the "Great Nullifier," proposed to return runaway slaves, give the South its rights as a minority, and restore the political balance.  His ultimate plan was for America to have two presidents, one from the South and one from the North, each yielding one veto.

Daniel Webster called for people to make concessions and support Clay's proposals, for the sake of maintaining the Union (Seventh of March Speech). He was against slavery, but he viewed the collapse of the Union as worse.


Deadlock and Danger on Capital Hill

William H. Seward: senator of New York; opposed slavery and because of this, he opposed Clay's proposals; argued that God's moral law was higher than the Constitution.

President Zachary Taylor opposed slavery and seemed ready to veto any compromise between the North and South that went through Congress.

Breaking the Congressional Logjam

In 1850, President Taylor died suddenly and Vice President Millard Fillmore took the presidency.  President Fillmore signed a series of compromises contained within the Compromise of 1850. In regards to slavery, California was admitted as a free state, but the territories of New Mexico and Utah were open to popular sovereignty. Additionally, slave trade was outlawed in the District of Columbia, but a stricter fugitive-slave law was enacted.

During this time period, a second Era of Good Feelings came about.  Talk of secession subsided and the Northerners and Southerners were determined that the compromises would end the issue of slavery.


Balancing the Compromise Scales

Because the Compromise of 1850 allowed California and the New Mexico/Utah territories to be free, the Senate became unbalanced in favor of the North.

The Fugitive-Slave Law of 1850, the Bloodhound Bill, said that fleeing slaves could not testify on their own behalf and they were denied a jury trial.  Northerners who aided slaves trying to escape were subject to fines and jail time.  This law was the South's only real gain from the compromise.

Some historians argue that the Compromise of 1850 strengthened the Northerner's desire to keep the Union together.


Defeat and Doom for the Whigs

In the Democratic Convention of 1852 in Baltimore, the Democrats chose Franklin Pierce as their candidate for president.  He supported the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Law.

Meeting in Baltimore, the Whigs chose Winfield Scott as their candidate for president.  He also supported the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Law.

The votes for the Whig party were split between Northern Whigs, who hated the party's platform (support of Fugitive Slave Law) but accepted the candidate, and Southern Whigs, who supported the platform but not the candidate (they doubted his support of the Fugitive Slave Law).

Franklin Pierce won the election of 1852.  The election of 1852 marked the end of the Whig party.  It died on the issue of the Fugitive Slave Law.


Expansionist Stirrings South of the Border

The victory of the Mexican War stimulated the spirit of Manifest Destiny.

Americans started to take an interest in Central America. A canal route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that ran through Central America would be vitally important to America.

The Americans and New Granada agreed to a treaty in 1848 that guaranteed America's right to use the isthmus in return for America's pledge to allow any other country to also use the isthmus. The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850 said that neither America nor Britain would fortify or secure exclusive control over any isthmian waterway.

Because the Compromise of 1850 prohibited slavery in the land gained in the Mexican War, southern Americans sought new territory to expand slavery. These people were known as "slavocrats." One slavocrat, William Walker, installed himself as the President of Nicaragua in July 1856.  He legalized slavery, but was overthrown by surrounding Central American countries and killed in 1860.

Southerners wanted to annex Cuba and turn it into a set of slave states. This would restore the balance in the Senate.

President Polk offered $100 million to buy Cuba from Spain, but Spain refused.  In 1850-1851, two expeditions of Southern men descended upon Cuba, with the hopes of taking it over. Both expeditions were defeated.

Spanish officials in Cuba seized an American ship, the Black Warrior, in 1854.  This accelerated President Pierce's interest in taking Cuba from Spain, either by force or by purchasing it.

The secretary of state instructed the American ministers in Spain, England, and France to prepare confidential recommendations for the acquisition of Cuba.  This document was known as the Ostend Manifesto.  It stated that if Spain didn't allow America to buy Cuba for $120 million, then America would attack Cuba on grounds that Spain's continued ownership of Cuba endangered American interests.  The document eventually leaked out and the Northerners foiled the President's slave-driven plan.


The Allure of Asia

Opium War: fought between Britain and China over the rights of British traders to trade opium in China; Britain won in 1842, gaining control of Hong Kong.

Treaty of Wanghia: the first diplomatic agreement between America and China; signed in 1844; expanded trade between the two countries.

Treaty of Kanagawa: opened up a small amount of trade between America and Japan; signed in 1854; it was Japan's first real interaction with the Western world in over 200 years.


Pacific Railroad Promoters and the Gadsden Purchase

After California and Oregon were acquired, the transcontinental railroad was proposed.  The open question was: Where to put the railroad's terminus? In the North or the South?

Secretary of War Jefferson Davis had James Gadsden buy an area of Mexico from Santa Anna through which the railroad would pass.  Gadsden negotiated a treaty in 1853 and the Gadsden Purchase area was ceded to the United States for $10 million. 

Southerners argued that the railroad should run through Texas and the New Mexico territory because Texas was already a state and the New Mexico territory was a formally organized territory (it had federal troops to provide protection from Indians). The proposed Northern railroad route ran through the Nebraska territory, which was not protected by troops. The Northerners proposed plans for organizing this territory.


Douglas's Kansas-Nebraska Scheme

Stephen A. Douglas: senator who tried to break the North-South deadlock over westward expansion; proposed the Territory of Nebraska to be sliced into two territories, Kansas and Nebraska.  Their status on slavery would be decided by popular sovereignty.  Kansas would be presumed to be a slave state, while Nebraska would be a free state.

This Kansas-Nebraska Act conflicted with the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which forbade slavery in the proposed Nebraska Territory. Douglas was forced to propose the repealing of the Missouri Compromise. President Pierce fully supported the Kansas-Nebraska Bill.


Congress Legislates a Civil War

The Kansas-Nebraska Act wrecked two compromises: the Compromise of 1820 was repealed by the act; the Compromise of 1850 was henceforth rejected by Northerners.

The blunder of the Kansas-Nebraska Act hurt the Democratic Party

The Republican Party was formed in the Mid-West and it was morally against slavery.  The party included Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, Know-Nothings, and other foes of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  The Southerners hated the Republican Party.


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