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Current R., Williams T. H., Freidel F., Brinkley A. American History: a survey. 7th edition; New York, 1987.


 

Chapter 13.The Impending Crisis

Until the 1840s, the sectional tensions between North and South had remained relatively contained. On two occasions, serious crises had emerged that had threatened the Union; but neither | had been permitted to develop very far. The first was resolved in 1819 by the Missouri Compromise. The second, the nullification crisis of the 1830s, was not so much resolved as allowed quietly to die.

Throughout these early decades, the nation generally avoided confronting its sectional differences. This was in part because the Union was so loose and the federal government so weak and unobtrusive that open conflicts seldom arose; and in part because people of all sections had certain snared sentiments (memories of the Revolutionary past, respect for the Constitution, dreams of national glory) and certain common institutions (the vigorous two-party system, an increasingly interdependent economy) that held them together. Had no new sectional issues arisen, it is possible that the United States would have avoided a civil war, that the two sections might have resolved their differences peaceably over time. But new issues did arise, and almost without exception they centered around the question of slavery. From the North came the strident and increasingly powerful abolitionist movement, which kept the matter alive in the public mind and greatly increased sectional animosities. And from the West, more important, came a series of controversies that would ultimately destroy the fragile Union. For ironically, the vigorous nationalism that was in some ways helping to keep the United States together was also producing a desire for territorial expansion that would tear the nation apart. As America annexed extensive

new landsTexas, the Southwest, California, the Oregon Country, and morethe question continually arose: What would be the status of slavery in the territories? 

Only the most fervent abolitionists believed that anything could be done to eliminate slavery in the states where it already existed; but a powerful coalition of Northerners began to insist that slavery be banned from new acquisitions. White Southerners, in the meantime, began to argue that slavery extension was essential to protect the future status of their region in the nation. Unless the Southern economic system expanded, they came to believe, it would be consigned to a helpless minority position.

By the late 1840s, these differences had grown to create a dangerous and enduring crisis. Twicefirst in 1850 and again in 1854national leaders attempted to settle the issue by means of a great compromise. But after each such effort, the sectional question arose again in more virulent form, until finally, in 1861, the American people took up arms against one another.

Expansion and War

In the course of the 1840s, more than a million square miles of new territory came under the control of the United Statesthe greatest wave of expansion since the Louisiana Purchase nearly forty years before. By the end of the decade, the nation possessed nearly all the territory of the present-day United Stateseverything except Alaska, Hawaii, and a few relatively small areas acquired later through border adjustments.

What accounted for this great new wave of expansion after a lull of nearly four decades? In part, it was a result of simple growthgrowth of population and growth in the economywhich created pressures to extend the borders westward. In part, too, it was a result of American fears that European nations might somehow extend their influence into the Western lands. But neither of these factors was alone sufficient to explain the new thrust westward. America had not yet even approached developing all the lands it already held; and the threat of European intervention on the continent was limited to a few areas. What gave the decisive push to the nation's quest for new territory was a set of ideasan ideology that acquired the name "Manifest Destiny."

Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny emerged out of a combination of the vigorous nationalism of the 1830s and the reform sentiment of the same era, for it reflected both national pride and an idealistic vision of social perfection. It was the idea that America was destined by God to expand its boundaries over a vast areaan area not clearly defined but certainly including much of the continent of North America. The motive for this expansion, advocates of Manifest Destiny maintained, was not a selfish desire for economic gain but an altruistic attempt to extend American liberty to new realms. John L. O'Sullivan, the influential Democratic editor who gave the movement its name, wrote in 1845 that the American claim to new territory "... is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federative self government entrusted to us. It is a right such as that of the tree to the space of air and earth suitable for the full expansion of its principle and destiny of growth."

By the 1840s, the idea of Manifest Destiny had spread throughout the nation, publicized by the new "penny press," which had made newspapers available to a far greater proportion of the population than ever before, and fanned by the rhetoric of nationalist politicians. The sentiment was strongest in the North and West, but there were advocates in the South as well.

Devotees of Manifest Destiny disagreed among themselves, however, as to how far and by what means the nation should expand. Some had relatively limited territorial goals; others envisioned a vast new American "empire of liberty" extending north into Canada and south into Mexico, and including islands in the Caribbean and in the Pacific. A few visionaries dreamed of the United States becoming a federation of much of the entire world. There was disagreement too over whether the nation could be justified in using force to achieve its goals. Democratic politicians such as O'Sullivan implied that it could. Others, especially among the Whigs, believed that only peaceful methods should be used to acquire new territory. Daniel Webster, for example, said: "I have always wished that this country should exhibit to the nations of the earth the example of a great, rich, and powerful republic which is not possessed by a spirit of aggrandizement." America should, in other words, encourage other areas to join the nation through the strength of its example, not through force.

And there were other politiciansmen such as Henry Claywho were hesitant about any further expansion at all. They feared, correctly as it turned out, that the acquisition of new territories would reopen the painful controversy over slavery and threaten the stability of the Union. Their voices, however, were all but drowned out in the enthusiasm over expansion in the 1840s, which began with the issues of Texas and Oregon.

The Question of Texas

Southwest of the United States stretched the northern provinces of MexicoTexas, New Mexico, and Upper Californiaonce parts of Spain's colonial empire in North America but, since 1822, states in the independent republic of Mexico. Under Spanish rule, the provinces had been subject to only the lightest supervision from the government of the viceroyalty in Mexico, and only a few thousand whites had settled in them. The same conditions prevailed under the Mexican republic, which lacked the power and the population to govern and settle such distant areas. The United States had once claimed Texas as a part of the Louisiana Purchase, but it had renounced the claim in 1819. Twice thereafter, however, in the presidencies of John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, the United States had offered to buy Texas, only to meet with indignant Mexican refusals.

But the Mexican government itself soon invited difficulties in Texas. In the early 1820s it encouraged American immigration by offering land grants to Stephen Austin and other men who promised to colonize the land. The motive of the government was to build up the economy of Texas, and hence its own tax revenues, by increasing the population with foreigners. But the experiment was to result in the loss of Texas to the United States. Thousands of Americans, attracted by reports of the rich soil in Texas, took advantage of Mexico's welcome. The great majority came from the Southern states, sometimes bringing slaves with them. By 1835, approximately 35,000 Americans were living in Texas.

Almost from the beginning, there was friction between the settlers and the Mexicans. Finally the Mexican government, realizing that its power over Texas was being challenged by the settlers, moved to exert control. A new law reduced the powers of the various states of the republic, a measure that white Texans took to be aimed specifically at them. In 1836, the American settlers defiantly proclaimed the independence of Texas.

The Mexican dictator, Antonio de Santa Anna, advanced into Texas with a large army. Even with the aid of volunteers, money, and supplies from private groups in the United States, the Texans were having difficulty in organizing a resistance. Their garrison at the Alamo mission in San Antonio was exterminated after a famous, if futile, defense by a group of Texas "patriots," a group that included, among others, the renowned frontiersman Davy Crockett; another garrison at Goliad suffered substantially the same fate when the Mexicans murdered most of the force after it had surrendered. But General Sam Houston, emerging as the national hero of Texas, kept a small army together, and at the Battle of San Jacinto (April 23, 1836, near present-day Houston), he defeated the Mexican army and took Santa Anna prisoner. Although the Mexican government later refused to recognize officially the captured dictator's vague promises to withdraw Mexican authority from Texas, it made no further attempt to subdue the province. Texas had won its independence.

The new republic desired to join the United States and through its new president, Sam Houston, immediately asked for recognition, to be followed by annexation. Although President Andrew Jackson favored annexation, he proceeded cautiously. Many Northerners opposed the annexation of a large new slave territory. Others were opposed to incorporating a region that would add to Southern votes in Congress and in the electoral college. Jackson feared that annexation might cause an ugly sectional controversy and even lead to a war with Mexico. He did not, therefore, propose annexation and did not even extend recognition to Texas until just before he left office in 1837. His successor, Martin Van Buren, also refrained, for similar reasons, from pressing the issue.

Spurned by the United States, Texas sought recognition, support, and money in Europe. Texan leaders talked about creating a vast southwestern nation, stretching to the Pacific, which would be a rival to the United States. It was the kind of talk that Europe, particularly England (which already saw in the United States a potential rival in world trade and naval influence), was pleased to hear. An independent Texas would be a counterbalance to the United States and a barrier to further American expansion; it would supply cotton for European industry and provide a market for European exports. England and France hastened to recognize and conclude trade treaties with Texas. Observing all this, and also eager to increase Southern power, President Tyler persuaded Texas to apply again, and Secretary of State Calhoun submitted an annexation treaty to the Senate in April 1844. Unfortunately for Texas, Calhoun presented annexation as if its only purpose were to extend and protect slavery. The treaty was soundly defeated.

By now, however, the issue of Texas had become one of the major concerns of advocates of Manifest Destiny. And the rejection of the treaty of annexation only spurred them to greater efforts toward their goal. The Texas question would soon become the central issue in the election of 1844.

The Question of Oregon

American interest in what was known as the Oregon Country had, like the interest in Texas, a long history. And like Texas, Oregon became in the 1840s a major political issue. The ownership of the territory had long been in dispute, but its boundaries were clearly definedon the north the latitude line of 54°40\ on the east the crest of the Rocky Mountains, on the south the 42nd parallel, and on the west the Pacific. Its half-million square miles included the present states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, parts of Montana and Wyoming, and half of British Columbia.

At various times in the past, the Oregon Country had been claimed by Spain, Russia, France, England, and the United States. By the 1820s, Spain, Russia, and France had withdrawn and surrendered their rights to Britain or to the United States or to both. For years after that, both nations claimed sovereignty over the region. Each could assert title on the basis of the activities of its explorers, maritime traders, and fur traders. The English had one solid advantage: they were in actual possession of a part of the area. In 1821, the powerful British fur trading organization, the Hudson's Bay Company, under the leadership of its factor, John McLoughlin, established a post at Fort Vancouver, north of the Columbia River.

Several times the English government proposed the Columbia as a suitable line for dividing Oregon: Great Britain would retain possession of the regions to the north of the river, the United States would control the land to the south of it. The United States, also showing a desire to compromise, countered by suggesting the 49th parallel. This difference in official views prevented a settlement of the Oregon question in the treaty of 1818, which ended the War of 1812. Unable to agree on a demarcation line, the diplomats of the two powers provided in the treaty that citizens of each were to have equal access to Oregon for ten years. This arrangement, called joint occupation, was renewed in 1827 for an indefinite period, with either nation empowered to end it on a year's notice.

The first real American interest in Oregon came as a result of the activities of missionaries, notably Jason Lee, Marcus Whitman, and Father Pierre Jean de Smet. All the missionaries located their posts east or south of the Columbia River, mostly in the fertile Willamette Valley. They described their work in reports and letters that were published in the United States in influential religious journals and widely reprinted in secular newspapers. These reports dwelt as much on the rich soil and lovely climate of Oregon as on the spiritual condition of the Indians.

Beginning in 1841, thousands of American pioneers set out for Oregon in a display of what became known as "Oregon fever." Two thousand miles in length, the Oregon Trail penetrated Indian country and crossed mountains and semidesert regions. To the emigrants, traveling in caravans of covered wagons and accompanied by huge herds of cattle, the trail presented enormous problems in transportation. The average period required for the journey was from May to November. Some never lived to complete it. But the great majority got through. By 1845, 5,000 Americans were living south of the Columbiaand demanding that their government take possession of Oregon. Their cries were echoed by the supporters of Manifest Destiny within the United States.

Polk and Expansion

The election of 1844 was widely expected to be a contest between two old foes: Henry Clay, the anticipated presidential candidate of the Whigs (President Tyler having been driven out of the party), and former president Martin Van Buren, assumed to be the favorite for the Democratic nomination. Both men wished to avoid taking a stand on the heated issue of the annexation of Texas, because whatever stand they took was certain to lose them some votes. Consequently, they issued separate statements on the question so similar in tone as to suggest that they had consulted with one another in advance; Both favored annexation, but only with the consent of Mexico. Since such consent was unlikely at best, the statements had little or no meaning.

Sentiment for expansion was relatively mild within the Whig party, and Clay had no difficulty securing the nomination despite his noncommittal position. The Whig platform discreetly omitted any reference to Texas. Among the Democrats, however, sentiment for annexation had grown to major proportions, particularly among party members in the South. They were enraged by Van Buren's equivocal stand on Texas, and their opposition destroyed the former president's chance of regaining the White House. Instead, the Democratic convention nominated James K. Polk.

Polk's supporters had skillfully exploited their candidate's backing for the annexation of Texas to generate votes for him at the convention. And in doing so, they won a victory for the first ''dark horse" to win the presidential nomination of his party. Polk was not as obscure as his Whig critics suggested when they asked sarcastically during the campaign, "Who is James K. Polk?" Neither, however, was he a genuinely major figure within his party. Born in North Carolina, he had in his mid-twenties moved to Tennessee (following the pattern of the man who would become his political mentor, Andrew Jackson). For fourteen years, beginning in 1825, he had served in

the U.S. House of Representatives, four of them as its Speaker. Most recently, he had been governor of Tennessee. But in 1844, he had been out of public officeand for the most part out of the public mind for three years. Hence his nomination was unexpected.

The sentiment that had made his victory possible could be seen in the key resolution of the Democratic platform: "that the re-occupation of Oregon and the re-annexation of Texas at the earliest practicable period are great American measures.' The words "re-occupation" and "re-annexation" were intended to imply that in taking Oregon and Texas, the United States would only be confirming its claim to territories that had already belonged to it. By combining the Oregon and Texas questions, the Democrats hoped to appeal to both Northern and Southern expansionists.

Too late, Clay realized that he had mishandled the expansion issue. In midcampaign he announced that under certain circumstances he might be for the acquisition of Texas. His tardy straddling probably cost him more votes than it gained. Polk carried the election by 170 electoral votes to 105, although his popular majority was less than 40,000. The Liberty party, runningjames G. Birney a second time, polled 62,000 votes (as compared with 7,000 in 1840), mainly from antislavery Whigs who had turned against Clay.

The new president was an ordinary-looking man: short, thin, and grim of expression, with public manners that matched his appearance. But Polk was both intelligent and energetic, and he entered office with a clear idea of what he wished to accomplish and a firm grasp of the means necessary to attain it. Perhaps no president in American history was as successful in fulfilling his stated goals as James K. Polk.

One of those goals was achieved for him even before he took office. John Tyler, who remained in the White House until March 1845, interpreted the election returns as a mandate for annexation of Texas. He proposed to Congress that the territory be accepted into the Union by a joint resolution of both houses, a device that would eliminate the necessity of obtaining a two-thirds majority in the Senate for a treaty. In February 1845, Congress complied. There were conditions. Texas could be subdivided into no more than four additional states (in fact, it was never subdivided at all); it would retain responsibility for paying the debts that it had acquired as an independent nation (although it was permitted to retain its public lands as well, rather than ceding them to the federal government); and it had to submit to the United States any boundary disputes in which it became involved. After the inauguration of Polk, Texas accepted the conditions; and in December 1845, it became a state.

Polk himself resolved the perplexing question of Oregon, although not without difficulty and not to the thorough satisfaction of his supporters. In his inaugural address, the new president seemed to reassert American title to all of the Oregon Country. In reality, however, he was willing to compromiseto effect a division on the line of the 49th parallel. The British minister in Washington was less conciliatory. He rejected Polk's offer without even referring it to London.

Abruptly, Polk took a more militant attitude. Saying America should look John Bull "straight in the eye" and hinting at war, he asserted again the American claim to all of Oregon. In his annual message to Congress in December 1845, he asked for approval to give notice to England that joint occupation was to end in a year. Citing the Monroe Doctrine (which had been largely forgotten during the previous twenty years), he insisted that the United States would permit no further European colonization. Congress, despite the dissent of some Whigs, complied with the president's request.

There was loose talk of war on both sides of the Atlantictalk that in the United States often took the form of the bellicose slogan "Fifty-four forty or fight!" Neither nation, however, genuinely wished to resort to force. Finally, the British government offered to divide Oregon at the 49th parallelthat is, to accept Polk's original proposal. The president pretended to believe that the offer should be rejected, but with little resistance he allowed himself to be persuaded by the cabinet to submit the proposal to the Senate for advice. The result was that responsibility for the decision now shifted, no doubt to the president's great relief, from the White House to the Capitol. The Senate accepted the proposed agreement, and on June 15, 1846, a treaty was signed fixing the boundary at the 49th parallel, where it remains today. The United States had secured the larger and better part of the Oregon Country. It had certainly obtained all that it could reasonably have expected to get without war.

The Southwest and California

One of the reasons the Senate and the president had agreed so readily to the British proposal for settling the Oregon question was that new tensions were emerging in the Southwesttensions that threatened to lead (and ultimately did lead) to a war with Mexico. The moment the United States admitted Texas to statehood in 1845, the Mexican government broke diplomatic relations with Washington. To make matters worse, a dispute now developed over the boundary between Texas and Mexico (which was now, of course, the southern boundary of the United States). The Texans claimed that the Rio Grande constituted the western and southern border, an assertion that included much of what is now New Mexico within Texas. Mexico, still refusing formally to concede the loss of Texas, nevertheless argued that the border had always been the Nueces River, well to the north of the Rio Grande. Polk recognized the Texas claim, and in the summer of 1845 he sent a small army under General Zachary Taylor to the Nueces lineto protect Texas, he claimed, against a possible Mexican invasion.

The semiprimitive economy of New Mexico, part of the area in dispute, supported a scanty population. The trade center of the region was the small metropolis of Santa Fe, 300 miles from the nearest settlements to the south and more than 1,000 miles from Mexico City and Vera Cruz, the economic centers on which New Mexico had relied during Spanish rule. This geographical isolation from Mexico helped produce a social and cultural isolation as well; for after Mexico had won its independence, the new government did for New Mexico much the same thing as it did for Texasit invited American traders into the region. The Mexicans hoped that the new trade with the United States would enhance the development of their province. It did. But it also, although on a more limited scale than in Texas, started a process by which New Mexico began to become more American than Mexican.

Soon a flourishing commerceinaugurated in 1821 by William Becknelldeveloped between Santa Fe and Independence, Missouri, with long caravans moving back and forth along the Santa Fe Trail, carrying manufactured goods west and bringing back gold, silver, furs, and mules. The Santa Fe trade, as it was called, increased the American presence in New Mexico, and it signaled to advocates of expansion another direction for their efforts.

Americans were similarly increasingtheir interest in an even more distant province of Mexico: California. In this vast region lived perhaps 7,000 Mexicans, descendants of Spanish colonists, who engaged in agricultural pursuits, chiefly ranching, and carried on a skimpy trade with the outside world. Gradually, however, Americans began to arrive: first maritime traders and captains of Pacific whaling ships, who stopped to barter goods or buy supplies; then merchants, who established stores, imported merchandise, and developed a profitable trade with the Mexicans and Indians. Some of these new settlers began to dream of bringing California into the United States. Thomas O. Larkin, for example, set up a business in Monterey in 1832, quickly became a leading citizen of the region, and in 1844 accepted an appointment as American consul, with instructions to arouse sentiment among the Californians for annexation.

As reports spread of the rich soil and mild climate, immigrants began to enter California from the east by land. These were pioneering farmers, men of the type that were penetrating Texas and Oregon in search of greener pastures. By 1845, there were 700 Americans in California, most of them concentrated in the valley of the Sacramento River. The overlord of this region was John A. Sutter, once of Germany and Switzerland, who had moved to California in 1839 and had become a Mexican citizen. His headquarters at Sutter's Fort was the center of a magnificent domain where the owner ranched thousands of cattle and horses and maintained a network of small manufacturing shops to supply his armed retainers.

President Polk feared that Great Britain would try to acquire or dominate California as well as Texas a suspicion that was given credence by the activities of British diplomatic agents in the province. His dreams of expansion thus began to extend beyond the Democratic platform. He was determined to acquire for his country New Mexico and California and possibly other parts of northern Mexico.

At the same time that he sent Taylor to the Nueces, Polk also sent secret instructions to the commander of the Pacific naval squadron to seize the California ports if he heard that Mexico had declared war. A little later, Consul Larkin was informed that, if the people wanted to revolt and join the United States, they would be received as brethren. Still later, an exploring expedition led by Captain John C. Fremont, of the army's corps of topographical engineers, entered California. The Mexican authorities, alarmed by the size of the party and its military character, ordered Fremont to leave. He complied, but moved only over the Oregon border.

After appearing to prepare for war, Polk resolved on a last effort to achieve his objectives by diplomacy. He dispatched to Mexico a special minister, John Slidell, a Louisiana politician, with instructions to settle with American money all the questions in dispute between the two nations. If Mexico would acknowledge the Rio Grande boundary for Texas, the United States would assume the damage claims, amounting to several millions, which Americans held against Mexico. If Mexico would cede New Mexico, the United States would pay $5 million. And for California, the United States would pay up to $25 million. Slidell soon notified his government that his mission had failed. Immediately after receiving Slidell's report, on January 13, 1846, Polk ordered Taylor's army to move across the Nueces to the Rio Grande.

If Polk was hoping for trouble, he was disappointed for months. Finally, in May, he decided to ask Congress to declare war on the grounds that Mexico had refused to honor its financial obligations and had insulted the United States by rejecting the Slidell mission. While Polk was working on a war message, the news arrived from Taylor that Mexican troops had crossed the Rio Grande and attacked a unit of American soldiers. Polk now revised his message. He declared: "Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States . . . and shed American blood upon the American soil. . . . War exists by the act of Mexico herself." Congress accepted Polk's interpretation of events and on May 13, 1846, declared war by votes of 40 to 2 in the Senate and 174 to 14 in the House.

The Mexican War

The war was never popular in the United States. Whig critics charged from the beginning that Polk had deliberately maneuvered the country into the conflict, that the border incident that had precipitated the declaration had been staged. Many argued that the hostilities with Mexico were draining resources and attention away from the far more important issue of Oregon; when the United States finally reached its agreement with Britain, opponents claimed that Polk had settled for less than he should have because he was preoccupied with Mexico. This opposition, limited at first to a relatively few Whigs in Congress, increased and intensified as the war continued and as the public became aware of the level of casualties and of the expense. Whigs in Congress generally supported military appropriation bills, not wishing to face accusations of obstructing the war effort. But they became ever bolder and more bitter in denouncing "Mr. Polk's war" as an aggressive and unnecessary conflict.

The president himself, in the meantime, was finding it more difficult than he had thought to achieve his goals. Although American forces were generally successful in their campaigns against the Mexicans, final victory did not come nearly as quickly as Polk had hoped. In the opening phases of the war, the president assumed the planning of grand strategy, a practice that he continued almost to the end of the war. His basic idea was to seize key areas on the Mexican frontier and then force the Mexicans to make peace on American terms. Accordingly, he ordered Taylor to cross the Rio Grande and occupy northeastern Mexico, taking as his first objective the city of Monterrey. Polk seems to have had a vague idea that from Monterrey Taylor could advance southward, if necessary, and menace Mexico City. Taylor, known as "Old Rough and Ready," beloved by his soldiers for his courage and easy informality but ignorant of many of the technical aspects of war, attacked Monterrey in September 1846. After a hard fight he captured it, but at the price of agreeing to let the garrison evacuate without pursuit. Although the country hailed Taylor as a hero, Polk concluded that he did not possess the ability to lead an offensive against Mexico City. Also, Polk began to realize that an advance south through the mountains would involve impossible problems of supply.

Polk launched two other offensives against New Mexico and California. In the summer of 1846, a small army under Colonel Stephen W. Kearny made the long march to Santa Fe and occupied the town with no opposition. Kearny sent part of his army (Missouri volunteers under Colonel A. W. Doniphan) south to join Taylor, and ordered other troops under his command to remain in the province and defend it. Then, under instructions from Polk, Kearny proceeded with a few hundred soldiers to California to take charge of operations there. In California a combined revolt and war was being staged by the settlers, Fremont's exploring party, and the American navy. The settlers had proclaimed California an independent nation in the "Bear Flag Revolution." Fremont had returned from Oregon to lead the rebels, and the navy had landed forces and annexed California to the United States. When Kearny arrived, the Americans were fighting under the direction of Commodore R. F. Stockton of the navy. With some difficulty, Kearny brought the disparate American elements under his command, and by the autumn of 1846 completed the conquest of California.

In addition to northeastern Mexico, the United States now had possession of the two provinces for which it had gone to war. In a sense, the original objectives of the war had been achieved. Mexico, however, refused to recognize realities and would not agree to a peace or cede the conquered territory.

At this point, Polk turned to General Winfield Scott, the commanding general of the army and its finest soldier, for help. Together, the two men devised a plan to force peace on the Mexicansand, perhaps, gain even more new territory for the United States. Scott was to assemble an army at Tampico made up partly of troops from Taylor's army and partly of other forces. The navy would transport this new army down the coast to Vera Cruz, which the Americans would seize and make into a base. From Vera Cruz, Scott would move west along the National Highway to Mexico City. Late in 1846, Scott went to Mexico to organize his forces. Taylor, about half of whose army was transferred to Scott's command, was instructed to stand on the defensive.

While Scott was assembling his army off the coast, General Santa Anna, the Mexican dictator, decided to take advantage of the division of American forces by marching northward, crushing Taylor, and then returning to deal with Scott. With an army much larger than Taylor's, Santa Anna attacked the Americans at Buena Vista in February 1847. But he could not break the American line and had to return to defend Mexico City.

In the meantime, Scott had taken Vera Cruz by siege and was moving inland, in one of the most brilliant campaigns in American military annals. With an army that never numbered more than 14,000, he advanced 260 miles into enemy territory, conserved the lives of his soldiers by using flanking movements instead of frontal assaults, and finally achieved his objective without losing a battle. At Cerro Gordo, in the mountains, he inflicted a smashing reverse on the Mexicans. He met no further resistance until he was within a few miles of Mexico City. After capturing the fortress of Chapultepec in a hard fight, the Americans occupied the enemy capital. A new Mexican government came into power, one that recognized defeat and was willing to make a peace treaty.

President Polk was now growing thoroughly unclear about his objectives. He continued to encourage those who demanded that the United States annex much of Mexico itself. At the same time, concerned about the approaching presidential election, he was growing anxious to get the war finished quickly. Along with the invading army, Polk had sent a special presidential agent authorized to negotiate a settlement with Mexico. The agentNicholas Trist, one of those obscure figures who occasionally have a major impact on historyconcluded a treaty with the new Mexican government on February 2, 1848: the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Mexico agreed to cede California and New Mexico to the United States and acknowledge the Rio Grande as the boundary of Texas. In return, the United States contracted to assume the claims of its citizens against Mexico and pay to the Mexicans $15 million. When the treaty reached Washington, Polk faced a dilemma. Trist had obtained for the United States most of Polk's original demands, but he had stopped far short of the expansive dreams the president had come to harbor of acquiring more territory in Mexico. Polk angrily claimed that Trist had violated his instructions; he soon realized, however, that he had no choice but to accept the treaty. Some ardent expanionists were demanding that he hold out for annexation ofin a phrase widely bandied about at the time"All Mexico!" Antislavery leaders, in the meantime, were charging that the demands for acquisition of Mexico were part of a Southern scheme to extend slavery to new realms (although other antislavery people, convinced that slavery could never be established in Mexico, were among those arguing for taking the whole country). To silence this bitter and potentially destructive debate, Polk submitted the Trist treaty to the Senate, which approved it by a vote of 38 to 14. The war was over, and America had gained a vast new territory. But it had also acquired a new set of troubling and divisive issues.

A New Sectional Crisis

James Polk tried during his presidency to be a leader whose policies transcended sectional issues. Thus he responded to the expansionist demands of both Northerners and Southerners. And he pursued economic policies designed similarly to strengthen the Democratic party as an organization with strong national support. He persuaded Congress, for example, to reestablish the independent treasury systemthe Van Buren plan of 1840 to stabilize the nation's banks without resorting to another Bank of the United States. The Tyler administration had dismantled the system two years earlier, and Polk now delighted Democrats throughout the country by restoring it. He also delighted the South by fulfilling his campaign pledge to lower tariff ratesthrough the tariff of 1846, which achieved support as well from Northwestern Democrats.

Yet Polk was not to find it so easy to conciliate the sections. Although he acquired territory both in the Northwest and in the Southwest, Northerners continued to accuse him of having made Oregon a second priority so as to favor the expansionists of the South. The tariff bill, moreover, not only alienated manufacturers and merchants in the Northeast. It encouraged those Northwesterners who had supported it to believe that the president should, in return for their backing, now support internal improvements in their region. When Polk vetoed two bills providing federal funds for construction of roads and other improvements in the West, arguing that the national government had no authority to fund such projects, Westerners charged again that the administration was sacrificing their interests to those of the South.

The Sectional Debate

Sectional tensions were already rising, therefore, when a much more dangerous issue emerged. In August 1846, while the war was still in progress, Polk had asked Congress to provide him with $2 million that he could use to purchase peace with Mexico. When the appropriation was introduced in the House, David Wilmot of Pennsylvania, an antislavery Democrat from a high-tariff state, moved an amendment that slavery should be prohibited in any territory secured from Mexico. The so-called Wilmot Proviso passed the House but failed in the Senate. It would be called up again and be debated and voted on repeatedly for years.

Diametrically opposed to the Wilmot Proviso was the formula of the Southern extremists. They contended that the states jointly owned the territories and that the citizens of each state possessed equal rights in them, including the right to move to them with their property, particularly slave property. According to this view, Congress had no power to prohibit the movement of slavery into the public domain or to regulate it in any way except by extending protection. Neither could a territorial legislature, which was a creature of Congress, take any action to ban slavery.

Two compromise plans were presented. One, which numbered President Polk among its advocates, proposed to run the Missouri Compromise line of 36°30' through the new territories to the Pacific coast, banning slavery north of the line and permitting it south of the line. The other, first prominently supported by Lewis Cass, Democratic senator from Michigan, was originally called "squatter sovereignty." Some years later, when taken up by Stephen A. Douglas, an Illinois senator of the same party, it was given the more dignified title of "popular sovereignty." According to this formula, the question of slavery in each territory should be left to the people there, acting through the medium of their territorial legislature.

Congress and the country debated the various formulas, but at the end of Polk's administration a decision had still not been reached. No territorial government had been provided for California or New Mexico (New Mexico included most of present New Mexico and Arizona, all of Utah and Nevada, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming). Even the organization of Oregon, so far north that slavery obviously would never enter it, was held up by the controversy. Southern members of Congress, hoping to gain some advantage in the regions farther south, blocked a territorial bill for Oregon until August 1848, when a free-soil government was finally authorized.

The debate was partially stilled by the presidential campaign of 1848. Both the Democrats and the Whigs tried to avoid provocative references to the slavery question. When Polk declined to run for a second term, the Democrats nominated as their candidate Lewis Cass of Michigan, an elderly, honest, dull party wheel horseand, according to most accounts (and portraits), a man of stunning physical unattractive-ness. Although the platform was purposely vague, it could be interpreted as an endorsement of squatter sovereignty. The Whigs adopted no platform and presented as their candidate a military hero with no political record, General Zachary Taylor of Louisiana.

Ardent abolitionists and even moderates who merely opposed the expansion of slavery found it difficult to swallow either Cass or Taylor. The situation was ripe for the appearance of a powerful third party. The potential sources for such a group were the existing Liberty party and the antislavery Whigs and Democrats. Late in the campaign, third-party promoters held a national convention, adopted a platform endorsing the Wilmot Proviso, free homesteads (free land for migrants to the West), and a higher tariff, and nominated former president Van Buren for the presidency. Thus was launched the Free Soil partya major step toward what would ultimately be a dissolution of the existing party system and its replacement with another.

Taylor won a narrow victory. Although Van Buren failed to carry a single state, he polled an impressive 291,000 votes (10 percent of the total), and the Free-Soilers elected ten members to Congress. It is probable that Van Buren pulled enough Democratic votes away from Cass, particularly in New York, to throw the election to Taylor.

Taylor and the Territories

Zachary Taylor was the first man to be elected president with no previous political training or experience. He was also the first professional soldier to occupy the White House. (He was not, of course, the first general. Washington, Jackson, and Harrison had all attained that rank during their military service.) Taylor was a Southerner and a slaveholder, but from his long years in the army he had acquired a national outlook.

Almost immediately, the new president encountered problems connected with the territories recently acquired from Mexico. Congress had failed to provide a civil government for the new possessions, and the regions were being administered by military officials responsible to the president. There was particular pressure to establish a new government in California, for that territory was experiencing a remarkable boom. In January 1848, gold was accidentally discovered in the Sacramento Valley. As word of the strike spread, inhabitants of California and the whole Far West, fired by hopes of becoming immediate millionaires, stampeded to the area to stake out claims. By the en9 of summer the news had reached the Eastern states and Europe. Then the gold rush really started.

From the United States and throughout the world, thousands of "forty-niners" poured into California. Those who left from the older states could choose among three routes of travel: overland by covered wagon, inexpensive but involving a longjourney over the Great Plains and across the Rockies; by ship around Cape Horn, quicker but more expensive; or the dangerous, difficult shortcut across the Isthmus of Panama. By all three routes, disdaining hunger, thirst, disease, and even death, the seekers after gold camemore than 80,000 of them in 1849 alone. By the end of that year, California had a population of approximately 100,000, more than enough to entitle it to statehood.

President Taylor believed that statehood would serve as the solution not only to the inadequacy of the military government in California but to the whole issue of slavery in the territories. Let California and New Mexico both frame state constitutions and apply for admission to the Union, he declared. Once they had become states, no one could deny their right to dispose of slavery as they wished. So Taylor directed military officials in the territories to expedite statehood movements.

California promptly ratified a constitution in which slavery was prohibited. When Congress assembled in December 1849, Taylor proudly described his efforts. He recommended that California be admitted as a free state and that New Mexico, when it was ready, be permitted to come in with complete freedom to decide the status of slavery as it wished. But Congress was not about to accept the president's program.

Complicating the situation was the emergence of side issues generated by the conflict over slavery in the territories. One such issue concerned slavery in the District of Columbia. Antislavery people, charging that human servitude in the capital was a national disgrace, demanded that it be abolished there. Southerners angrily replied that the institution could not be touched without the consent of Maryland, which had originally donated the land.

Another disturbing issue was the question of fugitive slaves. Northern personal liberty laws, forbidding courts and police officers to assist in the return of runaways, provoked Southerners to call for a new, more stringent national fugitive slave law,

A third issue related to the boundary between Texas and New Mexico. Texas claimed the portion of New Mexico east of the Rio Grande, although the federal government during the Mexican War had assigned this region to New Mexico. To Texans, it seemed that Washington was trying to steal part of their territory. They also resented the government's refusal to assume the Texas war debt. Southern extremists supported the pretensions of Texas, while Northerners, eager to cut down the size of a slave state, upheld New Mexico.

But the biggest obstacle in the way of the president's program was the Southangered and frightened by the possibility that two new free states would be added to the Northern majority. Only in the Senate did the South still maintain equality. The number of free and slave states was equal in 1849fifteen of each. But now the admission of California would upset the balance, with New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah still to come.

Responsible Southern leaders declared that if California was to be admitted, and if slavery was to be prohibited in the territories, the time had come for the South to secede from the Union. At the suggestion of Mississippi, a call went out for a Southern-rights convention to meet in June 1850 at Nashville, Tennessee, to consider whether the South should resort to the ultimate act of secession. In the North excitement ran equally high. Every Northern state legislature but one adopted resolutions demanding that slavery be barred from the territories. Public meetings all through the free states called for the passage of the Wilmot Proviso and the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. Such was the crisis that confronted Congress and the country as the tense year of 1850 opened.

The Compromise of 1850

Moderates and lovers of the Union turned their thoughts, during the winter of 1849-1850, to the framing of a great congressional compromise that would satisfy both sections and restore tranquillity. The venerable statesman from Kentucky, Henry Clay, headed the forces of conciliation. In Clay's view, no compromise would have any lasting effect unless it settled all the issues in dispute between the sections. Accordingly, he took a number of separate measures, which had been proposed before, combined them into one set of resolutions, and on January 29, 1850, presented them to the Senate. He recommended (1) that California be admitted as a free state; (2) that, in the rest of the Mexican cession, territorial governments be formed without restrictions as to slavery; (3) that Texas yield in its boundary dispute with New Mexico and be compensated by the federal government's taking over its public debt; (4) that the slave trade, but not slavery itself, be abolished in the District of Columbia; and (5) that a new and more effective fugitive slave law be passed. These resolutions launched a debate that raged for seven monthsboth in Congress and throughout the nation. The debate occurred in two phases, the differences between which revealed much about how American politics was changing in the 1850s.

In the first phase of the debate, the dominant voices in Congress were those of old mennational leaders who still remembered Jefferson, Adams, and other founderswho argued for or against the compromise on the basis of broad ideals. Clay himself, seventy-three years old in 1850, was the most prominent of these spokesmen. He opened the oratorical tournament with a defense of his measures and a broad plea to both North and South to be mutually conciliatory. It was the Union, he claimed, and the shared sentiments of nationalism that had emerged from America's glorious past, that should be the primary concern of the lawmakers.

Early in March, another of the older leaders John C. Calhoun, sixty-eight years old and so ill that he had to sit grimly in his seat while a colleague read his speech for himmade his contribution to the debate. Almost ignoring Clay's proposals, he devoted his argument to what to him was the larger, in fact the only subject: the minority status of the South; and he asked more for his section than any realistic observer believed could be given. Like Clay, however, Calhoun spoke emotionally of the bonds holding the nation together. Because of Northern aggressions, the cords that bound the Union were snapping. What could save it? The North, he insisted, must admit that the South possessed equal rights in the territories, must agree to observe the laws concerning fugitive slaves, must cease attacking slavery, and must accept an amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing a balance of power between the sections. The amendment would provide for the election of dual presidents, one from the North and one from the South, each possessing a veto power. In short, nothing would satisfy Calhoun but a comprehensive, permanent solution to the sectional problem. His proposal, however, would have required an abject surrender by the North.

After Calhoun came the third of the elder statesmen, the sixty-eight-year-old Daniel Webster. His "Seventh of March Address" was probably the greatest forensic effort of his long oratorical career. Still nourishing White House ambitions, he now sought to calm angry passions and to rally Northern moderates to support Clay's compromise.

After six months of debate, howeversix months dominated by ringing appeals to the memory of the founders, to nationalism, to idealismthe effort to win approval of the compromise failed. In July, Congress defeated the Clay proposal. And with that, the controversy moved into its second phase, in which a very different cast of characters would predominate. Clay, ill and tired, left Washington to spend the summer resting in the mountains. He would return, but never with his old vigor; he died in 1852. Calhoun had died even before the vote in July. And Webster in the course of the summer accepted a new appointment as secretary of state, thus removing himself from the Senate and from the debate.

In place of these leaders, a new, younger group now emerged as the dominant voices. There was William H. Seward of New York, forty-nine years old, a wily political operator who staunchly opposed the proposed compromise. The ideals of Union were to him clearly less important than the issue of eliminating slavery. Emerging as the new voice of the South was Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, forty-two years old, a representative not of the old aristocratic South of Calhoun but of the new, cotton Southa hard, frontierlike country that was growing rapidly and prospering. To him, and to those he represented, the slavery issue was not only one of principles and ideals but also one of economic self-interest.

Most important of all, there was Stephen A. Douglas, the thirty-seven-year-old senator from Illinois. More than any of the others, Douglas represented the new generation of politicians coming to dominate national life. A Westerner from a rapidly growing frontier state, a man unpolished in manner, he was an open spokesman for the economic needs of his sectionand especially for the new railroads. His was a career devoted not to any broad national goals, as Clay's, Webster's, and even Calhoun's had often been, but one devoted frankly to sectional gain and personal self-promotion.

The new leaders of the Senate were able, where the old leaders were not, to arrive at a compromise in 1850. In part, they were aided by a shift in popular sentiment. The country was entering a period of prosperitythe result of an expanding foreign trade, the flow of gold from California, and a boom in railroad constructionreminiscent of the flush days of the 1830s. Conservative economic interests everywhere wanted to end the sectional dispute and concentrate on internal expansion. Even in the South, excitement seemed to be abating. The Nashville convention met in June, adopted a few tame resolutions, and then quietly adjourned to await final action by Congress.

Progress toward the compromise was also furthered by the removal of the most powerful obstacle to it: the president. Zachary Taylor had been unyielding in his stand that the admission of California and possibly New Mexico must come first, that only then could other measures be discussed. Taylor had threatened not only to veto any measure that diverged from this proposal but to use force against the South (even to lead the troops in person) if they attempted to secede. But on July 9, Taylor suddenly diedthe victim of a violent stomach disorder following an attack of heat prostration. He was succeeded by his vice president, Millard Fillmore of New Yorka handsome and dignified man of no particular ability, but one who understood the political importance of flexibility. He ranged himself on the side of the compromise and used his powers of persuasion to swing Northern Whigs into line.

The new leaders benefited, however, not just from the shift in sentiment and the change in presidents, but also from their own pragmatic tactics. Douglas's first step, after the departure of Clay, was to break up the "omnibus bill" that Clay had envisioned as a great, organic solution to the sectional crisis and introduce instead a series of separate measures to be voted on one by one. Thus representatives of different sections could support those elements of the compromise favorable to them and could abstain from voting on or could vote against those they opposed. Douglas also gained support by avoiding the grand appeals to patriotism of Clay and Webster and resorting instead to complicated backroom maneuverings and deals linking the compromise to such nonideological matters as the sale of government bonds and the construction of railroads. As a result of his efforts, by mid-September all the components of the compromise had been enacted by both houses of Congress and signed by the president.

The outcome was a great victory for Douglas and the forces of conciliation; but it was a clouded victory. For the passage of the Compromise of 1850, unlike the creation of the Missouri Compromise thirty years before, had not resulted from any widespread agreement on common national ideals. It was, rather, a victory largely of self-interest that had not resolved the underlying problems. Nevertheless, leaders in Congress hailed the event as a great triumph; and Millard Fillmore, signing the measure, called it a just settlement of the sectional problem, "in its character final and irrevocable."

It was one thing to pass the compromise through Congress and another to persuade the country to accept it. In the North, the most objectionable of the measures was the Fugitive Slave Act. By this law, blacks accused of being runaways were denied trial by jury and the right to testify in their own behalf.

Their status was to be decided by a federal judge or by a special commissioner appointed by the federal circuit courts. They could be remanded to slavery simply on the evidence of affidavits presented by those who claimed to be their owners.

But the Fugitive Slave Act was the only part of the compromise that most Southerners could ungrudgingly approve. The Nashville convention met again in November 1850 (with only about a third of the original delegates present) and condemned the compromise. Eventually the South brought itself to accept the settlement, but only after much agonizing, and then only conditionally. Epitomizing such feelings was the "Georgia Platform," which declared that Georgia would acquiesce in the compromisebut that if the North disregarded the Fugitive Slave Act or attempted to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia or denied admission to a state because it wished to have slavery, then Georgia would consider the compact broken and would protect its rights even to the point of seceding from the union.

The Crises of the 1850s

For a few years after the Compromise of 1850, the sectional conflict seemed briefly to be forgotten, and much of the nation concentrated on enjoying prosperity and growth. But the tensions between North and South remained, and the crisis continued to smolder untilin 1854it once more burst into flames.

The Uneasy Truce

How difficult it would be for the nation to put aside its sectional differences became clear almost immediately. For while the major parties attempted to display an unswerving devotion to the Compromise of 1850, events in the nation began to make their efforts seem unrealistic and even irrelevant.

Both major parties endorsed the Compromise in their platforms in 1852the Democrats pledging fervently to avoid all attempts in any "shape or color" to renew agitation over slavery, the Whigs making the same promise in somewhat milder language. Both parties, similarly, nominated presidential candidates who were moderates on the sectional issue and were unlikely to arouse passionate opposition in either North or South. The Democrats chose the obscure New Hampshire politician Franklin Pierce (although not until after wrangling through forty-nine ballots, with the convention deadlocked among the three leading contendersLewis Cass, Stephen Douglas, and James Buchanan of Pennsylvania). The Whigs chose as their nominee the military hero General Winfield Scott, a man whose political views were so undefined that no one even knew whether or not he approved of the Compromise of 1850.

Yet the gingerly way in which party leaders dealt with the sectional question could not prevent its divisive influence from intruding on the election. The Whigs, in particular, suffered from their attempts to straddle the issue. Already plagued by the defections of those antislavery Northerners who had formed the Free Soil party in 1846, they alienated still more party membersthe "Conscience" Whigsby refusing to take an open stand against slavery now. Partly as a result of these divisions, Scott was the last presidential candidate the Whigs were ever to nominate. In the meantime, the Free Soil party was gaining in numbers and influence in the North; its presidential candidate, John P. Hale, repudiated the Compromise of 1850.

The divisions among the Whigs, and the vagueness of the party's support of the compromise, helped produce a victory for the Democrats in 1852. The new president, Franklin Pierce, was forty-nine years old when inaugurated the following Marchthe youngest man to serve in the office to that date. A charming, amiable man of no great distinction, he attempted to maintain partyand nationalharmony by avoiding divisive issues. But those issues arose despite him.

Partly, they arose because there remained active political forces in the Northmost notably the abolitionist organizationswho had never supported the Compromise of 1850 and who continued to work actively for the elimination of slavery. Partly, too, they arose because of the presence of eloquent and combative antislavery leaders in CongressSenator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, elected in 1850; Congressman Joshua R. Giddings of Ohio; and others. Their denunciations of the South and its institution resounded from a national forum. Most of all, however, the sectional tensions continued because of Northern response to the Fugitive Slave Act. Always strong, that opposition intensified after 1850 when Southerners began appearing in Northern states to pursue fugitives or to claim as slaves blacks who had been living for years in Northern communities. So fervently did many opponents of slavery resent such efforts that mobs formed in city after city to prevent enforcement of the law. In 1851, a crowd in Boston took a runaway named Shadrach from a federal marshal and sent him on his way to Canada; in Syracuse, New York, later in the same year, another crowd rescued a slave named Jerry McHenry. In 1854, a Boston mob led by respectable and prominent citizens attempted, unsuccessfully, to seize the escaped slave Anthony Burns from federal officers.

Northern states tried to undermine the Fugitive Slave Act through legal means as well. Several states passed new personal liberty laws, designed to interpose state authority between the accused fugitive and the federal government. In Wisconsin and Massachusetts, such laws directed state courts to grant all fugitives a judicial hearing (heavily weighted in the fugitives' favor) before they could be deported from the state. The supreme court of Wisconsin, in Ableman v. Booth (1957), went so far as to declare the federal Fugitive Slave Act void and to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court when it overruled the Wisconsin ruling.

White Southerners watched all this with growing anger and alarm. The Fugitive Slave Act had been the one element of the Compromise of 1850 they had considered a victory. Now they had to watch while the North, through the extralegal device of mobs and through legal efforts of dubious constitutionality, made that victory meaningless.

"Young America"

The Pierce administration tried to avoid taking a position on most domestic issues likely to produce controversy. And in foreign policy as well, the Democrats tried to revive a sense of cross-sectional nationalism. Here, too, however, their efforts created more problems than they resolved.

Spearheading the revival of nationalist diplomacy was a group of Democrats who organized what they called the Young America movement. Aware of the great liberal and nationalist revolutions of 1848 in Europe, these adventurous Democrats were stirred by the vision of a republican Europe with governments based on the model of the United States. They continued to dream as well of expanding American commerce in the Pacific and of extending the sweep of Manifest Destiny with new acquisitions in the Western Hemisphere. The sentiments they aroused had a profound effect on the nation's foreign policy.

Those sentiments were first felt in the second half of the Whig administration, under the new president, Millard Fillmore, and his new secretary of state, Daniel Webster. One example of their approach to international relations was Webster's defiance of the powerful government of Austria by supporting the effort of Hungary to win its independence. The Fillmore administration also sponsored an expedition into the Pacific under Commodore Matthew C. Perry, who began efforts to open Japanfor nearly two centuries all but totally closed to the Westto American trade. Perry's efforts resulted in 1854 in a treaty giving Americans access to two Japanese ports.

Few Americans in either section objected to these displays of nationalism. But efforts by both the Fillmore and Pierce administrations to extend the nation's domain in its own hemisphere produced new problems. First Fillmore and then Pierce sanctioned a series of ill-considered and ultimately unsuccessful attempts to wrest Cuba from the Spanish Empire. Frustrated in efforts to acquire the island through open diplomacy, Pierce turned to more devious meansauthorizing his minister to Spain, the impetuous Pierre Soule, to try to "detach" Cuba from the empire by subterfuge. Soule's clumsy efforts only widened the gap between Spain and the United States, particularly when he collaborated with several other American diplomats in Europe (John Y. Mason, minister to France, and James Buchanan, minister to Great Britain) to produce a preposterous document, the so-called Ostend Manifesto. In it, Soule and the others declared that all partiesSpain, Cuba, and the United Stateswould benefit from the annexation of Cuba by America. What was more, if disturbances there became a threat to American security, the United States would be justified "by every law human and divine" in "wresting" the island from Spain. The document was meant to be confidential, but its contents soon became public, enraging many antislavery Northerners, who charged the administration with conspiring to bring a new slave state into the Union even at the risk of war.

The South, for its part, opposed all efforts to acquire new territory that would not support a slave system. The kingdom of Hawaii agreed to join the United States in 1854, but the treaty had no chance in the Senate because it contained a clause prohibiting slavery in the islands. A powerful movement to annex Canada to the United Statesa movement that had the support of many Canadians eager for access to American marketssimilarly foundered, at least in part because of slavery. Southerners eager to prevent the addition of free territory to the Union supported an 1854 treaty providing trade reciprocity between the two nationsa treaty that undercut pressures for annexation.

The Kansas-Nebraska Controversy

Controversy over the return of fugitive slaves and the efforts to extend American dominion abroad kept sectional tensions alive in the early 1850s. But what fully revived the crisis between North and South was the same issue that had produced it in the first place: slavery in the territories. By the 1850s, the line of frontier settlement had moved west to the great bend of the Missouri River. Beyond the boundaries of Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri stretched a great expanse of plains, which most Americans had always believed was unfit for cultivation (it was widely known as the Great American Desert) and which the nation had thus assigned to the Indian tribes it had dislodged from the more fertile lands to the east. Now it was becoming apparent that large sections of this region were, in fact, suitable for farming. In the states of the Old Northwest, therefore, pressure began to build for efforts to extend settlement westward once again. Prospective settlers urged the government to open the area to them, provide territorial governments, anddespite the solemn assurance the United States had earlier given the Indians of the sanctity of their reservationsto dislodge the tribes so as to make room for white settlers. There was relatively little opposition from any segment of white society to the violation of Indian rights proposed by these demands. But the interest in further settlement raised two issues that did prove highly divisive and that gradually became entwined with each other: railroads and slavery.

As the nation expanded westward, the problem of communication between the older states and the so-called trans-Mississippi West (those areas west of the Mississippi River) became more and more critical. As a result, the idea of building a transcontinental railroad gradually gained favor both in and out of Congress. The problem, however, was where to place itin particular, where to locate the railroad's eastern terminus. Northerners favored Chicago, the growing capital of the free states of the Northwest. Southerners supported St. Louis, Memphis, or New Orleansall located in slave states. The transcontinental railroad, in other words, waslike nearly everything else in the 1850sbecoming entangled in sectionalism. It had become a prize that both North and South were struggling to secure.

One argument against a southern route had been removed through the foresight of Pierce's secretary of war, Jefferson Davis, a Mississippian. Surveys had indicated that a road with a southern terminus would probably have to pass through an area south of the Gila River, in Mexican territory. At Davis's suggestion, Pierce appointed James Gadsden, a Southern railroad builder, to negotiate with Mexico for the sale of this region. In 1853 Gadsden persuaded the Mexican government to dispose of a strip of land that today comprises a part of Arizona and New Mexico, the so-called Gadsden Purchase; the United States paid Mexico $10 million for the land.

Particularly interested in a transcontinental railroad was Senator Stephen A. Douglas, and his interest influenced him to introduce in Congress a fateful legislative act, one that accomplished the final destruction of the Compromise of 1850. As a senator from Illinois, a resident of Chicago, and above all, the acknowledged leader of the Northwestern Democrats, Douglas naturally wanted the transcontinental railroad for his own city and section. He realized too the potency of the principal argument urged against the northern route: that west of the Mississippi it would run largely through unsettled Indian country. In January 1854, as chairman of the Committee on Territories, he acted to forestall this argument. He introduced a bill to organize a huge new territory, to be known as Nebraska, west of Iowa and Missouri.

Douglas seemed to realize that this bill would encounter the opposition of the South, partly because it would prepare the way for a new free state, the proposed territory being in the Louisiana Purchase area north of the 36°30' line of the Missouri Compromise and hence closed to slavery. In an effort to make the measure acceptable to Southerners, Douglas inserted a provision that the status of slavery in the territory would be determined by the territorial legislature that is, according to popular sovereignty. Theoretically, at least, this would open the region to slavery. The concession was not enough to satisfy extreme Southern Democrats, particularly those from Missouri, who feared that their state would be surrounded by free territory. They demanded more, and Douglas had to give more to get their support. He agreed to two additions to his bill: a clause specifically repealing the antislavery provision of the Missouri Compromise, and another creating two territories, Nebraska and Kansas, instead of one. Presumably Kansas would become a slave state. In its final form the measure was known as the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Douglas persuaded President Pierce to endorse his bill, and so it became an official Democratic measure. But even with the backing of the administration, it encountered stiff opposition and did not become a law until May 1854. Nearly all the Southern members of Congress, whether Whigs or Democrats, supported the bill, and nearly all the Northern Whigs opposed it. The Northern Democrats in the House split evenly.

Of greater importance than the opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act in Congress was the reaction against it in the Northern states. The effort to repeal the Missouri Compromisea measure that many Northerners believed had a special sanctity, almost as if it were a part of the Constitutionwas particularly alarming. The whole North seemed to blaze with fury at this latest demonstration of the power of the slavocracy, and much of the fury was directed at Douglas, who, in the eyes of many Northerners, had acted as a tool of the slaveholders. No other piece of legislation in congressional history produced so many immediate, sweeping, and ominous changes as the Kansas-Nebraska Act. It destroyed the Whig party in the South except in the border states. At the same time, as many Southern Whigs became Democrats, it increased Southern influence in the Democratic party. It destroyed the popular basis of Whiggery in the North, with the result that by 1856 the national Whig party had disappeared and a conservative, nationalistic influence in American politics had been removed. It divided the Northern Democrats and drove many of them from the party. Most important of all, it called into being a new party that was frankly sectional in composition and creed.

People in both the major parties who opposed Douglas's bill began to call themselves Anti-Nebraska Democrats and Anti-Nebraska Whigs. In 1854, they formed a new party and began to call themselves "Republicans." The party had its beginnings in a series of spontaneous popular meetings throughout the Northwest, and the movement soon spread to the East. In the elections of 1854, the Republicans, often cooperating with the Know-Nothings, elected a majority to the U.S. House of Representatives and won control of a number of Northern state governments.

At first, the Republican party was a one-idea organization: It simply opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories. Its original members were mostly former Whigs and Free-Soilers but also included a substantial number of former Democrats. In part, it represented the democratic idealism of the North. But it also represented the agricultural and business interests of the section. Soon the party gained additional support from advocates of federal aid to economic activityadvocates of high tariffs, homesteads, and internal improvementswho blamed the South for blocking such aid and thus hindering Northern development. When the Know-Nothing organization broke up, the Republicans absorbed most of its members. Thus the new party inherited the taint of nativism that once had clung to the Whigs. Like the Whigs, the Republicans repelled the Roman Catholics among the German, Irish, and other foreign-born groups. Yet the Republicans succeeded in attracting Protestants among German and Scandinavian, as well as British, immigrants.

"Bleeding Kansas"

The pulsing popular excitement aroused in the North by the Kansas-Nebraska Act was sustained by events during the next two years in Kansas. Almost immediately, settlers moved into this territory. Those from the North were encouraged by press and pulpit and the powerful organs of abolitionist propaganda. Often they received financial help from such organizations as the New England Emigrant Aid Company. Those from the South often received financial contributions from the communities they left.

In the spring of 1855, elections were held for a territorial legislature. Thousands of Missourians, some traveling in armed bands, moved into Kansas and voted. Although there were probably only some 1,500 legal votes in the territory, more than 6,000 votes were counted. With such conditions prevailing, the proslavery forces elected a majority to the legislature, which proceeded immediately to enact a series of laws legalizing slavery. The outraged free-staters, convinced that they could not get fair treatment from the Pierce administration, resolved on extralegal action. Without asking permission from Congress or the territorial governor, they elected delegates to a constitutional convention that met at Topeka and adopted a constitution excluding slavery. They then chose a governor and legislature and petitioned Congress for statehood. Pierce called their movement unlawful and akin to treason. The full weight of the government, he announced, would be thrown behind the proslavery territorial legislature.

A few months later a proslavery federal marshal assembled a huge posse, consisting mostly of Missourians, to arrest the free-state leaders in Lawrence. The posse not only made the arrests but sacked the town. Several free-staters died in the melee. Retribution came immediately. Among the more extreme opponents of slavery in Kansas was a fierce, fanatical man named John Brown, who considered himself an instrument of God's will to destroy slavery. Brown estimated that five antislavery people had been murdered, and he decided that it was his sacred duty to take revenge. He gathered six followers, and in one night murdered five proslavery settlers, leaving their mutilated bodies to discourage other supporters of slavery from entering Kansas. The episode was known as the Pottawatomie Massacre; and its result was more civil strife in Kansasirregular, guerrilla warfare conducted by armed bands, some of them more interested in land claims or loot than in ideologies.

In both North and South, the belief was widespread that the aggressive designs of the other section were epitomized by (and responsible for) what was happening in Kansas. Whether or not such beliefs were entirely correct is less important than that they became passionately held articles of faith in both sections. Thus "Bleeding Kansas" became a symbol of the sectional controversy.

Another symbol soon appeared, in the United States Senate. In May 1856, Charles Sumner of Massachusetts rose to discuss the problems of the strife-torn territory. He entitled his speech "The Crime Against Kansas." Handsome, humorless, eloquent, and passionately doctrinaire, Sumner embodied the most extreme element of the political antislavery movement. And in his speech, delivered with the righteous eloquence for which he was becoming famous, he bemoaned the fate of "bleeding Kansas" and fiercely denounced the Pierce administration, the South, and the institution of slavery. He singled out for particular attention his colleague in the Senate Andrew P. Butler of South Carolina, an outspoken defender of slavery. It was an age in which orators were accustomed to indulging in personal invective; but in his discussion of Butler, Sumner far exceeded the normal bounds. The South Carolinian was, Sumner claimed, the "Don Quixote" of slavery, having "chosen a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him, though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight . . . the harlot slavery."

The pointedly sexual references and the general viciousness of the speech enraged Butler's nephew, Preston Brooks, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina. Brooks resolved to punish Sumner for his insults by a method approved by the Southern gentleman's codea public, physical chastisement. Several days after the speech, Brooks approached Sumner at his desk in the Senate chamber during a recess, raised a heavy cane, and began beating him repeatedly on the head and shoulders. Sumner, trapped behind his desk, rose in agony with such strength that he tore the table from the bolts holding it to the floor, then collapsed, bleeding and unconscious. So severe were his injuries that he was unable to return to the Senate for four years, during which time his state refused to replace him. He became a potent symbol throughout the Northa martyr to the barbarism of the South.

Preston Brooks became a symbol too. Censured by the House, he resigned his seat, returned to South Carolina, and stood for reelection. He won the virtually unanimous support of his state. Brooks's assault had made him a Southern hero. And as a result, he, like Sumner, served as evidence of how deep the antagonism between North and South had become.

The Free-Soil Ideology

What had happened to produce such deep hostility between the two sections? There were, obviously, important differences between the North and the South; but many of these differences had always existed. There were real issuesabove all the question of slavery in the territoriesdividing them; but these issues alone are not a sufficient explanation. Despite the passions generated by the conflict in Kansas, neither the North nor the South really seemed to believe that there was ever a genuine prospect of slavery becoming established there. At the height of the struggle between pro- and antislavery forces in the territory, there were almost no blacks in Kansas at all. Similarly, few of the remaining territories seemed likely ever to support flourishing slave systems. And despite the fervor of the abolitionists, relatively few Northerners were yet willing to advocate an end to slavery where it presently existed.

Slavery and other issues attained such destructive importance among most Americans largely because they served as symbols for a set of larger concerns on both sides. As the nation expanded and political power grew more dispersed, the North and the South each became concerned with ensuring that its vision of America's future would be the dominant one. And those visions were becomingpartly as a result of internal developments within the sections themselves, partly because of each region's conceptions (and misconceptions) of what was happening outside itincreasingly distinct and increasingly rigid.

In the North, assumptions about the proper structure of society came to center on the belief in "free soil" and "free labor." The abolitionists generated some support for their argument that slavery was a moral evil and must be eliminated. Theirs, however, was never the dominant voice of the North. Instead, an increasing number of Northerners, gradually becoming a majority, came to believe that the existence of slavery was dangerous not because of what it did to blacks but because of what it threatened to do to whites. At the heart of American democracy, they believed, was the right of all citizens to own property, to control their own labor, and to have access to opportunities for advancement. The ideal society, in other words, was one of small-scale capitalism, with everyone entitled to a stake and with the chance of upward mobility available to all.

According to this vision, the South was the antithesis of democracy. It was a closed, static society, in which the slave system preserved an entrenched aristocracy and the common whites had no opportunity to improve themselves. More than that, the South was a backward societydecadent, lazy, dilapidated. While the North was growing and prospering, displaying thrift, industry, and a commitment to progress, the South was stagnating, rejecting the Northern values of individualism and growth. The South was, Northern free-laborites further maintained, engaged in a conspiracy to extend slavery throughout the nation and thus to destroy the openness of Northern capitalism and replace it with the closed, aristocratic system of the South. This "slave power conspiracy," as it came to be known, threatened the future of every white laborer and property owner in the North. The only solution was to fight the spread of slavery and work for the day when the nation's democratic (i.e., free-labor) ideals extended to all sections of the countrythe day of the victory of what Northerners called "Freedom National."

This was the ideology that lay at the heart of the new Republican party. There were abolitionists and others in the organization who sincerely believed in the rights of blacks to freedom and citizenship. Far more important, however, were those who cared less about blacks than about the threat that slavery posed to white labor and to individual opportunity. This ideology also strengthened the commitment of Republicans to the Union. Since the idea of continued growth and progress was central to the free-labor vision, the prospect of dismemberment of the nationa diminution of America's size and economic powerwas unthinkable.

The Proslavery Argument

In the South, in the meantime, a very different ideology was emergingone that was entirely incompatible with the vision of America's future being promoted by the defenders of free labor in the North. It was an ideology that emerged out of a rapid hardening of position among Southern whites on the issue of slavery.

As late as the early 1830s, there had been a substantial number of Southern whites who had harbored deep reservations about slavery. Between 1829 and 1832, for example, a Virginia constitutional convention, and then the state legislature, responding to demands from nonslaveholders in the western part of the state, had seriously considered ending slavery through compensated emancipation. They had chosen not to do so in large part because of the tremendous expense it would have entailed. There had been, moreover, many antislavery societies in the South more there in 1827 than there were in the North, most of them in the border states. And there were prominent Southern politicians who spoke openly in opposition to slaveryamong them Cassius M. Clay of Kentucky.

By the mid-1830s, however, this ambivalence about slavery was beginning to be replaced by a militant defense of the system. In part, the change was a result of events within the South itself. The Nat Turner uprising terrified whites throughout the region. They had always been uneasy, always mindful of the horrors of the successful slave uprising in Santo Domingo in the 1790s. Now they were reminded again of their insecurity, and they were especially horrified because there had been long-trusted house servants among Turner's followers who, ax in hand, had suddenly turned on their masters' sleeping families. Many slaveowners blamed Garrison and the abolitionists for the slaves' defection, and they grew more determined than ever to make slavery secure against all dangers. There was, too, an economic incentive to defend the system. With the expansion of the cotton economy into the Deep South, slavery which had begun to seem unprofitable in many areas of the original Southnow suddenly became lucrative once again.

But the change was also a result of events in the North, and particularly of the growth of the abolitionist movement, with its strident attacks on Southern society. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was perhaps the most glaring example of such an attack, a book that enraged the South and increased its resentment of the North. But other abolitionist writings had been antagonizing white Southerners for years.

In response to these pressures, a growing number of white Southerners began to elaborate an intellectual defense of slavery. It began as early as 1832, when Professor Thomas R. Dew of the College of William and Mary published a pamphlet outlining the slavery case. In subsequent years, many others added their contributions to the cause; and in 1852, the defense was summed up in an anthology that gave the philosophy its name: The Pro-Slavery Argument.

The essence of the argument, as John C. Calhoun boasted in 1837, was that Southerners should cease apologizing for slavery as a necessary evil and defend it as "a gooda positive good." Slavery was, according to such theorists, good for the slaves because they were inferior creatures. They needed the guidance of white masters, and they were better off-better fed, clothed, and housed, and more secure than Northern factory workers. It was good for Southern society because it was the only way the two races could live together in peace. It was good for the country as a whole because the Southern economy, dependent on slavery, was the key to the prosperity of the nation. And it was good in itself because it was sanctioned by the Bibledid not the Hebrews of the Old Testament own bondsmen, and did not the New Testament apostle Paul advise, "Servants, obey your masters"?

Above all, Southern apologists argued, slavery was good because it served as the basis for the Southern way of lifea way of life superior to any other in the United States, perhaps in the world. White Southerners looking at the North saw a society that they believed was losing touch with traditional American values and replacing them with a spirit of greed, debauchery, and destructiveness. "The masses of the North are venal, corrupt, covetous, mean and selfish," wrote one Southerner. Others wrote with horror of the exploitation of the factory system, the growth of crowded, pestilential cities filled with unruly immigrants. The South, in contrast, was a stable, orderly society, operating at a slow and human pace. It had a labor system that avoided the feuds between capital and labor plaguing the North, a system that protected the welfare of its workers, a system that allowed the aristocracy to enjoy a refined and accomplished cultural life. It was, in short, as nearly perfect as any human civilization could become, an ideal social order in which all elements of the population were secure and content. Proslavery theoreticiansand the vast number of white Southerners, slaveowners, and nonslaveowners alike, who were coming to accept their argumentswere creating a dream world as a defense against the growing criticism from the North. It was, as one historian has described it, an "affirmation of Southern perfection."

Some proslavery propagandists went so far as to argue that slavery was such a good thing that it should be extended to include white workers in the North as well as black laborers in the South. George Fitzhugh of Virginiain Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Free Society (1854), Cannibals All (1857), and other writingsclaimed that all society lived on forced labor and that in the South masters at least acknowledged responsibility for those whose labor they were exploiting. Slavery, therefore, was the only workable form of socialisma system that all societies should adopt as the sole cure for class conflict and the other ills of competitive society. (Such arguments fueled the fears of those Northern free-labor advocates who argued that the South was plotting to extend slavery everywhere, even into the factory system.)

Southern leaders had, by the 1850s, not only committed themselves to a militant proslavery ideology. They had also become convinced that they should silence advocates of freedom. Southern critics of slavery found it advisable to leave the region, among them Hinton Rowan Helper, whose Impending Crisis of the South (1857) contended that slavery hurt the welfare of the nonslaveholder and made the whole region backward. Beginning in 1835 (when a Charleston mob destroyed sacks containing abolitionist literature in the city post office), Southern postmasters generally refused to deliver antislavery mail. Southern state legislatures passed resolutions demanding that Northern states suppress the "incendiary" agitation of the abolitionists. Southern representatives even managed for a time to force Congress to honor a "gag rule" (adopted in 1836), according to which all antislavery petitions would be tabled without being read. Only the spirited protests of such Northerners as John Quincy Adams led to the repeal of the gag rule in 1844. Southern defenders of slavery, in other words, were not only becoming more militant about its virtues; they were becoming less tolerant of criticism of itfurther encouraging those Northerners who warned of the "slave power conspiracy" against their liberties.

Buchanan and Depression

It was in this unpromising climatewith the country convulsed by the Brooks assault and the continuing violence in Kansas, and with each section becoming increasingly militant in support of its own ideology that the presidential campaign of 1856 began. The Democrats adopted a platform that endorsed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and defended popular sovereignty. The leaders wanted a candidate who had not made many enemies and who was not closely associated with the explosive question of "Bleeding Kansas." So the nomination went to James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, a reliable party stalwart who as minister to England had been safely out of the country during the recent troubles, although he was a signer of the highly controversial Ostend Manifesto.

The Republicans, engaging in their first presidential contest, faced the campaign with confidence. They denounced the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the expansion of slavery but also approved a program of internal improvements, thus combining the idealism of antislavery with the economic aspirations of the North. Just as eager as the Democrats to present a safe candidate, the Republicans nominated John C. Fremont, who had made a national reputation as an explorer of the Far West and who had no political record.

The Native American, or Know-Nothing, party was beginning to break apart on the inevitable rock of sectionalism. At its convention, many Northern delegates withdrew because the platform was not sufficiently firm in opposing the expansion of slavery. The remaining delegates nominated former president Millard Fillmore. His candidacy was endorsed by the sad remnant of another party, the few remaining Whigs who could not bring themselves to support either Buchanan or Fremont.

The campaign was the most frenzied since the tempestuous election of 1840. It generated excitement largely as a result of the fervor of the Republicans, who shouted for "Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Men, and Fremont"; who depicted "Bleeding Kansas" as a sacrifice to the evil ambitions of the slavocracy; and who charged that the South, using Northern dupes such as Buchanan as its tools, was plotting to extend slavery into every part of the country.

The returns suggested that the prevailing mood of the country was still relatively conservative but that opinion was relatively narrowly divided. Buchanan, the winning candidate, polled 1,833,000 popular votes to 1,340,000 for Fremont and 872,000 for Fillmore. A slight shift of votes in Pennsylvania and Illinois, however, would have thrown those states into the Republican column and elected Fremont. More significant, perhaps, was that Fremont, who attracted virtually no votes at all in the South, nevertheless received a third of all votes cast. In the North, he had outpolled all other candidates.

The election of Buchanan was a disaster for the nation. He had been in public life for more than forty years at the time of his inauguration, and he was at age sixty-five the oldest president, except for William Henry Harrison, ever to have taken office. Whether because of his age and physical infirmities or because of a more fundamental weakness of character, he became a painfully timid and indecisive president in a time when the nation cried out as perhaps never before for strong, effective leadership.

In the year Buchanan took over, a financial panic struck the country, followed by several years of stringent depression. Europe had shown an unusual demand for American food during the Crimean War of 1854-1856. When that demand fell off, agricultural prices declined. The depression sharpened sectional differences. The South was not hit as hard as the North (since the region depended less on food crops than other agricultural areas), and Southern leaders thus found what they believed was confirmation for their claim that their economic system was superior to that of the free states. Smarting under previous Northern criticisms of Southern society, they loudly boasted of their superiority to the North.

In the North, the depression strengthened the Republican party. Distressed economic groupsmanufacturers and farmerscame to believe that the hard times were the result of the unsound policies of Southern-controlled Democratic administrations. These groups thought that prosperity could be restored by a high tariff (the tariff had been lowered again in 1857), a homestead act, and internal improvementsall measures the South opposed. In short, the frustrated economic interests of the North were being drawn into an alliance with the antislavery elements and thus into the Republican party.

The   Dred Scott Decision

The Supreme Court of the United States now projected itself into the sectional controversy with one of the most controversial decisions in its historyits ruling in the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford, handed down two days after Buchanan was inaugurated.

Dred Scott was a Missouri slave, once the property of an army surgeon who on military pilgrimages had carried Scott to Illinois, a free state, and to the Minnesota Territory, where slavery was forbidden by the Missouri Compromise. Scott was persuaded by some abolitionists to bring suit in the Missouri courts for his freedom on the ground that residence in a free territory had made him a free man. The state supreme court decided against him. Meanwhile, the surgeon had died and his widow had married an abolitionist; and ownership of Scott had been transferred to her brother, J. F. A. Sanford, who lived in New York. Now Scott's lawyers could get the case into the federal courts on the ground that the suit lay between citizens of different states. Regardless of the final decision, Scott would be freed; his abolitionist owners would not keep him a slave. The case was intended less to determine Scott's future than to secure a federal decision on the status of slavery in the territories.

Of the nine justices of the Supreme Court, seven were Democrats (five of them from the South), one was a Whig, and one was a Republican. The Court was so divided that it was unable to issue a single ruling on the case and issued separate decisions on each of the major issues it raised. Each of the justices, moreover, wrote a separate opinion. The thrust of the rulings, however, was a defeat for Dred Scott and an affirmation of the South's argument that the Constitution guaranteed the existence of slavery. Chief Justice Roger Taney, who wrote one of the majority opinions, declared that Scott was not a citizen of Missouri or of the United States and hence could not bring a suit in the federal courts. According to Taney, no black could qualify as a citizen. So far as the Constitution was concerned, he added, blacks had no rights that white men were bound to respect. Having said this, Taney could simply have declined jurisdiction over the case. Instead, he went on to argue that Scott's sojourn in Minnesota had not affected his status as a slave. Slaves were property, said Taney, and the Fifth Amendment prohibited Congress from taking property without "due process of law." Consequently, Congress possessed no authority to pass a law depriving persons of their slave property in the territories. The Missouri Compromise, therefore, had always been null and void.

The ruling did nothing to challenge the right of an individual state to prohibit slavery within its borders, but the statement that the federal government was powerless to act on the issue was a drastic and startling one. Few judicial opinions have stirred as much popular excitement. Southern whites were elated: The highest tribunal in the land had sanctioned the extreme Southern argument. On behalf of abolitionists, black and white, Frederick Douglass declared: "This very attempt to blot out forever the hopes of an enslaved people may be one necessary link in the chain of events preparatory to the complete overthrow of the whole slave system." Republicans claimed that the decision deserved as much consideration as any pronouncement by a group of political hacks "in any Washington bar room." They threatened that when they secured control of the national government, they would reverse the decision by altering the personnel of the Court and "packing" it with new members.

Deadlock over Kansas

President Buchanan endorsed the decision and concluded that the best solution for the troubles over Kansas was to force the admission of that territory as a slave state. The existing proslavery territorial legislature called an election for delegates to a constitutional convention. The free-state residents refused to participate. As a result, the proslavery forces won control of the convention, which met in 1857 at Lecompton and framed a constitution establishing slavery. When an election for a new territorial legislature was called, the antislavery groups turned out to vote and won a majority. Promptly the legislature moved to submit the Lecompton constitution to the voters. The document was rejected by more than 10,000 votes.

Although both sides had resorted to fraud and violence, the Kansas picture was clear enough. The majority of the people in the territory did not want to see slavery established. Buchanan, however, ignored the evidence. He urged Congress to admit Kansas under the Lecompton constitution, and he tried to force the party to back his proposal. Stephen A. Douglas and other Western Democrats refused to accept this perversion of popular sovereignty. Openly breaking with the administration, Douglas denounced the Lecompton proposition. And although Buchanan's plan passed the Senate, Western Democrats helped to block it in the House. Partly to avert further division in the party, a compromise measure, the English bill (proposed by Indiana Democrat William English) won approval from Congress in April 1858. It provided that the Lecompton constitution should be submitted to the people of Kansas for the third time. If the document was approved, Kansas was to be admitted and given a federal land grant; if it was disapproved, statehood would be postponed until the population reached 93,600, the legal ratio for a representative in Congress. Again, and for the last time, the Kansas voters decisively rejected the Lecompton constitution. Not until the closing months of Buchanan's administration in 1861, when a number of Southern states had withdrawn from the Union, would Kansas enter the Unionas a free state.

The Emergence of Lincoln

The congressional elections of 1858 were of greater interest and importance than most midterm contests. Not only did they have an immediate and powerful influence on the course of the sectional controversy, but they projected into the national spotlight the man who was to be the dominating figure in the tragic years just ahead.

The senatorial election in Illinois attracted particularly wide attention throughout the nation. There Stephen A. Douglas, the most prominent Northern Democrat, was a candidate for reelection; and he was fighting for his political life. Since Douglas, or his successor, would be chosen by a legislature that was yet to be elected, the control of that body became a matter of paramount importance. To punish Douglas for his resistance to the Lecompton constitution, the Buchanan administration entered Democratic candidates opposed to him in many legislative districts. But Douglas's greatest worry was that he faced Abraham Lincoln, the ablest campaigner in the Republican party.

Lincoln had been the leading Whig in Illinois. He was now the leading Republican in the state, although hardly a national figure, for his reputation still could not compare with that of the famous Douglas. Lincoln challenged the senator to a series of seven debates. Douglas accepted, and the two candidates argued their cases before huge crowds. The Lincoln-Douglas debates were widely reported by the nation's press, and before their termination the Republican who had dared to challenge the "Little Giant of Democracy" was a man of national prominence.

Douglas, in the course of defending popular sovereignty, accused the Republicans of promoting a war of sections, of wishing to interfere with slavery in the South, and of advocating social equality of the races. Lincoln denied these charges (properly, since neither he nor his party had ever advocated any of these things). He, in turn, accused the Democrats and Douglas of conspiring to extend slavery into the territories and possibly, by means of another Supreme Court decision, into the free states as well (a charge that was equally unfounded). Lincoln was particularly effective in making it appear that Douglas did not regard slavery as morally wrong. He quoted Douglas as saying he did not care whether slavery was "voted up, or voted down."

Lincoln was opposed to slaveryon moral, political, and economic grounds. He believed that it contradicted the American ideal of democracy. Let the idea be established that blacks were not created with an equal right to earn their bread, he said, and the next step would be to deny the right to certain groups of whites, such as immigrant laborers. Thus it was his solicitude for the economic well-being of the white masseshis commitment to the ideology of free laborthat impelled Lincoln to oppose the introduction of slavery into the territories. He maintained that the national lands should be preserved as places for poor white people to go to better their condition.

Yet as much as he opposed the extension of slavery, Lincoln did not share the views of the abolitionists. The physical fact of slavery, he believed, must be taken into account. "We have a due regard to the actual presence of it amongst us and the difficulties of getting rid of it in any satisfactory way and all the constitutional obligations thrown about it." He and his party would "arrest the further spread of it," that is, prevent its expansion into the territories; he would not directly challenge it where it already existed. Yet the implications of Lincoln's argument were far greater than this relatively moderate formula suggests, for both he and other Republicans believed that by restricting slavery to the South, they would be consigning it to its "ultimate extinction." As he said in the most famous speech of the campaign:

'A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolvedI do not expect the house to fallbut I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other."

In the debate at Freeport, Lincoln asked Douglas: Can the people of a territory exclude slavery from its limits prior to the formation of a state constitution? Or in other words, is popular sovereignty still a legal formula despite the Dred Scott decision? The question was a deadly trap, for no matter how Douglas answered it, he would lose something. If he disavowed popular sovereignty, he would undoubtedly be defeated for reelection and his political career would be ended. But if he reaffirmed, his formula, Southern Democrats would be offended, the party split deepened, and his chances of securing the Democratic nomination in 1860 damaged if not destroyed.

Douglas met the issue boldly. The people of a territory, he said, could, by lawful means, shut out slavery prior to the formation of a state constitution. Slavery could not exist a day without the support of "local police regulations": territorial laws recognizing the right of slave ownership. The mere failure of a legislature to enact such laws would have the practical effect of keeping slaveholders out. Thus despite the Dred Scott decision, a territory could exclude slavery. Douglas's reply became known as the Freeport Doctrine or, in the South, as the Freeport Heresy. It satisfied his followers sufficiently to win him reelection to the Senate, but throughout the North it aroused little enthusiasm.

Elsewhere, the elections went heavily against the Democrats, who lost ground in almost every Northern state. The administration retained control of the Senate but lost its majority in the House, where the Republicans gained a plurality. In the holdover or short session of 1858-1859, in which the Democrats were in the majority, and in the regular session of 1859 (elected in 1858), every demand of the Republicans and Northern Democrats was blocked by Southern votes or by presidential vetoes. These defeated measures included a tariff increase, a homestead bill, a Pacific railroad, and federal land grants to states for the endowment of agricultural colleges. The 1859 session was also marked by an uproarious struggle over the election of a Speaker of the House.

The controversies in Congress, however, were almost entirely overshadowed by another event in the fall of 1859: an event that enraged and horrified the entire South and greatly hastened the rush toward disunion.

John Brown's Raid

John Brown, the antislavery zealot whose bloody actions in Kansas had done so much to inflame the crisis there, made an even greater contribution to sectional conflict through a grim and spectacular episode that had major national implications. Still convinced that he was God's instrument to destroy slavery, he decided to transfer his activities from Kansas to the South itself. With encouragement and financial aid from some Eastern abolitionists, he made plans to seize a mountain fortress in Virginia from which he could make raids to liberate slaves. He would arm the freedmen, set up a black republic, and eventually force the South to concede emancipation. Because he needed guns, he chose Harpers Ferry, where a United States arsenal was located, as his base of operations. In October, at the head of eighteen followers, he descended on the town and captured the arsenal. Almost immediately he was attacked by citizens and local militia companies, who were shortly reinforced by a detachment of U.S. Marines sent to the scene by the national government. With ten of his men killed, Brown had to surrender. He was promptly tried in a Virginia court for treason against the state, found guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging. Six of his followers met a similar fate.

Probably no other event had so much influence as the Harpers Ferry raid in convincing Southerners that their section was unsafe in the Union. Despite all their praise of slavery, one great fear always secretly gnawed at their hearts: the possibility of a general slave insurrection. Southerners now jumped to the conclusion that the Republicans were responsible for Brown's raid. This was, of course, untrue; prominent Republicans such as Lincoln and Seward condemned Brown as a criminal. But Southerners were more impressed by the words of such abolitionists as Wendell Phillips and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who now glorified Brown as a new saint. His execution made him a martyr to thousands of Northerners.

The Election of Lincoln

The election of 1860, judged by its consequences, was the most momentous in American history.

The Democrats gathered in convention at Charleston, South Carolina, in April; and most of the Southern delegates arrived determined to adopt a platform providing for federal protection of slavery in the territoriesthat is, an official endorsement of the principles of the Dred Scott decision. The Western Democrats, arriving with bitter memories of how Southern influence had blocked their legislative demands in the recent Congress, resented the rule-or-ruin attitude of the Southerners. The Westerners hoped, however, to negotiate a face-saving statement on slavery so as to hold the party together. They vaguely endorsed popular sovereignty and proposed that all questions involving slavery in the territories be left up to the Supreme Court. By now, however, passions in the South had risen to a point where compromise was no longer possible. When the convention adopted the Western platform, the delegations from eight states of the lower South withdrew from the hall. The remaining delegates then proceeded to the selection of a candidate. Stephen A. Douglas led on every ballot, but he could not muster the two-thirds majority (of the original number of delegates) required by party rules. Finally the managers adjourned the convention to meet again in Baltimore in June. At the Baltimore session, most of the Southerners reappeared, only to walk out again. Other Southerners, meanwhile, had assembled at Richmond. The decimated convention at Baltimore nominated Douglas. The Southern bolters at Baltimore joined the Democrats in Richmond to nominate John Breckinridge of Kentucky. Sectionalism had at last divided the Democratic party.

The Republicans held their convention in Chicago in May. Although the divisions developing in the Democratic ranks seemed to spell a Republican triumph, the party managers took no chances. They were determined that the party, in both its platform and its candidate, should appear to the voters to represent conservatism, stability, and moderation rather than radical idealism. No longer was the Republican party a one-idea organization composed of crusaders against slavery. It now attempted to embrace every major interest group in the North that believed the South, the champion of slavery, was blocking its legitimate economic aspirations.

The platform endorsed such measures as a high tariff, internal improvements, a homestead bill, and a Pacific railroad to be built with federal financial assistance. On the slavery issue, the platform affirmed the right of each state to control its own institutions. The Republicans were saying, in other words, that they did not intend to interfere with slavery in the South. But they also claimed that neither Congress nor territorial legislatures could legalize slavery in the territories. This was the equivalent of saying that they would still oppose the expansion of slavery.

The leading contender for the nomination was Senator William H. Seward of New York, who faced competition from a number of favorite-son candidates. But Seward's prominence and his long, controversial political record damaged his chances. Passing him and other aspirants over, the convention nominated on the third ballot Abraham Lincoln, who was prominent enough to be respectable but obscure enough to have few foes, radical enough to please the antislavery faction in the party but conservative enough to satisfy the ex-Whigs. The vice-presidential nomination went to Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, a former Democrat.

As if three parties were not enough, a fourth entered the liststhe Constitutional Union party. Although posing as a new organization, it was really the last surviving remnant of the oldest conservative tradition in the country; its leaders were elder statesmen, and most of its members were former Whigs. Meeting in Baltimore in May, this party nominated John Bell of Tennessee and Edward Everett of Massachusetts. Its platform favored the Constitution, the Union, and enforcement of the laws; it avoided taking a clear stand on the issue of slavery.

In the North, the Republicans conducted a campaign reminiscent of the exciting Harrison-Van Buren contest of 1840, with parades, symbols, and mass meetings. For the most part, they stressed the economic promises in their platform and subordinated the slavery issue. Lincoln, following the customary practice of presidential candidates, made no speeches. Lesser party luminaries addressed rallies and party meetings. Unlike previous candidates, Lincoln refused to issue any written statements of his views, claiming that anything he said would be seized on by Southerners and misrepresented. In the November election, Lincoln won a majority of the electoral votes and the presidency, but only about two-fifths of the popular votes. The Republicans had elected a president, but they had failed to secure a majority in Congress; and of course they did not control the Supreme Court.

Nevertheless, the election of Lincoln served as the final signal to many Southerners that their position in the Union was hopeless. Throughout the campaign, various Southern leaders had warned that if the Republicans should win, they would secede from the Union. Within a few weeks of Lincoln's victory, this process of disunion begana process that would quickly lead to a prolonged and bloody war between two groups of Americans, both heirs of more than a century of struggling toward nationhood, each now convinced that it shared no common ground with the other.


 

 



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