The "Road to the Civil War"
The Ten Major Events that Caused the American Civil War (1861-1865)

1820: The Missouri Compromise


Admitted Maine (free) and Missouri (slave) as states and preserved the slave/free state balance in Congress.


The senate had an equal representation of slave and free states.  So to get back at not allowing Missouri in as a state southern Senators blocked Maine as coming in as a state.


It was one of the biggest examples of the growing resentment of the growth of slavery was the blockage of admitting Missouri as a state.


Missouri could come in as a slave state.  Maine could come in as a free state.  A line was drawn at 36° 30’ NL.  South of the line slavery would be permitted.  North of the line slavery would not be allowed.  This went well until Texas was taken from Mexico and Texas wanted to come in as a slave state.


Regulated the extension of slavery for 30 years.


When slave state Missouri applied for statehood in 1818, it threw off the balance of free and slave state. The Northern-sponsored bill in Congress submitted a bill that would have admitted it, but it would have prohibited further entry of slave and eventual emancipation of those already in state.


Approved in the House but defeated in the stronger southern Senate defeated it.


Maine applied for statehood in 1819.


Henry Clay: Compromise struck: Missouri comes in as slave; Maine comes in as free


A proviso was attached that prohibited forever slavery in Louisiana Purchase territories north of 36° 30'. Clay squeaked bill through despite southern objections.


Compromise set a precedent for settling subsequent North and South disagreements over slavery and tariff issues. The compromise was in effect until repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.


1832: The South Carolina Nullification Crisis


State rejects paying federal protective tariffs. Jackson threatens enforcing with federal troops. A compromise is reached.


Nullification Crises - 1820’s /1830’s – Southern states nullifying Federal laws that they didn’t feel just.


Upset about having to pay high import tariffs on goods, South Carolina threatened to declare the federal tariff law null and void in its state.


In theory, nullification gives a state the alleged right to suspend operation of the federal law within its boundaries.


However, in 1830 Daniel Webster warned South Carolina that nullification would split the Union and that the American flag, “stained with the blood of fratricidal war,” would wave over “the dismembered fragments of our once glorious empire.”

South Carolina in 1832, the state convention of delegates declared “null, void, and no law,” the federal tariff law.


President Jackson threatened to send troops. A compromise was reached between SC Senator John C. Calhoun and Virginia Senator Henry Clay avoided a clash.


1846: The Wilmot Proviso


Wilmot Proviso - slavery would be prohibited in any territory acquired from Mexico, following the U.S.-Mexican War. It was the first proposal that attracted broad popular support to the antislavery movement. Was never considered.


The proviso was attached to an appropriations bill by Pennsylvania Senator David Wilmot.


It would have excluded slavery in territory acquired from Mexico. However, it was written out of the final bill in 1847.


However, it brought into clear focus the widening division among the states over the issue of slavery.


The principles of the bill became the party platform for the Free Soil party and the Republican party.


The leaders of Texas wanted to join the United States. This is where the question of slavery popped up.  Because it was south of the line but the Northerners said it stopped just east of Texas.  The southerners said it extended all the way west through Texas.  This went on for 10 years.  There was even talk of them joining up the Britain.



1850: The Compromise of 1850


Five legislative enactments: Largest: Fugitive Slave Law of 1850: allowed for return of runaway slaves to their masters. Opened New Mexico and Utah territories to slavery. Abolished the sale of slaves in Washington, D.C. and California. $10 million given to Texas.


Fugitive slave act (was one of the six laws that comprised the Compromise of 1850) - fugitives were escaped slaves - nobody was enforcing escaped slaves and returning them to their masters.  The federal gov’t and really try to enforce this process - helping the states more crack down on the abolitionists.


What this system did it gave judges, justices of the peace or other officials powers on the spot to determine if the slave was an escaped slave or free.  So officials abused their power and got paid more to declare slaves escaped rather than free.  They got $10 compared to $3 or $4. - There would be bounty hunters who would haul in free and others and have them declared slaves.  It only enflamed the abolitionists.


The underground railroad went into high gear after 1850 because of the Fugitive Slave Act.


The act paved the way for California to come in as a free state but allowed a tough 10 years of conflict because of the shift of power.


In 1850 the question became will it come in as a slave state or a free state.  90% of the people were non-slave owners so it was obvious that it would come in as  a free state so the southern congressmen opposed it. (p. 427)


The Nashville Convention - Southern leaders talked about what they were going to do if California came into the Union.  Some talked of seceding from the Union.


Henry Clay took over the California issue once Pierce died because Filmore was bad.


They were trying to come up with a compromise that would appeal to both sides.



1852: Uncle Tom’s Cabin


1852: The Publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin: An anti-slavery novel. Harsh depiction of southern slavery by a cruel master. Northerns feared spread of slavery. Southerners deplored being depicted as harsh. Banned in the south.



1854: The Kansas-Nebraska Act


Repealed Missouri Compromise provision prohibiting slavery north of 36 30. Allowed inhabitants of Kansas and Nebraska to decide themselves if they wanted slavery. Fighting ensued between proponents and opponents of slavery.


1854-1856  - “Bloody Kansas” (Bleeding Kansas) - Kansas territory was opened up for settlement. (p. 435)  


Steven A. Douglas was the foremost northern democrat in the nation.  He was connected to friends that wanted to build a railroad through Kansas so it was opened and there was a rush to settle it. (p. 433)


For a time Kansas had two governments that represented both sides.  Over the years 100’s of people were killed over the slavery issue.


Kansas became a state in 1861.


Both sides were trying to settle it with their people so it would become a free/slave state.  It became a battleground for the sides. Oppositional sides would ride around in gangs harassing the newcomers..


1857: The Dred Scott Supreme Court case


Declared African Americans were not citizens. Also nullified Missouri Compromise of 1820 banning slavery north and west of Missouri as unconstitutional.


Dred Scott decision - His owner moved North from Missouri to Wisconsin (free territory).  Over a period of time this slave lived in free territory and when the doctor died he was willed back to the owners relatives in Missouri.  Roger B. Taney (chief justice of the Supreme Court) ruled that he didn’t have rights to even bring his case to the court - he was a slave - he didn’t have any rights.  Taney also ruled that the Missouri Compromise line (36 - 30) was unconstitutional.  These decisions just further polarized both sides. (p. 438-39)



1858: The Lincoln-Douglas Debates


Seven debates between Abraham Lincoln (leader of Illinois Republican party) and Stephen Douglas (Illinois Senator).


1858 - Lincoln - Douglas Debates - These debates took place in Illinois for senator in Congress.  Douglas was the nationally known candidate - Lincoln wasn’t as well known.  Lincoln brought up the issue of slavery during the debates.  Lincoln pinned Douglas down on the question of slavery.


Douglas argued that popular sovereignty should hold precedence, allowing the people of a state to decide or not to have slavery.


Lincoln argued slavery was a “a moral, a social, and a political wrong,” and said federal government should prohibit its extension into the territories. National effects: Republicans showed their strength in opposing slavery, Douglas was wishy-washy proponent of South.


The idea of Popular Sovereignty occurred.  This is where Douglas responded that the will of the people should decide.  (Freeport Doctrine - the people could exclude slavery by simply not adopting local legislation to protect it)  But in Kansas the people were killing each other.  Should the Federal gov’t decide.  The south felt the states should decide.  These debates raised Lincoln’s stature. (p. 442-43)



1859: John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry


Attempted to end slavery by inciting a rebellion. Seized the federal arsenal and armory at Harper’s Ferry with 18 men. Waited for slaves and other to pick up the call to action but did not. Insurrection put down. Hanged for treason and murder. Became a martyr to abolitionists.


John Brown was the most famous of these leaders.  He was an advocate for free slaves.  He killed southerners and other leaders of the slave movements.  He was an extremist in Kansas during the Bleeding Kansas period.


John Brown disappeared for several years and reappeared at Harpers Ferry (famous) in W. Virginia in 1859.  Captured the federal repository of weapons with a small band of men.  He was going to give slaves guns to defend themselves.  President Buchanan sent the US Army under Col. R.E. Lee.  They took him and his men and was hanged in 1859.


This incident further polarized the sides.  The south saw him as the devil.  The north saw him as a martyr.



1860: The Election of Abraham Lincoln


Divisive sectionally-split election. Lincoln won the majority of electoral votes but not a majority of popular vote.  He did not receive a single electoral vote in ten southern states. Southern states voted for John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, who was on a proslavery platform. The election split the nation’s political ideology. Fearful of having slavery abolished, southern states begin to secede during the next three months.

Antebellum Slavery Essay Study Guide