Equality and Civil Rights: a Chronology of Black History di Giulia Tomasi Cont, Davide Pignata

War comes

Looking Ahead

After the end of this section, you will be able to:

- explain the effect of the Dred Scott decision on slaves, slave owners, and the Missouri Compromise;

- explain the effects of John Brown's raid on the North and South;

- compare and contrast the positions and actions of Buchanan and Lincoln on southern secession;

- test a hypothesis about the causes of the Civil War.

In 1857, besides facing economic problems, the nation still faced the issue of the spread of slavery into the new territories. No solution that Congress had proposed had settled the issue. So, in 1857 the Supreme Court tried to settle the argument.

Dred Scott Decision

[E] [Es] [I] Dred Scott was a black slave who was living in Missouri at the time of his owner’s death. His owner, an army doctor, had moved several times while he owned Scott. They had lived in Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory. Slavery was illegal in Illinois according to the Northwest Ordinance and in the Wisconsin Territory because of the Missouri Compromise. After the doctor died, Scott sued his new owner for his freedom. He based his lawsuit on the grounds that he had lived on free soil and was, therefore, free.

A local Missouri court decided in favour of Scott, but the Missouri State Supreme Court ruled against him. With his legal costs paid by antislavery groups, Scott took his case to the US Supreme Court. On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Rodger B. Taney read the Court’s decision. Taney said that no slave nor descendant of a slave could be a US citizen. For that reason, a slave could not sue anyone nor attempt to gain freedom though the courts. Moreover, the Court found that the restrictions on slavery in the Northwest Ordinance and the Missouri Compromise were unconstitutional. According to the decision, the Constitution protected the right of slave owner to take their slaves anywhere in the US.

The South was jubilant over the Dred Scott decision. Northerners were outraged. Many condemned the decision as a plot to spread slavery throughout the nation. Rather than settling the issue, the Dred Scott decision added to the widening split between North and South.

Lincoln-Douglas Debates

The new Republican Party, made up mostly of antislavery Northerners, opposed the Dred Scott decision. Its stand attracted new members, among them Abraham Lincoln. Born in 1809, Lincoln was the son of a poor, uneducated frontier farmer. Lincoln had little schooling but educated himself by reading. Among his early jobs were store clerk, mail carrier, and surveyor. His political career began in 1832 when he won a seat in the Illinois legislature as a Whig. At the age of 27, Lincoln became a lawyer. In 1846, he was elected to the US House of Representatives as a Whig. But after the Kansas-Nebraska Act, he became a Republican.

In June 1858, Illinois Republicans selected Lincoln to run for the US Senate against Stephen A. Douglas. After accepting the nomination, Lincoln challenged Douglas to a serious of debates. Douglas accepted, and seven debates were held. The main issue was the spread of slavery into the new territories.

Douglas accused Lincoln and the Republicans of being abolitionists. Douglas argued in favour of popular sovereignty. Lincoln, for his part, denied being an abolitionist. He said Republicans would not interfere with slavery in areas where it already existed. But, Lincoln added, Republicans would not allow slavery to spread into the new territories. Lincoln declared that the territories were mainly for poor whites. There, they had a chance to own farms or businesses and make better lives for themselves. They would not be able to do this if they had to compete with slave labor.

In the debate at Freeport, Illinois, on August 27, Lincoln forced Douglas to admit that the Dred Scott decision did not guarantee the spread of slavery into the territories. Douglas said that if the people in an area did not want slavery, they could keep it out. This answer caused some southern Democrats to turn against Douglas. Douglas needed their support to further his chances for his presidency in 1860. Lincoln lost the election for Senator to Douglas. But because of the debates, Lincoln won a national reputation as a leader of the Republican Party.

John Brown’s Raid

While others debated, John Brown, the abolitionist, decided to take his war against slavery into the South. In 1859, after Kansas voters chose to become a free state, Brown moved near Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. He received several thousand dollars from northern abolitionists to continue his antislavery activities. Brown used the money to buy weapons for his small group of followers. He had 18 men, including three of his sons and five blacks.

On October 6, 1859, Brown and his followers seized the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. Brown planned to arm the slaves that would join him once they heard of his raid.

Secession and War

During the 1860 election campaign, South Carolina had threatened to leave the Union if Lincoln were elected. As soon the election’s results were known, South Carolina prepared to secede. On December 20, 1860, a state convention passed an ordinance of secession. The convention also issued a statement explaining why the state was leaving the Union. Among the reasons given were: abolitionist propaganda, the underground railroad, northern personal liberty laws, and the formation of a political party – the Republican Party – opposed to the southern way of life.

Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist and newspaper editor, had a different opinion. He believed slavery was the chief cause of the Civil War. The following is from an editorial he wrote in the February 1861 issue of Douglass’ Monthly.

Now, what disturbs, divides and threatens to bring on civil war, and to break up and ruin this country, but slavery. Who but one morally blind can fail to see it. Fifteen states are determined to continue this system of wickedness. They want to either make it the law of the whole country, or destroy the government. Here is the cause of the trouble. Slavery is the disease, and its abolition in every part of the land is necessary to the future quiet and security of the country.

By early February 1861 other states seceded. On February 4, delegates from the southern states met in Montgomery, Alabama, and organised the Confederate States of America, also called the Confederacy. President Buchanan insisted that secession was unconstitutional. However, he was unwilling to force the South back into the Union. The President hoped for a compromise and waited for the states to return.

On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln became President. Like Buchanan, he declared secession to be unconstitutional. But unlike Buchanan, Lincoln made it clear that he would use force, if necessary, to bring the South back into the Union. He would enforce US laws and protect US property, such as military bases, in the South.

South Carolinians surrounded Fort Sumter and demanded its surrender. Lincoln refused and announced that he was sending a ship to resupply the fort with food. On April 12, 1861, a Confederate force fired on the supply ship and the fort. With the firing on Fort Sumter the Civil War had begun.

During and after the war, Americans would argue over the reasons for the conflict. One person who thought that opposing ideas on government – states rights vs a strong central government – caused the Civil War was Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia, former Vice-president of the Confederacy. In his book A Constitutional View of the Late War between the States, published in 1868, Stephens gave his view of the beginning of the Civil War.

That the Civil War was caused by opposing principles is an unquestionable fact. The conflict arose from opposing ideas as to the nature of the General Government. The contest was between those who thought it was strictly federal and those who thought it was wholly national. It was a conflict between the principles of Federation, on the one side, and Centralism on the other. Slavery was only the question which brought the opposing principles of government into actual collision with each other on the field of battle.

Looking Back

- How did the Dred Scott decision affect: a. rights of slaves? b. rights of slave owners? c. the Missouri Compromise?

- What was the reaction to John's Brown raid: a. in the South? b. in the North?

Building Thinking Skills

You have read three different options about what caused the Civil War. Choose one of the following hypotheses and test its validity:

- the struggle over political power between North and South caused the Civil War;

- the struggle to end slavery caused the Civil War;

- the struggle over states’ rights vs a strong central government caused the Civil War.

Find evidence that both supports and contradicts the hypothesis. Classify your data in a table with columns labelled, “evidence supporting the hypothesis”, “evidence contradicting the hypothesis”. 1. Is all your data relevant to the hypothesis? 2. Is your information accurate? 3. Is your data adequate? 4. Review the data you have gathered and weigh the evidence supporting and contradicting the hypothesis. Decide whether the hypothesis you chose is valid, and write a statement either supporting it or contradicting it.

Practicing Your Skills

What if… The invention of the cotton gin changed the southern economy dramatically. What if the cotton gin had not been invented? Do you think slavery would have died out by itself? Would there still have been a need for abolitionists to make people see that slavery was immoral? How might the southern economy have developed?

Debating Debate the issue: Popular sovereignty was a fair and democratic way of solving the issue of slavery in the territories.



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