After the end of this section, you will be able to:
- identify some stereotypes in Uncle Tom's Cabin;
- explain how the Kansas-Nebraska Act led to a Bleeding Kansas;
- state the main reason for the rise of the Republican Party.
Although many Americans saw the Compromise of 1850 as a solution to the slavery issue, many did not. Many Northerners so disliked the Fugitive Slave Law that they became abolitionists. The publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel [E] [F] [Es] [I] Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852 brought more followers to the cause of abolition. Expansionists’ wish for more territory and the possibility of a transcontinental railroad added to the problems between North and South.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
In Uncle Tom’s Cabin Harriet Beecher Stowe described slaves being whipped, bought and sold, and separated from their families. The author had little personal knowledge of slavery. Her book was based on information given her by runaways slaves.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin stirred bitter feelings in both North and South. A year after its publication, Uncle Tom’s Cabin had sold more than 300,000 copies. The book, together with plays based on it, turned many Northerners against slavery. Southerners considered the book insulting and said that it presented an unfair view of slavery. The book describes the experiences of Tom, a black slave, and his three owners. The first two treat him kindly. The third, Simon Legree, mistreats Tom and eventually kills him. Legree is a Northerner who went South to make his fortune. Both blacks and whites have criticized the book for being filled with propaganda. The following is an example of Stowe’s point of view.
In order to appreciate the sufferings of the Negroes sold South, it must be remembered that their affections are very strong. They are not naturally daring and enterprising but home-loving and affectionate. Add to this all the terrors of the unknown, and the fact that being sold South is set before the Negro from childhood as the worst punishment. The threat of being sent down river terrifies more that whipping or torture of any kind. We have heard this feeling expressed by them and seen the horror with which they tell of frightful stories of down river.
A missionary among the fugitives in Canada told us many of the fugitives confessed themselves to have braved the danger of escape because of the desperate horror with which they regarded being sold South. This nerves the African, naturally patient, timid and unenterprising, with heroic courage, and leads him to suffer anger, cold, pain, the danger of the wilderness, and the more dread penalties of recapture.
This passage from Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an example of stereotyping. Stowe stereotypes all black slaves as being naturally timid, patient, and unheroic. She does not consider those blacks who deliberately damaged their work or who rebelled openly against their owners.
Besides adding foreign territories, many Americans wanted a transcontinental railroad. But this issue, too, added to the tensions between North and South. Northerners wanted the railroad to follow a central route across the Great Plains. Southerners wanted the railroad built across the land the US had received in the Gadsden Purchase. The greatest barrier to the central route was the vast Native American lands between the Missouri River and the Rockies. By the 1850s, Midwesterners were asking the government to allow white settlement there. The fertile lands of the Native Americans attracted them because the best land east of the Mississippi River had been settled. Railroad officials and land speculators also asked the government to open Native Americans lands to settlement.
In 1854, Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois proposed such a plan. It would not only open most of these lands to white settlement but would also help the cause of the central route for the railroad. Douglas was a leading supporter of this route. Like a number of politicians of the day, he owned land in the area and had invested money in the railroad stock.
The area that Douglas suggested settling was north of the 36˚30' line of the Missouri Compromise. The Compromise of 1850 had not affected this area, and slavery was still outlawed there. Southerners in Congress insisted that instead of one large territory, as Douglas proposed, the region be divided into two – Kansas and Nebraska. Southerners also insisted that slavery be allowed.
Douglas accepted these changes – perhaps because he hoped to win southern support for his nomination for President. Douglas tried to convince Northerners that slavery would not spread into these territories. They were not suited to plantation farming. Douglas also said that allowing the territories to decide for themselves the issue of slavery was only democratic.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act, as Douglas’s planned was called, created much debate in Congress. Most Southerners approved of the bill because it repealed the Missouri Compromise by allowing popular sovereignty. Northerners opposed the bill for the same reason. In spite of northern opposition, Congress passed the bill in May 1854. What is now the state of [E] [F] [Es] [I] Kansas became the Kansas Territory. The Nebraska Territory included what is now the state of [E] [F] [Es] [I] Nebraska and parts of the states of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado. By 1863, Congress had created several more territories from Nebraska. The Nebraska Territory was then reduced to the size of the present state.
The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act created little excitement in the South. However, its passage caused bitterness in the North and violence in the Midwest. When the time came to vote, people in the Nebraska Territory voted against slavery, as Douglas had thought they would. But in Kansas both antislavery and proslavery forces were determined to control the government. Antislavery groups in the North sent money and guns to antislavery settlers, or Free-Soilers. Proslavery settlers also received money and guns from their supporters. The territory became known as Bleeding Kansas.
In March 1855, an election was held to elect a government for the Kansas Territory. During the election, 5,000 armed Missourians rode across the borders and took over the Kansas polls. They kept Free-Soilers from voting. After helping to elect a proslavery government, they rode back to Missouri. Angry Free-Soilers then held their own election and chose a government. Kansas now had two governments.
On May 21, 1856, a proslavery group attacked the Free-Soil capital, Lawrence. They looted and burnt the town. One person was killed. In answer to the attack, John Brown, an abolitionist, led an attack on the proslavery settlement of Pottawatomie Creek. Brown and his men dragged five proslavery settlers from their cabins and murdered them. In the warfare that followed, nearly 200 people died.
Federal soldiers restored order late in 1856, but the future of Kansas – slave or free – remained unsettled. The new President, James Buchanan, supported the proslavery government, but the Congress did not. In 1858, the people of Kansas elected an antislavery government in fair elections. In 1861, Kansas entered the Union as a free state.
Another Change in Political Parties
Since the 1830s, the two major US political parties had been the Whigs and the Democrats. Both had support in all sections of the nation. But the Kansas-Nebraska Act split the parties apart. Northern Whigs and Democrats opposed the Act while Southerners of both parties supported it. Many Southerners left the Whig Party and became Democrats. Many northern Democrats left their party and, in 1854, with northern Whigs and some small antislavery parties, formed the [E] [I] Republican Party. By 1860, the Whig Party had disappeared.
The Republicans did not want to abolish slavery. But they did want to keep it from spreading into the new territories. The Republican Party quickly gained members but only in the North. In the 1854 congressional elections, the Republicans elected more than 40 legislators. By 1856, the Republicans were strong enough to nominate a candidate for President, John C. Fremont of California, who campaigned against the spread of slavery and for the admission of Kansas as a free state. Although the Republicans lost the election, the strong support they received encouraged them to look to victory in the election of 1860.
- Why did a proposed transcontinental railroad politically divide the North and South?
- How was the Kansas-Nebraska Act supposed to help solve the split?
- Why did the Act further increase tensions between North and South?
- Why was Kansas called Bleeding Kansas?
- How did the slavery issue affect the Whig Party in the mid 1850s?
- What caused the founding of the Republican Party?
Building Reading Skills
- What is a stereotype?
- State two stereotypes in the passage from Uncle Tom's Cabin.
- According to the above description of her novel, did Stowe have firsthand experience of what she wrote about?
- Why do you think Uncle Tom's Cabin would be considered propaganda for abolition?