How Compromises Failed to Prevent the Civil War

1 January 2017

As tensions between the North and the South rose on the issues of slavery and states’ rights, numerous compromises were proposed to ease the conflict. Such compromises included the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, and the Crittenden Compromise. These compromises had intentions of defining where slavery was permitted and clarifying states’ rights. They were only temporary fixes to a more pressing issue. Between the Missouri Compromise and the Crittenden Compromise, a series of events changed the political atmosphere of the United States and prevented any more compromises on the institution of slavery from being passed.

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In the years leading up to the Civil War, numerous laws were passed that not only prevented slavery from expanding to the North, but also limited states’ rights. The Missouri Compromise was one of the first to do so. Senator Henry Clay arranged an imaginary latitude line at 36°30’ North and slavery above this line was prohibited, while territories south of this line were permitted to have slaves. This limited the South from further expanding slavery to new territories. Pro-slavery Southerners felt a bias in the political system because Congress now had the power to exclude slavery from U.S. territories.

Southern states believed that this power was reserved for them and by proclaiming the 36°30’ North latitude line, the federal government exercised unconstitutional power. The Dred Scott decision further supported the clause that the issue of slavery was reserved for the state government. Despite this, the South realized that the North and its anti-slavery views were gaining ground, while the North believed that the Dred Scott ruling limited its power. The Compromise of 1850 shifted the political landscape even more.

California sought to be admitted to the Union as a free state, and the Wilmot Proviso suggested that the newly acquired land from the Mexican War was to be free as well. The South was concerned that admission of more free states would offset the balance of representation in Congress. At the same time, the Northerners feared that the revised Fugitive Slave Act was a step towards a slave power conspiracy. Prior to the revision, Northern states such as Missouri and Wisconsin passed personal liberty laws that ultimately nullified the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793.

The U. S. Supreme Court ruling of Prigg v. Pennsylvania weakened the Acts of 1793 even further by asserting that States did not have to aid in the capture of runaway slaves. Eventually the Compromise of 1850 was passed in separate parts and many assumed that it would be the longstanding answer to slavery in the States. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act tipped the delicate balance of states’ rights in the Compromise of 1850. Senator Henry Clay proposed the notion of popular sovereignty to determine whether these States would be free or slave states.

This consequently repealed the Missouri Compromise by allowing slavery to spread North of the Missouri Compromise latitude line if popular sovereignty called for it. Popular sovereignty led to a series of deadly confrontations, known as Bleeding Kansas, between anti-slavery Free-Staters and pro-slavery Border Ruffians. In an attempt to establish Kansas as a free state, anti-slavery organizations such as the New England Emigrant Aid Company convinced thousands of anti-slavery Northerners to settle in the new territory for the sole purpose of casting anti-slavery ballots.

The Southerners viewed this as a threat to slavery and established their own counter movement. After the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the events that ensued, the Whig party disintegrated because the sectionalizing effects on slavery could no longer maintain a party comprised of those who were pro-slavery, anti-slavery, and indifferent to slavery. Thus, Bleeding Kansas effectively split the nation into two major political parties: the Republicans in the North and the Democrats in the South. The Republican Party was composed of former Whigs and members of other anti-slavery parties, such as the Liberty Party.

Most members of this party were anti-slavery who held a moderate view that failed to classify them as abolitionists. They were opposed to the expansion of slavery and called for Congress to prevent the further expansion of slavery into new territories. They believed that by confining slavery to its current boundaries, it would gradually be eradicated. The formation of the Republican Party was one of the primary reasons of how the political landscape changed in the Union. Throughout this time, the North was growing rapidly due to its industrial economy.

They had more railroad mileage, industry, income, population, and ultimately more representation in Congress. In addition, the South was subject to high tariff laws that made it very hard for southern farmers to trade internationally. The result was a strong centralized government in the North, and an agrarian culture in the South that was solely dependent on slavery. Any attack against the institution of slavery in the South could potentially disintegrate the states in the South. In 1859, this fear became a reality as John Brown, an extreme abolitionist, led a raid on at Harpers Ferry.

Although this uprising was brought down and denounced by Northern Republicans, slave owners believed that all abolitionists and Northerners shared the same radical views as John Brown. With the emergence of new political parties and the growing support for the Republicans in the North, the campaign of 1860 was the major turning point in the political atmosphere. In May of that year, Abraham Lincoln was nominated at the Republican National Convention as the presidential candidate. The Republican platform had moderate anti-slavery views and endorsed means of promoting industry.

The Democratic Party, on the other hand, continued to support their doctrine of popular sovereignty. However, Northern and Southern Democrats interpreted this notion independently. Northern Democrats assumed that under popular sovereignty, slavery would not expand because Free-Staters could quickly settle in the West and thereby claiming the land as free. Southern Democrats assumed the same principle, except instead of free settlers, slaveholders would be able to quickly settle in new territories with their slaves and claim the land as slave territory.

This ultimately resulted in the schism of the Democratic Party. At two separate conventions, the Northern Democratic wing nominated Stephen Douglass and supported the doctrine of popular sovereignty, while the Southern wing nominated John Breckinridge and supported the notion that slaveholders were allowed to bring their slaves and claim the land as slave holding. To make the campaign of 1860 more complicated, another political party took its roots, namely the Constitutional Union Party. Composed of conservative members of the Whig and Know Nothing Parties, they nominated John Bell as their presidential candidate.

This led to essentially two separate elections: Lincoln versus Douglas in the North, and Breckinridge versus Bell in the South. Perhaps the most controversial issue was the fact that although Lincoln did not appear on the ballot in most Southern states, he was declared the sixteenth President despite not carrying a single southern state. This indicated that the national political system was failing and that the South no longer had an influential role in the government. Despite Lincoln’s assurance that it was not his policy to abolish slavery, Southerners referred back to Harper’s Raid and failed to eed Lincoln’s message.

This drastic shift in political atmosphere following the Compromise of 1850 and the 1860 Presidential election resulted in the inability to accept any compromises. The South believed they no longer had a voice in the government and believed that this would inevitably lead to the abolishment of slavery by the Northern majority in Congress. The South was dependent on slavery for income, so they could not afford to switch to a system of free labor. The Crittenden Compromise is a prime example of how a Northern, anti-slavery view rejected any compromises made by the South.

Evidently, this led to the secession of Southern states. Northerners and Southerners were able to accept compromises made regarding slavery prior to the Presidential election of 1860. However, as the Northerner’s fear of a slave power rose so did the Southerner’s fear of a centralized government that would abolish slavery. Events like Bleeding Kansas and Harper’s Raid increased tensions between slaveholders and non-slaveholders. In the end, they realized that slavery could no longer remain issue that could be compromised on.

In 1845, the Republic of Texas was annexed and admitted to the Union as the 28th state. Following the Mexican War, the issue of slavery in the newly acquired land caused fierce debates among politicians. Southern Democrats were heavily influenced by Manifest Destiny, and hoped acquire new slave-owning territory, while those in the North feared the rise of a Slave Power. The House of Representatives passed the Wilmot Proviso, which stated that slavery was prohibited in any territory acquired from Mexico. However, the Senate failed to pass the proviso due to an overwhelming pro-slavery opinion. wever, Senator Stephen A. Douglas passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and consequently repealed the Missouri Compromise by allowing slavery north of the latitude line.

The notion of popular sovereignty led to a series of deadly confrontations, known as Bleeding Kansas, between anti-slavery Free-Staters and pro-slavery Border Ruffians. In an attempt to establish Kansas as a free state, anti-slavery organizations such as the New England Emigrant Aid Company convinced thousands of anti-slavery Northerners to settle in the new territory for the sole purpose of casting anti-slavery ballots.

The Southerners viewed this as a threat to slavery and established their own counter movement. Initially, the Border Ruffians won the election and drafted a pro-slavery constitution for the territory of Kansas. In response, Free-Staters drafted the Topeka constitution and formed a shadow government. In 1857, another constitutional convention met and drafted the Lecompton Constitution, which was heavily opposed by abolitionists.

This eventually gave way to the Wyandotte Constitution, which was ultimately approved by the Senate and admitted Kansas as a free state. The unfailing anti-slavery voice in Kansas Election of Lincoln (republican, northerner, antislave person) = south would lose more power in congress Less population in south = less representation Shifting political landscape any territory above this line was prohibited to have slavery. Territories south of this line were permitted to have slaves. This was evident when a compromise was made in 1860.

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