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Major Slavery Events Between 1850-1860

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 gave rise to two territories which permitted local settlers to determine if they would allow slavery or not. The Act’s initial objective was to create an opportunity for a transcontinental railroad but it became controversial when popular sovereignty was included in the proposal. Popular sovereignty was laid on the basis that a state’s legitimacy was created through the consent of the people. The act was established to allow settlers to decide whether to accept slavery, a move made to ease tensions and create better relations between North and South. It also repealed the Missouri Compromise which was an agreement between pro slavery and antislavery factions prohibiting slavery in Louisiana except within the boundaries of Missouri. The act did not realize its objective since the Republican Party came out strongly to oppose it. The Kansas-Nebraska act eventually led to border wars in the the territory of Kansas – an organized territory recognizing Kansas as the 34th American state. Following the passage of the act, hundreds of pro slavery settlers from Missouri inhabited adjacent Kansas territories. The Kansas antislavery emigrants or free-staters as they were called, flowed into the territory from the Northern states. Legislative battles then ensued with the pro slavery residents winning in many of them. A free state convention was held in 1855 where ‘freemen’ made their complaints against people from the state of Missouri. They condemned violence, fraud, the use of force, destruction of property by the Missouri emigrants and resolved to make Kansas a free state. The events in Kansas played a major role in popularizing the tensions between pro and antislavery movements and ultimately fears that Slave Power was taking full control of the government agenda ensured that the antislavery Republican Party won the elections (Ronald, p. 43).

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Another event that pushed into the forefront of the American politics was the Dred Scott case. Dred Scott was a 61 year old slave who sued for his freedom arguing that he lived in a territory where slavery was illegal under terms of the Missouri Compromise. Dred did not make a claim for freedom while staying with his master in Illinois, then a free state either because he was not aware of his rights or feared repercussions. after his master’s death, he offered to buy his freedom but his master’s widow refused. It was then that Dred Scott decided to seek his freedom through the courts. The supreme court ruled against his favor by seven to two votes. The Supreme Court made key decisions regarding black people, slave owners and free and slave territories. The Supreme Court resolved that a slave remained as he/she was even when taken to a free state, Congress had no power to disallow slavery in any territory and that states had no power to disallow slave owners to move slaves in their respective states. The issue of African Americans living in free states was brought to focus. The Supreme Court ruling violated the Missouri Compromise in that, based on its logic, a slave owner could buy slaves in a Southern state and bring them to a Northern state and still reserve the rights to the slaves. This impacted relations between the North and the South negatively. The Supreme Court’s decision angered the Northerners and the Republicans who saw the Slave Power issue dominating the Supreme Court and the National Government. Due to the controversies that emanated from the court’s ruling, it set the USA on course for the American Civil War. The ruling also declared black people to be non citizens, effectively creating two factions of angry abolitionists and happy slave owners, making the union ripe for a civil war (Horton, p. 25).

The division between North and South became fully exposed during the 1860 presidential elections that set the stage for the American Civil War. Republican Abraham Lincoln rose to power without winning a single southern state. In fact Lincoln’s name did not appear in ballot papers of ten Southern states. The Republican Party victory was welcomed by secession calls by several Southern states and most notably South Carolina. Though other factors led to the war such as sectionalism, tariffs, and federalism, slavery was the main bone of contention. The Republicans that rose to power had sought to industrialize America, establish free-market capitalism and abolish slavery. The southern states drafted the Ordinance of Secession in 1860 declaring themselves officially out of the union.

The election served to split the electorate into four and the nation into two separate entities. Abraham Lincoln won both the popular and the electoral vote. Slave owners were wary of the Republicans’ intent to abolish slavery, they were also concerned about the economic repercussions that the emancipation of four million slaves would bring to them. The free labor offered by the slaves ensured big profits for the slave owners. The Southerners feared being dominated by the North should slavery be abolished since the North was industrial and didn’t rely on slaves. The Northerners on the other hand viewed slavery as a political problem and the prospect of Southern secessionist state as politically and militarily unacceptable. This ultimately led to a civil war (Horton, p. 31).

The events that took place during the civil war led to the abolition of slavery in all states in the United States of America. This included Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Arizona Organic Act, War Governors’ Conference, and finally the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Slavery became officially banned in 1865 to date.

Work Cited

  1. Segal, Ronald. The Black Diaspora: Five Centuries of the Black Experience Outside Africa. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995
  2. Horton, James Oliver: Slavery and the Making of America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005

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