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Powerful Leaders – Slave and Free

The nation united by the Constitution, which became effective in 1789, went separate ways in the 1960s, which led to the Civil War outbreak between the Confederacy and the unity-loyal northern United States. The partition and unity disintegration between the two sections had been gradually developing since the beginning of the nineteenth century and reached its peak in the 1860s. There were many important causes of the break-up, including diverged directions of economies, lifestyles, politics, and cultures. Still, the most crucial issue was slavery and its place within the state’s further development.

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By 1861, the majority of leaders realized the main differences between the sections, which contributed to the deterioration of communication between them. In terms of economy, the North relied on free labor as a social and economic ideal, while the South was a “cotton kingdom” based on slavery. Moreover, Southerners saw slavery as an essential and natural phenomenon, while Northerners predominantly condemned such practice.

However, some political events became the catalyst that ignited the disclosure of existing problems. During the Mexican-American war, the national debate was sparked due to the proposal of David Wilmot to Congress to ban slavery from all lands the US gained from Mexico. Northerners backed this initiative because they strove to safeguard the West for free labor, not for slaveholders (Roark et al. 415). However, it was successfully defeated by slave states that dominated the Senate. The compromise of 1950, which included the acceptance of California as a liberated state and the Fugitive Slave Act, eventually failed to resolve the dispute.

In 1854, A. Douglas passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act through Congress aimed at dividing Indian Territory into Nebraska and Kansas. This law nullified the Missouri Compromise, and the popular sovereignty approach was used to determine the issue of slavery. As a result, this measure triggered bloody confrontations between proslavery forces and free-soil settlers, which inflamed the northern opinion. According to Roark et al., John Brown was encouraged by those events in Kansas to organize a midnight slaughter of five, allegedly, proslavery settlers (450). The bloody events in Kansas, together with the incident in the Senate, when Preston Brooks beat up Charles Sumner for his pro-Northern speech, provided another portion of incentives for the Republican Party to fight against the “Slave Power.”

Moreover, the Supreme Court decision on the Dred Scott case stressed that blacks were not citizens, and the privilege of the federal government to bar slavery in the regions was rejected. Despite the hopes of Southerners, this decision made the Republican Party even more consolidated in its defense of northern liberties. Furthermore, the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written by Harriet Stowe, made the northern antislavery notion clearer for both sections.

Abraham Lincoln, who adhered to the antislavery position, joined the Republican Party and lost the Senate elections to Stephen Douglas following the legendary debates. However, a couple of years later, the representative of the Republican Party, Lincoln, won the 1860 presidential elections due to the majority of electoral votes, which were highly concentrated in free states. Those results became evidence of the diminished political parties’ role, which used to tie two sections for half of the century. Although Lincoln stated that he was going to preserve the slave order in the South, the Southerners started to think about secession. The lower South states ultimately left the Union because they saw the system they built at risk.

Everyday Folk – Slave and Free

To begin with, the life of the ordinary people in the South and North was drastically different. The inhabitants of the North believed in free labor, which means that every man has a chance to become a successful and wealthy person due to their skills and hard work, as Lincoln did. According to Roark et al., about 60% of Northerners had no land, and approximately half of them did not possess wealth at all (290).

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Despite such substantial inequality, free labor defenders were stressing that it is a natural process because some people are luckier and more talented than others. Free labor opened many different possibilities, so there was a high level of geographic mobility, especially towards the West. In general, the majority of people worked in agriculture, while the industrial revolution encouraged a part of free laborers to become factory workers. Although reformers challenged the theory of black inferiority, it came out that it was not possible to outweigh the free-labor ideology established on racial prejudice, male superiority, and individualism.

In contrast, the South was dominated by slavery, and almost one-third of its population consisted of slaves. The life of African Americans was full of social and physical hardships, including rough treatment, hard labor, and broken families. Many slaves belonged to plantation owners, who were their masters and supervised their labor. White wives usually spent their time on plantation facilities helping their husbands to control the enterprise. Planters did not perceive the slave system as brutal and unjust. Instead, they believed that plantations benefited all, as slaves provided labor, and masters provided them with primary care (paternalism). The majority of whites in the South did not have slaves. Instead, they were yeomen, farmers who owned small pieces of land and worked on it.

Women were expected to obey men in terms of marriage. The idea of chivalry shaped the male-female relationship, which is based on the assumption that a woman is weak and a man has to protect her. Divorce for women was almost impossible in the South. Even though African Americans were exploited, they were strong enough to create their community within the slavery culture of whites. Their religion, families, and culture made it possible to strengthen and sustain them in such a racist environment. However, half of the slaves in the South predominantly worked at small farms or lived in cities, where they worked for landlords as day laborers, tailors, or bakers.

Those three chapters of the book showed that there was a minimal chance to avoid the upcoming war. The gap between the North and South of the US had been growing for half of the century. To my mind, people were willing to fight because both sections had a different set of cultural and social beliefs that could not be harmonized in a fast way. For instance, with the emergence of Lincoln, the South, being aware of possible military outcomes, considered secession as a last resort to defend its values. There was one peaceful chance to mitigate the conflict and preserve the status quo between sides if only common political parties could fulfill such a task. If my family had been settled in the South at that time, I would have moved my relatives and myself to the North or West in order to join the free states, support the ideas of Lincoln, and fight against slavery through various possible means.

Work Cited

Roark, James L., et al. The American Promise: A Concise History. 6th ed., vol. 1, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016.

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