The Slavery Question: Destiny and Sectional Discord


By the early 1850s, the debates over the slavery issue had already come to a head and could no longer be neglected. The argument grew more and more heated. The situation was aggravated by the intention of the Congress to build a railroad across the territory of the country, which necessitated land settlement of Missouri and Iowa. A critical question was raised about whether these territories should accept slavery or stay free. That problem created the background for the introduction of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (Wunder & Ross, 2008).

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This bill was introduced by Senator Stephen A. Douglas in 1854 and presupposed the formation of two areas, the Kansas Territory and the Nebraska Territory, which opened up a possibility of the railroad building. The key factor that stirred up a dispute was the freedom of choice that these two territories were granted in terms of slavery.

Another crucial event followed in 1857 when the Supreme Court finally determined the case of Dred Scott vs. F.A. Sandford. In 1846 a slave named Dred Scott sued his master for freedom. The reason was that the master moved him to Illinois which was a free state. Abolitionists rendered Scott financial assistance so that he could pay the lawyer. Nevertheless, the claim was rejected, as the Supreme Court decided that Scott was in his master’s possession, which meant that he could be taken anywhere as an inanimate object (Skog, 2007).

The irretrievable consequences of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the disposition of Dread Scott’s case give grounds to claim that the rate among the most fundamental decisions in US history (Huston, 2009).

First and foremost, these events widened the gap between the Northern and the Southern state. The former flew into a rage as they were sure that the law would lead to the appearance of two more slavery states, whereas the latter made no secret of their triumph. They also lauded the decision of the Supreme Court, as it consolidated their position regarding the slavery issue. The Emigrant Aid Society was founded by the Northerners to find people who supported slavery abolition and to encourage them to move to Kansas. This was counteracted by the Blue Lodge – a Southern group that paid settlers who sided with slavery.

The Whig Party as one inseparable whole ceased to exist, as it was split into two opposing groups of the opponents and adversaries of slavery. This political discord detonated the American Civil War in the long run (Wunder & Ross, 2008).

Both the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dread Scott decision clearly favored the policy of the Southern States and their institution of slavery. The Dread Scott decision was regarded as the ultimate answer to the question of possible freedom for slaves, and all similar cases in court referred to it as to the authority beyond exception. Thus, the abolition movement was stunned. This led to the formation of extreme nationalism in the Southern states (Skog, 2007).

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The Northerners, however, were very quick to react. The new law coupled with the case decision sounded to them like a war declaration. They were sure that the reason for such a policy was a power conspiracy that supported slavery in the country. The Northerners published a great number of articles that denounced the existing state of affairs and openly called for the elimination of slavery as the only possible way of development for a civilized country.

Most Northerners were certain that the Constitution supported the idea that all American citizens regardless of their race were free and equal. Although they understood that they had lost the battle, they were quite determined to win the war (Skog, 2007).

A small civil war actually started immediately after the Kansas-Nebraska Act mandated the so-called popular sovereignty, which allowed settlers of the new states to decide whether they should legalize or rule out the institution of slavery. The Bleeding Kansas (which was the nickname of this period of intense violence) was the result of the opposition of the previously mentioned Emigrant Aid Society and the Blue Lodge, as it caused a lot of bloody conflicts throughout the states (Napier, 2004).

This incident indicated that the popular sovereignty, which was a seemingly fair and reasonable decision, was not the best possible way out for the future states, as it only aggravated the confrontation that had appeared before. Moreover, it created a prolonged political crisis not only in Kansas but throughout the country. Despite the fact that after several months of partisan violence, John W. Geary was appointed to the position of the governor of the territory and even coped with the task of suppressing the unrest on the borders, the political polarization of forces continued up to the American Civil War when it reached its climax (Napier, 2004).


The logical conclusion that follows is that all the untimely attempts of the government to appease the opposing political forces failed. The nation was split into those who believed that the slavery question had been successfully resolved and those who saw its threat to American society. This created the conditions under which the Civil War was already inescapable.


Huston, J. L. (2009). The Nebraska-Kansas Act of 1854. The Annals of Iowa, 68(3), 310-312.

Napier, R. G. (2004). The Hidden History of Bleeding Kansas. Kansas History, 27, 44-61.

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Skog, J. (2007). The Dred Scott decision. Minneapolis, MN: Compass Point Books.

Wunder, J., & Ross, J. (2008). The Nebraska-Kansas Act of 1854. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

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