1850 The Compromise of 1850:
This legislation was designed to settle disputes arising from War with Mexico (1846-1848), particularly those concerning slavery.  Senator Henry Clay, a Kentucky Whig and author of the Compromise of 1820, drafted a bill addressing all aspects of the controversy, but it was unable to gain passage.  Senator Stephen Douglas, an Illinois Democrat, divided the measure into separate bills in order to secure congressional majorities on each.  Under the Compromise of 1850, California entered the Union as a free state; the Utah Territory and New Mexico Territories were opened to slavery on the basis of popular sovereignty (i.e., territorial voters were allowed to decide the issue); the slave trade (but not slavery) was abolished in the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.); the fugitive slave law was strengthened; and the slave state of Texas gave up its claim to land in the New Mexico Territory in return for the federal government assuming debts incurred by Texas before it was annexed as a state (1845). 


Presidential Election of 1852:
None of the four major candidates—Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan; James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, former secretary of state (1845-1849); Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois; and William Marcy of New York, state political boss and former secretary of war (1845-1849)—were able to secure the needed 2/3-majority for the Democratic presidential nomination, so delegates finally selected on the 49th ballot a dark horse candidate, Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire, former U.S. senator (1837-1842) and Mexican War veteran.  Senator William King of Alabama was chosen as the vice-presidential nominee.  The Whig Party nominated General Winfield Scott, commander of U.S. troops during the Mexican War (1846-1848).  Navy Secretary William Graham of North Carolina was nominated for vice president.  In November, Pierce defeated Scott 254-42 in the Electoral College and 51%-44% in the popular vote. 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin:
Originally published over a 10-month period in 1851 as a serial in an abolitionist newspaper, National Era, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was released as a book in March 1852.  The story’s depiction of the cruelty of slavery struck an emotional chord in the free North.  It was an immediate bestseller and was made into a popular play.

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Ostend Manifesto:
Secretary of State William Marcy instructed the U.S. minister to Spain, Pierre Soulé, to negotiate the purchase of Cuba from Spain. After Soulé failed, he consulted with the U.S. minister to Britain, James Buchanan, and the U.S. minister to France, John Y. Mason, at Ostend, Belgium, in October 1854. They signed a document urging another attempt at buying Cuba and, if Spain refused to sell, then taking the island by force. When the secret proposal—soon called the Ostend Manifesto—was leaked to the press, it created considerable controversy because Cuba would have become another slave state. The Pierce administration rejected the proposal.

Kansas-Nebraska Act:
In an attempt to spur population growth in the western territories in advance of a transcontinental railroad, Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois introduced a bill to establish the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. In order to gain Southern support, the bill stipulated that slavery in the territories would be decided by the territorial voters (“popular sovereignty”). Therefore, the law repealed the 1820 Missouri Compromise ban on slavery north of 36° 30' in the lands of the Louisiana Purchase. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 put the question of slavery in the territories at the center of public debate, which led to the collapse of the Whig Party, gave rise to the anti-slavery-expansion Republican Party, and eventually divided the Democratic Party in 1860.

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Bleeding Kansas:
After the Kansas-Nebraska Act, settlers from the North and South arrived in Kansas (Nebraska remained sparsely populated). Although most were concerned primarily with homesteading, tensions between pro- and anti-slavery partisans gave rise to a miniature civil war known as “Bleeding Kansas.” Two key incidents involved pro-slavery men sacking Lawrence, Kansas, and a retaliatory attack by abolitionist John Brown and four of his sons at Pottawatomie Creek, where they murdered five pro-slavery men. During the period of Bleeding Kansas about 55 people were killed.

The Caning of Sumner:
The violence in Kansas provoked Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts to deliver a harsh speech on the Senate floor, “The Crime Against Kansas,” in which he assailed slavery and the South, singling out his Senate colleague, Andrew Butler of South Carolina, for criticism. Butler’s nephew, Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina, retaliated by repeatedly hitting Sumner with a cane while the Massachusetts senator was seated at his desk on the floor of the Senate. Sumner became a martyr in the North, especially to abolitionists, and did not resume his senatorial duties for three years. Meanwhile, Butler began a hero in the South.

The Presidential Election of 1856:
James Buchanan, the U.S. minister to Britain, won the Democratic presidential nomination on the 17th ballot, defeating incumbent President Franklin Pierce and Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois. The vice-presidential nomination went to 35-year-old John C. Breckinridge, a former congressman (1851-1855) from Kentucky. The new Republican Party chose Western explorer John C. Fremont of California as its first presidential nominee. William Dayton, a former senator from New Jersey (1841-1851), was nominated for vice president. The nativist American (“Know Nothing”) Party nominated ex-President Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) for president and Andrew J. Donelson of Tennessee, former U.S. minister to Prussia (1846-1849) and nephew of President Andrew Jackson, for vice president. In the November election, Buchanan won the White House with an Electoral College count of 174 to Fremont’s 114 and Fillmore’s 8. In the popular vote, Buchanan had a plurality of 45% to Fremont’s 33% and Fillmore’s 22%.

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The Dred Scott Case:
The case of Dred Scott v. Sandford involved a slave, Dred Scott, who traveled with his master for several years, first in the free state of Illinois and then in the free territory of Wisconsin. After his master’s death, Scott sued for his freedom, arguing that his temporary stay in free territory had made him free. On March 6, 1857, two days after the inauguration of President James Buchanan, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision. Writing for the 7-2 majority, Chief Justice Roger Taney declared that Scott was still a slave with no standing to sue; that black Americans (slave or free) were not citizens and did not have civil rights protected by the U.S. Constitution; and that neither territorial governments nor the federal government could ban slavery in the territories. Under the reasoning of Dred Scott, the central plank of the Republican Party platform—that the federal government should ban slavery in the territories—and the Missouri Compromise line (had it not been repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act) were not constitutionally permissible.

The Lecompton Constitution:
The rivalry in the Kansas Territory between pro- and anti-slavery factions resulted in the establishment of two territorial legislatures, each claiming legitimacy. The pro-slavery legislature at Lecompton drafted a constitution in the fall of 1857 that would make Kansas a slave state. That December, anti-slavery voters (a majority in the territory) boycotted the popular referendum on the constitution, which passed and was sent to Congress for consideration. Senator Stephen Douglas condemned the Lecompton Constitution as a perversion of popular sovereignty, but President James Buchanan endorsed it. Congress ordered Kansas to hold another referendum on the Lecompton Constitution, which voters defeated overwhelmingly in August 1858. (Kansas entered the Union as a free state on January 29, 1861, after the secession of several Southern slave states.)

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The Lincoln-Douglas Debates:
In 1858, the Republican Party of Illinois took the unusual step of nominating a candidate for the U.S. senate, Abraham Lincoln, before the fall legislative elections (state legislatures elected U.S. senators until 1913). In addition, incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas agreed to an unprecedented series of debates held in seven towns across the state. In the debates, Lincoln reiterated his “House Divided” speech in which he warned that the nation could not endure permanently half-slave or half-free; it would become all one or all the other. Douglas responded to the Dred Scott decision with what became known as “the Freeport doctrine” (named after the host town for the second debate). A major supporter of popular sovereignty, the Democratic senator argued that slavery would still not take hold in a territory if its legislature refused to pass laws protecting the institution (“slave codes”), such as those establishing slave-catching patrols and banning abolitionist literature. In the election, Democrats won control of the state legislature and then reelected Douglas to the U.S. senate. Lincoln’s performance helped launch his campaign for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination.

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Harper’s Ferry Raid:
John Brown, a radical abolitionist and veteran of “Bleeding Kansas,” failed in his attempt to capture the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), and to use the weapons to foment a slave rebellion. Brown and his co-conspirators were captured, tried, and hanged by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Brown and his men became martyrs to the anti-slavery cause in the eyes of some abolitionists. The incident reinforced the erroneous view of many white Southerners that most Northerners were abolitionists.

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The Democratic National Conventions:
The Democratic National Convention convened in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 23, 1860. The party was bitterly divided over the question of slavery in the territories, with most Southerners favoring a federal slave code for the territories and most Northerners opposing it. The Resolutions Committee endorsed a territorial slave code, but the full delegation defeated the measure, provoking most Southern delegates to withdraw from the convention. Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois was the leading presidential candidate, but failed to reach the 2/3-majority necessary for nomination. The convention adjourned on May 3 and reconvened in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 18, at which time Douglas was nominated for president and Hershel Johnson, a former governor of Georgia (1853-1857), was nominated for vice president. The bolting Democrats, mainly Southerners, also met in Baltimore, where they nominated Vice President John Breckinridge for president and Senator Joseph Lane of Oregon for vice president. Both sides claimed to represent the national Democratic Party.

The Constitutional Union Convention:
A group of mainly old-line Whigs and a few former American Party members met as the Constitutional Union Party in Baltimore on May 9, 1860. On the second ballot, delegates chose John Bell, a former Whig senator from Tennessee, as their presidential nominee over Governor Sam Houston of Texas, Senator John Crittenden of Kentucky, and former Representative John Botts of Virginia. Edward Everett, the well-respected Whig politician, diplomat, academic, and orator from Massachusetts, was nominated for vice president. The new party’s brief platform emphasized “the Constitution of the country, the union of the states, and the enforcement of the laws.”

The Republican National Convention:
Republicans met on May 16-18, 1860, in Chicago, Illinois, for their second national convention. When the frontrunner for the presidential nomination, Senator William Henry Seward, failed to receive a majority of votes on the first ballot, momentum shifted to Abraham Lincoln, a former one-term congressman from Illinois (1847-1849), who won on the third ballot. Delegates then selected Senator Hannibal Hamlin of Maine for vice president. The Republican platform opposed the expansion of slavery into the western territories without condemning it in the South, criticized the judicial activism of the Dred Scott decision, denounced John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry, endorsed a federal homestead law and a transcontinental railroad, and opposed stricter naturalization laws.

Election Results:
On November 6, 1860, Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected president with an Electoral College majority greater than the combined total of his three opponents: 180 for Lincoln to 72 for Southern Democrat John Breckinridge, 39 for Constitutional Unionist John Bell, and 12 for Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas. Lincoln won a plurality of the popular vote, 40% to Douglas’s 30%, Breckinridge’s 18%, and Bell’s 12%.

On November 10, 1860, the South Carolina legislature became the first to call for a convention to consider seceding from the Union. Delegates were elected on December 6, and the convention opened on December 17. On December 20, 1860, delegates unanimously approved a secession resolution, becoming the first of 11 Southern slave states to leave the Union.


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