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The road to secession

There had been a steadily growing bitterness between the Northern and Southern parts of the United States in the decades prior to 1860.A fundamental disagreement arose over the rights of individual states, causing diverging interpretations of key parts of the Constitution.This regional antagonism was exacerbated by many economic, social, and political factors, but slavery remained the underlying cause.


Since the establishment of the American colonies in the 17th century, enslaved labor had been an essential part of the English economy.First brought to Virginia in 1619, enslaved people would transform the region with cash crops and founding institutions that enabled the South to prosper economically through agriculture. Cash crops, such as cotton, sugar, and tobacco, would eventually transform the South.Approximately one-third of the southern population was enslaved during the reign of "King Cotton" (early to mid-1800s).Despite the fact that agriculture remained a vital part of the North's economy, the industrial and commercial sectors were significantly more developed than the south.It took several decades for many states to formally abolish slavery after the American Revolution, even though the North largely abandoned slavery as uneconomic.

Sale of Estates, Pictures and Slaves in the Rotunda, New Orleans

.Representative James Tallmadge of New York began a debate on a measure allowing Missouri to craft a state constitution when he proposed an amendment that would prohibit further enslavement here and emancipate all enslaved people since age 25.Despite the majority of northerners, the Tallmadge amendment was rejected in the Senate, where there was a balance of white and black states.The debate over the nature of slavery lasted more than a year, during which time much effort was made to resolve the deadlock.In March 1820, Speaker of the House Henry Clay managed to secure a compromise which was acceptable to all parties.District of Maine was separated from Massachusetts and allowed to enter the Union as a free state, Missouri was admitted as a slave state, and slavery was prohibited in the rest of the Louisiana Purchase north of latitude 36°30′.As a result, the free states and slave states were in balance at 12 each.

The Missouri Compromise postponed a final reckoning on slavery for a while, but the long rancorous debate has left a mark on the South.In Congress, slavery was roundly decried as morally wrong, and Northern dominance of congress emphasized Southerners' status as minorities.A relatively equal number of free and slave states in the Senate became increasingly important to the South as it sought to protect its social and economic institutions.The North sought to prevent slavery from spreading into the territory, but the South considered its citizens constitutionally allowed to take enslaved people there.According to U.S. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, the Missouri Compromise produced a stalemate, but "this is just a title page for a great, tragic book."

In spite of countless compromises that attempted to balance the demands of the North and the South over the next four decades, sectional tensions would continue growing.In August 1846, shortly after the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, Pennsylvania Rep. David Wilmot submitted an amendment barring slavery in any land gained as a result of that conflict.By calling for "free soil," the Wilmot Proviso intended only to prevent slavery's expansion into Western territories, ignoring slavery where it already existed.Because Abolitionists demanded immediate, uncompensated emancipation, there was little popular support for it.Yet, freedom of the soil, the lowest common denominator of antislavery feelings, had wide appeal.During three consecutive years, the Wilmot Proviso was passed in the House and rejected in the Senate, resulting in the creation of the short-lived but influential Free-Soil Party.

.As soon as California was proposed for statehood, slavery became the no. 1 issue at the center of any discussion.Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina issued a "Southern Address" in response to the Wilmot Proviso in 1849, calling on the South to unite as a united front against it.A sectional convention should be called to discuss the problems of the South, Calhoun suggested.A convention involving nine Slave-owning states was held in Jackson, Mississippi, in October 1849, but the attendees agreed that a new convention should be held to include all slaveholding states.In 1850, Tennessee hosted a pair of meetings that became known as the Nashville Convention.After the second session ended, representatives discussed the possibility of secession from the Union.

In this situation, Henry Clay put forth his last great compromise.Clay introduced an omnibus bill on January 29, 1850, to settle all the outstanding issues that divided the country.An aggressive fugitive slave law would be enacted to placate the South, and California would be admitted as a free state. .Also included in the bill were the provisions compensating Texas for the loss of New Mexico and pronouncing an end to the slave trade (rather than slavery) in Washington, DC.

Clay was killed in 1852 shortly after having dedicated his four-decade political career to the defense of the Union, so he would not be around to witness his life's work unfold.The Kansas-Nebraska Act, passed in 1854, allowed the expansion of slavery into the western territories on the basis of popular sovereignty.Kansas-Nebraska Act did more to inflame tensions than to alleviate them.The territory was engulfed by a localized civil war dubbed "Bleeding Kansas" by the press. Dred Scott undid what little remained of Clay's legacy.In that case, the.Supreme Court ruled (7-2) that Dred Scott, an enslaved person, was not entitled to his freedom owing to his residence in a free state and territory (where slavery was prohibited) and that African Americans could not be citizens of the United States.The Missouri Compromise was also declared unconstitutional, as was the doctrine of popular sovereignty, by the ruling, which is widely considered the worst in the history of the Court.Judges in the North rejected the ruling as nonbinding, and the North's governments reacted by exploding.It appeared that the Union was about to collapse.