How Compromises Failed to Prevent the Civil War

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As tensions between the North and the South rose on the issues of slavery and states’ rights, numerous compromises were proposed to ease the conflict. Such compromises included the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, and the Crittenden Compromise. These compromises had intentions of defining where slavery was permitted and clarifying states’ rights. They were only temporary fixes to a more pressing issue. Between the Missouri Compromise and the Crittenden Compromise, a series of events changed the political atmosphere of the United States and prevented any more compromises on the institution of slavery from being passed.

In the years leading up to the Civil War, numerous laws were passed that not only prevented slavery from expanding to the North, but also limited states’ rights. The Missouri Compromise was one of the first to do so. Senator Henry Clay arranged an imaginary latitude line at 36°30’ North and slavery above this line was prohibited, while territories south of this line were permitted to have slaves. This limited the South from further expanding slavery to new territories. Pro-slavery Southerners felt a bias in the political system because Congress now had the power to exclude slavery from U.S. territories. Southern states believed that this power was reserved for them and by proclaiming the 36°30’ North latitude line, the federal government exercised unconstitutional power. The Dred Scott decision further supported the clause that the issue of slavery was reserved for the state government. Despite this, the South realized that the North and its anti-slavery views were gaining ground, while the North believed that the Dred Scott ruling limited its power. The Compromise of 1850 shifted the political landscape even more. California sought to be admitted to the Union as a free state, and the Wilmot Proviso suggested that the newly acquired land from the Mexican War was to be free as well. The South was concerned that admission of more free states would offset the balance of representation in Congress. At the same time, the Northerners feared that the revised Fugitive Slave Act was a step towards a slave power conspiracy. Prior to the revision, Northern states such as Missouri and Wisconsin passed personal liberty laws that ultimately nullified the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Prigg v. Pennsylvania weakened the Acts of 1793 even further by asserting that States did not have to aid in the capture of runaway slaves. Eventually the Compromise of 1850 was passed in separate parts and many assumed that it would be the longstanding answer to slavery in the States. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act tipped the delicate balance of states’ rights in the Compromise of 1850. Senator Henry Clay proposed the notion of popular sovereignty to determine whether these States would be free or slave states. This consequently repealed the Missouri Compromise by allowing slavery to spread North of the Missouri Compromise latitude line if popular sovereignty called for it. Popular sovereignty led to a series of deadly confrontations, known as Bleeding Kansas, between anti-slavery Free-Staters and pro-slavery Border Ruffians. In an attempt to establish Kansas as a free state, anti-slavery organizations such as the New England Emigrant Aid Company convinced thousands of anti-slavery Northerners to settle in the new territory for the sole purpose of casting anti-slavery ballots. The Southerners viewed this as a threat to slavery and established their own counter movement. After the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the events that ensued, the Whig party disintegrated because the sectionalizing effects on slavery could no longer maintain a party comprised of those who were pro-slavery, anti-slavery, and indifferent to slavery. Thus, Bleeding Kansas effectively split the nation into two major political parties: the Republicans in the North and the Democrats in the South. The Republican Party was composed of...
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