The Bloodiest Divorce
Instructor: Professor Jason L. Malin
December 3, 2009
Author: Don Love
Don Love Oct. 29, 2009
U.S. History to Reconstl: 201-004
Jason L. Malin
History Essay #2
The Color That Cracked The Nation
The multitude of events which led to the success of the Union of states we now know as the United States of America has historically teetered on the size of the continent in which they were formed upon. The vast amount of land which was available allowed for the colonization, farming, land development and gathering up of natural resources. These same reasons for its success would also be the reasons that caused a division between the sections known to all as the “North and the South”. Since the founding fathers and colonists had come to the new world, the west had always been the frontier and forward tip of the sword when it came to leading the way to the promised land, “biblically speaking of course”. As the needed acreage in the east had been slowly dispersed among growing families; the need for more land by the sons and daughters grew with the population boom of the old west. With the United States government’s continued acquisitions of new land either by purchases, treaties or by war, Americans were now able to move westward into a land of new beginnings and promise of a new future for all who followed their dreams..
Shortly after the Louisiana Purchase was made by Jefferson from France, between 1800 and 1865 there was a large increase in the number of settlers migrating into westward territories. This migration began the long period of tensions and differences between the sections that would last through the Civil War. These tensions were due to the fact that the North wanted new territories that came into the union to be “free states;” meaning free from slavery. The rival southern states or sections wanted the new territories to be added as slave states so as to perpetuate their political purposes for economic gains utilizing slavery as its support basis as it always had in the past. Both sections had their reasons which seemed valid at the time to themselves. All tensions created during the westward expansionism during that period leading up to the Civil War hinged on one question, would the new territories and states that would be created by this westward movement be free or slave areas. With the current balance of free states in the northern section verses the slave states in the south hanging in the wind, what would an imbalance of either bring upon the loser in the race for more states in the political arena? With the governments continued acquisition of new lands through purchase, war, annexation and Indian relocation, the congress now had to make a decision of whether these new territories that would eventually become states would be free or slave states, or in the case of the Kansas and Nebraska Act, let the residents or the territories decide for themselves.
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It is widely known that the northern sections were diversely different in their beliefs, customs, attitudes, and work backgrounds. The North favored the industrialized progress of the Industrial revolution and its skilled craftsmen, producing a vast array of products and materials for commercial trade and profit where their skills as professional craftsmen were a valuable commodity. The southern sections had found their niche utilizing slaves to produce cash crops on a large scale such as tobacco, cotton, sugar and even cattle in the western areas of the south. While each section had its strengths, each also had its share of associated problems as well that linked slavery in the very center of the westward expansion political debate.
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According to Nash’s “The American People” During 1920, the Missouri compromise had provided a balanced form of compromise between the two sections by providing a balance of free states and slave states and defined a physical geographical reference line in the sand of (36◦30′) to determine any future decisions unionizing territories as slave states or free states. (Nash 478)
During the 1830’s the political arena seemed largely opposed to fighting over the slavery issue in political campaigns and congressional debates but instead differed over economic and cultural issues. Then later when the Mexican war broke out in 1846 the Unites States seemed likely to acquire a vast amount of land and new territories in the southwest. According to Nash’s “The American People”, the question arose between the Whig party and the Democrats as to whether these new areas would be “free” or “Slave” states. At the time a Philadelphia congressman named David Wilmot placed an amendment into a war appropriations bill that declared” neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist’ in any territories acquired from Mexico. What is so significant about this is the fact that instead of voting for or against the bill according to their respective political party lines, they instead voted as a southerner or a northerner would vote. (Nash 478)
According to “The American Promise”; Prior to the original colonies being established the north and south had shared a great deal with each other in that most were white and protestant, both spoke a common language most were British in origin and celebrated the fact that they shared a history against British rule in the victorious American Revolution. They both shared the fact that the Constitution helped them establish these strong bonds with all Americans. With these strong bonds they fostered internal dependence and communication with each other across the territories. (Roark375)
On the Northern camp, many Caucasian white farmers who had been looking to move out west fear that free blacks would be in direct competition with them for subsidence. They also felt that large scale southern slave holding plantation owners would eventually move north and would use the free slave labor to put them out of business by replacing tradesmen and wage earners. This was far more than they could bear. David Wilmot’s “proviso” was intended to hold in place the norm or life they had become to know and be comfortable with. The proviso was a means of restraining the demands of the southern political powers. The “free soil” idea was offered as a suggestion after the Mexican American War had ended. It was intended to prevent any extensions of slavery. Wilmot’s added amendment drove home the protectionism beliefs of the Northern ideals and beliefs that slavery is immoral and needed to be eliminated.
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Leading the Southern camp was Senator John C. Calhoun from South Carolina who seemed positioned along the lines that the Wilmot Proviso was unconstitutional because not only did congress lack the constitutional right to exclude slavery from the territories, but that congress had a duty to protect slavery. He also stated that because this Wilmot proviso was unconstitutional then also the Missouri compromise and any other federal act designed to prevent slaveholders from taking their slave properties into any territories of the United States. Although the Wilmot proviso was not ultimately adopted, the strains and tensions felt at the time would set the atmosphere for future violent conflicts. As the country grew from the land annexation, the unionization of territories and land purchases, the westward populace also grew by leaps and bounds. This is especially true after the few short weeks after the California territories along with New Mexico and disputed Texas areas had been turned over to the United States with the signing of the Hidalgo Treaty in 1848. The few short weeks that followed was the discovery of gold in California that brought hundreds of thousands of prospectors and fortune hunters into the western costal regions thus completing the great Manifest Destiny as outlined just three quarters of a century earlier The United States now occupied a continent with two costal water ports of commerce and virtual unlimited resources at which to continue. During the period from the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 when Louis and Clark first began their trek across the west until 1850, the population had grown to four times what it was.
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California’s population grew so fast that unionization was eventually imminent after a short disagreement on the slavery issue. They wanted to be admitted as a free state.
This fact was due to the argument that most were miners that barely eked out a living that would feed their families let alone allow for the movement of slave holding states to send in slave labor to hone in on them and out pace the individual miners. This voice set the stage of the argument for California.
The south was afraid that if the North was able to abolish slavery, then they would not be able to survive. This was based on the fact that slaves worked for free and if there were no slaves then the expensive labor costs would drive them into ruins economically. There was another faction to this dilemma that many slave owners believed that freed slaves meant that they themselves would be killed by their slaves if an opportunity presented itself such as freedom for the slaves.
Before 1819, there had been roughly an equal number of slave states to the number of free states. This meant that that in congressional powers argued over differences, that both had an equal status of power to play in the debates of the time. This equal power distribution was important because neither side wanted the other side to have the upper hand in dealing with the issue of slavery which would tip the balances of power one way or another. There were several key states that triggered more tensions than others in territorial disputes about the slavery issue.
One was Missouri in 1819 when they applied for unionization into the United States. If congress had went ahead and accepted them as a state at the time then there would be more free states than slave states. This was the first incidence of radical arguments between the sections that led to further disputed of the same nature. California went off on the deep end according to the southerners by claiming to want to be unionized as a free state. If this wasn’t enough pressures politically, we now have the slavery pressures staging Kansas and Nebraska as the violent political unrest of unionization continues.
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In 1854, Steven Douglas introduced a proposal that would allow California as a free state but would admit the rest of the states conditionally where they would themselves decide whether they would be free or slave states. It also stated that Washington DC would be a free area and that there would be instituted a National Fugitive Slave Act. The south had at first, threatened to succeed from the union citing support from other states as well. The “Kansas Nebraska Act” of 1854, added to the tensions with the allowances to territories being unionized to choose for themselves whether or not they would be “free states” or slave states. The resulting actions led to northern politically motivated individuals coming south to the voting polls to illegally vote as residents. Southerners also did the same by coming from the southern states north into Kansas and Nebraska to illegally vote as residents. The result was a blood bath of killings in heated battles that ensued. Not only was there great social stress created by the Kansas Nebraska Act there was a growing gap in the economics of the two sections, the north with its industrial roots and the south with its agricultural dependencies were soon to standoff. In the civil war
For a nation that was originally founded on the beliefs that suppression by monarchial rule is wrong for the American society, we now had become the divided institutionalized slaves of our own makings in the mistakes of the past. If the divisions of slavery could not be balanced once again with the newly unionized states, the stage would be set for failure of our cohesiveness we once prized without separation as a country.
1) Nash, Gary B. The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society Lexington: Lexington reprinted w/per of UP of America, 1986. 289.
2) Roark, James L. The American Promise, volume 1: to 1877 Bedford/St Martins, Boston, NY 2009