The first half of the 19th century in the North was a period of rapid expansion of the industrial revolution. Meanwhile, the slave-holding South maintained an agricultural economy and increasingly lagged in its development. However, leadership was in the hands of the Southern states (Parish, 2020). The situation was also aggravated by the fact that the slave-owners of the South sought to extend the plantation management system to the new lands of the West. Their armed confrontations sometimes occurred between opponents and supporters of slavery. Political leaders in the North advocated the abolition of slavery throughout the United States. Southern planters perceived these plans as a threat to their way of life. Many advocated secession from the United States and the creation of their state. After Republican Abraham Lincoln, a strong opponent of slavery, won the presidential election of 1860, the Southern planters initiated to take decisive action (Parish, 2020). Hence it is essential to determine the developments between 1820 and 1860, indicating that a civil war was inevitable.
The Chronology of Events
Between 1820 and 1846, sectionalism was based on new political groups, new religious communities, and emerging reform movements. As politics became more democratic, favorites still attempted to maintain slavery and white supremacy. It is important to note that sectionalism intensified in the late 1840s when President James C. Polk intended to extend the 36°30′ latitude line to the west coast (Dusinberre, 2017, p. 12). This way divided the Mexican cession into two parts, one free and the other for enslaved people (Dusinberre, 2017). Hence the separation of territory and the different conditions of life on them was one of the causes of the emergence of inequality in society. It increased gradually over several decades and resulted in the Civil War.
The community of the north sympathized with the enslaved people, but few advocated their emancipation. Occasionally slaves rebelled, the largest being the 1831 rebellion in Virginia led by Nat Turner (Dusinberre, 2017, p. 21). Supporters of the abolition of slavery abolitionists assisted slaves in escaping from the planters. They created special secret routes for escapees transported to the Northern United States and Canada (Dusinberre, 2017). In general, this period was one of heightened tension between the wage-labor system and the slave trade model. The intensification of economic relations between the northern and southern states exacerbated the struggle between the north and the south for western lands and political power in the state.
The time between 1820 and 1860 was one of the tremendous disturbances in the history of the United States. They fostered growing discontent and divided society, which meant that civil war was inevitable. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was proposed during this period, including the publication of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and the election of James Buchanan to the presidency (Klinger, 2018). In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed that would divide central Kansas into two parts with the idea that the persons in the territories would decide for themselves whether they would be for or against slavery. However, this contradicted the Missouri Compromise of 1820 because both were above 36°30′ latitude (Klinger, 2018, p. 4). The area would eventually be referred to as “Bleeding Kansas” because of the fighting that would occur due to whether the area would support or oppose slavery. In October, Abraham Lincoln provided a speech condemning this concession (Klinger, 2018, p. 5). Thus, adopting conflicting documents contributed to more conflict in American society between proponents and opponents of slavery. Consequently, such government actions exacerbated the internal problems that existed in society, leading to the Civil War.
The opposing forces faced and struggled with the problem of enslavement as the Civil War approached. The Kansas legislature, which was pro-slavery, perceived the 1857 Lecompton resolution to be an election of delegates to the Constitutional Convention (Parish, 2020, p. 76). Buchanan maintains the convention even though it endorses the forces in favor of slavery. This has become a point of contention between the president and Congress. It was eventually sent back to Kansas for a national vote in 1858; however, they chose to reject it. Therefore, Kansas would not be accepted as a state until 1860 (Parish, 2020, p. 79). The authorities reaffirm that the citizens’ spirit and political will are inconsequential. Accordingly, the massive resentment of the public continues to escalate.
The slave-owners intended to legalize enslavement throughout the country by depriving Congress of the power to abolish or permit it in any state. This could only be accomplished by the U.S. Supreme Court, which had the right case in the face of the Dred Scott case (Genovese, 2021, p. 74). According to the case, the enslaved person had formally sued for dismissal since the slave had been living with the owner in the free state for some period of time. In dismissing the lawsuit in 1857, the Supreme Court simultaneously declared unconstitutional any law prohibiting slavery (Genovese, 2021, p. 74). In this way, there emerged mass indignation of slaves, finally despairing of the justice system.
Significantly, John Brown managed a raid on Harpers Ferry to capture a federal arsenal. Brown was a dedicated abolitionist who wanted to create a territory for the self-liberated enslaved humans. However, the man was recaptured by forces led by Robert E. Lee. Brown and was then found guilty of state treason and hanged in Charlestown, Virginia, in 1859 (Rodgers, 2018, p. 41). Hence, it promoted the state militia’s occupation of the federal arsenal in Charlestown. Consequently, the people realized they had no right to express their interests, and armed struggle was the only opportunity to gain freedom. The victory of Abraham Lincoln of the Republican Party in the presidential election of 1860 signaled the loss of all power to the slaveholders (Dusinberre, 2017, p. 57). It signaled the secession of the Southern states from the Northern states. It meant the inevitability of a Civil War in the United States. The Confederacy was formed in 1861 by eleven southern states (Dusinberre, 2017, p. 57). Slaveholders organized their army and began hostilities to bombard the federal fort in South Carolina in the spring of that year. In this way, a four-year civil war was initiated.
Thus, the civil war between the northern and southern states was an inevitable consequence of the growing contradictions between the two social systems within the country. At the core of these tensions was the issue of slavery, which completely determined the economic and political interests of the planters. At the same time, the passage of laws officially dividing the state into two sections definitively established slavery. As a consequence, the struggle for the opportunity to obtain freedom started, leading to the Civil War. The abolition of slavery became the most crucial challenge to the country’s further bourgeois-democratic development, the basis for preserving its territorial unity.
Dusinberre, W. (2017). Civil War issues in Philadelphia, 1856-1865. University of Pennsylvania Press.
Genovese, E. D. (2021). The slaveholders’ dilemma: freedom and progress in southern conservative thought, 1820-1860. University of South Carolina Press.
Klinger, J. N. (2018). Road to the Civil War: The Missouri Compromise. Perceptions, 4(2), 1-5.
Parish, P. J. (2020). The American Civil War. Routledge.
Rodgers, J. (2018). Empire, Expansion and the struggle for freedom: American political culture at the time of the Civil War. Xlibris Corporation.