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Content Reading Guide: The Antebellum Era (1781-1860): Slavery Divides the Nation Part 2
Many in the North wanted the new western regions to abolish slavery and many the South wanted slavery to exist in the new areas of the USA. When California pursued statehood, they tried to ban slavery. This alarmed the South. Areas south of 36’ 30’ were supposed to be allowed to have slaves due to the agreement of the Missouri Compromise. Southern States threatened secession (leaving the Union) in response to limiting slavery in the West.
Henry Clay developed a compromise that became known as the Compromise of 1850. According to the compromise, California could be entered as a free state and the North would enforce the fugitive state law more strictly, a law in which slaves would be returned to masters if they ran away. Also, New Mexico and Utah were permitted to use popular sovereignty (letting the people vote on the issue) to determine if they wanted slavery.
The Compromise of 1850 calmed the tension between the North and the South for the time being. However, it was clear that the issue of slavery was causing massive hostility between the North and South. Abolitionism was gaining momentum in the industrial North. However, the South’s agrarian economy continued to be dependent on forced human labor.
Kansas and Nebraska were north of the Missouri Compromise. It was decided that popular sovereignty would determine slavery if this area became a state. People flocked to the area to sway the vote. Some wanted slavery, others did not. Rival governments were set up in Lecompton (Pro-slavery) and Topeka (Anti-slavery) that led to violence in Kansas between the two groups.
Violence even broke out in Congress. A proslavery representative named Preston Brooks of South Carolina radically opposed the abolitionist movement. On May 22, 1956, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was delivering an anti-slavery speech in Washington D.C. in Congress. Preston Brooks attacked Sumner with a cane for speaking against the South and slavery in the Senate chambers.
Political parties took various stances on slavery. The Republicans were mostly anti-slavery and controlled the North. The Democrats were mostly pro-slavery controlled the South. The Whigs, which earlier had broken away from the Democrats, became divided over slavery. The Know Nothing Party claimed “I know nothing,” when asked of their activities. This party supported nativism (valuing American citizens over immigrants) and were split over the issue of slavery. The Free Soil Party wanted new states to ban slavery. The Liberty Party wanted to end slavery in all states.