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Content Reading Guide: The Antebellum Era (1781-1860): Slavery Divides the Nation Part 3
In 1857, the Supreme Court addressed a case in which a slave, Dred Scott, asserted that he should be set free, since his master had brought him to Illinois, a free area. In the Supreme Court decision, the Dred Scott Decision, it was ruled that Dred Scott, a slave, did not have the rights of a citizen to demand his freedom. The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roger Taney, asserted that Dred Scott would not be set free. This was a major setback for the Abolitionist Movement.
Also in this time, the Lincoln-Douglas Debates occurred. The issue at hand was how to bring in new states to the USA and how these new states would manage the issue of slavery in their areas. During their race against each other for the Senate Seat of Illinois, Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln heavily debated this issue dealing with slavery. Neither Lincoln nor Douglas wanted slavery in the new territories, but they disagreed on how states should manage the issue themselves. Douglas felt the states should get to decide the issue for themselves, which is called popular sovereignty. Lincoln argued against Douglas that popular sovereignty could work because of the Dred Scott Decision.
The Dred Scott Decision asserted slaves could not seek freedom, even in free areas, if their masters brought them from the South. Lincoln contended that, if slaves could not seek freedom, popular sovereignty could not give citizens the ability to choose freedom for all slaves living in free states. Due to the ruling of the Supreme Court, the new states had no way to free slaves in their area, if those slaves were brought in from the South.
It was clear that a Civil War was becoming more and more possible in the USA. At Harper’s Ferry, a man named John Brown led a violent uprising in Virginia that was put down by the government. Brown felt he could take government weapons and create an uprising against slavery. However, his rebellion failed and he was executed.
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President and this angered South Carolina, where many felt Lincoln’s views were too friendly toward abolitionism. As a result, they seceded from the United States. Other Southern states seceded as well. They joined together and formed the Confederate States of America. The stage was set for the American Civil War.
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