The Crisis of the 1850s

  • Turmoil in the 1850s sparked the Civil War. The road to secession began because of problems of sectional balance. This was a
combination of long term and immediate causes.

The Road to War

-Long Term Causes

  1. The Economy
  2. The Compromise of 1820
  3. The Compromise of 1833

- Immediate Causes

  1. New Lands


  1. The Compromise of 1850
  2. Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)
  3. Ostend Manifesto (1854)
  4. Bleeding Kansas (1854-1856)
  5. Dred Scott v Sanford (1857)
  6. Lincoln-Douglas Debates (1858)
  7. John Brown 's Raid (1859)
  8. Election of 1860


The Economy:

  • Fundamental differences between the North and South were exentuated during this period as Northern industry
skyrocketed and the South remained stubbornly agrarian. The Southern economy was almost entirely agricultural. The arrival of King Cotton with Eli Whitney's cotton gin reinforced the dependence on cheap labor doing manual labor. While tobacco, sugarcane, and rice were important cash crops, cotton made up more than half of the United State's exports. In 1860, at the time the first states seceded, cotton sales totaled $191 million in exports (57 percent of total U.S. exports). Southerners believed that any change in the positions of the slaves would cut into their profit and hurt the economy that favoredexternal image cm0112b.jpg the slavers with dozens of slaves, despite the fact that most Southern families owned less than four slaves.
  • On the other hand, the Northern economy was very industrialized. Lowell girls were appearing, Supreme Court decisions
favored business, and the wealthy were becoming wealthier. Specialized machines were more common, and wage labor was becoming the norm.
  • The struggle between specie and paper money, as well as the debate about the National Bank also caused conflict.

The Compromise of 1820:

  • The Missouri Compromise, a temporary solution to the tension building between the North and the South, drew a line at 36, 30' to
mark the Northernmost boundary for slavery in the future, while admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state to balance the ratio of free states and slave states in the Congress. However, neither side would be content with this boundary. Missouri pushed slavery further Northward to the dismay of abolitionists, yet Southerners would not be happy restricted to less than half of the United States and felt continually persecuted.

The Compromise of 1833:

  • After the Tariff of Abominations raised a protective tariff in 1828 and again in 1832, hurting the South, economic tensions between
the North and South were further increased. Andrew Jackson had to send in federal troops when South Carolina decreed they had nullified the federal tariff. The Compromise of 1833 occurred when Jackson asked Congress to reduce the tariffs and South Carolina rescinded their statement that they were nullifying federal law. However, tensions remained.

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New Lands:

  • The addition of Western lands, from the Louisiana Purchase to the Mexican War created upheavals as different groups vied to
make the lands slave states or free states.
external image U.S._Territorial_Acquisitions.png
While all parties knew acquisitions such as the Oregon Territory would be divided into free states, the futures of other areas were in doubt.
The upheavals that occurred while each side tried to come out ahead increased the opposition each side felt.


The Compromise of 1850:

A compromise between the North and South that actually increased tensions instead of alleviating them, it mandated:
  • California's entry into the Union as a free state
  • a stronger Fugitive Slave Law
  • popular sovereignty in Utah and New Mexico divided the rest of the Mexican Cession into Utah and New Mexico
  • disputed land between Texas and New Mexico given to the new territories
  • the government assuming Texas' debt of $10 million
  • banning the slave trade in the District of Columbia, but allowing slave holding

  • The most important parts of this compromise, the first three conditions listed, did nothing to help problems. California tipped the
balance in the Congress between free states and slave states, giving the free states more power during Congressional sessions. The Fugitive Slave Law was an important balancing aspect in the Compromise, but many Northerners resented being forced to obey a law they morally opposed. It also required states to help capture and return run away slaves. On the other side, Southerners were aggravated by what they thought was blatant disregard for the law. In response to the law, the Underground Railroad was created, an illegal network that became a symbol to abolitionists of hope, and a symbol to slave owners of betrayal. Finally, the idea of popular sovereignty (determining the slavery issue by means of majority vote) changed the course of the struggle. While originally it was used for New Mexico and Utah, the attempt to allow the public to decide the fate of their state caused Bleeding Kansas: exponentially increasing the turmoil and hatred as each side accused the other of being murderers.

Free Soil Movement--> Northern Democrats and Whigs typically who did not necessarily want an end to slavery per se, but simply sought to keep the West a land of opportunity for whites ONLY
"free soil, free labor, and free men" (they also advocated free homesteads..) You mention it below--do you think any more background is needed?

external image The%20Compromise%20of%201850.gif

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852):

  • Known as the "the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war," she was the author of the book Uncle Tom's Cabin.
external image 0553212184.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg A book about the cruelty of slave owners, it made Northerners sympathize with slaves, giving the abolitionists more support among the previously more hesitant and sold 300,000 copies in its first year. It created a moral controversy among some Southerners, but most called it lies and believed the Northerners were "incurably prejudiced" and bent on destroying their way of life.

Ostend Manifesto (1854):

  • First an undercover operation overseen by President Polk, it was an attempt to buy Cuba from Spain, but Spain rejected U.S.
offers. Then, in 1852, President Pierce was negotiating to buy Cuba, but a press leak, then the outrage of abolitionists in the Congress, forced him to stop. The Northerners thought the president was going behind their back, but the Southerners thought the North was holding them back from expansion and more prosperity. Other similar schemes included the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850), the Walker Expedition (1853), and the Gadsden Purchase (1853) which actually resulted in additions to American property.

Bleeding Kansas (1854-1856):

  • A result of the use of popular sovereignty in Kansas after the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), the fights during this timexternal image group04_image001_0000.jpge have been
called the first battles of the civil war. The Kansas-Nebraska Act declared that the issue of whether the states would allow slavery would be decided by popular vote. This caused an influx of Northern settlers who wanted to create a free state, people who would be called Free-Soilers. On the other hand, people who were pro-slavery tended to cross the border from Missouri and raid the settlements of Free-Soilers. These people were called Border Ruffians, and created outrage, since the Northerners considered them to be violating the law.
  • When the elections occurred, Border Ruffians illegally voted in Kansas, creating a pro-slavery government under the
Lecompton Constitution. When Congress refused to recognize this government, voters were given another chance to create a constitution. However, Kansas would not become a state until 1861, when it entered the Union as a free state.

Dred Scott v Sanford (1857):

When Dred Scott, an escaped slave, was claimed as inherited property he sued for his freedom. However, the pro-slavery judges ruled
  • African Americans could not be citizens; therefore he had no legal right to sue
  • Congress could not render territories "free" because they would be depriving people of their property;
  • The Missouri Compromise was therefore illegal (repudiates the Missouri Compromise)

  • This heightened problems as abolitionists were outraged and Southerners were thrilled. As slaves lost legal rights, more people
were swayed to the cause of abolition, thought the Southerners felt that the ruling gave support to their position.

Wordle: Dred Scott v Sanford
The Supreme Court Case of Dred Scott v Sanford, from

Lincoln-Douglas Debates (1858):

  • A series of debates for the Senate seat of Illinois, they brought Lincoln to the national stage while chipping away at Douglas'
support among Southern Democrats. They solidified the Republican Party, setting a base for it, while angering Southerners who were dismayed by the lack of a pro-slavery candidate. The debates caused the creation of the Freeport Doctrine, and showed Southerners a possible future, as Lincoln seemed to them to be an abolitionist. The Freeport Doctrine states that slavery could not exist if the community did not enforce laws (slave codes) maintaining it.

Wordle: a house divided

Lincoln's "A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand" speech from

John Brown's Raid (1859):

  • An avid abolitionist, John Brown led a small group to Harpers Ferry, Virginia to try and start a slave uprising. He attacked a federally
held arsenal and was quickly caught, tried and hung. Though moderate Republicans in the North condemned his actions, many felt they were forced to take him on as a symbol of abolitionism or hurt their cause and so he became called a martyr. Southerns felt that the North had shown its' true colors, and their mistrust of the North intensified. Since the raid had also been upon federal property, the North was acting even more pro treason than it had in the past when violating the Fugitive Slave Law.

John Brown
John Brown

Election of 1860:

  • The final straw to the South was the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. After the splitting of the Democratic party and other
unsatisfied voters created multiple parties, the election became a four-way race. The Constitutional Union Party, the Northern Democrats, and the Southern Democrats all split the votes of those who were pro-slavery, while the Republican Party reaped the benefits. Besides being against the spread of slavery, the Republicans also promised protective tariffs for the North, further agitating the South. Lincoln took all the Northern states. He had no need of a single electoral vote from the South. This began the Republican Party, which merged together a coalition of Northern Whigs, Northern Democrats, Free-Soilers, Know-Nothings and people who were ANTI the Kansas-Nebraska Act CRITTENDEN COMPROMISE (the amendment that would guarantee the right to hold slaves in all territories south of 36 30. Lincoln cannot accept because it violates Republican position prohibiting the extension of slavery in territories...).

This is kind of a fun website about Abe Lincoln. It also has a link to a special Bill Moyers feature they did on the legend of Lincoln. In case anyone is interested.

  • The December after Lincoln was elected, South Carolina held a special convention, and voted to leave the Union. They believed
they were following in the tradition of the American Revolution.

external image moz-screenshot-2.jpg
Presidential Election 1860
Presidential Election 1860

  • In February 1861, the seven states that had seceded by that time would come together and create the Confederate States
of America. Eventually, this would lead to WAR.
Marine's Hyme
Battle Hymn of the Republic


"Electoral Vote by State." Map. @help(Micro Consulting). 10 Apr. 2009 <>.

Newman, John J., Schmalbach, John M. United States History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination. 2nd ed. New York: Amsco, 2006.

Pojer, Susan M. "Compromise of 1850." Map. 8 Apr. 2009. 8 Apr. 2009 <>.

"U.S. Territorial Acquisitions." Map. Wikipedia. 8 Apr. 2009 <>.

West, Jean M. "King Cotton: The Fiber of Slavery." Slavery in America. Feb. 2004. PBS. 8 Apr. 2009 <>.

Further information can be found by looking at
Issue 13, a debate from class
The 1850s: Prelude to Civil War (1987 DBQ)
The Discussion Activity - "Secession & Disunion"
The 2005 APUSH Free-Response Question (Form B)

This page was made by Amy of Review Group D. Edited by: Kat

Feel free to link to this page :-)