the Union The United States as one country, united under a single government. During the Civil War, “the Union” came to mean the government and armies of the North.
Original 13 States
States Entering the Union, 1791-1819
Slave States Free States
States Entering the Union, 1791-1819
asked, did Congress have to decide whether a new state should be slave or free? According to the theory of states’ rights favored by many southerners, Congress had no power to impose its will on a state, old or new. Instead, the people of each state should decide whether to permit slavery. The fight over slavery thus involved a basic question about the powers of the federal and state governments under the Constitution.
A Deadlocked Congress Southerners’ protests were based on their fear that if Congress was allowed to end slavery in Missouri, it might try to end slavery elsewhere. The North already had more votes in the House of Representatives than the South. Only in the Senate did the two sections have equal voting power. As long as the number of free states and slave states remained equal, southern senators could defeat any attempt to interfere with slavery. But if Missouri entered the Union as a free state, the South would lose its power to block anti-slavery bills in the Senate. If that happened, southerners warned, it would be a disaster for the South.
In the North, the Tallmadge Amendment awakened strong feelings against slavery. Many towns sent petitions to Congress, condemning slavery as immoral and unconstitutional. Arguing in favor of the amendment, New Hampshire representative Arthur Livermore spoke for many northerners when he said:
An opportunity is now presented to prevent the growth of a sin which sits heavy on the soul of every one of us. By embracing this opportunity, we may retrieve the national character and, in some degree our own.
The House voted to approve the Tallmadge Amendment. In the Senate, however, southerners were able to defeat it. The two houses were now deadlocked over the issue of slavery in Missouri. They would remain so as the 1819 session of Congress drew to a close.
An auctioneer holds a baby during a slave auction, while the child’s mother begs not to be separated from her child. Scenes like this fueled the moral outrage many felt toward slavery.
21.3 The Missouri Compromise
When Congress returned to Washington in 1820, it took up the question of Missouri statehood once again. By then, the situation had changed, for Maine was now asking to enter the Union as a free state.
For weeks, Congress struggled to find a way out of its deadlock over Missouri. As the debate dragged on and tempers wore thin, southerners began using such dreaded words as “secession” and “civil war.”
“If you persist,” Thomas Cobb of Georgia warned supporters of the amendment, “the Union will be dissolved. You have kindled a fire which only a sea of blood can extinguish.”
“If disunion must take place, let it be so!” thundered Tallmadge in reply. “If civil war must come, I can only say, let it come.”
A Compromise Is Reached Rather than risk the breakup of the Union, Congress finally agreed to a compromise crafted by Representative Henry Clay of Kentucky. The compromise admitted Missouri to the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state. In this way, it maintained the balance of power between slave and free states.
At the same time, Congress drew an imaginary line across the Louisiana Territory at latitude 36°30’. North of this line, slavery was to be banned forever, except in Missouri. South of the line, slaveholding was permitted.
Reactions to the Compromise The Missouri Compromise kept the Union together. But it pleased no one. In the North, congressmen who voted to accept Missouri as a slave state were called traitors. In the South, slaveholders deeply resented the ban on slavery in part of the Louisiana Territory.
Meanwhile, as Secretary of State John Quincy Adams recognized, the compromise had not settled the future of slavery in the United States as a whole. “I have favored this Missouri compromise, believing it to be all that could be effected [accomplished] under the present Constitution, and from extreme unwillingness to put the Union at hazard [risk],” wrote Adams in his diary. “If the Union must be dissolved, slavery is precisely the question on which it ought to break. For the present, however, the contest is laid asleep.”
As a result of the Missouri Compromise, Missouri entered the Union as a slave state, while Maine entered as a free state. In addition, a line was drawn at the 36°30’ parallel, below which slavery would be allowed. Above this line, slavery was prohibited.
secession the act of withdrawing from an organization or alliance, such as the withdrawal of the southern states from the Union
The Missouri Compromise
21.4 The Missouri Compromise Unravels
As John Quincy Adams predicted, for a time the “contest” over slavery was laid to rest. But a powerful force was building that soon pushed the issue of slavery into the open again: the Second Great Awakening. As you read in Chapter 18, leaders of the religious revival of the 1820s and 1830s promised that God would grant salvation to those who did the Lord’s work. And for some Americans, the Lord’s work was the abolition of slavery.
The “Gag Rule” During the 1830s, abolitionists flooded Congress with anti-slavery petitions. Congress, they were told, had no power to interfere with slavery in the states. Then what about the District of Columbia? asked the abolitionists. Surely Congress had the power to ban slavery in the nation’s capital.
Rather than face that question, Congress voted in 1836 to table all anti-slavery petitions. (To table means to set something aside indefinitely.) Outraged abolitionists called this action the “gag rule,” because it gagged (silenced) all congressional debate over slavery.
In 1839, the gag rule prevented consideration of an anti-slavery proposal by John Quincy Adams, who was now a member of Congress. Knowing that the country would not agree on abolishing slavery altogether, Adams proposed a constitutional amendment saying that no one could be born into slavery after 1845. Congress, however, refused to consider his proposal.
Southern Fears Abolitionists were far from silenced by the refusal of Congress to debate slavery. They continued to attack slavery in books, in newspapers, and at public meetings.
White southerners deeply resented the abolitionists’ attacks as an assault on their way of life. After Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831, resentment turned to fear. Southern states adopted strict new laws to control the movement of slaves. Many states also tried to keep abolitionist writings from reaching slaves. Mississippi even offered a reward of $5,000 for the arrest and conviction of any person “who shall utter, publish, or circulate” abolitionist ideas.
The horrors of slavery were detailed in many northern newspapers and periodicals such as this one.
Fugitive Slaves Nat Turner’s rebellion was the last large-scale slave revolt. But individual slaves continued to rebel by running away to freedom in the North. These fugitives from slavery were often helped in their escape by sympathetic people in the North.
To slaveholders, these northerners were no better than bank robbers. A good slave was a valuable piece of property. Every time a slave escaped, it was like seeing five acres of land vanish into thin air. Slaveholders demanded that Congress pass a fugitive slave law to help them recapture their property.
Slavery in the Territories The gag rule kept the slavery issue out of Congress for ten years. Then, in 1846, President James Polk sent a bill to Congress asking for funds for the war with Mexico. Pennsylvania representative David Wilmot added an amendment to the bill known as the Wilmot Proviso. (A proviso is a condition added to an agreement.) Wilmot’s proviso stated that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist” in any part of the territory that might be acquired from Mexico.
Southerners in Congress strongly opposed Wilmot’s amendment. Congress had no right, they maintained, to decide where slaveholders could take their property. The Wilmot Proviso passed the House, but it was rejected by the Senate.
Statehood for California For the next three years, Congress debated what to do about slavery in the territory gained from Mexico. Southerners wanted all of the Mexican Cession open to slavery. Northerners wanted all of it closed.
As a compromise, southerners proposed a bill that would extend the Missouri Compromise line all the way to the Pacific. Slavery would be banned north of that line and allowed south of it. Northerners in Congress rejected this proposal.
Then, late in 1849, California applied for admission to the Union as a free state. Northerners in Congress welcomed California with open arms. Southerners, however, rejected California’s request. Making California a free state, they warned, would upset the equal balance between slave and free states. The result would be to make the slave states “a fixed, dreary, hopeless minority.”
The year ended with Congress deadlocked over California’s request for statehood. Once again, resentful southerners spoke openly of withdrawing from the Union. And once again, angry northerners denounced slavery as “a crime against humanity…a great evil.”
Nat Turner, pictured above, led the last major slave uprising in the United States. Following the Turner revolt, southerners tightened restrictions on slaves.
fugitive a person who flees or tries to escape (for example, from slavery)
21.5 The Compromise of 1850
On January 21, 1850, Henry Clay, now a senator from Kentucky, trudged through a Washington snowstorm to pay an unexpected call on Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts. Clay, the creator of the Missouri Compromise, had come up with a plan to end the dead-lock over California. But to get his plan through Congress, Clay needed Webster’s support.
Something for Everyone Clay’s new compromise had something to please just about everyone. It began by admitting California to the Union as a free state. That would please the North. Meanwhile, New Mexico and Utah would be organized as territories open to slavery, which would please the South.
In addition, Clay’s plan ended the slave trade in Washington, D.C. Although slaveholders in Washington would be able to keep their slaves, human beings would no longer be bought and sold in the nation’s capital. Clay and Webster agreed that this compromise would win support from abolitionists without threatening the rights of slaveholders.
Finally, Clay’s plan called for passage of a strong fugitive slave law. Slaveholders had long wanted such a law, which would make it easier to find and reclaim their runaway slaves.
The Compromise Is Accepted Hoping that Clay’s compromise would end the crisis, Webster agreed to help push it through Congress. But despite his support, Congress debated Clay’s proposals for nine frustrating months. As tempers frayed, southerners talked of simply leaving the Union peacefully.
Webster dismissed such talk as foolish. “Secession! Peaceable secession!” he exclaimed. “Your eyes and mine are never destined to see that miracle…. I see it as plainly as I see the sun in heaven—I see that secession must produce such a war as I will not describe.”
A war over slavery? That was something few Americans wanted to face. In September 1850, Congress finally adopted Clay’s plan.
Most Americans were happy to see the crisis end. Some southerners, however, remained wary of the Compromise of 1850. A North Carolina newspaper warned the North to “let this question of Slavery alone, take it out and keep it out of Congress; and respect and enforce the Fugitive Slave Law as it stands. If not, we leave you!”
The Compromise of 1850 admitted California as a free state and allowed the southwestern territories to be set up with no restriction on slavery.
The Compromise of 1850
21.6 The Compromise Satisfies No One
Clay and Webster hoped that the Compromise of 1850 would quiet the slavery controversy for years to come. In fact, it satisfied almost no one. Instead of quieting down, the debate grew louder each year.
The Fugitive Slave Law Both sides were unhappy with the Fugitive Slave Law, though for different reasons. Northerners did not want to enforce the law. Southerners felt the law did not do enough to ensure the return of their escaped property.
Under the Fugitive Slave Law, any person arrested as a runaway slave had almost no legal rights. Many runaways fled to Canada rather than risk being caught and sent back to their masters. Others decided to stand and fight. Reverend Jarmain Loguen, a former slave living in New York, said boldly, “I don’t respect this law—I don’t fear it—I won’t obey it…I will not live like a slave, and if force is employed to reenslave me, I shall make preparations to meet the crisis as becomes a man.”
The Fugitive Slave Law also said that any person who helped a slave escape, or even refused to aid slave catchers, could be jailed. This provision, complained New England poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, made “slave catchers of us all.”
Opposition to the law was widespread in the North. When slave catchers came to Boston, they were hounded by crowds of angry citizens shouting, “Slave hunters—there go the slave hunters.” After a few days of this treatment, most slave catchers decided to leave.
Notherners’ refusal to support the law infuriated slaveholders. It also made enforcement of the law almost impossible. Of the tens of thousands of fugitives living in the North during the 1850s, only 299 were captured and returned to their owners.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin Nothing brought the horrors of slavery home to northerners more than Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The novel grew out of a horrifying vision Stowe experienced while she was sitting in church on a wintry Sunday morning in 1851. The vision began with a saintly slave known as Uncle Tom and his cruel master, Simon Legree. In a furious rage, Legree had the old slave whipped to death. Just before Uncle Tom’s soul slipped out of his bloodied body, he opened his eyes and whispered to Legree, “Ye poor miserable critter! There ain’t no more ye can do. I forgive ye, with all my soul!”
In this painting, a group of fugitive slaves are helped as they make their escape from bondage. The assistance northerners gave to escaped slaves caused hard feelings among southern slaveholders.
Racing home, Stowe scribbled down what she had seen. Her vision of Uncle Tom’s death became part of a much longer story that was first published in installments in an abolitionist newspaper. In one issue, terrified readers held their breath as the beautiful slave Eliza chose to risk death rather than be sold away from her young son. Chased by slave hunters and their dogs, Eliza dashed to freedom across the ice-choked Ohio River, clutching her child in her arms. Later, Stowe’s readers wept as they read her account of how Uncle Tom died at the hands of Simon Legree.
In 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published as a novel. Plays based on the book toured the country, thrilling audiences with Eliza’s dramatic escape to freedom. No other work had ever aroused such powerful emotions about slavery. In the South, the novel and its author were scorned and cursed. In the North, Uncle Tom’s Cabin turned millions of people against slavery.
The Ostend Manifesto and the Kansas-Nebraska Act Northerners who were horrified by slavery were roused to fury by two events in 1854: the publication of the so-called Ostend Manifesto, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
The document known as the Ostend Manifesto was a message sent to the secretary of state by three American diplomats who were meeting in Ostend, Belgium. President Franklin Pierce had been trying to purchase the island of Cuba from Spain, but Spain had refused the offer. The message from the diplomats urged the U.S. government to seize Cuba by force if Spain continued to refuse to sell the island. When the message leaked to the public, angry northerners charged that Pierce’s government wanted to grab Cuba in order to add another slave state to the Union.
Early that same year, Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois introduced a bill in Congress that aroused an even greater furor. Douglas wanted to get a railroad built to California, and he thought the project was more likely to happen if Congress organized the Great Plains into Nebraska Territory and opened the region to settlers. Because this territory lay north of the Missouri Compromise, Douglas’s bill said nothing about slavery. But southerners in Congress agreed to support the bill only if Douglas made a
Perhaps no other novel in American history has had the political impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Upon meeting author Harriet Beecher Stowe, Abraham Lincoln said, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war.”
few changes—and those changes had far-reaching consequences.
Douglas’s final bill created two new territories, Kansas and Nebraska. It also scrapped the Missouri Compromise by leaving it up to the settlers themselves to vote on whether to permit slavery in the two territories. Douglas called this policy “popular sovereignty,” or rule by the people.
Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska Act hit the North like a thunderbolt. Once again, northerners were haunted by nightmare visions of slavery marching across the plains. Douglas tried to calm their fears by saying that the climates of Kansas and Nebraska were not suited to slave labor. But when northerners studied maps, they were not so sure. Newspaper editor Horace Greeley charged in the New York Tribune:
The pretense of Douglas & Co. that not even Kansas is to be made a slave state by his bill is a gag [joke]. Ask any Missourian what he thinks about it. The Kansas Territory…is bounded in its entire length by Missouri, with a whole tier of slave counties leaning against it. Won’t be a slave state!…Gentlemen! Don’t lie any more!
Bloodshed in Kansas After the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, settlers poured into Kansas. Most were peaceful farmers looking for fertile soil. Some settlers, however, moved to Kansas either to support or to oppose slavery. In the South, towns took up collections to send their young men to Kansas. In the North, abolitionists raised money to send weapons to anti-slavery settlers. Before long, Kansas had two competing governments, one for slavery and one against it.
The struggle over slavery soon turned violent. On May 21, 1856, pro-slavery settlers and “border ruffians” from Missouri invaded Lawrence, Kansas, the home of the anti-slavery government. The invaders burned a hotel, looted several homes, and tossed the presses of two abolitionist newspapers into the Kaw River. As the invaders left Lawrence, one of them boasted, “Gentlemen, this is the happiest day of my life.”
The raid on Lawrence provoked a wave of outrage in the North. Money was quickly raised to replace the destroyed presses. And more “free-soilers,” as the anti-slavery settlers were called, prepared to move to Kansas.
Meanwhile, a fiery abolitionist named John Brown plotted his own revenge. Two days after the Lawrence raid, Brown and seven followers,
The Kansas-Nebraska Act outraged northerners because it violated the Missouri Compromise.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act
including four of Brown’s sons and his son-in-law, invaded the pro-slavery town of Pottawatomie. There they dragged five men they suspected of supporting slavery from their homes and hacked them to death with swords.
Violence in Congress The violence in Kansas greatly disturbed Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. To Sumner, it was proof of what he had long suspected—that Senator Stephen Douglas had plotted with southerners to make Kansas a slave state.
In 1856, Sumner voiced his suspicions in a passionate speech entitled “The Crime Against Kansas.” Using harsh, shocking language, Sumner described the “crime against Kansas” as a violent assault on an innocent territory, “compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery.” He dismissed Douglas as “a noisome [offensive], squat, and nameless animal.” Sumner also heaped abuse on many southerners, including the distinguished Senator Andrew P. Butler of South Carolina.
Just what Sumner hoped to accomplish was not clear. However, copies of his speech were quickly printed up for distribution in the North. After reading it, New England poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow congratulated Sumner on the “brave and noble speech you made, never to die out in the memories of men.”
Certainly it was not about to die out in the memories of enraged southerners. Two days after the speech, Senator Butler’s nephew, South Carolina representative Preston Brooks, attacked Sumner in the Senate, beating him with his cane until it broke in half. By the time other senators could pull Brooks away, Sumner had collapsed, unconscious and bloody.
Reactions to the attack on Sumner showed how badly divided the country had become. Many southerners applauded Brooks for defending the honor of his family and the South. From across the South, supporters sent Brooks new canes to replace the one he had broken on Sumner’s head.
Pro-slavery men from Missouri on their way to Lawrence, the “Free Soil” capital of Kansas. These “border ruffians” used violence and threats to frighten anti-slavery citizens.
Most northerners viewed the beating as another example of southern brutality. In their eyes, Brooks was no better than the pro-slavery bullies who had attacked the good people of Lawrence. One Connecticut student was so upset that she wrote to Sumner about going to war. “I don’t think it is of very much use to stay any longer in the high school,” she wrote. “The boys would be better learning to hold muskets, and the girls to make bullets.”
The Dred Scott CaseIn 1857, the slavery controversy shifted from the bloodied floor of Congress to the Supreme Court. The Court was about to decide a case concerning a Missouri slave named Dred Scott. Years earlier, Scott had traveled with his owner to Wisconsin, where slavery was banned by the Missouri Compromise. Upon his return to Missouri, Scott went to court to win his freedom. He argued that his stay in Wisconsin had made him a free man.
There were nine justices on the Supreme Court in 1857. Five of them, including Chief Justice Roger Taney, were from the South. Four were from the North. The justices had two key questions to decide. First, as a slave, was Dred Scott a citizen who had the right to bring a case before a federal court? Second, did his time in Wisconsin make him a free man?
Taney, however, hoped to use the Scott case to settle the slavery controversy once and for all. And so he asked the Court to consider two more questions: Did Congress have the power to make any laws at all concerning slavery in the territories? And, if so, was the Missouri Compromise a constitutional use of that power?
Preston Brooks savagely beats Charles Sumner on the U.S. Senate floor. It took Sumner three and a half years to re-cover from the beating.
21.7 The Dred Scott Decision
On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger Taney prepared to deliver the most important decision of his career. Nearly 80 years old, the chief justice had long been opposed to slavery. As a young Maryland lawyer, he had publicly declared that “slavery is a blot upon our national character and every lover of freedom confidently hopes that it will be…wiped away.”
True to his words, Taney had gone on to free his own slaves. Many observers wondered whether he and his fellow justices would now free Dred Scott as well.
Two Judicial Bombshells The chief justice began by reviewing the facts of Dred Scott’s case. Then he dropped the first of two judicial bombshells. By a vote of five to four, the Court had decided that Scott could not sue for his freedom in a federal court because he was not a citizen. Nor, said Taney, could Scott become a citizen. No African American, whether slave or free, was an American citizen—or could ever become one.
Next, Taney dropped bombshell number two. The Court had also rejected Scott’s argument that his stay in Wisconsin had made him a free man. The reason was simple. The Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional.
Taney’s argument went something like this. Slaves are property. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution says that property cannot be taken from people without due process of law—that is, a proper court hearing. Banning slavery in a territory, Taney reasoned, is the same as taking property away from slaveholders who would like to bring their slaves into that territory. And that is unconstitutional. Rather than banning slavery, Congress has a constitutional responsibility to protect the property rights of slaveholders in a territory.
The Dred Scott decision delighted slaveholders. They hoped that, at long last, the issue of slavery in the territories had been settled—and in their favor.
Many northerners, however, were stunned and enraged by the Court’s ruling. The New York Tribune called the decision a “wicked and false judgment.” Another New York newspaper expressed outrage in its bold headlines:
(Bold Headline Text)
The Decision of the Supreme Court
Is the Moral Assassination of a Race
and Cannot Be Obeyed!
Dred Scott’s struggle for freedom hastened the beginning of the Civil War and, in the end, led to freedom for all slaves.
As a result of the Dred Scottdecision, slavery was allowed in all territories.
The Dred Scott Decision
21.8 From Compromise to Crisis
During the controversy over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, anti-slavery activists formed a new political organization called the Republican Party. The Republicans were united by their beliefs that “no man can own another man…that slavery must be prohibited in the territories…that all new states must be free states…that the rights of our colored citizen…must be protected.”
In 1858, Republicans in Illinois nominated Abraham Lincoln to run for the Senate. In his speech accepting this honor, Lincoln pointed out that all attempts to reach compromise on the slavery issue had failed. Quoting from the Bible, he warned, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln went on: “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half-slave and half-free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates Lincoln’s opponent in the Senate race was Senator Stephen Douglas. The Illinois senator saw no reason why the nation could not go on half-slave and half-free. When Lincoln challenged him to debate the slavery issue, Douglas agreed.
During the debates, Douglas argued that the Dred Scott decision had put the slavery issue to rest. Lincoln disagreed. In his eyes, slavery was a moral, not a legal, issue. He declared, “The real issue in this controversy...is the sentiment of one class [group] that looks upon the institution of slavery as a wrong, and of the other class that does not look upon it as a wrong.”
Lincoln lost the election. But the debates were widely reported, and they helped make him a national figure. His argument with Douglas also brought the moral issue of slavery into sharp focus. Compromise over slavery was becoming impossible.
John Brown’s Raid While Lincoln fought to stop the spread of slavery through politics, John Brown adopted a more extreme approach. Rather than wait for Congress to act, Brown planned to seize the federal arsenal (a place
Abraham Lincoln addresses an audience during one of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. Stephen Douglas is directly behind Lincoln on the platform.
where weapons and ammunition are stored) at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. He wanted to use the weapons to arm slaves for a rebellion that would destroy slavery forever.
It was an insane scheme. All of Brown’s men were killed or captured during the raid on the arsenal. Brown himself was convicted of treason and sentenced to die. On the day of his hanging, he left a note that read, “I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”
Such words filled white southerners with fear. If a slave rebellion did begin, it was their blood that would be spilled. The fact that many northerners viewed Brown as a hero, rather than a lunatic, also left white southerners uneasy.
The Election of 1860 The 1860 presidential race showed just how divided the nation had become. While the Republicans were united behind Lincoln, the Democrats had split between northern and southern factions. Northern Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas. Southern Democrats supported John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky. The election became even more confusing when a group called the Constitutional Union Party nominated John Bell of Tennessee.
With his opposition divided three ways, Lincoln sailed to victory. But it was a strange sort of victory. Lincoln won with just 40 percent of the votes, all of them cast in the North. In ten southern states, he was not even on the ballot.
For white southerners, the election had an unmistakable message. The South was now a minority section. It no longer had the power to shape national events or policies. Sooner or later, southerners feared, Congress would try to abolish slavery. And that, wrote a South Carolina newspaper, would mean “the loss of liberty, property, home, country—everything that makes life worth living.”
In the weeks following the election, talk of secession filled the air. Alarmed senators formed a committee to search for yet another compromise that might hold the nation together. They knew that finding one would not be easy. Still, they had to do something to stop the rush toward disunion and disaster.
John Brown was a hero to anti-slavery northerners and a villain to the slaveholding South.
The Senate committee held its first meeting on December 20, 1860. Just as the senators began their work, events in two distant cities dashed their hopes for a settlement.
In Springfield, Illinois, a reporter called on president-elect Abraham Lincoln. When asked whether he could support a compromise on slavery, Lincoln’s answer was clear. He would not interfere with slavery in the South. And he would support enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law. But Lincoln drew the line at letting slavery extend into the territories. On this question, he declared, “Let there be no compromise.”
In Charleston, South Carolina, delegates attending a state convention voted that same day to leave the Union. The city went wild. Church bells rang. Huge crowds filled the streets, roaring their approval. A South Carolina newspaper boldly proclaimed, “THE UNION IS DISSOLVED!” Six more states soon followed South Carolina’s lead.
Civil War On March 4, 1861, Lincoln became president of the not-so-United States. In his inaugural address, Lincoln stated his belief that secession was both wrong and unconstitutional. He then appealed to the rebellious states to return in peace. “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine,” he said, “is the momentous issue of civil war.”
A month later, hotheads in Charleston, South Carolina, forced the issue. On April 12, they opened fire on Fort Sumter, a federal fort in Charleston Harbor. After 33 hours of heavy shelling, the defenders of the fort hauled down the Stars and Stripes and replaced it with the white flag of surrender.
The news that rebels had fired on the American flag unleashed a wave of patriotic fury in the North. All the doubts that people had about using force to save the Union vanished. A New York newspaper reported excitedly, “There is no more thought of bribing or coaxing the traitors who have dared to aim their cannon balls at the flag of the Union…. Fort Sumter is temporarily lost, but the country is saved.”
The time for compromise was over. The issues that had divided the nation for so many years would now be decided by war.
The opening shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. No one was killed in the 33-hour bombardment. It was a bloodless opening to the bloodiest war in American history.
21.10 Chapter Summary
In this chapter, you learned how a series of compromises failed to keep the United States from splitting in two over the issue of slavery. You used the metaphor of an unraveling flag to understand the compromises and decisions that were made in an effort to preserve the Union. In 1820, the Missouri Compromise resolved the first great crisis over slavery by admitting Missouri to the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state. The compromise also drew a line across the Louisiana Territory. In the future, slavery would be permitted only south of that line.
The furor over slavery in new territories erupted again after the war with Mexico. The Compromise of 1850 admitted California as a free state while leaving the territories of New Mexico and Utah open to slavery. In addition, the compromise ended the slave trade in Washington, D.C., and included a fugitive slave law.
Once again, compromise failed. Northerners refused to honor the Fugitive Slave Law. Attitudes on both sides were hardened further by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s powerful novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Supreme Court’s decision on the Dred Scott case.
In Illinois, the issue of slavery was the focus of well-publicized debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. Tempers—and fears—rose even higher after John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.
For many southerners, Lincoln’s election as president in 1860 was the last straw. Led by South Carolina, several southern states left the Union. When southerners fired on Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, the time for compromise had passed. The nation was poised on the brink of war.
This broadside, printed in December 1860, boldly announces the secession of South Carolina from the Union.
The Civil War
How do you think people’s attitudes toward the Civil War changed from the beginning of the war, pictured above, to later in the war, shown at the left?
The cannon shells bursting over Fort Sumter ended months of confusion. The nation was at war. The time had come to choose sides. For most whites in the South, the choice was clear. Early in 1861, representatives from six of the seven states that had seceded from the Union met to form a new nation called the Confederate States of America. Southerners believed that just as the states had once voluntarily joined the Union, they could voluntarily leave it now. The men who fought for the Confederacy were proud defenders of “Southern Rights” and “Southern Independence.”
For many northerners, the choice was just as clear. “There can be no neutrals in this war,” declared Stephen Douglas after Fort Sumter, “only patriots—and traitors.” Most northerners viewed the secession of southern states as traitorous acts of rebellion against the United States. They marched off to war eager to defend “Our Union! Our Constitution! and Our Flag!”
Choosing sides was harder for the eight slave states located between the Confederacy and the free states. Four of these “border states”—Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina—joined the Confederacy. The western counties of Virginia, however, remained loyal to the Union. Rather than fight for the South, they broke away to form a new state called West Virginia. The other four border states—Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri—remained in the Union, although many of their citizens fought for the South.
As Americans took sides, they began to see why a civil war—a conflict between two peoples in one country—is the most painful kind of war. This conflict divided not only states, but also families and friends. In this chapter, you will learn how this “brothers’ war” turned into the most destructive of all American wars. As you read, put yourself in the shoes of the men and women who were part of this long and tragic struggle.
Graphic Organizer: Annotated Illustration
You will use this illustration of a soldier’s haversack to understand the events and effects of the Civil War.
22.2 Preparing for War
President Lincoln’s response to the attack on Fort Sumter was quick and clear. He called for 75,000 volunteers to come forward to preserve the Union. At the same time, Jefferson Davis, the newly elected president of the Confederacy, called for volunteers to defend the South.
Both sides looked forward to a quick victory. “I cannot imagine that the South has resources for a long war or even a short one,” said a Philadelphia lawyer. Southerners, on the other hand, believed they could easily whip any army Lincoln sent south. A North Carolina journalist boasted:
The army of the South will be composed of the best material that ever yet made up an army; while that of Lincoln will be gathered from the sewers of the cities…who will serve for pay and will run away as soon as danger threatens.
Strengths and Weaknesses of the North The North began the war with impressive strengths. Its population was about 22 million, compared to 9 million in the South. And the North was both richer and more technologically advanced than the South. About 90 percent of the nation’s manufacturing, and most of its banks, were in the North.
This iron- and wireworks in Massachusetts was just one of many northern factories. Ninety percent of the nation’s manufacturing was in the North.
The North had geographic advantages, too. It had more farms than the South to provide food for troops. Its land contained most of the country’s iron, coal, copper, and gold. The North controlled the seas, and its 21,000 miles of railroad track allowed troops and supplies to be transported wherever they were needed.
The North’s greatest weakness was its military leadership. At the start of the war, about one third of the nation’s military officers resigned and returned to their homes in the South. During much of the war, Lincoln searched for effective generals who could lead the Union to victory.
Strengths and Weaknesses of the South When the war began, southerners also had reasons to be confident of victory. To win the war, the North would have to invade and conquer the South. The sheer size of the South made this a daunting task. In addition, the North would need a much larger navy to seal off the long southern coastline and prevent the South from importing weapons and supplies from Europe.
In addition to geographic obstacles, the North faced the challenge of subduing people who believed they were defending their liberty, their homes, and their traditions. The South, in contrast, could win simply by defending its territory until northerners grew tired of fighting. But the South did have an important geographic disadvantage: if the Union could control the Mississippi River, it could split the Confederacy in two.
The South’s great strength was its military leadership. Most of America’s best military officers were southerners who chose to fight for the Confederacy. This was not an easy decision for many of them. Colonel Robert E. Lee, for example, was opposed to slavery and secession. But he decided that he could not fight against his native Virginia. Lee resigned from the U.S. Army to become the commander-in-chief of the Confederate forces.
The South’s main weakness was an economy that could not support a long war. It had few factories to produce guns and other military supplies. Southerners could trade cotton for war material from Europe, but Union ships could sharply reduce this trade with blockades of Southern ports.
The Confederacy also faced serious transportation problems. The South lacked the railroad network needed to haul goods over long distances. Most rail lines were short and went only to seaport towns. Supplies had to be carried by wagon from the railroad to the troops. And as the war dragged on, horses and mules to draw these wagons were in short supply.
Money might have helped solve these problems. But most wealth in the South was invested in land and slaves. The Confederate government printed paper money to finance the war effort. But as these paper dollars flooded the South, their value quickly dropped.
Abraham Lincoln versus Jefferson Davis The North’s greatest advantage was its newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln. Through even the darkest days of the war, Lincoln never wavered from his belief that the Union was “perpetual”—never to be broken. Confederate president Jefferson Davis was equally devoted to the secessionist cause. But he was
Throughout his presidency, Abraham Lincoln related the preservation of the Union to the ideals of the American Revolution. In his first inaugural address, he said that the Union was begun by the Revolution, “matured and continued” by the Declaration of Independence, and affirmed by the Constitution.
never able to form a strong, single nation out of 11 stubbornly independent states.
Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky on February 12, 1809. His family was poor, and his mother died while he was a young child. All in all, Lincoln figured that his schooling “did not amount to a year.” It was enough, however, to excite a craving for knowledge. He read everything he could lay his hands on. “My best friend,” he said, “is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.”
When Lincoln was 21, his family moved to Illinois. During the next few years, he held whatever jobs he could find—store clerk, rail-splitter, surveyor, postmaster. In the evenings, he read law books and eventually became a lawyer before entering politics.
At six feet four inches tall, Lincoln towered above most other men. His dark, sunken eyes gave him a sad but kind appearance. In this case, looks did not lie. Lincoln was patient, thoughtful, and tolerant of others. He also possessed a good sense of humor that often saved him from despair in moments of failure and frustration during the war. “I laugh,” he once said, “because if I didn’t I would weep.”
Like Lincoln, Jefferson Davis was born in Kentucky in a log cabin. He grew up on a small plantation in Mississippi. As a young man, he attended the military academy at West Point, New York. Davis fought in the Mexican War and served as Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. At the time of the secession crisis, he was a U.S. senator representing Mississippi. A firm believer in states’ rights, he resigned his seat in the Senate when Mississippi left the Union.
Tall, lean, and intense, Davis never really enjoyed politics. He served the Confederacy out of a sense of duty. The South, he believed, was fighting for the same freedom cherished by America’s founders. After being sworn in as president of the Confederate States, he declared, “Our present condition…illustrates the American idea that government rests upon the consent of the governed.”
Like Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis often spoke of the American Revolution. When southerners formed their own government, he said, they “merely asserted a right which the Declaration of Independence of 1776 had defined to be inalienable.”
The Civil War 1861-1865
1. Identify four interesting details on this map.
2. Where did most battles take place: in Union states, in Confederate states, or in border states?
3. In the early part of the war (1861–1862), which side won more battles? Why do you think this side was more successful?
4. In the later part of the war (1863–1865), which side won more battles? Why do you think this side was more successful?
22.3 Bull Run: A Great Awakening
In the spring of 1861, President Lincoln and General Winfield Scott planned the Union’s war strategy. Step one was to surround the South by land and sea to cut off its trade. Step two was to divide the Confederacy into sections so that one rebel region could not help another. Step three was to capture Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy, and destroy the rebel government. Journalists called this strategy the “Anaconda Plan” because it resembled the crushing death grip of an anaconda snake.
Rose Greenhow’s Dilemma Most northerners, however, believed that the war could be won with a single Union assault on Richmond. In 1861, thousands of volunteers poured into Washington, D.C., shouting, “On to Richmond!” These eager troops were watched carefully by an attractive young widow and Washington social leader named Rose O’Neal Greenhow.
Greenhow was a strong supporter of the southern cause. She used her friendship with government officials to learn just when and how the Union planned to attack Richmond. Her problem was to find some way to deliver this information to Confederate leaders without being discovered.
The Battle of Bull Run On a hot July morning, long lines of soldiers marched out of Washington heading for Richmond. Their voices could be heard singing and cheering across the countryside. Parties of politicians and society folks followed the army, adding to the excitement. They had come along to see the end of the rebellion.
The troops would not have been so cheerful had they known what was waiting for them at Manassas, a small town on the way to Richmond. Rose Greenhow had managed to warn southern military leaders of Union plans. She had smuggled a coded note to them in the curls of a young girl. Southern troops were waiting for the Union forces as they approached Manassas. The two armies met at a creek known as Bull Run.
Rose Greenhow is shown here with her daughter. During her Washington par-ties, she collected valuable information about Union plans to attack Richmond. She passed this information on to Confederate leaders through coded messages such as the one below.
At first, Union victory looked certain. But Confederate general Thomas Jackson and his regiment of Virginians refused to give way. “Look,” shouted South Carolina general Bernard Bee to his men, “there is Jackson with his Virginians, standing like a stone wall.” Thus inspired by “Stonewall” Jackson’s example, the rebel lines held firm until reinforcements arrived. Late that afternoon, Jackson urged his men to “yell like furies” as they charged the Union forces. The sound and fury of this charge unnerved the green (inexperienced) Union troops, who fled in panic back to Washington.
The Battle of Bull Run was a smashing victory for the South. For the North, it was a shocking blow. Lincoln and his generals now realized that ending the rebellion would not be easy. It was time to prepare for a long war.
Women Support the War Over the next year, both the North and the South worked to build and train large armies. As men went off to war, women took their places on the home front. Wives and mothers supported their families by running farms and businesses. Many women went to work for the first time in factories. Others found jobs as nurses, teachers, or government workers.
Women also served the military forces on both sides as messengers, guides, scouts, smugglers, soldiers, and spies. Rose Greenhow was arrested for spying shortly after the Battle of Bull Run. Although she was kept under guard in her Washington home, she continued to smuggle military secrets to the Confederates. The following year, Greenhow was allowed to move to the South, where President Jefferson Davis welcomed her as a hero.
Women also volunteered to help tend sick and wounded soldiers. Dorothea Dix was already well known for her efforts to improve the treatment of the mentally ill. She was appointed director of the Union army’s nursing service. Dix insisted that all female nurses be over 30 years old, plain in appearance, physically strong, and willing to do unpleasant work. Her rules were so strict that she was known as “Dragon Dix.”
While most nurses worked in military hospitals, Clara Barton followed Union armies into battle, tending troops where they fell. Later generations would remember Barton as the founder of the American Red Cross. To the soldiers she cared for during the war, she was “the angel of the battlefield.”
During the Civil War, many women went to work in factories such as this munitions plant. They replaced men who were in the army.
22.4 Antietam: A Bloody Affair
The Battle of Bull Run ended northerners’ hopes for a quick victory. In the months that followed that sobering defeat, the Union began to put the Anaconda Plan into effect.
The Union Blockade In 1861, the Union navy launched its blockade of southern ports. By the end of the year, most southern ports were closed to foreign ships. As the blockade shut down its ports, the Confederacy asked Britain for help in protecting its ships. The British, however, refused this request. As a result, the South could not export its cotton to Europe, nor could it import needed supplies.
Dividing the Confederacy Early in 1862, Union forces moved to divide the Confederacy by gaining control of the Mississippi River. In April, Union admiral David Farragut led 46 Union ships up the Mississippi River to New Orleans. This was the largest American fleet ever assembled. In the face of such overwhelming force, the city surrendered without firing a shot.
Meanwhile, Union forces headed by General Ulysses S. Grant began moving south toward the Mississippi from Illinois. In 1862, Grant won a series of victories that put Kentucky and much of Tennessee under Union control. A general of remarkable determination, Grant refused to accept any battle outcome other than unconditional (total) surrender. For this reason, U.S. Grant was known to his men as “Unconditional Surrender” Grant.
Attacking Richmond That same year, Union general George McClellan sent 100,000 men by ship to capture Richmond. Again, a Union victory seemed certain. But despite being outnumbered, Confederate forces stopped the Union attack in a series of well-fought battles. Once more, Richmond was saved.
The Battle of AntietamAt this point, General Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate forces, did the unexpected. He sent his troops across the Potomac River into Maryland, a slave state that remained in the Union. Lee hoped that this show of strength might persuade Maryland to join the Confederacy. He also hoped that a Confederate victory on Union soil would convince European nations to support the South.
On a crisp September day in 1862, Confederate and Union armies met near the little town of Sharpsburg along Antietam Creek. All day long,
For 12 hours, Confederate and Union forces fought at Antietam in what was the bloodiest day of the Civil War. Some of the 2,770 Confederate soldiers who died during this battle are shown in this photograph.
McClellan’s troops pounded Lee’s badly outnumbered forces. The following day, Lee pulled back to Virginia.
McClellan claimed Antietam as a Union victory. But many who fought there saw the battle as “a defeat for both armies.” Of the 75,000 Union troops who fought at Antietam, about 2,100 were killed. Another 10,300 were wounded or missing. Of the 52,000 Confederates who fought at Antietam, about 2,770 lost their lives, while 11,000 were wounded or missing. In that single day of fighting, more Americans were killed than in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War combined. The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest day of the war.
The New Realities of War The horrifying death toll at Antietam reflected the new realities of warfare. In past wars, battles had been won in hand-to-hand combat using bayonets. During the Civil War, improved weapons made killing at a distance much easier. Rifles, which replaced muskets, were accurate over long distances. Improved cannons and artillery also made it easier for armies to rain down death on forces some distance away. As a result, armies could meet, fight, bleed, and part without either side winning a clear victory.
Unfortunately, medical care was not as advanced as weaponry. Civil War doctors had no understanding of the causes of infections. Surgeons operated in dirty hospital tents with basic instruments. Few bothered to wash their hands between patients. As a result, infections spread rapidly from patient to patient. The hospital death rate was so awful that soldiers often refused medical care. An injured Ohio soldier wrote that he chose to return to battle rather than see a doctor, “thinking that I had better die by rebel bullets than Union Quackery [unskilled medical care].”
As staggering as the battle death tolls were, far more soldiers died of diseases than wounds. Unsanitary (unclean) conditions in army camps were so bad that about three men died of typhoid, pneumonia, and other diseases for every one who died in battle. As one soldier observed, “these big battles [are] not as bad as the fever.”
Medical care was shockingly poor during the Civil War. Surgeries were performed without anesthetics. Thou-sands of soldiers died from infections or disease. Nevertheless, nurses performed heroically as they cared for the sick and wounded.
22.5 Gettysburg: A Turning Point
While neither side won the battle of Antietam, it was enough of a victory for Lincoln to take his first steps toward ending slavery. When the Civil War began, Lincoln had resisted pleas from abolitionists to make emancipation, or the freeing of slaves, a reason for fighting the Confederacy. He himself opposed slavery. But the purpose of the war, he said, “is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery.”
The Emancipation Proclamation As the war dragged on, Lincoln changed his mind. Declaring an end to slavery, he realized, would discourage Europeans who opposed slavery from assisting the Confederacy. Freeing slaves could also deprive the Confederacy of a large part of its workforce.
On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation, or formal order, declared slaves in all Confederate states to be free. This announcement had little immediate effect on slavery. The Confederate states simply ignored the document. Slaves living in states loyal to the Union were not affected by the proclamation.
Still, for many in the North, the Emancipation Proclamation changed the war into a crusade for freedom. The Declaration of Independence had said that “all men are created equal.” Now the fight was about living up to those words.
The Draft Meanwhile, both the North and the South had run out of volunteers to fill their armies. In 1862, the Confederacy passed the nation’s first draft law. This law said that all white men aged 18 to 35 could be called for three years of military service. A year later, the North passed a similar law that drafted men aged 20 to 45.
Under both laws, a drafted man could avoid the army by paying a substitute to take his place. This provision led to charges that the conflict was “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”
The Battle of Gettysburg The need to pass draft laws was a sign that both sides were getting tired of war. Still, in the summer of 1863, Lee felt confident enough to risk another invasion of the North. He hoped to capture a northern city and help convince the weary North to seek peace.
Union and Confederate troops met on July 1, 1863, west of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Union troops, about 90,000 strong, were led by newly appointed General George C. Meade. After a brief skirmish, they occupied four miles of high ground along an area known as Cemetery Ridge. About a mile to the west, some 75,000 Confederate troops gathered behind Seminary Ridge.
The following day, the Confederates attempted to find weak spots in the Union position. But the Union lines held firm. On the third day, Lee
In this illustration, slaves are pictured waiting for the Emancipation Proclamation. While the proclamation had little immediate effect, it meant the Union was now fighting to end slavery.