History of the United States
The long dispute
between the North and South over the issue of slavery came to a head
after the Mexican War ended in 1848. The vast new area the United States
had acquired in the West during the 1840's created a problem Americans
could not evade. It was obvious that the new land would sooner or later
be split up into territories, and then into states. Proslavery Americans--chiefly
Southerners--argued against any restraints on slavery in the new
territories and states. Antislavery Americans--mainly Northerners--wanted
the federal government to outlaw slavery in the newly acquired lands.
Still others proposed the doctrine of popular sovereignty. That is, they
said the people of the territories and states should decide for
themselves whether or not to allow slavery.
The irrepressible conflict (1850-1869)
At first, the sides
tried to settle their differences through debate and compromise. But the
dispute over slavery proved to be an "irrepressible conflict," as
Senator William H. Seward of New York termed it. On April 12, 1861, the
American Civil War broke out between the North and South. In this tragic
chapter of United States history, Americans faced Americans in bloody
The North won the
Civil War in 1865. The North's victory preserved the Union. And, soon
after the war, slavery was outlawed throughout the United States.
Debate and compromise
for statehood in 1849. The application triggered debate over whether
California should be admitted as a free state or a slave state. It also
heightened the long-standing argument over how to deal with the slavery
The Compromise of
1850 succeeded in bringing about agreement on the California slavery
question. The Compromise was a series of laws that made concessions to
both the North and South. Measures designed to satisfy the North
included the admission of California to the Union as a free state and
the abolition of the slave trade in Washington, D.C. To try to satisfy
Southerners, Congress ruled that when the new territories of New Mexico
and Utah became states, the residents would decide whether or not to
In the early 1850's, Congress began considering the creation of new
territories in the area roughly between Missouri and present-day Idaho. Bitter
debate flared up over whether the territories should ban or allow
slavery. Those who called for a ban cited the Missouri Compromise to
back their position. The land under consideration was part of the area
in which the Compromise had "forever prohibited" slavery. But on May 25,
1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, a law that changed this
provision. The law created two territories west of Missouri--Kansas and
Nebraska. It provided that the people of Kansas and Nebraska would
decide whether or not to allow slavery.
Few, if any, American
laws have had more far-reaching effects than the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Furious
antislavery Americans denounced both Northerners and Southerners who had
supported the act. Others staunchly defended the act. Everywhere,
attitudes toward the slavery question hardened, and capacity for further
Angered by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, a group of
antislavery Americans formed the Republican Party in 1854. Many
Democrats and Whigs who opposed slavery left their parties and became
Republicans. The stability of the two main political parties before 1854
had helped keep the nation together. Thus, the political divisions
deprived the country of an important unifying force. Beginning in the
1840's, large church groups also split along sectional lines and another
unifying institution was lost.
1854, Southerners increasingly referred to themselves as a separate
national group. In the North, abolitionists stepped up their campaign
against slavery. On Oct. 17, 1859, abolitionist John Brown and a small
band of followers seized the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia
(now West Virginia). Brown intended the action as the first step in a
general slave uprising. But federal troops easily captured him, and--after
a trial--he was hanged.
The election of 1860
also reflected the nation's division. The Democratic Party split into
Northern and Southern wings. Only the Republicans remained united. They
nominated Abraham Lincoln for president. The Republican unity helped
Lincoln win the election.
had earned a reputation as an opponent of slavery, and his election was
unacceptable to the South. Eleven Southern states seceded from the Union
and formed the Confederate States of America.
The Civil War and Reconstruction
The Civil War began
on April 12, 1861, when Southern troops fired on Fort Sumter, a military
post in Charleston Harbor. Both sides quickly prepared for battle after
the Fort Sumter clash. The North had superior financial and industrial
strength, and a larger population than the South. But the South fought
valiantly to defend its cause. The South gained the upper hand at first,
but the North gradually turned the tide. Finally, Confederate resistance
wore down, and Union armies swept through the South. On April 9, 1865,
General Robert E. Lee--the commander of the Confederate Army--surrendered
to the Union commander General Ulysses S. Grant.
The four years of
bloody fighting between the North and South had staggering effects on
the nation. No other war in history has taken so many American lives.
On Jan. 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation
Proclamation, which declared freedom for slaves in all areas of the
Confederacy that were still in rebellion against the Union.
the end of the Civil War, the North set out to establish terms under
which Confederate States would be readmitted to the Union. The process
through which the South returned, as well as the period following the
war, is called Reconstruction.
into two groups over Reconstruction policy. The moderates wanted to end
the bitterness between the North and South, and the radicals believed
the South should be punished. President Lincoln might have worked out a
compromise. But assassin John Wilkes Booth shot him on April 14, 1865. Lincoln
died the next day. Vice President Andrew Johnson became president. He
tried to carry out Lincoln's policy, but he was unable to overcome
programme drafted by Congress included laws to further the rights of
blacks. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution (1865) outlawed slavery
throughout the United States. The 14th Amendment (1868) confirmed the
citizenship of blacks, and the 15th Amendment (1870) made it illegal to
deny the right to vote on the basis of race.
loyal to their old traditions bitterly resented the new political system.
Many joined the Ku Klux Klan, a secret society that used violence to
keep blacks from voting and trying to achieve equality.
that the Confederate States agree to follow all federal laws before
being readmitted to the Union. Between 1866 and 1870, all the
Confederate States returned to the Union.
It expanded the legal rights of blacks and set up
public school systems. But the old social order, based on white
supremacy, soon returned to the South. The fundamental problem of the
black's place in society remained to haunt future generations.