Sectionalism & Secession

"The seceders intended from the beginning to rule or ruin; and when they find they
 cannot rule, they will then ruin. They have about enough power for this purpose;
 not much more; and I doubt not but they will use it. Envy, hate, jealousy, spite . . . 
 will make devils of men. The secession movement was instigated by nothing but
 bad passions."



   I. Slavery replaces Manifest Destiny as top-shelf issue
       A. Various proposals
            1. David Wilmot → no slavery in Mexican Cession
            2. John C. Calhoun → states' rights & dual presidency
            3. Moderates (inc. Pres. Polk) → extend 36° 30' west
            4. Lewis Cass → "squatter sovereignty"
            5. Jefferson Davis → secession perhaps?
       B. Compromise of 1850
            1. Clay's "Omnibus Bill"
                  • opponents inc. Pres. Taylor & Calhoun
                  • supporters inc. Pres. Fillmore, Webster, Douglas
                  • approval of laws in package format problematic
                  • only 4 senators, 28 representatives voted for all
            2. Divided into several separate bills
                  • Cal admitted as 31st state
                      ✓ skipped routine territorial status
                      ✓ upset 15-15 balance
                  • slavery in Wash DC
                      ✓ slave trade terminated
                      ✓ practice of slavery maintained
                  • Fugitive Slave Law
                      ✓ strengthened 1793 version
                      ✓ most controversial part of Clay's proposal
                  • western territories created
                      ✓ New Mex Terr & Utah Terr (?)
                      ✓ slavery determined by "popular sovereignty"
                  • Texas land claims west of Rio Grande
                      ✓ land designated to New Mex Terr
                      ✓ Texas rec'd $10 million for pre-annex debts
            3. Results
                  • momentarily diffused sectional tensions
                  • preserved Union & avoided civil conflict
                  • gave North another decade to add to "more"
  II. National politics
       A. Sectional resentment & bitterness intensified
            1. Westward migration (inc. slavery) aroused North
            2. Opposition to Fugitive Slave Act angered South
            3. Spirit of Compromise of 1850 soon diminished
            4. Wisdom/reason? NO! Part'ship/pettiness? YES!
       B. White House
            1. Ineffectual leadership
            2. Franklin Pierce ("Doughface")
                  • expansionist & preservationist
                  • popular sovereignty & limited nat'l gov't
            3. James Buchanan
                  • opposed slavery & fed'l action
                  • slavery: "evil...without...remedy"
       C. Supreme Court
            1. Dominated by southerners (Roger Taney)
            2. Decisions seemed all about justifying slavery
       D. Congress
            1. Benton, Calhoun, Clay, Webster all gone
            2. Stephen Douglas (Illinois) not enough
            3. Sumner-Brooks confrontation (1856)
 III. Sectionalism and secession
       A. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)
            1. Raised nat'l awareness
            2. Not self-righteous, accusatory
            3. Importance = historical, not literary
       B. Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854)
            1. Neb Terr proposed by Douglas
            2. Transcontinental RR part of the issue
            3. Opposed by southerners
                  • Nebraska presumably free (N of 36° 30')
                  • wanted southern RR route
            4. Legislation altered to win southern support
                  • 2 territories created: Neb (free) & Kan (?)
                  • use popular sovereignty instead of 36° 30'
                  • gained southern support, inc. Pres. Pierce
                  • intense northern opposition (≈ Stamp Act)
            5. "Greatest single step toward war" —Garraty
       C. Party realignment
            1. Whig Party fragmented
                  • "Conscience" = North / radical & inflexible
                  • "Cotton" = South / converted to Democrats
                  • Winfield Scott = last pres. candidate
            2. Formation of Republican Party
                  • founding principles
                      ✓ anti-slavery (not abolitionist)
                      ✓ favored free land to settlers in West
                      ✓ supported manufacturing interests (pro tariff)
                  • won 100+ House seats in 1854
                  • John Frémont = 1st pres. candidate
 IV. Foreign affairs
       A. "Young America" expansionist movement
            1. Foreign projection of Manifest Destiny spirit
            2. Into Caribbean, Pacific Islands, Canada
       B. Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850)
            1. Canal thru C. Amer. joint effort w/ Britain
            2. Effective 'til 1901 when U.S. went solo
       C. Opening of Japan (1853)
            1. Commodore Matthew Perry into Tokyo Bay
            2. Treaty of friendship & trade resulted
       D. Gadsden Purchase (1853)
            1. 29,000 mi² from Mexico for $10 μ
            2. S of Gila River (Ariz & N Mex)
            3. Right-of-way for southern transcontinental RR
            4. Present continental U.S. outline thus completed
       E. Ostend Manifesto (1854)
            1. Secret report about annexing Cuba from Spain
                  • offer to purchase for $130 μ
                  • "wresting" by military force
            2. Pres. Pierce forced to disavow due to publicity
                  • Europe outraged
                  • North saw as southern plot to add slave state
       F. Rogues & filibusters
            1. John Quitman = Cuba
            2. Wm. Walker = Nicaragua
            3. Geo. W. L. Bickley = Mexico (into 25 states)
  V. Secession and war
       A. "Bleeding Kansas"
            1. Microcosm of chaotic 1850s
            2. Warring parties
                  • Jayhawkers (free) vs. Bushwhackers (slave)
                  • Border Ruffians from Missouri (pro-slave)
                      ✓ 2,900 voters cast 6,300 votes (Mar '55)
                      ✓ anti-slavery Lawrence destroyed (May '56)
            3. Two territorial gov'ts
                  • pro-slavery gov't at Lecompton (fraudulent)
                  • anti-slavery gov't at Topeka (extralegal)
            4. White House tacitly approved Lecompton gov't
            5. Finally entered in 1860 as free state
       B. Scott v. Sandford aka Dred Scott decision (1857)
            1. Blacks not citizens, hence can't sue in fed'l court
            2. Laws of Missouri, not visited states, apply
            3. Good gov't obligated to protect citizens' property
            4. Part of Missouri Comp. ruled unconstitutional
            5. "Bill of Rights used to justify slavery" —Garraty
       C. Lincoln-Douglas debates (1858)
            1. Illinois seat in Senate (actually, representatives)
            2. Political differences exaggerated by both
                  • neither wanted slavery extended
                  • neither willing to use force to end all slavery
                  • both considered blacks inferior to whites
            3. Douglas's "Freeport Doctrine"
                  • theory of popular sovereignty
                  • circumvention of Dred Scott decision
            4. Winner: Douglas short-term; Lincoln long-term
       D. John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry (1859)
            1. Ardent abolitionist from "Bleeding Kansas"
            2. Partially deranged; martyred by some
            3. Reflected emotional fanaticism of 1850s
            4. Prophesied failure of Reconstruction
       E. Presidential election of 1860
            1. Lincoln (R), Douglas (N/D), Breckinridge (S/D), Bell
            2. Clear geographical/sectional results
                  • North → Republican; South → Democrat 'til 1900s
                  • Douglas: #2 pop. vote; 12 elec. votes
                  • Breckinridge: Deep South; 72 elec. votes
                  • Bell: 3 border states; 39 elec. votes
                  • Lincoln: swept North & West; 180 elec. votes
                  • Lincoln's total > 3 opponents combined
            3. Leads to immediate secession of So Car
                  • Alabama = 1st state to threaten secession
                  • 6 more states within weeks
                  • action somewhat illogical/puzzling
                      ✓ U.S. built w/ grandpas' blood, sweat, tears
                      ✓ Lincoln promised to protect existing slavery
                      ✓ Democrats controlled Congress & Court
                      ✓ South abandoning its efforts of last 30 yrs
            4. Crittenden Compromise
                  • amendment permitting slavery south of 36° 30'
                  • Lincoln refused to sanction slavery extension
            5. Foolishness shared
                  • North → thought secession was huge bluff
                  • South → hoped Congress wouldn't forcibly resist



  • Nat Turner
  • Denmark Vesey
  • Isaac Franklin
  • William Gregg
  • "Border States"
  • Bright Yellow
  • Fugitive Slave Act
  • Massachusetts Personal Liberty Act
  • Underground Railroad
  • Harriet Tubman
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin
  • Frederick Douglass
  • "Know-Nothing" Party
  • Wilmot Proviso
  • "popular sovereignty"
  • Compromise of 1850
  • Stephen Douglas
  • "Young America" movement
  • Ostend Manifesto
  • Clayton-Bulwer Treaty
  • Kansas-Nebraska Act
  • Conscience & Cotton Whigs
  • Sumner-Brooks incident
  • "Bleeding Kansas"
  • Border Ruffians
  • Jayhawkers & Bushwhackers
  • Lecompton Constitution
  • Dred Scott decision
  • Lincoln-Douglas debates
  • "Freeport Doctrine"
  • John Brown's raid
  • Crittenden Compromise
  • Lower South & Deep South

Abraham Lincoln by George McGovern
The Impending Crisis: 1848-1861 by David M. Potter


  • The Antebellum South: The "Slave Narratives" (events 1837-1861; written 1930s)
  • John C. Calhoun: Speech during debate over Henry Clay's proposed compromise legislation regarding slavery / Daniel Webster: Reply to John C. Calhoun (both 1850)
  • Charles Sumner: "Crime Against Kansas" Speech (1856)
  • The Secessionist South: Declaration of Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union (1860)


1.  Discuss the growth in the nation's internal commerce during the 1840s and 1850s,
     especially the introduction of the railroad. In what ways did this add to the
     sectionalism issue?

2.  Briefly trace the sectionalism of the 1850s that brought the United States into civil
     conflict. What one event do you think contributed most to the sectional turmoil? How
     effective was "popular sovereignty" as a compromise solution to the sectional
     disputes of the 1850s?

3.  Discuss their views toward slavery and how those views were expressed of any three
     of the following individuals—James Buchanan; Henry Clay; Stephen Douglas;
     Abraham Lincoln; Harriet Beecher Stowe; Charles Sumner.

4.  "Slavery was the dominating reality of all southern life." Assess the validity of this
     generalization for two of the following aspects of southern life from about 1840 to
     1860—political; social; economic; intellectual.

5.  Identify the sectional disputes which led to the Compromise of 1850, cite the
     provisions of the Compromise and how they came about, and explain the
     re-emergence of sectional tensions between 1850 and 1854.

6.  Abraham Lincoln often stated that his primary concern in the sectional crisis, and
     later in the Civil War, was the preservation of the Union. In what ways did he
     contribute, either directly or indirectly, to the deepening rift leading to the Civil War?
     What was the state of opinion in the South with regard to secession following his
     election as President?


  1. Senator Henry Clay's so-called "Omnibus Bill" resulted in the
    1. Compromise of 1850.
    2. Fugitive Slave Act.
    3. Ostend Manifesto.
    4. Kansas-Nebraska Act.

  2. The Crittenden Compromise died because
    1. the Civil War disrupted consideration in Congress.
    2. President Abraham Lincoln refused to consider opening any new territory to slavery.
    3. the South threatened secession if the measure were to pass.
    4. Democrats in the border states refused to support the measure.

  3. In general, the southern states encouraged free blacks to
    1. integrate into the white southern society.
    2. become educated and choose a profession.
    3. form communes in urban areas.
    4. emigrate from the region.

  4. The genesis of "Bleeding Kansas" was
    1. the assault of Senator Charles Sumner by Congressman Preston Brooks.
    2. John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry.
    3. infiltration of Kansas by Border Ruffians from Missouri.
    4. the Dred Scott decision.

  5. The proposal to allow the mechanism of popular sovereignty to determine the slavery question in various territories was introduced in Congress by
    1. Jefferson Davis of Mississippi.
    2. David Wilmot of Pennsylvania.
    3. Stephen Douglas of Illinois.
    4. Lewis Cass of Michigan.

In 1998, an unusual source donated the hefty sum of $150,000 to finish the Presidential Trail, a mile-long pathway running directly beneath the Mount Rushmore faces. Johnston & Murphy, a Tennessee-based company, is known as the "Shoemaker to the Presidents" because it has supplied handcrafted footwear to the White House since Millard Fillmore in 1850. According to a spokesman for Johnston & Murphy, the contribution was a "perfect fit" for the company; one Black Hills area newspaper called the sizeable donation a "giant step" toward completing the trail. Click on the faces to access LECTURE GUIDE for this unit.


"Wade in the Water"   by The Staple Singers
(Negro Spiritual & Underground Railroad Song)