Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
In 1820, the Missouri Compromise was established to apparently fix all of the issues for. the nation at the time. However, about 40 years later, the nation was in turmoil, turned against itself in the bloodiest conflict in its own history. During that 40 year period, many things happened that changed an unwavering, compromising nation into a inward-warring society pinned against itself. The most simple way to look at some of the major causes of this change of a nation’s heart would be to look at two major parts that lead to this change: Politics and Racial Issues (With the Market Revolution having serious influence on both parts). These both are intertwined in every way possible, but had different effects and are easier to explain separately and chronologically.
Beginning with the Missouri Compromise, the nation was starting on a rocky foundation already. This was a quick fix for the time being, not taking into account the future, seemingly. The compromise inducted Maine into the Union as a free state, and made every state made above the 36(degree symbol) 30’ parallel a free state with the exception of Missouri. It was passed to ensure that the power among the north and south would remain the same, and it worked for a few years, or so it seemed. The slavery controversy only got worse from this point on, reaching unparalleled amounts of violence and wrong-doings.
On the first of the two main topics, politics were all over the place in this era. After the Missouri Compromise, the first major thing in that field that happened was the election of 1824. During a four-way, no majority ballot, Henry Clay eventually dropped out to assist John Quincy Adams in his victory for presidency, leading to many to call it a “corrupt bargain”. This was the beginning of tensions in this era, as the Federalist party was disbanded and destroyed during this election, leaving only the Demoratic-Republicans and fractured Federalist Party that turned into the Old Republicans (aka Jeffersonians) and the National Republicans (supported Hamilton’s ideas), which would later change into the Democratic Party and the Whig Party.
John Quiny Adams presidency was not without its controversy itself, either. Adams introduced what was called the “Tariff of Abominations”. In 1828, this tariff was made to protect the interests of the north, realistically, as he wanted to protect the northern industry. It put a 38% tax on imported goods while putting an even heftier tax on certain imported goods at 45%. This created direct tension with the south, most notably South Carolina, who would later create their own legislation in 1831, called the “Ordinance of Nullification” that voided the effects of the tariff. However, Adams introduced this right before he left office, so it was enacted in Andrew Jackson’s presidency, which started in 1829.
Andrew Jackson was known as the “people’s president” to an extent, knowing what it’s like to be from a poor background. He resisted the “American System” that was introduced by Henry Clay many years prior. Jackson changed the norm and implemented what was called the “Spoils System”, which was supported by the state of New York, a powerful representation. This arguably didn’t really do much to the tension of the nation, but gave his rich friends influence that they would not normally have, giving them the ability to do things or their own gain. However, it netted a positive by establishing circulation of government figures instead of the same people staying in power and it being unchanging. Although the spoils system was a large part, an often overshadowed moment was when JAckson vetoed the second charter for the National Bank out of personal hatred and influence, which undoubtedly showed selfishness and created a tiny bit of tension within the government itself. Years later in 1832, after being reelected, Congress passed the “Force Bill”. This bill allowed Jackson to enforce the tariffs placed by using the U.S. military to do so. Take a nod back to the “Ordinance of Nullification” implanted by South Carolina, which nullified the tariffs of 1828 and 1832. This lead to the “Nullification Crisis” in the same and following year. While the “Ordinance of Nullification” was supported by the former vice president, John C. Calhoun, because he deemed the taxes to be unconstitutional and harmful to the southern economy, the rest of the government didn’t take it lightly, leading between conflicts between the federal government and South Carolina’s state government. This obviously escalated tensions far beyond a safe boundary, and this was within the first 15 years of the 40 year period.
The next large thing that had a breaking effect within the nation was the election of 1840. After the rise of the Whig Party in 1833, they finally had what could have been their major break in the government, as they wanted to re-establish the “American System” and all that came with it that Jackson disbanded. Their presidential candidate, WIlliam Henry Harrison, was elected in 1840. Better known as “His Accidency”, the Whigs lost their chance at having the influence in office that they needed to pass anything that they needed after he died just a month after winning the election. This was a major problem within the political side of things, as it was a major blow to the party and what they wanted to do.
As mentioned before, the Market Revolution had a major influence in the changing of the original “unity” that the nation held prior to 1860. During this time, the revolution had led to a divide in America, also known as the “Second Party-System”. The Democrats were threatened by the change going on in the nation, while the Whigs thrived from it. The Democrats, lead majorly by Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, supported free trade and wanted to limit the federal government. This party was made up of the small farmers, poor industrial workers, immigrants and Catholics. There was a massive want and support for expansion westward for farmland, but this was met with conflict between labor and capital. On the opposing side, were the Whigs, led by Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, who supported the “American System” and wanted more government action. This party consisted of the middle-class, native-born, evangelical Protestants, and merchants who wanted harmony between labor and capital. These parties were a testament to what the nation would later go through, however. The decline of the “Second Party-System” was a direct allusion to the soon-to-come destruction of the Union, as it eventually collapsed due to the issue of slavery.
Past these, only a few extremely major things occurred in the following years. A few other governmental passings, such as the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. The Compromise of 1850 gave the new territories of New Mexico and Utah the choice of being a free or slave state. The Kansas-Nebraska was similar, in the fact that it gave those respective states the right to choose, but had an addition as well. This act repealed the Missouri Compromise, the very compromise that “fixed the slavery issue”.
Next is the topic of racial issues and slavery. This, while being intertwined with the political causes, was a major thing and quite possibly the most important factor in the breaking of the nation. Things were already at a crossroads between people about the topic already since even by the start of this, people began thinking about th morality of the situation.
In 1822, the Denmark Vesey rebellion in Charleston, South Carolina was crushed. Although the slaves seemed to have had no progress, the American Colonization Society established Monrovia (Liberia) to promote the emigration of free blacks. This may seem good for those, but the seemed to be the first step to the segregation yet to come (when they are considered “equal”).
One of the biggest turning points in this era was the Nat Turner Rebellion in 1831. This conflict left 60 whites killed and led to Turner’s execution. In the same year, William Lloyd Garrison, began his abolitionist newspaper series, “The Liberator”. This newspaper showed Garrison’s ideas on slavery, being one of the first to speak out against this injustice, and becoming a father of the abolitionist movement. His strict ideas of “no compensation and immediate ending of all slavery” became widely known in the following years, leading others to stand against it, increasing tensions far greater than originally expected.
In 1836, however, the “Gag Rule” was passed by Congress. This was an act to silence the abolitionist movement. It allowed the government to actively ignore and not have to consider any abolitionist petitions. While their petitions carried no weight, that still didn’t stop this rebellion. Soon after, a boost to the abolitionist morale was the slave ship “L’Amistad” that had a rebellion on board in 1839 that led them to be freed by the government and sent back to Africa.
The following year saw the rise of the anti-slavery parties. The Liberty party, which only lasted until 1844 in its entirety, and the Free-soil party. The Liberty party consisted of the abolitionists and those who were against slavery for reasons not based off of selfish need or gain. The Free-Soil party was headed by Martin Van Buren, who didn’t entirely care for slavery. Although the party didn’t care for equal rights and even upheld white-supremacy, it did want to stop the westward expansion of slavery. Although they were technically in opposition of one-another, they also had common goals in a way, and neither of them wanted any other party to prosper to ensure the stopping of slavery expansion.
Past this, the tension for this subset of issues began to get really high around 1842. In this year, Dorr’s Rebellion occurred in Rhode Island. This rebellion caused the voting laws to be changed and for the Supreme court to also take action. The voting side of things showed the plans put into action to allow every white man to vote. Before, everyone who owned enough property was eligible to vote. However, it was changed so that white men’s suffrage was universal, regardless of property ownership. This caused free, black property-owners to lose their right to vote in areas like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, further widening the conflict between blacks and whites. Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruled that state laws prohibiting the capture and return of fugitive slaves was unconstitutional due to the Prigg vs Pennsylvania case.
Just a year later in 1843, however, Massachusetts made a law prohibiting state officials from capturing and returning slaves. In the same year, Sojourner Truth, a major component in the abolitionist movement, began to give abolitionist speeches. Likewise, Frederick Douglass releases his narrative in 1845 and begins to speak on the morality of slavery.
Tensions become extremely high between the north and south in the domesticity of things. So bad, in fact, that churches begin to split into northern and southern factions persay, such as the Methodist Church in 1844 and the Baptist Convention in 1845. Churches began to split over the issue of slavery, with the south trying to justify the idea and benefit of slavery while the northern parts of the denominations thinking that it’s immoral and against the bible.
People began changing their ideas about what the Constitution truly stood for, as well. It was no longer viewed as a document of human rights, but rather setting the policies and groundwork for the nation only. Although the people tried to hold the blacks under this belt, using the Constitution as a supporting piece of legislation for slavery, the blacks resisted the chanis. They resisted the idea that slavery was “natural” and fought for their freedom in the later coming war.
For the next few years, many literature works such as “Civil Disobedience” from Henry David Thoreau and speeches from big figures of the abolitionists and the opposing side, such as Frederick Douglass and John C. Calhoun, were published and given. Of course, all of this tension led to the rise of a new party known as the Know-Nothing Party. This party tried to ignore the topic of slavery and focus on other issues such as the immigration from Ireland and wanted to shift the hatred and focus onto them and Catholics. They. were seen to be as low as blacks, and were often mistreated because the citizens claimed to be losing jobs to them. Unfortunately, their efforts didn’t exactly go as planned and the nation’s focus returned to the topic of slavery.
One of the last straws in the nation was the Dred Scott Decision of 1857. The outcome of this was all but victorious for those fighting for freedom and equal rights. This. was quite possibly the biggest blow to the abolitionists and slaves alike, as blacks were no longer considered citizens no matter the status. Congress concluded that it could not regulate slavery in the territories, and that even if the territory is considered “free”, it did not make those who escaped there free. This caused tension to skyrocket even higher than it already was, and it was at astronomical proportions.
During this 40 year period, the countless events that led to war instead of prosperity were extremely obvious in the fact that they all created division and tension within the nation. The mixing between the two driving forces behind this war, politics and racial issues, were necessary to have had the outcome that it did, however, because without it, who knows where this nation would be today. With every circumstance, the tension grew tighter and the nation, one step closer to a civil war between the north and south. To conclude, the nation was never in a stable place or a time of understanding regarding the Missouri Compromise. What seemed to be an answer at the time was just a band-aid to the problem that was only solved by war.