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Summarize the critical developments leading to the Civil War.
United States map of 1865: Dark Blue: Union states; Light Blue: Union territories not permitting slavery; Tan: Border Union states, permitting slavery; Gray: Bleeding Kansas, entered Union; Red: Confederate states, Yellow: Union territories permitting slavery
A. the Missouri Compromise (1820)
B. the South Carolina Nullification Crisis (1832-1833)
C. the Wilmot Proviso (1846)
D. the Compromise of 1850
E. the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1851-1852)
Influential Literature Page on Uncle Tom's Cabin
F. the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854)
G. the Dred Scott Supreme Court case (1857)
H. the Lincoln-Douglas debates (1858)
I. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry (1859)
J. the election of Abraham Lincoln (1860)
Focus Question: What were the critical developments that led to the Civil War?
See also Grade
U.S. Advanced Placement 10
for practice test questions on the Civil War.
Timeline: Road to the Civil War
The Missouri Compromise
The Missouri Crisis
from Digital History
Interactive Map on the Missouri Compromise
Henry Clay and the Struggle for the Union: The Missouri Compromise of 1820
The US in the aftermath of the Missouri Compromise
In 1819-1820, the potential admission of Missouri as a new state created a crisis which would foreshadow future disputes over slavery.
Slavery had long been practiced in Missouri, and Missouri's political leadership wanted it to continue after official statehood.
But many in the North opposed the admission of another slave state, particularly since it would upset the then equal balance of 11 free states (NH, VT, MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA, OH, IN, IL) and 11 slave states (DE, MD, VA, KY, TN, NC, SC, GA, AL, MS, LA).
Northerners would particularly worried that the greater number of slave states would allow slave interests to overwhelm the senate.
There was talk of secession and civil war, but the crisis was averted by the 1820 Missouri Compromise, negotiated by senators Henry Clay of Kentucky, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina.
The compromise balanced Missouri's admission to the Union as a slave state with the admission of much of Massachusetts' northern territory as a free state. This northern territory of Massachusetts is now the state of Maine.
The southern border of Missouri (the parallel 36°30′ north,36.5 degrees north latitude) became a demarcation line for the status of slavery in new states; states admitted to the south would be slave states while states to the north would be free states.
No new territory north of the line (except the proposed borders of Missouri itself) would permit slavery.
Henry Clay, 1818
efforts at compromise earned him the name "The Great Compromiser," and his efforts were just the beginning of one of the greatest careers of any U. S. Senator.
A famous painting of Clay entitled
Henry Clay in the United States Senate
was restored in 2009.
Clay served in Congress for nearly 40 years, in both the House and the Senate, and was secretary of state under President John Quincy Adams. He was a contender for the Presidency five times, running three times in 1824, 1832, and 1844.
He was the founder of the Whig Party, and a early advocate for an expanded role for the federal government (see "The Rescue of Henry Clay" by Fergus M. Bordewich,
, November 2009, p. 76-79).
Thomas Jefferson on the Missouri Compromise
In 1820 Thomas Jefferson had been removed from public life for some time, but still alive at 77 years old he wrote a letter commenting on the grave consequences of the nation's ongoing slavery debate. He wrote, "this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper." These words proved prophetic, but they also show the power of the compromise itself in potentially delaying civil war.
AP US History Review Video: The Missouri Compromise
Why did Missouri's application for statehood in 1819 cause a political crisis
a) The United States had equal numbers of slave and free states, and Missouri's entry would have upset the balance.
b) The United States had never established a state west of the Mississippi, and Missouri's entry would have likely caused conflict with American Indians.
c) Missouri was the center of abolitionist activity, and its admission would have antagonized Southern states.
d) Missouri was a center of secessionist activity, and its entry would have antagonized Northern states.
Correct Answer: A (2010 National Assessment of Education Progress; 45 percent of 12th graders got this question correct)
The South Carolina Nullification Crisis (1832-1833)
US History: The Nullification Crisis
How It Happens: The Nullification Crisis
John C. Calhoun
Another major sectional dispute between Northern and Southern interests came with the passage of new federal tariff laws in 1828 and 1832.
The highly controversial
Tariff of 1828 (often referred to in the South as the "Tariff of Abominations")
placed very high taxes on foreign imports, usually making them more expensive than goods produced domestically.
This highly protective policy helped to encourage domestic industry, which was heavily based on the North. But while it helped Northern industry, it hurt Southern farmers, who relied on cheap foreign imports.
Many in the South saw the tariffs as the result of a government which only responded to Northern interests, particularly during the presidency of John Quincy Adams.
Many Southerners expected the tariffs to be reduced or eliminated under the presidency of Andrew Jackson, but Jackson did little to address their concerns. His Tariff of 1832 only slightly reduced tariffs, not nearly enough for most in South Carolina.
Jackson's Vice President, South Carolinian
John C. Calhoun
, was one of the strongest anti-tariff advocates, and also an advocate of the principle of states' rights.
Calhoun and the South Carolina state government favored and passed the
1832 Ordinance of Nullification
, declaring the federal tariff law null and void in South Carolina.
President Jackson held that the states could not trump federal law, and sent troops to South Carolina. Eventually a compromise was reached in the Compromise Tariff of 1833 (also engineered largely by Henry Clay, see above), which gradually reduced tariff rates to the satisfaction of South Carolina.
The tariff dispute was resolved, but the issue of states' rights would continue to be controversial in the future, particularly when applied to slavery and secession.
Library of Congress: Nullification Crisis
Primary documents related to the Nullification Crisis
The Wilmot Proviso
Congressional Scales, a true balance
History.com: The Wilmot Proviso
a. Introduced to the House of Representatives to resolve the Mexican-American War, the Wilmot Proviso proposed to ban slavery in the new lands acquired by the United States in the aftermath of the war. It represented a common Northern interest which held the war was waged to protect Southern slave interests.
b. Proposed by
, a House member from Pennsylvania, the Proviso was to prevent the spread of slavery into the territory acquired from the Mexican-American war.
c. August 8, 1846, President Polk requested $2,000,000 from Congress to settle negotiations with Mexico.
d. When the Proviso was approved by the House, it sparked heated debate in the senate over slavery, free labor, and the competing interests of the North and South. While it passed in the House, it failed in the Senate multiple times (including its proposed inclusion in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo) due to the greater proportional representation of the South.
e. The South began to defend slavery, and its spreading into the new territories that had been acquired from Mexico.
f. In the 1848 presidential election campaign, many Democrats turned down the Wilmot Proviso and agreed more with popular sovereignty (The people residing in the state should decide whether or not it should be a slave state or a free state).
Free Soil Party
campaigned around the Wilmot Proviso, and nominated Van Buren who wanted to end slave states and slave territories.
h. While the Proviso proposed to ban slavery, it was not an abolitionist or anti-racist document. Its main thrust was to defend the North's system of industrialized free labor.
i. Led to the Compromise of 1850
for a PDF of information about the Wilmot Proviso.
Click here for the
text of the document
The Wilmot Proviso was a reaction to the rapidly expanding western frontier, which also gave birth to the California Gold Rush. For an analysis of the connection between the Gold Rush and the impending Civil War, see Leonard Richards's
The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War
The Compromise of 1850
Henry Clay Introducing the Compromise of 1850
In 1850, 30 years after passage of the Missouri Compromise,
engineered another compromise in response to the status of slavery in the land just acquired by the United States from the Mexican-American War.
The Compromise established a series of five laws
intended to balance the interests of the North and the South over the issue of slavery
California was admitted to the Union as a free state. The Southern proposal to split California at the 35th parallel was not approved.
Other land gained from the Mexican-American War, such as the Utah and New Mexico territory, would determine the slave issue through popular sovereignty. The Wilmot Proviso (which would have banned slavery in all of this territory) was defeated.
Texas, already a part of the United States, sacrificed its claim to the New Mexico Territory and land north of the 36-30 line.
The slave trade (not slavery) was abolished in Washington, D.C.
Fugitive Slave Law of 1850
was introduced: it stated that any runaway slaves that were found in the North had to be returned to the South. Any northerner that assisted a runaway slave would be breaking the law, and would be fined and/or jailed. This was a huge concession to the South and proved extremely unpopular among Northerners and slaves, who had built up an effective Underground Railroad by this time. Paradoxically, the law greatly improved participation in the abolitionist movement.
The Underground Railroad, Charles Webber, 1893
United States History I.29
for connections between the Fugitive Slave Law and the Underground Railroad.
For more on the Underground Railroad, see
Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad
. Eric Foner, W.W. Norton, 2015
The 1850 compromise was crafted by Senators
in addition to Clay. John C. Calhoun vehemently disagreed with parts of the compromise, seeing it as infringing upon the South's constitutional right to hold slaves (see below).
The compromise was another in a long line of measures trying to calm the tensions between the North and the South, and postpone armed conflict. While it offered a momentary solution, it ultimately caused significant opposition from both sides.
Portrait of Frederick Douglass as a younger man, 1855
John C. Calhoun on the Compromise of 1850
: Despite being in ill health at the time, John C. Calhoun was passionately opposed to the Compromise of 1850. This is the full text of his speech, which had to be read by another senator on his behalf.
Frederick Douglass on the Fugitive Slave Act
: Frederick Douglass was a passionate opponent of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Previously a small minority, the Act encouraged many Northerners to be active abolitionists.
Henry Weeden, an free African-American Boston abolitionist,
challenged the Fugitive Slave Act
when he refused to tailor a coat for a US Marshal.
Africans in the Making of America
: Clip from a documentary about the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act.
There is an intersting video from C-SPAN reenacting the Lincoln Douglass debate. Here is an excerpt from this debate focusing on the
Compromise of 1850
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin
For more see Influential Literature page on
Uncle Tom's Cabin and Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1890
a. After the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, Stowe's efforts in abolitionism increased, and began writing her novel,
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
b. One of the most renowned abolitionists in American history.
c. Researched slavery by interviews slaves and slave owners.
d. Wit the help of
William Lloyd Garrison
(the editor of
: an abolitionist newspaper), she published fictional sketches on slavery.
e. Stowe's criticism was especially effective because she was a white woman and daughter of a respected Presbyterian minister, Lyman Beecher.
Many supporters of
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
were in Great Britain, and Harriet Beecher Stowe went on a tour to send the message against slavery.
f. When Great Britain considered to join the South as an ally, Stowe reminded them of their dedication to the slaves.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written in 1852 (
Click here to hear chapters read aloud
The novel is centered on Uncle Tom, a black slave. The novel portrays the inhumane treatment of slaves and the Christian love and faith that could overcome anything, including slavery.
Increased the abolitionist movement in the North and angered the South. The South did not approve of the books criticism on slavery
Abraham Lincoln met with Stowe and stated “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!”
By the end of its first week Uncle Tom’s Cabin sold 10,000 copies (a lot for the time) and about 300,000 the first year.
The book was translated into 60 different languages.
The South said it was a false account of slavery, and attempted to ban the book in the South. They retaliated with books that promoted slavery including
Aunt Phillis’s Cabin
The book created Black stereotypes including the dark-skinned and affectionate mammy and Uncle Tom who was the faithful servant to the white master.
See Influential Women in American History section of the wiki for a biography of
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Click for a link to a short biography on Harriet Beecher Stowe which details her early life and influences behind her abolitionist views
Solomon Northrup's Twelve Years a Slave
Sketch of Solomon Northup, 1855
In 1853, only one year after Harriet Beecher Stowe's controversial book was published, Solomon Northup published his personal account of being a free-born African American only to be captured and sold into slavery. His memoir,
Twelve Years a Slave
, is a slave narrative shedding light on the violence in Louisiana. Much of his memoir actually supports Stowe's fictional story since the area in which he was enslaved was in the same area as Stowe's fictional plantation. In 2013, the film
12 Years a Slave
, directed by Steve McQueen, was based on Northup's memoir.
is an on-line edition of Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853.
On February 2, 2014,
CBS Sunday Morning
published a video about Chiwetel Ejiofor, the actor who plays Solomon Northup in
12 Years a Slave
. The video discusses his apprehensions to playing the part and his reasoning for why agreed, which includes a trip from the Nigerian slave market to the Georgian slave market.
for the trailer for
12 Years a Slave
, and click
for the full movie (NOTE: the film has an R rating for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality).
Other narratives of escaped slaves were also published at the time, usually highly critical of the institution of slavery and written with the attempt to instill change.
Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom
(link is to a short summary) the escaped slave couple of William and Ellen Craft tell their story of escape from slavery where the light-skinned Ellen poses as a white woman traveling to the North with her slave companion, William. Tracked down due to the Fugitive Slave Act, William and Ellen eventually had to move to Great Britain.
This is a
trailer to a short film
based on the Crafts' escape
The Kansas Nebraska Act
Interactive Timeline for the Kansas-Nebraska Act
a. Passed by Congress May 30, 1854, engineered by Illinois Senator and future presidential candidate Stephen Douglas.
b. Repealed the Missouri Compromise (no slaves states allowed above the 36°30´ parallel) by invoking the idea of popular sovereignty.
c. People within Kansas and Nebraska had the right to decide if their territories would be
through the idea of popular sovereignty.
d. Groups rushed into the Kansas territory before the election to stuff the ballot.
e. The conflict over the free and slave status of the Kansas-Nebraska Territory became known as
f. Exposed issues with the idea of popular sovereignty.
for more information and primary source documents.
Lesson Plan: The Kansas-Nebraska Act
west of the Mississippi including the Kansas-Nebraska Territory. The Idea of Westward Expansion meant massive relocation for the Native American Tribes that lived in these newly claimed American Territories.
Bleeding Kansas occurred as a result of this act. Bleeding Kansas is when abolitionists from the north came down to Kansas in an attempt to vote against slavery in the new territory. As a result, thousands of armed southerners came to stop the state from become slave free. As a result of this political fight, many died in bleeding Kansas (8).
For primary sources of bleeding Kansas please go to this link:
Bleeding Kansas Primary Sources
For an exploration into the role of women in western emigration and Bleeding Kansas, see this thesis
produced at Wichita State University.
Clarina Irene Howard Nichols
was a woman who emigrated to Kansas and played a crucial role in advocating for women and African-Americans, supporting suffrage and the Underground Railroad. She gave public speeches on these issues following the passage of the act, and became a national symbol for women, downplayed in our history of the pre-Civil War years.
details key locations on the border between Kansas and Missouri that played crucial roles in both Bleeding Kansas and the early Civil War.
The Dred Scott Case
Dred Scott (1857)
The case of Dred Scott involved an African American man (Dred Scott) who sued for his, his wife's, and his two daughters' freedom from their white master due to their residence in lands where slavery was legally outlawed (the Wisconsin territory, although now the lands he resided in are in Illinois and Minnesota).
Scott's case eventually made it up to the Supreme court In
Dred Scott v. Sanford
(1857), and the ruling became a landmark decision.
The Supreme Court declared that all African Americans were not and could not become citizens of the United States.
It also declared the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional, because the federal government could not have any constitutional power to regulate slavery.
Click here for an
historical chronology of the case
For a more detailed story on Dred Scott please check out the following link from PBS:
Roger Taney, Chief Justice
Here is the Dred Scott decision text itself:
Dred Scott Court Case
for a biography on Dred Scott.
Justice Benjamin Robbins Curtis
who began his law career in Northfield, Massachusetts wrote a dissent in the Dred Scott Case, stating it was "not true, in point of fact, that the Constitution was made exclusively by the white race." African Americans were "in every sense part of the people of the United States [as] they were among those for whom and whose posterity the Constitution was ordained and established." (quoted from "Franklin County's U.S. Supreme Court Justice,"
, May 3, 2013, p. 6). Curtis also served as chief defense council during the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson.
For more on Curtis' decision see
The following link leads to a lesson plan which can be used when teaching about the case:
Dred Scott lesson plans
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates (1858)
These debates took place between Stephen Douglas, incumbent, and Abraham Lincoln, challenger, for a Senate seat from Illinois. Lincoln lost the election, but the debates gave him attention that set the groundwork for his Presidential election.
They debated in 7 of 9 Congressional Districts. The first speaker would speak for one hour. The second speaker would then speak for an hour and a half, followed by a half hour rebuttal from the first speaker.
Douglas spoke first in four of the debates. These debates centered around the issue of whether slavery should be allowed to expand to new territories.
to learn about Stephen Douglas.
2009 Reenactment of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates
: On the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birthday, Grand Valley's Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum presented a reenactment of the famous debates. This is part 1 of 9 parts.
for transcripts of each debate.
for newspaper articles on the debates, maps, images, and lesson plans on the debates.
of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, as interpreted by two Lincoln scholars; this link also gives good summaries of the debates
The following link provides an amazing overview of the Lincoln-Douglas debates as well as explaining Lincoln's political career:
John Brown's Raid
Harper's Weekly Illustration: U.S. Marines attacking the firehouse which Brown used as a fort.
On October 16, 1859, abolitionist John Brown led 19 armed followers on a raid against the federal armory at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, where 100,000 guns were stored.
They seized the armory, took 60 hostages and anticipated that a slave rebellion would follow once word of their efforts spread.
Federal troops captured the rebels, John Brown was imprisoned and later hanged for his actions, issuing the famous statement "I John Brown am now certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood."
Resources on John Brown as well as Nat Turner's Rebellion and Gabriel's Conspiracy are available from the
Death or Liberty exhibit
at the University of Virginia Library.
Click here for
student-made videos examining John Brown's Raid
from students at the Harper's Ferry Middle School.
Click for a link to a short History Channel segment on John Brown's Raid.
"A Plea for Captain John Brown"
is Henry David Thoreau's famous speech defending Brown.
to read John Brown's letters from prison to his wife and children.
Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War
. Tony Horowitz. As the author noted: "This really hits the country like a thunderbo
lt. A bi-racial band of abolitionists seizing a symbol of American power just 60 miles from the Capitol and vowing to free every slave in the South. It hit America in 1859 a little like 9/11 did us" (quoted in Massachusetts Daily Collegian, March 14, 2012, p. 1)
Mary Ellen "Mammy" Pleasant was a former slave and businesswoman who helped to fund John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry. Click
to learn more about Pleasant, her extraordinary accomplishments, and her influence on John Brown.
to read more about her.
for a map of John Brown's raid in West Virginia.
The Election of Abraham Lincoln
In the Election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln ran on the platform of the newly formed Republican party (they had only previously participated in the presidential election of 1856, where their candidate John Fremont lost to Democrat James Buchanan.
Lincoln ran against two Democratic candidates, Stephen Douglas and John Breckenridge, and John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party.
Breckenridge mostly appealed to the Southern slaveowning interest,
Bell to the border states (he argued slavery was constitutionally protected, but opposed secession), and
Douglas advocated popular sovereignty.
Lincoln did not campaign as an abolitionist, but as someone committed to stopping the spread of slavery.
Lincoln won only 39.7% of the popular vote, but carried a majority in the electoral college due to his domination of Northern states (see the map below).
Lincoln won 180 electoral votes to Breckenridge's 72, Bell's 39, and Douglas' 12.
So, he won the election despite not even being on the ballot in the majority of southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas).
This greatly angered Southern political interests, as they felt the new President did not represent them, and feared that he was a closet abolitionist. Lincoln's election was a major contributor to the impending outbreak of Civil War.
1860 Presidential Election map
1860 Presidential Election Popular Vote by State
Click here for a collection of
political cartoons about the 1860 election from Harper's Weekly
Yale Lecture on John Brown and The Election of Abraham Lincoln
given in Spring 2008.
Declaration of Causes of Seceding States
(Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas).
Alfred Whital Stern presented a collection on Lincoln to the Library of Congress in 1953. This collection contains letters by Lincoln, articles about Lincoln and other topics of the time. Click
to view it.
EDSITEment lessons on
Slavery, The Crisis of the Union, The Civil War and Reconstruction.
 Wilmot Proviso. (2007). In
[Web]. Retrieved April 16, 2007, from
 Popular Sovereignty. (2007). In
[Web]. Retrieved April 16, 2007, from
 David Wilmot. (2007). In
[Web]. Retrieved April 16, 2007, from
 The Compromise of 1850. (2007). In
[Web]. Retrieved April 16, 2007, from
 Harriet Beecher Stowe. (2007). In
[Web]. Retrieved April 16, 2007, from
 Uncle Tom's Cabin. (2007). In
[Web]. Retrieved April 16, 2007, from
The Compromise of 1850 (2010). In Youtube. Retrieved April 2, 2010, from
 The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858.
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