Slavery Jamestown colony in 1619. Two and a half

Slavery in the United States was destined to be a source of political tension and moral strife when African slaves were first brought to the Jamestown colony in 1619. Two and a half centuries later, the slavery issue split the United States into two adversarial polities. At a fundamental level, an increasingly moralistic North was not compatible with a South economically dependent on the “peculiar institution.” Additionally, a series of antagonizing geopolitical events and legislative actions precipitated the schism, ranging from the annexation of Texas and the Mexican-American War in the 1840’s, to the Compromise of 1850 and the influential Supreme Court decision Dred Scott. Intellectual and literary trends–such as Manifest Destiny and the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin–served to further polarize the American populace. Between 1840 and 1861, the United States largely lacked the political leaders necessary to cultivate enduring unity. Hence, secession of the Confederate States was inevitable; it was the result of extremism and failures of leadership on both sides, characteristic of the divisive events and developments that caused it. Numerous primary sources attest to the radicalism and inept governance that brought about Secession. However, the Civil War that immediately followed Secession was not inevitable. The North’s commitment to moral standards unavoidably pitted it against the South’s economic circumstances, setting the stage for sectional polarization. Slavery was a colossal economic institution of the South by 1840. The introduction of the cotton gin in the early nineteenth century effectively guaranteed the South would not industrialize with the North. Instead, the southern economy turned toward labor-intensive plantation agriculture. This entrenched slavery into the southern economy. In addition, plantation agriculture led to extensive soil degradation, creating an incentive for southern expansion into the west. These conditions engendered an economic reality for the South that was diametrically opposed to conventional ethical norms. Southern plantation owners were faced with profit against morals, and chose profit. The North, able to rid itself of slavery and focus on manufacturing and commerce, did not follow suit. While these fixed sociological factors were not extremist or unique to the two decades before the Secession and the Civil War, they set the stage for radicalism, especially when the South began to display expansionist aspirations. Beginning in the early 1840’s, geopolitical quarrels–namely, the annexation of Texas and the Mexican-American War–spawned an extremist political atmosphere in which sectional animosity escalated to secession. The annexation of Texas and the subsequent Mexican-American War renewed the debate over slavery. As southerners viewed the vast, newly acquired southwestern territories from Texas to California, they saw the apparent propensity for economic expansion. Northern abolitionists quickly saw the dual propensity for the expansion of slavery, and proceeded to label the Mexican conflict as a conspiracy perpetuated by the southern “slavocracy” to further cement slavery into the foundation of the American economy. Regardless of the actual existence of this conspiracy, Congress promptly felt the force of this dispute when congressman David Wilmot proposed the Wilmot Proviso. This bill would have prohibited slavery in any territory wrested from Mexico in the recent war. The bill twice passed through the House, but was halted in the Senate on both rounds by southern resistance. While the Wilmot Proviso never became federal law, it was endorsed by most northern state legislatures and came to represent the intensifying North-South rivalry. Along with international altercations, a sequence of provocative legislative and political developments further aided the increasing fanaticism. This comprised the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Ostend Manifesto, Dred Scott, the creation of the Republican Party, and the presidential election of 1860. The Compromise of 1850, a collection of five separate Congressional bills, explicitly dealt with the issue of slavery in U.S. territories and made adjustments to slavery regulations in the states. For one, California was admitted to the Union as a free state. The slave trade was also abolished in the District of Columbia and the territories of Utah and New Mexico were to settle the question of slavery through popular sovereignty–the idea that the constituents of the respective territories could allow or prohibit slavery through democratic legislative channels. To compensate the South, the Fugitive Slave Act was more stringently enforced. While the intention of the Compromise was to reduce sectional conflict over slavery, controversy arose over most of its provisions, especially the newly strengthened fugitive slave laws. These laws extended northern fears of “slavocracy.” Many abolitionists openly defied the laws and some state legislatures purposefully refused to enforce them. Other northern states instituted the reactionary and polarizing “personal liberty laws,” which denied federal officials access to local jails. The Compromise of 1850 also expanded the operations of the Underground Railroad, as more northerners joined to facilitate slave rescues. These developments surrounding the Compromise of 1850 served as a further impetus for growing extremism. The Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Ostend Manifesto became the next major legislative endeavors to exacerbate the burgeoning radicalism of the 1840’s and 1850’s. When senator Stephen Douglas crafted a bill to territorialize Kansas and Nebraska, he intended to allow the respective constituents of the territories to decide the legality of slavery, similar to provisions in the Compromise of 1850 for Utah and New Mexico four years earlier. However, this measure that was meant to reduce sectional conflict only augmented it. For one, the Act voided the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which hitherto legally prohibited slavery in the two territories. This agitated northern legislators and abolitionist factions. Contrastingly, southerners saw the opportunity for migratory expansion. As Kansas attempted to enter the Union, anti-slavery “Free-Staters” violently clashed with pro-slavery “Border Ruffians,” with each side vying for control of the fledgling local government–and thereby control over the issue of slavery. The resulting turmoil turned into the infamous “Bleeding Kansas,” demonstrating that legitimate compromise between the North and the South was unlikely. While Kansas brewed domestic extremism, southerners looked farther south to Cuba in search of land. Some southerners proposed the seizure of Cuba to grow the plantation economy. These expansionist aspirations were sketched out in the secret Ostend Manifesto of 1854, a document that attempted rationalize a U.S. war with Spain if Spain refused to sell Cuba. Initially promoted by the pro-southern Pierce Administration, the Ostend Manifesto seemed to secure Cuba’s fate as a U.S. slave state. However, after the document was leaked, the South felt the heat of northern backlash. The ultimate effect of the document was not to establish a new slave state, but to promulgate sectional distrust. Both the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Ostend Manifesto advanced the Union closer toward Secession. The judicial system took the next substantial step in separation with the Supreme Court decision of Dred Scott in 1857. This decision ruled that African Americans could not be U.S. citizens, and that the federal government could not prohibit slave-owners from transporting and using their slaves in territories. Hence, the Missouri Compromise was void, and slavery could expand unhindered into the territories. Dred Scott also superseded popular sovereignty, stating that southerners maintained a constitutional right to bring their slaves into territories, regardless of local laws. Dred Scott meant a real loss of political power to northern states, and was met with heavy opposition. Abolitionists declared the triumph of “slavocracy,” while southerners were emboldened by such favorable legislation. Contrary to the conciliatory intentions of Chief Justice Roger Taney, Dred Scott produced additional extremist sentiments in the North and compounded the already probable likelihood of secession.The creation and large-scale emergence of the anti-slavery Republican Party and the fateful 1860 presidential election were the final major political incidents to catalyze Secession. In 1854, primarily as a reaction to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, northern Whigs and Free-Soil Democrats formed the Republican Party coalition. This party was explicitly anti-slavery, instead advocating the superiority of “free men” and “free soil.” By the presidential election of 1856, the Republican Party displayed robust growth and popularity with their candidate, John Frémont, acquiring 114 electoral votes. Radical southerners, dubbed “fire-eaters,” were dismayed throughout the election. Many “fire-eaters” openly threatened secession if Frémont won–which contributed to his electoral loss; unionist northerners, attempting to avoid a schism, voted for Buchanan. However, the efforts of unionist northerners were not strong enough by 1860. The Dred Scott bombshell invigorated militant southerners and antagonized droves of otherwise moderate northerners. Southerners again threatened secession in 1860 if Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected. Indeed, Lincoln did not even appear on the ballot in ten southern states. Yet angry northerners refused to back down this time, and he was elected. This was the last straw for the South. By February of 1861, seven of the southern states had seceded to form to the Confederacy. Consequently, Secession was, in part, caused by two decades of political and legislative extremism, beginning with the annexation of Texas and ending with the heated presidential election of 1860.On top of controversial territorial expansion and radical politicking, polarization in intellectual movements and literary publications showed the inevitable arrival of Secession. Manifest Destiny, pro-slavery ethical theories, and the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Impending Crisis of the South emphasized the growing extremism. The idea of Manifest Destiny, although not unique to the 1840’s and 1850’s, factored prominently in southern goals for geographic expansion. Manifest Destiny idealized the role of the U.S. in appropriating and civilizing North America: Americans were “destined” to colonize and settle the continent. As southerners desired more land suitable to the cultivation of cotton, Manifest Destiny served as an intellectual and moral backbone for those defending accusations of “slavocracy.” Southerners now possessed an ideological basis for expansion, similar to the later Nazi concept of Lebensraum. Along with Manifest Destiny, southerners made a moral switch in their viewpoint of slavery. Slavery was no longer a necessary evil, but a positive good. Writers like George Fitzhugh argued that slavery was beneficial to both the taskmaster and the serf, and so the relative consensus that slavery was unethical was broken. In a sense, southerners had morally seceded from the North by the 1850’s. This subliminal moral and ideological divide was critical in forestering lasting sectional extremism.At the same time southerners underwent a moral metamorphosis, northerners were also becoming more ardently opposed to slavery, augmenting ideological radicalism with literary works like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Impending Crisis of the South. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a fictional novel detailing the life of a slave. It was realistically graphic and allowed northerners to examine slavery from a newly informed perspective. The novel was a moral storm front that swept across the northern landscape, turning hitherto complacent northerners into a virtual army of abolitionists. The novel also served to reinforce the message of radical abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison. In 1857, five years after the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Hinton Helper published The Impending Crisis of the South, an empirical polemic against slavery. Helper argued that the real losers of slavery were non-slaveholding whites. Slavery was a barrier to their economic prosperity. He also argued that slavery was impeding the industrialization of the southern economy. The nascent Republican Party used this book as anti-slavery campaign literature