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Chapter_14_Notes - Chapter 14 The Sectional Crisis...

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Chapter 14 The Sectional Crisis Introduction : Having examined in the previous chapter American territorial expansion and the Mexican War, in this chapter we examine the chain of events set in motion by that war what created an ever-widening gap between North and South over the slavery issue. That division was symbolized by the Sumner-Brooks affair of 1856 in which Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina beat into senselessness Massachusetts’ Senator Charles Sumner, a fiery opponent of slavery. Denounced in the North, Brooks’ South Carolina constituents unanimously reelected him to his seat in Congress. Our work in this chapter concludes with an examination of the presidential election of 1860 which was, in my opinion, the most important election in American history. Slavery and the Constitution The Founding Fathers had included no mechanism in the Constitution to bring slavery to an end. Hence, while one could oppose slavery in principle, it was difficult to destroy without violating the Constitution. In the North, Abolitionists were often seen as a threat to the Union (a sacred compact) and despised. While northerners saw slavery as a backward institution, they were also often prejudiced against blacks and hesitant to accept them as free citizens. While most northerners could see no way to bring an end to slavery where it already existed, Congress could prohibit slavery as a price for admission to the Union of states. Now that the Mexican War had added a huge amount of new western territory to the U.S., the question of the status of slavery in these new areas quickly moved front and center, so to speak. The Wilmot Proviso begins the debate Congressman David Wilmot of Pennsylvania proposed an amendment to a military appropriations bill. This Wilmot Proviso would ban slavery from any of the new territories acquired from Mexico. ( Note : Read carefully the first paragraph on page 389 to understand the motives of Wilmot and his supporters.) The emerging Free-Soilers in the North who wanted to keep slavery out of the West supported the proviso. Party lines broke down and most northerners in Congress voted for the proviso, and most southerners voted against. While the proviso passed in the House, a combination of southern and Democratic opposition in the Senate led to the proviso being dropped from the appropriations bill. So, the question of slavery in the new territories of the West was still unsettled at the time of the presidential election of 1848. 1
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Election of 1848 Polk, both tired and sick, did not seek reelection. The Democrats turned to Lewis Cass of Michigan who supported squatter sovereignty or popular sovereignty: the people living in an area, not Congress, would determine where or not slavery would exist there.
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