Week 4 Discussion 1: Stepping Stones to the Civil War

Good evening Professor King and classmates,

The first Fugitive Slave Act was enacted in 1793 and is permitted for the government to capture any slaves that escaped from their owners, return them to those owners, and the owners would give punishment as they saw fit – typically it was a beating or to be sold to another slave master.  The law also allowed anyone who had helped in the escape to be punished.  At this point, there were 11 free- and 11 slave-states and the northern states were very critical of this new law as it allowed authorities to search their properties for escapees. Some abolitionists formed groups and built safe houses and escape routes to help the enslaved people escape to the north (History.com/A&ETV, 2009).

This constant North/South battle of slave states vs free states would continue without resolution. Then, in 1848 President Taylor was presented with a possible compromise, created by Senator Henry Clay, but he refused to approve the legislation, therefore adding to the growing agitation between the North and South (DigitalHistory, 2019)

Upon Taylor’s death in 1850, now president, Millard Fillmore reviewed Senator Clay’s legislation, and felt there was a possible solution, told him to continue with the process. The result of his work, under Senator Webster, was the Compromise of 1850 (DigitalHistory, 2019)

The Compromise of 1850 was a short-lived truce with regards to the status of slave-state or free-state status for the territories acquired by the United States after the Mexican-American War. It was agreed that under the compromise, California would be admitted to the Union as a free state; the slave trade was restricted in Washington, D.C., and a new version of the Fugitive Slave Act would require residents in the Northern free states to help capture the runaway slaves. This version was much harsher than the first for anyone who helped the escapees, but it also denied the slaves any right to a jury trial, increased the fines, and included jail time. A new addition to help enforce the new laws was to give authority to federal agents who were paid more when they captured any runaway slaves. Because of this, there was even more discord by the North that this law was greatly in support of the southern slave owners.  Adding to the North’s discontent, a decision was made to allow the newly acquired territories of Utah and New Mexico to decide individually if they wanted to allow slavery – this would muddy the waters for sure!  Which it did, as it continued to further invigorate the division between the North and South which would eventually erupt into the Civil War (Openstax, 2020).

As we learned in our reading this week, during one of the most tension-filled times in the early days of our country, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the 1852 novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Stowe was an abolitionist, the daughter of a New England minister, and unbeknownst to her, would become an unlikely catalyst to start the civil war. She wrote this book in protest of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and to advocate for emancipation and freedom of all people (Week 4 Lesson, 2020).

Within the pages of her novel, she outlines the determination of the many immigrant people in the north. These people were driven with determination and persistence to develop processes and manufacture goods, which they did very well without the use of any slaves. Then she wrote of their counterparts in the south. There were prosperous plantations and the use of slaves to farm them. Stowe would delve deeper and explain about the horridness inflicted on these slaves. The physical and emotional abuse these human beings were put through was pure evil.   As young men in the north read of the horrific events the slaves were subject to, they enlisted in the Union army to fight for their freedom (History.com/A&ETV, 2009).

Through the development of the Fugitive Slave Act, the Compromise of 1850, and the writing of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, each one fueled the fire that would erupt into the Civil War, but it was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book that was the final straw. With regards to the relationship of these events to the inevitability of the Civil War; President Lincoln said it best when he met Stowe at the White House in 1862, ‘So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!”(Weinstein, 2004)


History.com Editors. (2009, December 02). Fugitive Slave Acts. Retrieved September 20, 2020, from https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/fugitive-slave-actsLinks to an external site.

14.1 The Compromise of 1850 – U.S. History. (n.d.). Retrieved September 20, 2020, from https://openstax.org/books/us-history/pages/14-1-the-compromise-of-1850Links to an external site.

The Compromise of 1850 (article). (n.d.). Retrieved September 20, 2020, from https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/us-history/civil-war-era/sectional-tension-1850s/a/compromise-of-1850Links to an external site.

Weinstein, C. (2004). The Cambridge Companion to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Yes, the civil war did not sneak up on the nation for many reasons, one being the Kansas-Nebraska Act which not only founded the Kansas and Nebraska territories but also brought the nation into an uproar from north to south. Ultimately the formation of these territories destroyed the Missouri Compromise, bringing the issue of slavery from a north/south issue to the national front making it an all or nothing decision. The Kansas-Nebraska act brought on the infamous “Bloody Kansas” which saw the open conflict in a border war between pro-slavery and anti-slavery supporters. This blatant unrest and violence on the United States’ newly founded territories were key in the political debate over slavery remaining a choice for each state. With this act, it effectively opened the floodgates on the two opposing groups and was one of, if not the most, indicative precursor to America’s Civil War. The impact this act had was insurmountable; it had citizens taking their own ideology into violent action and with two differing ideals on the issue of slavery so contested there was no question it would have led to an armed conflict – just no one could have imagined it would have been the final straw that broke the camel’s back before the bloodiest war in American history a few short years later.

This week I chose Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Dred Scott Case of 1857, and the Lincoln Douglas Debates of 1858 to address the question posed, Was the American Civil War inevitable based on the historical facts given during this week’s module? I believe that with the three topics considered here, the Civil War was inevitable. The tensions that arose from each of these events built upon each other, one by one leading up to actions of the Civil War.

After having much pushback from the Fugitive Slave Law, the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written and had discussed the many wrong doings of man upon other humans, specifically those of color. The backlash of the Law set in place and creation of this novel is one example of how American had a divided view of slavery and how it’s division/tension of the North and South had contributed to the inevitable Civil War. It was made known by President Lincoln that the inhumane, unspeakable savagery that occurred because of mistreatment of slaves was the catalyst for the Civil War, and that God was punishing for the sin’s of slavery as noted in Lincoln (1865). It was found in Corbett (2014), that this novel helped spread the message that slavery was evil and convinced Northerners of the righteousness of the cause of abolition of slavery, fueling more within the two divided unions, the North and South.

 Another important event that occurred that helped jump start the inevitable Civil War was the Dred Scott Case of 1857.  This laid important groundwork and increased frustration between the north and south. The Dredd Scott case was unfair and unjust because it took a mans freedom into its hands, by basically taking back its “word” that once he was a freed man in the free slave states, but upon entering into a slave state that freedom wasn’t able to be obtained. He sought out justice and took it to court, where in a trial by jury he won his freedom for himself and family but in a turn of events, once his owner set an appeal, it was overturned by the Superior court and was deemed a slave and went far enough to say that blacks would never be American citizens, Congress had no rights to stop or limit the spread of slavery into American territories as discussed by Corbett (2014). History.com Editors (2009) discussed how this outraged the abolitionist, so much that it was seen as a way to stop debate about slavery within the territories, by the ruling of the court, leading to an even bigger divide between the North and South on how slavery grew and culminated in the secession of the southern states and created the Confederate States of America. Thus, leading to the Civil War due to the immense split of slavery throughout the territories.

 Finally, the Lincoln-Douglas Debates I feel also contributed to the inevitable Civil War. This debate ended up having many contributions that occurred prior to it being addressed, the build up of all previous events helped shape the debates. It consisted seven drawn out debates regarding slavery and the impact it had on American politics and society, it mainly focused on slave power, popular sovereignty, race equality, emancipation and more as discussed by The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica (2020). Lincoln made an acceptance speech once he was nominated to run against Douglas and stated “A house divided against itself cannot stand, this government cannot endure permanently half slaves and half free” as quoted by Lincoln (1865). This I feel foreshadowed what was to come, once Lincoln gained the national popularity even though he lost against Douglas in the senate race, this lead him to the Presidency and hence the being the straw that broke the camels back, leading to the Southerners seeking secession, by having him in the Presidential spot, this was a threatening to them because there was now a chance of slavery ending. This led to the Southern states form the Confederacy and go forward with secession, ultimately leading to the start of the Civil War.

So in review, I feel that yes the Civil war was inevitable, with the evidence of what we learned in this weeks module and the further research done, the three topics discussed were fueling the frustration and tension of the North and South one by one and finally the ball unraveled and led to the Civil War.

Lincoln, A. (1865). President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. https://www.ourdocuments.gov/print_friendly.php?flash=false&page=&doc=38&title=President+Abraham+Lincolns+Second+Inaugural+Address+%281865%29Links to an external site..

Corbett, P.S, Volker, J. Lund, J.M., Pfannestiel, T., Waskiewicz, S., Vickery. P. (2014). U.S. History.

OpenStax. Houston, TX. Retrieved from:

 https://openstax.org/books/us-history/pages/1-IntroductionLinks to an external site.

History.com Editors. (2009).  Dred Scott Case. A&E Television Networks. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/dred-scott-caseLinks to an external site..

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