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Consequences of the compromise of 1850


John C. Caloun
John C. Caloun

The Compromise of 1850 created a smoldering truce that lasted only a few years. By 1853 settlers had moved west of Missouri into what is now Kansas. Congress drew up legislation organizing the remaining federal lands in the Louisiana Purchase into the Kansas and Nebraska territories. Under the Missouri Compromise, none of this land was open to slavery. But Southerners, along with 15 of 20 Northern Democrats in the Senate, organized the new territories under popular sovereignty: The new states could decide for themselves whether or not to allow slavery. The Kansas–Nebraska Act thus abolished the Missouri Compromise line and enacted popular sovereignty—a measure that was becoming the Democratic Party’s answer to the question of slavery in the territories.

Northern Whigs in Congress all voted against the act, leading Southern Whigs to leave the party and join the Democrats. At the same time, many Northern Democrats openly opposed the legislation. Thus the Democratic Party shifted and became more overtly Southern, while Northern Whigs and many Northern Democrats joined coalitions that in 1854 became the Republican Party, exclusively Northern and antislavery. Political parties were reorganizing along sectional lines.

With the territory organized under popular sovereignty, voters would decide the question of slavery in Kansas. Antislavery settlers flooded the territory, and in response, proslavery Missourians moved in. When elections were held for the territorial legislature in 1854, about 5,000 Missourians crossed the border to vote illegally for proslavery candidates.

The resulting legislature legalized slavery in Kansas. Antislavery forces refused to accept these results. They organized a convention that wrote an antislavery constitution and they elected their own legislature.

While this controversy raged in Kansas, Charles Sumner, an antislavery senator from Massachusetts, gave an impassioned antislavery speech in which he insulted a number of Southern senators. He said that one of them, Andrew Butler, “had chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows … the harlot, Slavery.” Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina was Butler’s nephew. He was determined to punish Sumner’s attack upon his family’s honor. He walked onto the floor of the Senate, found Sumner at his desk, and beat him unconscious with a cane. White Southerners almost unanimously applauded Brooks, while Northerners ranted against Southern savagery. At almost the same time as the attack on Sumner, in May 1856, proslavery Kansans attacked an antislavery stronghold at Lawrence. In retribution, an antislavery fanatic named John Brown murdered five proslavery settlers in what became known as the Pottawatomie Massacre. A small–scale civil war was being fought in Kansas. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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