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In the presidential election of 1848, both the Democrats & the Whigs stayed silent on the issue slavery. Polk does not run. Taylor appeals to both North & South because he is a slave owner and a war hero. Free Soil Party was organized: favored Wilmont Proviso, no extension of slavery, and a homestead act
Popular sovereignty become the way to solve the slavery crisis: let the people in the territories decide! Anti-slavery critics said, “No!” Letting people decide might spread slavery! California wrote a constitution that excluded slavery in 1849; petitioned Congress to bypass territory stage.
The South in 1850 was well off both economically and socially. The South did not want to see California admitted as a free state. The South was angry about the Underground Railroad and the talk of abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia.
“Fire-eaters” in the South were threatening secession. The Old Guard, the compromisers of Clay, Calhoun, and Webster were on their way out. Calhoun in his speech on the 1850 Compromise: “The South! God knows what will become of her!” He urged the North to leave slavery alone, return runaways, and elect two presidents: one from the North and one from the South.
Webster gave his last speech for three hours, saying that a slave economy could not exist in the Mexican Cession, and asked for “compromise, concession, and sweet reasonableness” to solve the issue of slavery.
Calhoun died in 1850, Clay and Webster in 1852, and with them the last of the compromisers in Congress.
The Young Guards from the North stepped up; they were more interested in purging and purifying than in patching and preserving. Led by Senator Seward of NY, the Young Guard argued that Americans must obey moral law over man’s law; slavery must be abolished!
President Taylor, who had threatened a veto on the Compromise bill, suddenly died, and upon becoming president, Fillmore signed the bill into law. California came in as free, Slave trade, but not slavery abolished in D.C., N. Mexico & Utah would use popular sovereignty to decide slavery issue, a stringent fugitive slave law was passed.
The “blood hound” bill, the new fugitive slave law stirred up a storm of protest in the North: a runaway slave could not testify on their own behalf nor receive a trial by jury, and the federal official in charge of the case would receive $5 if he decided the slave was freed, but $10 if the slave was returned to his owner: was this a bribe?
Northerners who helped a fugitive slave might be fined or jailed. The result of this law was that many previously moderate Americans became anti-slavery. Northern mobs attacked slave bounty hunters. Massachusetts passed a state law making it an offense for anyone to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. Said William Lloyd Garrison: “We execrate it, we spit upon it, we trample it under our feet!” Execrate means to declare a loathing for, or to put under a curse.
The law turned out to be a mistake for the South as no other event turned more Americans in the North against “the peculiar institution.”
Franklin Pierce, a Democrat, was elected in 1852. The Whigs, who ran General Winfield Scott, were split between North and South, and the party dissolved soon after the election. “We Polked ‘em in ’44; We’ll Pierce ‘em in ’52!”
Pierce’s cabinet was full of Southerners, including his Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis. The men from Dixie were determined to acquire more slave territory. William Walker, tried to seize Nicaragua to secure it as a slave state. He installed himself as president in 1856, but was attacked by a coalition of Central American nations, and put in front of a firing squad in 1860.
A nervous Great Britain then tried to secure a foothold in Nicaragua. In 1850, the US and GB signed the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, which stipulated neither country would fortify or secure exclusive control over any future isthmian waterway.
With the acquisition of California and Oregon, Americans wanted to trade with Asia. In 1854, Commodore Perry opened up Japan to American trade with “gunboat diplomacy.”
Cuba was the prime objective of Manifest Destiny in the 1850s. Polk had tried to purchase it for $100 million; Spain replied they would see the island sunk before they would sell it. Two “filibustering” expeditions (freebooters or pirates) with several hundred men tried to take Cuba unsuccessfully in 1850 and 1851. The second group of Southerners were shot and/or strangled by the Spanish in Cuba.
Spain, in 1854, seized the American ship Black Warrior. Southerners screamed for war. Pierce sent diplomats to Ostend, Belgium, where the Americans told Spain (the Ostend Manifesto) that they must sell Cuba for $120 million. If they refused, American would declare war. The story soon leaked out, and Northerners were outraged. Pierce was forced to drop his plans of conquest.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by the U.S. Congress on May 30, 1854. It allowed people in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to decide for themselves whether or not to allow slavery within their borders. The Act served to repeal the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (which would also be declared unconstitutional in Dred Scott v. Sanford in 1857.) After the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, pro-slavery and anti-slavery supporters rushed in to settle Kansas to affect the outcome of the first election. Pro-slavery settlers carried the election but were charged with fraud by anti-slavery settlers, and the results were not accepted.
The anti-slavery settlers held another election, however pro-slavery settlers refused to vote. This resulted in the establishment of two opposing legislatures within the Kansas territory. Violence soon erupted, with the anti-slavery forces led by John Brown. The territory earned the nickname "bleeding Kansas" as the death toll rose.
President Franklin Pierce, in support of the pro-slavery settlers, sent in Federal troops to stop the violence and disperse the anti-slavery legislature. Another election was called. Once again pro-slavery supporters won and once again they were charged with election fraud. As a result, Congress did not recognize the constitution adopted by the pro-slavery settlers and Kansas was not allowed to become a state. Eventually, however, anti-slavery settlers outnumbered pro-slavery settlers and a new constitution was drawn up. On January 29, 1861, just before the start of the Civil War, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state.