Dixie Land Looks Away

These pieces were written on February 16, 22 and 28, 2000 while I was in 11th grade at Winchester Thurston School for American History with Dr. Michael Naragon.

Part I

When President Franklin Pierce convinced the Democrats in congress to pass the Kansas Nebraska Act in 1854, the political party system was affected in a way that divided the nation. In the 1844 election and of the people of New York, approximately 49 percent of those who voted, voted for the Democratic Party, approximately 48 percent voted for the Whig Party and approximately 3 percent voted for the Liberty/Free Soil Party. In 1848, the percentage of Democratic votes decreased to 25 percent and the Liberty/Free Soil votes rose to 27 percent. In the 1856 election, the Whig and Liberty/Free Soil Parties ceased to exist, the Republican and American/Constitutional Union Parties replaced them. In that election, the Democratic Party received 33 percent of the votes, the Republican Party received 46 percent of the votes and the American/Constitutional Union Party received 21 percent of the votes. In 1860, the Republicans again dominated the polls, this time even gaining a majority. The Democratic Party received 46 percent of the votes, the Republican Party received 54 percent of the votes and the American/Constitutional Union Party received none. It is also important to note the party affiliations of the state governors of the nation. In the northern states in 1859, the governors were all Democrats. In 1855 to 1856, the governors were Republican and Know Nothing but were mostly Republican. By 1860, they were all Republican. In the south in the period from 1850 to 1860, all of the state governors (except of Kentucky) were Democrats. This shows that by 1860, the American Party System was on the verge of dividing along regional lines. In the period from 1850 to 1859, the only national party (Democrat) begins to fade away in the north. The passage of the Kansas Nebraska Act caused the Second Party System — which consisted of Whigs and Democrats — to collapse. The Republicans replaced the Whigs and when this happened, some southern states think of secession and this eventually leads to civil war.

Part II

In 1854, Senator Stephen A. Douglas introduced a bill, which created the two new territories of Kansas and Nebraska. The bill explicitly repealed the Missouri Compromise and so the new territories would be organized based on popular sovereignty. Douglas believed that Kansas would be settled primarily by non-slaveholders because its environment was not ideal for plantation agriculture. Soon, thousands of people rushed into Kansas, putting Douglas’ theory to the test. Senator David A. Atchison, who was proslavery, got together residents of Missouri to traverse into Kansas and vote in key elections. On the side of anti-slavery, the New England Emigrant Aid Society wanted to colonize Kansas with free-soilers.

In 1855, the Pierce Administration showed that it was proslavery by acknowledging the territorial legislature in Lecompton Kansas, which had been elected by the Missourians who had crossed over to vote. The legislature passed laws to ensure slavery. It declared that questioning the legitimacy of slavery was a felony and that aiding a fugitive slave was a capital offense. The president aided the legislature by giving it the support of federal troops and proslavery judicial appointees. The free-soilers, however, rejected the validity of the territorial government. By 1856, violence broke out. A group of proslavery advocates destroyed the free-soil town of Lawrence. In response to this, John Brown, an abolitionist from New York and Ohio killed five proslavery settlers in what became known as the Pottawatomie Massacre. This sparked a war in Kansas that claimed approximately two hundred lives.

In response to this violence, Senator Sumner of Massachusetts gave a speech (The Crime Against Kansas) in which he condemned the Pierce Administration, the South and Senator Andrew P. Butler of South Carolina. Preston Brooks, the nephew of Butler, was offended by Sumner’s speech and so he beat him with a cane. After the Caning, the event was depicted differently by Northern and Southern newspapers.

The Northern newspapers expressed shock at the event, calling the people involved in the crime ruffians and criminals. They also showed sympathy for Sumner. The Boston, Massachusetts Daily Evening Transcript said that this act was nothing short of attempted murder. It also said that the national government has sided with the “ruffians” and has thus made “ruffianism national”.

The Southern newspapers, however, expressed hate and anger. They downplayed the event and even resorted to name-calling. The Virginia Enquirer referred to the speech as an abuse of the liberty of speech and condoned Sumner’s caning. It compared the abolitionists to “thieves with keys or children with firearms” meaning that they are unfit for liberty. The Virginia Whig discredits the story of Sumner by pointing out inconsistencies in the reports of Sumner’s health.

After the Caning, Massachusetts treated Sumner as a martyr, while Southern representatives treated Brooks as a hero. These differing reactions to the Caning of Sumner reveal that the North was generally anti-slavery while the South was ardently pro-slavery. The responses also show that emotion and passion had become a central part of American politics.

Part III

Regionalism rather than nationalism was the primary cause of the differences in the lives of the Northern and Southern that led to the Civil War in 1860. This was chiefly due to the issue of slavery which molded the ideas, behaviors and lives of the northerners and southerners differently. The most important events that developed the north and south differently were the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the caning of Sumner, the Dred Scott Case and the Harper’s Ferry Incident.

When Senator Stephen A. Douglas proposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, he re-exposed the political arena to the issue of bringing slavery into western territories. This was a key point of conflict between the north and the south. The bill proposed the creation of two new territories, Kansas and Nebraska. Because these territories would be north of the Missouri Compromise line, they would be free states and this would anger the proslavery southerners. Therefore, he made it so that the bill explicitly repealed the Missouri Compromise and that the status of the states would be based on popular sovereignty. To the concerned and antislavery northerners, he argued that Kansas (the northern most of the two) would be settled primarily by non-slaveholders because its environment was not ideal for plantation agriculture. Many northerners were still infuriated, however, because it went against the idea of removing the institution of slavery from America. Southerners, however, encouraged this bill because they wanted to spread the institution of slavery. As a result of this, settlers from both the north and the south rushed to establish themselves in Kansas to vote in crucial elections. This shows how the north and south vied for control in the government.

In 1855, the Pierce Administration acknowledged the territorial legislature in Lecompton Kansas, which had been elected by proslavery Missourians whom Senator David A. Atchison had convinced to relocate to Kansas in order to vote. The president also aided the legislature by giving it the support of federal troops and proslavery judicial appointees. The free-soilers, however, rejected the validity of the territorial government and by 1856, violence had broken out.

Massachusetts Senator and abolitionist Charles Sumner spoke out against this violence. In his speech (The Crime Against Kansas), he denounced the Pierce Administration, the south and Senator Andrew P. Butler of South Carolina. He also expressed his belief that African Americans should not be enslaved and should enjoy the same rights as white men. Preston Brooks, the nephew of Butler, was offended by Sumner’s speech and therefore beat him with a cane at his desk. The north and south responded to this event differently.

After this event, the northerners revered Sumner as a martyr. They were shocked and believed that the caning was a violation of free speech. The southerners, however, believed that the caning was necessary because they saw Sumner’s speech as an abuse of free speech. This shows how slavery affected the ideals of northerners and southerners.

Another event that became a point of contention between the north and the south was the Dred Scott Case of 1857. In 1844, John Emerson, an army surgeon, brought his slave, Dred Scott, to the Minnesota territory, which was north of the Missouri Compromise line and therefore a free state. Emerson eventually died and in his will, he tried to bequeath his slave as property. Scott, however, sued for his freedom arguing that because he was on free soil, he was a free man. This case reached the Supreme Court in 1855 and a decision was made by October of 1856 — the decision was not released until the next year because the court did not want the decision to affect the election of 1856. Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that African American’s were not citizens under the constitution, that local law would determine the status slavery and that a state must recognize the laws of other states (i.e. if one was a slave in Alabama then that person would be a slave in New York) and lastly that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional (this meant that congress did not have the right to rule on matters of slavery. While southerners rejoiced at this ruling, it enraged the north.

The final event that helped solidify the divide between the north and the south was the Harper’s Ferry incident or John Brown’s Raid. In 1859, John Brown, an abolitionist from Kansas, believed that the time had come to attack the institution of slavery. Hoping to incite rebellion among slaves, he led an interracial band of revolutionaries to Harper’s Ferry where he believed to be a federal army arsenal. He asked the slaves to join him in rebellion but they refuse. Eventually, a contingent from the Army defeats Brown and recaptures the arsenal. Brown is then tried for treason and is hung. Again, the north and south react differently to this. The northerners saw him as a martyr and could not see why the southerners would want to hang a person with such noble ideas. The southerners, however, did not see why the northerners revered him so much. Because of this, the north and south began to scrutinize each other’s practices closely and the election of 1860 became a showdown between northern and southern ways of life.

Each of these events led the north and south to develop their ideals differently. The differences in the ideas, behaviors and lives that resulted from this, brought about the Civil War in 1860.

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