During the long decade from 1848 to 1861 America was like a train speeding down the track, without an engineer or brakes. The new territories acquired from Mexico had vastly increased the size of the nation, but debate over their status-and more importantly the status of slavery within them-paralyzed the nation. Southerners gained access to the territories and a draconian fugitive slave law in the Compromise of 1850, but this only exacerbated sectional tensions. Virtually all northerners, even those who supported the law because they believed that it would preserve the union, despised being turned into slave catchers. In 1854, in the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Congress repealed the ban on slavery in the remaining unorganized territories. In 1857, in theDred Scottcase, the Supreme Court held that all bans on slavery in the territories were unconstitutional. Meanwhile, northern whites, free blacks, and fugitive slaves resisted the enforcement of the 1850 fugitive slave law. In Congress members carried weapons and Representative Preston Brooks assaulted Senator Charles Sumner with a cane, nearly killing him. This was the decade of the 1850s and these were the issues Congress grappled with.This volume of new essays examines many of these issues, helping us better understand the failure of political leadership in the decade that led to the Civil War.ContributorsSpencer R. CrewPaul FinkelmanMatthew GlassmanAmy S. GreenbergMartin J. HershockMichael F. HoltBrooks D. SimpsonJenny Wahl
Subjects: Law, History, Political Science
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