The 1850’s can be described as a “prelude to the Civil War. ” Three occurrences during that time that would support that conclusion are the Westward Movement, the Compromise of 1850, and the most significant prelude to the Civil War – the Kansas/Nebraska Act. After President Thomas Jefferson acquired the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the United States doubled in size giving the United States control of vast lands west of the Mississippi. As Americans pushed west, the issue of slavery came to the forefront and they had to decide whether or not the new territories should be slave-states or free.
They established a line at the 36/30 parallel which would divide the free territories from the slave territories. California was acquired in 1848 and became the 31st state in 1850. California however was divided by this line and half of the state occupies the free area while the other half was in the slave territory. In 1850, California applied for admission as a free state and the balance of power in the Senate was threatened. The South did not want to give the North a majority in the Senate.
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They also feared that more free states would be carved from the Mexican cession. The fate of California was settled that it would be determined by popular sovereignty in which a vote on whether or not the state was to be slave or free. This was greatly debated and the ultimately a compromise was made which became known as the Compromise of 1850. Offered by Daniel Webster of Maine, it was a four part solution to keep the Union together and preserve the balance of free/slave states. It stated; 1) California entered as a free state. ) The rest of the Mexican cession was divided into New Mexico and Utah. In each state, voters would decide the issue of slavery. 3) Slave trade was ended in Washington D. C. 4) A strict new fugitive-slave law was passed to track down and bring back any slaves that ran away. It required that all citizens were obligated to return runaway slaves. People who helped slaves escape would be jailed and fined. The law enraged Northerners because it made them feel a part of the slave system. Persons involved with the Underground Railroad worked to subvert the law.
The most significant prelude to the Civil War occurred in 1854. Stephen Douglas introduced a bill to help solve the problem of slavery in the new Nebraska territory. He proposed that Nebraska be divided into two territories ??? Kansas and Nebraska. The settlers of the new territories would decide whether they would be slave or free. This proposal set off a storm of controversy because it effectively undid the Missouri Compromise that had previously said that slavery would only exist south of the 36/30 parallel.
Southerners supported the act, while Northerners felt it was a betrayal. The Act set off bitter violence in the Kansas territory. More than 200 people died over the issue of slavery. The area became known as Bleeding Kansas. Anti- and pro-slavery forces set up rival governments. The town of Lawrence was destroyed by pro-slavery forces. In revenge, John Brown and a small group killed five pro-slavery supporters in the middle of the night. This event spawned a mini civil war, foreshadowing the larger Civil War to come.