Chapter 18
Renewing the
Sectional Struggle,
I. The Popular Sovereignty
• Democrats in 1848:
– Polk pledged himself to a single term
– The Democratic National Convention turned to
aging leader General Lewis Cass
– Their platform was silent on the burning issue of
– Cass’s views were well known because he was
the reputed father of popular sovereignty
I. The Popular Sovereignty
Panacea (cont.)
• Popular sovereignty—
• the doctrine that stated the sovereign people of a
territory, under the general principle of the
Constitution, should themselves determine the status
of slavery.
– It had a persuasive appeal:
• Public liked it because it accorded with the
democratic tradition of self-determination
I. Popular Sovereignty Panacea
• Politicians liked it because it seemed a comfortable
compromise between:
– The free-soilers’ bid for a ban on slavery in the territories
– Southern demands that Congress protect slavery in the
• Popular sovereignty tossed the slavery problem into
the laps of the people in the various territories
• Advocates of the principle hoped to dissolve it from a
national issue to a series of local issues.
• Yet, popular sovereignty had one fatal defect:
– It might serve to spread the blight of slavery.
II. Political Triumphs for General
• The Whigs
– They nominated Zachary Taylor, the “Hero of
Buena Vista”
– Their platform:
• They dodged all troublesome issues
• Extolled the virtues of their candidate
• He would not commit himself on the issue of slavery
II. Political Triumphs for General
Taylor (cont.)
• The Free Soil party:
– Organized by ardent antislavery Northerners
• Came out for the Wilmot Proviso and against slavery
in the territories
• Boarded their appeal by advocating:
– federal aid for internal improvement
– free government homesteads for settlers
• They attracted industrialists opposed to Polk’s
reduction of protective tariffs
II. Political Triumphs for General
Taylor (cont.)
• Appealed to Democrats resentful of Polk’s settling:
– Part of Oregon
– While insisting on all of Texas
• Harbored many northerners:
– Whose hatred was not directed at slavery as much as at
– Who gagged at the prospect of sharing the newly acquired
western territories with African Americans
• Contained an element of “Conscience Whigs”:
– Who condemned slavery on moral grounds
• The free soilers chose Van Buren
II. Political Triumphs for General
Taylor (cont.)
• Free-Soilers’ party platform:
• They condemned slavery not so much for enslaving
blacks but for destroying the chances of free white
workers to rise up from wage-earning dependence to
the esteemed status of self-employment
• They argued that only with free soil in the West could
a traditional American commitment to upward
mobility continue to flourish
• First widely inclusive party organized around the
issue of slavery and confined to a single section, they
foreshadowed the emergence of the Republicans.
II. Political Triumphs for General
Taylor (cont.)
• Taylor’s wartime popularity:
– 1,360,967 popular and 163 electoral votes
• Cass:
– 1,222,342 popular and 127 electoral votes
• Van Buren
– 291,263 ballots and apparently diverted enough
Democratic strength from Cass in the critical
state of New York.
Map 18-1 p380
III. “Californy Gold”
• The discovery of gold on the American River
near Sutter’s Mill, California, early in 1848,
(see Map 18.1):
– The most reliable profits made by those who
mined the miners:
• By charging outrageous rates for laundry
• And other personal services
– The “forty-niners” chasing their dream of gold,
most notably Australia in 1851.
III. “Californy Gold”
• The California gold rush:
– Attracted tens of thousands of people
– A high proportion of the newcomers were
lawless men, accompanied or followed by
virtueless women
– An outburst of crime inevitably resulted
– Robbery, claim jumping, and murder most
III. “Californy Gold”
• Majority of Californians were decent and
law-abiding citizens, needed protection:
– Grappled earnestly to erect an adequate state
• Encouraged by President Taylor, they drafted a
constitution in 1849 that excluded slavery
• Then appealed to Congress for admission, bypassing
the usual territorial stage
– Would California prove to be the golden straw that broke
the back of the Union?
IV. Sectional Balance and the
Underground Railroad
• The South of 1850 was relatively well-off:
• Nation’s leadership: Zachary Taylor in the White
• Boasted a majority in the cabinet and on the Supreme
• Its cotton fields were expanding, cotton prices were
profitably high
• Few believed that slavery was seriously threatened
IV. Sectional Balance and the
Underground Railroad (cont.)
• The South was deeply worried by the evertipping political balance:
• 15 slave states and 15 free states
• Admission of California would destroy the delicate
equilibrium in the Senate
• Potential slave territory under the American flag was
running short
• Agitation in the territories of New Mexico and Utah
for admission as nonslave states
• California might establish a precedent.
IV. Sectional Balance and the
Underground Railroad (cont.)
• Texas had additional grievances:
– Huge area east of the Rio Grande and north of
forty-second parallel
– Embracing half the territory of present-day New
Mexico (see Map 18.2)
– The federal government was proposing to
detach Texas
– Hot-blooded Texans threatening Santa Fe taking
what they regarded as rightfully theirs.
IV. Sectional Balance and the
Underground Railroad (cont.)
• Southerners:
• Angered by the nagging agitation in the North for the
abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia
• Looked with alarm on the prospect of a ten-mile oasis
of free soil between slaveholding Maryland and
slaveholding Virginia
• More disagreeable to the South was the loss of
runaway slaves:
– Assisted by the Underground Railroad—freedom train
– Amazing conductor: Harriet Tubman.
IV. Sectional Balance and the
Underground Railroad (cont.)
• 1850 southerners demanded new and more
stringent fugitive-slave law:
– Old one proved inadequate to cope with
– The abolitionists who ran the Underground
Railroad did not gain personally from their
– Slave owners were the losers.
– Estimates of losing 1000 runaways a year out of
some 4 million slaves.
Map 18-2 p382
V. Twilight of the Senatorial Giants
• Congressional catastrophe in 1850:
– Free-soil California wanted admission
– “Fire-eaters” in the South threatened secession
– Planed to meet in Nashville, Tenn. to withdraw
from the Union
– The “immortal trio”—Clay, Calhoun, and
Webster—met in Congress for the last time
V. Twilight of the Senatorial Giants
• Henry Clay-73 years old:
– Played a critical role
– The “Great Compromiser”—to reprise the role
he played in Missouri and nullification
– He urged that the North and South both make
– And that the North partially yield by enacting a
more feasible fugitive-slave law.
V. Twilight of the Senatorial Giants
• Senator John C. Calhoun-88 years old and
dying of tuberculosis
– The “Great Nullifier”—
• Approved Clay’s proposed concessions
• But rejected them as not providing adequate safeguards for southern rights
– His impassioned plea was to leave slavery alone, return
runaway slaves, give the South its rights as a minority, and
restore the political balance.
– He wanted to elect two presidents; one from the North and
one from the South, each wielding a veto.
V. Twilight of the Senatorial Giants
• Daniel Webster-86 years old:
– Upheld Clay’s compromise measures
– He urged all reasonable concessions to the
South, including a new fugitive-slave law with
– As for slavery in the territories, he asked, why
legislate on the Subject?
• His conclusion: that compromise, concession, and
sweet reasonableness would provide the only
V. Twilight of the Senatorial Giants
• Webster’s famed Seventh of March speech
(1850) was his final:
– His tremendous effort visibly strengthened
Union sentiment
– Pleasing to the banking and commercial centers
of the North—stood to lose millions by secession
• The Free-Soilers and abolitionists upbraided him as a
traitor, worthy of bracketing with Benedict Arnold.
– These reproaches were most unfair. Webster had long
regarded slavery as evil but disunion as worse.
VI. Deadlock and Danger on Capitol
• The stormy congressional debate (1850) was
not finished:
– The Young Guard from the North was coming
• William H. Seward:
– A strong antislaveryite, came out unequivocally
against concession
– Argued that Christian legislators must obey
God’s moral law as well as man’s mundane law
Deadlock and Danger on Capitol
Hill (cont.)
– He appealed to exclude slavery in the territories
with reference to an even “higher law” than the
– This term may have cost him the presidential
nomination and the presidency in 1860.
• President Taylor seemed bent on vetoing any
compromise passed by Congress
• His military ire was aroused by the threats of Texas to
seize Santa Fe.
VII. Breaking the Congressional
• President Taylor unknowingly helped the
cause of concession by dying suddenly:
– Vice-President Millard Fillmore took the reins
• As presiding officer of the Senate—was impressed
with the arguments for conciliation
• He gladly signed the series of compromise measures
• The balancing of interests in the Compromise of 1850
was delicate in the extreme (see Table 18.1).
VII. Breaking the Congressional
Logjam (cont.)
• Heat in the Congress:
– Northern states, “Union savers”—Clay, Webster,
Douglas—orated on behalf of the compromise
– Southern “fire-eaters” were violently opposed to
– In June 1850, southern extremists met in
• Took a strong position in favor of slavery but
condemned the compromise measure
VII. Breaking the Congressional
Logjam (cont.)
– The second Era of Good Feelings dawned:
• Disquieting talk of secession subsided
• Peace-loving people, both North and South, were
determined that compromises should be a “finality”
• And the explosive issue of slavery should be buried.
Table 18-1 p384
VIII. Balancing the Compromise Scales
• Who got the better deal of the 1850
• North (see Map 18.3):
– California, a free state, tipped the balance
permanently against the South
– Territories of New Mexico and Utah were open
to slavery—basis of popular sovereignty
– The iron law of nature—the “highest law”—in
favor of the free soil.
VIII. Balancing the Compromise
Scales (cont.)
• South:
– Urgently needed more slave territory to restore
the “sacred balance”
– If not from the recent conquests from Mexico,
then the Caribbean was one answer
– The South had halted the drive toward abolition
in the District of Columbia
– Most alarming of all, the new Fugitive Slave Law
(1850)—”the Bloodhound Bill.”
VIII. Balancing the Compromise
Scales (cont.)
• Fugitive Slave Law (1850):
– Stirred up a storm of opposition in the North
– Fleeing slaves:
• Could not testify on their own
• Were denied a jury trial
• Federal commissioner who handled the case of a
– If the runaway were freed, five dollars
– And ten if not
VIII. Balancing the Compromise
Scales (cont.)
– Freedom-loving northerners who aided a slave
to escape were liable to heavy fines and jail
– This “Man-Stealing” Law was abhorrent
• It touched off an explosive chain reaction in the North
• The Underground Railroad stepped up its timetable
• Mass. made it a penal offense for any state official to
enforce the new federal statute
• Other states passed “personal liberty laws”
VIII. Balancing the Compromise
Scales (cont.)
• Abolitionists protested against the man-stealing laws
• Beyond question, the Fugitive Slave Law was a
blunder on the part of the South
• Slave catchers redoubled their efforts
• With delay of enforcement:
– The South was forging ahead in population and wealth—in
crops, factories, foundries, ships, and railroads
– Delay added immensely to the moral strength of the North
– 1850s did much to bolster the Yankee will to resist
secession, whatever the cost
• Thus the Compromise of 1850 won the Civil War for
the Union (see Map 18.4)
Map 18-3 p386
IX. Defeat and Doom for the
• 1852 Democratic nominating convention
met in Baltimore:
– It nominated the second “dark horse”—Franklin
Pierce, from New Hampshire
• Weak and indecisive figure
• War injuries caused him to be known as “Fainting
• Enemyless because he was inconspicuous
• Prosouthern northerner, he was acceptable to the
slavery wing of the Democratic Party.
IX. Defeat and Doom for the
Whigs (cont.)
• His platform revived the Democrats’ commitment to
territorial expansion as pursued by President Polk
• He emphatically endorsed the Compromise of 1850,
the Fugitive Slave Law and all.
– The Whigs convened in Baltimore; missed a
splendid opportunity to capitalize on their
record in statecraft:
• Having won in the past with war heroes, they turned
to “Old Fuss and Feathers” Winfield Scott
– The ablest American general of his generation.
IX. Defeat and Doom for the
Whigs (cont.)
– The Whig platform praised the Compromise of
1850 as a lasting arrangement.
– The political campaign degenerated into a dull
attack on personalities.
– The Whig party was hopelessly split:
– Antislavery Whigs of the North took Scott as their nominee
but deplored his platform—which endorsed the hated
Fugitive Slave Law
– Southern Whigs doubted Scott’s loyalty to the Compromise
of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Law, accepted his platform
but spat on the candidate
IX. Defeat and Doom for the
Whigs (cont.)
– General Scott, victorious on the battlefield, met defeat at
the ballot box.
– John P. Hale took northern Whigs vote from Scott
– Hale took 5% of the popular vote
• Pierce won in a landslide 254 electoral vote to 42; the
popular count was closer: 1,601,117 to 1,385,453.
• The election of 1852’s frightening
– It marked the effective end of the disorganized
Whig party.
IX. Defeat and Doom for the
Whigs (cont.)
• Whigs’ complete death:
• They augured the eclipse of national party and the
rise of purely sectional political alignments
• Governed at times by the crassest opportunism
• Won two presidential elections (1840, 1848) in their
colorful career, war heroes
– Greatest contribution was to help uphold the
ideal of the Union through their electoral
strength in the South and through the eloquence
of their leaders: Henry Clay and Daniel Webster.
Map 18-4 p388
X. Expansionist Stirrings South of the
• The spirit of Manifest Destiny was revived:
• A continuous Atlantic-to-Pacific transportation route
that would effectively sever the two Americas (see
Map 18.5)
• British encroachment in this area drove the
governments of both the United States and New
Granada to conclude treaty in 1848
– It guaranteed the American right of transit across the
isthmus in return for Washington’s pledge to maintain
“perfect neutrality” on the route—the “free transit of traffic
might not be interrupted.”
X. Expansionist Stirrings South of
the Border (cont.)
• The agreement led to:
• Theodore Roosevelt’s assertion of American control
of the Panama Canal in 1903
• Led to the construction of the first “transcontinental”
– Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850) stipulated that
neither America nor Britain would fortify or seek
executive control over any future isthmian
waterway (later rescinded by the HayPauncefote Treaty of 1910; see p. 628).
X. Expansionist Stirrings South of
the Border (cont.)
• Southern “slavocrats” looked southward:
– Because of boundary limits the South looked
toward Nicaragua
• American adventurer, William Walker, tried
repeatedly to grab control of this Central American
• Installed himself president in July 1856 and promptly
legalized slavery
– A coalition of Central American nations formed an alliance
to overthrow him.
– President Pierce withdrew diplomatic recognition and he
died before a Honduran firing squad in 1860.
X. Expansionist Stirrings South of
the Border (cont.)
• Sugar-rich Cuba:
• Enticing prospect for annexation
• They already had a large population of enslaved
• It might be carved into several states, restoring the
political balance in the Senate
• President Polk offered $100 million to Spain for Cuba
• They refused
• Adventurers undertook to shake the tree of Manifest
X. Expansionist Stirrings South of
the Border (cont.)
• The secret Ostend Manifesto quickly leaked out
• Northern free-soilers rose up in wrath against the
“manifesto of brigands”
• The red-faced Pierce administration hurriedly
dropped its reckless schemes for Cuba.
– The slavery issue thus checked territorial
expansion in the 1850s.
X. Expansionist Stirrings South of
the Border (cont.)
• Spanish officials in Cuba seized the American steamer
Black Warrior
• Now was the time for the President to provoke a war
with Spain and seize Cuba
• The secretary of state instructed the American
ministers in Spain, England, and France to prepare
recommendations for the acquisition of Cuba
• The three, meeting in Ostend, Belgium, drew up a
top-secret dispatch:
• Ostend Manifesto—it urged the administration to
offer $120 million for Cuba.
Map 18-5 p389
XI. The Allure of Asia
• How could Americans tap more deeply the
supposedly rich markets of Asia?
– Opium War—fought by Britain to have the right
to peddle opium in the Celestial Kingdom:
• Britain gained free access to five so-called treaty
• Control of the island of Hong Kong
• President Tyler dispatched Caleb Cushing to secure
comparable concession for the United States
• Cushing arrived at Macao in early 1844.
XI. The Allure of Asia
• Treaty of Wanghia: the first formal
diplomatic agreement between U.S. and
China on July 3, 1844:
– Cushing secured some vital commercial rights
and privileges from the Chinese
– “Most favorable rights” were granted to the U.S.
– “Extraterritoriality”—provided trying Americans
accused of crimes in China before American
officials, not in Chinese courts.
XI. The Allure of Asia
– American trade flourished in China
– The treaty opened American missionaries;
thousands came
– China success prompted American goals for
• Japan had earlier withdrawn into an airtight cocoon
of isolationism for over 200 years
• The warrior dynasty of Tokugawa Shogunate was very
protective of Japan’s insularity
• By 1853 Japan was ready to emerge from its selfimposed quarantine.
XI. The Allure of Asia
• President Fillmore dispatched Commodore Matthew
C. Perry in 1852 for Japan
• His four smoke-belching “black ships” steamed into
Edo (later Tokyo Bay) on July 8, 1853
• Once on shore, Perry requested free trade and
friendly relations then left promising to return the
next year to receive the Japanese reply
• Perry returned in February 1854 and persuaded the
Japanese to sign the landmark Treaty of Kanagawa
on March 31, 1854
XI. The Allure of Asia
– Perry had cracked Japan’s two-century shell of
isolation wide-open
– Less than a decade later the “Meiji Restoration”
would end the Shogunate and propel the Land of
the Rising Sun:
• Headlong into the modern world
• Eventually into epochal military crash with the United
XII. Pacific Railroad Promoters and
the Gadsden Purchase
• Acute transportation problems was another
legacy of the Mexican War
– California and Oregon were 8000 miles west of
the nation’s capital
– The sea routes were too long
– Covered wagon travel was slow and dangerous
– Feasible land transportation was imperative
– A transcontinental railroad was the only real
XII. Pacific Railroad Promoters and
the Gadsden Purchase (cont.)
• Where to build the railroad?
• James Gadsden, minister to Mexico
• Santa Anna was still in power and needed money
• Gadsden negotiated a treaty in 1853:
– Which ceded to the United States the Gadsden Purchase
for $10 million.
– Best route for the southern railroad
– Northerners wanted Nebraska to be organized
Map 18-6 p392
XIII. Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska
– In 1854 Senator Stephen A. Douglas delivered a
counterstroke to offset the Gadsden southern
expansion westward
• He longed to break the deadlock of North-South
westward expansion
• He had invested heavily in Chicago real estate and
railway stock
• He desired for the Windy City to be the eastern
terminus for the proposed Pacific railroad
• He was trying to get the South to support his scheme.
XIII. Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska
Scheme (cont.)
• The proposed Territory of Nebraska would be sliced
into two territories, Kansas and Nebraska (see Map
– Slavery would be decided by popular sovereignty
– Kansas, west of slaveholding Missouri, presumably would
choose to become a slave state
– Nebraska, west of free-soil Iowa, presumably would become
a free state.
– Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska scheme flatly contradicted the
Missouri Compromise of 1820:
» Which forbid slavery in the proposed Nebraska
Territory north of the sacred 36-30’ line.
XIII. Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska
Scheme (cont.)
– The only way to open the region to popular sovereignty was
to repeal the ancient compact outright
– To southerners here was the chance for another slave state
– President Pierce threw his weight behind the KansasNebraska Bill
– But the Missouri Compromise could not be brushed aside
– Douglas rammed the bill through Congress, with strong
support from many southerners
– The truth is that Douglas acted somewhat impulsively and
– He predicted a storm, but grossly underestimated it
– In the end, he enjoyed a high degree of popularity.
Map 18-7 p393
XIV. Congress Legislates a Civil
• The Kansas-Nebraska Act:
– Was one of the most momentous measures to
pass Congress
– It greased the slippery slope to Civil War:
• Antislavery northerners were angered and future
compromise with the South would be immeasurably
more difficult
• The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was a dead letter
• The Act wrecked two compromises—those of 1820
and 1850
XIV. Congress Legislates a Civil
War (cont.)
• Northern abolitionists and southern “fire-eaters” saw
less and less they could live with
• The growing legion of antislaveryites gained
numerous recruits
• The proud Democratic Party was shattered by the
Kansas-Nebraska Act
• Undoubtedly the most durable offspring of the
Kansas-Nebraska blunder was the new Republican
– The Republican Party:
• Sprang up in the Middle West-Wisconsin and
XIV. Congress Legislates a Civil
War (cont.)
• It gathered dissatisfied elements, including Whigs,
Democrats, Free-Soilers, Know-Nothings, and other
foes of the Kansas-Nebraska Act
• It also included Abraham Lincoln
• It never was a third party but:
– It would not be allowed South of the Mason-Dixon line.
• The Union was in dire peril.

I. The Popular Sovereignty Panacea