Causes of the Civil War

Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park


Hello everyone. My name is Chris Young, and I'm one of the park rangers at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. I'm also the park's education coordinator, and we want to welcome you to this virtual program that we have set up on the causes of the American Civil War. So, before we get to the war itself, let's talk about what happened in that 10-year period between 1850 and 1860 that will lead us to war as a country. Let's start off by talking about the Compromise of 1850. So, what is a compromise though? Compromise is when two sides come together, and they both have to concede something. So, if there's an issue, both sides come to the table, they sit down, and each side probably has to give a little bit in order to make some common ground, or meet on the common ground in the center, and that's what happens. For example, in 1850, there are numbers of acts and bills that make up this big compromise; it's called an omnibus bill, and so one of the concessions for the South was that California would be able to come in as a free state. Conversely, the south makes a win, or gets a win, by getting the Fugitive Slave Act passed. Now, what this act is, the Fugitive Slave Law, or the Fugitive Slave Act, is an act that tells you that you have to aid the return of escaped enslaved people. So, if you're someone and you have escaped from a plantation, say across the Ohio River from Kentucky into Ohio, if you're a citizen of the state of Ohio, you have an obligation now by federal law to assist in the return of that escaped enslaved person. So, this really puts people who have that moral obligation to help their fellow men and women, their fellow brothers and sisters, out of slavery because now they could be fined, they could be jailed, they could be imprisoned, they could be bullied. So, there are all of these moral questions that are surrounding the people that may be helping on the Underground Railroad, they may be helping those enslaved people who are running away, hide under the floorboards of their house, hide in their root cellars, or hide in their barns. So, you're really putting your life on the line to be able to help those who are escaping slavery from the South, and so, that was one of the big wins for the South in the Compromise of 1850, is the Fugitive Slave Act. Out of that, is going to be bred

a historical fiction work. So, 1850 - the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act. By 1852, there's a famous abolitionist; she comes from a well-known abolition family, and she will begin penning a book entitled Uncle Tom's Cabin. Harriet Beecher Stowe is going to become famous because of the hundreds of thousands of copies of Uncle Tom's Cabin that will be sold here in the United States, as well as across the Atlantic Ocean in Europe. So, let's hear a little bit about Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom's Cabin from watching this video.

In the spring of 1833, Harriet and two friends crossed over the river into neighboring Kentucky. She had never before visited a slave state.

We have this fine specimen here what do you get 25, 50. We got 50 going once, 50 going twice, 50 sold to the gentleman here. How are you gentlemen doing this nice, warm Kentucky day?

Gonna keep this thing going.

What Stowe sees there is a human thing. She sees these people, I mean they are human beings. She's confronted with it in such an intimate way, and I think that never leaves her. Harriet Beecher Stowe, who's probably one of the best-known

abolitionists because she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, was a young mother who lost her son, and her son, Charlie, died of cholera, and she kind of connected that loss her loss of her child with a slave mother's loss of their children, and she wrote the book that really changed the hearts and minds of many Americans because she put slavery in really human terms; she really humanized the experience of slavery for many Americans and really won over people in writing that book. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin shortly after one of her children had passed away, but she had been, sort of, it had been bubbling in her for quite a while, and after her son passed away, she poured all of that emotion and life and energy into the book. I think she said that she didn't even feel as though she was writing it, she felt like somebody else was sort of giving her this message to put onto the page. Hopefully, people who watch the show will take away from it the sense that she was a real person, and that, I think, it's easy for the humanity of historical figures to sort of get lost over the course of time, but that she was just an ordinary woman who was able to create a piece of art that then genuinely had an effect on the world. Well, hopefully you learned a little bit about Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and a little bit about Stowe herself. After 1852, we're going to jump ahead another four, or another two, years, that is, to 1854, and in 1854, there is another act that's going to be passed. It's called the Kansas-Nebraska Act. So, we're going to take a look at this map that's going to show Kansas Territory and Nebraska Territory and the other states and territories that are surrounding it. So, what I want us to focus on is Missouri and Kansas right now. Kansas was going to come in as a state. They applied for statehood. In 1852 and 53, there's been a debate on how can these territories become states, specifically because Illinois senator, US senator from the state of Illinois, Stephen Douglas, wanted the transcontinental railroad to come through Illinois, and if it came through Illinois that transcontinental railroad that would have connected the East coast to the West coast would have also gone through Kansas and Nebraska Territory. With that, by 1854, Douglas pushes the Kansas- Nebraska Act, and what that act essentially says is that the people get to choose. The people of those territories get to vote. Do they want to be slave? Do they want to be free? And, so, what it would do is wipe out some of the Compromise of 1850. It would also wipe out and erase the Compromise of 1820, the Missouri Compromise, which drew this line across the 36 degree 30 parallel, and everything that came in above the line would be in would be free, everything that came in below the line would be slave. So, it would erase that line. So above it or below it, now the people would get to vote and choose. So, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, after a lot of heated debate and arguing, did pass, and Kansas voted. In this though, Missouri, when we look at this map, we see that Missouri is almost entirely surrounded by free states. So, on the east, on the north, there are free states, on the south, there's a slave state, but if Kansas comes in as a free state on the western side of Missouri, then Missouri is almost entirely surrounded by free states, making it easier for those who are enslaved to escape. So, what happens, is as voting occurs, Border Ruffians, as they were called, came from Missouri over to Kansas to vote illegally, to vote for it to be a slave state, while Northern states and those who are leaning more toward anti-slavery, or abolition, move into Kansas to vote for it to be a free state; they're called Free Soilers; this is part of the the free soil movement. By 1856, in Kansas, you have what erupts into what we call today Bleeding Kansas. This is a major fight, a sectional fight, over whether a state could be free or whether a state could be slave, and it's a bloody fight, a bloody battle, over in Kansas over that question of slavery. A person who shows up there who is an abolitionist, Now, let's talk about abolition again. Harriet Beecher Stowe was an abolitionist, Frederick Douglass was an abolitionist, Sojourner Truth was an abolitionist, Harriet Tubman's an abolitionist. Probably one of the more well-known abolitionists that comes out of Kansas, in 1856, is a man by the name of John Brown, and John Brown believed that he had Providential support, support from God, to be able to go and wipe this country of the institution of slavery and by force was his method of doing it. Brown and his followers are going to murder, massacre, some families along the Potawatomi Creek in Kansas those are going to be known as the Potawatomi Creek Massacres, and Brown's going to get away with it. He's going to to flee; he's going to to walk off into the night and not show back up until 1859, three years later. In 1857 though, a year after Bleeding Kansas, there's another major decision. Kansas has now come in as a free state; the Free Soilers have won out in Kansas, and now, there is a decision before the Supreme Court of the United States, and the person who brought that suit against his master is Dred Scott. Dred Scott is going to be carried from an enslaved state to a free state and then back, and he will believe that he has the right to sue. So, let's watch this video about the Dred Scott v Sandford case in 1857, and the Supreme Court's ruling. In the 1850s, the United States was headed for Civil War. Tensions were high over the expansion of slavery in the American West. In Kansas, for example, bloody fighting erupted between Northern and Southern settlers who fought to establish Bleeding Kansas as either a slave state or free state. In the midst of all this fighting Northern abolitionists were preventing slave catchers from forcing runaway slaves back into slavery. Chief Justice Roger Taney and the court thought they could prevent Civil War with the 1857 decision in Dred Scott v Sandford. Historical context is important in understanding this landmark case. Congress had been trying for decades to resolve the tensions between slave states and free states through carefully crafted compromises. For example, the 1820 Missouri Compromise allowed Maine to enter the union as a free state and Missouri as a slave state. The compromise also banned slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36,30 parallel, while allowing it in territory south of that line. Dred Scott was a slave who lived in Missouri and eventually moved with his master to the free states of Illinois and Wisconsin. When Dred Scott's master moved back to Missouri, Dred Scott sued for his freedom, claiming that he became free when they moved to the northern free states. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case as they hoped it would settle political tensions surrounding slavery. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, a supporter of the South, wanted a firm united action against Northern abolitionist sentiment. So, in ruling on the case, he arrogantly tried to settle the highly charged issue of slavery himself once and for all, rather than see Congress, which had debated the issue carefully for decades, plan out a solution. In a controversial 7-2 decision, the court decided that African-Americans were not citizens. Therefore, they did not have the right to sue in court. Writing the decision for the court, Taney incorrectly and stubbornly claimed that the founders believed that African-Americans had no rights which the white man was bound to respect. He ruled that Congress did not have the constitutional authority to ban slavery from the states, and therefore, the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. Taney decided this despite Article 4, Section 3 of the Constitution, which reads, "Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States." Because of the Due Process Clause, Taney wrote slaveholders could take their property wherever they wanted and slavery could not be prohibited in any state or territory. One of the dissenters, Justice Benjamin Curtis, correctly asserted that free blacks were citizens with the right to vote in five states at the time of the founding. He wrote, "It would be strange if we were to find in the Constitution anything which deprived of their citizenship any part of the people of the United States who were among those by whom it was established." Contrary to Taney's intentions, the Dred Scott decision significantly heightened sectional tensions between North and South, and contributed to the coming of the Civil War four years later. The case is seen as an infamous travesty of injustice and one of the worst decisions in the history of the Supreme Court. For more information on this, and many other important court cases throughout history, be sure to check out the other videos in our homework help series.

Welcome back. Hopefully we learned something more that we didn't know about Dred Scott and the fight over his freedom and the institution of slavery as a whole in the court systems in 1857. Two years later, in 1859, John Brown is going to show back up. What we've learned from this, is that the US Supreme Court has denied Dred Scott the ability to sue for his freedom, and so, that puts a damper on movement for the the abolition of slavery, until John Brown shows back up at a place called Harpers Ferry, in Virginia. He has a small following of individuals with him. He raids the US arsenal and armory at Harpers Ferry, and this is a place that makes and stores weapons for the government, for the US government. Brown's idea is, he will sneak into Harpers Ferry, he'll get those weapons, he'll be able to distribute them to enslaved people throughout the Virginia countryside, they can rise up and overthrow the chains of slavery themselves and gain their own freedom, by their own hands, by using those weapons. He's found out, and the United States Marines are called in from Washington DC; the Virginia Militia is called up, and they begin moving toward Harpers Ferry. The marines are led by someone you may know, his name is Colonel Robert E. Lee, and he's going to lead those soldiers at Harpers Ferry. Brown's eventually going to be captured. He's going to be put on trial in Charlestown, Virginia, it's West Virginia, today, and he's going to be tried for murder, he's going to be tried for inciting insurrection, he'll be cited for treason as well, and the jury is going to find John Brown guilty. Brown knows that he's likely going to be executed, but he also knows that if that occurs, that he will, hopefully, become a martyr, that he'll become kind of a poster child for abolition and that movement in the United States, especially in the North. Initially, after Brown's executed in 1859, there is shock on both sides, North and South, but eventually, more and more Northerners will come to view John Brown as kind of that martyr, leaning toward anti-slavery. Now we're not talking about equality at this point; we're talking about just anti-slavery, free those who are enslaved. Slavery is a is is a weight that drags the country down, and so, we're not talking about equality at this point, but we're talking about just doing away with the institution of slavery. The South is appalled. The South believes Brown is a terrorist. They believe Brown is a monster. He's kind of the boogeyman, and so, this pushes us even closer to Civil War - because of Brown. What else could happen? Are any more "John Brown's" going to pop up across the country, across the South specifically, especially, in those states where you have high populations of enslaved people, who outnumber the free white populations, and so, there's fear that's instilled in the Southern people. By 1860, though, this is what really is going to push the South over the edge, it's going to be the election of Abraham Lincoln as the 16th President of the United States. Now, during the presidential election season, there were four different candidates for president. There was John C. Breckinridge for the Southern Democrats. There was Stephen Douglas for the Northern Democrats, or for the Democratic Party, those had split, the Democrats had split into a Southern faction and a Northern faction. There was also a new party, actually two new parties, fairly new, the Constitutional Union Party of John Bell was a brand new party, which basically said we we don't want to touch slavery; we just want to protect and save the Union and not even discuss it, and then there's a fairly new party that basically was was bred out of the old Whig Party and out of Bleeding Kansas called the Republican Party, and they really wanted to deny the expansion of slavery into new territories, or states, not touch it where it exists, with the hopes that it would eventually die out; that as slavery was landlocked, it would would die of its own weight, and so, that was the platform of the Republicans. Abraham Lincoln is elected president in 1860, and I want us to watch this short video about President Lincoln's election.

A virtual unknown before his election, Abraham Lincoln had risen from humble origins. Lincoln was born in a log cabin. Lincoln was born in poverty, but it was something that he was not particularly proud of. He did not talk about it. He certainly didn't try to make it a selling point. He also had little political experience. He had served in the House of Representatives in the 1840s, but was defeated after only a single term, when he was one of a few to oppose the Mexican-American War. It's very hard to imagine anybody with less administrative experience than Lincoln. He managed a law office with about three clerks, and that was it. I think the Republican Party gravitated toward Lincoln in 1860, one because he was somewhat of a more moderate politician. Lincoln also had the advantage of coming from the Midwest, and the Republican Party really had their eye on capturing the Midwest in the presidential contest.

November 1860, all across the country people trekked to the ballot box. In one of the largest electoral turnouts up to that point, 81 of all eligible voters cast their votes. In the 20th century, most presidential elections would fail to draw more than 65 percent. Lincoln swept the entire North, from New England, to the upper Midwest, but didn't receive a single popular vote from nine Southern states. He squeaked into office as the 16th president, but his victory proved to be the death knell for the Union.

Welcome back, and so we've just finished up the election of 1860. What we're going to do, is this is going to be a three segment part, and this is going to conclude the "Causes of the Civil War" virtual program, and then, we're going to lead into our next section, will be the actual Civil War. So, we've left off with the election of 1860, in November, and then by December of 1860, we're going to have the first state to secede, or leave, from the United

States and begin that breakaway process that leads us to Civil War. Hopefully, you've enjoyed this program and you've learned something that you didn't know, and we'll see you next time. Thanks.


This video supplements the Causes of the Civil War curriculum following the Georgia Performance Standards and the Tennessee State Standards.


22 minutes, 43 seconds



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