After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
- Discuss the different solutions proposed to deal with the issue of slavery in the territories and the major terms of the Compromise of 1850.
- Describe the major events in the movement toward secession after the Compromise of 1850.
- Describe and analyze the major political developments of this period, especially the emergence of new political parties and the presidential contests.
Most Americans rejoiced in their country’s victory over Mexico when the U.S. Senate approved the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. However, the acquisition of new territory in the West raised questions about the expansion of slavery in the United States. Southerners believed the government should allow slavery in places like California and New Mexico. Northerners disagreed. Their differences had very little to do with humanitarian concerns about slavery. Rather, they centered on the economic and political implications of the so-called peculiar institution. National political leaders tried to quiet the division with the Compromise of 1850. However, sectional tensions mounted throughout the remainder of the decade. With each passing year, a new crisis drove the wedge deeper. The Fugitive Slave Act, Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision, and other events increased sectional hostilities and left leaders with little hope for compromise. While the North and the South shared many intellectual, social, political, and economic beliefs, they seemed unable to come to an agreement about whether the nation should be slave or free. Abraham Lincoln’s election as president in 1860 ultimately led to the secession of several southern states and paved the way for a civil war.