To quote McPherson, “In 1850, the republic faced a crisis of the first order” (McPherson 71). The massive acquisition of territory in the wake of the Mexican-American War threatened to upset the sectional balance achieved by the Missouri Compromise three decades earlier. Sectional tensions had never been higher; attempts by northerners to ban slavery from the new lands with the Wilmot Proviso had led to southern fears of encirclement by free states. Intense debate raged in Congress, matters of regional honor were raised; even the Great Compromiser Henry Clay left Washington in exhaustion, but under the leadership of Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglass of Illinois a deal was finally reached for the preservation of the nation. In the North’s favor, California was admitted as a free state tilting the senatorial balance in the North’s favor stoking Southern fears of Northern domination. In the South’s favor, a stricter Fugitive Slave Act was adopted requiring free states to assist in the capture of runaway slaves. Finally a decision was made to leave the status of slavery in the New Mexico and Utah territories to Douglass’s devotion to popular sovereignty, establishing a precedent for the disastrous final major antebellum compromise, which would come four years later.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 also sponsored by Senator Douglass and relying wholly upon the principle of popular sovereignty would directly result in bloodshed. The act co-sponsored by the slaveholding Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina passed the decision of slavery in the two plains territories into the hands of their settlers when they appli...
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...ontrol of the House of Representatives. Nelson and Sheriff assert that the decision and the allegations of Buchanan’s influencing of one of the northern justices to vote Taney’s line, were the “most significant” demonstration of the threat posed to the nation by the slave power vital to Republican electoral success (Nelson and Sheriff, 41).
In conclusion, the Dred Scott decision made compromise on the issue of slavery impossible, because by stripping away the Congressional authority over federal territories on which they stood and committed northerners to the opposition of slavery’s expansion, because of the slave power’s threat to invade their own lands. After Dred Scott, that famous quotation of Lincoln could finally be deemed relevant by the common man; “a house divided against itself could not stand, that it would have to become all one thing or all the another.”
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