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Increasing political battles over slavery in the mid-1800s

APUSH: KC‑5.2.II.A (KC), NAT (Theme), Unit 5: Learning Objective D

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] So Kim, in the last video we started talking about how slavery has been an issue in the United States really since its founding with the Revolutionary War. And we see some images here of slavery. This was a particularly famous image that really kind of helped spark indignation in the North among Abolitionists 'cause you can see how this person was beaten or whipped. - [Voiceover] Yes absolutely. - [Voiceover] So it's kind of, you know, and today we all think it's morally reprehensible thing but you go back not too far in the whole scope of history. We're going to the early 1800s, and this was something that was debated. It was slavery was allowed in a large chunk of the United States. And in the last video, we talked about that this issue of slavery only got exacerbated the more territory that was added. You have the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 that adds all of this territory. You start having states getting carved. Once you get a critical population, a critical mass of people in a certain state they can apply to be, or in a certain territory, they can apply to be a state. And as each of these states are added, and they want to get representation, it's a political issue. You mentioned how the North, they didn't like it on moral grounds and if it was a slave state. And they also didn't like it on economic grounds 'cause it's hard to compete economically with slavery. While the South was afraid of losing its political power if more free states were to join the Union. And the Compromise of 1820, you mentioned that well that compromise, Missouri is a slave state. Maine gets carved out of Massachusetts, becomes a free state. But that didn't solve the problem. That problem only continues because we only add more territory. - [Voiceover] Yeah, I mean most of the history of the 1800s, when it comes to slavery, is a history of putting off the problem. Henry Clay becomes this very famous legislator because he's good at compromising. He's called the "Great Compromiser". So, instead of trying to actually solve the issue of slavery, which many people think of as an unsolvable problem. They're just saying, "All right, well how can "we put off a conflict over this a little bit longer?" - [Voiceover] And they just keep doing that. You know, in 1836 the territory expands further, or it starts to I guess. The expansion is catalyzed further by you have the Texas Revolution. Texas get its independence from Mexico. Which itself got independence only a few decades before that from Spain. But so Texas, for a brief amount of time, is its own independent country. But then, it joins the US, it's annexed by the US in 1845. So it's more territory for the US, and that was slave territory. - [Voiceover] Right, yeah so again, this is an area in the South where most of the reasons that slavery existed in the South is because it's a very fertile agricultural region, right? Where the things that you grow, crops, are very labor-intensive. So they figure, how are we going to find enough people to grow these crops? And the answer is that they've been importing African slaves and forcing them to work. - [Voiceover] And the annexation of Texas, there's war disputes with Mexico which leads to even, another conflict with Mexico. This time with the US and Mexico. This is the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848. But in the context of this conversation, the reason why it helped bring the slavery issue even more to a head, is that when the US wins it, it gets even more territory. It gets all of this area in the West, right over here. - [Voiceover] Right, it's more territory. And it's more sort of Southern territory which means that it has a high probability of becoming slave states. - [Voiceover] And so, this map that we looked at earlier in the other video, this is kind of showing what the US looked like as we exit out the Mexican-American War. We're getting to about 1850. And so, what happens then? I mean, is it just one compromise after another at this point? - [Voiceover] Well, this is the point where compromise begins to break down. Henry Clay again, is the architect of what's called the Compromise of 1850. As soon as the US goes to war with Mexico, people in Congress are wondering, "All right, if we get this territory "that we're trying to get, what's going to happen? "Are they going to be free states or slave states?" And this compromise over free and slave states has been going on for 30 years since the Missouri Compromise. And even longer, if you take it back to 1776. So, they're doing exactly the same thing. They're saying, "All right, well let's try "to keep a balance of power "between free states and slave states." Except, they add in a couple of provises that make people really angry in the 1850s. - [Voiceover] And who gets angry? - [Voiceover] Both I would say, slaveowners and Abolitionists and anti-slavery activists in the North. - [Voiceover] So, I guess that's what makes it a compromise. A little something to make everybody angry. (laughter) What made the slave owners angry about the Compromise of 1850? - [Voiceover] One of the parts of the Compromise of 1850, apart from deciding whether these new territories were going to be slave or free was a part of the Act, was called the Fugitive Slave Act. And the Fugitive Slave Act said that it was a federal offense not to help slave owners recover-- - [Voiceover] So this is something the Abolitionists angry? - [Voiceover] Yes. - [Voiceover] Or the anti-slavery angry? - [Voiceover] Yeah, absolutely both. So for example, if you're maybe living in Massachusetts, you're a white middle-class person living in Massachusetts, you don't think slavery is great. You think it's morally wrong, but it hasn't really directly affected your life. Right? You're hundreds of miles away from the nearest slave state. But now, the federal government says that if there is a person who has escaped from slavery who has come to your town, it is a federal offense for you not to help return that person to slavery. - [Voiceover] So this Fugitive Slave, this is part of the compromise? This is part of the Compromise of 1850. Is that I could be sitting in Massachusetts, I could be anti-slavery or I could even be ambivalent about it. But now, I have to be complicit in it. If there's a slave, I can't. Or if there's someone who's escapes from the South who is a former slave, I have to actively, I can't in any way help them. If I do, I could go to jail. If I'm a law officer, I have to capture that person, and I have to bring them back. So it's kind of forcing people who are already not happy about slavery, it's kind of bringing it close to them. They have to partake in it. - [Voiceover] Yeah, and these are people who have very strong religious convictions. This is the mid-19th century is a time when people feel their religion very strongly. And so, there are people in the North who are Quakers. Who are otherwise religiously opposed to slavery. Who have maybe prayed for the souls of slaves, but it's never been their job to try to keep someone in slavery before. So that is really infuriating. One of the things you get out this is a really strong backlash of Abolitionist sentiment in the North. For example, Harriet Beecher Stowe, she's the daughter of a reverend who's against slavery. She writes the book Uncle Tom's Cabin which becomes this smash hit. - [Voiceover] And when was this roughly? - [Voiceover] This was about 1852. - [Voiceover] OK, so this is after the Compromise of 1850. So, people are getting, it really is coming to a head. The people in the North, they're having to partake in this because of the Fugitive Slave Act. You have Harriet Beecher Stowe writes Uncle Tom's Cabin. It makes people even more upset about the realities of slavery. - [Voiceover] Right, and in the South, they've kind of gotten away, white slave owners in this time with people saying, "Ya know, "slavery's not really my problem. "I don't like it." But now they're seeing a concentrated attack, a moral and social attack against slavery in the North. And their response is to become even more violently in favor of slavery. They pose the idea that slavery is not just something that we could turn our eyes away from, but it's necessary. But it's a positive good. Slavery is actually going to actually make the country better. If it weren't for slavery, all of these enslaved Africans, African-Americans, their lives would be worse without us. - [Voiceover] And so, just to be clear on the Compromise of 1850. And there was a bunch of things, we went into a whole video on the Compromise of 1850, all of the different facets of it. But it's one of its, in terms of this conversation, one of its outcomes is because of the Fugitive Slave Law. It infuriated many of the anti-slavery Abolitionists in the North. They became more entrenched in their positions which made the Southerners more entrenched in their positions. The Southerners didn't necessarily, they liked the Fugitive Slave Law, the Southerners. The Compromise of 1850 sounds like it was, it was a compromise, not everyone was happy. But it sounds like it made the anti-slavery folks more unhappy than the slavery folks. - [Voiceover] Yeah absolutely. So it makes the anti-slavery folks super unhappy, but it also means that now white slave owners in the South, they feel like there's a target on their heads. And so, they're going to dig in even further to make sure that their interests in slavery are protected. - [Voiceover] And this gets us to the election of 1860 which I guess in some ways was the straw that breaks the camel's back, I guess from a Southern perspective. And why is that? - [Voiceover] Well, during the 1850s, you have all of these political battles over slavery. In fact, it kind of breaks the major political party of the 1850s, the Whig Party. So, in 1860, some of these leftover Whigs, they reorganize as the Republican Party. And this is the first election with a Republican Party that we know today. But obviously, in 1860, the things that they're interested in, their goals and aims are completely different. And the Republican Party is an anti-slavery party. They're deliberately and publicly against slavery. So, they nominate as their political candidate for 1860, Abraham Lincoln who is well-known in the country for having been an anti-slavery agitator. He's given many speeches where he has made very eloquent arguments against slavery. - [Voiceover] He's, we talked about in the previous video, he's against it, I guess on moral grounds. But perhaps even more, his old father wasn't able to be a successful farmer because he had to compete with slave owners. - [Voiceover] Right, so he's brought up to hate slavery because it's a big business that has harmed his own family's economic future. But, he comes, I think, to his own conclusion that slavery is morally wrong. What he doesn't think that he can do as president is legally or constitutionally, get rid of slavery. He doesn't think that the Constitution allows it. But, he is seen as enough of a threat by Southerners that in many cases, on the presidential ballots in 1860, you couldn't even vote for Abraham Lincoln if you wanted to. He didn't show up on the ballot in Southern states. Nonetheless, he still gets enough electoral votes that he's elected. - [Voiceover] And then that's what takes us into the real meat of, you know, catalyzes the Civil War. - [Voiceover] Yeah, stay tuned, Abraham Lincoln.