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Unit 5: Learning Objective D

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- [Voiceover] This is Sal here, and I'm with Kim Kutz, who is Khan Academy's American History Content Fellow, and what I'm curious about is... In school, you learn about the Civil War, you learn about slavery, that slavery was a cause of the Civil War, but at least for myself, I never got a full context of what were all the dynamics that led to the Civil War? Was it just something that happened overnight? - [Kim] Oh, defnitely not. You know, I think the seeds of the Civil War were really with the United States at its creation. I think there's sort of an essential contradiction in the United States as it's born. We're this country where all men are created equal, except that most of the states in the South have slavery, where people are clearly not created equal, so they couldn't win the Revolutionary War without including those states and kind of giving them what they wanted in retaining slavery, but it means that the US is born with both free states and slave states, and they're gonna continue to try to figure out how to balance those for the rest of the 1800s. - [Sal] We have this map here. This map is a later period, but it shows... This is actually closer to the Civil War, but if we even look at the original 13 colonies, you can see which ones were free states and which ones were slave states, and then you obviously have these other states that come in later, which we'll talk about. What you're saying is, at the founding of the country, this was already an issue. There were people in the North who weren't fans of slavery, and people knew that at some point this would be irreconcilable, or maybe they hoped that it would be a (laughs) reconcilable difference. They said, "No, we gotta unify against Great Britain." - [Kim] Exactly. - [Sal] So they said, "Let's just become a country and do it." - [Kim] You know, even Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, he knew that slavery was a contradiction. He called the issue of having slavery "like holding a wolf by the ears." You can't hold onto it, but you can't let it go because so many of the wealthy elites who were going to end up in Congress in the South are slaveowners-- - [Sal] Including himself. - [Kim] Exactly, so they wanna protect their interests. - [Sal] So, the issue is there from the moment that the country is founded, and then we get into the 1800s, which is really the run-up. The Civil War doesn't start until we get into 1860 or shortly thereafter, or actually, 1860. What's the big picture that really leads up to it? - [Kim] Well, I think what we're looking at when we get into the issues that lead to the Civil War, it's really about how the US handles getting new territory. - [Sal] And the US was getting a lot of new territory. We have a map here. I guess the first really big chunk is you have the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, and so you get all of... Let me shade it in. You get roughly all of this stuff right over here, so that's new areas that settlers can go, and it becomes officially a part of the US, and what else happens? - [Kim] So, as we get these new territories, out of them you're gonna get new states, and when new states come into the Union, they're going to come in as either free states or slave states, so we've balanced the interests of the North and South up until this point, from the Revolutionary War, so that there's equal representation in Congress between free states and slave states. - [Sal] Well, why does someone care? If I'm someone in Massachusetts, why do I care whether the new state of Missouri is going to be a free state or a slave state? - [Kim] Well, I think there are two reasons why you might care. First, if you're an abolitionist, and these are the people who we know very well, like Frederick Douglass, or William Lloyd Garrison, who was the editor of the newspaper The Liberator. These are the people who feel that, correctly, slavery is morally wrong. Slavery is a corruption of the essential principles on which the country was founded. It's something that destroys lives, destroys families, but another reason if you're, say, in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania, why you might care whether a new state is a slave state, is you're worried about opportunities for yourself out in the West. We know that Horace Greeley, this famous newspaper editor, he says, "What do you do if you're a young man in New York, a young white man, who doesn't know how to get ahead?" He says, "Go West, young man. "You can go out there, you can get some land, "you can start a farm, but if you go out there "and you find that all of the land has been bought up "by rich slaveholders from the South, "you might not be able to get any land, "and you certainly might not be able to, "for example, sell your corn at a rate low enough "that you could beat somebody who has free labor." - [Sal] So, a lot of times there's a lot of focus on the moral argument, which is a very strong argument, but there's also this interesting economic argument which you just talked about, which is it's hard to compete with slavery. I mean, you're literally talking about labor that does not need traditional wages. - [Kim] Right. - [Sal] That is literally slave labor, and so if you were having your own farm and you don't own slaves, how are you going to compete with that? So, that was the reason for some folks in the North, an economic argument. Now, would these people be considered abolitionists? - [Kim] No, the way that we think about those, we call them "anti-slavery." So, anti-slavery advocates, they don't think that they can get rid of slavery in the South. Even if they don't like slavery in the South, they don't even see how it would be possible to get rid of it, but they do think that as these new states are coming into the Union, they could prevent them from becoming slave states, so that it's possible for the Western lands to remain free. Abraham Lincoln, I think, is a really good poster child for this. I think we'll talk about him a little bit more later, but Lincoln is born in Kentucky, one of these new, Western states. His father is a small, white farmer, and slaveowners move into Kentucky. Later it becomes a slave state, and his father can't find work, his father can't find land, so he ends up first having to move to Indiana, then moving to Illinois, so this is literally a case of one of these poor, white farmers who just can't compete with slavery, which is one reason why Lincoln himself is later gonna come out so strongly in favor of making sure there's no slavery in the West. - [Sal] So, abolitionists: slavery is amoral, it needs to be removed from, definitely the United States, possibly the world. - [Kim] Yeah, absolutely. - [Sal] Anti-slavery: they also think slavery is bad, they don't like it, but they think it's, "Well, but I'm not gonna fight that fight to remove it. "Maybe that's hard to do, or impossible, "but it shouldn't spread. "It's not fair. "It's the reason my dad wasn't able "to be able to run his farm." - [Kim] Absolutely. - [Sal] So, you have the Louisiana Purchase, and in other videos we talk about that famously Napoleon sold it for quite cheap, because frankly, he couldn't defend it (Kim laughs) because he was fighting these wars in Europe. That's the first chunk of land, so you have all of these states, and they need to figure out whether they're slave states or free states, but why would... I mean, I talked about why would a Northerner care whether a slave or a free state. Why would a Southerner care? If I'm a slaveowner, I own a plantation in South Carolina or Georgia, why do I care if Missouri is a slave state or a free state? - [Kim] Well I think, just as their political interests are tied up in slavery, all of their money is tied up in slavery. In 1860, the most valuable thing that anyone owns in the United States is slaves. You can't compete with that kind of money, so they wanna make sure that if a new state comes into the Union, that state isn't a free state because then the free states might have more representation in Congress, and then they can vote to outlaw slavery. So, if your whole fortune is built on slavery, if you're a white slaveowner, they outlaw that, then you're left with nothing. - [Sal] I see, so the North, there's the moral argument, there's the economic argument, slavery is hard to compete with, and in the South, "Hey, if we have too many "of these free states, at some point they're gonna have "enough of a voting power in the government "to maybe abolish slavery one day," which would completely undermine, if I'm a slaveowner, my economics of my reality. - [Kim] Right, and they are sort of essentially amoral. Even someone like Jefferson who knows that slavery is wrong, his whole wealth, his whole fortune, his whole political dynasty is built on the fortune of owning slaves. - [Sal] You know, one of the first points where this really gets balanced, this issue, is we have the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, then starting to carve out the Louisiana Purchase, you have states like Missouri. They get to their critical mass of people, of population, so that they can become a state, and so what was the Missouri Compromise all about in 1820? - [Kim] So, the Missouri Compromise is when we have enough people living in Missouri. These are white people, generally, who have come from the Eastern states, and they apply for statehood. You've got an equal number of slave states and free states already in Congress, so if Missouri comes in and they wanna be a slave state, they're going to upset the apple cart. They're gonna upset the balance, so there will be more representatives for the South than there will be for North, and everything they've done so far has been predicated on this tenuous balance between free states and slave states. So, they debate this in Congress for months, and eventually what they do is say, "All right, well, we can't decide, "so what we're going to do is admit "the state of Maine at the same time." - [Sal] And Maine, the territory of Maine was already part of the United States. How was it not already a state? - [Kim] It was part of Massachusetts, but as you can see, it's really only tenuously connected to Massachusetts, so they divide this territory up so that it can have its own representation in Congress, so they say, "All right, well, we can't solve this problem "of the balance of power between free states "and slave states right now, so what we're gonna do "is just kind of extend our balance. "We're gonna keep this compromise going "to make sure that there are the same number "of free and slave states, so we'll let Missouri in "as a slave state at the same time "we let Maine in as a free state." - [Sal] Fascinating. I see where this is going, that you have these very tenuous compromises while more and more territories are being added. It's exciting to see where all of this goes.