The American Civil War — II



No Compromise
Neither side rushed blindly into the American Civil War. North and South made many efforts to compromise on their disputes, but each settlement only flung up more problems, making the war seem more certain.


Louisiana Purchase
In 1803 it was proposed that the Louisiana lands, recently purchased from France, should be recognised as a State of the Union. This proposal roused the jealousy of the New Englanders, not because Louisiana was a slave State but because they feared the addition of a Southern State on the other side of the political balance. This dispute promoted the agreement that free and slave States should be admitted to the Union alternately. This compromise worked well until 1820, when Missouri, a slave State, applied to join the Union. (Indiana. Illinois, and Maine had joined as free States and Mississippi and Alabama as slave States.) Although it meant breaking their agreement, the North bitterly opposed the entry of Missouri, for they were coming to the opinion that no more slave States should be admitted to the Union. This dispute was shelved by the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which recognised Missouri as a slave State, but ruled that no slave State should exist north of a parallel 36′ 30′ N., and that any State south of this line should be allowed to decide its own status.


The Missouri Compromise was broken by the refusal to extend the line across the Continent when California joined the Union, and further trouble developed over the admission of Kansas and Nebraska. These two States were brought into the Union to carry the railways which were pushing into the West. Under the terms of the Missouri Compromise both should have been free States, but in the event only Nebraska was recognised as such. Kansas, whose wild and lawless settlers were violently pro-slavery, was allowed to choose its own status and the whole procedure was legalised by the Kansas/Nebraska Bill of 1854, which finally wiped out the Missouri Compromise.


The first elections in Kansas were chaotic. First, heavily armed Border ruffians from Missouri came into the State and drowned the election in illegal votes. When the pro-slavery candidate was declared elected, John Brown led a counter invasion of Abolitionists. Civil war broke out between the two sides, with each setting up its own government and holding its own elections. In the end, the slavers won, and they passed the most stringent measures to protect their system. Another compromise had failed.


The Republican Party
Tempers on both sides were now rising fast, aggravated by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This Act allowed Marshalls from the Southern States to arrest runaway slaves, who had previously been granted refuge in the North, and return them to their masters. The dispute over this Act was highlighted by the case of Dred Scott, a runaway slave, who legally contested his return. His case dragged on for years, until in 1857 the Supreme Court ruled that he was a piece of property without the right to sue in Federal Courts and that anyway he had lost his case in the Missouri courts, which had sole authority to deal with it. This decision stung opinion in the North, and the extreme anti-slavery attitude of the Abolitionists became more acceptable. In Boston, Lloyd Garrison had earned from the State of Georgia a $5,000 price on his head for publishing the Abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator. Respectable Northerners, after the Dred Scott case, looked upon Garrison’s paper with a less hostile eye.


Still, the Abolitionists could not win a Presidential election; in 1856 John C. Fremont lost to the Democrat, Buchanan. In truth, the Abolitionists could never fulfil the needs of the North’s rising capitalists. As the railways grew out and the link-up of the Middle West destroyed local prejudices, as the struggle between industry and the Southern landowners became more acute, so opinion in the North became more solid. In 1856 the Republican Party was formed and the Northern capitalists had a political organisation strong enough to counter the aristocratic planters. The Republicans did not at first intend to abolish slavery, or to sharpen the conflict with the South. They wanted to expand American industry, develop the West and control the country’s political affairs. But each successive dispute, and the planters’ notion of their inborn superiority, made civil war seem unavoidable.


Abraham Lincoln
The Bourbon planters were blind to the fact that the South was falling behind economically. Two-thirds of the country’s banking and financial investments were in the North, with Massachusetts alone said to hold more money in her banks than the whole of the Confederacy in 1861. Other estimates put the North’s manufactures as worth nearly ten times all the crops of the South, and reckoned the Northern hay crop more valuable than all the Southern cotton, tobacco and sugar. (The planters over-estimated the importance of the world’s demand for cotton right through the war, many Southerners expected Lancashire opinion to force England to declare war on the North). They were convinced of their strength, and America slithered towards civil war, with the feeble President, Buchanan, incapable of doing anything about it.


In 1860 another Presidential election fell due, with Abraham Lincoln representing the Republican Party. There were only 30,000 slave-owning families in the South, with about 10,000 of them large owners. But these were the influences in Southern public opinion and, although Lincoln was plainly moderate in his opinion on the slavery dispute, they had no desire to put political power into his hands. He did not receive one vote south of Virginia (where he polled 2,000). In the border State of Missouri he got just 17,000. In 1856 the cotton States had plainly said that, if the Abolitionist Fremont were elected, they would leave the Union. (There had been several such threats during the past 60 years’ political struggles, not all of them from the South.) The planters recognised that Lincoln’s victory broke their last link with the Union, which they regarded as a collection of sovereign States which they could leave at will. They would suffer no coercion from a central government.


In December, 1860, South Carolina led the way out of the Union, and by February of the following year Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Texas had joined her in a Confederacy formed at Montgomery, Alabama. Jefferson Davis was the President and Alexander Stephens the Vice-President. Civil War seemed a hardening certainty.
              Jack Law


(To be continued.)