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Slavery In The Territories Essay, Research Paper


It has been said that the institution of slavery caused The Civil War. In the years leading up to America s bloodiest war, the new territories the United States acquired began to get enough citizens so that they may become states. The question that ripped Congress and this country apart was whether or not these new states would be admitted as free or slave states. You see, until these states appeared there was a fragile balance of fourteen slave states and fourteen free ones. Admitting a state either way would cause a shift in power in the Senate, and who ever won could basically run the country.

The first position to be discussed is that of the South. The South obviously believed that it was their right to take slaves into the new territories. As John C. Calhoun said it, there could be no compromise on the territorial issue. (67). The South felt that not being able to bring slaves into the colonies deprived them of their equality with the other states, the North in particular. They felt that the North was trying to dominate them, almost making the Southern whites slaves, The North is determined to convert all the southern population into slaves The North and South are now completely separated. (70).

The South felt that there was nothing wrong with the institution of slavery. It was their way of life and the means by which they made their living. Jefferson Davis said it best to exemplify the South s feelings. To the abolitionists he said, They called slavery a sin. By which standard did they measure it? Not by the Constitution, which recognized property in slaves. Not by the Bible; that justifies it. (219).

As is seen by that quote, the South felt justified in their use of slaves. They saw it protected by the Constitution, a document written by possibly the most respected men in American history, and a document held nearly in the same light as the bible. Then they go on to believe that slavery is justified in the most holy book, the Bible. Therefore slavery in the new territories, to the South, was not only justified by the Constitution, but also by their religion.

While the citizens in the South basically had the similar thoughts regarding slavery in the new territories, those in the North had a couple of different ideas. One was that congress had the ability and should ban slavery in the new territories. The other was the notion of Popular Sovereignty, or the people should vote on the issue of slavery in their new colonies, not Congress.

The most notable person that supported Congress ability to ban slavery in the new territories was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was not radical like the abolitionists, and felt that slavery was a necessity where it already existed. (157). This he said because of two main reasons. First, he knew that the Constitution did not allow the government to get rid of slavery in the southern states (in times of peace), only states themselves could do that. Secondly, he felt that the only way to eventually end slavery was to contain it to the states that allowed it and not let it spread out west.

The argument that Lincoln put up against the idea of Popular Sovereignty was a route to bloodshed. People heading to the new territories were coming from not just the South or North, but from both. That brought people who were dead set against slavery together with Southerners who brought their slaves with them. Lincoln felt that this would unavoidably lead to conflict between them, And once blood was shed in Kansas would this not be the real knell of the Union? (163).

Lincoln himself researched and found that the framers of the Constitution themselves thought that the government had the right to control slavery in new territories. The fathers had voted again and again to let Congress regulate slavery in the new territories. (315). Not only did Lincoln find that the Constitution supported Congressional power regarding slavery, but went on to discover that many of the founding fathers had already voted against slavery in new territories. Twenty-one of the thirty-nine original founders voted at one time or another to exclude slavery from the territories. (316).

The last group to look at are those who supported Popular Sovereignty. This group s idea for the new territories was to allow the citizens to decide their own fate if you will. Stephen A. Douglas thought that Popular Sovereignty embodies the great principle of self-government. (144).

What could be fairer? (144), asked Douglas. American society was based on the idea of self-government, so there was no reason to change that that now. There was no better example of freedom then by letting Americans vote on whether or not they wanted slavery where they live.

It seems that the idea of Popular Sovereignty took the middle ground of the three positions discussed. Calhoun and Davis thought that all the new territories should be open to slavery. On the other end of the spectrum is Lincoln who, although allowed slavery in southern states, believed that no new territories should permit slavery. Then in the middle is Douglas. He did not join with the lies of my abolitionist enemies , nor did he want to cover the land with the blight of slavery. (144).

The institution of slavery is a great tragedy in our nations history, and that led us to another great tragedy, The Civil War. No matter which one of the three positions regarding slavery in the territories was taken, war was inevitable. It was impossible to please everyone, and the only true resolution came after the war and the loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives.

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