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Assess the validity of the following statement about the Constitution as a source of...

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questionandan... | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Honors

Posted December 12, 2010 at 3:19 AM via web

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Assess the validity of the following statement about the Constitution as a source of section discord.

"By the 1850's the Constitution, originally framed as an instrument of national unity had become a a source of sectional discord and tension and ultimately contributed to the failure of the union it had created" using your knowledge of the period of 1850-1861, asess the validity of this statement.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 12, 2010 at 3:30 AM (Answer #1)

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The Constitution led to sectional discord in two major ways.

First, the Constitution created a country in which slavery was legal but was not practiced in all areas.  The fact that slavery was legal under the Constitution was a major factor in causing the sectional tensions.

Second, the Constitution created a federal political system in which states had some powers while the federal government had others.  This is what really caused the sectional discord.  The states had the right to decide many things for themselves, one of which was whether they wanted to allow slavery or not.  Yet, at the same time, the federal government had the power to impact such issues as the slave trade, what would be done with fugitive slaves and the status of slavery in the territories.  In general, the federal government had many types of power over the states and so states could fear that the federal government would impose one system (slave or free) on them.

Since the Constitution left slavery legal and power divided between the states and the national government, it became a source of sectional discord.

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geosc | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted December 14, 2010 at 7:47 AM (Answer #2)

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You ask about Constitutional causes of the War of 1861.

The framers of the Constitution had thought the power of elected officials could be controlled by making their terms in office of short duration, but when elected officials tried to govern with integrity and honesty, they found that the majority would vote them out of office and vote into office demagogues who would take from the minority and give to the majority.

The Constitution promised to protect minorities was by making local matters the responsibility of the state governments so that a national majority could not impose its desires upon local minorities who had other desires that resulted from their particular circumstances as to climate, or geography, or culture, or social institutions. But a promise is only as good as the people who have the power to break it. The industrial section managed from 1850 on, to obtain more senators who supported the industrial agenda and to deny the nonindustrial section an equal number of senators with which to oppose the industrial agenda. The North, by forbidding slaves in the territories ensured that it would maintain this majority.

The Constitution had attempted to prevent states from imposing slavery upon or abolishing slavery in other states. The North defied laws passed under this Constitutional provision. As long as a state was in the Union, it should have abided by the Constitution, and if it found that it could not abide some provision of the Constitution, it should have seceded.

The Constitution had attempted to protect each branch of the federal government from encroachments by the other two branches, but it provided that officials for all three branches could be selected from the same faction of society so that far from encroaching upon each other they were more likely, two or all three of them, to concert with each other in shifting power from the state governments or in redistributing the wealth of the minority.

Examples from 1850-‘61: Prior to this period the manufacturing section had obtained tariffs that the consuming section did not want–in 1857 the Republican party proposed increases and in 1860 won the government; the manufacturing section used its majority in Congress to raise taxes for building of railroads and improvement of rivers and harbors, even though the sections that did not need these transportation subsidies did not want to pay these taxes; the nonslaveholding section used its state governments to defy the fugitive slave law which was wanted by the planting section and was Constitutional–the opposition by state governments was not Constitutional; the manufacturing section used its majority to elect a President which no other section wanted, indeed it was the urban centers of the manufacturing section that elected him as many rural counties of the manufacturing section voted for one or another of his opponents. That president used unConstitutional means to begin and prosecute a war.

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