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By April of 1861 when shots were fired at Fort Sumter and the war more or less commenced, one could look as far back as the Constitutional Convention for an overview of years of failed compromises and dissension between North and South. There were those in Philadelphia who wanted to abolish slavery right then, in the new governing document; however, it became apparent that this document would not stand a chance of being ratified if Southerners dug in their heels over the slavery issue--which they were willing to do. After the debacle of Shay's Rebellion, and widespread acknowledgement that the Articles of Confederation were not working, those 'in the loop" recognized the necessity of a stronger national government sooner rather than later; indeed, the security of the nation itself depended on it.
So slavery was allowed to continue in the Southern states, but the issue didn't go away, nor did the related issue of states' rights and nullification, two philosophies held predominantly by Southerners. As the nation began to expand, debate, discussion and dissension expanded with it, starting in 1820, with a compromise aimed at keeping both sides happy while admitting Missouri into the Union, then the Fugitive Slave Law, aimed at pacifying Southerners over loss of their "property" as the abolitionist movement took hold in the North. The Compromise of 1850 brought California into the United States, and left the area that is now the American Southwest to decide the slavery issue by vote. In 1854, Kansas and Nebraska took center stage for awhile in a compromise that resulted in "Bleeding Kansas", and similar bloodshed took place in Missouri as bands of guerillas favoring and opposed to slavery roamed the countryside attacking each other, and in some cases, innocent families.
So it seems that by 1861, every attempt at compromise that could be made had been over the roughly seventy five years between the ratification of the Constitution and the beginning of the war. Tempers and hostilities had festered for so long, creating a kind of snowball effect, that eventually found its way onto the floors of the Senate and the House. Abraham Lincoln himself stated that his ultimate goal was to preserve the Union, and he was determined that the South would fire the first shot--which he was able to manuever them into doing. At that point, one could probably argue that there was nothing left to do except the unthinkable--fight a war between two sides of a nation as a last resort to save said nation.
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