By 1860, one could see that the United States was in uncharted territory in terms of its ability to compromise over slavery. Henry Clay, a leader in creating both the Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850, was dead. There seemed to be no moderating force in Congress who...
By 1860, one could see that the United States was in uncharted territory in terms of its ability to compromise over slavery. Henry Clay, a leader in creating both the Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850, was dead. There seemed to be no moderating force in Congress who would take his place. The rhetoric around slavery, heated at times, was reaching a new level during the 1850s. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was one of the most popular books of the era; it depicted slavery unfavorably. Playhouses who acted out the book had large passionate crowds-—in one instance, an audience member shot one of the dogs who was chasing the actress playing Eliza.
Many revolts and political disputes also became more influential. John Brown tried to incite a slave revolt in 1859; he was later hung for this. To slaveholders, Brown was a villain. To abolitionists, he was a martyr. Violence was starting to creep into political life as well. Preston Sumner, a Northern congressman, was beaten by Charles Brooks, a Southern Congressman, when Sumner attacked slavery. Slaveowners around the South then sent Brooks new canes with which to attack more abolitionists. When Stephen Douglas stated that the territories of Kansas and Nebraska could vote on the decision to allow slavery, it led to what would be known as Bleeding Kansas as slaveholders and abolitionists moved into the territory in order to influence the vote. In the process they fought each other, burning towns and killing men, women, and children.
By 1860 there was too much money in slavery to allow for a peaceful compromise such as gradual abolition. The value of the slaves in the South was worth more than the banks and railroads of the entire nation. World demand for Southern cotton was quite high. There was not enough money in the federal treasury for the government to buy all the slaves and set them free. Even if there was nationwide support for abolition, many Southerners were worried about their fate if the slaves were set free. Many feared a slave revolt—John Brown's attempted insurrection at Harper's Ferry only made this feeling stronger.
By 1860 heated rhetoric in both the private and public spheres made the issue of slavery one that made compromise nearly impossible. The amount of wealth tied up in owning people also made plantation owners less likely to accept a compromise. Fear of upending the racial status quo made most of the South reluctant to change the status of enslaved Africans. By 1860, it was apparent that the nation was reaching a turning point. The election of Lincoln in 1860 without his winning a single Southern state made compromise impossible.