What are some events between the period of 1850 and 1861 that contributed to Southern secession from the Union?

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martinjmurphy eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Three very important events should be carefully looked at when answering this question.  The first is the Compromise of 1850. There were five parts to the Compromise of 1850. First, California would be admitted to the Union as a free state. Next, two new territories would be established, Utah and New Mexico, and slavery in those territories would be determined by popular sovereignty, that is, the people of the territories would decide the issue. The border of the state of Texas was determined, with Texas giving up some of its land in exchange for $10 million.  The slave trade, but not slavery itself, was ended in the District of Columbia.  Finally, a new, strict fugitive slave law was enacted. Each part of the compromise upset one part of the country.  California as a free state upset the south.  Opening slavery to new territories upset the north. Ending the slave trade in D.C. upset the south. Passing a new fugitive slave law upset the north.

Another important event was the Kansas Nebraska Act. In 1854, the Kansas Nebraska Act was passed. Two new territories, Kansas and Nebraska, would be established in what was the Louisiana Purchase. These territories were north of 36 degrees of latitude and according to the Missouri Compromise there would be no slavery there.  But the Kansas Nebraska Act stated that the issue of slavery in the new territories would be decided by popular sovereignty, an idea borrowed from the Compromise of 1850, nullifying the Missouri Compromise. This led to voter fraud in the Kansas territorial elections when pro-slavery men from Missouri crossed into Kansas and illegally voted.  This in turn led to violence as seen in the attack on Lawrence and the massacre at Pottawatomie Creek led by John Brown.  Many consider the violence in Kansas as the true beginning of the Civil War

Finally, a very important event that was not mentioned in the previous post was the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court.  This case was decided in 1857.  Dred Scott was a slave whose owner brought him into a free territory before returning him to a slave state.  Dred Scott sued in court claiming that he became free when he entered a free territory.  The Supreme Court said that African Americans were not citizens, that slaves were property, and that when Congress banned slavery in the territories it was taking away property without due process of law which is prohibited by the 5th Amendment.  This meant Congress could not ban slavery in U.S. territories thus opening vast amounts of the U.S. to slavery.  This outraged anti-slavery people throughout the U.S. increasing tensions that would lead to the Civil War.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The election of Abraham Lincoln as president was the last straw for the Southern states. Although Lincoln did not actually support the elimination of slavery, he did favor no further expansion of it. Southerners did not trust him, and South Carolina soon seceded, with other states following. The growing population in the North also deemed that the South would not remain a political equal. The abolitionist movement that thrived in the Northern states also worried Southerners. The publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852 further infuriated Southerners and strengthened abolitionist views. Southerners also feared that their traditional lifestyle would change with the growing modern trends that were implemented in the North. Other events that led to secession included:

  • The Compromise of 1850 made neither the North nor South completely happy.
  • The formation of the Republican party was in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which gave the promise of possible future slave states.
  • John Brown's Raid, 1859. Brown's attempt to instill a Negro revolt was hailed by many Northerners, and Brown's martyr status did not sit well in the South.
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There were many events during this time period that helped to cause the South to secede.  Here are a few:

  • Northern reaction to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.  Northern opposition to this law helped to turn the South against the North.
  • The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.  The passage of this act led to the fighting in "Bleeding Kansas."  This fighting further split the two regions.
  • The Dred Scott Decision of 1857.  This made further compromises over slavery in the territories impossible and therefore made conflict much more likely.
  • The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.  Since Lincoln was seen as a "black Republican" and because he got no Southern votes, the South felt that he would govern in ways that were meant to harm the South.  This was the most immediate cause of secession.