Slavery began to take up more of the national debate when the institution became more lucrative, thanks to increased Western settlement and the invention of the cotton gin, which allowed slaves to be even more productive. Starting in 1820, there was fear in slaveholding circles that Northern abolitionist senators would...
Slavery began to take up more of the national debate when the institution became more lucrative, thanks to increased Western settlement and the invention of the cotton gin, which allowed slaves to be even more productive. Starting in 1820, there was fear in slaveholding circles that Northern abolitionist senators would one day outnumber Southern senators. The fear was that slavery would one day be limited and abolished. Henry Clay came to the rescue in 1820 with the Missouri Compromise which allowed Maine to enter in as a free state in order to counterbalance the admission of the slave state of Missouri. It was also decided at that point that all lands south of Missouri would be slave states and all lands north of Missouri's southern border would be free.
The admission of Texas would also be another focal point in the slave debate as Northern abolitionists, now more organized and with newspapers such as The Liberator to help spread their message, protested when Texas was to be admitted as a free state. As a result, the decision was put off until John Tyler decided to make it a focal point of his presidency in order to win over votes. While Texas was eventually admitted, the decision made Tyler hated in Northern abolitionist circles. The decision to go to war with Mexico was also shaded by the slavery question as the war was launched by a Southern president, James Polk of Tennessee. After the war, Southern congressmen also questioned the possibility of buying Cuba from Spain in order to add another slave state to the Union. This made Northern abolitionists fear that there was a slaveholding minority who wished to control the national agenda. This only made abolitionists fight harder in their attempt to limit slavery's spread in the United States. The Compromise of 1850 marked a watershed moment in the slave question when Congress decided the fate of the newly acquired Mexican Cession, as well as strengthened the Fugitive Slave Law. While this all passed in order to bring peace to both sides of the issue, no one was really happy with the compromise. Stephen Douglas further upset the balance when he authored the Kansas-Nebraska Act in order to hurriedly bring Kansas into the Union. He stated that the people of the territories could decide whether or not they wanted slavery –– this overturned the Compromise of 1820 and led to Bleeding Kansas, a guerrilla free-for-all which took place on the Kansas-Missouri border before the Civil War.
The slavery question also helped to give birth to the Republican Party. One of the party's earliest planks was to limit the spread of slavery into the territories. It was formed from conscientious Whigs who supported the Whig platform but hated the idea of slavery. Some of the most prominent early members of the party were William Seward and Abraham Lincoln. Another early anti-slavery party was the Liberty Party, led nationally by James Birney. While Birney stood little chance of winning an election, he offered an alternative choice for people who wished to vote for president but could not endorse a pro-slavery Whig or Democrat.