Slavery in the Nineteenth Century

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How did the Free Soil movement contribute to the Civil War?

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The Free Soil movement contributed to the Civil War by convincing Southerners that slavery was under threat by the North. The phrase "Free Soil" referred to the demand that slavery be restrained to its current borders (i.e., that the institution should be banned from spreading into Western territories and states). This followed the principle of the Northwest Ordinance, which had closed the Northwest Territory to slavery. Southerners, however, saw this as a restraint on slavery, and many of their leaders, most notably John C. Calhoun, resisted any restraint on slavery whatsoever, including territorial restrictions. The Free Soil Party, founded in 1848, opposed the spread of slavery into territories gained from Mexico, a position articulated by David Wilmot in his famous "Proviso." Most Free Soilers were not necessarily abolitionists and actually opposed slavery on the grounds that it was bad for white workers. In any case, this position caused a crisis over the admission of California, whose residents favored a state constitution that banned slavery. The crisis was temporarily resolved with the Compromise of 1850, but Free Soilers emerged again in 1854 when Stephen Douglas introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which opened that territory—contrary to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, to slavery if its residents voted to allow it. Free-Soilers had run as a single-issue party in 1852, but they formed the core of the new Republican Party formed in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The idea was best expressed by Abraham Lincoln, who said that the restriction of slavery where it already existed was a point on which the federal government had to "hold firm, as with a chain of steel." So when Lincoln was elected President in 1860, Southerners felt that slavery was under threat, and they seceded. So, in short, the Free Soil movement, because Southerners saw it as a serious threat, contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War.

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The Free Soil movement helped to contribute to the Civil War because it helped to create tension between the North and South.  This tension, over the issue of the expansion of slavery, helped drive the two sections apart.

The Free Soil movement was based on the idea that the lands to the west of the existing states, and particularly lands taken from Mexico during the Mexican American War, should not have slavery.  The Free Soil adherents felt that a system in which free white people worked small farms was morally superior to one in which enslaved blacks worked on large plantations.  Therefore, they resisted the expansion of slavery into the new territories. 

This stand by the Free Soil movement angered the South. Southerners felt that slavery should be allowed to expand.  They feared that the influence of slave states would be destroyed if too many new free states joined the Union.  Therefore, they were upset by the growing power of the Free Soil movement. 

The Free Soil movement also ended up contributing to the creation of the Republican Party.  This party’s power also worried the South because the party generally favored the Free Soil ideology.  This was an indirect way in which the Free Soil movement made the South unhappy.

By making the South unhappy with its antislavery message, the Free Soil movement helped drive a wedge between the North and South.  The tension created helped bring about the Civil War.

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