Congress and the Crisis of the 1850s

Congress and the Crisis of the 1850s

by Paul Finkelman
     
 

During the long decade from 1848 to 1861 America was like a train speeding down the track, without an engineer or brakes. The new territories acquired from Mexico had vastly increased the size of the nation, but debate over their status-and more importantly the status of slavery within them-paralyzed the nation. Southerners gained access to the territories and a

Overview

During the long decade from 1848 to 1861 America was like a train speeding down the track, without an engineer or brakes. The new territories acquired from Mexico had vastly increased the size of the nation, but debate over their status-and more importantly the status of slavery within them-paralyzed the nation. Southerners gained access to the territories and a draconian fugitive slave law in the Compromise of 1850, but this only exacerbated sectional tensions. Virtually all northerners, even those who supported the law because they believed that it would preserve the union, despised being turned into slave catchers. In 1854, in the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Congress repealed the ban on slavery in the remaining unorganized territories. In 1857, in the Dred Scott case, the Supreme Court held that all bans on slavery in the territories were unconstitutional. Meanwhile, northern whites, free blacks, and fugitive slaves resisted the enforcement of the 1850 fugitive slave law. In Congress members carried weapons and Representative Preston Brooks assaulted Senator Charles Sumner with a cane, nearly killing him. This was the decade of the 1850s and these were the issues Congress grappled with.

This volume of new essays examines many of these issues, helping us better understand the failure of political leadership in the decade that led to the Civil War.

Contributors
Spencer R. Crew
Paul Finkelman
Matthew Glassman
Amy S. Greenberg
Martin J. Hershock
Michael F. Holt
Brooks D. Simpson
Jenny Wahl

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Anyone looking for a summary of the Compromise and its impact on antebellum politics would be hard-pressed to do better than these two chapters from two of its best and most celebrated historians (Michael Holt and Paul Finkelman).”
Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

“Paul Finkelman—perhaps the foremost legal historian of slavery and U.S. politics during this period—wrote the introduction, one of the essays, and coedited this impressive volume with the series editor, Donald R. Kennon…. I recommend this volume for those teaching classes that cover the origins of America’s bloodiest and, arguably, most important war.”
Journal of American History

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780821419779
Publisher:
Ohio University Press
Publication date:
01/31/2012
Series:
Perspective Hist of Congress 1801-1877 Series
Edition description:
1
Pages:
264
Sales rank:
846,281
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Paul Finkelman is President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy at Albany Law School and Senior Fellow in the Government Law Center at Albany Law School. He is the author or editor of many articles and books, including Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson, and A March of Liberty: A Constitutional History of the United States, and coeditor (with Martin J. Hershock) of The History of Michigan Law.

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