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The Breakdown of the Union Essay

“Manifest Destiny” is a phrase that expressed the belief that the United States had a divinely inspired mission to expand, spreading its form of democracy and freedom.The phrase “Manifest Destiny” was first used primarily by Jackson Democrats in the 1840s to promote the annexation of much of what is now the Western United States (the Oregon Territory, the Texas Annexation, and the Mexican Cession). Slavery, the exploitation of Africans for hard labor, was also growing vastly in popularity during this period of territorial expansion. These controversial ideologies, including such events as Mexican War, the Wilmont Provisio, the development of the Republican Party, the Dred Scott Decision, the Brooks-Sumner Incident, the Anthony Burns Incident, the Ostend Manifesto, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and unbalanced congressional representation aided in sending the Union into uproar and eventually splitting it entirely.

The Mexican War between the United States and Mexico began with a Mexican attack on American troops along the southern border of Texas on Apr. 25, 1846. Fighting ended when U.S. Gen. Winfield Scott occupied Mexico City on Sept. 14, 1847; a few months later a peace treaty was signed at Guadalupe Hidalgo. In addition to recognizing the U.S. annexation of Texas, defeated Mexico ceded California and , New Mexico (including all the present-day states of the Southwest) to the United States.

During the war political quarrels arose regarding the disposition of conquered Mexico. A strong “All-Mexico” movement urged annexation of the entire territory. Abolitionists opposed that position and fought for the exclusion of slavery from any territory absorbed by the United States. In 1847 the House of Representatives passed the Wilmot Proviso, stipulating that none of the territory acquired should be open to slavery. The Senate avoided the issue, and a late attempt to add it to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was defeated.

A major cause of conflict between the Southern slave states and the Northern free states was the lack of assistance given by northerners to southern slave-owners and their agents seeking to recapture escaped slaves. In 1850 Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law. The law stated that in future any federal marshal who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave could be fined $1,000. People suspected of being a runaway slave could be arrested without warrant and turned over to a claimant on nothing more than his sworn testimony of ownership.

The Fugitive Slave Law brought the issue home to anti-slavery citizens in the North, since it made them and their institutions responsible for enforcing slavery. Even moderate abolitionists were now faced with the immediate choice of defying what they believed an unjust law or breaking with their own conscience and belief. The case of Anthony Burns, in which a fugitive slave was returned to slavery under the protest of 50,000 citizens of Boston, and the celebration of the abolitionist, Charles Sumner’s assault by Preston S. Brooks, fell under this statute.

The Ostend Manifesto was a secret document written in 1854 by U.S. diplomats at Ostend, Belgium, describing a plan to acquire Cuba from Spain. The document declared that “Cuba is as necessary to the North American republic as any of its present members, and that it belongs naturally to that great family of states of which the Union is the Providential Nursery. The aggressively worded document, and Soulé’s advocacy of slavery, caused outrage among Northerners who felt it was a Southern attempt to extend slavery. American free-soilers, just recently stirred with the Fugitive Slave Law passed as part of the Compromise of 1850, decried the “manifesto of brigands.” Thus the American scheme to capture Cuba fizzled.

Meeting in a Ripon, Wisconsin Congregational Church on February 28, 1854 some thirty opponents of the Nebraska Act called for the organization of a new political party and suggested that Republican would be the most appropriate name. The radicals also took a leading role in the creation of the Republican Party in many northern states during the summer of 1854 . While conservatives and many moderates were content merely to call for the restoration of the Missouri Compromise or a prohibition of slavery extension, the radicals insisted that no further political compromise with slavery was possible.

In the following years, this anti-slavery party would gain many followers. By 1856 the Republicans had elected a Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives and placed a candidate in the election for president. In the Election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln would become inaugurated as a member of the Republican party, defeating John Breckinridge, Stephen Douglas, and John Bell of the Southern Democratic Party, Northern Democratic Party, and Constitutional Union respectively.

Dred Scott was an American slave who was taken first to Illinois, a free state, and then to Minnesota, a free territory, for an extended period of time, and then back to the slave state of Missouri. After his original master died, he sued for his freedom. He initially won his freedom from a Missouri lower court, but the decision was reversed by the Missouri Supreme Court and remanded to the trial court. Simultaneously, Scott had filed suit in federal court, where, after prevailing on the issue of his status as a citizen of Missouri, he lost a trial by jury. Scott appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which used the case to fundamentally change the legal balance of power in favor of slaveholders.

The Court ruled that: 1. No Negroes, not even free Negroes, could ever become citizens of the United States. They were “beings of an inferior order” not included in the phrase “all men” in the Declaration of Independence nor afforded any rights by the Constitution. 2. The exclusion of slavery from a U.S. territory in the Missouri Compromise was an unconstitutional deprivation of property (Negro slaves) without due process prohibited by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. 3. Dred Scott was not free, because Missouri law alone applied after he returned there.

The decision was a culmination of what many at that time considered was a push to expand slavery. The expansion of the territories and resulting admission of new states meant that the longstanding Missouri Compromise would cause the loss of political power in the South as all new states would be admitted as free states. Thus, Democratic party politicians sought repeal of the Missouri Compromise and were finally successful in 1854 with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which naturally ended the “compromise.” Overall the reaction to the decision from opponents of slavery was fierce.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century (and the second best-selling book of the century after the Bible) and is credited with both helping to start the American Civil War and helping to fuel the abolitionist cause in the United States. This era also marked a dramatic increase in congressional representation for free states. Compared to the overall equality of representation in senate and minor favoring of free states in the House during 1813, an 1860 summation exhibits a vast tip in the scale for free states over slave states. An unfair congress meant anger and conflict in the unaffiliated south, as well as future secession.

At the advent of the mid-1800s, the Union faced perilous difficulties that seemed only to be solvable by war. By 1861, Civil catastrophe was inevitable, and the differences that initially split the nation soon engulfed it. Conflicts including the Mexican War, the Wilmont Provisio, the growth of the Republican Party, the Dred Scott Decision, the Brooks-Sumner Incident, the Anthony Burns Incident, the Ostend Manifesto, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and unbalanced congressional representation contributed to national dispute and eventual dissemination of the state.

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