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Liberty Challenged in the 19th-Century America Essay

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Updated: Jul 4th, 2021

One of the most crucial topics in the historical development of the United States is slavery. The subject of slavery fostered long-term tensions between slave owners, who benefitted from slavery, and slavery opposition, who promoted human rights. The political division caused by slavery is regarded by many people as the primary cause of the Civil War that shaped the future of the United States (PBS). As the paper will show, slavery indeed had a significant effect on the development of the United States. One of the most important impacts of the issue of slavery was that it showed the inefficiency of the American government, ultimately leading to the Civil War.

The Three-Fifths Compromise was among the main pieces of legislation that impacted the political climate in America surrounding the issue of slavery. It posed that three of every five slaves should be counted as people in evaluating the states’ total population. Due to this legislation, the Southern states were disproportionately represented in American politics. This meant that they could have a more significant influence on politics, presidency, and legislative decisions than the Northern states. As a result, the legislation shaped political decision-making in America in the upcoming years.

Another important part of legislation related to the problem of slavery was the Missouri Compromise of 1820. It enabled the expansion of slavery in Missouri while declaring Maine a free state. The Missouri Compromise provided a legislative basis for the expansion of slavery in the Western territories, which was beneficial for the Southern slave owners. The legislation also supported the prolongation of slavery debates in the American government (“Effects of the Compromise”). Hence, it led to other pieces of legislation that contributed to political tensions in 19th century America.

The Compromise of 1850 was also instrumental in the development of slavery as a political issue. This legislation supported slavery through the Fugitive Slave Law, which required slaves who fled to free states to be returned to their masters in slave states. It also restricted the rights of black people to legal defense, so even freed slaves could not tell their story and had to be returned to their masters based on white people’s suspicions. This impaired the position of black people throughout the country, both in free states and in slave states.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was one of the last turning points before the Civil war. The Act established popular sovereignty as a way of deciding the fate of territories in Kansas and Nebraska as a slave or free territories. The Act was probably one of the most important legal documents in the historical development of the United Staes. On the one hand, this piece of legislation resulted in the immediate escalation of tensions in America, leading to the events of Bleeding Kansas. On the other hand, the Act showed the futility of the government’s efforts to resolve the issue of slavery through politics and showed the inefficiency of the government. As a result of the Act, slavery gained even more prominence in politics and society, leading to increased social and political division.

Shortly after the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision also had an impact on the social and political problem of slavery. The decision provided a judicial basis for the rejection of people of African ancestry as the citizens of the United States and impaired their prospective lives in the country. As a result, it caused the outrage of the Northern states and raised support for Abraham Lincoln as the future president of the United States (PBS Online). Hence, the Dred Scott Decision was instrumental in starting the chain of events that led to the South’s secession and the Civil War.

One of the primary reasons as to why slavery was such a prominent issue was because it was and is incompatible with American political and economic systems. First of all, the American political system is based on the Constitution, which established the importance of people’s freedom. This makes slavery incompatible with the political ideology that contributed to the creation of America as a separate nation. Secondly, despite the short-term economic benefits of slavery, it hindered the economic development of the Southern states. According to Clegg, industrialization was driven by the use of paid labor rather than cheap slave labor because this prompted the development of labor-saving technologies (Clegg 298). Thirdly, slavery promoted economic inequality, thus restricting the capacity of a significant share of the population in business and trade. This was incompatible with the economic system of the United States, which required the growth of commerce and consumerism in order to develop further.

Based on the analysis and examples provided in the paper, there were three primary drivers that contributed to the Civil War. Long-standing tensions between the Northern and Southern states on the issue of slavery and the inefficiency of compromises caused the escalation of violence. The legislations described above also showed the inadequacy of the political approaches applied in the United States. It was clear that a prominent solution was needed since numerous political compromises failed. Finally, the outrage following the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott decision contributed to violence and prompted the beginning of the Civil War.

Works Cited

Clegg, John J. “Capitalism and Slavery.” Critical Historical Studies, vol. 2, no. 2, 2015, pp. 281-304.

Young American Republic. 2016. Web.

PBS. ““. PBS History Detectives. 2014. Web.

PBS Online. “PBS Resource Bank. n.d. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Liberty Challenged in the 19th-Century America'. 4 July.

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