When the Constitution of the United States was first created in 1787, its purpose was to unify our country. However, by 1850, the United States had become ’source of sectional discord and tension and ultimately contributed to the failure of the union it had created.’ What happened during the 63 years after it was first established to ‘contribute to the failure of the union it had created?’ One must look at what the Constitution promoted to make the country unified and what it did to make it disunified. Compromises such as 3/5, the Missouri, and the tariff of 1850 all helped to unify and shape our country. However, compromises such as the Fugitive Slave Law, Popular Sovereignty, and the slave trade all led to disunify our country. The large populous states naturally wanted the number of representatives in the new Congress to be based on population. The Virginia Plan provided that there would be two houses of Congress and that in each one representation would be based on population. Like many other ideas that have made history, it was remarkably simple. Why not divide the Congress into two houses? In one house (the Senate) each state, regardless of population, would have the same number of representatives. In the other house (the House of Representatives) each member would represent the same number of people. ‘Quite appropriately this came to be called the Great Compromise. Other major compromises came on slavery and on the control of commerce. The southern states, where the slaves were really treated as property, still wanted the slaves counted as people for the purposes of representation in the New House of Representatives. Some delegates argued that if one kind of property was counted for representation, other kinds should be too. This issue was resolved when slavery and taxation were linked. It was assumed that Congress would raise money by levying direct taxes on the basis of population. That would mean that if all slaves were counted for the purposes of representation, then all slaves would be counted for taxation. Southerners decided that they were willing to lower demands. By the three-fifths compromise it was agreed that three fifths of the number of slaves would be counted both for representation and for levying direct taxes. It unified the nation in a way because it allowed the slaves to vote for government. The 3/5 Compromise helped unify our country because it allowed the slaves and white men to come together and vote. Though they only counted as 3/5 of a person, it was something. It would be years the first time in history that slaves would be able to vote for government officials. One sectional interest in America was more sensitive and more explosive than all of the others, slavery. Unlike other economic issues, slavery was a great moral problem. In the days of the Founding Fathers, people presumed that slavery would eventually die out. The price of tobacco was so low that many plantation owners were finding the use and care of slaves unprofitable. But the cotton gin, invented by Eli Whitney, soon changed their perspectives on slaves. Plantations would prosper if only they could find the workers to work, to plant, to cultivate, and to “gin” the cotton. Black slaves seemed the obvious labor supply, and slavery began to seem “necessary” for southern prosperity. At the same time planters were eager to get more land and began moving westward. Over 60,000 settlers had crossed the Mississippi and into the Missouri River. St. Louis was a bustling city and the center of western fur trade. Although most of the settlers in Missouri were from the states north of Ohio, where slavery was prohibited, there were some from slaveholding states. They had brought with them 10,000 slaves. When Missouri requested to be allowed to enter the Union, it opened up a heated debate whether or not the expansion of slavery would be allowed there. It was all a matter of power. If Missouri came in as a slave state, it would tip the political balance in the South’s favor. Missouri was the first part of the Louisiana Purchase to apply for statehood. When the request came to enter the Union, there was an effort to keep an even balance among free and slave holding states; 11 free and 11 slave. This meant that there was an even vote in the Senate. It also meant that there was no state to “match” Missouri to make the balance even. In 1820, Congress sat down and devised a plan, the Missouri Compromise. Missouri was added as a slave state, while Maine became a free state. At the same time the law drew a line through all the rest of the lands of the Louisiana Purchase excluding slavery “forever” from north parallel of 36*30′ The Missouri Compromise was nothing more than a truce that announced the opening of a fight to the finish. The Missouri Compromise preserved sectional balance for over 30 thirty years and provided time for the nation to mature. Nevertheless, if an era of good feelings existed, it was badly damaged by the storm of sectional controversy over Missouri. Americans were torn between feelings of nationalism on the one hand and feelings of sectionalism (loyalty to one’s own region) on the other. Therefore the Missouri Compromise helped to unify our country though it was a slave state. The gold rush and the influx of about 10,000 settlers into California created the need for law and order in the West. In 1849, Californians a constitution for their new state- a constitution that banned slavery. Even though President Taylor was a slaveholder himself, he supported the immediate admission of both California and New Mexico, as free states. Some southerner extremists met in Nashville in 1850 to discuss secession. Henry Clay had a proposal for solving this political crisis. 1. Admit California to the Union as a free state. 2. Adopt a Fugitive Slave Law and enforce it rigorously 3. Ban the slave trade in the District of Columbia 4. Give the land in dispute between Texas and New Mexico territory to the new territories in return for the federal government assuming Texas’ public debt of $10 million. 5. Divide the remainder of the Mexican Cession into two territories: Utah and New Mexico- and allow settlers in these territories to decide the slavery issue by majority vote or popular sovereignty. The passage of the Compromise of 1850 bought time for the nation. Because California was admitted as a free state, the compromise added to the North’s political power, and the political debate deepened the commitment of many northerners to saving the Union from secession. On the other hand, parts of the compromise became sources of controversy, especially the new Fugitive Slave Law and the provision for popular sovereignty. By the 1850’s the Constitution had become a source of sectional discord and tension, contributed to the failure of the union, and no longer was an instrument of national unity. Although the compromises helped to solve the problem of the time, however they were delaying the inevitable and these helped lead to the Civil War
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 kept tempers hot in the North. It provided that state and city authorities and even plain citizens should assist in the capture and return of runaway slaves. It was the passage of strict fugitive slave law that persuaded many southerners to accept the loss of California to the abolitionists and Free Soilers. The law’s chief purpose was to track down runaway slaves who had escaped to a northern state, capture them, and return them to their southern owner. State after state passed Personal Liberty Laws. These forbade state officials or private citizens to assist federal courts in enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act. The law also tried to guarantee protection and a fair trial to runaways. Pierce had just become President of the United States and hoped that no sectional ambition or radical excitement might again “threaten the durability of our institutions or obscure the light of our prosperity.”(p.257) Any captured person who claimed to be a free black and not a runaway slave was denied the right to trial by jury. Citizens who attempted to hide a runaway or obstruct enforcement of the law were subject to heavy penalties. In document D, it was said that the F.S.L. is a statue which enacts the crime of kidnapping, a crime on one footing with arson and murder. A man’s right to liberty is an inalienable as his right to life… its a high crime and misdemeanor, punishable with fine and imprisonment to resist the reenslaving a man on the coast of America.’ In the flyer created by an abolitionist, it pointed out that man was able to capture free or runaway slaves’ to be on the lookout. This flyer had no right to allow whites to kidnap a man due to the color of his skin, free or runaway. Transcendentalists such as Emerson and Thoreau, both supported a variety of reforms, especially the antislavery movement. Emerson’s essays argued for self-reliance, independent thinking and the primacy of spiritual, matters over material ones. Thoreau used observations of nature to discover essential truths about life and the universe. The Fugitive Slave Law is definitely a reason why the Constitution ended up in national discord. It was in reaction to the Fugitive Slave Law that made the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe so popular and made Pierce’s ‘hope’ unlikely. In her book she tried to portray the entire range experiences a slave could have, from good owners to bad, from being bought and sold to attempts to escape to freedom. Southerners condemned the “untruths” in the novel and looked upon it one more proof of the North’s incurable prejudice against the South’s way of life.” Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Fugitive Slave Law both led to national discord in the Constitution. Due to the proposal of extending the Missouri Compromise line, many alternatives were drawn up against doing so. Lewis Cass, a Democratic Senator, proposed a Compromise solution that soon won considerable support from both moderate northerners and moderate southerners. Instead of Congress determining whether to allow slavery in a new western territory or state, Cass suggested that the matter be determined by a vote of the people who settled the territory. Cass’ approach to the problem was known as popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty being one of the alternatives, ‘relieved Congress of the responsibility of addressing the slavery issue by passing it on to territorial governments, popular sovereignty won support from many northern Democrats who otherwise might have converted to free soil.’ Popular sovereignty didn’t really specify at what point the people of a territory could legalize or prohibit slavery. It also did not say how much authority territorial governments could exercise in regulating slavery. Popular sovereignty held the greatest possibility for maintaining the unity of the Democratic Party and national unity on the slavery issue. With the Democrats firmly in control of national policy both in control of national policy both in the White House and in Congress, a new law was passed that would have disastrous consequences. A bill was proposed that the Nebraska Territory to be divided into the Kansas territory and Nebraska territory and the settlers there to be free to decide whether or not to allow slavery. These territories however were located north of the 36* 30′ line and gave southern slave owners an opportunity that had previously been closed to them by the Missouri Compromise. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed and the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The overriding purpose was to express opposition to the spread of slavery in territories. ‘In 1856 the case of Dred Scott, a slave suing for is freedom, reached the Supreme Court.’ Scott, had lived for a period of time in the free state of Illinois and the Wisconsin territory, where the Northwest Ordinance and the Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery. Scott claimed that his residence was in a free state and a free territory had made him a free man. The majority of the Court decided against Scott claiming that 1. Scott had no right to sue in a federal court because the Framers of the Constitution did not intend people of African American decent to be U.S. citizens. 2. Congress did not have the power to deprive any person of property without due process of the law; and, if slaves were a form of property, then Congress could not exclude slavery from any federal territory. A lot of Southerner Democrats were thrilled with the Courts ruling. Republicans denounced the Dread Scott decision of the “greatest crime in the annals of the republic.” Though the Dred Scott decision was considered a ‘crime in the annals of the republic,’ many wondered if Buchanan had planned the Dred Scott Decision. After all it did occur right after he was inaugurated into office. The Dred Scott Decision helped disunify the country because it was just the beginning of the slavery questions that would go on for years to come .The decision increased northerners suspicions of a slave powered conspiracy and ‘induced’ thousands of former Democrats to vote Republican. The Dred Scott Decision helped lead to disunify the country and the Constitution as well did popular sovereignty.
Presidents in the early years did not have great qualities of leadership nor did they receive high standings from others. When elected President, ‘Millard Fillmore gladly supported the Compromise of 1850 which had been drafted by Henry Clay.’ However, when Fillmore decided to try and enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, he received nothing but criticism from northern abolitionists. Franklin Pierce, our country’s 17th president, was dominated by southerners such as Jefferson Davis and William Marcy, both of whom hoped to maneuver Pierce into obtaining new land, to create new slave states. Another one of our country’s early Presidents was James Buchanan rejoiced because he ‘believed that the Dred Scott decision would end the problem of slavery forever.’ He believed that it was ‘illegal for the South to secede but told northerners he would not use force to make the South stay in the Union since the Constitution did not give him that power.’ It’s no wonder why these 3 presidents were rated so lowly. The 58 historians surveyed by C-SPAN, assessed the 41 men who have served in the Oval Office on 10 qualities of presidential leadership, from managing the economy to providing moral authorities. They rated Fillmore 35th, Pierce 39th, and Buchanan dead last at 41. President Lincoln did however receive the highest rating, #1. In a speech Lincoln gave to Congress in 1861 he said ‘the sophism itself is, that any state of the Union may, consistently with the national Constitution, and therefore lawfully, and peacefully, withdraw from the Union, without the consent of the Union, or any other state.’ Lincoln continues to say that ‘ having never been States, either in substance, or in mane, outside of the Union, whence this magical omnipotence of the State’s Rights, asserting a claim of power to lawfully destroy the Union itself.’ Lincoln saw it himself that the Union would be destroyed if it continued to go on the way it did. It’s no wonder why Lincoln received the high rating he did.
By the 1850’s the Constitution had become a source of sectional discord and tension, contributed to the failure of the union, and no longer was an instrument of national unity. Although the compromises helped solve the problems of the time, however, they were delaying the inevitable and these helped lead to the Civil War. Therefore, there were many leading key factors that helped to the “national and sectional” discord in our Constitution. These compromises had both its ups and downs but still managed to contribute to the downfall of the Constitution. By the three-fifths compromise it was agreed that three fifths of the number of slaves would be counted for representation and for levying direct taxes. It unified the nation in a way because it allowed the slaves to vote. The Missouri Compromise was nothing more than a truce that announced the opening of fight to the finish. The Missouri Compromise preserved sectional balance for over 30 years and provided time for the nation to mature. The Fugitive Slave Law however, helped lead to the disunification of both the country and the Constitution. The F.S.L. stated that any captured person who claimed to be a free black and not a runaway slave was denied the right to trial by jury. Popular Sovereignty held the greatest possibility maintaining the unity of the Democratic Party and national unity, but that like a lot of other things was proven to be wrong. Buchanan presumably premeditated the Dred Scott Decision but no one really proved it. In conclusion, like stated in the thesis, there were many factors that led to the nation’s sectional discord and the unity within the nation. Some of which are still around today but work better.