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Mexican Cession

The Mexican Cession was the vast Western territory ceded to the United States by virtue of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

In the post-Mexican War period, an overarching political question was how slavery would apply to the new Mexican Cession territories.


How did moderate Southerners view the Mexican Cession territories?

Most moderate Southerners simply favored extending the Missouri Compromise line of 36°30' westward, and allowing slavery below the line.

A few "fire-eaters" (pro-slavery radicals) did propose opening the entirety of the Mexican Cession to slavery.


Free Soilers wanted to ban all blacks from the Mexican Cession. Why?

With their slogan of "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men," Free Soilers hoped to keep the Mexican Cession free of blacks so that whites could provide the labor force on small farms, known as homesteads, sold to them by the federal government.


The Free Soil Party ran former President Martin Van Buren as their candidate in the 1848 presidential election. From whom did the Free Soil Party draw its support?

Support for the Free Soil Party came from two groups:

  • Conscience Whigs, so called because they believed an extension of slavery violated their conscience
  • Antislavery Democrats, known as "barnburners," because it was feared that their defection from the Democratic ranks would hinder the Democratic Party's chances in the 1848 election, which it did


The Democrats ran Lewis Cass of Michigan for President in 1848. How did Cass propose that slavery be dealt with in the Mexican Cession?

In an effort to arrive at a compromise, Cass proposed popular sovereignty in states formed from the Mexican Cession, allowing the settlers themselves to decide whether or not to allow slavery.


How did the Whig Party address slavery in the Mexican Cession during the 1848 election?

They ignored the issue. A Louisiana plantation owner and hero of the Mexican War, Zachary Taylor was reputedly pro-slavery, but had never expressed himself publicly on the issue.

Allowing voters to believe what they wanted about Taylor worked, and he was elected President when Free Soilers carried enough votes from the Democrats in Pennsylvania and New York to allow him to win those states.


Why was California's request for admission to the Union as a free state in 1849 such a divisive issue?

California's admission as a free state would upset the balance of power in the Senate, which had an equal number of Senators from free states and slave states.

Matters became even more heated when President Taylor proposed admitting New Mexico as a free state at the same time.


In an effort to resolve the question of slavery in the Mexican Cession, Henry Clay proposed the Compromise of 1850. What were the key components to the Compromise?

Under the Compromise of 1850:

  1. California would be admitted as a free state
  2. Slavery would continue to be legal in Washington, D.C., but slave trading would be banned
  3. Texas would surrender its claims to certain parts of the New Mexico territory
  4. Popular sovereignty would decide the slavery issue in the Mexican Cession
  5. A Fugitive Slave Act would require the federal government to help return escaped slaves to their masters


Proposed by Henry Clay, himself a longstanding Senator of great repute, the Compromise of 1850 saw legendary Senators John C. Calhoun and Daniel Webster give their final Congressional speeches. How did Calhoun and Webster feel about the Compromise of 1850?

John C. Calhoun, South Carolina's legendary Senator, condemned the Compromise as destroying the precious balance in the Senate and threatening the Union itself.

Daniel Webster, athough elected with the help of Massachusetts abolitionists, supported the Compromise despite its endorsement of popular sovereignty and the Fugitive Slave Act, believing the Compromise would preserve the Union.


Against the longstanding advice of his political advisor Thurlow Weed, what argument did Senator William Seward adopt in speaking against the Compromise?

Seward, who was a Whig like Henry Clay, spoke against the Compromise as being a violation of a "higher law than the Constitution."  Seward argued that slavery was immoral regardless of what the Constitution said, and his speech marked him as a radical abolitionist.


What providential event ensured the passage of the Compromise of 1850?

On July 9, 1850, President Taylor, who had been opposed to the Compromise, died. Millard Fillmore, his Vice President, assumed the office, and signed each piece of the Compromise as it came before him.

According to legend, Taylor died from indigestion caused from drinking cold milk and eating cherries. Newspapers listed his cause of death as "bilious diarrhea."


What was Stephen Douglas's role in the Compromise of 1850?

With the Congress unable to agree to the Compromise as a whole, Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois engineered coalitions that passed individual parts of the Compromise, and presented them to President Fillmore for signature.

Douglas, known as the Little Giant, earned a reputation as a compromising Northerner who could find common ground with the South.


What were the key terms of the Fugitive Slave Law (1850)?

Designed to bring comfort to the South by placing the return of escaped slaves to their masters in the hands of the federal government, the Fugitive Slave Law:

  1. empowered special commissioners to detain suspected slaves
  2. held trials in federal -- rather than state -- court to determine the status of purported slaves
  3. denied juries in trials to determine slave status

In addition, those caught hiding slaves were subject to severe fines and penalties.


Harriet Beecher Stowe's book _________ is credited with bringing the attention of the North to the injustices of slavery.

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Stowe's work illustrated the cruelties of plantation life and the harsh workings of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. Banned in the South, Stowe's work convinced many Northerners of slavery's intrinsic evil.


How did intellectuals in the South respond to Northern critiques of slavery?

Most Southerners argued slavery was Biblically based. 

Hoping to provide further intellectual support for the Peculiar Institution, books such as Sociology of the South, written by George Fitzhugh and published in 1854, contended that slaves were better treated than laborers in Northern factories.


How did the Whigs and Democrats address slavery in the 1852 presidential election?

Neither side actively touched the issue, or any issues at all for that matter. The contest devolved into a personality contest, in which Franklin Pierce, the Democratic candidate, trounced Winfield Scott. Pierce's vice presidential nominee, William R. King, did note to followers that Pierce was a "doughface," a Northerner with Southern sympathies.

The 1852 election was the last time the Whig Party fielded a presidential candidate. By 1856, the party had been torn apart by the slavery issue.


In 1854, Stephen A. Douglas proposed a bill organizing the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. What was the ostensible purpose of Douglas' Bill?

The bill was ostensibly designed to open up the territories so that a midwestern transcontinental railroad could begin building towards California. To make the new road profitable, it needed customers along its lines. Customers meant settlers, and for settlers to own land, the territory needed to be organized.

Douglas' bill, which was passed into law as the Kansas-Nebraska Act, allowed the two new states to determine for themselves whether they would be slave states or free states.


How did Stephen Douglas propose to resolve the issue of slavery in the Kansas and Nebraska Territories?

Douglas added a popular sovereignty provision to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. He hoped that by allowing the new territories to vote themselves, he would not need to take a position on slavery and hinder his chances to become President.


What were the effects within Kansas of the popular sovereignty bill?

From Missouri and the Southern states, pro-slavery men arrived, determined to make the state a slave state. They were countered by immigrants from the North, determined to halt slavery's spread.

Organizations such as the New England Emigrant Aid Society funded anti-slavery immigration into the territory. The state quickly turned violent, earning the state the sobriquet "Bleeding Kansas."


What were the Lecompton Constitution and the Topeka Constitution?

Although anti-slavery settlers outnumbered their pro-slavery opponents, a group of pro-slavery immigrants quickly organized a state constitutional convention in Lecompton, Kansas, and drafted a Lecompton Constitution endorsing slavery. A copy was dispatched to Congress for approval.

Anti-slavery settlers did much the same thing at Topeka, but their Topeka Constitution barred slavery in the newly organized terrritory.


In October, 1856, a force of 800 pro-slavery forces attacked ________, Kansas.


Lawrence, Kansas was the headquarters of a number of anti-slavery newspapers. The attackers threw the newspaper presses into the Kansas River, and for good measure burned the local hotel.


In revenge for the pro-slavery attack on Lawrence, rabid abolitionist John Brown led an attack on pro-slavery forces located at __________ _________ .

Pottawatomie Creek

In what became known as the Pottawatomie Massacre, John Brown's forces slaughtered 5 pro-slavery men with broad swords.


How did Franklin Pierce react to the rising tide of violence in Kansas?

Pierce did nothing, hoping that by staying on the sideline, he could secure the Democratic Party's nomination for a second term. The nomination went to James Buchanan instead of the ineffectual Pierce.


What was Representative Preston Brooks's response to Charles Sumner's speech on the floor of the Senate, "The Crimes Against Kansas."

Convinced that Sumner's anti-slavery speech impunged the honor of Brooks's uncle, South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler (who was absent), Brooks stormed the floor of the Senate and beat Sumner fiercely with a cane.

Although censured by the Congress, admirers throughout the South sent Brooks canes. Sumner never fully recovered, and many Congressmen took to carrying knives and pistols for self-protection.


The 1856 presidential election featured a contest between which three candidates?

The three candidates were:
  1. James Buchanan, Democratic Party
  2. John C. Fremont, Republican Party
  3. Millard Filmore, Know-Nothing Party

Both the Know-Nothing and Republican Parties were regional parties headquartered in the North, leaving the Democratic Party as the only national party.


Who were the Know-Nothings?

With a strong presence in New York City and the Border States, the American Party, commonly known as the Know-Nothings, was a nativist party, with membership limited to Protestants of British-American ancestry. The Know-Nothings sought to bar further immigration.

The nickname "Know-Nothing" came from the party's secrecy; members were ordered to respond "I know nothing" when questioned about party activities.


Who made up the membership of the new Republican Party?

The Republican Party was a hodgepodge of antislavery Whigs seeking a political home, disaffected Democrats outraged over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and remnants of the Free-Soil Party.


What was the Republican Party's position on slavery in the 1856 presidential election?

Although opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Fugitive Slave Act (1850), the Republicans did not seek to end slavery where it currently existed, but did seek to bar it from expanding further into the new territories.


Why did the Democratic Party nominate James Buchanan in 1856?

With both Franklin Pierce and Stephen Douglas tied to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Democrats settled on Buchanan primarily because he had been out of the country during the Kansas-Nebraska crisis, serving as the American Ambassador to Great Britain. He was one of the few major political figures not to have taken a known position on the issue, which gave him nationwide appeal.


What were the consequences of the election of 1856?

At its surface, the election of 1856 elevated James Buchanan to President.

More important, however, Fremont carried 11 of the 16 Northern states. With the North's population growth, it was becoming increasingly clear that a Republican candidate could win the Presidency without winning a single Southern state, a fact which terrified the South and signaled great concern for the 1860 election.