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Major Sectional Conflicts During 19th Century

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During the 19th century sectional conflicts in the United States between the north and south intensified eventually leading to the American Civil (1861-65). The major sectional conflicts revolved around politics and economics and slavery.

Political and economic factors played a major role in the secession of the southern states and the start of the Civil War. In the mid-19th century, there were vast economic differences between the Northern and Southern portions of the U.S.. The South had an economy that was based on farming and depended on the labor of black slaves while the North was more industrial, and did not rely on slave labor. By the mid 1800's the North had gained a majority in Congress due to its increased population resulting from high rates of immigration. This situation led to policy differences between the North and South, in particular over taxation. Since the Northern States now had a majority in the House, the Southern states were not able to prevent the passing of new taxes that often benefited Northern manufacturers while hurting the Southern plantation owners. One such tax was the1828 tariff that came to be known as the "Tariff of Abominations".

The "Tariff of Abominations" intended to protect the Northern manufacturers by keeping the British from flooding the American markets with foreign goods by making them more expensive. Though this benefited the North it hurt the South in two ways: it made needed manufactured goods more expensive for Southerners to buy, and also resulted in Britain reducing its import of Southern cotton when the market for British products shrank. Legislation such as this outraged the South and led to South Carolina passing an Ordinance of Nullification, in 1832, in which they said they had the right to suspend any federal law in their territory that they felt was not in their best interests. This political/economic conflict between the North and South was known as the Nullification Crisis.

Another major sectional conflict between the North and South was slavery. The South insisted that slavery was vital to its economy; while many people in the North felt slavery was a horrible institution and were dedicated to ending it throughout the country. Up until the late 1850s, the North and South had largely avoided violent confrontations over slavery through negotiations such as the Missouri Compromise in 1820, which resulted from the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and the Compromise of 1850, which resulted from the acquisition of Texas to the United States as a slave state. But with the debate over the expansion of slavery into new territories becoming more heated the issue would inevitably to come to a head. It did so in 1854 as a result of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, written by Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, which repealed the Missouri Compromise, divided the land west of Missouri into two territories, Kansas and Nebraska, and called for popular sovereignty in the new territories so that residents would decide for themselves whether slavery would be legal or not. This outraged antislavery activists who felt that if the Missouri Compromise were still in effect slavery would have been illegal in both territories. The Passing of the bill resulted in violence when both pro-slavery and antislavery activists went to Kansas to try and sway the vote in their favor. The meeting of these two opposing groups came to be known as "Bloody Kansas," because of the resulting violence that subsequently gripped the territory. As a result of the violence, tensions between the North and South reached there highest ever. Tensions between the North and South became even worse on March 6, 1857 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the Dred Scott case. The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roger Taney, ruled that Congress did not have the right to prohibit slavery in the western territories. This outraged Northern abolitionist who saw the ruling as a step backward in their attempts to rid the nation of slavery.

The final tipping point in the sectional crisis between the North and South was the election of Abraham Lincoln on November 6, 1860. Although Lincoln claimed to be more interested in preserving a strong union than in ending slavery, the South predicted that his election would lead to an attempt to abolish slavery nationwide. Shortly after his election South Carolina seceded from the Union and was followed by ten other Southern states including Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. This marked the begging of the American Civil War.

After the end of The American Civil War (1861-65) with the Union emerging victorious over the Confederate south about 620,000 Americans had died and roughly four million black slaves had been liberated. The period following the end of the civil war in which the Confederate states were reintegrated into the Union is know as Reconstruction (1865-77). There were three major issues involving the reconstruction; what were the terms under which the defeated Confederate states should be allowed to reenter the Union, Was the president or the Congress responsible for Reconstruction, who should be punished for the rebellion, and to what degree should the national government assist the newly freed slaves.

After President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865 Andrew Johnson became president and adopted Lincolns Reconstruction policies. He believed that the war-torn South had already been punished enough, and thus took a fairly lenient approach to Reconstruction. Johnson, like Lincoln, believed that the sooner the nation healed its wounds and moved forward, the better off everyone would be. He followed Lincolns plan to appoint governors for the Southern states to prepare them for reentry to the Union, and to pardon confederates who had not been high-ranking soldiers during the war. Also like Lincoln, Johnson left the issue of how to deal with the newly freed slaves up to the state governments; he did not believe the federal government had the right to force states to give all freedmen equal rights. He did though require the Southern states to ratify the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery, in order to rejoin the Union. Johnson's relaxed approach to Reconstruction angered radical Republican in Congress who differed on how to rebuild the South.

The radical Republicans in Congress felt that Johnson's plans for Reconstruction did not go far enough. Supporters of radical Reconstruction argued for strict policies that would both punish the South for its role in the Civil War and ensure that it would not revert to its pre-war condition. They argued that a strong federal presence in the South was the only way to ensure that blacks' rights were not violated. They pointed to the South's establishment of Black Codes, resistance to ratifying the 14th Amendment and violence against newly freed slaves as showing that the South could not be counted on to ensure black's rights. In particular, supporters justified placing the South under military rule on the grounds that there were no lawful governments in the South. Other supporters justified harsher punishment on the grounds that the Union had defeated the Confederacy, and therefore had the right to set the terms of the peace. They felt that it was necessary for the federal government to treat the South as a conquered enemy to achieve its objectives.

They felt the government had the right to set strict terms for the Confederate states to be readmitted to the Union because they had been defeated in the war. In March 1866, the now radical Republican controlled Congress attempted to pass the Freedmen's Bureau Bill and the Civil Rights Bill, which were designed to protect freed slaves from Southern Black Codes. President Johnson vetoed both bills which solidified the split between Johnson and Congress.


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