Slavery Was the Major Force in the 19th Century American Politics Research Paper

Excerpt from Research Paper :


The so-called peculiar institution of slavery would come to define America in the 19th century, and set the stage for effects that until the current day. It was a critical, destructive error to leave the issue of slavery unresolved at the time of American independence.

Attempts to Reconcile the Slavery Issue

3/5 Compromise

What was the 3/5 Compromise?

Relevance of the 3/5 Compromise

Significance of the 3/5 Compromise for the issue of slavery

Missouri Compromise of 1820

Define (MO as slave state, ME as free state)

Louisiana territory

Significance of the 1820 compromise

3.Compromise of 1850

Define the compromise of 1850

Significance of this compromise iii. Fugitive Slave Act and DC

Shift in power dynamic on the issue

Nebraska-Kansas Act

Define the Nebraska-Kansas Act

Describe the bleeding of Kansas iii. Show how the violence was a precursor to the Civil War

Dred Scot

What was the Dred Scott case?

What was the significance of this decision?

III. Compatibility with Economic Systems

1. Economic system is based on freedom and economic efficiency

2. The political system failed to resolve the tensions that arose from the policy of slavery

3. The constant compromises required to balance Congress and the Electoral College would need to be made with every new state or major change in population

IV. Driving Forces of the Civil War

1. Political Climate

i. Slavery was a major political issue from the beginning, and created tremendous north-south tensions

2. Legal Climate

ii. Dred Scott was a motivating factor, as it illustrated to anti-slavery factions that help would not come from the court system.

3. Southern Intractability

i. Most parts of the world had abolished slavery

ii. The south refused iii. Slavery was a key part of the South's economic strategy

iv. Racism was rampant

4. Value Systems

i. The North and South have different value systems, often incompatible

ii. South values freedom from central government, as that would reduce the power of the large Southern landowners iii. The North sought more government influence

iv. the North was planning to abolish slavery nationwide

5. Economics

i. The South was rural and undeveloped

ii. the North was more industrialized and wealthier iii. Those in power in the South depended on slavery for their wealth and power

iv. Thus, abolition was a threat to Southern power

V. Conclusion


The signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 made official the United States as a nation independent from Britain. This treaty, however, left the question of slavery unresolved, and it would remain so until after the Civil War. That war, which was the defining feature of 19th century American history, would have repercussions that continue in the country to this day. The peculiar institution of slavery was therefore the most critical issue in the United States throughout the 19th century and would come to define the young nation. Leaving the slavery issue unresolved at the time of independence would prove to be a destructive and critical error.

Attempts to Reconcile the Slavery Issue

Beginning in 1787, the first attempts were made to reconcile the issue of slavery. Northern states had already abolished the practice, while southern states remained slave states, and were steadfastly opposed to any attempt to abolish slavery in their jurisdictions. In 1787, it was proposed at the Constitutional Convention that the population of slaves would count as 3/5 of a white person. This was relevant because they were seeking to bring about proportional representation in government, and needed to define the population. The south had sought the 3/5 rule because it was relevant for taxation purposes, as taxes to the central government would be dependent on a state's population. Some argued that only free people should count in a population. With slaves counted, slave states would have more seats in the House of Representatives and greater representation in the Electoral College (, 2015). Thus while this was not an attempt to deal with the issue directly, there was pressure on the southern states to abolish slavery in order to gain more power at the federal level. The compromise allowed them some of this power but without abolishing slavery, and it established that blacks were legally inferior, a principle that would be found in several future laws.

In 1820, there was further need to preserve the balance of power between slave states and non-slave states. The Missouri Compromise brought in Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. Slavery was then prohibited slavery in the northern part of the Louisiana territory, other than Missouri (Library of Congress, 2015). This compromise showed that slavery was a defining issue that divided the country and that there was a need for compromise at high levels in order to keep the union together.

A further crisis occurred in 1850, and another compromise was needed. California sought to enter the union, as a free state, something that would upset the balance between free and slave states in the union. Once again, the country was divided in a way that could not easily be resolved -- slave states insisted on maintaining equal power in government. There were amendments made to the Fugitive Slave Act, the slave trade in Washington, DC was abolished and California was allowed to enter the union as part of this compromise. This compromise showed that the north had more power at this point, but still needed to negotiate with the south on this matter in order to maintain the stability of the union.

The Nebraska --Kansas Act repealed the Missouri Compromise, and allowed white settlers to determine whether their territories would be slave states or not. One outcome was that both sides flooded into Kansas to vote on whether that state would be a slave state or not -- the issue was powerful enough to spur such action and again continued to divide the country. The Kansas campaigning would turn violent, and is sometimes thought of as a prelude to the civil war, this being at the time an unusual instance of mass violence on the issue of slavery (Library of Congress, 2015, 2).

The Dred Scott case was a landmark case before the U.S. Supreme Court, and was decided in 1857. Dred Scott sued for his freedom, on the grounds that he and his family had lived in states were slavery was illegal. His bid was denied, and he was thus denied his freedom. The decision contributed significantly to the acrimonious climate that was brewing between slave states and free states, and is typically seen as an antecedent to the Civil War.

Compatibility with Economic and Political Systems

America's economic system and slavery were never going to be compatible. The reality is that the U.S. economic system is predicated on freedom, and that concept is entirely incompatible with slavery, on any level. When people cannot make their own choices, economic inefficiency typically follows, because people are not doing the jobs at which they are most useful. Slavery is also incompatible with the political system, as evidenced by the Civil War. There were tensions initially when the country was founded, and successive generations failed to resolve those tensions. Constant compromise would have been required to maintain the balance between slave and free states in the Electoral College and in the House. Further, this is simply a fundamental issue on which no compromise would be reasonable or sustainable. This proved to be the case, as the compromises that were put in place were unsustainable and unable to avoid war.

Driving Forces

There were several driving forces behind the Civil War. One of these was the political climate around his divisive issue. The Bleeding of Kansas was not the first conflict, but it was the first one with routine violence. The second driving force was Dred Scott, which motivated the north because clearly the Supreme Court was not going to help address the issue of slavery. The inability of the legal system or any political compromise to resolve the issue was clearly starting to bring about substantial dissatisfaction among a large number of people in the country, to the point where it was starting to bubble over into violence.

The third driving force was southern intractability on this issue; most other places in the world had abolished slavery by 1850. Slavery had underpinned the development of the Americas and was a key element in the expansion of European power during this age in general. It was difficult, if not impossible to decouple slavery from the rampant racism of the time, and the fact that such racism was normative. There is little doubt that the South felt emboldened in its position, despite legal change elsewhere in the world, because the same attitudes had prevailed for centuries and still persisted at the time (Foner, 1974).

The fourth driving force for the Civil War was the difference in the value systems between the north and south. Aside from slavery, the South in general valued its freedom and because of the slavery issue valued the…

Sources Used in Document:


Foner, E. (1974). The causes of the American Civil War: recent interpretations and new directions. Civil War History. Vol. 20 (3) 197-214. (2015). What was the three-fifths compromise? Retrieved November 11, 2015 from

Library of Congress (2015). Primary documents in American history. Library of Congress. Retrieved November 11, 2015 from

Library of Congress (2015, 2). Kansas-Nebraska Act. Library of Congress. Retrieved November 11, 2015 from

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