Were Blundering Politicians The Main Political Cause
Of The American Civil War? Essay, Research Paper
Discuss the view that the main political cause of the American civil war was the leadership failings of a ?blundering generation?
It is felt by many that the main cause of the American civil war was the failings of politicians such as Stephen Douglas, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan. They are considered to have made a series of political blunders, such as Douglas?s handling of the Kansas – Nebraska Act and the way in which Buchanan alienated the North. However it could be said that this was not the root cause of the war, but rather the underlying problem of slavery.
Stephen Douglas created a number of problems when he tried pass the Kansas – Nebraska Bill, although Northerners were keen to see Nebraska developed, Southerners were less enthusiastic, due to the fact that it lay north of latitude 36 30. and by the terms of the Missouri compromise all new states would eventually enter the Union as free states. Douglas knew he needed Southern support to enable the bill to be passed in congress, this meant he would have to change the bill so that the South had a chance of expanding slavery in this area. The South also demanded that the territory be spilt into two areas; Kansas and Nebraska. Although in theory slavery could move Northwards but Douglas felt that due to the climate problems this was highly unlikely. Douglas, a great believer in popular sovereignty saw no problem in letting the people of Kansas – Nebraska decide their own fate. Douglas believed that in doing this he had succeeded in winning over the South without conceding much in return. However, this was not the case, his bill, far from healing the North – South tensions in actual fact did the opposite. Douglas?s actions was proof to the South that there was a slave power conspiracy at work, they now considered him a traitor. The bill was eventually passed but it had virtually sectionalised congress. Douglas still believed this storm would be short lived however, this was not the case and the North – South rivalry would stay around.
This was not the end of problems in Kansas, during 1854 – 6 there were a number of problems due to the North and South trying to influence popular sovereignty in the new territory of Kansas. Problems were made by President Pierces appointment of Andrew Reeder, a pro-slaver as governor of the territory. It was obvious from that start that he was incapable of handling that situation. In the first elections pro-slavers from Missouri crossed the border into Kansas voted then returned home. This tactic tarnished the concept of popular sovereignty. This caused problems when the legislature met at Lecompton as it was dominated by pro-slavers who passed a series of pro-slavery laws. This of course angered Northerners – even moderates again giving them reason to believe that there was a slave power conspiracy at work. Events turned nasty when a pro – slavery posse, trying to arrest free soil leaders, ?sacked? Lawrence (a free state centre). This event was blown out of proportion by Northern journalists. This sparked of more violence caused by John Brown who murder four pro-slavers settlers. These attacks could possibly been avoided if Pierce hadn?t endorsed the Lecompton Legislature and appointed pro-slavery governors. Although he tried to rectify the situation by appointing John Greary as the new governor who proved to be a good choice, it wasn’t enough to ease the tensions that already existed due to his irresponsible behaviour.
However, by 1857 Americans seemed more optimistic about the future when a new president, James Buchanan was elected. This optimism proved to be short lived. Right from the beginning of his presidency, Buchanan caused problems by alienating the North. Firstly, his choice of cabinet indicated pro-slavery leanings – four of his cabinet were slave owners. Although he couldn?t afford to alienate the South as the Democrat Majority in both Houses was dominated by Southerners, he could of done more to reassure the North that a slave power conspiracy was not happening.
Buchanan caused more tension with the Dred Scot case. Dred Scott was a slave who was claiming he was free on the grounds that he had resided both in a free state and a free territory. The case was eventually taken to the supreme court. The court went against Scott on three points; firstly, a slave was not a citizen therefore could not sue in a federal court, secondly, he was a resident of Missouri so the law of Illinois was irrelevant. Finally, mere residing in a territory where slavery was banned did not make a slave free; congress had no rights to deprive a citizen of property and in the view of the court the Missouri compromise was unconstitutional. This verdict horrified most Northerners as some felt it was a move by southerners to expand slavery into free states. What made the situation worse was Republican leaders claimed Buchanan had been whispering with the chief justice Proving he was well aware of the verdict before he asked the public to accept it. Buchanan rather than settling the uncertainty of slavery, instead, provoked further section antagonism.
However this was by no means Buchanan?s biggest blunder. That was in Kansas when he gave his support to the Lecompton convention during 1857 despite the fact that the majority of Kansas were opposed to slavery. The advice was also against the advice of his former governor Greary. If he had accepted his advice he would of avoided alienating the North and enraging Northern Democrats. Even the South was embarrassed by the fraudulent actions of the pro-slavers when large numbers of fictitious pro-slavers had been recorded as voting for the pro-slavers during the elections held in 1857. Walker who was the Governor had to overturn a number of fraudulent elections before the true outcome was revealed, to give free-staters the majority in Kansas. Walker denounced the conventions actions and urged Buchanan to do the same. However, he could not be moved from his opinion as he felt it would alienate the South, the support of which he could not lose. His decision to support the convention proved to be a colossal blunder as if he had chosen not to support the convention it is unlikely he would of lost Southern support. However his actions alienated the North, giving them more ammunition to believe there was a slave power conspiracy at work.
To conclude, although many of the actions made by these politicians cause deep rifts between the North and South and in many cases these blunders could have been avoided. However, it would probably of taken a politician of extreme talent to prevent the two sides from going to war as it would appear that the slavery was at the root of all the problems. Although this problem was further antagonised by these blunders it is highly unlike these tensions could have been eased. To be fair each of the politicians had very delicate situations to deal with and no matter what they did it is more than likely that one side of the Union would have something to complain about. By the time Buchanan came into power the problems within the Union had reached the point of no return.
BibliographyThe origins of the american civil war – Farmer
Stakes of power