Use these links to return to the page you got here from or to investigate other issues related to this topic. If the Civil Rights Movement is new to you, you can visit our dictionary page from any page in the entire web site by clicking here.
Some people think that the Civil War was the first argument fought over slavery. Guess again, it wasn’t. There were many arguments over slavery before the Civil War. The men who wrote the U.S. Constitution disagreed over whether slavery should be legal because some strongly believed slavery was wrong while others couldn’t imagine life without slaves. After the founding fathers made the difficult decision to leave it to each state as to whether slavery would be legal in the state, they continued to argue about how to count slaves when deciding the number of Representatives each state would have in Congress. Leaders continued to debate over slavery every time a new state joined the United States and had to decide whether to allow slavery in that state. Every compromise that was made over slavery left both sides, abolitionists and pro-slavery leaders, uneasy and unsure of the future.
The number of people counted in each state was important because it decided how many representatives each state had in Congress. The Southern states refused to sign the United States Constitution with the Northern states because they wanted the slaves to be counted for the purpose of voting and taxes. The only way to get the Southern states to sign the Constitution was to make some compromises between the North and South. Northerners were concerned that if the South was allowed to count each slave as one person, they would have many more representatives in Congress than the North. By counting the slaves as "three-fifths" of a person, the South did not have quite as many representatives. This made it almost fair with the North and their representatives. The Three Fifths Compromise (Three Fifths Clause) was about how every slave was to be counted as only three fifths of a white or freed black person for the purpose of voting or taxes. This was only one of the many compromises the South had with the North when the Constitution was being written.
The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was another argument over slavery before the Civil War. Allowing each state and territory to decide whether to allow slavery or not caused many problems. The Missouri Compromise was designed to maintain the number of free and slave states.
In 1818, the Territory of Missouri applied for admission to the Union. At the time, slavery was legal in the Territory of Missouri. About 10,000 slaves lived in this Territory and most people expected that Missouri would become a slave state. When the bill to admit Missouri to the Union was introduced to Congress, eleven states were slave states and eleven states were free states. Missouri would break that tie and could destroy the balance of free and slave states (even though that balance had already temporarily been upset a number of times.) Luckily, that same year, Maine applied for admission to the Union. Congressmen from slave states and free states agreed to vote to admit Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state without upsetting the balance between free and slave states.
The Compromise of 1850 happened just 10 years before the Civil War. The Compromise of 1850 was a series of acts passed to help determine if the territory the United States received
from the Mexican War should be free or have slavery. This compromise helped to delay the Civil War about 10 years.
The Compromise of 1850 had several parts to it. To please the free states, California entered the Union as a free state. The Compromise gave $10 million to the slave state of Texas to abandon its claims to territory which would later become New Mexico and give up other claims. It also set up a stricter federal law for the return of runaway slaves to please the South, and to please the North, the slave trade was stopped in the District of Columbia.
Dred Scott Decision
The Dred Scott Decision was another argument between the North and the South. Dred Scott was a slave who sued to get his freedom after being moved by his owner to a free state. He lost his cases in the regular courts and Federal Circuit Courts in Missouri. He then took his case to the United States Supreme Court. All these court battles took over 10 years and in the end Dred Scott still did not gain his freedom. The Supreme Court Justice that ruled on his case was a Southerner and a slave owner. He said that when the Constitution was voted in slaves were not recognized as United States citizens. He also stated that slaves were viewed as property, and property rights were protected under the Constitution. The Northerners who lived in free states were angry that the Supreme Court would allow slavery in their states.
All of these arguments and compromises between the North and the South over slavery caused the two parts of the country to begin to feel like enemies rather than partners. Understanding all the arguments that led up to the Civil War helps us understand how the country became divided and brother fought against brother over whether the United States should stay united or split into two countries - the North and the South. These compromises kept the country together for almost 100 years, but the arguments were tearing the country apart.
If you want to be absolutely certain you've looked at every page on our website, check out our site map.
This website is designed to be viewed using Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0 or above.