(CIVIL WAR in the UNITED STATES – continued)

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CIVIL WAR in the UNITED STATES (4 of 12)

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Congress, Kansas and Dred Scott, 1855-57

In 1855 the essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson proposed to end slavery by granting full compensation to slave-owners – as had Britain. Emerson's estimate of the cost of compensation was 2 billion – about $500 for each slave and a much larger sum overall than the 100 million dollars that the British had paid to end slavery. The United States had eight times as many slaves as had Britain, and each as a commodity was worth more money. Emerson's proposal attracted no serious attention.

Receiving much attention in the nation was the conflict in Kansas. The Kansas-Nebraska Act had opened that territory to a contest between people supporting slavery and those opposed – a contest that turned bloody. The US government in 1854 opened a land office in the territory of Kansas, Northern newspapers wrote about the fertility of Kansas soil, and farming people rushed to Kansas to stake land claims. People from Missouri who favored slavery described anti-slave people as ruffians and tried to discourage their settlement in Kansas. Wealthy northerners conspired to encourage and help people from the North to enter the territory.

On May 19, 1856, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts made his "crime against Kansas" speech in the Senate. Two days later, a congressman from South Carolina, Preston Brooks, entered the Senate chamber and with a cane beat Sumner unconscious. In the South, Brooks became a folk hero. In the North were rallies and claims that beating a senator senseless was not an acceptable parliamentary procedure. There were demands that Brooks be punished. Responding to the controversy in Congress, southern congressmen shouted at northern congressmen, and some called for duels. Congress did its thing and established a committee to investigate the beating. Weeks later the committee recommended the expulsion of Brooks and the censure of two of his colleagues. This produced more passion in Congress, with more threats and more challenges to duels. Then in mid-July the House voted. Every southern congressman but one voted against expelling Brooks and, needing two-thirds to win, expulsion was defeated.

In the year 1856, James Buchanan, a northern Democrat, won the presidency with the help of southern voters, and following his election, Buchanan wrote that the "great object" of his administration was "to arrest the agitation of the slavery question."

On March 6, 1857, the Supreme Court handed down its Dred Scott ruling, which was another outrage for Northerners opposed to slavery. Scott's master had died while he and Scott were in Missouri. Scott had sought his freedom from slavery and freedom to return to the North where he had lived with his master, an army officer, for some years. The court decided that Dred Scott had no right to freedom, that he could not be a citizen of the United States and therefore had a no right to sue in a federal court. This decision appeared to jeopardize blacks both slave and free, leaving them without recourse in the courts and giving sanction to the notion that slavery was legal nationally. The decision raised acrimony between North and South to a new height.


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