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More significant as a political issue. A two-party system of Democrats and Whigs formed around Andrew Jackson's veto of the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States in 1832. For a dozen years or more after the Panic of 1837 the banking question remained the most polarizing issue in state politics, pitting pro-banking Whigs against anti-banking Democrats. The latter portrayed the concentration of wealth in banks as the gravest threat to liberty since George III. Banks have been the...

Slavery Rum and Romanism

The year 1852 turned out to be the last one in which the Whig party contested a presidential election. Millard Fillmore's efforts to enforce the fugitive slave law won him the support of southern Whigs for renomination. But the president had alienated antislavery Whigs, especially the Seward faction in Fillmore's own state of New York. Seward favored the nomination of Winfield Scott, a Virginian but not a slaveholder . The Whig convention presented the curious spectacle of most southern...

Mudsills and Greasy Mechanics for A Lincoln

Dred Scott lived all but two of his sixty-odd years in obscurity. The fame he achieved late in life was not for himself but for what he represented. Scott had been a slave of army surgeon John Emerson, who had taken him from Missouri to posts in Illinois and at Fort Snelling in the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase now Minnesota for several years in the 1830s. At Fort Snelling, Scott married a slave also owned by Emerson. She gave birth to a daughter in territory made free by the Missouri...

Mexico Will Poison Us

Polk presided over the acquisition of more territory than any other president in American history. During his one-term administration the country expanded by two-thirds with the annexation of Texas, the settlement of the Oregon boundary, and the seizure of all Mexican provinces north of 310. Having been elected in 1844 on a platform demanding Oregon to a northern boundary of 540 40' and Texas to a southern boundary of the Rio Grande River, Polk compromised with Britain on 490 but went...

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The evolution of the child-centered nurturing family during this era helped inspire abolitionists to focus on the greatest perceived sin of American slavery the tragic irony that caused the institution simultaneously to encourage the slave family and to threaten it with destruction. Slave marriages had no legal basis in the United States. More than half of the bondsmen in 1850 lived on farms or plantations with fewer than twenty slaves where they had difficulty finding marital partners in the...

The Crime Against Kansas

Having lost the battle in Congress for a free Kansas, antislavery men determined to wage the war on the prairie itself. Since there is no escaping your challenge, William H. Seward told southern senators on May 25, 1854, I accept it in behalf of the cause of freedom. We will engage in competition for the virgin soil of Kansas, and God give the victory to the side which is stronger in numbers as it is in right.1 In Massachusetts the erstwhile conservative Amos Lawrence was chief financial backer...

An Empire for Slavery

On all issues but one, antebellum southerners stood for state's rights and a weak federal government. The exception was the fugitive slave law of 1850, which gave the national government more power than any other law yet passed by Congress. This irony resulted from the Supreme Court's decision in Prigg v. Pennsylvania 1842 . In the typical oblique language of the Constitution on slavery, Article IV, Section 2, stipulated that any person held to service or labor in one state who escaped to...