North South tensions grow

By 1858, the sectional rivalry in America had become incredibly bitter and hateful. But although both the South and the North were exhausted by their constant battles over slavery, many Southerners felt that the momentum was finally shifting their way. After all, the Supreme Court had supported their stand on slavery with its Dred Scott decision. In addition, an 1857 financial panic that slammed the industrialized North passed over the agricultural South, doing little damage to its cotton-based economy. Murmurs in support of secession (the South leaving the Union) still rippled through Southern legislatures and plantation houses, but most Southerners were willing to wait and see if the North might finally give up on its stubborn pursuit of emancipation for blacks.

In the North, on the other hand, the free states were struggling on several fronts. The so-called "Panic of 1857" caused a severe business depression throughout the North. This in turn led Northern political leaders to call for higher tariffs (government-imposed payments) on imported goods and a homestead act that would encourage development of the western territories. But these efforts to reenergize Northern businesses were not popular in the South, and they were stopped by Southern lawmakers and President James Buchanan (17911868), a Pennsylvania Democrat who was friendly to the South.

Adding to these economic worries, the South's ongoing defense of slavery in America continued to anger Northerners. The Supreme Court's decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford had thrown the entire region into an uproar, and as the 1858 elections approached, the subject that had frustrated Americans for so many years emerged as a major campaign issue in the Northern states. In fact, the subject of slavery in America became the central issue in one of the most famous political contests in U.S. history: the 1858 Illinois senatorial campaign between incumbent (currently in office) Democrat Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861) and a tall, largely unknown lawyer named Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865).

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