The 1850s were violent and tension-filled years in the United States, as arguments about slavery and states' rights exploded all over the country. Despite all the efforts of many lawmakers, the hostility between the North and the South seemed to increase with each passing month. A number of events in the early and mid-1850s contributed to this deterioration in relations between the two sides, from the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin to the bloody battle for control of Kansas. But the blows that finally broke the Union in two took place in the final years of that decade, as the North and the South finally saw that their vastly different views of slavery would never be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. "There were serious differences between the sections," wrote Bruce Catton in The Civil War, "[but] all of them except slavery could have been settled through the democratic process. Slavery poisoned the whole situation. It was the issue that could not be compromised, the issue that made men so angry they did not want to compromise."
Words to Know
Abolitionists people who worked to end slavery
Emancipation the act of freeing people from slavery or oppression
Federal national or central government; also, refers to the North or Union, as opposed to the South or Confederacy
Popular sovereignty the belief that each state has the right to decide how to handle various issues for itself without interference from the national government; this is also known as the "states' rights" philosophy
Secession the formal withdrawal of eleven Southern states from the Union in 1860-61
States' rights the belief that each state has the right to decide how to handle various issues for itself without interference from the national government
Tariffs additional charges or taxes placed on goods imported from other countries
Territory a region that belongs to the United States but has not yet been made into a state or states
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