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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

American History: The Civil War and Reconstruction: Buildup to the Civil War

Guide for Library Research on the Civil War and Post-Civil War Reconstruction

Slavery

Gordon, a Louisiana slave who escaped to freedom in March 1863. He later joined the Union Army and served in the Sergeant in the 2nd Louisiana Regiment Infantry during the Siege of Port Hudson

Gordon, a Louisiana slave who escaped to freedom in March 1863. He later joined the Union Army and served in the Sergeant in the 2nd Louisiana Regiment Infantry during the Siege of Port Hudson.

Slavery is a legal and economic system where people are treated as property. Slavery in North America existed since settlement began in the 17th century. Within the United States, by the time of the start of the civil war slavery had become extinct in the northern states, defined largely as north of the Mason-Dixon line that forms the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Slavery continued to exist in the south until put down by the Union Army and abolished officially by the 13th amendment to the Constitution in 1865. The international slave trade was ended by the British Navy in the early 19th century.

Three-Fifths Compromise

Three-Fifths Compromise

The Three-Fifths Compromise was compromise made during the Constitutional Convention in 1787 over the question of how slaves would be counted when determining a state's total population for the purpose of representation in the Congress (i.e. how many seats the state would have in the House of Representatives) and for tax purposes (i.e. how much of the nation's tax burden the state would have to have). Free state representatives didn't want slaves counted at all while slave state representatives wanted all slaves to be counted as it would increase the amount of voting power they would have in the congress. The compromise that was decided was that for the purposes of representation and taxation, slaves would be counted as "three fifths of all other Persons".

Nullification

Nullification

Nullification is the legal theory that the individual states in the Union have the right to nullify any federal law a state decided was unconstitutional. The earliest suggestion of nullification as a legitimate theory was in the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions of 1798, which were authored by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as a response to the Alien and Sedition Acts. Nullification has never been held to be a legal right by any federal court.

States-Rights

States-Rights

States rights in the United States refers to political powers reserved to state governments rather than the federal government according to the tenth amendement to the Constitution.

Liberia

Liberia

During the period prior to the civil war, one of the proposed solutions to slavery was to return freed slaves to Africa. For this purpose Senator Henry Clay and President James Monroe among many others set up the American Colonization Society to fund the creation of a territory in Africa and migration to it. This is how the nation of Liberia was founded. Ultimately about 10,000 free blacks chose to settle in Liberia.

Abolitionism

Abolitionism

Anti-Slavery Mass Meeting Broadside 1859

Abolitionism is the name of the movement to abolish slavery in all its forms and in America, to also specifically end the African slave trade and to free those already enslaved.

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin was a popular novel written by Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1852. It was a story that depicted the reality of slavery to its audience. It ultimately became the best-selling novel of the 19th century and is credited with helping to support the abolitionist cause in the 1850s.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was a former slave who became an abolitionist and made up to thirteen missions to the south to free seventy enslaved family members and friends using the Underground Railroad. (The Underground Railroad was a network of routes and safe houses used by to help slaves escape to free states and Canada.) She lived to be 91 years old and died in 1913.

King Cotton

King Cotton

In the run-up to succession, it was believed that southern domination of cotton production would allow the new Confederate nation to bankrupt the north and force the European powers to support them in order to maintain the flow of cotton. Cotton was "king". However "King Cotton" was a mirage since the European powers had developed large stockpiles and alternative sources; control of cotton was not able to be of any benefit to the Confederacy.

Missouri Compromise of 1820

Missouri Compromise of 1820

The Missouri Compromise was an 1820 political deal worked out by Senator Henry Clay that prohibited slavery in the former Louisiana Purchase north of the parallel 36°30′, except within the boundaries of the proposed state of Missouri. Also to maintain the balance between slave and free states, Missouri's admission as a slave state was balanced by Maine's admission as a free state. The Missouri Compromise was effectively repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.

Compromise of 1850

Compromise of 1850

The Compromise of 1850 was another political deal worked out by Senator Henry Clay in order to preserve the Union in the aftermath of the Mexican-American war. The compromise was meant to deal with the issues created by the acquisition of territory in the southwest as a result of the victory over Mexico. The main points of the compromise were that California would be admitted as a free state (which would balance the admission of Texas as a slave state), the territories of Utah and New Mexico would be admitted as slave or free states based on popular vote rather than by whether they were north or south of the Missouri Compromise line, the slave trade was banned in Washington D.C., and a harsher Fugitive Slave Act was passed.

Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska but also all but repealled the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Instead of geographic location deciding whether these territories would be slave or free, the issue was to be decided by "Popular Sovereignty". The original goal of the act was to speed up the settlement of the territory but instead it ended up creating a period of bloody conflict that would act as a prequel to the civil war.

Popular Sovereignty

Popular Sovereignty

In the buildup to the Bloody Kansas and the Civil War, Popular Sovereignty was an idea that the majority of voters in a territory would decided whether the state they were creating would be slave or free. In Kansas where this political doctrine was applied, the end result was bloody conflict as both pro-slave and anti-slave groups tried to establish governments and majorities in the area and came into conflict.

Bloody Kansas

Bloody Kansas

Bloody Kansas (also called Bleeding Kansas) was the name given to the fighting between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces trying to establish control over the territory of Kansas. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 stated that the settlers in the territory would decide whether to be a slave or free state. Both sides sent settlers and arms to try and establish a majority. The Bloody Kansas period ultimately ended with the confirmation and admission of Kansas into the Union as a free state in 1861.

Lincoln Douglas Debates

Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas

Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas

The Lincoln–Douglas Debates of 1858 were a series of seven debates between Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln and Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas in the campaign to become the Senator of Illinois. The main issue discussed in all seven debates was slavery. After losing the election, Lincoln edited the texts of all the debates and had them published. The widespread coverage of the original debates and the popularity of the book led eventually to Lincoln's nomination for President  by the Republican party.

Election of 1860

Election of 1860

The election of 1860 was the immediate reason given for the succession of the southern states and for the outbreak of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, won the election. The slave state supporting Democratic Party had splintered and was unable to create a unified opposition. Following Lincoln's election but prior to his inauguration, seven southern states left the Union and formed the Confederacy.

Fort Sumter

Battle of Fort Sumter by Currier and Ives

Battle of Fort Sumter by Currier and Ives


Following the succession of the southern states and the formation of the Confederacy, the new country began to seize federal property within their territory. Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston South Carolina resisted being seized and the Confederates resorted to military force to capture it in April 1861. The shot fired at Fort Sumter are considered to be the opening shots of the Civil War. The Fort would not be recaptured by Union forces until February 1865.

Birth of the Confederacy

Birth of the Confederacy

Following the election of Abraham Lincoln, seven southern states seceeded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America or Confederacy. The states that originally left the union were in the lower south - South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. After the fall of Fort Sumter, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina in the upper south also left to join the Confederacy. Four slave states remained in the Union: Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Deleware and after 1863 West Virginia.

Nat Turner Rebellion of 1831

Article from The Washington DC Globe September 23 1831 Five Hundred Dollar Reward Announced for Nat Turner

Article from The Washington DC Globe September 23 1831 Five Hundred Dollar Reward Announced for Nat Turner

The Nat Turner Rebellion was a slave revolt in Virginia in 1831. It was put down within a few days though Nat Turner himself escaped capture for two months before being caught, tried, and executed. It was one of the bloodiest slave rebellions in the south with rebel slaves having killed between 55 and 65 people. The aftermath of the rebellion was for many slave states to prohibit the education of slaves.

Amistad

Amistad

La Amistad was a Cuban ship transporting African slaves kidnapped in what is today Sierra Leone. During a trip in 1839 the captured Africans rebelled and took over the ship. The Amistad was eventually boarded off the coast of Long Island; afterwards a trial was held to determine the fate of the captured Africans. The question before the court was whether the slaves who had taken over the ship were to be considered salvage (and thus property of those who found the ship), property of the Spanish crown (which ruled Cuba at the time), property of the ship owner, or if they were illegally enslaved and transported in which case they would be freed. The Supreme Court in United States vs The Amistad ruled that the Africans who rebelled had been illegally taken into slavery (the international slave trade having been abolished by both Britain and the United States) and should be freed. The Amistad case became a major symbol to the Abolitionist movement.

Texas Independence

The Fall of the Alamo by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk

The Fall of the Alamo by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk


In 1821 the newly independent Mexican government allowed and encouraged the settlement of the then sparsely populated province of Texas by American settlers. By the 1830s the Texan settlers were the majority of the population in the area and the Mexican government moved to stop American settlement. In 1836 this led to open conflict in the territory that is today known as the Texas Revolution. Texas became an independent republic in 1836 and remained so when the United States refused to absorb the territory. Texas would remain its own country until 1845 when in the run-up to the Mexican-American war, Texas was allowed to join the Union.

Mexican-American War

Mexican-American War

The Mexican–American War was a conflict between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 that broke out as a result of the annexation of Texas by the US. Mexico still considered Texas part of its territory despite the fact that Texas had been independent since 1836. The war ended with the occupation of Mexico by the American army and the annexation of what is today known as the American southwest - including the states of California, Nevada, Utah, and large parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorodo.

Fugitive Slave Law of 1850

Fugitive Slave Law of 1850

Part of the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act required that all escaped slaves were to be captured and returned to slavery. It also made cooperation with this law mandatory, was extremely unpopular in the free states and created much resentment in the years running up to the civil war.

Dred Scott Decision of 1857

Dred Scott

Dred Scott

Dred Scott was a slave who had been taken while in slavery to a free state and attempted to sue for his freedom arguing that his moving out of a slave state nullified his being a slave. The Supreme Court in 1857 in a 7-2 decision found in the case of Dred Scott vs Sanford, that African Americans, regardless of their status as slave or free, could not be American citizens and had no standing to sue in federal court. The court also ruled that the federal government could not regulate slavery in any territory acquired after the creation of the country. The decision led to a worsening of the political atmosphere in the run up to the Civil War. Dred Scott was returned to slavery in Missouri but was ultimately freed. He died of Tuberculosis in 1858.

Republican Party

Republican Party

The Republican party was founded in 1854 by a hodge-podge of groups including mostly anti-slavery activists and former members of the defunct Whig party. The Republican party was at the time a party of the north, especially the northeast and upper midwest. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president and ultimately the party dominated the United States from 1860-1932. The slogan of the party in the 1850s was "Free Labor, Free Land, Free Men".