Slavery existed in the USA since the Seventeenth Century. Southern and Northern states disagreed about the role of slavery in society, which ultimately led to the civil war and the rise of the Republican Party in the 1850s.
The Missouri Compromise of 1820 kept an uneasy alliance for many years between the North and South. However, when California became a state further compromise had to be created.
The 1850 Compromise
After the 1846 war with Mexico, vast areas of land were handed to the USA.
In 1849 California applied for admission as a free state. However it fell in the middle of the 36°30′ north line. Another compromise had to be worked out.
California became a free state
the new lands taken from Mexico were organised as territories – not yet states
a new fugitive slave law (giving runaway slaves back to the South) was made. This made the South happy
Other tensions between the North and South started to appear.
Kansas Nebraska Act 1854
The Democrat politician Stephen Douglas had the idea that the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska would choose for themselves whether they would become slave or free states. This meant the old Missouri Compromise was no longer legal.
Southerners loved the idea
Northerners hated it
Kansas and Nebraska became a battle ground
Anti-slavery leaders formed the Republican Party with the political aim of opposing slavery
The Dred Scott Case 1857
Dred Scott painted by Louis Schulztze
Dred Scott was a slave who had lived with his "owner" in a free state before returning to the slave state of Missouri. He believed that, as he had lived in a free state, he was a free man. He went to the Supreme Court to prove this:
he lost the case
he was not seen as a person but as a piece of property
banning slavery above the 36°30′ north line was now illegal as it would deprive a person of their property
the new territories were now open to slavery and only an individual state could prevent it
John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, 1859
John Brown was an abolitionist. He led a small group in an attempt to capture a government arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. He was going to use the guns to arm a slave rebellion.
the raid failed and John Brown was executed
the South saw this as a sign of what would happen if the Republicans came to power
the South thought Northerners would be willing to use violence to end slavery