Introduction

Slavery and the Sectional Crisis

Module Introduction

Slavery’s western expansion created problems for the United States from the very start. Battles emerged over the westward expansion of slavery and over the role of the federal government in protecting the interests of slaveholders. Northern workers felt that slavery suppressed wages and stole land that could have been used by poor white Americans to achieve economic independence. Southerners feared that without slavery’s expansion, the abolitionist faction would come to dominate national politics and an increasingly dense population of slaves would lead to bloody insurrection and race war.

Constant resistance from enslaved men and women required a strong proslavery government to maintain order. As the North gradually abolished human bondage, enslaved men and women headed North on an underground railroad of hideaways and safe houses. Northerners and Southerners came to disagree sharply on the role of the federal government in capturing and returning these freedom seekers. While Northerners appealed to their states’ rights to refuse capturing runaway slaves, Southerners demanded a national commitment to slavery. Enslaved laborers meanwhile remained vitally important to the nation’s economy, fueling not only the southern plantation economy but also providing raw materials for the industrial North.

Differences over the fate of slavery remained at the heart of American politics, especially as the United States expanded. After decades of conflict, Americans north and south began to fear that the opposite section of the country had seized control of the government. By November 1860, an opponent of slavery’s expansion arose from within the Republican Party. During the secession crisis that followed, fears, nearly a century in the making, at last devolved into bloody war. (2)

Learning Outcomes

This module addresses the following Course Learning Outcomes listed in the Syllabus for this course:

  • To provide students with a general understanding of the history of African Americans within the context of American History.
  • To motivate students to become interested and active in African American history by comparing current events with historical information.(1)

Additional learning outcomes associated with this module are:

  • The student will be able to discuss the origins, evolution, and spread of racial slavery.
  • The student will be able to describe the creation of a distinct African-American culture and how that culture became part of the broader American culture. (1)

Module Objectives

Upon completion of this module, the student will be able to:

  • Identify issues related to slavery that divided the north and south in the 19th century.
  • Discuss the sectional crisis between the north and the south. (1)

Readings and Resources

Learning Unit: The Sectional Crisis (see below) (1)