Introduction to Sectional Strife and Political Change

What you’ll learn to do: discuss sectional divisions connected to the Dred Scott decision, the new Republican Party, and the election of 1860

An Abraham Lincoln-Hannibel Hamlin campaign button from the 1860 election. The button has a black and white photo of Abraham Lincoln in the center.

The Dred Scott decision of 1857 went well beyond the question of whether or not Dred Scott gained his freedom. Instead, the Supreme Court delivered a far-reaching pronouncement about African Americans in the United States, finding they could never be citizens and that Congress could not interfere with the expansion of slavery into the territories. Republicans erupted in anger at this decision, which rendered their party’s central platform unconstitutional. Abraham Lincoln fully articulated the Republican position on the issue of slavery in his 1858 debates with Senator Stephen Douglas. By the end of that year, Lincoln had become a nationally known Republican icon. For the Democrats’ part, unity within their party frayed over both the Dred Scott case and the Freeport Doctrine, undermining the Democrats’ future ability to retain control of the presidency. Poisoned relations split the Democrats into northern and southern factions, a boon to the Republican candidate Lincoln. His election seemed to imperil the American experiment itself, as southern states began to leave the Union.