Putting It Together: The Sectional Crisis

The aftermath of the 1860 election underscores how much mutual suspicion had grown during the 1850s within the United States. The North perceived a “Slave Power” at work, scheming to nationalize slavery and undercut free Northern labor. The Southern gentry, on the other hand, saw the expansion of Northern industry and the migration of its citizens westward as a disturbing trend that could result in the South being outnumbered and outvoted in the years to come.

The reactions to westward expansions, such as the violence in Bleeding Kansas, secession after Lincoln’s election, or the Fugitive Slave Act and civil disobedience against it, may seem extreme. It is important to remember that as these events unfolded, both North and South saw the fate of the West as intricately linked to their own way of life. As Lincoln’s inauguration approached, it seemed clear that the old model of compromise and mutual concessions could no longer hold. The violence in Kansas would not be an exception or an aberration. Instead, it was foreshadowing; Northerners and Southerners taking up arms against one another to protect their perceived interests would define the coming civil war.