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Territorial crisis

Further information: Slave and free states


Between 1803 and 1854, the United States achieved a vast expansion of territory through purchase,
negotiation, and conquest. At first, the states carved out of these territories entering the union, slave
states were balanced by new free states. It was over territories west of the Mississippi that the
proslavery and antislavery forces collided.[33]

With the conquest of northern Mexico west to California in 1848, slaveholding interests looked forward
to expanding these lands and perhaps Cuba and Central America as well.[34][35] Northern free soil
interests vigorously sought to curtail any further expansion of slave soil. The Compromise of 1850 over
California balanced a free soil state with stronger fugitive slave laws for a political settlement after four
years of strife in the 1840s. But the states admitted following California were all free soil: Minnesota
(1858), Oregon (1859), Kansas (1861). In the southern states the question of the territorial expansion of
the slavery westward again became explosive.[36] Both the South and the North drew the same
conclusion: "The power to decide the question of slavery for the territories was the power to determine
the future of slavery itself."[37][38]

Sen. Stephen Douglas, author of the KansasNebraska Act of 1854

Sen. John J. Crittenden, of the 1860 Crittenden Compromise


By 1860, four doctrines had emerged to answer the question of federal control in the territories, and
they all claimed they were sanctioned by the Constitution, implicitly or explicitly.[39] The first of these
"conservative" theories, represented by the Constitutional Union Party, argued that the Missouri
Compromise apportionment of territory north for free soil and south for slavery should become a
Constitutional mandate. The Crittenden Compromise of 1860 was an expression of this view.[40] The
second doctrine of Congressional preeminence, championed by Abraham Lincoln and the Republican
Party, insisted that the Constitution did not bind legislators to a policy of balance that slavery could be
excluded in a territory as it was done in the Northwest Ordinance at the discretion of Congress,[41] thus
Congress could restrict human bondage, but never establish it. The Wilmont Proviso announced this
position in 1846.[45]

Senator Stephen A. Douglas proclaimed the doctrine of territorial or "popular" sovereignty which
declared that the settlers in a territory had the same rights as states in the Union to establish or

disestablish slavery as a purely local matter.[42] The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 legislated this
doctrine.[43] In Kansas Territory, years of pro and anti-slavery violence and political conflict erupted; the
congressional House of Representatives voted to admit Kansas as a free state in early 1860, but its
admission in the Senate was delayed until January 1861, after the 1860 elections when southern
senators began to leave.[44]

The fourth theory was advocated by Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis,[45] one of state sovereignty
("states' rights"),[46] also known as the "Calhoun doctrine",[47] named after the South Carolinian
political theorist and statesman John C. Calhoun.[48] Rejecting the arguments for federal authority or
self-government, state sovereignty would empower states to promote the expansion of slavery as part
of the Federal Union under the US Constitution.[49] "States' rights" was an ideology formulated and
applied as a means of advancing slave state interests through federal authority.[50] As historian Thomas
L. Krannawitter points out, the "Southern demand for federal slave protection represented a demand
for an unprecedented expansion of federal power."[51][52] These four doctrines comprised the major
ideologies presented to the American public on the matters of slavery, the territories and the US
Constitution prior to the 1860 presidential election.[53]