Lead up to the Civil War

The tumultuous Civil War, which pitted Northerners against Southerners on the issue of slavery, wreaked havoc upon the nation. From 1849 to 1861, key decisions and events took place that each side claimed as a sort of win, much of which was due to the laws that were passed at the time. The first event which pleased the Northerners was the escape of Harriet Tubman, who was born into slavery in Maryland and escaped to Philadelphia in 1849. She would later go on to lead rescue missions and guide close to 100 other slaves to freedom through a system of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.

One year later, Harriet Beecher Stowe began writing the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1850 so that she might also educate people about the horrors of slavery. Though the Northerners and the abolitionists, or people who wanted to get rid of slavery, cheered her for this, the Southerners who wanted to hold on to slavery did not approve.

Stowe was actually writing in response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, a law that was championed by the slavery-supporting South, and stated that any slave who escaped from his or her owner had to be returned immediately. The ideas put forth by the Fugitive Slave Act were later upheld in two separate events: the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854 and the Dred Scott Decision of 1857. Southerners argued that a state had every right to decide if they wanted to have slavery within their borders, which is exactly what the Kansas Nebraska Act provided for. Even though the Missouri Compromise of 1820 made slavery illegal north of a certain point in the United States, the Kansas Nebraska Act essentially reversed that decision. Three years later, the Supreme Court decided in the Dred Scott case that an enslaved person who had been living in a free state or territory did not automatically get to claim his/her freedom. These events counted as a blow to the Northerners, who were not pleased with the decisions

As the Presidential election of 1860 loomed closer, two candidates - Abraham Lincoln on the Republican side and Stephen A. Douglas for the Democrats - engaged in a series of seven debates throughout the state of Illinois. During these Lincoln Douglas Debates of 1858, Lincoln stated that it was dangerous to put the decision of slavery into the hands of the states, something that Douglas supported since he had drafted the Kansas Nebraska Act. Instead, he said that the issue of slavery should be handled by the federal government. Lincoln would go on to win the Presidential Election of 1860, further pleasing the Northerners.

Just before the start of the Civil War, tensions ramped up even further as a set of drastic measures were taken. John Brown, an abolitionist, led a raid in Harper’s Ferry on October 16, 1859, in present-day West Virginia in an attempt to start a slave uprising. He wanted slaves to rebel against their slave owners and fight for their freedom. The next year, South Carolina moved to secede, or legally separate, from the United States in its effort to preserve slavery within its borders.

Ten more states would follow South Carolina, and together, their unified government became known as the Confederacy in 1861. It would thus be the Union soldiers, representing the North, fighting against the Confederate soldiers of the South when the Civil War began