The Outbreak of the Civil War

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Depiction of the Bombardment of Fort Sumter. Courtesy: Museum of the City of New York.

Within a matter of weeks of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency beginning, the gravest crisis of perhaps any president confronted him and the nation: civil war. Read more

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858

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Depiction of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates.

Senator Stephen Douglas had come into the political spotlight through his work in the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which had temporarily held the country together but perpetuated the institution of slavery. Douglas, a Democrat, was a force to be reckoned with for keeping a seat in the United States Senate despite the growing strength of the Republican Party throughout the North and in his home state of Illinois. Throughout 1858, a time when the state legislatures elected senators to the United States Senate, Douglas would have to win the support of the people of Illinois, and the Illinois legislature, by debating the issue of slavery, and the future of the country, with the Republican candidate for the Senate, Abraham Lincoln. See David Potter, The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848-1861, 330-31. Read more

A Supreme Court Tragedy: Dred Scott v. Sandford

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The Taney Supreme Court.

In 1857, the United States Supreme Court decided one of the most controversial cases in the history of the country. Just days after James Buchanan began his term as president, Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote the opinion for the Court, ruling that neither slaves nor freedmen could be citizens of the United States. The implications of this decision, and its reasoning, have been analyzed, dissected, and discussed since 1857. While many have concluded it is one of the Supreme Court’s worst decisions, its impact on Antebellum America should not be overlooked.

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The Genesis of the Underground Railroad

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Justice Joseph Story.

Justice Joseph Story wrote a decision in Prigg v. Pennsylvania that would put the United States Supreme Court in a possession of relieving northern state officials of responsibility “for returning fugitive slaves, and increasingly northern state legislatures instructed them to do so.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 654.

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Jackson’s Farewell

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Andrew Jackson.

President Andrew Jackson, with his term coming to an end, commissioned the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roger Taney, to write his farewell address. This was his imitation of George Washington, who had started the tradition of the farewell address. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 500.

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The Supreme Court Under Jackson

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Roger B. Taney. Photograph by: Mathew Brady.

John Marshall, perhaps the greatest Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, died on July 6, 1835. As his life was coming to a close, he wrote Joseph Story, “I yield slowly and reluctantly to the conviction that our constitution cannot last.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 439 quoting John Marshall to Joseph Story, Sept. 22, 1832, quoted in Kent Newmyer, John Marshall and the Heroic Age of the Supreme Court (Baton Rouge, 2001), 386.

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The Transportation Revolution

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Depiction of the Building of the National Road.

Following the end of the War of 1812, the United States underwent a transportation revolution. This transportation revolution came about as a result of Americans moving westward but also as more Americans moved into cities to engage in industrial work. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 212. Read more

The Panic of 1819

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William Jones. Artist Unknown.

America’s reliance on cotton as an economic staple presented an opportunity for prosperity and an accompanying risk. In late 1818, the value of cotton fell as supply outpaced demand and “London banks decided there was no longer a need to extend more credit.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 142. Then, the Second Bank of the United States, just two years into its life, “responded by shifting suddenly away from its own expansionist policy,” by the direction of William Jones, which only exacerbated the credit problem. See id. at 142-43. The Panic of 1819 erupted.

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