Journal of a graduate student in military history and the American Civil War

the political milestones

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Listed in chronological order.


  • Compromise of 1820 “forever prohibited” slavery from ?



  • February, William Henry Harrison assumes the presidency
  • John Tyler ascends to the presidency. Tyler becomes the 10th American president after William Henry Harrison dies in office.


  • November, James K. Polk elected 11th President of the United States


  • November, Zachary Taylor elected 12th President of the United States

General Taylor was well known as a hero of the Mexican War. He was a slaveholder.

1848 – 1856

  • Collapse of the Second Party System

Michael F. Holt suggests in his classic book, The Political Crisis of the 1850s,

“…that because of the availability and nature of partisanly contested state issues varied from state to state, the Second Party System collapsed at different times in different places. Although the years between 1848 and 1854 were most crucial for the erosion of clear party distinctions, the system limped on in some states until 1856.”

1849 – 1854

  • Railroads were largely expanded during the period with considerable political repercussions.

“In sum, the railraod building between 1849 and 1854 produced wrenching structural changes in the economies of many communities, either by displacing men employed in the old businesses – whether they be river and canal men or artisans not employed in the new factories – or by eliminating the geographical advantages certain groups had enjoyed by ending isolation and subjecting smaller communities to the economic domination of larger cities, which now reach them by railroad. Such disorientation increased prejudice and a frustration and caused men to lash out at Catholic Immigrants. ” Michael F. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850s, 161.


  • Compromise of 1850


  • Appeal of the Independent Democrats in Congress to the People of the United States” submitted by a small group of Free-Soilers in Congress. Signers included Senator Salmon P. Chase of Ohio and Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. (Michael F. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850’s, 152 )
  • The Kansas-Nebraska Act is signed onto law by President Pierce, May 30.

  • Opened the Kansas Territory to settlement although most of the land had not been surveyed causing considerable tension among land hungry settlers.

    “Created two territories instead of one, avoided direct repeal of the Missouri Compromise but declared it “inoperative and void,” and dropped the section that explicitly gave territorial settlers all power over slavery for the vaguer wording of the measures of 1850, which left territorial power over ‘domestic institutions’ subject to the Constitution. This last change was crucial. Southerners doubted the constitutional power of territorial legislatures to prohibit slavery. The clause thus perpetuated the artful ambiguity by which Northern Democrats would argue that the decision could be made in the territorial stage and Southern Democrats would argue that it could not be made until the territory was ready to apply for statehood.”

    “…Permanently severed the Northern and Southern wings of the Whig party and eventually obliterated what remained of it in the South.”

    “…Most Southerners were at first apathetic about the bill. Few saw any real chance of actually taking slavery to Kansas, and many deplored the reignition of sectional agitation, which had been dampened for several years. But the growth and ferocity of Northern assaults on the bill and on Southerners during the spring of 1854 changed the Southern perspective. Whatever they expected to gain, passage of the act became a symbol of Southern honor, just as resistance to the Proviso had been.”

    “In the House, only 7 of 24 Southern Whigs, all but one from the upper South, voted against it.”

    “In contrast, passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act ignited an explosion of rage in the North. “Because the law seemed to provide an opportunity for slavery to spread to Kansas, which was directly adjacent to slaveholding regions in Missouri, it reinforced all of the existing reasons for Northern hostility to slavery expansion – moral antipathy to black slavery, fear that the Northern free labor economy would be prevented from growing, racism, and jealousy of the Slave Power.”  (Michael F. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850’s , 147-149)

  • July 29th, Missourians meet in Weston, Missouri and form the “Platte County Self-Defensive Association” “asserting their readiness to go to Kansas ‘to assist in removing any and all emigrants who go there nder the auspices of Northern Emigrant Aid Societies.'” (David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis: 1848-1861, 200).


  • March 30 – Election of territorial legislature, Kansas Territory, called by Governor Andrew Reeder


  • May 19 & 20 – Charles Sumner (Missouri Republican Senator) delivers a speech in Washington titled “The Crime against Kansas.”
  • May 21 – The Lecompton government (this fact disputed) sends a posse  (including some Missourians) to Lawrence, Kansas to arrest several free state leaders. Republicans label it “The Sack of Lawrence” and this leads to the term “Bleeding Kansas.” According to Michael Holt, the posse “burned some buildings and destroyed two printing presses but killed no one in the town.” (Michael F. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850’s, 194 )



  • November, Abraham Lincoln elected 16th President of the United States


  • Lincoln takes office.


  • January 1, 1863, issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy


  • Good Friday, April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln is assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington by John Wilkes Booth

Written by Rene Tyree

February 8, 2009 at 5:08 pm

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