Essay on Constitutional Catastrophe

Submitted By icecool113
Words: 1066
Pages: 5

During a time period so close to the Civil War, tensions between the North and South grew quickly. The issue of the continuance and morality of slavery was the primary concern during the 1850s and 1860s. Both the North and South turned to the one document that held them both together: The Constitution of the United States of America. However, even as an instrument of national unity, it soon became the source of discord and tension and ultimately contributed to the failure of the union it had created. This was due to the fact that the Constitution was too open to different interpretations of both sides, was disregarded, and a state could over power the document. The original purpose of the Constitution was to provide the grounds of the U.S. government. When it was first created in 1787 the question on the future of slavery was vaguely answered. This would eventually cause problems in next century as slavery became more questioned and the Constitution was no longer an acceptable answer. The question was whether or not slaves were property of actual human beings with natural rights. Another question was if the Constitution approved slavery. These unanswered questions led to two different interpretations of supposed answers by the South and North. Furthermore the South’s view of slavery was that it was a given right. They believed that slaves were, in fact, property and so slave owners had a right to keep slaves. Southerners held up the belief that the Constitution did recognized slavery as an existence and so was also a right (Document B). Even with a strong will power to hold on to slavery, Slave States feared how it still might change in the future. Actions were taken to make sure that would not happen. After the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed in 1854 many southern “Border Ruffians” crossed state borders because of popular sovereignty in order to vote the Kansas and Nebraska areas as slave states. When Southern States felt like their slave rights were being taken away, they threatened rebellion. In order to prevent this President at the time, James Buchanan submitted a message to Congress in 1860 that requested that “…. An express recognition of the right of property in slaves in the States where it now exists or may hereafter exist.” (Document G). The Constitution was used as only a means to keep slavery in the South.
Counterintuitive to the South, the North’s view of slavery was that the Constitution did not state that it was allowed. They interpreted the Constitution as a reason to ban slavery because the practice was not fair and should be banned. North abolitionists believed that slavery was being forced into existence by the South. A cartoon titled “Forcing Slavery Down The Throat Of A Free Soiler” depicts the feelings of how slavery is being forced into the lives of other people and in politics (Document F). The idea of popular sovereignty was favored by abolitionists because it gave citizens the right to vote a state free of slavery (although about 10% of people shared this view). The vagueness of the Constitution caused the North to believe that the document actually stands to ban slavery which was different than the South’s belief that it protected the practice.
The Compromise of 1850 caused many problems that the Constitution could not fix. In order to deal with the sectionalist balance of Free States to Slave States in Utah and New Mexico, popular sovereignty was agreed upon in the compromise (Document A). The main reason was the Fugitive Slave Act which stated that federal magistrates could return slaves whether or not they were free. It was, for the most part, a law in favor of the South and gave them power over slavery. However, Northerners did not approve of the act because it denied a slave a fair right to a jury trial and testify; as well as a high fine and prison time for those who helped slaves. The act went against human rights, was immoral and that it was a Constitutional injustice