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Sectional Controversy

For a few years following the Compromise of 1850 it appeared that the issue of the expansion of slavery had been effectively addressed. Slowly, however, the question began to creep back into the national consciousness.

Slavery was effectively ignored by the major parties in the Election of 1852, but the joint issues of California, the railroads, and the Gadsden Purchase ended the short-lived serenity. The Kansas-Nebraska Act ignited tensions resulting in “Bleeding Kansas.”

The Election of 1856 brought James Buchanan to the presidency. He wrongly interpreted the Dred Scott case as a solution to the expansion of the slavery issue. Sectional issues were also aired in the Lincoln-Douglas debates in Illinois. The degree to which the nation had fractured was evident in the reactions to the events at Harper`s Ferry in 1859; the slavery issue was interpreted vastly differently in the North and South.

The Election of 1860 ushered in the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, but also touched off a secession crisis and the formation of the Confederacy. Efforts to compromise failed. The first shots of the Civil War were exchanged at Fort Sumter in April 1861.

At the outbreak of war the opposing sides possessed starkly differing aims, strategies and prospects.