Modern history

Conclusion: The Coming of the Civil War

Dred Scott did not live to see Abraham Lincoln take the oath of office in March 1861. Following the Supreme Court’s 1857 ruling, Scott was returned to Irene Emerson, who had married abolitionist Calvin Chaffee while awaiting the Supreme Court ruling. When that ruling was announced, Chaffee found himself the owner of the most well-known slave in America. He quickly returned Dred Scott and his family to his original owners, the Blow family. On May 26, 1857, the Blows freed the Scotts, so Dred Scott spent the last year and a half of his life as a free man. His wife Harriet and his daughters survived to see Lincoln inaugurated, the Confederacy defeated, and slavery abolished throughout the nation. Although they had to face a brutal civil war, they could take comfort from the fact that the Dred Scott case had helped to solidify northern support for both Lincoln and abolition.

John C. Fremont, like almost all slavery opponents, was outraged at the Dred Scott decision. He had helped to open the far West to settlement and bring California into the Union as a free state. Yet these achievements led to the demise of large numbers of Indians and fueled the battle over slavery. Despite the efforts of the Comanche and other Indian nations to fend off white encroachment, the U.S. government and eastern settlers claimed more and more territory in the 1840s and 1850s. By 1860, however, most white Americans thought less and less about Indian policy as they focused more and more on slavery.

Some Confederate planters imagined a nation that included Cuba, Nicaragua, and other slave territories. Meanwhile Northerners proved they would fight back. Those outraged by the Fugitive Slave Act had launched rescues of fugitives, and those appalled by Bleeding Kansas applauded John Brown’s raid. These more militant activists were joined by thousands of more moderate Northerners who voted for Lincoln in the fall of 1860. By the time Abraham Lincoln took office in March 1861, the ever-widening political chasm brought the United States face-to-face with civil war.

Yet even as war erupted, the issue of slavery remained unresolved. When Fremont was appointed major general in charge of the Department of the West in 1861, he faced a chaotic situation as proslavery forces tried to wrest Missouri from Union control. In response to a Confederate military victory in August 1861 at Wilson’s Creek in southwest Missouri, Fremont issued a limited emancipation proclamation, freeing the slaves of Missourians who supported the Confederacy. But the order flew in the face of Lincoln’s efforts to keep Missouri from joining the Confederacy and was soon rescinded. Southern states had seceded and were willing to wage war to maintain slavery. Was the North willing to face prolonged battles and high casualties to reunite the nation and abolish human bondage once and for all?

Chapter Review


Identify and explain the significance of each term below.

Oregon Trail (p. 301)

gold rush (p. 302)

Compromise of 1850 (p. 306)

Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 (p. 307)

Uncle Tom's Cabin (p. 310)

Kansas-Nebraska Act (p. 311)

Republican Party (p. 312)

Bleeding Kansas (p. 314)

Dred Scott decision (p. 314)

Harpers Ferry, Virginia (p. 316)

Confederate States of America (p. 319)


Answer the focus questions from each section of the chapter.

1. Why did Americans go west in the 1830s and 1840s, and what was the journey like?

2. What groups competed for land and resources in the West? How did competition lead to violence?

3. What steps did legislators take in the 1840s and early 1850s to resolve the issue of the expansion of slavery?

4. How were slavery and American imperialist ambitions intertwined in the 1840s and 1850s?

5. What factors contributed to the spread of antislavery sentiment in the North beyond committed abolitionists?

6. How did the violence in Kansas in the mid-1850s reflect and intensify the growing sectional divide within the nation?

7. How and why did John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry move the country closer to civil war?

8. Why did many in the South believe that the election of Abraham Lincoln was cause for secession?



• John C. Frémont leads expedition along the Oregon Trail


• Marcus and Narcissa Whitman lead 1,000 Christian emigrants to the Oregon Territory


• Texas granted statehood


• Dred Scott and his family sue for their freedom


• Gold discovered at Sutter's Mill in California


• Compromise of 1850

• Fugitive Slave Act passed


• Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes Uncle Tom's Cabin


• U.S.-Japanese treaty allows for mutual trading

• Republican Party founded

May 1854

• Fugitive slave Anthony Burns returned to his owner

• Kansas-Nebraska Act passed


• Period of violence in Bleeding Kansas


• Supreme Court ruling in Dred Scott case


• Lincoln-Douglas debates

October 16, 1859

• John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia

December 2, 1859

• John Brown executed



• Abraham Lincoln elected president

December 20, 1860

• South Carolina secedes from the Union

January 1861

• Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas secede



• Confederate States of America established

March 1861

• Lincoln inaugurated as president

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