During the early 19th century, slavery was a very controversial topic. Southern states supported and allowed slavery and the spread of slavery, while Northern states discouraged and prohibited slavery and its spread. In 1820, when Maine wanted to be a free state, Missouri was created to balance the 11 slave states with 11 free states so that slavery and antislavery views were equally represented in the senate. The Missouri Compromise was created so that all new territory north of 36 degrees, 30 minutes latitude would be free in the future, with the exception of Missouri. Many people had differing views about slavery and it was a big deal. But many people tended to ignore this uncomfortable topic.The debate over slavery was the ‘elephant in the room’ for American politics during the early 19th century.
To learn about slavery and about how many people during the early 19th century avoided the topic, we analyzed different events and created a timeline. This timeline shows the different events we learned about from the early 19th century, and the causes or results of these events. Events located above the centerline supported the antislavery views of the North while the events located below the centerline supported the South’s proslavery views.
|The Kansas- Nebraska Territory|
As the United States acquired more land in central and western North America, new territories were created. The Kansas and Nebraska territories were created in Central North America. Soon, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed stating that the Kansas and Nebraska territories would be created without any mention of slavery. It was decided that when the people in these areas applied for statehood, the people would vote to determine whether the new state would be a slave state or a free state. This new act nullified the Missouri Compromise. In this instance, slavery was ‘the elephant in the room’ because the government never made a final solution to the problem of free vs. slave states. They only made temporary changes and kept putting off the problem of slavery. As a result of the Kansas- Nebraska act, people with proslavery and antislavery views rushed to settle in these new territories in hopes that the new state would be a free or a slave state, depending on their views. The Kansas- Nebraska act benefited both proslavery and antislavery views. In 1856, the Kansas territory was referred to as ‘Bleeding Kansas’. Proslavery settlers and antislavery settlers each set up different capitals in the Kansas territory. Each group believed that theirs was the legitimate capital, and the two opposing sides didn’t acknowledge the other capital. Topeka, Kansas was the antislavery capital and Lecompton, Kansas was the proslavery capital. In the back of their minds, these settlers knew about the two contradicting capitals, but by refusing to publicly acknowledge this problem once again made slavery ‘the elephant in the room’.
In Senator Charles Sumner’s speech “The Crime Against Kansas,” Sumner attacked Southerners for forcing slavery on the Kansas territory. In this speech, Sumner also made bold insults against Andrew Butler, the senator of South Carolina. As a result of these insults and for his antislavery views, Andrew Butler’s nephew, Preston Brooks, beat Sumner with his cane. This is referred to as ‘the Caning of Charles Sumner’. There were many onlookers to Sumner’s caning, but none intervened to stop this. Brooks wasn’t punished either. The failure of the onlookers to do anything about Brooks beating Sumner proves that the topic of slavery was ‘the elephant in the room’ in American politics. People knew what had happened, but no one acknowledged it publically.
In the Lincoln- Douglas debates on the 1850s, majority rule and minority rights were two of the most important topics. Abraham Lincoln and Senator Douglas had differing opinions about this. Douglas believed that the majority should be able to rule as they wish while Lincoln believed that the majority should not have the power to deny the minority their rights. By talking about majority rule and minority rights, Lincoln and Douglas were referring to whether or not the people should be able to decide if the new territories would be considered free or slave states. They spoke about this controversial topic without really directly mentioning slavery. Once again, slavery is ‘the elephant in the room’ in American politics.
During the 1800s, the debate about slavery vs. antislavery was constantly looming over those living in the United States. But within the government, decisions about slavery, especially about slavery’s boundaries, was constantly changing. The decisions made by the government were temporary and never really addressed slavery completely. The decisions never solved the problems. People during this time didn’t publically acknowledge the problem that existed between those who supported slavery and those who didn’t. Everyone knew about this problem, but it wasn’t discussed or solved. Slavery was the ‘elephant in the room’ for Americans during the 1800s.
|This is the key to the timeline, it explains the events on the timeline above.|