As the cotton and slave production and consumption grew, so did the problem and topic of slavery. Done to death in many political and social circle, this grew to an elephant proportion. It became a subject that was never discussed and yet always there. Politics swelled with the pro and anti-slavery thoughts and feelings. So how do we know the debate over slavery was the "elephant in the room" for American politics in the early 19th century? Slavery earned this distinction because of the constant battle between pro and anti shown in the Compromise of 1850, the Dred Scott Decision, and the John Brown Raid of 1858. Each one of these victories showed a victory for either the pro or anti believers. As this is an issue that spanned over a number of years, the timeline gives more light on the events.
The time of expansion was ripe and rich. The Missouri Compromise had brought about 11 free states and 11 slave states which meant an even keel in the Senate. This lasted a few years and life was good. But as the Gold Rush came about in 1849, so did trouble. California came to the Union and requested to join the Union as a free state. But Henry Clay, a politician, anticipated the complaints from the slave states and suggested a compromise. This was debated and eventually named the 5 part Compromise of 1850. This held five different parts that detailed what was to happen to keep the slave and free states hapy. We read an article called PBS’s Africans in America and found different quotes explaining such parts. Here, it explains the first four rules, “According to the compromise, Texas would relinquish the land in dispute but, in compensation, be given 10 million dollars -- money it would use to pay off its debt to Mexico. Also, the territories of New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah would be organized without mention of slavery. (The decision would be made by the territories' inhabitants later, when they applied for statehood.) Regarding Washington, the slave trade would be abolished in the District of Columbia, although slavery would still be permitted. Finally, California would be admitted as a free state. To pacify slave-state politicians, who would have objected to the imbalance created by adding another free state, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed.” The first part of the compromise was saying that Texas would be given compensation for relinquishing land. The states that were organized would be given free rein in the slavery respect and that was shaky territory since both the Union and Confederacy could convince people to move to those territories and spread the ideals of those places. Since the capital of the USA was abolishing slavery in that district, that meant that the country was representing a non-slavery outlook. And California was allowed to joined the fun. But to help pacify the South even more, the fugitive slave act was passed. As it is explained here, “Of all the bills that made up the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was the most controversial. It required citizens to assist in the recovery of fugitive slaves. It denied a fugitive's right to a jury trial. (Cases would instead be handled by special commissioners -- commissioners who would be paid $5 if an alleged fugitive were released and $10 if he or she were sent away with the claimant.) The act called for changes in filing for a claim, making the process easier for slaveowners. Also, according to the act, there would be more federal officials responsible for enforcing the law.” The Fugitive Slave act meant that slaves who lived in and escaped to the free states were not really free and it bothered the North because it undermined the underground railroad. It also meant that the North was not allowed to fight against slavery. This was a victory for both pro and anti but the pro-slavery people in the south had more advantages in the long run.
Dred Scott was one of the only slaves who took his owner to court and had the issue escalate to such a high degree that it was turned into a national event. Dred Scott and his wife claimed that since their owner had moved them from Illinois(a free state) to Missouri(a slave state) that mean that they were both free to live and vote. This raised many voices and questions from both sides. But the SCOTUS eventually ruled 7 to 2 against the Scots and the issue was put to rest. But this court event had lasting effects. We read about such effects in an article called PBS’s Africans in America that explained such effects. First and foremost, slaves, because they are not citizens, are not allowed to sue in court. As it is said, “They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery. . . . He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it. This opinion was at that time fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race.” This outlook cuts down the Scotts as well as any other slave who wishes to change the way of life for his fellow man. It also degrades them to property and destroys their rights, while claiming that all whites feel this way. And if they don’t they are uncivilized. Second, enslaved people cannot win or gain freedom by living in or visiting a free state. The article tells us, “"One of these clauses reserves to each of the thirteen States the right to import slaves until the year 1808.... And by the other provision the States pledge themselves to each other to maintain the fight of property of the master, by delivering up to him any slave who may have escaped from his service, and be found within their respective territories." This meant that the North had no say on whether they could help or care for a slave because they could not help them to freedom. And that any slave was condemned to his fate till his death or until his master saw fit to release him. Slaves began to feel the weight of the South on them at this time and began to feel it more keenly as the next change came along. Last, The Missouri Compromise was declared unconstitutional and all territories were open to slavery. “If any of its provisions are deemed unjust, there is a mode prescribed in the instrument itself by which it may be amended; but while it remains unaltered, it must be construed now as it was understood at the time of its adoption. It is not only the same in words, but the same in meaning, and delegates the same powers to the Government, and reserves and secures the same rights and privileges to the citizen; and as long as it continues to exist in its present form, it speaks not only in the same words, but with the same meaning and intent with which it spoke when it came from the hands of its framers, and was voted on and adopted by the people of the United States. Any other rule of construction would abrogate the judicial character of this court, and make it the mere reflex of the popular opinion or passion of the day. This court was not created by the Constitution for such purposes.” This was an outrage to the Union as well as to the slaves. It took the beliefs of their people and threw them out the back door. The North felt cornered and the slaves were now trapped. The annulment of the Missouri compromise meant that slavery would run rampant throughout America and could soon take hold of the North. This whole ordeal was a huge victory for the South and meant they were one step closer to a country full of slavery.
There was a man named John Brown, who, seeing these things occur, decided to do something about it. Only he chose a rather extreme way of going about it. John Brown was known for his killing of five influential southerners in the middle of the night by cutting them up in front of their families. This gave him a famous reputation and a great many enemies. But Brown soon earned a greater reputation for his raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1858. In this small town in Virginia, John Brown took a group of men and pillaged the armory in the town for guns to give to a group of slaves waiting for them. But the group was intercepted and cut down by USA soldiers and half were killed. Brown was taken into custody and tried for treason. He was hung. The South was extremely happy as this meant that the man who was responsible for the death of many southerners was condemned. But the North grieved for him as he was a man who represented them in beliefs, albeit in a very extreme way. His reputation can be veiwed here in a stanza of a song from John Brown’s Body, “He captured Harper's Ferry with his nineteen men so true. He frightened old Virginia till she trembled through and through. They hung him for a traitor, but themselves the traitor crew. His soul is marching on.” This was a win for the North but at a heavier cost than before. The cause was just but it was also the way it was brought about was very questionable.
The right and pathway of slavery is that of an elephant as you can see now. The North and South have danced around this issue for years and have done any thing in the name of their beliefs on the subject. This creates the problem and inflates it. So the North and South both won but each had to deal with the elephant.