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Visit the Avalon Project on Yale Law School’s website to read the impassioned speech that Henry David Thoreau delivered on October 30, 1859, arguing against the execution of John Brown. How does Thoreau characterize Brown? What does he ask of his fellow citizens?

John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry generated intense reactions in both the South and the North. Southerners grew especially apprehensive of the possibility of other violent plots. They viewed Brown as a terrorist bent on destroying their civilization, and support for secession grew. Their anxiety led several southern states to pass laws designed to prevent slave rebellions. It seemed that the worst fears of the South had come true: A hostile majority would stop at nothing to destroy slavery. Was it possible, one resident of Maryland asked, to “live under a government, a majority of whose subjects or citizens regard John Brown as a martyr and Christian hero?” Many antislavery northerners did in fact consider Brown a martyr to the cause, and those who viewed slavery as a sin saw easy comparisons between him and Jesus Christ.

The election of 1860

The election of 1860 triggered the collapse of American democracy when the elevation of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency inspired secessionists in the South to withdraw their states from the Union.

Lincoln’s election owed much to the disarray in the Democratic Party. The Dred Scott decision and the Freeport Doctrine had opened up huge sectional divisions among Democrats. Though Brown did not intend it, his raid had furthered the split between northern and southern Democrats. Fire-Eaters vowed to prevent a northern Democrat, especially Illinois’s Stephen Douglas, from becoming their presidential candidate. These proslavery zealots insisted on a southern Democrat.

The Democratic nominating convention met in April 1860 in Charleston, South Carolina. However, it broke up after northern Democrats, who made up a majority of delegates, rejected Jefferson Davis’s efforts to protect slavery in the territories. These northern Democratic delegates knew that supporting Davis on this issue would be very unpopular among the people in their states. A second conference, held in Baltimore, further illustrated the divide within the Democratic Party. Northern Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas, while southern Democrats, who met separately, put forward Vice President John Breckinridge from Kentucky. The Democratic Party had fractured into two competing sectional factions.

By offering two candidates for president, the Democrats gave the Republicans an enormous advantage. Also hoping to prevent a Republican victory, pro-Unionists from the border states organized the Constitutional Union Party and put up a fourth candidate, John Bell, for president, who pledged to end slavery agitation and preserve the Union but never fully explained how he’d accomplish this objective. In a pro-Lincoln political cartoon of the time ( [link] ), the presidential election is presented as a baseball game. Lincoln stands on home plate. A skunk raises its tail at the other candidates. Holding his nose, southern Democrat John Breckinridge holds a bat labeled “Slavery Extension” and declares “I guess I’d better leave for Kentucky, for I smell something strong around here, and begin to think, that we are completely skunk’d.”

A cartoon titled “The national game. Three ‘outs’ and one ‘run’” depicts a baseball game in which Lincoln has defeated John Bell, Stephen A. Douglas, and John C. Breckinridge. Lincoln, with his foot on “Home Base,” says, “Gentlemen, if any of you should ever take a hand in another match at this game, remember that you must have a good bat and strike a fair ball to make a clean score and a home run.’“ Lincoln’s bat is a wooden rail labeled “Equal Rights and Free Territory,” and his belt is labeled “Wide Awake Club.” A skunk raises its tail at the other candidates. Breckinridge holds his nose and declares “I guess I’d better leave for Kentucky, for I smell something strong around here, and begin to think, that we are completely skunk’d.’” Breckinridge’s bat is labeled “Slavery Extension,” and his belt is labeled “Disunion Club.” John Bell says, “It appears to me very singular that we three should strike foul and be put out while old Abe made such a good lick.” Bell’s belt is labeled “Union Club,” and his bat is labeled “Fusion.” Douglas, who holds a bat labeled “Non Intervention,” replies, “That’s because he had that confounded rail, to strike with, I thought our fusion would be a short stop to his career.”
The national game. Three “outs” and one “run” (1860), by Currier and Ives, shows the two Democratic candidates and one Constitutional Union candidate who lost the 1860 election to Republican Lincoln, shown at right.

The Republicans nominated Lincoln, and in the November election, he garnered a mere 40 percent of the popular vote, though he won every northern state except New Jersey. (Lincoln’s name was blocked from even appearing on many southern states’ ballots by southern Democrats.) More importantly, Lincoln did gain a majority in the Electoral College ( [link] ). The Fire-Eaters, however, refused to accept the results. With South Carolina leading the way, Fire-Eaters in southern states began to withdraw formally from the United States in 1860. South Carolinian Mary Boykin Chesnut wrote in her diary about the reaction to the Lincoln’s election. “Now that the black radical Republicans have the power,” she wrote, “I suppose they will Brown us all.” Her statement revealed many southerners’ fear that with Lincoln as President, the South could expect more mayhem like the John Brown raid.

A map shows the disposition of electoral votes for the election of 1860. Each state is labeled to indicate the number of electoral votes cast and shaded to indicate the candidate to whom that state went. Oregon (3), California (4), Minnesota (4), Iowa (4), Wisconsin (5), Illinois (11), Indiana (13), Michigan (6), Ohio (23), Pennsylvania (27), New York (35), Connecticut (6), Rhode Island (4), Massachusetts (13), Vermont (5), New Hampshire (5), and Maine (8) voted for Lincoln. New Jersey, with seven votes total, voted for Lincoln with a majority of 4 votes and Douglas with 3. Texas (4), Louisiana (6), Arkansas (4), Mississippi (7), Alabama (9), Georgia (10), Florida (3), South Carolina (8), and North Carolina (10) voted for Breckinridge. Tennessee (12), Kentucky (12), and Virginia (15) voted for Bell. Missouri (9) voted for Douglas. The territories, which did not participate in the election, are labeled as well.
This map shows the disposition of electoral votes for the election of 1860. The votes were divided along almost perfect sectional lines.

Section summary

A new level of animosity and distrust emerged in 1859 in the aftermath of John Brown’s raid. The South exploded in rage at the northern celebration of Brown as a heroic freedom fighter. Fire-Eaters called openly for disunion. Poisoned relations split the Democrats into northern and southern factions, a boon to the Republican candidate Lincoln. His election triggered the downfall of the American experiment with democracy as southern states began to leave the Union.

Questions & Answers

I don't understand the meaning of human event
Raw Reply
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Raw
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Dawson
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mary Reply
i need help
Maria
chasquis (also chaskis) were the messengers of the Inca empire. Agile, highly trained and physically fit, they were in charge of carrying the quipus, messages and gifts, up to 240 km per day through the chasquis relay system.
NAEEM
How did imperialism Effect America
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Maytember 17th, 2056
Dawson
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The Reply
what major industries emerged in the decades after the Civil war
ComicHickory Reply
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Shakeel Reply
To contrast the steamboat of the antebellum to today’s technology?
Nyrah Reply
contrast the steamboats of the antebellum years with technologies today.
Nyrah
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David
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I meant I love to read a lot
melanda
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sunny
what advantages did people in urban areas have over rural areas?
HAILEY Reply
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HAILEY
They had easy availability of food water. They had more comfortable life style as compare to people in rural areas. Better education was at there disposal
Shakeel
why did northerners lose thier resolve to pursue reconstruction
bambi Reply
what is taring and feathering?
Dominic Reply
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Ryan Reply
How would you characterize the former president’s reaction? What do you think he means by writing that the Missouri Compromise line “is a reprieve only, not a final sentence”?
Tonda Reply
Compare and contrast the steamboats of the antebellum years with technologies today. In your estimation, what modern technology compares to steamboats in its transformative power?
Tonda Reply
airplanes to jets. Another would be electric trains.
Darren
I would say the Internal Combustion engine was as if not more transformative the the Steam power which it replaced. The ability of the Steamboat to rapidly move large amounts of goods through the water ways that weave there way from town to town increased our fledgling country's economy. I can draw direct coraleris with the National highway system built during the 1950's that were soon clogged with Transport trucks using I.C.E.
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Source:  OpenStax, U.s. history. OpenStax CNX. Jan 12, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11740/1.3
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