Civil War Blog

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Slavery and the Civil War – Excerpts from an 1878 Schoolbook

Posted By on February 23, 2012

A Smaller School History of the United States by David Scott was in widespread use in the one room school houses of the Lykens Valley area after the Civil War.  The following excepts are taken from this book, and show how the subject of “slavery as a cause of the Civil War” was taught in the schools:

PART IV – 1849-1861

3. Clay’s Compromise Bill. — In September, 1850, the excitement on the slavery question was in a measure quieted by the passage of Henry Clay’s Compromise Bill.  It provided for other things besides the admission of California, and was nicknamed the “Omnibus Bill.”   Its principal points were that California should be admitted as a free state; that two territories, Utah and New Mexico, should be organized, without mention of slavery; that the traffic in slaves should be prohibited in the District of Columbia; and that a law should be passed securing the arrest and return of fugitive slaves…. (p. 159).

5. Excitement on Slavery. — Although Clay’s Compromise Bill for a time  quieted public excitement, it was not long before a very bitter feeling was produced by that part of it known as the Fugitive Slave Act.  The people of the North in several instances resisted the officers attempting to arrest fugitive slaves.  Some of the Free States passed Personal Liberty Bills declaring all slaves free when they came within their limits.  This again, deeply irritated the people of the Southern States. (p. 159-160).

6. Kansas-Nebraska Bill. — The excitement showed itself strongly when, in December, 1853, Senator Douglas introduced into Congress his famous Kansas-Nebraska Bill.  In this, Kansas and Nebraska were organized into territories , and the settlers were left free to choose whether they would have slavery or not.  This was contrary to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which prohibited slavery in this whole region.  The bill passed, May, 1854.  (p. 160).

7. The Struggle in Kansas. — In Nebraska there was no struggle; it was too far north.  But there at once began a long and bitter contest in Kansas, among its own settlers, whether it should be pro-slavery or free-soil.  This struggle was watched with the most intense anxiety throughout the country.  In the midst of it, in the fall of 1856, the Presidential election took place, and James Buchanan, of Pennsylvania, was chosen President over John C. Fremont, the Free-soil candidate…. (p. 160).

8. Public Opinion on Slavery. — The anti-slavery feeling of the country showed great strength in the support it gave Fremont, and it continued to gain strength as the months rolled on.  The Free and Slave State settlers in Kansas still struggled, and blood was frequently shed.  Each party has its own government, and their disputes were discussed in Congress. (p. 160).

9. John Brown’s Raid. — One of the most active of these Kansas Free State settlers was old John Brown, the hero of some sharp fighting there.  Leaving Kansas, he went to Virginia to liberate the slaves, and on the night of October 16, 1859, with twenty-one companions, seized the United States Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry.  After holding it for two days, he was overpowered by the State and Federal troops, made prisoner, and thirteen of his band were killed. (p. 160-161).

10. His Trial and Execution. — He and six of his companions were tried, convicted, and hung., December 2, 1859.  He died with remarkable firmness.  On his trial, Brown steadfastly affirmed that his only object was to liberate the slaves, and that he acted without advice or encouragement; but notwithstanding this, the North was blamed.  “John Brown’s raid” served to inflame still more the people of the South against the North. (p. 161).

11. Four Presidential Candidates. — In this excited state of the public mind the election for President took place.  There were four candidates: the representative of popular sovereignty in the Territories and Northern Democracy; Breckenridge, of pro-slavery and Southern Democracy; Lincoln, of the exclusion of slavery, and the Republican party; and Bell, of the Constitutional, or Union, party, which said nothing for or against slavery…. (p. 161).


1. Negro Slavery was the great cause of the approaching war.  It began at Jamestown in 1820, and growing slowly at first, soon spread rapidly among the Southern colonies.  The slaves performed the work in the tobacco fields, and in the rice and cotton plantations.  When in 1792, the cotton-gin, a machine to separate the cotton seed from the fibre, was invented, slave labor came into great demand; so that from 650,000 slaves in the South in 1790, the number had increased in 1860 to 4,000,000. (p. 163).

2. Slavery North and South. — The great body of the people in the North had from the first been opposed to negro slavery.  There were slaved, it is true, in nearly all the Northern colonies, but they did not increase there rapidly.  The colder climate, and particularly free labor, prevented this.  Many of the leading men at the South also opposed slavery at first, but the wants of the South for labor, especially in the cotton plantations, carried the day; and the labor of the slave became one of the chief sources of Southern wealth and power. (p. 163).

3. The State Rights Doctrine. — There were other, but minor, causes that led to secession.  A large part of the South, South Carolina in particular, advocated the doctrine of State rights…. (p. 163).

4. The South and the Tariff. — Again, there was the tariff question, on which the extreme South was opposed to the North.  The south was slaveholding and produced tobacco, rice, cotton, and latterly sugar.  The North was a manufacturing people, and had goods to sell.  The South said that they could buy what they needed cheaper in Europe than from the North, ant that a protective tariff benefited the North at the expense of the South. (p. 164).

5. The Struggle between North and South for Power. — But the great question of slavery underlay and overtopped every other question, and let to the long struggle for power between the North and South, which ended in secession.  It was a struggle whether slavery or free labor should have most territory, and consequently the greatest number of States and representatives in Congress.  The chief events that show this struggle were:

I. The contest ending in the Missouri Compromise….

II. The annexation of Texas, to give more slave territory….

III. The Compromise Bill of 1850, and particularly that part —

IV. The Fugitive Slave Act….

V. The Kansas-Nebraska Bill…. (p. 164).

6 Secession long determined on. The John Brown raid and the election of Lincoln only gave the South a convenient excuse for seceding.  The leaders said they had been preparing for secession for several years.  When, at the end of the great Kansas-Nebraska struggle, it was seen that nothing could prevent the Free States from outnumbering the Slave States in Congress, the political struggle was virtually ended.  The only hope of the South was in secession, which they supposed would be peaceable, but in this they were grievously mistaken. (p. 165).

The book, A Smaller School History of the United States, is available for review at the Gratz Historical Society and is part of the “One Room School House” collection.  It is also available as a free download from Google Books.

A prior post on this blog reviewed maps of the “Eastern Theater of War” including one from A Smaller History of the United States.  In the post tomorrow, “slavery as a cause of the Civil War” will be examined from the perspective of the early 20th century school text, School History of the United States, by Albert Bushnell Hart.





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