View single post by Wrap10
 Posted: Sun Aug 24th, 2008 03:23 pm
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Wrap10
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Well, I don't know as I think them hypocrites really. It was more a matter of priorities, between states rights and slavery. When the two came into conflict, as they did here, they had to choose which was best for their own interests. They chose slavery. In that sense, it's not really different than what other states, sections, or even countries will do - they act in what they feel is their own best interest. But it also, to me, belies the idea that the South was states rights first, last, and always. Yes, they were - if and when they felt it to work in their favor. The North was the same way.

Plus, I think we have to look at the fugitive slave issue within the context of the overall Compromise. It was part of the giant balancing act going on. The North got a 'free' California, and an end to the slave trade in Washington D.C. And the territories of New Mexico and Utah would decide the issue of slavery for themselves. The same idea that later blew up in everyone's face in Kansas, but not here. Two of those issues favor the North, the other is more or less a wash. (Texas was also involved, having to give up claims to some territory in New Mexico, but they got a nice cashier's check in return.)

So the fugitive slave issue was meant to be just one part of a larger compromise. But it eventually caused more sectional problems than the Compromise as a whole initially helped solve.

One counter-argument I've seen to the fugitive slave issue being all that important, is that it did not result in a large number of runaway slaves being captured and returned to the South. But that misses the point - regardless of how many slaves were captured, it caused a firestorm of resentment in the North, and furthered the sectional animosity.

And ironically, those 'personal liberty laws' were echos of South Carolina's nullification ordnance from the 1830's. The South was now using the long arm of the federal government to reach into northern states and pluck out runaway slaves, and those states weren't supposed to do a darn thing about it even if they wanted to. Even more, not only could northerners not interfere, they were also required to help capture those slaves. So it's not about the numbers. It's about the tremendous resentment one section of the country felt toward the other over this issue. And the fact that the South was using what was viewed in the North as strong-arm tactics, with the federal government as their strong-armed man. For some northerners as well, the sight of human beings being tracked down, captured, and led away in chains was a bit much.

Another example where the South favored a stronger federal government was Kansas. At first the idea was that the people living in that territory (and Nebraska, which was never an issue) would decide about slavery for themselves, and southern leaders by and large were okay with that. It represented local control, which is the essence of states rights. But once it became clear that slavery would almost certainly get voted down by the locals, it caused a rapid change of the southern heart. Now they favored federal protection for slavery in a territory until statehood was achieved. To give it more of a chance to take hold. The wishes of the local folks be darned.

There was a lot more to Kansas then that of course, and both sides pulled some shenanigans, but that was the essential manner in which southern leaders responded. Even Buchanan, who seems to have been a northerner, and a national president, in name only. It was this issue that really caused the divide between him and Stephen Douglas, and turned the Democratic Party toward their eventual train wreck in 1860. The whole thing is just one big, giant, tragic mess.

Perry


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