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Throughout the 1850s, divisions between the North & the slaveholding South intensified despite efforts of some politicians on both sides to keep growing tensions in check; the burning question that continually threatened to divide the nation (would slavery be permitted to expand into new territories & states) couldn't be amicably decided
Attempts by Southerners to defend the institution of slavery, & to ensure slavery could expand into new states in the West, were met by growing choruses of antislavery sentiment in the North; once-moderate opponents of slavery hardened their positions against the South as the events of the decade unfolded; abolitionism, whose adherents saw slavery as an evil that had to be destroyed, continued to grow in force, & many of the North, regardless of their opinions about racial equality, simply didn't want the future of the country to be defined by slave labor; slave labor, if it were allowed to exceed the confines of the South, would undermine the value of the "free labor" ideology of the North
California's application for statehood endangered the balance of power in the Senate between the North & the South; in an effort to find a new middle ground, the Compromise of 1850, originally planned by aging Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, admitted California to the Union as a free state but gave Southerners several incentives for resisting secession, including a new, strengthened Fugitive Slave Act; however, Fugitive Slave Act infuriated many in the North, & Northern reluctance to enforce the law infuriated many in the South, even people who themselves didn't hold slaves
Compromise of 1850 didn't save the Union for long; Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, written in response to her own anger about Fugitive Slave Act, may have seemed to be a romanticized version of events to come, but it brought the reality of the pain of slavery home to many in the North; it quickly became a bestseller & inflamed public opinion
When Congress passed Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 in an effort to organize a government for the previously Unorganized Territory between Minnesota & Oregon, the legislation provided new opportunities for slavery to expand, even in regions north of the geographical divide between free & slave that had been established by the Missouri Compromise in 1820; the result was that not only national tension but a civil war in Kansas so bloody that the territory came to be known as "Bleeding Kansas"
In 1857, Supreme Court's landmark decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford triggered further outrage in the North when it declared that the federal government had no authority to regulate the spread of slavery in any of the territories; in that same year, Panic of 1857, which hit the North far more than the South, illustrated how distinct the two regions had become in their economies
Later, Southerners were outraged by Northern sympathy for the radical actions of John Brown when he attacked the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now in West Virginia, but then part of the state of Virginia), in 1859; these events deepened sectional tensions & rivalries; as the nation responded, a new political party, the Republican Party, emerged, & an established political party, the Whigs, dissolved; at the same time, Abraham Lincoln gained national prominence as he campaigned first for a US Senate seat & then for the presidency; with Lincoln's election to the presidency in 1860, tensions came to a head: a majority of Southern states seceded from the Union & civil war, which many had hoped & expected would be short, began