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Abraham Lincoln

A one-term congressman from Illinois during the Mexican War. His debates with Senator Stephen Douglas in 1858 propelled him to national attention and the republican nomination for president in 1860. He won the election and led the Union during the Civil War, during which he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

border ruffians

Missourians who, during the territorial and statehood elections in Kansas in the mid-1850s, crossed the border to Kansas specifically to vote for the proslavery candidates.

Kansas-Nabraska Act

In 1854, Senator Stephen A. Douglas introduced this proposal to organize the remaining Louisiana Purchase Territory. Since the Missouri Compromise had banned slavery in that territory, his proposal to use popular sovereignty to determine the fate of slavery in the territory outraged northerners.

John C. Fremont

First presidential nominee of the new Republican party in 1856. Known as "the Pathfinder," he was a noted frontier soldier and a hero of the conquest of California during the Mexican War. He had little political experience.

Ostend Manifesto

A confidential dispatch to the U.S. State Department from U.S. ambassadors in Europe. It suggested that if SPain refused to sell Cuba to the United States, the United States would be justified in seizing the island. Northerners claimed it was a plot to expand slavery and the Manifesto was disavowed.

Harpers Ferry raid

In 1859, abolitionist John Brown and his followers attacked the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. He planned to arm local slaves, lead a slave rebellion, and establish a Black republic. Instead, he was captured, tried, and executed for treason.

Freeport Doctrine

During the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858, Douglas declared that, even in the face of the Dred Scott Decision, the people of a territory could exclude slavery simply by not passing the local laws essential for holding blacks in bondage. This helped Douglas win reelection to the Senate, but it hurt his bid for the presidential nomination in 1860.

Franklin Pierce

A dark horse candidate who won the Democratic party presidential nomination from Lewis Cass and James Buchanan in 1852. He defeated the Whig candidate, Winfield Scott, in the election. He was not a strong leader.

Know-Nothing party

Also known as the American party, this was a nativist, anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic political party organized in the early 1850s in response to the recent flood of Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Germany. The party enjoyed some success in local and state elections in 1854.

Clayton-Bulwer Treaty

1850, provided for the demilitarization and joint British-American control of any canal across the Central America isthmus of Panama. For Americans. it was a response to the need for improved communications to the West Coast.

Cotton Whigs

Southerners who were alienated from the Whig party by their antislavery brethren. When the Whig party disintegrated after 1852, they joined with proslavery southerners in the Democratic party.

Gadsden Purchase

In 1853, James Gadsden, U.S. Minister to Mexico, engineered the purchase of over 29,000 square miles of Mexican territory south of the Gila River. It provided a potential route for construction of a transcontinental railroad.

Crittenden Compromise

During the Secession Crisis in 1860-1861, Kentucky Senator John Crittenden proposed a North-South compromise on slavery. He proposed a constitutional amendment recognizing slavery in all territory south of 36e 30', and an unamendable amendment guaranteeing slavery in slave states. President-elect Lincoln and Republicans rejected the proposals.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Wife and daughter of abolitionists, she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin in response to the Fugitive Slave Act. The emotional story presented slaves as real people and evoked sympathy for slaves among previously disinterested northerners. It was a best seller.

James Buchanan

An experienced diplomat and co-author of the notorious Osten Manifesto in 1854. Though labeled a "Doughface" by Republicans, he won the presidency as the nominee of the Democratic party in 1856. The Democratic party divided North and South during his term.

Bleeding Kansas

The contest between pro and antislavery settlers for control of Kansas Territory provoked violence and bloodshed in 1855. For partisan reasons, President Pierce's administration failed to peacefully implement popular sovereignty in this region.

Dred Scott decision

In 1857 the Supreme Court ruled that blacks were not citizens and could not sue in a federal court, and that Congress had no constitutional authority to ban slavery from a territory, that, in effect, the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional.

Lincoln-Douglas debates

In the senate race in Illinois in 1858, Senator Stephen Douglas and Republican Abraham Lincoln conducted a series of debates. These debates focused on the implications of the Dred Scott decision and the future of slavery in America. Lincoln won wide acclaim in the North for his views. Douglas won reelection.

John Breckinridge

President Buchanan's vice-president who was nominated president by the southern wing of the divided Democratic party 1860. He wanted the territories left open to slavery. He won a majority of southern votes, but lost the election to Abraham Lincoln.

Charles Sumner

An abolitionist senator from Massachusetts who, in 1856, was brutally beaten by a proslavery congressmen for his Crime Against Kansas speech, an abusive blast against proslavery politicians.

Conscience Whigs

Northern Whigs who opposed slavery on moral grounds. When the Whig party disintegrated after 1852, and the Democratic party was dominated by proslavery southerners, most of these northern Whigs joined the new Republican party.

New England Immigrant Aid Society

An organization with plans to transport antislavery settlers to Kansas Territory in 1854. Although they were few in numbers, the New Englanders together with midwestern antislavery settlers were active and conspicuous in Kansas Territory's politics.


A constitutional concept based on the logic of John C. Calhoun. In his compact theory of government, states retained the essence of their sovereignty when they joined the Union, and they had constitutional authority to leave, or secede from the Union when it served their interests to do so. South Carolina seceded in 1860.


The pejorative appellation Republicans pinned on President Buchanan. It was their belief that he lacked the force of character to stand up against southern proslavery extremists.

Lecompton Constitution

A fraudulently adopted, proslavery constitution that Kansas presented with a request for admission to statehood in 1856. It generated a controversy that divided the Democratic party. Congress eventually rejected it, and Kansas was admitted as a free state in 1861.

Jefferson Davis

The first (and only) president of the Confederate States of America. He had been a respected Senator from Mississippi and former Secretary of War, but proved unable to provide strong national leadership for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

John Brown

A radical abolitionist who violently attacked slavery. He led the Pottawatomie Massacre against proslavery settlers in Kansas in 1856. He also led the Harpers Ferry raid in Virginia in 1859. When he was arrested, tried, and executed for treason he became a martyr to the abolitionist cause.

John Bell

Senator from Tennessee nominated for president by the new Constitutional Union party in 1860. That party supported the Constitution, the Union, and the laws of the United States. He received some support from the border states in the election.

Young America

The confident, Manifest Destiny spirit of Americans in the 1850s. Expansionists began to think about transmitting the dynamic, democratic spirit of the United States to other countries by aiding revolutionaries, opening up new markets, and annexing foreign lands.

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