America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink

By Kenneth M. Stampp | Go to book overview
Save to active project


This book is about a crucial year in the antebellum American sectional conflict. History, of course, does not usually divide itself neatly into twelve-month segments, but, as a time frame, a year is no more artificial than a decade, or an "age" (of Jefferson or of Jackson), or a century. In a way, it is perhaps less artificial, for it is a span of time imposed not by some human decimal contrivance but by the inexorable mechanics of the solar system. The rhythm of the seasons, to some degree, regulates the lives of nations as well as individuals. Each new year marks a new beginning with its fresh hopes and brave resolutions. At year's end each winter solstice brings its coda, recapitulating gains and losses, successes and failures.

In 1856 three events had worsened the already strained relations between the North and South: first, a violent struggle between proslavery and free-state parties for control of Kansas Territory; second, a bitter controversy over the question of congressional authority to exclude slavery from the western territories; third, an exciting presidential campaign during which numerous Southerners threatened secession if the young Republican party, with its antislavery platform, should elect its first presidential candidate. In the autumn, the political crisis dissipated when peace was restored in Kansas and when the national Democratic party won the presidential election and control of both houses of Congress.

The year 1857 dawned with widespread expectations of a diminution of sectional tensions. On March 4, James Buchanan began his administration with a commitment to resolve the Kansas question and restore harmony between the sections. Most Northerners and Southerners were relieved that a secession crisis had been averted and hoped once more for a durable political settlement. All that was required, many believed, was to permit the qualified voters of Kansas Territory to elect delegates to a constitutional convention, to authorize that body to frame a state constitution acceptable to the majority, and to provide for its submission to popular ratification. With Kansas admitted to statehood, peace between the sections would be restored. All remaining sectional issues, the optimists claimed, were manageable, for a conflict over slavery in any of the other territories seemed unlikely.

These were the fair promises that produced a general mood of optimism in


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 388

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?