Lincoln and the Sectional Crisis
"The night is departing," James Buchanan told friends right after his election in 1856, "and the roseate and propitious morn now breaking upon us promises a Ong day of peace and prosperity for our country." 1 Buchanan was convinced he could quiet the agitation over slavery and, by restoring harmony to the nation, become a second George Washington. In his inaugural address on March 4, 1857, he endorsed popular sovereignty in the territories and non-interference with slavery in the South; he also expressed the hope that the whole question of slavery in the territories would be settled by the Supreme Court. Two days later the Supreme Court announced its decision in the Dred Scott case. But instead of settling the slavery controversy, the Dred Scott decision angered the Republicans, split the Democratic party in two, and further exacerbated sectional tensions. For the Court ruled that slavery was legal in all the territories and that neither Congress nor the territorial legislatures had any power to interfere with it.
Southern Democrats were overjoyed by the Dred Scott decision; it supported their views regarding slavery in the territories. But the Republicans were outraged; the ruling ran counter to their main plank: that Congress could and should exclude slavery from the territories. But the Northern Democrats were also dismayed, for the decision utterly destroyed Stephen A. Douglas's doctrine of popular sovereignty. Though Buchanan regarded the Dred Scott decision as "the final settlement" of the slavery question, no one really changed his mind after reading the Court's ruling. Republicans continued to insist that slavery must be checked and urged the Supreme Court to reverse its decision. Douglas and the Northern Democrats went on championing popular sovereignty. And Southern Democrats reiterated their demand, more forcefully than ever, that slavery be protected by federal law in all the territories.
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Publication information: Book title: Presidential Campaigns. Edition: Revised. Contributors: Paul F. Boller Jr. - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 99.
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