The Peculiar Laws of
America's Peculiar Institution
Slavery in the New Nation • The Missouri Compromise •
Black and White Opposition to Slavery: Slave Rebels and New
Abolitionists • Abolitionist Theories and the Constitution •
Abolitionist Use of the Law • Slaves in Transit •
Antebellum Race Discrimination • Federal Fugitive Slave
Laws • Prigg v. Pennsylvania • Law and Conscience •
Southern Slave Codes • Controlling the Bondsmen • Slaves
and Criminal Law • Manumission • Free Blacks •
Conclusion • For Further Reading
DESPITE GROWING NATIONALISM and prosperity, the United States still had a long way to go before it could realize Daniel Webster's vision of a country bound by a common allegiance to particular ideals and loyalty to a single government. The old debate between national supremacy and states' rights had assumed a new lease on life in the nullification crisis of 1832. Even more important—and more dangerous to the stability of the Union—was the emergence of slavery as the central political, social, and constitutional problem of the nation. Starting with the Missouri Compromise debate of 1819–20, the South's “peculiar institution” came under increasing attack. Slavery ultimately put an intolerable strain on the political system and constitutional order, and raised profound questions about the nature of American government.
The rise of slavery as a political issue was due to a number of factors. These include the end of slavery in the North, the Missouri Compromise debates, the response of blacks to slavery, the emergence of the abolitionist movement in the 1830s, the ossifying of attitudes among white Southerners on race and slavery, the maturing of the Southern slave culture, the realization throughout the North that the South would never end slavery on its own, and the conflict between the North and South over the return of fugitive slaves.