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Collisions of Conflict

Studies in American History and Culture, 1820-1920


Jerzy Sobieraj

This book explores and analyzes the problems and challenges that have resulted from the Civil War, Reconstruction, slavery, and segregation in North America. These painful chapters in American history have continued along racial and regional lines and are of particular interest today when the USA are for the first time governed by an African American president. The postscriptum extends the main narrative by focusing on selected writers’ activities and fiction during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
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Chapter 2 Fighting Slavery: Various Shades of Abolitionism


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Chapter 2

Fighting Slavery: Various Shades of Abolitionism

The Missouri Compromise, the Kansas–Nebraska Act, the Lincoln–Douglas debates, and ultimately the Civil War reveal the immense significance of slavery in the social and political life of the Republic and, at the same time, the growing importance of various emancipation solutions. The fact that slavery was sanctioned by the Constitution (Article. I, Section. 2 and Article. IV, Section. 2), made fighting it a complicated task, especially with the country’s divergent social and economic interests represented by its different sections. According to Eric Nellis, this constitutional acceptance of slavery was possible since “[n] orthern states understood that slavery had to be accepted if a national union was to be made” (133). As a matter of fact, the government, until the immediate pre-Civil-War period, assisted the owners of slaves in dealing with their property, especially in cases of fugitive bondsmen: “The federal government acted as the extended arm of Southern slaveholders in . . . fugitive-slave disputes during the 1791 – 1861 period as U. S. attorneys, justices, commissioners, marshals, diplomats, soldiers, and Indian agents became increasingly active in recovering fugitive slaves and in ensuring compensation in cases where they were not recovered” (Ericson 80).

Since the idea of ownership was cherished and upheld by the Republic, the slaveholders’ commodity was no exception. The slave was property and as such could not own any property or engage in any civil contracts. His legal rights were limited to...

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