In 1782 Americans won their independence from Britain in the American Revolution. After the colonies won their independence, Americans created the Constitution. Its purpose was to replace the Articles of Confederation and solve its problems and more importantly to bring the states together under a single document creating a stronger union of all the states.
There was one problem though: there were a few fundamental issues that the framers could not agree on. In the early nineteenth century the United States began to split, but as the mid-century came around, people became more polarized in their views and the union started to separate drastically. During the period of 1850, until 1861 when the Confederate States of America was formed, the union was clearly divided between the North and South.
Although the Constitution was not the only factor leading to sectional tension in America, there are many strong points in the North and South favoring the statement, “By the 1850’s the Constitution, originally framed as an instrument of national unity, had become a source of sectional discord and tension and ultimately contributed to the failure of the union it had created. ” It is known that the union did not last, for there was the Civil War. If everyone could agree on what the Constitution implied, then there probably would not have been a civil war.
The Constitution was clearly interpreted in different ways. There were many conflicts between the north and south about the issue of slavery in the Constitution. This issue was touched up with the compromise of 1850 (Doc A) and the fugitive slave act. One concept of this compromise was known as “popular sovereignty” where Utah and New Mexico decided to vote on whether they want slavery at the time of statehood application. However, the strict fugitive slave law commanded the capture of any runaway slave.
After the fugitive slave law was enacted, many personal liberty laws were created in the North and colored people were notified, “You are hereby respectfully CAUTIONED and advised, to avoid conversing with Watchmen and Police Officers of Boston” (Document C). Just as Northerners saw flaws in the Constitution, Southerners viewed it not to be perfect as well. President James Buchanan, a northern man with southern sympathies clarified, “As sovereign states, they and they alone, are responsible before God and the world for the slavery existing among them” (Document G).
However, In Doc B, an anonymous writer defends the state’s rights that the constitution should protect slavery where it exists. The union will fall apart unless these rights are protected. The tension only rose further, where even authors were predestining the Civil War. Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that the Constitution was contradictory. He held the fugitive slave act as an immoral law that should be ignored and that the enforcement of such a law is a crime. Furthermore, it will lead to the dissolution of the union, stating: “What kind of legislation is this?
What kind of Constitution which covers? … But one thing appears certain to me… as soon as the Constitution ordains an immoral law, it ordains disunion” (Document D). The Constitutionality of the protective tariff was questioned during the panic of 1857, which Northerners blamed on the South. Yet another Bostonian, William Lloyd Garrison, an abolitionist reformer exclaimed “The Constitution which subjects them [slaves] to hopeless bondage is one that we cannot swear to support” (Doc E), stating that a truly free society cannot tolerate slavery and must end it immediately.
In conclusion, this shows that by the 1850’s the Constitution, originally framed as an instrument of national unity, had indeed become a source of sectional discord and tension and ultimately contributed to the failure of the union it has created. The Constitution was clearly flawed because extremist on both sides had problems with it and interpreted it ambivalently.