Summary Objective 13

Students will examine the expansion of slavery as a key factor in the domestic and foreign policy decisions of the United States in the 19th century. Maps to Key Concepts 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9 & 10.


What else should my students know?

13.A Slavery was key in the debates about entering the Mexican War and admitting Missouri, Texas, Kansas and California to the Union.

13.B The desire to maintain a balance of slave states and free states in the Senate was central to Southern lawmakers’ domestic policy.

13.C The Kansas-Nebraska Act and its potential effect on the expansion of slavery was a key event in the sectional crisis. After the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, both Northerners and Southerners rushed to populate Kansas. The violence of “Bleeding Kansas” resulted.

13.D In 1857, Chief Justice Taney wrote the majority decision for the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case. Southern enslavers applauded the decision, which they saw as recognizing enslaved people as their property. Northerners were outraged. Taney’s decision established several key precedents related to slavery. The three most important were:

  • There was nowhere in the United States enslaved people could go to be free. Taney ruled that the status of enslaved people was determined by the laws in their home state; traveling to a free state did not render an enslaved person free (this was the key issue at hand). 
  • Black people were not citizens of the United States. Because Scott was black, Taney's argument said, he was not a citizen. Because he was not a citizen, he had no right to sue. 
  • The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional. According to Taney, the Missouri Compromise restricted slavery in the territories, which Congress did not have the power to do. 


How can I teach this?

  • In his editorial “War With Mexico,” Frederick Douglass discusses the war as a mechanism to expand slavery.
  • Henry David Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Disobedience discusses his protest against the Mexican War.
  • The “Compromise of 1850” was a series of laws intended to appeal equally to free and slave states. The compromise strengthened the Fugitive Slave Act, exacerbating sectional tensions. New provisions included:
    • The appointment of “commissioners” to search for fugitives in the North.
    • The requirement that individuals and organizations in free states assist the commissioners searching for people who escaped slavery. 
    • The acceptance of spurious evidence to convict accused fugitives.
    • A compensation structure that paid the commissioners $10 if they returned an accused fugitive to slavery but only $5 if they found that the accused was legally free.
  • Primary sources surrounding the 1854 trial of Anthony Burns, an enslaved man who escaped Virginia only to be arrested in Boston, offer examples of a range of responses to the Fugitive Slave Act.
  • To understand the violence that characterized “Bleeding Kansas,” students can look at the 1856 sacking of Lawrence, Kansas, by pro-slavery forces and at John Brown’s murder of several pro-slavery voters at Pottawatomie Creek a few days later.
  • To understand the impact of the slavery debate on American political institutions, students can examine the caning of Charles Sumner, a senator from Massachusetts. Preston Brooks, a congressman from South Carolina, repeatedly struck Sumner with a cane after the senator made a fiery speech denouncing slavery and the Kansas-Nebraska Act.



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