Civil War Causes Timeline

  • Compromise of 1850

    Compromise of 1850
    Senator Stephen A. Douglas, a Democrat from Illinois, came up with an alternative proposal that admitted California, established Utah and New Mexico as territories that could decide for themselves whether to permit slavery, defined boundaries for the state of Texas, abolished the slave trade in the District of Columbia, and obligated the entire country to cooperate in the capture and return of escaped slaves. But the deal only postponed the conflict.
  • Fugitive Slave Act Part 2

    Fugitive Slave Act Part 2
    An existing federal law, enacted by Congress in 1793, allowed local governments to seize and return escaped slaves to their owners, and imposed penalties upon anyone who aided their flight. But the new version included in the Compromise of 1850 went much further, by compelling citizens to assist in capturing escapees, denying the captives the right to a jury trial, and increasing the penalty for anyone aiding their escape.
  • "Uncle Tom's Cabin" Published

    "Uncle Tom's Cabin" Published
    Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Or, Life Among the Lowly sold 300,000 copies in its first year, and the vociferous public debate about the book exacerbated the differences between the North and South. Northerners were shocked by the brutal depiction of slavery, which Stowe had synthesized from published autobiographies of slaves and stories she had heard from friends and fugitive Blacks.
  • "Uncle Tom's Cabin" Published Continued

    "Uncle Tom's Cabin" Published Continued
    In turn, “Southerners react noisily to it,” Green explains. “They’re saying, ‘This is terrible. You’re attacking us. You’re all against us.’” When Stowe visited the White House in 1862, President Lincoln asked, “So this is the little lady who made this big war?”
  • Kansas-Nebraska Act

    Kansas-Nebraska Act
    To get what he wanted, Douglas offered a compromise, which would allow settlers in those territories to decide whether to legalize slavery. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, an opponent of slavery, attacked the proposal for creating “a dreary region of despotism.” Nevertheless it was passed by Congress.
  • Kansas-Nebraska Act Continued

    Kansas-Nebraska Act Continued
    “It re-opened that land to the expansion of slavery, and destroyed a long-established political compromise on the issue of slavery in the West,” Phillips says. Pro-slavery and antislavery activists surged into the territories in an effort to sway the vote, and clashed violently in a conflict that became known as “Bleeding Kansas,” which foreshadowed the Civil War.
  • Dred Scott Decision Continued

    Dred Scott Decision Continued
    In an 1857 decision written by Chief Justice Roger Taney, the court decided that Scott was not entitled to U.S. citizenship and the protection of law, no matter where he had lived. In the court’s view, the Constitution’s framers had not intended for Black people to be free, but instead viewed them as property, with “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” The ruling made further political compromise too difficult.
  • The Dred Scott Decision

    The Dred Scott Decision
    Scott, who was assisted financially by the family of his original owner, endured years of litigation until the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • The Election of 1860

    The Election of 1860
    “When they set up the convention floor, they put Illinois in a spot where they could get to the other delegations that were less committed,” Green says. “The New York delegation, which was supporting Seward, was put in a corner where they couldn’t get out.” That made it difficult for them to negotiate and persuade others to support their candidate.
  • The Election of 1860 Continued

    The Election of 1860 Continued
    In the general election, Lincoln caught more lucky breaks. After the Democrats were unable to decide upon a candidate, southern Democrats nominated John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky, while northerners nominated Douglas.
  • Election of 1860 Continued

    Election of 1860 Continued
    Breckenridge and Constitutional Party Candidate John Bell split the South, while Lincoln swept the northeastern and mid-western states except for Missouri (which went to Douglas), as well as Oregon and California to win the presidency despite getting just 40 percent of the vote. “For the first time, the Electoral College worked against the South,” Green explains.
  • The Formation Of The Confederacy

    The Formation Of The Confederacy
    Less than six weeks after the election, the first secession convention met in Charleston South Carolina. About 60 percent of the 169 delegates were slave owners, and they voted unanimously to leave the Union. Local residents celebrated with bonfires, parades and the ringing of church bells. Five more states—Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana—soon followed.
  • The Formation Of Confederacy Continued

    The Formation Of Confederacy Continued
    Though the Confederacy’s leaders didn’t realize it, they actually were hastening the end of what they sought to protect. “Had they stayed, slavery as an institution almost certainly would have survived much longer,” Green says.
  • The Formation Of The Confederacy Continued

    The Formation Of The Confederacy Continued
    Representatives from those six states met in February 1861 to establish a unified government, which they called the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis of Mississippi was elected as Confederate President. Texas joined in March.
    After Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter in April and Lincoln called for federal forces to retake it, four more states—Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee—left the union and joined the Confederacy as well.