The American Civil War

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Background to the War

After the War of Independence the United States of America was governed by the Articles of Confederation. This provided for a weak central government and strong state governments. However, it proved unworkable and a new Constitution was adopted that resulted in a stronger Federal government with powers which included regulating interstate commerce as well as foreign affairs.

The different states had varying policies concerning slavery. In some areas of the country where religious groups such as the Quakersplayed a prominent role in political life, there was strong opposition to having slaves. Rhode Island abolished slavery in 1774 and was soon followed by Vermont (1777), Pennsylvania (1780), Massachusetts (1781),
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Even moderate anti-slavery leaders such as Arthur Tappan declared he was now willing to disobey the law and as a result helped fund theUnderground Railroad.

In 1854 Stephen A. Douglas introduced his Kansas-Nebraska bill to the Senate. These states could now enter the Union with or without slavery. Frederick Douglass warned that the bill was "an open invitation to a fierce and bitter strife". The result of this legislation was to open the territory to organized migrations of pro-slave and anti-slave groups. Southerners now entered the area with their slaves while active members of the Antislavery Society also arrived. Henry Ward Beecher, condemned the bill from his pulpit and helped to raise funds to supply weapons to those willing to oppose slavery in these territories.

Kansas elected its first legislature in March, 1855. Although less than 2,000 people were qualified to take part in these elections, over 6,000 people voted. These were mainly Missouri slave-owners who had crossed the border to make sure pro-slavery candidates were elected. The new legislature passed laws that imposed the death penalty for anyone helping a slave to escape and two years in jail for possessing abolitionist literature.

In 1856 Abraham Lincoln joined the Republican Party and unsuccessfully challenged Stephen A. Douglas for his seat in the Senate. Lincoln was opposed to Douglas's proposal that the people

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