Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 5. Introduction
A Fatal Contradiction

The earliest settlers of the English colonies planted the seeds of a fatal contradiction: slavery in a land of freedom. During the American Revolution, many citizens had a difficult time reconciling their demands for freedom for themselves with the continuing practice of enslaving fellow humans. When the authors of the Constitution missed the opportunity to settle the slavery issue at the birth of the new nation, they only postponed the inevitable.

The interests and economies of the north and south grew further apart with each decade. The Missouri Compromise decided the issue of slavery in new territories for thirty years, but it did not silence the turmoil. The Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, and the Dred Scott decision of 1857 all moved the country closer to crisis. Northern abolitionists became increasingly strident in their demands to end slavery. Some, like Frederick Douglass, appealed to reason; others, like John Brown, resorted to violence. Southerners howled at perceived threats to their sacred states' rights.

Before Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office in March 1861, seven states seceded from the Union, led by South Carolina. After the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, Lincoln called for volunteers for the Union Army. Eighty years after the drafting of the Constitution, the inevitable finally happened. Only civil war would remedy for all the time the fatal contradiction.

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