Division That Led to Blood
In the 1840s and 1850s, great division swept over the North American continent. The issue of slavery dominated the politics of the day, and gave birth to the states’ rights movement that swept with such fury through the southeastern USA. Abolitionists in the North poured fire on the subject with newspapers printed sometimes in secret and distributed throughout the continental USA.
With the newly acquired territory in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War, a huge race to maintain the balance between slave, and free states was started. With Texas becoming a state and many territories coming into being at the same time, a huge wave of settlers, both pro-slavery and anti-slavery moved to border territories such as Kansas. It did not take long until a proxy war started in the territories between pro and anti-slavery factions. Bleeding Kansas in the 1850s resulted in over 100 deaths from violent skirmishes. One such raid, led by a John Brown resulted in a group of pro-slavery settlers being hacked to death with Scottish broadswords by John Brown and his party.
Such violence only became worse across the USA. In 1856, violence reached the US Senate Floor when Senator Charles Sumner was beaten nearly to death with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks. Sumner a passionate abolitionist, had just delivered a fiery speech against slavery and was soon thereafter beaten by Representative Brooks, who was a staunch supporter of slavery. After the beat down, Brooks fled, while Sumner never fully recovered from his beating. Many pro-Slavery individuals sent Brooks canes to replace the one he broke beating Sumner.
This event only galvanized both sides. As blood flowed in Kansas, and the US Congress became increasingly more and more divided, people started to fear for the future of the US. Things came to a head in 1859, when a single spark lit the fuse.
On October 16, 1859, John Brown led 18 other in a raid to seize the US Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. What followed was a 2-day standoff that was ended when none other than Robert E Lee stormed the building where Brown and his men had holed up. Brown was hanged and hailed as a martyr in the North, and a villain in the South.
A little over a year later, the election of Abraham Lincoln was the straw the broke the camel’s back. South Carolina seceded and what followed, the great American Civil War broke our nation asunder, and cost as many as 700-800,000 dead.
America has been as divided as it is today. Those divisions over 150 years ago led to bloodshed and violence. What will that mean for us today? Only the future knows. But they that forget the lessons of the past are often prone to repeating history.
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