In this unit, we learned about many different decisions made by the government in the 1850’s leading up to the Civil War. The country was divided and each decision stepped closer and closer to war. Slavery had to do with almost every problem, but nobody wanted to deal with it. The government tried to work around it and keep each side satisfied for as long as possible, however the problem finally became too big to ignore any longer. In the decisions made during the 1850’s leading to the Civil War, slavery was the elephant in the room because nobody ever tried to make a decision about slavery; instead they worked around the issue to try to strike a balance with everyone to postpone the problem.
In groups, we made a timeline of all the major events that occurred in which slavery was the elephant in the room, as seen above. For example, the Compromise of 1850 settled 5 major disputes regarding slavery, but it settled them without dealing with the true problem of slavery. If the north was given something, the south had to be given something as well so everything was balanced and everyone was happy. For example, in the compromise, the north wanted California to be a free state. However, the south wasn’t okay with that, so to keep everyone happy the government created the Fugitive Slave Act. The Fugitive Slave Act required all citizens to turn in any slaves that have run away, meaning even in the north runaway slaves were not safe. With both of these put in place, the north and the south were temporarily happy, however it didn’t fix the problem of slavery, it just tried to work around it. Another example is the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The north wanted a railroad going west just like the south, so they made one but the south wasn’t okay with the north gaining the land of Nebraska and Kansas. So, Kansas-Nebraska was declared popular sovereignty to make the southerners happy, and northerners could now move west and increase their trade. Charles Sumner said to the President that with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, "the eminent question (is) now before you, involving the peace of the whole country, with our good name in history forevermore", and Charles wanted to start solving the problem of slavery. But once again, the president didn’t want to touch or upset the problem; he made a temporary solution to postpone the inevitable bigger decision. The John Brown Raid shows the same neglect for the true problem. John Brown worked to seize weapons to give to slaves so that they would be armed to start a rebellion. However, he and his troops were defeated and he was sentenced to hanging. He was seen as a martyr who died unfairly for a great cause. A song about him states, “They hung him for a traitor, but themselves the traitor crew, His soul is marching on, He’s gonna be a soldier in the army of the Lord,” and this song shows how he became a symbol of fighting for freedom. But the government was just trying to shut him up and stop the whole rebellion from the start. Brown was trying to start fighting for a solution to slavery, but they didn’t want to answer it; they only wanted to move around it. Lastly, the Dred Scott Decision tried to put off the question of slavery when Dred Scott, an enslaved man living in Missouri, filed a lawsuit against his owner. He says that he should be free since he once lived in a place where slavery was illegal. Not only did he lose the case, the government also made some new rules regarding slaves; slaves didn’t have the right to court, enslaved people could not win freedom by living in a free state, and the Missouri Compromise was no longer in effect. The government saw something threatening the balance of the north and south, so they made restrictions so that slaves could not keep upsetting the balance with the law. As shown by all of the events on the timeline, slavery was the problem in the United States but the government refused to make a decision about this elephant in the room to try to push it off for as long as possible and keep everyone satisfied without having to deal with the complicated issue of slavery.