Lesson Plan 6 | Democrats Fought to Expand Slavery (1808-1858)


 After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the South pushed to expand slavery in the territories while the North battled for the free market system. The slave system was the very antithesis of the free market system.  By January 1807, there were more than four million slaves in the South.  In 1807, Congress continued to fight against slavery by abolishing the importation of slaves, though slavery did continue in those states where the institution was legal. The ban on importation of slaves was effective January 1, 1808.

Efforts to end the slave trade continued to be hampered by the Southern Democratic planter class. Slavery continued with interstate trading.  Factors such as, the expansion of the cotton industry and suppression of foreign slave trade, encouraged the self-sustaining domestic slave trade that led to the break-up of families.  Abolitionists, like Harriet Beecher Stowe, began to write about these atrocities.  Meanwhile, prices for slaves quadrupled between 1800 – 1860.


Time: Lesson Plan Designed to Span Three Class Periods.


Rev. Absalom Jones 1808 Thanksgiving Speech http://anglicanhistory.org/usa/ajones/thanksgiving1808.html
Copies of Missouri Compromise map, 1820
Court Case, Prigg v Pennsylvania, 1842  https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/41/539/case.html
Copies of Democratic Party Platform from 1840, 1844, 1848
The Compromise of 1850 map
The abolitionist movement grows after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 - worksheet
Worksheet copies for map analysis for Kansas-Nebraska Act 1854 http://edsitement.neh.gov/sites/edsitement.neh.gov/files/worksheets/map_analysis.pdf
Speeches of Douglas and Lincoln on the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 http://edsitement.neh.gov/sites/edsitement.neh.gov/files/worksheets/Kans_Neb_Debate.pdf
Copy of Abraham Lincoln’s Peoria Speech, 1854
Polarization over slavery http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/kansas-nebraska-act-1854-popular-sovereignty-and-political-polarization-over-slavery
Charles Sumner’s speech (1856) on “Bleeding Kansas” https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/CrimeAgainstKSSpeech.pdf
Copies of “House Divided” speech, 1858
Copies of Political Party Platforms from 1856

Background Information:

In 1808, Congress continued its fight to abolish slavery and ended the importation of slaves into the United States. The Rev. Absalom Jones, the first black bishop of the Episcopal Church in America, preached a sermon at St. Thomas’ Church giving thanks for its passage. Unfortunately, slavery did not end. After the end of legal importation in 1808, the slave population more than tripled, and slaves counted about one-third of the southern population because slavery was now self-sustaining. The Democrats now wanted to protect this “peculiar institution” by the expansion of slavery in the western territories thus guaranteeing control of Congress.

The Democratic Party proslavery advocates knew that slavery was not as efficient as free labor but rationalized its existence by emphasizing that slaves be the planters’ “families” who needed protection. We will examine court cases, party platforms, government acts and compromises, speeches, and maps that will provide documentation on the differences between the proslavery and antislavery advocates, and how these events would lead to the Civil War.

Rev. Absalom Jones, 1808 Thanksgiving Speech delivered at St. Thomas Church

On January 1, 1808, Rev. Jones informally established this date as a day of thanksgiving and celebration for black Americans commemorating the abolition of the slave trade. For blacks, this date became an alternative date to the Fourth of July.

…” The history of the world shows us, that the deliverance of the children of Israel from their bondage, is not the only instance, in which it has pleased God to appear in behalf of oppressed and distressed nations, as to deliverer on the innocent, and of those who call upon his name…He has seen the wicked arts, by which wars have been fomented among the different tribes of the Africans, in order to procure captives, for the purpose of selling them for slaves. He has seen ships fitted out from different ports in Europe and America, and freighted with trinkets to be exchanged for the bodies and souls of men. He has seen the anguish which has taken place, when parents have been torn from their children…and conveyed, with their hands and feet bound in fetters, on board of ships prepared to receive them…He has seen the pangs of separation between members of the same family. He has seen them driven into the sugar; the rice, and the tobacco fields, and compelled to work…Our God has seen masters and mistresses, educated in fashionable life, sometimes take the instruments of torture into their own hands, and, deaf to the cries and shrieks of their agonizing slaves, exceed even the overseers in cruelty…He came down into the United States, when they declared, in the constitution which they framed in 1788, that the trade in our African fellow-man, should cease in the year 1808…the ocean shall no more afford a refuge to their bodies, from impending slavery: nor shall the shores of the British West India islands, and of the United States, any more witness the anguish of families, parted by publick sale. For this signal interposition of the God of mercies, in behalf of our brethren, it becomes us this day to offer up our united thanks…let us carry grateful hearts with us to our places of abode, and to our daily occupations; and let praise and thanksgivings ascend daily to the throne of grace, in our families, and in our closets, for which God has done for our African brethren…Let us, further, implore the influence of his divine and Holy Spirit, to dispose their masters to treat them with kindness and humanity…Let us be grateful to our benefactors, who, by enlightening the minds of the rulers of the earth, by means of their publications and remonstrances against the trade in our countrymen, have produced the great event we are this day celebrating. Abolition societies and individuals have equal claims to our gratitude.

Rev. Absalom Jones, 1808 Thanksgiving Speech delivered at St. Thomas Church

Guiding Questions:
  • Why do you think this speech was called the Fourth of July for black Americans?
  • Do you think the law helped to abolish slavery? Why or why not?
  • According to the abridged sermon above, what do you think Rev. Absalom Jones believed about that day, January 1, 1808? 

Missouri Compromise 1820

Congress passed, and George Washington signed the Northwest Ordinance of 1789, which banned slavery in the Northwest Territory.

The Democratic Party had become the majority party in Congress, and with this new party in charge, changes in congressional policy emerged. Late in 1819, Missouri requested admission as a state in which slavery would be permitted. Admission as a slave state would upset the balance of power, so a heated debate began for more than three months with both houses of Congress nearly deadlocked. Finally, a compromise bill is reached with two provisions: 1. Missouri is admitted as a slave state and Maine as a free state, 2. Except for Missouri, slavery was to be excluded from the Louisiana Purchase lands north of latitude 36 degrees 30 minutes.

The Missouri Compromise was criticized by both the southerners and northerners; the southerners because it established the principle that Congress could make laws concerning slavery; the northerners condemned it for acquiescing to the southern expansion of slavery. Nevertheless, this compromise held the union together for another thirty years.

Guiding Questions:

  • How many ways do you think the South and the North were divided in 1820?
  • Do you think that compromising on slavery helped or hindered the “peculiar institution?”
  • How do the maps of 1820, 1850, and 1850 differ?

On the Road to Civil War:

After the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the divisions between the North and South continued to widen. The Democratic Platforms for 1840, 1844, and 1848, clearly set forth the party beliefs on slavery and any attempt by the Federal government, or abolitionists, to interfere with the questions of slavery in the South.

1840 Democratic Platform 7. Resolved, That Congress has no power, under the constitution, to interfere with or control the domestic institutions of the several states, and that such states are the sole and proper judges of everything appertaining to their own affairs, not prohibited by the constitution; that all efforts by abolitionists or others, made to induce Congress to interfere with questions of slavery, or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, are calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences, and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people, and endanger the stability and permanency of the union, and ought not to be countenanced by any friend to our political institutions. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29572

1844 Democratic Platform 7. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29573 Same wording
1848 Democratic Platform 7. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29574 Same wording

Guiding Questions:
  • What is a party platform?
  • Can you see how the Democrats were not willing to budge on their opinions on slavery? In what ways?
  • What did the line in 1840 Democratic Platform 7, “to interfere with or control the domestic institutions of the several states,” mean? 
  • What was the warning of “the most alarming and dangerous consequences” of efforts by abolitionists or others, mean?
  • What was the danger to the permanency of the union?

Prigg v. Pennsylvania 1842:

The Democratic Party fought to argue states’ rights over federal law at every opportunity they had with the belief that a group of states could nullify a federal law if it were felt to be against a particular interest. As antislavery sentiment grew, the slave plantation system way of life was threatened. Many states in the north passed laws that made the restriction of slavery a goal in the free states. The question was, “did states have the right to pass legislation concerning fugitive slaves or can only the federal government legislate this issue?”

In Prigg v. Pennsylvania, a former slave, Margaret Morgan, was granted virtually full freedom by her owner John Ashmore.  Morgan moved from Maryland to Pennsylvania. Ashmore’s heirs wanted her returned as a slave, so Edward Prigg was sent to capture her in Pennsylvania.  Previously in 1788 and 1826, the Pennsylvania legislature passed laws prohibiting the removal of blacks out of the state for the purpose of enslaving them.  After Prigg returned Morgan to Maryland, he was convicted in a Pennsylvania court for violating the 1826 law. Prigg unsuccessfully argued before the state Supreme Court. The case was brought to the Democratically held U.S. Supreme Court and upholds the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793, “stating that slave owners have a right to retrieve their 'property,'" and states that Pennsylvania’s anti-kidnapping law is unconstitutional.

Between 1842 and 1850, nine Northern states spread personal liberty laws which forbid state officials from cooperating in the return of fugitive slaves.

The Compromise of 1850
The Compromise of 1850 was designed to resolve divisions over slavery in the territory gained in the Mexican War.

The Compromise of 1850 was designed to resolve divisions over slavery in the territory gained in the Mexican War. It admitted California as a free state, Utah and New Mexico territories were left to be determined by popular sovereignty.  The Compromise postponed a significant threat to the Union – succession by the slave-owning states. It ended the slave trade (but not slavery) in Washington, D.C., but one of the bills in the compromise package, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, required Northerners to return slaves to their owners -  the law became a law to sanction kidnapping. Free blacks were removed from the North and taken to the South without due process and, this law further galvanized resistance to slavery.  Whenever slave hunters entered an anti-slavery state, such as Massachusetts, broadsides were published to warn blacks of impending capture (e.g., see below: Caution!! Colored People of Massachusetts!).

Those who captured the slaves, and returned them, received a reward which caused slave hunters to invade the North in large numbers. Abolitionists’ numbers increased, the Underground Railroad flourished, and writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote about the atrocities against slaves - the nation became more bitterly divided over the issue of slavery. Nearly 20,000 blacks in the North escaped to Canada.

Examining Primary Sources: Broadsides to Warn Blacks About Slave Hunters:

Broadsides to Warn Blacks About Slave Hunters

Broadsides to Warn Blacks About Slave Hunters

Read Ellen Watkins Poem “The Slave Mother, A Tale of Ohio” (1854)

Guiding Questions:

  • In the decision of Prigg v. Pennsylvania, was this consistent with the Democratic Platform beliefs and values?
  • How did this decision affect the Union?
  • What can you tell about the maps of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the map of the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska 1854 map? What were the changes from 1820 to 1854?
  • What part of the bill in the Compromise of 1850 galvanized the North and further divided the Union?
  • How did the North resist the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850?
  • Read the poem, “The Slave Mother, A Tale of Ohio.” What can you tell about her life?

Kansas – Nebraska Act of 1854:

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was introduced by Stephen A. Douglass to benefit his Illinois constituents with a northern transcontinental railroad route, but the eventual railroad was not built along the route that Douglass wanted. The 1854 Act did result in splitting the two parties more and created the anti-slavery Republican Party. The Democratic-controlled Congress extended slavery into the federal territories where it was forbidden. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, repeals the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which banned slavery in the lands of the Louisiana Purchase. This Act extended slavery in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and the Dakotas. The Kansas-Nebraska Act would cost hundreds of lives in the months leading up to decide if they wanted to be a free state or slave state. The results of the Kansas-Nebraska Act became a mini-civil war and was known as "Bleeding Kansas."

The Kansas-Nebraska Act forced all Americans to chose sides. Americans were either for the Act or against it, for the slave society or the free market society – there was no middle ground. The majority Democratic Party chose the side of slavery. Most northerners were outraged at slavery, the South, and the Democratic Party. Many anti-slavery Democrats abandoned their party.

The pro-slavery Democrats sent hundreds of individuals to Kansas and succeeded in fixing elections and forming pro-slavery legislature. The new pro-slavery government passed laws to execute anyone who assisted runaway slaves. Horace Greeley, the newspaper editor of the New York Tribune, called on opponents of slavery to unite in the Republican Party.  Republicans and Abolitionists countered and formed their anti-slavery government. The line was drawn, “no slavery in the territories,” enough concessions to the ‘Slavocrats’! Civil War was now imminent, and by the time that Kansas was admitted to statehood in 1861, southern states had begun to secede from the Union.

Horace Greeley, the editor of New York Tribune, calls on opponents of slavery to unite in the Republican Party.

Horace Greeley, the editor of New York Tribune, calls on opponents of slavery to unite in the Republican Party.

Peoria Speech by Abraham Lincoln, October 16, 1854:

This remarkable three-hour antislavery speech, delivered in Peoria, Illinois, marked a turning point in the political career of Abraham Lincoln. In the speech, Lincoln explains his objections to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and his repudiation to slavery. “Lincoln’s speech elevated the moral issue and explicitly rejected indifference to slavery…his view of slavery as a ‘monstrous injustice.’” After Congress passed the explosive Kansas-Nebraska Act, this speech would become a turning point in Lincoln’s political journey and the preparation for his presidency in 1861.  (Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point by Lewis E. Lehrman)

Bleeding Kansas 1856:

Following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, pro-slavery forces came pouring into the territory and fought violent battles against anti-slavery inhabitants of that territory, destroying and stealing property. This act of terror gave rise to a mini-civil war known as “Bleeding Kansas.” Two critical incidents involved pro-slavery men sacking the free-soil town of Lawrence, Kansas, and a retaliatory attack by abolitionist John Brown and four of his sons at the proslavery settlement of Pottawatomie Creek, where they murdered five pro-slavery men. The bloody clashes in Kansas horrified the nation. Americans were now killing each other over slavery. The issue could no longer be ignored.

Bleeding Kansas” brought the brutality to the floor of the U.S. Capitol when Charles Sumner, an outspoken critic of slavery, delivered a blistering speech, “The Crime Against Kansas.” He ridiculed the slave-holders for supposedly being gentile and civilized and said that bringing slavery into Kansas was “the rape of virgin territory.”  He characterized Stephen A. Douglas as a “brutal, vulgar man without delicacy of scholarship who looks as if he needs clean linen and should be put under a shower bath.” He then attacked Andrew Butler, Senator from South Carolina, accused him of taking a “mistress…who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him.” Two days later, Sumner was attacked on the floor of the Senate by Democratic Representative (S.C.) Preston Brooks, Andrew Butler’s nephew, with a cane, and beaten so severely that Sumner spent the next three years in a wheelchair.  Sumner became a martyr in the North, especially to the Abolitionists, while Brooks became a hero in the South.

Republican U.S. Senator Charles Sumner (R-MA)
May 22, 1856, Republican U.S. Senator Charles Sumner (R-MA)

After the Savage Beating of Senator Sumner: Comparison of Democratic Party Platform and the Republican Party Platform, 1856.

1856 Democratic Party Platform
: “Resolved, that we reiterate with renewed energy of purpose the well-considered declaration of former Conventions upon the sectional issue of Domestic slavery, and concerning the reserved rights of the States.”

“…and therefore, the Democratic Party of the Union, standing on this national platform, will abide by and adhere to a faithful execution of the acts known as the compromise measures, settled by the Congress of 1850; “the act for reclaiming fugitives from service or labor,” included; which act being designed to carry out an express provision of the Constitution, cannot, with fidelity thereto, be repealed, or so changed as to destroy or impair its efficiency.” 

“Resolved, that we recognize the right of the people of all the Territories, including Kansas and Nebraska, acting through the legally and fairly expressed will of a majority of actual residents, and whenever the number of their inhabitants justifies it, to form a Constitution, with or without slavery, and be admitted into the Union upon terms of perfect equality with the other States.” (James Buchanan, nominee)  http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29576

1856 Republican Party Platform:This convention of Delegates, assembled in pursuance of a call addressed to the people of the United States, without regard to past political differences or divisions, who are opposed to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise; to the policy of the present Administration; to the extension of Slavery into Free Territory; in favor of the admission of Kansas as a Free State; of restoring the action of the Federal Government to the principles of Washington and Jefferson; and for the purpose of presenting candidates for the offices of President and Vice-President, do…”

“Resolved: That, with our Republican fathers, we hold it to be a self-evident truth, that all men are endowed with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that the primary object and ulterior design of our Federal Government were to secure these rights to all persons under its exclusive jurisdiction; that, as our Republican fathers, when they had abolished Slavery in all our National Territory, ordained that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, it becomes our duty to maintain this provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it for the purpose of establishing Slavery in the Territories of the United States…” (John C. Freeman, nominee)  http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29619

Guiding Questions:

Did the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 reduce the growing sectionalism of the Union or bring the Union closer to civil war? Cite your reasons.
Why did Abraham Lincoln oppose the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its Policy of popular sovereignty?
Why do you think Lincoln’s Peoria Speech was the turning point of Lincoln’s political journey?
How did Charles Sumner’s speech, “The Crime Against Kansas” bring brutality to the Senate floor?
Compare the party platforms of the Republicans and the Democrats from 1856. What sides did each party choose? Why? What can you tell about each party platform?
What issue was raised about state’s rights? For what purpose was the South concerned about state’s rights? Why were the Democrats worried about property rights?

Dred Scott Case, 1857, Effect of Sectional Conflict:

Dred Scott Case continued the debate and divisions of secular conflict. It eventually led to the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and the start of the Civil War. The Dred Scott Case was one of the most pivotal cases ever tried in the United States about property rights.

Scott and his wife once belonged to Army surgeon, John Emerson, who bought Scott from the Peter Blow family of St. Louis. In 1834, Scott had been taken to Illinois, a free state, then lived in the Wisconsin territory, where the Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery, with Emerson for several years before returning to Missouri, a slave state. Scott lived as a slave in several free states for a total of nine years. After Emerson died in 1846, the Blow family helped Scott sue Emerson’s widow for his freedom because he lived as a resident of a free state and territory, but they lost the case in state court.

The case eventually went to the Democratically controlled U.S. Supreme Court and delivered the 7-to-2 decision, and the court decided that the African slave was not a citizen of the United States but the mere property of his owner. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, a public advocate of slavery, wrote the majority opinion. [Negroes] “…so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”

Dred Scott
Dred Scott

Republican Montgomery Blair argues before U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Dred Scott.
Republican Montgomery Blair argues before U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Dred Scott.

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney

Lincoln’s Speech, “A House Divided,” June 16, 1858:

Illinois Republicans nominate Abraham Lincoln for the U.S. Senate. In accepting, Lincoln delivers his “House Divided” speech in which he asserts that the nation cannot endure permanently half-slave and half-free. Incumbent Senator Stephen Douglass agrees to an unprecedented series of debates held in towns across the state. Although the Democrats win control of the state legislature and reelect Douglas, Lincoln gains notoriety and becomes a contender for the 1860 presidential nomination. (Harper’s Weekly, Reports on Black America, 1857-1874, Timelines)

Excerpt of House Divided Speech:
“…We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new – North as well as South. Have we no tendency to the latter condition?"...

Guiding Questions:
  • How did the Dred Scott Case and Lincoln’s House Divided Speech affect the debate on slavery?
  • How did these two events awaken the people in the debate on slavery?
  • After reading the entire “A House Divided” speech, do you think it increased the threat of civil war?
  • Do you think that the threat of slavery expansion came more from the slaveholding South or Douglas’s popular sovereignty position? Why?
  • How did the Lincoln/Douglas Debates set the groundwork for Lincoln’s presidential run in 1860?


Reader’s Companion to American History, by Eric Foner & John A. Garraty, (Houghton Mifflin Company) 295 – 296, 663 – 665, 737, 994 – 995,
Response from Rev. Absalom Jones on ending the importation of slaves, 1808 Thanksgiving Speech http://anglicanhistory.org/usa/ajones/thanksgiving1808.html
Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black and White by David Barton (WallBuilder Press) 12, 19 -24, 25,
Supreme Court Case Syllabus for Prigg v Pennsylvania 1842  https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/41/539/case.html
Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point by Lewis E. Lehrman, (Stackpole Books)
Abraham Lincoln’s Peoria Speech 1854, in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act  https://www.nps.gov/liho/learn/historyculture/peoriaspeech.htm
Charles Sumner’s speech “The Crime Against Kansas” 1856 pro-slavery forces fought anti-slavery inhabitants https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/CrimeAgainstKSSpeech.pdf
Abraham Lincoln’s House Divided speech, 1858 http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/house.htm
Differences of Positions between Lincoln/Douglas https://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/kansas-nebraska-act-1854-popular-sovereignty-and-political-polarization-over-slavery#sect-background