Continued sectional strife dominated seven consecutive presidencies between 1849-1877. Slavery and black rights served as the impetus for the conflict. Beginning in 1850, the two sides grew more belligerent with the South growing paranoid. Finally, the region seceded in 1860-61. The two sections waged civil war seemingly without end before the North bludgeoned its way to victory. Afterward, the two sides fought for the future of African Americans and the country. A smokey backroom deal ended this period with the North gaining the White House and the South regaining its independence. In the end, the North won the war, but the South won the peace.
Zachary Taylor (1849-50)
Southerners felt comfortable with slaveholder General Zachary Taylor’s election. However, President Taylor opposed the institution’s spread and supported California’s entry into the Union as a free state. When southerners howled in protest, Taylor threatened to hang secessionists. The president died before the crisis came to a head averting potential civil war. Had Taylor lived, the civil war might have occurred a decade earlier. Had this happened, the South might have gained independence.
Millard Fillmore (1850-53)
A belligerent President Taylor opposed the Compromise of 1850 designed to placate the South. His successor, Millard Fillmore, agreed to sign the compromise into law hoping it solved the crisis. The compromise was Henry Clay’s brainchild which Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas ushered through congress. The act allowed California to enter the Union as a free state, banned the slave trade in Washington D.C., and created a fugitive slave law requiring the North to help the South capture runaways. In response, the North began openly defying the Fugitive Slave Act. Instead of settling the slave controversy, the Compromise of 1850 exacerbated it.
Franklin Pierce (1853-57)
Fillmore’s efforts to quell the slave issue failed miserably. His successor, Franklin Pierce, placed the country on course for civil war. He supported Stephen Douglas’ plan to allow the territories decide the slave issue for themselves. The Kansas-Nebraska Act split the territory in two and allowed residents to vote for a slave or free constitution. Everyone expected Kansas to join the slave states and Nebraska to vote a free soil constitution. Nebraska did vote for freedom over slavery, but Kansas turned bloody. Northerners streamed into Kansas to vote against slavery. Indignant southerners turned violent and a low grade civil war broke out in the territory. The violence essentially ended the Pierce Administration.
James Buchanan (1857-61)
James Buchanan won the Democratic nomination for president because he was out of the country during the Kansas controversy. Although he compiled a respectable resume before assuming office, Buchanan proved incapable of solving the nation’s ills. He openly supported vote fraud in Kansas, countenanced slave power, attempted to foment a war against the Mormons to distract the country, lobbied for the Dred Scott decision, and failed to act once the South began seceding from the Union. Events overwhelmed the president and created mass hysteria in the South.
Abraham Lincoln (1861-65)
Abolitionist John Brown attempted to foment a slave uprising in Virginia. He was captured, tried, and executed. Northern support for Brown horrified the South. A paranoid South seceded from the Union upon Abraham Lincoln’s election. Southerners feared Lincoln and the Republican majority would end slavery. Ironically, their treason resulted in the event they seceded from the Union to avoid. Lincoln adroitly guided the nation through the Civil War. In the end, he modernized the government, kept European powers out of the war, and crushed the South. Lincoln’s efforts abolished slavery and preserved the Union.
Andrew Johnson (1865-69)
President Lincoln saved the Union, but resulted in his assassination. Vice President Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency, but proved incompetent. Johnson hated slaveholders, but sympathized with the South. He blocked Republican efforts to modernize the region and protect freed slaves. Johnson and congress went to war and both sides lost. Johnson was impeached while the Republicans overstepped their bounds. As a result of Johnson’s efforts, the South became emboldened. Essentially, he took the American boot off the Confederacy’s neck. As a result, a civil rights movement was needed a century later to complete Lincoln’s work.
Ulysses S Grant (1869-77)
Impeachment meant Andrew Johnson could not run for president in 1868. Ulysses S. Grant won the White House on the strength of his war record. The country ratified the 13th and 14th Amendment under Johnson. Grant oversaw the ratification of the 15th Amendment guaranteeing voting rights to African Americans. Afterward, he turned his attention to economic development. The government aided railroad expansion resulting in a bubble that burst in 1873. Additionally, government support for economic development led to a number of scandals as officials pocketed money from the coffers. A series of scandals combined with economic woes to divert attention away from the South. Although Grant crushed the Ku Klux Klan, other groups emerged to terrorize blacks, Republicans, and sympathetic whites. Terrorists began to “redeem” the region from northern rule. Grant wanted to run for reelection in 1876, but was blocked. The election landed in congress as the two parties disputed electoral results. Democrats and Republicans decided to compromise. Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won the presidency. In return, the northern army withdrew from the former Confederacy.