The Failure of Compromise

by Bruce Levine

In the spring of 1861, the United States of America split into two hostile countries—the United States and the new Confederate States of America. The two opposing heads of state agreed about what was causing the rupture—the long-running dispute concerning slavery and especially its status in the federal territories. “One section of our country believes slavery is right, and ought to be extended,” noted Abraham Lincoln in his First Inaugural Address, “while the other believes it is wrong, and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.”[1] In a message to his own congress the following month, the Confederate president implicitly affirmed that interpretation. He and his colleagues had left the Union, Jefferson Davis explained, because Lincoln’s party had pledged to exclude “the labor of African slaves” from “the public domain” of the territories.More »

Featured Primary Sources

Three quarter length standing view facing proper right. Photograph from painting

John Brown’s final speech, 1859

Creator: John Brown Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861.

President Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, 1861

Creator: Abraham Lincoln Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
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Lincoln and Presidential Power

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Secession and the Civil War

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