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1850-1865: We are a house divided, a nation torn by bloody civil war

As the nation expanded west and new stars were added to the flag, a disturbing question kept recurring: would the new state enter the Union as a free state or a slave state? Slavery, the issue so carefully compromised at the Constitutional Convention, finally raised basic questions about American liberty that no compromise could resolve: Can human beings ever be property? Should slavery exist in a nation dedicated to freedom? Are all men created equal? When shots were fired at Fort Sumter in 1861, the line that separated the free states from the slave states became the line at which the fabric of our nation finally tore. Slavery was too important to the South and freedom too important to the North for any compromise to work. And each side thought the Constitution supported its views. It took the blood of 620,000 Americans to resolve the questions of liberty and equal rights that had been avoided back in 1787.

  July 9, 1850
On this day Following death of Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore becomes president
September 9, 1850
We ride West on the promise of gold. Will slavery come too?
  September 20, 1850
On this day Congress reaches Compromise of 1850, temporarily resolving crisis over slavery in the territories
As settlers push westward, our republic expands
May 29, 1851
Sojourner Truth questioned the logic behind limiting suffrage
March 20, 1852
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe is published
  March 4, 1853
On this day Franklin Pierce inaugurated as president
  May 26, 1854
On this day Boston abolitionists attempt to rescue captured runaway slave Anthony Burns
  May 30, 1854
On this day Kansas-Nebraska Act applies “popular sovereignty” to Louisiana Purchase territory north of Missouri Compromise line
May 21, 1856
Settlers fight over slavery, leaving Kansas bleeding
  March 4, 1857
On this day James Buchanan inaugurated as president
March 6, 1857
The Dred Scott decision widens the North-South divide
October 15, 1858
Lincoln and Douglas clash over a Supreme Court decision
Our nation is divided between slave states and free
1860 Presidential Election, Electoral Votes by Candidate
  November 6, 1860
On this day Abraham Lincoln elected president on platform barring slavery from western territories
December 20, 1860
South Carolina pulls out of the Union!
Can the southern states secede from the Union?
  February 9, 1861
On this day Confederacy elects Jefferson Davis president and officially declares war
March 4, 1861
Lincoln takes office...and an oath to preserve the Union
  April 12, 1861
On this day Attack on Fort Sumter; President Lincoln calls for troops to suppress “insurrection”
  April 27, 1862
On this day President Lincoln suspends writ of habeas corpus along Washington and Philadelphia route
May 13, 1862
Robert Smalls escapes to freedom after piloting steamship Planter out of Charleston harbor
September 24, 1862
Lincoln is pushing the limits of the Constitution
January 1, 1863
The “Emancipation Proclamation” frees the slaves in rebel states
November 19, 1863
President Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address
March 4, 1865
We have changed our views on war - and slavery
  April 9, 1865
On this day General Robert E. Lee surrenders at Appomattox courthouse
April 9, 1865
The Civil War takes a heavy toll of American lives
  April 14, 1865
On this day John Wilkes Booth assassinates President Lincoln at Ford’s Theater; Andrew Johnson becomes president
December 6, 1865
States ratify 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery in U.S.
  December 24, 1865
On this day Confederate veterans at Pulaski, TN organize Klu Klux Klan

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