America in the 1850s


What happened when California’s bid for statehood reached Washington, D.C.?

As one might expect, there was a political firestorm. For many years, as much as three decades, there had been a rough equality between the Northern and Southern states, allowing for parity in the United States Senate. If California entered as a free state, that balance or equality would be destroyed, and there was no telling what the South might do.

Men and women of the South looked back two generations, to the time of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, remembering when their political power exceeded that of the North. Four out of the first six presidents of the United States had come from the South, and there had been times when the South dominated Congress as well. This was clearly a thing of the past, however, as could be seen by anyone who examined the federal census of 1850.


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