to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.
eighteen fifty-seven, the United States Supreme Court announced one of its most
important rulings. The high court decided the case of a slave named Dred Scott.
This week in
our series, Harry Monroe and Leo Scully tell us about the ruling, and the
continuing national debate over slavery.
lived in Missouri, where slavery was legal. Then he was sold to a man who took
him to Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was not legal. After four years,
he was returned to Missouri. Dred Scott demanded his freedom, because of the
years he had spent in places where slavery was illegal. Congress had banned
slavery in those places under the Missouri Compromise Act of Eighteen Twenty.
Supreme Court ruled that Congress did not have the power to close territories
to slavery. It said the Missouri Compromise was a violation of the United
States Constitution, and that Dred Scott was not a free man.
Buchanan was sworn-in as president at the time of the Dred Scott case. Buchanan
believed the Supreme Court's decision would put an end to the dispute over
slavery. He believed that Americans -- North and South -- would accept the
decision as the final word in the dispute.
not happen. The Dred Scott decision did not calm the storm that divided the
nation. Instead, it increased its fury.
trouble threatened to break out in the territory of Kansas between pro-slavery
and anti-slavery settlers. In the past few years, the two sides had argued and
fought over their opinions. They even had formed two separate governments. The
pro-slavery forces controlled the legal government. The anti-slavery forces
controlled an opposition government which had no power.
of slavery wanted to organize a constitutional convention that could put Kansas
into the Union as a slave state. The pro-slavery legislature passed a bill
calling for such a convention.
gave supporters of slavery every chance to control the election of delegates to
the convention. And it gave the convention complete freedom to make its own rules.
The bill provided no way for the people of Kansas to vote on their own
governor of the Kansas territory, John Geary, vetoed the bill. But the
legislature quickly overruled his veto. Pro-slavery men called for Geary to get
out of Kansas. Some talked of shooting him if he did not leave.
Geary had been living under extreme tension for months. He had worked hard to
keep Kansas peaceful. He was angry, because he could get no help from the
federal government. He sent his resignation to President Buchanan.
former governor spoke publicly. He said most of the settlers in Kansas were
peace-loving people. He said only a small group was responsible for the trouble
there. Geary said a few powerful men hoped to make Kansas a slave state. If
this failed, Geary said, they hoped their actions would produce civil war.
Buchanan appointed a new governor for Kansas. Buchanan told him that slavery in
the territory must be decided on the votes of the people of the territory. And
he said the people must be given a fair chance to approve or reject a
constitution for statehood.
governor arrived in Kansas at the end of May, eighteen fifty-seven. He
explained his policies in a speech to the people of Kansas. The new governor
promised to enforce the laws of the pro-slavery legislature -- but only those
laws which were constitutional. He urged everyone to vote in the coming
election of delegates to the constitutional convention.
He said he
was hopeful that the convention would offer its constitution to the people for
their approval or rejection. He added that Congress would not accept Kansas as
a slave state, or a free state, until the people had voted on the question of
fifteenth, the election was held for delegates to the constitutional
convention. Most anti-slavery men did not vote, because their names had been
kept off the voting lists by pro-slavery officials. Others refused to vote,
because they believed the election was unfair.
delegates were elected. All supported slavery. They planned to meet in the
autumn to begin work on a constitution for Kansas.
the delegates were wild, rough men who found it difficult to read and write.
But these men were sure of one thing. They wanted Kansas to be a slave state.
delegates began the constitution by claiming that the right of property was
higher than any constitutional power. They said a slave-owner had as much right
to his property as the owner of any other kind of property.
wrote the different parts of the document. One part of the constitution
severely limited the right of the legislature to free slaves. Another part
barred free negroes from entering Kansas. And another prevented the
constitution from being changed for seven years.
the delegates to the Kansas constitutional convention wanted to send the
document directly to Congress for approval. They did not want to give the
people of Kansas a chance to vote on it. They were sure that the majority of
the population would reject a constitution that made slavery legal.
delegates, however, knew that Congress would not approve statehood for Kansas
unless the people voted on the constitution. The two sides finally agreed on a
constitution itself would not be offered to the people. Instead, the people
would vote only on the question of slavery. They could vote for the
constitution with slavery or the constitution without slavery.
voters approved the constitution with slavery, then Kansas would be open to new
slaves. If they approved the constitution without slavery, then Kansas would be
closed to new slaves. Slaves already in the territory could be kept there.
compromise brought a cry of anger from opponents of slavery in Kansas. They
said the constitutional convention had only given them the right to vote for
limited slavery or unlimited slavery. It had not given them the right to vote
Buchanan had promised the people of Kansas that they would have a fair chance
to vote on their constitution. But members of his cabinet told him to forget
Americans were tired of the dispute in Kansas and would accept any settlement.
They told Buchanan that approval of the constitution would end the Kansas
problem. It would satisfy the South, they said, and the North would soon forget
pressure, President Buchanan made his decision. He would ask Congress to accept
the pro-slavery Kansas constitution and make the territory a slave state.
the vote on slavery was held. Most opponents of slavery did not vote. They were
waiting until they could vote against the complete statehood constitution.
the votes were illegal. Still, Kansas officials declared that slavery had been
approved. They urged Congress to make Kansas a state under this condition.
Shortly after, President Buchanan sent Congress a similar message.
chief opponent on the statehood bill was a member of his own Democratic Party, Senator
Stephen Douglas of Illinois. Douglas did not oppose slavery. But he believed
that the people of a territory had the right to make their own decision to
accept or reject slavery.
Douglas united other Democrats and members of the anti-slavery Republican Party
to fight against the bill in the Senate. He lost. The Senate approved the bill
to make Kansas a state where slavery was legal.
of Representatives, however, rejected the bill. Instead, it approved a bill to
let the people of Kansas vote again on their statehood constitution. The Senate
approved a compromise version of this House bill.
people of Kansas got another chance to show that they did not want a
pro-slavery constitution. They voted and rejected the constitution by a large
pro-slavery statehood constitution was dead. Kansas would continue as a
territory for a few more years. But there would be no further attempt to make
it a slave state.
Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Harry
Monroe and Leo Scully. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs can be
found, along with historical images, at voaspecialenglish.com. And you can
follow our series on Twitter at twitter.com/voalearnenglish, spelled as one
word. Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history
series in VOA Special English.
This is program #85 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION