The Compromise of 1850 was disastrous in that it accomplished nothing to promote human rights and civil liberties. California was admitted to the union as a free state. In exchange, other new lands gained in the Mexican War had no restrictions on whether slavery was or was not permitted. The slave trade was being phased out, but the practice slavery itself was preserved in the District of Columbia. The fugitive slave laws were enhanced too. So disastrous was the Compromise of 1850 that northerners did not take the Fugitive Slave Law seriously and did not enforce it. Another disastrous piece of legislation that preceded the Civil War, and helped spark it, was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The Act overturned the Missouri Compromise and divided Kansas and Missouri into two states: one slave and one free. As Brinkley states, "No other piece of legislation in American history produced so many immediate, sweeping, and ominous political consequences," (327). Significant regarding the build-up to the Civil war, the Kansas-Nebraska Act caused the creation of the new Republican Party. Also, the Kansas-Nebraska Act led to the "bleeding Kansas" episode during which abolitionist and pro-enslavement advocates battled in pre-Civil War skirmishes.
Both the Nat Turner Rebellion and the popularity of Uncle Tom's Cabin represented the darker sides of slavery and promoted the politics of liberation. However, no other event in American history illustrates so well the way racism has permeated American politics as the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision. The Supreme Court took a strong racist stance that bolstered the pro-slavery cause immediately prior to the Civil War. Clearly, the nation was divided. On the one hand, decisions like Dred Scott showed that racist Americans served in positions of power at the federal level and could forever impact the quality of the country. On the other hand, abolitionists saw the necessity for a swift end to slavery in order to preserve the Constitutional rights and ideals upon which the nation was founded. The southerners could not foresee a means to have a viable economy without free and forced labor; the northerners did.
Even Democrats were divided, leading to the eventual election of the Republican candidate for President in 1860. Lincoln, who was "not an abolitionist" but who also believed that "slavery was morally wrong" steered the United States in a direction different from what most Southern whites wanted (Brinkley 332). After Lincoln was elected, the Southern states viewed the federal government as being illegitimate and decided one by one to cede from the union. The differences between slave-owning and free states were too great to overcome at the time. The economy and lifestyle of the south depended on slavery, whereas the Northern point-of-view favored sanity and genuine freedom.