A study of the Civil War certainly is not complete without giving serious consideration to the events that led to this conflict. Understanding how the nation came to be divided to the point of war requires one to consider the ways in which the nation’s North and South grew further and further apart. To this end, one can point to a variety of areas in which the perspectives and ways of life of Northerners and Southerners came to oppose each other. From cultural and political differences to changing economies, the North and South diverged on many fronts.
Looking at the political scene in the years before the war is perhaps one of the most significant indicators of the ways in which the nation was dividing. Patchwork compromises and even outright violence on the Senate floor serve as specific examples of the political strain that grew during the Antebellum Period—strain that indicated the ever-increasing sectional nature of politics that eventually led to war. To this end, my research focused on the prewar politics of the 1850s and how these political factors brought the nation to war.
Specifically, my research took a particular interest in the role of the newspaper in pushing these divisive political attitudes. Due to a number of technological innovations and population changes at the time, newspaper readership grew significantly. This, combined with often close affiliations between political parties and newspapers, led to the papers acting as more than a medium for covering the day’s stories, but as a tool for pushing various agendas and cementing readers’ political positions. My research illustrates this crucial link by examining three critical events of the 1850s—the caning of Charles Sumner, the Dred Scot decision, and John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry—and the ways in which the newspapers responded.