From Missouri Compromise to “House Divided”
Abraham Lincoln, Sectional Pacts, and Majority Rule
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which repealed the Missouri Compromise slavery restriction, transformed Abraham Lincoln’s political career by making opposition to slavery central to his thought and action to a degree it had never been before. But Lincoln at first called only for the restoration of the Missouri Compromise, a sectional pact between slave states and free states, which seems more a formula for indefinite continuation of a “house divided” than for placing slavery in course of ultimate extinction. Initially Lincoln even hoped, unrealistically, that Southern leaders would join Northern leaders in restoring the Compromise for the peace of the country. Though repeal of the Missouri Compromise continued to play a key role in Lincoln’s diagnosis of the slavery crisis, he eventually ceased to call for its restoration, and instead moved toward a more comprehensive, principled, and arguably more radical stance on the legitimate power of an electoral majority, despite strong opposition from the slave states, to halt and eventually reverse the expansion of slavery.