Conference Archives

1994 Abstracts


Lloyd Chiasson, “The Literature of Slavery”

During the years before the Civil War, the debate over slavery was constant and unflinching in virulence, and was propelled by a litany of events that began before the Revolutionary War. Regional antagonism festered and moved inexorably toward conflict, growing stronger and harsher with a series of geographical compromises, the fear of slave insurrections, and a growing sense of righteous indignation and inevitability on both sides.

The election of a Republican in the 1860 presidential race culminated events which began in 1820 with a legislative balancing act called the Missouri Compromise. To appease both regions by maintaining a balance between slave and free states, Congress allowed Missouri to enter the union as a slave state while Maine came in as a free state. For the next forty years the slavery debate simmered, then boiled. The Nat Turner slave uprising in 1831 aroused long held southern fears of internal, domestic violence. The Kansas-Nebraska Bill in 1854 called upon settlers to resolve the slavery question in their territories, and resulted in violence between pro- and anti-slavery forces in Kansas. Then in 1857 anti-slavery factions railed against the Dred Scott decision in which the Supreme Court ruled the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional and declared blacks non-citizens. Two years later John Brown’s failed slave insurrection at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, exacerbated old fears, inflamed rhetoric, and steeled both regions to a foreboding future.1