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What would you do?

The North and South tried very hard to solve the slavery issue and avoid war. During the pre-Civil War era, several new laws were created and court decisions were made to try to solve the problems caused by slavery.

You will be given the background information on each of the following historical events and be asked to decide what YOU would do in the same situation.

Missouri Compromise - 1820

In 1820 the number of free states and slave states is equal. The Missouri Territory is applying to become a state. They want to become a slave state. Northerners don't want to have more slave states than free, and southerners want slavery to expand into the western territories. If Missouri becomes a slave state, the number will be unequal and slavery might expand even farther. If Missouri becomes a free state, the number of those states will increase and slavery might be ended, hurting the south's plantation economy. What would YOU do?

Should Missouri become a free state or slave state? Or is there a way to compromise (make an agreement where both sides win)? There are rumors that Maine wants to enter the union as a free state. YOU decide.

Your choices are:

Missouri should be a slave state, making the number of slave states greater than free states.
Missouri should be a free state, making the number of free states greater than slave states.
Missouri should be a slave state and Maine should be a free state, keeping the number equal.

Compromise of 1850

In 1849, the number of free states and slave states is still equal. California, New Mexico and Utah wish to enter the Union as free states. Congress wants to keep the number of slave states and free states the same, but there is also the idea of popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty means the states have the right to decide for themselves whether to allow slavery. Southerners want a tougher Fugitive Slave Law if states enter the Union as free. This decision will determine the future of the United States. What would YOU do?

Should California be admitted as a free state? Should states use popular sovereignty to decide slavery? Should a new Fugitive Slave Law help the south? YOU decide.

Your choices are:

Admit California as a free state, New Mexico and Utah can decide by popular sovereignty, and create a new Fugitive Slave Law.
All states should enter the Union using popular sovereignty and create a new Fugitive Slave Law.
All states should enter as free states with no new Fugitive Slave Law.

Fugitive Slave Law Of 1850

The South is having a problem with runaway slaves. More and more slaves are escaping to the North. The government has just passed a new Fugitive Slave Law, which helps the South to recover escaped slaves. This new law stated that runaway slaves did not have the right to a jury trial or to testify in court. Anyone who helped a fugitive slave could be fined a $1,000 or put in jail.

Kidnappers received $10 for every slave captured in the North and returned to the South. The slave owners often offered rewards. What would YOU do?
You are a police officer in the North, and you know about some escaped slaves. Do you turn them in for your reward or help with their escape and risk being fined? YOU decide.

Your choices are:
You follow the law and turn in the escaped slave.
You help the slave escape and risk being put into jail.
You inform the slave catchers where the escaped slaves can be found.

Kansas/Nebraska Act

In 1854, Senator Stephen Douglas from Illinois wanted a transcontinental railroad to go from his state to California. For the railroad to succeed, the land west of the Mississippi River would have to be organized into territories. In order to get the railroad approved by Congress, Douglas needed both northern and southern support. Douglas called for popular sovereignty to decide the slavery issue in the Kansas and Nebraska Territories, however, the Missouri Compromise had banned slavery in this area. The Kansas and Nebraska Act violated the Missouri Compromise. If the law passes it is likely that both pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers will rush to settle the Kansas and Nebraska Territories. There may be fighting or violence or bloodshed. What would YOU do?

Should slavery in the Kansas and Nebraska Territory be decided by popular sovereignty? Should they remain free as the Missouri Compromise stated? Is the railroad important enough to cause these tensions? YOU decide.

Your choices are:

Allow Kansas and Nebraska to be settled by popular sovereignty.
Kansas and Nebraska should be free states because of the Missouri Compromise.
Refuse to build the transcontinental railroad in these territories.

Dred Scott decision

Dred Scott was a slave in Missouri, but his master had moved him to Illionios and Wisconsin. Dred Scott claimed that since he had lived in free states, he was a free man. In 1857, the Supreme Court handed down its ruling on Dred Scott's case. The Justices had many issues to consider with this decision. What would YOU do? Dred Scott is not considered a citizen, so does he have the right to a trail? Is the Missouri Compromise constitiutional; can slavery be banned? Are slaves property? YOU decide.

Your choices are:

Dred Scott becomes a free man.
Dred Scott is property, does not have a right to a trial, and remains a slave.
Dred Scott remains a slave and the Missouri Compromise is unconstitutional because slavery can not be banned in any territory.


The story

1. A Nation Divided

2. Events and Battles

3. Leaders

4. Daily Life

5. Aftermath


North or South?

Match the abolitionist

What would you do?

Name that leader

Study the artifact

Be a columnist

Interactive map


SOL Civil War key word index