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FINANCIAL COLLAPSE: THE PANIC OF 1857

Just in time to increase the misery index in the North, the short but sharp Panic of 1857 brought financial collapse and unemployment. The South rode out the down market on the back of King Cotton, figuring that its relative prosperity was further proof that God was on its side. Hungry people in the North renewed their cries for the federal government to make cheap land available for settlement. Congress passed a Homestead Bill in 1860 to do just that, but President Buchanan vetoed it. Buchanan's friends in the South didn't want more settlers to vote against slavery in the territories.

THE ELECTION OF 1860: WIDENING THE DIVIDE

With fights brewing in all branches of government, everyone looked anxiously toward the presidential election of 1860. Would the Democrats find a bring-us-together candidate? Could the Republicans possibly win when they weren't even allowed south of the Mason-Dixon line? Who was going to save democracy?

Abraham Lincoln runs for president

Abraham Lincoln described himself as ugly. He towered above the short but determined fireplug figure of Stephen Douglas during their debates for the Senate in 1858, which turned out to be a prequel of the 1860 presidential race between the two. (See "Turning Words to Bullets in Bleeding Kansas," earlier in this chapter.)

Lincoln had risen from his humble beginnings on the Indiana frontier to become one of the better-known local lawyers in Illinois. In the House of Representatives, where incumbents usually kept getting reelected, he had managed to serve only one term. Up until the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, he didn't stand out from a thousand other lawyer-politicians.

Although against slavery, Lincoln shied away from the troublemaking abolitionists. When the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act threatened to extend slavery, the Republican Party rose in opposition, and Lincoln, the party's nominee for President, became a tiger. He debated the famous Senator Douglas all over Illinois and came close to knocking him out of the Senate.

 
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