The Sectional Crisis in Connecticut
The documents in this collection, taken from RG 002, Connecticut General Assembly Papers, illustrate the evolution of the state government’s opinions regarding slavery and the power of the Federal government during the years prior to the Civil War.
During this period the country struggled to balance the interests of the mercantile northern states with those of the agrarian southern states and their reliance on slave labor. During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the delegates debating the proposed Constitution of the United States of America needed to reach a compromise that created a balance of power between the two sections of the country. The result was the Three-Fifths Compromise in which each slave would be counted as 3/5 of a person when calculating the number of representatives a state could have in Washington. This compromise was meant to allay fears that the more populous north would always out-vote the rural south in debates in the House of Representatives. However, that political balance remained precarious throughout the first half of the 1800s and ultimately lead to the crisis that resulted in the Civil War. The most contentious issues dividing north and south included a tariff that appeared to protect manufacturers at the expense of land (plantation) owners, the use of Federal funds for internal improvements like canals and railroads in lands to the west, and the power of the Federal government in relation to the power of the states (state’s rights and nullification - the concept that states did not have to obey laws passed by the Federal government if the disagreed with them). The first major confrontation was in 1820 when Missouri was admitted as a slave state, balanced by the admission of Maine as a free state. As settlers moved west and potentially created new states, the country struggled with how to maintain the balance of power. Through debates, proposed legislation, and resolutions passed, the Connecticut General Assembly expressed its opinions on the prominent national issues of that time. It asserted that the Federal government had the authority to restrict the spread of slavery into western states, that the Fugitive Slave Law was unconstitutional, and that Texas should not be annexed to the United States. When the south seceded in 1861, triggering the Civil War, Connecticut was ready politically to fight on the side of the Union.