Point of No Return: The Civil War

Keshav Krishnan and Austin Schultz

A Brief Introduction: Dred Scott and Bleeding Kansas

As the United States was expanding across the continent to fulfill its manifest destiny, it also moved toward one of the most significant events in American History - the Civil War. The issue of slavery, previously filibustered by the government, began to rise again; thus, tensions between the regions increased as well. The turning point of the Civil War is, however, debated. The Dred Scott decision did not represent the point of no return for the Civil War because of how indirectly it affected the tensions between the North and South. However, Bleeding Kansas did represent the point of no return as it increased tensions and sectionalism between people and created divides in the government. Thus, as a result of its increasing of tensions both between people and in the government as well as its beginning of actual fighting, Bleeding Kansas was the point of no return for the Civil War.

Dred Scott: The Refute

The Dred Scott case, although increasing the tensions between North and South, did not directly cause the Civil War. As documented in the courtroom records, this case said that all African-American freedmen had no rights as citizens of the United states, as they were still descendants of slaves. This decision increased tension between the North and the South due to their opposing views on slavery, but it did not have an effect with enough magnitude to directly cause the Civil War. In Lincoln’s address on the decision, he states that there was no violent resistance. There was very little violent backlash against the decision. The case served to create more tension but did not cause large issues between the North and South. As shown in the academic journal on the dissensions on the case, there was a large legal impact due to the decision. it left a legal precedent for people descended from slaves to be considered less than citizens. however, these legal impacts paled in comparison to the impact of events like Bleeding Kansas. The Dred Scott case, despite having a large impact, did not have a large enough impact to directly cause the Civil War.

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Bleeding Kansas: The Point

The point of no return for the Civil War was Bleeding Kansas because it greatly increased tensions in the populace, leading to sectionalism and divisions between the North and South. As the free and slave states jockeyed for control of the Kansas government, and thus its decision on whether slavery was permitted or not, both employed people known as border ruffians to cross the border and vote in Kansas. In the Liberator's article "The Missouri-Kansas Border Ruffians", border ruffians are depicted as violent and eager for hostilities. A man who looks similar to a border ruffian also condemns the Union; thus, border ruffians led to huge hostilities and actual fighting for the first time between citizens of the United States. The Liberator's article "The 'Rebellion in Kansas'" declares that the population of Kansas is being subjugated and that it is being invaded. Written by a Northern freeman, this source attests to the increasing divide and tensions between people from the North and South. Finally, "Self-Preservation" slavery is essentially barbarism, and must be exterminated. The article states that previously the North and South had toasted the same thing; now, they are bitterly divided. The two regions of the country were extremely divided on the issue, and were calling for extreme action, leading to the hostilities which eventually resulted in the Civil War.

Additionally, Bleeding Kansas represents the point of no return for the Civil War because it created divisions in the government, preventing it from functioning properly. On the state level, the Kansas government was rendered nearly powerless due to border ruffians. These ruffians were encouraged by individual states, such as Missouri, and exemplify the split between Northern and Southern states. The divisions did, however, also extend to the federal level. Senator Brooks of South Carolina beat Senator Sumner of Massachusetts unconscious on the Senate floor for offending the honor of the South. (paragraph continues below picture)

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As "31.e Canefight!" shows, the South celebrated Brooks and reelected him, while the North was furious. Aside from directly hindering Congress from functioning, the beating highlighted and intensified the divides between the North and South as a whole, even culturally. Brooks was praised because he upheld the Southern virtue of honor, while the North did not share this virtue, or at least to the same extent. The fighting, both politically and physically, from Bleeding Kansas began to spill over into the Senate.


Although the Dred Scott decision did create tensions, they were not significant enough to cause the Civil War, especially since they were not violent. However, Bleeding Kansas had major repercussions at both the local and national levels, political and physical in both cases. Thus, as Bleeding Kansas caused fighting amongst the people and greatly hindered the functionality of government, it was the point of no return for the Civil War.



Canefight. “31e. Canefight! Preston Brooks and Charles Sumner”. Independence Hall Association, 2014.

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C, K. W. (1863, Sep 18). SELF-PRESERVATION. Liberator (1831-1865), 33, 150. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/91067188?accountid=14063.

THE 'REBELLION IN KANSAS. (1857, Jul 31). Liberator (1831-1865), 27, 122. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/91168748?accountid=14063.

THE MISSOURI-KANSAS BORDER RUFFIANS. (1856, Jan 18). Liberator (1831-1865), 26, 2. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/91208784?accountid=14063.

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