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The Sectional Crisis in the United States, 1848-61

6. Harpers Ferry and the Abolition Movement

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In this module, we think about the abolitionist John Brown's raid on the Harpers Ferry Armory in Virginia – and the abolitionist movement more generally. In particular, we focus on figures such as William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, and the network of secret routes and safe houses used by African-American slaves to escape the South known as the Underground Railroad.


In this course, Dr Kevin Waite (University of Durham) explores the Sectional Crisis of 1848-61, the period of rising tensions between the free states of the American North and the slave states of the American South, which eventually led to the outbreak of Civil War in 1861. We begin by providing a broad introduction to the course, before moving on to examine how the acquisition of Mexican territory after the Mexican-American War (1846-48) triggered a political controversy between the North and South. In the third module, we think about the impact of the discovery of gold in California in 1849 and the Compromise of 1850, before turning in the fourth module to the series of violent confrontations in the mid-1850s that came to be known as Bleeding Kansas. In the fifth module, we trace the rise of the anti-slavery Republican Party, before turning in the sixth module to the raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia by radical abolitionist John Brown in 1859 and the activities of the Abolitionist movement more generally. Finally, in the seventh module, we think about the years leading to the outbreak of war itself, focusing in particular on the secession of 11 Southern states and the creation of a new, slave-owning Confederate States of America.


Kevin Waite is an assistant professor in American history at Durham University, where he teaches and writes on slavery, imperialism, and the American West. His book-in-progress explores how slaveholders extended their political dominion across the American West in the mid-19th century, and in the process, hastened the coming of the Civil War. His scholarly articles and book chapters have covered a wide range of subjects: manliness in Napoleonic-era English public schools; the political struggle over America’s first transcontinental railroad; the evolving myth of George Armstrong Custer in Hollywood film; and the Civil War in Indian Territory.

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APA style

Waite, K. (2018, August 15). The Sectional Crisis in the United States, 1848-61 - Harpers Ferry and the Abolition Movement [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Waite, K. "The Sectional Crisis in the United States, 1848-61 – Harpers Ferry and the Abolition Movement." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,

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