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Jonathan Earle’s essay on “The Political Origins of the Civil War” argues that politics, not slavery, caused the secession crisis. He explains why Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 triggered such a catastrophic response among some Southerners. In this excerpt below, Earle, a history professor at the University of Kansas, describes how John Brown’s 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry contributed to the polarized political climate. You can find the full essay inside the print edition of Volume 25 of the OAH Magazine of History (April 2011) or online via Oxford Journals.

Study Questions
1. What can you learn about the people referenced in this excerpt by following the links to their records in the House Divided research engine? How does additional background information help you better understand the author’s interpretation?

2. Compare the author’s use of quoted material from newspapers such as the Baltimore Sun and Richmond Enquirer with the more extended excerpts provided in his source (see p. 2 Documents). How would you characterize the newspaper comments? How does Jonathan Earle use them in his argument?