Crisis Decade (1850 – 1860)

1850 marked the beginning of the crisis decade. Territorial gains made from the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) reignited arguments over whether slavery should be allowed to expand in the United States.
The Fugitive Slave Law was part of Congress’ attempt to balance the nation’s free and slave state interests. Instead, the line between free and slave blurred entirely and thousands of free black people in Brooklyn and beyond were at the whim of an unjust law.

The city itself continued to rapidly expand, this time along its extensive waterfront. Sugar, tobacco and cotton – all valuable commodities produced by unfree labor – lined the city’s warehouses. By 1855, Brooklyn was central to the business of slavery.

As sectional tension intensified, Brooklynites were divided on the issue of slavery. Residents were tested as a series of crises on slavery unfolded: the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), the Dred Scott Decision (1857), and the Harpers Ferry Raid (1859). By the end of the decade, violent conflict seemed inevitable.