America in 1857 was, as Kenneth Stampp put it, "a Nation on the Brink."  Relationships between the Northern and Southern states had been strained for decades, but during the 1840's and especially the 1850's, the situation exploded. The Compromise of 1850 served as a clear warning that the slavery issue, relatively dormant since the Missouri Compromise of 1820, had returned. As territories carved out of the Mexican cessions of 1848 applied for statehood, they stirred a passionate and often violent debate over the expansion of the South's "peculiar institution." Proslavery and antislavery forces clashed frequently and fatally in "Bleeding Kansas," while the presidential election of 1856 turned ugly when southern states threatened secession if a candidate from the antislavery Republican party won. Into this charged atmosphere stepped a black slave from Missouri named Dred Scott.