The political push toward slave emancipation was not universally popular, even in the North. Fears abounded related to whether the new states and territories admitted to the union would favor free or slave-owning business interests. Moreover, the degrees to which Northerners and Republicans opposed slavery varied greatly. Some held radically liberal beliefs and championed abolition throughout both North and South. Others were conservative, welcoming the right of the South to keep slave-owning policies especially as slavery benefited Northern industry. The doctrine of popular sovereignty, held by many Northerners, permitted the decision regarding slavery to be left to local or state governments.

Some Northerners also feared that abolitionism would result in a rapid influx of freed slaves into the North: a population migration that could threaten economic upheaval and social instability. Fugitive, runaway, slaves already found solace in the free states in the North. A more widespread influx of freed slaves would change the social, economic, and political landscape of Northern states to a degree many citizens resented. Furthermore, poor white people in both Northern and Southern states competed directly with former slaves for low-wage jobs.

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Resentment was therefore related to economic class issues but was also frequently linked to race: even Northern abolitionists were often bigoted. Abolitionism was also taking root as one of the biggest issues dividing the nation by the time war broke out. Resentment about a cause that had no direct bearing on the lives of many northerners led to factions in the Republican party. Slavery and abolitionism symbolized the rift between North and South, between those who advocated for states’ rights versus federal mandates against slavery in the new territories. Such political divisions may have later thwarted the Reconstruction efforts after the war.