The institution of slavery was embedded in the U.S. Constitution, and it became a critical problem to be dealt with by Americans in the early 19th century.
Whether slavery would be allowed to spread to new states and territories became a volatile issue at various times throughout the early 1800s. A series of compromises enacted in the U.S. Congress managed to hold the Union together, but each compromise created its own set of problems.
These are the three major compromises that kept the United States together and essentially postponed the Civil War.
The Missouri Compromise, passed in 1820, was the first real attempt to find a solution to the issue of slavery.
As new states entered the Union, the question of whether the new states would be slave or free arose. And when Missouri sought to enter the Union as a slave state, the issue became enormously controversial.
Former President Thomas Jefferson famously likened the Missouri crisis to "a firebell in the night." Indeed, it dramatically showed there was a definite split in the Union.
The Missouri Compromise, which was partly engineered by Henry Clay, balanced the numbers of slave and free states, and for three decades seemed to keep the slavery crisis from entirely dominating the nation.
After the Mexican War, the United States gained territory in the West, and the slavery issue ignited again over the question of whether slavery would be allowed to exist in the new states and territories.
The Compromise of 1850 was a series of bills in Congress which sought to settle the issue, and it did postpone the Civil War by a decade. But the compromise, which contained five major provisions, was destined to be a temporary solution.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was the last major compromise that sought to hold the Union together, and it proved to be the most controversial.
Engineered by Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, the legislation almost immediately had an incendiary effect. Instead of lessening tensions over slavery, it inflamed them, and led to outbreaks of violence that led the legendary newspaper editor Horace Greeley to coin the term "Bleeding Kansas."
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was a classic case of legislation having unintended consequences.