Between 1845 and 1860, critical events and issues seemed to come in a rush, giving Americans little time to analyze what was happening and to reflect on long-range solutions. Emotion seemed to replace reason as the debate grew increasingly repetitious and loud. The question, or so it seemed, was the expansion of slavery into the territories gained during the Polk administration. But something far more fundamental was at stake?the future of the nation. Northerners had become convinced that the expansion of slavery threatened the democratic foundations of the United Sates and that expansion would give the South control of the government, which would lead to economic stagnation, unemployment, and financial ruin all the effect of the depression of 1837 but magnified. From their point of view, the South, and its peculiar institution, threatened the nation's growth and progress and had to be overcome. The South, however, convinced of the legality of its position and the validity of its institutions, fought back and with remarkable success. By combining its power in the Democratic party (which gave it extraordinary influence in Congress and with the president) with its supporters on the Supreme Court, the slave states seemed secure. But still, they were fearful. Convinced that they had given up all they could in earlier compromises, they feared future gains by those they considered to be enemies, and those they feared most were the Republicans.
Brinkley, Alan (2007). American history: A survey. New York, New York: McGraw Hill.
National Expansion; Sectional Division 1839-1850
1818 Anglo-American Convention establishes joint American and British occupation of Oregon Country.
1821 Mexico launches revolution and achieves independence from Spain.
1836 Texas Revolution and declaration of independence from Mexico.
The Alamo, Goliad massacre, and Battle of San Jacinto secure independence for Texas.
1837 President Jackson rejects Texas statehood but recognizes the republic of Texas.
1842 Webster-Ashburton Treaty establishes boundary with British Canada.
1844 James K. Polk defeats Henry Clay in presidential election.
1845 John L. Sullivan coins the term "Manifest Destiny." Texas admitted into the Union. Oregon annexed up to 49th parallel.
1848 Mexicans surrender and negotiate Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Mexican cession brings California and the American Southwest into the Union. Zachary Taylor defeats Lewis Cass and Martin Van Buren in presidential election. Gold is discovered in California.
1849 California gold rush begins.
1850 California applies for admission into the Union as a free state.
Henry Clay and Stephen Douglas devise the Compromise of 1850.
A House Dividing 1851-1860
1838-42 Lieutenant Charles Wilkes's United States Exploring Expedition.
1848 American Association for the Advancement of Science founded in Philadelphia.
1848-61 Federal government surveys the West in "The Great Reconnaissance."
1850 Compromise of 1850. Order of the Star-Spangled Banner (Know-Nothings) founded in New York.
1851 London's Crystal Palace exhibition.
1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes Uncle Tom's Cabin. Franklin Pierce defeats Winfield Scott in the presidential election. Whig Party begins disintegrating.
1854 Ostend Manifesto divulges American plans to seize Cuba from Spain.
Gadsden Purchase from Mexico provides a route for a southern railroad.
Commodore Matthew Perry undertakes diplomatic mission to Japan. Kansas-Nebraska Act reopens Louisiana Territory to slavery. Republican Party founded on antislavery platform.
1855-60 Thirteen-volume Pacific Railroad Reports published.
1856 John Brown commits the Pottawatomie Massacre in Kansas. Preston Brooks canes Charles Sumner in the Senate. Know-Nothing Party divides into "North Americans" and "South Americans." James Buchanan defeats John C. Frémont and Millard Fillmore in presidential election.
1857 Dred Scott decision undermines free-soil movement. Panic of 1857 begins.
1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates win support for Republican cause and Abraham Lincoln.
1859 John Brown launches raid on national armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
1860 Lincoln is elected president in four-way race with less than 40 percent of the popular vote.
American Diversity: Manifest Destiny and the acquisition of the western reaches of North America introduced ethnic groups that played little role in previous United States History. The Southwest infused a Hispanic population and culture into American society.
Demographic Changes: The addition of new lands furthered the movement of the American population westward. As settlement pushed westward, the geographic center of the American population moved westward also.
Politics and Citizenship: Manifest Destiny rekindled the issue of the expansion of slavery in the new territories. During the 1850s in particular, the political system broke down as regional political interests overcame national political parties.
War and Diplomacy: The Mexican War had dramatic consequences for the United States by increasing its territory. It also established a pattern of brittle relations with Mexico that continues to the present.
George, J. & Brown, J. (2007). AP achiever: Advanced placement american history exam preparation guide. McGraw Hill.
Manifest Destiny and Westward Expansion
Until 1821, Spain ruled the area that now includes Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah. The Mexican war for independence opened the region to American economic penetration. Government explorers, traders, and trappers helped to open the West to white settlement. In the 1820s, thousands of Americans moved into Texas, and during the 1840s, thousands of pioneers headed westward toward Oregon and California , seeking land and inspired by manifest destiny, the idea that America had a special destiny to stretch across the continent. Between 1844 and 1848 the United States expanded its boundaries into Texas, the Southwest, and the Pacific Northwest . It acquired Texas by annexation; Oregon and Washington by negotiation with Britain; and Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming as a result of war with Mexico.
For forty years, attempts were made to resolve conflicts between North and South. The Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery in the northern half of the Louisiana Purchase. The acquisition of vast new territories during the 1840s reignited the question of slavery in the western territories. The Compromise of 1850 was an attempt to solve this problem by admitting California as a free state but allowing slavery in the rest of the Southwest. But the compromise included a fugitive slave law opposed by many Northerners. The Kansas-Nebraska Act proposed to solve the problem of status there by popular sovereignty. But this led to violent conflict in Kansas and the rise of the Republican party. The Dred Scott decision eliminated possible compromise solutions to the sectional conflict and John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry convinced many Southerners that a majority of Northerners wanted to free the slaves and incite race war.
Simmering regional differences ignite an all-out crisis in the 1850s. Professor Martin teams with Professor Miller and historian Stephen Ambrose to chart the succession of incidents, from 'Bloody Kansas' to the shots on Fort Sumter, that inflame the conflict between North and South to the point of civil war.