Exam preparation materials

Sectionalism and Expansion, 1840-1860

Things to Know

1. Rise of sectionalism: economic issue — industrial North vs. agricultural South; immigration and nativism; slavery and sectionalism — Missouri Compromise; slavery in the territories after the Mexican War — Compromise of 1850.

2. Manifest Destiny: Texas independence and the issue of annexation; election of James Polk — Texas and Oregon as issues; acquisition of Oregon; war with Mexico — Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

3. Intellectual and cultural trends: rise of an American literature — major writers; major reform movements — abolitionists; temperance; women’s rights; utopian communities; rise of public education.

4. The coming of the Civil War: key events after 1850: Uncle Tom's Cabin: Kansas-Nebraska Act; Died Scott decision; Lincoln-Douglas debates; John Brown’s raid; election of Lincoln.

Key Terms and Concepts

cotton gin

Nat Turner’s rebellion

American Colonization Society

Elias Howe

Irish potato famine

Know-Nothing party

Wilmot Proviso

popular sovereignty

Free Soil party

Stephen Douglas

Compromise of 1850

Fugitive Slave Law

Webster-Ashburton Treaty


Joseph Smith

Brigham Young

Treaty of 1846

Texas independence

Mexican cession

Gadsden Purchase

Edgar Allan Poe

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Herman Melville

Henry David Thoreau

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Walt Whitman

Dorothea Dix

William Lloyd Garrison

Frederick Douglass

Sarah Grimke

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Lucretia Mott

Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments

Horace Mann

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Died Scott decision

Important Definitions

“Bleeding Kansas”: The virtual civil war that erupted in Kansas in 1856 between proslavery and free soilers as a consequence of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

“Fifty-four forty or fight”: Political slogan of the Democrats in the election of 1844, which claimed fifty-four degrees, forty minutes as the boundary of the Oregon territory claimed by the United States. The Treaty of 1846 with Great Britain set the boundary at the forty-ninth parallel.

Freeport Doctrine: The position on slavery taken by Stephen Douglas during the debates with Lincoln in 1858. Slavery could not exist if local legislation did not accept it. Douglas refused to say whether he believed slavery was right or wrong.

“free soil”: The idea surfaced after the Mexican War that Congress had the authority to ban slavery in the newly acquired territories. It was embodied in the Wilmot Proviso. The advocates of “free soil” formed their own political party in 1848, and Martin Van Buren was their candidate for President.

Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854): Created two new territories with slavery decided by popular sovereignty; it effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise as it applied to slavery north of the Compromise line.

Manifest Destiny: Americans had the God- given right to spread their institutions and culture across the continent; it was the ideological justification for territorial expansion in the 1840s.

nativism: Response to the increased immigration in the 1840s, it reflected a fear that the United States was being taken over by foreigners. Nativism found a political expression in the American party, also known as the Know-Nothing party, which was founded in 1854 on a program of controlling immigration and requiring a longer naturalization period; the party was strongly anti-Catholic.

popular sovereignty: Proposed by Senator Lewis Cass, it meant that the decision to permit slavery in a territory was up to the territorial legislature; it was incorporated into the Compromise of 1850 for New Mexico and Utah territories.

transcendentalism: American expression of the Romantic movement that emphasized the limits of reason, individual freedom, and nature; best represented by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, the author of Walden and Civil Disobedience.

Readings on Sectionalism and Expansion

Blassingame, John. The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Ante-Bellum South (1972).

Elkins, Stanley. Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (1959). Melder, K. E. The Beginnings of Sisterhood (1977).

Merk, Frederick. Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History (1963).

North, Douglass C. The Economic Growth of the United States (1961).

Potter, David. The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (1976).

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