Exam preparation materials

Chapter 12

From Sea to Shining Sea: 1846-1854

In This Chapter

● Inventing the future

● Riding along on the trail of continental expansion

● Seeing how social and cultural changes affect history

● Watching the disaster of the Civil War approach

America was bursting at the seams in the 1840s. In one 10-year period, the country suddenly had 35 percent more people, including almost a million immigrants from Ireland and half a million from Germany. The Irish mostly settled in Eastern cities and brought a motivated labor force willing to do a lot of work for low pay. The Irish also expanded Catholic churches and schools, making the mostly Protestant United States stretch to include the Church of Rome into its accepted religious mix. The Germans went straight for the good farmland of the Midwest and brought along the Christmas tree, German beer, opposition to slavery, and support for public education, including kindergarten (a German word).

The population surge was driven by revolutions in Europe (1848) and the potato famine (1845) in Ireland; people were drawn to the United States by the promise of opportunity. Much of this opportunity was created just by people who were looking for it, especially because the United States needed both workers and consumers, and new inventions were ready to be used.

Social history, like much of the information covered in this chapter, scores points on the big AP exam. Knowing the leaders of the women’s-rights and abolition movements, for example, is huge. You’re sure to find multiple-choice questions in these areas, and you should be able to work these topics into essay answers. The authors and poets mentioned in this chapter — and elsewhere in the book are extra-credit items. The test probably won’t have many multiple-choice questions about art, but showing that you know how literature fits into the American story in essays rings college bells. Hint: American literature gets more up-front on issues of race and gender as Americans challenge the conventions they inherited from the Old World.

Changing Lives with New Inventions

Eli Whitney was only getting started when he invented the cotton gin in 1793 (see Chapter 11). He went on to pioneer the concept of interchangeable-parts manufacturing (1800) by making identical musket guns with identical parts for the Army. Up till then, guns were handmade, with each part machined to fit only its own rifle. After Whitney had his second bright idea, you could trade triggers or barrels without risking an embarrassing misfire just as the

bear was getting ready to eat you. This bright idea led to a surge in inventions and manufacturing that would become prevalent between the mid-1840s and 1850s.

Interchangeable parts supported mass production, which Northern factories had down by the 1850s. Whitney’s cotton gin allowed the South to become a rich slave empire and spurred him on to greater inventions. His interchangeable parts allowed the North to become an even richer manufacturing empire, complete with the rifle power the North needed to defeat the Southern slavers in the Civil War. You could say Whitney solved the problem his cotton gin created in the first place.

Producing in mass in factories

The North wasn’t just making guns. The Singer sewing machine (1846) revolutionized clothes-making; it was the first practical way to sew clothes without making everything by hand. You pumped the first sewing machine with your foot; electricity wasn’t available. Even made with interchangeable parts, however, the sewing machine was still expensive. Singer revolutionized the way products were sold by allowing families to buy the new sewing machine on time payments. This system magically linked the first must-have home technology with the first must-pay credit debt. Before the mid-1800s, most purchases had to be made with cash up front.

Mass production also sped the introduction of the reaper (1834), which Cyrus McCormick manufactured to allow one man riding on a horse-drawn machine to cut as much wheat as five men swinging the hand scythes that had been the only way to harvest grain since the days of the Romans. This invention allowed the extensive large-scale agriculture that made the Midwest rich. Even an invention as humble as John Deere’s steel plow (1837) greatly improved food-growing by reliably turning the soil for better crops.

Making electricity useful: Telegraphs

Samuel Morse was the first person to put electricity to work with the invention of the telegraph (1844). For the first time, news could travel across the nation in seconds, not weeks. The talking wire drew opinions closer together in the decade before the Civil War. Getting instant feedback may actually have heightened the disagreements between North and South. Morse’s telegraph got an international boost with the laying of the Atlantic cable to Britain. The cable broke before the Civil War but was restored permanently right afterward. The telegraph reached the West Coast in 1861.

Making Strides in Transportation

In the early years after the Revolution, you could get out and walk if you didn’t like the roads. Or maybe you could swim; early roads turned to giant mud puddles when it rained. Horses and wagons got stuck up to the middle, and drivers would have to crawl through mud to get food to feed the stuck animals while they waited for help. Once in a while, a carriage would just sink out of sight. But highways, canals, and railroads soon came along, allowing farm products to get to big-city markets and urban inventions to get to people everywhere. By the 1850s stagecoaches and the Pony Express crossed the country. Clipper ships sailed the oceans faster than steamships could. The world was getting more and more connected.

Traveling the long and winding road

The first transportation break came with the privately owned Lancaster Turnpike (1795), 60 miles of hard-surface road heading west from Philadelphia. In 1811, the federal government began to build the Cumberland (or National) Road from Maryland. By 1852, the road stretched across the old Northwest territory to Illinois and was the beginning of many a wagon train. Most roads were dirt or logs placed side by side (a very bumpy ride). Even city streets were mostly unpaved. During a particularly wet and muddy time in San Francisco, a citizen erected a sign that warned his city street was “not passable, not even jackass-able.”

Creating canals

Robert Fulton’s pioneering idea of a steamboat (1807) on New York’s Hudson River (see Chapter 11) proved even more valuable on the great Mississippi. As early as 1820, 60 steamboats regularly traveled on the Mississippi; by the time of the Civil War, the big river had the regular service of 1,000 boats. This type of transportation led to settlement; people could get their crops to market, and the local stores could get manufactured stuff to make life a little easier.

With the beginning of the Erie Canal (1817), Americans started to make the rivers come to them. Hooking up to the Hudson River at Albany, the Erie Canal went all the way to the Great Lakes. What used to cost a dollar to ship now cost a nickel. Rocky New England farms couldn’t compete with the lush produce of New York and Pennsylvania floating into town on canal boats. New England farmers either moved west to the land along the canal path or worked in growing industries — the first sign of how better transportation could hurt as well as help local producers.

Having made their own rivers with the canals, the states began to get over the need for a water path. The first railroad (1828) chugged along three years after the Erie Canal was finished. By 1850, the northern United States was more interconnected by rails than it was by canals. The cotton-growing South started to build late; by the Civil War, the South had just a skeleton of railroads, whereas the North had a spider web. For more about railroads, see Chapter 14.

Dealing with Social Change

With all the freedom and change, sometimes a new idea for utopia seemed to be around every American corner. But these perfect worlds were a little hard to live in — not surprisingly, because utopia, from Thomas More’s fantasy novel Utopia (1516), meant no place.

Improved communication brought about by the telegraph and more efficient travel (discussed earlier in this chapter) didn’t always lead to improved understanding. The South saw strengthened trading ties along the Mississippi and across the Atlantic as economic insurance that outsiders would have to allow slavery to continue to support Northern and British profits. Difficult as perfection was to achieve, however, people in the United States kept moving in what they saw as the right direction.

Doing the right thing

Here are some of the major social movements that started in the mid 1800s:

● The first women’s rights conference was held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.

● The first large labor unions started in the 1840s.

● Dorothea Dix (1845) published reports that led to so many reforms in mental institutions that she was made superintendent of nurses for the Union Army during the Civil War. Women and men worked to reform treatment of prisoners and the mentally ill.

● Neal Dow (1851) got a prohibition law passed in Maine and ten other states; these laws were rescinded when the stress of fighting the Civil War made lots of people need a drink.

● Utopian communities were established in several places in the U.S. Named for Thomas More’s novel, utopian communities tried to build happy places to live and work by creating a new social structure. Among the hopeful utopias were

• New Harmony (1825). On the Wabash River in southern Indiana, New Harmony produced limited perfect community but lots of education. The progress of entomology, geology, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington are all associated with this attempt by Welsh industrialist Robert Owen to build a better world.

• Brook Farm (1841) near Boston had a literary influence from authors like Henry Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne. They were better at writing than at farming.

• The Oneida Community (1848) in New York practiced community marriage and shared jobs and child raising. Although the commune broke up, the members went on to found Oneida Silver, one of the largest silverware companies in the world.

• Mother Ann Lee of the Shakers (1840) at one time inspired 19 different communities making furniture and other housewares that are still in demand. Since Shakers didn’t have children, they’ve largely died out. The Shaker song “Simple Gifts” is still sung to remind people of quiet peace.

Moving from farm to factory

Life wasn’t all domestic bliss, of course. Thousands of hungry workers shifted from job to job and city to city. Workers were needed almost everywhere during the fast-growing 1840s and 1850s; they were rewarded with wages that grew slowly but steadily.

Factory owners tried to meet increased demand and improve their incomes by working factory employees for 13 or 14 hours a day. Unions weren’t legally allowed to organize until the 1840s, and the “easy” 10-hour day, long fought by employers, slowly started to be accepted.

The willingness of single men to do whatever it took to earn a living and support the nation without turning into a mob was a key reason the United States grew so much during this time. Peaceful, willing workers without families — an often-overlooked strength of any society — made up half the labor force.

Going to school: Public education and one-room schoolhouses

Public schools were growing against a very real backlash among people who thought education was wrong, at least if they had to pay for it.

As late as 1860, the United States had only about 100 real high schools. Education got a boost from Noah Webster (1828), whose reading lessons and dictionary taught Americanism as well as letters. McGuffey’s Readers (1850) taught patriotism along with language and were used all over the country for 100 years. Horace Mann (1850) established the model for free public education that eventually spread across the country.

Don’t confuse Noah Webster (1758-1843), the teacher and dictionary-maker, with Daniel Webster (1782-1852), legendary congressman and leader of national compromise. Noah brought people together with a common approach to language; Daniel tried to keep the Union together with common laws. Noah got his name on almost every American dictionary; Daniel wasn’t around to see his compromise laws fall apart in the years before the Civil War.

As the country expanded, public education was a proud part of most new settlements. The little red one-room schoolhouse got its start teaching farm kids the three Rs: reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic. All the grades were in one room, and some kids could spare only a few months to learn in between helping out with the crops.

Oberlin College (1837) in Ohio was the first college to admit women and blacks; Ohio’s Antioch College (1852) had the first female faculty member. The fact that Oberlin College’s second president was the famous Great Awakening preacher Charles Finney (1840) (a committed abolitionist, early champion of women’s rights, and the most powerful revivalist in an age of renewed faith) and Antioch’s first president was Unitarian educator Horace Mann demonstrates the connection between religious revival and social action at that time.

Expanding religious diversity

In 1850, three out of four Americans attended church every Sunday. The idea that one sect contained all the special people and that everyone else was going to hell had loosened up as the United States learned to live with many different denominations. The Enlightenment-inspired founding fathers hadn’t been all that big on religion, but they — and members of new American movements like the Unitarians, Transcendentalists, and Mormons — certainly did believe that spiritual and material life could be improved right here on Earth.

The Second Great Awakening (1830), a powerful nationwide spiritual movement put the emphasis on salvation through personal change (see Chapter 9 for information on the First Great Awakening). Both the spirit of the movement and the connections that people made at tent meetings helped found several middle-class movements, often led by women, including those for temperance, prison, asylum reform, abolition, and women’s rights. Methodists, Baptists, Mormons, and members of other new religions gained strength, and members of America’s first religions, such as the Congregationalists and Anglicans (see Chapter 11), loosened up. The Second Great Awakening stressed perfectionism, the belief that free will can create a better life on Earth. Free will Perfectionism encouraged reform movements and was directly opposed to the original Puritan belief in predestination.

Question: Why was the belief in perfectionism important in the Second Great Awakening?

Answer: Perfectionism supported social movements, presented the idea that free will could improve life, and marked a departure from the Puritan belief in predestination.

Question: What were the social movements that came out of the Second Great Awakening?

Answer: The women’s-rights, antislavery, temperance, and education movements were all supported by middle-class women coming out of the Second Great Awakening.

The notion of predestination (see Chapter 8) faded away in favor of emotional activism. Middle-class women were enthusiastic revivalists, charged up by spiritual services and the community of believers. Their awakened talents helped spur both religious and social causes. No social cause received more attention than slavery. By 1845, the issue of slavery split national denominations like the Methodist and Baptist churches into Northern and Southern branches. First the churches split, then the political parties, and finally the nation.

Earning Expanded Roles for Women

Women didn’t get much education in the early days beyond what you would need to make a shopping trip. Male physicians said that too much learning could injure the female brain. By 1850, around 20 percent of all women had worked outside the home by the time they were married. After they were married, women didn’t work; they were locked inside the household. Women seemed to be trapped on a pedestal: They were supposed to be more morally refined than men but were limited to being the keepers of families. They got some input on social responsibility with the cult of domesticity (1850), which held that, by being virtuous, women could change the world through their families.

Gaining control of their own lives

Of little breakthroughs is freedom made. Under the belief in republican motherhood (1780) at the time of the Revolution (see Chapter 9), women were valued as teachers of children, especially the sons who were needed for the new democracy. With the cult of domesticity, however, women began to use their power as queens of the household to make decisions about things that mattered outside the family as well. They gained more power to plan children and choose their own mates; families arranged fewer marriages.

Question: What were the positive benefits of the cult of domesticity for women?

Answer: American women gained power from the 1700s to 1860 as they moved from republican motherhood to the cult of domesticity. Changes in women’s rights over this time included their own choice of husbands, activism outside the home, and more control over childbearing.

Women were often factory workers, and they participated in early union activities. As public education spread in the 1840s, the hitherto male profession of teaching began to admit some females. Women could also work as cooks or maids. About one Northern family in ten was rich enough to pay a domestic servant to help with the housework.

Women had only half as many children during the 1800s as during the 1700s; family planning was beginning to take hold. Couples used timing and early barrier methods to keep from getting pregnant. These methods had been passed down for hundreds of years; in the mid-1800s, women just got more assertive about using them. With fewer children, mothers could spend more time rearing their kids. The idea of helping children develop began to take hold; parents no longer just survived the rugrats until they could be sent out into the fields.

Founding women's rights

As women got some power, they wanted more. Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony were Quakers who stood up for women’s rights. Mott fought for women and abolition from the 1820s until after the Civil War, and Anthony carried the movement into the 1900s. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a mother of seven who insisted, with the full support of her husband, on leaving the word obey out of her marriage ceremony. Stanton and Mott were leaders of the groundbreaking Seneca Falls Convention (1848), which proclaimed the rights of women. Seneca Falls was the first meeting of women to adopt a program designed to lead to votes for women. The Convention’s Declaration of Sentiments echoed the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

Watching the Arts Bloom

Art defines a culture, and culture is a pretty good predictor of the actions people will take. In the 1800s, the United States developed a national culture of music and writing that helped the young country identify its own character.

Stephen Foster and the American songbook

Stephen Foster (1850) was one of the most popular composers in American history and the only songwriter to try to make a living from the art until modern times. He wrote “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Beautiful Dreamer,” and “Old Folks at Home (Swanee River)” — songs so popular 150 years after their composition that an album of them won a Grammy award in 2005.

Showing how thoroughly mixed American culture was on the eve of the nation’s tearing itself apart in the Civil War, Foster wrote about the South but was from the North. The man who wrote the music used in the North’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was from South Carolina. “Dixie,” the theme song of the South, was written in New York City by a Northerner.

The rise of American literature

American literature came onto its own with the increased popularity of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and many others:

● Emerson was a giant of American letters for almost 50 years. His Transcendentalist (1840) philosophy stressed self-reliance and personal spiritual unity.

● Emerson’s friend and colleague Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden (1854), about man’s connection to nature, and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (1849), a book that influenced Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

● Walt Whitman wrote Leaves of Grass (1855), which broke down the conventions of poetry with bold language: “Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march, Pioneers! O Pioneers!”

● Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1850) was an American poet who was also widely popular in Europe. He wrote “Paul Revere’s Ride,” “A Psalm of Life,” “The Song of Hiawatha,” “Evangeline,” and “Christmas Bells.”

● John Greenleaf Whittier (1838) was a poet of human freedom who stood up to angry mobs for the abolition of slavery.

● Louisa May Alcott showed the man-centered Victorian world that women can write beautifully with Little Women (1868).

● Emily Dickinson (1870) showed the universality of even a quiet human heart with more than 1,000 poems published after her death.

Not all writers saw much good in human beings. All these darker writers served a good purpose in helping the world see that good and evil are never pure and that living well means making moral choices every day:

● Edgar Allan Poe (1845) lived on the dark side of madness and evil with stories like “The Fall of the House of Usher” and poems like “The Raven.”

● Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter (1850), about a woman who had a secret affair with a minister, bore his child out of wedlock, and had to wear a scarlet A for adultery.

● Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851), one of the greatest American novels, tells the story of a sea captain’s obsessive hunt for a great white whale.

Painting began to show the beauty of the American landscape. The Hudson River School, active from 1850 to 1875, painted dramatic American landscapes, especially featuring the Hudson River area in northern New York. This movement made more people stop to appreciate the wonders of nature.

Question: What was the Hudson River School of painting?

Answer: The Hudson River School painted dramatic American landscapes, especially featuring the Hudson River area in northern New York.

Understanding Early Ethnic Group Issues

As a nation started on the ringing words of freedom, the United States was never proud of slavery, even though many of its founding fathers owned slaves. Like a bad habit you mean to give up next year, slavery just kept getting bigger and harder to shake. Opposition to the peculiar institution (as slavery was politely called) grew in the North, which didn’t have any slaves. In the South, it was considered too profitable to be publicly debated.

A similar moral double standard affected grabbing land from American Indians and foreign governments. What started out as 13 states grateful for their own freedom turned into a continent-wide rush for more territory. See Chapters 10 and 11 for more information.

The Indian Removal Act (1830) provided federal assistance to move more than 100,000 American Indians from their ancestral homes east of the Mississippi to the specially created Indian Territory in what’s now Oklahoma. The government was supposed to supply food and transportation help with the forced migration, but many died on the long trek.

In the Trail of Tears (1838), 17,000 Cherokee were forced to travel 1,200 miles to Oklahoma from their homes in Georgia. More than 4,000 of the American Indians died in concentration camps or on the trail itself. In the southern U.S., the Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes were relocated in addition to the Cherokee. In the north, evicted tribes included the Shawnees, Ottawas, Potawatomis, Sauks, and Foxes. Chief Black Hawk led American Indians back to their homes in Illinois to fight for their land, but they were defeated by the army.

Expansion by war occurred with the Mexican-American War (1846). Texas gained independence from Mexico in 1835 and joined the United States in 1845. With the excuse of a border dispute and the real desire for more land, the U.S. declared war on Mexico in 1846. After some tough fighting, the U.S. defeated Mexico and in 1849 got California and all of the Southwest.

Irish, Polish, and Italian immigrants weren’t always welcomed by all the people in the land of the free. The Know-Nothing Party campaigned against Catholic immigration in the 1850s. Signs for jobs often said, “No Irish Need Apply”. When Irish workers hungry for jobs replaced striking women textile employees in New England, prejudice against the new immigrants soared. Italian and Polish immigrants often spent generations living in ethnically segregated communities. In the years before the Civil War, multi-ethnic neighborhoods and towns were rare.

Question: How did textile mill owners inflame prejudice against the Irish?

Answer: New England textile mills replaced striking local workers with Irish immigrants.

The economics of slavery

Northern ships carried Southern cotton to market in Britain and New England. To a large degree, the extra profits of merchants in all parts of the United States before the Civil War depended on the crushing work of slaves.

Cotton represented half the value of all U.S. exports in the years before the Civil War. The profits of slave labor didn’t stop at the border: About one of five jobs in Britain was tied to manufacturing cotton cloth, most of it from raw cotton grown in the American South. Southerners assumed that Britain would have to support them in any break with the North to keep Britain’s vital supply of cotton raw materials coming.

Thomas Jefferson, slaveholder, said this about slavery: “The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of . . . despotism on the one part and degrading submissions on the other. . . . I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” People often see more than a little moral disconnect between Jefferson’s proclamations against slavery and the fact that he kept slaves. Sadly Jefferson — a good president but a poor businessman — couldn’t free his slaves in his will. He had mortgaged them to get enough money to live on.

Fewer than 2,000 families in the South owned more than 100 slaves. Three of four families owned no slaves at all. Because the South was basically a one-crop economy, even large landowners could suffer reversals when that crop did poorly.

The South was at the mercy of the North for basic manufactured supplies; even cotton clothing came from New England. Most immigrants avoided the South so they wouldn’t have to compete with slave labor on the one hand and rich landowners on the other. That situation left the South short of new blood and any kind of cheap labor except slavery.

Even slavery could be a money-loser. A slave cost as much as $80,000 in modern money. If slave traders missed the market or some of their charges died, they were in trouble fast. Economically as well as morally, the slavery/cotton empire was a bet with the devil. It continued to be very profitable right up to the time of the Civil War, but it was a house of cards.

In a seeming paradox, some of the strongest supporters of slavery were the small Southern farmers who owned no slaves. On closer examination, this situation is no paradox at all. The small farmers had someone to look down on in the slaves who lived around them and a shallow brotherhood of white people with their richer neighbors. The poor whites could look forward to the day when they could get ahead enough to turbocharge their earnings by buying a slave or two. It was a sick application of the American dream of upward mobility.

Problems faced by free blacks of the era

About 250,000 free blacks lived in the South and another 250,000 in the North. Blacks gained freedom through Northern emancipation laws and the occasional goodwill of Southern owners; their children were then free as well. They were in a precarious position. Free blacks couldn’t testify in court. If they were assaulted by whites, unless other whites showed up to defend them (which was rare), the blacks never got justice. In the South, they were in constant danger of being kidnapped into slavery. In the North, mobs of poor Irish and other immigrants who resented the competition from free blacks for low-wage jobs often beat them up. Blacks couldn’t go to most white schools, stores, or churches. Frederick Douglass, the distinguished black abolitionist, was beaten by Northern rowdies more than once.

Question: How did some blacks become free before the Civil War?

Answer: The number of free blacks in the United States grew because Northern states ended slavery, some Southern slaveholders freed their slaves after the Revolution or in their wills, and freed blacks had children who were then themselves free.

Blacks fought for their own freedom whenever they could. They didn’t have much opportunity to fight back; slaves were guarded and whipped for the slightest infraction. Informant slaves who brought news of any trouble were rewarded and potential troublemakers punished without mercy. Even walking on the road at night could spell death to a black man who didn’t have a ready excuse. Despite these barriers, at least 11 slave revolts were attempted from colonial times to the Civil War:

● In 1800, an armed insurrection in Richmond led by a tall, strong blacksmith slave named Gabriel was foiled by informants. Gabriel had carefully planned to take Virginia’s governor (later president) James Monroe hostage and ask for freedom for slaves in the name of the American Revolution. He was questioned under torture but refused to submit. He, two of his brothers, and 24 others were hanged. After Gabriel’s bid for freedom, Virginia kept slaves under tight surveillance.

In 2007, Virginia governor Tim Kaine informally pardoned Gabriel and his coconspirators. The modern governor said that Gabriel’s motivation had been “his devotion to the ideals of the American Revolution; it was worth risking death to secure liberty.” The governor noted that “Gabriel’s cause — the end of slavery and the furtherance of equality of all people — has prevailed in the light of history.” He added, “It is important to acknowledge that history favorably regards Gabriel’s cause while consigning legions who sought to keep him and others in chains to be forgotten.”

● In 1822, Denmark Vesey, who had managed to buy his freedom after winning a city lottery, was within days of launching a revolt that could have included more than 1,000 slaves in Charleston. Vesey had been able to plan the revolt because he was a free black who worked as a carpenter. He had tried to live with whites, but he was angry because they had repeatedly closed the black church he had helped start. Betrayed by frightened slaves, Vesey and more than 30 of his followers were hanged. Vesey’s son survived to reopen the black church after the Civil War.

● Nat Turner was a black slave who could read and who served as a preacher. He had visions that told him to fight for freedom, and in 1831, he led a rebellion of at least 100 slaves in Virginia. The slaves fought for 2 days, killing around 60 white civilians, before they were defeated by an overwhelming force of soldiers, sailors, and militiamen who rushed in from all directions.

After the battle, Virginia actually debated proposals to end slavery but decided to go the other way instead. The state forbade teaching a slave to read and instituted regular slave patrols that stopped any blacks found on the roads.

Abolition in the North

The movement for the abolition of slavery began with calls for freedom from Quakers and Mennonites before the Revolution. An American Colonization Society was formed in 1817 to send blacks back to their now-forgotten home; a few years later, the society founded the Republic of Liberia on the west coast of Africa.

In 1832, a rare group of people got together at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati and held an 18-day debate on slavery. They included Theodore Weld, who had been evangelized by Charles Finney, the same Great Awakening preacher who would go on to be president of Oberlin College. Based on what he learned from slaves just across the river from Cincinnati in Kentucky, Weld wrote American Slavery As It Is (1839). He greatly influenced a young lady whose father was the head of the seminary.

That young lady was Harriet Beecher Stowe, and she would go on to write the best-selling novel of the 1800s: Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). That book burst upon society like a star shell, lighting up thinking all over the North. It sold more than 300,000 copies in its first year. Watching thousands of stage productions in every little town in the North, people in the audience gasped as Eliza carried her son across the shifting river ice to freedom and cried at the death of kindly Uncle Tom. Showing the power of an idea whose time has come, Uncle Tom’s Cabin crystallized opposition to slavery in the North. For more information about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, see Chapter 13.

On New Year’s Day 1831, uncompromising publisher William Lloyd Garrison, another spiritual child of the Great Awakening, launched the antislavery newspaper The Liberator. He said, “I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice.” The cause soon had black heroes:

● Sojourner Truth, a freed black woman in New York, fought for both emancipation and women’s rights.

● Frederick Douglass, an eloquent escaped slave, wrote his early life story in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845). He went on to be a respected spokesman for blacks through the Civil War and for years after.

Question: Who was William Lloyd Garrison?

Answer: Garrison was the uncompromising abolitionist who founded the antislavery newspaper The Liberator.

Abolitionists were beaten, burned out of their houses, and sometimes killed, but they didn’t back down. At first, wise politicians like Abraham Lincoln avoided them, but by the 1850s their cause was beginning to be accepted in the North. With the birth of the Republican Party in 1854, that cause found a national voice. See Chapter 13 for more information on the rise of abolition.

Acquiring More Land for America

Destiny hadn’t finished manifesting itself at the beginning of the 1840s, but after that, the United States picked up a lot of land in a short time. First came the lumberjack battles in northern Maine called the Aroostook War (1842). These battles were settled with the British masters of Canada in a way that left Maine with plenty of north woods, Canada with room to build a winter road to Quebec, and the U.S. with the nice surprise of major iron deposits in Minnesota.

As outlined earlier, Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836, but between then and 1845, Texans had to cool their heels down on the border while Congress debated whether to admit Texas as a slave state. In 1845, Texas switched from being the Lone Star Republic to being the 28th star in the American flag. Mexico couldn’t stand the transition of their former territory to the United States and war broke out soon after.

One of Andrew Jackson’s last political acts was recommending his friend and neighbor James Polk as the Democratic presidential nominee in 1844. Polk was victorious over a terminally frustrated Henry Clay and efficiently carried out his four-point presidential agenda: lower tariffs, establish an independent treasury, grab California, and settle the Oregon border.

Polk got legislation to lower the tariffs and restore an independent treasury. Then he went to work on grabbing California and the Oregon Territory. In 1846, the British settled the Oregon Territory question by splitting the difference with the United States on the northern border of what became the state of Washington.

California looked beautiful even before gold was discovered in 1848. Its inhabitants included around 13,000 Mexicans, 1,000 Americans more or less poaching on Mexican territory, and 100,000 American Indians. Polk managed to stir up a border incident with an angry Mexico down on the Rio Grande in Texas, and the Mexican-American War was under way in 1846.

The war was unpopular in New England; Henry David Thoreau spent a night in jail to protest it.

Most of the rest of the country was spoiling to finish off Manifest Destiny with a good fight. The renegade Americans in California seized the province, aided by Captain John Fremont, who just happened to be in the neighborhood with an armed patrol.

An American army fought its way into Mexico City by September 1847. Mexico reluctantly signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), turning over an area that amounted to about a third of the United States in exchange for $18 million (offered rather guiltily by the United States). When the treaty was signed, neither side knew that gold, ultimately worth billions of dollars, had been discovered 9 days earlier on the American River in California.

Sliding Closer to Civil War

An enormous new piece of the United States meant an enormous fight over whether it would be slave or free. Almost all the free states passed resolutions called the Wilmot Proviso (1846), an anti-slavery move calling for all the new land to be admitted as free states. This contentious amendment easily passed the U.S. House of Representatives but couldn’t get through the carefully balanced Senate.

Question: What was the first resolution to split the North and South on the slavery issue?

Answer: The Wilmot Proviso of 1846 was the first purely sectional vote (which never passed) to block extending slavery to territory acquired from Mexico.

Politically, the South was fighting with its back to the wall. The free-state population now far outnumbered that of slave states, even with the three-fifths provision for nonvoting slaves (see Chapter 10). Therefore, the North had more votes in the House, and if more free states were admitted, it soon would have more votes in the Senate as well. The South couldn’t back down.

Meanwhile, hatred for slavery had reached the point in the North at which many people couldn’t stand the thought of creating another state under the grip of slaveholders. The Mexican land was becoming a gigantic poison pill for compromise in the Union.

In the election of 1848, the Whigs ran a hero of the Mexican-American War, Gen. Zachary Taylor. Taylor had no political liabilities, having never held public office or, for that matter, even voted in a presidential election. The Democrats ran an old veteran of the War of 1812 who believed in popular sovereignty (1850), the principle of letting the people of any territory decide whether they wanted the territory to be slave or free.

Question: What is popular sovereignty?

Answer: Popular sovereignty allowed local voters to choose whether their state would be slave or free.

A new Free Soil Party came out squarely against the extension of slavery to even one more square inch of the United States. The Free Soilers diverted enough votes from the Democrats to elect Zachary Taylor of the Whig party. Taylor hadn’t made any speeches about slavery during the election, but he was a slaveholding plantation owner from Louisiana. That was enough to attract most Southern votes.

With the discovery of gold, California rushed toward statehood as a free state. The territory had plenty of people, had written its own constitution, and was ready to more than pay for itself. But if California were admitted, the balance in the Senate would swing to a majority for the nonslave states.

The Southerners were also stressing about the issue of runaway slaves. They had plenty to be steamed about:

● Harriet Tubman (1849), a fearless runaway slave, had helped rescue more than 300 other slaves from the South, including her aging parents.

● The Underground Railroad (1850), a series of safe houses and hiding places for escaping slaves, was helping a small number of slaves escape. The total number of slaves who made it North in a year was around 1,000 — a small loss to freedom from a slave population of 4 million.

The South was also steamed about the North’s nonstop campaign to outlaw slavery in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. The South was whirling around, looking for a fight almost as though it had a guilty conscience.

The Compromise of 1850

The situation didn’t come to fighting yet. Most Northerners in 1850 were willing to let slavery remain in the South, as long as it didn’t spread to other states. The old peacemakers of the Congress, Henry Clay (73), Daniel Webster, and Southerner John Calhoun (both 68), cobbled together the Compromise of 1850. They’d been working tirelessly to hold the nation together for 40 years, but now they were running out of time, both in their own lives and in the lifespan of compromise. Some highlights of the compromise:

The North got California as a free state, finally tipping the balance toward free-state votes in the Senate.

The slave trade, but not slavery itself, was outlawed in Washington, D.C.

New Mexico and Arizona could join the Union under popular sovereignty by deciding to be slave states if they wanted to.

The big Southern win in the Compromise of 1850 was the Fugitive Slave Law, which allowed slaves who had escaped to the North to be grabbed by federal marshals and dragged back

South in chains. When a Boston runaway slave was dragged off in 1854, the shocking scene made previously peaceful compromisers into instant abolitionists.

Question: What was the most common Northern position on slavery in 1850?

Answer: For most Northerners in 1850, slavery could remain in the South as long as it didn’t spread.

Question: What was the most pro-slavery part of the Compromise of 1850?

Answer: The Fugitive Slave Law allowed escaped slaves in the North to be returned to the South.

The Fugitive Slave Law was a public-relations disaster for the South, delivered in spite over a few slaves. The South became even more spiteful when Northern states refused to enforce the law.

Democrat Franklin Pierce won the presidency in 1852 and pledged to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. This election was the end of the road for the Whigs; they had too many abolitionists to do well in the South and not enough antislavery zeal to win the North.

The South looked desperately for new slave-state territory, even sending military expeditions to Central America and Cuba; these expeditions were easily beaten back, to the embarrassment of the United States. The United States tossed another $10 million Mexico’s way for a chunk of desert containing Tucson, which made a good route for a railroad west if you wanted to build it from the South.

Stephen Douglas and the Kansas-Nebraska Act

Stephen Douglas, senator from Illinois, wanted the western railroad to go from the North (specifically, from his state’s big city, Chicago). To do this, the United States would have to organize the Nebraska Territory that the railroad would run across. The South wasn’t going to settle for any more free states, but the Missouri Compromise said that slavery was banned from Nebraska.

Douglas, a Northerner from Abe Lincoln’s home state, proposed that the compromise be disregarded and the Nebraska territory opened to popular sovereignty. That could mean that Kansas, due west of slaveholding Missouri, would become a new slave state. Over angry opposition from the North, Douglas rammed the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) through Congress, doing away with the Missouri Compromise.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was a self-defeating victory for the South. The North felt betrayed: The Missouri Compromise clearly said that there would be no slavery in the Nebraska territory, but now Southerners were flooding into Kansas to claim it for the South. The North hadn’t liked the Compromise of 1850 in the first place; from now on, they would openly ignore it.

A new political party sprang up spontaneously in 1854 in the Midwest to fight against slavery. Within two years, the Republican Party would have enough strength to elect the speaker of the House of Representatives. The compromises were over.

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