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Chapter 7 Introductory Essay: 1844-1860

Written by: Allen Guelzo, Princeton University

By the end of this section, you will:

  • Explain the context in which sectional conflict emerged from 1844 to 1877


The antebellum period before the Civil War witnessed rapid population and economic growth and several reform movements aimed at improving lives and fulfilling the principles of the American republic. The United States also experienced contention and deep divisions as slavery and the expansion of territory challenged the political balance of power in the nation. The national debate over slavery and its expansion was at the root of the sectional tensions that, despite the efforts of many, led to the Civil War.

Texas, the Mexican War, and Slavery’s Expansion

In the two decades after it was adopted in 1820, the Missouri Compromise promised that virtually all the republic’s future expansion westward would be secured from slavery. In fact, however, the compromise only deflected the energies of westward expansion south-westward to the old Spanish domains, where Mexican revolutionaries (following the American example) had overthrown their colonial overlords and created a Mexican Republic in 1823. Achieving political stability proved more difficult for Mexico than for the United States, and in a bid to promote development, the new Mexican government encouraged American immigrants to settle in the northernmost province of Texas in the 1820s. Mexico soon regretted the decision. American settlers arrived in alarming numbers—some 20,000 by the end of the decade—and showed no inclination to either assimilate themselves to Mexican culture or obey Mexican laws banning slavery. In 1835, these nordamericanos rose in revolt, and after a gallant but bloody defeat at the Alamo in March 1836, they won a resounding victory over Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.

(a) A painting of the Alamo mission with soldiers in the foreground and rolling fields in the background. (b) A photo of the Alamo mission with tourists in the foreground.

Theodore Gentilz created (a) The Fall of the Alamo in 1844 eight years after the battle in which General Santa Anna gave no quarter. “Remember the Alamo!” became a rallying cry for Texans in their ensuing war for independence. (b) Today what remains of the Alamo is designated as a World Heritage site by the United Nations. (credit b: modification of work by Mary Patterson/Flickr CC BY 4.0)

Texas proclaimed itself an independent republic, which Mexico refused to recognize diplomatically. But Texans’ hopes were on annexation by the United States. President Martin Van Buren ought to have been a friend of annexation: he was the handpicked successor of Andrew Jackson, and Jackson’s Democrats had always been eager to promote westward expansion, especially if it served the interests of southern slaveholders, who filled their ranks. But opposition to westward land grabs and the growth of slavery had already contributed to the creation of the Whig Party, headed by Henry Clay. Besides, Texas had run up substantial debt in its war with Mexico, and the United States, then in the throes of a deep economic recession, was not eager to add to the nation’s bills.

However, in 1844, another Jackson protégé, James Knox Polk of Tennessee, narrowly defeated Henry Clay for the presidency. Polk was dedicated to the ideal of Manifest Destiny and put fresh wind in the sails of expansion. (See the To What Extent Were Manifest Destiny and Westward Expansion Justified? Point-Counterpoint and the Art Analysis: American Progress by John Gast, 1872 Primary Source.) Not only was Texas annexed but Polk agitated for the acquisition of still more Mexican territory in the southwest—New Mexico, California—and demanded border readjustments to the north, along the line dividing Oregon from British Canada. As Democratic journalist John L. O’Sullivan wrote in 1845, it was “our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” (See the John O’Sullivan, “Annexation,” 1845 Primary Source.) Polk took this idea to heart, starting with congressional annexation of Texas in 1845. After Mexico protested that it would never recognize the annexation, Polk stationed federal troops at Texas’s southern border. Ten months later, there was a border skirmish, and Polk used it as the pretext for war with Mexico. (See the Debating the Mexican-American War, May 1846 Primary Source and the To Go to War with Mexico? Decision Point.)

U.S. naval and land forces occupied New Mexico and California over only modest opposition. An invasion of northern Mexico by U.S. forces under General Zachary Taylor produced a major victory over a Mexican army commanded by Santa Anna at Buena Vista, and a daring thrust into central Mexico by General Winfield Scott, following the old route of the Spanish conquistadors, succeeded in capturing the capital, Mexico City, on September 13, 1847. The dejected Mexican government signed the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo the following February, conceding the annexation of Texas and surrendering New Mexico and California (including the modern states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada) to the United States. (See The American Southwest: Tucson in Transition Narrative.) Given that most of this Mexican Cession lay below the Missouri Compromise line of 36°30′, the real winners of the war seemed to be southern slaveholders, who now saw a new empire for slavery’s expansion opening at their feet. As one American officer, Ulysses Grant, later wrote in disgust, the war was really nothing but “a conspiracy to acquire territory out of which slave states might be formed for the American Union.”

Map of the United States. States east of the Mississippi River are in orange with the exception of Florida which is colored green. The central region north of Texas is gray with the exception of parts of North and South Dakota and Minnesota which are light blue as is Texas and parts of Colorado New Mexico and Oklahoma (light blue states are labeled Texas Annexation). The Pacific Northwest is green and the western states of California Nevada Arizona Utah and parts of Wyoming Colorado and New Mexico are light orange.

The U.S. annexation of Texas and the ceding of land by Mexico in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo added territory south of the Missouri Compromise line. The debate over the future of slavery in the western territories then intensified widening the growing division between North and South.

The Compromise of 1850 and the “Popular Sovereignty” Doctrine

But the destiny of the Mexican Cession was by no means so manifest in Congress. The war with Mexico had hardly begun in the summer of 1846 before a Pennsylvania Representative, David Wilmot, proposed an amendment to an appropriations bill that would require “as an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the Republic of Mexico” that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime.” The Wilmot Proviso was angrily countered by South Carolina’s pro-slavery senator John C. Calhoun. Calhoun argued that any territory won from Mexico was the “common property” of all the states, and therefore open for slaveholders to migrate to—with their slaves. Yet another proposal came from a northern Democratic senator, Lewis Cass, who urged that the slavery question be “left to the people…in their respective local governments” who would actually settle in the Cession and should have the final say by “popular sovereignty.” President Polk favored a simple extension of the Missouri Compromise line, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. But Polk failed, both in mustering support for such an extension and in reconciling any of the other factions, and he left office in 1848 to be followed by a Whig president, the Mexican War hero Zachary Taylor.

Map of the United States. Free states include Iowa Michigan Wisconsin Illinois Indiana Ohio Pennsylvania New York New Jersey Connecticut Rhode Island Vermont New Hampshire Massachusetts and Maine (also labeled

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 resulted in Maine’s being admitted to the Union as a free state and Missouri’s being admitted as a slave state. Slavery was forbidden in the Louisiana Purchase territory above latitude 36°30’ (with the obvious exception of Missouri). Polk’s suggestion to extend the line across the United States’ new territory after the Mexican-American War failed and tensions over slavery’s expansion continued to escalate. (attribution: Copyright Rice University OpenStax under CC BY 4.0 license)

Although Taylor was a southerner and a slaveholder himself, he was convinced that Congress should never “permit a state made from [the Mexican Cession] to enter our Union with the features of slavery connected with it.” The discovery of significant deposits of gold at Sutter’s Mill in California had triggered a massive gold rush and the influx of enough emigrants to justify the direct admission of California without an intervening territorial phase. (See The 49ers Narrative, the Dame Shirley (Mrs. Clappe), Letters from a Western Pioneer, 1851–1852 Primary Source, and the Frank Lecouvreur, From East Prussia to the Golden Gate, 1851–1871 Primary Source.) Taylor used this to push California’s admission as a free state in 1850. Defusing the confrontation in Congress now fell to the master compromiser, Senator Henry Clay, who constructed yet another great national compromise, this time limiting future admissions of states from the Mexican Cession to Senator Cass’s popular sovereignty rule. Clay sweetened the deal for southerners by adding a tough new Fugitive Slave Act, giving federal assistance for the recapture of runaway slaves. (See The Compromise of 1850 Decision Point.)

The real star of the effort behind Clay’s Compromise of 1850 was the Democratic junior senator from Illinois, Stephen A. Douglas, who had engineered the passage of the compromise’s components one by one. As early as 1852, Douglas was already being talked about as a possible Democratic presidential candidate. Although the nomination in that year went instead to the Mexican War veteran Franklin Pierce (who easily defeated the Whig candidate from the Mexican War, Winfield Scott), Douglas was emerging as the most powerful man in the Senate. Moreover, his success in passing the Compromise of 1850 convinced him that popular sovereignty was the key to solving the whole slavery conundrum. Douglas was irritated that slaveholders dissatisfied with the compromise and popular sovereignty were successfully blocking legislation for the organization of the old Louisiana Purchase territories of Kansas and Nebraska, both still governed by the no-slavery agreement of the Missouri Compromise. Brimming with confidence in the idea of popular sovereignty, he introduced legislation in January 1854 that repealed the Missouri Compromise and instead proposed to organize Kansas and Nebraska on the basis of popular sovereignty.

In the words of Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln, Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska Act left many Americans “thunderstruck and stunned; and we reeled and fell in utter confusion.” Northerners in the free states had assumed, a little too readily, that not even popular sovereignty would be enough to promote the use of slaves in the arid wastes of New Mexico, while the protections of the Missouri Compromise would secure the old Louisiana Purchase territories for free labor forever. That assurance was now cruelly ripped away. “But we rose, each fighting,” Lincoln recounted, “grasping whatever he could first reach—a scythe—a pitchfork—a chopping axe, or a butcher’s cleaver”—anything with which to oppose Kansas-Nebraska and the popular sovereignty doctrine. Free Soilers, led by Salmon Chase of Ohio and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, accused Douglas of advancing a shadowy conspiracy they called “the Slave Power,” which aimed at nothing less than legalizing slavery everywhere in the United States. (See The Free Soil Party Narrative.) The Kansas-Nebraska bill passed anyway, with Democratic president Franklin Pierce supporting it, but the outrage of some Democratic members of Congress remained.

In fact, that anger was stoked by another of Douglas’s creations, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This statute put new strength into federal enforcement of the capture and extradition of runaway slaves in the North. In the process, however, it also created sensational showdowns between fugitive slaves and their trackers, sometimes resulting in deadly shootouts, and at other times in disgraceful recaptures of formerly enslaved individuals who had blended peacefully into northern society for years. (See the Fugitive Slave Act, 1850 Primary Source and the Thomas Sims and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 Narrative.)

Poster warning blacks about slave catchers. Part of the poster text reads as follows:

This April 24 1851 poster warned blacks about authorities who acted as slave catchers. The Fugitive Slave Act began to turn many northerners into abolitionists.

On May 24, 1854, Anthony Burns who had escaped from slavery to Boston, was apprehended by slave catchers at the store where he worked and had to be marched to a waiting boat in chains, guarded by files of U.S. Marines to prevent his liberation by crowds of angered Bostonians. Amos Lawrence, a pro-Compromise Whig, remembered that after the Burns affair, “We went to bed one night old-fashioned conservative Compromise Union Whigs & waked up stark mad abolitionists.” (See the Henry David Thoreau “Slavery in Massachusetts” 1854 Primary Source.)

Abolitionists and Republicans

Abolitionist was a word few northerners had used to describe themselves before the 1850s; it applied only to a small band of uncompromising opponents of slavery who demanded the immediate and unconditional liberation of all slaves. Their rhetoric was radical. For example, William Lloyd Garrison, an abolitionist leader and editor of the most prominent abolitionist journal, The Liberator, accused the Constitution of complicity with slavery and publicly burned a copy of it with the declaration that it was “a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell.” (See the William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass on Abolition, 1845–1852 Primary Source.)

The Fugitive Slave Act began to change northerners’ hesitation about abolition, and it changed them still more after June 1851, when the antislavery newspaper National Era began serializing a new novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe entitled Uncle Tom’s Cabin: or, Life Among the Lowly. (See the Harriett Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom’s Cabin Narrative.) Stowe, who came from a religious and reform-oriented family, not only depicted the operation of the Fugitive Slave Act in the most lurid colors but also dramatized how easily southern blacks could be sold, beaten, raped, and even killed by their masters, with no particular legal consequences. When Uncle Tom’s Cabin was released in book form in 1852, about 3,000 copies were sold on its first day. Together, the Fugitive Slave Act, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin made the political gap between the free states of the North and the slave states of the South almost unbridgeable.

(a) Drawing of four black people—two women a man a baby—and a dog. (b) Portrait of Harriet Beecher Stowe.

(a) The caption below the drawing from Uncle Tom’s Cabin reads “Eliza comes to tell Uncle Tom that he is sold and that she is running away to save her child.” The cruelty of the novel’s white slaveholders and the brutality of the slave dealer Simon Legree shocked readers. (b) Author Harriet Beecher Stowe shown here in 1852 believed she had a moral obligation to mold the nation’s conscience.

The first casualty of this polarization was the Whig Party, which collapsed into quarrelling northern and southern factions, with most of the southern Whigs merging into the Democratic Party. Some northern Whigs blamed their party’s troubles on rising tides of Catholic immigrants from Europe, who seemed willing to trade votes for the “Slave Power” for political favors, and they attached themselves to a short-lived anti-immigrant American Party (or “Know-Nothings,” so called from the party members’ pledge to respond to investigators with “I know nothing”). (See the Nativist Riots and the Know-Nothing Party Narrative.) But the majority of northern Whigs (among them Abraham Lincoln) merged instead with disenchanted antislavery Democrats and abolitionists in a new northern antislavery party, the Republicans. In earlier years, the national constituencies of Whigs and Democrats had helped damp down sectional animosities. Now, the parties were becoming the mouthpieces of the country’s two sections, with each section increasingly behaving as though it saw no alternative but to go its own way.

Other casualties were human. If popular sovereignty was now to determine the future of Kansas and Nebraska as free or slave states, then it was up to antislavery and proslavery emigrants to move there and capture that sovereignty by numbers. As they did so, they inevitably clashed, and the clashes turned bloody. On May 24, 1856, a radical abolitionist named John Brown, with four of his sons and two of his neighbors, hacked five unarmed proslavery Kansans to death along Pottawatomie Creek before going underground to escape the law. (See the Kansas-Nebraska Act and Bleeding Kansas Narrative.)

Other events in the mid-1850s contributed to growing sectional tensions. In the fall of 1854, three of President Pierce’s diplomats—James Buchanan, Pierre Soule, and James Mason—formulated the Ostend Manifesto, describing how the United States could extend its expansionist arms into the Caribbean and annex Cuba as a new slave state. At almost the same time, John Brown launched his raid at Pottawatomie Creek, a southern member of Congress, Preston Brooks, accosted Republican leader and abolitionist Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate and beat him senseless with a cane. (See the Charles Sumner and Preston Brooks Narrative.) On March 6, 1857, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Roger Brooke Taney, a southerner backed by a southern majority of justices, issued a decision in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford. Dred Scott was an enslaved person living in Missouri who was suing for his freedom because he had lived on free soil for a time. Taney’s decision declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional because Congress could not regulate slavery in the territories. It struck down even the requirement that there must be some expression of popular sovereignty before a territory could decide about slavery. Now, in effect, no territory could ban slavery. The Court’s decision also asserted that African Americans were not and could not become citizens of the United States. Taney believed the decision would calm sectional divisions over slavery, but, in fact, it inflamed them. (See the Dred Scott v. Sandford DBQ Lesson.)

Watch this BRI Homework Help video: Dred Scott v. Sandford for more information on the pivotal Dred Scott decision.

Each of these steps only convinced northerners that ever-stronger antislavery steps needed to be taken, if not to abolish slavery (as the abolitionists wanted) then at least to contain its spread. Northerners did not lack for means. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln challenged Stephen A. Douglas for his seat in the U.S. Senate, and although Douglas enjoyed the advantage of public recognition, Lincoln quickly closed that gap by pressing relentlessly on the flaws in Douglas’s popular sovereignty doctrine.

For instance, when was a territory to schedule the vote on legalizing slavery by which its residents’ popular sovereignty would be recorded? Halfway through the process of statehood? What would keep slaveholders from stuffing the territory—and the ballot-boxes—with proslavery votes? If the vote went against legalization, how could the slaveholders in that territory be legally evicted? Above all, how could a mere vote take away from an enslaved human being the natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that the Declaration of Independence had declared were inalienable? “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master,” Lincoln wrote on August 1, 1858, in a note for the debates. “This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.” Although Lincoln lost the election because of the state’s system of voting apportionment, the seven open-air debates he held with Douglas deeply damaged Douglas’s career as a national political leader and brought Lincoln national attention. (See the Lincoln-Douglass Debates, 1858 Primary Source.)

(a) Portrait of Abraham Lincoln. (b) Portrait of Stephen Douglas.

In 1858 (a) Abraham Lincoln debated (b) Stephen Douglas seven times in the Illinois race for the U.S. Senate. Although Douglas won the seat the debates propelled Lincoln into the national political spotlight.

Other northerners were growing more impatient. In October 1859, John Brown and a small band of abolitionist recruits stormed the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, hoping to seize the weapons stored there and spark a slave uprising in the western Virginia mountains. The raid was badly bungled, and Brown and his supporters were either killed or hanged for treason. But across the North, a man who in earlier years would have been scorned as a madman was now hailed as a martyr. “He is a man to make friends wherever on earth courage and integrity are esteemed,” said the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson in a tribute to Brown, “the rarest of heroes, a pure idealist, with no by-ends of his own.” (See the John Brown: Hero or Villain? DBQ Lesson and the John Brown and Harpers Ferry Narrative.)

Illustration of men by a wagon in a building. Some men are shown injured beside the wagon one man holds a gun and others look on.

John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was a radical abolitionist’s attempt to start a revolt that would ultimately end slavery. This 1859 illustration is captioned “Harper’s Ferry insurrection—Interior of the Engine House just before the gate is broken down by the storming party—Col. Washington and his associates as captives held by Brown as hostages.” It is from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine. Do you think it represents a southern or northern version of the raid?

The most telling changes were also the most subtle ones. The South might possess the most valuable export commodity in the world, in the form of cotton, but in every other respect, its economic organization was feeble. Despite a major economic downturn in 1857 and 1858, which hurt the North far more than the South, the free states had 1,125 banks in operation, whereas the slave South had only 297; the North had built 18,123 miles of railroads, whereas the South had only 6,630. The public budgets of the slave states amounted to only a quarter of those of the free states. Above all, the population of the northern states had been gradually outpacing the South’s for decades. In 1840, the population of the free states stood at 9.6 million, and the slave states’ free population at 4.8 million. By 1850, however, the North experienced a dramatic increase of population, fueled largely by immigration from Ireland and Germany, which were experiencing severe famine and political unrest. (See the Irish and German Immigration DBQ Lesson.) The free-state population had grown to 13.4 million, while in the slave states, the free population had increased only to 6.4 million. If antislavery northerners could unite behind a reasonable antislavery candidate for the presidency, they would be able to elect such a candidate purely on the strength of the northern states’ electoral votes, and thus they could finally check the path of southern belligerence.

The North found such a candidate in Abraham Lincoln, who won the Republican presidential nomination in May 1860. (See The Election of 1860 Narrative.) Lincoln was not an abolitionist. He believed the states had the responsibility for ending slavery and promised the South that as president he would have no authority over slavery. He favored emancipation, but only on a gradual timetable and with some form of national legislation and compensation for slaveholders, and he always insisted that he wanted to curtail slavery’s expansion into the territories more than anything else.

All that southerners heard, however, was that Lincoln opposed slavery, and then they handicapped themselves by refusing to endorse the Democratic Party’s favorite, Stephen Douglas. No longer content with Douglas’s popular sovereignty, southern Democrats wanted national slavery legislation and the acquisition of new foreign territory for expanding slavery’s domain, and they split the Democratic Party by nominating a southern proslavery candidate, John C. Breckinridge. Former southern Whigs who wanted to avoid the slavery issue and avert secession organized the Constitutional Union Party and nominated John Bell from Tennessee. With Democrats thus divided between Douglas and Breckinridge and southerners divided between Democrats and the Constitutional Union Party, Lincoln coasted to an easy victory on November 6, 1860. Although he actually won only 39.8 percent of the popular vote (1,865,000 votes), he garnered almost all those votes in northern states with large populations and, therefore, won a lopsided Electoral College majority of 180 of 303 votes.

Southerners understood that this election signaled they had lost control of the political process. On November 12, the South Carolina state legislature called for a state convention to authorize secession from the United States, which it did on December 20. (See the South Carolina Secession Debate, 1860 Lesson.) By February 1, 1861, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas had quickly followed. Last-minute compromise efforts were made in Congress, first by Kentucky’s senior senator, John J. Crittenden, whom many saw as the heir of Henry Clay in working out compromises, and then by a Peace Convention that met in Washington in February. But the secessionists, who had organized themselves into a new Confederate States of America, were interested not in compromise but in taking possession of federal property within their boundaries, including the military installations at Ft. Pickens in Florida and Ft. Sumter in South Carolina. President-elect Lincoln refused to sanction the compromises in any case. The nation was about to tip over into the abyss of civil war. (See The Election of Lincoln and the Secession of Southern States DBQ Lesson.)

A timeline shows important events of the era. In 1845 the United States annexes Texas. In 1846 the United States declares war on Mexico and Great Britain cedes Oregon territory to the United States; the seal of the Oregon territory is shown. In 1848 the Mexican Cession adds vast new territory to the United States; a map of Mexico in 1847 is shown. In 1848 supporters of women’s rights gather at Seneca Falls. In 1849 the California Gold Rush begins; a promotional poster beckoning Americans to book their passage via steamship is shown. In 1850 Henry Clay brokers the Compromise of 1850. In 1850 John C. Calhoun’s

The antebellum period gave rise to reform movements meant to improve lives and fulfill the principles of the American republic. Despite several attempts to compromise sectional tensions led the nation to the brink of civil war in 1860.

Additional Chapter Resources

Review Questions

1. The phrase “manifest destiny” was used by journalist John O’Sullivan in 1845 to justify what policy?

  1. The Louisiana Purchase
  2. The annexation of territory belonging to Mexico
  3. The acquisition of the Hawaiian Islands
  4. War with Great Britain

2. Stephen A. Douglas’s doctrine of popular sovereignty allowed

  1. slaves to be brought into the free states
  2. federal marshals to act as deputies in arresting fugitive slaves
  3. California to be admitted as a free state
  4. settlers in the territories to decide on the legalization of slavery for themselves

3. Abraham Lincoln’s criticism of popular sovereignty was based on

  1. his unwillingness to believe a single vote could deprive anyone of the natural right to liberty
  2. his reading of Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  3. his personal experience of owning slaves years before
  4. his participation in the attempt to rescue Anthony Burns

4. Which factor contributed to Abraham Lincoln’s election as president in 1860?

  1. Lincoln’s popular support came from northern states with many Electoral College votes.
  2. The Democratic Party had lost support in the South after the Dred Scott case.
  3. Northern Democrats threw their support behind Lincoln and considered him a moderate.
  4. A third party the Constitutional Union Party pulled away key Democratic votes.

5. In 1836 many Texans favored annexation by the United States because of

  1. Mexican military victories at the Alamo and San Jacinto
  2. President Jackson’s proslavery support
  3. discontent with Mexico’s policy governing its northern territory
  4. Whig interest in southern and western territorial expansion

6. A result of the Texas Revolution of 1836 was

  1. the establishment of an independent Republic of Texas
  2. the creation of multiple slave states Mexico’s northern territory
  3. Texas’ ultimate return to the control of the Mexican government
  4. the immediate annexation of Texas by the United States

7. James K. Polk’s defeat of Henry Clay in the 1844 presidential election led to

  1. loss of U.S. territorial interests in Oregon
  2. decreasing public support for westward expansion
  3. a period of comparative calm in U.S. foreign policy
  4. a greater likelihood that Texas would be annexed

8. The group with the most to gain from the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was

  1. New England Whigs
  2. proslavery southerners
  3. moderate Republicans
  4. northern manufacturers

9. Opposition to the Wilmot Proviso came mainly from

  1. moderate Democrats
  2. proslavery southerners
  3. the Whig Party
  4. the Republican Party

10. Which event hastened statehood for a portion of the Mexican Cession?

  1. The election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency
  2. The passage of the Wilmot Proviso
  3. The California gold rush
  4. The U.S. military victory at San Jacinto

11. Provisions of the Compromise of 1850 included

  1. a tough new fugitive slave act
  2. continuation of the Missouri Compromise regarding fugitive slaves
  3. modification of the federal fugitive slave laws to allow extradition of slaves who had escaped to Canada
  4. abolition of slavery in Washington DC

12. Allowing popular sovereignty in the lands ceded by Mexico in 1848 would have most severely threatened the political balance in the

  1. House of Representatives
  2. Supreme Court
  3. presidential Cabinet
  4. Senate

13. In the 1840s and 1850s the existence of the Missouri Compromise line at 36°30′ led to

  1. strong Northeastern support for the Mexican-American War
  2. reluctance of southerners in Congress to organize territories north of the line
  3. relaxation of slave laws in the cotton-rich South
  4. expansion of cotton cultivation north of the Mason-Dixon line

14. As the 1860 presidential election approached the Southern slave states held an advantage over the North in

  1. total free population
  2. number of banking institutions
  3. value of export commodity
  4. miles of railroad track

15. Which was a result of passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act?

  1. Diminished national support for the abolitionist movement
  2. Legal challenges that led the Act to be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court
  3. Reduction of the threat Southern slaveholders perceived from northern interests
  4. Partisan realignment in the North and the creation of the Republican Party

16. In the 1860 election southern Democrats rejected the presidential candidacy of Stephen Douglas because

  1. they felt popular sovereignty insufficiently protected their interests
  2. Abraham Lincoln had considered making Stephen Douglas his vice president
  3. they knew the slave states held a majority of electoral votes
  4. South Carolina had already seceded from the Union

17. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision in 1857 marked

  1. a continuation of Supreme Court’s challenges to the institution of slavery in the 1850s
  2. an attempt by the Supreme Court to resolve the issue of slavery that Congress had sought to reconcile through compromise
  3. a reversal of decades of judicial activism by the Supreme Court
  4. the catalyst that led to the creation of the Republican Party

Free Response Questions

  1. Describe the solutions proposed for dealing with slavery and its future in the Mexican Cession.
  2. Explain why the Kansas-Nebraska Act aroused such furious opposition.
  3. Explain why white southerners in the 1850s considered themselves increasingly isolated politically.

AP Practice Questions

A map of a Texas-shaped piece of land labeled slave district with Mexico on the bottom left and the United States on the upper right with a section labeled free district to the northwest of the slave district.

A map published in the Newark Daily Advertiser in 1845.

Refer to the map provided.

1. The provided map was created in response to debates surrounding the

  1. annexation of Texas
  2. end of the Mexican-American War
  3. passage of the Fugitive Slave Act
  4. repeal of the Missouri Compromise

2. Which group would most likely support the argument raised in the provided map?

  1. Northern Whigs
  2. Democrats
  3. Cotton-growing southerners
  4. Supporters of the Dred Scott decision

3. The sentiments expressed in the provided map most directly reflected a growing belief that

  1. sectional compromise was both possible and probable
  2. the New England states represented a formidable opponent in the Senate
  3. southern slave power was gaining in political strength
  4. immigrants from Germany and Ireland would sway the vote

Population of the United States 1830-1860

Census Year 1830 1840 1850 1860
Total Population 12 860 702 17 63 353 23 191 876 31 443 321
% Change over decade 33.5 32.7 35.9 35.6
Total no. of states 24 26 30 33

Immigration to the United States 1820-1859

Years 1820-1829 1830-1839 1840-1849 1850-1859
Total Immigration 99 272 422 771 1 369 259 2 619 680
From Ireland 51 617 170 672 656 145 1 209 486
From Germany 5753 124 726 385 434 976 072
Refer to the tables provided.

4. Which population trend for the period 1830-1860 is seen in the two provided tables?

  1. Population more than doubled over this period.
  2. The highest rate of increase occurred in the 1830s.
  3. Immigration primarily accounted for increase in population.
  4. Each new state brought in two million additional people.

5. A direct result of the immigration trend demonstrated in the provided tables was

  1. a decline in urban population along the East Coast
  2. an end to the importation of slaves
  3. increasing resentment toward immigrants
  4. an increase in the number of two-income households

6. Which of the following caused the demographic trends from Ireland and Germany (refer to the provided table)?

  1. War with Mexico
  2. Annexation
  3. Sectionalism and the rise of a third party
  4. Famine and political upheaval

Primary Sources

The American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge for the Year 1859. Boston: Crosby Nichols & Co. 1859.

Cass Lewis. “Cass Lewis to A.P.O. Nicholson (December 24, 1847).” The American Debate Over Slavery 1760-1865: An Anthology of Sources. Edited by H.L. Lubert K.R. Hardwick S.J. Hammond 200-204. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co. 2016.

Cong. Globe 29th Cong. 1st Sess. 1214 (August 8, 1846).

Cong. Globe 29th Cong. 1st Sess. 77 (August 12, 1846).

Emerson Ralph Waldo. “Speech at Boston November 18, 1859.” Essays First and Second Series English Traits Representative Men Addresses. Edited by Arthur Brisbane. New York: Hearst’s International Library 1914.

“The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.” 31st Congress (1850). A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation. Library of Congress.

Garrison William Lloyd. “Resistance to Tyranny.” Documents of Upheaval: Selections from William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator 1831-1865. Edited by Truman Nelson. New York: Hill & Wang 1866.

Grant Ulysses S. “Personal Memoirs.” Memoirs and Selected Letters. Edited by M.D. McFeely and W.S. McFeely. New York: Library of America 1990.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. 33rd Congress (1854). A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation. Library of Congress.

Lincoln Abraham. Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Edited by R.P. Basler. New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press 1953.

Lincoln Abraham. Peoria Speech October 16, 1854. National Park Service.

Lincoln Abraham. Seventh Debate Alton Illinois. October 15, 1858.- National Park Service.

Lincoln Abraham. Cooper Union Address. February 27, 1860.

O’Sullivan John L. “Annexation.” United States Magazine and Democratic Review. July-August 1845;17:5.;cc=usde;rgn=full%20text;idno=usde0017-1;didno=usde0017-1;view=image;seq=0013;node=usde0017-1%3A3

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Stowe Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 1852.

Taney Roger C. John H. Van Evrie and Samuel A. Cartwright. Dred Scott v. Sanford. 1857. “The Dred Scott decision: opinion of Chief Justice Taney.” Library of Congress.

Suggested Resources

Abbott Richard H. Cotton and Capital: Boston Businessmen and Antislavery Reform 1854-1868. Amherst MA: University of Massachusetts Press 1991.

Bauer K. Jack. Zachary Taylor: Soldier Planter Statesman of the Old Southwest. Baton Rouge LA: Louisiana State University Press 1985.

Bordewich Fergus M. America’s Great Debate: Henry Clay Stephen A. Douglas and the Compromise That Preserved the Union. New York: Simon & Schuster 2012.

Carton Evan. Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America. New York: Free Press 2006.

Donald David Herbert. Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War. New York: Knopf 1960.

Etcheson Nicole. Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era. Lawrence KS: University Press of Kansas 2004.

Fehrenbacher Don E. The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics. New York: Oxford University Press 1978.

Foner Eric. Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad. New York: W.W. Norton 2015.

Freehling William W. The Road to Disunion: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861. Oxford UK: Oxford University Press 2007.

Freeman Joanne B. The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War. New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux 2018.

Guelzo Allen C. Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America. New York: Simon & Schuster 2008.

Hamilton Holman. Zachary Taylor: Soldier in the White House. Indianapolis IN: Bobbs Merrill 1951.

Holt Michael F. The Election of 1860: A Campaign Fraught with Consequences. Lawrence KS: University Press of Kansas 2017.

Horwitz Tony. Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War. New York: Henry Holt 2011.

Johannsen Robert Walter. To the Halls of the Montezumas: The Mexican War in the American Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press 1985.

Koester Nancy. Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 2014.

Maltz Earl M. Fugitive Slave on Trial: The Anthony Burns Case and Abolitionist Outrage. Lawrence KS: University Press of Kansas 2010.

Mayer Henry. All On Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery. New York: St. Martin’s Press 1998.

Nevins Allan. The Ordeal of the Union: Fruits of Manifest Destiny 1847-1852 and A House Dividing 1852-1857. New York: Charles Scribner 1947.

Oakes James. Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States 1861-1865. New York: W.W. Norton 2012.

Oakes James. The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War. New York: W.W. Norton 2014.

Potter David Morris. The Impending Crisis 1848-1861. New York: Harper & Row 1976.

Remini Robert Vincent. Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union. New York: W.W. Norton 1991.

Reynolds David S. John Brown Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights. New York: Knopf 2005.

Starobin Paul. Madness Rules the Hour: Charleston 1860 and the Mania for War. New York: Public Affairs 2017.

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