U.S. Sectionalism

U.S. Sectionalism

U.S. Sectionalism

Early 1820s, France was threatening to reconquer Spanish colonies in South America, and Russia was advancing southward from Alaska toward the California coast. A contrary view argued by revisionist historians is that Monroe and Adams were chiefly concerned about sending a message to Great Britain. Not only was Britain the domi- nant seapower in 1823, but it was also regarded with suspicion as a traditional foe of American liberty.

A third question revolves around the role of British Foreign Secretary George Canning, whose suggestion for a joint Anglo- U.S. communique ́ against the restoration of the Spanish colonies precipitated President Monroe’s declaration. Historians disagree about Canning’s motivation for suggesting the communique ́. Was he more concerned with protecting British political interests by at- tempting to block a European alliance? Or was he chiefly concerned with cultivating U.S.-British economic cooperation so as to lower U.S. tariff barriers and promote British trading interests?

These are by no means the only questions concerning the Mon- roe Doctrine. Historians also take different positions about Latin Americans’ perception of U.S. policy and also about the extent to which the doctrine continued to influence U.S. policy in the second half of the 20th century. We see from these examples of historians’ disagreements that understanding a historical event involves far more than simply amassing relevant facts; just as important is applying critical thought and analysis.

Industrial innovation. While manufacturing was rapidly expanding, the vast majority of northerners were still involved in agriculture. The North was the most populous section in the country as a result of both a high birthrate and increased immigration.

The Industrial Northeast
Originally, the Industrial Revolution centered in the textile industry, but by the 1830s, northern factories were producing a wide range of goods— everything from farm implements to clocks and shoes.

Organized Labor. Industrial development meant that large numbers of people who had once earned their living as independent farmers and artisans became dependent on wages paid by factory owners. With the common problems of low pay, long hours, and unsafe working conditions, urban workers in different cities organized both unions and local political parties to protect their interests. The first U.S. labor party, founded in Philadelphia in 1828, succeeded in electing a few members of the city council. For a brief period in the 1830s, an increasing number of urban workers joined unions and participated in strikes.

Organized labor achieved one notable victory in 1842 when the Massachu- setts Supreme Court ruled in Commonwealth v. Hunt that “peaceful unions” had the right to negotiate labor contracts with employers. During the 1840s and 1850s, most state legislatures in the North passed laws establishing a ten- hour day for industrial workers. Improvement for workers, however, continued to be limited by (1) periodic depressions, (2) employers and courts that were hostile to unions, and (3) an abundant supply of cheap immigrant labor.

Urban life. The North’s urban population grew from approximately 5 percent of the population in 1800 to 15 percent by 1850. As a result of such rapid growth in cities from Boston to Baltimore, slums also expanded so that crowded housing, poor sanitation, infectious diseases, and high rates of crime soon became characteristic of large working-class neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the new opportunities offered by the Industrial Revolution continued to attract both native-born Americans from the farms and immigrants from Europe.

African Americans. The 250,000 African Americans who lived in the North in 1860 constituted only a small minority (1 percent) of northerners, but as free citizens, they represented 50 percent of all free African Americans. Freedom may have meant they could maintain a family and in some instances own land, but it did not mean economic or political equality, since strong racial prejudices kept them from voting and holding jobs in most skilled professions and crafts. In the mid-1800s, immigrants displaced them from occupations and jobs that they had held since the time of the Revolution. Denied membership in unions, African Americans were often hired as strikebreakers—and often dismissed after the strike ended.

The Agricultural Northwest

The Agricultural Northwest
The Old Northwest consisted of six states west of the Alleghenies that were admitted to the Union before 1860: Ohio (1803), Indiana (1816), Illinois (1818), Michigan (1837), Wisconsin (1848), and Minnesota (1858). These states came from territories formed by land ceded to the national government in the 1780s by several of the original 13 states. The procedure for turning territories of the Old Northwest into states was set forth in the Northwest Ordinance, passed by Congress in 1787.

In the early years of the 19th century, much of the Old Northwest was unsettled frontier, and the part of it that was settled relied upon the Mississippi to transport grain to southern markets via New Orleans. By midcentury, how- ever, this region became closely tied to the other northern states by two factors: (1) military campaigns by federal troops that drove Native Americans from the land and (2) the building of canals and railroads that established common markets between the Great Lakes and the East Coast.

Agriculture. In the states of the Old Northwest, large grain crops of corn and wheat were very profitable. Using the newly invented steel plow (by John Deere) and mechanical reaper (by Cyrus McCormick), a farm family was more efficient and could plant many more acres, needing only to supplement its labor with a few hired workers at harvesttime. The grain could spoil quickly and, immediately after the harvest, had to be shipped to urban centers for sale. Part of the crop was used to feed cattle and hogs and to supply distillers and brewers with grain for making whiskey and beer.

Newcities. Atkeytransportationpoints,whathadoncebeensmallvillages and towns grew into thriving cities after 1820: Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago on the Great Lakes, Cincinnati and St. Louis on major rivers. The new cities served as transfer points, processing farm products for shipment to the East, and also distributing manufactured goods from the East to different parts of the region.


In 1820, some 8,000 immigrants arrived from Europe, but beginning in 1832, there was a sudden increase. After that year, the number of new arrivals never fell below 50,000 a year and in one year, 1854, climbed as high as 428,000. From the 1830s through the 1850s, nearly 4 million people from northern Europe crossed the Atlantic to seek a new life in the United States. Arriving by ship in the northern seacoast cities of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, many immigrants remained where they landed, while others traveled to farms and cities of the Old Northwest. Few journeyed to the South, where the plantation economy and slavery limited the opportunities for free labor.

The surge in immigration from 1830–1860 was chiefly the result of: (1) the development of inexpensive and relatively rapid ocean transportation, (2) famines and revolutions in Europe that drove people from their homelands, and (3) the growing reputation of the United States as a country offering economic opportunities and political freedom. The immigrants strengthened the U.S. economy by providing both a steady stream of cheap labor and an increased demand for mass-produced consumer goods.

Irish. During this period, half of all the immigrants—almost 2 million— came from Ireland. These Irish immigrants were mostly tenant farmers driven from their homeland by potato crop failures and a devastating famine in the 1840s, and they now had limited interest in farming, few other skills, and little money. They faced strong discrimination because of their Roman Catholic religion. The Irish worked hard at whatever employment they could find, usually competing with African Americans for domestic work and unskilled laborer jobs. Faced with limited opportunities, they congregated for mutual support in the northern cities (Boston, Philadelphia, and New York) where they had first landed. Many Irish entered local politics. They organized their fellow immigrants and joined the Democratic party, which had long traditions of anti- British feelings and support for the common people and workers. Their progress was difficult but steady. For example, the Irish were initially excluded from joining New York City’s Democratic organization, Tammany Hall. But by the 1850s they had secured jobs and influence, and by the 1880s they controlled this party organization.

Germans. Botheconomichardshipsandthefailureofdemocraticrevolu- tions in 1848 caused over 1 million Germans to seek refuge in the United States in the late 1840s and the 1850s. Most German immigrants had at least modest means as well as considerable skills as farmers and artisans. Moving westward in search of cheap, fertile farmland, they established homesteads throughout the Old Northwest and generally prospered. At first their political influence was limited, but as they became more active in public life, they were both strong supporters of public education and staunch opponents of slavery.

Nativists. Alargenumberofnative-bornAmericanswerealarmedbythe influx of immigrants, fearing that the newcomers would take their jobs and also subvert (weaken) the culture of the Anglo majority. The nativists (those reacting most strongly against the foreigners) were Protestants who distrusted the Roman Catholicism practiced by the Irish and many of the Germans. In the 1840s, opposition to immigrants led to sporadic rioting in the big cities and the organization of a secret antiforeign society, the Supreme Order of the Star-Spangled Banner. This society turned to politics in the early 1850s, nominating candidates for office as the American party, or Know-Nothing party (see Chapter 13).

The antiforeign movement faded in importance as North and South divided over slavery in the years immediately before the Civil War. Nativism would periodically return, however, whenever a sudden increase in immigration seemed to threaten the native-born majority.

The South

The South
Defined in economic, political, and social terms, the South as a distinct region included those states that permitted slavery, including certain border states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri) that did not join the Confederacy in 1861.

Agriculture and King Cotton
Agriculture was the foundation of the South’s economy, even though by the 1850s small factories in the region were producing approximately 15 percent of the nation’s manufactured goods. Tobacco, rice, and sugarcane were im- portant cash crops, but these were far exceeded by the South’s chief economic activity: the production and sale of cotton.

The development of mechanized textile mills in England, coupled with Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, made cotton cloth affordable, not just in Europe and the United States, but throughout the world. Before 1860, the world depended chiefly on Britain’s mills for its supply of cloth, and Britain in turn depended chiefly on the American South for its supply of cotton fiber. Originally, the cotton was grown almost entirely in two states, South Carolina and Georgia, but as demand and profits increased, planters moved westward into Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. New land was constantly needed, for the high cotton yields required for profits quickly depleted the soil. By the 1850s, cotton provided two-thirds of all U.S. exports and tied the South’s economy to its best customer, Britain. “Cotton is king,” said one southerner of his region’s greatest asset.

Slavery, the “Peculiar Institution”

Slavery, the “Peculiar Institution”
Wealth in the South was measured in terms of land and slaves. The latter were treated as a form of property, subject to being bought and sold. Southern whites were sensitive to the fact that slaves were human beings, however. Their uneasiness with this fact and the need continually to defend slavery caused them to refer to it as “that peculiar institution.” In colonial times, it had been justified as an economic necessity, but in the 19th century, apologists for slavery used historical and religious arguments to support their claim that it was good for both slave and master.

Population. The cotton boom was largely responsible for a fourfold in- crease in the number of slaves, from 1 million in 1800 to nearly 4 million in 1860. Most of the increase came from natural reproduction, although thousands of Africans were also smuggled into the South in defiance of Congress’ prohibi- tion in 1808 against importing slaves. In many parts of the Deep South, slaves made up as much as 75 percent of the total population. Fearing slave revolts, southern legislatures added increased restrictions on movement and education to their slave codes.

Economics. Slaves were employed doing whatever their owners de- manded of them. The great majority labored in the fields, but many also became expert in a variety of skilled crafts, while others worked as house servants, in factories, and on construction gangs. Because of the greater profits to be made on the new cotton plantations in the West, many slaves were sold from the Upper South to the cotton-rich Deep South of the lower Mississippi Valley. By 1860, the value of a field slave had risen to almost $2,000. One result of the heavy capital investment in slaves was that the South had much less capital than the North to undertake industrialization.

Slave life. Conditions of slavery varied from one plantation to the next. Some slaves were humanely treated, while others were routinely beaten. All suffered alike from being deprived of their freedom. Families could be sepa- rated at any time by an owner’s decision to sell a wife, a husband, or a child. Women were vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Despite the hard, nearly hopeless circumstances of their lives, African Americans managed to maintain a strong sense of family and of religious faith.

Resistance. Slaves contested their status through a range of actions, in- cluding work slowdowns, sabotage, escape, and revolt. There were a few major slave uprisings. One was led by Denmark Vesey in 1822 and another by Nat Turner in 1831. The revolts were quickly and violently suppressed, but even so, they had a lasting impact. They gave hope to enslaved African Americans, drove southern states to tighten already strict slave codes, and demonstrated to many, especially in the North, the evils of slavery.

Free African Americans

Free African Americans
By 1860, as many as 250,000 African Americans in the South were not slaves. They were free citizens (even though, as in the North, racial prejudice restricted their liberties). A number of slaves had been emancipated during the American Revolution. Some were mulatto children whose white fathers had decided to liberate them. Others achieved freedom on their own, when permitted, through self-purchase—if they were fortunate enough to have been paid wages for extra work, usually as skilled craftspeople.

Most of the free southern blacks lived in cities where they could own property. By state law, they were not equal with whites, were not permitted to vote, and were barred from entering certain occupations. Constantly in danger of being kidnapped by slave traders, they had to show legal papers proving their free status. They remained in the South for various reasons. Some wanted to be near family members who were still in bondage; others believed the South to be home and the North to offer no greater opportunities.

White Society

White Society
Southern whites observed a rigid hierarchy among themselves, with aristo- cratic planters at the top and poor whites and mountain people at the bottom of the social pyramid.

Aristocracy. TobeamemberoftheSouth’ssmalleliteofwealthyplant- ers, a person usually had to own at least 100 slaves and farm at least 1,000 acres. The planter aristocracy maintained its power politically by dominating the state legislatures of the South and enacting laws that favored the large landholders’ economic interests.

Farmers. The vast majority of slaveholders had fewer than 20 slaves working several hundred acres. Southern white farmers produced the bulk of the cotton crop, worked in the fields with their slaves, and lived as modestly as farmers of the North.

Poor whites. Three-fourths of the South’s white population owned no slaves. They could not afford the rich river-bottom farmland controlled by the planters, and many lived in the hills as subsistence farmers. These “hillbillies” or “poor white trash,” as they were derisively called by the planters, defended the slave system, thinking that some day they too could own slaves and that at least they were superior on the social scale to someone (slaves).

Mountainpeople. Anumberofsmallfarmerslivedinfrontierconditions in isolation from the rest of the South, along the slopes and valleys of the Appalachian and Ozark mountains. The mountain people disliked the planters and their slaves. During the Civil War, many (including a future president, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee) would remain loyal to the Union.

Cities. Because the South was primarily an agricultural region, there was only a limited need for major cities. Only New Orleans among the southern cities could be counted among the nation’s 15 largest in 1860 (it was fifth, after New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston). Cities such as Atlanta, Charleston, Chattanooga, and Richmond were important southern trading cen- ters, but had relatively small populations in comparison to those of the North.

Southern Thought

Southern Thought
The South developed a culture and outlook on life that was uniquely its own. As cotton became the basis of its economy, slavery became the focus of its political thought. White southerners felt increasingly isolated and defensive about slavery, as northerners grew hostile toward it, and as England, France, and other European nations outlawed it altogether.

Codeofchivalry. Dominatedbythearistocraticplanterclass,theagricul- tural South was largely a feudal society. The southern gentleman ascribed to a code of chivalrous conduct, which included a strong sense of personal honor, the defense of womanhood, and paternalistic treatment of all who were deemed inferior, especially slaves.

Education. The upper class valued a college education for their children, more so than in the North. Acceptable professions for a southern gentleman were limited to farming, law, the ministry, and the military. For the lower classes, schooling beyond the early elementary grades was generally not available. To reduce the risk of slave revolts, slaves were strictly prohibited by law from receiving any instruction in reading and writing.

Religion. The slavery question affected church membership. Partly be- cause they preached biblical support for slavery, both Methodist and Baptist churches gained in membership in the South while splitting in the 1840s with their northern brethren. The Unitarians, who challenged slavery, faced declining membership and hostility. Catholics and Episcopalians took a neutral stand on slavery, and their numbers declined in the South.

The West

The West
From one era to another, as the United States expanded westward, the definition of the “West” kept changing. In the 1600s, the West referred to all the lands not along the Atlantic Coast. In the 1700s, the West meant lands on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains. By the mid-1800s, the West lay beyond the Mississippi River and reached as far as California and the Oregon Territory on the Pacific Coast.

Native Americans

Native Americans
The original settlers of the West—and, in fact, of the entire North American continent—were of course various groups of Native Americans. From the time of Columbus, Native Americans did not move west voluntarily as pioneers. They were cajoled, pushed, or driven westward as white settlers encroached on their original homelands.

Exodus. By 1850, the vast majority of Native Americans were living west of the Mississippi River. Those to the east had either been killed off, emigrated reluctantly, or been forced to leave their land by treaty or military action. The Great Plains, however, would provide only a temporary respite from conflict with white settlers.

Life on the plains. Horses, brought to America by the Spanish in the 1500s, proved to be a revolutionary benefit for many Native Americans. On the Great Plains, some Native Americans still lived in villages and grew crops as farmers, but the horse allowed many other tribal groups, such as the Cheyenne and the Sioux, to become nomadic hunters following the buffalo. Those living a nomadic way of life could more easily move away from advancing settlers or oppose their encroachments by force.

The Frontier

The Frontier
Although the location of the western frontier constantly shifted, the concept of the frontier remained the same from generation to generation. The same forces that had brought the original colonists to the New World motivated their descendants and new immigrants to move westward. In the public imagination, the West represented the possibility of a fresh start and new opportunities for those willing to venture there. If not in fact, at least in theory and myth, the West beckoned as a place promising greater freedom for all ethnic groups: Native Americans, African Americans, European Americans, and eventually Asian Americans as well.

Mountain men. From the point of view of native-born white Americans, the Rocky Mountains in the 1820s were a far-distant frontier—a total wilderness except for the villages of Native Americans. The earliest whites in the area had followed Lewis and Clark and explored Native American trails as they trapped for furs. These mountain men, as they were called, would serve as the guides and pathfinders for settlers crossing the mountains into California and Oregon in the 1840s.

White Settlers on the Western Frontier

White Settlers on the Western Frontier
Whether the frontier lay in Minnesota or Oregon or California in the 1840s and 1850s, daily life for white settlers was similar to that of the early colonists. They worked hard from sunrise to sunset and lived in log cabins or other improvised shelters. More of them died at an early age from disease and mal- nutrition than from Indian raids.

Women. Often living many miles from the nearest neighbor, pioneer women performed a myriad of daily tasks, including those of doctor, teacher, seamstress, and cook—as well as chief assistant in the fields to their farmer- husbands. The isolation, endless work, and rigors of childbirth meant a limited lifespan for women on the frontier.

Environmental damage. European Americans had little understanding of the fragile nature of land and wildlife. As settlers moved into an area, they would clear entire forests and after only two generations exhaust the soil with poor farming methods. At the same time, trappers and hunters decimated the beaver and the buffalo to the brink of extinction.


Slavery was of fundamental importance in defining both the character of the South and its differences with the North. Beyond its historical importance in the 19th century, we need to understand the nature of slavery in order to assess its impact on U.S. society in general and African Americans in particular in our own times. Historians have viewed slavery from different perspectives. It is each student’s task to decide which of several interpretations seems the most convincing and enlightening.

Until about 1950, the prevailing scholarship on slavery followed Ulrich Phillips’ American Negro Slavery (1918). Phillips portrayed slavery as an economically failing institution in which the paternalis- tic owners were civilizing the inferior but contented African Ameri- cans. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s stimulated new studies and interpretations. Chief among them was Kenneth Stampp’s The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South (1956), which challenged Phillips’ thesis by showing slaves and owners to be in continual conflict. Today the older view of slavery as a paternalistic and even benign institution has been largely dis- credited.

There is still much debate, however, about how destructive slavery was. At one extreme is the view that the oppressive and racist nature of slavery destroyed the culture and self-respect of the slaves and their descendants. A contrary view holds that slaves managed to adapt and to overcome their hardships by developing a unique African-American culture. Historians arguing for this position point to African-American churches and two-parent families as part of an enduring heritage from the era of slavery.

Economics has also provided a focus for viewing the nature of slavery. Historians have debated the question of whether or not slave labor was profitable to southern planters, as compared to using free labor. Contrary to earlier interpretations, computer-assisted studies have demonstrated that, for the most part, slavery was profitable. A more complex analysis of the economics, social, and cultural nature of slavery is found in Eugene Genovese’s Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. In this work, southern society is shown centered on a paternalism that gave rise to a unique social system with a clear hierarchy, in which people were classified according to their ability or their economic and social standing. For whites this paternalism meant control, while for slaves it provided the opportu- nity to develop and maintain their own culture, including family life, tradition, and religion.

Recently, some historians have argued that slavery differed from place to place and that more study should be made of regional variations. For example, slaves in the tobacco-growing Upper South lived under circumstances that were quite different from slaves in the cotton fields of the Deep South.

As we can see, historians have developed numerous interpreta- tions of the nature of slavery in the United States, providing us with a rich historiography—the writing of history based on a critical examination of sources. If the purpose of history is to help us better understand the present, then, as Kenneth Stampp says in The Peculiar Institution, “there is a strange paradox in the historian’s involvement with both present and past, for his knowledge of the present is clearly a key to his understanding of the past.”

The many varied interpretations of slavery and of history can be explained pragmatically as the natural result of the changing times in which they were written. While some historical interpretations may have greater merit than others, most provide us with an improved perspective with which to develop our own views.

The Age of Jackson, 1824–1844

The Age of Jackson, 1824–1844

The Age of Jackson, 1824–1844
The era that saw the emergence of popular politics in the 1820s and the presidency of Andrew Jackson (1829–1837) is often called the Age of the Common Man, or the Era of Jacksonian Democracy. Historians debate whether Jackson was a major molder of events, a political opportunist exploiting the democratic ferment of the times, or merely a symbol of the era. Nevertheless, the era and Jackson’s name seem permanently linked. (Of course, to attach a name to an age does not explain either what it was or why it happened.)

Jacksonian Democracy
The changing politics of the Jacksonian years paralleled complex social and economic changes.

The Rise of a Democratic Society

Visitors to the United States in the 1830s, such as Alexis de Tocqueville, a young French aristocrat, were amazed by the informal manners and democratic attitudes of Americans. In hotels, under the American Plan, men and women from all classes ate together at common tables. On stagecoaches, steamboats, and later in railroad cars, there was also only one class for passengers, so that the rich and poor alike sat together in the same compartments. It was also difficult for European visitors to distinguish between classes in the United States. Men of all backgrounds wore simple dark trousers and jackets, while less well-to-do women emulated the fanciful and confining styles illustrated in wide-circulation women’s magazines like Godey’s Lady’s Book. Equality was becoming the governing principle of American society.

Among the white majority in American society, there was widespread belief in the principle of equality—or more precisely, equality of opportunity for white males. (At the same time, the oppression of black slaves and discrimination against free blacks coexisted with and contradicted whites’ ideal of equality.) Equality of opportunity would, at least in theory, allow the young man of humble origins to rise as far as his native talent and industry would take him. The hero of the age was the “self-made man.”

There was no equivalent belief in the “self-made woman,” but feminists in a later period would take up the theme of equal rights and insist that it should be applied to both women and men.

Politics of the Common Man
Between 1824 and 1840, politics moved out of the fine homes of rich southern planters and northern merchants who had dominated government in past eras. These were the years when white males of the lower and middle classes began to vote in large numbers. The number of votes cast for president rose from about 350,000 in 1824 to over 2.4 million in 1840, a nearly sevenfold increase in just 16 years. The new state suffrage laws that enabled more citizens to vote were a significant cause of the change. But there were other reasons as well. Changes in political parties and campaign methods, improved education, and increases in newspaper circulation also contributed to the democratic trend.

The most important political changes and reforms during the Jacksonian years were the following:

Universalmalesuffrage. WesternstatesrecentlyadmittedtotheUnion— Indiana (1816), Illinois (1818), and Missouri (1821)—adopted state constitu- tions that allowed all white males to vote and hold office. Absent from these newer constitutions were any religious or property qualifications for voting. Most eastern states soon followed suit, eliminating such restrictions from their constitutions. As a result, from one end of the country to the other, all white males could vote regardless of their social class or religion. Also, political offices could now be held by people in the lower and middle ranks of society.

Party nominating conventions. In the past, it had been common for candidates for office to be nominated either by state legislatures or by “King Caucus”—a closed-door meeting of a political party’s leaders in Congress. The common people had no opportunity to participate. In the 1830s, however, caucuses were replaced by nominating conventions. Party politicians and voters would gather in a large meeting hall to nominate the party’s candidates. The Anti-Masons were the first to hold such a nominating convention. This method was more open to popular participation, hence more democratic.

Popular election of the president. In the presidential election of 1832, only South Carolina used the old system whereby its electors for president were chosen by the state legislature. All other states in the Union had adopted a new and more democratic method of allowing the voters to choose a state’s slate of presidential electors. 

Two-party system. The popular election of presidential electors—and, in effect, of the president as well—had important consequences for the two- party system. Campaigns for president now had to be conducted on a national scale. To organize these campaigns, large political parties were needed.

Riseofthirdparties. Whileonlythelargenationalparties(theDemocrats and the Whigs in Jackson’s day) could hope to win the presidency, other political parties also emerged. The Anti-Masonic party and the Workingmen’s party, for example, reached out to groups of people who previously had shown little interest in politics. The Anti-Masons attacked the secret soc- ieties of Masons and accused them of belonging to a privileged, antidemo- cratic elite.

More elected offices. During the Jacksonian era, a much larger number of state and local officials were elected to office, instead of being appointed, as in the past. This change gave the voters more voice in their government and also tended to increase their interest in participating in elections.

Popular campaigning. Candidates for office directed their campaigns to the interests and prejudices of the common people. Politics also became a form of local entertainment. Campaigns of the 1830s and 1840s featured parades of floats and marching bands and large rallies in which voters were treated to free food and drink. To be sure, there was also a negative side to the new campaign techniques. In trying to appeal to the masses, the candidates would often resort to personal attacks and downplay the issues. A politician, for example, might attack an opponent’s “aristocratic airs” and make him seem unfriendly to “the common man.”

Spoils system and rotation of officeholders. Winning government jobs became the lifeblood of party organizations. At the national level, President Jackson believed in appointing people to federal jobs (as postmasters, for example) strictly according to whether they had actively campaigned for the Democratic party. Any previous holder of the office who was not a Democrat was fired and replaced with a loyal Democrat. This practice of dispensing government jobs in return for party loyalty was called the spoils system by critics because it promoted government corruption.

In addition, Jackson believed in a system of rotation in office. To make it possible for a maximum number of Democrats to hold office, he would limit a person’s tenure in office to just one term and appoint some other deserving Democrat in his place. Jackson defended the replacement and rotation of office- holders by the new administration as a democratic reform. “No man,” he said, “has any more intrinsic claim to office than another.” Jacksonians had contempt for experts and believed that ordinary Americans were capable of holding any government office. Both the spoils system and the rotation of officeholders affirmed the democratic ideal that one man was as good as another. They also helped build a strong two-party system.

Jackson Versus Adams
Political change in the Jacksonian era began several years before Jackson moved into the White House as president. In the controversial election in 1824, Jackson won more popular and electoral votes than any other candidate, but he ended up losing the election.

The Election of 1824
Recall the brief Era of Good Feelings that characterized U.S. politics during the two-term presidency of James Monroe. The era ended in political bad feelings in 1824, the year of a bitterly contested and divisive presidential election. By then, the old congressional caucus system for choosing presidential candidates had broken down. As a result, four candidates of the same party (the Republican party founded by Jefferson) campaigned for the presidency. The candidates were John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, William Crawford, and Andrew Jackson.

Jackson won the greatest number of popular votes. But because the vote was split four ways, he lacked a majority in the electoral college as required by the Constitution. Therefore, the House of Representatives had to choose a president from among the top three candidates. Henry Clay used his influence in the House to provide John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts with enough votes to win the election. When President Adams appointed Clay his secretary of state, Jackson and his followers were certain that the popular choice of most voters had been foiled by secret political maneuvers. Angry Jackson supporters accused Adams and Clay of making a “corrupt bargain.”

President John Quincy Adams
Adams further alienated the followers of Jackson when he asked Congress for money for internal improvements, aid to manufacturing, and even a national university and an astronomical observatory. Jacksonians viewed all these mea- sures as a waste of money and a violation of the Constitution.

In 1828, toward the end of Adams’ presidency, Congress patched together a new tariff law, which generally satisfied northern manufacturers but alienated southern planters. Southerners denounced it as a “tariff of abominations.”

The Revolution of 1828
Adams sought reelection in 1828. But the Jacksonians were now ready to use the discontent of southerners and westerners and the new campaign tactics of party organization to sweep “Old Hickory” (Jackson) into office. Going beyond parades and barbecues, Jackson’s party resorted to smearing the president and accusing Adams’ wife of being born out of wedlock. Adams’ supporters retaliated in kind, accusing Jackson’s wife of adultery. The mudsling- ing campaign attracted a lot of interest. Three times the number of voters participated in the election of 1828 as in the previous election.

Jackson won handily, carrying every state west of the Appalachians. His reputation as a war hero and man of the western frontier accounted for his victory more than the positions he took on issues of the day.

The Presidency of Andrew Jackson
Jackson was a different kind of president from any of his predecessors. A strong leader, he not only dominated politics for eight years but also became a symbol of the emerging working class and middle class (the so-called common man). Born in a frontier cabin, Jackson gained fame as an Indian fighter and as hero of the Battle of New Orleans, and came to live in a fine mansion in Tennessee as a wealthy planter and slaveowner. But he never lost the rough manners of the frontier. He chewed tobacco, fought several duels, and displayed a violent temper. Jackson was the first president since Washington to be without a college education. In a phrase, he could be described as an extraordinary ordinary man. This self-made man and living legend drew support from every social group and every section of the country.

Role of the president. Jackson presented himself as the representative of all the people and the protector of the common man against abuses of power by the rich and the privileged. He was a frugal Jeffersonian, who opposed increasing federal spending and the national debt. Jackson interpreted the powers of Congress narrowly and therefore vetoed more bills (12) than the total vetoes cast by all six preceding presidents. For example, he vetoed the use of federal money to construct the Maysville Road, because it was wholly within one state, Kentucky, the home state of Jackson’s rival, Henry Clay.

Advising Jackson was a group of politicians who did not belong to his official cabinet. This group became known as the “kitchen cabinet.” Thus, members of the appointed cabinet had less influence on policy than under earlier presidents.

Peggy Eaton affair. The champion of the common man also went to the aid of the common woman, at least in the case of Peggy O’Neale Eaton. The wife of Jackson’s secretary of war, she was the target of malicious gossip by other cabinet wives, much as Jackson’s recently deceased wife had been in the 1828 campaign. They refused to invite her to their private parties because they suspected her of being an adulteress. When Jackson tried to force the cabinet wives to accept Peggy Eaton socially, most of the cabinet resigned. This controversy also contributed to the resignation of Jackson’s vice president, John C. Calhoun, a year later. For remaining loyal to Jackson through this crisis, Martin Van Buren of New York was chosen to be the new vice president.

Indian removal act (1830). Jackson’s concept of democracy did not extend to Native Americans. Like most whites of the time, Jackson sympathized with land-hungry citizens who were impatient to take over lands previously held by Native Americans. Jackson thought the most humane solution was to compel the Native Americans to leave their traditional homelands and resettle west of the Mississippi. In 1830, he signed into law the Indian Removal Act, which forced the resettlement of many thousands of Native Americans. By 1835 most eastern tribes had reluctantly complied and moved west. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was created in 1836 to assist the resettled tribes.

A majority of politicians in various states also believed in a policy of Indian removal. Georgia and other states passed laws requiring the Cherokees to migrate to the West. When the Cherokees challenged Georgia in the courts, the Supreme Court ruled in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) that Cherokees were not a foreign nation with the right to sue in a federal court. But in a second case, Worcester v. Georgia (1832), the high court ruled that the laws of Georgia had no force within the boundaries of the Cherokee territory. In this clash between a state’s laws and the federal courts, Jackson sided with the states. He said defiantly, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”

Most Cherokees repudiated the settlement of 1835, which provided land in the Indian territory. It was not until 1838, after Jackson had left office, that the U.S. Army forced 15,000 Cherokees to leave Georgia. The hardships on the “trail of tears” were so great that 4,000 Cherokees died on their tragic westward trek.

Nullification crisis. Jackson favored states’ rights—but not if it would lead to disunion. In 1828, the South Carolina legislature declared the increased tariff of 1828, the so-called Tariff of Abominations, to be unconstitutional. In doing so, it affirmed a theory advanced by Jackson’s first vice president, John C. Calhoun. According to this nullification theory, each state had the right to decide whether to obey a federal law or to declare it null and void (of no effect).

In 1830, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts debated Robert Hayne of South Carolina on the nature of the federal Union under the Constitution. Webster attacked the idea that any state could defy or leave the Union. Following this famous Webster-Hayne debate, President Jackson declared his own position in a toast he presented at a political dinner. “Our federal Union,” he declared, “it must be preserved.” Calhoun responded immediately with another toast: “The Union, next to our liberties, most dear!”

In 1832, Calhoun’s South Carolina turned up the war of words by holding a special convention to nullify not only the hated tariff of 1828 but also a new tariff law of 1832. The convention passed a resolution forbidding the collection of tariffs within the state. Jackson’s reaction was decisive. He told the secretary of war to prepare for military action. He persuaded Congress to pass a Force bill giving the president the authority to take military action in South Carolina. The president also issued a Proclamation to the People of South Carolina, stating that nullification and disunion were treason.

But federal troops did not march in this crisis. Jackson opened the door for compromise by suggesting that Congress lower the tariff. South Carolina postponed nullification and later formally rescinded it after Congress enacted a new tariff along the lines suggested by the president.

Jackson’s strong defense of federal authority forced the militant advocates of states’ rights to retreat. On another issue, however, militant southerners won Jackson’s support. The president shared southerners’ alarm about the growing antislavery movement in the North. He used his executive power to stop antislav- ery literature from being sent through the U.S. mails. Jacksonians in the South could trust the president not to extend the benefits of democracy to African Americans.

Bank veto. Another major issue of Jackson’s presidency concerned the rechartering of the Bank of the United States. This bank and its branches, although privately owned, received federal deposits and attempted to serve a public purpose by cushioning the ups and downs of the national economy. The bank’s president, Nicholas Biddle, managed it effectively. Biddle’s arrogance, however, contributed to the suspicion that the bank abused its powers and served the interests of the wealthy. Jackson shared this suspicion. He believed that the Bank of the United States was unconstitutional.

Henry Clay, Jackson’s chief political opponent, favored the bank. In 1832, an election year, Clay decided to challenge Jackson on the bank issue by persuading a majority in Congress to pass a bank-recharter bill. Jackson promptly vetoed this bill, denouncing it as a private monopoly that enriched the wealthy and foreigners at the expense of the common people. The issue backfired for Clay in the 1832 election. An overwhelming majority of voters approved Jackson’s attack on the “hydra of corruption.” Jackson won reelection with more than three-fourths of the electoral vote.

The Two-Party System
The one-party system that had characterized Monroe’s presidency (the Era of Good Feelings) gave way to a two-party system under Jackson. Supporters of Jackson were now known as Democrats, while supporters of his leading rival, Henry Clay, were called Whigs. The Democratic party harked back to the old Republican party of Jefferson, and the Whig party resembled the defunct Federalist party of Hamilton. At the same time, the new parties reflected the changed conditions of the Jacksonian era. Democrats and Whigs alike were challenged to respond to the relentless westward expansion of the nation and the emergence of an industrial economy.

For the differences between Democrats and Whigs, refer to the table below.

Jackson’s Second Term
After winning reelection in 1832, Jackson had to deal with the economic consequences of his decision to oppose the Bank of the United States.

Pet banks. Jackson “killed” the national bank not only by vetoing its recharter but also by withdrawing all federal funds. Aided by Secretary of the Treasury Roger Taney, he transferred the funds to various state banks, which Jackson’s critics called “pet banks.”

Specie Circular. As a result of both Jackson’s financial policies and feverish speculation in western lands, prices for land and various goods became badly inflated. Jackson hoped to check the inflationary trend by issuing a presidential order known as the Specie Circular. It required that all future purchases of federal lands be made in gold and silver rather than in paper banknotes. Soon afterward, as banknotes lost their value and land sales plum- meted, a financial crisis—the Panic of 1837—plunged the nation’s economy into a depression.

The Election of 1836
Following the two-term tradition set by his predecessors, Jackson decided not to seek a third term. To make sure his policies were carried out even in his retirement, Jackson persuaded the Democratic party to nominate his loyal vice president, Martin Van Buren, who was a master of practical politics.

Fearing defeat, the Whig party adopted the unusual strategy of nominating three candidates from three different regions. In doing so, the Whigs hoped to throw the election into the House of Representatives, where each state had one vote in the selection of the president. The Whig strategy failed, however, as Van Buren took 58 percent of the electoral vote.

President Van Buren and the Panic of 1837

Just as Van Buren took office, the country suffered a financial panic as one bank after another closed its doors. Jackson’s opposition to the rechartering of the Bank of the United States was only one of many causes of the panic and resulting economic depression. But the Whigs were quick to blame the Democrats for their laissez-faire economics, which allowed for little federal involvement in the economy.

The “Log Cabin and Hard Cider” Campaign of 1840

In the election of 1840, the Whigs were in a strong position to defeat Van Buren and the Jacksonian Democrats. Voters were unhappy with the bad state of the economy. In addition, the Whigs were better organized than the Demo- crats, and also had a popular war hero, William Henry “Tippecanoe” Harrison, as their presidential candidate. The Whigs took campaign hoopla to new heights. To symbolize Harrison’s humble origins, they put log cabins on wheels and paraded them down the streets of cities and towns. They also passed out hard cider for voters to drink and buttons and hats to wear. Name-calling as a propaganda device also marked the 1840 campaign. The Whigs attacked “Martin Van Ruin” as an aristocrat with a taste for foreign wines.

A remarkable 78 percent of eligible voters (white males) turned out on election day to cast their ballots. Old “Tippecanoe” and John Tyler of Virginia,

a former states’ rights Democrat who joined the Whigs, took 53 percent of the popular vote and swept most of the electoral votes in all three sections: North, South, and West. This election established the Whigs as a national party.

Unfortunately for the Whigs, Harrison died of pneumonia less than a month after taking office, and “His Accidency,” John Tyler, became the first vice-president to succeed to the presidency. President Tyler proved to be not much of a Whig. He vetoed the Whigs’ national bank bills and other legislation, and favored southern and expansionist Democrats during the balance of his term (1841–1845). The Jacksonian era was in its last stage, and came to an end with the Mexican War and the increased focus on the issue of slavery.

Historians still debate whether or not the election of Jackson in 1828 marked a revolutionary new turn in American politics or was merely an extension of an ongoing trend. The traditional view is that Jackson’s election began the era of the common man, when the masses of newly enfranchised voters drove out the entrenched ruling class and elected one of their own. The Revolution of 1828 has also been characterized as a victory of the democratic West against the aristocratic East.

Nineteenth-century Whig historians, on the other hand, viewed Jackson as a despot whose appeal to the uneducated masses and “corrupt” spoils system threatened the republic.

In the 1940s, the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. argued that Jacksonian democracy relied as much on the support of eastern urban workers as on western farmers. Jackson’s coalition of farmers and workers foreshadowed a similar coalition that brought another Democratic president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to power in the depres- sion decade of the 1930s.

Contemporary historians have used quantitative analysis of vo- ting returns to compare elections before, during, and after Jackson’s presidency. This analysis showed that increased voter participation was evident in local elections years before 1828 and did not reach a peak until the election of 1840, an election that the Whig party won. Strong links were discovered between voting behavior and the voters’ religious and ethnic backgrounds. For example, Catholic immigrants objected to the imposition of the Puritan moral code (e.g., temperance) by the native Protestants. Much of the increased participation in the election process had little to do with the election of 1828 or Jackson’s politics.

Other contemporary historians see Jackson’s popularity in the 1830s as a reaction of subsistence farmers and urban workers against powerful and threatening forces of economic change. A capitalist, or market, economy was rapidly taking shape in the early years of the 19th century. This market revolution divided the electorate. Some people (chiefly Whigs) welcomed the changes as the hope for enter- prising and disciplined men. Others (chiefly Jacksonian Democrats) viewed the wealth of successful capitalists and entrepreneurs as a threat to Jefferson’s vision of a nation of independent farmers. Those who were most uncomfortable with economic change rallied around Jackson. Why was Jackson’s veto of the bank such a key event? Some contemporary historians, such as Charles Seller (The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1992), see Jackson’s popularity as expressing people’s unspoken fears about the rise of capitalism.

Territorial and Economic Expansion, 1830–1860

Territorial and Economic Expansion, 1830–1860

Territorial and Economic Expansion, 1830–1860

The theme of America’s manifest destiny was used by a host of supporters of territorial expansion after the term was penned by O’Sullivan. It spread across the land as the rallying cry for westward expansion. At first, in the 1840s and 1850s, expansionists wanted to see the United States extend westward all the way to the Pacific and southward into Mexico, Cuba, and even Central America. In a later decade, the 1890s, expansionists fixed their sights on acquiring islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean.

The phrase manifest destiny expressed the popular belief that the United States had a divine mission to extend its power and civilization across the breadth of North America. Enthusiasm for expansion reached a fever pitch in the 1840s. It was driven by a number of forces: nationalism, population increase, rapid economic development, technological advances, and reform ideals. But by no means were all Americans united behind the idea of manifest destiny and expansionism. Northern critics argued vehemently that at the root of the expansionist drive was the southern ambition to spread slavery into western lands.

Conflicts Over Texas, Maine, and Oregon

Conflicts Over Texas, Maine, and Oregon
U.S. interest in pushing its borders southward into Texas (a Mexican province) and westward into the Oregon Territory (claimed by Britain) was largely the result of American pioneers migrating into these lands during the 1820s–1830s.

In 1823, after having won its national independence from Spain, Mexico hoped to attract settlers—even Anglo settlers—to farm its sparsely populated northern frontier province of Texas. Moses Austin, a Missouri banker, had obtained a large land grant in Texas but died before he could carry out his plan to recruit American settlers for the land. His son, Stephen Austin, succeeded in bringing 300 families into Texas and thereby beginning a steady migration of American settlers into the vast frontier territory. By 1830, Americans (both white farmers and black slaves) outnumbered the Mexicans in Texas by three to one.

Friction developed between the Americans and the Mexicans when, in 1829, Mexico outlawed slavery and required all immigrants to convert to Roman Catholicism. When many settlers refused to obey these laws, Mexico closed Texas to additional American immigrants. Land-hungry Americans from the southern states ignored the Mexican prohibition and streamed into Texas by the thousands.

Revoltandindependence. AchangeinMexico’sgovernmentintensified the conflict. In 1834, General Antonio Lo ́pez de Santa Anna made himself dictator of Mexico and abolished that nation’s federal system of government. When Santa Anna insisted on enforcing Mexico’s laws in Texas, a group of American settlers led by Sam Houston revolted and declared Texas to be an independent republic (March 1836).

A Mexican army led by Santa Anna captured the town of Goliad and attacked the Alamo in San Antonio, killing every one of its American defenders. Shortly afterward, however, at the Battle of the San Jacinto River, an army under Sam Houston caught the Mexicans by surprise and captured their general, Santa Anna. Under the threat of death, the Mexican leader was forced to sign a treaty that recognized Texas’ independence and granted the new republic all territory north of the Rio Grande. When the news of San Jacinto reached Mexico City, however, the Mexican legislature rejected the treaty and insisted that Texas was still part of Mexico.

Annexation denied. As the first president of the Republic of Texas (or Lone Star Republic), Houston applied to the U.S. government for his country to be annexed, or added to, the United States as a new state. Both presidents Jackson and Van Buren, however, put off Texas’ request for annexation primar- ily because of political opposition among northerners to the expansion of slavery and the potential addition of up to five new slave states created out of the Texas territories. The threat of a costly war with Mexico also dampened expan- sionist zeal. The next president, John Tyler (1841–1845), was a southern Whig, who was worried about the growing influence of the British in Texas. He worked to annex Texas, but the U.S. Senate rejected his treaty of annexation in 1844.

Boundary Dispute in Maine

Boundary Dispute in Maine
Another diplomatic issue arose in the 1840s over the ill-defined boundary between Maine and the Canadian province of New Brunswick. At this time, Canada was still under British rule, and many Americans regarded Britain as their country’s worst enemy—an attitude carried over from two previous wars (the Revolution and the War of 1812). A conflict between rival groups of lumbermen on the Maine-Canadian border erupted into open fighting. Known as the Aroostook War, or “battle of the maps,” the conflict was soon resolved in a treaty negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster and the British ambassador, Lord Alexander Ashburton. In the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, the disputed territory was split between Maine and British Canada. The treaty also settled the boundary of the Minnesota territory, leaving what proved to be the iron-rich Mesabi range on the U.S. side of the border.

Boundary Dispute in Oregon

Boundary Dispute in Oregon
A far more serious British-American dispute involved Oregon, a vast territory on the Pacific Coast that originally stretched as far north as the Alaskan border. At one time, this territory was claimed by four different nations: Spain, Russia, Great Britain, and the United States. Spain gave up its claim to Oregon in a treaty with the United States (the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819).

Britain based its claim to Oregon on the Hudson Fur Company’s profitable fur trade with the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. By 1846, how- ever, there were fewer than a thousand Britishers living north of the Colum- bia River.

The United States based its claim on (1) the discovery of the Columbia River by Captain Robert Gray in 1792, (2) the overland expedition to the Pacific Coast by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1805, and (3) the fur trading post and fort in Astoria, Oregon, established by John Jacob Astor in 1811. Protestant missionaries and farmers from the United States settled the Willamette Valley in the 1840s. Their success in farming this fertile valley caused 5,000 Americans to catch “Oregon fever” and travel 2,000 miles over the Oregon Trail to settle in the area south of the Columbia River.

By the time of the election of 1844, many Americans believed it to be their country’s manifest destiny to take undisputed possession of all of Oregon and to annex the Republic of Texas as well. In addition, expansionists hoped to persuade Mexico to give up its province on the West Coast—the huge land of California. By 1845, Mexican California had a small Spanish-Mexican population of some 7,000 along with a much larger number of Native Americans, but American emigrants were arriving in sufficient numbers “to play the Texas game.”

The Election of 1844

The Election of 1844
Because slavery was allowed in Texas, many northerners were opposed to its annexation. Leading the northern wing of the Democratic party, former president Martin Van Buren opposed immediate annexation. Challenging him for the Democratic nomination in 1844 was the proslavery, proannexation southerner, John C. Calhoun. The dispute between these candidates caused the Democratic convention to deadlock and, after hours of wrangling, the Democrats finally nominated a dark horse (lesser known candidate). The man they chose, James K. Polk of Tennessee, had been a protege ́ of Andrew Jackson. Firmly committed to expansion and manifest destiny, Polk favored the annexation of Texas, the “reoccupation” of all of Oregon, and the acquisition of California. The Democratic slogan “Fifty-four Forty or Fight!” appealed strongly to American westerners and southerners who in 1844 were in an expansionist mood. (“Fifty- four forty” referred to the line of latitude that marked the border between the Oregon Territory and Russian Alaska.)

Henry Clay of Kentucky, the Whig nominee, attempted to straddle the controversial issue of Texas annexation, saying at first that he was against it and later that he was for it. This strategy alienated a group of voters in New York State, who abandoned the Whig party to support the antislavery Liberty party (see Chapter 11). In a close election, the Whigs’ loss of New York’s electoral votes proved decisive, and Polk, the Democratic dark horse, was the victor. The Democrats interpreted the election as a mandate to add Texas to the Union.

Annexing Texas and Dividing Oregon

Annexing Texas and Dividing Oregon
Outgoing president John Tyler took the election of Polk as a signal to push the annexation of Texas through Congress. Instead of seeking Senate approval of a treaty, Tyler persuaded both houses of Congress to pass a joint resolution for annexation. This procedure had the advantage of requiring only a simple majority of each house. To Polk was left the problem of dealing with Mexico’s reaction to annexation.

On the Oregon question, Polk decided to compromise with Britain and back down from his party’s bellicose campaign slogan, “Fifty-four Forty or Fight!” Rather than fighting for all of Oregon, the president was willing to settle for just the southern half of it. British and American negotiators agreed to divide the Oregon territory at the 49th parallel (the parallel that had been established in 1818 for the Louisiana territory). Final settlement of the issue was delayed until the United States agreed to grant Vancouver Island to Britain and guarantee its right to navigate the Columbia River. In June 1846, the treaty was submitted to the Senate for ratification. Some northerners viewed the treaty as a sellout to southern interests because it removed British Columbia as a source of potential free states. Nevertheless, by this time war had broken out between the United States and Mexico. Not wanting to fight both Britain and Mexico, Senate opponents of the treaty reluctantly voted for the compromise settlement.

War With Mexico

War With Mexico
The U.S. annexation of Texas led quickly to diplomatic trouble with Mexico. Shortly after taking office in 1845, President Polk dispatched John Slidell as his special envoy to the government in Mexico City. Polk wanted Slidell to (1) persuade Mexico to sell the California and New Mexico territories to the United States and (2) settle a dispute concerning the Mexico-Texas border. Slidell’s mission failed on both counts. The Mexican government refused to sell California and insisted that Texas’ southern border was on the Nueces River. Polk and Slidell asserted that the border lay farther to the south, along the Rio Grande.

Immediate Causes of the War

Immediate Causes of the War
While Slidell waited for Mexico City’s response to the U.S. offer, Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor to move his army toward the Rio Grande across territory claimed by Mexico. On April 24, 1846, a Mexican army crossed the Rio Grande and captured an American army patrol, killing 11. Polk used the incident to send his already prepared war message to Congress. Northern Whigs (among them, a freshman Illinois Congressman named Abraham Lin- coln) opposed going to war over the incident and doubted that American blood had been shed on American soil, as the president claimed. Nevertheless, Whig protests were in vain; a large majority in both houses approved the war resolution.

Military Campaigns
Most of the war was fought in Mexican territory by relatively small armies of Americans. Leading a force that never exceeded 1,500, General Stephen Kearney succeeded in taking Santa Fe, the New Mexico territory, and southern California. Backed by only several dozen soldiers, a few navy officers, and American civilians who had recently settled in California, John C. Fre ́mont quickly overthrew Mexican rule in northern California (June 1846) and pro- claimed California to be an independent republic with a bear on its flag—the so-called Bear Flag Republic.

Meanwhile, Zachary Taylor’s force of 6,000 men drove the Mexican army from Texas, crossed the Rio Grande into northern Mexico, and won a major victory at Buena Vista (February 1847). President Polk then selected General Winfield Scott to invade central Mexico. The army of 14,000 under Scott’s command succeeded in taking the coastal city of Vera Cruz and then captured Mexico City in September 1847.

Consequences of the War
For Mexico, the war was a military disaster from the start, but the Mexican government was unwilling to sue for peace and concede the loss of its northern lands. Finally, after the fall of Mexico City, the government had little choice but to agree to U.S. terms.

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo—Mexican Cession (1848). The treaty negotiated in Mexico by American diplomat Nicholas Trist provided for the following:

1. Mexico would recognize the Rio Grande as the southern border of Texas.

2. The United States would take possession of the former Mexican prov- inces of California and New Mexico—the Mexican Cession. For these territo- ries, the United States would pay $15 million and assume the claims of American citizens against Mexico.

In the Senate, some Whigs opposed the treaty because they saw the war as an immoral effort to expand slavery. A few southern Democrats disliked the treaty for opposite reasons; as expansionists, they wanted the United States to take all of Mexico. Nevertheless, the treaty was finally ratified in the Senate by the required two-thirds vote.

WilmotProviso. U.S.entryintoawarwithMexicoprovokedcontroversy from start to finish. In 1846, the first year of war, Pennsylvania Congressman David Wilmot proposed that an appropriations bill be amended to forbid slavery in any of the new territories acquired from Mexico. The Wilmot Proviso, as it was called, passed the House twice but was defeated in the Senate.

Prelude to civil war? By increasing tensions between the North and the South, did the war to acquire territories from Mexico lead inevitably to the American Civil War? Without question, the acquisition of vast western lands did renew the sectional debate over the extension of slavery. Many northerners viewed the war with Mexico as part of a southern plot to extend the “slave power.” Some historians see the Wilmot Proviso as the first round in an escalating political conflict that led ultimately to civil war.

Manifest Destiny to the South

Manifest Destiny to the South
Many southerners were dissatisfied with the territorial gains from the Mexican War. In the early 1850s, they hoped to acquire new territories, espe- cially in areas of Latin America where plantations worked by slaves were thought to be economically feasible. The most tempting, eagerly sought possibil- ity in the eyes of southern expansionists was the acquisition of Cuba.

Ostend Manifesto. President Polk offered to purchase Cuba from Spain for $100 million, but Spain refused to sell the last major remnant of its once glorious empire. Several southern adventurers led small expeditions to Cuba in an effort to take the island by force of arms. These forays, however, were easily defeated, and those who participated were executed by Spanish firing squads.

Elected to the presidency in 1852, Franklin Pierce adopted prosouthern policies and dispatched three American diplomats to Ostend, Belgium, where they secretly negotiated to buy Cuba from Spain. The Ostend Manifesto that the diplomats drew up was leaked to the press in the United States and provoked an angry reaction from antislavery members of Congress. President Pierce was forced to drop the scheme.

Walker Expedition. Expansionists continued to seek new empires with or without the federal government’s support. Southern adventurer William Walker had tried unsuccessfully to take Baja California from Mexico in 1853. Finally, leading a force mostly of southerners, he took over Nicaragua in 1855. Walker’s regime even gained temporary recognition from the United States in 1856. His grandiose scheme to develop a proslavery Central American empire collapsed, however, when a coalition of Central American countries invaded and defeated him. Walker was executed by Honduran authorities in 1860.

Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850). Another American ambition concerned the building of a canal through Central America. Wanting to check each other from seizing this opportunity, Great Britain and the United States agreed to a treaty in 1850 (the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty). It provided that neither nation would attempt to take exclusive control of any future canal route in Central America. This treaty continued in force until the end of the century. A new treaty signed in 1901 (the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty) gave the United States a free hand to build a canal without British participation.

GadsdenPurchase. AlthoughhefailedtoacquireCuba,PresidentPierce succeeded in adding a strip of land to the American Southwest for a railroad. In 1853, Mexico agreed to sell thousands of acres of semidesert land to the United States for $10 million. Known as the Gadsden Purchase, the land forms the southern sections of present-day New Mexico and Arizona.

Expansion After the Civil War

Expansion After the Civil War
From 1855 until 1870, the issues of union, slavery, civil war, and postwar reconstruction would overshadow the drive to acquire new territory. Even so, manifest destiny continued to be an important force for shaping U.S. policy. In 1867, for example, Secretary of State William Seward succeeded in purchasing Alaska at a time when the nation was just recovering from the Civil War.

Settlement of the Western Territories
Following the peaceful acquisition of Oregon and the more violent acquisi- tion of California, the migration of Americans into these lands began in earnest. The arid area between the Mississippi Valley and the Pacific Coast was popularly known in the 1850s and 1860s as the Great American Desert. Emigrants passed quickly over this vast, dry region to reach the more inviting lands on the West Coast. Therefore, California and Oregon were settled several decades before people attempted to farm the Great Plains.

Fur Traders’ Frontier
Fur traders known as mountain men were the earliest nonnative group to open the Far West. In the 1820s, they held yearly rendezvous in the Rockies with Native Americans to trade for animal skins. James Beckwourth, Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, and Jedediah Smith were among the hardy band of explorers and trappers who provided much of the early information about trails and frontier conditions.

Overland Trails

Overland Trails
The next and much larger group of pioneers took the hazardous journey west in hopes of clearing the forests and farming the fertile valleys of California and Oregon. By 1860, hundreds of thousands had reached their westward goal by following the Oregon, California, Santa Fe, and Mormon trails. The long and arduous trek usually began in St. Joseph or Independence, Missouri, or in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and followed the river valleys through the Great Plains. Months later, the wagon trains would finally reach the foothills of the Rockies or face the hardships of the southwestern deserts. The final life-or-death chal- lenge was to get through the mountain passes of the Sierras and Cascades before the first heavy snow. A wagon train inched westward at an average rate of only 15 miles a day. Far more serious than any threat of attack by Indians were the daily experience of disease and depression from harsh conditions on the trail.

Mining Frontier

Mining Frontier
The discovery of gold in California in 1848 set off the first of many migrations to the mineral-rich mountains of the West. The gold rush to California (1848–1850) was followed by gold or silver rushes in Colorado, Nevada, the Black Hills of the Dakotas, and other western territories. The mining boom brought tens of thousands of men (and afterward women as well) into the western mountains. Mining camps and towns—many of them short-lived— sprang up wherever a strike (discovery) was reported. Largely as a result of the gold rush, California’s population soared from a mere 14,000 in 1848 to 380,000 by 1860.

What is often forgotten is that the discoveries of gold and silver attracted miners from around the world. By the 1860s, almost one-third of the miners in the West were Chinese.

Farming FrontierFarming Frontier
Most pioneer families moved west to start homesteads and begin farming. Congress’ Preemption Acts of the 1830s and 1840s gave squatters the right to settle public lands and purchase them for low prices once the government put them up for sale. In addition, the government made it easier for settlers by offering parcels of land as small as 40 acres for sale.

However, the move to western lands was not for the penniless. A family needed at least $200 to $300 to make the overland trip, which eliminated many of the poor and made the trek to California and Oregon largely a middle- class movement.

The isolation of the frontier made life for pioneers especially difficult during the first years, but rural communities soon developed. The institutions that the people established (schools, churches, clubs, and political parties) were modeled after those that they had known in the East or, for immigrants from abroad, in their native lands.

Urban Frontier
Western cities that arose as a result of railroads (see below), mineral wealth, and farming attracted a number of professionals and businesspersons. San Francisco and Denver are examples of instant cities created by the gold and silver rushes. Salt Lake City grew because it offered fresh supplies to travelers on overland trails for the balance of their westward journey.

The Expanding Economy
The era of territorial expansion coincided with a period of remarkable economic growth from the 1840s to 1857.

Industrial Technology
Before 1840, factory production had mainly been concentrated in the textile mills of New England. After 1840, industrialization spread rapidly to the other states of the Northeast. The new factories produced shoes, sewing machines, ready-to-wear clothing, firearms, precision tools, and iron products for railroads and other new technologies. The invention of the sewing machine by Elias Howe took much of the production of clothing out of the home into the factory. An electric telegraph successfully demonstrated in 1844 by its inventor, Samuel F. B. Morse, went hand in hand with the growth of railroads in enormously speeding up communication and transportation across the country.


The canal-building era of the 1820s and 1830s was replaced in the next two decades with the rapid expansion of rail lines, especially across the Northeast and Midwest. The railroads soon emerged as America’s largest industry. As such, they required immense amounts of capital and labor and gave rise to complex business organizations. Local merchants and farmers would often buy stocks in the new railroad companies in order to connect their area to the outside world. Local and state governments also helped the railroads grow by granting special loans and tax breaks. In 1850, the U.S. government granted 2.6 million acres of federal land to build the Illinois Central Railroad from Lake Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico, the first such federal land grant.

Cheap and rapid transportation particularly promoted western agriculture. Farmers in Illinois and Iowa were now more closely linked to the Northeast by rail than by the river routes to the South. The railroads not only united the common commercial interests of the Northeast and Midwest, but would also give the North strategic advantages in the Civil War.

Foreign Commerce

Foreign Commerce
The growth in manufactured goods as well as in agricultural products (both western grains and southern cotton) caused a significant growth of exports and imports. Other factors also played a role in the expansion of U.S. trade in the mid-1800s:

1. ShippingfirmsencouragedtradeandtravelacrosstheAtlanticbyhaving their sailing packets depart on a regular schedule (instead of the unscheduled departures that had been customary in the 18th century).

2. Thedemandforwhaleoiltolightthehomesofmiddle-classAmericans caused a whaling boom between 1830 and 1860, in which New England mer- chants took the lead.

3. Improvements in the design of ships came just in time to speed gold- seekers on their journey to the California gold fields. The development of the American clipper ship cut the five- or six-month trip from New York around the Horn to San Francisco to as little as 89 days.

4. Steamships took the place of clipper ships in the mid-1850s because they had greater storage capacity, could be maintained at lower cost, and could more easily follow a regular schedule.

5. The federal government played a role in expanding U.S. trade by sending Commodore Matthew C. Perry to Japan to persuade that country to open up its ports to trade with Americans. In 1854, Perry convinced Japan’s government to agree to a treaty that opened two Japanese ports to U.S. trad- ing vessels.

Panic of 1857. The midcentury economic boom ended in 1857 with a financial panic. There was a serious drop in prices, especially for midwestern farmers, and increased unemployment in northern cities. The South was less affected, for cotton prices remained high. This fact gave some southerners the idea that their plantation economy was superior and that continued union with the northern economy was not needed.

Historical Perspectives: Manifest Destiny
Traditional historians stressed the accomplishments of west- ward expansion in bringing civilization and democratic institutions to a wilderness area. The heroic efforts of mountain men and pioneering families to overcome a hostile environment have long been celebrated by both historians and the popular media.

In recent years, a number of historians have taken a different and more critical view of manifest destiny and U.S. actions in the war with Mexico. They suggest that there were strong racist motives behind U.S. foreign policy in the 1840s and quote extensively from minority voices of the period who had condemned the Mexican War as a plot to expand slavery. These historians argue that there may have been racist motives even behind the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Mexico instead of attempting to conquer and occupy that country. They point out that Americans who opposed the idea of keeping Mexico had resorted to racist arguments, asserting that it would be undesirable to incorporate large non-Anglo populations into the republic.

As a result of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, historians today are more sensitive than earlier historians to racist language and beliefs. They see the racial undercurrents in the political speeches of the 1840s that argued for expansion into Native Ameri- can, Mexican, and Central American territories. Rather than concen- trating on the achievements of Anglo pioneers, recent histories of the westward movement tend to focus on the following: (a) the impact on Native Americans, who were dispossessed from their lands, (b) the influence of Mexican culture on U.S. culture, (c) the contributions of African American and Asian American pioneers on the frontier, and (d) the role of women in the development of western family and community life.

In addition, we should consider how Mexican historians view the events of the 1840s. As they point out, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo took half of its territory from Mexico. From the Mexican point of view, the war of 1846 gave rise to a number of long-standing economic and political problems, which have impeded Mexico’s development as a modern nation.

From another perspective, the war with Mexico and especially the taking of California were motivated by imperialism rather than by racism. Historians taking this position argue that the United States was chiefly interested in trade with China and Japan and needed California as a base for U.S. commercial ambitions in the Pacific. U.S. policy makers were afraid that California would fall into the hands of Great Britain or some other European power if the United States did not move in first.