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American History 1--HIST 2111 (OER): Chapter 13: Sectional Crisis

American Yawp Chapter Summary

Conflicts stemming from slavery’s western expansion created problems for the United States from the very start. Battles emerged over the westward expansion of slavery and over the role of the federal government in protecting the interests of slaveholders. Northern workers felt that slavery suppressed wages and stole land that could have been used by poor white Americans to achieve economic independence. Southerners feared that without slavery’s expansion, the abolitionist faction would come to dominate national politics and an increasingly dense population of slaves would lead to bloody insurrection and race war. Constant resistance from enslaved men and women required a strong proslavery government to maintain order. As the North gradually abolished human bondage, enslaved men and women headed North on an underground railroad of hideaways and safe houses. Northerners and Southerners came to disagree sharply on the role of the federal government in capturing and returning these freedom seekers. While Northerners appealed to their states’ rights to refuse capturing runaway slaves, Southerners demanded a national commitment to slavery. Enslaved laborers meanwhile remained vitally important to the nation’s economy, fueling not only the southern plantation economy but also providing raw materials for the industrial North. Differences over the fate of slavery remained at the heart of American politics, especially as the United States expanded. After decades of conflict, Americans north and south began to fear that the opposite section of the country had seized control of the government. By November 1860, an opponent of slavery’s expansion arose from within the Republican Party. During the secession crisis that followed in 1860-1861, fears, nearly a century in the making, at last devolved into bloody war. Read more about Sectionalism.

Things to Consider

Questions to be thinking about as you move through the content of this chapter

  1. Why did so many people come to question the existence of slavery in the late early nineteenth century?  Think in particular about the role played by the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions.
  2. Why was the balance between the number of slave states and free states so important in the pre-Civil War period?
  3. How did the ambiguity/internal contradictions of the US Constitution contribute to the debate over slavery in the early 19th century?
  4. Where did the Democrats draw most of their support and why?  Where did the Whigs draw most of their support and why?
  5. How did African Americans contribute to the anti-slavery cause?  (Be sure that you can discuss the specific contributions of people like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman, among others)?
  6. How did the Mexican-American War contribute to increasing sectionalism in the US?
  7. What factors led to the collapse of the Whig Party in the early 1850s?
  8. How did the Kansas-Nebraska Act split the Democratic Party?
  9. What precedents were set by the Scott v. Sandford decision, and what role did those precedents play in furthering the path to the Civil War?
  10. What factors allowed Abraham Lincoln to win the election of 1860 with only 40% of the popular vote?

Learning Objectives and Assessment

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Distinguish between primary and secondary materials and decide when to use each
  • Explore the complexity of the human experience, across time and space
  • Distinguish between historical facts and historical interpretations
  • Evaluate a variety of historical sources for their credibility, position, significance, and perspective

Course Objectives

  • Students will be able to understand the relationship between events connected to Manifest Destiny & the causes of sectionalism & the Civil War.
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