Modern history

Conclusion: Geographical Expansion and Political Division

By the mid-nineteenth century, the United States stood at a crossroads. Most Americans considered expansion advantageous and critical to revitalizing the economy. Planters believed it was vital to slavery’s success. While most white Northerners were willing to leave slavery alone where it already existed, many hoped to keep it out of newly acquired territories. The vast lands gained from Mexico in 1848 intensified these debates. Between 1830 and 1850, small but growing numbers of Northerners joined slaves, American Indians, and Mexicans in protesting U.S. expansion. Even some yeomen farmers and middle-class professionals in the South questioned whether extending slavery benefited the region economically and politically. But these challenges remained limited until 1848, when the fight over slavery in the territories fractured the Democratic Party, created a crisis for the Whigs, and inspired the growth of the Free-Soil Party.

Political realignments continued over the next decade, fueled by growing antislavery sentiment in the North and proslavery ideology in the South. In 1853 Solomon Northrup horrified thousands of antislavery readers with his book Twelve Years a Slave, which vividly described his life in bondage. Such writings alarmed planters like James Henry Hammond, who continued to believe that slavery was “the greatest of all the great blessings which Providence has bestowed upon our glorious region.” Yet in insisting on the benefits of slave labor, the planter elite inspired further conflict with Northerners, whose lives were increasingly shaped by commercial and industrial developments and the expansion of free labor.

Chapter Review


Identify and explain the significance of each term below.

syncretic culture (p. 253)

Nat Turner's rebellion (p. 255)

yeomen farmers (p. 256)

Whig Party (p. 258)

Second Seminole War (p. 259)

Treaty of New Echota (p. 260)

Trail of Tears (p. 261)

Tejanos (p. 261)

Alamo (p. 261) gag rule (p. 262)

panic of 1837 (p. 262)

manifest destiny (p. 265)

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (p. 268)

Wilmot Proviso (p. 268)


Answer the focus questions from each section of the chapter.

1. What role did the planter elite play in southern society and politics?

2. What were the consequences of the dominant position of slave-based plantation agriculture in the southern economy?

3. How did enslaved African Americans create ties of family, community, and culture?

4. How did enslaved African Americans resist efforts to control and exploit their labor?

5. What groups made up white southern society? How did their interests overlap?

How did they diverge?

6. How and why did the planter elite seek to reinforce white solidarity?

7. How and why did indian nations in the Southeast resist removal to the West while some indians in the West forged ties with U.S. markets?

8. What events and developments led to a Whig victory in the election of 1840?

9. How did western expansion both benefit Americans and exacerbate conflicts among them?

10. How did the Mexican-American War reshape national politics and intensify debates over slavery?



• Southern cotton production increases from about 500,000 bales to 3 million bales


• Mexico overthrows Spanish rule and encourages U.S. settlement in Texas


• 440,000 slaves from the Upper South sold to owners in the Lower South


• Cherokee Nation v. Georgia

August 1831

• Nat Turner leads slave uprising in Virginia


• Virginia's Assembly


establishes special committee on slavery


• Worcester v. Georgia


• Tredegar Iron Works established


• Britain abolishes slavery


• Second Seminole War


• Treaty of New Echota

March 2, 1836

• U.S. settlers declare eastern Texas an independent republic

March 6, 1836

• General Santa Anna crushes U.S. rebels at the Alamo

March 1836

• James Hammond leads campaign that results in congressional gag rule


• Panic of 1837 triggers recession

October 1838- March 1839

• Trail of Tears


• Whigs win the presidency and gain control of Congress


• Solomon Northrup kidnapped and sold into slavery


• U.S. annexes Texas


• U.S. settles dispute with Great Britain over Oregon

May 1846- February 1848

• Mexican-American War

August 1846

• David Wilmot proposes Wilmot Proviso

March 1848

• Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo


• Solomon Northrup publishes Twelve Years a Slave

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