1844-1877: A Bynamic Change In The Development Of The United States

Submitted By Nopa-Niom
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Pages: 6

The period of 1844-1877 was one of dynamic change in the development of the United States. The nation was rapidly evolving along several fronts: in terms of geographic area, population, the economy, technological development, and, perhaps most saliently, cultural and political identity. The United States was establishing itself as a world power and it was pursuing an expansionist policy not only in the Western United States, but in the Western Hemisphere. More and more people from all over the world were migrating to the U.S. in search of a new beginning. Though some came of their own volition, others came by force via the slave trade (though Congress had outlawed the importation of slaves in 1808, the trans-Atlantic slave trade continued illicitly for several decades). Yet, even as the nation reveled in a youthful optimism reserved for emerging powers, it was becoming increasingly divided on the most volatile topic of the day—slavery. With each new territory claimed—each new state established, tensions mounted, and the nation drifted closer to a seemingly inevitable armed conflict. When conflict finally did erupt in earnest, it appeared for a time that the “great experiment,” not yet even one hundred years old, might be torn asunder. While the nation was rife with sectional tension in the 1840s, differences between the North and South had not occurred over night. Indeed, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 provides evidence of the deep-seeded and long-standing differences between the worldviews of the North and South. As well the contested election of 1824, in which Andrew Jackson won the popular vote and initially won the electoral vote before an agreement was made between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay (handing Adams the presidency) provides another example of sectionalism (Jackson, we may recall, represented the rural “common man” of the South). Yet even before these events, it is important to remember that the North and South were growing further apart by way of how these two regions were growing. From the first years of the 19th century, the North was beginning to diverge from the South in terms of its economy. Industrialization was beginning to take hold and, combined with a gradual and interconnected trend toward urbanization, the North was differentiating itself from the South. The South, continued to be primarily rural throughout the first half of the 19th century; its economy based upon agriculture, the plantation system, and, after the invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, slave-based labor. In fact, sectionalism had an influence from the very earliest days of the United States, making its mark upon the Constitution. Northern delegates at the convention argued that slaves could be counted for taxation, but not representation; Southerners contended they be counted for representation, but not taxation. The result was the “three-fifth’s compromise” and an assurance that Congress would not interfere with the slave trade until 1808. Sectionalism, it seems, was inherent in the very foundation of the United States
As previously mentioned, the United States was engaging in an increasingly aggressive expansionist foreign policy during this period; one that extended westward toward the Pacific, but also included the establishment of diplomatic inroads abroad in places like Asia. This is a period that was marked by a profound sense of optimism yet, conversely, hindered by a social and ideological identity crisis tied to the topic of slavery and economics. In piecemeal fashion, the United States chipped away at territory in the west, claiming more and more of it as its own. Occasionally, this ambition led it to war, as was the case with Mexico in 1846. In other instances, cries for war were largely a smokescreen, but still provided the same effect (as with the Oregon Treaty that finally settled the U.S. boundary in the Pacific Northwest). We can see now that the driving forces behind the arguments over slavery were