How did American growth help or hinder national unity?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This question usually arises in reference to the antebellum period. During this time, American growth, both territorial and economic, was profoundly destabilizing to national unity. In the case of economic growth, this was because it depended on slavery. By the 1840s, cotton was an increasingly important part of the American...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

This question usually arises in reference to the antebellum period. During this time, American growth, both territorial and economic, was profoundly destabilizing to national unity. In the case of economic growth, this was because it depended on slavery. By the 1840s, cotton was an increasingly important part of the American economy, fundamental to the South and to the textile industry in the North. Its economic salience led Southern politicians to be increasingly defensive of slavery, using the threat of secession to gain leverage out of proportion with their numbers. At the same time, the Northern states, with an increasingly industrial economy, had almost without exception ended slavery within their borders. An organized abolition movement began that argued slavery was a moral evil, one that had to be destroyed. In this sense, economic development inhibited national unity.

Territorial growth, directly related to economic growth, was equally destabilizing, because it brought slavery to the forefront as a political issue. When new territories entered the Union, fierce debates took place over whether slavery would be allowed within them. When new states (Missouri in 1819 and California in 1850) entered the Union, the question became even more urgent, because the question of Senate majorities came to the fore. Many Northerners charged that Indian Removal, the Mexican War, and other instances of territorial expansion resulted from the machinations of a "slave power" that subverted the government to its ends. A series of political compromises temporarily headed off conflict prior to 1860, but the issue of the territorial expansion of slavery proved to be the most divisive in American history. When Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln, whose platform revolved around the territorial restriction of slavery, won the presidency in 1860, states in the Deep South responded by seceding.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team