What circumstances served to unite and to devide the nation during the nineteenth century?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would say the dealing with "the other" helped to drive a significant wedge between the nation in the 19th century American political and social landscape.  The emergence of a North and a South helped to drive this division of the nation into one where "the other" was perceived with mistrust and a sense of skepticism.  Northern industry and Southern slavery helped to bring two emergent narratives in the young nation.  Ironically enough, a common thread in both narratives was the story of the economic "haves" and "have nots."  While both sections of the country viewed the other with mistrust, they both operated with the functional premise of having individuals who owned the means of production and those who struggled underneath such control.  Both narratives sought to establish supremacy over the other in the Civil War.  Along these lines, I would say that the fear of the racial other helped to drive a wedge between the nation, as well.  There was a great deal of division as to how the issue of race in America.  The "problem of the color line" helped to create a great deal of misunderstanding between both races in America of the time period, helping to advance even more division.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are really too many to list here, so let me focus on what I believe to be the two largest: Slavery/Sectionalism and The Gilded Age/Progressives.

Slavery was not really unpopular, as the abolition movement was always relatively small.  But the growing tension over expansion and the fate of slavery in the West was more controversial.  The growth of slavery and tension between the states and federal government served to divide the country, largely along geographic and economic lines.  The Civil War, though brutal, bloody and long, forcibly reunited the country in body if not in spirit.

After the Civil War a period of massive economic and population growth happened in the North and West.  The wealthy became super wealthy, while the poor remained mired in poverty.  There was almost no middle class.  Th disparity of wealth between these two classed was a very divisive force which usually pitted the poor against the rich and the government that sided with them.  Since the poor were the vast majority (over 90%), you can also say the disparity was a unifying factor for them against the wealthy.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Over the 19th century, there were a couple of major issues that divided the country, both times mainly along sectional or regional lines.

The first of these was the French-British Napoleonic Wars that led into the War of 1812.  In this era, some Americans (mostly New England Federalists) were in favor of the British while the rest were pro-French.  This led to some talk of secession by the New Englanders during the War of 1812.

The second and more famous circumstance was that of slavery and the different economic systems of the North and South.  This could be seen in the arguments that led to the Missouri Compromise, in the Nullification Crisis, and in the events that led up to the Civil War.

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The link below is a thread that has a pretty good outline of events of the later 19th century.

The general unity and division in America during this time were both through the avenue of race.  Slavery was outlawed but by no means did that mean our country suddenly promoted "equality."  Instead, the African American fight for true freedom and equality probably started in the 19th century - and continued to move towards the Civil Rights Movement.  White people united with white people to prevent black people from gaining even more power.  Black people united with each other (mostly peacefully, actually) to rise up and find their unified voice.

leighla123 | Student

Over the 19th century, there were a couple of major issues that divided the country, both times mainly along sectional or regional lines.

christeach | Student

One of the many reasons that you see division during the 19th century was the two ways of life that had evolved in the same United States of America.  In the north, many had immigrated and moved to the cities, making manufactoring by factories a logical system to be used.  By contrast, in the southern states,   an agrarian way of life was the most dominant.   King Cotton ruled the economy and, in order to make it work profitably, many felt that slavery was a necessity.

 The north, wanting to insure that they were able to bring in as much profit as possible by the goods they were producing, supported the raising of tariffs in trading. The income generated from this action would also assist them by providing the government with the money it needed to build the infrastructure of the nation, (e.g railroads and shipping).  This hurt the south as it made it hard for other nations, namely Britian, to buy their cotton.

A factor that did help to unite our nation during the 19th century was the concept of Manifest Destiny. This was the idea that the United States was  destined, (many felt by God), to expand across the North American continent.  This idea also was expanded to include the idea that America's democratic way of life should be promoted to other nations.