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Sectionalism

As the new American nation moved into it's seventh decade of existence it faced several crisis that threatened to tear down the very foundations on which it stood. Sectionalism plagued the land. Instead of looking at the nation as a whole, regional separatism took hold. Southerners, westerners and northerners began to identify themselves regionally and not as Americans. The regional differences that had served to build America now threatened to destroy it.

When Monroe articulated his vision of an "American System" he saw the parts of the nation working together as a whole. From colonial times there were differences in geography that gave rise to variations in culture and economy.

The northern regions of the nation tended to focus on trade, shipping and manufacturing. The southern regions of the nation tended to focus on agriculture and the mid Atlantic region blended both. As the nation expanded westward new states like Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio were largely agricultural but yet still stuck to northern and southern ways of life. These geographic and economic differences spurned cultural differences as well. The merchants of the north were accustomed to a faster paced lifestyle while the plantation owners of the south played the role of the gentleman farmer. The leisurely lifestyle of the south did not extended, however, to the working farmhands and slaves that supported the plantation lifestyle of the southern aristocracy.

As the different regions began to define themselves, political issues came to the forefront. Wishing to support domestic manufacturing northern politicians endorsed a series of protective tariffs. The first tariff passed in 1816 was relatively mild but the second passed in 1828 was much more severe. Southern states called it the "Tariff of Abominations" and demanded the right of nullification. President Andrew Jackson endured a bitter conflict with his Vice President John C. Calhoun while the Webster-Hayne debates raged in the Senate. The split over the tariff and nullification was so fierce that it even led to a violent attack on Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the senate. Eventually Congress passed, and the President signed, a bill called the Force Bill that authorized the use of the military to compel states to pay the tariff.

The bitterest battle of all however, was fought over the issue of slavery. Cotton was essential to the southern economy, as they used to say; "cotton is king!." To southerners slavery was essential in maintaining cheap production of cotton. As cotton production grew, so did slavery.

Southern states, fearing the north would eventually try to abolish their "peculiar institution," knew they needed to maintain control of the Senate. In order to do so, as the nation expanded west, the South needed to ensure that states entered the union as slave states. The north, on the other hand, wanted the opposite. When Missouri entered the Union in 1820 the nation attempted to settle the issue with the creation of the Missouri Compromise.

The compromise, however, would not last long. When California asked for admission as a free state in 1850 the Missouri Compromise would have bisected the state. The Compromise of 1850 allowed California to enter as a free state but only after allowing a popular vote on slavery in Nevada and New Mexico. If that did not signal the death knell for the Missouri Compromise then the Kansas-Nebraska Act surely did. The act allowed for a popular vote, known as "popular sovereignty" in the Kansas and Nebraska territories. A mini civil war broke out in Kansas as pro slave supporters clashed with "free soilers." By the time the Supreme Court issued it's verdict in Dred Scott v Sanford any chance of compromise over slavery was over.


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