Although America, by 1870, was still not one hundred years into its life as a country, it had the blessings and curses of an industrialized nation—some inherited from the British but others uniquely American.[i] Among the blessings was widespread prosperity: the United States then had “74 percent of British and 128 percent of German per-capita income.”[ii] Although many Europeans had come to see America as a country filled with “little more than amiable backwoods-men not yet ready for unsupervised outings on the world stage,” those Europeans had erred in reaching that conclusion as was evident at the London Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851 when Americans showed their latest inventions in their “outpost of wizardry and wonder” with machines that “did things that the world earnestly wished machines to do—stamp out nails, cut stone, mold candles—but with a neatness, dispatch, and tireless reliability that left other nations blinking.”[iii] But that presentation of the United States to the world lacked the nuance that was evident to those who toured the country; prosperity may have been widespread, but it was not equally distributed and it was not without hardship.Read more
By 1859, the northern and southern sections of America had developed different economic systems, cultural norms, and approaches to permitting slavery. Congress and the political parties had been able to overlook those differences for the sake of self-preservation and advancement of the collective agenda. As 1859 concluded and 1860 sprang, Americans understood that the status quo of compromise was not to continue much longer. Read more
The Democratic Party and Whig Party were the dominant political parties from the early 1830s up until the mid-1850s. Both were institutions in national politics despite not having a coherent national organization by cobbling together a diverse group of states to win elections. While the Democrats had a more populist agenda, the Whigs were more focused on pursuing industrialization and development of the country. See David Potter, The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848-1861, 226. While the Democratic Party would survive to the present day, the Whig Party would not survive the mid-1850s, not as a result of its own ineptness but because of the changing political landscape of that era. Read more
The North and the South had come to develop two distinct cultures by the mid-1800s. One of those fundamental differences was the nature of work.
By 1848, America had undergone a significant transformation from the America that the Founding Fathers left just a few decades before.
On November 7, 1848, Americans went to the polls to choose between Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, and Lewis Cass.
The Whigs had their own approach to interpreting manifest destiny, and that approach mainly applied to shaping America’s foreign policy.
Daniel Webster, the Secretary of State under President John Tyler, brought a breadth of experience and dignity to the office, but he also brought “a different perspective on Anglo-American relations.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 672.
In the wake of the Panics of 1837 and 1839, Congress sent the White House a new bill to be signed into law: The Bankruptcy Act of 1841. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 593. From then on, bankruptcy would be part of American life, providing an option for when debts become overwhelming.
Following the Panics of 1837 and 1839, America began rapidly expanding a new innovation: the railroad. While this would seem to have brought the country together, in fact, it increased sectionalism, creating more tension between the North and the South. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 569.