AP U.S. History, 2008-09
STUDY QUESTIONS FOR UNIT 6: THE ROAD TO SECESSION, 1845-1861
What were the roots of American territorial expansion in the 1840s? How did many Americans (especially
Democrats) justify this expansion? Why were other Americans deeply disturbed by these developments?
What was the doctrine of "Free Soil"? How was it similar to abolitionism? How was it different? How did
southerners respond to this doctrine?
What was the doctrine of popular, or "squatter," sovereignty, and why was it attractive to so many
Americans in the late 1840s and early 1850s?
Why did the Compromise of 1850 ultimately fail to stem the increasing tensions between North and South?
What role did the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) play in the disintegration of the Union? How did the
emergence of the Republican Party in 1855-56 contribute to the crisis?
What was the significance of the Dred Scott decision (1857)? How did it worsen sectional tensions?
At some point in the troubled decade of the 1850s, did secession become inevitable? If so, at what point?
If the nation had been blessed with better leaders, could America have avoided secession and civil war?
Movement to the Far West (Text, Chapter 13, 244-50)
What was the significance of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty (1842)? What was the continuing dispute
between the United States and Britain in the Pacific Northwest? How did Mexico's decision in 1822 to
allow free trade between its northern provinces and the United States--together with its encouragement of
settlement by U.S. citizens in Texas--ultimately contribute to tension between the two nations? What
issues increasingly divided American settlers in Texas from the Mexican government? How did the
Republic of Texas come into being? Why was it not immediately annexed by the United States? Who
were the Mormons, and what were their principal beliefs? How did they end up settling in Utah?
John L. O’Sullivan, from“The Great Nation of Futurity” (1845), American History Online
What is Sullivan's conception of history? In other words, how does he interpret the past? How do the
principles of "equality" and "privilege" fit into his interpretation? How does O'Sullivan perceive America's
place in the unfolding of human history? To what extent are O'Sullivan's views based on Paine's vision of
America as "an asylum for mankind"? How does O'Sullivan's essay serve to justify America's continuing
Texas, Manifest Destiny, and the Mexican War (Text, Chapter 13, 250-56)
Why did the settlement of U.S. citizens in regions beyond the boundaries of the United States (e.g., Texas,
New Mexico, Oregon) almost always lead to tensions between the U.S. and the nations that controlled
those areas? How did President John Tyler initiate the process of westward expansion? Why did Tyler and
John C. Calhoun join forces over the issue of the annexation of Texas? Why was the annexation policy
pursued by Tyler and Calhoun so politically dangerous? Why was the annexation strategy of James K.
Polk more attractive than the one advanced by Tyler and Calhoun? How did the Democrat Polk manage to
defeat the Whig Henry Clay in the presidential election of 1844? What does the defection of a group of
antislavery Whigs to form an abolitionist party (the Liberty party) suggest about the future of the Second
American Party System? What were the "three main ideas" associated with "Manifest Destiny"? How did
the ideology of Manifest Destiny build upon earlier Puritan and Jeffersonian notions? To what does the
phrase "Fifty-four forty or fight" refer? What do you make of Polk's negotiations with the British? Was it
clever bargaining or blustering stupidity?
To what extent was the war against Mexico a "just war"? Why did the Mexicans take so long to make
peace, despite a series of crushing military defeats? What were the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo (1848)? What were some of the reasons why Polk and his advisors decided not to annex all of
Mexico? Why was the Mexican War (1846-48) generally unpopular in the North? How did the war
contribute to sectional tensions?
Thomas Corwin, “Against the Mexican War” (1847), American History Online
What are Corwin's arguments against the Mexican War? What does he fear will happen as a result of the
nation's acquisition of territory from Mexico?
The Legacy of the Mexican Cession: The Wilmot Proviso, the Free-Soil Movement, and the
Compromise of 1850 (Text, Chapter 14, 265-69)
Why was it possible to reach a compromise on the slavery issue in 1850, while it would not have been
possible to reach a compromise five years later? In what sense did the Constitution protect slavery in the
Southern states? To what extent did Congress under the Constitution have the power to determine the
status of slavery in the territories? What was the Wilmot Proviso (1846)? Why was the Free-Soil
movement more attractive to many Northern whites than abolitionism? What was the ultimate fate of the
Proviso? Why did the vote on the Proviso in the House of Representatives bode ill for the future of the two
political parties—and the future of the Union? What was Lewis Cass’s idea of “squatter sovereignty”
(sometimes known as “popular sovereignty”)? What was the ambiguity contained within this idea? What
was the Free-Soil party of 1848, and who supported it? Why was the appearance of this party—like the
vote on the Wilmot Proviso two years earlier—a worrisome development? What impact did President
Zachary Taylor’s plan have upon the South? How close was the nation to a secession crisis in 1849-50?
How did Senators Clay and Douglas help to resolve the impasse? What were the stipulations of the
Compromise of 1850? In what sense was it not a true compromise?
"Wilmot Appeals for Free Soil," "Southerners Threaten Secession," "Calhoun Demands Southern
Rights," "Webster Urges Concessions," and "Free-Soilers Denounce Webster," American Spirit,
Vol. I, 378-85
Why do you think that it is so important to David Wilmot to distinguish between opposing slavery per se
and opposing the extension of slavery? On what grounds does Wilmot oppose the extension of slavery to
the California and New Mexico territories? How would a Southerner probably respond to Wilmot's
arguments? How does Robert Toombs, the Georgia representative, respond to the suggestion that slavery
be disallowed in California and New Mexico? What is Calhoun's understanding of the Constitution? What
does he want the North to do? Why does Webster see "peaceful secession" as an impossibility? Why did
Massachusetts Free-Soilers condemn Webster's support of the Compromise of 1850?
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the Collapse of the Whigs, and the Rise of the Republican Party
(Text, Chapter 14, 269-75)
In what sense did the Compromise of 1850 actually weaken the Second American Party system? Why did
the presidential election of 1852 suggest that the Whig party was in serious trouble? What was the Kansas-
Nebraska Act (1854), and why did Stephen Douglas construct it? What was the impact of the bill on
relations between North and South? What was the bill’s impact on the Second American Party system?
What was the “Ostend Manifesto” (1854), and how did it contribute to the political furor? What was the
Know-Nothing movement? Where did it come from? Why did it fail to become a replacement for the
now-defunct Whig party? What groups joined to form the Republican party in the mid-1850s? What were
the Republican party’s main political principles? How did the Republicans exploit the violence in Kansas
between pro- and anti-slavery forces? What impact did the surprisingly good showing of the Republicans
in the 1856 presidential election have upon the South?
“The Kansas-Nebraska Act, 1854” and “Two Portraits of the West,” The American Record, Vol.1,
How do the painting and the cartoon reflect the attitudes and values of many northerners in the mid-1850’s?
The Dissolution Continues: Dred Scott, the Lecompton Controversy, and the Lincoln-Douglas
Debates, 1857-58 (Text, Chapter 14, 275-78)
How was the growing cultural divide between the North and the South reflected in religion, education, and
literature? Why did President Buchanan encourage the Supreme Court to issue a broad decision in the
Dred Scott case (1857)? What arguments did the Court majority use in ruling against Scott? What did the
Court decide regarding the issue of slavery in the territories? Why was this part of the decision so
controversial? What impact did the decision have upon the Republican party? What was the controversy
surrounding Kansas’ Lecompton constitution? What role did the Buchanan administration play? What
position did Stephen Douglas take? How was the controversy resolved? What impact did the controversy
have upon the Democratic party? In the Lincoln-Douglas debates (1858), how did Abraham Lincoln’s
views on slavery differ from those of Stephen Douglas--given that Douglas, like Lincoln, had opposed
slavery’s extension into the territories, in practice if not in principle? Why could it be said that although
Lincoln lost the Illinois senatorial election in 1858, the Republican party was strengthened by the
“The Lincoln-Douglas Debates, 1858,” The American Record, Vol.1, 287-94
How would Southerners respond to Lincoln’s assertion that the nation “cannot endure permanently half
slave and half free”? What do you make of Lincoln’s response to Douglas’ accusation that Lincoln favors
Negro equality? What are Lincoln’s views on racial equality? What are his views on the morality of
slavery? What does he think that we should do about the extension of slavery into the territories? About
the continuation of slavery where it already exists? Would you agree with Douglas that prior to 1854, both
major parties agreed that the issue of whether or not slavery should be allowed in a particular territory
should be decided by the territory’s settlers? Is it true that Lincoln was bent on “abolitionizing” the Whig
party? Are Douglas’ views on “Negro inferiority” consistent with his support of “popular sovereignty”?
To what extent do Douglas’ views reflect his desire to keep the Democratic party united across sectional
lines? Is Lincoln convincing when he asserts that although whites are superior to blacks, slavery is morally
evil and inconsistent with the Declaration of Independence? Is he convincing when he defends himself
against the charge of abolitionism? Is he convincing when he claims that the Founding Fathers supported
his position on the slavery question?
The South’s Crisis of Fear, 1859-60 (Text, Chapter 14, 278-82)
Why did John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, VA (1859) convince many Southerners
that secession was the only alternative? What was “Helperism,” and why were Southerners as frightened of
it as they were of abolitionist-inspired slave revolts? What was the outcome of the presidential election of
1860? Why did the South see it as catastrophic? Of the various explanations that the textbook offers for
the sectional crisis, which do you find most persuasive?
“Fire-Eaters Urge Secession” and “The North Resents Threats,” American Spirit, Vol. I, 411-12
What grievances against the North does the Southern editorial present? In the Northern editorial, how does
the writer represent the South and its concerns? Assuming that the two editorials accurately reflect public
opinion in the two regions, what were the chances of finding a solution to the nation's problems by 1860?
Abraham Lincoln, "First Inaugural Address," The American Reader, 140-43
What arguments does Lincoln put forward to support the view that the Union cannot be lawfully dissolved?
What other arguments does Lincoln use to persuade Southerners that secession is a bad idea? To what
extent does he go out of his way not to offend or frighten Southerners?