United States History I & II
United States History I & II

United States History I & II

Lead Author(s): Sara Eskridge

Student Price: Contact us to learn more

Transform your teaching with the power of digital pedagogy. This book features: an interactive timeline, live learning feedback, embedded primary source video, automatic grading, and full customizability.

What is a Top Hat Textbook?

Top Hat has reimagined the textbook – one that is designed to improve student readership through interactivity, is updated by a community of collaborating professors with the newest information, and accessed online from anywhere, at anytime.

  • Top Hat Textbooks are built full of embedded videos, interactive timelines, charts, graphs, and video lessons from the authors themselves
  • High-quality and affordable, at a significant fraction in cost vs traditional publisher textbooks

Key features in this textbook

Our U.S. History textbook extends beyond the page with interactive graphing tools, real-world news clips and articles that relate to current events, and examples that are relevant to millennial audiences.
Built-in assessment questions embedded throughout chapters so students can read a little, do a little, and test themselves to see what they know!
Our US History Textbook comes with a primary sources reader (at no extra cost!) for deeper learner of significant historical events.

Comparison of U.S. History Textbooks

Consider adding Top Hat’s U.S. History textbook to your upcoming course. We’ve put together a textbook comparison to make it easy for you in your upcoming evaluation.

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Roark, Johnson, Furstenberg, Stage, and Igo, The American Promise, 2 Volumes, 8th Edition


Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Visions of America, 2013


Average price of textbook across most common format

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device


Hardcover print text only


Per volume


Digital only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Constantly revised and updated by a community of professors with the latest content

In-Book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost


Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform


Average price of textbook across most common format

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Hardcover print text only


Roark, Johnson, Furstenberg, Stage, and Igo, The American Promise, 2 Volumes, 8th Edition


Per volume


Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Visions of America, 2013


Digital only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Content meets standard for Introduction to Anatomy & Physiology course, and is updated with the latest content

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

In-book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition


Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

About this textbook

Lead Authors

Sara Eskridge, Ph.DRandolph-Macon College, VA

Dr. Eskridge is a Professor of History at Western Governors University. She specializes in Civil Rights, Cold War, Southern, and Cultural History. She is the author of Rube Tube: CBS as Rural Comedy in the Sixties (University of Missouri Press, 2019) as well as several articles and book chapters on southern mediated images during the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War.

Contributing Authors

Andrew WegmannLoyola University

Michael CarverCalifornia Polytechnic State University

Michael FrawleyUniversity of Texas of the Permian Basin

Linda ClemmonsIllinois State University

Angela HessCameron University

Sam NelsonRidgewater College

Volker JanssenCalifornia State University

Lance JandaCameron University

Explore this textbook

Read the fully unlocked textbook below, and if you’re interested in learning more, get in touch to see how you can use this textbook in your course today.

Chapter 13: Politics of Westward Expansion

Chapter Overview

Figure 13.1: Prairie Scene: Mirage, by Alfred Jacob Miller, Walters Art Museum​ [1]

The gaze of Americans has always focused on the West. Since the first colonists set foot in Jamestown, people have pushed westward, filling new lands, creating new states, and building new lives. The West held that promise for all. As this picture (Figure 13.1) shows, people streamed westward to take advantage of the land. By the 1840s, with the East more settled and developed every day, the West remained a land of freedom and second chances. No matter what obstacles were in their path, men and women moved into new lands, bringing the unique form of American democracy along with them. Northerners looked to Oregon as their new promised land, while Southerners saw Texas as some of the best possible land for cotton agriculture. As wagons moved west across the Mississippi River, however, they took with them the problems that faced the nation, including slavery. Should Americans be able to take their property—in this case, slaves—into land owned by the federal government, which, in theory, should be open to all Americans? Or did the government have the power to prevent citizens from taking slaves into the territories? These were the central questions of this period, and the decision of these issues would determine which section had political control over the nation. Thus, westward expansion, while acting as a beacon of hope for many, also stoked the fires of sectional conflict, which would soon explode and rip apart the nation.

Chapter Objectives

  • Outline the major political issues of the 1840s
  • Summarize the causes of the Mexican-American War and evaluate the U.S. role in this conflict
  • Assess the outcome of the Mexican-American War and explain why the acquisition of Mexican land was controversial in the United States
  • Explain why settlers migrated west and describe the conditions they faced upon arrival

Manifest Destiny

Figure 13.2: John O’Sullivan sketch from the cover of Harper’s Weekly (1874) [2]​

Coined by a newspaper editor named John O’Sullivan in the 1840s, Manifest Destiny in was the idea that the people of the United States were destined to control the entire continent (Figure 13.2). This idea was not new. From the moment colonists first arrived, they saw themselves as a shining example to others, destined to civilize a new world. From a “city on a hill,” the United States grew into a nation poised to expand ever outward. God had supposedly given Americans a divine mission to spread across the continent, bringing democracy and civilization to North America, and to the rest of the Western Hemisphere while they were at it. 

Spotlight on Primary Source

Unintentionally, John O’Sullivan set off a firestorm that would sweep the nation into a civil war in his call in 1845 for the United States to reach for its Manifest Destiny and conquer a continent. Notice in his article "Annexation" how the people who already populated the areas he is discussing do not figure into his calculations, the only people who mattered in his view were Americans.

Question 13.01

13.01 - Level 2

What did O’Sullivan think about European nations interfering in what he deemed "American interests" in North America?

Click here to see the answer to Question 13.01.

Thus, the West drew the American imagination as settlers streamed into newly opened territory to make better lives for themselves. Moving west, moreover, drew off the excess population of the east and allowed fermenting elements of change to grow in an untamed region. The seemingly unlimited land west of the Mississippi River beckoned as a place where all were equal and drive and ambition were the only possessions needed. The people who pushed for this expansion across the continent, known as extensionists, drove American policy through the 1840s and pushed the nation closer to civil war in their zeal. Henry David Thoreau gave a poetic voice to the idea of westward expansion when he wrote, “I must walk toward Oregon, and not toward Europe. And that way the nation is moving, and I may say that mankind progress from east to west. We go eastward to realize history and study the works of art and literature, retracing the steps of the race; we go westward as into the future, with a spirit of enterprise and adventure.” Many would follow his words, and westward expansion leaped forward. However, significant obstacles existed to America’s growth into the west.

13.02 - Level 1

Who coined the phrase "Manifest Destiny"?

Question 13.03

13.03 - Level 4

What is Manifest Destiny? What assumptions underlie its basic tenets?

Click here to see the answer to Question 13.03.

13.04 - Level 3

Which of the following famous mid 19th-century essays was written in response to the Mexican-American War?


“Annexation” by John O’Sullivan


“Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson


“Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau


“Maelzel's Chess Player” by Edgar Allen Poe

The Attraction of Texas and Oregon

Figure 13.3: The Disturnell Map of 1847 of the Republic of Mexico [3]

Texas provided many opportunities for Americans looking for new land and a new beginning.In the early 1800s, the Spanish, and later the Mexican governments hoped to find settlers to fill their northernmost province (Figure 13.3). They invited Americans who were interested in moving west to find new lands upon which to grow cotton. East Texas proved to be a perfect place for cotton production using the plantation system, and men known as impresarios, such as Stephen Austin, brought in large numbers of settlers. These settlers promised to both practice the Catholic faith of their adopted nation and bring no slaves into “Tejas,” as the Mexican government called the province. 

The colonists quickly broke both of these rules, upsetting the government in Mexico City. As more and more settlers poured in, the government worried about controlling their northern frontier and restricted immigration into the region. The settlers eventually chafed under the rule of the Mexican government, revolted, and, won their bid for an independent nation in 1836. This victory caused great upheaval in the Mexican government, and the dictator at the time, Santa Anna, fled in exile to Cuba. The unsettled state of the Mexican government did not help relations between the two nations.

Question 13.05

13.05 - Level 3

What two issues led to conflict between American settlers and Mexican officials?

Click here to see the answer to Question 13.05.

13.06 - Level 1

Which of the following were Mexican requirements for new American settlers in the province of “Tejas”?


To practice Catholicism


To not bring any slaves


To pledge allegiance to the Mexican government


None of the above

Texas knew the difficulties of maintaining independence, but they had a goal in mind now that they had defeated the Mexicans: these newly independent Texans wanted to join the United States, and they quickly started negotiations with the Jackson administration to join the Union. Samuel Houston, an important Texan leader, had close ties to the president in office at the time and believed that Jackson would easily annex their territory. Jackson, however, saw the problems that would come from the admission of such a large new tract of slave territory and pushed off the Texan’s request for annexation. Additionally, Mexico considered annexation an unfriendly act and taking Texas into the union could lead to war. By the 1840s, expansionists felt that this was not an issue—the United States could win a war with Mexico if needed—and our Manifest Destiny meant that Texas should be American territory.

13.07 - Level 1

Who was the Texas impresario for whom the current state capital of Texas is named?

Figure 13.4: Map of the Oregon Territory [4]

The Oregon territory presented different problems. Oregon came into the United States with the 1803 Louisiana Purchase (Figure 13.4). When the French sold this territory to Thomas Jefferson, the boundaries were somewhat unclear, especially in the west, as few had really been through the area. Lewis and Clark explored this territory after the purchase and quickly claimed the area for America. However, Great Britain also claimed Oregon. Under a treaty negotiated by John Quincy Adams, both nations jointly occupied the region, and the people who lived there settled into a peaceful co-existence, at least while the population remained sparse. However, a clause existed in the treaty allowing either party to back out with a year’s notice. Settlers from the north and midwest were streaming into beautiful and fertile land, and these colonists wanted the United States to control the territory completely. At some point, joint settlement no longer worked. Many Americans pushed for the nation to opt out of the treaty and annex the entire territory, all the way up to the border of Alaska, which was the entire west coast of Canada. This fit with the idea of Manifest Destiny; Americans believed that their nation deserved to have this land—even though this meant that Canada would have restricted access to the Pacific Ocean, something Great Britain, a major world power with the a powerful navy, would never allow.

Travel west was difficult, as most settlers understood. While ships did sail to the Oregon Territory, these were long, expensive, and dangerous journeys. Moreover, to take everything necessarily to support a family by ship would be extremely expensive. Thus, most settlers took an overland route. These were fraught with danger as well. Wagons could break down hundreds of miles from any help, weather could make movement impossible, and Indians, upset over trespassers on their tribal lands, could attack at any time. The government eventually negotiated with the tribes of the West, such as the Sauk and Fox, and forced them to relocate to Indian Territory in Oklahoma, much as they had in the East. Most settlers travelled in wagon trains across the prairies and mountains across trails mapped out by earlier trappers and explorers. Moving in a group had many advantages. Defense was easier, and problems could be solved together. This was not a perfect solution, though, as the Donner Party learned over the winter of 1846-1847, when intense snowfall trapped them in the mountains and they had to resort to cannibalism to survive. Settlers in Texas did not face the same problems. The journey to East Texas was much shorter than the distance to Oregon, and the Mexican government had moderately organized the territory. However, the Apache and the Comanche did roam this area, and, with the introduction of guns and horses, they were always a threat to settlers. Thus, no matter the destination, moving West was difficult. However, many felt that the potential benefits outweighed the dangers, and thousands began the journey to their new homes.

13.08 - Level 1

The Oregon Territory was jointly claimed by the United States and __________?

Question 13.09

13.09 - Level 4

Why do you think the United States and Great Britain agreed to joint occupation of the Oregon Territory when the population was low? Why could this no longer work when the population increased?

Click here to see the answer to Question 13.09.

Question 13.10

13.10 - Level 4

Compare and contrast the difficulties faced by 19th-century settlers going to eastern Texas and Oregon.

Click here to see the answer to Question 13.10.

Whigs Triumphant

Figure 13.5: William Henry Harrison [5]

As the 1840s dawned, the problems with Texas and Oregon came to the center of American politics, and neither party could avoid these issues when framing their campaigns. In the aftermath of Andrew Jackson’s presidency, a new political party formed in opposition to him and his ideas: the Whig Party. Whig leader Henry Clay championed the American System, which outlined the vision of the Whigs, including internal improvements, high tariffs to protect industry, and a more powerful central government. Although many in the nation opposed Jackson and his ideas, Clay could not find a way to win a presidential election—or at times, even a nomination. 

The Whigs turned from Clay and decided to go with a different tactic. In the 1840 election, they chose popular general William Henry Harrison, nicknamed “Tippecanoe,” as their candidate (Figure 13.5). The Whigs focused more on Harrison than their platform, and this proved a viable tactic. Harrison, portrayed as a hard-drinking common man by his opponents, focused on his war exploits and hard cider during the campaign and became extremely popular. Moreover, Democratic candidate Martin Van Buren, who was running for a second term, did not deal well with the economic panic facing the nation. Thus, Harrison won the election and the Whigs finally came to power; however, Harrison became ill soon after the inauguration and died (Figure 13.6). For the first time in American history, the vice president ascended to the presidency. The American people and both parties were unprepared for what happened next.

Figure 13.6: Electoral College results for the election of 1840 between William Henry Harrison and Martin Van Buren

13.11 - Level 1

Who created the "American System," which became the basis for the Whig’s political platform?


Henry Clay


Andrew Jackson


Benjamin Harrison


John Quincy Adams

His Accidency

John Tyler, Harrison’s vice president, now ascended to the presidency. Although Tyler had run on Harrison’s ticket as a Whig, he did not hold to Whig ideals. Before the election he had served in Congress as a Democrat, but like many Democrats, Tyler hated Andrew Jackson. When the Whigs asked him to be Harrison’s running mate to bring in new voters, he agreed as a means of opposing Jackson’s polices. No one expected Tyler to become president. A president had never died in office before, but as per the Constitution, Tyler took over and served out most of Harrison’s term. Many in the nation began to refer to him as “Your Accidency,” as few felt that he belonged in the White House. When the Whigs, who also controlled Congress, began passing legislation to support their program, Tyler vetoed it. While he had supported Clay at the Whig convention, he was a State’s Rights Democrat at heart, as his vetoes showed. His entire cabinet, save one member appointed by Harrison before his death, resigned in protest. No important legislation passed for four years and both parties hated him, as the Whigs felt abandoned and the Democrats resented his betrayal.

Polk’s Promise

With the problems facing both parties, the election season of 1844 was in store for many strange turns. The Whigs, while supposedly controlling the White House, could not put Tyler forward as their candidate. Tyler still wanted to run for re-election, but he needed both a party and a platform. Thus, Tyler’s issue became the annexation of Texas, which was very popular with Americans at the time. Tyler attempted to annex Texas in the traditional manner during the election cycle, with the ratification of a treaty in the Senate. Unsurprisingly, with both parties against Tyler, the treaty failed to gain ratification, and Tyler became a non-factor in the 1844 election. The Whigs turned then to the leader of their party as their candidate, and once again Henry Clay received the Whig nomination.

The Democrats, torn between a number of candidates, could not agree on one man to represent them. Many believed that Martin Van Buren had the best shot at winning the nomination. As with the 1840 election, though, the problems the economy had undergone while he was in office haunted him, which made him an unpopular candidate with much of the electorate. Moreover, Tyler had made Texas an important campaign issue. Van Buren was an anti-extensionist. He did not want the United States to move into Texas because he felt it to be a ploy to extend slavery. Jackson had also advised Van Buren against annexation as he took office in 1836, something he had not forgotten. While Jackson had come around to supporting annexation, Van Buren’s abolitionist leanings kept him from agreeing to it. Thus, he was handicapped on the Texas issue during the convention. In the end, he was not able to secure the votes he needed. Lewis Cass, a party leader who had served as minister to France, also could not gain the needed votes for nomination.

Figure 13.7: James K. Polk​ [6]

For the first time in American history, a major political party chose a dark horse candidate. A dark horse candidate is a candidate who emerges at the party convention when delegates cannot decide between the presumed favorites. James K. Polk, from Tennessee, was Andrew Jackson’s floor leader in the House of Representatives, helping to get Jackson’s legislation passed by Congress (Figure 13.7). For doing this, Polk received the nickname Little Hickory. Well-liked and respected, he did not have the national acclaim that other Democrats possessed, but he was the only one a majority of the party could agree on. 

Polk put forward two main campaign promises based on the great issues of the day: he would bring Texas and the rest of the Southwest into the Union, and he would settle the Oregon Question once and for all by acquiring the entire Pacific Northwest for the United States. Notably, neither of these promises explicitly mentioned slavery at all, but both issues deeply involved the institution because of which section of the nation supported each goal. Midwesterners and Northerners supported Polk for his stand on Oregon, while Southerners supported him for his stance on Texas. Modern campaigning began to take shape at this time. Rallies took place to support candidates and platforms, newspaper advertisements and stump speeches became common,and much of what we associate with presidential campaigns today began to affect the outcome of elections.

Figure 13.8: Electoral College results for the election of 1844 between James K. Polk and Henry Clay

Yet again, Clay was defeated (Figure 13.8). Polk won the election and immediately developed plans to make good on his campaign promises. Congress moved on his first promise before he even took office. Congress annexed Texas using a joint resolution, something not normally done, quickly accomplishing part of Polk’s platform and greatly increasing the size of the nation. Mexico, following through on their previous statements, viewed this annexation as an unfriendly act. Both nations made plans to move troops to the border, and there was a potential for war to break out at any time. Polk still wanted more land in the Southwest, as he had promised in his campaign. Thus, war with Mexico seemed increasingly likely—it was just a matter of when. Polk believed that the United States would easily emerge victorious. The president took all of this into account as he worked on implementing the rest of his agenda.

13.12 - Level 2

Match the key figures of the 1844 Presidential Election to the most appropriate description of them.


John Tyler


The dark horse candidate who favored the annexation of Texas


Martin van Buren


New York politician who was an anti-extensionist


James K. Polk


Kentucky Senator who favored high tariffs and a powerful central government


Henry Clay


Became the first Vice-President to ascend to Presidency

54-40 or fight!

Polk decided to settle the Oregon Question first. Since the 1830s, Americans had traveled west on the Oregon Trail to settle there. Wagon trains crossed the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains so settlers could make a new life, but they wanted to secure the land for America. Polk provided the required year’s notice to withdraw from joint occupation with Great Britain. Northern settlers in this area wanted everything south of the 54-40 line, which was the furthest north that their crops grew. This meant that the United States would control all of the northwest coast of North America, up to the border of what was then Russian Alaska. This would completely cripple Canada in the West because it limited its access to the ocean and restricted its farmland. 

Therefore, Great Britain refused to surrender so much land. American settlers and many Northerners believed that war was the only answer, Polk’s campaign seemed to suggest that he would support this option. The settlers were wrong. The British, flabbergasted by all of the loose talk of war, did not know how to respond. Polk, though, was never interested in war. “54-40 or fight” was just campaign talk to make Northerners and Midwesterners happy. He believed that war with Mexico was imminent, and fighting two wars at once was a recipe for disaster. During negotiations, the two nations reached a settlement that extended the existing border at the 49th parallel, set earlier in the 1818 Anglo-American Convention, all of the way to the Pacific coast. Northerners were furious that Polk had sold them out, but Polk was more interested in securing territory than he was fighting a third war against Britain.

Spotlight on Primary Source

This is the document that created the Oregon Territory. This is a very standard document of its kind, and most territories were originally governed under documents such as this. Notice that in section 12, there is a regulation dealing with salmon traps, a recognition of the importance of that fishery to the territory and the nation.

Question 13.13

13.13 - Level 4

Based on what you saw in the source, what was the most developed branch of government in Oregon? Why do you think it reached such a level of development and clarity?

Click here to see the answer to Question 13.13.

Question 13.14

13.14 - Level 2

Why did James K. Polk promise to avoid war over the Oregon Territory during the 1844 campaign?

Click here to see the answer to Question 13.14.

13.15 - Level 1

Beginning in the 1830s, Americans used which famed overland route to reach the Pacific Northwest?

Buying Half a Nation

Even though the United States had already annexed Texas, many Americans wanted additional land in the Southwest, and Manifest Destiny began to take on a distinctly Southern tint. The entirety of the Southwest, including the current states of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and especially California, were Mexican territory at the time. This land was very sparsely settled by Mexico, and many Americans felt it was their God-given right to take this land and use it productively. Moreover, California was very good agricultural land, especially for cotton. Finally, other nations, especially Great Britain, were making moves that suggested they wanted to take over California for themselves. Expansionists knew that they could not allow this to happen. At first, Polk offered to buy Northern Mexico from the Mexican government for $22 million, but they refused. In the end, President Polk realized that negotiation with the Mexican government would not yield that outcome he desired, and he needed another plan to get the territory he felt the nation needed. Luckily, another way existed to get this territory from the Mexicans, a way that Polk had perhaps planned to use from the very beginning of his time in office. If negotiations failed to gain what the president wanted, war was always an option.

Figure 13.9: "Map of the Republic of Texas, Exhibiting the Property of John Woodward. Drawn by Joseph Rodney Croskey 1842. Narine&Co’s. Lith. New York, 1842. The map appeared in the following pamphlet by John Woodward: "An Abstract of the Constitutions, Laws and Other Documents Having Reference to, and including the Empresario Grants and Contracts made by the State of Coahuila and Texas to and with John Charles Beales..." (New York: Narine&Co’s Print, 1842).​ [7]

After annexation, the major issue between the United States and Mexico revolved around the boundary line between the two nations in Texas; was it the Rio Grande or the Nueces River? Mexico said that the historic boundary of their old province of Tejas was the Nueces; Texas claimed it was the Rio Grande (Figure 13.9). The land between these two rivers became disputed territory. The choice of river was very important. The Rio Grande was navigable by steamboat traffic for 150 miles, providing Texas and the United States with an important transportation artery, while the Nueces was not navigable. This disputed territory could easily cause a conflict between Mexico and the United States. However, Polk wanted not only the disputed zone, but the whole southwest as well.

13.16 - Level 1

What river did the United States claim as the southernmost boundary of Texas and Mexico?

13.17 - Level 2

Click on the Texas-Mexico border recognized by the United States on this map.

Picking a Fight with Mexico

Polk knew that a war for conquest would not be popular with Americans. His advisors, especially Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft, told him not to start the war because history looked down on the aggressor. Therefore, instead of declaring war outright, Polk created a situation in which he could force Mexico to attack the United States. Polk sent General Zachary Taylor to the disputed border between Texas and Mexico with a company of dragoons with the sole purpose of forcing the Mexicans to shoot at them. The Mexican government demanded that Taylor and his forces move back across the Nueces River, but they refused. The Mexican Army, defending what they believed to be their territory, fired on the Americans in this disputed territory in April 1846. Thus, President Polk was able to go to Congress and the nation, telling them of American blood spilled on American soil for the defense of the country and igniting a war fever—at least in part of the nation. While much of the South supported the war, the North and the Midwest showed signs that they did not see the point of this conflict. Volunteers poured into the army, mostly comprised of young men who did not yet understand the horrors of the battlefield and army camp.

13.18 - Level 1

Who was the commander of the American forces first fired upon by Mexican troops to start the Mexican-American War?


Zachary Taylor


Winfield Scott


Robert E. Lee


George Bancroft

Henry David Thoreau, who thought highly of the West and its possibilities, ended up disgusted by the war with Mexico. He believed that the United States should never have embarked upon what he perceived as a war of conquest. Moreover, the war became much longer and more expensive than anyone had predicted, and many questioned what the war was about. Was it a war of honor and defense, or was it a war of conquest? Many saw it as a simple land grab, something they believed Americans should be above. To fight the controversial war, the federal government called out and nationalized the state militias, planning an invasion of Mexico. To meet the needs of this invasion, the navy had to increase the number of ships in service. The army extended huge supply lines into Mexico, reaching more than 1000 miles. The federal government asked various state governments to tax their citizens in order to pay for the war, as the national government collected very little in direct taxes at this time. New England implemented these taxes on a township basis. Thoreau refused to pay his war tax because he felt that the war was immoral, and was promptly arrested for his protest. Abraham Lincoln, serving as a Representative from Illinois, labeled the conflict “Mr. Polk’s War” in an attempt to show how adamantly he opposed the conflict. Unfortunately for Lincoln, his district in Illinois disagreed, and they did not return him to Congress for a second term.

The Mexican-American War

The Mexican-American War was the first conflict that the United States fought on foreign soil. The nation was flexing its muscles on the international stage for the first time, in support of “Manifest Destiny.” Contrary to Polk’s assertions, this conflict had little to do with self-defense or honor. The war, which officially began on April 25, 1846, consisted of many different campaigns: one in the north dealt with capturing territory, one in the south involved American forces overtaking the Mexican government, and others developed in what would become California and New Mexico. The combat portion of the war lasted about a year and a half, although troops remained in Mexico for quite a while. When the war was over, the United States took approximately half of Mexico’s territory, and with it, more problems than they could handle.

13.19 - Level 1

In what year did the Mexican-American War begin?

The Northern Campaign remained under Zachary Taylor’s command, this time with a small army of about 4,700 men. General Taylor won battles at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma in northeastern Mexico, causing a great deal of upheaval in the government of the Mexican Republic. Into this situation, the United States government injected Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, a Mexican general and ex-dictator who had been exiled to Cuba after losing the Texan war for independence. Santa Anna told President Polk that if the United States supplied him with money and sent him back to Mexico, he could put forward a peace treaty that met all American demands. Polk believed him, only to find that Santa Anna had lied. Upon his return, Santa Anna took over Mexico, put together a new army, and marched on Taylor. Taylor had recently taken the city of Monterrey after some terrible urban fighting, and in February 1847 prepared his 4,700 men to meet Santa Anna’s 20,000 at Buena Vista, a mountain pass. Taylor’s men barely held this position, and would not have done so without the efforts of a battalion called the Mississippi Rifles, led by the future president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. Santa Anna did not finish this battle; there was a challenge to his power in Mexico City, and he swiftly left to defend his position. Polk, disillusioned with Taylor’s progress, turned to another general and another plan to defeat the Mexicans.

Figure 13.10: John C. Frémont [8]

While Taylor was fighting in northern Mexico, combat began in California. John C. Fremont and the U.S. Navy pacified California and defeated the Mexican troops garrisoned there in what turned out to be a relatively short campaign (Figure 13.10). At the beginning of the war, Mexico threatened to expel foreigners from California, a directive aimed at American settlers. Some of these settlers revolted and took over an unmanned Mexican government outpost, declaring the beginning of their own nation: the Bear Republic. 

The republic was short-lived, as American troops soon entered the region. Fremont’s men, combined with local militia, began capturing towns in the territory. Sonoma was first to fall, followed quickly by San Francisco, Monterey, San Diego and Los Angeles. While there were a few setbacks along the way, armed resistance to American forces had ended by January 1847. A Mormon battalion, the only religiously based army unit ever established, also marched to California, but arrived too late to participate in much action there.

13.20 - Level 1

What was the name of the short-lived independent California republic?

Figure 13.11: Major General Winfield Scott at Vera Cruz March 25, 1847 [9]

Polk soon opened yet another front. In March 1847, using landing crafts specially designed for the operation, General Winfield Scott undertook the first major amphibious landing in the history of the U.S. Army, landing 12,000 men on the beach below the city of Veracruz (Figure 13.11). Scott quickly captured the city before beginning a long march into the middle of Mexico to take the nation’s capital. The march on Mexico City was one of the most brilliant campaigns in American military history, where a small force was able to subdue a nation of such a large size. The Mexican government had its own problems, which made Scott’s march easier. Much of the population did not support Santa Anna. For example, the city of Puebla, on Scott’s route, did not resist at all because the population did not support the government, and Scott marched in without firing a shot. 

Arguably the most well known battle of the campaign took place at Chapultepec, a Mexican military school inside a castle on the route Scott’s forces took to reach Mexico City. Six young cadets stayed to fight with the other defenders when Scott approached. When the Americans won, the cadets jumped to their deaths, one wrapped in the Mexican flag, becoming important heroes to the Mexican people. While Santa Anna made one last attempt to stop Scott by attacking his supply lines at Puebla, he failed and was recalled as Mexico City fell to the American army.

Many Civil War greats saw their first combat in this war. Ulysses S. Grant served with Taylor, while Robert E. Lee saw action under Scott. Future Union commanders who served in Mexico include George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside, William Sherman, and George Meade. On the Confederate side, Thomas Jackson, Joseph Johnston, James Longstreet, and Braxton Bragg all fought against Mexico. From their time in the Mexican War, most of these men grew to know and respect each other. They learned each other’s ideas and tactics, and their service in this war would have a profound impact on the Civil War.

Figure 13.12: Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (Exchange Copy) [10]

In February 1848, negotiators signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican-American War (Figure 13.12). This treaty transferred land including California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, parts of what are now Colorado, New Mexico, and more to the United States. The American government paid Mexico $15 million dollars in exchange for the land. While it would take a few months for the final version of the treaty to receive ratification by both governments, the United States was now truly a continental power. This treaty received ratification just as the presidential campaign of 1848 began, and thus the war and its outcome would be the major issue that the candidates addressed.

13.21 - Level 2

Place these battles from the Mexican-American War in chronological order.


Resaca de la Palma


Buena Vista




Palo Alto





13.22 - Level 2

Sort the following events related to the Mexican-American War in chronological order.


Texas becomes an independent nation


Santa Anna returns from exile


Zachary Taylor goads Mexican troops into firing on him


Signing of Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

13.23 - Level 1

Click on the section of the United States where war with Mexico enjoyed the greatest popular support.

13.24 - Level 3

The land that the United States acquired in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo included parts of all the following future states except for which?









Wilmot’s Strike

Figure 13.13: David Wilmot [11]

Many Northerners thought the war with Mexico was simply a way to extend slavery. Southerners insisted that the war was instead about Manifest Destiny and honor. After the problems with the settlement of the Oregon Question, though, many Northern leaders were not willing to trust the President or his southern allies. A group of abolitionist Congressmen decided to force the issue, gathering to plan a strike against the president. Polk had asked Congress to approve funding for negotiations to end the war with Mexico and indemnify the Mexican government for the land they were losing. Into this bill, the abolitionists planned to introduce a rider that changed American politics: little-known Democrat David Wilmot. Wilmot had been, up to that point, a party man and loyal Polk supporter, so he would have no problem gaining the floor during the debate (Figure 13.13).

On August 8, 1846, the strike took place. It was late in the evening on a very hot and humid day in Washington, D.C. After gaining the floor, Wilmot offered an addition to the Mexican War finance bill stating that no territory taken from Mexico would allow slavery. The Mexican government had already outlawed slavery in Mexico; thus, abolitionists argued, it would be inhuman to reintroduce the institution to this territory. Moreover, Southerners said this war had not been about slavery, so this rider should not have been an issue. Called the Wilmot Proviso, the rider quickly aroused Congress. The Proviso was a non-starter for Southerners. If Congress could ban slavery from new territories, the complete outlawing of slavery could easily come later. Polk’s supporters quickly got the rider removed from the bill and the bill passed, but Pandora’s Box had been opened. Never again would Congress, nor the nation, be able to sweep the discussion of slavery away. Every issue in American politics from this point forward centered on slavery, with both sides pressing more and more for their own point of view.

Question 13.25

13.25 - Level 5

Explain at least two aspects of the Mexican-American War that foreshadowed the Civil War. If you were an average American at the time, would you have supported the war? Why? Why not?

Click here to see the answer to Question 13.25.

Election of Taylor

Figure 13.14: Zachary Taylor, people's candidate for President [12]

As the war wound down, another presidential election cycle began. The Whigs decided to return to their tried and true election plan: running a military general. They had two very popular generals from the Mexican conflict to choose from, Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor. Polk knew that the Democrats were in trouble. He was not going to run again, and he knew one of these two men would be the Whig candidate and sweep into the White House. The Democrats nominated Lewis Cass of Michigan as their candidate. Martin Van Buren ran as the candidate of a new Free Soil party, which opposed the extension of slavery. It is important to note that the Free Soilers wanted to keep slavery out of the territories, but not to interfere with the institution where it already existed. In the end, the Whigs chose Taylor and their plan worked. Taylor, a Louisiana slave-owner, was popular with entire nation, and the opposing vote was split between the two other candidates. Northerners supported him for his Whig platform and his service in the war, while Southerners supported him as a fellow slave-holder (Figure 13.14).

Figure 13.15: Electoral College results for the election of 1848 between Zachary Taylor and Lewis Cass

13.26 - Level 3

Click on the name of the state that voted in the 1848 election that was not in the Union in 1844.

13.27 - Level 1

Who was the Free Soil candidate for president in 1848?


Martin Van Buren


Lewis Cass


Zachary Taylor


Winfield Scott

The war had ended, the troops returned home, and, while the nation was happy about their newly elected military hero, politicians were not. Taylor was going to be difficult to work with. As a general fresh from the battlefield, he expected others to follow his orders and had little patience for politicians, especially after what he had gone through with Polk during the Mexican conflict. He informed many that he was not interested in any forms of political compromise. Andrew Jackson was his idol, and Jackson had not compromised. When faced with threats of secession during the Nullification Crisis, Jackson had threatened to hang every person in South Carolina. Taylor felt the same way. He was president, and his will would rule the nation. Unfortunately, as the war ended, many issues, all with slavery at their base, were going to require compromise to settle, or the nation would rip apart.

An Obstacle Passes Away

Many problems cropped up after the war: the state debt of Texas, the admission of California as a state, the return of fugitive slaves to their owners, the slave trade in Washington D.C., and the status of the territories as either free or slave, to name a few. Some of these issues had festered for a long time, while others only came into focus with the end of the war. Any attempt to fix one problem was blocked by those who were concerned about other issues. Many members of Congress, led by Henry Clay, saw that something needed to be done to address all of these issues at once and began to work on some kind of compromise. Taylor refused to go along with compromise, declaring that he would use Jackson’s tactics to get everyone to go along with his beliefs as president. In the end, though, Taylor would not have any say. He contracted an illness and died less than a week later. His vice president, Millard Fillmore, took his place. Fillmore, from New York,had served in Congress in the 1830s and 1840s before becoming vice president and therefore understood the importance of compromise to the American political system.

Figure 13.16: Sundry Amusements in the Mines​ [13]

The first problem Congress faced was California. Gold washed up at the Sutter Mill on January 24, 1848, not long after the United States took power, and a gold rush began (Figure 13.16). Settlers poured into the area from all over the nation as well as the world. The trek to California was a long one, whether by land using wagon and horse, or by sea around the southern tip of South America. Very few would strike it rich in the gold fields, but California was such an inviting place, with a gentle climate and excellent farmland, that many who made the trek for gold stayed and built lives in the territory. Soon, the population reached the number needed to apply for statehood. California wrote its constitution and applied for admission, intending to enter the Union as a free state. However, no offsetting slave state was ready to enter the Union to keep a balance in the Senate. If this trend continued, and evidence seemed to indicate that it would, eventually there would be enough Free States in the Union to end slavery no matter what the South did. Southerners realized this and decided that they had to stop this trend immediately.

South Carolina led the way in this battle for Southern interests. The leaders of South Carolina threatened to leave the Union unless Congress reached some kind of acceptable settlement. Other Southern states actually stood with South Carolina on this issue, unlike during the Nullification Crisis. Thus, these threats carried a great deal of weight with those working in Congress for compromise. While compromisers worked to find a solution to this problem, other issues complicated the matter. Some wanted to end the slave trade in Washington D.C., believing that the sale of human beings in the nation’s capital cast a bad light on the nation to visiting diplomats. Others wanted the Wilmot Proviso passed, wanted to know how the slavery status of new territories were going to be determined, or wanted the federal government to be more involved in the return of escaped slaves. Thus, many different issues needed to be settled, and pulling together the votes to get anything done in Congress was going to be difficult.

The Great Triumvirate

Figure 13.17: First page of Senator Henry Clay's handwritten resolutions proposing the Compromise of 1850, January 29, 1850 [14]

Three great men, nearing the end of their lives, stepped forward to put their stamp on the compromise and any solutions to the issues facing the nation. Each represented a section of the nation: Daniel Webster from the North, John C. Calhoun from the South, and Henry Clay from the West. Clay had made a name for himself in 1820 as the architect of the Missouri Compromise, and he hoped to again be the catalyst of another compromise over slavery that would help to preserve the Union. Clay immediately began crafting a bill that he hoped would rectify all of the problems that had grown out of the war. He put solutions for every problem in one big legislative package: popular sovereignty in New Mexico and Utah, a new fugitive slave law, Texas debts paid and giving up claims in the Southwest, statehood for California, and the end of the slave trade in Washington D.C (Figure 13.17).

Figure 13.18: Daniel Webster [15]​

Daniel Webster, a leading Whig politician who worked tirelessly to defeat the sectionalism gripping the nation, gave a great speech supporting Clay’s compromise attempt (Figure 13.18). He gave his speech on March 7, 1850, and it has gone down in history as the Seventh of March speech. Webster began by showing his concern for the larger issues of the day, stating, “I wish to speak to-day, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American.” Although he did not agree with every aspect of Clay’s compromise, Webster knew that only compromise could keep the nation together. Northerners, and especially abolitionist Northerners, attacked him for this stand, claiming that parts of the compromise, especially the new fugitive slave law, were intolerable. Even at this point, attitudes over slavery deeply affected politics, making any attempt at compromise difficult. Webster never recovered from these attacks, which ruined his political career. However, not all in Congress wanted a solution to the nation’s problems based on compromise.

Figure 13.19: John C. Calhoun. [16]

John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was not a compromiser and worked against Clay and Webster (Figure 13.19). By 1850, he was on his last legs, battling an illness that would soon kill him. More than anything, he hoped to forestall any compromise efforts. Calhoun had come to believe that any efforts by Congress to regulate slavery in the territories would be unconstitutional. Congress could not unilaterally stop slave owners from taking their property into the territories. As far as Calhoun was concerned, compromise on this issue was wrong for the South—it would make Southerners second class citizens. In what was Calhoun’s swan song, he explained that he could see what was coming for the South. Any compromise over slavery would give the federal government power over the institution, which would eventually lead to its end. Calhoun was too sick to even give his last speech on this issue himself, and a fellow Congressman read it for him to Congress. While many Southerners applauded his ideas, very few were yet prepared to break up the Union over them if they could reach a compromise.

13.28 - Level 1

What state was John C. Calhoun from?


South Carolina






North Carolina

Figure 13.20: Page from the Congressional Globe, 31st Congress, 1st Session, January 29, 1850, showing Henry Clay first introducing the parts of the Compromise of 1850, Library of Congress.​ [17]

Clay’s attempt at compromise ultimately failed, but not solely because of Calhoun’s opposition. Clay’s legislation had so many objectionable elements that nearly everyone found fault (Figure 13.20). For example, while the bill did end the slave trade in the District of Columbia, it also contained a stronger fugitive slave law that many Northerners could not abide. The same was true for Southerners. They wanted the new, strong fugitive slave law, but they did not want California to enter the Union as a free state. So while most Congressmen found a section they supported, everyone could find something in it to hate, and so it was quickly defeated in Congress. Clay, Calhoun, and Webster then left the battle for compromise. Calhoun died in 1850, Clay left Congress for health reasons and suffered from illness until he passed away in 1852, and Webster, not long after his speech, resigned from Congress and died in a fall from a horse in 1852. Thus, the attempt to save the nation fell into other hands.

The Little Giant Saves the Day

Figure 13.21: Stephen Douglas [18]

Stephen Douglas stepped forward and picked up the pieces of Clay’s failed work. A senator from Illinois, Douglas possessed a commanding voice but a short stature (Figure 13.21). He received the nickname “The Little Giant” for his booming oratory and his ability to influence people, a skill he would need to get the nation through the First Secession Crisis. Douglas broke up the compromise legislation proposed by Clay into individual bills, then formed coalitions to get each through. He traded votes and used his influence to collect enough votes to get all five bills passed separately. California entered the Union, Texas’s debt was paid, the slave status of the New Mexico territory would be decided by popular sovereignty, a new fugitive slave bill passed, and the slave trade in Washington D.C. was halted. 

Fillmore was more than happy to sign all of these acts into law. Clay’s vision passed through Congress and established Douglas’s reputation. The nation hailed these laws as representing peace and compromise for all time, and celebrations broke out across the nation. But had there really been a compromise? In a compromise, both sides give a little and meet in the middle to reach an understanding agreeable to all. That did not take place here. While the laws passed, very few Congressmen voted for them all. 

Although it goes down in history as the Compromise of 1850, Clay’s solution was, at best, a ten-year truce. Moreover, Douglas’s own idea would come back to haunt him. It was Douglas who had first put forward the idea of popular sovereignty. Under popular sovereignty, the people living in a territory would vote to decide upon the status of slavery in their region. While this concept was a very democratic idea, it created unforeseen problems in its implementation. Very few at the time realized it, but the long, slow slide into civil war had begun. Northerners and Southerners saw each other as enemies now; they did not trust each other, and instead of a functioning government, the United States quickly devolved into two armed camps. 

Question 13.29

13.29 - Level 3

Explain how Stephen Douglas was able to get the Compromise of 1850 passed while the so-called “Great Triumvirate” failed.

Click here to see the answer to Question 13.29.


Change ruled the day in the 1840s. The entire nation was in flux. Expanding outward at a tremendous rate, the nation took in new territory to meet its “Manifest Destiny.” Settlers poured into the fertile lands of Texas and Oregon and cast covetous eyes on further acquisitions in Mexico and Canada. By 1850, the United States reached from coast to coast, acquiring the dimensions that it holds today. Americans possessed a drive, or perhaps even a mania, in this decade to spread their way of life across the continent. However, they did not quite agree on that way of life. Was it the small, free-labor family farm of the North and Midwest, or was it the slave-based, mono-crop plantation agriculture of the South? 

While the issue of slavery had smoldered under the surface of American society for years, if would erupt into great flames on the plains of the newly acquired West. The Whigs used this period of flux to put two of their candidates into the White House, but both men were complete failures and their vice presidents, who were forced to take over for them, were little better. Thus, while great changes faced the nation, political leadership from the White House faltered. Congress then took up the mantle of leadership and worked to keep the nation together. It proved to be a daunting task. While history tends to focus on the fight between North and South during the Civil War, it really began over access to the West. Whichever side came to dominate the territories would dominate the Union and could force their views on the rest of the republic. While “compromise” was achieved by Clay and Douglas, the fight over slavery never diminished after 1850 as it had in 1820. Both Northerners and Southerners saw their way of life as threatened, and any backing down would doom them to a life under the boot of the other. Moreover, the great leaders of the Jacksonian period left the stage, leaving a vacuum in leadership that would prove to be difficult to fill in this trying time.

13.30 - Level 2

Which of the following presidents in the antebellum era was the most sympathetic to the abolitionist cause?


William Henry Harrison


Martin Van Buren


Zachary Taylor


John Tyler

Pre-Class Discussion Questions

Class Discussion 13.01

Class Discussion 13.01 - Level 2

Why was the West such a draw for Americans at this time?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 13.01.

Class Discussion 13.02

Class Discussion 13.02 - Level 2

Why was Andrew Jackson against immediately bringing Texas into the Union after it won independence from Mexico?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 13.02.

Class Discussion 13.03

Class Discussion 13.03 - Level 5

Who do you think actually started the Mexican-American War? Does it matter? Why? Why not?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 13.03.

Class Discussion 13.04

Class Discussion 13.04 - Level 3

Why did the political views of the top American generals of the Mexican-American War matter so much in American politics?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 13.04.

Class Discussion 13.05

Class Discussion 13.05 - Level 2

Why did the discovery of gold in California cause a major problem for the Union in 1850?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 13.05.

Locked Content
This Content is Locked
Only a limited preview of this text is available. You'll need to sign up to Top Hat, and be a verified professor to have full access to view and teach with the content.

Suggested Additional Material 

  • Holt, Michael F. The Fate of Their Country: Politicians, Slavery Extension, and the Coming of the Civil War. (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004).
  • Holt, Michael F. The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Outset of the Civil War. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
  • Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  • Turner, Frederick Jackson. The Frontier in American History.(New York: Henry Holt Company, 1920).
  • Johannsen, Robert W. To the Halls of the Montezumas: The Mexican War in the American Imagination.(New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).

Answers to In-Chapter Discussion Questions

Answer to Question 13.01

O’Sullivan held a very ethno-centric viewpoint. The only people who mattered were Americans and only Americans understood how to make use of the vast territory in the West. While the British and French may have wanted to create a balance of power in the New World, American actions would speak louder than their words and we would take all of this territory as our god given right.

Click here to return to Question 13.01.

Answer to Question 13.03

Manifest Destiny was the idea put forward by Americans in the 1840s that they as a people were destined by God to take control of the entire North American continent and put it to productive use. Thus, they pushed for the nation to take over the Southwest, the Pacific Coast, and the Pacific Northwest. Americans could and would put this land to productive use, something the current inhabitants were not doing, while also spreading the American way of life, which they thought was superior to any other. If war was needed to reach these aims, then so be it, God was on their side.

Click here to return to Question 13.03.

Answer to Question 13.05

The two issues that led to conflict between these two groups were the unsettled boundary between the two nations and the annexation of Texas.

Click here to return to Question 13.05.

Answer to Question 13.09

When the population was low, the region had little economic value to either side. But, as more and more people settled there, the value of this region grew, and thus the economic value increased. Combine that with the growth in transportation technology at the time to move goods in and out of the region, and the value rose ever higher. At that point, one side or the other would want to control the output of the territory and joint occupation would not work.

Click here to return to Question 13.09.

Answer to Question 13.10

Both of these journeys were arduous, but getting to Oregon was generally more difficult and perilous. It was a longer trip, the territory was less organized, and there was a greater threat from Native Americans.

Click here to return to Question 13.10.

Answer to Question 13.13

The most developed branch of government in Oregon was the judicial branch, with a large number of judges or a variety of levels. This was usually the case in a new territory as disputes over land claims and resources were very common in the early stages of settlement, and the need for a developed court system was very high.

Click here to return to Question 13.13.

Answer to Question 13.14

Polk had two main reasons for not wanting to go to war over Oregon. First, he did not want to fight a war with England.The United States had done that twice before, and neither war had gone well. Second, he wanted to acquire territory in the Southwest. He knew that the only way to get this territory was through war. Thus, he did not want to be fighting two wars at the same time. So, he settled with England to fight the war that he was sure that he could win.

Click here to return to Question 13.14.

Answer to Question 13.25

1) the question of expansion into the American southwest had unquestionable undertones of slavery; southerners tended to be more in favor of expansion because they saw many potential future slave states; this led northern politicians to employ tactics like the Wilmot Proviso; 2) Many famous Civil War generals, from both the north and south, would gain military experience in the Mexican-American War.

Click here to return to Question 13.25.

Answer to Question 13.29

The original compromise – as conceptualized primarily by Clay – was a big legislative package where each stakeholder was asked to give up something important. This failed, but Douglas’ strategy was to break this up into smaller bills, and he was able to get each passed separately.

Click here to return to Question 13.29.

Answers to Pre-Class Discussion Questions

Answer to Class Discussion 13.01

The West was a draw to Americans as a way to start a new life, something that America was known for at this time. There was a large amount of almost free land in the West if you were willing to work, and people, especially those from the East, could start over again in a new land where all that mattered was how hard you worked. This served as a safety valve for the nation and pushed people to go West. It was a land of unlimited potential.

Click here to return to Class Discussion 13.01.

Answer to Class Discussion 13.02

Jackson only saw problems from Texas entering the Union. It was a very large chunk of slave territory. Slave was quickly becoming a major issue in the nation at this time, and trying to integrate Texas into the Union could only cause problems. Northerners would not want a new large and wealthy slave state entering the Union and would work to stop it. This would upset Southerners who would want to bring them in, dividing the nation. 

Click here to return to Class Discussion 13.02.

Answer to Class Discussion 13.03

In reality, no matter what was told to the American people, the United States provoked a war with Mexico. Polk wanted to take over the Southwest, Mexico would not give it up. But, attacking Mexico to steal its territory would not be popular with anyone. Thus, Polk sent American troops into dispute territory just to get the Mexican Army to fire on them. Then, he could tell Congress that the Mexicans attacked us and get war declared. So, while the Mexicans fired the first shots, we tricked them into doing it.

Click here to return to Class Discussion 13.03.

Answer to Class Discussion 13.04

James Polk, the president during the war, had stated he was not going to run for another term. Polk was a Democrat. Americans have always been very supportive of successful generals running for national office since the time of Washington. Both Scott and Taylor, the two most popular general of the current conflict, were from the Whig party. Thus, the Democratic Party would not have a candidate that could stand against either of the possible Whig choices and most likely were going to lose the White House.

Click here to return to Class Discussion 13.04.

Answer to Class Discussion 13.05

When gold was discovered in California, many people rushed to the territory to try to strike it rich. Very quickly, its population grew and reached a point where it could write a constitution and apply for statehood. When it did so, it submitted a constitution that would make it a free state. This would upset the balance of free and slave states in the Senate. Southerners then were staunchly opposed to this, and this set off the sectional crisis of 1850.

Click here to return to Class Discussion 13.05.

Image Credits

[1] Image courtesy of The Walters Art Museum in the Public Domain.

[2] Image courtesy of Latinamericanstudies.org in the Public Domain.

[3] Image courtesy of the National Archives in the Public Domain. 

[4] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[5] Image courtesy of the U.S. Senate Historical Office in the Public Domain.

[6] Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives in the Public Domain.

[7] Image courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin in the Public Domain.

[8] Image courtesy of the National Archives in the Public Domain.

[9] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[10] Image courtesy of National Archives ARC# 299809 in the Public Domain.

[11] Image courtesy U.S. Senate Historical Office in the Public Domain.

[12] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[13] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[14] Image courtesy of the National Archives in the Public Domain.

[15] Image courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society in the Public Domain.

[16] Image courtesy of U.S. Senate Historical Office in the Public Domain.

[17] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[18] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.