410: Unit 3

United States, 1765-1861, Fall 2023

Part III, Transformation and Disunion (1800-1861)

Intro | 1 | 2 | 3

21. Post-Revolutionary America: An Empire of Liberty

READ: Walter McDougall, The Throes of Democracy (the third book you bought), xxii from "Colonists representing all four cultures ..." to xxvi.

Docs (these four documents are mixed in with the Whiskey rebellion readings.  Use the table of contents at the start of the unit to find them): Sellers, "Merchants and Farmers," The Market Revolution;" People in Motion"; Crevecoeur, "Letters from an American Farmer"; Jefferson, “First Inaugural Address”

Timeline of events

Notes: What does this reading tell us about who won the Revolutionary question of "Who should rule at home?" How did Americans define their “destiny?” Why were they so restless? Contrast the Whig and Democratic views of the role of government. Where do the parties differ?

22. Andrew Jackson and Democracy

READ McDougall, Throes of Democracy, 47 (bottom) to 54 (bottom); AND Docs: Jackson’s 2nd Message to Congress & Paul Johnson, The Story of the American People (2 excerpts on Andrew Jackson, 267-269 & 328-330) (2004).

Notes: Do you see a connection between democracy and the removal of Southern Indians beyond the Mississippi? What were Jackson’s motives in pressing for removal? How did he justify the mass relocation along the “Trail of Tears?” What is your impression of Jackson’s personality and character?

23. Land, Capital and Slaves

READ Docs: Charles Sellers, "Market Contradiction";  AND “Slavery and the Market,” Sven Bekert and Seth Rockman;  & “The Market Revolution”

Read the last document first, then Sellers, then Beckert & Rockman.

Notes: How did most ordinary Americans live on the eve of the Market Revolution? Where does Sellers see a “contradiction between capitalist property and use-value communalism? What role did slavery play in the development of American capitalism?

24. Now what is an American? Two great books

READ Docs: Excerpts from Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville and Walden, by Henry David Thoreau

D Format: Please bring your laptop. You will need it. And be prepared to stay for long block

How would Tocqueville and Thoreau answer Crevecoeur's question (what is an American)? Read Thoreau as a historical document and place it into the context of the readings on American society in this period and the observations of Tocqueville. 

If you find yourself thinking that Thoreau is a big hypocrite because he did not maintain total social isolation while at Walden, please read this website that clarifies common misconceptions about Thoreau and Walden.

25.  The Argument over Slavery

READ McDougall, Throes of Democracy, 200-203 (middle); AND Docs: William Lloyd Garrison, “The Liberator”;  John C. Calhoun, “On Reception of the Abolition Petitions”; David Walker, “Walker’s Appeal”; and  Frederick Douglass, “Independence Day Speech.”

Notes: Why and how did slavery become the central issue in American politics? How did Garrisonian abolitionism differ from other antislavery efforts? Why does McDougall call the abolition movement “feeble?” What approach to the slavery question strikes you as most effective, given existing political, economic and social circumstances? How do you imagine Douglass’s audience reacted to his July 4 speech?

26. The Peculiar Institution

READ McDougall, Throes of Democracy, 63 (from "Southerners talked ") to 65 (bottom); 354 (top) to 356 9bottom); AND in Docs:  Frederick Douglass, Autobiography; Fanny Kemble, “Three Days of Plantation Life”; “Go Down, Moses”;  “Confessions of Nat Turner”           

Notes: How were slaves distributed throughout the South? What impelled Turner to rise up? Was he a freedom fighter or a terrorist? What picture of slavery does Douglass present? What was life like for enslaved people? What does the Kemble reading suggest about the effects of slavery on slaves and their masters?

27. “Mexico Will Poison Us”

READ McDougall, Throes of Democracy, 283-285 (top), and 297 (middle) to 301 (top); 316 (bottom) to 319; 329 (top) to 337 (top); 346 (bottom) to 350 (middle); AND in Docs:  Douglass and Smith, “The Fugitive Slave Act”; Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”

Notes: Why did the United States and Mexico go to war? Was it a just war? How do you define “just?” Assess the implications of the Wilmot Proviso. What were Wilmot’s motives? How was Mexico “poisonous” to the U.S.? What were the elements of the Compromise of 1850? Was it the best available solution to the slavery issue? Was there a solution?

28. Lincoln and Douglas

READ McDougall, Throes of Democracy, 365 middle-368 top; 375 middle-382 top; AND in Docs: Abraham Lincoln, “A House Divided”; “The Lincoln-Douglas Debates”; and read this brief description of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. 

Notes: Pin down Lincoln’s position on slavery. Where did Douglas stand? Was Lincoln right to suggest the nation couldn’t survive half slave, half free? What is the significance of Lincoln’s invocation of the Declaration of Independence and Douglas’s invocation of the Constitution? Who gets the better of the debate?


29. Secession

READ McDougall, Throes of Democracy, 386 bottom-389 bottom; 392 top-397; AND in Docs 2: Brown, “Address to the Virginia Court”; "On John Brown"; Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address.”  See the secession timeline and map below.

Notes: What is your view of John Brown? Was he guilty of treason? How did Lincoln manage to win the election of 1860? Were South Carolinians rational in responding to the Republican victory with an ordinance of secession? Should Lincoln have done more to reassure the South?

30. Paper on Political polarization and Civil War. TBA

31. Research project: Research paper proposal.  Today, choose a topic.  We will meet in the library during class time.  E will meet in the commons classroom on the ground floor and D in the Shapiro room on the 4th floor.

Your homework to do BEFORE class: 

In class: 

32. Research Project. Begin writing.


In class: After you check in with me and get your questions answered, keep reading and taking notes--and finding sources if necessary.  You may be ready to make an outline or begin writing.  By now you should have learned enough about your topic and its historiography to begin using your NOTES to write the essay.

33. Research project. Meet in the library again.

34. Final day of the Research project.  The automatic 48-hour extension does not apply to this assignment. Release time: just turn in the paper in the box in my classroom. 


In class: Release time. Turn in your essay before the end of the class period. 

35. Finals block: Jeopardy

Intro | 1 | 2 | 3

Secession Timeline


November: Lincoln elected

December 18: John Crittenden of Kentucky proposes compromise that would extended Missouri Compromise line to California and forever preserve slavery where it existed. Lincoln and most Republicans rejected it and Congress tabled it on December 31.

December 20: South Carolina secedes.


February 7: Seven deep South states form Confederate States of America

March 2: Congress sends 13th Amendment to states for ratification.

March 4: Lincoln delivers First Inaugural Address

April 12: Confederates attack Fort Sumter; Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas secede

A site with maps showing the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, Kansas-Nebraska and the election of 1860.