Unit 4.5 - The Road to the Civil War

Yawp Chapters 11 & 12

Chapter 11: The Cotton Revolution

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, the Southern states experienced extraordinary change that would define the region and its role in American history for decades, even centuries, to come. Between the 1830s and the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, the American South expanded its wealth and population and became an integral part of an increasingly global economy. It did not, as previous generations of histories have told, sit back on its cultural and social traditions and insulate itself from an expanding system of communication, trade, and production that connected Europe and Asia to the Americas. Quite the opposite, the South actively engaged new technologies and trade routes while also seeking to assimilate and upgrade its most “traditional” and culturally engrained practices—such as slavery and agricultural production—within a modernizing world.

Beginning in the 1830s, merchants from the Northeast, Europe, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean flocked to Southern cities, setting up trading firms, warehouses, ports, and markets. As a result, these cities—like Richmond, Charleston, St. Louis, Mobile, Savannah, and New Orleans, to name a few—doubled, and even tripled, in size and global importance. Populations became more cosmopolitan, more educated, and wealthier. Systems of class—lower-, middle-, and upper-class communities—developed where they had never clearly existed. Ports that had once focused entirely on the importation of slaves, and shipped only regionally, became homes to daily and weekly shipping lines to New York City, Liverpool, Manchester, Le Havre, and Lisbon. The world was, slowly but surely, coming closer together; and the South was right in the middle. Chapter 11 from American Yawp

Questions to be thinking about as you move through the content of this chapter

  1. Why did cotton become such an important crop in the nineteenth century?
  2. What types of technology contributed to the growth of cotton in the 19th century?
  3. Why did the free and non-free population of the South grow so rapidly in the 19th century?
  4. Why was the South so resistant to change (particularly economic change) in the 19th century?
  5. How did "King Cotton" impact the institution of slavery in the American South?
  6. What forms of "resistance" existed for slaves in the antebellum South?
  7. How did cotton (and the technologies that went along with cotton) contribute to the creation of southern cities in the 19th century?
  8. How did cities complicate the traditional social order of the South?
  9. Describe the (broad) characteristics of slave culture(s) in the antebellum South.
  10. In what ways were concepts of honor and violence inextricably bound in the 19th-century South?  How did the concept of honor differ based on gender and race?

Chapter 12: Manifest Destiny

John Louis O’Sullivan, a popular editor and columnist, articulated the long-standing American belief in the God-given mission of the United States to lead the world in the peaceful transition to democracy. In a little-read essay printed in The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, O’Sullivan outlined the importance of annexing Texas to the United States:

Why, were other reasoning wanting, in favor of now elevating this question of the reception of Texas into the Union, out of the lower region of our past party dissensions, up to its proper level of a high and broad nationality, it surely is to be found, found abundantly, in the manner in which other nations have undertaken to intrude themselves into it, between us and the proper parties to the case, in a spirit of hostile interference against us, for the avowed object of thwarting our policy and hampering our power, limiting our greatness and checking the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions. John Louis O’Sullivan ((John O’Sullivan, “Annexation,” United States Magazine and Democratic Review 17, no.1 (July-August 1845), 5-10.))


O’Sullivan and many others viewed expansion, particularly to the West, as necessary to achieve America’s destiny and protect American interests. The antebellum period saw the quasi-religious call to spread democracy coupled with the reality of thousands of settlers pressing westward. The precepts of manifest destiny, grounded in the twin beliefs of virtuous American institutionalism and the uplifting effects of agrarian republicanism, rode the wagon trails westward in advance of the "destinarian" belief in American greatness – the proverbial city on the hill of the colonial period began its move westward. Read more of Chapter 12.

Questions to be thinking about as you move through the content of this chapter

  1. What role did the policy of “Indian Removal” play in westward expansion?
  2. Why was the “Florida Model” so appealing to proponents of westward expansion?
  3. How did the Cherokee Nation attempt to resist American encroachment through treaty-making and assimilation? Why did that attempt ultimately fail?
  4. Explain the role played by Comanchia in the Mexican-American War (US-Mexican War).
  5. How did frontier society affect gender norms?
  6. In what ways did the federal government incentivize settlement in the west?
  7. How did the Mexican-American War change the American notion of “the West”?
  8. What were the short-term and long-term consequences of the Mexican-American War on Mexico? What about on the United States?
  9. What were the reasons behind the Monroe Doctrine? What was the United States attempting to accomplish with this approach to foreign policy?  What role did the Caribbean play?