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The Antebellum Period

The Antebellum Period in American history is generally considered to be the period before the civil
war and after the War of 1812, although some historians expand it to all the years from the adoption
of the Constitution in 1789 to the beginning of the Civil War.

Characteristic features – Road to the Civil War:

1. The emergence of mass media and the newspaper (penny press), which rapidly
developed in the urban centers and became an influential source of information for a broad audience in
a highly literate society.
►Most newspapers in the early 19th century cost six cents a copy and were affordable only to the
upper classes.
►Presses were still hand-powered and essentially unchanged from Gutenberg’s design until 1810,
when German printer Friedrich Koenig patented the steam-powered press. In 1843, American
Richard M. Hoe made a further improvement with the rotary printing press.
►allowing a much larger volumes of material to be printed—millions of copies in a day rather than
thousands—at a lower cost.
►by 1860, about 3,000 newspapers were published in the U.S. with a circulation of roughly 1.5
million, in comparison with about 500 newspapers with a circulation of about 3,000 in 1820.
►Papers were often read aloud in homes, bringing news of the government, politics, and local
events. Significant speeches were sometimes printed in their entirety, giving politicians and social
activists a much wider audience.
►The advent of the telegraph meant news from distant places could be disseminated much more
►In the 1830s, the “penny papers” led a revolution in journalism. They sold for a penny each,
making news and even literacy itself more accessible to the working class.

2. new canals, roads, and railroads meant Americans became more mobile, and those
who traveled for new job opportunities or to strike it rich in the California gold country relied upon
letter writing and the new technology of photography to keep in touch with their loved ones.
►Following the Revolutionary War, business and political leaders recognized the need to further
unify the country with roads. Local governments and private turnpike and railroad companies began
building roads and canals.
►The War of 1812 and the rise of internal trade—between southern plantations and northern
textile manufacturers—proved that the problem of internal transportation was far from solved
and a federal system was needed, but various proposals to fund and build a national transportation
system were deemed unconstitutional.
►The conservative Democratic Party in particular opposed federal funding of internal
improvements. Instead, private companies proposed roads and canals, then enticed investors to
provide fund building. ►land speculation, boss system ►In 1817, construction began on the Erie
Canal to link Lake Erie and the Hudson River, inspiring a canal-building boom that lasted into the

1840s when railroads supplanted canals. Turnpike companies also experienced a boom—by 1830,
more than 10,000 miles of turnpikes were operating in the east. Commissioners were authorized to
collect tolls and were responsible for maintaining the stretch of road under their care.
►Railroads: investing in railroads to reach the interior of the country, starting a railroad boom in
the 1830s that would last until the Civil War and begin anew following the war. Railroads grew so
quickly in the 1830s that they surpassed the mileage of the canals. Many were short-run railroads built
to connect ports with points inland, which were then connected to each other by rail. Railroads were
faster, more direct, and more reliable than turnpikes or the canal system. By 1856, the eastern coast
was connected by railroad to the western side of the Mississippi, Chicago, and the Great Lakes.
►Politicians rallied behind Speaker of the House Henry Clay and his American System to improve
the national infrastructure. Clay wanted to make internal improvements to national transportation to
link the agricultural West with the industrial North.

3. the rapid growth of cities (the grid, checkerboard pattern of urbanization)

►Ordinances of 1785 [townships] and 1787) in a world where most people still lived in areas of 2,500
people or less, and knew all or most of their neighbors.

4. Compression of time and space: the emergence of hourly wage work conducted in large
factories regulated by clocks, where people had previously worked from home or in small shops and
were apprenticed to a trade.

5. Ongoing industrialization, primarily in the North, led to an increasing stratification of classes

and a higher standard of living, especially for the middle class, who had fewer children on average than
families from poorer backgrounds, and who began developing a culture centered around childcare and
the home.
►The early industrial revolution began with textile industry in New England, which was
revolutionized by Samuel Slater. Slater was a former apprentice in one of Britain’s largest textile
factories who emigrated to Rhode Island after learning that American states were paying bounties to
people who could help replicate British textile machines, such as the spinning jenny, although the
British government forbade the export of the machines or emigration of people with knowledge of
►In 1787, the horse-powered Beverly Cotton Manufactory had begun operating in Beverly,
Massachusetts; in 1793, Slater opened the first fully mechanized mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. His
system of independent mills and mill towns spread through the Blackstone Valley into Massachusetts.
In the 1820s, Slater’s system was supplanted by the more-efficient Waltham or Lowell system.
►The Waltham system also included specialized, trained employees to run the looms—mainly young
women—giving rise to the concept of wage labor, which gradually began overtaking previous forms
of labor, such as apprenticeship and indentured servitude, family labor, and slavery in industrialized

6. The country’s economy began shifting in the north to manufacturing as the Industrial
Revolution began, while in the south, a cotton boom made plantations the center of the economy.
►Advances in processing the fiber, from Eli Whitney’s cotton gin (1793) to the development of
power looms and the sewing machine, increased demand for cotton to export from the South to
England and the mills of New England.
► Plantation owners were able to obtain large tracts of land for little money, particularly after the

Indian Removal Act was passed in 1830. These plantations depended on a large force of slave labor
to cultivate and harvest the crop

►The Market Revolution

The antebellum era was a time not only of profound political change but also of great technological and
economic innovation. The Industrial Revolution, which began in Europe in the 1700s, had produced
new inventions and methods of production. American inventors transformed the U.S. economy with
new innovations of their own. This rapid development of manufacturing and improved farming had
such a profound effect on American society that historians often refer to it as the Market Revolution.
1793 Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin
1797 Whitney invents interchangeable parts for firearms
1807 Robert Fulton invents the steamboat
1823 Lowell Mills opens in Massachusetts
1825 Erie Canal is completed
1828 First U.S. railroad appears
1834 Cyrus McCormick invents the mechanical mower-reaper National Trades Union forms
1835 Samuel F. B. Morse invents the telegraph
1837 Cumberland road (National Road) is completed
1838 John Deere invents the steel plow
1842 Massachusetts legalizes labor unions in Commonwealth v. Hunt
1844 New England Female Labor Reform Association forms
1846 Elias Howe invents the sewing machine
1858 First transatlantic telegraph cable unites Europe and the Americas

7. The rise of abolition and the gradual polarization of the country between
abolitionists and supporters of slavery.
The Impact of the Second Awakening ►some began to see slavery as a sin, with emancipation as the
only way to atone for this sin. The Quakers, who believed that all people were equal in the eyes of
God, had been speaking out against slavery since the 1600s, forming the first abolitionist group in the
►1820, the Missouri Compromise: It had admitted Missouri to the union as a slave state and Maine
as a free state, preserving the fragile balance in Congress. More important, it had stipulated that in the
future, slavery would be prohibited north of the southern boundary of Missouri (the 36º30’ parallel) in
the rest of the Louisiana Purchase.
►In 1833, William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan founded the American Anti-Slavery Society.
►Members (including freed blacks like Frederick Douglass) met, passed resolutions, and publicly
argued against slavery both in speeches and in abolitionist newspapers.
►Many abolitionists helped form the Underground Railroad, leading slaves northward to freedom.
(Harriet Tubman)

►Eventually, the society became part of a broader movement toward social reform, and many of its
members joined in the movements supporting universal suffrage and feminism.
►By the 1850s, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin a bestseller, ►led to increased
membership in abolition societies.

8. The reinforcement of American individualism: The annexation of new territories and

western expansion
►the idea that Americans and the institutions of the U.S. are morally superior and Americans are
morally obligated to spread these institutions.

9. The Second Awakening was a religious revival that affected the entire country from about 1790
to the 1840s. It inspired the beginnings of the abolitionist movement in upstate New York. The
basic theology popularized by the movement stated that individuals had a direct relationship with God
that was unmediated by a church officials and that human dignity required freedom of will.
► Church membership increased, particularly among Methodists and Baptists following revivals
and tent meetings, which had their greatest attendance on the frontier.
►Many challenged traditional beliefs and founded new denominations, including the Mormons,
the Shakers, the Seventh Day Adventists, and the Unitarian Universalists.
►This rise in spirituality intensified evangelism in America, giving rise to a shift in morality and the
advent of growing abolitionist and temperance movements.

10. Pre-Civil War Slave Rebellions:

►Several plots and rebellions occurred in antebellum America, notably Gabriel’s Rebellion in 1800
in Richmond, Virginia; an uprising in Louisiana in 1811; and Denmark Vesey’s conspiracy, which
was uncovered in 1822 in Charleston, South Carolina.
►In August 1831 Nat Turner organized a slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. About
60 whites were killed and, after the rebellion was put down, the state executed 56 slaves accused of
being part of it. Militias and mobs formed in the paranoid chaos that followed and anywhere from 100
to 200 innocent slaves were killed in the aftermath.
► In response to these rebellions, slave codes and laws that limited slaves’ movements and their
freedom to gather in groups tightened considerably. ►Compromise of 1850 including the Fugitive
Slave Act; Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) ►Bleeding Kansas; Dred Scott vs. Sanford: a judiciary victory
of the South; the invalidation of the Missouri Compromise (1820 – the prohibition of slavery in the
Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30' parallel.
►In October 1859, radical abolitionist John Brown led a group of followers in a raid to capture the
U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), in hopes of arming a general slave
uprising. The raid failed and Brown and most of his band were executed, but when Northern
abolitionists made him into a martyr, it fed Southern fears that the North wanted to wage a war of
extermination on Southern whites. John Brown’s Raid is considered one of the significant milestones
on the road to the American Civil War.

11. Nullification Crisis

Objections in South Carolina to federal tariffs led to the Nullification Crisis in 1833. Having
blamed the tariffs for part of the economic downturn in the 1820s, South Carolina passed a

Nullification Ordinance in late 1832 that declared federal tariffs unconstitutional and unenforceable in
South Carolina, and made military preparations to resist federal enforcement.
►Congress passing a revised tariff that met South Carolinian’s demands and the state repealed
its ordinance.
►When South Carolina next attempted to leave the Union following the election of Abraham
Lincoln in 1860 it did not go it alone, immediately sending ambassadors to the legislatures of
other slave states to ask them to also leave the Union and join the Palmetto State in forming a new
Southern Confederacy.
►The ultimate result was four years of civil war that (1) destroyed the Confederacy, (2) ended
slavery (1863 January 1 – Emancipation Proclamation) and (3) established the supremacy of the
federal government.

12. Manifest Destiny and Westward Expansion

Journalist John O’Sullivan coined the term “Manifest Destiny” in 1845, embracing the belief that
Americans and the institutions of the U.S. are morally superior and therefore Americans are morally
obligated to spread those institutions.
►The concept already existed and had to some degree ever since the 13 colonies won their freedom
from Great Britain; O’Sullivan gave it a name. ►the phrase originated in an unsigned article in The
United States Magazine and Democratic Review
►Belief in these principles led white settlers to replace the traditional cultures of native American
tribes with a lifestyle more in keeping with Euro-American farming communities. In other instances, it
simply was used to justify the ever-increasing demand for more land in the west.
►the Native-Indian-white relations, conflicting land claims of the different member states – three
Ordinances to settle the issue: Ordinance of 1784 ►divided the Western territory (btw. the
Appalachians and the Mississippi) into 10 self-governing units.

 The new states shall remain forever a part of the United States of America.

 They shall bear the same relation to the confederation as the original states.
 They shall pay their apportionment of the federal debts.
 They shall in their governments uphold republican forms.
 After the year 1800 there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of them.

The Ordinance of 1785: provided a system for surveying and selling the Western lands.
Land was to be systematically surveyed into square townships, six miles (9.656 km) on a side. Each of
these townships were sub-divided into thirty-six sections of one square mile (2.59 km²) or 640 acres.

These sections could then be further subdivided for re-sale by settlers and land speculators.
The ordinance was also significant for establishing a mechanism for funding public education.
Section 16 in each township was reserved for the maintenance of public schools.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787:

The ordinance created the Northwest Territory, the first organized territory of the United States,
from lands beyond the Appalachian Mountains, between British North America and the Great Lakes to
the north and the Ohio River to the south. The upper Mississippi River formed the Territory's western
boundary. It was the response to multiple pressures: (1) the westward expansion of American
settlers, (2) tense diplomatic relations with Great Britain and Spain, (3) violent confrontations with
Native Americans, (4) the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, and (4) the empty treasury of
the American government.
►conditions for statehood: at least 60,000 should live on the specific territory as a precondition of
admittance, and it prohibited slavery on the whole Northwest territory (drafted by Thomas Jefferson).

►In 1844, James K. Polk of Tennessee was elected president on a platform of westward expansion. He
faced off with the British over control of the Oregon Territory and oversaw a successful war with
Mexico, 1846–1848. The Mexican War and settling the Oregon question meant that the United
States now stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
1845 United States annexes Texas Congress is presented with Wilmot Proviso
1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: closed the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 – it fixed the
borderline between the two countries. The U.S. received huge tracks of land in the southwest.
1853 Gadsden Purchase: a final territorial settlement between the U.S. and Mexico- the Americans
received the present-day southern Arizona and New New Mexico; in return, they were to pay 15
million USD to Mexico.
1849 Peak of California Gold Rush
Indian policies:
Bureau of Indian Affairs – 1834 – function is to regulate the trade with native Americans, plus land
and resource management, education and social welfare.
Trail of Tears – 1838: the Cherokees were forced to leave their lands in Georgia and move through
Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri to Oklahoma. During the long and torturous journey, more than 4000
Cherokees died.

13. Foreign policy
President Monroe and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams issued the Monroe Doctrine in 1823,
warning European powers to stay out of affairs in the western hemisphere.
(1) the American continents were not to be subjects for future colonization by European powers.
(2) There existed in the Americas a political system that is essentially different from that of Europe.
(3) the U.S. would consider the extension of the European political system in the Western Hemisphere
a threat to its security.
(4) the U.S. would not interfere with the internal affairs of the existing European colonies in America
and of the European nations.

Effects of the Antebellum Period

The technological advances and religious and social movements of the Antebellum Period had a
profound effect on the course of American history, including
(1) westward expansion to the Pacific,
(2) a population shift from farms to industrial centers (urbanization),
(3) sectional divisions that ended in civil war,
(4) the abolition of slavery and
( 5) the growth of feminist, reform and temperance movements.