The United States was growing and needed to expand and a nationalist feeling had swept the nations as the people wanted a strong and secure nation. As the nation expanded sectionalism escalated over slavery issues which divided the nation into the northern free states and the southern slave states. Each had representatives and senators and the more free or slave states, the more influence they had in the government to preserve slavery abolish it. Almost all in the North wanted to stop the expansion of slavery or even abolish it all together as it was inhumane and violated the Constitution.
Almost the entire South wanted to preserve it as it was a positive good and most debates were very heated. The escalation of sectionalism intensified because of the Mexican-American War, the Gold Rush of 1849, and the Fugitive Slave Act. James Knox Polk was the President when Texas was annexed to the United States as a slave state on Dec. 29, 1845. Northern Whigs weren’t very happy about adding another slave state to the Union. President Polk also wanted New Mexico and California, so he offered to buy them, but when his offer was turned down he would take it by force.
He knew that Congress would never approve a war especially if the United States was an aggressor. He ordered troops to enter into disputed territory and sixteen American soldiers were killed by the Mexican Army. President Polk declared a state of war because Mexico was the aggressor and Congress approved. Mexico City was occupied on September 14, 1847 and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed. The Treaty put Texas’s boundary at the Rio Grande and ceded New Mexico and California to the United States. Polk’s war further escalated sectional tensions as many believed that it was a war to expand slavery.
Many Whig politicians from the North were against the war from the beginning. Ulysses S. Grant, who fought and performed well in the war, was against it. Henry David Thoreau didn’t pay his taxes because it helped pay for the slave state and he was jailed. The war was seen as forced on Mexico and even Nicholas Trist who wrote the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was ashamed of the war. The Mexican-American war was on example of how sectionalism was escalating through slavery and expansion. Another example of the escalation of sectionalism was the gold rush of 1849 in California.
Gold was first found n California in 1848 and by the next year 80,000 people were living there. By the end of 1849, the population of California was 100,000. California was recommended for statehood in 1848 and everything happened so fast that the government had a hard time reacting. There were some Californians that wanted to live in a slave state, but most didn’t. In Congress Southerners were out voted and California would be a free state. Southerners were not happy as the equality of free states to slave states was about to end with the addition of Oregon and Minnesota as free states and this added to the sectional animosity.
The Fugitive Slave Act that was passed by Congress in 1850 allowed for appointed federal officials to arrest and punish runaway slaves in a free state where they didn’t commit any crime. Many northerners argued that the Fugitive Slave Act made slavery somewhat legal in states that had abolished the expansion of slavery. Those against slavery or the expansion of it and those who were pro-slavery would not budge or compromise on any issue concerning slavery. The United States was expanding westward creating new states as it grew and as nationalism was popular.
Sectional tension had become heated over slavery debates as the number of free states outnumbered the slave states. The Gold Rush also increased sectional tension when California became a state and the Fugitive Slave Act allowed officials to make slavery legal in states where the expansion of slavery was ended. The animosity of sectionalism that divided the country made it impossible for the two sides to compromise. This would eventually lead to the South leaving the Union and a war over slavery.