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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing, 1815-1850
The Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing
Topic: Culture of the Common ManTopic: Cult of DomesticityTopic: ReligionTopic: ExpansionTopic: America in 1850
America in 1850
Overview of Triumph of Nationalism
Resource Menu: America 1850
Text 1. John C. Calhoun
Text 2. Daniel Webster
Text 3. William Henry Seward
» Reading Guide
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Text 4. Henry Clay
Text 5. Henry David Thoreau
Text 6. Harriet Beecher Stowe
Text 7. Frederick Douglass

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Reading Guide
3.  William Henry Seward, Speech to the United States Senate, March 11, 1850

This speech marks a generational shift in American politics. In March of 1850 Calhoun was sixty-eight and in the final month of his life. Webster, also sixty-eight, and Clay, seventy-three, would both die in 1852. Seward, on the other hand, was only forty-nine. His speech shows that a new generation of Northern politicians was unwilling to reaffirm the compromises over slavery that had enabled the Union to be established. In his very controversial speech Seward shifts the argument from constitutional to moral terms. He places slavery squarely in the foreground of the debate and, fervently opposed to it, forthrightly proclaims his opposition to the Compromise of 1850, which would have accommodated it in certain locales. He attacks Clay's position, condemning virtually all legislative compromises as "radically wrong and essentially vicious," and fires at Calhoun, asserting that a restoration of constitutional equilibrium is "totally impracticable." In fact, he argues, such an equilibrium never existed in the first place. Although his oratory is heated and he draws stark lines, in the end he comes to what seems an almost placid conclusion. "[T]here will be no disunion and no secession." The Union will muddle through. The South need not even worry that slavery will soon be abolished. This text provoked much discussion in the summer seminar. 16 pages.

Discussion questions
  ·  What, in Seward's view, holds the nation together?
  ·  How does Seward's vision of the Union differ from those of Clay, Webster, and Calhoun?
  ·  How does he portray the North, the South?
  ·  What role does freedom play in Seward's idea of nationhood?
  ·  Why, in his view, is it pointless for the South to make war on the North?
  ·  What to him are the benefits of the Union?
  ·  Near the end of his speech he lists the reasons why slavery will not be abolished soon. What reasons does he offer? What do you take to be the tone of these remarks? What is the strategy of his argument here? How would it affect his fellow senators, Northern and Southern?
  ·  What are the implications of his shift from constitutional to moral argument?

Reading highlights
  ·  Note the faith Seward has in the civilizing influences of American expansion.
  ·  Note how he invokes America's international mission as a reason for preserving the Union.

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Topic Framing Questions
From the perspective of an American in 1850, either Northern or Southern (remember, you don't know what's going to happen over the next 15 years):
  ·  How volatile is America in 1850?
  ·  What holds the nation together? What is pulling it apart?
  ·  How serious is the Southern threat to leave the Union?
  ·  Is the Compromise of 1850 a triumph of nationalism or sectionalism?
  ·  Will the Union survive?

Toolbox: The Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing
Common Man | Cult of Domesticity | Religion | Expansion | America in 1850

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