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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
Text 4. Henry Clay
Text 5. Henry David Thoreau
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Text 6. Harriet Beecher Stowe
Text 7. Frederick Douglass

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Reading Guide
5.  Henry David Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience," 1848

To the tensions bred by conflict between sectionalism and nationalism, Thoreau adds the force of the resolute individual. In this piece Thoreau explores how an individual should respond to a state that acts unjustly—specifically to a state that supports slavery, invades Mexico, and implicates every citizen in these acts through the imposition of taxes. His perspective on these issues is completely different from those of Calhoun, Webster, Clay, and Seward. Implicit in their arguments is the assumption that government, while it may function badly at times, is nonetheless legitimate and valuable. Thoreau disagrees. He calls into question the very idea of government. He rails against the expediency that directs the actions of government and claims that, a machine itself, government reduces men to machines. According to Thoreau, when the machine of government produces injustice, it is the citizen's duty not simply to petition for change but to act. "Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine." 19 pages.

Discussion questions
  ·  How might Calhoun have used Thoreau's arguments to defend the South?
  ·  Cast against the state of the Union as portrayed by Calhoun, Webster, Clay, and Seward, how would you evaluate Thoreau's attack on political expediency?
  ·  How does Thoreau's attitude toward the Constitution differ from that of Calhoun, Webster, Clay, and Seward?

Reading highlights
  ·  Note the similarity between Thoreau's view of the character of the American people and Seward's.
  ·  Note the machine imagery in the essay.
  ·  Note his assessment of Webster.

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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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