The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad

By Walter Lafeber | Go to book overview

5
The Climax of Early U.S. Foreign
Policy: The Civil War (1850-1865)

FOREIGN POLICY AS A CAUSE
OF THE CIVIL WAR

American expansion accelerated after 1815. It seemed out of control by 1850. The new Democratic president, Franklin Pierce, candidly declared in his 1853 inaugural address that "my administration will not be controlled by any timid forebodings of evil from expansion." Pierce had been elected on a platform that embodied Manifest Destiny. It termed the Mexican War "just and necessary." George Sanders, a Kentucky politician, caught perfectly the spirit of the age: Americans "are booted and spurred, and are panting for conquest." 1

The Civil War logically climaxed post-1815 expansionism and the fragmentation of the United States. But it was also part of larger changes in the Western world. Europe endured an era of revolution between 1789 and 1850. Modern industrial capitalism and middle-class society were born amid the rubble of old classes overwhelmed by the new forces. This birth, moreover, was made more painful because large numbers of common people became active political participants for the first time, both in the United States and in western Europe. Many of these people were also caught up in mass migrations that shocked and transformed many parts of the world. 2 The United States especially experienced the astonishing effects of the immigration. Between 1820

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