A More Perfect Union: The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Constitution

By Harold M. Hyman | Go to book overview

Chapter II
Westward the Course

If slavery--Negroes--had not become involved with the western territories, probably too few whites would have become antagonistic enough over the new Wests to cause political upsets. The territorial question was always politically potent because white Americans believed that the western lands offered safetyvalve security and opportunity insurance. Men who probably never intended personally to be pioneers in western lands and who were not Negrophiles became intensely interested in holding slavery to its existing locations within states, in order that the West remain free; i.e., lily-white.

Common men comprehended that an American territory was far more than land. Instead it was a state in the process of becoming; a vital, viable element in the federal system. This dynamic connection between subordinate territory and co-ordinate state was a revolutionary, original, and constructive American contribution to the art of government and the practice of federalism. Since the birth of the nation the commitment had obtained that the immense acreages which wars and purchases brought under national jurisdiction were destined for separate and equal statehood. Americans had learned from recent history the lesson that subordination for colonies--territories in the American scheme--bred unrest. Instead, in the Northwest Ordinance and related legislation, a workable formula emerged for the incubation of new states. When an adequate population was resident in a federal territory, one or more states equal in every way to older eastern states might emerge from the territorial condition.

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