Gamaliel Bailey and Antislavery Union

By Stanley Harrold | Go to book overview

chapter six
Dangers and Opportunities, Nationalism and War

By the middle of the 1840s Bailey and other Americans of his generation saw that the issues which had dominated national politics for over two decades had begun to lose their relevance. The death of President William H. Harrison in 1841 after only a month in office and the elevation of his vice- president, John Tyler, a Virginia Democrat, to the presidency had derailed the Whigs' hopes of enacting their economic program of national bank, protective tariff, and internal improvements. During the next two decades most important economic issues would be settled on the state level, while the dominant national issues would involve territorial expansion, sectionalism, and slavery. Northerners who had no strong moral antagonism to slavery or sympathy for blacks had recognized for years that the interests of the slave labor economy of the South and the wage labor economy of the North were often in conflict. Northern politicians sometimes blamed economic downturns on federal policies which favored the South; nonabolitionists like John Quincy Adams could become aroused by policies which were designed to protect slavery but which threatened the civil liberties of northerners. Most importantly large numbers of northerners seriously questioned policies which would permit the expansion of slavery and perhaps place a preponderance of political power in the hands of slaveholders.

A high birthrate and foreign immigration, soil depletion and land hunger, fear of foreign influence on the country's borders, and the nationalistic spirit of Manifest Destiny led the United States to annex huge western territories in the 1840s. The issue of whether or not slavery would be extended into these vast regions strained relations between the North and South, and Bailey suspected that the Whig and Democratic parties might alienate large numbers

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