Western Expansion and Slavery (Monday, November 18)


  • How did western expansion increase tension between the North and South?
  • What compromises were reached regarding the spread of slavery into western territories? How successful were these compromises?

The Founding Fathers did not settle the issue of slavery at the Constitutional Convention – in fact, they simply avoided or delayed dealing with the issue. As the nation expanded into western territories, however, the issue of slavery once again reappeared. With each new territorial acquisition (Louisiana Purchase, annexation of Texas, Mexican territory, etc.), America was forced to ask a question: should that territory be open or closed to slavery? The nation split along sectional lines (North and South), with the North opposing the expansion of slavery (primarily for economic reasons) and the South supporting the expansion (also for economic reasons).

In class we tried to re-create three different debates:

  1. The debate over the Louisiana Territory (resolved by the Missouri Compromise)
  2. The debate over the Mexican Territory (resolved by the Compromise of 1850)
  3. The debate over the Kansas-Nebraska Act (no real compromise achieved!)

A further complication to the debate over western expansion and slavery was the lack of clarification as to who could decide whether or not slavery should exist in the West. The Constitution is mum on the issue! Therefore, people looked to a number of places: Congress, the people of the states or territories, the President, and the Supreme Court for an answer to the slavery question.

If you were absent from class, download this packet and read over the notes that we filled in.

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