The U.S. on the Eve of the Civil War

NPS Primary Theme: In 1858, Abraham Lincoln famously predicted that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  Yet, because the young republic had always found a way to compromise its conflicts, most Americans were so confident in the future that they expected the forces of cohesion to triumph over the forces of division.  They did not know they were living on the eve of a civil war that would pit the North against the South until it was too late.

NOTE: Please use the comments section below to chronicle your progress with this theme throughout the remaining weeks of the course. Begin by outlining how your group decided to work with the theme (e.g., assigning one theme to one person or dividing themes up between team members) and then outline in detail, at least once each week, the work that you have done toward crafting your three podcast proposals.


9 Responses to The U.S. on the Eve of the Civil War

  1. Shawn Daley says:


    Had a free minute this evening (har) and stumbled upon this farewell address/message that Buchanan made on Dec. 3, 1860 (so after Lincoln was elected and before Lincoln took office, as the South was going to secede. I thought it may be helpful as a document — it was delivered in D.C. so maybe you can argue that Buchanan drafted it while in the White House.
    Shawn D .

  2. Andrew Carlson says:

    Update on intangibles/universals for MAVA and the van Buren Bible:

    Intangibles –


    Secondary Sources:
    * “Martin Van Buren” by Ted Widmer
    * “Jacksonian Anti-Slavery and the Politics of Freed Soil” by Jon Earle
    * “Rethinking the Coming of the Civil War: a Counterfactual Exercise” from The Journal of American History by Gary J. Kornblith

  3. Andrew Carlson says:

    I e-mailed Jim McKay, who will be working on this with Patricia West and I for MAVA a little over a week ago with no response, so I left a voice mail today with him… luckily, I already have some sources and tangibles in mind for MAVA so it isn’t the end of the world if I don’t hear from him (apparently MAVA is closed for the season until May 23rd…)

    As for President’s Park, I e-mailed Peter Lonsway yesterday and followed up today with a voice mail.

    As for Fort Sumter, I have been told to contact Nate Johnson starting next week.

  4. Greg Shine says:

    Andrew, I left a voicemail message with the park’s Chief of Interpretation this morning and also followed up with an email. I’m sure things are very busy at Fort Sumter about now, so let’s continue to try and connect with them.

  5. Andrew Carlson says:

    As of 2/14 I still have not heard from the most important park on my list, Fort Sumter…

    I have the contact info for President’s Park and will be contacting them shortly.

    As stated above, I have enough to work with for Martin van Buren site…however I have contacted Jim McKay for further information about how to connect the park to the “eve” theme but have yet to heard back from him (it has been a few days).

  6. Andrew Carlson says:

    I have gotten a very supportive response from Martin van Buren National Historic Site with regards to the “Eve” theme. I have been directed to a few sources:

    Background info:
    Ted Widmer’s biography of MVB,
    Jon Earle’s book about the Free Soil movement – this book discusses the election of 1848 and its implications for the political turmoil that would help to fuel the Civil War.

    More to follow….

  7. Andrew Carlson says:

    THE FINAL PARKS I have chosen for this category are:

    President’s Park
    Martin van Buren National Historic Site
    Fort Sumter.


  8. Pingback: Parks to Illustrate CW150 Themes: A Preliminary List | Interpreting the American Civil War

  9. Amy Platt says:

    The Eve of the Civil War

    Main themes: political debates; monetary value of slavery; transportation/industry

    Parks: President’s Park, Natchez, Fort Scott

    President’s Park:
    I picked this park because I didn’t think it would show up in any of the other themes and because it lets us talk about politics. Significantly, the Brooks/Sumner incident in Congress really is the clearest indication of the political and ideological tensions pre-war, and demonstrate both what was at stake and how deep the divide was, even within the sacred halls of government. What were civilized men capable of?

    This park captures well the wealth of the plantation owners in the pre-bellum South. The huge houses and slave quarters allow us to talk about the contrasting conditions of the slave owners and their slaves, the economic significance of slave economies, and the way entire towns developed around the plantation culture. They have archives full of letters, as well, including the diary of a freed salve who stayed in town.

    Fort Scott:
    I picked a park that was not on the list—but I wanted to talk about transportation and Fort Scott features their “Soldier vs. Settler” theme in terms of railroad building (which fits in with Ayers essay). The first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1860, which means we can talk about industry (and the South’s failure to diversify its economy). I could rethink this one, though, because I’m back in Kansas and I may want to head north!

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