Sectionalism in American History

Sectionalism in the United States has been an inevitable reality that we have dealt with since the start of the nation. Sectionalism is defined as an excessive concern for the interests of one group or area to the detriment of the whole. There are countless issues that have divided the country and cause unrest between the citizens of the United States. The three that I have chosen to explain are The Dred Scott v. Sandford Case, The Nullification Crisis and The Second Bank of America.

Dred Scott was an African slave who lived in states and territories where slavery was illegal, including Illinois and Wisconsin. Those two states were part of the Illinois Territory. Not only was Dred Scott a slave but his wife Harriet was as well. They were both owned by Dr. John Emerson who was in the United States Army. This caused them to be transferred between Illinois and Wisconsin quite often. Legally, in Illinois, Dred was free to claim his freedom. In October of 1837, Dr. John Emerson had been transferred to St. Louis, Missouri where he had left Dred and his wife Harriet behind to be hired by another master. This was Illegal under the Missouri Compromise.

The Missouri Compromise stated that Missouri was allowed to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine was to enter the Union as a free state. The Compromise also drew an imaginary line at 36 degrees parallel. This divided the new Louisiana Territory into two areas, one north and one south. All of the Louisiana Territory north of this line was free territory. The following month, Emerson was transferred to Fort Jessup, Louisiana and then the following February, he married Irene Marie Sanford and sent for Scott and his wife from Minnesota, where they had been staying. Dred and his wife followed Emerson and his family, first to St. Louis and then to Fort Snelling They stayed in Fort Snelling until May of 1840. On their trip to Fort Snelling, their first child was born named Eliza Scott. After Emerson died unexpectedly in December of 1843 Scott tried to purchase his freedom from Irene Emerson in February of 1846, but she refused.

In April of that same year, Dred sued for his freedom. He argued that since he had been living in both a free state and a free territory he was legally free. In his first case, he lost because he was unable to prove to the court that he was a slave. The judge ordered a second trial in December, 1847 which Irene Emerson appealed to the Supreme Court of Missouri. The court ruled against her in June of 1848. A new trial didn’t start until January of 1850. The jury ruled that Scott and his family were legally free. It was then that Irene Emerson appealed a second time to the Supreme Court of Missouri.

After losing case after case, Irene Emerson decided to turn the case over to her brother, John F. A. Sanford. The Missouri Supreme Court then reversed the previous case’s decision and decided that Dred Scott was still a slave, which did not agree with the laws of Missouri which stated that “slaves taken into Free states were automatically free” (Henretta et al 1993: pg.232). That decision was then discussed at the St. Louis State and Federal Courthouse and on March 6, 1857 seven out of nine Justices on the Supreme Court declared no slave or descendant of a slave could be a U.S. citizen. It was also stated by the court that Scott had no rights and could not sue in a Federal Court and must remain a slave.

A second instance of sectionalism and its effect on the nation was the Second Bank of the United States. Five years after the failure of the First Bank of The United States, the Second Bank of the United States was created in 1816. Its goal was to help alleviate the currency problems that arose during the presidency of James Madison. Located in Philadelphia, The Second Bank of The United States began when James Madison and Albert Gallatin realized that the government could not keep up with the finances of the country after the significant damage the War of 1812 had done financially to the country. There was a large increase in banknotes among the new private banks and a result of this was the great increase in inflation. Despite the debt caused by The War of 1812, there was also a huge economic explosion because of the damage from the Napoleonic Wars and due to the damage that had done to Europe’s agricultural area; America had a huge agricultural expansion. This then led to the bank increasing in its loans so that just about anybody could borrow money. People began to buy lots of land which doubled and maybe tripled the prices of land. The citizens of the United States were so caught up in the economic boom that was happening that they didn’t even notice all the fraud the bank was causing.

In 1818, the bank finally realized what was happening to the country due to the banks excessive lending so they put in a policy to rescind some of the loans that were given out. This slowed down the economy tremendously and ultimately led to The Panic of 1819 which was the very first financial crisis to ever happen to the United States.

By 1830 Andrew Jackson was so fed up with the outcome of this bank he had a thorough investigation done and said that this bank established “beyond question that this great and powerful institution had been actively engaged in attempting to influence the elections of the public officers by means of its money.” Even though it was said that the bank’s charter would run out by 1836, Andrew Jackson wanted to put an end to it prematurely and put an end to all the corruption it had brought to the economy of the United States. The head of the Second Bank wanted to have a 4 year extension but when given the bill, Jackson quickly vetoed it.

The Second bank worked solely off the tax revenue that the federal government deposited regularly. In 1833, Andrew Jackson had the Secretary of Treasury to only deposit the tax revenues into the state banks. By this time, the Second Bank began to lose money. And in 1836, the bank’s charter expired and it turned into a regular bank in Philadelphia. Five years after that, the former Second Bank of America, went bankrupt altogether.

Another sectional issue that effected American history was the Nullification Crisis of 1832. Nullification is an act by which a state will nullify or invalidate a federal law within its borders that it deems unconstitutional. Nearing the end of his first term in office, President Andrew Jackson was forced to somehow deal with the state of South Carolina on the issue of the protective tariff. The businessmen and farmers of the state of South Carolina were hoping that Andrew Jackson would use all his presidential power to help modify tariff laws that had been opposed by the citizens for a long time. Many of the people of South Carolina felt that all the benefits of protection tariff were going to Northern manufacturers. While northern states grew richer, South Carolina grew poorer, hurting many of the small businessmen and farmers in the process. John C. Calhoun responded to this by presenting nullification in the South Carolina Exposition and Protest. They tariff was then rendered null and void by the state of South Carolina. The legislative branch then passed a law that would enforce the ordinance which included “authorization for raising a military force and the appropriation of arms.”

In response to that, in November of 1832, President Jackson had seven vessels and a man-of-war over to Charleston, South Carolina. Soon after, on December 10th of that same year, he ordered a proclamation to undo the nullification. President Jackson then stated that the state of South Carolina had “stood on the brink of insurrection and treason.” He pleaded to the state of South Carolina as a whole to stress their allegiance to that Union which their ancestors had fought for.

When the question of tariffs came up again in Congress, Senator Henry Clay was the sole advocate for the protection tariff and proposed a compromise to Congress which passed soon after its proposal in 1833. It stated that all duties more than 20 percent of the value of the goods imported were to be reduced gradually, so that by 1842, the duties on all articles would reach the point of the Fair Tariff of 1816. Leaders of the nullification in South Carolina thought that they would have the support of the other southern states, but instead the southern states felt that South Carolina’s course of action was unconstitutional. This then led South Carolina to withdraw of all of their actions.

Overall, America as a whole will never completely agree on any one issue. Ultimately, it is instances such as these that make American history, history.