How much of a factor was slavery in Southerners' desire to expand the US?

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,247
SoCal
How much of a factor was slavery in Southerners' desire to expand the US in the 1840s and beyond? I know that James K. Polk (the pro-expansionist candidate) won in various northern US states in 1844 as well, but I am curious specifically about Southerners' motives for supporting US territorial expansion. Was it only about slavery for them or did they also want to achieve something else as a result of US expansion, and if so, what?
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,599
Dispargum
My sense is that expansion did not specifically become linked with slavery until after 1850. Prior to that it was just assumed that as the US expanded some of the new territories would eventually become slave states. In fact, prior to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854 it was guaranteed that slavery would expand at the same rate as free territory. After 1850 the abolition movement began adopting the policy of containing slavery to only where it already existed. That's when the slave power really began to think of expansion as essential to the survival of slavery but also that part of the country was opposed to slavery's expansion. It had always been understood that slavery had to expand to survive, but that expansion had never been threatened before.

Southerners had bought into the message of Manifest Destiny just as much as the North had. New territory was seen as essential for a growing population, most of who were farmers who needed lots of land. It wasn't just about slavery.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,247
SoCal
My sense is that expansion did not specifically become linked with slavery until after 1850. Prior to that it was just assumed that as the US expanded some of the new territories would eventually become slave states. In fact, prior to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854 it was guaranteed that slavery would expand at the same rate as free territory. After 1850 the abolition movement began adopting the policy of containing slavery to only where it already existed. That's when the slave power really began to think of expansion as essential to the survival of slavery but also that part of the country was opposed to slavery's expansion. It had always been understood that slavery had to expand to survive, but that expansion had never been threatened before.

Southerners had bought into the message of Manifest Destiny just as much as the North had. New territory was seen as essential for a growing population, most of who were farmers who needed lots of land. It wasn't just about slavery.
What changed around 1850? Was it the realization that previous attempts to end slavery in the Southern US were extremely unsuccessful?
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,247
SoCal
I've previously read that the Founding Fathers expected slavery to gradually be abolished and that its survival and strength in the mid-19th century would have surprised a lot of them.
 

Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,798
United States
If I recall correctly most of the founding fathers were against or indifferent to slavery, with only a few being outright for it. They didn't address such a polarizing issue at that time since breaking away from England was far more pressing.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Futurist

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,599
Dispargum
What changed around 1850?
One change around 1850 was the passing of that generation of leaders like Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, and Henry Clay who were much more ammenable to compromise. They were replaced by a younger generation composed of men like Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and Lincoln who were less inclined to compromise. (Lincoln could compromise in the short term, but in the long term he generally got what he wanted.)

There was also a loss of patience in the North. Holding the Union together had become an exercise in making concessions to the South, and the North was getting tired of doing all the giving and getting nothing in return. The North felt entitled to more because of shifting populations. Immigration had caused the North to grow much faster and larger than the South, but the South still had a disproportionate share of the political power.
 
Mar 2016
1,222
Australia
I've previously read that the Founding Fathers expected slavery to gradually be abolished and that its survival and strength in the mid-19th century would have surprised a lot of them.
Well, aside from one or two of them they certainly didn't go out of their way to aid in this "gradual" process, especially not the many Virginian ones. I'm sure they only made those comments in the expectation that if eventually slavery did fade out they'd want to be seen to be on the right side of history by not creating a country they wanted to remain pro-slavery. Did they expect slavery would just magically disappear one day without any leading politicians doing anything about it?
 
  • Like
Reactions: Futurist

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,247
SoCal
Well, aside from one or two of them they certainly didn't go out of their way to aid in this "gradual" process, especially not the many Virginian ones. I'm sure they only made those comments in the expectation that if eventually slavery did fade out they'd want to be seen to be on the right side of history by not creating a country they wanted to remain pro-slavery. Did they expect slavery would just magically disappear one day without any leading politicians doing anything about it?
The cotton gin was invented several years after the ratification of the US Constitution, though.