Sectionalism and Westward Expansion

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"Map of Eastern Kansas," 1856. Courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

While the war would pit North against South, it was the West that became the catalyst for pre-war tensions. Physical expansion, with little regard for native populations, marked the nation’s first decades, beginning with the Louisiana Purchase and then other lands gained via treaty or war.  

Indeed it was the nation's Manifest Destiny to expand to the Pacific Coast, but which vision would prevail in these new territories? Compromise and political balance had enabled this growth, but after the War with Mexico, the nation struggled to determine the destiny of these lands—slave or free. For a decade before Fort Sumter, Americans battled in the courts, state houses, Congress and on the land itself. Lincoln's election in 1860 led the southern states to believe that secession was their only option.