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Expansion and Reform, 1790-1850
Overview, Key Understandings & Questions

Time Period Key Understandings

  • Even visionary thinkers are products of the era in which they live
  • The legal enslavement and oppression of Africans was justified through the belief in white supremacy
  • A nation's struggles and conflicts can create a common enemy and produce a sense of patriotism and pride
  • Lasting political precedents, with some modification, can be built upon from one era to the next
  • Advancements in technology and transportation made the North American continent significantly smaller
  • There are a variety of factors at play when people decide to leave their homeland
  • The expansion of the United States had positive and negative effects
  • Popular appeal can have positive implications for the common man but can devolve into demagoguery
  • Utopian communities are difficult to achieve because they rely on all members sharing the same ideals
  • The extensions of rights and freedoms to all Americans is an ongoing process

Key Questions

Jeffersonian Vision

  • Summarize Thomas Jefferson's views on the federal government. How would he feel about the power and size of today's federal government?
  • What is agrarianism and how is it different from mercantilism? What do these two visions tell you about what their proponents valued?
  • Why was public education such an important part of the vision that became known as Jeffersonian Democracy? What did Jefferson fear might happen were the electorate to be uneducated?


  • How did the invention of the cotton gin affect the production of cotton and the demand for slave labor?
  • What were working and living conditions like for slaves? Why was strict control exerted over the slave populations?
  • What forms of resistance did slaves use? How successful were these methods?
  • Why do you think slavery was justified, tolerated, and in some cases celebrated?

War of 1812

  • Identify the factors that led to the War of 1812 and evaluate the U.S. decision to go to war with Great Britain. Was it in the best interest of the newly founded nation to enter the war?
  • Analyze the various viewpoints colonists' had towards the decision to enter the war. If you had been alive during this time would you have been for or against the war?
  • Why is the War of 1812 considered the second Revolutionary War? Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why do you agree or disagree?

The Monroe Doctrine

  • Explain the four elements of the Monroe Doctrine and evaluate the necessity of each element. Why was each element considered necessary during this time?
  • How was the Monroe Doctrine used to justify the early expansion of the United States?
  • What has been the legacy of the Monroe Doctrine in U.S. foreign policy?

Industrializing America

  • How did the Industrial Revolution change the way goods were manufactured? In what ways did the Industrial Revolution affect daily life?
  • How did the Industrial Revolution change the way in which people work? Compare and contrast labor before and after the Industrial Revolution; what are some of the pros and cons of each?
  • Evaluate the Industrial Revolution. Were the changes brought about by the revolution mostly positive or negative?

Mid-19th Century Immigration

  • What factors contributed to an increase in European immigration during the 1830s?
  • Define nativism and identify what political party originated from these beliefs. Why did some Americans hold these values?
  • How did the Market Revolution and an increase in immigration affect the development of early U.S. cities?

King Cotton

  • How did the invention of the cotton gin affect the production of cotton and the demand for slave labor?
  • How did an increase in cotton production affect life for white and black Southerners?
  • Why did Southerners support the system of slavery?

Louisiana Purchase

  • What was the Louisiana Purchase and how did it fundamentally change the United States?
  • What factors did President Thomas Jefferson take into consideration when deciding to purchase Louisiana?
  • Evaluate Jefferson's decision to purchase Louisiana. What were the pros and cons of the Louisiana purchase and was it mostly positive or negative?

Manifest Destiny

  • What is manifest destiny and how did the term originate?
  • How did the territorial acquisitions under President James K. Polk's administration contribute to the cause of the Civil War?
  • What challenges and opportunities did the United States face as it expanded west?

Settlement of the West

  • Compare and contrast the different stages of westward expansion; what made them similar and unique?
  • How did the California territory come into the possession of the United States and eventually become a state? What factors were pivotal to California becoming a state?
  • How did westward expansion affect Native American populations residing in those areas?

War with Mexico

  • What are some of the causes of the Mexican American War? Why are the causes disputed among historians?
  • What was the outcome of the Mexican American War and how did this affect the United States?
  • Evaluate the U.S. decision to go to war with Mexico. Was the U.S. motivated largely by territorial claims or a desire to expand westward? Based on the outcome of the Mexican American War, was the U.S. decision to go to war with Mexico worthwhile?

Age of the Common Man

  • Under Andrew Jackson, how did democracy expand and in what ways did this affect American politics?
  • How did Andrew Jackson change the office of the presidency?
  • Identify and explain the differences between the Democratic Party and the Whigs. What similarities can be drawn between the political parties of this time period to today's political parties?


  • What are utopias? Evaluate the concept of utopian communities; what are the pros and cons?
  • Compare and contrast the utopian communities of New Harmony, Oneida Community, and the Shakers. How are they similar and how are they different?
  • How possible do you think it is for utopian residents to achieve an ideal society living and working together?

Reforming America

  • Compare and contrast the following reform movements: abolition, women's rights, and the temperance movement. What did each movement stand for, what did they share in common, and how are they different?
  • Analyze the women's movement and its ability to achieve equality. Did the movement address the needs of all women?
  • How are reform movements from this time period similar or different to reform movements today?

MLA Citation

"Expansion and Reform, 1790-1850." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2019, historyhub.abc-clio.com/Support/Content/2143615?cid=246. Accessed 14 Nov. 2019.

Entry ID: 2143615

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