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National Expansion and Reform
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broadside
"...all parts of the West!,"
1857.
An American Time Capsule

During this period, the small republic founded by George Washington's generation became the world's largest democracy. All adult, white males received the right to vote. With wider suffrage, politics became hotly contested. The period also saw the emergence--and demise--of a number of significant political parties, including the Democratic, the Whig, the American, the Free Soil, and the Republican Parties.

Meanwhile, the young republic expanded geographically from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Stars and Stripes were raised over Texas, Oregon, California, and the Southwest. Expansion, however, proved to be a mixed blessing for Americans. While many white settlers found new opportunities to the West, their settlement displaced other groups including Indian tribes and Mexicans. In addition, territorial expansion gave African-American slavery a new lease on life and led to increasing conflict between North and South.

Democracy and territorial expansion led most Americans to feel optimistic about the future. These forces, reinforced by widespread religious revivals, also led many Americans to support social reforms. These reforms included promoting temperance, creating public school systems, improving the treatment of prisoners, the insane, and the poor, abolishing slavery, and gaining equal rights for women. Some of these reforms achieved significant successes. The political climate supporting reform declined in the 1850s, as conflict grew between the North and South over the slavery question.
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