Critical Thought and Directed Reading

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Essay Questions for Critical Thought and Directed Reading:


Why did a two party system develop in the U.S.? What are the benefits from such a system? What are the problems?

What was the significance of Andrew Jackson's election to the presidency of the U.S.? What policies made him attractive to the common people of the U.S.? What was Andrew Jackson's impact on the presidency of the U.S.?

What was the Trail of Tears? How did this episode in U.S. history come to exemplify the increasingly hostile attitudes between whites and Native Americans?

What was nullification? What made it such a volatile political subject during the first half of the 19th century? What are the political implications of nullification? How is this at odds with the idea of perpetual union?

What were the main beliefs of transcendentalism and how did American writers incorporate them into their work?

What is the relationship between transcendentalism and individualism? Between transcendentalism and social reform? Between transcendentalism and the middle class?

What accounts for the proliferation of communal utopian communities in nineteenth-century America?

How did black social thought change over the first half of the nineteenth century? What role did black activists play in the abolitionist movement?

How did the abolitionists' proposals and methods differ from those of earlier antislavery movements? Why did those proposals and methods arouse such hostility in the South and in the North?

Why did religious women such as Mary Walker Ostram and the Grimke sisters become social reformers?


Did the era of reform increase or decrease the American commitment to, and practice of, liberty? In what ways?

How would you explain the large and expanding domestic trade in slaves between 1800 and 1860? What combination of factors produced this result?


By 1860, what different groups made up the South's increasingly complex society? How did these groups interact in the political arena?


Why do certain African practices (the ring shout and incest taboos, for example) persist in the United States, and why have others (such as ritual scarring) disappeared?


What were the successes of African Americans in building families, creating a culture, and winning rights? In what endeavors did they not succeed?


Why by 1860 did Southern Democrats remain committed to the institution of slavery and its expansion?

What ideas did the term Manifest Destiny reflect? Did it cause historical events, or was it merely a description of events? What were those events?


What groups comprised the Plains Indians? What was the cause of their growth and success during the early to mid 1800s?


Why did President Polk got to war with Mexico? Why did the war become so divisive in Congress and the country?


What issues were resolved by the Compromise of 1850? Who benefitted more from its terms: the North or the South? Why?


Did the Compromise of 1850 fail? Or would it have succeeded if the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 had either not been enacted or contained different provisions?


What were the main constitutional arguments advanced during the debate over slavery in the territories? Which of those arguments influenced Chief Justice Taney's opinion in Dred Scott?


What were the Lincoln-Douglas debates? What was Lincoln's position on slavery during the 1850s? Did it differ from that of Stephen Douglas? Explain your answer.

What is total war as it applies to the Civil War? Why was this form of war fought rather than a war against armies as the U.S. had fought in previous years? Why did the Civil War continue for as long as it did?


What was meant by "King Cotton"? Why did the South think that cotton would be their trump against the North?


What was the impact of women in the Civil War?


What was the impact of technology in the Civil War?


What was the battle of Gettysburg? Why was it called the turning point of the war?


What was Abraham Lincoln's strengths that allowed him to guide the North into victory and save the union? What were some of the challenges he faced in trying to conduct the war?


What was the impact and cost of the Civil War?

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