primary source analysis 20

Senator William Seward Warns of an Irrepressible Conflict, 1858

William Seward held multiple political offices — governor of New York (1839 – 1842); U.S. Senator (1849 – 1861) and the U.S. Secretary of State (1861 – 1869). His political career was based on his conviction that all men should be free. In 1858, he made a speech where he warned of an “Irrepressible Conflict.” Please read the following excerpt from Seward’s speech and write an essay – up to two pages long – that answers the questions that follow.

The free labor system educates all alike, and by opening all the fields of industrial employment…at once secures universal contentment, and brings into the highest possible activity all the physical, moral and social energies of the whole state. In states where the slave system prevails, the masters, directly or indirectly, secure all political power, and constitute a ruling aristocracy…

Hitherto, the two systems have existed in different states, but side by side within the American union. This has happened because the Union is a confederation of states. But in another aspect the United States constitute only one nation. Increase of population, which is filling the states out to their very borders, together with a new and extended network of railroads and other avenues, and an internal commerce which daily becomes more intimate, is rapidly bringing the states into a higher and more perfect social unity or consolidation. Thus, these antagonistic systems are continually coming into closer contact, and collision results….It is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slaveholding nation, or entirely a free-labor nation.

Why did Seward believe that the United States was heading toward an irrepressible conflict?

What is the significance of this source for understanding the relationship between sectionalism and the market revolution?

What is the significance of this source for understanding the problems of westward expansion?

A. We discussed in lecture four possible ways to deal with slavery in the new territories — Wilmot’s Proviso, territorial expansion of the Missouri Compromise at 36/30, popular sovereignty, and disallowing Congress from having power in determining slavery in the territories. How is this source significant for understanding those debates?

B. Gast’s painting, “American Progress,” also depicts the market revolution and westward expansion in the United States. How do these two sources differ in their view of those two events in the United States?

Part II: Please pose at least one discussion question about this source. What do you think is important to talk about with regard to Seward’s warning of an irrepressible conflict? Your question for Part II can be included on a third page of your essay, since this assignment is limited to two pages.

Responses will be graded according to the following criteria:

Does the paper stay within the two page limit (the question for Part II can be on a third page)

Does the response address all the questions posed?

Does the response demonstrate that the student has done a close and careful analysis?

Does the response offer a thoughtful engagement with the source?

Does the response demonstrate a concerted effort to think about the significance of the source and its relationship to course topics?

Does the response make sense? Are the ideas within it clearly communicated?

Is the response written in essay form, with a thesis, a set of paragraphs that each address a distinct argument in support of the thesis, and a conclusion?