Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing: Nationalism and Sectionalism in the United States, 1815–1850 | National Humanities Center

Primary Source Guides

Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing: Nationalism and Sectionalism in the United States, 1815–1850

Black and white photograph of the U.S. Capitol under construction in 1860
U.S. Capitol under construction, 1860

Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing: Nationalism and Sectionalism in the United States, 1815–1850” is an open educational resource that delves into the complex historical period in the United States from 1815 to 1850, marked by both the rise of nationalism and the increasing sectional tensions that would ultimately lead to the American Civil War. This primary source guide is organized into five sub-topics and each section contains a vast collection of primary source materials including historical documents, literary texts, and works of art which have been contextualized with annotations and notes, and feature a set of discussion questions for classroom use.

Culture of the Common Man

  • Examines how Americans responded to the emergence of a functioning democracy where the majority of free adult males could vote.
  • Explores how Northerners and Southerners viewed the purposes of political rights and power in this era.

Cult of Domesticity

  • Investigates how women of this period defined themselves and the narratives they chose to share.
  • Explores the ways in which women exercised and defined power and influence.
  • Examines the influence of the “cult of domesticity” on the debate over women's roles in antebellum American society and how this debate intersected with issues of race, class, region, and religion.


  • Explores how American Christianity reflected the nation's democratic, individualistic, and progressive ideals.
  • Examines the role of religion in defining individual and group identity as the nation became more sectionalized.
  • Considers how religion played a role in the debate over slavery and how religious groups outside mainstream American Protestantism reflected and rejected American culture.


  • Analyzes how various groups of people living in the United States in the first half of the 19th century responded to the emergence of a national market economy.

America in 1850

  • Encourages readers to consider the perspective of an American in 1850, either Northern or Southern.
  • Examines the volatility of America in that year and the factors that held the nation together while also pulling it apart.
  • Considers the seriousness of the Southern threat to leave the Union and whether the Compromise of 1850 represented a triumph of nationalism or sectionalism.
  • Raises the question of whether the Union would ultimately survive.

This educational resource provides a comprehensive examination of the cultural, social, political, and economic dynamics that shaped the United States during a period of increasing national identity and growing sectional divisions. It invites readers to explore the intricate factors that contributed to the nation's trajectory during this critical era in American history.

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History / American History / Antebellum Era / National Identity / Nationalism / United States of America /


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