AP US History Exam: Period 5 Notes (1844-1877)

Five Things to Know about AP US History Period 5

  1. Americans enthusiastically supported Western expansion in hopes of finding new economic opportunities. The philosophy of “Manifest Destiny” emerged as motivation for this westward migration. America’s expansionist philosophy extended into foreign policy as well, as evidenced by conflict over the Oregon territory with Britain and involvement in the Mexican-American War.
  2. The Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Dred Scott decision were all important attempts made by national leaders and the courts to resolve the issues surrounding slavery.
  3. Debates about slavery—as well as economic, political, and cultural differences—led to a widening gap between the North and South. Despite various efforts at compromise, the South (11 states in all) seceded from the United States to form The Confederate States of America. America would soon afterwards become embroiled in the Civil War.
  4. Due to superior military strategy, more resources, a larger population, and stronger infrastructure, the Union defeated the Confederacy. During the war, President Lincoln declared an end to slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation, and after the war, worked to rebuild the country. After his assassination, many questions remained, however, about the role of the federal government and citizens’ rights, including women, African Americans, and other minorities.
  5. After the Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment officially ended slavery, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments further expanded the rights of African Americans. Despite these efforts, African Americans faced great hardships in gaining equal rights and employment.


Key Topics–Period 5: 1844 to 1877


Remember that the AP US History exam tests you on the depth of your knowledge, not just your ability to recall facts. While we have provided brief definitions here, you will need to know these terms in even more depth for the AP US History exam, including how terms connect to broader historical themes and understandings.

The Impacts of Manifest Destiny

  • Manifest Destiny: Coined by journalist John O’Sullivan in 1845 to describe the belief that it was God’s will for the United States to expand westward to the Pacific Ocean. It also describes a more general expansionism, such as the dispute over the Oregon Territory that Polk campaign on and the U.S. expansion into the Southwest following the Mexican-American War.
  • Oregon Trail: Throughout the 1840s, a flood of settlers began traversing the dangerous Oregon Trail. Families traveled up to six months in caravans, covering only about 15 miles per day with good weather. While living on the trail, some women began to run prayer meetings and schools to maintain some vestiges of home. Women also began to take on new roles outside of homemaking and childcare, such as repairing wagon wheels and tending to livestock.
  • Martin Van Buren: Eighth President. Served 1837–1841. Van Buren’s presidency was marred by an economic depression resulting from the policies of his predecessor, Andrew Jackson. The Panic of 1837 dogged his administration. Van Buren was the first president to be born a U.S. citizen, and the only president to speak English as a second language (Dutch being the primary language spoken in his childhood home).
  • Panic of 1837: A financial crisis that last from 1837 until the mid 1840s. Caused, in part, by Andrew Jackson killing the Bank of the United States and issuing the Specie Circular, the latter of which caused the value of paper money to plummet.
  • Whig Party: The Whig Party was born out of opposition to Jacksonian Democrats. The Whigs favored economic nationalism, a strong central government, and rechartering the national bank. They believed in protectionist measures such as tariffs to support American industrialization. They also promoted Clay’s American System as a way to improve the roads, canals, and infrastructure of the country. The party collapsed over the question of slavery’s expansion into newly acquired territories.
  • William Henry Harrison: Ninth President. Served from March 4 to April 4, 1841, famously dying after 31 days in office. A hero of the War of 1812, specifically the Battle of Tippecanoe, his lively campaign saw the Whigs cart model log cabins to towns and distribute hard cider to boast of Harrison’s “poor” background. His “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too” ticket easily defeated Van Buren in 1840. However, he gave his Inaugural Address on a cold, rainy day and neglected to wear a warm coat. He contracted pneumonia and died. See: John Tyler.


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