power to promote slavery’s growth and expansion as they exploited a growing demand for slave- produced commodities such as cotton. Though the Age of Revolutions saw slavery’s rapid growth in North America, it also witnessed the emergence of sustained challenges to slavery. The century stretching from the 1760s to the 1860s would be an age of empires and slavery, but it would also become an age of antislavery movements, emancipation, and abolition. Slavery expanded rapidly in the United States between the 1770s and the 1830s, with few sustained challenges. By the 1840s, however, political antislavery had emerged as an important political force. The 1840s through the 1870s became an extended period of imperial rivalries, conflicts, and conquests, as Republicans and Democrats sought to impose free labor or slave labor regimes on the regions and peoples of the trans-Mississippi West, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. As the North and South sought to impose their particular forms of sovereignty concerning race, slavery, and labor on various borderland regions, both sections began formulating rival imperial ideologies. From the 1840s through the start of the American Civil
War, Republicans and Democrats developed aggressive, competing imperial visions for the trans- Mississippi West, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. In no small measure, the election of 1860 and the secession crisis centered on the question of what kind of empire the United States would forge in the broader Americas: an empire for slavery, or an empire of free labor. Union victory ended the acquisition of new territory by the United States and led directly to the abolition of slavery. As a newly powerful imperial nation-state, the federal government fostered development in the Great Plains, the Mountain West, and the Pacific Coast along lines advocated by free-labor Republicans.
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