Abraham Lincoln grew to manhood in a rapidly changing society. In quick succession the steamboat, canal, railroad, and telegraph opened new land to settlement, lowered transportation costs, and created a national market. By mid-century, the Native American population had been expelled to lands west of the Mississippi River. The nation stretched from coast to coast, and half of all Americans lived outside the original thirteen states. Illinois, whose population grew from 55,000 in 1820 to 1.7 million in 1860, epitomized the rise of the West.

The transportation revolution, expanding economy and westward movement set the North and the South on divergent paths of development. The South remained virtually unchanged and sought to spread its way of life by exporting its traditional plantation system and slavery to the West. But in the North a profound transformation of economic life was set into motion. In contrast to the overwhelmingly rural South, the North developed into a complex, diversified society with burgeoning cities and an expanding factory system. The frontier quickly receded. In its place arose an empire of commercial agriculture in the Old Northwest that was bound to eastern cities by a web of transportation and trade. European visitors marveled at this new society produced by the transportation revolution and accompanying economic changes - energetic, materialistic, seemingly in constant motion.

Politics, too, reflected the new age. By 1840 the Whig and Democratic parties had adopted the principles of the marketplace, "selling" their candidates through a flood of banners and broadsides emblazoned with western symbols like the log cabin. As a result, popular participation in politics rose to unprecedented heights.

Uniting men from all parts of the country in pursuit of common goals, political parties formed powerful bonds of Union. Yet they could play this role only as long as the divisive issue of slavery remained outside the national political arena.

Abraham Lincoln
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