Dividing the National Map, 1860. Source: Library of Congress

Divided States of America?

The History of an Often Disjointed Union

Google the phrase “divided America” and you’ll find numerous, stories, opinion pieces and even psychological theories on why we’re so disconnected. From race and class to gender and politics, it seems that Americans can’t see eye-to-eye – to the point that a recent NBC News headline stated, “Americans are divided over everything except division.” On this episode, Ed, Nathan and Joanne look at other times in history when Americans were split.

This episode and related resources are funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this show, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Divided America Lesson Set

Download the Divided America Lesson Set

According to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center[1] the idea that America is more polarized than it has been in recent years is supported by the data that Democrats and Republicans view each other with anger and see each other more negatively than they have in the past. Polarization and division, however, has been a theme of American history since its conception. As the episode discusses, Loyalists and Patriots represented this division over the colonies’ relationship with Great Britain. The election of Andrew Jackson pitted the “common man” of the south and west against the urban, cosmopolitan elite of the Northeast. In the years leading up to the Civil War, the caning of Senator Charles Sumner provides an example of unprecedented partisan violence and vitriol.

This lesson set considers aspects of the divisions in the 1920s and helps students grapple with the following questions: Should America pursue a policy of prohibition? Is America a Christian nation? What is the role of women in modern America? What is the role of America in the world? What role do African Americans have in shaping American culture?