The Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the 1760s, largely with new developments in the textile industry.
Other changes that helped bring about the Industrial Revolution included the use of steam, and later of other kinds of power, in place of the muscles of human beings and of animals.
The Industrial Revolution brought about sweeping changes in economic and social organization.
These changes included a wider distribution of wealth and increased international trade.
Managerial hierarchies also developed to oversee the division of labor.
By the late 1700s many people could no longer earn their living in the countryside. Increasingly, people moved from farms and villages into bigger towns and cities to find work in factories.
Cities grew larger, but they were often dirty, crowded, and unhealthy.
Machines greatly increased production. This meant that products were cheaper to make and also cheaper to buy. Many factory owners became rich.
Although the machines made work easier in some ways, factory work created many problems for the laborers. Factory employees did not earn much, and the work was often dangerous. Many worked 14 to 16 hours per day six days per week. Men, women, and even small children worked in factories.
The process of industrialization continues around the world, as do struggles against many of its negative effects, such as industrial pollution and urban crowding.
This drawing depicts men working the lock on a section of the Erie Canal. Find more lyrics like this "I've got a mule, her name is Sal, Fifteen years on the Erie Canal" on this New York State Canals website.
The transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy took more than a century in the United States, but that long development entered its first phase from the 1790s through the 1830s. The Industrial Revolution had begun in Britain during the mid-18th century, but the American colonies lagged far behind the mother country in part because the abundance of land and scarcity of labor in the New World reduced interest in expensive investments in machine production. Nevertheless, with the shift from hand-made to machine-made products a new era of human experience began where increased productivity created a much higher standard of living than had ever been known in the pre-industrial world.
The start of the American Industrial Revolution is often attributed to Samuel Slater who opened the first industrial mill in the United States in 1790 with a design that borrowed heavily from a British model. Slater's pirated technology greatly increased the speed with which cotton thread could be spun into yarn. While he introduced a vital new technology to the United States, the economic takeoff of the Industrial Revolution required several other elements before it would transform American life.
New York Governor DeWitt Clinton pours a bucketful of Lake Erie into the Atlantic Ocean to mark the opening of the Erie Canal in the autumn of 1825.
Another key to the rapidly changing economy of the early Industrial Revolution were new organizational strategies to increase productivity. This had begun with the "outwork system" whereby small parts of a larger production process were carried out in numerous individual homes. This organizational reform was especially important for shoe and boot making. However, the chief organizational breakthrough of the Industrial Revolution was the "factory system" where work was performed on a large scale in a single centralized location. Among the early innovators of this approach were a group of businessmen known as the Boston Associates who recruited thousands of New England farm girls to operate the machines in their new factories.
The most famous of their tightly controlled mill towns was Lowell, Massachusetts, which opened in 1823. The use of female factory workers brought advantages to both employer and employee. The Boston Associates preferred female labor because they paid the young girls less than men. These female workers, often called "Lowell girls," benefited by experiencing a new kind of independence outside the traditional male-dominated family farm.
The rise of wage labor at the heart of the Industrial Revolution also exploited working people in new ways. The first strike among textile workers protesting wage and factory conditions occurred in 1824 and even the model mills of Lowell faced large strikes in the 1830s.
Dramatically increased production, like that in the New England's textile mills, were key parts of the Industrial Revolution, but required at least two more elements for widespread impact. First, an expanded system of credit was necessary to help entrepreneurs secure the capital needed for large-scale and risky new ventures. Second, an improved transportation system was crucial for raw materials to reach the factories and manufactured goods to reach consumers. State governments played a key role encouraging both new banking institutions and a vastly increased transportation network. This latter development is often termed the Market Revolution because of the central importance of creating more efficient ways to transport people, raw materials, and finished goods.
Alexander Hamilton's Bank of the United States received a special national charter from the U.S. Congress in 1791. It enjoyed great success, which led to the opening of branch offices in eight major cities by 1805. Although economically successful, a government-chartered national bank remained politically controversial. As a result, President Madison did not submit the bank's charter for renewal in 1811. The key legal and governmental support for economic development in the early 19th century ultimately came at the state, rather than the national, level. When the national bank closed, state governments responded by creating over 200 state-chartered banks within five years. Indeed, this rapid expansion of credit and the banks' often unregulated activities helped to exacerbate an economic collapse in 1819 that resulted in a six-year depression. The dynamism of a capitalist economy creates rapid expansion that also comes with high risks that include regular periods of sharp economic downturns.
The use of a state charter to provide special benefits for a private corporation was a crucial and controversial innovation in republican America. The idea of granting special privileges to certain individuals seemed to contradict the republican ideal of equality before the law. Even more than through rapidly expanded banking institutions, state support for internal transportation improvements lay at the heart of the nation's new political economy. Road, bridge, and especially canal building was an expensive venture, but most state politicians supported using government-granted legal privileges and funds to help create the infrastructure that would stimulate economic development.
The most famous state-led creation of the Market Revolution was undoubtedly New York's Erie Canal. Begun in 1817, the 364-mile man-made waterway flowed between Albany on the Hudson River and Buffalo on Lake Erie. The canal connected the eastern seaboard and the Old Northwest. The great success of the Erie Canal set off a canal frenzy that, along with the development of the steamboat, created a new and complete national water transportation network by 1840.
Artist John Rubens Smith was taken with the physical transformation that occurred as the United States began to mature. This picture was one in a large series of the almost-finished Capitol in Washington D.C.
The United States changed dramatically in its first half century. In 1776 the U.S. consisted of thirteen colonies clustered together on the eastern seaboard. By 1821 eleven new states had been added from Maine to Louisiana. This geographic growth and especially the political incorporation of the new states demonstrated that the United States had resolved a fundamental question about how to expand. This growth not only built upon the Louisiana Purchase, but included military intervention in Spanish Florida which the United States then claimed by treaty in 1819.
The new shape of the nation required thinking about the United States in new ways. For instance, a classic text on American geography in 1793 taught that the United States was composed of three basic divisions: northern, middle, and southern. But the 1819 edition of that same book included a new region because western states and territories needed recognition as well. By 1820, over two million Americans lived west of the Appalachian Mountains.
The growing regional distinctiveness of American life was complex. Four basic regions with distinct ways of life had developed along the eastern seaboard in the colonial period. Starting in the north, they were New England (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut); the Mid-Atlantic (New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania); the Chesapeake (Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia); and the Lower South (the Carolinas and Georgia). As people from these regions joined new immigrants to the United States in settling the west, they established additional distinctive regions that combined frontier conditions with ways of doing things from their previous places of origin.
The institution of slavery was a target for many of the Bible and Benevolent Societies that formed in the early 19th century. This image, taken from a children's book, depicts treatment on a slave ship and the inhuman conditions abducted Africans faced.
The newly settled western lands of this period can be grouped in several ways, but four basic divisions were most evident: the border area (Kentucky and Tennessee, the first trans-Appalachian states to join the nation), the Old Northwest (Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois), the Old Southwest (Alabama and Mississippi), and the trans-Mississippi River west (Louisiana and Missouri).
The new shape of the nation reflected much more than just physical expansion. This period also witnessed dramatic economic and religious changes. A new capitalist economy enormously expanded wealth and laid the foundation for the Industrial Revolution that flourished later in the 19th century. The great opportunities of economic development also brought new hardships for many people, especially those who toiled as slaves under the startlingly new system of cotton slavery that boomed in the early 19th century.
A dynamic religious movement known as the Second Great Awakening also transformed the nation in this period. Although springing from internal spiritual convictions, the new character of American Protestantism in the early 19th century reinforced the modern economic and political developments that created the new nation by the end of the 1820s.
The United States had claimed political independence in 1776, but its ability to make that claim a reality required at least another fifty years to be fully settled. The War of 1812, however fitfully, had demonstrated American military independence, but breaking free of the economic and cultural dominance of Great Britain would prove to be longer and more complicated struggles. In 1823 when President Monroe declared that the entire western hemisphere is "henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers," it was a claim made without the power to back it up. Although his Monroe Doctrine became a central plank of U.S. foreign policy only at the end of the century, Americans had clearly fashioned a bold new national identity by the 1820s.
The Americans were angry with the British for many reasons.
But the United States was not really ready for war. The Americans hoped to get a jump on the British by conquering Canada in the campaigns of 1812 and 1813. Initial plans called for a three-pronged offensive: from Lake Champlain to Montreal; across the Niagara frontier; and into Upper Canada from Detroit.
The Treaty of Ghent was signed by British and American delegates on December 24, 1814, effectively ending the War of 1812.
The first American attacks were disjointed and failed. Detroit was surrendered to the British in August 1812. The Americans also lost the Battle of Queenston Heights in October. Nothing much happened along Lake Champlain and the American forces withdrew in late November.
In 1813, the Americans tried an intricate attack on Montreal by a combined land and sea operation. That failed.
One bright spot for the Americans was Oliver Hazard Perry's destruction of the British fleet on Lake Erie in September 1813 that forced the British to flee from Detroit. The British were overtaken in October defeated at the battle of the Thames by Americans led by William Henry Harrison, the future President It was here that the Shawnee chief, and British ally, Tecumseh fell.
Minor victories aside, things looked bleak for the Americans in 1814. The British were able to devote more men and ships to the American arena after having defeated Napoleon.
England conceived of a three-pronged attack focusing on controlling major waterways. Control of the Hudson River in New York would seal off New England; seizing New Orleans would seal up the Mississippi River and seriously disrupt the farmers and traders of the Midwest; and by attacking the Chesapeake Bay, the British hoped to threaten Washington, D.C. and put an end to the war and pressure the U.S. into ceding territory in a peace treaty.
The USS Chesapeake engages the HMS Shannon during the War of 1812. The Chesapeake had become famous when the HMS Leopard attacked the ship off Cape Henry in 1807 looking for deserters.
All the while, support for the war waned in America. Associated costs skyrocketed. New England talked of succeeding from the Union. At the Hartford Convention, delegates proposed constitutional amendments that would limit the power of the executive branch of government.
So weak was American military opposition that the British sashayed into Washington D.C. after winning the Battle of Bladensburg and burned most of the public buildings including the White House. President Madison had to flee the city. His wife Dolley gathered invaluable national objects and escaped with them at the last minute. It was the nadir of the war.
But the Americans put up a strong opposition in Baltimore and the British were forced to pull back from that city. In the north, about 10,000 British army veterans advanced into the United States via Montreal: their goal was New York City. With American fortunes looking their bleakest, American Captain Thomas MacDonough won the naval battle of Lake Champlain destroying the British fleet. The British army, fearful of not being supplied by the British navy, retreated into Canada.
The War of 1812 came to an end largely because the British public had grown tired of the sacrifice and expense of their twenty-year war against France. Now that Napoleon was all but finally defeated, the minor war against the United States in North America lost popular support. Negotiations began in August 1814 and on Christmas Eve the Treaty of Ghent was signed in Belgium. The treaty called for the mutual restoration of territory based on pre-war boundaries and with the European war now over, the issue of American neutrality had no significance.
In effect, the treaty didn't change anything and hardly justified three years of war and the deep divide in American politics that it exacerbated.
With their fingers on the triggers, these American infantrymen demonstrate the uniforms and weaponry used in the War of 1812.
Popular memory of the War of 1812 might have been quite so dour had it not been for a major victory won by American forces at New Orleans on January 8, 1815. Although the peace treaty had already been signed, news of it had not yet arrived on the battlefront where General Andrew Jackson led a decisive victory resulting in 700 British casualties versus only 13 American deaths. Of course, the Battle of New Orleans had no military or diplomatic significance, but it did allow Americans to swagger with the claim of a great win.Furthermore, the victory launched the public career of Andrew Jackson as a new kind of American leader totally different from those who had guided the nation through the Revolution and early republic. The Battle of New Orleans vaunted Jackson to heroic status and he became a symbol of the new American nation emerging in the early 19th century.
This engraving, The Taking of the City of Washington in America, illustrates British forces storming Washington D.C. in 1814 and burning several significant structures including the White House and the Library of Congress.
In the War of 1812 the United States once again fought against the British and their Indian allies. Some historians see the conflict as a Second War for American Independence.
Furthermore, the three-year war marks a traditional boundary between the early republic and early national periods. The former period had strong ties to the more hierarchical colonial world of the 18th century, while post-war developments would move in dynamic new directions that contributed to a more autonomous American society and culture. Although the War of 1812 serves as an important turning point in the development of an independent United States, the war itself was mostly a political and military disaster for the country.
The U.S. Congress was far from unanimous in its declaration of war. America's initial invasion of Canada (then ruled by England) in the summer of 1812 was repulsed by Tecumseh and the British. Although Tecumseh would be killed in battle the following fall, the U.S. was unable to mount a major invasion of Canada because of significant domestic discord over war policy. Most importantly, the governors of most New England states refused to allow their state militias to join a campaign beyond state boundaries. Similarly, a promising young Congressman from New Hampshire, Daniel Webster, actually discouraged enlistment in the U.S. army.
Fort McHenry is considered the "Home of the National Anthem" because it was here, during a battle in the War of 1812, that Francis Scott Key was inspired to write his famous poem.
British military dominance was even clearer in the Atlantic and this naval superiority allowed it to deliver a shaming blow to the fragile United States in the summer of 1814. With Napoleon's French forces failing in Europe, Britain committed more of its resources to the American war and in August sailed up the Potomac River to occupy Washington D.C. and burn the White House. On the edge of national bankruptcy and with the capital largely in ashes, total American disaster was averted when the British failed to capture Ft. McHenry that protected nearby Baltimore.
Watching the failed attack on Ft. McHenry as a prisoner of the British, Francis Scott Key wrote a poem later called "The Star-Spangled Banner" which was set to the tune of an English drinking song. It became the official national anthem of the United States of America in 1931.
The most critical moment of the War of 1812, however, may not have been a battle, but rather a political meeting called by the Massachusetts legislature. Beginning in December 1814, 26 Federalists representing New England states met at the Hartford Convention to discuss how to reverse the decline of their party and the region. Although manufacturing was booming and contraband trade brought riches to the region, "Mr. Madison's War" and its expenses proved hard to swallow for New Englanders.
Holding this meeting during the war was deeply controversial. Although more moderate leaders voted down extremists who called for New England to secede from the United States, most Republicans believed that the Hartford Convention was an act of treason.
State militia in New England refused to go into national service during the War of 1812.
Federalist New England's opposition to national policies had been demonstrated in numerous ways from circumventing trade restrictions as early as 1807, to voting against the initial declaration of war in 1812, refusing to contribute state militia to the national army, and now its representatives were moving on a dangerous course of semi-autonomy during war time.
If a peace treaty ending the War of 1812 had not been signed while the Hartford Convention was still meeting, New England may have seriously debated seceeding from the Union.
Tenskwatawa, also known as Prophet (pictured here), worked with his brother Tecumseh to create a broad-based tribal coalition which would resist American encroachment from the east.
In the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, the first white settlers in America inhabited the eastern seaboard. There the whites either made treaties with the Native American groups to buy land or they forcibly took Indian land. By the Revolution's end and on into the early 19th century, Native Americans were being displaced across the Appalachians and toward what is today the Midwest. For these exiled groups, there were few places left to go.
Outright military conflict with native groups in the northwest preceded the formal declaration of war in 1812. In fact, the "western war" in many ways represented a continuation of the American Revolution with many autonomous Indian nations again choosing to ally with the British against Americans who fundamentally threatened their survival.
The American invasion from the east deeply disrupted native groups and generally caused a sharp division within Indian nations between "accommodationists," who chose to adopt some Euro-American ways versus "traditionalists," who called for native purity by rejecting contact with whites. Both sides were authentically Native American, but they each chose different routes to deal with a terrible situation.
Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, Shawnee brothers, were leading Indian traditionalists, and together they crafted a novel resurgence among native peoples in the west. Tecumseh, a political and military leader, is the better known of the two, but it was their combined skills that made them especially powerful. Tecumseh had fought at Fallen Timbers in 1794, but refused to participate in the peace negotiations that produced the Treaty of Grenville the following year. Instead, he removed to east-central Indiana where he led a band of militant young warriors.
Tecumseh traveled to Tukabatchi, the capital of the Creek people, to try to recruit Natives to join the Indian Confederacy, but he was met with resistance. Legend has it that he said he would return home to Ohio and stamp his foot with such force, they would feel the earth move in Tukabatchi. Several days after he left, a small earthquake did hit the Creek Capital.
His younger brother Tenskwatawa provided the essential vision to launch a much broader Indian social movement. Also known as the Prophet, Tenskwatawa combined traditional native beliefs with some aspects of Christianity to call for a pan-Indian resistance against American intruders from the east. He explained that when native peoples joined together and rejected all contact with Americans and their ways (from alcohol to private property), God would restore Indian power by "overturning the land so that all the white people will be covered and you alone shall inhabit the land."
Tecumseh gradually converted to the Prophet's vision and together they built a broad movement that revived the Western Confederacy of the 1790s and even reached out to southern tribes with stronger accommodationist factions. In 1808 they founded Prophetstown at the sacred junction of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers, from which they built a strong Indian alliance that directly challenged the U.S. government.
This growing Indian force threatened American plans to move west and seemed especially dangerous since it received economic and military support from the British in Canada. In November 1811 the U.S. destroyed Prophetstown during the Battle of Tippecanoe, under the leadership of future president William Henry Harrison. Tecumseh was away at the time recruiting southern Creeks to the confederacy.
This view of Fort Niagara, with Native Americans in the foreground, was drawn by James Peachy in 1783.
Tecumseh's successful military resistance continued and threatened white settlements throughout the northwest. Tecumseh had so profoundly challenged U.S. plans in the northwest that when he was finally killed at the Battle of the Thames in October 1813 it was seen as a major American victory even though it meant quite little strategically.
While serving as a Kentucky Representative to the Congress, Henry Clay was a leading "War Hawk," strongly in favor of going to war for a second time with Britain to ensure America's place in the West.
While western movement and policies were reshaping the republic, European wars also presented a major challenge to the new country. The Napoleonic Wars (1802-1815) were a continuation of the conflict begun in the 1790s when Great Britain lead a coalition of European powers against Revolutionary France, though France was now led by the brilliant military strategist Napoleon Bonaparte. As had also been true in the 1790s, neither European superpower respected the neutrality of the United States. Instead, both tried to prevent U.S. ships from carrying goods to their enemy. Both Britain and France imposed blockades to limit American merchants, though the dominant British navy was clearly more successful.
In response to this denial of American sovereignty, President Jefferson and his secretary of state James Madison crafted an imaginative, but fundamentally flawed, policy of economic coercion. Their Embargo of 1807 prevented U.S. ships from any trade with Europe in the belief that dependence on American goods would soon force France and England to honor American neutrality. The plan backfired, however, as the Republican leaders failed to understand how deeply committed the superpowers were to carrying on their war despite its high costs.
The Napoleonic Wars in Europe had a great effect on the happenings of the 19th-century United States.
The Embargo not only failed diplomatically, but also caused enormous domestic dissent. American shippers, who were primarily concentrated in Federalist New England, generally circumvented the unpopular law. Its toll was clearly marked in the sharp decline of American imports from 108 million dollars worth of goods in 1806 to just 22 million in 1808. This unsuccessful diplomatic strategy that mostly punished Americans helped to spur a Federalist revival in the elections of 1808 and 1812. Nevertheless, Republicans from Virginia continued to hold the presidency as James Madison replaced Jefferson in 1808.
Madison faced difficult circumstances in office with increasing Indian violence in the west and war-like conditions on the Atlantic. These combined to push him away from his policy of economic coercion toward an outright declaration of war. This intensification was favored by a group of westerners and southerners in Congress called "War Hawks," who were led by Henry Clay of Kentucky.
Future President Andrew Jackson seized the day by defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans in January, 1815. Unfortunately, neither army had learned that the War of 1812 ended on Christmas Eve, 2 weeks earlier.
Most historians now agree that the War of 1812 was "a western war with eastern labels." By this they mean that the real causes of the war stemmed from desire for control of western Indian lands and clear access to trade through New Orleans. Further, the issue of national sovereignty, so clearly denied by British rejection of American free trade on the Atlantic, provided a more honorable rationale for war. Even with the intense pressure of the War Hawks, the United States entered the war hesitantly and with especially strong opposition from Federalist New England. When Congress declared war in June 1812, its heavily divided votes (19 to 13 in the Senate and 79 to 49 in the House) suggest that the republic entered the war as a divided nation.
Originally named the Corps of Discovery, the 1803 expedition led by Lewis and Clark came in contact with people and places never before seen, and returned with stories that Americans in the East could hardly believe. On this map, the outbound leg of the expedition is red and the inbound route is blue.
Even before Jefferson had completed the Louisiana Purchase, he had begun to make plans for a bold journey to explore the vast interior of North America that remained completely unknown to American citizens. That plan took on new importance once the United States had acquired the huge new territory from France.
In May 1804, a group of 50 Americans led by Meriwether Lewis, Jefferson's personal secretary, and William Clark, an army officer, headed northwest along the Missouri River from St. Louis. Their varied instructions reveal the multiple goals that Jefferson hoped the expedition could accomplish. While trying to find a route across the continent, they were also expected to make detailed observations of the natural resources and geography of the west. Furthermore, they were to establish good relations with native groups in an attempt to disrupt British dominance of the lucrative Indian fur trade of the continental interior.
In mid-October, 1805 William Clark entered into his elkskin-bound diary — a map of the Columbia River. One of the purposes of the expedition, which was not realized, was to find a water route across the entire United States.
By mid-October 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition reached the Mandan villages on the banks of the upper Missouri River in present-day North Dakota. Here they found several large, successful settlements with an overall population of about 5,000 people. The Mandan villages were an important trade center that brought together many different native groups as well as a handful of multilingual Frenchmen. The expedition chose to spend the winter in this attractive location and it proved to be a crucial decision for the success of their journey.
During the winter they established good relations with the Mandans and received a great deal of information about the best route for heading west to the Pacific Ocean. The expedition also hired several of the Frenchmen who lived among the Mandans to serve as guides and translators. Along with them came a fifteen-year-old Shoshone named Sacajawea who was married to one of the Frenchmen. Her knowledge of the west and language skills played an important role in the success of the expedition. Additionally, the presence of Sacajawea and her baby helped assure other Indian groups encountered further west that this could not be a war party.
This painting by Olaf Seltzer, called Lewis' First Glimpse of the Rockies, illustrates a remarkable moment in the famous journey to the Pacific.
From the Mandan villages the now enlarged expedition headed west to cross the Rockies, the highest mountain range in North America. By the winter of 1805 they had reached the Pacific Ocean via the Columbia River, becoming the first U.S. citizens to succeed in a trans-continental crossing north of Mexico. They were not, however, the first whites to accomplish this feat since Alexander Mackenzie had done so for a British-Canadian fur-trading company in 1793. Nevertheless, the Columbia River proved a much easier route than the one Mackenzie had taken a decade earlier. When the long overdue expedition finally returned to St. Louis in September 1806, they were celebrated as heroes who had accomplished an extraordinary feat.
The expedition combined several qualities from scientific and military to trade and diplomatic, but the underlying motivation was prompted by Thomas Jefferson's widely shared belief that the future prosperity of the republic required the expansion of yeoman farmers in the west. This noble dream for what Jefferson called an "empire of liberty" also had harsh consequences. For instance, Fort Clark was soon established at the Mandan villages. At first it provided the Mandans with a useful alternative to trading with the British and also offered military support from their traditional native enemies the Sioux.
During his travels across the continent with William Clark and the Corps of Discovery, Meriwether Lewis fell 20 feet into a cavern, got poisoned and was shot in the thigh. In this engraving, An American having struck a Bear but not kill'd him escapes into a Tree, the American was none other than Meriwether Lewis.
However, Americans at the fort unwittingly brought new diseases to the area that decimated the local native population. Where the Mandans had a thriving and sophisticated trading center when Lewis and Clark arrived in 1804, by the late 1830s their total population had been reduced to less than 150.
The nation's growth combined tragedy and triumph at every turn.
Sculpture by Rusty TalbotThe presence of Sacajawea and her baby helped the Corps of Discovery prove during potentially hostile encounters with Native Americans that they were not a war party.
Land. Lots of land.
The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 intensified American migration to the west that was already well underway. Anglo-American settlement in the 18th century had largely been confined to the eastern seaboard. It made its boldest inroads where rivers allowed easy internal transportation. As a result the chief population centers of early North America were clustered on the coast or along its major inland waterways.
In 1790 the fast-growing population of the United States was 3.9 million, but only 5% of Americans lived west of the Appalachian Mountains that run from Maine to Georgia. By 1820, however, the total U.S. population had already reached 9.6 million and fully 25 percent of them lived west of the Appalachians in nine new states and three territories.
Cincinnati, in present-day southwest Ohio, provides a good example of the speed of western expansion during the early republic. Founded in 1788 as a fort to repel Shawnee and Miami Indian attacks, it served a chiefly military purpose until the major Indian defeat at Fallen Timbers in 1794. Soon thereafter, however, its location 450 miles downriver from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, made it a strategic trade location for agricultural products from newly settled farm lands. Although its population was a modest 750 in 1800, by 1810 that figure had tripled and vastly larger numbers passed through Cincinnati on their way to settle the "Old Northwest" of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.
Conestoga wagons, most commonly found during a 100-year-span starting in 1750, carried everything from flour to furs, and became the symbol of settlers' journeys to the western frontier.
Western migration had become central to the American way of life and as much as two-thirds of all western families moved every decade. Interestingly, Cincinnati's most important trade connection was not with relatively nearby (but upriver) Pittsburgh, but instead lay 1500 miles south along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers at the great port of New Orleans. The most efficient route to market remained along waterways and access to New Orleans remained crucial for the western economy and its settlement.
This rapid population growth and geographic expansion caused a great deal of conflict. Native Americans in the west resisted American intrusion and fought renewed wars in the early 19th century. Furthermore, the expansion of plantation slavery beyond the coastal southeast meant that huge numbers of slaves were forcibly moved to new territories. In spite of these enormous human costs, the overwhelming majority of white Americans saw western expansion as a major opportunity. To them, access to western land offered the promise of independence and prosperity to anyone willing to meet the hardships of frontier life.
Most politicians of the era believed that the health of the republic depended upon providing affordable land to ordinary white Americans. Among Jeffersonian Republicans most popular policies was an expansionist agenda that encouraged western development. This played an important part in cementing the Democratic-Republican party's strength in the south and west.
Even among white settlers who benefited most from western migration, the expansion of the nation caused major alterations in American life. For instance, getting crops to market required improved transportation. States responded by giving charters to private companies to build roads (called turnpikes since they charged a fee), bridges, canals, or to operate ferry services. The state gave these companies special legal privileges because they provided a service that could benefit a wide segment of the population.
The Pennsylvania turnpike started out as a 62-mile long log-paved road in the 1790s. The establishment of roads and canals, and later, railroads, was a critical factor in the settlement of the West.
Nevertheless, many people opposed these special benefits as contradicting republican notions of equal opportunity for all. These new transportation projects reshaped the American landscape, but the larger economic promise for most of the new western lands lay in the massive inland rivers of the Ohio, Tennessee, and Mississippi, all of which ultimately flowed south to New Orleans.
Long before newspaper editors such as John Soule and Horace Greeley were urging readers to "Go West, young man," Americans were doing exactly that.
After the American forces were beaten at Frenchtown, able-bodied prisoners were led away by British troops; the American wounded were left under the charge of the First Nations warriors. That night, between 30 and 60 of the American wounded were executed in what was called "The River Raisin Massacre."
Expansion. Battles with Indian nations. The War of 1812. Welcome to America under Republican rule at the onset of the 19th century.
The United States underwent dramatic changes during the period of Democratic-Republican (also called Jeffersonian Republican, or simply Republican) political leadership in the first decades of the 19th century. The republic's expansion to the west and renewed military conflict with Indian nations and Great Britain each posed a fundamental challenge to the fragile new republic. All three of these factors played a role in the coming of the War of 1812.
Although the war itself had no decisive outcome, it did serve as a turning point in the history of the young republic. The United States survived a second war with its former colonial ruler and in the process called forth a national effort that helped Americans from distinct regions pull closer together. The war years also led to the final disintegration of the Federalists, whose strength in New England, which, to many, indicated a regional loyalty in conflict with national sentiments given new importance by the war.
At the start of the 19th century, much of North America had yet to become a part of the United States.
The United States developed in a more distinctly American fashion after the War of 1812. The years of the early republic, from the end of the Revolutionary war in 1783 to the end of what is sometimes called the Second War for American Independence in 1815, had itself been a period of enormous change that included dramatic political innovations of state and federal constitutions as well as the surge of western settlement.
America was growing up.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty..."
The activities of a literate slave named Gabriel in Richmond, Virginia, present a final critical view of Jeffersonian America. At the same time Gabriel also shows how fully African Americans embraced central currents of American politics and culture. Gabriel remains a difficult figure to fully reconstruct from surviving historical evidence. In fact, his last name is not definitively known, though he is usually referred to as Gabriel Prosser, after the name of the man who owned him.
Gabriel was a skilled artisan with several advantages over most field-working slaves of his day. Partly due to his skill as a blacksmith, Gabriel was "hired out" to work in many different places and enjoyed more autonomy and mobility than most plantation slaves. As an artisan, Gabriel was among the broad group of urban workers whose actions played a crucial role causing the American Revolution. As an occupational group, they were among the Revolution's biggest winners.
However, as an African American and a slave the benefits of the Revolution were not extended to Gabriel. Nevertheless, the republican ideology of the Revolution and the anti-elitist thrust of the Democratic-Republicans helped shape Gabriel's vision in leading a slave revolt.
Toussaint L'Ouverture followed in the footsteps of the French in abolishing slavery when he became leader of the Haitian Revolution in 1792.
The organizational requirements of a conspiracy to overthrow slavery necessarily shrouded the movement in secrecy. Apparently, however, Gabriel, and a small group of artisan leaders, expected about 1,000 slaves to follow them in a well-coordinated attack upon Richmond that targeted Federalists and merchants who were the most prominent residents of the city.
Gabriel expected "the poor white people" as well as "the most redoubtable republicans" to join his cause to create a more democratic republic in Virginia . He especially identified Quakers, Methodists, and Frenchmen as those whites who were most "friendly to liberty." The purpose of the rebels was clearly expressed in a banner under which they planned to march, which eloquently stated "Death or Liberty." The assault planned for August 30, 1800, however, never came together. Torrential rain caused confusion and a traitor from within the group warned white authorities of the impending attack.
Gabriel's careful planning demonstrates that some enslaved people actively resisted slavery and were well informed about the world beyond their own harsh circumstances. Given the heightened political violence of the 1790s, Gabriel believed that he could forge an alliance with some Democratic-Republicans against a common Federalist enemy. The timing of the revolt, just before the 1800 election, makes it a radical expression of anti-Federalism. Gabriel also secretly met with two Frenchmen who seemed to have promised him international assistance. Gabriel was well aware that the French Revolution had helped trigger the great slave revolt in Haiti in 1791. Perhaps the charismatic and talented Gabriel could have become a successful black political leader like Toussaint L'Ouverture.
An image of a slave auction in Richmond, Virginia, from an 1856 edition of The Illustrated London News.
Instead, Gabriel's slave conspiracy ended in severe repression. While no whites were killed in the revolt that never really got started, the state of Virginia executed 27 blacks, including Gabriel, by public hanging. Whites responded to the planned revolt, and another one linked to it in 1802, by tightening legal restrictions on slaves. For a brief period in the late 18th century white Virginians had modified certain elements of slavery.
Now many whites began to think that making the system slightly more humane had encouraged black resistance. As a result some of the advantages that slaves like Gabriel possessed were made illegal. For instance, literacy and allowing slaves to "hire out" for work in varied settings became illegal. Similarly, the Virginia legislature attempted to prevent enslaved people from piloting boats, a position from which they could travel too freely and learn about changes in the outside world that threatened white masters.
This newly repressive slave system was a tragic outcome for African-American collective action that had intended to liberate slaves. The reinvigorated slave societies of the south thrived in the 19th century and only ended with the massive violence of the Civil War. Nevertheless, the hypocrisy of slavery in a new nation dedicated to democracy was more obvious than ever before in American history. Though the brutal slave regime would continue to try and dehumanize the people it enslaved, it never fully succeeded.
As one member of Gabriel's Rebellion explained during the trial that would ultimately sentence him to death, "I have nothing more to offer than what General Washington would have had to offer, had he been taken by the British and put to trial by them. I have adventured my life in endeavoring to obtain the liberty of my countrymen, and am a willing sacrifice in their cause."
Marbury v. Madison was one of the most important decisions in U.S. judicial history, because it legitimized the ability of the Supreme Court to judge the consitutionality of acts of the president or Congress.
The Democratic-Republican victory in the 1800 election began a long run of Republican political success. In spite of Federalists' departure from most elective offices, they remained a powerful force in American life especially through their leading position among federal judges. In the final months of Adams' administration he enlarged the federal judiciary and appointed many new judges.
In the view of Gouverneur Morris, a Federalist senator from New York, this created an independent judiciary necessary "to save the people from their most dangerous enemy, themselves."
In sharp contrast, Democratic-Republicans were appalled by the "midnight appointments" that tried to continue Federalist influence despite their election loss. In Jefferson's view, the Federalists "retired into the judiciary as a stronghold . . . and from that battery all the works of Republicanism are to be beaten down and destroyed." As in so many areas, the two political parties fundamentally disagreed.
William Marbury: the plaintiff in the landmark Marbury v. Madison case.
The most influential of Adams' final judicial appointments in 1801 was naming John Marshall as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He held that position until his death in 1835 and shaped the court's decisions and dramatically raised its stature. He also defined the basic relationship of the judiciary to the rest of the federal government. His forceful actions as Chief Justice set the Supreme Court on a course it has continued to follow for the next two centuries. Marshall was guided by a strong commitment to judicial power and by a belief in the supremacy of national over state legislatures. His judicial vision was very much in keeping with the Federalist political program.
John Marshall's earliest landmark decision as Chief Justice came in Marbury v. Madison (1803) and demonstrates his sophisticated leadership of the Court. The issue at stake was the validity of the Federalists' last-minute expansion of the judiciary in 1801, but Marshall used the case to make a much broader statement about the relationship between the distinct branches of the federal government.
When James Madison, Jefferson's secretary of state, refused to deliver several commissions for new justices, they petitioned the Supreme Court to compel the executive to act. Marshall's written decision on behalf of the unanimous Court found that the petitioners were entitled to their commissions, but refused to take the legal action that they wanted. Rather, the court declared that the Judiciary Act of 1789, which had given the court such power, was inconsistent with the Constitution and therefore invalid.
This 1808 engraving of John Marshall, one of the most powerful men in the history of the U.S. judicial system, was done 7 years into his nearly 35-year term as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
This was a complex decision. In the specific matter before the Court, the decision limited judicial power. However, the more fundamental issue that it decided was to insist on the court's authority to declare an act of Congress void if found to be in conflict with the Constitution. As Marshall explained, "it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is." Since Marbury v. Madison the Supreme Court has been the final decision maker regarding the Constitutionality of Congressional legislation.
The Marshall Court, and this decision in particular, established the principle of "judicial review" whereby Congressional laws and executive actions may be judged by the Supreme Court to be within the bounds of the Constitution. In keeping with John Marshall's Federalist views, he generally favored strong government action and especially supported the supremacy of the federal government over state authorities.
This image, View of the Capitol at Washington by William H. Bartlett, was engraved by Joseph C. Bently in 1837.
The Louisiana Purchase and rapid western expansion were crucial developments during the early republic. But attention there can misleadingly suggest that the United States rapidly assumed the shape we know today. Focusing on how the capital city of the federal government changed in the early years of the nation reminds us of the limited nature of the early central government. Like so many other elements of the new nation, even the most basic features of the capital city were unsettled. President Washington first took office in New York City, but, when reelected in 1792, the capital had already moved to Philadelphia where it would remain for a decade. Fittingly, Jefferson was the first president to be inaugurated in the new and lasting capital of Washington, D.C. in March 1801.
The site of the new capital was the product of political compromise. As part of the struggle over Hamilton's financial policy, Congress supported the Bank of the United States which would be headquartered in Philadelphia. In exchange the special District of Columbia, to be under Congressional control, would be built on the Potomac River. The compromise represented a symbolic politics of the very highest order. While Hamilton's policies encouraged the consolidation of economic power in the hands of bankers, financiers, and merchants who predominated in the urban northeast, the political capital was to be in a more southerly and agricultural region apart from those economic elites.
A dramatic aerial view of the U.S. Capitol and its surroundings in modern-day Washington, D.C.
Once the site for the new capital was selected in 1790, President Washington retained Pierre Charles L'Enfant, a French engineer and former officer in the Continental Army, to design and lay out the new capital city. His grand plan gave pride of place to the capitol building which would stand on a hill overlooking the flatlands around the Potomac. A long open mall connected the legislative building to the river and was to be bordered by varied stately buildings. Radiating out from the capital were a number of broad avenues one of which would connect with the president's house. Much of L'Enfant's grand vision was ignored during the nineteenth century, but starting in 1901 the plan was vigorously reborn.
Today, Washington, D.C., is an impressive capital city that physically expresses many central values of the modern United States. It gloriously honors the nation's commitment to democracy and political life in impressive government buildings. The capital also maintains the nation's historical memory in monuments along the mall that commemorate key events and people. Finally, the city also announces the nation's commitment to knowledge and human achievement in the spectacular Smithsonian museums. At the same time the capital also symbolizes less celebrated aspects of modern America. Washington, D.C.'s impressive center around the mall is surrounded by urban poverty, a crisis facing most large American cities. The gulf separating American success and failure is on display nowhere more sharply.
This drawing, published in 1805, is considered the earliest picture of what became the White House in Washington D.C. The most distant building, in the left center, was where John Adams lived during his presidency.
Today's Washington, D.C., however, is a far cry from the humble place that Jefferson entered in 1801. Then just beginning to emerge from a swampy location along the Potomac, the city claimed only 5,000 inhabitants, many of them temporary residents to serve the incoming politicians. The Senate building had been completed, but the building for the House of Representatives was still incomplete as was the president's house. Jefferson took office while living in a boardinghouse! The limited physical stature of the capital city matched the modest scope of the federal government in the early republic which only included 130 officials. In fact, with the exception of the postal service, the national government provided almost no services that reached ordinary people in their everyday lives. For most people in the early republic the most meaningful political decisions were made at the state and local level.
One of the first colored illustrations to be put into print, John H.B. Latrobe's The Balise. Mississippi River captures the haunting image of a navigation station under a full moon at the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Jefferson's plans for the nation depended upon western expansion and access to international markets for American farm products. This vision was threatened, however, when France regained control of Louisiana. Napoleon, who had now risen to power in the French Revolution, threatened to block American access to the important port of New Orleans on the Mississippi River. New American settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains depended upon river transport to get their goods to market since overland trade to the east was expensive and impractical.
Blocking American access to New Orleans was such a grave threat to American interests that President Jefferson considered changing his traditional foreign policy stance to an anti-French alliance with the British. At the same time that he sent diplomats to France to bargain for continued trade access along the Mississippi, he also sent diplomats to Britain to pursue other policy options. James Monroe, the top person negotiating in Paris, was empowered to purchase New Orleans and West Florida for between two and ten million dollars.
Surprisingly, however, Napoleon offered much more. He was militarily overextended and needing money to continue his war against Britain. Knowing full well that he could not force Americans out of the land France possessed in North America, Napoleon offered all of Louisiana to the U.S. for 15 million dollars. The massive territory stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and more than doubled the size of the United States.
Napoleon's asking price worked out to be about four cents an acre.
The deal was struck in April 1803, but it brought a good deal of controversy. While American development in the 19th century depended on western expansion, it also raised controversial issues that might lead to the disunion of the United States. Some New England Federalists, for example, began to talk of seceding from the U.S. since their political power was dramatically reduced by the purchase.
Further, Jefferson had clearly not followed his own strict interpretation of the Constitution. Federalist critics howled that the Constitution nowhere permitted the federal government to purchase new land. Jefferson was troubled by the inconsistency, but in the end decided that the Constitution's treaty-making provisions allowed him room to act.
Most of the Senate agreed and the Louisiana Purchase easily passed 26 to 6. The dramatic expansion also contradicted Jefferson's commitment to reduce the national debt as swiftly as possible. Although 15 million dollars was a relatively small sum for such a large amount of land, it was still an enormous price tag for the modest federal budget of the day.
Thomas Jefferson's purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 — over 600 million acres at less than 4¢ an acre — was an economic as well as a political victory, as it avoided a possible war with the French.
The Louisiana Purchase demonstrates Jefferson's ability to make pragmatic political decisions. Although contrary to some of his central principles, guaranteeing western expansion was so important to Jefferson's overall vision that he took bold action. The gains were dramatic, as the territory acquired would in time add 13 new states to the union. In 1812, Louisiana became the first state to join the union from land bought in the purchase. Louisiana was allowed to enter the United States with its French legal traditions largely in place. Even today, Louisiana's legal code retains many elements that do not follow English common law traditions. The federal system could be remarkably flexible.
A marble mosaic of Greek goddess Minerva in the Library of Congress symbolizes the preservation of civilization as well as the promotion of the arts and sciences.
Jefferson's lasting significance in American history stems from his remarkably varied talents. He made major contributions as a politician, statesman, diplomat, intellectual, writer, scientist, and philosopher. No other figure among the Founding Fathers shared the depth and breadth of his wide-ranging intelligence.
His presidential vision impressively combined philosophic principles with pragmatic effectiveness as a politician. Jefferson's most fundamental political belief was an "absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority." Stemming from his deep optimism in human reason, Jefferson believed that the will of the people, expressed through elections, provided the most appropriate guidance for directing the republic's course.
Jefferson also felt that the central government should be "rigorously frugal and simple." As president he reduced the size and scope of the federal government by ending internal taxes, reducing the size of the army and navy, and paying off the government's debt. Limiting the federal government flowed from his strict interpretation of the Constitution.
Finally, Jefferson also committed his presidency to the protection of civil liberties and minority rights. As he explained in his inaugural address in 1801, "though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression." Jefferson's experience of Federalist repression in the late 1790s led him to more clearly define a central concept of American democracy.
Jefferson's stature as the most profound thinker in the American political tradition stems beyond his specific policies as president. His crucial sense of what mattered most in life grew from a deep appreciation of farming, in his mind the most virtuous and meaningful human activity. As he explained in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), "Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God." Since farmers were an overwhelming majority in the American republic, one can see how his belief in the value of agriculture reinforced his commitment to democracy.
Completed in 1943, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial stands in Washington D.C. as a testament to one of the great American political philosophers.
Jefferson's thinking, however, was not merely celebratory, for he saw two dangerous threats to his ideal agrarian democracy. To him, financial speculation and the development of urban industry both threatened to rob men of the independence that they maintained as farmers. Debt, on the one hand, and factory work, on the other, could rob men of the economic autonomy essential for republican citizens.
Jefferson's vision was not anti-modern, for he had too brilliant a scientific mind to fear technological change. He supported international commerce to benefit farmers and wanted to see new technology widely incorporated into ordinary farms and households to make them more productive.
During his lifetime, Thomas Jefferson was accused of having an adulterous affair with Sally Hemings, one of his slaves. In 1998, DNA tests revealed that Heming's son, Eston, was related to Jefferson's family.
Jefferson pinpointed a deeply troubling problem. How could republican liberty and democratic equality be reconciled with social changes that threatened to increase inequality? The awful working conditions in early industrial England loomed as a terrifying example. For Jefferson, western expansion provided an escape from the British model. As long as hard working farmers could acquire land at reasonable prices, then America could prosper as a republic of equal and independent citizens. Jefferson's ideas helped to inspire a mass political movement that achieved many key aspects of his plan.
In spite of the success and importance of Jeffersonian Democracy, dark flaws limited even Jefferson's grand vision. First, his hopes for the incorporation of technology at the household level failed to grasp how poverty often pushed women and children to the forefront of the new industrial labor. Second, an equal place for Native Americans could not be accommodated within his plans for an agrarian republic. Third, Jefferson's celebration of agriculture disturbingly ignored the fact that slaves worked the richest farm land in the United States. Slavery was obviously incompatible with true democratic values. Jefferson's explanation of slaves within the republic argued that African Americans' racial inferiority barred them from becoming full and equal citizens.
Our final assessment of Jeffersonian Democracy rests on a profound contradiction. Jefferson was the single most powerful individual leading the struggle to enhance the rights of ordinary people in the early republic. Furthermore, his Declaration of Independence had eloquently expressed America's statement of purpose "that all men are created equal." Still, he owned slaves all his life and, unlike Washington, never set them free.
For all his greatness, Jefferson did not transcend the pervasive racism of his day.
A captured moment in the amazing case of The United States v. Aaron Burr.
The election of 1800 between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson was an emotional and hard-fought campaign. Each side believed that victory by the other would ruin the nation.
Federalists attacked Jefferson as an un-Christian deist whose sympathy for the French Revolution would bring similar bloodshed and chaos to the United States. On the other side, the Democratic-Republicans denounced the strong centralization of federal power under Adams's presidency. Republicans' specifically objected to the expansion of the U.S. army and navy, the attack on individual rights in the Alien and Sedition Acts, and new taxes and deficit spending used to support broadened federal action.
Overall, the Federalists wanted strong federal authority to restrain the excesses of popular majorities, while the Democratic-Republicans wanted to reduce national authority so that the people could rule more directly through state governments.
The election's outcome brought a dramatic victory for Democratic-Republicans who swept both houses of Congress, including a decisive 65 to 39 majority in the House of Representatives. The presidential decision in the electoral college was somewhat closer, but the most intriguing aspect of the presidential vote stemmed from an outdated Constitutional provision whereby the Republican candidates for president and vice president actually ended up tied with one another.
Votes for President and Vice President were not listed on separate ballots. Although Adams ran as Jefferson's main opponent, running mates Jefferson and Aaron Burr received the same number of electoral votes. The election was decided in the House of Representatives where each state wielded a single vote.
During the election of 1800, Federalists cast Thomas Jefferson as an infidel because of his strict advocacy for the separation of Church and State.
Interestingly, the old Federalist Congress would make the decision, since the newly elected Republicans had not yet taken office. Most Federalists preferred Burr, and, once again, Alexander Hamilton shaped an unpredictable outcome. After numerous blocked ballots, Hamilton helped to secure the presidency for Jefferson, the man he felt was the lesser of two evils. Ten state delegations voted for Jefferson, 4 supported Burr, and 2 made no choice.
One might be tempted to see the opposing sides in 1800 as a repeat of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist divisions during the ratification debates of 1788-1789. The core groups supporting each side paralleled the earlier division. Merchants and manufacturers were still leading Federalists, while states' rights advocates filled the Republican ranks just as they had the earlier Anti-Federalists.
Support for Thomas Jefferson throughout the entire Western frontier assured his victory over John Adams in the presidential election 1800.
But a great deal had changed in the intervening decade. The Democratic-Republicans had significantly broadened the old Anti-Federalist coalition. Most importantly, urban workers and artisans who had supported the Constitution during ratification and who had mostly supported Adams in 1796 now joined the Jeffersonians. Also, key leaders like James Madison had changed his political stance by 1800. Previously the main figure shaping the Constitution, Madison now emerged as the ablest party organizer among the Republicans. At base the Democratic-Republicans believed that government needed to be broadly accountable to the people. Their coalition and ideals would dominate American politics well into the nineteenth century.
As the first peaceful transition of political power between opposing parties in U.S. history, however, the election of 1800 had far-reaching significance. Jefferson appreciated the momentous change and his inaugural address called for reconciliation by declaring that, "We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists."
Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence as well as a slaveholder, was a man of many contradictions.
The harsh public antagonism of the 1790s largely came to an end with the victory of the Democratic- Republicans in the 1800 election. "The Revolution of 1800," as Jefferson described his party's successful election many years later, was "as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form."
To Jefferson and his supporters, the defeat of the Federalists ended their attempt to lead America on a more conservative and less democratic course. Since the Federalists never again played a national political role after the defeat in 1800, it seems that most American voters of the era shared Jefferson's view.
James Madison continued the line of Virginian presidents by succeeding Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson's election inaugurated a "Virginia dynasty" that held the presidency from 1801 to 1825. After Jefferson's two terms as president, he was followed by two other two-term Democratic-Republicans from Virginia, James Madison and James Monroe. Regular Democratic-Republican majorities in Congress supported their long rule. Political leaders and parties played a pivotal role shaping the new nation because they could serve as outlets for large numbers of people to express their opinions about issues of public significance. For Jefferson, the election of 1800 stands as a second revolution that protected and extended the gains achieved in the Revolution of 1776.
Jefferson and his values serve as a useful organizing tool to think about the changes that America experienced in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Jeffersonian Democracy refers to an American ideal as well as to a remarkably successful political movement. At the heart of both meanings of the term lies the household farm worked by ordinary families. Jeffersonian America marked a victory for common farmers as both the ideal embodiment of the American citizen and as a practical reality of who voted. As a result Jeffersonian America required that new western farmlands be cultivated as an absolute necessity for the future of the republic.
"Time indeed changes manners and notions, and so far we must expect institutions to bend to them. But time produces also corruption of principles, and against this it is the duty of good citizens to be ever on the watch, and if the gangrene is to prevail at last, let the day be kept off as long as possible." -Thomas Jefferson, 1821
Although Jeffersonian Democracy remains a greatly celebrated American ideal, it is important to recall that in its own day, as well as today, it drew intense criticism. Federalists never again controlled national politics like they had in the 1790s, but they remained an important force in American life and offered deep criticism of many Jeffersonian developments. The federal government itself embraced this ongoing disagreement. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court throughout the Jeffersonian Era, John Marshall, was an ardent Federalist. Even while his political opponents controlled elected national office, Marshall consistently supported the supremacy of national power over the states. He led the court in establishing legal precedents to support this view.
The most serious flaw in the "second revolution" of Jeffersonian America, however, came from its embrace of slavery. The party's national leaders were slave-owning elites who had no intention of including African-Americans in their broadened commitment to democracy. Jefferson probed the fundamental contradiction between slavery and democracy more eloquently than any American of the day. This led him to conclusions that were far less than revolutionary. Jefferson repeatedly acknowledged that slavery was wrong, but he never saw a way to eliminate the institution.
To Jefferson, slavery meant holding "a wolf by the ears." It was a danger that could never be released. Most disturbingly of all, Jefferson could not imagine America as a place where free blacks and whites could live together. To him, a biracial society of equality would "produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of one or the other race."
Jeffersonian America is a term that helps us enter the contested and deeply contradictory nature of the United States at the start of the 19th century. Grappling fully with its meaning requires the use of sophisticated analytical skills that assess both its strengths and its weaknesses. To merely celebrate or condemn, seeing one side, but not the other, is to judge without attempting to understand.
Seeing how the best and the worst of Jeffersonian America were deeply intermixed, and continue to inform American life in our transformed circumstances of the 21st century, is among the most important purposes of historical inquiry.
A mob of perhaps 30,000 people advanced toward the Tuileries Palace to capture King Louis XVI on August 10, 1792.
John Adams stands as an almost tragic figure.
Rather than continue to use the exigencies of war to build his own popularity and to justify the need for strong federal authority, Adams opened negotiations with France when the opportunity arose to work toward peace. Reconciling with France during the critical campaign of 1800 enraged many Federalists, including Adams' own secretary of state who repeatedly refused to send peace commissioners to France.
Hamilton, ever the shrewd political operator, denounced Adams' actions, for a quasi-war clearly could stimulate patriotic fervor. This might help Federalists win the upcoming election. In the end, Adams only convinced the Federalist Congress to move toward peace by threatening to resign and thus allow Jefferson to become president! Vilified by his political opponents and abandoned by conservatives in his own party, Adams would be the only one-tern president in the early national period until his son suffered the same fate in the election of 1828.
John Adams was a complex figure. A vain man who took offense easily, he also acted honorably in refusing to exploit war with France for personal and partisan gain. Such deeply principled actions marked his public career from its earliest days. Since 1765 Adams had been at the forefront of what would become the Revolutionary movement. Although not a striking speaker, his commitment and thorough preparation made him a key figure in the Continental Congress where he served on more committees than any other individual.
John Adams grew up in Braintree, Massachusetts, on the farmland his great-grandfather had cleared 100 years earlier.
Unquestionably an ardent patriot, Adams felt so strongly about the rights of the accused to a fair trial that he represented the British troops who had fired in the Boston Massacre of 1770. Adams argued their case so well that they escaped criminal penalty. During the Revolution, as well as while president, John Adams allowed his principles to determine his course of action even when they might be deeply unpopular.
Adams' life was marked by many deep contradictions. His conservatism led him to the top of the Federalist Party that by 1800 had become a minority group of elite commercial interests. However, he himself was a man of modest origins who had achieved great success through personal effort. The first in his family to attend college, as well as the first to enter a profession (as a lawyer), Adams became caricatured as an elitist. Meanwhile, the slave-owning gentleman Jefferson successfully campaigned as a defender of the common man.
The new nation that Adams had done as much as any to bring into being was fast becoming a place whose values he did not share. Adams rightly felt misunderstood and persecuted. Writing to another aging patriot leader in 1812, he explained, "I have constantly lived in an enemies Country."
Toward the end of his long life, Adams renewed an earlier friendship with Jefferson that had understandably dissipated in the 1790s and with the election of 1800. In their waning years these two towering figures began a rich correspondence that remains a monument of American intellectual expression. Adams' conservatism exerted itself in a core belief that inequality would always be an aspect of human society and that government needed to reflect that reality.
A sketch of the just-completed White House in 1800.
Furthermore, Adams emphasized the limits of human nature. Unlike the more optimistic Jefferson, Adams stressed that human reason could not overcome all the world's problems. Less celebrated in both his own day and ours, Adams' quiet place among the Founding Fathers is related to the acuity and depth of his political analysis that survives in his extraordinarily voluminous writings. Adams persistently challenged and questioned the soft spots of a more romantic and mythical American self-understanding.
In Benjamin Franklin's estimation, Adams "means well for his country, is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes, and in some things, absolutely out of his senses.
L.F. Tantillo's Return of the Experiment records the arrival of the Experiment in Albany, New York, after its trip to China. It was only the second American ship to journey to Asia.
No protesting the government? No immigrants allowed in? No freedom of the press. Lawmakers jailed? Is this the story of the Soviet Union during the Cold War?
No. It describes the United States in 1798 after the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.
The strong steps that Adams took in response to the French foreign threat also included severe repression of domestic protest. A series of laws known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed by the Federalist Congress in 1798 and signed into law by President Adams. These laws included new powers to deport foreigners as well as making it harder for new immigrants to vote. Previously a new immigrant would have to reside in the United States for five years before becoming eligible to vote, but a new law raised this to 14 years.
Charles Willson Peale was one of the great artists of early America. Here, John Adams is captured by Peale's paintbrush.
Clearly, the Federalists saw foreigners as a deep threat to American security. As one Federalist in Congress declared, there was no need to "invite hordes of Wild Irishmen, nor the turbulent and disorderly of all the world, to come here with a basic view to distract our tranquillity." Not coincidentally, non-English ethnic groups had been among the core supporters of the Democratic-Republicans in 1796.
The most controversial of the new laws permitting strong government control over individual actions was the Sedition Act. In essence, this Act prohibited public opposition to the government. Fines and imprisonment could be used against those who "write, print, utter, or publish . . . any false, scandalous and malicious writing" against the government.
Under the terms of this law over 20 Democratic-Republican newspaper editors were arrested and some were imprisoned. The most dramatic victim of the law was Representative Matthew Lyon of Vermont. His letter that criticized President Adams' "unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and self avarice" caused him to be imprisoned. While Federalists sent Lyon to prison for his opinions, his constituents reelected him to Congress even from his jail cell.
A fight in Congress! This image appeared in Harper's New Monthly Magazine nearly a century after the incident between Lyon and Griswold with the poetic caption: "He in a trice struck Griswold thrice / Upon his head enraged, Sir; / Who seized the tongs to ease his wrongs, / And Griswold thus engaged, Sir."
The Sedition Act clearly violated individual protections under the first amendment of the Constitution; however, the practice of "judicial review," whereby the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of laws was not yet well developed. Furthermore, the justices were all strong Federalists. As a result, Madison and Jefferson directed their opposition to the new laws to state legislatures. The Virginia and Kentucky legislatures passed resolutions declaring the federal laws invalid within their states. The bold challenge to the federal government offered by this strong states' rights position seemed to point toward imminent armed conflict within the United States.
Enormous changes had occurred in the explosive decade of the 1790s. Federalists in government now viewed the persistence of their party as the equivalent of the survival of the republic. This led them to enact and enforce harsh laws. Madison, who had been the chief architect of a strong central government in the Constitution, now was wary of national authority. He actually helped the Kentucky legislature to reject federal law. By placing states rights above those of the federal government, Kentucky and Virginia had established a precedent that would be used to justify the secession of southern states in the Civil War.
John Marshall, delegate to France during the XYZ Affair in 1797, became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1801.
Would the meddlesome Alexander Hamilton undermine his own Federalist party and the administration of newly elected John Adams?
The Adams administration faced several severe tests. It was a mixed administration. Adams was a Federalist. Jefferson, the vice-president, was a Democratic-Republican. Federalists were increasingly divided between conservatives such as Hamilton and moderates such as Adams who still saw himself as above party politics. Hamilton opposed Adams as the Federalist candidate. This helped create the circumstances whereby Jefferson slipped past the Federalist candidate, Thomas Pinckney, to become vice president Although Hamilton resigned from the cabinet in 1795, he remained influential and his advice was sought and followed by many Federalists — even some who remained in Adams' cabinet.
Beyond these considerable problems in his own party, Adams also faced a major international crisis. The French were outraged by what they viewed as an Anglo-American alliance in Jay's Treaty. France suspended diplomatic relations with the U.S. at the end of 1796 and seized more than 300 American ships over the next two years.
Abigail Adams was one of John Adams' most trusted counsels. During the years prior to American independence, the two kept up a consistent letter-writing where Abigail spoke of equality for all women as well as men.
Adams responded by sending a diplomatic mission to France. When it arrived in Paris, three agents of the French foreign minister explained that to enter into negotiations America would have to loan the French government money and pay a bribe to the agents themselves. This became known in the United States as the "XYZ Affair." The French rebuff was seen as a blow to American honor and became a major rallying issue for Federalists, who were generally anti-French.
In this 1798 caricature of fledgling America's relations with France, French directors try to trick America (represented by the woman) into giving them all her money. European sympathizers, bemoaning France's plundering of their own riches, look on.
American popular support for France weakened dramatically as the Federalists effectively used the slogan "millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute" to strengthen their political position. Federalists who controlled the Congress as well as the presidency raised new taxes, dramatically enlarged the army and navy, and generally increased the power of the central government in preparation for a war against France that seemed inevitable.
The Adams administration entered a "quasi-war" with France from 1798 to 1800. Although no official declaration of war had been made, the United States clearly acted as an unofficial ally of Great Britain. Only 15 years since the end of the Revolutionary War, a dramatic transition in American international alliances had occurred.
While royal France had supported colonial America in its revolutionary fight against the British, republican America now joined with Britain, its former Revolutionary enemy, to challenge the French. In spite of this dramatic change, Adams' anti-French policies were extremely popular and significantly enhanced his public standing.
The State House in Boston was designed by Charles Bullfinch, who also designed the Capitol in Washington D.C.
The election of 1796 was the first election in American history where political candidates at the local, state, and national level began to run for office as members of organized political parties that held strongly opposed political principles.
This was a stunning new phenomenon that shocked most of the older leaders of the Revolutionary Era. Even Madison, who was one of the earliest to see the value of political parties, believed that they would only serve as temporary coalitions for specific controversial elections. The older leaders failed to understand the dynamic new conditions that had been created by the importance of popular sovereignty — democracy — to the American Revolution. The people now understood themselves as a fundamental force in legitimating government authority. In the modern American political system, voters mainly express themselves through allegiances within a competitive party system. 1796 was the first election where this defining element of modern political life began to appear.
The two parties adopted names that reflected their most cherished values. The Federalists of 1796 attached themselves to the successful campaign in favor of the Constitution and were solid supporters of the federal administration. Although Washington denounced parties as a horrid threat to the republic, his vice president John Adams became the de facto presidential candidate of the Federalists. The party had its strongest support among those who favored Hamilton's policies. Merchants, creditors and urban artisans who built the growing commercial economy of the northeast provided its most dedicated supporters and strongest regional support.
This mural, located at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., represents Thomas Jefferson's views on the necessity of education.
The opposition party adopted the name Democratic-Republicans, which suggested that they were more fully committed to extending the Revolution to ordinary people. The supporters of the Democratic-Republicans (often referred to as the Republicans) were drawn from many segments of American society and included farmers throughout the country with high popularity among German and Scots-Irish ethnic groups. Although it effectively reached ordinary citizens, its key leaders were wealthy southern tobacco elites like Jefferson and Madison. While the Democratic-Republicans were more diverse, the Federalists were wealthier and carried more prestige, especially by association with the retired Washington.
The 1796 election was waged with uncommon intensity. Federalists thought of themselves as the "friends of order" and good government. They viewed their opponents as dangerous radicals who would bring the anarchy of the French Revolution to America.
The Democratic-Republicans despised Federalist policies. According to one Republican-minded New York newspaper, the Federalists were "aristocrats, endeavoring to lay the foundations of monarchical government, and Republicans [were] the real supporters of independence, friends to equal rights, and warm advocates of free elective government."
This chart depicts the electoral vote distribution for the election of 1796. John Adams (green) edged out Thomas Jefferson (yellow) for the Presidency, with Thomas Pinckney (purple) and Aaron Burr (blue) leading the runners-up. Jefferson's second-place earned him the Vice Presidency.
Clearly there was little room for compromise in this hostile environment.
The outcome of the presidential election indicated the close balance between the two sides. New England strongly favored Adams, while Jefferson overwhelmingly carried the southern states. The key to the election lay in the mid-Atlantic colonies where party organizations were the most fully developed. Adams ended up narrowly winning in the electoral college 71 to 68. A sure sign of the great novelty of political parties was that the Constitution had established that the runner-up in the presidential election would become the vice president.
John Adams took office after a harsh campaign and narrow victory. His political opponent Jefferson served as second in command.
The USS Constitution, launched on October 21, 1797, is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat.
The United States was a small new country. Regardless, it found itself in the midst of the dramatic escalation of political and military conflicts brought on by the French Revolution.
President Washington declared American neutrality in the war, breaking the terms of a 1778 treaty with France that had promised mutual assistance between the two countries. While France had aided the U.S. during the American Revolution, America would not do the same for France.
Washington's decision stemmed from his philosophical commitment to non-involvement in foreign affairs, but was also based upon pragmatic considerations. Ninety percent of all U.S. imports came from Britain and customs duties on these imports produced ninety percent of federal revenues.
The conflict in Europe created an immense opportunity for Americans. Farmers, merchants, and ship owners all stood to profit from the long European war and even American manufacturers were shielded from massive cheap imports from the Old World. The war stimulated a broad recovery of the American economy.
The assistance of American privateers was essential throughout the American Revolution and later during the French Revolution.
In the face of American neutrality that would continue a strong economic relationship with Great Britain, the French government sent Edmond Genet to the U.S. as a diplomatic envoy. Controversially, Genet was instructed to enlist American aid for the French Revolution even though Washington had established a clear policy of neutrality.
In the face of this, Genet called for American privateers to harass British ships and also opened up the French sugar islands in the Caribbean for free trade with U.S. ships. Supporters of the French Revolution, as well as those who stood to benefit from the new lucrative trade opportunities, rallied to support Genet's mission. On the other hand, Federalists saw him as a renegade who broke American laws. The French superpower clearly showed to qualms about trying to force the hand of the new American republic.
Britain responded to the offer of French free trade by seizing American ships that they suspected of carrying French goods. While Americans saw this as a deep violation of their national sovereignty and right to trade as a neutral nation, the British dismissed American claims to free trade as merely war time profiteering with the enemy.
The Northwest Territory encapsulated land that would later become Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and parts of the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana.
At the same time, the British still occupied forts in the American northwest that were supposed to have been abandoned by the terms of the peace treaty of 1783. Not only did the British army still not surrender these strategic strongholds, but they also supplied Native Americans with goods and encouraged them to attack the U.S. from the west.
While France ignored American neutrality, the British engaged in covert and explicit acts of war. Washington responded to the aggressive British actions by sending John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, on a diplomatic mission to England. He negotiated an extremely broad agreement that dealt with issues from repaying pre-Revolutionary debts, to the British forts in the west, and the rights of free trade across the Atlantic. Jay's Treaty proved to be enormously controversial and historical judgments about its strengths and weaknesses remain sharply divided.
Clearly, America lacked the strength to force powerful Britain to capitulate on key issues. As a result the agreement largely strengthened American ties to Great Britain and was bitterly denounced by the growing political opposition to Washington and his administration. Jay became the victim of harsh public protests that included burning him in effigy. The controversial treaty passed the senate with the minimum number of votes even with Washington's total commitment to its success.
The American republic was caught between the two great superpowers of the day.
The violent uprising that was the French Revolution claimed the lives of many, including the spokesmen and leaders of all interests. Here, the head of King Louis XVI is displayed to an approving crowd.
The French Revolution brought fundamental changes to the feudal order of monarchical and aristocratic privilege. Americans widely celebrated the French Revolution in its glorious opening in 1789, as it struck at the very heart of absolutist power. France seemed to be following the American republican example by creating a constitutional monarchy where traditional elites would be restrained by written law. Where the king had previously held absolute power, now he would have to act within clear legal boundaries.
The French Revolution soon moved beyond this already considerable assault on the traditional order. Largely pushed forward by a crisis brought on by a war that began in 1792 against Prussia and Austria, the French Revolution took a dramatic turn that climaxed with the beheading of King Louis XVI and the abandonment of Christianity in favor of a new state religion based on reason. The French Revolution became far more radical than the American Revolution. In addition to a period of extreme public violence, which became known as the Reign of Terror, the French Revolution also attempted to enhance the rights and power of poor people and women. In fact, it even went so far as to outlaw slavery in the French colonies of the Caribbean.
The profound changes set in motion by the French Revolution had an enormous impact in France as well as through the large scale European war it sparked from 1792 to 1815. It also helped to transform American politics starting in the mid-1790s. While the French Revolution had initially received broad support in the United States, its radicalization in 1792-1793 led to sharp disagreement in American opinion.
This cartoon, "Corsican Crocodile dissolving the Council of Frogs," depicts Napoleon's coup d'état of the French government in 1799. Five years later he proclaimed himself Emperor of France.
Domestic attitudes toward the proper future of the American republic grew even more intense as a result of the example of revolutionary France. Conservatives like Hamilton, Washington, and others who would soon organize as the Federalist political party saw the French Revolution as an example of homicidal anarchy. When Great Britain joined European allies in the war against France in 1793, Federalists supported this action as an attempt to enforce proper order.
The opposing American view, held by men like Jefferson and others who came to organize as the Democratic-Republican political party, supported French actions as an extension of a world-wide republican struggle against corrupt monarchy and aristocratic privilege. For example, some groups among the Whiskey Rebels in western Pennsylvania demonstrated their international vision when they rallied beneath a banner that copied the radical French slogan of "liberty, equality, and fraternity."
The example of the French Revolution helped convince Americans on both sides that their political opponents were motivated by dangerous and even evil forces that threatened to destroy the young republic.
John Adams, the second President of the United States, was charged with the task of following in George Washington's formidable footsteps. The French Revolution. The emergence of the two-party system. Threats of war with France and England. The first transfer of Presidential political power. George Washington called "debauched" and worse. The clampdown of personal freedoms. Welcome to the political 1790s in America.
The extraordinary conflict that divided American life in the 1790s centered on divergent understandings of the meaning of the American Revolution and how its legacy should be nurtured in the new nation. Arguments about that fundamental question probably would have been controversial under any circumstances, but were dramatically heightened by the explosive example of the French Revolution. The United States was still a fragile experiment in republican government. Its domestic events and attitudes would greatly be shaped by events in Europe.
Painted in 1865 by Constantino Brumidi, The Apotheosis of Washington graces the inner-dome of the U.S. Capitol. Brumidi used classical and Renaissance imagery to commemorate the life and contributions of George Washington.
The deep conflict of the 1790s stimulated a profound new development in American politics. During the Revolution patriots had expected, and even demanded, that all virtuous people support them in a cause they saw as the only real force for the public good. Even into the 1790s, most Americans believed that there could be only one legitimate position to take on political issues. This helps to explain the rabid opinions of the period that were set before the public by a remarkable growth in newspapers during the decade. These newspapers did not pretend to be objective in how they reported events. Instead, newspapers sold issues because of their intense commitment to a particular partisan view of the contentious events of the day.
Despite all the good George Washington accomplished, he was still met with great criticism throughout his presidency.
Consider these diametrically opposed opinions about President Washington. A Federalist newspaper trumpeted, "Many a private person might make a great President; but will there ever be a President who will make so great a man as Washington?" Meanwhile, a Democratic-Republican paper condemned that same hero. "If ever a nation was debauched by a man, the American nation has been debauched by Washington. . . . Let the history of the federal government instruct mankind, that the mask of patriotism may be worn to conceal the foulest designs against the liberties of the people." As this newspaper suggests, most people believed that their political enemies would destroy the nation if allowed to hold power.
It was John Adams' misfortune to be elected president in these deeply divided times. A genuine patriot and man of deep principle, domestic and international controversies placed nearly impossible challenges before the second president. If even Washington suffered harsh public attack from opposition newspapers, imagine what they were prepared to say about the less imposing John Adams.
By 1798 Adams and the Federalist Congress passed a series of laws that severely limited American civil liberties. Acting upon their judgment that political critics were treasonous opponents of good government, Adams followed the lead of Congressional leaders and heightened domestic repression. Adams supported policies that have subsequently been widely viewed as unconstitutional. Nevertheless, he was a moderating influence in his own party and refused to use the threat of war as a tool to exploit patriotic fervor to his own advantage. The gulf that separates our political attitudes from those of Adams and his Federalist colleagues in the late 1790s reveals the fundamental transformation of American political thought during that decade.
Blue Jacket, a Shawnee warrior, helped lead the Native American forces against Major General Arthur St. Clair in 1791. The clash left nearly 700 of St. Clair's people dead, compared with the approximately 40 Indians who lost their lives.
The early 1790s witnessed major crises on a number of different fronts from the perspective of the federal government. It faced domestic unrest from the backcountry. On the international front there was trouble with France and England. And Native Americans in the west regrouped to pose a significant threat to U.S. plans for expansion.
Frontier conditions were always sensitive and complicated cultural borderlands, but never more so than in the wake of the American Revolution. Almost all native groups had allied with the British and served as Loyalists during the war, but when British negotiators agreed upon the terms of the 1783 peace treaty, they offered no protection to their former Indian allies.
Most in the new American republic saw no reason to treat Native Americans well after the war. White settlers claimed ownership of all Indian lands west of the Appalachians by right of military conquest as well as by the terms of the 1783 peace treaty. But Native Americans quite rightly rejected these claims. Indians had not suffered any permanent military defeat during the Revolution, nor did a single Native American representative attend or sign the peace treaty.
This painting shows the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, a year following the defeat of several Ohio Indian tribes at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Chief Little Turtle presents a wampum belt to General Anthony Wayne.
Given these fundamental differences of opinion, the Confederation government, as well as various state governments, negotiated with Indian groups to try and secure access for white settlement in the west. Numerous treaties from the mid and late 1780s created favorable terms for new settlement, but they were usually achieved through liquor, bribes, or physical threats.
Although the Iroquois and Cherokee still reeled from the consequences of their strong alliance with the British in the Revolutionary War, other more westerly groups spurred a collective native opposition to the increasing threat from the American republic. For example, Chief Alexander McGillivray, a mixed blood Creek in the southeast, called for expelling all whites from tribal lands and looked to the Spanish in Florida as a powerful ally against the Americans. Native groups north of the Ohio River had an even stronger ally from British Canada.
Although King George III's Proclamation of 1763 set the boundaries between the English colonies and Indian territory, the new United States looked to expand well beyond these lines.
By 1790 many of these native nations formed a broad Western Confederacy to defend themselves from aggressive American settlement. Raids by Little Turtle of the Miami and Blue Jacket of the Shawnee scored major victories that included defeating U.S. military forces in 1790 and 1791.
Facing a real threat from western Indians, the federal government again chose to act through martial mobilization rather than negotiation. The U.S. army in the west was dramatically expanded. General "Mad Anthony" Wayne led it to a major victory in the Battle of Fallen Timbers near present-day Toledo, Ohio, in August 1794. That battle shaped the conditions under which the Treaty of Greenville was negotiated in 1795. The Western Confederacy remained intact and the U.S. acknowledged Native American land ownership and renounced its claim to land through the right of conquest. However, the treaty also required native groups to relinquish control of large amounts of territory and bound them not to make alliances with other powers, namely the British. As far as western native groups were concerned, the Revolutionary War had only really come to an end with the treaty of 1795.
Realizing the Whiskey Rebellion needed to be subdued, George Washington dispatched troops to western Pennsylvania. He is pictured reviewing the men at Harrisburg.
More taxes on whiskey? "No way!" said the rebellious farmers of western Pennsylvania.
New taxes placed on whiskey to increase federal revenue cut deeply into ordinary people's livelihood. In the newly settled backcountry, poverty was widespread. For farmers to survive economically, they needed to convert bulky corn and grain into more easily transported whiskey. The new taxes debilitated this crucial economic resource for many frontier settlers from New York to Georgia.
In addition to the specific issue of the whiskey tax, many backcountry settlers resented distant rule from the more populous east coast. For example, anyone in western Pennsylvania facing charges in a federal court had to travel all the way to Philadelphia to get a trial. Furthermore, renewed Indian wars in the early 1790s made westerners resentful of what they saw as easterners' indifference to the risks of life on the frontier. The overlapping resentments soon got hotter than a distillery still.
Fisher Ames argued eloquently for the government to protect private property and maintain public order.
The violent climax occurred in the area around Pittsburgh in the summer of 1794. Following a pattern established in the American Revolution, local farmers had begun holding special meetings to discuss their opposition to the tax as early as 1792. A mass meeting in Pittsburgh declared that the people would prevent the tax from being collected and one tax collector was even tarred and feathered in protest.
President Washington soon declared such meetings unlawful, but among ordinary settlers in western Pennsylvania he was often seen as just another large-scale landowner from the east who didn't understand local conditions. Many men would not back down in the face of what they considered an oppressive and unjust tax. Matters came to a head when an angry crowd who refused to pay the tax harassed a federal marshal, tax collector, and a handful of federal soldiers. The troops surrendered and the marshal's house was torched. Other minor protests soon swept western Pennsylvania and there were rumors of holding a convention to discuss secession from the United States.
Whiskey distillers in what was known as "the American West" realized that new policies such as the whiskey tax favored businessmen who mass-produced the alcohol. They decided to band together under this flag.
The federal government reacted dramatically to the violence and the possibility of it spreading to other backcountry areas. Alexander Hamilton had long supported military mobilization to suppress the tax resistance in the west and supported Washington in raising a 13,000-troop force (larger than the Continental Army had ever been). When they arrived in the Pittsburgh area the resistance dissolved and the federal force had to search hard to arrest twenty men that they accused of involvement in the Whiskey Rebellion.
The rebellion of the summer of 1794 ultimately took on more important symbolic significance than anything else. The federal government had shown itself willing to mobilize militarily to assert its authority. Furthermore, the government made plain that the west must conform to national laws that took precedence over local customs.
But many perceived the sweeping actions of the federal government as going too far. Even an ardent Federalist like Fisher Ames observed that, "Elective rulers can scarcely ever employ the physical force of a democracy without turning the moral force or the power of public opinion against the government." Like the Shays' Rebellion eight years earlier, the Whiskey Rebellion tested the boundaries of political dissent. In both instances, the government acted swiftly — and militarily — to assert its authority.
Thomas Jefferson supported the plan to build the young nation's capital along the Potomac River; Alexander Hamilton disagreed with the selected site. Hamilton finally agreed to the idea when Jefferson pledged support for some of Hamilton's financial reforms.
The 1790s brought extraordinary divisions to the forefront of American life and politics. Strong differences about how best to maintain the benefits of the Revolution lay at the center of these conflicts. Hamilton's economic policies were among the earliest sources of tension. They sparked strong reactions not only from elected officials and ordinary farmers, but even split Washington's cabinet.
Thomas Jefferson, who was the secretary of state at the time, thought Hamilton's plans for full payment of the public debt stood to benefit a "corrupt squadron of paper dealers." To Jefferson, speculation in paper certificates threatened the virtue of the new American Republic. Even Madison, who had worked closely with Hamilton in co-authoring The Federalist Papers, thought the public debt repayment plan gave too big a windfall to wealthy financiers.
As a counter-measure Madison proposed that Congress should set aside some money for the original owners of the debts who tended to be ordinary Americans and not new investors and speculators.
On a pragmatic level Madison's idea would have been difficult to implement. Nearly half the members of Congress invested in public securities. They stood to benefit financially from Hamilton's plan. Its passage was doubly assured.
Hamilton's successful bid to charter a national Bank of the United States also brought strong opposition from Jefferson. Their disagreement about the bank stemmed from sharply opposed interpretations of the Constitution. For Jefferson, such action was clearly beyond the powers granted to the federal government. In his "strict interpretation" of the Constitution, Jefferson pointed out that the tenth amendment required that all federal authority be expressly stated in the law. Nowhere did the Constitution allow for the federal government to create a bank.
Hamilton responded with a "loose interpretation" that allowed such federal action under a clause permitting Congress to make "all Laws which shall be necessary and proper."
Neither side was absolutely right. The Constitution needed interpretation. In this difference, however, we can see sharply contrasting visions for the future of the republic.
Thomas Jefferson opposed Alexander Hamilton's fiscal policies.
Opposition to Hamilton's financial policies spread beyond the cabinet. The legislature divided about whether or not to support the Bank of the United States. This split in Congress loomed as a potential threat to the union because northern representatives overwhelmingly voted favorably, while southerners were strongly opposed. The difference stemmed from significant economic differences between the sections. Large cities, merchants, and leading financiers were much more numerous in the north and stood to benefit from Hamilton's plans.
Keen observers began to fear that sharp sectional differences might soon threaten the union. Indeed, the Bank ultimately found support in Congress through a compromise that included a commitment to build the new federal capital on the banks of the Potomac River. In part this stemmed from the fact that southern states such as Virginia had already paid off their war debt and stood to gain nothing from a central bank. While most of the commercial beneficiaries of Hamilton's policies were concentrated in the urban northeast, the political capital of Washington, D.C. would stand in the more agricultural south. By dividing the centers of economic and political power many hoped to avoid a dangerous concentration of power in any one place or region.
The increasing discord of the early 1790s pointed toward an uncertain future. The Virginian Jefferson and the New Yorker Hamilton serve as useful figureheads for the opposing sides. While Hamilton was an adamant elitist whose policies favored merchants and financiers, Jefferson, though wealthy, favored policies aimed toward ordinary farmers.
Their differences also extended to the branch of government that each favored. Hamilton thought a strong executive and a judiciary protected from direct popular influence were essential to the health of the republic. By contrast, Jefferson put much greater faith in democracy and felt that the truest expression of republican principles would come through the legislature, which was elected directly by the people. Their differences would become even sharper as the decade wore on.