By the mid-1700s, settlers had established thirteen colonies in America. The colonies, all under British control, were located along the Atlantic shore, extending from present-day Maine in the north to Georgia in the south. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire were the New England Colonies; the Middle Colonies were Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware; and the Southern Colonies included Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
The Atlantic Ocean served as a 3,000-mile-wide buffer between Britain and its colonies. Letters from Britain to the colonies took five weeks to arrive, moving slowly across the Atlantic on sailing ships. This great gap in distance and time allowed the colonists to develop self-sufficiency (the ability to provide for one's own needs) and considerable self-confidence.
During the first half of the 1700s, Britain was preoccupied with struggles in Europe and basically ignored its colonies. While the British king appointed governors for each colony, the colonists elected representatives to legislative assemblies. These assemblies held most of the power to make laws for the colonies. The king could overrule the assemblies' actions but rarely took any notice of what they were doing.
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In 1783, the Treaty of Paris brought an official end to the American Revolution (1775–83). Under the terms of this peace agreement, the British gave up a considerable amount of land to America. The new nation stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, and from the northern Florida boundary to New France, later known as Canada. The border was not yet well defined due to its remoteness with little settlement. The thirteen American states—once colonies under British control—had established their own form of government. Every state had its own legislature and constitution, and most had a bill of rights protecting basic liberties such as the right to free speech. Optimism ran high: Merchants, manufacturers, large plantation owners, and small farmers looked forward to selling their goods without the burden of British trade restrictions. Many Americans eagerly anticipated moving west to settle the fertile lands beyond the Appalachian Mountains.
The first rush of excitement over independence from Britain quickly gave way to the difficult work of figuring out how to run the fragile experimental government. In 1776, the United States was the only republic in the world. A republic is a country
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Inventing a Nation: The U.S. Constitution
By 1787, only a few years after Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, it became clear that the document was inadequate for governing the new nation. The United States of America was in crisis because the governmental system set up by the Articles did not work: Congress could not collect taxes to run the government or pay its debts. With no income, Congress could not raise a military force to protect U.S. territories west of the Appalachian Mountains (the Native Americans, the British, and the Spanish all wanted to use this land and continued to test America's strength in the region). Congress had no power to control trade competition between the thirteen states or to resolve issues over the value of thirteen different state currencies. Neither could it control trade with foreign nations. Few representatives even bothered to show up for congressional sessions. The United States had no friends, respect, or power in the world. The states' "league of friendship" established under the Articles had dissolved into jealousies and animosities. The Confederation was economically bankrupt and on the brink of falling apart. Most foreign leaders thought the new country would not survive for long.
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A New Government: 1789–93
The new federal government created by the U.S. Constitution went into effect on March 4, 1789. During the next several years, as the new government was being organized, intense political debates erupted. They would be some of the sharpest political conflicts in the nation's history and would shape America for the next two centuries. The central issue in most of the debates involved the role of government in people's lives. Out of this debate grew political factions, groups of people who hold viewpoints on political matters different from other groups. Late in the 1790s, these factions evolved into organized political parties, something the Founding Fathers had not anticipated.
Selecting a national leader
Before the U.S. Constitution could be put into use, the nation needed to elect members to the House of Representatives and Senate as well as a president and vice president. The Constitution did not provide specific requirements for electing representatives and senators, so each state arranged their own elections. Popular votes (the votes of regular citizens) did not
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A Tested Government: 1793–97
George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97) was inaugurated for a second term as U.S. president on March 4, 1793, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Having spent his first term guiding the creation of a new government, Washington hoped to focus more on foreign policy issues during his second term. However, he would be faced with challenges both at home and abroad.
By 1793, two political factions (groups of people who hold viewpoints on political matters different from other groups) had formed in the United States. The Federalists were led by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804), and the Republicans were followers of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). The factions first emerged during debates over Hamilton's economic policies. Each side looked upon the other as a danger to the republic. A republic is a country governed by the consent of the people and for the benefit of the people through elected representatives. During Washington's second term, foreign developments increased the political gap between the Federalists and the Republicans (the party later renamed as the Democratic-Republicans).
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Decline of Federalism: 1797–1800
Between the presidential inauguration of John Adams (1735–1826; served 1797–1801) in March 1797 and the U.S. presidential election of 1800, political divisions in the nation grew wide and deep. Both Adams and former president George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97) dreaded the formation of political parties. Political parties are organized groups of people who have similar viewpoints or philosophies about how to run the government. Washington and Adams believed that political parties were self-serving, supporting only their own interests rather than the common good. However, the U.S. Constitution did not address the issue of political parties, so Washington, Adams, and other leaders did not have any legal framework to prevent or control the development of such parties.
People tend to associate with others who think as they do; hence the growth and organization of political parties proved unavoidable. By the mid-1790s, two political parties existed in the United States: the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans (formerly called Republicans). The Democratic-Republicans of the 1790s were an entirely different party than the modern Republican Party, which formed in the 1850s.
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Democratic-Republicanism Blooms: 1801–5
The Federalist Party's defeat in the 1800 presidential election marked the beginning of the party's decline. America's first president, George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97), and second president, John Adams (1735–1826; served 1797–1801), both thought like Federalists. Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804), leader of the Federalists, was Washington's treasury secretary, and President Adams ran for reelection in 1800 under the Federalist Party's banner. Federalists favored a strong national government, promoted industry and manufacturing over agricultural interests, favored taxes to support the national government, and created the nation's first national bank. Most Federalists lived in the Northeast around urban areas and were the best-educated and wealthiest Americans.
Although the Federalists had played the key role in shaping the U.S. government over the previous twelve years, Americans in 1800 were ready for a change. The Democratic-Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), gained widespread popularity. Jefferson won the presidential election of 1800 and brought the Democratic-Republicans into power for the first time. Democratic-Republicans favored a limited national
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Foreign Entanglements: 1806–12
After taking office in 1801, President Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9) continued to promote the idea of a small national government. He wanted most political power to rest with state governments. The federal government was already quite small—tiny when compared with the massive federal government of the United States in the early twenty-first century. But Jefferson wanted to make the various departments of government, including the military, even smaller. As he saw it, the United States did not need a large military during peacetime. A small government also suited Jefferson's economic plan, which relied almost solely on tariffs (taxes on imported goods) for government funding. This plan would work well for the United States as long as trade was healthy. Fortunately for Jefferson, the country experienced a time of peace and prosperity during the first several years of his presidency (see Chapter 7). However, when war between Britain and France erupted again after several years of peace, Jefferson's economic and military policies proved to be shortsighted.
Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison (1751–1836), who succeeded Jefferson as president in 1809, discovered that a nation with a weak military could exert little
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War of 1812: 1812–15
In the early 1800s, Britain and France were at war with each other, but the United States remained neutral, refusing to take sides. U.S. merchant ships continued to trade with both of the warring countries, but neither Britain nor France would allow them to do so without risk. If either side caught American ships trading with the enemy, they would seize the ships and the sailors on board. After enduring years of this treatment, the United States decided to go to war to gain some international respect.
Since the mid-1790s, the United States had struggled to defend its freedom of the seas through diplomatic means, primarily treaty negotiations with Britain and France. Freedom to pursue international trade was crucial for farmers to ship produce to overseas markets and for merchants to import manufactured goods from Europe. The nation did not yet have the capability to manufacture its own supply of goods. Despite many attempts to reason with Britain and France, the two nations continued seizing U.S. ships. The Democratic-Republican Party, which had long proclaimed allegiance to a friendship with France and disdained Britain, now controlled the presidency and Congress. Therefore, led by twenty to thirty
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By 1815, peace had come to the United States. American and British officials signed the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814, to end the War of 1812 (1812–15). The treaty halted hostilities and restored U.S. boundaries that existed before the war. Just as important, British troops defeated the army of French emperor Napoléon Bonaparte (1769–1821) in June 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium. Europe at last rested from war and stopped stirring up trouble for America on the high seas. A difficult time in America's early history had come to an end.
Nationalism, a spirit of national unity and loyalty, took hold of Americans. No longer did they think in terms of one state dominating over another. Instead, they thought of the states as bound together in a truly united nation. The war not only shaped America's self-image but taught the young nation the following powerful lessons: The U.S. government needed a strong executive (presidential) branch to run a war and maintain an effective army and navy. It needed a national bank system to handle moneys from increasingly prosperous trade. The nation did not have to rely on foreign trade for needed supplies. It was capable of producing most of these goods at home. Manufacturing industries
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A Farming Society
In 1783, the year that marked the end of the American Revolution (1775–83), most Americans earned their living by farming. Before the Revolution, the American colonies had been part of the vast British Empire, and American farmers sold their goods in markets worldwide, from the West Indies to Britain itself. Shortly after the Revolution, in 1790, the first U.S. census revealed that almost 97 percent of the population of four million still lived in rural areas. American farmers had played a crucial role in colonial economics and politics, and they would continue to have a strong influence over U.S. policies between 1783 and 1815.
Farmers were respected as honest, hardworking men who provided for their families. Many early American leaders firmly believed farming was the most virtuous (respectable) way of life and should remain the most important sector of the nation's economy. Founding Father and future president Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9) was the leading spokesperson of this belief, called agrarianism (a society based on agriculture and small, self-sufficient farmers). Jefferson claimed that land ownership was a natural right of citizens and that the small farmer was at the forefront of American
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"Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics....Let every man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles that he believes, worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods....Let government protect him in so doing." Baptist minister John Leland penned these famous words in 1776. They are reprinted in The Writings of John Leland (1969), edited by L. F. Greene. During his campaign for the presidency in 1800, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9) quoted Leland's words.
Religious freedom is a pillar of individual liberty in America. But while the pillar stood firm in early America, views of religious freedom slowly evolved in the 1600s and 1700s. When settlers first journeyed to the New World's eastern shores in the early 1600s, religious freedom meant freedom to establish a colony that followed specific religious principles. There was no religious freedom within the colony. All colonists worshipped in the church of the colony; if anyone refused to do so, he or she had to leave the colony.
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Between the 1780s and 1810s, 96 percent of all Americans lived in rural settings and farmed the land. The most established farms were within the original thirteen states, east of the Appalachian Mountains. The land west of the Appalachians and east of the Mississippi River was the American frontier. There, pioneering families carved out an existence from the wilderness. They cleared and planted small acreages, built solid cabins, and raised their children. Their day-to-day existence was more difficult and isolated than that of people living east of the Appalachians.
Only a tiny fraction of Americans lived on Southern plantations, farms worked by one hundred or more slaves. The vast majority of Southerners, like their countrymen to the north, farmed small acreages. However, many of America's most famous Founding Fathers and early presidents such as George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97) and Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9) owned and operated plantations.
All of rural America led vastly different lives than the 4 percent of Americans who lived in cities. Those cities, all located on the east coast, included Boston, New York, Baltimore,
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Slavery, Free Blacks, and Native Americans
During the early American period of 1783 to 1815, only white adult men enjoyed the full range of privileges of citizenship that almost all U.S. citizens take for granted in the twenty-first century. Women generally could not vote and lost ownership to their property when they married. However, those with the fewest privileges were black Americans and Native Americans. Black slaves were considered property, not human beings. Native Americans were considered savages, something less than fully human. Neither slaves nor Native Americans would be extended U.S. citizenship until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Racial prejudice was extensive in early U.S. society. Even free blacks (non-slaves) were greatly limited in their rights and freedoms. Native Americans lost their traditional lands and lifestyles to the onslaught of U.S. expansion. U.S.–Native American relations during this period involved violent conflicts as alliances of Native American tribes fought to stop expansion of U.S. settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains.
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Between 1783 and 1815, the terms West, Northwest, and Southwest referred to different geographic areas of the United States than they do in the twenty-first century. The meaning of "the West" changed constantly through America's early history as the population increased and moved farther from the Atlantic coast. In the 1600s, any land more than 100 miles from the Atlantic shore was "the West." During the early 1700s, the West was western land within the boundaries of the thirteen original colonies. By the 1780s, the West referred to land west of the Appalachian Mountains and, in the South, land west of the Carolinas and Georgia.
The Old Northwest encompassed territory north of the Ohio River to the Great Lakes and Canada, stretching east to the Pennsylvania border and west to the Mississippi River. The present-day states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, along with a portion of Minnesota, were carved from the Old Northwest.
The Southwest included land west of Georgia to the Mississippi River. Alabama and Mississippi were carved from the Southwest. Between the Old Northwest and the Southwest
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