United States, history of the
The Chesapeake Colonies. The New England Colonies. Social and Economic Developments. The Growth of Slavery. Deterioration of Imperial Ties. The War for Independence. Diverging Visions of the American Republic and Expansion of the American Domain.
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United States, history of the
Many peoples have contributed to the development of the United States of America, a vast nation that arose from a scattering of British colonial outposts in the New World. The first humans to inhabit the North American continent were migrants from northeast Asia who established settlements in North America as early as 8000 BC and possibly much earlier (see NORTH AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY). By about AD 1500 the native peoples of the areas north of the Rio Grande had developed a variety of different cultures (see INDIANS, AMERICAN). The vast region stretching eastward from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean was relatively sparsely populated by tribes whose economies were generally based on hunting and gathering, fishing, and farming.
VIKINGS explored the North American mainland in the 10th and 11th centuries and settled there briefly (see VINLAND). Of more lasting importance, however, was the first voyage (1492-93) of Christopher COLUMBUS, which inaugurated an age of great European EXPLORATION of the Western Hemisphere. Various European states (including Spain, France, England, the Netherlands, and Portugal) and their trading companies sent out expeditions to explore the New World during the century and a half that followed.
The Spanish claimed vast areas, including Florida, Mexico, and the region west of the Mississippi River, although they concentrated their settlement south of the Rio Grande. The French explored much of the area that became Canada and established several settlements there. Of most significance, however, for the subsequent development of the United States, was the English colonization of the region along the Atlantic coast.
BRITISH COLONIES IN NORTH AMERICA
At the end of the period of turmoil associated with the Protestant Reformation in England, the English people became free to turn their attention to some other matters and to seek new opportunities outside their tiny island. Internal stability under Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603) and an expanding economy combined with a bold intellectual ferment to produce a soaring self-confidence. Ireland experienced the first impact: by the beginning of the 17th century it had been wholly subjugated by the English. Scottish and English Protestants were dispatched to "colonize" where the savage Irish, as they were called, had been expelled, especially in the northern provinces. Then, entrepreneurs began to look to North America, claimed by England on the basis of the voyages of discovery of John CABOT (1497-99).
The Chesapeake Colonies
The English had failed in their attempts in the 1580s to found a colony at ROANOKE on the Virginia coast. In 1606, however, the LONDON COMPANY, established to exploit North American resources, sent settlers to what in 1607 became JAMESTOWN, the first permanent English colony in the New World. The colonists suffered extreme hardships, and by 1622, of the more than 10,000 who had immigrated, only 2,000 remained alive. In 1624 control of the failing company passed to the crown, making Virginia a royal colony. Soon the tobacco trade was flourishing, the death rate had fallen, and with a legislature (the House of Burgesses, established in 1619) and an abundance of land, the colony entered a period of prosperity. Individual farms, available at low cost, were worked primarily by white indentured servants (laborers who were bound to work for a number of years to pay for their passage before receiving full freedom). The Chesapeake Bay area became a land of opportunity for poor English people.
In 1632, Maryland was granted to the CALVERT family as a personal possession, to serve as a refuge for Roman Catholics. Protestants, as well, flooded into the colony, and in 1649 the Toleration Act was issued, guaranteeing freedom of worship in Maryland to all Trinitarian Christians.
The New England Colonies
In 1620, Puritan Separatists, later called PILGRIMS, sailed on the MAYFLOWER to New England, establishing PLYMOUTH COLONY, the first permanent settlement there. They were followed in 1629 by other Puritans (see PURITANISM), under the auspices of the MASSACHUSETTS BAY COMPANY, who settled the area around Boston. During the Great Puritan Migration that followed (1629-42), about 16,000 settlers arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Puritans set out to build a "city on a hill" intended to provide a model of godly living for the world. Strict Calvinists, strongly communal, and living in closely bound villages, they envisioned a God angered at human transgressions, who chose, purely according to his inscrutable will, a mere "righteous fragment" for salvation. Dissidents of a Baptist orientation founded Rhode Island (chartered 1644). In 1639, Puritans on what was then the frontier established the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the first written constitution in North America; the colony was chartered in 1662. The settlements in New Hampshire that sprang up in the 1620s were finally proclaimed a separate royal colony in 1679. Plymouth later became (1691) part of the royal colony of Massachusetts.
The Restoration Colonies
A long era (1642-60) of turmoil in England, which included the Civil War, Oliver Cromwell's republican Commonwealth, and the Protectorate, ended with the restoration of the Stuarts in the person of Charles II. An amazing period ensued, during which colonies were founded and other acquisitions were made. In 1663, Carolina was chartered; settlement began in 1670, and from the start the colony flourished. The territory later came under royal control as South Carolina (1721) and North Carolina (1729).
In 1664 an English fleet arrived to claim by right of prior discovery the land along the Hudson and Delaware rivers that had been settled and occupied by the Dutch since 1624. Most of NEW NETHERLAND now became New York colony and its principal settlement, New Amsterdam, became the city of New York. New York colony, already multiethnic and strongly commercial in spirit, came under control of the crown in 1685. New Jersey, sparsely settled by the Dutch, Swedes, and others, was also part of this English claim. Its proprietors divided it into East and West Jersey in 1676, but the colony was reunited as a royal province in 1702.
In 1681, Pennsylvania, and in 1682, what eventually became (1776) Delaware, were granted to William PENN, who founded a great Quaker settlement in and around Philadelphia. Quaker theology differed widely from that of the New England Puritans. Believing in a loving God who speaks directly to each penitent soul and offers salvation freely, Quakers found elaborate church organizations and ordained clerics unnecessary.
In 1675 disease-ridden and poverty-stricken Indians in New England set off against the whites. Almost every Massachusetts town experienced the horror of Indian warfare; thousands on both sides were slaughtered before King Philip, the Wampanoag chief, was killed in 1676 and the war ended. Virginians, appalled at this event, in 1676 began attacking the Occaneechees despite the disapproval of the royal governor, Sir William BERKELEY. Then, under Nathaniel Bacon, dissatisfied and angry colonists expelled Berkeley from Jamestown and proclaimed Bacon's Laws, which gave the right to vote to all freedmen. Royal troops soon arrived to put down the uprising, known as.
Along the Mohawk River in New York, the Five Nations of the IROQUOIS LEAGUE maintained their powerful confederacy with its sophisticated governing structure and strong religious faith. Allies of the English against the French along the Saint Lawrence River, they dominated a vast region westward to Lake Superior with their powerful and well-organized armies. The FRENCH AND INDIAN WARS, a series of great wars between the two European powers and their Indian allies, ended in 1763 when French rule was eradicated from North America and Canada was placed under the British crown.
18th-Century Social and Economic Developments
In the 1700s the British colonies grew rapidly in population and wealth. A formerly crude society acquired a polished and numerous elite. Trade and cities flourished. The 250,000 settlers who had lived in the mainland colonies to the south of Canada in 1700 became 2,250,000 by 1775 and would grow to 5,300,000 by 1800. Settlement expanded widely from the coastal beachheads of the 17th century into back-country regions with profoundly divergent ways of life.
Several non-English ethnic groups migrated to the British colonies in large numbers during the 18th century. By 1775, Germans, who settled primarily in the Middle Colonies but also in the back-country South, numbered about 250,000. They were members of the Lutheran and German Reformed (Calvinist) churches or of pietist sects (Moravians, Mennonites, Amish, and the like); the pietists, in particular, tended to live separately, avoiding English-speaking peoples. From the 1730s waves of Scots-Irish immigrants, numbering perhaps 250,000 by the time of the Revolution, swelled the ranks of the non- English group. Forming dense settlements in Pennsylvania, as well as in New York's Hudson Valley and in the back-country South, they brought with them the Presbyterian church, which was to become widely prominent in American life. Many of these immigrants were indentured servants; a small percentage were criminals, transported from the jails of England, where they had been imprisoned for debt or for more serious crimes. The colony of Georgia was granted in 1732 to reformers, led by James OGLETHORPE, who envisioned it as an asylum for English debtors, as well as a buffer against Spanish Florida. Georgia, too, was colonized by many non-English people.
The Growth of Slavery
Slaves from Africa were used in small numbers in the colonies from about 1619 (see BLACK AMERICANS; SLAVERY). After British merchants joined the Dutch in the slave trade later in the 17th century, prices tumbled and increasing numbers of black people were transported into the southern colonies to be used for plantation labor. Slaves were also used in the northern colonies, but in far fewer numbers. The survival rates as well as birthrates tended to be high for slaves brought to the North American mainland colonies--in contrast to those transported to the West Indies or to South America.
The expansion of slavery was the most fateful event of the pre- Revolutionary years. Virginia had only about 16,000 slaves in 1700; by 1770 it held more than 187,000, or almost half the population of the colony. In low country South Carolina, with its rice and indigo plantations, only 25,000 out of a total population of 100,000 were white in 1775. Fearful whites mounted slave patrols and exacted savage penalties upon transgression in order to maintain black passivity.
Meanwhile, on the basis of abundant slave labor, the world of great plantations emerged, creating sharp distinctions in wealth among whites. Southern society was dominated by the aristocracy; however, whites of all classes were united in their fear of blacks. Miscegenation was common, especially where slaves were most numerous, and mulattos were regarded as black, not white. An almost total absence of government in this sparsely settled, rural southern environment resulted in complete license on the part of owners in the treatment of their slaves. Paradoxically, the ideal of liberty--of freedom from all restraints--was powerful in the southern white mind.
As transatlantic trade increased, communication between the colonies and England became closer, and English customs and institutions exerted a stronger influence on the Americans. The aristocracy aped London fashions, and colonials participated in British cultural movements. The Church of England, the established church in the southern colonies and in the four counties in and around New York City, grew in status and influence. At the same time, in both Britain and America, an increasingly rationalistic and scientific outlook, born in the science of Sir Isaac NEWTON and the philosophy of John LOCKE, made religious observance more logical and of this world. Deism and so-called natural religion scoffed at Christianity and the Bible as a collection of ancient superstitions.
Then from England came an upsurge of evangelical Protestantism, led by John Wesley (the eventual founder of the Methodist church; see WESLEY family) and George WHITEFIELD. It sought to combat the new rationalism and foster a revival of enthusiasm in Christian faith and worship. Beginning in 1738, with Whitefield's arrival in the colonies, a movement known as the GREAT AWAKENING swept the colonials, gaining strength from an earlier outbreak of revivalism in Massachusetts (1734-35) led by Jonathan EDWARDS. Intensely democratic in spirit, the Great Awakening was the first intercolonial cultural movement. It vastly reenergized a Puritanism that, since the mid-1600s, had lost its vigor. All churches were electrified by its power-- either in support or in opposition. The movement also revived the earlier Puritan notion that America was to be a "city on a hill," a special place of God's work, to stand in sharp contrast to what was regarded as corrupt and irreligious England.
THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
By the middle of the 18th century the wave of American expansion was beginning to top the Appalachian rise and move into the valley of the Ohio. Colonial land companies looked covetously to that frontier. The French, foreseeing a serious threat to their fur trade with the Indians, acted decisively. In 1749 they sent an expedition to reinforce their claim to the Ohio Valley and subsequently established a string of forts there. The British and the colonists were forced to respond to the move or suffer the loss of the vast interior, long claimed by both British and French. The French and Indian War (1754-63) that resulted became a worldwide conflict, called the SEVEN YEARS' WAR in Europe. At its end, the British had taken over most of France's colonial empire as well as Spanish Florida and had become dominant in North America except for Spain's possessions west of the Mississippi River.
A delirious pride over the victory swept the colonies and equaled that of the British at home. Outbursts of patriotic celebration and cries of loyalty to the crown infused the Americans. The tremendous cost of the war itself and the huge responsibility accompanying the new possessions, however, left Britain with an immense war debt and heavy administrative costs. At the same time the elimination of French rule in North America lifted the burden of fear of that power from the colonists, inducing them to be more independent-minded. The war effort itself had contributed to a new sense of pride and confidence in their own military prowess. In addition, the rapid growth rate of the mid-18th century had compelled colonial governments to become far more active than that of old, established England. Because most male colonists possessed property and the right to vote, the result was the emergence of a turbulent world of democratic politics.
London authorities attempted to meet the costs of imperial administration by levying a tax on the colonials; the STAMP ACT of 1765 required a tax on all public documents, newspapers, notes and bonds, and almost every other printed paper. A raging controversy that brought business practically to a standstill erupted in the colonies. A Stamp Act Congress, a gathering of representatives from nine colonies, met in New York in October 1765 to issue a solemn protest. It held that the colonials possessed the same rights and liberties as did the British at home, among which was the principle that "no taxes be imposed on them but with their own consent, given personally or by their representatives." In March 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act; it passed the Declaratory Act, asserting its complete sovereignty over the colonies.
Thereafter the transatlantic controversy was rarely quiet. The colonists regarded the standing army of about 6,000 troops maintained by London in the colonies after 1763 with great suspicion--such a peacetime force had never been present before. British authorities defended the force as necessary to preserve peace on the frontier, especially after PONTIAC'S REBELLION (1763-65), which had been launched by the brilliant Indian leader Pontiac to expel the British from the interior and restore French rule. In another attempt to quell Indian unrest, London established the Proclamation Line of 1763. Set along the crest of the Appalachians, the line represented a limit imposed on colonial movement west until a more effective Indian program could be developed. The colonists were much angered by the prohibition. Historical memories of the use of standing armies by European kings to override liberty caused widespread suspicion among the colonists that the soldiers stationed on the Line of 1763 were to be employed not against the Indians, but against the colonials themselves should they prove difficult to govern.
Indeed, for many years colonists had been reading the radical British press, which argued the existence of a Tory plot in England to crush liberty throughout the empire. Surviving from the English Civil War of the previous century was a profound distrust of monarchy among a small fringe of radical members of Britain's Whig party, primarily Scots and Irish and English Dissenters--that is, Protestants who were not members of the Church of England. As members of the minority out-groups in British life, they had suffered many political and economic disadvantages. Radical Whigs insisted that a corrupt network of Church of England bishops, great landlords, and financiers had combined with the royal government to exploit the community at large, and that--frightened of criticism--this Tory conspiracy sought to destroy liberty and freedom.
In the cultural politics of the British Empire, American colonists were also an out-group; they bitterly resented the disdain and derision shown them by the metropolitan English. Furthermore, most free colonists were either Dissenters (the Congregationalists in New England and the Presbyterians and Baptists in New York and the South); or non-English peoples with ancient reasons for hating the English (the Scots-Irish); or outsiders in a British-dominated society (Germans and Dutch); or slaveowners sharply conscious of the distaste with which they were regarded by the British at home.
A divisive controversy racked the colonies in the mid-18th century concerning the privileges of the Church of England. Many believed in the existence of an Anglican plot against religious liberty. In New England it was widely asserted that the colonial tie to immoral, affluent, Anglican-dominated Britain was endangering the soul of America. Many southerners also disapproved of the ostentatious plantation living that grew out of the tobacco trade--as well as the widespread bankruptcies resulting from dropping tobacco prices--and urged separation from Britain.
The current ideology among many colonists was that of republicanism. The radicalism of the 18th century, it called for grounding government in the people, giving them the vote, holding frequent elections, abolishing established churches, and separating the powers of government to guard against tyranny. Republicans also advocated that most offices be elective and that government be kept simple, limited, and respectful of the rights of citizens.
Deterioration of Imperial Ties
In this prickly atmosphere London's heavy-handedness caused angry reactions on the part of Americans. The Quartering Act of 1765 ordered colonial assemblies to house the standing army; to override the resulting protests in America, London suspended the New York assembly until it capitulated. In 1767 the TOWNSHEND ACTS levied tariffs on many articles imported into the colonies. These imports were designed to raise funds to pay wages to the army as well as to the royal governors and judges, who had formerly been dependent on colonial assemblies for their salaries. Nonimportation associations immediately sprang up in the colonies to boycott British goods. When mob attacks prevented commissioners from enforcing the revenue laws, part of the army was placed (1768) in Boston to protect the commissioners. This action confirmed the colonists' suspicion that the troops were maintained in the colonies to deprive them of their liberty. In March 1770 a group of soldiers fired into a crowd that was harassing them, killing five persons; news of the BOSTON MASSACRE spread through the colonies.
The chastened ministry in London now repealed all the Townshend duties except for that on tea. Nonetheless, the economic centralization long reflected in the NAVIGATION ACTS--which compelled much of the colonial trade to pass through Britain on its way to the European continent--served to remind colonials of the heavy price exacted from them for membership in the empire. The Sugar Act of 1764, latest in a long line of such restrictive measures, produced by its taxes a huge revenue for the crown. By 1776 it drained from the colonies about 600,000 pounds sterling, an enormous sum. The colonial balance of trade with England was always unfavorable for the Americans, who found it difficult to retain enough cash to purchase necessary goods.
In 1772 the crown, having earlier declared its right to dismiss colonial judges at its pleasure, stated its intention to pay directly the salaries of governors and judges in Massachusetts. Samuel ADAMS, for many years a passionate republican, immediately created the intercolonial Committee of Correspondence. Revolutionary sentiment mounted. In December 1773 swarms of colonials disguised as Mohawks boarded recently arrived tea ships in Boston harbor, flinging their cargo into the water. The furious royal government responded to this BOSTON TEA PARTY by the so-called INTOLERABLE ACTS of 1774, practically eliminating self-government in Massachusetts and closing Boston's port.
Virginia moved to support Massachusetts by convening the First CONTINENTAL CONGRESS in Philadelphia in the fall of 1774. It drew up declarations of rights and grievances and called for nonimportation of British goods. Colonial militia began drilling in the Massachusetts countryside. New Englanders were convinced that they were soon to have their churches placed under the jurisdiction of Anglican bishops. They believed, as well, that the landowning British aristocracy was determined, through the levying of ruinous taxes, to reduce the freeholding yeomanry of New England to the status of tenants. The word "slavery" was constantly on their lips.
The War for Independence
In April 1775, Gen. Thomas GAGE in Boston was instructed to take the offensive against the Massachusetts troublemakers, now declared traitors to the crown. Charged with bringing an end to the training of militia and gathering up all arms and ammunition in colonial hands, on April 19, Gage sent a body of 800 soldiers to Concord to commandeer arms. On that day, the Battles of LEXINGTON AND CONCORD took place, royal troops fled back to Boston, and American campfires began burning around the city. The war of the AMERICAN REVOLUTION had begun.
It soon became a world war, with England's European enemies gladly joining in opposing England in order to gain revenge for past humiliations. British forces were engaged in battle from the Caribbean and the American colonies to the coasts of India. Furthermore, the United Colonies, as the Continental Congress called the rebelling 13 colonies, were widely scattered in a huge wilderness and were occupied by a people most of whom were in arms. The dispersion of the American population meant that the small (by modern standards) cities of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia could be taken and held for long periods without affecting the outcome.
LOYALISTS numbered about 60,000, living predominantly along the coast where people of English ethnic background and anglicized culture were most numerous, but they were widely separated and weak. Pennsylvania's Quakers had looked to the crown as their protector against the Scots-Irish and other militant groups in Pennsylvania. The Quakers were appalled at the rebellion, aggressively led in the Middle Colonies by the Presbyterian Scots-Irish, and refused to lend it support. London deluded itself, however, with the belief that the Loyalists represented a majority that would soon resume control and end the conflict.
Within a brief period after the Battle of Concord, practically all royal authority disappeared from the 13 colonies. Rebel governments were established in each colony, and the Continental Congress in Philadelphia provided a rudimentary national government. The task now before the British was to fight their way back onto the continent, reestablish royal governments in each colony, and defeat the colonial army. By March 1776 the British evacuated Boston, moving to take and hold New York City. Within days of the British arrival in New York, however, the Congress in Philadelphia issued (July 4) the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. In December 1776, Gen. George WASHINGTON reversed the early trend of American defeats by a stunning victory at Trenton, N.J. (see TRENTON, BATTLE OF). Thereafter, as the fighting wore on and the cause survived, Washington became in America and abroad a symbol of strength and great bravery.
In February 1778 the French joined the conflict by signing an alliance with the Continental Congress. With the aid of the French fleet the British army in the north was reduced to a bridgehead at New York City. Shifting its efforts to the south, the royal army campaigned through Georgia and the Carolinas between 1778 and 1780, marching to the James Peninsula, in Virginia, in 1781. Here, in the YORKTOWN CAMPAIGN, by the combined efforts of Washington's troops and the French army and navy, Lord CORNWALLIS was forced to surrender on Oct. 19, 1781. The fighting, effectively, was over. In September 1783 the Treaty of Paris secured American independence on generous terms. The new nation was given an immense domain that ran westward to the Mississippi River (except for Britain's Canadian colonies and East and West Florida, which reverted to Spanish rule).
A NEW NATION
The first federal constitution of the new American republic was the ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION. With ratification of that document in 1781, the nation had adopted its formal name, the United States of America.
Government under the Articles of Confederation
Under the Articles the only national institution was the Confederation Congress, with limited powers not unlike those of the United Nations. The states retained their sovereignty, with each state government selecting representatives to sit in the Congress. No national executive or judiciary had been established. Each state delegation received an equal vote on all issues. Congress was charged with carrying on the foreign relations of the United States, but because it had no taxing powers (it could only request funds from the states), it had no strength to back up its diplomacy. In addition, it had no jurisdiction over interstate commerce; each state could erect tariffs against its neighbors.
The Confederation Congress, however, achieved one great victory: it succeeded in bringing all 13 of the states to agree on a plan for organizing and governing the western territories (the "public lands") beyond the Appalachians. Each state ceded its western claims to the Congress, which in three ordinances dealing with the Northwest (1784, 1785, and 1787) provided that new states established in the western regions would be equal in status to the older ones. After a territorial stage of quasi self-government, they would pass to full statehood. The land in the NORTHWEST TERRITORY (the Old Northwest, that is, the area north of the Ohio River) would be surveyed in square parcels, 6 mi (9.7 km) on a side, divided into 36 sections, and sold to settlers at low cost; one plot would be reserved for the support of public schools. Furthermore, slavery was declared illegal in the Northwest Territory. (The Southwest Territory, below the Ohio, was organized by the later federal Congress in 1790 as slave country.)
The Confederation Congress, however, did not survive. Because of its lack of taxing power, its currency was of little value; widespread social turbulence in the separate states led many Americans to despair of the new nation. The republic--regarded as a highly precarious form of government in a world of monarchies--was founded with the conviction that the people would exercise the virtue and self-denial required under self- government. Soon, however, that assumption seemed widely discredited. SHAYS'S REBELLION in Massachusetts (1786-87) was an attempt to aid debtors by forcibly closing the court system; mobs terrorized legislators and judges to achieve this end. The new state legislatures, which had assumed all powers when royal governors were expelled, confiscated property, overturned judicial decisions, issued floods of unsecured paper money, and enacted torrents of legislation, some of it ex post facto (effective retroactively).
The established social and political elite (as distinct from the rough new antiauthoritarian politicians who had begun to invade the state legislatures, talking aggressively of "democracy" and "liberty") urgently asserted the need for a strong national government. The influence that the London authorities had formerly provided as a balance to local government was absent. Minorities that had been protected by the crown, such as the Baptists in Massachusetts and the Quakers in Pennsylvania, were now defenseless. The wealthy classes maintained that they were at the mercy of the masses. The new United States was so weak that it was regarded contemptuously all over the world and its diplomats ignored.
The Constitutional Convention of 1787
A chain of meetings, beginning with one between Virginia and Maryland in 1786 to solve mutual commercial problems and including the larger ANNAPOLIS CONVENTION later that year, led to the CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION in Philadelphia in 1787. Deciding to start afresh and fashion a new national government independent of, and superior to, the states, the delegates made a crucial decision: the nation's source of sovereignty was to lie in the people directly, not in the existing states. Using the British Parliament as a model, they provided for a CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES that would have two houses to check and balance one another. One house would be elected directly by the people of each state, with representation proportionate to population; the other would provide equal representation for each state (two senators each), to be chosen by the state legislatures.
The powers of the national government were to be those previously exercised by London: regulation of interstate and foreign commerce, foreign affairs and defense, and Indian affairs; control of the national domain; and promotion of "the general welfare." Most important, the Congress was empowered to levy "taxes, duties, imposts, and excises." The states were prohibited from carrying on foreign relations, coining money, passing ex post facto laws, impairing the obligations of contracts, and establishing tariffs. Furthermore, if social turbulence within a state became serious, the federal government, following invitation by the legislature or the executive of that state, could bring in troops to insure "a republican form of government."
A PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES with powers much like those of the British king, except that the office would be elective, was created. Chosen by a special body (an ELECTORAL COLLEGE), the president would be an independent and powerful national leader, effectively in command of the government. Recalling the assaults on judicial power that had been rampant in the states, the Constitutional Convention also created a fully independent SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES, members of which could be removed only if they committed a crime. Then, most important, the document that was drawn up at Philadelphia stated that the Constitution, as well as laws and treaties made under the authority of the U.S. government, "shall be the supreme Law of the Land."
The proposed constitution was to be ratified by specially elected ratifying conventions in each state and to become operative after nine states had ratified it. In the national debate that arose over ratification, ANTI-FEDERALISTS opposed the concentration of power in the national government under the document; a key question was the absence of a BILL OF RIGHTS. Many Americans thought that a bill of rights was necessary to preserve individual liberties, and to accommodate this view proponents of the Constitution promised to add such a bill to the document after ratification. With the clear understanding that amendments would be added, ratification by nine states was completed (1788) and the CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES became operative. The Bill of Rights was then drafted by the first Congress and became the first ten amendments to the Constitution.
Diverging Visions of the American Republic
In the first elections for the new federal Congress (1789), those favoring the new system won a huge majority. George Washington was unanimously elected to be chief executive, the only president so honored. He was inaugurated in the temporary capital, New York City, on Apr. 30, 1789. The American experiment in republican self-government now began again. The unanimity expressed in Washington's election would prove short- lived.
Under the leadership of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander HAMILTON, Congress pledged (1790) the revenues of the federal government to pay off all the outstanding debt of the old Articles of Confederation government as well as the state debts. Much of the domestic debt was in currency that had badly depreciated in value, but Congress agreed to fund it at its higher face value; at one stroke, the financial credit of the new government was assured. Southerners, however, mistrusted the plan, claiming that it served only to enrich northern speculators because the southern states had largely paid off their debts. Many southerners feared, too, that the new nation would be dominated by New Englanders, whose criticism of southern slavery and living styles offended them. Before assenting to the funding proposal, the southerners had obtained agreement that the national capital (after 10 years in Philadelphia) would be placed in the South, on the Potomac River.
In 1791, Hamilton persuaded Congress to charter the BANK OF THE UNITED STATES, modeled after the Bank of England. Primarily private (some of its trustees would be federally appointed), it would receive and hold the government's revenues, issue currency and regulate that of state-chartered banks, and be free to invest as it saw fit the federal tax moneys in its vaults. Because it would control the largest pool of capital in the country, it could shape the growth of the national economy. Hamilton also proposed (with limited success) that protective tariffs be established to exclude foreign goods and thus stimulate the development of U.S. factories. In short, he laid out the economic philosophy of what became the FEDERALIST PARTY: that the government should actively encourage economic growth by providing aid to capitalists. Flourishing cities and a vigorous industrial order: this was the American future he envisioned. His strongly nationalist position gained the support of the elites in New York City and Philadelphia as well as broad-based support among the Yankees of New England.
On the other hand, southerners, a rural and widely dispersed people, feared the cities and the power of remote bankers. With Thomas JEFFERSON they worked to counteract the Federalists' anglicized vision of the United States. Southerners rejected the concept of an active government, preferring one committed to laissez-faire (that is, allowing people to act without government interference) in all areas--economic and cultural. Jefferson declared that close ties between government and capitalists would inevitably lead to corruption and exploitation. In his view, behind-the-scene schemers would use graft to secure special advantages (tariffs, bounties, and the like) that would allow them to profiteer at the community's expense.
The Middle Atlantic states at first supported the nationalistic Federalists, who won a second term for Washington in 1792 and elected John ADAMS to the presidency in 1796. However, many of the Scots-Irish, Germans, and Dutch in these states disliked Yankees and distrusted financiers and business proprietors. The growing working class in Philadelphia and New York City turned against the Federalists' elitism. By 1800 the ethnic minorities of the Middle Atlantic states helped swing that region behind Jefferson, a Virginian, and his Democratic-Republican party, giving the presidency to Jefferson. Thereafter, until 1860, with few intermissions, the South and the Middle Atlantic states together dominated the federal government. Although the U.S. Constitution had made no mention of POLITICAL PARTIES, it had taken only a decade for the development of a party system that roughly reflected two diverging visions for the new republic. Political parties would remain an integral part of the American system of government.
During the 1790s, however, foreign affairs became dominant, and dreams of republican simplicity and quietude were dashed. A long series of wars between Britain and Revolutionary France began in that decade, and the Americans were inevitably pulled into the fray. By JAY'S TREATY (1794) the United States reluctantly agreed to British wartime confiscation of U.S. ship cargoes, alleged to be contraband, in return for British evacuation of western forts on American soil and the opening of the British West Indies to U.S. vessels. Under John Adams, similar depredations by the French navy against American trading ships led to the Quasi-War (1798-1801) on the high seas. Federalist hysteria over alleged French-inspired subversion produced the ALIEN AND SEDITION ACTS (1798), which sought to crush all criticism of the government.
The Democratic Republic
As president, Jefferson attempted to implement the Democratic- Republican vision of America; he cut back the central government's activities, reducing the size of the court system, letting excise taxes lapse, and contracting the military forces. Paradoxically, in what was perhaps Jefferson's greatest achievement as president, he vastly increased the scope of U.S. power: the securing of the LOUISIANA PURCHASE (1803) from France practically doubled American territory, placing the western boundary of the United States along the base of the Rocky Mountains.
In 1811, under Jefferson's successor, James MADISON, the 20- year charter of the Bank of the United States was allowed to lapse, further eroding the Federalists' nationalist program. Renewed warfare between Britain and France, during which American foreign trade was progressively throttled down almost to nothing, led eventually to the WAR OF 1812. The British insisted on the right freely to commandeer U.S. cargoes as contraband and to impress American sailors into their navy. To many Americans the republic seemed in grave peril.
With reluctance and against unanimous Federalist opposition, Congress made the decision to go to war against Britain. Except for some initial naval victories, the war went badly for the Americans. Western Indians, under the gifted TECUMSEH, fought on the British side. In 1814, however, an invading army from Canada was repelled. Then, just as a peace treaty was being concluded in Ghent (Belgium), Andrew JACKSON crushed another invading British army as it sought to take New Orleans. The war thus ended on a triumphant note, and the republic was confirmed. The Federalists, who in the HARTFORD CONVENTION (in Connecticut, 1814) had capped their opposition to the war with demands for major changes in the Constitution, now were regarded as disloyal, and their party dwindled down to a base in New England and in the 1820s dissolved. Robbed of their enemy, Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans broke into factions, effectively disappearing as a national party.
AN AGE OF BOUNDLESSNESS: 1815-50
The volatile and expansive years from 1815 to 1850 were, in many ways, an age of boundlessness when limits that had previously curbed human aspirations seemed to disappear.
Economic and Cultural Ferment
After 1815 the American economy began to expand rapidly. The cotton boom in the South spread settlement swiftly across the Gulf Plains: the Deep South was born. Farmers also moved into the Lake Plains north of the Ohio River, their migration greatly accelerating after the completion of the ERIE CANAL in 1825. Practically all Indians east of the Mississippi were placed on small reservations or forced to move to the Great Plains beyond the Missouri River. Canals and railroads opened the interior to swift expansion, of both settlement and trade. In the Midwest many new cities, such as Chicago, appeared, as enormous empires of wheat and livestock farms came into being. From 1815 to 1850 a new western state entered the Union, on the average, every two and one-half years.
The westward movement of the FRONTIER was matched in the Northeast by rapid economic development. National productivity surged during the 1820s; prices spurted to a peak during the 1830s and dropped for a time during the 1840s; both prices and productivity soared upward again during the 1850s, reaching new heights. A business cycle had appeared, producing periods of boom and bust, and the factory system became well developed. After the GOLD RUSH that began in California in 1848-49, industrial development was further stimulated during the 1850s by the arrival of $500 million in gold and silver from the Sierra Nevada and other western regions. A willingness to take risks formerly thought wildly imprudent became a national virtue. Land values rose, and hundreds of new communities appeared in the western states.
Meanwhile, property tests for voting were disappearing, white manhood suffrage became the rule, and most offices were made elective. A communications revolution centering in the inexpensive newspaper and in a national fascination with mass education (except in the South) sent literacy rates soaring. The Second Great Awakening (1787-1825), a new religious revival that originated in New England, spread an evangelical excitement across the country. In its wake a ferment of social reform swept the northern states. The slave system of the South spread westward as rapidly as the free labor system of the North, and during the 1830s ABOLITIONISTS mounted a crusade to hammer at the evils of slavery.
Expansion of the American Domain
The years 1815-50 brought further expansion of the national domain. In the Anglo-American Convention of 1818, the 49th parallel was established as the border between Canada and the United States from the Lake of the Woods to the Rockies, and in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, Spain ceded Florida and its claims in the Oregon Country to the United States. During the 1840s a sense of MANIFEST DESTINY seized the American mind (although many individuals, especially in New England, were more restrained in their thinking). Continent-wide expansion seemed inevitable. Texas, which had declared its independence from Mexico in 1835-36 (see TEXAS REVOLUTION), was annexed in 1845. Then a dispute with Mexico concerning the Rio Grande as the border of Texas led to the MEXICAN WAR (1846-48). While U.S. armies invaded the heartland of Mexico to gain victory, other forces sliced off the northern half of that country--the provinces of New Mexico and Alta California. In the Treaty of GUADALUPE HIDALGO (1848), $15 million was paid for the Mexican cession of those provinces, more than 3 million sq km (roughly 1 million sq m).
In 1846, Britain and the United States settled the OREGON QUESTION, concluding a treaty that divided the Oregon Country at the 49th parallel and bringing the Pacific Northwest into the American nation. In addition, by the GADSDEN PURCHASE of 1853 the United States acquired (for $10 million) the southern portions of the present states of New Mexico and Arizona. By 1860 the Union comprised 33 states, packed solid through the first rank beyond the Mississippi and reaching westward to include Texas, as well as California and Oregon on the Pacific Coast. Fed by a high birthrate and by the heavy immigration from Ireland and Germany that surged dramatically during the 1840s, the nation's population was leaping upward: from 9.6 million in 1820 to 23 million in 1850 and 31.5 million in 1860.
Domestic Politics: 1815-46
In a nationalist frame of mind at the end of the War of 1812, Congress chartered the Second Bank of the United States in 1816, erected the first protective tariff (see TARIFF ACTS), and supported internal improvements (roads and bridges) to open the interior. President James MONROE presided (1817-25) over the so-called Era of Good Feelings, followed by John Quincy ADAMS (1825-29).
Chief Justice John MARSHALL led the Supreme Court in a crucial series of decisions, beginning in 1819. He declared that within its powers the federal government could not be interfered with by the states (MCCULLOCH V. MARYLAND) and that regulation of interstate and international commerce was solely a federal preserve (GIBBONS V. OGDEN and BROWN V. MARYLAND). In 1820, in the MISSOURI COMPROMISE, Congress took charge of the question of slavery in the territories by declaring it illegal above 36 deg 30 min in the huge region acquired by the Louisiana Purchase. Witnessing the Latin American revolutions against Spanish rule, the American government in 1823 asserted its paramountcy in the Western Hemisphere by issuing the MONROE DOCTRINE. In diplomatic but clear language it stated that the United States would fight to exclude further European extensions of sovereignty into its hemisphere.
During the presidency of Andrew JACKSON (1829-37), a sharp bipolarization occurred again in the nation's politics. Of Scots-Irish descent, Jackson hated the English, and he was, in turn, as thoroughly disliked by New Englanders, who thought him violent and barbaric. He made enemies in the South, as well, when in 1832 South Carolina, asserting superior STATE RIGHTS, attempted to declare null and void within its borders the tariff of 1828 (see NULLIFICATION). In his Nullification Proclamation (1832), Jackson declared that the federal government was supreme according to the Constitution. He skillfully outmaneuvered the South Carolinians, forcing them to relent. In 1832 he vetoed the rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States on the grounds that it caused the booms and busts that so alarmed the country and that it served the wealthy while exploiting the farmers and working people. To oppose him, the old Federalist coalition was reborn in the form of the American WHIG PARTY. With a DEMOCRATIC PARTY emerging behind Jackson and embodying the old Jeffersonian Democratic- Republican coalition, two-party rivalries appeared in every state. By the 1840s modern mass political parties, organized down into every ward and precinct, had appeared.
Led by Henry CLAY and Daniel WEBSTER, the Whigs called for protective tariffs, a national bank, and internal improvements to stimulate the economy. Moralists in politics, they also demanded active intervention by state governments to maintain the sanctity of the Sabbath, put down alcoholic beverages, and "Americanize" the immigrants in the public schools. Yankees, who by now had migrated in great numbers into the Midwest, leaned strongly toward the Whigs. Many southerners admired Yankee ways and tended to vote for Whig candidates, too.
Democrats continued to condemn banks and tariffs as sources of corruption and exploitation, and in Jefferson's tradition insisted on cultural laissez-faire, the freedom of people to live as they desired. The minority out-groups--Irish Catholics and Germans--concurred, voting strongly Democratic in order to ward off the imposition of Yankee morals. During the presidency of Martin VAN BUREN (1837-41), Democrats succeeded in entirely separating banking and government in the INDEPENDENT TREASURY SYSTEM, by which the government stored and controlled its own funds. A brief Whig interlude under William Henry HARRISON (1841) and John TYLER (1841-45) was followed by the presidency of the Democrat James K. POLK (1845-49), who in the Walker Tariff (1846) brought the United States closer to a free-trade basis.
Growing Sectional Conflicts
President Polk's war with Mexico ripped open the slavery question again. Was it to be allowed in the new territories? The WILMOT PROVISO (1846), which would have excluded slavery, became a rallying point for both sides, being voted on again and again in Congress and successfully held off by southerners. Abolitionism, led by William Lloyd GARRISON and others and now strong in many northern circles, called for the immediate emancipation of slaves with no compensation to slaveowners. Most northern whites disliked blacks and did not support abolition; they did want to disallow slavery in the territories so they could be preserved for white settlement based on northern ideals: free labor, dignity of work, and economic progress.
In 1848 northerners impatient with both of the existing parties formed the FREE-SOIL PARTY. By polling 300,000 votes for their candidate, Martin Van Buren, they denied victory to the Democrats and put the Whig Zachary TAYLOR in the White House (1849-50; on his death Millard FILLMORE became president, 1850- 53). The COMPROMISE OF 1850 seemed to settle the slavery expansion issue by the principle of POPULAR SOVEREIGNTY, allowing the people who lived in the Mexican cession to decide for themselves. A strong FUGITIVE SLAVE LAW was also passed in 1850, giving new powers to slaveowners to reach into northern states to recapture escaped slaves....