Nationalism and Economic Development

Nationalism and Economic Development

Nationalism and Economic Development

The election of James Monroe as president in 1816 (less than two years after the last battle of the War of 1812) inaugurated what one newspaper editorial characterized as an “Era of Good Feelings.” The term gained wide currency and was later adopted by historians to describe Monroe’s two terms in office.

The Era of Good Feelings
According to the traditional view of the period, the Monroe years were marked by a spirit of nationalism, optimism, and goodwill, chiefly as a result of one party, the Federalists, fading into oblivion and Monroe’s party, the Republicans, dominating politics in every section: North, South, and West.

This perception of unity and harmony, however, was probably misleading and certainly oversimplified. Throughout the era there were heated debates over tariffs, the national bank, internal improvements, and public land sales. Sectionalist tensions over slavery were becoming ever more apparent. Moreover, a sense of political unity was illusory, since antagonistic factions within the Republican party would soon split that party in two. The actual period of “good feelings” may have lasted only from the election of 1816 to the Panic of 1819.

James Monroe
As a young man, James Monroe had fought in the Revolutionary War and suffered through the Valley Forge winter. He had become prominent in Virginia’s Republican party and had served in high-level diplomatic roles as President Jefferson’s minister to Great Britain and as Madison’s secretary of state. His choice as Madison’s successor continued what appeared to be a Virginia dynasty of presidents. (Of the first five presidents, four were from Virginia; the exception, John Adams, was from Massachusetts.)

In the election of 1816, Monroe defeated his Federalist opponent, Rufus King, by an overwhelming margin—183 electoral votes to King’s 34. Four years later, the Federalist party had practically ceased to exist, and Monroe achieved an easy victory in 1820, receiving every electoral vote except one. With no organized political opposition to stand in his way, President Monroe supported the growing nationalism of the American people. His eight-year presidency is noted for the acquisition of Florida, the Missouri Compromise, and of course the Monroe Doctrine.

Cultural Nationalism
The popular votes for James Monroe were cast by a younger gener- ation of Americans whose concerns were different from those of the nation’s founders. The young were excited about the prospects of the new nation ex- panding westward and had little interest in European politics now that the Napoleonic wars (as well as the War of 1812) were in the past. As fervent nationalists, they believed their young country was entering an era of unlim- ited prosperity.

Patriotic themes infused every aspect of American society, from paintings to schoolbooks. Heroes of the Revolution were enshrined in the paintings of Gilbert Stuart, Charles Willson Peale, and John Trumball. Parson Mason Weems’ fictionalized biography extolling the virtues of George Washington was widely read. The expanding public schools embraced Noah Webster’s blue-backed speller, which promoted patriotism long before his famous diction- ary was published. Clearly evident were the basic ideas and ideals of nationalism and patriotism, which would dominate most of the 19th century.

Economic Nationalism
Running parallel with cultural nationalism was a political movement to support the growth of the nation’s economy. Subsidizing internal improvements (the building of roads and canals) was one aspect of the movement. Protecting budding U.S. industries from European competition was a second aspect.

Tariff of 1816. Before the War of 1812, Congress had levied low tariffs on imports as a method for raising government revenue. After the war, in 1816, Congress raised the tariff rates on certain goods for the express purpose of protecting U.S. manufacturers from ruin. A number of factories had been erected during the war to supply goods that previously had been imported from Britain. Now in peacetime, American manufacturers feared that British goods would be dumped on American markets and take away much of their business. Con- gress’ tariff of 1816 was the first protective tariff in U.S. history—the first of many to come.

New England, which had little manufacturing at the time, was the only section to oppose the higher tariffs. Even the South and West, which had opposed tariffs in the past and would oppose them in the future, generally supported the 1816 tariff, believing that it was needed for national prosperity.

Henry Clay’s American System. Henry Clay of Kentucky, a leader in the House of Representatives, proposed a comprehensive method for advancing the nation’s economic growth. His plan, which he called the American System, consisted of three parts: (1) protective tariffs, (2) a national bank, and (3) internal improvements. Clay argued that protective tariffs would promote American manufacturing and also raise revenue with which to build a national transporta- tion system of federally constructed roads and canals. A national bank would keep the system running smoothly by providing a national currency. The tariffs would chiefly benefit the East, internal improvements would promote growth in the West and the South, and the bank would aid the economies of all sections.

Two parts of Clay’s system were already in place in 1816, the last year of James Madison’s presidency. Congress in that year adopted a protective tariff and also chartered the Second Bank of the United States. (The charter of the First Bank—Hamilton’s brainchild—had been allowed to expire in 1811.)

On the matter of internal improvements, however, both Madison and Monroe objected that the Constitution did not explicitly provide for the spending of federal money on roads and canals. Throughout his presidency, Monroe consistently vetoed acts of Congress providing funds for road-building and canal-building projects. Thus, the individual states were left to make internal improvements on their own.

The Panic of 1819
The Era of Good Feelings was fractured in 1819 by the first major financial panic since the Constitution had been ratified. The economic disaster was largely the fault of the Second Bank of the United States, which had tightened credit in a belated effort to control inflation. Many state banks closed, the value of money became deflated (fell), and there were large increases in unemployment, bankruptcies, and imprisonment for debt. Although every section was hurt, the depression was most severe in the West. In this region, land speculation based on postwar euphoria had placed many people in debt, and in 1819, the Bank of the United States foreclosed on large amounts of western farmland.

As a result of the bank panic and depression, nationalistic beliefs were shaken. In the West, the economic crisis changed many voters’ political outlook. Westerners began calling for land reform and expressing strong opposition to both the national bank and debtors’ prisons.

Political Changes
A principal reason for the rapid decline of the Federalist party was its failure to adapt to the changing needs of a growing nation. Having opposed the War of 1812 and presided over a secessionist convention at Hartford, the party seemed completely out of step with the nationalistic temper of the times. After its crushing defeat in the election of 1816, it ceased to be a national party and failed to nominate a presidential candidate in 1820.

Changes in the Republican party. Meanwhile, the Republican party, as the only remaining national party, underwent serious internal strains as it adjusted to changing times. Certain members of the party, such as John Ran- dolph, clung to the old Republican ideals of limited government and strict interpretation of the Constitution. The majority of Republicans, however, adopted what had once been a Federalist program. Even after the War of 1812, a Republican Congress authorized the maintaining of a large army and navy. In chartering a Second Bank of the United States in 1816, the majority faction of Republicans adopted an institution originally championed by the Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton.

On several issues, the political principles of many Republicans were sorely tested during Monroe’s presidency, and some even reversed their views from one decade to the next. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, for example, strongly opposed both the tariffs of 1816 and 1824; he then did an about-face by supporting even higher tariff rates in 1828. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was another Republican leader who reversed his position. An outspoken war hawk and nationalist in 1812, Calhoun became a leading champion of states’ rights after 1828.

Political factions and sectional differences became more intense during Monroe’s second term. When Monroe, honoring the two-term tradition, declined to be a candidate again, four other Republicans sought election as president in 1824. How this election resulted in the splitting of the Republican party and the emergence of two rival parties is explained in Chapter 10.

Marshall’s Supreme Court and Central Government Powers
One Federalist official continued to have major influence throughout the years of Republican ascendancy. John Marshall, who had been appointed to the Supreme Court in 1800 by Federalist President John Adams, was still leading the Court as its chief justice. His decisions in many landmark cases consistently favored the central government and the rights of property against the advocates of states’ rights. Even when Republican justices formed a majority on the Court, they sided with Marshall because they too were persuaded that the U.S. Constitution had created a Union of states, whose government had strong and flexible powers.

Marshall’s first landmark decision establishing the principle of judicial review (Marbury v. Madison, 1803) was described in Chapter 7. Here are other decisions that went a long way toward defining the relationship between the central government and the states.

Fletcher v. Peck (1810). In a case involving land fraud in Georgia, Mar- shall concluded that a state could not pass legislation invalidating a contract. This was the first time that the Supreme Court declared a state law to be unconstitutional and invalid. (Remember that in Marbury v. Madison it was a federal law that had been ruled unconstitutional.)

Martin v. Hunter’s Lease (1816). In this case, the Supreme Court estab- lished the principle that it had jurisdiction over state courts in cases involving constitutional rights.

Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819). This case involved a law of New Hampshire that changed Dartmouth College from a privately chartered college into a public institution. The Marshall Court struck down the state law as unconstitutional, arguing that a contract for a private corporation could not be altered by the state.

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819). Did Congress have the power to create a bank even if no clause in the Constitution mentioned a bank? Could a state place a tax on a federally created bank? These were the two questions involved in a case concerning a tax that the state of Maryland tried to collect from the Second Bank of the United States. Using a loose interpretation of the Constitu- tion, Marshall ruled that the federal government had the implied power to create the bank. Furthermore, a state could not tax a federal institution because “the power to tax is the power to destroy,” and federal laws are supreme over state laws.

Cohens v. Virginia (1821). In Virginia, the Cohens were convicted of selling Washington, D.C., lottery tickets authorized by Congress. Marshall and the Court upheld the conviction. More important, this case established the principle that the Supreme Court could review a state court’s decision involving any of the powers of the federal government.

Gibbonsv.Ogden(1821). CouldthestateofNewYorkgrantamonopoly to a steamboat company if that action conflicted with a charter authorized by Congress? In ruling that the New York monopoly was unconstitutional, Marshall established the federal government’s broad control of interstate commerce.

Western Settlement and the Missouri Compromise
Less than ten years after the start of the War of 1812, the population west of the Appalachian Mountains had doubled. Much of the nationalistic and economic interest in the country was centered on the West, which presented both opportunities and new questions.

Reasons for Westward Movement
A number of factors combined to stimulate rapid growth along the western frontier during the presidencies of Madison and Monroe.

Acquisition of Native Americans’ lands. Large areas were open for settlement after Native Americans were driven from their lands by the victories of Generals William Henry Harrison in the Indiana Territory and Andrew Jackson in Florida and the South.

Economic pressures. The economic difficulties in the Northeast from the embargo and the war caused people from this region to seek a new future across the Appalachians. In the South, tobacco planters needed new land to replace the soil exhausted by years of poor farming methods. They found good land for planting cotton in Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

Improved transportation. Pioneering families had an easier time reach- ing the frontier as a result of the building of roads and canals, steamboats and railroads.

Immigrants. MoreEuropeanswerebeingattractedtoAmericabyspecu- lators offering cheap land in the Great Lakes region and the Ohio, the Cumber- land, and the Mississippi River valleys.

New Questions and Issues
Despite their rapid growth, the new states of the West had small populations relative to those of the other two sections. To enhance their limited political influence in Congress, western representatives bargained with politicians from other sections to obtain their objectives. Of greatest importance to the western states were: (1) “cheap money” (easy credit) from state banks rather than from the Bank of the United States, (2) land made available at low prices by the government, and (3) improved transportation.

On another issue, slavery, westerners could not agree whether to permit it or to exclude it. Those settling territory to the south wanted slavery for economic reasons (labor for the cotton fields), while those settling to the north had no use for slavery. In 1819, when the Missouri Territory applied to Congress for statehood, the slavery issue became a subject of angry debate.

The Missouri Compromise
Ever since 1791–1792, when Vermont entered the Union as a free state and Kentucky entered as a slave state, politicians in Congress had attempted to preserve a sectional balance between the North and the South. Population in the North grew more rapidly than in the South, so that by 1818 the northern states held a majority of 105 to 81 in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, however, the votes were divided evenly, since in 1819 there was an even balance of 11 slave and 11 free states. So long as this balance was preserved, southern senators could block legislation that threatened the interests of their section.

Missouri’s bid for statehood alarmed the North because slavery was well established there. If Missouri came in as a slave state, it would tip the political balance in the South’s favor. Furthermore, Missouri was the first part of the Louisiana Purchase to apply for statehood. Southerners and northerners alike worried about the future status of other new territories applying for statehood from the rest of the vast Louisiana Purchase.

Tallmadge amendment. Representative James Tallmadge from New York ignited the debate about the Missouri question by proposing an amendment to the bill for Missouri’s admission. The amendment called for (1) prohibiting the further introduction of slaves into Missouri and (2) requiring the children of Missouri slaves to be emancipated at the age of 25. If adopted, the Tallmadge Amendment would have led to the gradual elimination of slavery in Missouri. The amendment was defeated in the Senate as enraged southerners saw it as the first step in a northern effort to abolish slavery in all states.

Clay’s proposals. After months of heated debate in Congress and throughout the nation, Henry Clay won majority support for three bills that, taken together, represented a compromise:

1. Missouri was to be admitted as a slaveholding state.
2. Maine was to be admitted as a free state.
3. In the rest of the Louisiana Territory north of latitude 36° 30 , slavery was prohibited.

Both houses passed the compromise plan, and President Monroe added his signature in March 1820 (one full year after the Tallmadge Amendment had touched off the controversy).

Aftermath. Sectional feelings on the slavery issue subsided after 1820. The Missouri Compromise preserved sectional balance for over 30 years and provided time for the nation to mature. Nevertheless, if an era of good feelings existed, it was badly damaged by the storm of sectional controversy over Missouri. After this political crisis, Americans were torn between feelings of nationalism (loyalty to the Union) on the one hand and feelings of sectionalism (loyalty to one’s own region) on the other.

Foreign Affairs
Following the War of 1812, the United States adopted a more aggressive, nationalistic approach it its relations with other nations. During Madison’s presidency, when problems with the Barbary pirates again developed, a fleet under Stephen Decatur was sent in 1815 to force the rulers of North Africa to allow American shipping the free use of the Mediterranean. President Monroe and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams continued to follow a nationalistic policy that actively advanced American interests while maintaining peace.

Although the Treaty of Ghent of 1814 had ended the war between Britain and the United States, it left unresolved most of their diplomatic differences, including many involving Canada.

Rush-BagotAgreement(1817). DuringMonroe’sfirstyearaspresident, British and American negotiators agreed to a major disarmament pact. The Rush-Bagot Agreement strictly limited naval armament on the Great Lakes. In time the agreement was extended to place limits on border fortifications as well. Ultimately, the border between the United States and Canada was to become the longest unfortified boundary in the world.

Treatyof1818. ImprovedrelationsbetweentheUnitedStatesandBritain continued in a treaty that provided for (1) shared fishing rights off the coast of Newfoundland; (2) joint occupation of the Oregon Territory for ten years; and (3) the setting of the northern limits of the Louisiana Territory at the 49th parallel, thus establishing the western U.S.-Canada boundary line.

During the War of 1812, U.S. troops had occupied western Florida, a strip of land on the Gulf extending all the way to the Mississippi delta. Previously, this land had been held by Spain, Britain’s ally. After the war, Spain had difficulty governing the rest of Florida (the peninsula itself) because its troops had been removed from Florida to battle revolts in the South American colonies. The chaotic conditions permitted groups of Seminoles, runaway slaves, and white outlaws to conduct raids into U.S. territory and retreat to safety across the Florida border. These disorders gave Monroe and General Andrew Jackson an opportunity to take military action in Spanish Florida, a territory long coveted by American expansionists.

Jackson’s military campaign. In late 1817, the president commissioned General Jackson to stop the raiders and, if necessary, pursue them across the border into Spanish west Florida. Jackson carried out his orders with a vengeance and probably went beyond his instructions. In 1818, he led a force of militia into Florida, destroyed Seminole villages, and hanged two Seminole chiefs. Capturing Pensacola, Jackson drove out the Spanish governor, and even hanged two British traders accused of aiding the Seminoles.

Many members of Congress feared that Jackson’s overzealousness would precipitate a war with both Spain and Britain. However, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams persuaded Monroe to support Jackson, and the British decided not to intervene.

Florida Purchase Treaty (1819). Spain worried that the United States would seize Florida by force. Preoccupied with troubles in Latin America, the Spanish government decided to get the best possible terms for Florida. By treaty in 1819, Spain turned over the rest of western Florida along with all of the east and its own claims in the Oregon Territory to the United States. In exchange, the United States agreed to assume $5 million in claims against Spain and give up any U.S. territorial claims to the Spanish province of Texas.

The Monroe Doctrine
Although focused on its own growth, the United States could not ignore the ambitions of Europe as they affected the future of the Western Hemisphere. The restoration of a number of monarchies in Europe after the fall of Napoleon produced a backlash against republican and democratic movements. The re- stored monarchies (France, Austria, and Prussia), together with Russia, cooperated with one another in suppressing liberal elements in Italy and Spain. They also considered helping Spain to return to power in South America, where a number of republics had recently declared their independence. Russia’s presence in Alaska posed a special problem that worried British and Americans alike. Using their trading posts in Alaska as a base, Russian seal hunters had spread southward and established a trading post at San Francisco Bay. British and U.S. leaders decided they had a common interest in protecting North and South America from the possible aggression of a European power.

British initiative. The power of the British navy was most important in deterring the Spanish monarchy from attempting a comeback in Latin America. Also important was the diplomacy of British Foreign Secretary George Canning, who wanted to maintain British trade with the Latin American republics. Can- ning suggested to Richard Rush, the U.S. minister in London, the idea of issuing a joint Anglo-American warning to the European powers not to intervene in South America.

Americanresponse. MonroeandmostofhisadvisersthoughtCanning’s idea of a joint declaration made sense. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, however, argued against such a move. Adams believed that joint action with Britain would restrict U.S. opportunities for further expansion in the hemisphere. He reasoned as follows: (1) If the United States acted alone, Britain could be counted upon to stand behind the U.S. policy. (2) No European power would risk going to war in South America, and if it did, the British navy would surely defeat the aggressor. Changing his mind, the president decided to act as Adams advised—in short, to issue a statement to the world that did not have Britain as a coauthor.

The doctrine. On December 2, 1823, President Monroe inserted into his annual message to Congress a declaration of U.S. policy toward Europe and Latin America. The Monroe Doctrine, as it came to be called, asserted

as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.

Monroe declared further that the United States was opposed to attempts by a European power to interfere in the affairs of any republic in the Western Hemi- sphere.

Impact. Monroe’s bold words of nationalistic purpose were applauded by the American public but soon forgotten, as most citizens were more con- cerned with domestic issues. In Britain, Canning was annoyed by the doctrine because he recognized that it applied, not just to the other European powers, but to his country as well. In effect, the British too were warned not to intervene and not to seek new territory in the Western Hemisphere. The European mon- archs reacted angrily to the president’s message; but they recognized full well that their purposes were thwarted, not by a few high-sounding words, but by the might of the British navy.

The Monroe Doctrine had less significance at the time than in later decades, when it would be hailed by politicians and citizens alike as the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America. In the 1840s, President James Polk was the first of many presidents to justify his foreign policy by referring to Monroe’s warning words.

A National Economy
In the early 1800s, the Jeffersonian dream of a nation of independent farmers remained strong in rural areas. As the century progressed, however, an increasing percentage of the American people were swept up in the dynamic economic changes of the Industrial Revolution. Political conflicts over tariffs, internal improvements, and the Bank of the United States reflected the impor- tance to people’s lives of a national economy that was rapidly growing and changing.

Population Growth
Population growth was vital if the nation was to have both the laborers and the consumers required for industrial development. Between 1800 and 1825, the U.S. population doubled; in the next 25 years it doubled again. A high birthrate accounted for most of this growth, but it was strongly supple- mented after 1830 by immigrants arriving from Europe, particularly from Great Britain and Germany. The nonwhite population—African Americans and Native Americans—grew despite the ban on the importation of slaves after 1808. As a percentage of the total population, however, nonwhites declined from almost 20 percent in 1790 to 15 percent in the 1850s.

By the 1830s, almost one-third of the population lived west of the Alleghe- nies. At the same time, both old and new urban areas were growing rapidly.

Vital to the development of both a national and an industrial economy was an efficient network of interconnecting roads and canals for moving people, raw materials, and manufactured goods.

Roads. Pennsylvania’s Lancaster Turnpike, built in the 1790s, connected Philadelphia with the rich farmlands around Lancaster. Its success stimulated the construction of other privately built and relatively short toll roads that, by the mid-1820s, connected most of the country’s major cities.

Despite the need for interstate roads, states’ righters blocked the spending of federal funds on internal improvements. Construction of highways that crossed state lines was therefore unusual. One notable exception was the National, or Cumberland Road, a paved highway and major route to the west extending more than a thousand miles from Maryland to Illinois. It was begun in 1811 and completed in the 1850s, using both federal and state money, with the different states receiving ownership of segments of the highway.

Canals. The completion of the Erie Canal in New York State in 1825 was an event of major importance in linking the economies of western farms and eastern cities. The success of this canal in stimulating economic growth touched off a frenzy of canal-building in other states. In little more than a decade, canals joined together all of the major lakes and rivers east of the Mississippi. Improved transportation meant lower food prices in the East, more immigrants settling in the West, and stronger economic ties between the two sections.

Steamboats. Theageofmechanized,steam-poweredtravelbeganin1807 with the successful voyage up the Hudson River of the Clermont, a steamboat developed by Robert Fulton. Commercially operated steamboat lines soon made round-trip shipping on the nation’s great rivers both faster and cheaper.

Railroads. Even more rapid and reliable links between cities became possible with the building of the first U.S. railroad lines in the late 1820s. The early railroads were hampered at first by safety problems, but by the 1830s they were competing directly with canals as an alternative method for carrying passengers and freight. Combined with the other major improvements in trans- portation (especially steamboats and canals), the railroad swiftly changed small western towns such as Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, and Chicago into booming commercial centers of the expanding national economy.

Growth of Industry
At the start of the 19th century, a manufacturing economy had barely begun in the United States. By midcentury, however, U.S. manufacturing surpassed agriculture in value, and by century’s end, it was the world’s leader. This rapid industrial growth was the result of a unique combination of factors.

Mechanical inventions. Protected by patent laws, inventors looked for- ward to handsome rewards if their ideas for new tools or machines proved practical. Eli Whitney was only the most famous of hundreds of Americans whose long hours of tinkering in their workshops resulted in improved technol- ogy. Besides inventing the cotton gin in 1793, Whitney devised a system for making rifles out of interchangeable parts during the War of 1812. Interchange- able parts then became the basis for mass production methods in the new northern factories.

Corporations for raising capital. In 1811, New York passed a law that made it easier for a business to incorporate and raise capital (money) by selling shares of stock. Other states soon imitated New York’s example. Owners of a corporation risked only the amount of money that they invested in a venture. Changes in state corporation laws facilitated the raising of the large sums of capital necessary for building factories, canals, and railroads.

Factory system. When Samuel Slater emigrated from Britain, he took with him the British secrets for building cotton-spinning machines, and he put this knowledge to work by helping establish the first U.S. factory in 1791. Early in the next century, the embargo and the War of 1812 stimulated domestic manufacturing, and the tariffs enacted by Republican congresses allowed the new factories to prosper.

In the 1820s, New England emerged as the country’s leading manufacturing center due to the region’s abundant waterpower for driving the new machinery and good seaports for shipping goods. Also, the decline of New England’s maritime industry made capital available for manufacturing, while the decline of farming in the region yielded a ready labor supply. Other northern states with similar resources and problems—New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania— followed New England’s lead. As the factory system expanded, it encouraged the growth of financial businesses such as banking and insurance.

Labor. At first, finding workers for the mills and factories was a major problem, because factories had to compete with the lure of cheap land in the West. Textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, recruited young farm women and housed them in company dormitories. In the 1830s, the Lowell System was widely imitated. Many factories also made extensive use of child labor. (Children as young as seven left home to work in the new factories.) Only toward the middle of the century did northern manufacturers begin to employ immigrants in large numbers.

Unions. Trade (or craft) unions were organized in major cities as early as the 1790s and increased in number as the factory system took hold. Many skilled workers (shoemakers and weavers, for example) had to seek employment in factories because their earlier practice of working in their own shops (the crafts system) could no longer compete with lower-priced, mass-produced goods. Long hours, low pay, and poor working conditions led to widespread discontent among factory workers. A prime goal of the early unions was to reduce the workday to ten hours. The obstacles to union success, however, were many: (1) immigrant replacement workers, (2) state laws outlawing unions, and (3) frequent economic depressions with high unemployment.

Commercial Agriculture
In the early 1800s, farming became more of a commercial enterprise and less a means of providing subsistence for the family. This change to cash crops was brought about by a blend of factors.

Cheap land and easy credit. Large areas of western land were made available at low prices by the federal government. State banks also made it easy to acquire land by providing farmers with loans at low interest rates.

Markets. Initially,westernfarmerswerelimitedtosendingtheirproducts down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to southern markets. The advent of canals and railroads opened new markets in the growing factory cities in the East.

Cotton and the South
Throughout the 19th century, the principal cash crop in the South was cotton. Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1793 transformed the agriculture of an entire region. Now that they could easily separate the cotton fiber from the seeds, southern planters found cotton more profitable than tobacco and indigo, the leading crops of the colonial period. They invested their capital in the purchase of slaves and new land in Alabama and Mississippi and shipped most of their cotton crop overseas for sale to British textile factories.

Effects of the Market Revolution
Specialization on the farm, the growth of cities, industrialization, and the development of modern capitalism meant the end of self-sufficient households and a growing interdependence among people. All combined to bring about a revolution in the marketplace. The farmers fed the workers in the cities, who in turn provided farm families with an array of mass-produced goods. For most Americans, the standard of living increased. At the same time, however, adapting to an impersonal, fast-changing economy presented challenges and problems.

Women. AsAmericansocietybecamemoreurbanandindustrialized,the nature of work and family life changed for women, many of whom no longer worked next to their husbands on family farms. Women seeking employment in a city were usually limited to two choices: domestic service or teaching. Factory jobs, as in the Lowell System, were not common. The overwhelming majority of working women were single. If they married, they left their jobs and took up duties in the home.

In both urban and rural settings, women were gaining relatively more control over their lives. Marriages arranged by one’s parents were less common, and some women elected to have fewer children. Nevertheless, legal and politi- cal restrictions on women (not being able to vote, for example) remained.

Economic and social mobility. Real wages improved for most urban workers in the early 1800s, but the gap between the very wealthy and the very poor increased. Social mobility (moving upward in income level and social status) did occur from one generation to the next, and economic opportunities in the United States were greater than in Europe. Extreme examples of poor, hard-working people becoming millionaires, however, were rare.

Slavery. At the outset of the 19th century, there were many people throughout the nation who felt that slavery would gradually disappear. Economi- cally, it was becoming unfeasible due to both the exhausted soil of the coastal lands of Virginia and the Carolinas and the constitutional ban on the importation of slaves after 1808. Hopes for a quiet end to slavery were ended by the rapid growth of the cotton industry. As the arguments over the Missouri Compro- mise suggested, slavery was an issue that defied clear answers.

Historical Perspectives: The Monroe Doctrine
At times, the facts surrounding an event in history are open to question, while in other instances, the facts are accepted but historians reach different conclusions or interpretations concerning the event. The Monroe Doctrine is an example of the latter. There can be no question about the language of the doctrine itself nor about the sequence of events leading up to it. Working from the same sources, however, historians disagree in their interpretation of: (1) who was chiefly responsible for the Monroe Doctrine, (2) what its primary purpose was, and (3) the extent to which it was influenced by Brit- ish diplomacy.

There are some who argue that the original inspiration for the doctrine came, not from Monroe, but from either the past policies of his fellow Virginians, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, or the astute thinking of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. Those crediting Jefferson with the policy of nonintervention in the Western Hemisphere point to his idea of the political world falling into “two spheres,” one European and the other American. Those stressing the key role played by John Quincy Adams argue that Adams (1) had consistently opposed further colonization by a Euro- pean power and (2) had written the original draft of Monroe’s mes- sage to Congress containing the doctrine. Other historians say that Monroe himself deserves all credit for having made the policy choice and issued the doctrine.

A second area of contention concerns the real purpose behind the doctrine. Was it aimed primarily, as some historians argue, at stopping the territorial ambitions of Spain, France, and Russia? In the early 1820s, France was threatening to reconquer Spanish colonies in South America, and Russia was advancing southward from Alaska toward the California coast. A contrary view argued by revisionist historians is that Monroe and Adams were chiefly concerned about sending a message to Great Britain. Not only was Britain the domi- nant seapower in 1823, but it was also regarded with suspicion as a traditional foe of American liberty.

A third question revolves around the role of British Foreign Secretary George Canning, whose suggestion for a joint Anglo- U.S. communique ́ against the restoration of the Spanish colonies precipitated President Monroe’s declaration. Historians disagree about Canning’s motivation for suggesting the communique ́. Was he more concerned with protecting British political interests by at- tempting to block a European alliance? Or was he chiefly concerned with cultivating U.S.-British economic cooperation so as to lower U.S. tariff barriers and promote British trading interests?

These are by no means the only questions concerning the Mon- roe Doctrine. Historians also take different positions about Latin Americans’ perception of U.S. policy and also about the extent to which the doctrine continued to influence U.S. policy in the second half of the 20th century. We see from these examples of historians’ disagreements that understanding a historical event involves far more than simply amassing relevant facts; just as important is applying critical thought and analysis. 

U.S. Sectionalism

U.S. Sectionalism

U.S. Sectionalism

Early 1820s, France was threatening to reconquer Spanish colonies in South America, and Russia was advancing southward from Alaska toward the California coast. A contrary view argued by revisionist historians is that Monroe and Adams were chiefly concerned about sending a message to Great Britain. Not only was Britain the domi- nant seapower in 1823, but it was also regarded with suspicion as a traditional foe of American liberty.

A third question revolves around the role of British Foreign Secretary George Canning, whose suggestion for a joint Anglo- U.S. communique ́ against the restoration of the Spanish colonies precipitated President Monroe’s declaration. Historians disagree about Canning’s motivation for suggesting the communique ́. Was he more concerned with protecting British political interests by at- tempting to block a European alliance? Or was he chiefly concerned with cultivating U.S.-British economic cooperation so as to lower U.S. tariff barriers and promote British trading interests?

These are by no means the only questions concerning the Mon- roe Doctrine. Historians also take different positions about Latin Americans’ perception of U.S. policy and also about the extent to which the doctrine continued to influence U.S. policy in the second half of the 20th century. We see from these examples of historians’ disagreements that understanding a historical event involves far more than simply amassing relevant facts; just as important is applying critical thought and analysis.

Industrial innovation. While manufacturing was rapidly expanding, the vast majority of northerners were still involved in agriculture. The North was the most populous section in the country as a result of both a high birthrate and increased immigration.

The Industrial Northeast
Originally, the Industrial Revolution centered in the textile industry, but by the 1830s, northern factories were producing a wide range of goods— everything from farm implements to clocks and shoes.

Organized Labor. Industrial development meant that large numbers of people who had once earned their living as independent farmers and artisans became dependent on wages paid by factory owners. With the common problems of low pay, long hours, and unsafe working conditions, urban workers in different cities organized both unions and local political parties to protect their interests. The first U.S. labor party, founded in Philadelphia in 1828, succeeded in electing a few members of the city council. For a brief period in the 1830s, an increasing number of urban workers joined unions and participated in strikes.

Organized labor achieved one notable victory in 1842 when the Massachu- setts Supreme Court ruled in Commonwealth v. Hunt that “peaceful unions” had the right to negotiate labor contracts with employers. During the 1840s and 1850s, most state legislatures in the North passed laws establishing a ten- hour day for industrial workers. Improvement for workers, however, continued to be limited by (1) periodic depressions, (2) employers and courts that were hostile to unions, and (3) an abundant supply of cheap immigrant labor.

Urban life. The North’s urban population grew from approximately 5 percent of the population in 1800 to 15 percent by 1850. As a result of such rapid growth in cities from Boston to Baltimore, slums also expanded so that crowded housing, poor sanitation, infectious diseases, and high rates of crime soon became characteristic of large working-class neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the new opportunities offered by the Industrial Revolution continued to attract both native-born Americans from the farms and immigrants from Europe.

African Americans. The 250,000 African Americans who lived in the North in 1860 constituted only a small minority (1 percent) of northerners, but as free citizens, they represented 50 percent of all free African Americans. Freedom may have meant they could maintain a family and in some instances own land, but it did not mean economic or political equality, since strong racial prejudices kept them from voting and holding jobs in most skilled professions and crafts. In the mid-1800s, immigrants displaced them from occupations and jobs that they had held since the time of the Revolution. Denied membership in unions, African Americans were often hired as strikebreakers—and often dismissed after the strike ended.

The Agricultural Northwest

The Agricultural Northwest
The Old Northwest consisted of six states west of the Alleghenies that were admitted to the Union before 1860: Ohio (1803), Indiana (1816), Illinois (1818), Michigan (1837), Wisconsin (1848), and Minnesota (1858). These states came from territories formed by land ceded to the national government in the 1780s by several of the original 13 states. The procedure for turning territories of the Old Northwest into states was set forth in the Northwest Ordinance, passed by Congress in 1787.

In the early years of the 19th century, much of the Old Northwest was unsettled frontier, and the part of it that was settled relied upon the Mississippi to transport grain to southern markets via New Orleans. By midcentury, how- ever, this region became closely tied to the other northern states by two factors: (1) military campaigns by federal troops that drove Native Americans from the land and (2) the building of canals and railroads that established common markets between the Great Lakes and the East Coast.

Agriculture. In the states of the Old Northwest, large grain crops of corn and wheat were very profitable. Using the newly invented steel plow (by John Deere) and mechanical reaper (by Cyrus McCormick), a farm family was more efficient and could plant many more acres, needing only to supplement its labor with a few hired workers at harvesttime. The grain could spoil quickly and, immediately after the harvest, had to be shipped to urban centers for sale. Part of the crop was used to feed cattle and hogs and to supply distillers and brewers with grain for making whiskey and beer.

Newcities. Atkeytransportationpoints,whathadoncebeensmallvillages and towns grew into thriving cities after 1820: Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago on the Great Lakes, Cincinnati and St. Louis on major rivers. The new cities served as transfer points, processing farm products for shipment to the East, and also distributing manufactured goods from the East to different parts of the region.


In 1820, some 8,000 immigrants arrived from Europe, but beginning in 1832, there was a sudden increase. After that year, the number of new arrivals never fell below 50,000 a year and in one year, 1854, climbed as high as 428,000. From the 1830s through the 1850s, nearly 4 million people from northern Europe crossed the Atlantic to seek a new life in the United States. Arriving by ship in the northern seacoast cities of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, many immigrants remained where they landed, while others traveled to farms and cities of the Old Northwest. Few journeyed to the South, where the plantation economy and slavery limited the opportunities for free labor.

The surge in immigration from 1830–1860 was chiefly the result of: (1) the development of inexpensive and relatively rapid ocean transportation, (2) famines and revolutions in Europe that drove people from their homelands, and (3) the growing reputation of the United States as a country offering economic opportunities and political freedom. The immigrants strengthened the U.S. economy by providing both a steady stream of cheap labor and an increased demand for mass-produced consumer goods.

Irish. During this period, half of all the immigrants—almost 2 million— came from Ireland. These Irish immigrants were mostly tenant farmers driven from their homeland by potato crop failures and a devastating famine in the 1840s, and they now had limited interest in farming, few other skills, and little money. They faced strong discrimination because of their Roman Catholic religion. The Irish worked hard at whatever employment they could find, usually competing with African Americans for domestic work and unskilled laborer jobs. Faced with limited opportunities, they congregated for mutual support in the northern cities (Boston, Philadelphia, and New York) where they had first landed. Many Irish entered local politics. They organized their fellow immigrants and joined the Democratic party, which had long traditions of anti- British feelings and support for the common people and workers. Their progress was difficult but steady. For example, the Irish were initially excluded from joining New York City’s Democratic organization, Tammany Hall. But by the 1850s they had secured jobs and influence, and by the 1880s they controlled this party organization.

Germans. Botheconomichardshipsandthefailureofdemocraticrevolu- tions in 1848 caused over 1 million Germans to seek refuge in the United States in the late 1840s and the 1850s. Most German immigrants had at least modest means as well as considerable skills as farmers and artisans. Moving westward in search of cheap, fertile farmland, they established homesteads throughout the Old Northwest and generally prospered. At first their political influence was limited, but as they became more active in public life, they were both strong supporters of public education and staunch opponents of slavery.

Nativists. Alargenumberofnative-bornAmericanswerealarmedbythe influx of immigrants, fearing that the newcomers would take their jobs and also subvert (weaken) the culture of the Anglo majority. The nativists (those reacting most strongly against the foreigners) were Protestants who distrusted the Roman Catholicism practiced by the Irish and many of the Germans. In the 1840s, opposition to immigrants led to sporadic rioting in the big cities and the organization of a secret antiforeign society, the Supreme Order of the Star-Spangled Banner. This society turned to politics in the early 1850s, nominating candidates for office as the American party, or Know-Nothing party (see Chapter 13).

The antiforeign movement faded in importance as North and South divided over slavery in the years immediately before the Civil War. Nativism would periodically return, however, whenever a sudden increase in immigration seemed to threaten the native-born majority.

The South

The South
Defined in economic, political, and social terms, the South as a distinct region included those states that permitted slavery, including certain border states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri) that did not join the Confederacy in 1861.

Agriculture and King Cotton
Agriculture was the foundation of the South’s economy, even though by the 1850s small factories in the region were producing approximately 15 percent of the nation’s manufactured goods. Tobacco, rice, and sugarcane were im- portant cash crops, but these were far exceeded by the South’s chief economic activity: the production and sale of cotton.

The development of mechanized textile mills in England, coupled with Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, made cotton cloth affordable, not just in Europe and the United States, but throughout the world. Before 1860, the world depended chiefly on Britain’s mills for its supply of cloth, and Britain in turn depended chiefly on the American South for its supply of cotton fiber. Originally, the cotton was grown almost entirely in two states, South Carolina and Georgia, but as demand and profits increased, planters moved westward into Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. New land was constantly needed, for the high cotton yields required for profits quickly depleted the soil. By the 1850s, cotton provided two-thirds of all U.S. exports and tied the South’s economy to its best customer, Britain. “Cotton is king,” said one southerner of his region’s greatest asset.

Slavery, the “Peculiar Institution”

Slavery, the “Peculiar Institution”
Wealth in the South was measured in terms of land and slaves. The latter were treated as a form of property, subject to being bought and sold. Southern whites were sensitive to the fact that slaves were human beings, however. Their uneasiness with this fact and the need continually to defend slavery caused them to refer to it as “that peculiar institution.” In colonial times, it had been justified as an economic necessity, but in the 19th century, apologists for slavery used historical and religious arguments to support their claim that it was good for both slave and master.

Population. The cotton boom was largely responsible for a fourfold in- crease in the number of slaves, from 1 million in 1800 to nearly 4 million in 1860. Most of the increase came from natural reproduction, although thousands of Africans were also smuggled into the South in defiance of Congress’ prohibi- tion in 1808 against importing slaves. In many parts of the Deep South, slaves made up as much as 75 percent of the total population. Fearing slave revolts, southern legislatures added increased restrictions on movement and education to their slave codes.

Economics. Slaves were employed doing whatever their owners de- manded of them. The great majority labored in the fields, but many also became expert in a variety of skilled crafts, while others worked as house servants, in factories, and on construction gangs. Because of the greater profits to be made on the new cotton plantations in the West, many slaves were sold from the Upper South to the cotton-rich Deep South of the lower Mississippi Valley. By 1860, the value of a field slave had risen to almost $2,000. One result of the heavy capital investment in slaves was that the South had much less capital than the North to undertake industrialization.

Slave life. Conditions of slavery varied from one plantation to the next. Some slaves were humanely treated, while others were routinely beaten. All suffered alike from being deprived of their freedom. Families could be sepa- rated at any time by an owner’s decision to sell a wife, a husband, or a child. Women were vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Despite the hard, nearly hopeless circumstances of their lives, African Americans managed to maintain a strong sense of family and of religious faith.

Resistance. Slaves contested their status through a range of actions, in- cluding work slowdowns, sabotage, escape, and revolt. There were a few major slave uprisings. One was led by Denmark Vesey in 1822 and another by Nat Turner in 1831. The revolts were quickly and violently suppressed, but even so, they had a lasting impact. They gave hope to enslaved African Americans, drove southern states to tighten already strict slave codes, and demonstrated to many, especially in the North, the evils of slavery.

Free African Americans

Free African Americans
By 1860, as many as 250,000 African Americans in the South were not slaves. They were free citizens (even though, as in the North, racial prejudice restricted their liberties). A number of slaves had been emancipated during the American Revolution. Some were mulatto children whose white fathers had decided to liberate them. Others achieved freedom on their own, when permitted, through self-purchase—if they were fortunate enough to have been paid wages for extra work, usually as skilled craftspeople.

Most of the free southern blacks lived in cities where they could own property. By state law, they were not equal with whites, were not permitted to vote, and were barred from entering certain occupations. Constantly in danger of being kidnapped by slave traders, they had to show legal papers proving their free status. They remained in the South for various reasons. Some wanted to be near family members who were still in bondage; others believed the South to be home and the North to offer no greater opportunities.

White Society

White Society
Southern whites observed a rigid hierarchy among themselves, with aristo- cratic planters at the top and poor whites and mountain people at the bottom of the social pyramid.

Aristocracy. TobeamemberoftheSouth’ssmalleliteofwealthyplant- ers, a person usually had to own at least 100 slaves and farm at least 1,000 acres. The planter aristocracy maintained its power politically by dominating the state legislatures of the South and enacting laws that favored the large landholders’ economic interests.

Farmers. The vast majority of slaveholders had fewer than 20 slaves working several hundred acres. Southern white farmers produced the bulk of the cotton crop, worked in the fields with their slaves, and lived as modestly as farmers of the North.

Poor whites. Three-fourths of the South’s white population owned no slaves. They could not afford the rich river-bottom farmland controlled by the planters, and many lived in the hills as subsistence farmers. These “hillbillies” or “poor white trash,” as they were derisively called by the planters, defended the slave system, thinking that some day they too could own slaves and that at least they were superior on the social scale to someone (slaves).

Mountainpeople. Anumberofsmallfarmerslivedinfrontierconditions in isolation from the rest of the South, along the slopes and valleys of the Appalachian and Ozark mountains. The mountain people disliked the planters and their slaves. During the Civil War, many (including a future president, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee) would remain loyal to the Union.

Cities. Because the South was primarily an agricultural region, there was only a limited need for major cities. Only New Orleans among the southern cities could be counted among the nation’s 15 largest in 1860 (it was fifth, after New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston). Cities such as Atlanta, Charleston, Chattanooga, and Richmond were important southern trading cen- ters, but had relatively small populations in comparison to those of the North.

Southern Thought

Southern Thought
The South developed a culture and outlook on life that was uniquely its own. As cotton became the basis of its economy, slavery became the focus of its political thought. White southerners felt increasingly isolated and defensive about slavery, as northerners grew hostile toward it, and as England, France, and other European nations outlawed it altogether.

Codeofchivalry. Dominatedbythearistocraticplanterclass,theagricul- tural South was largely a feudal society. The southern gentleman ascribed to a code of chivalrous conduct, which included a strong sense of personal honor, the defense of womanhood, and paternalistic treatment of all who were deemed inferior, especially slaves.

Education. The upper class valued a college education for their children, more so than in the North. Acceptable professions for a southern gentleman were limited to farming, law, the ministry, and the military. For the lower classes, schooling beyond the early elementary grades was generally not available. To reduce the risk of slave revolts, slaves were strictly prohibited by law from receiving any instruction in reading and writing.

Religion. The slavery question affected church membership. Partly be- cause they preached biblical support for slavery, both Methodist and Baptist churches gained in membership in the South while splitting in the 1840s with their northern brethren. The Unitarians, who challenged slavery, faced declining membership and hostility. Catholics and Episcopalians took a neutral stand on slavery, and their numbers declined in the South.

The West

The West
From one era to another, as the United States expanded westward, the definition of the “West” kept changing. In the 1600s, the West referred to all the lands not along the Atlantic Coast. In the 1700s, the West meant lands on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains. By the mid-1800s, the West lay beyond the Mississippi River and reached as far as California and the Oregon Territory on the Pacific Coast.

Native Americans

Native Americans
The original settlers of the West—and, in fact, of the entire North American continent—were of course various groups of Native Americans. From the time of Columbus, Native Americans did not move west voluntarily as pioneers. They were cajoled, pushed, or driven westward as white settlers encroached on their original homelands.

Exodus. By 1850, the vast majority of Native Americans were living west of the Mississippi River. Those to the east had either been killed off, emigrated reluctantly, or been forced to leave their land by treaty or military action. The Great Plains, however, would provide only a temporary respite from conflict with white settlers.

Life on the plains. Horses, brought to America by the Spanish in the 1500s, proved to be a revolutionary benefit for many Native Americans. On the Great Plains, some Native Americans still lived in villages and grew crops as farmers, but the horse allowed many other tribal groups, such as the Cheyenne and the Sioux, to become nomadic hunters following the buffalo. Those living a nomadic way of life could more easily move away from advancing settlers or oppose their encroachments by force.

The Frontier

The Frontier
Although the location of the western frontier constantly shifted, the concept of the frontier remained the same from generation to generation. The same forces that had brought the original colonists to the New World motivated their descendants and new immigrants to move westward. In the public imagination, the West represented the possibility of a fresh start and new opportunities for those willing to venture there. If not in fact, at least in theory and myth, the West beckoned as a place promising greater freedom for all ethnic groups: Native Americans, African Americans, European Americans, and eventually Asian Americans as well.

Mountain men. From the point of view of native-born white Americans, the Rocky Mountains in the 1820s were a far-distant frontier—a total wilderness except for the villages of Native Americans. The earliest whites in the area had followed Lewis and Clark and explored Native American trails as they trapped for furs. These mountain men, as they were called, would serve as the guides and pathfinders for settlers crossing the mountains into California and Oregon in the 1840s.

White Settlers on the Western Frontier

White Settlers on the Western Frontier
Whether the frontier lay in Minnesota or Oregon or California in the 1840s and 1850s, daily life for white settlers was similar to that of the early colonists. They worked hard from sunrise to sunset and lived in log cabins or other improvised shelters. More of them died at an early age from disease and mal- nutrition than from Indian raids.

Women. Often living many miles from the nearest neighbor, pioneer women performed a myriad of daily tasks, including those of doctor, teacher, seamstress, and cook—as well as chief assistant in the fields to their farmer- husbands. The isolation, endless work, and rigors of childbirth meant a limited lifespan for women on the frontier.

Environmental damage. European Americans had little understanding of the fragile nature of land and wildlife. As settlers moved into an area, they would clear entire forests and after only two generations exhaust the soil with poor farming methods. At the same time, trappers and hunters decimated the beaver and the buffalo to the brink of extinction.


Slavery was of fundamental importance in defining both the character of the South and its differences with the North. Beyond its historical importance in the 19th century, we need to understand the nature of slavery in order to assess its impact on U.S. society in general and African Americans in particular in our own times. Historians have viewed slavery from different perspectives. It is each student’s task to decide which of several interpretations seems the most convincing and enlightening.

Until about 1950, the prevailing scholarship on slavery followed Ulrich Phillips’ American Negro Slavery (1918). Phillips portrayed slavery as an economically failing institution in which the paternalis- tic owners were civilizing the inferior but contented African Ameri- cans. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s stimulated new studies and interpretations. Chief among them was Kenneth Stampp’s The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South (1956), which challenged Phillips’ thesis by showing slaves and owners to be in continual conflict. Today the older view of slavery as a paternalistic and even benign institution has been largely dis- credited.

There is still much debate, however, about how destructive slavery was. At one extreme is the view that the oppressive and racist nature of slavery destroyed the culture and self-respect of the slaves and their descendants. A contrary view holds that slaves managed to adapt and to overcome their hardships by developing a unique African-American culture. Historians arguing for this position point to African-American churches and two-parent families as part of an enduring heritage from the era of slavery.

Economics has also provided a focus for viewing the nature of slavery. Historians have debated the question of whether or not slave labor was profitable to southern planters, as compared to using free labor. Contrary to earlier interpretations, computer-assisted studies have demonstrated that, for the most part, slavery was profitable. A more complex analysis of the economics, social, and cultural nature of slavery is found in Eugene Genovese’s Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. In this work, southern society is shown centered on a paternalism that gave rise to a unique social system with a clear hierarchy, in which people were classified according to their ability or their economic and social standing. For whites this paternalism meant control, while for slaves it provided the opportu- nity to develop and maintain their own culture, including family life, tradition, and religion.

Recently, some historians have argued that slavery differed from place to place and that more study should be made of regional variations. For example, slaves in the tobacco-growing Upper South lived under circumstances that were quite different from slaves in the cotton fields of the Deep South.

As we can see, historians have developed numerous interpreta- tions of the nature of slavery in the United States, providing us with a rich historiography—the writing of history based on a critical examination of sources. If the purpose of history is to help us better understand the present, then, as Kenneth Stampp says in The Peculiar Institution, “there is a strange paradox in the historian’s involvement with both present and past, for his knowledge of the present is clearly a key to his understanding of the past.”

The many varied interpretations of slavery and of history can be explained pragmatically as the natural result of the changing times in which they were written. While some historical interpretations may have greater merit than others, most provide us with an improved perspective with which to develop our own views.

The Age of Jackson, 1824–1844

The Age of Jackson, 1824–1844

The Age of Jackson, 1824–1844
The era that saw the emergence of popular politics in the 1820s and the presidency of Andrew Jackson (1829–1837) is often called the Age of the Common Man, or the Era of Jacksonian Democracy. Historians debate whether Jackson was a major molder of events, a political opportunist exploiting the democratic ferment of the times, or merely a symbol of the era. Nevertheless, the era and Jackson’s name seem permanently linked. (Of course, to attach a name to an age does not explain either what it was or why it happened.)

Jacksonian Democracy
The changing politics of the Jacksonian years paralleled complex social and economic changes.

The Rise of a Democratic Society

Visitors to the United States in the 1830s, such as Alexis de Tocqueville, a young French aristocrat, were amazed by the informal manners and democratic attitudes of Americans. In hotels, under the American Plan, men and women from all classes ate together at common tables. On stagecoaches, steamboats, and later in railroad cars, there was also only one class for passengers, so that the rich and poor alike sat together in the same compartments. It was also difficult for European visitors to distinguish between classes in the United States. Men of all backgrounds wore simple dark trousers and jackets, while less well-to-do women emulated the fanciful and confining styles illustrated in wide-circulation women’s magazines like Godey’s Lady’s Book. Equality was becoming the governing principle of American society.

Among the white majority in American society, there was widespread belief in the principle of equality—or more precisely, equality of opportunity for white males. (At the same time, the oppression of black slaves and discrimination against free blacks coexisted with and contradicted whites’ ideal of equality.) Equality of opportunity would, at least in theory, allow the young man of humble origins to rise as far as his native talent and industry would take him. The hero of the age was the “self-made man.”

There was no equivalent belief in the “self-made woman,” but feminists in a later period would take up the theme of equal rights and insist that it should be applied to both women and men.

Politics of the Common Man
Between 1824 and 1840, politics moved out of the fine homes of rich southern planters and northern merchants who had dominated government in past eras. These were the years when white males of the lower and middle classes began to vote in large numbers. The number of votes cast for president rose from about 350,000 in 1824 to over 2.4 million in 1840, a nearly sevenfold increase in just 16 years. The new state suffrage laws that enabled more citizens to vote were a significant cause of the change. But there were other reasons as well. Changes in political parties and campaign methods, improved education, and increases in newspaper circulation also contributed to the democratic trend.

The most important political changes and reforms during the Jacksonian years were the following:

Universalmalesuffrage. WesternstatesrecentlyadmittedtotheUnion— Indiana (1816), Illinois (1818), and Missouri (1821)—adopted state constitu- tions that allowed all white males to vote and hold office. Absent from these newer constitutions were any religious or property qualifications for voting. Most eastern states soon followed suit, eliminating such restrictions from their constitutions. As a result, from one end of the country to the other, all white males could vote regardless of their social class or religion. Also, political offices could now be held by people in the lower and middle ranks of society.

Party nominating conventions. In the past, it had been common for candidates for office to be nominated either by state legislatures or by “King Caucus”—a closed-door meeting of a political party’s leaders in Congress. The common people had no opportunity to participate. In the 1830s, however, caucuses were replaced by nominating conventions. Party politicians and voters would gather in a large meeting hall to nominate the party’s candidates. The Anti-Masons were the first to hold such a nominating convention. This method was more open to popular participation, hence more democratic.

Popular election of the president. In the presidential election of 1832, only South Carolina used the old system whereby its electors for president were chosen by the state legislature. All other states in the Union had adopted a new and more democratic method of allowing the voters to choose a state’s slate of presidential electors. 

Two-party system. The popular election of presidential electors—and, in effect, of the president as well—had important consequences for the two- party system. Campaigns for president now had to be conducted on a national scale. To organize these campaigns, large political parties were needed.

Riseofthirdparties. Whileonlythelargenationalparties(theDemocrats and the Whigs in Jackson’s day) could hope to win the presidency, other political parties also emerged. The Anti-Masonic party and the Workingmen’s party, for example, reached out to groups of people who previously had shown little interest in politics. The Anti-Masons attacked the secret soc- ieties of Masons and accused them of belonging to a privileged, antidemo- cratic elite.

More elected offices. During the Jacksonian era, a much larger number of state and local officials were elected to office, instead of being appointed, as in the past. This change gave the voters more voice in their government and also tended to increase their interest in participating in elections.

Popular campaigning. Candidates for office directed their campaigns to the interests and prejudices of the common people. Politics also became a form of local entertainment. Campaigns of the 1830s and 1840s featured parades of floats and marching bands and large rallies in which voters were treated to free food and drink. To be sure, there was also a negative side to the new campaign techniques. In trying to appeal to the masses, the candidates would often resort to personal attacks and downplay the issues. A politician, for example, might attack an opponent’s “aristocratic airs” and make him seem unfriendly to “the common man.”

Spoils system and rotation of officeholders. Winning government jobs became the lifeblood of party organizations. At the national level, President Jackson believed in appointing people to federal jobs (as postmasters, for example) strictly according to whether they had actively campaigned for the Democratic party. Any previous holder of the office who was not a Democrat was fired and replaced with a loyal Democrat. This practice of dispensing government jobs in return for party loyalty was called the spoils system by critics because it promoted government corruption.

In addition, Jackson believed in a system of rotation in office. To make it possible for a maximum number of Democrats to hold office, he would limit a person’s tenure in office to just one term and appoint some other deserving Democrat in his place. Jackson defended the replacement and rotation of office- holders by the new administration as a democratic reform. “No man,” he said, “has any more intrinsic claim to office than another.” Jacksonians had contempt for experts and believed that ordinary Americans were capable of holding any government office. Both the spoils system and the rotation of officeholders affirmed the democratic ideal that one man was as good as another. They also helped build a strong two-party system.

Jackson Versus Adams
Political change in the Jacksonian era began several years before Jackson moved into the White House as president. In the controversial election in 1824, Jackson won more popular and electoral votes than any other candidate, but he ended up losing the election.

The Election of 1824
Recall the brief Era of Good Feelings that characterized U.S. politics during the two-term presidency of James Monroe. The era ended in political bad feelings in 1824, the year of a bitterly contested and divisive presidential election. By then, the old congressional caucus system for choosing presidential candidates had broken down. As a result, four candidates of the same party (the Republican party founded by Jefferson) campaigned for the presidency. The candidates were John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, William Crawford, and Andrew Jackson.

Jackson won the greatest number of popular votes. But because the vote was split four ways, he lacked a majority in the electoral college as required by the Constitution. Therefore, the House of Representatives had to choose a president from among the top three candidates. Henry Clay used his influence in the House to provide John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts with enough votes to win the election. When President Adams appointed Clay his secretary of state, Jackson and his followers were certain that the popular choice of most voters had been foiled by secret political maneuvers. Angry Jackson supporters accused Adams and Clay of making a “corrupt bargain.”

President John Quincy Adams
Adams further alienated the followers of Jackson when he asked Congress for money for internal improvements, aid to manufacturing, and even a national university and an astronomical observatory. Jacksonians viewed all these mea- sures as a waste of money and a violation of the Constitution.

In 1828, toward the end of Adams’ presidency, Congress patched together a new tariff law, which generally satisfied northern manufacturers but alienated southern planters. Southerners denounced it as a “tariff of abominations.”

The Revolution of 1828
Adams sought reelection in 1828. But the Jacksonians were now ready to use the discontent of southerners and westerners and the new campaign tactics of party organization to sweep “Old Hickory” (Jackson) into office. Going beyond parades and barbecues, Jackson’s party resorted to smearing the president and accusing Adams’ wife of being born out of wedlock. Adams’ supporters retaliated in kind, accusing Jackson’s wife of adultery. The mudsling- ing campaign attracted a lot of interest. Three times the number of voters participated in the election of 1828 as in the previous election.

Jackson won handily, carrying every state west of the Appalachians. His reputation as a war hero and man of the western frontier accounted for his victory more than the positions he took on issues of the day.

The Presidency of Andrew Jackson
Jackson was a different kind of president from any of his predecessors. A strong leader, he not only dominated politics for eight years but also became a symbol of the emerging working class and middle class (the so-called common man). Born in a frontier cabin, Jackson gained fame as an Indian fighter and as hero of the Battle of New Orleans, and came to live in a fine mansion in Tennessee as a wealthy planter and slaveowner. But he never lost the rough manners of the frontier. He chewed tobacco, fought several duels, and displayed a violent temper. Jackson was the first president since Washington to be without a college education. In a phrase, he could be described as an extraordinary ordinary man. This self-made man and living legend drew support from every social group and every section of the country.

Role of the president. Jackson presented himself as the representative of all the people and the protector of the common man against abuses of power by the rich and the privileged. He was a frugal Jeffersonian, who opposed increasing federal spending and the national debt. Jackson interpreted the powers of Congress narrowly and therefore vetoed more bills (12) than the total vetoes cast by all six preceding presidents. For example, he vetoed the use of federal money to construct the Maysville Road, because it was wholly within one state, Kentucky, the home state of Jackson’s rival, Henry Clay.

Advising Jackson was a group of politicians who did not belong to his official cabinet. This group became known as the “kitchen cabinet.” Thus, members of the appointed cabinet had less influence on policy than under earlier presidents.

Peggy Eaton affair. The champion of the common man also went to the aid of the common woman, at least in the case of Peggy O’Neale Eaton. The wife of Jackson’s secretary of war, she was the target of malicious gossip by other cabinet wives, much as Jackson’s recently deceased wife had been in the 1828 campaign. They refused to invite her to their private parties because they suspected her of being an adulteress. When Jackson tried to force the cabinet wives to accept Peggy Eaton socially, most of the cabinet resigned. This controversy also contributed to the resignation of Jackson’s vice president, John C. Calhoun, a year later. For remaining loyal to Jackson through this crisis, Martin Van Buren of New York was chosen to be the new vice president.

Indian removal act (1830). Jackson’s concept of democracy did not extend to Native Americans. Like most whites of the time, Jackson sympathized with land-hungry citizens who were impatient to take over lands previously held by Native Americans. Jackson thought the most humane solution was to compel the Native Americans to leave their traditional homelands and resettle west of the Mississippi. In 1830, he signed into law the Indian Removal Act, which forced the resettlement of many thousands of Native Americans. By 1835 most eastern tribes had reluctantly complied and moved west. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was created in 1836 to assist the resettled tribes.

A majority of politicians in various states also believed in a policy of Indian removal. Georgia and other states passed laws requiring the Cherokees to migrate to the West. When the Cherokees challenged Georgia in the courts, the Supreme Court ruled in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) that Cherokees were not a foreign nation with the right to sue in a federal court. But in a second case, Worcester v. Georgia (1832), the high court ruled that the laws of Georgia had no force within the boundaries of the Cherokee territory. In this clash between a state’s laws and the federal courts, Jackson sided with the states. He said defiantly, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”

Most Cherokees repudiated the settlement of 1835, which provided land in the Indian territory. It was not until 1838, after Jackson had left office, that the U.S. Army forced 15,000 Cherokees to leave Georgia. The hardships on the “trail of tears” were so great that 4,000 Cherokees died on their tragic westward trek.

Nullification crisis. Jackson favored states’ rights—but not if it would lead to disunion. In 1828, the South Carolina legislature declared the increased tariff of 1828, the so-called Tariff of Abominations, to be unconstitutional. In doing so, it affirmed a theory advanced by Jackson’s first vice president, John C. Calhoun. According to this nullification theory, each state had the right to decide whether to obey a federal law or to declare it null and void (of no effect).

In 1830, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts debated Robert Hayne of South Carolina on the nature of the federal Union under the Constitution. Webster attacked the idea that any state could defy or leave the Union. Following this famous Webster-Hayne debate, President Jackson declared his own position in a toast he presented at a political dinner. “Our federal Union,” he declared, “it must be preserved.” Calhoun responded immediately with another toast: “The Union, next to our liberties, most dear!”

In 1832, Calhoun’s South Carolina turned up the war of words by holding a special convention to nullify not only the hated tariff of 1828 but also a new tariff law of 1832. The convention passed a resolution forbidding the collection of tariffs within the state. Jackson’s reaction was decisive. He told the secretary of war to prepare for military action. He persuaded Congress to pass a Force bill giving the president the authority to take military action in South Carolina. The president also issued a Proclamation to the People of South Carolina, stating that nullification and disunion were treason.

But federal troops did not march in this crisis. Jackson opened the door for compromise by suggesting that Congress lower the tariff. South Carolina postponed nullification and later formally rescinded it after Congress enacted a new tariff along the lines suggested by the president.

Jackson’s strong defense of federal authority forced the militant advocates of states’ rights to retreat. On another issue, however, militant southerners won Jackson’s support. The president shared southerners’ alarm about the growing antislavery movement in the North. He used his executive power to stop antislav- ery literature from being sent through the U.S. mails. Jacksonians in the South could trust the president not to extend the benefits of democracy to African Americans.

Bank veto. Another major issue of Jackson’s presidency concerned the rechartering of the Bank of the United States. This bank and its branches, although privately owned, received federal deposits and attempted to serve a public purpose by cushioning the ups and downs of the national economy. The bank’s president, Nicholas Biddle, managed it effectively. Biddle’s arrogance, however, contributed to the suspicion that the bank abused its powers and served the interests of the wealthy. Jackson shared this suspicion. He believed that the Bank of the United States was unconstitutional.

Henry Clay, Jackson’s chief political opponent, favored the bank. In 1832, an election year, Clay decided to challenge Jackson on the bank issue by persuading a majority in Congress to pass a bank-recharter bill. Jackson promptly vetoed this bill, denouncing it as a private monopoly that enriched the wealthy and foreigners at the expense of the common people. The issue backfired for Clay in the 1832 election. An overwhelming majority of voters approved Jackson’s attack on the “hydra of corruption.” Jackson won reelection with more than three-fourths of the electoral vote.

The Two-Party System
The one-party system that had characterized Monroe’s presidency (the Era of Good Feelings) gave way to a two-party system under Jackson. Supporters of Jackson were now known as Democrats, while supporters of his leading rival, Henry Clay, were called Whigs. The Democratic party harked back to the old Republican party of Jefferson, and the Whig party resembled the defunct Federalist party of Hamilton. At the same time, the new parties reflected the changed conditions of the Jacksonian era. Democrats and Whigs alike were challenged to respond to the relentless westward expansion of the nation and the emergence of an industrial economy.

For the differences between Democrats and Whigs, refer to the table below.

Jackson’s Second Term
After winning reelection in 1832, Jackson had to deal with the economic consequences of his decision to oppose the Bank of the United States.

Pet banks. Jackson “killed” the national bank not only by vetoing its recharter but also by withdrawing all federal funds. Aided by Secretary of the Treasury Roger Taney, he transferred the funds to various state banks, which Jackson’s critics called “pet banks.”

Specie Circular. As a result of both Jackson’s financial policies and feverish speculation in western lands, prices for land and various goods became badly inflated. Jackson hoped to check the inflationary trend by issuing a presidential order known as the Specie Circular. It required that all future purchases of federal lands be made in gold and silver rather than in paper banknotes. Soon afterward, as banknotes lost their value and land sales plum- meted, a financial crisis—the Panic of 1837—plunged the nation’s economy into a depression.

The Election of 1836
Following the two-term tradition set by his predecessors, Jackson decided not to seek a third term. To make sure his policies were carried out even in his retirement, Jackson persuaded the Democratic party to nominate his loyal vice president, Martin Van Buren, who was a master of practical politics.

Fearing defeat, the Whig party adopted the unusual strategy of nominating three candidates from three different regions. In doing so, the Whigs hoped to throw the election into the House of Representatives, where each state had one vote in the selection of the president. The Whig strategy failed, however, as Van Buren took 58 percent of the electoral vote.

President Van Buren and the Panic of 1837

Just as Van Buren took office, the country suffered a financial panic as one bank after another closed its doors. Jackson’s opposition to the rechartering of the Bank of the United States was only one of many causes of the panic and resulting economic depression. But the Whigs were quick to blame the Democrats for their laissez-faire economics, which allowed for little federal involvement in the economy.

The “Log Cabin and Hard Cider” Campaign of 1840

In the election of 1840, the Whigs were in a strong position to defeat Van Buren and the Jacksonian Democrats. Voters were unhappy with the bad state of the economy. In addition, the Whigs were better organized than the Demo- crats, and also had a popular war hero, William Henry “Tippecanoe” Harrison, as their presidential candidate. The Whigs took campaign hoopla to new heights. To symbolize Harrison’s humble origins, they put log cabins on wheels and paraded them down the streets of cities and towns. They also passed out hard cider for voters to drink and buttons and hats to wear. Name-calling as a propaganda device also marked the 1840 campaign. The Whigs attacked “Martin Van Ruin” as an aristocrat with a taste for foreign wines.

A remarkable 78 percent of eligible voters (white males) turned out on election day to cast their ballots. Old “Tippecanoe” and John Tyler of Virginia,

a former states’ rights Democrat who joined the Whigs, took 53 percent of the popular vote and swept most of the electoral votes in all three sections: North, South, and West. This election established the Whigs as a national party.

Unfortunately for the Whigs, Harrison died of pneumonia less than a month after taking office, and “His Accidency,” John Tyler, became the first vice-president to succeed to the presidency. President Tyler proved to be not much of a Whig. He vetoed the Whigs’ national bank bills and other legislation, and favored southern and expansionist Democrats during the balance of his term (1841–1845). The Jacksonian era was in its last stage, and came to an end with the Mexican War and the increased focus on the issue of slavery.

Historians still debate whether or not the election of Jackson in 1828 marked a revolutionary new turn in American politics or was merely an extension of an ongoing trend. The traditional view is that Jackson’s election began the era of the common man, when the masses of newly enfranchised voters drove out the entrenched ruling class and elected one of their own. The Revolution of 1828 has also been characterized as a victory of the democratic West against the aristocratic East.

Nineteenth-century Whig historians, on the other hand, viewed Jackson as a despot whose appeal to the uneducated masses and “corrupt” spoils system threatened the republic.

In the 1940s, the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. argued that Jacksonian democracy relied as much on the support of eastern urban workers as on western farmers. Jackson’s coalition of farmers and workers foreshadowed a similar coalition that brought another Democratic president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to power in the depres- sion decade of the 1930s.

Contemporary historians have used quantitative analysis of vo- ting returns to compare elections before, during, and after Jackson’s presidency. This analysis showed that increased voter participation was evident in local elections years before 1828 and did not reach a peak until the election of 1840, an election that the Whig party won. Strong links were discovered between voting behavior and the voters’ religious and ethnic backgrounds. For example, Catholic immigrants objected to the imposition of the Puritan moral code (e.g., temperance) by the native Protestants. Much of the increased participation in the election process had little to do with the election of 1828 or Jackson’s politics.

Other contemporary historians see Jackson’s popularity in the 1830s as a reaction of subsistence farmers and urban workers against powerful and threatening forces of economic change. A capitalist, or market, economy was rapidly taking shape in the early years of the 19th century. This market revolution divided the electorate. Some people (chiefly Whigs) welcomed the changes as the hope for enter- prising and disciplined men. Others (chiefly Jacksonian Democrats) viewed the wealth of successful capitalists and entrepreneurs as a threat to Jefferson’s vision of a nation of independent farmers. Those who were most uncomfortable with economic change rallied around Jackson. Why was Jackson’s veto of the bank such a key event? Some contemporary historians, such as Charles Seller (The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1992), see Jackson’s popularity as expressing people’s unspoken fears about the rise of capitalism.