History of the United States (1789–1849)

elected the first president in 1789, set up a cabinet form of government, with departments of State, Treasury, and War, along with an Attorney General (the Justice Department was created in 1870). Based in New York, the new government acted quickly to rebuild the nation's financial structure. Enacting the program of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, the government assumed the Revolutionary war debts of the states and the national government, and refinanced them with new federal bonds. It paid for the program through new tariffs and taxes; the tax on whiskey led to a revolt in the west; Washington raised an army and suppressed it. The nation adopted a Bill of Rights as 10 amendments to the new constitution. The Judiciary Act of 1789 established the entire federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court became important under the leadership of Chief Justice John Marshall (1801–1834), Federalist and nationalist who built a strong Supreme Court and strengthened the national government.

The 1790s were highly contentious, as the First Party System emerged in the contest between Alexander Hamilton and his Federalist party, and Thomas Jefferson and his Republican party. Washington and Hamilton were building a strong national government, with a broad financial base, and the support of merchants and financiers throughout the country. Jeffersonians opposed the new national Bank, the Navy, and federal taxes. The Federalists favored Britain, which was embattled in a series of wars with France. Jefferson's victory in 1800 opened the era of Jeffersonian democracy, and doomed the upper-crust Federalists to increasingly marginal roles.

The Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon, in 1803 opened vast Western expanses of fertile land, that exactly met the needs of the rapidly expanding population of yeomen farmers whom Jefferson championed.

The Americans declared war on Britain (the War of 1812) to uphold American honor at sea, and to end the Indian raids in the west.[1] Despite incompetent government management, and a series of defeats early on, Americans found new generals like Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, and Winfield Scott, who repulsed British invasions and broke the alliance between the British and the Indians that held up settlement of the Old Northwest. The Federalists, who had opposed the war to the point of trading with the enemy and threatening secession, were devastated by the triumphant ending of the war. The remaining Indians east of the Mississippi were kept on reservations or moved via the Trail of Tears to reservations in what later became Oklahoma.

The spread of democracy opened the ballot box to nearly all white men, allowing the Jacksonian democracy to dominate politics during the Second Party System. Whigs, representing wealthier planters, merchants, financiers and professionals, wanted to modernize the society, using tariffs and federally funded internal improvements; they were blocked by the Jacksonians, who closed down the national Bank in the 1830s. The Jacksonians wanted expansion—that is "Manifest Destiny"—into new lands that would be occupied by farmers and planters. Thanks to the annexation of Texas, the defeat of Mexico in war, and a compromise with Britain, the western third of the nation rounded out the continental United States by 1848.

Howe (2007) argues that the transformation America underwent was not so much political democratization but rather the explosive growth of technologies and networks of infrastructure and communication—the telegraph, railroads, the post office, and an expanding print industry. They made possible the religious revivals of the Second Great Awakening, the expansion of education and social reform. They modernized party politics, as speeded up business by enabling the fast, efficient movement of goods, money and people across an expanding nation. They transformed a loose-knit collection of parochial agricultural communities into a powerful cosmopolitan nation [2] Economic modernization proceeded rapidly, thanks to highly profitable cotton crops in the South, new textile and machine-making industries in the Northeast, and a fast developing transportation infrastructure.

Breaking loose from European models, the Americans developed their own high culture, notably in literature and in higher education. The Second Great Awakening brought revivals across the country, forming new denominations and greatly increasing church membership, especially among Methodists and Baptists. By the 1840s increasing numbers of immigrants were arriving from Europe, especially British, Irish, and Germans. Many settled in the cities, which were starting to emerge as a major factor in the economy and society.

The Whigs had warned that annexation of Texas would lead to a crisis over slavery, and they were proven right by the turmoil of the 1850s that led to civil war.[3]


  • Federalist Era 1
    • Washington Administration: 1789–1797 1.1
    • Emergence of political parties 1.2
    • Adams Administration: 1797–1801 1.3
  • Thomas Jefferson 2
  • Louisiana Purchase and the War of 1812 3
  • Era of Good Feelings and the rise of Nationalism 4
    • Sectionalism 4.1
    • Era of Good Feelings 4.2
  • Emergence of Second Party System 5
    • Jacksonian democracy 5.1
    • Suffrage of all white men 5.2
    • Trail of Tears 5.3
    • Nullification Crisis 5.4
    • Banking 5.5
  • Age of Reform 6
    • Second Great Awakening 6.1
      • Utopians 6.1.1
    • Public schools movement 6.2
    • Asylum movement 6.3
    • Women 6.4
    • Anti-slavery movements 6.5
    • Women as abolitionists 6.6
    • Prohibition 6.7
  • Economic growth 7
    • Social mobility 7.1
  • Westward expansion 8
    • Texas, Oregon, California and Manifest Destiny 8.1
    • Mexican–American War: 1846-1848 8.2
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
    • Surveys 11.1
    • Political history 11.2
    • Interpretations of the spirit of the age 11.3
    • Historiography 11.4
    • Social history 11.5
  • External links 12

Federalist Era

Washington Administration: 1789–1797

George Washington, a renowned hero of the American Revolutionary War, commander of the Continental Army, and president of the Constitutional Convention, was unanimously chosen as the first President of the United States under the new U.S. Constitution. All the leaders of the new nation were committed to republicanism, and the doubts of the Anti-Federalists of 1788 were allayed with the passage of a Bill of Rights as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution in 1791.[4]

The first census, conducted by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, enumerated a population of 3.9 million, with a density of 4.5 people per square mile of land area. There were only 12 cities of more than 5,000 population, as the great majority of the people were farmers.

Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789, which established the entire federal judiciary. At the time, the act provided for a Supreme Court of six justices, three circuit courts, and 13 district courts. It also created the offices of U.S. Marshal, Deputy Marshal, and District Attorney in each federal judicial district. The Compromise of 1790 located to the national capital in the southern state of Maryland (now the District of Columbia), and enabled the federal assumption of state debts.[5]

Washington had hoped that his Secretary of the Treasury would be Robert Morris, celebrated Philadelphia merchant and so-called "financier of the Revolution", but he declined and instead the post went to the president's young former aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton who with Washington's support and Jefferson's opposition, convinced Congress to pass a far-reaching financial program that was patterned after the system developed in England a century earlier. It funded the debts of the American Revolution, set up a national bank, and set up a system of tariffs and taxes. His policies had the effect of linking the economic interests of the states, and of wealthy Americans, to the success of the national government, as well as enhancing the international financial standing of the new nation.[6]

Most Representatives of the South opposed Hamilton's plan because they had already repudiated their debts and thus gained little from it. But more importantly, there were early signs of the economic and cultural rift between the Northern and Southern states that was to burst into flames seven decades later, being that the South and its plantation-based economy resisted the idea of a centralized federal government and being subordinated to Northeastern business interests. Despite considerable opposition in Congress from Southerners, Hamilton's plan was moved into effect during the middle of 1790. The First Bank of the United States was thus created that year despite arguments from Thomas Jefferson and his supporters that it was unconstitutional while Hamilton declared that it was entirely within the powers granted to the federal government. Hamilton's other proposals, including protection tariffs for nascent American industry, were defeated.

The Western Pennsylvania. The revolt immediately collapsed, and there was no violence.[7]

Foreign policy unexpectedly took center stage starting in 1793, when revolutionary France became engulfed in war with the rest of Europe, an event that was to lead to 22 years of fighting. France claimed that its 1778 alliance with the US meant that the latter was bound to come to their aid. The Washington administration's policy of neutrality was widely supported, but the Jeffersonians strongly favored France and deeply distrusted the British, who they saw as enemies of Republicanism. In addition, they sought to annex Spanish territory in the South and West. Meanwhile, Hamilton and the business community favored Britain, which was by far America's largest trading partner. The Republicans gained support in the winter of 1793-94 as Britain seized American merchant ships and impressed their crews into the Royal Navy, but the tensions were resolved with the [8][9]

Continuing conflict between Hamilton and Jefferson, especially over foreign policy, led to the formation of the farewell address, he generally supported Hamilton and Hamiltonian programs over those of Jefferson. The Democratic-Republican Party dominated the Upper South, Western frontier, and in parts of the middle states. Federalist support was concentrated in the major Northern cities and South Carolina. After his death in 1799 he became the great symbolic hero of the Federalists.[10]

Emergence of political parties

The First Party System between 1792 and 1824 featured two national parties competing for control of the presidency, Congress, and the states: the [11] The Federalists appealed to the business community, the Republicans to the planters and farmers. By 1796 politics in every state was nearly monopolized by the two parties.

Jefferson wrote on Feb. 12, 1798:

Two political Sects have arisen within the U. S. the one believing that the executive is the branch of our government which the most needs support; the other that like the analogous branch in the English Government, it is already too strong for the republican parts of the Constitution; and therefore in equivocal cases they incline to the legislative powers: the former of these are called federalists, sometimes aristocrats or monocrats, and sometimes tories, after the corresponding sect in the English Government of exactly the same definition: the latter are stiled republicans, whigs, jacobins, anarchists, disorganizers, etc. these terms are in familiar use with most persons."[12]

The Federalists promoted the financial system of Treasury Secretary Hamilton, which emphasized federal assumption of state debts, a tariff to pay off those debts, a national bank to facilitate financing, and encouragement of banking and manufacturing. The Republicans, based in the plantation South, opposed a strong executive power, were hostile to a standing army and navy, demanded a limited reading of the Constitutional powers of the federal government, and strongly opposed the Hamilton financial program. Perhaps even more important was foreign policy, where the Federalists favored Britain because of its political stability and its close ties to American trade, while the Republicans admired the French and the French Revolution. Jefferson was especially fearful that British aristocratic influences would undermine republicanism. Britain and France were at war 1793–1815, with one brief interruption. American policy was neutrality, with the federalists hostile to France, and the Republicans hostile to Britain. The Jay Treaty of 1794 marked the decisive mobilization of the two parties and their supporters in every state. President Washington, while officially nonpartisan, generally supported the Federalists and that party made Washington their iconic hero.

Adams Administration: 1797–1801

John Adams
Alexander Hamilton

Washington retired in 1797, firmly declining to serve for more than eight years as the nation's head. The Federalists supported Vice President John Adams for President. Adams defeated Jefferson, who as the runner-up became Vice President under the operation of the Electoral College of that time.

Even before he entered the presidency, Adams had quarreled with Alexander Hamilton—and thus was handicapped by a divided Federalist party.[13]

These domestic difficulties were compounded by international complications: France, angered by American approval in 1795 of the Jay Treaty with its great enemy Britain proclaimed that food and war material bound for British ports were subject to seizure by the French navy. By 1797, France had seized 300 American ships and had broken off diplomatic relations with the United States. When Adams sent three other commissioners to Paris to negotiate, agents of Foreign Minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand (whom Adams labeled "X, Y and Z" in his report to Congress) informed the Americans that negotiations could only begin if the United States loaned France $12 million and bribed officials of the French government. American hostility to France rose to an excited pitch, fanned by French ambassador Edmond-Charles Genêt. Federalists used the "XYZ Affair" to create a new American army, strengthen the fledgling United States Navy, impose the Alien and Sedition Acts to stop pro-French activities (which had severe repercussions for American civil liberties), and enact new taxes to pay for it. The Naturalization Act, which changed the residency requirement for citizenship from five to 14 years, was targeted at Irish and French immigrants suspected of supporting the Republican Party. The Sedition Act proscribed writing, speaking or publishing anything of "a false, scandalous and malicious" nature against the President or Congress. The few convictions won under the Sedition Act only created martyrs to the cause of civil liberties and aroused support for the Republicans. Jefferson and his allies launched a counterattack, with two states stating in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions that state legislatures could nullify acts of Congress. However, all the other states rejected this proposition, and nullification — or it was as it was called, the "principle of 98" — became the preserve of a faction of the Republicans called the Quids.[14]

In 1799, after a series of naval battles with the French (known as the Quasi-War), full-scale war seemed inevitable. In this crisis, Adams broke with his party and sent three new commissioners to France. Napoleon, who had just come to power, received them cordially, and the danger of conflict subsided with the negotiation of the Convention of 1800, which formally released the United States from its 1778 wartime alliance with France. However, reflecting American weakness, France refused to pay $20 million in compensation for American ships seized by the French navy.[15]

In his final hours in office, Adams appointed John Marshall as chief justice. Serving until his death in 1835, Marshall dramatically expanded the powers of the Supreme Court and provided a Federalist interpretation of the Constitution that made for a strong national government.[16]

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Under Washington and Adams the Federalists had established a strong government, but sometimes it followed policies that alienated the citizenry. For example, in 1798, to pay for the rapidly expanding army and navy, the Federalists had enacted a new tax on houses, land and slaves, affecting every property owner in the country. In the Fries's Rebellion hundreds of farmers in Pennsylvania revolted—Federalists saw a breakdown in civil society. Some tax resisters were arrested—then pardoned by Adams. Republicans denounced this action as an example of Federalist tyranny.[17]

Jefferson had steadily gathered behind him a great mass of small farmers, shopkeepers and other workers which asserted themselves as Democratic-Republicans in the election of 1800. Jefferson enjoyed extraordinary favor because of his appeal to American idealism. In his inaugural address, the first such speech in the new capital of Washington, DC, he promised "a wise and frugal government" to preserve order among the inhabitants but would "leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry, and improvement".[18]

Jefferson encouraged agriculture and westward expansion, most notably by the Louisiana Purchase and subsequent Lewis and Clark Expedition. Believing America to be a haven for the oppressed, he reduced the residency requirement for naturalization back to five years again.

By the end of his second term, Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin had reduced the national debt to less than $560 million. This was accomplished by reducing the number of executive department employees and Army and Navy officers and enlisted men, and by otherwise curtailing government and military spending.

Jefferson's domestic policy was uneventful and hands-off, the administration mainly concerning itself with foreign affairs and particularly territorial expansion. Except for Gallatin's reforms, their main preoccupation was purging the government of Federalist judges. The president and his associates were widely distrustful of the judicial branch, especially because Adams had made several "midnight" appointments prior to leaving office in March 1801. In Marbury vs Madison (1803), the Supreme Court under John Marshall established the precedent of being able to review and overturn legislation passed by Congress. This upset Jefferson to the point where his administration began opening impeachment hearings against judges that were perceived as abusing their power. The attempted purge of the judicial branch reached its climax with the trial of Justice Samuel Chase. When Chase was acquitted, Jefferson abandoned his campaign.

To protect its shipping interests overseas, the U.S. fought the First Barbary War (1801–1805) in North Africa. This was followed later by the Second Barbary War (1815).

With the upcoming expiration of the 20-year ban on Congressional action on the subject, Jefferson, a lifelong enemy of the slave trade, called on Congress to criminalize the international slave trade, calling it "violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country have long been eager to proscribe."[19]

Growth in the US 1800–10

Louisiana Purchase and the War of 1812

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 gave Western farmers use of the important Mississippi River waterway, removed the French presence from the western border of the United States, and, most important, provided U.S. settlers with vast potential for expansion. A few weeks afterward, war resumed between Britain and Napoleon's France. The United States, dependent on European revenues from the export of agricultural goods, tried to export food and raw materials to both warring Great Powers and to profit from transporting goods between their home markets and Caribbean colonies. Both sides permitted this trade when it benefited them but opposed it when it did not. Following the 1805 destruction of the French navy at the Battle of Trafalgar, Britain sought to impose a stranglehold over French overseas trade ties. Thus, in retaliation against U.S. trade practices, Britain imposed a loose blockade of the American coast. Believing that Britain could not rely on other sources of food than the United States, Congress and President Jefferson suspended all U.S. trade with foreign nations in the Embargo Act of 1807, hoping to get the British to end their blockade of the American coast. The Embargo Act, however, devastated American agricultural exports and weakened American ports while Britain found other sources of food.[20]

James Madison won the U.S. presidential election of 1808, largely on the strength of his abilities in foreign affairs at a time when Britain and France were both on the brink of war with the United States. He was quick to repeal the Embargo Act, refreshing American seaports. Unfortunately, despite his intellectual brilliance, Madison lacked Jefferson's leadership and tried to merely copy his predecessor's policies verbatim. He tried various trade restrictions to try and force Britain and France to respect freedom of the seas, but they were unsuccessful. The British had undisputed mastery over the sea after defeating the French and Spanish fleet at Trafalgar in 1805, and they took advantage of this to seize American ships at will and force their sailors into serving the Royal Navy. Even worse, the size of the US Navy was reduced due to ideological opposition to a large standing military and the Federal government became considerably weakened when the charter of the First National Bank expired and Congress declined to renew it. A clamor for military action thus erupted just as relations with Britain and France were at a low point and the US's ability to wage war had been reduced.

Battle of Lake Erie; American victory in 1813 meant control of the Northwest; painting by William H. Powell (1865)

In response to continued British interference with American shipping (including the practice of impressment of American sailors into the British Navy), and to British aid to American Indians in the Old Northwest, the Twelfth Congress—led by Southern and Western Jeffersonians—declared war on Britain in 1812. Westerners and Southerners were the most ardent supporters of the war, given their concerns about defending national honor and expanding western settlements, and having access to world markets for their agricultural exports. New England was making a fine profit and its Federalists opposed the war, almost to the point of secession. The Federalist reputation collapsed in the triumphalism of 1815 and the party no longer played a national role.

Tecumseh and Governor William Henry Harrison; Tecumseh's death in the Battle of the Thames in 1813 ended British hopes to create a neutral Indian state in the Midwest

The United States and Britain came to a draw in the war after bitter fighting that lasted even after the Burning of Washington in August 1814 and Andrew Jackson's smashing defeat of the British invasion army at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815. The Treaty of Ghent, officially ending the war, returned to the status quo ante bellum, but Britain's alliance with the Native Americans ended, and the Indians were the major losers of the war. News of the victory at New Orleans over the best British combat troops came at the same time as news of the peace, giving Americans a psychological triumph and opening the Era of Good Feelings. The war destroyed the Federalist Party, and opened roles as national candidates to generals Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison among others, as well as civilian leaders James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Henry Clay.[22]

Era of Good Feelings and the rise of Nationalism

Following the War of 1812, America began to assert a newfound sense of nationalism. America began to rally around national heroes such as Andrew Jackson and patriotic feelings emerged in such works as Francis Scott Key's poem The Star Spangled Banner. Under the direction of Chief Justice John Marshall, the Supreme Court issued a series of opinions reinforcing the role of the national government.[23] These decisions included McCulloch v Maryland and Gibbons v Ogden; both of which reaffirmed the supremacy of the national government over the states. The signing of the Adams-Onis Treaty helped to settle the western border of the country through popular and peaceable means.[24]


Even as nationalism increased across the country, its effects were limited by a renewed sense of sectionalism. The New England states that had opposed the War of 1812 felt an increasing decline in political power with the demise of the Federalist Party. This loss was tempered with the arrival of a new industrial movement and increased demands for northern banking. The industrial revolution in the United States was advanced by the immigration of Samuel Slater from Great Britain and arrival of textile mills beginning in Lowell, Massachusetts. In the south, the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney radically increased the value of slave labour. The export of southern cotton was now the predominant export of the U.S. The western states continued to thrive under the "frontier spirit." Individualism was prized as exemplified by Davey Crockett and James Fenimore Cooper's folk hero Natty Bumpo from The Leatherstocking Tales. Following the death of Tecumseh in 1813, Native Americans lacked the unity to stop white settlement.

Era of Good Feelings

Domestically, the presidency of James Monroe (1817–1825) was hailed at the time and since as the "Era of Good Feelings" because of the decline of partisan politics and heated rhetoric after the war. The Federalist Party collapsed, but without an opponent the Democratic - Republican party decayed as sectional interests came to the fore.

The Monroe Doctrine was drafted by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in collaboration with the British, and proclaimed by Monroe in late 1823. He asserted the Americas should be free from additional European colonization and free from European interference in sovereign countries' affairs. It further stated the United States' intention to stay neutral in wars between European powers and their colonies but to consider any new colonies or interference with independent countries in the Americas as hostile acts towards the United States. No new colonies were ever formed.

Emergence of Second Party System

Monroe was reelected without opposition in 1820, and the old caucus system for selecting Republican candidates collapsed in 1820. In the Electoral College, so the president was selected by the House of Representatives, where Clay was the most influential figure. In return for Clay's support, which won him the presidency, John Quincy Adams appointed Clay as secretary of state in what Jacksonians denounced as The Corrupt Bargain.

During Adams' administration, new party alignments appeared. Adams' followers took the name of "National Republicans", to reflect the mainstream of Jeffersonian Republicanism. Though he governed honestly and efficiently, Adams was not a popular president, and his administration was marked with frustrations. Adams failed in his effort to institute a national system of roads and canals as part of the American System economic plan. His coldly intellectual temperament did not win friends.

Jacksonian democracy

Charismatic Andrew Jackson, by contrast, in collaboration with strategist Martin Van Buren rallied his followers in the newly emerging Democratic Party. In the election of 1828, Jackson defeated Adams by an overwhelming electoral majority in the first presidential election since 1800 to mark a wholesale voter rejection of the previous administration's policies. The electoral campaign was correspondingly as vicious as the one 28 years earlier, with Jackson and Adams's camps hurtling the worst mudslinging accusations at one another. The former painted himself as a war hero and the champion of the masses against Northeastern elites while the latter argued that he was a man of education and social grace against an uncouth, semi-literate backwoodsman. This belied the fact that Andrew Jackson was a societal elite by any definition, owning a large plantation with dozens of slaves and mostly surrounding himself with men of wealth and property. The election saw the coming to power of Jacksonian Democracy, thus marking the transition from the First Party System (which reflected Jeffersonian Democracy) to the Second Party System. Historians debate the significance of the election, with many arguing that it marked the beginning of modern American politics, with the decisive establishment of democracy and the formation of the two party system.[25]

When Jackson took office on March 4, 1829, many doubted if he would survive his term in office. A week short of his 63rd birthday, he was the oldest man yet elected president and suffering from the effects of old battle wounds. He also had a frequent hacking cough and sometimes spit up blood. The inauguration ball became a notorious event in the history of the American presidency as a large mob of guests swarmed through the White House, tracking dirt and mud everywhere, and consuming a giant cheese that had been presented as an inaugural gift to the president. A contemporary journalist described the spectacle as "the reign of King Mob".

President Andrew Jackson

Suffrage of all white men

Starting in the 1820s, American politics became more democratic as many state and local offices went from being appointed to elective, and the old requirements for voters to own property were abolished. Voice voting in states gave way to ballots printed by the parties, and by the 1830s every state except South Carolina presidential electors were chosen directly by the voters. Jacksonian Democracy drew its support from the small farmers of the West, and the workers, artisans and small merchants of the East. They favored geographical expansion to create more farms for people like them, and distrusted the upper classes who envisioned an industrial nation built on finance and manufacturing. The entrepreneurs, for whom Henry Clay and Daniel Webster were heroes, fought back and formed the Whig party.[26]

Political machines appeared early in the history of the United States, and for all the exhortations of Jacksonian Democracy, it was they and not the average voter that nominated candidates. In addition, the system supported establishment politicians and party loyalists, and much legislation was designed to reward men and businesses who supported a particular party or candidate. As a consequence, the chance of single issue and ideology-based candidates being elected to major office dwindled and so those parties who were successful were pragmatist ones which appealed to multiple constituencies.

Examples of single issue parties included the Anti-Masonic Party, which emerged in the Northeastern states. Its goal was to outlaw Freemasonry as a violation of republicanism; members were energized by reports that a man who threatened to expose Masonic secrets had been murdered. They ran a candidate for president (William Wirt) in 1832; he won 8% of the popular vote nationwide, carried Vermont, and ran well in rural Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.[27] The party then merged into the new Whig Party. Others included abolitionist parties, workers' parties like the Workingmen's Party, the Locofocos (who opposed monopolies), and assorted nativist parties who denounced the Roman Catholic Church as a threat to Republicanism in the United States None of these parties were capable of mounting a broad enough appeal to voters or winning major elections.[28]

The election of 1828 was a significant benchmark marking the climax of the trend toward broader voter eligibility and participation. Vermont had universal male suffrage since its entry into the Union, and Tennessee permitted suffrage for the vast majority of taxpayers. New Jersey, Maryland and South Carolina all abolished property and tax-paying requirements between 1807 and 1810. States entering the Union after 1815 either had universal white male suffrage or a low taxpaying requirement. From 1815 to 1821, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York abolished all property requirements. In 1824, members of the Electoral College were still selected by six state legislatures. By 1828, presidential electors were chosen by popular vote in every state but Delaware and South Carolina. Nothing dramatized this democratic sentiment more than the election of Andrew Jackson.[29] In addition, the 1828 election marked the decisive emergence of the West as a major political bloc and an end to the dominance of the original 13 states on national affairs.

Trail of Tears

In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the President to negotiate treaties that exchanged Indian tribal lands in the eastern states for lands west of the Mississippi River. In 1834, a special Indian territory was established in what is now the eastern part of Oklahoma. In all, Native American tribes signed 94 treaties during Jackson's two terms, ceding thousands of square miles to the Federal government.

The Cherokees insisted on their independence from state government authority and faced expulsion from their lands when a faction of Cherokees signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, obtaining money in exchange for their land. Despite protests from the elected Cherokee government and many white supporters, the Cherokees were forced to trek to the Indian Territory in 1838. Many died of disease and privation in what became known as the "Trail of Tears".

Picking cotton in Larger version

Nullification Crisis

Toward the end of his first term in office, Jackson was forced to confront the state of South Carolina on the issue of the protective tariff. The protective tariff passed by Congress and signed into law by Jackson in 1832 was milder than that of 1828, but it further embittered many in the state. In response, several South Carolina citizens endorsed the "states rights" principle of "nullification", which was enunciated by John C. Calhoun, Jackson's Vice President until 1832, in his South Carolina Exposition and Protest (1828). South Carolina dealt with the tariff by adopting the Ordinance of Nullification, which declared both the Tariff of 1828 and the Tariff of 1832 null and void within state borders.

Nullification was only the most recent in a series of state challenges to the authority of the federal government. In response to South Carolina's threat, Jackson sent seven small naval vessels and a man-of-war to Charleston in November 1832. On December 10, he issued a resounding proclamation against the nullifiers. South Carolina, the President declared, stood on "the brink of insurrection and treason", and he appealed to the people of the state to reassert their allegiance to that Union for which their ancestors had fought.

Senator Henry Clay, though an advocate of protection and a political rival of Jackson, piloted a compromise measure through Congress. Clay's 1833 compromise tariff specified that all duties more than 20% of the value of the goods imported were to be reduced by easy stages, so that by 1842, the duties on all articles would reach the level of the moderate tariff of 1816.

The rest of the South declared South Carolina's course unwise and unconstitutional. Eventually, South Carolina rescinded its action. Jackson had committed the federal government to the principle of Union supremacy. South Carolina, however, had obtained many of the demands it sought and had demonstrated that a single state could force its will on Congress.


Even before the nullification issue had been settled, another controversy arose to challenge Jackson's leadership. It concerned the rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States. The First Bank of the United States had been established in 1791, under Alexander Hamilton's guidance and had been chartered for a 20-year period. After the Revolutionary War, the United States had a large war debt to France and others, and the banking system of the fledgling nation was in disarray, as state banks printed their own currency, and the plethora of different bank notes made commerce difficult. Hamilton's national bank had been chartered to solve the debt problem and to unify the nation under one currency. While it stabilized the currency and stimulated trade, it was resented by Westerners and workers who believed that it was granting special favors to a few powerful men. When its charter expired in 1811, it was not renewed.[30]

For the next few years, the banking business was in the hands of State-Chartered banks, which issued currency in excessive amounts, creating great confusion and fueling inflation and concerns that state banks could not provide the country with a uniform currency. The absence of a national bank during the War of 1812 greatly hindered financial operations of the government; therefore a second Bank of the United States was created in 1816.

Jackson slays the many-headed monster that is the Bank of the United States

From its inception, the Second Bank was unpopular in the newer states and territories and with less prosperous people everywhere. Opponents claimed the bank possessed a virtual monopoly over the country's credit and currency, and reiterated that it represented the interests of the wealthy elite. Jackson, elected as a popular champion against it, vetoed a bill to recharter the bank. He also personally detested banks due to a brush with bankruptcy in his youth. In his message to Congress, he denounced monopoly and special privilege, saying that "our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits, but have besought us to make them richer by act of Congress".[31]

In the election campaign that followed, the bank question caused a fundamental division between the merchant, manufacturing and financial interests (generally creditors who favored tight money and high interest rates), and the laboring and agrarian sectors, who were often in debt to banks and therefore favored an increased money supply and lower interest rates. The outcome was an enthusiastic endorsement of "Jacksonism". Jackson saw his reelection in 1832 as a popular mandate to crush the bank irrevocably; he found a ready-made weapon in a provision of the bank's charter authorizing removal of public funds.

In September 1833 Jackson ordered that no more government money be deposited in the bank and that the money already in its custody be gradually withdrawn in the ordinary course of meeting the expenses of government. Carefully selected state banks, stringently restricted, were provided as a substitute. For the next generation, the US would get by on a relatively unregulated state banking system. This banking system helped fuel westward expansion through easy credit, but kept the nation vulnerable to periodic panics. It was not until the Civil War that the Federal government again chartered a national bank.

Jackson groomed Martin van Buren as his successor, and he was easily elected president in 1836. However, a few months into his administration, the country fell into a deep economic slump known as the Panic of 1837, caused in large part by excessive speculation. Banks failed and unemployment soared. Although the depression had its roots in Jackson's economic policies, van Buren was blamed for the disaster. In the 1840 presidential election, he was defeated by the Whig candidate William Henry Harrison. However, his presidency would prove a non-starter when he fell ill with pneumonia and died after only a month in office. John Tyler, his vice president, succeeded him. Tyler was not popular since he had not been elected to the presidency, and was widely referred to as "His Accidency". The Whigs expelled him, and he became a president without a party.

Economic historians have explored the high degree of financial and economic instability in the Jacksonian era. For the most part, they follow the conclusions of Peter Temin. who absolved Jackson's policies, and blamed international events beyond American control, such as conditions in Mexico, China and Britain. A survey of economic historians in 1995 show that the vast majority concur with Temin's conclusion that "the inflation and financial crisis of the 1830s had their origin in events largely beyond President Jackson's control and would have taken place whether or not he had acted as he did vis-a-vis the Second Bank of the U.S."[32]

Age of Reform

Spurred on by the Second Great Awakening, Americans entered a period of rapid social change and experimentation. New social movements arose, as well as many new alternatives to traditional religious thought. This period of American history was marked by the destruction of some traditional roles of society and the erection of new social standards. One of the unique aspects of the Age of Reform was that it was heavily grounded in religion, in contrast to the anti-clericalism that characterized contemporary European reformers.[33]

Second Great Awakening

The Second Great Awakening was a Protestant religious revival movement that flourished in 1800–1840 in every region. It expressed Arminian theology by which every person could be saved through a direct personal confrontation with Jesus Christ during an intensely emotional revival meeting. Millions joined the churches, often new denominations. Many converts believed that the Awakening heralded a new millennial age, so that the Second Great Awakening stimulated the establishment of many reform movements designed to remedy the evils of society before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.[34] For example, the charismatic Charles Grandison Finney, in upstate New York and the Old Northwest was highly effective. At the Rochester Revival of 1830, prominent citizens concerned with the city's poverty and absenteeism had invited Finney to the city. The wave of religious revival contributed to tremendous growth of the Methodist, Baptists, Disciples, and other evangelical denominations.[35][36]


As the Second Great Awakening challenged the traditional beliefs of the Calvinist faith, the movement inspired other groups to call into question their views on religion and society. Many of these utopianist groups also believed in millennialism which prophesied the return of Christ and the beginning of a new age. The Harmony Society made three attempts to effect a millennial society with the most notable example at New Harmony, Indiana. Later, Scottish industrialist Robert Owen bought New Harmony and attempted to form a secular Utopian community there. Frenchman Charles Fourier began a similar secular experiment with his "phalanxes" that were spread across the Midwestern United States. However, none of these utopian communities lasted very long except for the Shakers.

One of the earliest movements was that of the Shakers in which members of a community held all of their possessions in "common" and lived in a prosperous, inventive, self-supporting society, with no sexual activity.[37] The Shakers, founded by an English immigrant to the United States Mother Ann Lee, peaked at around 6,000 in 1850 in communities from Maine to Kentucky. The Shakers condemned sexuality and demanded absolute celibacy. New members could only come from conversions, and from children brought to the Shaker villages. The Shakers persisted into the 20th century, but lost most of their originality by the middle of the 19th century. They are famed for their artistic craftsmanship, especially their furniture and handicrafts.

The Perfectionist movement, led by John Humphrey Noyes, founded the utopian Oneida Community in 1848 with fifty-one devotees, in Oneida, New York. Noyes believed that the act of final conversion led to absolute and complete release from sin. The Onedia Community believed in the abolition of marriage or monogamous relationships and that sex should be free to whoever consented to it. As opposed to 20th century social movements such as the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, the Onedians did not seek consequence-free sex for mere pleasure, but believed that, because the logical outcome of intercourse was pregnancy, that raising children should be a communal responsibility. After the original founders died or became elderly, their children rejected the concept of free love and returned to traditional family models. Transforming into a joint-stock company, Oneida thrived for many years and continues today as a silverware company.[38]

Joseph Smith also experienced a religious conversion in this era; under his guidance Mormon history began. Because of their unusual beliefs, which included recognition of the Book of Mormon as a supplement to the Bible, Mormons were rejected by mainstream Christians and forced to flee en masse from upstate New York to Ohio, to Missouri and then to Nauvoo, Illinois, where Smith was killed and they were again forced to flee. They Settled around the Great Salt Lake, then part of Mexico. In 1848, the region came under American control and later formed the Utah Territory. National policy was to suppress polygamy, and Utah was only admitted as a state in 1896 after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints backtracked from Smith's demand that all the leaders practice polygamy.[39]

For Americans wishing to bridge the gap between the earthly and spiritual worlds, spiritualism provided a means of communing with the dead. Spiritualists used mediums to communicate between the living and the dead through a variety of different means. The most famous mediums, the Fox sisters claimed a direct link to the spirit world. Spiritualism would gain a much larger following after the heavy number of casualties during the Civil War; First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln was a believer.[40]

Other groups seeking spiritual awaking gained popularity in the mid-19th century. Philosopher Brook Farm to live cooperatively. Other authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe rejected transcendentalist beliefs.[41]

So many of these new religious and spiritual groups began or concentrated within miles of each other in upstate New York that this area was nicknamed "the burned-over district" because there were so few people left who had not experienced a conversion.[42][43]

Public schools movement

Education in the United States had long been a local affair with schools governed by locally elected school boards. As with much of the culture of the United States, education varied widely in the North and the South. In the New England states classics but many yeoman farming families had little access to education outside of the family unit.

The reform movement in education began in Massachusetts when Horace Mann started the common school movement. Mann advocated a statewide curriculum and instituted financing of school through local property taxes. Mann also fought protracted battles against the Calvinist influence in discipline, preferring positive reinforcement to physical punishment. Most children learned to read and write and spell from Noah Webster's Blue Backed Speller and later the McGuffey Readers. The readings inculcated moral values as well as literacy. Most states tried to emulate Massachusetts, but New England retained its leadership position for another century. German immigrants brought in kindergartens and the Gymnasium (school), while Yankee orators sponsored the Lyceum movement that provided popular education for hundreds of towns and small cities.

Asylum movement

The social conscience that was raised in the early 19th century helped to elevate the awareness of mental illness and its treatment. A leading advocate of reform for mental illness was Dorothea Dix, a Massachusetts woman who made an intensive study of the conditions that the mentally ill were kept in. Dix's report to the Massachusetts state legislature along with the development of the Kirkbride Plan helped to alleviate the miserable conditions for many of the mentally ill. Although these facilities often fell short of their intended purpose, reformers continued to follow Dix's advocacy and call for increased study and treatment of mental illness.


Zagarri (2007) argues the Revolution created an ongoing debate on the rights of women and created an environment favorable to women's participation in politics. She asserts that for a brief decades, a "comprehensive transformation in women's rights, roles, and responsibilities seemed not only possible but perhaps inevitable" (p. 8) However the opening of possibilities also engendered a backlash that actually set back the cause of women's rights and led to a greater rigidity that marginalized women from political life.[44]

During the building of the new republic, American women were able to gain a limited political voice in what is known as republican motherhood