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Westward Growth and International Prominence
(1790 - 1837)
© Copyright 2005 Bryan Hardesty. All rights reserved.
(NOTE: The DVD Edition of The American Testimony is available at our
THE WASHINGTON PRESIDENCY
Past experience with state legislatures and the Continental Congress had familiarized
the American people with role of the legislative branch of government, but there
remained uncertainties over the untested concept of the presidency. George Washington,
hero in America’s War for Independence, took the presidential oath on April 30,
1789, and his performance as chief executive established a precedent for those who
Washington assembled government department heads into an advisory
counsel that came to be known as the presidential cabinet. Thomas Jefferson was
appointed Secretary of State, since he had acquired numerous European contacts as
a diplomat in France. Nevertheless, Jefferson was viewed an outsider by the framers
of the new government. Though he had scripted the final draft of the Declaration
of Independence in 1776, he had not fought in the War for Independence, nor had
he participated in the drafting of the Constitution. All the same, President Washington
valued Jefferson’s insight in European affairs. For the Treasury Secretary's post,
the president appointed Alexander Hamilton. Edmund Randolph, a principle planner
of the Constitution, was named Attorney General, and General Henry Knox became War
Secretary. Though these cabinet officials conferred with the president, their departments
were created by Congress.
With legislative and executive branches in place, Congress passed
the Judiciary Act, establishing the Supreme Court, as well as district courts and
courts of appeal. Under the Constitution, the president was granted sole authority
to appoint Supreme Court justices. Washington made John Jay the first chief justice
of the court.
Secretary Alexander Hamilton became the president’s most valued cabinet official,
resolving the financial crisis that threatened the fledgling nation. The new government
had inherited the gargantuan debts of the earlier Confederation government, and
Hamilton, in his “Report on the Public Credit,” outlined a strategy to issue government
bonds to private investors, so that all debts would be repaid and the nation’s credit
standing would be restored. Hamilton’s report also proposed the creation of a national
bank, co-owned by the government and private investors. Secretary of State
Thomas Jefferson opposed the plan, asserting it would benefit the rich. But Hamilton
argued that those possessing the largest monetary reserves had the greatest ability
to use their funds to save the country’s economy, and that people who chose to serve
the nation in that manner should be rewarded for their contributions. The president
and Congress agreed with Hamilton and implemented his plan. Soon thereafter, America’s
debts were repaid, a stable paper currency was issued, and the federal credit was
structured under a realistic debt management program.
Not all of Alexander Hamilton’s recommendations were successful.
His “Report on Manufacturers,” submitted in December of 1791, proposed a tax on
distilled products and foreign imports, so that revenue could be gathered to fund
industrial development projects. When Congress imposed a whiskey tax, resistance
came from Pennsylvania farmers who supplied corn for the liquor. Treasury agents
attempting to collect revenues were often tarred and feathered.
Dissention erupted within the presidential cabinet itself over the extent of federal
powers. Thomas Jefferson scoffed at the idea of a strong national government, insisting
it remain a servant to the states. Jefferson and his followers formed a political
faction called the Republicans (not to be confused with the later political party
of the same name), while Alexander Hamilton and John Adams led the group known as
Federalists. Hamilton made efforts to work with Jefferson, agreeing to move the
nation’s capital from his home state of New York to a district outside the boundaries
of any state. Construction began on government buildings in this region along the
Potomac River, between Virginia and Maryland, while the operating federal body temporarily
relocated to Philadelphia, birthplace of the Constitutional Republic. Since the
Constitution granted the federal government power to add new states to the Union,
it admitted Vermont in 1791, followed by Kentucky in 1792.
Congress struggled continually to procure the cooperation of
the individual states. Several state legislatures refused to comply with the debt
repayment terms of America’s peace treaty with Great Britain. In response, British
military forces broke their agreement to vacate frontier posts along the Great Lakes.
These troops were sustained by the supply ships servicing British-held Canada. Though
the United States government claimed possession of lands between the Ohio River
and the Canadian border, the presence of British redcoat soldiers discouraged the
formation of American settlements in this region. British troops were aided by western
Indian tribes. Twice during the early 1790's, Chief Little Turtle of the Miami tribe
defeated American militia groups. At that time, the federal government was too weak
The concerns of the American people in the 1790s were not limited to domestic issues.
Troubling news came from France, America’s ally in the War for Independence. Inspired
by the American victory over Great Britain, the French revolted against aristocratic
rule in their home country, though failing to understand the spiritual basis behind
the American cause. The predominantly Christian Americans were motivated by an intolerance
of tyranny, injustice, and oppression, while French factions simply fought for power.
Judeo-Christian doctrines emphasizing forgiveness, self-sacrifice, and the sanctity
of life were lost upon the atheistic and secularist French, whose revolution was
a wide-spread bloodbath from the onset; a human nightmare that came to be known
as the Reign of Terror.
American secularists initially applauded France’s rejection of
the monarchy, but were soon horrified to learn that the streets of Paris had become
a nonstop orgy of murder and barbarism. Though France’s King Louis XVI agreed to
swear allegiance to the new order, French radicals, nevertheless, beheaded him.
Tens of thousands of landowners, tradesmen, and merchants were slaughtered by their
own countrymen in a frenzy of killing.
Alarmed by the brutal killing of their French counterpart, the
crowned heads of Great Britain and Spain declared war against the radical order
in France. The French radicals dispatched Edmond Charles Genet to remind the United
States that a favor was owed for France’s assistance in America’s War for Independence.
Thomas Jefferson, the former ambassador to France, sided with the radicals, presenting
Genet to the president. However, George Washington refused to side against Britain
and Spain. In April of 1793, he issued a Proclamation of Neutrality, avoiding American
entanglement in European war. Ignoring the proclamation, French diplomat Genet chartered
privately-owned American ships to attack Spanish and British holdings in the Caribbean.
Facing a superior British navy, some six hundred American vessels were captured.
Overseas, Maximillien Robespierre, leader of the French Revolution,
experienced the same cruelty he had inflicted on others. Fellow radicals turned
against Robespierre and had him beheaded. With the turnover in power, Edmond Genet’s
influence in the United States dissipated. Despite their growing disgust of the
French, many Americans held greater resentment for the British, who maintained troops
in the Ohio country and encouraged Indians to attack frontier settlers.
The fledgling United States government could ill-afford another
war with Great Britain, and President Washington sought diplomatic means to avert
military conflict. Though it was the role of the Secretary of State to negotiate
with foreign powers, Thomas Jefferson’s bias toward the French had sullied his credibility.
Thus, Washington dispatched Chief Justice John Jay to London to meet with British
authorities. The mission resulted in Jay’s Treaty of 1794, in which Great Britain
agreed to abandon posts in the western frontier and return American ships seized
in the West Indies. For its part, the United States halted its discriminatory import
fees on British goods, and Jay promised the states would honor all pre-Revolutionary
debts owed to British merchants. These terms were not well received by anti-British
Americans, and Jay’s Treaty was widely protested in the states. Nevertheless, Congress
ratified the agreement, and relations between the United States and Great Britain
improved almost instantaneously. Spain, fearing the new British-American alliance
would threaten its North American holdings, requested its own treaty with the United
States. The Spanish government also distrusted Secretary of State Jefferson, instead
inviting American envoy Thomas Pinckney to negotiate the Treaty of San Lorenzo,
more commonly known as Pinckney's Treaty. It granted the United States free navigation
of the Mississippi River, with free deposit rights at the Spanish-held port of New
Orleans. Pinckney’s Treaty also established the 31st latitudinal parallel as the
northern boundary of Spain’s colony, Florida.
Simultaneous to the American treaty negotiations in Europe, the federal government,
for the first time, demonstrated the ability to enforce its own legislative acts
in the states. During July of 1794, a mob of seven-thousand stormed through western
Pennsylvania, threatening to burn the city of Pittsburgh unless the whiskey tax
was repealed. In response, President Washington and Treasury Secretary Hamilton
donned their old Continental Army uniforms and led more than twelve thousand soldiers
into Pennsylvania to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion. In doing so, the federal government
demonstrated its commitment to securing domestic peace, winning the respect of the
Federal forces were also employed to protect Americans in the
frontier lands. Upon hearing reports of widespread murder and torture of western
Ohio families at the hands of Miami Indians, the president mobilized forces under
General Anthony Wayne. The Indians were defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers
in 1794. Soon thereafter, twelve tribes in the Ohio Territory entered the Treaty
of Greenville, recognizing the authority of the United States government over the
land. Western migration resumed and Tennessee was admitted to the Union in 1796.
In his two terms as America’s first president, George Washington
set the standard for all chief executives to follow. With confidence that the Constitutional
Republic would endure, he concluded in September of 1796 that his job was finished.
In his farewell address,
Washington urged the nation to remain united, avoiding foreign influences and resisting
the temptation to form political parties. Foremost on his mind was the preservation
of the Christian principles that had guided the nation’s Founding Fathers in drafting
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political
prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that
man claim tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars….Reason
and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion
of religious principle.”
Vice President John Adams succeeded George Washington, having
received the majority of votes in the election of 1796. With the second-highest
number of electoral votes, Thomas Jefferson became Vice President. Washington attended
the inauguration of Adams at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on March 4, 1797.
From there, America’s first president spent his remaining two-and-a-half years of
life at his Mount Vernon, Virginia estate.
As the new president, John Adams faced his first foreign affairs challenge when
French naval vessels began harassing American merchant ships at sea. France, by
this time, was governed by a cabal known as the Directory, asserting that John Jay’s
treaty with the British violated the Franco-American alliance forged during the
War of Independence. Adams dispatched John Marshall, Elbridge Gerry, and Charles
Cotesworth Pinckney on a diplomatic mission to France. In public, the Directory
rejected the American delegation, though secretly, their foreign minister Talleyrand
sent three agents, known only as X, Y, and Z, to request the Americans pay an enormous
bribe to start the negotiations. Outraged by the demand, President Adams revealed
the “XYZ Affair” to the American public in April of 1798. The people’s response
came in the form of a slogan, “millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.”
The threat of war with France prompted the federal government
to create the Department of Navy and expand the size of the Army. American ships
were authorized to attack any French vessels harassing them. The state of conflict
was called a “quasi-war,” as no full-scale military engagement erupted.
The French Reign of Terror drove vast numbers of fearful Europeans
to American shores. Concerned that spies and agitators might be entering the country,
Congress passed a series of four Acts, collectively called the Alien and Sedition
Acts, in 1798. First among them was the Naturalization Act, requiring fourteen years
of U.S. residency before an immigrant could gain eligibility for citizenship; a
substantial increase from the original five-year requirement. The Alien Act followed,
granting the president power to expel potentially dangerous foreigners from the
country, while the Alien Enemies Act provided the presidential authority to banish
or imprison citizens of enemy countries during a time of war. The final measure,
the Sedition Act consisted of two sections. One outlawed the obstruction of laws
and the inciting of riots, while the other made it illegal for newspapers to base
criticisms of the government on lies or distortions of truth. Many state legislatures
deemed the Alien and Sedition Acts in unconstitutional. The legislatures in Kentucky
and Virginia adopted resolves reserving the right of state lawmakers to nullify
questionable federal laws.
Though embroiled in an emerging states rights controversy, John
Adams was relieved that America’s quasi-war with France had never escalated beyond
a few skirmishes at sea. Napoleon Bonaparte, the brilliant war strategist, emerged
as leader of France in November of 1799, on the heels of his military triumphs in
Italy, Austria, Egypt, and Syria. Napoleon instituted reforms that restored order,
putting an end to the Reign of Terror. His emissaries approached the American government
with a peace proposal, and the resulting Convention of 1800 reinstated commercial
and diplomatic relations between France and the United States.
THE JEFFERSON YEARS
During the summer of 1800, America’s
seat of government was moved from Philadelphia to its final home along the Potomac
River. This city without a state was called Washington, after the nation’s great
war general and first president, who had passed away in 1799. John Adams was first
to occupy the Executive Mansion, later known as the White House, but his stay was
relatively brief. In the election of 1800, many of Adams’ fellow Federalists, including
Alexander Hamilton, refused to endorse the president for a second term, in light
of his support of the constitutionally questionable Alien and Sedition Acts.
The initial electoral vote for president resulted in a tie between Vice President
Thomas Jefferson and New York Senator Aaron Burr. Re-voting took place in the House
of Representatives, but time and again, the deadlock remained. The election carried
into 1801, with ballots taken thirty-five different times. Alexander Hamilton, the
prominent Federalist, had long been at odds with Republican Jefferson. Nevertheless,
he believed Aaron Burr’s ambitions posed a greater threat to the nation’s security.
Hamilton reluctantly endorsed Jefferson, triggering a shift in the electoral vote
that ended the deadlock. Thomas Jefferson became America’s third president, while
Aaron Burr was relegated to the role of Vice President.
Alarmed that the Federalists were out of power, outgoing President
John Adams, along with a number of like-minded congressmen, took measures to prevent
the federal government from being weakened by Jefferson, a devoted states rights
advocate. Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1801, and Adams, on the eve of Jefferson’s
inauguration, issued “midnight appointments,” granting court positions to fellow
federalists. Most notable was the appointment of John Marshall as Chief Justice
of the Supreme Court. Thereafter, John Adams packed his belongings and vacated the
nation’s capital, refusing to attend Jefferson’s inauguration.
The new president appointed like-minded Republicans to cabinet
posts. Longtime friend James Madison was named Secretary of State and Albert Gallatin
Treasury Secretary. Jefferson resented John Adams’ “midnight appointments,” and
upon moving into his new office, discovered that some of the court selection documents
had not been delivered to the appointees. When Jefferson withheld the commissions,
one appointee, William Marbury, sued Secretary of State James Madison for illegal
interference. In the landmark case, Marbury versus Madison, Supreme Court Justice
John Marshall declared that the Constitution did not grant the judicial branch the
power to rule on the statutes of other branches, unless they conflicted with the
Constitution. Though Marshall affirmed that Marbury’s commission was legal, he asserted
that a lower court should have decided the case first, and that the Supreme Court
should only rule on prior decisions. Marshall’s position avoided a direct confrontation
with Jefferson, while defining the Supreme Court’s traditional role as final authority
on the constitutionality of a law. Ironically, the Constitution granted no such
specific power to the federal judiciary. Though John Marshall and Thomas Jefferson
were second cousins, they remained bitter political rivals.
Unable to circumvent the Adams appointments, President Jefferson
attempted to impeach as many of the judges as he could. Though no one protested
the removal of one justice for drunkenness and profanity on duty, Jefferson’s impeachment
campaign against the brilliant constitutionalist, Associate Supreme Court Justice
Samuel Chase, was thwarted by Vice President Aaron Burr.
In foreign affairs, President Jefferson hired American mercenaries
to sail to the Mediterranean Sea and confront North African pirate ships plaguing
American merchant vessels. The ensuing Barbary War was essentially an undeclared
military campaign against the Arab empire of Tripoli. The conflict raged over the
next four years.
French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte acquired the vast Louisiana Territory from Spain,
under the terms of the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800. The land mass extended from
the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico; its width spreading from the Mississippi
River to the Rocky Mountains. Though Napoleon considered extending his empire into
North America, a revolt against French rule on the island of Haiti convinced him
that distant lands were difficult to administer. Needing funds to fight the mammoth
British Navy, Bonaparte’s representatives approached Robert Livingston, the U.S.
minister to France, with an offer to sell the Louisiana Territory. President Jefferson
dispatched James Monroe to Paris to ask Napoleon to include the port of New Orleans
in the deal. Ultimately, the French government unloaded all territories obtained
from Spain, and the Louisiana Purchase, as it came to be known, doubled the land
size of the United States at a cost of 15 million dollars. Jefferson, long critical
of John Adams for making decisions beyond his constitutional powers, committed the
same offense by authorizing the Louisiana Purchase without Congressional approval.
Nevertheless, the acquisition pleased the American people.
The Jefferson presidency reigned during a period of spiritual
renewal in the United States. In the same manner that the Great Awakening had unified
eighteenth century colonists as a uniquely American nation, a similar widespread
Christian revival movement, the aptly named Second Great Awakening, dramatically
influenced American culture at the dawn of the nineteenth century. It began in a
most unlikely place. Logan County, Kentucky, a lawless community inhabited by hardened
brawlers and ruthless criminals, was called “Rogues’ Harbor.” Law enforcement officials
assigned to bring order to the area were either murdered or driven out. It was here
that Reverend James McGready arrived in 1798 to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
McGready treated the rough backwoodsmen with respect and acceptance, inviting them,
without judgment, to the worship services he conducted in the wilderness. What occurred
in these meetings could never be rationally explained, but from them emerged transformed
lives. The hearts of the meanest, most hardened Americans had grown kind and unselfish.
Broken relationships were healed, and goodness abounded. Tens of thousands of Americans
journeyed to the revival camps which spread to Tennessee and North Carolina, as
well as the new state of Ohio, admitted to the union in 1803. Skeptics and self-proclaimed
“free-thinkers” attended the worship gatherings for the purpose of debunking the
movement, only to emerge as devout Christians themselves.
Longtime Methodist circuit rider Francis Asbury brought the revival
movement to the New England states, while at Yale University in New Haven Connecticut,
an unexpected wave of Christian enthusiasm burst forth after the university’s president,
Timothy Dwight, presented the gospel message to those faculty members and students
disenchanted with French Rationalism. No other religion or philosophy had so profoundly
and permanently transformed lives for the better. Throughout the country, American
Christians constructed the nation’s first hospitals, orphanages, and old people’s
homes, while committing acts of charity for their fellow man.
The brightening spiritual outlook of the American population
went largely ignored by a president who embraced European Enlightenment thinking
and French Rationalism. Enthralled by the essays of French philosophers Voltaire
and Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson clung to the belief that reason alone could solve
the problems of mankind. However, the Reign of Terror in France demonstrated the
consequences of reason devoid of morality.
Many Americans believed that Jefferson’s bias toward France threatened the healing
of U.S. relations with Great Britain. In the New England states, merchants and lawyers
banded as a political group opposing Jeffersonian policies. Named the Essex Junto
after the Massachusetts county from which most members hailed, the group urged northern
states to break away from the union and form their own confederacy. Vice President
Aaron Burr aligned himself with the Essex Junto during his campaign for governor
of New York, prompting Alexander Hamilton to denounce Burr for his divided loyalties.
Hamilton also made disparaging remarks about Burr’s morals, contributing to his
loss in the 1804 New York gubernatorial race. With his reputation in question, Aaron
Burr challenged Alexander Hamilton to a pistol duel. At Weehawken, New Jersey, on
the morning of July 11th, 1804, the two men took aim and fired. Hamilton’s musket
ball hit a tree branch above his opponent’s head. Burr’s shot found its target,
mortally wounding the popular Federalist. Scandal-ridden and facing criminal charges,
Aaron Burr fled westward.
The death of Alexander Hamilton left the Federalists without
a strong voice for the upcoming presidential election of 1804. In his quest for
a second term, Thomas Jefferson trumpeted his single triumph, the acquisition of
the Louisiana Territory. Prior to the election, the president authorized a scientific
expedition of this expanse west of the Mississippi River. The thirty-man mission,
led by Jefferson’s personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, along with Captain William
Clark, was launched from the Mississippi port of St. Louis. With the limited communications
methods of that time, two years elapsed before Americans learned the outcome of
the Lewis and Clark expedition.
In the meantime, Thomas Jefferson won a second term in office, and New York Governor
George Clinton was elected Vice President. The election victory was the last demonstration
of popular support for Jefferson. Almost immediately thereafter, a series of crises
and failures turned him into a virtual prisoner of his office. Fellow Republicans
split with Jefferson in 1805 over his role in the long-festering Yazoo land controversy,
in which a group of corrupt northern speculators had bribed Georgia legislators
into selling them the state’s western territories; lands that later became Alabama
and Mississippi. After angry Georgia citizens elected new legislators to declare
the dubious land sale invalid, Jefferson intervened, pressuring Congress to pay
the northern speculators half a million dollars for their losses.
The president then demanded that Congress allocate him two million
dollars for an unspecified diplomatic mission. When it was learned that he planned
to use the money to bribe Napoleon Bonaparte into selling Florida to the U.S., a
large number of dismayed Republicans, led by Virginia Congressman John Randolph
of Roanoke, split from Jefferson, forming the Quid Party with former Federalists.
The president’s next misstep came with the persecution of his
former Vice President. After Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton, he ventured westward,
gathering a group of followers on a quest to annex Mexico to the United States.
In the nation’s capital, rumors abounded that Burr and his men were attempting to
establish their own country in the Louisiana Territory. The disgraced former Vice
President was eventually arrested and indicted for high treason. Thomas Jefferson
gleefully used his position to aid the prosecution team, but in the ensuing Supreme
Court case, United States versus Aaron Burr, Chief Justice John Marshall
found insufficient evidence to convict the accused, and Burr was acquitted. Fearing
further charges would be leveled against him by the president and others, Aaron
Burr found exile in Europe.
In September 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark completed their exploration
of the Louisiana Territory. The expedition took them from St. Louis, across the
Rocky Mountains, and onward to the Pacific coast in Oregon territory. Along the
way, they befriended a number of American Indian tribes. In the Montana region,
they met the 16-year-old Indian girl, Sacagawea, and employed her as a guide and
translator. Along with the Lewis and Clark expedition, President Jefferson launched
a similar mission, led by Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, for military purposes and the
securing of treaties with various Indian tribes in the region. Pike’s route took
a more southwesterly course than Lewis and Clark’s. Though his group failed to cross
the Rockies, they were able to name a mountain peak after Pike himself. Turning
southward, the explorers stumbled into Spanish territory, where they were briefly
detained by Spanish troops. Despite the setbacks, Lieutenant Pike provided the president
a wealth of information.
Thomas Jefferson’s interest in the central and western regions
of North American was eventually supplanted by a growing foreign crisis. With the
British sea victory over the French at the Battle of Trafalgar in October of 1805,
Napoleon Bonaparte’s conquest of Europe stalled. Frustrated by the stalemate, Napoleon
implemented his Continental System on Europe, banning trade with any countries conducting
business with Great Britain. In response, the British government issued its Orders
in Council, mandating the seizure of all foreign ships trading at enemy ports. Napoleon
countered with the Milan Decree, warning that any ship obeying British rules would
be subject to seizure by France. American traders found themselves in jeopardy.
In 1807, the British warship H.M.S. Leopard entered U.S. waters to search for British
deserters aboard the American vessel Chesapeake. When the American commander refused
to stop his ship, the Leopard fired, killing three American sailors. The crippled
Chesapeake surrendered and was boarded by the Leopard’s crew.
Following the Chesapeake Affair, the British navy resorted to
a policy of “impressment,” in which American sailors unable to instantly prove their
citizenship were kidnapped for involuntary service aboard British vessels. President
Jefferson ordered all British ships out of American waters, following with the December
1807 signing of the Embargo Act, prohibiting American trading vessels from embarking
for any foreign port. With the complete halt in overseas trade, the U.S. economy
plummeted. Until this time, Jefferson had ignored congressional pleas to maintain
a strong army and navy. Amidst the crisis, he released funds for a fleet of small
naval gunboats. However, instead of using them for national defense, he ordered
the gunboats to force American traders to obey his embargo. Congress intervened,
replacing the Embargo Act with the Nonintercourse Act, which prohibited trade only
with Great Britain and France. Ingenious U.S. merchants bypassed the restrictions
by docking their ships at Canadian ports, then delivering goods along America’s
THE WAR OF 1812
In 1809, shortly after James Madison was sworn in as America’s fourth president,
Congressman Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina introduced a bill permitting American
ships to travel without restrictions, while keeping American ports closed to incoming
British and French vessels. Congress altered the measure, passing Macon's Bill Number
Two in 1810, barring only British and French warships from American waters. The
bill was accompanied by a U.S. proposal to drop its embargo on first country that
lifted its restrictions against American ships. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte
was quick to respond, revoking his Berlin and Milan decrees against U.S. ships as
of November 1810. However, this action was a ruse, and when American vessels dropped
their defenses against the French, Napoleon’s navy seized them, confiscating their
cargoes. In his prideful refusal to admit he had been duped by Napoleon, the new
president maintained the embargo against the British alone, pretending nothing had
James Madison was then forced to address impending turmoil closer to home, as a
number of Indian tribes claimed ownership of the Louisiana Territory, asserting
that the U.S. purchase of the land was invalid because it had never been France’s
Aided by British forces in Canada, Shawnee Indian Chief Tecumseh journeyed
from Wisconsin to Florida, uniting Indian tribes into one giant confederation of
warriors. Tecumseh’s brutal raids against frontier families prompted General William
Henry Harrison, governor of Indiana, to assemble an armed force. On the morning
of November 7, 1811, a large detachment of Tecumseh’s warriors attempted a surprise
attack on their pursuers’ camp near Tippecanoe Creek. Harrison’s fighters drove
the Indians back, leaving Tecumseh’s confederacy in disarray. British troops at
the Canadian border provided refuge for the Indian chief, making him a brigadier
general in their own army. Upon learning that the British were rewarding Indians
for American scalps, Henry Clay of Kentucky and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina
formed a congressional coalition called the “War Hawks,” drafting a war declaration
against Great Britain. The illegal impressment of American sailors for British military
service had already provided sufficient grounds for such action, and on June 1st,
1812, President James Madison signed the declaration of war.
Americans were aware that armed conflict with the British would
also involve Spain. Though longtime rivals, the two European powers had formed an
alliance to deal with their common enemy, Napoleon. Thus, American frontiersmen
in the south assembled to strike against Spanish forces in western Florida, which,
at that time, included the southern extremes of Alabama and Mississippi, stopping
at the newly admitted state of Louisiana, the south-central section of land carved
from the original Louisiana Territory.
The War of 1812 began meagerly, since neither side had prepared in advance. Though
America’s armed forces had been grossly neglected during the Jefferson years, French
attacks on British naval vessels enabled American ships to achieve several early
victories at sea. Two months into the war, the U.S.S. Constitution, affectionately
called “Old Ironsides,” destroyed the British warship Guerriere. By the end of 1812,
three other victories occurred, including the capture of the H.M.S. Macedonian by
the U.S.S. United States, commanded by Barbary War hero Stephen Decatur. However,
American naval fortunes declined after French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte withdrew
his ships to fight Russia. This freed vast numbers of British vessels to form a
blockade along the Atlantic coast of the United States, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.
The American ground offensive was a disastrous undertaking from
the start, as President Madison’s top military commander in the field was an elderly
veteran from America’s War for Independence. General William Hull, who had fought
in the battles of Trenton, Saratoga, and Monmouth, was ordered to attack British-Canadian
positions north of Detroit. Before advancing, Hull ordered the evacuation of Fort
Dearborn, in what is present-day Chicago. The general was preoccupied with potential
British invaders, failing to consider the Indian danger. On August 15, 1812, Fort
Dearborn’s ninety-three men, women, and children were escorted into the wilderness,
only to be savagely ambushed and dismembered by five hundred Potawatomi and Winnebago
Indians. The massacre occurred as General Hull’s two-thousand-man Detroit army crossed
into Canada. With 7.5 million people living in the U.S., the Canadian population
of only 500 thousand appeared easily conquerable. Confident that British forces
would retreat at the mere sight of his army, General Hull made no attempt to conceal
his approaching troops. Once again, he failed to consider the Indians. The strategic
blunder left the U.S. soldiers in the open, where they were flanked by Indian warriors
under Chief Tecumseh, now a British general. In panic, Hull issued a retreat order,
but British redcoats emerged, following the Americans back to Fort Detroit. General
Hull lost his nerve, surrendering on August 16, 1812 without firing a shot.
In New York state, local militiamen stood ready to give their
lives in defense of their homeland. However, the idea of invading a foreign country
without provocation conflicted with the moral standards of many volunteers. Thus,
when two New York divisions were ordered into Canada, large numbers of militia refused
to comply. Those who crossed the border were soundly defeated by the British.
After a quiet winter, the opposing sides resumed fighting in
the summer of 1813. The U.S. warship Chesapeake attempted to penetrate the British
naval blockade, only to meet its own destruction. As he lay dying, the Chesapeake’s
Captain Lawrence uttered the words, “Don't give up the ship!” This became
the rally cry of the American Navy.
Dismayed by President Madison’s handling of the war, Senator Henry Clay intervened,
inviting General William Henry Harrison to lead group of Kentuckians on a mission
to recapture Detroit. After several indecisive battles, Harrison reported that British
troops and Indians warriors were being replenished by British boats patrolling Lake
Erie. Admiral Oliver Hazard Perry was authorized to employ scores of shipbuilders
for the around-the-clock construction of four warships. They completed their work
in September of 1813, and Admiral Perry engaged the enemy at Put-in-Bay in Lake
Erie. “Don’t Give Up the Ship” was printed across the battle flag of Perry’s command
vessel, making it the primary target of the six enemy warships in the fight. After
his ship’s guns were destroyed and most of the crew were wounded or killed, Perry
grabbed the battle flag and boarded another vessel. The newer American ships outmaneuvered
their enemy counterparts, and Perry’s navy destroyed the British fleet at Lake Erie.
Admiral Perry sent a message to General William Henry Harrison saying, “We have
met the enemy and they are ours.” Harrison’s ground troops engaged British and Indian
forces in October of 1813 at the Battle of Thames River, north of Detroit. British
redcoats quickly abandoned their Indian allies, and Chief Tecumseh was subsequently
killed in the fight. Demoralized Indian warriors ended their alliance with the redcoats
and withdrew from the war. Cold weather descended upon the U.S.-Canadian border,
and fighters on both sides took shelter for another winter.
By April 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces were defeated in Europe,
enabling Great Britain to increase its military presence in North America. Replenished
British-Canadian troops crossed into the western region of New York state, capturing
Fort Niagara and burning the town of Buffalo.
The downfall of Napoleonic France also freed Spain to bolster
its garrisons in western Florida, though settlers in the region faced greater danger
from Indians, as evidenced by the massacre at Fort Mims, along the Alabama River.
Some three hundred men, women, and children were brutally tortured and slaughtered
by the Red Sticks, a branch of Creek Indians. So heinous was the massacre that the
commander of the West Tennessee militia, General Andrew Jackson, had no difficulty
raising an army to pursue the Red Sticks. On March 27, 1814, Jackson’s two-thousand-man
force, comprising U.S. infantrymen, frontier militia, and Cherokee and Lower Creek
Indians, vanquished the nine hundred Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend,
along the Tallapoosa River in what is present-day Alabama. From there, Jackson
and his men marched southward to capture the Spanish garrison at Pensacola, Florida.
Meanwhile, Great Britain devised a two-pronged war strategy, sailing warships up
the Chesapeake Bay to attack the U.S. central coast, while Canadian forces simultaneously
advanced southward through New York. Baltimore and Washington were the primary targets
of the Chesapeake invaders, and British Admiral George Cockburn sailed up the Patuxent
River, depositing ground troops under General Robert Ross at Benedict, Maryland
on August 21st, 1814. These six thousand British soldiers marched toward Washington,
encountering twenty-six hundred American defenders at Bladensburg, Maryland. The
British introduced a new weapon, the Congreve rocket, at the battle. These flaming
missiles were launched into the air, dropping upon American defenders who panicked
The British marched onward to Washington, and upon entering the
nation’s seat of government, torched the capitol building. President James Madison
and wife Dolly hastily gathered articles of value and vacated the executive mansion.
Within minutes, British Rear Admiral George Cockburn entered the structure, removed
several items as souvenirs, then set the house ablaze.
An uncharacteristic tornado, spawned by a summer storm, interrupted the destructive
rampage. Adhering to a specific timetable, British General Ross marched his troops
northward toward Baltimore, Maryland, where reinforcement ships were due. However,
the city’s defenders sunk a number of old ships in Baltimore Harbor, preventing
British vessels from landing. The warships resorted to launching aerial bombs, raining
shrapnel down on the harbor’s citadel, Ft. McHenry. Simultaneously, General Ross
and his British ground forces approached from behind, laying siege to the American
stronghold. Fort McHenry’s massive U.S. flag taunted the invaders, and for twenty-five
hours, the British dropped approximately eighteen hundred shells on the fort. Francis
Scott Key, an American lawyer involuntarily detained on one of the British ships,
witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry throughout the night of September 13th.
In the light of the following dawn, Key saw that the fort’s giant American flag
was still waving, indicating that its guardians had endured and would not surrender.
The spectacle inspired Key to write a poem entitled “The Star Spangled Banner,”
which was later set to music and sung as America’s national anthem. Fort McHenry’s
sharpshooters killed a number of British ground troops, including their commander,
General Robert Ross. The siege of Baltimore collapsed, and British forces vacated
the region in search of a more favorable invasion site.
The Chesapeake Bay campaign was intended to coincide with a British invasion of
New York. In early September, 1814, eleven thousand troops, under British General
George Prevost, marched toward Plattsburgh, a city on the shores of Lake Champlain
in upstate New York. Prevost refused to attack the city’s defenders until British
naval warships gained control of the lake. Champlain served as a natural boundary
between New York and Vermont, and when British gunboats landed on the Vermont side
of the lake, militiamen from that state joined the New Yorkers at Plattsburgh. On
September 11th, the British warships engaged Commodore Thomas MacDonough’s American
fleet at Plattsburgh Bay, only to be outmaneuvered. Both sides sustained heavy damages,
with nearly every fighter wounded. Ultimately, the Americans prevailed, and without
naval support, General Prevost’s British ground forces retreated to Canada.
The civilian population of Great Britain, already wearied by
the Napoleonic wars, pressured government leaders to make peace with the Americans.
Representatives from the two countries met in the Belgium city of Ghent. Among the
American delegation were Henry Clay, Albert Gallatin, and John Quincy Adams. The
confident British delegation initially demanded ownership of the Ohio Valley and
Great Lakes regions. However, during the course of the meetings, news arrived of
British military failures at Plattsburgh and Baltimore, prompting the delegation
to settle for status quo antebellum, which restored all lands to prewar status.
The Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 23, 1814, officially ending the war.
Fighting continued nonetheless, since news of the treaty was slow to reach American
The U.S. trade embargo with Great Britain and its allies resulted
in heavy financial losses for American businesses. The merchants and lawyers who
had formed the Essex Junto concluded that each state should negotiate its own terms
with Britain. Unaware of the Treaty of Ghent, representatives from the New England
states gathered for the Hartford Convention in Connecticut during December 1814
and January 1815. They issued the Hartford Resolves, declaring the right of state
legislatures to override acts of the federal government. Delegates also drafted
plans for the secession of northern states from the union if Congress did not comply
with their demands. All of these threats were dropped when subsequent events evoked
a renewed spirit of patriotism in the United States.
The British fleet, having been rebuffed at Baltimore, sailed toward the Gulf of
Mexico for an invasion of the U.S. from the south. Unaware that the war was officially
over, the ships deposited eight thousand British troops at the Louisiana port of
New Orleans. They were met on January 15, 1815 by an American force of four thousand,
five hundred men; a broad mixture of infantry soldiers, frontiersmen, former slaves,
Creoles, and pirates, all under the command of General Andrew Jackson. Kentucky
and Tennessee sharpshooters in the group possessed long-range rifles and the skill
to strike with dead accuracy from three hundred yards away. Though vastly outnumbering
the Americans, the British had never encountered an army like this. General Jackson
formulated a three-tiered battle line of alternating groups, so that one group was
always firing while the other two reloaded and advanced. The nonstop bullet volleys
killed more than two thousand British soldiers, including all commanding officers,
in the first thirty minutes of battle. The British army was decimated, while only
seven Americans had been killed and another six wounded. Though the Battle of New
Orleans had no effect on the terms of the Treaty of Ghent, the victory boosted American
morale and made a national hero of Andrew Jackson.
British troops sailed away, leaving their Indian allies alone
to face aggrieved American neighbors. With the war over, U.S. warships crossed the
Atlantic Ocean, assembling in the Mediterranean Sea to put an end to the pirate
attacks that had plagued merchant ships for a number of years. Congress issued an
1815 war declaration on the North African state of Algiers, and American warships
destroyed the pirate fleet. Algiers was ordered to repay the U.S. for losses to
THE ERA OF GOOD FEELINGS
The trade embargoes with Europe had forced the United States to become more self-sufficient,
and after the postwar removal of trade bans, America emerged as dominant trans-Atlantic
exporter. Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin, which rapidly removed seeds
from cotton, vastly increased the output of the product. Simultaneously, Samuel
Slater developed a process to turn cotton into thread, then established the first
textile mill in Rhode Island. By 1815, similar mills operated throughout the New
England states, launching an industrial revolution. Francis Lowell, a Massachusetts
textile manufacturer, remedied labor shortages by hiring the daughters of local
farmers, and for the first time, American women earned wages outside the home. Steam
power was harnessed for a number of developments, beginning with Oliver Evans’ machines
to mill wheat into flour. John Fitch conceived the idea of using steam engines to
move riverboats upstream. That vision was made reality by Robert Fulton, vastly
reducing transportation costs along America's waterways. Prosperity enabled communities
to fund free public educational institutions, the first of which was the New York
Free School, opening in 1815.
President James Madison’s hand-picked successor, James Monroe,
was elected in 1816. Monroe was left to deal with Great Britain’s wartime ally,
Spain, which had no role in the Treaty of Ghent. At issue was ownership of western
Florida, which, at that time, extended to the Mississippi River. Since American
frontiersmen refused to withdraw from this region, Spanish authorities encouraged
Seminole Indians to attack the southern states. General Andrew Jackson and his largely
volunteer army took matters into their own hands, invading Florida without authorization.
Two British mercenaries who had armed the Seminoles were executed by Jackson, triggering
a diplomatic controversy. The general’s hoisting of the American flag in Pensacola
intensified the international crisis. So beloved was Andrew Jackson by the American
people, the president did not dare order the arrest the rogue commander. Jackson
was eventually coaxed into withdrawing from Florida.
President Monroe turned his attention to issues involving the states surrounding
the Great Lakes, including the newest addition to the union, Indiana. Leaders in
both the U.S. and Great Britain concluded that the rebuilding of naval fleets in
the Great Lakes was too expensive and likely unnecessary. The two sides enthusiastically
entered the Rush-Bagot Agreement of 1817, demilitarizing the Great Lakes. The government
of Spain reached a similar conclusion about its Florida holdings. The Spanish were
ill equipped to militarily reclaim those western lands that became part of the newly
admitted state of Mississippi. Furthermore, Andrew Jackson’s earlier conquests convinced
Spanish authorities that vast expenditures would be necessary to adequately defend
their colony. Their representative, Luis de Onis, drafted a treaty with U.S. Secretary
of State John Quincy Adams. Spain agreed to cede Florida to the United States in
exchange for a U.S. pledge to pay Spain’s five million dollar debt owed to American
merchants. The two sides also defined the official boundary of Mexico. The Adams-Onis
Treaty, also called the Transcontinental Treaty, was signed in 1819 and ratified
in 1821. In the meantime, Illinois and Alabama were admitted to the union.
Missouri, however, provided another challenge.
America’s survival could not have been secured in its infancy
years without a spirit of cooperation between the states. It was only after the
U.S. eliminated all primary external threats that Congress began to seriously address
the iniquity of slavery in the southern states. The American ideal was rooted in
the proposition that all men were created equal. However, this founding principle
was ignored by the southern plantation owners who employed involuntary servants
of African descent. The Second Great Awakening had inspired many slave owners to
repent, and during the first two decades of the nineteenth century, more than one
hundred thousand slaves were freed. Throngs of white Christians, in a show of spiritual
unity, joined the congregations of Lemuel Haynes, Richard Allen, and other evangelists
of African descent.
On several occasions, lawmakers in the nation’s capital submitted
proposals to abolish slavery, only to be rebuffed by southern congressmen. Though
more than two-thirds of southern families refused to own slaves, it was the plantation
owners who wielded the greatest amount of political influence. Anti-slavery forces
already controlled the presidency, the Supreme Court, and the House of Representatives.
Only the Senate contained as many southern members as northerners, and this equality
enabled them to block legislative bills that threatened southern commerce. With
an equal ratio of free states to slave states, the granting of statehood to Missouri
threatened to shift the balance in the Senate. Southern congressmen refused to admit
Missouri as a free state. A congressional standoff ensued until Maine, a territory
in the far northeastern reaches of the country, applied for statehood. To maintain
the equal balance, Missouri was admitted as a slave state and Maine a free state.
In this, the Missouri Compromise of 1820, it was also agreed that slavery would
not be permitted in western territories above the latitudinal parallel of 36 degrees,
The compromise did little to alter anti-slavery sentiment of
the north. Nevertheless, it protected the commercial activities of the agricultural
states, fueling the economic boom. The ensuing period of explosive growth in the
U.S. came to be known as the Era of Good Feelings. However, renewed turmoil in foreign
lands threatened to stem the tide of American prosperity. In Central and South America,
Simon Bolivar and other rebel leaders overthrew Spanish colonial rule, creating
independent nations that the U.S. government recognized, but Great Britain did not.
The British also faced new concerns over their Canadian holdings, after the Russian
empire asserted its claim to the extreme northwestern corner of the North American
continent. In 1822, British ally Spain was invaded by post-Napoleonic France.
The Monroe administration took measures to discourage European monarchies from issuing
new claims in the Americas. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, son of the nation’s
second president, crafted a foreign policy statement for President Monroe to present
before Congress. This proclamation, delivered in the House of Representatives on
December 2, 1823, came to be known as the
Monroe Doctrine. It asserted
that no lands in the American continents should be considered subjects for further
colonization by the European powers, and any attempt to do so would be considered
a danger to the peace and safety of the United States. In return, the U.S. asserted
its neutrality in European conflicts, pledging not to interfere in the internal
affairs of Europe. The demonstration of American might at New Orleans compelled
the overseas empires to comply.
Americans were free to devote themselves to peacetime ventures,
and during the course of the 1820s, one-third of the nation’s population migrated
west of the Allegheny mountain range. The most adventurous Americans ventured further.
“Mountain Men” was a name bestowed on fur trappers in the Rockies. It was fur that
made New York merchant John Jacob Astor the wealthiest American of that era, and
he sponsored the nation’s first commercial ventures to Pacific Northwest. With improving
relations between the United States and Mexico, the Santa Fe Trail, extending from
St. Louis, Missouri to Mexico City, served as a profitable trade route for merchants
in the neighboring countries.
Transportation was the key to successful trade, and an interstate
road system was developed to link major cities. The earliest highway was National
Road, initially running from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling, Virginia; later extending
to Vandalia, Illinois. Overland routes were soon developed in Pennsylvania and New
York. However, waterways remained the most efficient avenues of transportation,
and where rivers and tributaries did not exist, Americans created them. The Erie
Canal was a 363-mile-long excavation from Lake Erie to the Hudson River in New York
State. Completed in 1825, it allowed heavy cargoes to be transported from the Midwest
to the Northeast. Its success inspired an era of canal building in the northern
states. With its favorable location as a major shipping center, New York became
the most populated city in the U.S.
American creativity extended to the literary arts previously
dominated by European writers and poets. Prominent among America’s earliest successful
storytellers was New Jersey native James Fenimore Cooper, who published “The Pioneers”
and “The Last of the Mohicans” during the 1820s.
THE GROWING NORTH-SOUTH DIVIDE
Eighteen twenty-four was a presidential election year, and though the three previous
officeholders had been Jeffersonian Republicans, the party split four ways along
geographical lines. General Andrew Jackson led the electoral vote, but failed to
achieve the margin required by the Constitution. In accordance with the Twelfth
Amendment, the House of Representatives shortened the ballot to the top three candidates
and scheduled a new election. With the fewest votes of the four, House Speaker Henry
Clay was dropped from the ballot. Shortly thereafter, Treasury Secretary William
Crawford suffered a stroke, leaving Secretary of State John Quincy Adams the primary
opponent of Jackson. Henry Clay urged his followers to support Adams, causing the
forerunner, Andrew Jackson, to lose the race. As the nation’s sixth president, John
Quincy Adams, son of the second president, named Henry Clay his Secretary of State,
prompting accusations of a “corrupt bargain” from irate Jackson supporters.
Massachusetts native Adams was popular with northerners, but
his support of U.S. treaty rights with Creek and Cherokee Indians drew further contempt
from the predominately southern Jackson camp. The growing political chasm in government
followed geographical lines, due largely to their different commercial interests.
Factories of the industrial North produced non-perishable items that could be stored
and withheld from the market until a preferred level of customer demand was reached.
Production could easily be increased or decreased according to sales. The chief
concern of northern manufacturers was competition from foreign producers. Thus,
northerners favored tariffs, those import fees placed on foreign goods to encourage
Americans to buy domestic products. Tariffs also provided revenues to the federal
government itself. However, the southern states produced agricultural goods for
both American and foreign buyers. Whenever tariffs were imposed on one country’s
goods, that country would impose its own tariffs on American goods sent to its shores.
Thus, southern agricultural producers opposed tariffs, since they could not store
perishable goods until more favorable market conditions arose.
In a plot to sabotage the imposition of tariffs, congressional
southerners drafted a bill that not only increased tariff rates to alarming heights,
but also imposed new tariffs on the raw materials used by the northern manufacturers.
Calling their bluff, northern congressmen enacted the bill in 1828. Horrified southerners
dubbed it the “Tariff of Abominations,” protesting the very bill they had authored.
State legislatures in the South boycotted northern products and threatened to disobey
new tariff laws. Vice President John C. Calhoun published “The South Carolina Exposition
and Protest,” accusing the government of protecting northern interests at the expense
of southerners. The essay asserted the authority of state legislatures to nullify
any federal law they judged unconstitutional.
Despite the hostile posturing of southern politicians, the union
of states remained intact. As a devout Christian, John Quincy Adams approached the
presidency from a servant-hood perspective, harkening back to the example of George
Washington. Though Adams was a man of abounding wisdom and integrity, the American
people found him unexciting. From the time their candidate lost the presidential
election, supporters of Andrew Jackson waged a campaign for the next race, seizing
every opportunity to criticize Adams and promote the Tennessee general. By 1828,
two political entities dominated the election. Those aligned with John Quincy Adams
and Henry Clay belonged to the National Republican Party, while followers of Andrew
Jackson and John C. Calhoun embodied the Democratic-Republican Party.
Jackson won the 1828 election, but the victory was bittersweet. Upon receiving the
news of his election triumph, Rachel, his wife of twenty seven years, died of a
massive heart attack. Compounding Jackson’s emotional duress was the chronic physical
pain ravaging his body; the result of years of warfare in the wilderness. Dysentery
and malaria infected a body that already contained two bullets; one from a duel
and the other from battle. Consequently, Jackson’s impatient demeanor was largely
the offspring of his suffering. Upon taking office as America’s seventh president,
he immediately stirred controversy by replacing longtime government employees with
personal friends and political supporters. Jackson considered political victory
the same as military conquest, adhering to the creed, “to the victor belong the
spoils.” Under this “spoils system,” he rejected the tradition of consulting a presidential
cabinet formed from federal department heads. Instead, “Old Hickory,” as the president
was affectionately called, assembled an informal group of like-minded advisors into
what he called his “Kitchen Cabinet.”
Congress under the Jackson presidency remained contentious. Since population determined
each state’s allotment of seats in the House of Representatives, state legislators
worked diligently to maximize their populations. They were thwarted by a federal
land policy offering large tracts of western lands for extremely low prices. Young
city dwellers in the northeastern industrial states were particularly enticed by
the offer, and their exodus prompted northern congressmen to restrict land sales.
Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri accused northerners of attempting to maintain
their power monopoly in the House of Representatives. The argument culminated in
the Webster-Hayne Debate of January 1830. Senator Robert Hayne of South Carolina
pointed out that revenues gathered from all states for road and canal construction
were applied almost exclusively in the North. It was Hayne’s assertion that no federally
funded canal in Ohio could benefit South Carolina, and that state legislatures reserved
the authority to nullify such projects. Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster countered
with a series of eloquent orations, arguing foremost that both Ohio and South Carolina
were parts of the same country, with common and shared interests. Webster warned
that if the governments of the twenty-four states had the prerogative to judge constitutional
issues, then the Constitution itself would be subject to twenty-four different interpretations.
Daniel Webster’s words had a strong impact on the Senate, but not on the president,
who vetoed federal funding for construction of the Maysville Road in Kentucky, asserting
that it was inappropriate to use funds gathered from all states for a road contained
entirely in one state.
Andrew Jackson followed his own course, refusing to favor either
northern or southern interests. In addressing South Carolina’s persistent threats
of armed revolt against federal authority, the president declared, “If one drop
of blood be shed there in defiance of the laws of the United States, I will hang
the first man of them I can get my hands on to the first tree I can find.”
"KING ANDREW" AND THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST AMERICAN INDIANS
Far removed from the political
quarrels of Washington, American pioneers continued to advance westward. Explorer
Jedediah Smith had taken the first group of settlers overland into California, after
finding a passage through the Rocky Mountains, leading to the Great Basin. Smith,
who had also explored North America’s Pacific coastline, was killed by Comanche
Indians. His death was indicative of the ongoing hostilities between whites and
In 1830, gold was discovered on Cherokee land in the state of Georgia. Prospectors
poured into the region, invading the ancestral domains of the Cherokee and Creek
nations. Opportunists in Mississippi and Alabama soon joined their Georgia neighbors
in persecuting the five southern Civilized Indian Nations, which, in addition to
the Cherokees and Creeks, included the Choctaw, Seminole and Chickasaw tribes. Christian
missionaries urged the Cherokees, many of whom were fellow Christians, to appeal
to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Marshall ruled in their favor, declaring
the Cherokee Nation a distinct community where Georgia law had no force. Nevertheless,
the Supreme Court had no power to enforce its own decisions, and Andrew Jackson
openly defied Justice Marshall. The president and Congress asserted that the Indian
Nations could not operate as foreign countries inside the United States, and that
any Indian refusing to accept U.S. citizenship would be treated as a foreigner.
Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, dispatching troops to escort fifteen thousand
Cherokees to the Oklahoma Territory. Lacking adequate supplies of food and water,
four thousand Indians died along the trek that came to be known as the “Trail of
A number of settlers in the southern Appalachian Mountain region
interpreted the Indian Removal Act as license to rob and kill Indians. Tribal chiefs
initially sought peaceful means to stop the mistreatment of their people, appealing
to both Congress and the court system. They found no sympathy or justice in America’s
halls of government. In 1831, Chief Black Hawk led the Fox and Sauk tribes in a
war to regain seized hunting grounds of southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.
Federal troops and local militia suppressed the insurrection, ending the Black Hawk
War in 1832.
Peace, order, and growth opportunities were foremost on the mind
of the American president, and he did not care who his policies offended. The federal
offering of tracts in western territories at cheap prices was taken a step further
when Andrew Jackson officially recognized squatter’s rights, allowing those illegally
occupying empty land parcels to obtain legal claims for a small fee, provided they
successfully planted crops. Political opponents accused Jackson of turning the presidency
into a tyranny, and many sarcastically referred to him as “King Andrew.”
Despite political dissention in
the halls of government, cultural advancements continued. The Great Rochester Revival
erupted in 1830, through the preaching of Charles Grandison Finney, a former attorney
who abandoned all for the Christian gospel. The revival began in Evans Mill, New
York, spreading quickly to nearby Utica, and then onward to Rochester, where the
movement gained nationwide attention for its role in diminishing the city’s crime
rate. Spiritual renewal spread throughout the northern states, inspiring a “Social
Gospel” that advanced moral reform, charity, and the abolition of slavery. Schools
were created to serve the blind and deaf; reform homes were established to rehabilitate
women who had fallen into prostitution; support programs were founded to aid the
poor; and temperance societies were formed to address alcohol abuse, an escalating
problem of in those major cities teeming with lonely immigrant workers.
Christian compassion, combined with respect for the vision of the nation’s founders,
fueled the emerging abolition movement in the northern states. In 1831, William
Lloyd Garrison published America’s first anti-slavery newspaper, “The Liberator,”
and established two of America’s earliest anti-slavery organizations. Though a growing
number of southerners agreed in principle with abolition, most feared the potential
of violence if large numbers of slaves were liberated at once. Fueling these fears
was Nat Turner’s murderous slave uprising in Virginia during 1831. Turner was an
educated slave who admitted that he had always been well treated by his owner. Nevertheless,
he led fellow slaves in the grisly axe murders of their master, his wife, and the
couple’s three small children. From there, Turner recruited more followers, killing
fifty-five people over a two-day period. They were stopped by the state militia,
and though Turner initially escaped, he was later captured and hanged. The uprising
convinced southerners that widespread emancipation would incite further violence
by embittered slaves.
President Andrew Jackson preferred to leave the slavery debate
largely to Congress. In 1832, he was elected to a second term of office, defeating
Henry Clay, founder of the Whigs, a political party comprised of former National
Republicans. The last National Republican president, John Quincy Adams, returned
to public service, having won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1832. Andrew
Jackson’s Democratic Republicans simplified their party’s name to Democrat. Joining
the opposition Whig party was John C. Calhoun, Vice President under both John Quincy
Adams and Jackson. Calhoun had stepped down after Jackson mocked his wife’s moral
outcry against War Secretary John Eaton’s key role in an adulterous scandal. Jackson’s
Secretary of State, Martin Van Buren, replaced Calhoun, who was thereafter elected
to the Senate.
In his second term, Jackson attempted to dismantle the federal
banking monopoly. Government funds were held in the Second National Bank, and when
its director, Nicholas Biddle, won congressional approval to renew the bank’s charter,
Jackson vetoed the bill. After firing two Treasury Secretaries who refused to do
his bidding, Jackson ordered his third appointee, Roger B. Taney, to deposit government
funds exclusively in selected state banks. Nicholas Biddle retaliated by calling
in the federal government's loans, thereby reducing the nation’s money supply. An
economic recession ensued.
Congress moved to secure import duties, passing a new tariff act in 1832. South
Carolinians had long threatened to nullify federal laws they opposed, and on November
24, 1832, their legislature passed the Ordinance of Nullification, declaring the
Tariff Acts of 1828 and ‘32 null and void. The South Carolina government then ordered
its port officials to stop collecting import duties for the U.S. government, and
threatened to secede from the union if federal authorities intervened. Outraged,
President Jackson dispatched troops to Charleston harbor, insisting that the no
single state held the constitutional power to nullify laws issued by the union of
states. The president also warned that any use of armed force by South Carolina
would be an act of treason. Northerners in Congress backed the president, prompting
Senator John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina native, to storm out of the Senate with
a number of followers in tow. In their absence, a Force Bill was passed, authorizing
the president to use military resources against the rebelling state. When many of
South Carolina’s own citizens threatened to fight on the side of the federal government,
state leaders backed down. Senator Calhoun returned to the Senate, working with
Henry Clay to draft the Tariff of 1833, which substantially reduced import fees.
The South Carolina legislature revoked its Ordinance of Nullification, ending the
On January 30, 1835, Richard Lawrence, a fanatical states rights
supporter, attempted to assassinate the president, but the first shot missed Jackson
and a second pistol malfunctioned. The ordeal increased the president’s popularity.
This was the era of Jacksonian Democracy, and a spirit of nationalism prevailed.
It was during this period that Alexis de Tocqueville, a French political writer,
visited the United States and wrote his famous multi-volume work, “Democracy in
America.” Reflecting upon the dismal horrors of revolutionary France, Tocqueville
set out to discover the key to America’s strength, generosity, progress, and prosperity.
The answer, he concluded, was Christianity:
“There is no country in the world where the Christian religion
retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America; and there can
be no greater proof of its utility and of its conformity to human nature than that
its influence is powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the
"REMEMBER THE ALAMO!"
Though many foreigners were inspired by American exceptionalism, others found it
a threat. By the mid-1830s, the United States government was confronted with an
impending crisis with Mexico. As part of the 1819 Transcontinental Treaty, Spain
allowed Americans to purchase land in the Mexican province of Texas. Moses Austin
bought a large expanse in the region, but after Mexico won its independence from
Spain in 1821, perpetually-changing Mexican regimes disregarded his claim. Eventually,
Stephen F. Austin, son of the original land owner, inherited the property grant,
and was able to persuade the Mexican government to honor his ownership rights. From
there, Austin sold parcels of his property, and by the early 1830s, some thirty-five
thousand Americans had settled in Texas. Alarmed that more Americans resided in
the region than his fellow countrymen, Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa
Anna restricted American immigration and ordered the military occupation of Texas.
When Stephen F. Austin protested, he was imprisoned for a year. The people
of Texas voted to declare independence from Mexico, and leadership over the Texas
Army was assigned to former Tennessee governor Sam Houston, who had also served
as one of Andrew Jackson’s officers in the Battle of New Orleans.
Volunteers from Tennessee, Kentucky, and other southern states poured into Texas
to support its cause of independence. Small American militia groups engaged in skirmishes
with Mexican troops, drawing President Santa Anna into the fight. Leading an army
of four-thousand Mexican soldiers into San Antonio, Santa Anna advanced upon an
American militia of 187 men at a fortified mission called the Alamo. The battle
began on the morning of March 6, 1836; four days after Texas declared independence.
Among the American fighters were famed frontiersman and former congressman Davy
Crockett, Colonel William Barrett Travis, and Colonel Jim Bowie. Though greatly
outnumbered, the Alamo’s defenders killed sixteen hundred Mexican soldiers and left
another five hundred wounded. For nearly two weeks they repelled the Mexican army,
only to be overtaken after their ammunition was depleted. All of the Alamo fighters
were subsequently killed.
Though reduced by half, Santa Anna’s army still outnumbered the
next group of Texas volunteers it encountered. In the town of Goliad, southeast
of San Antonio, three hundred fighters under the command of the indecisive, hesitant
Colonel James Fannin were quickly overtaken by the Mexicans. The colonel surrendered
in the hope of receiving leniency, but Santa Anna took no prisoners. Fannin was
executed with all of his men.
The remaining army of Texas, under the command of General Sam Houston, lured the
Mexicans on an eastward chase that eventually ended at banks of the San Jacinto
River in southeastern Texas. When it appeared that the Texans were cornered with
nowhere to run, the confident Santa Anna allowed his troops to rest before their
final assault. During their brief siesta, Sam Houston’s men turned and launched
a surprise counterattack on the Mexican camp. The Battle of San Jacinto unfolded
on April 21, 1836, lasting only minutes. Shouting the battle cries, “Remember the
Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!” the Texans killed more than six hundred of Santa
Anna’s men, wounded another two hundred, and took the remaining four hundred captive.
Santa Anna fled the battlefront, only to be captured the next day. General Houston,
wounded from battle, dictated terms to his vanquished opponent. Mexican forces were
ordered to withdraw from Texas, all the way to the Rio Grande River.
News of the Texas victory quickly reached the halls of Congress.
While southerners urged their government to recognize Texas as an independent nation,
northerners decried the new republic’s elimination of the earlier Mexican prohibition
against slavery. President Jackson’s close friend, Sam Houston, was elected president
of the Republic of Texas in October of 1836, leading many in Congress to assume
that Jackson would support the U.S. recognition of Texas. Opponents plotted to delay
voting on the measure until Jackson left office, but the people of Texas pushed
the issue by petitioning for U.S. statehood. With its land mass the size of four
average states, the slavery question would inevitably ignite a heated debate. To
avoid further controversy, Congress chose to recognize the Republic of Texas as
an independent country.
THE FINANCIAL CRISIS
For most of his presidency, Andrew Jackson encouraged Americans to stake new claims
in the expansive west. By the end of his second term, however, opportunistic speculators
were taking advantage of government’s liberal land acquisitions policy. Anticipating
a surge in westward migration, these speculators bought vast land holdings on credit,
flooding the nation’s treasury with promissory notes instead of actual money. In
response, the president issued the Specie Circular in 1836, requiring all land purchases
be made in gold or silver. Almost immediately, land buying ceased, and the speculators,
unable to repay loans, surrendered their property deeds to the lending banks. The
bankers, however, were unable to find buyers who could pay gold or silver for the
foreclosed land. The losses from bad loans mounted, though the ensuing crisis would
not be shouldered by Andrew Jackson. In March of 1837, his hand-picked successor,
Martin Van Buren, took the oath of office as America’s eighth president. By this
time, the cash reserves of many banks were depleted, and nervous depositors emptied
their accounts, demanding payment in gold or silver. The new president faced the
full brunt of America’s Bank Panic of 1837. To protect the federal treasury, Van
Buren pushed Congress to withdraw government funds from Jackson’s pet banks and
place them in a secure, independent treasury.
The financial crisis dampened the overall positive mood that
had permeated American society after the Second Great Awakening and Era of Good
Feelings. Stressful monetary conditions brought other long-simmering cultural disputes
to the surface. In the aftermath of the War of 1812, the United States had emerged
as a leader among nations, but divisive issues within its borders would pose the
greatest threat to America’s future.
Go to Book 4: Sectionalism,
Civil War, and Reconstruction
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