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The American Testimony, a concise history of the United States

Book 3:
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 store.)


George Washington (1732-99), America's first president, 1789-97.    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 followed.

    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.

Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury     Treasury 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.

George Washington's presidential cabinet    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 to respond.

French Revolution: The Reign of Terror    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.

George Washington suppresses the Whiskey Rebellion, 1794    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 states.

    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 the Constitution:

    “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.


John Adams (1735-1826), Second President of the United States, 1791-1801.    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.


    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 Capitol, Washington, D.C., 1800    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.

The Louisiana Purchase, 1803
Napoleon Bonaparte    Meanwhile, 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.

Hamilton- Burr duel    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.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), 3rd President of the United States, 1801-09.    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.

Lewis and Clark trade with the Indians.    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 major rivers.


James Madison (1751-1836), America's fourth president, 1809-17.    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 happened.

    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 to sell. William Henry Harrison at the Battle of TippecanoeAided 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.

"Old Ironsides" (U.S.S. Constitution) battles the Guerriere    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.

Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie    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.

William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Thames River    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.

British forces burning Washington, DC, Aug. 1814    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 and fled.

    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.

Star Spangled Banner at Fort McHenry (Photo copyright 2003, Bryan E. Hardesty).    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.

American victory at Plattsburgh    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 shores.

    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.

Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans    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 piracy.


Robert Fulton    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.

James Monroe (1758-1831), fifth president of the United States, 1817-25.    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, 30 feet.

    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.

House of Representatives near the time of the Monroe Doctrine    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.


John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), America's 6th president, 1825-29. Henry Clay of Kentucky   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.

Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), 7th president of the United States, 1829-37.    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.”

Webster-Hayne Debate, January 1830     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.”


    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 Indians.

Trail of Tears    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 Tears.”

    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.

Nat Turner incites slave revolt in 1831    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.

John C. Calhoun, Vice President and US Senator from South Carolina    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 crisis.

    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 earth.”


Territories held by Mexico, circa 1834    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.

Battle of the Alamo, March 6, 1836    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.

Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto    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.


Martin Van Buren (1782-1862), 8th president of the United States, 1837-41.    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.

©2005 Bryan Hardesty. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be used without permission from the author.

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