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What was the Indian Removal Act of 1830? What precedents did it set or break? Include the page number from the textbook where you found the answer. Use 150 to 250 words in your response. (check chapter 13 in the attachments for the answer)


Why did Thomas Jefferson urge Congress to pass the Embargo Act? Was it successful? Answer with 100 to 200 words and include the page number from the Textbook where you found the answer.

(check chapter 9 in the attachments for the answer)


please separate the two discussions, its ok to keep them on the same document but please write each answer in a separate page.

The Rise of
a Mass Democracy

In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior
industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection
by law; but when the laws undertake to add to those natural and just
advantages artificial distinctions . . . and exclusive privileges . . . the
humble members of society—the farmers, mechanics, and laborers . . .
have a right to complain of the injustice of their government.
he so-called Era of Good Feelings was never
entirely tranquil, but even the illusion of
national consensus was shattered by the panic of
1819 and the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Economic distress and the slavery issue raised the political stakes in the 1820s and 1830s. Vigorous political
conflict, once feared, came to be celebrated as necessary for the health of democracy. New political
parties emerged. New styles of campaigning took
hold. A new chapter opened in the history of American politics. The political landscape of 1824 was
similar, in its broad outlines, to that of 1796. By 1840
it would be almost unrecognizable.
The deference, apathy, and virtually nonexistent party organizations of the Era of Good Feelings
yielded to the boisterous democracy, frenzied vital-
ity, and strong political parties of the Jacksonian era.
The old suspicion of political parties as illegitimate
disrupters of society’s natural harmony gave way to
an acceptance of the sometimes wild contentiousness of political life.
In 1828 an energetic new party, the Democrats,
captured the White House. By the 1830s the Democrats faced an equally vigorous opposition party in
the form of the Whigs. This two-party system institutionalized divisions that had vexed the Revolutionary generation and came to constitute an
important part of the nation’s checks and balances
on political power.
New forms of politicking emerged in this era, as
candidates used banners, badges, parades, barbecues, free drinks, and baby kissing to “get out the
The Corrupt Bargain
vote.” Voter turnout rose dramatically. Only about
one-quarter of eligible voters cast a ballot in the
presidential election of 1824, but that proportion
doubled in 1828, and in the election of 1840 it
reached 78 percent. Everywhere the people flexed
their political muscles.
The “Corrupt Bargain” of 1824
The last of the old-style elections was marked by the
controversial “corrupt bargain” of 1824. The woods
were full of presidential timber as James Monroe,
last of the Virginia dynasty, completed his second
term. Four candidates towered above the others:
John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, highly intelligent, experienced, and aloof; Henry Clay of Kentucky, the gamy and gallant “Harry of the West”;
William H. Crawford of Georgia, an able though ailing giant of a man; and Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, the gaunt and gusty hero of New Orleans.
All four rivals professed to be “Republicans.”
Well-organized parties had not yet emerged; their
identities were so fuzzy, in fact, that John C. Calhoun appeared as the vice-presidential candidate
on both the Adams and the Jackson tickets.
The results of the noisy campaign were interesting but confusing. Jackson, the war hero, clearly had
the strongest personal appeal, especially in the
West, where his campaign against the forces of corruption and privilege in government resonated
deeply. He polled almost as many popular votes as
his next two rivals combined, but he failed to win
a majority of the electoral vote (see the table on
p. 258). In such a deadlock, the House of Representatives, as directed by the Twelfth Amendment (see
the Appendix), must choose among the top three
candidates. Clay was thus eliminated, yet as Speaker
of the House, he presided over the very chamber
that had to pick the winner.
The influential Clay was in a position to throw
the election to the candidate of his choice. He
reached his decision by the process of elimination.
Crawford, recently felled by a paralytic stroke, was
out of the picture. Clay hated the “military chieftain’’
Jackson, his archrival for the allegiance of the West.
Jackson, in turn, bitterly resented Clay’s public
The Rise of a Mass Democracy, 1824–1840
Election of 1824
Electoral Vote
Popular Vote
Popular Percentage
denunciation of his Florida foray in 1818. The only
candidate left was the puritanical Adams, with
whom Clay—a free-living gambler and duelist—had
never established cordial personal relations. But the
two men had much in common politically: both
were fervid nationalists and advocates of the American System. Shortly before the final balloting in the
House, Clay met privately with Adams and assured
him of his support.
Decision day came early in 1825. The House of
Representatives met amid tense excitement, with
sick members being carried in on stretchers. On
the first ballot, thanks largely to Clay’s behind-thescenes influence, Adams was elected president. A
few days later, the victor announced that Henry Clay
would be the new secretary of state.
The office of secretary of state was the prize
plum then, even more so than today. Three of the
four preceding secretaries had reached the presidency, and the high cabinet office was regarded as
an almost certain pathway to the White House. By
allegedly dangling the position as a bribe before
Clay, Adams, the second choice of the people, apparently defeated Jackson, the people’s first choice.
Masses of angry Jacksonians, most of them
common folk, raised a roar of protest against this
“corrupt bargain.’’ The clamor continued for nearly
four years. Jackson condemned Clay as the “Judas of
the West,’’ and John Randolph of Virginia publicly
assailed the alliance between “the Puritan [Adams]
and the black-leg [Clay],’’ who, he added “shines
and stinks like rotten mackerel by moonlight.’’ Clay,
President John Quincy Adams
outraged, challenged Randolph to a duel, though
poor marksmanship and shaky nerves rendered the
outcome bloodless.
No positive evidence has yet been unearthed to
prove that Adams and Clay entered into a formal
bargain. Clay was a natural choice for secretary of
state, and Adams was both scrupulously honest and
not given to patronage. Even if a bargain had been
struck, it was not necessarily corrupt. Deals of this
nature have long been the stock-in-trade of politicians. But the outcry over Adams’s election showed
that change was in the wind. What had once been
common practice was now condemned as furtive,
elitist, and subversive of democracy. The next president would not be chosen behind closed doors.
A Yankee Misfit in the White House
John Quincy Adams was a chip off the old family
glacier. Short, thickset, and billiard-bald, he was
even more frigidly austere than his presidential
father, John Adams. Shunning people, he often went
for early-morning swims, sometimes stark naked, in
the then-pure Potomac River. Essentially a closeted
thinker rather than a politician, he was irritable, sarcastic, and tactless. Yet few individuals have ever
come to the presidency with a more brilliant record
in statecraft, especially in foreign affairs. He ranks as
one of the most successful secretaries of state, yet
one of the least successful presidents.
A man of puritanical honor, Adams entered
upon his four-year “sentence’’ in the White House
smarting under charges of “bargain,’’ “corruption,’’
and “usurpation.’’ Fewer than one-third of the voters had voted for him. As the first “minority president,’’ he would have found it difficult to win
popular support even under the most favorable
conditions. He did not possess many of the usual
arts of the politician and scorned those who did. He
had achieved high office by commanding respect
rather than by courting popularity. In an earlier era,
an aloof John Adams had won the votes of propertied men by sheer ability. But with the dawning age
of backslapping and baby-kissing democracy, his
cold-fish son could hardly hope for success at the
While Adams’s enemies accused him of striking
a corrupt bargain, his political allies wished that he
would strike a few more. Whether through high-
mindedness or political ineptitude, Adams resolutely declined to oust efficient officeholders in
order to create vacancies for his supporters. During
his entire administration, he removed only twelve
public servants from the federal payroll. Such stubbornness caused countless Adams followers to
throw up their hands in despair. If the president
would not reward party workers with political
plums, why should they labor to keep him in office?
Adams’s nationalistic views gave him further
woes. Much of the nation was turning away from
post-Ghent nationalism and toward states’ rights
and sectionalism. But Adams swam against the
tide. Confirmed nationalist that he was, Adams
urged upon Congress in his first annual message
the construction of roads and canals. He renewed
The Rise of a Mass Democracy, 1824–1840
George Washington’s proposal for a national university and went so far as to advocate federal support
for an astronomical observatory.
The public reaction to these proposals was
prompt and unfavorable. To many workaday Americans grubbing out stumps, astronomical observatories seemed like a scandalous waste of public
funds. The South in particular bristled. If the federal
government should take on such heavy financial burdens, it would have to continue the hated tariff
duties. Worse, if it could meddle in local concerns like
education and roads, it might even try to lay its hand
on the “peculiar institution’’ of black slavery.
Adams’s land policy likewise antagonized the
westerners. They clamored for wide-open expansion and resented the president’s well-meaning
attempts to curb feverish speculation in the public
domain. The fate of the Cherokee Indians, threatened with eviction from their holdings in Georgia,
brought additional bitterness. White Georgians
wanted the Cherokees out. The ruggedly honest
Adams attempted to deal fairly with the Indians.
The Georgia governor, by threatening to resort to
arms, successfully resisted the efforts of the Washington government to interpose federal authority
on behalf of the Cherokees. Another fateful chapter
was thus written in the nullification of the national
will—and another nail was driven in Adams’s political coffin.
Going “Whole Hog’’
for Jackson in 1828
The presidential campaign for Andrew Jackson had
started early—on February 9, 1825, the day of
John Quincy Adams’s controversial election by the
House—and it continued noisily for nearly four years.
Even before the election of 1828, the temporarily united Republicans of the Era of Good Feelings
had split into two camps. One was the National
Republicans, with Adams as their standard-bearer.
The other was the Democratic-Republicans, with
the fiery Jackson heading their ticket. Rallying cries
of the Jackson zealots were “Bargain and Corruption,’’ “Huzza for Jackson,’’ and “All Hail Old Hickory.’’ Jacksonites planted hickory poles for their
hickory-tough hero; Adamsites adopted the oak as
the symbol of their oakenly independent candidate.
Jackson’s followers presented their hero as a
rough-hewn frontiersman and a stalwart champion
of the common man. They denounced Adams as a
corrupt aristocrat and argued that the will of the
people had been thwarted in 1825 by the backstairs
“bargain’’ of Adams and Clay. The only way to right
the wrong was to seat Jackson, who would then
bring about “reform’’ by sweeping out the “dishonest’’ Adams gang.
Much of this talk was political hyperbole. Jackson was no frontier farmer but a wealthy planter. He
was born in a log cabin but now lived in a luxurious
manor off the labor of his many slaves. And Adams,
though perhaps an aristocrat, was far from corrupt.
If anything, his puritanical morals were too elevated
for the job.
Mudslinging reached new lows in 1828, and the
electorate developed a taste for bare-knuckle politics. Adams would not stoop to gutter tactics, but
many of his backers were less squeamish. They
described Jackson’s mother as a prostitute and his
wife as an adulteress; they printed black-bordered
handbills shaped like coffins, recounting his numerous duels and brawls and trumpeting his hanging of
six mutinous militiamen.
Jackson men also hit below the belt. President
Adams had purchased, with his own money and for
his own use, a billiard table and a set of chessmen.
In the mouths of rabid Jacksonites, these items
became “gaming tables’’ and “gambling furniture’’
for the “presidential palace.’’ Criticism was also
directed at the large sums Adams had received over
the years in federal salaries, well earned though they
had been. He was even accused of having procured
a servant girl for the lust of the Russian tsar—in
short, of having served as a pimp.
One anti-Jackson newspaper declared,
“General Jackson’s mother was a Common
Prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers! She afterwards married a MULATTO
man with whom she had several children, of
which number GENERAL JACKSON is one.”
The Election of Andrew Jackson
“Old Hickory’’ as President
The new president cut a striking figure—tall, lean,
with bushy iron-gray hair brushed high above a
prominent forehead, craggy eyebrows, and blue eyes.
His irritability and emaciated condition resulted in
part from long-term bouts with dysentery, malaria,
tuberculosis, and lead poisoning from two bullets
that he carried in his body from near-fatal duels. His
autobiography was written in his lined face.
Jackson’s upbringing had its shortcomings.
Born in the Carolinas and early orphaned, “Mischievous Andy’’ grew up without parental restraints. As a
youth he displayed much more interest in brawling
and cockfighting than in his scanty opportunities
for reading and spelling. Although he eventually
learned to express himself in writing with vigor and
clarity, his grammar was always rough-hewn and his
spelling original, like that of many contemporaries.
He sometimes misspelled a word two different ways
in the same letter.
7 N.H. MASS.
On voting day the electorate split on largely sectional lines. Jackson’s strongest support came from
the West and South. The middle states and the Old
Northwest were divided, while Adams won the
backing of his own New England and the propertied
“better elements” of the Northeast. But when the
popular vote was converted to electoral votes, General Jackson’s triumph could not be denied. Old
Hickory had trounced Adams by an electoral count
of 178 to 83. Although a considerable part of Jackson’s support was lined up by machine politicians in
eastern cities, particularly in New York and Pennsylvania, the political center of gravity clearly had
shifted away from the conservative eastern seaboard toward the emerging states across the
DEL. 3
W. VA.
MD. 11
TENN. 11
R.I. 4
N.J. 8
Presidential Election of 1828 (with electoral vote by state)
Jackson swept the South and West, whereas Adams retained
the old Federalist stronghold of the Northeast. Yet Jackson’s
inroads in the Northeast were decisive. He won twenty of New
York’s electoral votes and all twenty-eight of Pennsylvania’s.
If those votes had gone the other way, Adams would have
been victorious—by a margin of one vote.
The Rise of a Mass Democracy, 1824–1840
In 1824 Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) said of
“When I was President of the Senate he was a
Senator; and he could never speak on
account of the rashness of his feelings. I have
seen him attempt it repeatedly, and as often
choke with rage. His passions are no doubt
cooler now . . . but he is a dangerous man.”
The youthful Carolinian shrewdly moved “up
West” to Tennessee, where fighting was prized
above writing. There—through native intelligence,
force of personality, and powers of leadership—
he became a judge and a member of Congress.
Afflicted with a violent temper, he early became
involved in a number of duels, stabbings, and
bloody frays. His passions were so profound that on
occasion he would choke into silence when he tried
to speak.
The first president from the West, the first nominated at a formal party convention (in 1832), and
only the second without a college education (Washington was the first), Jackson was unique. His university was adversity. He had risen from the masses,
but he was not one of them, except insofar as he
shared many of their prejudices. Essentially a frontier aristocrat, he owned many slaves, cultivated
broad acres, and lived in one of the finest mansions
in America—the Hermitage, near Nashville, Tennessee. More westerner than easterner, more country gentleman than common clay, more courtly than
crude, he was hard to fit into a neat category.
Jackson’s inauguration seemed to symbolize
the ascendancy of the masses. “Hickoryites” poured
into Washington from far away, sleeping on hotel
floors and in hallways. They were curious to see
their hero take office and perhaps hoped to pick up
a well-paying office for themselves. Nobodies mingled with notables as the White House, for the first
time, was thrown open to the multitude. A milling
crowd of clerks, shopkeepers, hobnailed artisans,
and grimy laborers surged in, wrecking the china
and furniture and threatening the “people’s champion” with cracked ribs. Jackson was hastily spirited
through a side door, and the White House miraculously emptied itself when the word was passed that
huge bowls of well-spiked punch had been placed
on the lawns. Such was “the inaugural brawl.”
To conservatives this orgy seemed like the end
of the world. “King Mob” reigned triumphant as
Jacksonian vulgarity replaced Jeffersonian simplicity. Faint-hearted traditionalists shuddered, drew
their blinds, and recalled with trepidation the opening scenes of the French Revolution.
The Spoils System
Once in power, the Democrats, famously suspicious
of the federal government, demonstrated that they
were not above striking some bargains of their own.
Under Jackson the spoils system—that is, rewarding
political supporters with public office—was introduced into the federal government on a large scale.
The basic idea was as old as politics. Its name came
later from Senator William Marcy’s classic remark in
1832, “To the victor belong the spoils of the enemy.”
The system had already secured a firm hold in
New York and Pennsylvania, where well-greased
machines ladled out the “gravy” of office.
Jackson defended the spoils system on democratic grounds. “Every man is as good as his neighbor,” he declared—perhaps “equally better.” As this
was believed to be so, and as the routine of office
was thought to be simple enough for any upstanding American to learn quickly, why encourage the
development of an aristocratic, bureaucratic, officeholding class? Better to bring in new blood, he
argued; each generation deserved its turn at the
public trough.
Washington was due, it is true, for a housecleaning. No party overturn had occurred since the
defeat of the Federalists in 1800, and even that
had not produced wholesale evictions. A few officeholders, their commissions signed by President
Washington, were lingering on into their eighties,
drawing breath and salary but doing little else. But
the spoils system was less about finding new blood
than about rewarding old cronies. “Throw their rascals out and put our rascals in,” the Democrats
were essentially saying. The questions asked of each
appointee were not “What can he do for the country?” but “What has he done for the party?” or “Is he
loyal to Jackson?”
Scandal inevitably accompanied the new system. Men who had openly bought their posts by
The South and the Tariff
campaign contributions were appointed to high
office. Illiterates, incompetents, and plain crooks
were given positions of public trust; scoundrels
lusted for the spoils—rather than the toils—of
office. Samuel Swartwout, despite ample warnings
of his untrustworthiness, was awarded the lucrative
post of collector of the customs of the port of New
York. Nearly nine years later, he “Swartwouted out”
for England, leaving his accounts more than a million dollars short—the first person to steal a million
from the Washington government.
But despite its undeniable abuse, the spoils system was an important element of the emerging twoparty order, cementing as it did loyalty to party over
competing claims based on economic class or geographic region. The promise of patronage provided
a compelling reason for Americans to pick a party
and stick with it through thick and thin.
The Tricky “Tariff of Abominations’’
The touchy tariff issue had been one of John Quincy
Adams’s biggest headaches. Now Andrew Jackson
felt his predecessor’s pain. Tariffs protected American industry against competition from European
manufactured goods, but they also drove up prices
for all Americans and invited retaliatory tariffs on
American agricultural exports abroad. The middle
states had long been supporters of protectionist tariffs. In the 1820s influential New Englanders like
Daniel Webster gave up their traditional defense of
free trade to support higher tariffs, too. The wool
and textile industries were booming, and forwardthinking Yankees came to believe that their future
prosperity would flow from the factory rather than
from the sea.
In 1824 Congress had increased the general tariff significantly, but wool manufacturers bleated for
still-higher barriers. Ardent Jacksonites now played
a cynical political game. They promoted a hightariff bill, expecting to be defeated, which would
give a black eye to President Adams. To their surprise, the tariff passed in 1828, and Andrew Jackson
inherited the political hot potato.
Southerners, as heavy consumers of manufactured goods with little manufacturing industry of
their own, were hostile to tariffs. They were particularly shocked by what they regarded as the outrageous rates of the Tariff of 1828. Hotheads branded
it the “Black Tariff’’ or the “Tariff of Abominations.’’
Several southern states adopted formal protests. In
South Carolina flags were lowered to half-mast. “Let
the New England beware how she imitates the Old,’’
cried one eloquent South Carolinian.
Why did the South react so angrily against
the tariff? Southerners believed, not illogically, that
the “Yankee tariff” discriminated against them. The
bustling Northeast was experiencing a boom in
manufacturing, the developing West was prospering
from rising property values and a multiplying population, and the energetic Southwest was expanding
into virgin cotton lands. But the Old South was
falling on hard times, and the tariff provided a convenient and plausible scapegoat. Southerners sold
their cotton and other farm produce in a world
market completely unprotected by tariffs but
were forced to buy their manufactured goods in
an American market heavily protected by tariffs.
The Rise of a Mass Democracy, 1824–1840
their slaveowning West Indian cousins were feeling
the mounting pressure of British abolitionism on
the London government. Abolitionism in America
might similarly use the power of the government in
Washington to suppress slavery in the South. If so,
now was the time, and the tariff was the issue, to
take a strong stand on principle against all federal
encroachments on states’ rights.
South Carolinians took the lead in protesting
against the “Tariff of Abominations.” Their legislature went so far as to publish in 1828, though without formal endorsement, a pamphlet known as The
South Carolina Exposition. It had been secretly written by John C. Calhoun, one of the few topflight
political theorists ever produced by America. (As
vice president, he was forced to conceal his authorship.) The Exposition denounced the recent tariff as
unjust and unconstitutional. Going a stride beyond
the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions of 1798, it
bluntly and explicitly proposed that the states
should nullify the tariff—that is, they should declare
it null and void within their borders.
“Nullies” in South Carolina
Protectionism protected Yankee and middle-state
manufacturers. The farmers and planters of the Old
South felt they were stuck with the bill.
But much deeper issues underlay the southern
outcry—in particular, a growing anxiety about possible federal interference with the institution of
slavery. The congressional debate on the Missouri
Compromise had kindled those anxieties, and they
were further fanned by an aborted slave rebellion in
Charleston in 1822, led by a free black named Denmark Vesey. The South Carolinians, still closely tied
to the British West Indies, also know full well that
The stage was set for a showdown. Through Jackson’s first term, the nullifiers—“nullies,” they were
called—tried strenuously to muster the necessary
two-thirds vote for nullification in the South Carolina legislature. But they were blocked by a determined minority of Unionists, scorned as “submission men.” Back in Washington, Congress tipped
the balance by passing the new Tariff of 1832.
Though it pared away the worst “abominations” of
1828, it was still frankly protective and fell far short
of meeting southern demands. Worse yet, to many
southerners it had a disquieting air of permanence.
South Carolina was now nerved for drastic
action. Nullifiers and Unionists clashed head-on in
the state election of 1832. “Nullies,” defiantly wearing palmetto ribbons on their hats to mark their loyalty to the “Palmetto State,” emerged with more
than a two-thirds majority. The state legislature then
called for a special convention. Several weeks later
the delegates, meeting in Columbia, solemnly
declared the existing tariff to be null and void within
South Carolina. As a further act of defiance, the convention threatened to take South Carolina out of the
Clay’s Tariff Compromise
John C. Calhoun (1782–1850), leader of
South Carolina’s offensive to nullify the Tariff
of 1832, saw nullification as a way of
preserving the Union while preventing
secession of the southern states. In his mind
he was still a Unionist, even if also a
southern sectionalist:
“I never use the word ‘nation’ in speaking of
the United States. I always use the word
‘union’ or ‘confederacy.’ We are not a nation,
but a union, a confederacy of equal and
sovereign states.”
During the crisis of 1832, some of his South
Carolina compatriots had different ideas.
Medals were struck off in honor of Calhoun,
bearing the words, “First President of the
Southern Confederacy.”
Union if Washington attempted to collect the customs duties by force.
Such tactics might have intimidated John
Quincy Adams, but Andrew Jackson was the wrong
president to stare down. The cantankerous general
was not a die-hard supporter of the tariff, but he
would not permit defiance or disunion. His military
instincts rasped, Jackson privately threatened to
invade the state and have the nullifiers hanged. In
public he was only slightly less pugnacious. He dispatched naval and military reinforcements to the
Palmetto State, while quietly preparing a sizable
army. He also issued a ringing proclamation against
nullification, to which the governor of South Carolina, former senator Robert Y. Hayne, responded
with a counterproclamation. The lines were drawn.
If civil war were to be avoided, one side would have
to surrender, or both would have to compromise.
Conciliatory Henry Clay of Kentucky, now in the
Senate, stepped forward. An unforgiving foe of Jackson, he had no desire to see his old enemy win new
laurels by crushing the Carolinians and returning
with the scalp of Calhoun dangling from his belt.
Although himself a supporter of tariffs, the gallant
Kentuckian therefore threw his influence behind a
compromise bill that would gradually reduce the
Tariff of 1832 by about 10 percent over a period of
eight years. By 1842 the rates would be back at the
mildly protective level of 1816.*
The compromise Tariff of 1833 finally squeezed
through Congress. Debate was bitter, with most of
the opposition naturally coming from protectionist
New England and the middle states. Calhoun and
the South favored the compromise, so it was evident
that Jackson would not have to use firearms and
rope. But at the same time, and partly as a facesaving device, Congress passed the Force Bill,
known among Carolinians as the “Bloody Bill.’’ It
authorized the president to use the army and navy,
if necessary, to collect federal tariff duties.
South Carolinians welcomed this opportunity
to extricate themselves from a dangerously tight
corner without loss of face. To the consternation of
the Calhounites, no other southern states had
sprung to their support, though Georgia and Virginia toyed with the idea. Moreover, an appreciable
Unionist minority within South Carolina was gathering guns, organizing militia, and nailing Stars and
Stripes to flagpoles. Faced with civil war within and
invasion from without, the Columbia convention
met again and repealed the ordinance of nullification. As a final but futile gesture of fistshaking, it nullified the unnecessary Force Bill and
Neither Jackson nor the “nullies’’ won a clear-cut
victory in 1833. Clay was the true hero of the hour,
hailed in Charleston and Boston alike for saving the
country. Armed conflict had been avoided, but the
fundamental issues had not been resolved. When
next the “nullies” and the Union clashed, compromise would prove more elusive.
The Trail of Tears
Jackson’s Democrats were committed to western
expansion, but such expansion necessarily meant
confrontation with the current inhabitants of the
land. More than 125,000 Native Americans lived in
the forests and prairies east of the Mississippi in the
1820s. Federal policy toward them varied. Beginning
in the 1790s, the Washington government ostensibly
recognized the tribes as separate nations and
*For the history of tariff rates, see the Appendix.
The Rise of a Mass Democracy, 1824–1840
agreed to acquire land from them only through formal treaties. The Indians were shrewd and stubborn
negotiators, but this availed them little when Americans routinely violated their own covenants, erasing
and redrawing treaty line after treaty line on their
maps as white settlement pushed west.
Many white Americans felt respect and admiration for the Indians and believed that the Native
Americans could be assimilated into white society.
Much energy therefore was devoted to “civilizing”
and Christianizing the Indians. The Society for
Propagating the Gospel Among Indians was
founded in 1787, and many denominations sent
missionaries into Indian villages. In 1793 Congress
appropriated $20,000 for the promotion of literacy
and agricultural and vocational instruction among
the Indians.
Although many tribes violently resisted white
encroachment, others followed the path of accommodation. The Cherokees of Georgia made especially remarkable efforts to learn the ways of the
whites. They gradually abandoned their seminomadic life and adopted a system of settled agricul-
The Removal of the Southern Tribes to the West
ture and a notion of private property. Missionaries
opened schools among the Cherokees, and the
Indian Sequoyah devised a Cherokee alphabet. In
1808 the Cherokee National Council legislated a
written legal code, and in 1827 it adopted a written
constitution that provided for executive, legislative,
and judicial branches of government. Some Cherokees became prosperous cotton planters and even
turned to slaveholding. Nearly thirteen hundred
black slaves toiled for their Native American
masters in the Cherokee nation in the 1820s. For
these efforts the Cherokees—along with the
Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles—
were numbered by whites among the “Five
Civilized Tribes.”
All this embrace of “civilization” apparently was
not good enough for whites. In 1828 the Georgia legislature declared the Cherokee tribal council illegal
and asserted its own jurisdiction over Indian affairs
and Indian lands. The Cherokees appealed this
move to the Supreme Court, which thrice upheld
the rights of the Indians. But President Jackson, who
clearly wanted to open Indian lands to white settle-
Removal of the Indians
Henry Clay (1777–1852) expressed sentiments
typical of his time when he said in the 1820s,
“[Indians are] essentially inferior to the AngloSaxon race . . . and their disappearance from
the human family will be no great loss to the
ment, refused to recognize the Court’s decisions. In
a callous jibe at the Indians’ defender, Jackson
reportedly snapped, “John Marshall has made his
decision; now let him enforce it.”*
Feeling some obligation to rescue “this much
injured race,” Jackson proposed a bodily removal of
the remaining eastern tribes—chiefly Cherokees,
Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles—
beyond the Mississippi. Emigration was supposed
to be voluntary because it would be “cruel and
unjust to compel the aborigines to abandon the
graves of their fathers.” Jackson evidently consoled
himself with the belief that the Indians could preserve their native cultures in the wide-open West.
Jackson’s policy led to the forced uprooting of
more than 100,000 Indians. In 1830 Congress passed
the Indian Removal Act, providing for the transplanting of all Indian tribes then resident east of the
Mississippi. Ironically, the heaviest blows fell on the
Five Civilized Tribes. In the ensuing decade, countless Indians died on forced marches to the newly
established Indian Territory where they were to be
“permanently” free of white encroachments. The
Bureau of Indian Affairs was established in 1836 to
administer relations with America’s original inhabitants. But as the land-hungry “palefaces” pushed
west faster than anticipated, the government’s guarantees went up in smoke. The “permanent” frontier
lasted about fifteen years.
Suspicious of white intentions from the start,
Sauk and Fox braves from Illinois and Wisconsin,
*One hundred sixty years later, in 1992, the state of Georgia formally pardoned the two white missionaries, Samuel Austin
Worcester and Elihu Butler, who had figured prominently in the
decision Jackson condemned. They had been convicted of living
on Cherokee lands without a license from the state of Georgia.
They served sixteen months at hard labor on a chain gang and
later accompanied the Cherokees on the “Trail of Tears” to
In 1829 Andrew Jackson (1767–1845)
reflected on the condition of the Indians and
on Indian-white relations:
“Our conduct toward these people is deeply
interesting to our national character. . . .
Our ancestors found them the uncontrolled
possessors of these vast regions. By
persuasion and force they have been made to
retire from river to river and from mountain to
mountain, until some of the tribes have
become extinct and others have left but
remnants to preserve for awhile their once
terrible names. Surrounded by the whites with
their arts of civilization, which by destroying
the resources of the savage doom him to
weakness and decay, the fate of the Mohegan,
the Narragansett, and the Delaware is fast
overtaking the Choctaw, the Cherokee, and the
Creek. That this fate surely awaits them if
they remain within the limits of the States
does not admit of a doubt. Humanity and
national honor demand that every effort
should be made to avert such a calamity.”
ably led by Black Hawk, resisted eviction. They were
bloodily crushed in 1832 by regular troops, including Lieutenant Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, and by
volunteers, including Captain Abraham Lincoln of
One survivor of the Indians’ forced march in
1838–1839 on the “Trail of Tears” to Indian
Territory, farther west, remembered,
“One each day, and all are gone. Looks like
maybe all dead before we get to new Indian
country, but always we keep marching on.
Women cry and make sad wails. Children cry,
and many men cry, and all look sad when
friends die, but they say nothing and just put
heads down and keep on toward west. . . .
She [his mother] speak no more; we bury her
and go on.”
The Rise of a Mass Democracy, 1824–1840
hundred soldiers. The spirit of the Seminoles was
broken in 1837, when the American field commander treacherously seized their leader, Osceola,
under a flag of truce. The war dragged on for five
more years, but the Seminoles were doomed. Some
fled deeper into the Everglades, where their descendants now live, but about four-fifths of them were
moved to present-day Oklahoma, where several
thousand of the tribe survive.
The Bank War
In Florida the Seminole Indians, joined by runaway black slaves, retreated to the swampy Everglades. For seven years (1835–1842), they waged a
bitter guerrilla war that took the lives of some fifteen
President Jackson did not hate all banks and all
businesses, but he distrusted monopolistic banking
and overbig businesses, as did his followers. A man
of virulent dislikes, he came to share the prejudices
of his own West against the “moneyed monster’’
known as the Bank of the United States.
What made the bank a monster in Jackson’s
eyes? The national government minted gold and silver coins in the mid-nineteenth century but did not
issue paper money. Paper notes were printed by private banks. Their value fluctuated with the health
of the bank and the amount of money printed, giving private bankers considerable power over the
nation’s economy.
No bank in America had more power than the
Bank of the United States. In many ways the bank
acted like a branch of government. It was the princi-
Beginnings of the Bank War
pal depository for the funds of the Washington government and controlled much of the nation’s gold
and silver. Its notes, unlike those of many smaller
banks, were stable in value. A source of credit and
stability, the bank was an important and useful part
of the nation’s expanding economy.
But the Bank of the United States was a private
institution, accountable not to the people, but to its
elite circle of moneyed investors. Its president, the
brilliant but arrogant Nicholas Biddle, held an
immense—and to many unconstitutional—amount
of power over the nation’s financial affairs. Enemies
of the bank dubbed him “Czar Nicolas I” and called
the bank a “hydra of corruption,” a serpent that
grew new heads whenever old ones were cut off.
To some the bank’s very existence seemed to sin
against the egalitarian credo of American democracy. The conviction formed the deepest source of
Jackson’s opposition. The bank also won no friends
in the West by foreclosing on many western farms
and draining “tribute” into eastern coffers. Profit,
not public service, was its first priority.
The Bank War erupted in 1832, when Daniel
Webster and Henry Clay presented Congress with a
bill to renew the Bank of the United States’ charter.
The charter was not set to expire until 1836, but Clay
pushed for renewal four years early to make it an
election issue in 1832. As Jackson’s leading rival for
the presidency, Clay, with fateful blindness, looked
upon the bank issue as a surefire winner.
Clay’s scheme was to ram a recharter bill
through Congress and then send it on to the White
House. If Jackson signed it, he would alienate his
worshipful western followers. If he vetoed it, as
seemed certain, he would presumably lose the presidency in the forthcoming election by alienating the
wealthy and influential groups in the East. Clay
seems not to have fully realized that the “best people” were now only a minority and that they generally feared Jackson anyhow.
The Rise of a Mass Democracy, 1824–1840
The recharter bill slid through Congress on
greased skids, as planned, but was killed by a
scorching veto from Jackson. The “Old Hero”
declared the monopolistic bank to be unconstitutional. Of course, the Supreme Court had earlier
declared it constitutional in the case of McCulloch v.
Maryland (1819), but Jackson acted as though he
regarded the executive branch as superior to the
judicial branch. The old general growled privately,
“The Bank . . . is trying to kill me, but I will kill it.”
Jackson’s veto message reverberated with constitutional consequences. It not only squashed the
bank bill but vastly amplified the power of the presidency. All previous vetoes had rested almost exclusively on questions of constitutionality. But though
Jackson invoked the Constitution in his bank-veto
message, he essentially argued that he was vetoing
the bill because he personally found it harmful to
the nation. In effect, he was claiming for the president alone a power equivalent to two-thirds of the
votes in Congress. If the legislative and executive
Banker Nicholas Biddle (1786–1844) wrote to
Henry Clay (August 1, 1832) expressing his
“I have always deplored making the Bank a
party question, but since the President will
have it so, he must pay the penalty of his
own rashness. As to the veto message, I am
delighted with it. It has all the fury of a
chained panther biting the bars of his cage.
It is really a manifesto of anarchy . . . and my
hope is that it will contribute to relieve the
country of the domination of these miserable
[Jackson] people.”
branches were partners in government, he implied,
the president was unmistakably the senior partner.
The gods continued to misguide Henry Clay.
Delighted with the financial fallacies of Jackson’s
message but blind to its political appeal, he
arranged to have thousands of copies printed as a
campaign document. The president’s sweeping
accusations may indeed have seemed demagogic to
the moneyed interests of the East, but they made
perfect sense to the common people. The bank
issue was now thrown into the noisy arena of the
presidential contest of 1832.
“Old Hickory’’ Wallops Clay in 1832
Clay and Jackson were the chief gladiators in the
looming electoral combat. The grizzled old general,
who had earlier favored one term for a president
and rotation in office, was easily persuaded by his
cronies not to rotate himself out of office. Presidential power is a heady brew and can be habit-forming.
The ensuing campaign was raucous. The “Old
Hero’s’’ adherents again raised the hickory pole and
bellowed, “Jackson Forever: Go the Whole Hog.’’
Admirers of Clay shouted, “Freedom and Clay,’’
while his detractors harped on his dueling, gambling, cockfighting, and fast living.
Novel features made the campaign of 1832
especially memorable. For the first time, a third
party entered the field—the newborn Anti-Masonic
The Presidential Contest of 1832
party, which opposed the influence and fearsome
secrecy of the Masonic order. Energized by the mysterious disappearance and probable murder in 1826
of a New Yorker who was threatening to expose the
secret rituals of the Masons, the Anti-Masonic party
quickly became a potent political force in New York
and spread its influence throughout the middle
Atlantic and New England states. The Anti-Masons
appealed to long-standing American suspicions of
secret societies, which they condemned as citadels
of privilege and monopoly—a note that harmonized with the democratic chorus of the Jacksonians. But since Jackson himself was a Mason and
publicly gloried in his membership, the AntiMasonic party was also an anti-Jackson party. The
Anti-Masons also attracted support from many
evangelical Protestant groups seeking to use political power to effect moral and religious reforms,
such as prohibiting mail deliveries on Sunday and
otherwise keeping the Sabbath holy. This moral
busybodiness was anathema to the Jacksonians,
who were generally opposed to all government
meddling in social and economic life.
A further novelty of the presidential contest in
1832 was the calling of national nominating conventions (three of them) to name candidates. The AntiMasons and a group of National Republicans added
still another innovation when they adopted formal
platforms, publicizing their positions on the issues.
Henry Clay and his overconfident National
Republicans enjoyed impressive advantages. Ample
funds flowed into their campaign chest, including
$50,000 in “life insurance’’ from the Bank of the
United States. Most of the newspaper editors, some
of them “bought’’ with Biddle’s bank loans, dipped
their pens in acid when they wrote of Jackson.
Yet Jackson, idol of the masses, easily defeated
the big-money Kentuckian. A Jacksonian wave again
swept over the West and South, surged into Pennsylvania and New York, and even washed into rockribbed New England. The popular vote stood at
687,502 to 530,189 for Jackson; the electoral count
was a lopsided 219 to 49.
Burying Biddle’s Bank
Its charter denied, the Bank of the United States was
due to expire in 1836. But Jackson was not one to let
the financial octopus die in peace. He was convinced that he now had a mandate from the voters
for its extermination, and he feared that the slippery
Biddle might try to manipulate the bank (as he
did) so as to force its recharter. Jackson therefore
decided in 1833 to bury the bank for good by removing federal deposits from its vaults. He proposed
depositing no more funds with Biddle and gradually
shrinking existing deposits by using them to defray
the day-to-day expenses of the government. By
slowly siphoning off the government’s funds, he
would bleed the bank dry and ensure its demise.
The Rise of a Mass Democracy, 1824–1840
Removing the deposits involved nasty complications. Even the president’s closest advisers
opposed this seemingly unnecessary, possibly
unconstitutional, and certainly vindictive policy.
Jackson, his dander up, was forced to reshuffle his
cabinet twice before he could find a secretary of the
Treasury who would bend to his iron will. A desperate Biddle called in his bank’s loans, evidently hoping to illustrate the bank’s importance by producing
a minor financial crisis. A number of wobblier banks
were driven to the wall by “Biddle’s Panic,” but Jackson’s resolution was firm. If anything, the vengeful
conduct of the dying “monster” seemed to justify
the earlier accusations of its adversaries.
But the death of the Bank of the United States
left a financial vacuum in the American economy
and kicked off a lurching cycle of booms and busts.
Surplus federal funds were placed in several dozen
state institutions—the so-called “pet banks,” chosen
for their pro-Jackson sympathies. Without a sober
central bank in control, the pet banks and smaller
“wildcat” banks—fly-by-night operations that often
consisted of little more than a few chairs and a suitcase full of printed notes—flooded the country with
paper money.
Jackson tried to rein in the runaway economy in
1836, the year Biddle’s bank breathed its last. “Wildcat” currency had become so unreliable, especially
in the West, that Jackson authorized the Treasury to
issue a Specie Circular—a decree that required all
public lands to be purchased with “hard,” or metallic, money. This drastic step slammed the brakes on
the speculative boom, a neck-snapping change of
direction that contributed to a financial panic and
crash in 1837.
But by then Jackson had retired to his Nashville
home, hailed as the hero of his age. His successor
would have to deal with the damage.
The Whig party contained so many diverse elements that it was mocked at first as “an organized
incompatibility.’’ Hatred of Jackson and his “executive usurpation’’ was its only apparent cement in its
formative days. The Whigs first emerged as an identifiable group in the Senate, where Clay, Webster,
and Calhoun joined forces in 1834 to pass a motion
censuring Jackson for his single-handed removal of
federal deposits from the Bank of the United States.
Thereafter, the Whigs rapidly evolved into a potent
national political force by attracting other groups
alienated by Jackson: supporters of Clay’s American System, southern states’ righters offended by
Jackson’s stand on nullification, the larger northern
industrialists and merchants, and eventually many
of the evangelical Protestants associated with the
Anti-Masonic party.
Whigs thought of themselves as conservatives,
yet they were progressive in their support of active
government programs and reforms. Instead of
boundless territorial acquisition, they called for
internal improvements like canals, railroads, and
telegraph lines, and they supported institutions like
prisons, asylums, and pubic schools. The Whigs welcomed the market economy, drawing support from
manufacturers in the North, planters in the South,
and merchants and bankers in all sections. But they
were not simply a party of wealthy fat cats, however
dearly the Democrats wanted to paint them as such.
By absorbing the Anti-Masonic party, the Whigs
blunted much of the Democratic appeal to the common man. The egalitarian anti-Masons portrayed
Jackson, and particularly his New York successor
Martin Van Buren, as imperious aristocrats. This
turned Jacksonian rhetoric on its head: now the
Whigs claimed to be the defenders of the common man and declared the Democrats the party of
cronyism and corruption.
The Birth of the Whigs
The Election of 1836
New political parties were gelling as the 1830s lengthened. As early as 1828, the Democratic-Republicans
of Jackson had unashamedly adopted the oncetainted name “Democrats.’’ Jackson’s opponents,
fuming at his ironfisted exercise of presidential
power, condemned him as “King Andrew I’’ and
began to coalesce as the Whigs—a name deliberately
chosen to recollect eighteenth-century British and
Revolutionary American opposition to the monarchy.
The smooth-tongued and keen-witted secretary of
state, Martin Van Buren of New York, was Jackson’s
choice for “appointment” as his successor in 1836.
The hollow-cheeked Jackson, now nearing seventy,
was too old and ailing to consider a third term. But
he was not loath to try to serve a third term through
Van Buren, something of a “yes man.” Leaving nothing to chance, Jackson carefully rigged the nominating convention and rammed his favorite down the
Examining the Evidence
Satiric Bank Note, 1837 Political humor can take
more forms than the commonly seen caustic cartoon. Occasionally, historians stumble upon other
examples, such as this fake bank note. A jibe at
Andrew Jackson’s money policies, it appeared in
New York in 1837 after Jackson’s insistence on
shutting down the Bank of the United States
resulted in the suspension of specie payments. The
clever creator of this satiric bank note for six cents
left little doubt about the worthlessness of the note
throats of the delegates. Van Buren was supported
by the Jacksonites without wild enthusiasm, even
though he had promised “to tread generally” in the
military-booted footsteps of his predecessor.
As the election neared, the still-ramshackle
organization of the Whigs showed in their inability
to nominate a single presidential candidate. Their
long-shot strategy was instead to run several prominent “favorite sons,’’ each with a different regional
appeal, and hope to scatter the vote so that no candidate would win a majority. The deadlock would
then have to be broken by the House of Representatives, where the Whigs might have a chance. With
Henry Clay rudely elbowed aside, the leading Whig
“favorite son’’ was heavy-jawed General William
Henry Harrison of Ohio, hero of the Battle of
Tippecanoe (see p. 230). The finespun schemes of
or Jackson’s responsibility for it. The six cents
payable by the “Humbug Glory Bank”—whose
symbols were a donkey and a “Hickory Leaf” (for
Old Hickory)—were redeemable “in mint drops or
Glory at cost.” The bank’s cashier was “Cunning
Reuben,” possibly an anti-Semitic allusion to usurious Jewish bankers. Can you identify other ways
in which this document takes aim at Jackson’s
banking policies? What symbols did the note’s creator assume the public would comprehend?
the Whigs availed nothing, however. Van Buren, the
dapper “Little Magician,” squirmed into office by
the close popular vote of 765,483 to 739,795, but by
the comfortable margin of 170 to 124 votes (for all
the Whigs combined) in the Electoral College.
Big Woes for the “Little Magician”
Martin Van Buren, eighth president, was the first to
be born under the American flag. Short and slender,
bland and bald, the adroit little New Yorker has been
described as “a first-class second-rate man.’’ An
accomplished strategist and spoilsman—“the wizard of Albany’’—he was also a statesman of wide
experience in both legislative and administrative
The Rise of a Mass Democracy, 1824–1840
life. In intelligence, education, and training, he was
above the average of the presidents since Jackson.
The myth of his mediocrity sprouted mostly from a
series of misfortunes over which he had no control.
From the outset the new president labored
under severe handicaps. As a machine-made candidate, he incurred the resentment of many Democrats—those who objected to having a “bastard
politician’’ smuggled into office beneath the tails of
the old general’s military coat. Jackson, the master
showman, had been a dynamic type of executive
whose administration had resounded with furious
quarrels and cracked heads. Mild-mannered Martin
Van Buren seemed to rattle about in the military
boots of his testy predecessor. The people felt let
down. Inheriting Andrew Jackson’s mantle without
his popularity, Van Buren also inherited the expresident’s numerous and vengeful enemies.
Van Buren’s four years overflowed with toil and
trouble. A rebellion in Canada in 1837 stirred up
ugly incidents along the northern frontier and
threatened to trigger war with Britain. The president’s attempt to play a neutral game led to the wail,
“Woe to Martin Van Buren!’’ The antislavery agitators in the North were in full cry. Among other grievances, they were condemning the prospective
annexation of Texas (see p. 280).
Worst of all, Jackson bequeathed to Van Buren
the makings of a searing depression. Much of Van
Buren’s energy had to be devoted to the purely negative task of battling the panic, and there were not
enough rabbits in the “Little Magician’s’’ tall silk hat.
Hard times ordinarily blight the reputation of a
president, and Van Buren was no exception.
Depression Doldrums
and the Independent Treasury
The panic of 1837 was a symptom of the financial
sickness of the times. Its basic cause was rampant
speculation prompted by a mania of get-richquickism. Gamblers in western lands were doing a
“land-office business’’ on borrowed capital, much
of it in the shaky currency of “wildcat banks.’’ The
speculative craze spread to canals, roads, railroads,
and slaves.
But speculation alone did not cause the crash.
Jacksonian finance, including the Bank War and the
Specie Circular, gave an additional jolt to an already
teetering structure. Failures of wheat crops, ravaged
by the Hessian fly, deepened the distress. Grain
prices were forced so high that mobs in New York
City, three weeks before Van Buren took the oath,
stormed warehouses and broke open flour barrels.
The panic really began before Jackson left office, but
its full fury burst about Van Buren’s bewildered
Financial stringency abroad likewise endangered America’s economic house of cards. Late in
1836 the failure of two prominent British banks
created tremors, and these in turn caused British
investors to call in foreign loans. The resulting pinch
in the United States, combined with other setbacks,
heralded the beginning of the panic. Europe’s economic distresses have often become America’s dis-
Van Buren’s Presidency
Philip Hone (1780–1851), a New York
businessman, described in his diary (May 10,
1837) a phase of the financial crisis:
“The savings-bank also sustained a most
grievous run yesterday. They paid 375
depositors $81,000. The press was awful;
the hour for closing the bank is six o’clock,
but they did not get through the paying of
those who were in at that time till nine
o’clock. I was there with the other trustees
and witnessed the madness of the people—
women nearly pressed to death, and the
stoutest men could scarcely sustain themselves; but they held on as with a death’s
grip upon the evidences of their claims, and,
exhausted as they were with the pressure,
they had strength to cry ‘Pay! Pay!’”
tresses, for every major American financial panic
has been affected by conditions overseas.
Hardship was acute and widespread. American
banks collapsed by the hundreds, including some
“pet banks,’’ which carried down with them several
millions in government funds. Commodity prices
drooped, sales of public lands fell off, and customs revenues dried to a rivulet. Factories closed
One foreign traveler decried the chaotic state
of American currency following the demise of
the Bank of the United States and the panic
of 1837:
“The greatest annoyance I was subjected to
in travelling was in exchanging money. It is
impossible to describe the wretched state
of the currency—which is all bills issued by
private individuals; companies; cities and
states; almost all of which are bankrupt;
or what amounts to the same thing, they
cannot redeem their issues. . . . And these
do not pass out of the state, or frequently,
out of the city in which they are issued.”
their doors, and unemployed workers milled in the
The Whigs came forward with proposals for
active government remedies for the economy’s ills.
They called for the expansion of bank credit, higher
tariffs, and subsidies for internal improvements. But
Van Buren, shackled by the Jacksonian philosophy
of keeping the government’s paws off the economy,
spurned all such ideas.
The beleaguered Van Buren tried to apply vintage Jacksonian medicine to the ailing economy
through his controversial “Divorce Bill.’’ Convinced
that some of the financial fever was fed by the injection of federal funds into private banks, he championed the principle of “divorcing’’ the government
from banking altogether. By establishing a so-called
independent treasury, the government could lock its
surplus money in vaults in several of the larger
cities. Government funds would thus be safe, but
they would also be denied to the banking system
as reserves, thereby shriveling available credit
Van Buren’s “divorce’’ scheme was never highly
popular. His fellow Democrats, many of whom
longed for the risky but lush days of the “pet banks,”
supported it only lukewarmly. The Whigs condemned it, primarily because it squelched their
hopes for a revived Bank of the United States. After a
prolonged struggle, the Independent Treasury Bill
passed Congress in 1840. Repealed the next year by
the victorious Whigs, the scheme was reenacted by
the triumphant Democrats in 1846 and then continued until merged with the Federal Reserve System
in the next century.
Gone to Texas
Americans, greedy for land, continued to covet the
vast expanse of Texas, which the United States had
abandoned to Spain when acquiring Florida in
1819. The Spanish authorities wanted to populate
this virtually unpeopled area, but before they could
carry through their contemplated plans, the Mexicans won their independence. A new regime in
Mexico City thereupon concluded arrangements in
1823 for granting a huge tract of land to Stephen
Austin, with the understanding that he would bring
into Texas three hundred American families. Immigrants were to be of the established Roman Catholic
The Rise of a Mass Democracy, 1824–1840
became current descriptive slang. Among the
adventurers were Davy Crockett, the famous rifleman, and Jim Bowie, the presumed inventor of the
murderous knife that bears his name. Bowie’s blade
was widely known in the Southwest as the “genuine
Arkansas toothpick.” A distinguished latecomer and
leader was an ex-governor of Tennessee, Sam Houston. His life had been temporarily shattered in 1829
when his bride of a few weeks left him, and he took
up transient residence with the Arkansas Indians,
who dubbed him “Big Drunk.” He subsequently
took the pledge of temperance.
The pioneer individualists who came to Texas
were not easy to push around. Friction rapidly
increased between Mexicans and Texans over issues
such as slavery, immigration, and local rights. Slavery was a particularly touchy topic. Mexico emancipated its slaves in 1830 and prohibited the further
importation of slaves into Texas, as well as further
colonization by troublesome Americans. The Texans
refused to honor these decrees. They kept their
slaves in bondage, and new American settlers kept
bringing more slaves into Texas. When Stephen
Austin went to Mexico City in 1833 to negotiate
these differences with the Mexican government, the
dictator Santa Anna clapped him in jail for eight
months. The explosion finally came in 1835, when
Santa Anna wiped out all local rights and started to
raise an army to suppress the upstart Texans.
The Lone Star Rebellion
faith and upon settlement were to become properly
These two stipulations were largely ignored.
Hardy Texas pioneers remained Americans at heart,
resenting the trammels imposed by a “foreign” government. They were especially annoyed by the presence of Mexican soldiers, many of whom were
ragged ex-convicts.
Energetic and prolific, Texan-Americans numbered about thirty thousand by 1835 (see “Makers of
America: Mexican or Texican?” pp. 278–279). Most
of them were law-abiding, God-fearing people, but
some of them had left the “States” only one or two
jumps ahead of the sheriff. “G.T.T.” (Gone to Texas)
Early in 1836 the Texans declared their independence, unfurled their Lone Star flag, and named
Sam Houston commander in chief. Santa Anna, at
the head of about six thousand men, swept ferociously into Texas. Trapping a band of nearly two
hundred pugnacious Texans at the Alamo in San
Antonio, he wiped them out to a man after a thirteen-day siege. Their commander, Colonel W. B.
Travis, had declared, “I shall never surrender nor
retreat. . . . Victory or Death.” A short time later, a
band of about four hundred surrounded and
defeated American volunteers, having thrown down
their arms at Goliad, were butchered as “pirates.” All
these operations further delayed the Mexican
advance and galvanized American opposition.
Slain heroes like Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett,
well-known in life, became legendary in death.
The Texas Pioneers
Texan war cries—“Remember the Alamo!” “Remember Goliad!” and “Death to Santa Anna!”—swept up
into the United States. Scores of vengeful Americans
seized their rifles and rushed to the aid of relatives,
friends, and compatriots.
General Sam Houston’s small army retreated to
the east, luring Santa Anna to San Jacinto, near the
site of the city that now bears Houston’s name. The
Mexicans numbered about thirteen hundred men,
the Texans about nine hundred. Suddenly, on April
21, 1836, Houston turned. Taking full advantage of
the Mexican siesta, the Texans wiped out the pursuing force and captured Santa Anna, who was found
cowering in the tall grass near the battlefield. Confronted with thirsty bowie knives, the quaking dictator was speedily induced to sign two treaties. By
their terms he agreed to withdraw Mexican troops
and to recognize the Rio Grande as the extreme
southwestern boundary of Texas. When released, he
repudiated the agreement as illegal because it was
extorted under duress.
These events put the U.S. government in a
sticky situation. The Texans, though courageous,
could hardly have won their independence without
the help in men and supplies from their American
cousins. The Washington government, as the Mexicans bitterly complained, had a solemn obligation
under international law to enforce its leaky neutrality statutes. But American public opinion, overwhelmingly favorable to the Texans, openly nullified
Mexican or Texican?
oses Austin, born a Connecticut Yankee in 1761,
was determined to be Spanish—if that’s what it
took to acquire cheap land and freedom from pesky
laws. In 1798 he tramped into untracked Missouri,
still part of Spanish Louisiana, and pledged his allegiance to the king of Spain. He was not pleased
when the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 restored him
to American citizenship. In 1820, with his old Spanish passport in his saddlebag, he rode into Spanish
Texas and asked for permission to establish a colony
of three hundred families.
Austin’s request posed a dilemma for the Texas
governor. The Spanish authorities had repeatedly
stamped out the bands of American horse thieves and
squatters who periodically splashed across the Red
and Sabine Rivers from the United States into Spanish
territory. Yet the Spanish had lured only some three
thousand of their own settlers into Texas during their
three centuries of rule. If the land were ever to be
wrestled from the Indians and “civilized,” maybe
Austin’s plan could do it. Hoping that this band of the
“right sort” of Americans might prevent the further
encroachment of the buckskinned border ruffians,
the governor reluctantly agreed to Austin’s proposal.
Upon Moses Austin’s death in 1821, the task of
realizing his dream fell to his twenty-seven-year-old
son, Stephen. “I bid an everlasting farewell to my
native country,” Stephen Austin said, and he crossed
into Texas on July 15, 1821, “determined to fulfill
rigidly all the duties and obligations of a Mexican
citizen” (Mexico declared its independence from
Spain early in 1821 and finalized its agreement with
Austin in 1823). Soon he learned fluent Spanish and
was signing his name as “Don Estévan F. Austin.” In
his new colony between the Brazos and Colorado
Rivers, he allowed “no drunkard, no gambler, no
profane swearer, no idler”—and sternly enforced
these rules. Not only did he banish several families
as “undesirables,” but he ordered the public flogging of unwanted interlopers.
Austin fell just three families short of recruiting
the three hundred households that his father had
contracted to bring to Texas. The original settlers
were still dubbed “the Old Three Hundred,” the
Texas equivalent of New England’s Mayflower Pilgrims or the “First Families of Virginia.” Mostly
Scots-Irish southerners from the trans-Appalachian
frontier, the Old Three Hundred were cultured folk
by frontier standards; all but four of them were
literate. Other settlers followed, from Europe as well
as America. Within ten years the “Anglos” (many of
them French and German) outnumbered the Mexican residents, or tejanos, ten to one and soon
evolved a distinctive “Texican” culture. The wideranging horse patrols organized to attack Indian
camps became the Texas Rangers; Samuel Maverick,
whose unbranded calves roamed the limitless
prairies, left his surname as a label for rebellious
loners who refused to run with the herd; and Jared
Groce, an Alabama planter whose caravan of fifty
covered wagons and one hundred slaves arrived in
1822, etched the original image of the larger-thanlife, big-time Texas operator.
The original Anglo-Texans brought with them
the old Scots-Irish frontiersman’s hostility to
authority. They ignored Mexican laws and officials,
including restrictions against owning or importing
slaves. When the Mexican government tried to
impose its will on the Anglo-Texans in the 1830s,
they took up their guns. Like the American revolutionaries of the 1770s, who at first demanded only
the rights of Englishmen, the Texans began by asking simply for Mexican recognition of their rights as
guaranteed by the Mexican constitution of 1824. But
bloodshed at the Alamo in 1836, like that at Lexington in 1775, transformed protest into rebellion.
Texas lay—and still lies—along the frontier
where Hispanic and Anglo-American cultures met,
mingled, and clashed. In part the Texas Revolution
was a contest between those two cultures. But it was
also a contest about philosophies of government,
pitting liberal frontier ideals of freedom against the
conservative concept of centralized control.
Stephen Austin sincerely tried to “Mexicanize” himself and his followers—until the Mexican government grew too arbitrary and authoritarian. And not
all the Texas revolutionaries were “Anglos.” Many
tejanos fought for Texas independence—seven perished defending the Alamo. Among the fifty-nine
signers of the Texas declaration of independence
were several Hispanics, including the tejanos José
Antonio Navarro and Francisco Ruiz. Lorenzo de
Zavala, an ardent Mexican liberal who had long
resisted the centralizing tendencies of Mexico’s
dominant political party, was designated vice president of the Texas Republic’s interim government in
1836. Like the Austins, these tejanos and Mexicans
had sought in Texas an escape from overbearing
governmental authority. Their role in the revolution
underscores the fact that the uprising was a struggle
between defenders of local rights and the agents of
central authority as much as it was a fight between
Anglo and Mexican cultures.
The Rise of a Mass Democracy, 1824–1840
the existing legislation. The federal authorities were
powerless to act, and on the day before he left office
in 1837, President Jackson even extended the right
hand of recognition to the Lone Star Republic, led
by his old comrade in arms against the Indians, Sam
Many Texans wanted not just recognition of
their independence but outright union with the
United States. What nation in its right mind, they
reasoned, would refuse so lavish a dowry? The radiant Texas bride, officially petitioning for annexation
in 1837, presented herself for marriage. But the
expectant groom, Uncle Sam, was jerked back by
the black hand of the slavery issue. Antislavery crusaders in the North were opposing annexation with
increasing vehemence; they contended that the
whole scheme was merely a conspiracy cooked up
by the southern “slavocracy” to bring new slave
pens into the Union.
At first glance a “slavery plot” charge seemed
plausible. Most of the early settlers in Texas, as well
as American volunteers during the revolution, had
come from the states of the South and Southwest.
But scholars have concluded that the settlement of
Texas was merely the normal and inexorable march
of the westward movement. Most of the immigrants
came from the South and Southwest simply because
these states were closer. The explanation was proximity rather than conspiracy. Yet the fact remained
that many Texans were slaveholders, and admitting
Texas to the Union inescapably meant enlarging
American slavery.
Log Cabins and
Hard Cider of 1840
Martin Van Buren was renominated by the Democrats in 1840, albeit without terrific enthusiasm. The
party had no acceptable alternative to what the
Whigs called “Martin Van Ruin.”
The Whigs, hungering for the spoils of office,
scented victory in the breeze. Pangs of the panic
were still being felt, and voters blamed their woes
on the party in power. Learning from their mistake
in 1836, the Whigs united behind one candidate,
Ohio’s William Henry Harrison. He was not their
ablest statesman—that would have been Daniel
Webster or Henry Clay—but he was believed to be
their ablest vote-getter.
The aging hero, nearly sixty-eight when the
campaign ended, was known for his successes
against Indians and the British at the Battles of
Tippecanoe (1811) and the Thames (1813). Harrison’s views on current issues were only vaguely
known. “Old Tippecanoe” was nominated primarily
because he was issueless and enemyless—a tested
Nuece s R
March 6, 1836
San Jacinto
April 21, 1836
Goliad Massacre
March 27, 1836
Gulf of Mexico
Disputed area
Santa Anna’s attack route
Houston’s strategic retreat
Texan victory
Mexican victory
The Texas Revolution, 1835–1836
General Houston’s strategy was to retreat
and use defense in depth. His line of supply
from the United States was shortened as
Santa Anna’s lengthened. The Mexicans
were forced to bring up supplies by land
because the Texas navy controlled the sea.
This force consisted of only four small
ships, but it was big enough to do the job.
Tippecanoe, and Tyler Too
recipe for electoral success that still appeals today.
John Tyler of Virginia, an afterthought, was selected
as his vice-presidential running mate.
The Whigs, eager to avoid offense, published no
official platform, hoping to sweep their hero into
office with a frothy huzza-for-Harrison campaign
reminiscent of Jackson’s triumph in 1828. A dullwitted Democratic editor played directly into Whig
hands. Stupidly insulting the West, he lampooned
Harrison as an impoverished old farmer who should
be content with a pension, a log cabin, and a barrel
of hard cider—the poor westerner’s champagne.
Whigs gleefully adopted honest hard cider and the
sturdy log cabin as symbols of their campaign. Harrisonites portrayed their hero as the poor “Farmer of
North Bend,” who had been called from his cabin
and his plow to drive corrupt Jackson spoilsmen
from the “presidential palace.” They denounced
Van Buren as a supercilious aristocrat, a simpering
dandy who wore corsets and ate French food from
golden plates. As a jeering Whig campaign song
Old Tip, he wears a homespun shirt,
He has no ruffled shirt, wirt, wirt.
But Matt, he has the golden plate,
and he’s a little squirt, wirt, wirt.
The Whig campaign was a masterpiece of inane
hoopla. Log cabins were dished up in every conceivable form. Bawling Whigs, stimulated by fortified
The Rise of a Mass Democracy, 1824–1840
cider, rolled huge inflated balls from village to village and state to state—balls that represented the
snowballing majority for “Tippecanoe, and Tyler
too.” In truth, Harrison was not lowborn, but from
one of the FFVs (“First Families of Virginia”). He was
not poverty-stricken. He did not live in a one-room
log cabin, but rather in a sixteen-room mansion on
a three-thousand-acre farm. He did not swill down
gallons of hard cider (he evidently preferred
whiskey). And he did not plow his fields with his
own “huge paws.” But such details had not mattered
when General Jackson rode to victory, and they did
not matter now.
The Democrats that hurrahed Jackson into the
White House in 1828 now discovered to their chagrin that whooping it up for a backwoods westerner
was a game two could play. Harrison won by the
surprisingly close margin of 1,274,624 to 1,127,781
popular votes, but by an overwhelming electoral
margin of 234 to 60. With hardly a real issue
debated, though with hard times blighting the
incumbent’s fortunes, Van Buren was washed out of
Washington on a wave of apple juice. The hardciderites had apparently received a mandate to tear
down the White House and erect a log cabin.
Politics for the People
The election of 1840 conclusively demonstrated two
major changes in American politics since the Era of
Good Feelings. The first was the triumph of a pop-
The Two-Party System
ulist democratic style. Democracy had been something of a taint in the days of the lordly Federalists. Martha Washington, the first First Lady, was
shocked after a presidential reception to find a
greasy smear on the wallpaper—left there, she was
sure, by an uninvited “filthy democrat.”
But by the 1840s, aristocracy was the taint, and
democracy was respectable. Politicians were now
forced to unbend and curry favor with the voting
masses. Lucky indeed was the aspiring office seeker
who could boast of birth in a log cabin. In 1840
Daniel Webster publicly apologized for not being
able to claim so humble a birthplace, though he
quickly added that his brothers could. Hopelessly
handicapped was the candidate who appeared to be
too clean, too well dressed, too grammatical, too
highbrowishly intellectual. In truth, most high political offices continued to be filled by “leading citizens.” But now these wealthy and prominent men
had to forsake all social pretensions and cultivate
the common touch if they hoped to win elections.
Snobbish bigwigs, unhappy over the change,
sneered at “coonskin congressmen” and at the
newly enfranchised “bipeds of the forest.” To them
the tyranny of “King Numbers” was no less offensive
than that of King George. But these critics protested
in vain. The common man was at last moving to the
center of the national political stage: the sturdy
American who donned plain trousers rather than
silver-buckled knee breeches, who sported a plain
haircut and a coonskin cap rather than a powdered
wig, and who wore no man’s collar, often not even
one of his own. Instead of the old divine right of
kings, America was now bowing to the divine right
of the people.
The Two-Party System
The second dramatic change resulting from the
1840 election was the formation of a vigorous and
durable two-party system. The Jeffersonians of an
earlier day had been so successful in absorbing the
programs of their Federalist opponents that a fullblown two-party system had never truly emerged in
the subsequent Era of Good Feelings. The idea had
prevailed that parties of any sort smacked of conspiracy and “faction” and were injurious to the
health of the body politic in a virtuous republic. By
1840 political parties had fully come of age, a lasting
legacy of Andrew Jackson’s tenaciousness.
The Rise of a Mass Democracy, 1824–1840
President Andrew Jackson advised a
supporter in 1835 on how to tell the
difference between Democrats and “Whigs,
nullies, and blue-light federalists.” In doing
so, he neatly summarized the Jacksonian
“The people ought to inquire [of political
candidates]—are you opposed to a national
bank; are you in favor of a strict construction
of the Federal and State Constitutions; are
you in favor of rotation in office; do you
subscribe to the republican rule that the
people are the sovereign power, the officers
their agents, and that upon all national or
general subjects, as well as local, they
have a right to instruct their agents and
representatives, and they are bound to obey
or resign; in short, are they true Republicans
agreeable to the true Jeffersonian creed?”
Both national parties, the Democrats and the
Whigs grew out of the rich soil of Jeffersonian
republicanism, and each laid claim to different
aspects of the republican inheritance. Jacksonian
Democrats glorified the liberty of the individual and
were fiercely on guard against the inroads of “privilege’’ into government. Whigs trumpeted the natural
harmony of society and the value of community,
and were willing to use government to realize their
objectives. Whigs also berated those leaders—and
they considered Jackson to be one—whose appeals
to self-interest fostered conflict among individuals,
classes, or sections.
Democrats clung to states’ rights and federal
restraint in social and economic affairs as their
basic doctrines. Whigs tended to favor a renewed
national bank, protective tariffs, internal improvements, public schools, and, increasingly, moral
reforms such as the prohibition of liquor and eventually the abolition of slavery.
The two parties were thus separated by real differences of philosophy and policy. But they also
had much in common. Both were mass-based,
Vesey slave conspiracy in Charleston, South
Mexico opens Texas to American settlers
Lack of electoral majority for presidency
throws election into the House of
House elects John Quincy Adams president
Tariff of 1828 (“Tariff of Abominations”)
Jackson elected president
The South Carolina Exposition published
Indian Removal Act
1832 “Bank War”—Jackson vetoes bill to
recharter Bank of the United States
Tariff of 1832
Black Hawk War
Jackson defeats Clay for presidency
18321833 South Carolina nullification crisis
1833 Compromise Tariff of 1833
Jackson removes federal deposits from
Bank of the United States
1836 Bank of the United States expires
Specie Circular issued
Bureau of Indian Affairs established
Battle of the Alamo
Battle of San Jacinto
Texas wins independence from Mexico
Van Buren elected president
1837 Seminole Indians defeated and eventually
removed from Florida
United States recognizes Texas Republic
but refuses annexation
Panic of 1837
1838- Cherokee Indians removed on
“Trail of Tears”
1840 Independent Treasury established
Harrison defeats Van Buren for presidency
Varying Viewpoints
“catchall’’ parties that tried deliberately to mobilize
as many voters as possible for their cause. Although
it is true that Democrats tended to be more humble
folk and Whigs more prosperous, both parties nevertheless commanded the loyalties of all kinds of
Americans, from all social classes and in all sections.
The social diversity of the two parties had important
implications. It fostered horse-trading compro-
mises within each party that prevented either from
assuming extreme or radical positions. By the same
token, the geographical diversity of the two parties
retarded the emergence of purely sectional political
parties—temporarily suppressing, through compromise, the ultimately uncompromisable issue of slavery. When the two-party system began to creak in
the 1850s, the Union was mortally imperiled.
What Was Jacksonian Democracy?
ristocratic, eastern-born historians of the nineteenth century damned Jackson as a backwoods
barbarian. They criticized Jacksonianism as democracy run riot—an irresponsible, ill-bred outburst
that overturned the electoral system and wrecked
the national financial structure.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, another generation of historians
came to the fore, many of whom grew up in the Midwest and rejected the elitist views of their predecessors. Frederick Jackson Turner and his disciples saw
the western frontier as the fount of democratic
virtue, and they hailed Jackson as a true hero sprung
from the forests of the West to protect the will of the
people against the monied interests, akin to the progressive reformers of their own day. In his famous
1893 essay, “The Significance of the Frontier in
American History,” Turner argued that the United
States owed the survival of its democratic tradition
to the rise of the West, not to its roots in the more
conservative, aristocratic East.
When Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., published The
Age of Jackson in 1945, however, the debate on Jacksonianism shifted dramatically. Although he shared
the Turnerians’ admiration for Jackson the democrat, Schlesinger cast the Jacksonian era not as a sectional conflict, but as a class conflict between poor
farmers, laborers, and noncapitalists on the one
hand, and the business community—epitomized by
the Second Bank of the United States—on the other.
In Schlesinger’s eyes, the Jacksonians justifiably
attacked the bank as an institution dangerously
independent of democratic oversight. The political
mobilization of the urban working classes in sup-
port of Jackson particularly attracted Schlesinger’s
Soon after Schlesinger’s book appeared, the
discussion again shifted ground and entirely
new interpretations of Jacksonianism emerged.
Richard Hofstadter argued in The American Political
Tradition and the Men Who Made It (1948) that Jacksonian democracy was not a rejection of capitalism,
as Schlesinger insisted, but rather the effort of aspiring entrepreneurs to secure laissez-faire policies
that would serve their own interests against their
entrenched, and monopolistic, eastern competitors.
In The Jacksonian Persuasion (1957), Marvin Meyers
portrayed the Jacksonians as conservative capitalists, torn between fierce commercial ambitions and
a desire to cling to the virtues of the agrarian past. In
an effort to resolve this contradiction, he argued,
they lashed out at scapegoats like the national bank,
blaming it for the very changes their own economic
energies had unleashed. Lee Benson contended in
The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy (1961) that
the political conflicts of the Jacksonian era did not
correspond so much to class divisions as to different
ethnic and religious splits within American society.
Using new quantitative methods of analysis, Benson
found no consistent demarcations—in class, occupation, or region—between the Jacksonians and
their rivals. Local and cultural issues such as temperance and religion were far more influential in
shaping political life than the national financial
questions analyzed by previous historians.
In the 1980s Sean Wilentz and other scholars
began to resurrect some of Schlesinger’s argument
about the importance of class to Jacksonianism. In
The Rise of a Mass Democracy, 1824–1840
Chants Democratic (1984), Wilentz maintained that
Jacksonian politics could not be properly understood without reference to the changing national
economy. Artisans watched in horror as new manufacturing techniques put many of them out of business and replaced their craftsmanship with the
unskilled hands of wage laborers. To these anxious
small producers, America’s infatuation with impersonal institutions and large-scale employers threatened the very existence of a republic founded on
the principle that its citizens were virtuously selfsufficient. Thus Jackson’s attack on the Bank of the
United States symbolized the antagonism these
individuals felt toward the emergent capitalist economy and earned him their strong allegiance.
This interpretation is conspicuous in Charles
Sellers’s The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America,
1815–1846 (1991), which raised a fascinating ques-
tion: what was the relationship between American
democracy and free-market capitalism? They are
often assumed to be twins, born from the common
parentage of freedom and opportunity, reared in the
wide-open young republic, and mutually supporting each other ever since. But perhaps, Sellers
suggested, they were really adversaries, with Jacksonians inventing mass democracy in order to hold
capitalist expansion in check. Yet if this interpretation is correct, what explains the phenomenal
growth of the capitalist economy in the years immediately following the triumphs of Jacksonianism?
Further research and analysis are needed to sort out
the varied commitments of the mix of Americans
who spiritedly identified their own destinies
with Andrew Jackson, as well as the intended and
unintended consequences that resulted from
their support.
For further reading, see page A9 of the Appendix. For web resources, go to http://college.hmco.com.
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y 1783 Americans had
won their freedom. Now
they had to build their country. To be sure, they were
blessed with a vast and fertile
land, and they inherited from
their colonial experience a
proud legacy of self-rule. But
history provided scant precedent for erecting a republic
on a national scale. No law of
nature guaranteed that the
thirteen rebellious colonies
would stay glued together
as a single nation, nor that
they would preserve, not to
mention expand, their democratic way of life. New institutions had to be created,
new habits of thought cultivated. Who could predict
whether the American experiment in government by
the people would succeed?
The feeble national government cobbled together
under the Articles of Confederation during the Revolutionary War soon proved
woefully inadequate to the
task of nation building. In
less than ten years after the
Revolutionary War’s conclusion, the Articles were
replaced by a new Constitution, but even its adoption
did not end the debate over
just what form American
government should take.
Would the president, the
Congress, or the courts be
the dominant branch? What
should be the proper division of authority between the federal government
and the states? How could the rights of individuals
be protected against a potentially powerful govern-
ment? What economic policies would best serve the
infant republic? How should
the nation defend itself
against foreign foes? What
principles should guide foreign policy? Was America a
nation at all, or was it merely
a geographic expression,
destined to splinter into several bitterly quarreling sections, as had happened to
so many other would-be
After a shaky start under
George Washington and
John Adams in the 1790s,
buffeted by foreign troubles
and domestic crises, the
new Republic passed a
major test when power was
peacefully transferred from the conservative Federalists to the more liberal Jeffersonians in the election of 1800. A confident President Jefferson proceeded boldly to expand the national territory with
the landmark Louisiana Purchase in 1803. But
before long Jefferson, and then his successor, James
Madison, were embroiled in what eventually
proved to be a fruitless effort to spare the United
States from the ravages of the war then raging in
America was dangerously divided during the
War of 1812 and suffered a humiliating defeat. But
a new sense of national unity and purpose was
unleashed in the land thereafter. President Monroe,
presiding over this “Era of Good Feelings,” proclaimed in the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 that both of
the American continents were off-limits to further
European intervention. The foundations of a continental-scale economy were laid, as a “transportation revolution” stitched the country together with
canals and railroads and turnpikes. Settlers flooded
over those new arteries into the burgeoning West,
often brusquely shouldering aside the native peoples. Immigrants, especially from Ireland and Germany, flocked to American shores. The combination
of new lands and new labor
fed the growth of a market
economy, including the
commercialization of agriculture and the beginnings
of the factory system of production. Old ways of life
withered as the market
economy drew women as
well as men, children as well
as adults, blacks as well as
whites, into its embrace.
Ominously, the slave system
grew robustly as cotton
production, mostly for sale
exploded into the booming
Meanwhile, the United
States in the era of Andrew
Jackson gave the world an
impressive lesson in political science. Between
roughly 1820 and 1840, Americans virtually
invented mass democracy, creating huge political
parties and enormously expanding political participation by enfranchising nearly all adult white males.
Nor was the spirit of innovation confined to the
political realm. A wave of reform and cultural vitality swept through many sectors of American society.
Utopian experiments proliferated. Religious revivals
and even new religions, like Mormonism, flourished. A national literature blossomed. Crusades
were launched for temperance, prison reform,
women’s rights, and the abolition of slavery.
By the second quarter of the nineteenth century, the outlines of a distinctive American national
character had begun to emerge. Americans were a
diverse, restless people, tramping steadily westward, eagerly forging their own nascent Industrial
Revolution, proudly exercising their democratic
political rights, impatient with the old, in love with
the new, testily asserting their superiority over all
other peoples—and increasingly divided, in heart,
in conscience, and in politics, over the single greatest blight on their record of nation making and
democracy building: slavery.
The Confederation
and the Constitution

This example of changing the constitution by assembling the wise
men of the state, instead of assembling armies, will be worth as
much to the world as the former examples we have given it.
he American Revolution was not a revolution in
the sense of a radical or total change. It did not
suddenly and violently overturn the entire political
and social framework, as later occurred in the
French and Russian Revolutions. What happened
was accelerated evolution rather than outright revolution. During the conflict itself, people went on
working and praying, marrying and playing. Many
of them were not seriously disturbed by the actual
fighting, and the most isolated communities
scarcely knew that a war was on.
Yet some striking changes were ushered in,
affecting social customs, political institutions, and
ideas about society, government, and even gender
roles. The exodus of some eighty thousand substantial Loyalists robbed the new ship of state of conservative ballast. This weakening of the aristocratic
upper crust, with all its culture and elegance, paved
the way for new, Patriot elites to emerge. It also
cleared the field for more egalitarian ideas to sweep
across the land.
The Pursuit of Equality
“All men are created equal,” the Declaration of Independence proclaimed, and equality was everywhere
the watchword. Most states reduced (but usually did
not eliminate altogether) property-holding requirements for voting. Ordinary men and women
demanded to be addressed as “Mr.” and “Mrs.”—
titles once reserved for the wealthy and highborn.
Most Americans ridiculed the lordly pretensions of
Continental Army officers who formed an exclusive
hereditary order, the Society of the Cincinnati. Social
Aftermath of the Revolution
democracy was further stimulated by the growth of
trade organizations for artisans and laborers. Citizens in several states, flushed with republican fervor,
also sawed off the remaining shackles of medieval
inheritance laws, such as primogeniture, which
awarded all of a father’s property to the eldest son.
A protracted fight for separation of church and
state resulted in notable gains. Although the wellentrenched Congregational Church continued to be
legally established in some New England states, the
Anglican Church, tainted by association with the
British crown, was humbled. De-anglicized, it reformed as the Protestant Episcopal Church and was
everywhere disestablished. The struggle for divorce
between religion and government proved fiercest in
Virginia. It was prolonged to 1786, when freethinking Thomas Jefferson and his co-reformers, including the Baptists, won a complete victory with the
passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. (See the table of established churches, p. 95.)
The egalitarian sentiments unleashed by the
war likewise challenged the institution of slavery.
Philadelphia Quakers in 1775 founded the world’s
first antislavery society. Hostilities hampered the
noxious trade in “black ivory,’’ and the Continental
Congress in 1774 called for the complete abolition
of the slave trade, a summons to which most of the
states responded positively. Several northern states
went further and either abolished slavery outright
or provided for the gradual emancipation of blacks.
Even on the plantations of Virginia, a few idealistic
masters freed their human chattels—the first frail
sprouts of the later abolitionist movement.
But this revolution of sentiments was sadly
incomplete. No states south of Pennsylvania abolished slavery, and in both North and South, the law
discriminated harshly against freed blacks and
slaves alike. Emancipated African-Americans could
The impact of the American Revolution was
worldwide. About 1783 a British ship stopped
at some islands off the East African coast,
where the natives were revolting against their
Arab masters. When asked why they were
fighting they replied,
“America is free, Could not we be?”
be barred from purchasing property, holding certain
jobs, and educating their children. Laws against
interracial marriage also sprang up at this time.
Why, in this dawning democratic age, did abolition not go further and cleanly blot the evil of slavery from the fresh face of the new nation? The sorry
truth is that the fledgling idealism of the Founding
Fathers was sacrificed to political expediency. A
fight over slavery would have fractured the fragile
national unity that was so desperately needed.
“Great as the evil [of slavery] is,” the young Virginian
James Madison wrote in 1787, “a dismemberment of
the union would be worse.” Nearly a century later,
the slavery issue did wreck the Union—temporarily.
Likewise incomplete was the extension of the
doctrine of equality to women. Some women did
serve (disguised as men) in the military, and New
Jersey’s new constitution in 1776 even, for a time,
The Confederation and the Constitution, 1776–1790
The Revolution enhanced the expectations
and power of women as wives and mothers. As
one “matrimonial republican” wrote in 1792,
“I object to the word ‘obey’ in the marriageservice because it is a general word, without
limitations or definition. . . . The obedience
between man and wife, I conceive, is, or
ought to be mutual. . . . Marriage ought
never to be considered a contract between
a superior and an inferior, but a reciprocal
union of interest, an implied partnership of
interests, where all differences are
accommodated by conference; and where
the decision admits of no retrospect.”
enabled women to vote. But though Abigail Adams
teased her husband John in 1776 that “the Ladies’’
were determined “to foment a rebellion’’ of their
own if they were not given political rights, most of
the women in the Revolutionary era were still doing
traditional women’s work.
Yet women did not go untouched by Revolutionary ideals. Central to republican ideology was the
concept of “civic virtue’’—the notion that democracy
depended on the unselfish commitment of each citizen to the public good. And who could better cultivate the habits of a virtuous citizenry than mothers,
to whom society entrusted the moral education of
the young? Indeed the selfless devotion of a mother
to her family was often cited as the very model of
proper republican behavior. The idea of “republican
motherhood’’ thus took root, elevating women to a
newly prestigious role as the special keepers of the
nation’s conscience. Educational opportunities for
women expanded, in the expectation that educated
wives and mothers could better cultivate the virtues
demanded by the Republic in their husbands,
daughters, and sons. Republican women now bore
crucial responsibility for the survival of the nation.
Constitution Making in the States
The Continental Congress in 1776 called upon the
colonies to draft new constitutions. In …
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