The story of the American Colonies break from the British Empire with an emphasis on it's leaders and causes from Lexington to Yorktown

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Declaration Of Independence

John Adams


A. Hamilton

John Hancock

Patrick Henry

Thomas Jefferson

James Madison

Tom Paine

G. Washington

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The United States

The revolutionary movements in Europe during the nineteenth century
fought aristocratic domination or foreign rule - or both. The
nineteenth-century struggles in the United States were not quite the same.
Instead, there were two major related problems. One was the annexation,
settlement, and development of the continent; the other was slavery. Free land
and unfree people were the sources of the many political confrontations that
culminated in the Civil War, the greatest struggle of nineteenth-century

At the conclusion of its successful revolution in 1783, the United States
was not a democracy. At the time of the ratification of the Constitution only
one male in seven had the vote. Religious requirements and property
qualifications ensured that only a small elite participated in government.
These restrictions allowed patricians from established families in the south
and men of wealth and substance in the north to control the country for nearly
half a century.

Democratic Influences

The influence of the western frontier helped make America more
democratic. Even before the Constitution was ratified, thousands of pioneers
crossed the Appalachian Mountains into the new "western country." In the west,
land was to be had for the asking, social caste did not exist, one person was
as good as another. Vigor, courage, self-reliance, and competence counted, not
birth or wealth. Throughout the nineteenth century the west was the source of
new and liberal movements that challenged the conservative ideas prevalent in
the east.

Until the War of 1812, democracy grew slowly. In 1791 Vermont had been
admitted as a manhood suffrage state, and the following year Kentucky followed
suit; but Tennessee, Ohio, and Louisiana entered the Union with property and
tax qualifications for the vote. After 1817 no new state entered the Union
with restrictions on male suffrage except for slaves. Most appointive offices
became elective, and requirements for holding office were liberalized.

Andrew Jackson changed the tone and emphasis of American politics. In
1828 he was elected to the presidency following a campaign that featured the
slogan "down with the aristocrats." He was the first president produced by the
west; the first since George Washington not to have a college education; and
the first to have been born in poverty. He owed his election to no
congressional clique, but to the will of the people, who idolized "Old
Hickory" as their spokesman and leader.

The triumph of the democratic principle in the 1830s set the direction
for political development. With Jackson's election came the idea that any man,
by virtue of being an American citizen, could hold any office in the land.
Governments widened educational opportunities by enlarging the public school
system. With increased access to learning, class barriers became less
important. The gaining and keeping of political power came more and more to be
tied to satisfying the needs of the people who voted.

Simultaneous with the growth of democracy came the territorial expansion
of the country. The Louisiana territory, purchased from France for about $15
million in 1803, doubled the size of the United States. In 1844, Americans
influenced by "manifest destiny," the belief that their domination of the
continent was God's will, demanded "All of Oregon or none." The claim led to a
boundary dispute with Great Britain over land between the Columbia River and
54 40 north latitude. In 1846 the two countries accepted a boundary at the
49th parallel, and the Oregon territory was settled. The annexation of Texas
in 1845 was followed by war with Mexico in 1846. In the peace agreement signed
two years later Mexico ceded California, all title to Texas, and the land
between California and Texas to the United States. As a result of these
acquisitions, by 1860 the area of the United States had increased by
two-thirds over what it had been in 1840.

The addition of the new territories forced the issue of whether slavery
should be allowed in those areas. Parallelling developments in Great Britain,
abolitionists in the United States, particularly New England, vigorously
condemned slavery. Henry Clay's Missouri Compromise of 1820 permitted slavery
in Missouri but forbade it in the rest of the Louisiana Purchase. This
settlement satisfied both sides for only a short time. The antislavery forces
grew more insistent. In the senatorial campaigns of 1858, candidate Abraham
Lincoln declared:

A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe
this government cannot endure permanently half slave and
half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved - I
do not expect the house to fall - but I do expect it will
cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all
the other. ^3

[Footnote 3: C. Van Doren, ed., The Literary Works of Abraham Lincoln (New
York: Limited Editions Club, 1941), p. 65.]

Slavery was an important issue; it served as a focus for the differences
and tensions separating the North from the South. However, a more fundamental
cause of conflict was that, in a sense, the two sections had become separate
societies. The former was industrial, urban, and democratic; the latter was
mainly agricultural, rural, and dominated by a planter aristocracy. The South
strongly opposed the North's desire for higher tariffs, government aid for new
railroads, and generous terms for land settlement in the West. These
fundamental differences brought North and South to war. Slavery served as a
moral irritant.

[See White Leaguers: Armed members of the White League guard the ballot box to
prevent newly enfranchised black citizens from depositing their ballots. From
"Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper"]

[See United States Expansion: Territorial Expansion of the United States

The Civil War And Its Results

Soon after Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as president, the southern
states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America.
The first shot of the Civil War was fired at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, in
1861, initiating the bloodiest war experienced by any western nation to that
time. Four agonizing years of conflict, in which more than one-half million
men died, ended when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S.
Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia in April 1865. A few days later,
the nation was stunned by the assassination of President Lincoln, who had just
begun his second term.

With the final collapse of the Confederacy before the overwhelming
superiority of the Union in manpower, industrial resources, and wealth, the
Civil War became the grand epic of American history in its heroism, romance,
and tragedy. The victorious North used military occupation to try to force the
south to extend voting and property rights to the former slaves. Eventually,
this so-called Reconstruction period (1865-1877) was ended by a tacit
agreement between the northern industrial and the southern white leaders that
enabled the latter to regain political control and to deprive blacks of their
newly won rights. Southerners invoked Social Darwinist arguments to justify
their actions in denying full "blessings of freedom" to the former slaves.

Southern politicians deprived blacks of their voting rights by enacting
state laws or employing devices such as poll taxes, literacy tests, property
qualifications, and physical threats. Racial segregation in schools,
restaurants, parks, and hotels was effectively applied. Laws prohibiting
interracial marriage were enacted, and blacks were generally excluded from
unions. Between 1885 and 1918, more than 2500 blacks were lynched in the
United States. As second-class citizens, freed but landless, the former slaves
essentially formed a sharecropping class, mired in poverty and deprived of
equal educational opportunity. ^4

[Hear On Segregation At Little Rock]
Exerpts From a press conference with Governor Orval Faubus on school
desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957.

[Footnote 4: S. E. Morison, The Oxford History of the American People (London:
Oxford Univ. Press, 1965), p. 793.]

It took more than a century after the Civil War for black Americans to
gain a politically equal footing. Despite all of the obstacles they
encountered in the half century after the Emancipation Proclamation, by 1914
black Americans made some substantial achievements: the creation of a
professional class estimated at 47,000; a 70 percent literacy rate; ownership
of 550,000 homes, 40,000 businesses, and savings of some $700 million. Black
churches, banks, and insurance companies evoled into substantial institutions.
In addition black individuals made major contributions to a number of
different fields: Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) was recognized as a
distinguished painter; George Washington Carver (1865-1943) made substantial
contributions in the field of agricultural chemistry; and W. E. B. DuBois
(1868-1963), a social scientist of national stature, began the first effective
black political protest early in the century.

If the causes and consequences of the American Civil War are complex, the
all-important result was simple. It settled the issue of whether the United
States was an indivisible sovereign nation or a collection of sovereign
states. The sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of lives preserved the Union,
but the inhuman treatment of blacks remained.

Development, Abuse, And Reform

The North's victory was a boost for industrialization as well as a result
of it - and the economic revolution in the United States that followed was
more significant than the conflict itself. Railroads were built across broad
prairies and the first transcontinental line, the Union Pacific, was completed
in 1869.

Settlers swarmed west. Between 1850 and 1880 the number of cities with a
population of 50,000 or more doubled. The number of men emloyed in industry
increased 50 percent. In 1865 there were 35,000 miles of railroads in the
country. By 1900 the trackage was estimated to be about 200,000 - more than in
all of Europe. In 1860 a little more than a billion dollars was invested in
manufacturing; by 1900 this figure had risen to 12 billion. The value of
manufactured products increased proportionately. In 1870 the total production
of iron and steel in the United States was far below that of France and
Britain. Twenty years later the United States had outstripped them and was
producing about one-third of the world's iron and steel.

In the age of rapid industrialism and materialistic expansion, many who
pursued profits lost sight of ethical principles both in business and
government. In five years, between 1865 and 1870, the notorious Tweed Ring
cost the city of New York at least $100 million. Ruthless financiers, such as
Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, tampered with the basic financial stability of the
nation. The administration of President Ulysses Grant was tainted by scandals
and frauds. A new rich class failed to appreciate its responsibilities to
society. Corruption was a blatant feature of the new order.

For roughly a century the gospel for the new nation of America had been
rugged individualism. As in Europe, governmental interference in business was
unwelcome because of the strong belief that individuals should be free to
follow their own inclinations, run their own businesses, and enjoy the profits
of their labors. In an expanding nation where land, jobs, and opportunity
beckoned, there was little to indicate that the system would not work
indefinitely. By 1880, however, the end of the frontier was in sight. Free
land of good quality was scarce, and the frontier could no longer serve as a
safety valve to release the economic and social pressures of an expanding

Between 1850 and 1900 the United States became the most powerful state in
the western hemisphere, increased its national wealth from $7 billion to $88
billion, established an excellent system of public education, and fostered the
spread of civil liberties. But there were many disturbing factors in the
picture. Unemployment, child labor, and industrial accidents were common in
the rapidly growing cities. Slums grew and served as breeding places for
disease and crime. Strikes, often accompanied by violence, brought to a head
the tension between labor and capital.

In response, the wide-ranging Progressive reform movement developed
between 1890 to 1914. This movement was rooted partly in the agrarian protests
against big business sparked by the Populists of the Midwest and South. The
Progressives effectively mobilized the middle classes to work to eliminate
sweatshops, the exploitation of labor, and the abuse of natural resources.

The success of the Progressive movement was reflected in the
constitutions of the new states admitted to the Union and in their
introduction of the direct primary, the initiative and referendum, and the
direct election of senators. All these measures tended to give the common
people more effective control of the government. After the enactment of the
Interstate Commerce Act in 1887, which had introduced federal regulation over
railroads, a steady expansion of governmental regulation of industry began.

As president of the United States from 1901 to 1909, Theodore Roosevelt
launched an aggressive campaign to break up the trusts, conserve natural
resources, and regulate railroads, food, and drugs. In 1913 President Woodrow
Wilson started a militant campaign of reform called the "New Freedom." His
administration reduced the tariff because it was too much the instrument of
special economic privilege, enacted banking reform with the Federal Reserve
Act of 1913, and regulated businesses in the public interest through the
Clayton Antitrust Act and the establishment of the Federal Trade Commission,
both in 1914.

[See Senate Bosses: This cartoon, "The Bosses of the Senate", appeared in Puck
in 1889, shortly before the Senate began debate on the Sherman Antitrust Bill.
Public uproar over the proliferation of gigantic trusts eventually led to
passage of the Antitrust Act in 1890. courtesy Library Of Congress]

Farmer and Businessman, 1908
In 1914 the United States was the richest, most populous, and most
influential nation in the West. The country's first census, taken in 1790,
counted a population of just under 4 million; by 1910 the number was 99
million. During the nineteenth century more than 25 million immigrants had
made their way to America. Since the days of George Washington, the national
wealth had increased at least a hundredfold. Once the producer of raw
materials only, the United States by 1914 was the world's greatest industrial
power, producing more steel than Britain and Germany combined. A single
company - United States Steel - was capitalized for $1.460 billion, a sum
greater than the total estimated wealth of the country in 1790.

The United States And The World

From the first, U.S. foreign policy pursued three goals: national
security, trade, and the spread of democracy. During its first
quarter-century, The United States fought a brief naval war with France,
became embroiled with Britain in the War of 1812, and sent two expeditions to
the Mediterranean to deal with the Barbary pirates. These complications
notwithstanding, Americans spent the next century developing their country.
Thomas Jefferson summarized the country's foreign policy with these words:
"Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations - entangling
alliances with none." ^5

[Footnote 5: Quoted in F. R. Dulles, America's Rise to World Power (New York:
Harper & Row, 1955), p. 4.]

Early in the 1820s the policy of noninvolvement was seriously challenged
when conservative members of the Quadruple Alliance offered to help the
Spanish king regain control of Latin America. Both Britain and the United
States viewed this possibility with alarm. George Canning, the British foreign
secretary, suggested that his government and the United States make a joint
declaration warning against European intervention in South America. U. S.
President James Monroe seriously considered the invitation, but decided
against it.

Instead Monroe offered a unilateral doctrine in his message to Congress
in December 1823. He warned the European powers against any attempt to impose
their system in the Western Hemisphere and also declared that the United
States had no intention of interfering in European affairs. In 1823 the United
States could "have its cake and eat it too." The shield of the British fleet
stood behind the Monroe Doctrine, with or without a formal alliance between
Washington and London, and the United States avoided the complications and
dangers inherent in European intervention.

[See Monroe Doctoring: American cartoonist Thomas Nast satirized British
imperialism with this cartoon; the caption reads, "A Little Monroe Doctoring
Might Be Good For Him." From Library Of Congress]

It was sometimes difficult to reconcile the desire for isolation with the
country's stated love of freedom - for example, much sympathy was expresed for
the Greeks as they fought against Turkish tyranny in the 1820s, but there was
little active support. When the country established new foreign contacts, it
went across the Pacific. In 1844 the United States made its first treaty with
China, opening certain ports to American trade and securing the rights of
American merchants and sailors to be tried in American tribunals in China. In
1853 Commodore Matthew Perry visited Japan, and by his show of force,
persuaded the Japanese to open some of their harbors to American ships. By
1854 the United States was considering the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands,
and in 1867 it purchased Alaska from Russia for the amazingly low price of
$7.2 million.

Emperor Napoleon III tested the Monroe Doctrine during the Civil War by
sending over Maximilian to establish the Mexican empire (see ch. 24). While
the war raged, U. S. protests did little to sway the French. But after 1865,
the 900,000 veterans backing up the protests plus the actions of the Mexican
patriots forced Napoleon to withdraw his military and financial support. In
1867 a Mexican firing squad executed Maximilian.

[See Macmillan: The execution of Macmillan by firing squad in 1867. The
protests of the United States against France's violation of the Monroe
Doctrine helped convince Napoleon III to with draw French military support of
Maximillan's empire in Mexico. Without this support the empire soon collapsed.]

Foreign affairs were virtually forgotten for the next generation, and one
New York newspaper recommended the abolition of the foreign service. However,
as productivity increased, the United States was forced to seek new outlets
for its goods, especially now that the frontier had disappeared. Foreign trade
increased from $393 million in 1870 to more than $1.333 billion in 1900.
Investments abroad in the same period went from virtually nothing to $500
million. At the same time American missionary activity greatly expanded in
Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Like their European counterparts, many
American leaders were influenced by Darwinism, especially when it was applied
to foreign affairs. The slogan "survival of the fittest" had its followers in
the U. S. Congress as well as in the British Parliament, French Chamber of
Deputies, and German Reichstag. In order to be truly great, many argued, the
United States must expand and assume a vital role in world politics. This
argument was instrumental in the United States, acquisition of a global

Roosevelt The Activist

The United States began building a modern navy in 1883, and by 1890 the
buildup had accelerated greatly. Care was taken not to alarm the country,
however, and the new ships were officially known as "seagoing coastline
battleships," a handy nautical contradiction. When this naval program was
initiated, the U. S. Navy ranked twelfth among the powers; by 1900 it had
advanced to third place.

The growing international stature of the United States received startling
confirmation in the border dispute between Britain and Venezuela in 1895. When
Britain delayed before agreeing to submit the issue to arbitration, the State
Department of the United States took the initiative and drafted a blunt note
to London. The note warned the British that grave consequences would follow
their refusal to accept arbitration. The State Department noted U. S.
dominance in the western hemisphere and boasted that America's "infinite
resources combined with its isolated position render it master of the
situation and practically invulnerable against any or all other powers."
Britain was preoccupied with the Boers in South Africa, the Germans on the
continent, and the French in the Sudan and thus could not argue too
strenuously against the message. The British agreed to resolve the dispute
through arbitration.

There were signs of the new dynamism in American foreign policy in Asia
as well. In 1899 U. S. Secretary of State John Hay initiated a policy for
maintaining equal commercial rights in China for the traders of all nations,
and the Open Door Policy in China became a reality. In the melodrama of the
Boxer Rebellion, the United States again was a leader rather than a follower.

This heightened activity of the United States is best symbolized by the
ideas and actions of Theodore Roosevelt. In his terms as president he was one
of the leading figures on the world stage. At the request of the Japanese he
assumed the role of peacemaker in the Russo-Japanese War. The peace
conference, which met at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1905 successfully
concluded a treaty, and in 1910 Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Roosevelt was not always a man of peace, however. When he believed the
legitimate interests of the United States to be threatened, he did not
hesitate to threaten or use force, as could be seen in Panama. In 1901 the
British conceded to the United States the exclusive right to control any
Isthmian canal that might be dug. For $40 million the United States bought the
rights of a private French company that had already begun work on the canal. A
lease was negotiated with Colombia, through whose territory the canal would be
built, but that country's senate refused to ratify the treaty, claiming the
compensation was too small. Roosevelt is reputed to have responded, "I did not
intend that any set of bandits should hold up Uncle Sam." The upshot was a
revolution, financed with money borrowed from banker and financier John
Pierpont Morgan. Panama, the new republic that seceded from Colombia in 1903,
concluded a canal treaty with the United States, and in 1914 the canal was
opened. The United States had moved far from its traditional place on the
periphery of world affairs.


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