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The United States Of America, Part Two

This is the story of how the American Republic developed from colonial beginnings in the 16th century, when the first European explorers arrived, until modern times.

RESISTANCE AND REVOLUTION   A The Wars for North America, 1689–1763  
Seventeenth–century colonists fought wars with the coastal Native American peoples upon whom they had intruded. Eighteenth-century colonial wars, in contrast, usually began in Europe, and they pitted the English colonies against French and Spanish empires in North America. These empires posed a number of problems for English colonists. Spanish Florida offered refuge to runaway slaves from the southeastern colonies. The French built an interior arc of settlements from Québec to New Orleans; they also made trading agreements with Native Americans. The French trading empire impeded the expansion of English settlements, and the strength of the French and their Native American allies was a constant concern to the British and to American settlers.

The English and French fought frequently: in King William’s War (1689-1697; known in Europe as the War of the League of Augsburg), in Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713; the War of the Spanish Succession), in King George’s War (1744-1748; War of the Austrian Succession), and in the French and Indian War (the Seven Years’ War), which began in America in 1754 and ended in Europe in 1763. In all of these wars, the French had the assistance of most Native Americans of the interior.

During the course of these wars, the English gained strength in relation to their French and Spanish rivals, and in the French and Indian War, with strong help from colonial militias, they expelled the French from mainland North America. In 1763 Britain became the lone European imperial power in North America between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River. (The Spanish, allies of the French, gave up Florida but took over French claims in New Orleans and in lands west of the Mississippi as compensation.) Within 20 years the British would lose most of what they had gained.

Victory in the French and Indian War gave the British an enlarged mainland empire but also brought new problems. First, the war had been expensive: The interest alone on England’s debt required half the government’s revenues, and the overtaxed British people could not be asked to pay more. Second, the acquisition of French and Spanish territory gave the British new administrative tasks. They acquired not only vast tracts of land, but also the French settlers and indigenous peoples who lived there.

The difficulties became clear in early 1763, when an Ottawa chief named Pontiac became worried about losing the French allies who had helped keep British settlers out of the interior. Pontiac led an uprising of a broad Native American coalition that included Seneca, Wyandots, Delawares, Shawnee, Miami, Ottawa, and other nations. They attacked British forts and frontier settlements in Pennsylvania and Virginia. During the summer of 1763 they killed as many as 2,000 settlers, but they could not dislodge the British from their fortified strongholds at Detroit, Niagara, and other places in the interior. Settlers responded by murdering Native Americans, most of whom had done nothing. The British government realized that it needed not only more revenue but also a military presence and a colonial administrative policy to establish British authority and keep the peace in North America.

Break with Britain  Constitutional Understandings: Britain  British officials believed that the British government—and Parliament in particular—had the constitutional power to tax and govern the American colonies. The rulers of Parliament assumed what they called parliamentary sovereignty. Parliament, they insisted, was dominant within the British constitution. Parliament was a brake against arbitrary monarchs; Parliament alone could tax or write legislation, and Parliament could not consent to divide that authority with any other body. As Thomas Hutchinson, the royal governor of Massachusetts, put it, there could be no compromise "between the supreme authority of Parliament and the total independence of the colonies. It is impossible there should be two independent legislatures in one and the same state."

Constitutional Understandings: America  The Americans, however, had developed a very different opinion of how they should be governed. By the 1720s all but two colonies had an elected assembly and an appointed governor. Contests between the two were common, with governors generally exercising greater power in the northern colonies and assemblies wielding more power in the south.

Governors technically had great power. Most were appointed by the king and stood for him in colonial government. Governors also had the power to make appointments, and thus to pack the government with their followers.

The assemblies, however, had the "power of the purse": Only they could pass revenue (tax) bills. Assemblies often used that power to gain control over appointments, and sometimes to coerce the governor himself. This was particularly true during the French and Indian War, when governors often asked assemblies to approve revenue bills and requisitions to fund the fighting. Assemblies used their influence over finances to gain power in relation to governors.

Colonists tended to view their elected assemblies as defenders against the king, against Parliament, and against colonial governors, who were attempting to increase their power at the expense of popular liberty. Thus when the British Parliament asserted its right to tax and govern the colonies (something it had never done before), ideals clashed. The British elite’s idea of the power that its Parliament had gained since 1689 collided with the American elite’s idea of the sovereignty of its own parliaments. The British assumed that their Parliament legislated for the whole empire. The Americans assumed that while the parts of the empire shared British liberties and the British king, the colonies could be taxed and governed only by their own elected representatives. The British attempt to tax the colonies was certain to start a fight.

Toward Independence  Parliament passed the Sugar and Currency acts in 1764. The Sugar Act strengthened the customs service, and on the surface it looked like the old Navigation Acts. The Sugar Act was different, however, because it was designed not so much to regulate trade (a power that colonists had not questioned) but rather to raise revenue (a power that colonists denied to Parliament). The Currency Act forbade colonies to issue paper money—a move that many colonies saw as an unconstitutional intervention in their internal affairs. Individual colonies petitioned against these measures, but a unified colonial response to British colonial reform did not come until 1765.

The Stamp Act Crisis  
That year, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which required all legal documents, licenses, commercial contracts, newspapers, pamphlets, dice, and playing cards to carry a tax stamp. The Stamp Tax raised revenue from thousands of daily transactions in all of the colonies. In addition, those accused of violating the act would be tried in Vice–Admiralty Courts—royal tribunals without juries that formerly heard only cases involving maritime law. The colonial assemblies petitioned the British, insisting that only they could tax Americans. The assemblies also sent delegates to a Stamp Act Congress, which adopted a moderate petition of protest and sent it to England. Other Americans took more forceful measures. Before the Act went into effect, in every large colonial town, mobs of artisans and laborers, sometimes including blacks and women, attacked men who accepted appointments as Stamp Act commissioners, usually forcing them to resign. American merchants also organized nonimportation agreements, which put pressure on English merchants, who in turn pressured the British government.

In spring 1766 a newly elected Parliament repealed the Stamp Tax, believing it had been unwise. Parliament did not, however, doubt its right to tax the colonies. When it repealed the Stamp Act, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act, which reaffirmed Parliament’s right to legislate for the colonies "in all cases whatsoever."

Townshend Acts  
In 1767 a new ministry led by chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend addressed the North American situation. Townshend drew up new taxes on imports (tea, lead, paper, glass, paint) that Americans could receive only from Britain. More ominously, he earmarked the revenue from these duties for the salaries of colonial governors and judges, thus making them independent of the colonial assemblies. He also strengthened the organization responsible for enforcing customs duties and located its headquarters in Boston, the center of opposition to the Stamp Act. Finally, he moved many units of the British army away from the frontier and nearer the centers of white population.

Clearly, the Townshend Acts were meant not only to tax the colonies but also to exert British authority. When colonial assemblies protested the duties, Townshend dissolved the assemblies. Americans rioted. They also agreed to boycott all imported British goods—particularly tea. The British responded by landing troops at Boston (the center of resistance) in October 1768. Tensions between townspeople and soldiers were constant for the next year and a half. On March 5, 1770, tensions exploded into the Boston Massacre, when British soldiers fired into a mob of Americans, killing five men.

In England on the day of the Boston Massacre, Parliament repealed all of the Townshend Duties except the one on tea—a powerful reminder that it would never relinquish its right to tax and govern Americans. The Americans, in turn, resumed imports of other goods, but continued to boycott tea.

Other British Measures  
The Tea Act of 1773 maintained the tax on tea and gave the English East India Company a monopoly on the export of that commodity. The company’s tea ships ran into trouble in American ports, most notably in Boston, where on December 16, 1773, colonials dressed as Native Americans dumped a shipload of tea into the harbor (see Boston Tea Party).

Britain responded to this Boston Tea Party with the Intolerable Acts of 1774, which closed the port of Boston until Bostonians paid for the tea. The acts also permitted the British army to quarter its troops in civilian households, allowed British soldiers accused of crimes while on duty in America to be tried in Britain or in another colony, and revised the Massachusetts Charter to abolish its elected legislature.

At the same time, the Québec Act organized a British government in Canada that frightened many Protestant, libertarian Americans: It allowed the Catholic Church to remain established in French Canada, and it established a government with fewer liberties than Americans enjoyed. Some Americans saw the act as a model for what the British had in mind for them. Along with the Intolerable Acts and the Québec Act came clear signs that Britain would use whatever military force it needed to subdue the Americans.

Continental Congress  
In September 1774 every colony but Georgia sent delegates to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Congress refused to recognize the authority of Parliament and instead sent a petition to the king. The petition stated the principle that Parliament could not legislate for the colonies without their consent and extended this principle beyond taxation to any legislation.

While the British army occupied Boston, Massachusetts established a provincial congress that met in Concord. The new congress became the de facto government of Massachusetts. The British responded by sending an army out from Boston to seize arms and American leaders at Concord. They were met by Massachusetts militiamen, and colonial protest turned into revolutionary war at the battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775. A Second Continental Congress met the following month and proclaimed the militia that had routed the British in the countryside a Continental Army, with George Washington as its leader. In August, King George III proclaimed the colonies to be in rebellion. The British army, after a costly victory at the Battle of Bunker Hill, left Boston and sailed for Nova Scotia. With that, there was virtually no British military presence in the rebellious 13 colonies.

Through 1775 and into 1776, the Americans fought without agreeing on what the fight was about: Many wanted independence, while others wanted to reconcile with the king but not with Parliament. The pamphlet Common Sense by Anglo-American philosopher Thomas Paine presented powerful arguments opposing kings and supporting a pure republic. It changed the minds of many colonists.

The British hired about 30,000 German mercenaries (Hessians) to help put down the Americans, and that, too, convinced some Americans that there could be no reconciliation. Congress appointed a committee to draft a declaration of independence. Thomas Jefferson, a congressman from Virginia, took on the job of writing the first draft. Congress voted for independence on July 2, 1776, and signed the formal declaration two days later.

The Declaration of Independence was primarily a list of grievances against the king. But the opening paragraphs amounted to a republican manifesto. The preamble declared (and committed future generations of Americans to the proposition) that "all men are created equal," and that they possess natural rights that include "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Perhaps most important, the declaration insisted that governments derive their powers only by consent of the governed. Protest against British colonial rule had been transformed into a republican revolution.

The American Revolution  
In 1776 the prospects for American victory seemed small. Britain had a population more than three times that of the colonies, and the British army was large, well–trained, and experienced. The Americans, on the other hand, had undisciplined militia and only the beginnings of a regular army or even a government. But Americans had powerful advantages that in the end were decisive. They fought on their own territory, and in order to win, they did not have to defeat the British but only to convince the British that the colonists could not be defeated.

The British fought in a huge, hostile territory. They could occupy the cities and control the land on which their army stood, but they could not subdue the American colonists. Two decisive battles of the war—Saratoga and Yorktown—are cases in point. At Saratoga, New York, a British army descending on the Hudson Valley from Canada outran its supply lines, became tangled in the wilderness, and was surrounded by Americans. The Americans defeated a British detachment that was foraging for food near Bennington, Vermont, then attacked the main body of the British army at Saratoga. The British surrendered an army of about 5,800 (see Battles of Saratoga).

More important, the American victory at Saratoga convinced France that an alliance with the Americans would be a good gamble. The French provided loans, a few troops, and—most important—naval support for the Americans. The French alliance also turned the rebellion into a wider war in which the British had to contend not only with the colonials but also with a French navy in the Caribbean and on the American coast.

In the battle of Yorktown, the climactic campaign of the war, the vastness of America again defeated the British. In 1781 Lord Charles Cornwallis led an army through Virginia almost without opposition, then retreated to a peninsula at Yorktown. There he was besieged by George Washington’s army and held in check by the French navy. Unable to escape or to get help, Cornwallis surrendered an entire British army. His defeat effectively ended the war. In the Treaty of Paris of 1783, the British recognized the independence of the United States and relinquished its territory from the Atlantic to the Mississippi.

The Revolution: Winners and Losers  
Colonial elites—large landholders and plantation masters—benefited most from American independence: They continued to rule at home without outside interference. Below them, property–holding white men who became full citizens of the American republic enjoyed the "life, liberty, and property" for which they had fought. White women remained excluded from public life, as did most white men without property. But the Americans for whom the legacy of revolution proved disastrous—or at best ambiguous—were Native Americans and African American slaves.

In 1760 the British defeated the French in North America, and Native Americans lost the French alliance that had helped protect and strengthen them for 150 years. In the Revolution, they tended to side with the British or to remain neutral, knowing that an independent republic of land–hungry farmers posed a serious threat. The six Iroquois nations divided on this question, splitting a powerful confederacy that had lasted more than 200 years. When some Iroquois raided colonial settlements, Americans responded by invading and destroying the whole Iroquois homeland in 1779. Further south, the Cherokee people sided with the British and lost heavily. Up and down the frontier, Native Americans and backcountry militia kept up unsettling and sporadic fighting throughout the war. After the British ceded territory on both sides of the Appalachians to the Americans in 1783, Native Americans—who had not been defeated—ignored maps drawn by whites and continued to fight through the 1790s. Native American military power east of the Mississippi was not broken until 1815. The key to that defeat was the fact that the independent American republic was now expanding without opposition from either France or Britain.

The results of the American Revolution for American slaves were ambiguous. Early in the war, the governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, had promised freedom to any Virginia slave who joined the British army. Thousands took the offer, and many more thousands seized wartime opportunities to disappear. (When Colonel Banastre Tarleton raided Charlottesville, Virginia, many of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves cheered the British as liberators.) On the other hand, thousands of blacks (primarily in the North) fought on the patriot side.

American independence also had differing effects on blacks. On the one hand, it created an independent nation in which slaveholders wielded real power—something that slaves would remember in the 1830s, when Parliament freed slaves in the British Caribbean without asking the planters. On the other hand, the ideology of natural rights that was fundamental to the Revolution was difficult to contain. Many whites, particularly in the North, came to see emancipation as a logical outcome of the Revolution. Vermont outlawed slavery in its constitution, and in the 1780s and 1790s most Northern states took steps to emancipate their slaves. Even Chesapeake planters flirted seriously with emancipation. Perhaps most important, slaves themselves absorbed revolutionary notions of natural rights. Following the Revolution, slave protests and slave rebellions were drenched in the rhetoric of revolutionary republicanism. Thus American independence was a short–term disaster for the slaves, but at the same time, it set in motion a chain of events that would destroy American slavery.

FORGING A NEW NATION   State Constitutions  In May 1776, even before declaring national independence, the Second Continental Congress told the states to draw up constitutions to replace their colonial regimes. A few ordered their legislatures to draw up constitutions. By 1777, however, the states had recognized the people as the originators of government power. State constitutions were written by conventions elected by the voters (generally white men who held a minimum amount of property), and in a few states the finished constitutions were then submitted to voters for ratification. The Americans (white men who owned property, that is) were determined to create their own governments, not simply to have them handed down by higher authorities.

Without exception, the states rejected the unwritten constitution of Britain—a jumble of precedents, common law, and statutes that Americans thought had led to arbitrary rule. The new American states produced written constitutions that carefully specified the powers and limits of government. They also wrote the natural rights philosophy of the Declaration of Independence into bills of rights that protected freedom of speech and of the press, guaranteed trial by jury, forbade searching without specific warrants, and forbade taxation without consent. Seven states appended these to their constitutions; some of the other states guaranteed these rights through clauses within their constitutions.

These first state constitutions, although all republican and all demonstrating distrust of government power—particularly of the executive—varied a great deal. In Pennsylvania, radicals wrote the most democratic constitution, in 1776. It established a unicameral (one–house) legislature to be chosen in annual secret-ballot elections that were open to all male taxpayers; the executive was a 12–man committee without real power. Nearly all of the other states adopted constitutions with two–house legislatures, usually with longer terms and higher property qualifications for the upper house. They had elective governors who could veto legislation, but who lacked the arbitrary powers of prerevolutionary executives. They could not dissolve the legislature, they could not corrupt the legislature by appointing its members to executive office, and the legislature could override their vetoes.

In these revolutionary constitutions—drawn up hurriedly in the midst of war—Americans were groping toward written constitutions with clearly specified powers. These constitutions featured limits for legislatures, executives, and the courts, with a clear separation of power among the three. They also guaranteed the citizens certain inalienable rights and made them the constituent power. On the whole, state constitutions reflected fear of government (and particularly executive) tyranny more than they reflected the need to create forceful, effective government.

The Articles of Confederation  
Americans began their revolution without a national government, but the Continental Congress recognized the need for a government that could conduct the war, form relations with other countries, borrow money, and regulate trade. Eight days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a committee headed by John Dickinson of Pennsylvania submitted a blueprint for a powerful national government. Among other things, Dickinson’s plan gave all the states’ western land claims to the national government, and it created a congress in which states were represented equally rather than by population. The plan shocked delegates who considered the new nation a loose confederation of independent states, and they rejected it.

The Articles of Confederation, which included a strong affirmation of state sovereignty, went into effect in March 1781. They created a unicameral legislature in which each state had one vote. The articles gave the confederation jurisdiction in relations with other nations and in disputes between states, and the articles won control of western lands for the national government. In ordinances passed in 1784, 1785, and 1787 the Confederation Congress organized the new federal lands east of the Mississippi and between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes as the Northwest Territory. This legislation organized the land into townships six miles square, provided land to support public schools, and organized the sale of land to developers and settlers. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 guaranteed civil liberties in the territory and banned the importation of slaves north of the Ohio River. The creation of the territory was among the solid accomplishments of the Confederation government. Still, the government lacked important powers. It could not directly tax Americans, and the articles could be amended only by a unanimous vote of the states. Revolutionary fear of centralized tyranny had created a very weak national government.

The weakness of the national government made resolving questions of currency and finance particularly difficult. Neither the national government nor the states dared to tax Americans. To pay the minimal costs of government and the huge costs of fighting the war, both simply printed paper money. While this money was honored early in the war, citizens learned to distrust it. By 1780 it took 40 paper dollars to buy one silver dollar. When the Confederation Congress requisitioned funds from the states, the states were very slow in paying. And when the Congress asked permission to establish a 5 percent tax on imports (which would have required an amendment to the articles), important states refused. Under these circumstances the national government could neither strengthen the currency nor generate a stable income for itself.

The Confederation also had problems dealing with other countries. In the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolution, for instance, Americans agreed to pay prerevolutionary debts owed to British merchants, and to restore confiscated property to colonists who had remained loyal to the king (Loyalists). States refused to enforce these provisions, giving the British an excuse to occupy forts in what was now the Northwest Territory of the United States. In 1784 Spain closed the port of New Orleans to Americans, thus isolating farmers in the western settlements whose only access to the rest of the world was through the Mississippi River that ended at that port. The Confederation Congress could do little about these developments. These problems also extended to international trade. In the 1780s Britain, France, and Spain all made it difficult for Americans to trade with their colonies; at the same time, the British flooded American ports with their goods. Gold and silver flowed out of the country. The result was a deep depression throughout most of the 1780s. The Confederation Congress could do nothing about it.

The Confederation also had trouble dealing with Native Americans. The Confederation Congress negotiated doubtful land–cession treaties with the Iroquois in New York and with the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw nations in the South. The Creeks (as well as many of the Native Americans supposedly represented at the negotiations) resisted the onslaught of white settlers, and the Confederation was powerless to do anything about the wars that resulted.

The Confederation had internal problems as well. The economic disruptions of the Revolution and the 1780s left many farmers unable to keep up with their mortgages and other debts. State governments had often met this problem by printing paper money and by passing stay laws that prevented creditors from seizing the property of their debtors. In Massachusetts, however, the upper house of the legislature protected the investments of creditors by voting down debtor–relief legislation. In 1786 farmers in the western counties, led by revolutionary veteran Daniel Shays, held conventions to demand the abolition of the upper house. They then mobbed county courthouses and destroyed the records of many of their debts. They then marched on a federal arsenal at Springfield, where they were repulsed and scattered by the militia (see Shays’ Rebellion). Yet Shays’ rebels retained enough support to elect a legislature that in the following year enacted a stay law.

The Constitutional Convention  
International troubles, the postwar depression, and the near–war in Massachusetts (as well as similar but less spectacular events in other states) led to calls for stronger government at both the state and national levels. Supporters wanted a government that could deal with other countries, create a stable (deflated) currency, and maintain order in a society that some thought was becoming too democratic. Some historians call the citizens who felt this way cosmopolitans. They tended to be wealthy, with their fortunes tied to international trade. They included seaport merchants and artisans, southern planters, and commercial farmers whose foreign markets had been closed. Most of their leaders were former officers of the Continental (national) army and officials of the Confederation government—men whose wartime experiences had given them a political vision that was national and not local.

In the 1780s cosmopolitans were outnumbered by so-called locals, who tended to be farmers living in isolated, inland communities with only marginal ties to the market economy, and who tended to be in debt to cosmopolitans. In the Revolution, most locals had served in militias rather than in the national army, and they preserved a localist, rather than nationalist, view of politics. They also preserved a distrust of any government not subject to direct oversight by citizens. The new state governments had often reapportioned legislative districts to give new, fast-growing western counties greater representation. Locals tended to control legislatures and (as in Shays’ Massachusetts) promote debtor relief, low taxes, and inactive government—a situation that caused cosmopolitans to fear that the republic was degenerating into democracy and chaos.

In September 1786 delegates from several states met at Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss ways to improve American trade. They decided instead, with the backing of the Confederation Congress, to call a national convention to discuss ways of strengthening the Union. In May 1787, 55 delegates (representing every state but Rhode Island, whose legislature had voted not to send a delegation) convened in Philadelphia and drew up a new Constitution of the United States. The delegates were cosmopolitans who wanted to strengthen national government, but they had to compromise on a number of issues among themselves. In addition, the delegates realized that their Constitution would have to be ratified by the citizenry, and they began compromising not only among themselves but also on their notions of what ordinary Americans would accept. The result was a Constitution that was both conservative and revolutionary.

The biggest compromise was between large and small states. States with large populations favored a Virginia Plan that would create a two–house legislature in which population determined representation in both houses. This legislature would then appoint the executive and the judiciary, and it would have the power to veto state laws. The small states countered with a plan for a one–house legislature in which every state, regardless of population, would have one vote. In the resulting compromise, the Constitution mandated a two-house legislature (see Congress of the United States). Representatives would be elected to the lower house based on population, but in the upper house two senators would represent each state, regardless of population. Another compromise settled an argument over whether slaves would be counted as part of a state’s population (if they were counted, Southern representation would increase). The convention agreed to count each slave as three–fifths of a person.

The president would be selected by an electoral college, in which each state’s number of votes equaled its congressional representation. Once elected, the president would have important powers: The president appointed other officers of the executive department as well as federal judges. Commander-in-chief of the military, the president also directed foreign affairs, and could veto laws passed by Congress. These powers, however, were balanced by congressional oversight.

Congress, or just the Senate, had to ratify major appointments and treaties with foreign countries, and only Congress could declare war. Congress also had the power to impeach the president or federal judges, and Congress could override a president’s veto. The Constitution also declared itself the supreme law of the land, and listed powers that the states could not exercise. See also United States (Government)

Thus the Constitution carefully separated and defined the powers of the three branches of the national government and of the national and state governments. It established checks and balances between the branches—and put it all in writing. The stated purpose of the document was to make a strong national government that could never become tyrannical.

The proceedings of the Constitutional Convention were kept secret until late September 1787. The Confederation Congress sent the completed Constitution out for ratification by state conventions elected for that purpose—and not by state legislatures, many of which were hostile to the new document. Thus the Constitution—which began "We the people"—created a government with the people, and not the state legislatures, as the constituent power.

The Federalists, as proponents of the Constitution called themselves, were cosmopolitans who were better organized than their opponents. Particularly in the beginning of the ratification effort, they made greater use of pamphlets and newspapers. In New York, Federalist leaders Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison composed the powerful and enduring Federalist papers to counter doubts about the proposed new government. By January 1788 conventions in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut had ratified the Constitution.

Opponents of the Constitution, who called themselves Anti–Federalists, were locals who feared a strong national government that would be run by educated and wealthy cosmopolitans who operated far away from most citizens. They were particularly distrustful of a Constitution that lacked a bill of rights protecting citizens from government attacks on their liberties.

Ratification contests in the remaining states were close, but by July 1788, 11 states had ratified, often with promises that the new government would enact a bill of rights. (North Carolina eventually ratified in 1789. The last state, Rhode Island, did not send delegates to the Constitutional Convention, and did not ratify the Constitution until 1790.)

George Washington was unanimously elected the first president of the United States in 1789. He presided over a revolutionary republic that was overwhelmingly rural. The country’s 4 million people filled the nation’s territory at only 1.7 per square km (4.5 per square mile; the comparable figure for 1998 was 29.5 per square km, or 76.4 per square mile).

Americans and their Government, 1790–1815  
Most Americans lived in rural, self–sufficient neighborhoods. Farm families produced a variety of plants and animals, consumed much of what they produced, and traded much of the rest within their neighborhoods. Since the mid–18th century Americans had been sending surpluses to Europe and to the slave islands of the Caribbean; in return they received molasses, rum, crockery, tea and coffee, ready–made cloth, and other European (primarily British) manufactured goods.

Two groups were more heavily dependent on international trade, and both had tended to support the new Constitution. The plantation slave–masters of the South grew staple crops for world markets: rice and indigo in South Carolina and Georgia, tobacco in North Carolina and the Chesapeake. The markets for these goods were in Europe (again, primarily England). Northeastern seaport merchants also had a vital stake in overseas trade.

From the 1790s to 1820, southern farms and slavery changed dramatically. In the Chesapeake, tobacco had worn out much of the soil, and world markets for the crop were down. Chesapeake planters began growing less tobacco and more grain, a change that required fewer slaves. Many planters trained their slaves as carpenters, blacksmiths, and other craftsmen and rented them to employers in the towns. Other planters, believing that the natural rights philosophy of the revolution left little moral room for slavery, freed their slaves; but many more simply sold their slaves at high prices to cotton planters further south and west.

In the 1790s planters south of Virginia had found that they could make money by growing cotton, thanks to the cotton gin invented by American Eli Whitney to separate sticky seeds from the cotton fibers. The result was a stunning boom in cotton. The United States produced only 3,000 bales of cotton in 1790; that figure jumped to 335,000 by 1820. The cotton boom created a brisk market in slaves. From 1778 to 1808 the United States imported as many African slaves as it had imported during the whole previous history of the slave trade. Nearly all of these slaves entered the country through Charleston or Savannah and ended up working the cotton plantations of the Deep South. Another reason for the rise in slave imports was a promise in the Constitution that the national government would not end the nation’s participation in the international slave trade until 1808, and planters wished to stock up before the market closed. The slave–driven economy of the late 18th and early 19th centuries produced huge amounts of plantation staples, nearly all of them sold to international (primarily English) buyers.

In 1790 there were few cities. Only 5 percent of the population lived in towns with more than 2,500 inhabitants. And only five communities (Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston) had more than 10,000 inhabitants. Each of these five cities was an Atlantic seaport and handled the exporting of American farm staples and the importing of Old World manufactured goods. They performed very little manufacturing of their own. After 1793, when Britain and France entered a long period of war, American seaports handled increased exports as war–torn Europe bought a lot of American food. They also began to handle more of the trade between European countries and their island colonies in the Caribbean.

Thus the work of the plantations, the seaport towns, and (to a lesser extent) the farms of the United States was tied to foreign trade. The new government of the United States worked to foster and protect that trade, and these efforts led the new nation into the War of 1812.

Growth of Democracy  
Another potential problem for members of the new government who prized order was the rapid growth and increasing democracy of American society. The revolutionary rhetoric of equality and natural rights seeped into every corner of American life. Even the poorest white men demanded the basic dignity that republics promised their citizens. Some women began to dream in that direction, as did slaves. In 1800 a slave named Gabriel led a slave revolt in Richmond, Virginia. His small army marched into the state capital under the banner "Death or Liberty."

Religious change also contributed to the new democratic character of the republic. The established churches of colonial days (Congregationalists in New England, Anglicans—now renamed Episcopalians—further south) declined—in part because they were relatively cold and formal, and also because their status as established churches aroused democratic resentment. At the same time, a great revival among the common people made Baptists and Methodists the largest American churches. Baptists grew from 400 to 2,700 congregations between 1783 and 1820; Methodists grew from 50 to 2,700 churches in the same years. These churches emphasized preaching over ritual, stressed Bible–reading congregations over educated ministers, favored spiritual freedom over old forms of hierarchical discipline, and encouraged conversions. Of crucial importance to the revival was the conversion of slaves and, in turn, the slaves’ transformation of Christianity into a religion of their own. By the second decade of the 19th century, most American slaves were Christians—most of them Baptists and Methodists. Slaves and free blacks participated in the revival and were taken into white churches. But white prejudice and blacks’ desire for autonomy soon resulted in separate African American congregations. By the early 19th century black Methodist and Baptist congregations had become fundamental to a growing African American cultural identity.

Finally, at the western edges of this increasingly disorderly and democratic republic were Native American peoples who remained free and on their own land. The Shawnee, Delaware, and other peoples north of the Ohio River in particular had not been defeated in the Revolution and did not accept the jurisdiction of the United States over their land. These northwestern tribes could also rely on help from the British in Canada.

Thus at the edges of the republic—in the forests of the interior and on the Atlantic Ocean—the new government faced important problems of diplomacy, problems that sometimes degenerated into war. Within the republic, the government had to contend with a democratic citizenry, many of whom deeply distrusted law and authority that came from a distant capital.

The Bill of Rights  
The new government of the United States convened in New York City in early 1789. The First Congress immediately passed a tariff on imports that would provide 90 percent of the government’s revenue. It also created a system of federal courts. Congressmen then turned to the bill of rights that some of the state ratifying conventions had promised their citizens. Congress ultimately passed 12 amendments to the Constitution. Ten of these were ratified by the states and became the Bill of Rights.

The First Amendment protected the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and religion from federal legislation. The Second and Third amendments guaranteed the right to bear arms and made it difficult for the government to house soldiers in private homes—provisions favoring a citizen militia over a professional army. The Fourth through Eighth amendments defined a citizen’s rights in court and when under arrest. The Ninth Amendment stated that the enumeration of these rights did not endanger other rights, and the Tenth Amendment said that powers not granted the national government by the Constitution remained with the states and citizens.

The Debate over Federalism  
The new national government was dominated by men who had led the movement for the Constitution, most of whom called themselves Federalists. They were committed to making an authoritative and stable national state. This became clear early on when President Washington asked Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton to offer solutions to the problems of the national debt and government finances. Hamilton proposed that the federal government assume the revolutionary war debts of the states and combine them with the debt of the United States into one national debt. The federal government would pay off the parts of the debt that were owed to foreigners, thus establishing the international credit of the new government. But the new government would make the domestic debt permanent, selling government bonds that paid a guaranteed high interest rate. Hamilton also proposed a national bank to hold treasury funds and print and back the federal currency. The bank would be a government-chartered and government–regulated private corporation. The bank and the permanent debt would cement ties between private financiers and the government, and they would require an enlarged government bureaucracy and federal taxation. Hamilton asked for a federal excise tax on coffee, tea, wine, and spirits. The latter included whiskey, and the excise quickly became known as the Whiskey Tax. The tax would provide some of the funds to pay interest on the national debt. It would also announce to western farmers that they had a national government that could tax them. Hamilton’s plan increased the power of the national government. See also Federalism

Hamilton’s measures promised to stabilize government finances and to establish the government’s reputation internationally and its authority in every corner of the republic. They would also dramatically centralize power in the national government. Many citizens and members of Congress distrusted Hamilton’s plans. The assumption of state debts, the funding of the national debt, and stock sales for the Bank of the United States would reward commercial interests, nearly all of them from the Northeast, who invested in the bank and the bonds to pay the debt. Also, establishment of the bank required Congress to use the clause in the Constitution that empowers the legislature "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper" to carry out its specified powers—a clause that some feared might allow Congress to do anything it wanted. Finally, the government would require a large civil service to administer the debt and collect taxes—a civil service that would be appointed by the executive. To Madison, Jefferson, and many others, Hamilton’s plans for the national government too closely duplicated the powerful, debt–driven, patronage–wielding British government against which they had fought the revolution.

Jefferson became the leader of a group that called themselves Democratic Republicans. They wanted the United States to remain a republic of the small, property-holding farmers who, they believed, were its most trustworthy citizens. Democratic Republicans envisioned a central government that was strong enough to protect property but not strong or active enough to threaten property or other republican rights. Jefferson feared the national debt, the federal taxes, and the enlarged civil service that Hamilton’s plans required.

When Jefferson was elected president in 1800, he paid off much of the debt that Hamilton had envisioned as a permanent fixture of government. The Jeffersonians then abolished federal taxes other than the tariff, reduced the number of government employees, and drastically reduced the size of the military. They did, however, retain the Bank of the United States. Internationally, the Jeffersonians had no ambitions other than free trade—the right of Americans to trade the produce of their plantations and farms for finished goods from other countries.

Foreign Affairs, 1789–1812  
Unfortunately for both Federalists and Democratic Republicans, it was very hard for the United States to act as a free and neutral country in the international arena because of the wars that followed the establishment of a republic in France (see French Revolution; Napoleonic Wars). The French republic became violent and expansionist, and Britain led three coalitions of European powers in wars against its expansionist activities. These wars affected the domestic policy and the foreign policy of the new United States.

Federalists valued American sovereignty, but they also valued the old trading relationship with Britain; Americans did 90 percent of their trade with Britain. The Federalists also admired British political stability, and they sided with Britain in its wars against France.

In Jay’s Treaty of 1794 the Washington administration tried to create a postrevolutionary relationship with Britain. The British agreed to abandon the forts they occupied in the Northwest Territory. An American army under General Anthony Wayne had defeated the northwestern Native Americans at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, and the British were glad to leave. But the British refused to allow Americans to trade internationally on any basis other than as part of the British mercantile system. The Federalists, knowing that they could ask for nothing better, agreed.

The French regarded Jay’s Treaty as an Anglo–American alliance. They recalled their ambassador and began harassing American merchant ships at sea. By 1798 the Americans and the French were fighting an undeclared naval war in the Caribbean. During this crisis, Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. These acts undermined civil liberties and were clearly directed against Jeffersonian newspaper editors, who were critical of the Federalist-dominated government. The Federalist government also began to raise a large army. The size of the Federalist government and the danger of Federalist repression were the principal issues in the election of 1800. Campaigning for civil liberties and limited government, Thomas Jefferson was elected president.

Jeffersonians cared more about farmers than about the merchants who carried their produce to Europe and imported European goods—particularly when those merchants operated within established British trade networks and voted for Federalist candidates. Jeffersonians demanded that the United States be free to trade with any nation (a demand unlikely to be granted during wartime) and that both France and Britain respect American sovereignty and neutral rights.

During most of Jefferson’s first term, Europe was at peace during a break in the Napoleonic Wars. The one major foreign policy issue was a huge success: Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 (see Louisiana Purchase). The purchase gave western farmers free use of the river system that emptied at New Orleans, removed the French presence from the western border of the United States, and provided American farmers with vast new lands on which to expand their rural republic. Ignoring the fact that independent Native American peoples occupied the Louisiana Territory, Jefferson proclaimed his new land a great "empire of liberty."

Britain and France again went to war a few weeks after the Louisiana Purchase. Americans once again tried to sell food and plantation crops and to carry goods between the warring European powers and their Caribbean colonies. Both sides permitted this trade when it benefited them and tampered with it when it did not. In 1805 the British destroyed the French navy at the Battle of Trafalgar off the Spanish coast and became dominant on the ocean. Britain outlawed American trade with France and maintained a loose blockade of the American coast, seizing American ships and often kidnapping American sailors into the Royal Navy. This happened to as many as 6,000 Americans between 1803 and 1812.

The Americans could not fight the British navy, and President Jefferson responded with "peaceable coercion." Believing that Britain needed American food more than America needed British manufactures, he asked Congress in 1807 for an embargo that would suspend all U.S. trade with foreign nations. Jefferson hoped to coerce Britain and France into respecting American sovereignty. The embargo did not work, however. Britain found other sources of food, and the American economy—particularly in the seaports—stopped. American exports were valued at $108 million in 1807. They dropped to $22 million the following year. In 1808 James Madison, Jefferson’s friend and chosen successor, easily won the presidential election against a Federalist opposition.

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