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The United States Of America, Part Three

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.


History of the United States: Continued, Page Three

The Threat of a Second War with England  
The United States declared war on Britain in 1812. The first cause of the war was British interference with American shipping. The second was military assistance that the British in Canada were providing to the Native American peoples of the United States interior. In Ohio, Native Americans defeated two American armies before being defeated themselves by American troops under General "Mad" Anthony Wayne in 1795. They and indigenous peoples in other parts of the Northwest Territory continued to resist white encroachment. Beginning in 1805, the Shawnee, Delaware, and other northern tribes formed an unprecedentedly large political and military alliance under the Shawnee leader Tecumseh. Americans under William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory, attacked and defeated them at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. But Tecumseh’s army, along with Creeks from the South who had joined him, were a serious threat to white settlement. All of this Native American resistance was encouraged and supplied by the British in Canada.

After the embargo failed, most northeastern representatives in Congress were willing to reconcile with Britain on British terms. Westerners and Southerners, however, would not compromise the safety of western settlements and the freedom of the seas. Led by young members who came to be called War Hawks (including Henry Clay, the 34–year–old Speaker of the House), Congress prepared for war. It would be the first war declared under the Constitution, and President Madison was careful to leave the actual declaration to Congress. But in June 1812 he sent a message to Congress listing British crimes on the ocean and on the frontier. The message ended "We behold . . . on the side of Britain a state of war against the United States, and on the side of the United States a state of peace toward Britain." Congress, led by Southern and western Jeffersonians, declared war two weeks later.

The War of 1812  
The United States entered the War of 1812 to defend its sovereignty, its western settlements, and its maritime rights. American leaders knew that they could not fight the British navy. They decided instead to fight a land war, with Canada as the prize. Americans reasoned that they could get to the British settlements in Canada more easily than the British could. The capture of Canada would cut western Native Americans off from British supplies and allow Americans to hold a valuable colony hostage until the British agreed to their demands.

General William Hull, governor of the Michigan Territory, led an American invasion of Canada in 1812. The British and Native Americans threw him back, besieged him at Detroit, and forced him to surrender his whole army. A second invasion of Canada from western New York failed when New York militiamen refused to cross into Canada to back up American regulars who had captured Queenston Heights below Niagara Falls (see Battle of Queenston Heights). Tecumseh’s northern Native American confederacy was an important part of the British effort. In the South, Creek warriors terrorized Tennessee and killed about 250 settlers who had taken refuge at Fort Mims in Alabama (see Massacre of Fort Mims).

The war went better for the Americans in 1813. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry defeated a British fleet and gained control of Lake Erie—and thus of the supply lines between British Canada and the American Northwest. Americans sailed across Lake Ontario and raided and burned York (now Toronto). Further west, Americans led by William Henry Harrison chased the British and Native Americans back into Canada. At the Battle of the Thames in October, Americans killed Tecumseh. The following spring, American General Andrew Jackson, with Cherokee allies, defeated and then slaughtered the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend in Alabama. With these two battles the military power of Native Americans east of the Mississippi River was finally broken.

The British went on the offensive in 1814. The Royal Navy had blockaded the Atlantic Coast throughout the war and now began raiding American cities. In the summer, the British raided Washington, D.C., and burned down the Capitol and the White House. In September the British attacked Baltimore, but were held off by Americans at Fort McHenry who defended the harbor. (It was this engagement that inspired a witness, American poet Francis Scott Key, to write "The Star-Spangled Banner," which later became the national anthem.) The British then moved their attention to the Gulf Coast. At New Orleans, Andrew Jackson’s army soundly defeated the British on January 8, 1815. Neither side in the Battle of New Orleans knew that the war had ended the previous month with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent.

New England Federalists, opponents of the war, were also unaware of the treaty when they met at Hartford, Connecticut, in December 1814. With their commerce destroyed, some wanted to secede from the United States and make a separate peace with Britain. But the Hartford Convention settled for proposed amendments to the Constitution (all of which were directed at the Jeffersonian Republicans’ southern and western majority). However, when members of the Hartford Convention carried their proposals to Washington in February, they found the capital celebrating Jackson’s victory at New Orleans and the end of the war. Thus the Hartford Convention became the final disgrace for the New England Federalists.

The War of 1812 had been a product of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. After Napoleon was defeated in 1814, neither the Americans nor the British cared to keep on fighting. In the treaty, the British abandoned their Native American allies, and the Americans dropped their complaints about maritime rights. Both assumed that peace would eliminate issues that had been created by war in Europe.

UNITED STATES EXPANSION   A Era of Good Feelings  The year 1815 marks a watershed in American history. Before that date American history was closely tied to European history—particularly to the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. With Napoleon’s defeat and the success of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, a long period of peace began in Europe. American leaders paid less attention to European trade and European war, and more to the internal development of the United States.

This was bad news for Native Americans east of the Mississippi River, who had lost their last European ally, Britain, in 1815. Now they faced only land–hungry Americans who were determined to turn Native American hunting lands into farms. By the 1830s the federal government was moving the eastern Native Americans to new lands beyond the Mississippi, while whites filled their old lands with farms and plantations and began eyeing more lands to the west.

Expansion: Northwest Territory  
In the 1780s there were few white settlers in the Northwest Territory (the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and eastern Minnesota). By 1860 more than one in five Americans lived in the Northwest, and the geographic center of the population of the United States was near Chillicothe, Ohio. Nearly all white migrants were farmers, and they reached the area in two streams.

Before 1830 most migrants were Southerners, mainly poor and middling farmers from Kentucky, Tennessee, and western Virginia. In the southern regions of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, they settled near rivers that empty into the Ohio River, providing access to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico.

Southern migrants in the Northwest worked their land Southern style. They planted cornfields but left most of their land wooded, allowing hogs to roam freely and fend for themselves. In this way farmers subsisted (within their households and through bartering with neighbors) with relatively little labor or reliance on outside markets.

Trade down the Mississippi became safe only after Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803 and the army ended Native American resistance in the Northwest and Southwest in the War of 1812. The trade route became efficient and profitable only with the development of river steamboats in the 1810s.

After 1830 a new stream of migration reached the Northwest Territory from the northeastern states. Most of the new settlers were New Englanders (many of whom had spent a generation in western New York) who reached their new lands via New York’s Erie Canal, Great Lakes steamboats, and other new forms of transportation. By the 1840s they were joined by immigrants from Germany and Scandinavia. Most of these were intensive commercial farmers. Rather than allow cattle and hogs to roam freely (often trampling tilled fields), they put their animals in pens. They also planted huge fields of grain and put up fences.

In 1820 the Northwest Territory sent only 12 percent of its farm produce to markets outside the region—a sign that nearly all Northwestern farmers limited their economic lives to their families and neighbors. By 1840 exports accounted for 27 percent of what Northwestern farmers produced, and by 1860—with railroad connections to the east completed—the figure stood at 70 percent. The figures were even higher in the northern, grain–growing areas. Increasingly, the market for Northwestern farm products was not in Europe but in the towns and cities of the east as well as such local centers as Cincinnati, Ohio, and Chicago, Illinois. In turn, these cities provided farmers with manufactured goods. Land that only a generation earlier had been occupied by independent Native American peoples was now the center of a great internal commercial revolution.

Expansion: The Southwest  
Equally dramatic was the rapid settlement of the trans-Appalachian South. At the conclusion of the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson forced the Creeks to cede huge territories in the Southwest. Settlers, often with the help of state governments, began pressuring the Cherokee, Choctaw, and other tribes to give up their lands. The land was eagerly sought by Southeastern whites who had small, worn–out farms, and who faced lives of tenancy and rural poverty.

The best lands, however, were taken by planters who since the 1790s had been reaping huge profits from the cotton boom. Fertile land beside navigable rivers in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri became slave plantations devoted to cotton. These cotton farms were among the largest, the most intensely commercialized, and the most profitable business operations in the Western Hemisphere.

Farmers who owned few or no slaves took higher, more isolated, and less fertile land in the same states. Like their cousins who settled north of the Ohio River, they practiced a mixed agriculture that included animals and plants (primarily hogs and corn), provided for themselves and their neighbors, and sold the surplus to outside markets. Some of those markets were reached by floating produce downriver to the seaports, while other markets were on plantations that grew only cotton and that bought food from farmers in their region.

The big cotton farms relied on slave labor, and slaves performed the immense task of turning a huge trans–Appalachian wilderness into cotton farms. Much of the slave population that was moved west came from the slave centers of South Carolina and coastal Georgia. But the cotton boom also provided a market for Virginia and Maryland slaves who were not as economically useful as they had been in the 18th century. In the 1790s, as the cotton boom began, about 1 in 12 Chesapeake slaves was moved south and west. Chesapeake slave exports rose to 1 in 10 in the first decade of the 19th century and 1 in 5 between 1810 and 1820. The movement of slaves from the Chesapeake to the new cotton states was immense. The Cotton Belt of the Deep South had become the center of American slavery. See also Slavery in the United States: Growth of Slavery

The Indian Removal Act  
With the expansion of the white agricultural frontier came the final blows to Native American independence east of the Mississippi. In New York, the once mighty Iroquois were limited to reservations near the new towns of Buffalo and Syracuse; many of the Iroquois moved to Canada. The Shawnee, who had led Native American resistance in the Northwest Territory until 1815, were scattered. Many of the most defiant members moved to Canada. Others relocated to Missouri, then to Mexican territory in east Texas or to eastern Kansas.

In the South the 60,000 remaining Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole were pressured by the national government to sell away most of their land at pennies per acre. Legislation passed in 1819 provided small amounts of government money to train southern Native Americans in plow agriculture and Christianity on their reduced lands. The plan took hold among many of them, and whites began calling them the Five Civilized Tribes. But even as these efforts continued, settlers moved onto lands that Native Americans had not ceded while the federal government looked the other way. In his final annual message to Congress in 1824, President James Monroe recommended that the indigenous peoples who remained in the east be removed to new lands west of the Mississippi.

The Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw nations rejected the idea of removal and insisted that the national government live up to the treaties that guaranteed them what was left of their territory. At the same time, Southern state governments insisted that they and not the federal government had jurisdiction over Native American lands within their borders. The claim reinforced southern notions of states’ rights; it also held the promise of more Native American land for settlers.

The situation reached a crisis in Georgia, where Governor George Troup extended state jurisdiction to Native American lands and began giving the lands to poor whites by means of a lottery in 1825. Troup also sent state surveyors onto Creek lands and warned President John Quincy Adams not to interfere with this exercise of state authority. Faced with this threatening situation the Creek and the Cherokee reorganized themselves as political nations, stripping local chiefs of power and giving it to national councils. In 1827 the Cherokee nation declared itself a republic with its own government, courts, police, and constitution.

By 1830 the situation had become a crisis. New president Andrew Jackson, a Tennessee plantation owner and a famous fighter of Native Americans, refused to exercise federal jurisdiction over Native American affairs, allowing southern states to find their own solutions. The Cherokee took the state of Georgia to court, and in 1832, in the case of Worcester v. Georgia, John Marshall, chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, ruled that Georgia’s extension of its authority over Cherokee land was unconstitutional. President Jackson simply refused to enforce the decision, allowing southern states to continue to encroach on Native American lands.

In the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Congress—with Jackson’s blessing—offered Native American peoples east of the Mississippi federal land to the west, where the United States government had the authority to protect them. Many of them accepted. Then in 1838, Jackson’s successor, Martin Van Buren, sent the U.S. Army to evict 18,000 to 20,000 Cherokee remaining in the South and move them to what is today Oklahoma. In all, 4,000 Native Americans died on the march that became known as the Trail of Tears. Jackson, who more than any other person was responsible for this removal policy, argued, "What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?" Again, the white empire of land and liberty came at the expense of other races. See also Indian Wars: Native American Removal Policy

The Trans-Mississippi West, 1803–1840s  
In 1804, a year after the Louisiana Purchase, President Jefferson sent an expedition under Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the purchase and to continue on to the Pacific Ocean. The Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled up the Missouri River, spent the winter of 1804 to 1805 with the Mandan people, and with the help of a Shoshone woman named Sacajawea traveled west along the Snake River to the Columbia River and on to the Pacific.

Even as they traveled, mounted bands of Sioux were conquering the northern Great Plains. The Sioux had already cut off the Pawnee, Oto, and other peoples of the lower Missouri from the western buffalo herds and were threatening the Mandan and other agricultural peoples on the upper reaches of the river. Throughout the first half of the 19th century, epidemics of European diseases traveled up the Missouri River. The worst of them came in the 1830s, when smallpox killed half the Native Americans along the river. The Sioux, who lived in small bands and moved constantly, were not as badly hurt as others were. They used that advantage to complete their conquest of the northern sections of Jefferson’s great "Empire of Liberty."

Further south, white settlers were crossing the Mississippi onto the new lands. Louisiana, already the site of New Orleans and of Spanish and French plantations, became the first state west of the Mississippi in 1812. Southerners were also moving into the Arkansas and Missouri territories. Missouri entered the Union in 1821, Arkansas in 1836. Settlers also began moving into Texas, in the northeastern reaches of the Republic of Mexico, which won its independence from Spain in 1821. Mexico at first encouraged them but demanded that new settlers become Catholics and Mexican citizens. Mexico also demanded that they respect the Mexican government’s abolition of slavery within its territory. Settlers tended to ignore these demands, and they continued to stream into Texas even when the Mexican government tried to stop the migration.

By 1835 the 30,000 Americans in Texas outnumbered Mexicans six to one. When the Mexican government tried to strengthen its authority in Texas the American settlers (with the help of many of the Mexicans living in that province) went into an armed revolt known as the Texas Revolution. Volunteers from the southern United States crossed the border to help, and in 1836 the Americans won. They declared their land the independent Republic of Texas and asked that it be annexed to the United States. The question of Texas annexation would stir national politics for the next ten years.

Americans considered the plains that formed most of the Louisiana Purchase (the lands over which the Sioux had established control) to be a desert unsuitable for farming. Congress designated the area west of Arkansas, Missouri, and Iowa and north of Texas as Indian Territory in the 1840s. But Americans were already crossing that ground to reach more fertile territory on the Pacific, in California and Oregon (which included present-day Washington and much of present–day British Columbia). See also American Westward Movement: Beyond the Mississippi

These lands were formally owned by other countries and occupied by independent indigenous peoples. California was part of Mexico. The Oregon country was jointly occupied (and hotly contested) by Britain and the United States. American settlers, most of them from the Ohio Valley, crossed the plains and poured into Oregon and the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys in California after 1841. As populations in those areas grew, members of the new Mormon Church, after violent troubles with their neighbors in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, trekked across the plains and the Rocky Mountains in 1847 and settled on Mexican territory in the Salt Lake Valley.

The Monroe Doctrine  
The American government in these years was expansionist. With the end of the second war between Britain and the United States, the heated foreign policy debate that had divided Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans since the 1790s quieted down. In the years after 1815 most American politicians agreed on an aggressively nationalist and expansionist foreign policy. John Quincy Adams, who served as secretary of state under James Monroe, did the most to articulate that policy. In the Rush-Bagot Convention of 1817 he worked out agreements with Britain to reduce naval forces on the Great Lakes and establish the U.S.-Canadian border from Minnesota to the Rocky Mountains along the 49th parallel. For the first time in their history, Americans did not have to worry about an unfriendly Canada.

Americans turned their attention south and west, and to Spain’s crumbling empire in the New World. In the Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819, Spain ceded Florida to the United States. The treaty also established the border between Louisiana and Spanish Texas, a border that ran west along the Arkansas River, over the Rocky Mountains, and to the Pacific along the present southern borders of Idaho and Oregon. Thus the treaty gave the United States its first claim to land bordering the Pacific Ocean, though it shared that claim with Britain.

In part, the Spanish were willing to give up territory because they had bigger things to worry about: Their South American colonies were in revolt, establishing themselves as independent republics. Spain asked the European powers that had stopped Napoleon’s France to help it stop revolutionary republicanism in Spanish America. Britain, however, did not agree and instead proposed a joint British–United States statement, in which both nations would oppose European intervention in Latin America and would agree not to annex any of the former Spanish territories.

Secretary Adams answered with what became known as the Monroe Doctrine. In it, the United States independently declared that further European colonization in the Americas would be considered an unfriendly act (which agreed with the British proposal). The Monroe Doctrine did not, however, include the British clause that would have prevented annexation of former Spanish territory. Although he had no immediate plans to annex them, Adams believed that at least Texas and Cuba would eventually become American possessions. At the same time, the United States extended diplomatic recognition to the new Latin American republics. In short, the Monroe Doctrine declared the western hemisphere closed to European colonization while leaving open the possibility of United States expansion.

Manifest Destiny  
Few American migrants questioned their right to move into Texas, Oregon, and California. By the mid–1840s expansion was supported by a well-developed popular ideology that it was inevitable and good that the United States occupy the continent "from sea to shining sea." Some talked of expanding freedom to new areas. Others talked of spreading the American ethic of hard work and economic progress. Still others imagined a United States with Pacific ports that could open Asian markets. Before long, some were imagining a North America without what they considered the savagery of Native Americans, the laziness and political instability of Mexicans, or the corrupt and dying monarchism of the British. God, they said, clearly wanted hard–working American republicans to occupy North America. In 1845 a New York City journalist named John L. O’Sullivan gave these ideas a name: Manifest Destiny. It is, he wrote, "our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions."

Annexation: Oregon and Texas  
The new Republic of Texas asked to be annexed to the United States as early as 1837. The governments of Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren took no action for two reasons. First, the question of Texas annexation divided the North and South. Up to the 1840s, trans–Mississippi expansion had extended Southern society: Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri were all slave states. Texas would be another, and Northerners who disliked slavery and Southern political power imagined that the Texas territory could become as many as 11 new slave states with 22 new proslavery senators. Annexation of Texas was certain to arouse Northern and antislavery opposition. President John Tyler, who supported the South, tried to annex Texas in 1844 but was defeated by congressional Northerners and by some Southern members of the anti-Jacksonian Whig Party. The second reason for avoiding annexation was that Mexico still considered Texas its own territory. Annexation would create a diplomatic crisis, and perhaps lead to war.

In the presidential election of 1844 the Whig Party nominated Henry Clay of Kentucky. Clay refused to take a stand on the annexation of Texas. The Democrats rejected former president Martin Van Buren, who opposed annexation, and nominated James K. Polk of Tennessee. Polk ran on a pro-annexation platform: He would annex Texas, and he would assert American ownership of all of Oregon’s territory disputed with Britain. Polk’s position on Oregon was intended to reassure Northerners that expansion would benefit them as well as the South.

This position on Oregon was, however, a radical change from earlier policies. Previously, Americans had not claimed land north of the 49th parallel, the present-day United States–Canada border on the Pacific. Polk claimed all the land up to 54°40’N, the present southern boundary of Alaska, which at the time was owned by Russia. The British, on the other hand, claimed territory as far south as the Columbia River. After Polk won the election, both sides sought to avoid a serious dispute; they backed down and accepted the boundary that exists today between Washington state and British Columbia. The compromise avoided war, but it convinced Northern expansionists that Polk (and behind him, the Democratic Party) cared more about Southern expansion than about Northern expansion.

War with Mexico  
There was ample reason for that suspicion. While Polk compromised with Britain on the Oregon boundary, he stood adamant against Mexico on the question of Texas. Mexico warned that it would consider the annexation of Texas by the United States a declaration of war. A Texas convention voted to join the Union on July 4, 1845. Polk and a Congress strongly favoring annexation not only offered to take Texas into the Union, they also set the southern boundary of the new state at the Rio Grande—150 miles south of what most people had agreed was the Texas–Mexico border. The new boundary gave Texas far more Mexican land (including much of present-day New Mexico and Colorado) than the Texas Revolution had given it. Polk knew that the additional territory would provide a gateway to New Mexico and California, territories of northern Mexico that he and other expansionists coveted along with Texas. While annexing Texas, Polk offered to buy New Mexico and California from Mexico for $30 million in late 1845—an offer that the Mexicans angrily refused. Polk then provoked a war with Mexico in which he would win all that he had offered to buy.

As Mexico prepared for war, Polk sent troops into the disputed area north of the Rio Grande. Mexico sent troops north of the Rio Grande and in spring 1846 fought a skirmish in which the Americans suffered more than a dozen casualties. Congress declared war on Mexico that May. Near–unanimous congressional support for the declaration hid the fact that most Whigs and many Northern Democrats were deeply suspicious of a Southern war to annex new territory for slavery.

In the war the Americans launched a three–pronged offensive. General Zachary Taylor invaded northern Mexico from Texas, capturing the city of Monterrey in September 1846. A second American army under General Stephen Kearny occupied Santa Fe in August of that year. Kearny then sent part of his force to join Taylor at Monterrey and marched the rest of his army west to California, where American settlers had already established an independent "Bear Flag Republic." At the same time, the U.S. Navy seized California ports.

Having lost Texas, California, New Mexico, and large portions of Chihuahua and Sonora in northern Mexico, the Mexicans marched toward Taylor’s army near Monterrey. Taylor held off determined attacks by a Mexican army about three times as large as his own and won the Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847. The next month the third prong of the U.S. offensive was launched when General Winfield Scott landed at Veracruz. Five months later he had fought his way to Mexico City.

As happened in much of the war, the Mexican army was larger and fought bravely, but the Mexican government and high command were divided and often incompetent, and the Americans were better armed and better led. In particular, the Mexicans had no answer to American artillery. After a series of bloody battles in September 1847, Scott’s army occupied Mexico City, and the war was over.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 ceded Texas (with the Rio Grande boundary), California, and New Mexico to the United States, which agreed to pay Mexico $15 million. The Mexican Cession gave the United States present–day west Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, most of Colorado, and part of Wyoming. The northern third of Mexico had become the southwestern quarter of the United States.

The Mexican War was a straightforward land–grab. The ease with which the United States won and the arrogance with which it behaved created a distrustful and sometimes violent southern border area for the country. More immediately, the lands ceded by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo became the object of contest and resentment between the slave and free states—a conflict that would widen into the American Civil War 13 years later.

The regions of the United States that argued about the Mexican War and its aftermath had grown in divergent ways since agreeing to be a nation in 1788. The North had experienced a market revolution based on commercial agriculture and the growth of cities and industry. The South, on the other hand, remained tied to a plantation system that depended on slave labor and international markets. The plantation system enslaved the one-third of all Southerners who were black and excluded more and more poor whites.

The Market Revolution in the North  
By the 1820s, farmers no longer produced mainly for themselves and their neighbors, selling any excess production on international markets. Most Northern farms had become business operations. They specialized in a small range of marketable crops (grain, meat, dairy products) and sold the food they produced to an internal market made up of Americans who had moved to towns, cities, and industrial villages.

In turn, these urbanized and industrialized Northerners provided farmers with finished goods (hats, shoes, cotton cloth, furniture, tools) that had previously been made in rural households and neighborhoods or imported from Europe. With this self–sustaining internal market, the North stepped out of the old colonial relationship in which America produced food and raw materials for Europe (primarily Britain) in exchange for foreign finished goods. The northern United States was no longer on the colonial periphery of the world market economy. It was taking its place as part of the financial and industrial center. See also Industrial Revolution: The Industrial Revolution in the United States

This internal market revolution would have been impossible without dramatic improvements in transportation. After 1815 Congress repeatedly considered nationally planned and funded internal improvements. But these plans were voted down by congressmen who favored states’ rights and a strict construction of the Constitution—the notion that Congress could legislate only in areas explicitly granted to it by the Constitution. State governments took up the slack by building roads and canals themselves and by subsidizing private corporations that built them. The result was a system of roads, canals, and—by the 1840s and 1850s—railroads that reflected no single vision of a national system. Instead, the transportation map reflected the ambitions of the most prosperous and active states.

The first and most spectacular example was the Erie Canal, completed by the state of New York in 1825. It connected the Hudson River at Albany with Lake Erie at Buffalo. The canal provided farmers in western New York and in the sections of the Northwest that drained into the Great Lakes with a continuous water route east to New York City—and from there to national and international markets. Steamboats provided a similar service for farms in areas that drained into the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The upriver trip from New Orleans to Louisville, Kentucky, had taken three to four months via keelboat before 1815. Steamboats cut that time to one month. In the 1850s railroads, though more expensive than water routes, brought the manufacturing towns and the food–producing farmers even closer together. These improvements quickly reduced the cost of transportation. The cost of moving farm produce and manufactured goods over long distances fell 95 percent between 1815 and 1860. With that drop, farmers could grow wheat in Indiana and sell it at a profit in New York City, while New England manufacturers could make work shoes and sell them to the farmers of Indiana. Transportation had transformed the old Northeast and the new Northwest into an integrated market society.

The Growth of Cities  
In the 1820s the urban population of the United States began growing faster than the rural population, and from 1820 to 1870 American cities grew faster than they ever had or ever would again. For the most part, that explosive urban growth was driven by the commercialization of agriculture.

In the early republic every American city was an Atlantic seaport engaged in international trade. After 1820 new inland towns and cities rose up to serve farmers’ commercial operations. The fastest growing urban area in the country in the 1820s, for instance, was Rochester, New York, a flour–milling and shipping center serving the farmers of western New York. In subsequent decades western cities such as Cincinnati and Chicago grew quickly. At the same time, towns devoted to manufacturing for rural markets across the nation—towns such as Lowell, Massachusetts—grew at an almost equal rate.

Even in the old seaports, the fastest growing sectors of the economy were not in the docks and warehouses of the old mercantile economy but in neighborhoods devoted to manufacturing for the American market, or among wholesalers who served that market. The huge internal market provided by northern and western farm families was by far the biggest source of urban growth in these years.

Standards of Living  
The commercial and industrial transformation of the North and West increased standards of living. Food was abundant, and manufactured goods found their way into even the poorest homes. Yet the bounty of progress was distributed much more unevenly than in the past, and thousands made the transition to commercial–urban society at the expense of economic independence.

As American cities grew, the nature of work and society in the city changed in fundamental ways. In 1800 nearly all manufacturing was performed by master artisans who owned their own workshops and hired at most a few journeymen (wage-earning craftsmen) and apprentices. After 1815 the nature of manufacturing work changed. As production speeded up, many masters stopped performing manual work and spent their time dealing with customers and suppliers and keeping records. The number of journeymen increased, and they often worked in workshops separate from the store. Increasingly, less-skilled work (sewing together pieces of shoes, assembling ready–made clothing from pieces cut in uniform sizes) was farmed out to women who worked in their homes. Thus successful masters became businessmen, while most skilled men and thousands of semiskilled women became members of a permanent working class. Though there had been rich and poor neighborhoods in early seaport towns, class segregation and stark contrasts between rich and poor became much more prevalent after 1820.

In the northern and western countryside were signs of prosperity. Wallpaper, manufactured dishes and furniture, and other finished goods were finding their way into most farmhouses, and paint, ornamental trees, and flowers were dressing up the outside. Yet even in the countryside, the distance between rich and poor increased, and the old neighborhood relationships through which much of the local economy had been transacted became weaker. Debt, for instance, had always been a local, informal relationship between neighbors. After 1830 a farmer’s most important and pressing debts were to banks, which required annual payments in cash. Commercial society also demanded good roads to transport products, and public schools to teach literacy and arithmetic; local taxes rose accordingly. Farmers spent less effort maintaining necessary relations with neighbors and more effort earning cash income to pay taxes and debts. Those who could not establish or maintain themselves as farmers tended to move out of agriculture and into towns and cities.

Women and men who left rural communities to take up wage labor experienced the transition in different ways. White men, whose citizenship and social standing had rested on being independent property owners with patriarchal responsibilities, experienced wage labor as a catastrophic fall from grace. Relatively few, however, ended up in factories, and those who did took more-skilled and better-paying jobs.

Until the 1840s the factory workforce of the Northeast was made up primarily of women and children. Women who left poor New England farms (and the crumbling patriarchy that often governed them) and moved into factory villages valued the independence that wage labor provided them.

Beginning in the mid–1840s, New England’s factory workforce was increasingly dominated by Irish immigrants—refugees who often saw factory work in America as a big improvement over famine and colonialism back home. Much of the labor force in Northern cities and factory towns and on the new transportation projects was composed of German and—particularly—Irish immigrants. A trickle of Irish and German newcomers had been coming to America since the 18th century. There were large German-speaking areas in the mid-Atlantic states, and the Irish were sufficiently numerous and politically active to become the targets of the Federalists’ Alien Act of 1798. These early immigrants possessed craft or agricultural skills, and most of them, like their British neighbors, were Protestants. A newer immigration grew quickly after 1815, peaking in the 1840s. The new immigrants were landless peasants driven from their homelands by famine (see Irish Famine). They took menial, low-paying jobs in factories and as servants, day laborers, and transport workers—replacing white women in factories and blacks in household service and on the docks. Most of these new immigrants were Catholics, and they arrived in such numbers that by 1850 Catholics were the largest single denomination in the United States. They overwhelmingly sided with the Democratic Party in politics.

Many American entrepreneurs welcomed this new supply of cheap labor. But militant Protestants and many native-born working people perceived the immigrants as a cultural and economic threat. Arguments over immigration would shape Northern politics for more than a century after 1830.

Northern Blacks  As the North passed gradual emancipation laws, freed slaves moved toward cities. In 1820 African Americans made up about one-tenth of the populations of Philadelphia and New York City. They were excluded from white churches and public schools and, increasingly, from the skilled crafts, dock labor, and household service at which they had been employed. Attacks on individual blacks were routine, and occasionally, full-blown racist riots erupted—in Cincinnati in 1829 and in New York and Philadelphia in 1834, for instance. African Americans responded by building their own institutions: Methodist and Baptist churches, Masonic lodges, schools, charitable and social organizations, and newspapers. It was from within this web of institutions that they protected themselves and eventually demanded freedom for Southern slaves. See also African American History: Free Black Population

The Market Revolution in the South  
The South experienced a market revolution of a different kind. In the years leading to the American Civil War, the South provided three–fourths of the world’s supply of cotton, which was a crucial raw material for the international industrial revolution. In the same years, cotton accounted for one–half to two–thirds of the value of all American exports, contributing mightily to a favorable balance of trade. The plantation was a business of worldwide significance, and the cotton boom made thousands of planters rich. At the same time, however, the South’s commitment to plantation agriculture stunted other areas of its economy, opened the region to intense international criticism over slavery, and led ultimately to political and economic disaster.

Plantation agriculture led to an undemocratic distribution of wealth among whites. The plantation economy rewarded size: Big farms were more profitable than small ones. Successful planters were able to buy more slaves and good land, depriving less-successful planters of these benefits and concentrating wealth in fewer and fewer hands. In 1830, 35 percent of Southern households included slaves. By 1860 the figure stood at 26 percent, with fewer than 5 percent of white households owning 20 or more slaves. Most whites lacked the fertile land, the slave labor force, and the availability of transportation to bring them into the market economy. Along with slaves, most whites formed a huge majority of Southerners who had minimal ties to the market and who bought few manufactured goods.

The result was that the South remained in a colonial trade position in relation to Britain and, increasingly, to the northeastern United States. Without regional markets, there was very little urbanization or industrialization in the South. Southern states financed few internal improvements: Plantations tended to send goods to markets via the river system, and smaller farmers preferred low taxes and unobtrusive government to roads and canals. The few Southern cities and large towns were ports on the ocean or on the river system. These cities were shipping centers for cotton exports and for imports of manufactured goods. Manufacturing, shipping, banking, insurance, and other profitable and powerful functions of the market economy stayed in London and—increasingly—in New York.

Changes in Slavery  
During the cotton boom, slaveholders attempted to organize plantation slavery as a paternalistic system in which the planter exercised a fatherly authority in every area of slaves’ lives. Some evidence suggests that discipline of slaves became more strict and systematic in the second quarter of the 19th century, and that whippings and other forms of physical punishment persisted. The brisk interstate slave trade often destroyed family and community ties among slaves. At the same time, however, the food eaten by slaves improved, and more slave families lived in individual cabins than had in the past. After 1830, masters who had participated in Baptist and Methodist revivals (and who had been frightened by a bloody Virginia slave revolt led by Baptist preacher Nat Turner) provided religious instruction to their slaves. The goal of these changes, proudly stated by the planters, was to create not only economic dependence but also emotional dependence of the slaves upon their masters.

For their part, slaves learned to put the masters’ paternalistic efforts to their own uses. They accepted the food and housing, listened to the preachers, endured the labor discipline, and then made their own lives within slavery. Slave family forms, for instance, were a mix of the European nuclear model and African matriarchy and village kinship, shaped by the limits imposed by slavery. And while they became Christians, slaves transformed Christianity into a distinctly African American faith that served their own spiritual interests. In particular, Moses the liberator (not the slaveholders’ patriarchal Abraham) was the central figure in slave Christianity.

Growing Isolation of the South  The slave–based plantation economy of the South was economically successful: Planters were making a lot of money. But in the long term, Southern commitment to slavery isolated the region morally and politically and led to disaster because most other white societies were branding the institution as barbarism.

Northern states abolished slavery soon after the revolution. Slaves in Haiti revolted and formed an independent black republic in 1804. Four years later the British (whose navy controlled the oceans) outlawed the African slave trade. In ensuing years, Gran Colombia (present–day Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, and Colombia), Mexico, Peru, Chile, and other mainland colonies won wars of independence against Spain. Each of the new South and Central American republics outlawed slavery. Finally, the British Parliament emancipated slaves on British islands in the Caribbean in 1833. By then Brazil, Cuba, and the southern United States were the only remaining large-scale slave societies in the world. Southern slavery was producing profits for the masters, and political and moral isolation for the region.


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