History of the United States
During the early 1800's, settlers moved westward over the Appalachian
Mountains into the new states and territories. Many of these pioneers
even settled beyond the country's western boundary. They flocked into
Texas, California, and other western lands belonging to
Mexico. Americans also settled in the Oregon Country, a large territory
between California and Alaska claimed by both Britain and the United
States. During the mid-1800's, the United States gained control of the
Mexican lands and the southern part of the Oregon Country, and the
nation extended from coast to coast.
build-up of the West gave rise to changes in American politics. As areas
in the West gained large populations, they were admitted to the Union as
states. But wealthy Easterners continued to control governmental and
economic policy. Western farmers and pioneers, as well as city labourers
and craftworkers, soon banded together politically to promote their
interests. They found a strong leader in Andrew Jackson, and helped
elect him president in 1828. Jackson took steps to reduce the power of
wealthy Easterners and aid the "common man." At the same time, other
Americans were working for such social reforms as women's rights,
improvements in education, and the abolition of slavery.
United States and Europe maintained peaceful relations during the
Expansion Era. But in 1823, President James Monroe issued the Monroe
Doctrine, a statement that warned European countries not to interfere
with any of the free nations of the Western Hemisphere.
America moves west
1820, American pioneers had established many frontier settlements as far
west as the Mississippi River. By the 1830's, the Westward Movement had
pushed the frontier across the Mississippi, into Iowa, Missouri,
Arkansas, and eastern Texas. The land beyond, called the Great Plains,
was dry and treeless, and seemed to be poor farmland. But explorers,
traders, and others who had journeyed farther west told of rich farmland
and forests beyond the Rocky Mountains. In the 1840's, large numbers of
pioneers made the long journey across the Great Plains to the Far West.
pioneers included Easterners from both the North and South. Many other
pioneers came from Europe seeking a better life. Some people went west
in search of religious freedom. The best known of these were the
Mormons, who settled in Utah in 1847.
By the mid-1840's, thousands of Americans lived in the
Oregon Country and on the western land claimed by Mexico. By then, large
numbers of Americans had come to believe in the doctrine of manifest
destiny. That is, they thought the United States should control all of
North America. Stirred by this belief, Americans demanded control of
Oregon and the Mexican territory.
conflicting claim with Great Britain over Oregon was settled with
relative ease. Britain decided that the effort needed to hold all of
Oregon was not worthwhile. In 1846, the British government turned over
to the United States the part of the Oregon territory south of the 49th
parallel, except Vancouver Island.
struggle over the Mexican territory was more complicated. It began in
Texas in 1835, when the American settlers there staged a revolt against
Mexican rule. In 1836, the settlers proclaimed Texas an independent
republic, but also requested U.S. statehood. Nine years later, the
United States annexed Texas and made it a state. The United States
gained more Mexican territory as a result of the Mexican War
(1846-1848), which was fought between the United States and Mexico over
a number of disagreements, including territorial disputes. The treaty
that ended the war gave the United States a vast stretch of land from
Texas west to the Pacific and north to Oregon.
1853, in the Gadsden Purchase, America bought from Mexico the strip of
land that makes up the southern edge of Arizona and New Mexico. The
United States then owned all the territory of its present states except
Alaska (purchased from Russia in 1867) and Hawaii (annexed in 1898).
Expansion and the Indians.
As the pioneers moved westward, they took
over much of the land that Indians had occupied for thousands of
years. Fighting often broke out between the pioneers and Indians. The
United States government sent soldiers to battle against the Indians and
the soldiers won most of these so-called Indian Wars. By the mid-1800's,
the government had moved almost all the eastern Indians west of the
Expansion and the economy.
Expansion into the rich interior of the
continent enabled the United States to become the world's leading
agricultural nation. New techniques and machines boosted the output of
America's farms. Eli Whitney's cotton gin, invented in 1793, came into
widespread use in the 1800's. It enabled cotton growers to separate
cotton fibre from the seeds as fast as 50 people could by hand. The
reaper, patented by Cyrus McCormick in 1834, allowed farmers to harvest
grain much more quickly than before.
discovery of minerals in the West also aided America's economy. The most
famous mineral strike took place in 1848, when gold was discovered at
Sutter's Mill in California.
period also marked the beginning of large-scale manufacturing in the
United States. Previously, most manufacturing was done by craftworkers
at home or in small shops. But beginning in the early 1800's, businesses
erected factories equipped with modern machinery that enabled them to
produce goods more rapidly. Manufacturing
remained centred in the East, but some Western towns developed
transportation also contributed immensely to economic growth in the
United States. In 1807, Robert Fulton demonstrated the first
commercially successful steamboat, the Clermont. The steamboat soon
became the fastest and most important means of shipping goods. Americans
of the early 1800's built many canals to connect their natural waterways.
The Erie Canal, the most important one, was completed in 1825. It opened
a water passage from the Hudson River in New York to the Great Lakes in
the Midwest. Boats used the canal to carry manufactured products from
the East to the West and farm products and raw materials from the West
to the East.
railway soon rivalled the steamboat in importance as a means of shipping.
In the 1820's, American railways were still in the experimental stage. But
by 1850, about 14,500 kilometres of railway lines were in operation.
In 1837, Samuel F. B.
Morse demonstrated the first successful telegraph in the United States. The
telegraph soon gave businesses the fastest means of communication yet
known. An expanded postal system also helped speed communications.
1820, the wilderness seemed less and less hostile to Americans. Increasingly,
society glorified the frontier and nature. The public eagerly read the
novels of James Fenimore Cooper, which described Indians and pioneers as
pure of heart and noble in deeds. Ralph Waldo Emerson and other American
philosophers praised nature as a source of truth and beauty available to
all people, rich and poor alike.
printing spread art and information to more people than ever before. A
new printing process called lithography enabled artists to produce many
copies of their works cheaply. Large numbers of Americans bought and
decorated their homes with lithographs. The lithographs of Nathaniel
Currier and James Merritt Ives were especially popular. They depicted
everyday American scenes, customs, and events--often in a sentimental
style. Faster printing presses reduced the cost of printing newspapers. After
1835, many newspaper publishers lowered the cost of their papers to a
penny, a price even poor people could afford. But the spoken word
remained an important means of mass communication. Large numbers of
people attended gatherings where political candidates, pleaders of
special causes, and famous lawyers and members of the clergy made
Politics and the "common man"
The election of 1824
led to renewed political friction in the United States. Four
Democratic-Republicans, including John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson,
sought to succeed Monroe as president. Jackson received the most
electoral votes. But he did not win a majority, so it fell upon the
House of Representatives to select the new president. The House chose
Adams. Embittered, Jackson and his followers formed a separate wing of
the Democratic-Republican Party, which soon developed into the
Adams and all the earlier presidents came from well-to-do Eastern
families. Jackson, by contrast, was born in a log cabin into a poor
family. He won national fame as an Indian fighter and as a hero of the
War of 1812.
Jackson ran for
president again in 1828. He appealed for support from Western farmers
and pioneers, and city labourers and craftworkers. He promised to end
what he called a "monopoly" of government by the rich and to protect the
interests of the "common man." His policy of equal political power for
all became known as Jacksonian Democracy. Jackson's background and
policies gained him much support in the West and in the nation's growing
cities. The voters elected him president by large majorities in 1828 and
again in 1832.
When Jackson became president, many wealthy Easterners held
what were, in effect, lifelong appointments to federal government jobs. Jackson
dismissed many of these people from office, replacing them with his
supporters. Some historians consider this action the start of the spoils
system (the practice of giving public offices as rewards for party
services) in the federal government.
crusade against the wealthy involved the second Bank of the United
States. The bank's duties included regulating the nation's money supply. Jackson
believed the bank operated as a monopoly that favoured the wealthy. In
1832, Congress voted to recharter the bank, but Jackson vetoed the bill. He
soon withdrew the government's money from the bank, and the bank later
The other great issue
of Jackson's administration involved the tariff and nullification. In
1828, Congress passed a bill that placed high tariffs on goods imported
into the United States. The South believed the bill favoured New England
manufacturing interests, and denounced it as a "tariff of abominations." In
1832, Congress lowered tariffs somewhat, but not enough to please South
Carolina. South Carolina declared the tariff acts "null and void," and
threatened to secede from the Union if the federal government tried to
collect tariffs in the state. This action created a constitutional
crisis. Jackson believed in states' rights, but maintained the Union
must be preserved. In 1833, he persuaded Congress to pass the Force Bill,
which allowed him to use the armed forces to collect tariffs. But
Congress lowered tariffs to a point acceptable to South Carolina, and
the nullification crisis ended.
Jackson's influence on politics continued after he left
office. As undisputed leader of the Democrats, Jackson designated Martin
Van Buren to be the party's candidate in the 1836 presidential election. Jackson's
opponents had formed the Whig Party four years earlier. In an attempt to
attract followers of Jackson, most Whigs supported William Henry
Harrison to oppose Van Buren. Harrison, like Jackson, had won fame as a
war hero. But the voters, still loyal to Jackson, elected Van Buren.
A depression called
the Panic of 1837 crippled the American economy shortly after Van Buren
took office, but prosperity later returned. The presidential election of
1840 again matched Van Buren and Harrison. In their campaign, the Whigs
made some attempt to criticize Van Buren's economic policies, but for
the most part they ignored issues. Instead, they promoted Harrison as a
war hero and associated him with the log cabin and other symbols of the
frontier. In this way, they appealed to many of Jackson's frontier
supporters, and Harrison won the election.
Social reformDuring the Expansion
Era, many Americans came to believe that social reforms were needed to
improve their society. Reformers worked to reduce the working day of
labourers from the usual 12 or 14 hours to 10 hours. Other reformers
worked to improve conditions in prisons and insane asylums.
Prohibitionists--convinced that drunkenness was the chief cause of
poverty and other problems--persuaded 13 states to outlaw the sale of
alcohol between 1846 and 1855. Other important targets of reformers were
women's rights, improvements in education, and the abolition of slavery.
The drive for women's
Early American women had few rights. There were almost no
colleges for women, and most professional careers were closed to them. A
married woman could not own property. Instead, any property she had
legally belonged to her husband. In addition, American women were barred
from voting in all elections.
A women's rights
movement developed after 1820, and brought about some changes. In 1835,
Oberlin College, Ohio, became the first men's college in the United
States to admit women. In 1848, New York became the first state to allow
married women to own property. That same year, a Woman's Rights
Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, issued the first formal appeal for
woman suffrage (the right to vote). But nationwide suffrage did not come
about until 1920.
the early 1800's, most good schools in the United States were expensive
private schools. Poor children went to second-rate "pauper," or "charity,"
schools, or did not go at all. During the 1830's, Horace Mann of
Massachusetts and other reformers began demanding education and better
schools for all American children. States soon began establishing state
school systems, and more and more children received an education. Colleges
started training teachers for a system of public education based on
standardized courses of study. As a result, schoolchildren throughout
the country were taught much the same lessons.
movement became the most intense and controversial reform activity of
the period. Beginning in colonial times, many Americans--called
abolitionists--had demanded an end to slavery. By the early 1800's,
every Northern state had outlawed slavery. But over the years, the
plantation system of farming had spread throughout the South, and the
economy of the Southern States depended more and more on slaves as a
source of cheap labour.
The question of
whether to outlaw or allow slavery became an important political and
social issue in the early 1800's. Throughout the years, a balance
between the number of free states (states where slavery was prohibited)
and slave states (those where it was allowed) had been sought. This
meant that both sides would have an equal number of representatives in
the United States Senate. As of 1819, the federal government had
achieved a balance between free states and slave states. There were 11
When the Territory of
Missouri applied for admission to the Union in 1818, bitter controversy
broke out over whether to admit it as a free or slave state. In either
case, the balance between free and slave states would be upset. But in
1820, the nation's leaders worked out the Missouri Compromise, which
temporarily maintained the balance. Massachusetts agreed to give up the
northern part of its territory. This area became the state of Maine, and
entered the Union as a free state in 1820. In 1821, Missouri entered as
a slave state, and so there were 12 free and 12 slave states.
Compromise had another important provision. It provided that slavery
would be "forever prohibited" in all the territory gained from the
Louisiana Purchase north of Missouri's southern border, except for
Compromise satisfied many Americans as an answer to the slavery question. But
large numbers of people still called for complete abolition. Many blacks
who had gained their freedom became important speakers for abolition.
The growing strength
of the abolition movement raised fears among Southerners that the
federal government would outlaw slavery. Increasingly, the South
hardened its defence of slavery. Southerners had always argued that
slavery was necessary to the plantation economy. But after 1830, some
Southern leaders began arguing that blacks were inferior to whites, and
therefore fit for their role as slaves. Even many Southern whites who
owned no slaves took comfort in the belief that they were superior to
blacks. As a result, Southern support of slavery increased.