History of the United States
result of the Treaty of Paris of 1783, the new nation controlled all of
North America from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River between
Canada and Florida. Canada, to the north, remained British
territory. Great Britain returned Florida to Spain, and Spain continued
to control the area west of the Mississippi River.
Forming a new nation (1784-1819)
original 13 colonies made up the first 13 states of the United States.
Eventually, the American land west of the Appalachian Mountains was
divided into territories.
the end of the American Revolution, the new nation was still a loose
confederation of states. But in 1787, American leaders got together and
wrote the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution became the
country's basic law and welded it together into a solid political
unit. The men who wrote it included some of the most famous and
important figures in American history. Among them were George Washington
and James Madison of Virginia, Alexander Hamilton of New York, and
Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania. The authors of the Constitution,
along with other early leaders such as Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, won
lasting fame as the Founding Fathers of the United States.
the start of its history, the United States faced severe financial
problems. But before long, the skill of its leaders and the spirit and
hard work of its people put the country on a sound economic
footing. Early America also faced threats from powerful European
nations. ut masterful diplomacy by Washington and other leaders guided
the country through its early years in peace. The peace ended with the
War of 1812, in which the United States and Great Britain fought
again. After the war, America focused its attention on its development,
and entered a period of bustling economic growth.
Establishing a government
American people began setting up a new system of government as soon as
they declared their independence. Each of the new states had its own
constitution before the American Revolution ended. The state
constitutions gave the people certain liberties, usually including
freedom of speech, religion, and the press. In 1781, the states set up a
federal government under laws called the Articles of Confederation.
Background to the Constitution.
The Articles of Confederation gave the
federal government the power to declare war and manage foreign
affairs. But the Articles did not allow the government to collect taxes,
regulate trade, or otherwise direct the activities of the states.
the Articles, each state worked independently for its own ends. Yet the
new nation faced problems that demanded a strong federal government. The
United States had piled up a huge national debt during the American
Revolution. But since the federal government could not collect taxes, it
was unable to pay the debt and put the country on a sound economic
footing. The government even lacked the means for raising money to
provide for national defence. The federal government had no power to
regulate the nation's trade. In addition, some states issued their own
paper money, causing sharp changes in the value of currency and economic
Creating the Constitution. In 1787, delegates from every state except
Rhode Island met in Philadelphia to consider revisions to the Articles
of Confederation. The delegates agreed to write an entirely new
delegates debated long and hard over the contents of the Constitution.
Some of them wanted a document that gave much power to the federal
government. Others wanted to protect the rights of the states and called
for a weak central government. Delegates from large states claimed their
states should have greater representation in Congress than the small
states. But small-state delegates demanded equal representation in
delegates finally reached agreement on a new Constitution on Sept. 17,
1787. The document they produced has often been called a work of
political genius. The authors worked out a system of government that
satisfied the opposing views of the people of the 1780's. At the same
time, they created a system of government flexible enough to continue in
its basic form to the present day.
Constitution provided for a two-house legislature--a House of
Representatives and a Senate. Representation in the House was based on
population in order to satisfy the large states. All states received
equal representation in the Senate, which pleased the small states. The
Constitution gave many powers to the federal government, including the
rights to collect taxes and regulate trade. But the document also
reserved certain powers for the states. The Constitution provided for
three branches of government: the executive, headed by a president; the
legislature, made up of the two houses of Congress; and the judiciary,
or federal court system. The creators of the Constitution provided for a
system of checks and balances among the three branches of
government. Each branch received powers and duties that ensured that the
other branches would not have too much power.
Adopting the Constitution.
Before the Constitution became law, it needed
ratification (approval) by nine states. Some Americans still opposed the
Constitution, and fierce debate over ratification broke out. Finally, on
June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify.
Bill of Rights.
Much opposition to the new Constitution stemmed from the
fact that it did not specifically guarantee enough individual rights. In
response, 10 amendments known as the Bill of Rights were added to the
document. The Bill of Rights became law on Dec. 15, 1791. Among other
things, it guaranteed freedom of speech, religion, the press, and the
rights to trial by jury and peaceful assembly.
Setting up the government.
The Constitution provided that the president
be elected by an Electoral College, a group of people chosen by the
1789, the Electoral College unani-mously chose Washington to serve as
the first president. It reelected him unanimously in 1792. The
government went into operation in 1789, with its temporary capital in
New York City. The capital was moved to Philadelphia in 1790, and to
Washington, D.C., in 1800.
Early problems and politics
Solving financial problems. Americans were divided over how to deal with
the financial problems that plagued the new government. One group, led
by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, wanted the federal
government to take vigorous action. Another group, headed by Secretary
of State Thomas Jefferson, opposed government participation in economic
Hamilton proposed that the federal government increase tariffs and tax
certain products made in the United States. The government would use the
tax money to pay both its debts and the debts of the states. Hamilton
also proposed a government-supported national bank to control government
Jefferson and his followers, who included many Southerners, finally
agreed to support some of Hamilton's financial proposals. In return,
Hamilton agreed to support a shift of the national capital to the
South. Congress approved Hamilton's financial plan and agreed to locate
the capital in the South. As a result of this compromise, the capital
moved to Washington, D.C., in 1800. Jefferson continued to oppose the
national bank proposal. But in 1791, Congress chartered a national bank
for 20 years.
The new government also faced problems in foreign
affairs. In 1793, France went to war against Britain and Spain. France
had helped the Americans in the American Revolution, and it now expected
U.S. assistance in its war. Americans disagreed over which side to
support. Jefferson and his followers wanted the United States to back
France, while Hamilton and his group favoured the British.
President Washington insisted that the United States remain neutral in
the European war. He rejected French demands for support, and also sent
diplomats to Britain and Spain to clear up problems with those
countries. Chief Justice John Jay, acting for Washington, negotiated the
Jay Treaty with Britain in 1794. The treaty's many provisions included a
trade agreement with Britain which--in effect--ended American trade with
France. It also included a British promise to remove troops still
stationed on U.S. territory. In 1795, Thomas Pinckney negotiated the
Pinckney Treaty, or Treaty of San Lorenzo, with Spain. This treaty
settled a dispute over the Florida border between the United States and
Spain and also gave the United States free use of the Mississippi River.
1796, Washington--annoyed by the disputes within his
Administration--refused to seek a third term as president. John Adams
succeeded him in 1797. At about that time, French warships began
attacking American merchant vessels. Adams, like Washington, hoped to
use diplomacy to solve foreign problems. He sent diplomats to France to
try to end the attacks. But three agents of the French government
insulted the diplomats with dishonourable proposals, including a demand
for a bribe. The identity of the agents was not revealed. They were
simply called X, Y, and Z, and the incident became known as the XYZ
XYZ Affair created a furore in the United States. Hamilton and his
followers demanded war against France. But Adams was determined to keep
the peace. In 1799, he again sent diplomats to France. This time, the
United States and France reached a peaceful settlement.
Establishing political parties.
Washington and many other early American
leaders opposed political parties. But in the 1790's, the disputes over
government policies led to the establishment of two political parties in
the United States. Hamilton and his followers, chiefly Northerners,
formed the Federalist Party. The party favoured a strong federal
government and generally backed Great Britain in international
disputes. Jefferson and his followers, chiefly Southerners, established
the Democratic-Republican Party. The party wanted a weak central
government and generally sided with France in foreign disputes.
Alien and Sedition Acts.
The XYZ Affair had a major impact on American
internal policies and politics. After the affair, the Federalist Party
denounced the Democratic-Republicans for their support of France. The
Federalists had a majority in Congress. They set out to silence their
critics, who included Democratic-Republicans and foreigners living in
the United States. In 1798, the Federalist Congress and President
Adams--also a Federalist--approved the Alien and Sedition Acts. These
laws made it a crime for anyone to criticize the president or Congress,
and subjected foreigners to unequal treatment.
nationwide outcry against these attacks on freedom followed. The most
offensive parts of the Acts soon expired or were repealed. However, the
Alien and Sedition Acts gave the Federalists the reputation as a party
Public reaction to the Alien and Sedition Acts helped Thomas Jefferson
win election as president in 1800 and again in 1804. Jefferson's
political philosophy became known as Jeffersonian democracy. Jefferson
envisioned the United States as a nation of small farmers. In
Jefferson's ideal society, the people would lead simple, but productive,
lives and be able to direct their own affairs. Therefore, the need for
government would decline. Jefferson took steps to reduce government
expenses and the national debt. But in spite of his beliefs and
practices, Jefferson found that as president he could not avoid actions
that expanded the role of government.
Louisiana Purchase, the first major action of Jefferson's presidency,
almost doubled the size of the United States. In 1801, Jefferson learned
that France had taken over from Spain a large area between the
Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains called Louisiana. Spain was a
weak nation, and did not pose a threat to the United States. But
France--then ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte--was powerful and
aggressive. Jefferson viewed French control of Louisiana as a danger to
the United States.
1803, Jefferson arranged the purchase of the area from France. The
Louisiana Purchase added 2,144,476 square kilometres of territory to the
Jefferson and foreign policy. In 1803, Great Britain and France went to
war again, and both nations began seizing American merchant ships. The
British also impressed American seamen, seizing them and forcing them
into British service.
Jefferson again found it necessary to use government powers, this time
to protect American shipping. At his request, Congress passed trade
laws designed to stop the British and French interfering with American
trade. But the warring nations continued to interfere.
The War of 1812
Madison succeeded Jefferson as president in 1809. France soon promised
to end its interference with American shipping, but Britain did not.
Also, people believed the British were encouraging Indians to attack
American pioneers moving westward. For these reasons, many Americans
demanded war against Britain. They were led by members of Congress from
the West and South called War Hawks. Other Americans, especially New
Englanders, opposed the War Hawks' demand. But on June 18, 1812, at
Madison's request, Congress declared war on Britain and the War of 1812
Neither side gained much advantage early in the war. But on Aug. 24,
1814, British troops captured Washington, D.C., and burned the Capitol
and other government buildings. This British action made Americans
realize their nation's survival was at stake. Large numbers of American
volunteers rushed into service, and helped stop the British
offensive. The Treaty of Ghent of Dec. 24, 1814, officially ended the
War of 1812. Neither side won the war and little was gained from the
strong spirit of nationalism swept through the United States following
the War of 1812. The war itself gave rise to increased feelings of
self-confidence and unity. The peace that followed enabled the nation to
concentrate on its own affairs. The bitterness that had marked political
disputes eased with the breakup of the Federalist Party. Meanwhile, the
nation expanded westward, new states entered the union, and the economy
prospered. Historians sometimes call the period from about 1815 to the
early 1820's The Era of Good Feeling because of its relative peace,
unity, and optimism.
Nationalism and the economy.
After the War of 1812, nationalist
politicians proposed economic measures that came to be called the
American System. They said the government should raise tariffs to
protect American manufacturers and farmers from foreign
competition. Industry would then grow and employ more people. More
employment would lead to greater consumption of farm products, and so
farmers would prosper and buy more manufactured goods. In addition,
tariff revenues would enable the government to make needed internal
government soon put ideas of the American System into practice. In 1816,
Congress enacted a high tariff, and it chartered the second Bank of the
United States, to give the government more control over the economy. The
government also increased its funding of internal projects, the most
important of which was the National Road. Begun in 1811, the road
stretched from Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia, Illinois, when
completed. It became an important route for the shipment of goods and
the movement of settlers westward.
Many early Americans had tried to model their culture
on European civilization. Architects, painters, and writers tended to
imitate European models. But in the late 1700's and early 1800's, art
and culture more and more reflected American experiences. Architects
designed simple, but beautiful, houses that blended into their
surroundings. Craftworkers built sturdy furniture that was suited to
frontier life, yet so simply elegant as to be considered works of
art. The nation's literature flourished when it began reflecting
American experiences. Political writings such as the works of Thomas
Paine had high literary merit. The works of Washington Irving, one of
the leading early authors, helped gain respect for American literature.
Decline of the Federalists.
In 1814 and 1815, New England Federalists
held a secret political meeting in Hartford, Connecticut. Their
opponents charged that they had discussed the secession (withdrawal) of
the New England States from the Union. The Federalists never recovered
from the charge, and the party broke up in about 1816. James Monroe, the
Democratic-Republican presidential candidate in the election of 1820,
The United States gained two new pieces of territory between
1815 and 1820. In 1818, a treaty with Britain gave the country the Red
River Basin, north of the Louisiana Territory. Spain ceded Florida to
the United States in 1819.
fire bell in the night."
The Era of Good Feeling did not mean an end to
all the country's disputes. The issue of slavery was causing deep
divisions among the people. Many Northerners were demanding an end to
slavery, while Southerners were defending it more and more. Jefferson,
then retired, accurately viewed the growing dispute as a warning of
approaching disaster, "like a fire bell in the night."