History of the United States
Forming a new nation (1784-1819)

As a 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.

The 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.

At 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.

At 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

The 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.

Under 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 chaos.

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 Constitution.

The 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 Congress.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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 states. In 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 affairs.

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 finances.

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.

Foreign affairs.
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.

In 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 Affair.

The 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.

The 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.

A 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 of oppression.

Jeffersonian democracy

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.

The 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.

In 1803, Jefferson arranged the purchase of the area from France. The Louisiana Purchase added 2,144,476 square kilometres of territory to the United States.

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

James 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 had begun.

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 struggle.

Growing nationalism

A 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 improvements.

The 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.

A national culture.
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, was unopposed.

New territory.
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.

"A 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."