07. The Early Republic

This allegorical print depicts America as a woman in Grecian dress and feathered helmet. She is joined by a number of Roman gods representing wisdom, commerce, and agriculture. A triumphal arch celebrates victories during the War of 1812 alongside a statue of George Washington on a horse.
“America guided by wisdom An allegorical representation of the United States depicting their independence and prosperity,” 1815. Library of Congress.

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 2 *The American Yawp is an evolving, collaborative text. Please click here to improve this chapter.*

I. Introduction

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Thomas Jefferson’s electoral victory over John Adams—and the larger victory of the Democratic-Republicans over the Federalists—was but one of many changes in the early republic. Some, like Jefferson’s victory, were accomplished peacefully, and others violently. The wealthy and the powerful, middling and poor whites, Native Americans, free and enslaved African Americans, influential and poor women: all demanded a voice in the new nation that Thomas Paine called an “asylum” for liberty. ((Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776), in Eric Foner, ed., Thomas Paine: Collected Writings (New York: Library of America, 1995), 23.)) All would, in their own way, lay claim to the freedom and equality promised, if not fully realized, by the Revolution.

II. Free and Enslaved Black Americans and the Challenge to Slavery

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Led by the enslaved man Gabriel, close to one thousand enslaved men planned to end slavery in Virginia by attacking Richmond in late August 1800. Some of the conspirators would set diversionary fires in the city’s warehouse district. Others would attack Richmond’s white residents, seize weapons, and capture Virginia governor James Monroe. On August 30, two enslaved men revealed the plot to their enslaver, who notified authorities. Faced with bad weather, Gabriel and other leaders postponed the attack until the next night, giving Governor Monroe and the militia time to capture the conspirators. After briefly escaping, Gabriel was seized, tried, and hanged along with twenty-five others. Their executions sent the message that others would be punished if they challenged slavery. Subsequently, the Virginia government increased restrictions on free people of color.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Gabriel’s Rebellion, as the plot came to be known, taught Virginia’s white residents several lessons. First, it suggested that enslaved Black Virginians were capable of preparing and carrying out a sophisticated and violent revolution—undermining white supremacist assumptions about the inherent intellectual inferiority of Black people. Furthermore, it demonstrated that white efforts to suppress news of other slave revolts—especially the 1791 slave rebellion in Haiti—had failed. Not only did some literate enslaved people read accounts of the successful attack in Virginia’s newspapers, but others also heard about the rebellion firsthand when slaveholding refugees from Haiti arrived in Virginia with their enslaved laborers after July 1793.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The Haitian Revolution (1791–1804) inspired free and enslaved Black Americans, and terrified white Americans. Port cities in the United States were flooded with news and refugees. Free people of color embraced the revolution, understanding it as a call for full abolition and the rights of citizenship denied in the United States. Over the next several decades, Black Americans continually looked to Haiti as an inspiration in their struggle for freedom. For example, in 1829 David Walker, a Black abolitionist in Boston, wrote an Appeal that called for resistance to slavery and racism. Walker called Haiti the “glory of the blacks and terror of the tyrants” and said that Haitians, “according to their word, are bound to protect and comfort us.” Haiti also proved that, given equal opportunities, people of color could achieve as much as white people. ((David Walker, Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, But in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of The United States of America (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995), 21, 56.))  In 1826 the third college graduate of color in the United States, John Russwurm, gave a commencement address at Bowdoin College, noting that, “Haytiens have adopted the republican form of government . . . [and] in no country are the rights and privileges of citizens and foreigners more respected, and crimes less frequent.” ((John Russwurm, “The Condition and Prospects of Hayti,” in African Americans and the Haitian Revolution: Selected Essays and Historical Documents, ed. Maurice Jackson and Jacqueline Bacon (New York: Routledge, 2013), 168.)) In 1838 the Colored American, an early Black newspaper, professed that “no one who reads, with an unprejudiced mind, the history of Hayti . . . can doubt the capacity of colored men, nor the propriety of removing all their disabilities.” ((“Republic of Hayti,” Colored American, March 15, 1838, 2.)) Haiti, and the activism it inspired, sent the message that enslaved and free Black people could not be omitted from conversations about the meaning of liberty and equality. Their words and actions—on plantations, streets, and the printed page—left an indelible mark on early national political culture.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The Black activism inspired by Haiti’s revolution was so powerful that anxious white leaders scrambled to use the violence of the Haitian revolt to reinforce white supremacy and pro-slavery views by limiting the social and political lives of people of color. White publications mocked Black Americans as buffoons, ridiculing calls for abolition and equal rights. The most (in)famous of these, the “Bobalition” broadsides, published in Boston in the 1810s, crudely caricatured African Americans. Widely distributed materials like these became the basis for racist ideas that thrived in the nineteenth century. But such ridicule also implied that Black Americans’ presence in the political conversation was significant enough to require it. The need to reinforce such an obvious difference between whiteness and blackness implied that the differences might not be so obvious after all.

The idea and image of black Haitian revolutionaries sent shockwaves throughout white America. That black slaves and freed people might turn violent against whites, so obvious in this image where a black soldier holds up the head of a white soldier, remained a serious fear in the hearts and minds of white southerners throughout the antebellum period. January Suchodolski, Battle at San Domingo, 1845. Wikimedia, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:San_Domingo.jpg.
The idea and image of Black Haitian revolutionaries sent shock waves throughout white America. That Black people, enslaved and free, might turn violent against white people, so obvious in this image where a Black soldier holds up the head of a white soldier, remained a serious fear in the hearts and minds of white Southerners throughout the antebellum period. January Suchodolski, Battle at San Domingo, 1845. Wikimedia.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 4 Henry Moss, an enslaved man in Virginia, became arguably the most famous Black man of the day when white spots appeared on his body in 1792, turning him visibly white within three years. As his skin changed, Moss marketed himself as “a great curiosity” in Philadelphia and soon earned enough money to buy his freedom. He met the great scientists of the era—including Samuel Stanhope Smith and Dr. Benjamin Rush—who joyously deemed Moss to be living proof of their theory that “the Black Color (as it is called) of the Negroes is derived from the leprosy.” ((Benjamin Rush, “Observations Intended to Favour a Supposition That the Black Color (As It Is Called) of the Negroes is Derived from the Leprosy,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 4 (1799): 289–297.)) Something, somehow, was “curing” Moss of his blackness. In the whitening body of slave-turned-patriot-turned-curiosity, many Americans fostered ideas of race that would cause major problems in the years ahead.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The first decades of the new American republic coincided with a radical shift in understandings of race. Politically and culturally, Enlightenment thinking fostered beliefs in common humanity, the possibility of societal progress, the remaking of oneself, and the importance of one’s social and ecological environment—a four-pronged revolt against the hierarchies of the Old World. Yet a tension arose due to Enlightenment thinkers’ desire to classify and order the natural world. Carolus Linnaeus, Comte de Buffon, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, and others created connections between race and place as they divided the racial “types” of the world according to skin color, cranial measurements, and hair. They claimed that years under the hot sun and tropical climate of Africa darkened the skin and reconfigured the skulls of the African race, whereas the cold northern latitudes of Europe molded and sustained the “Caucasian” race. The environments endowed both races with respective characteristics, which accounted for differences in humankind tracing back to a common ancestry. A universal human nature, therefore, housed not fundamental differences but rather the “civilized” and the “primitive”—two poles on a scale of social progress.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Informed by European anthropology and republican optimism, Americans confronted their own uniquely problematic racial landscape. In 1787, Samuel Stanhope Smith published his treatise Essay on the Causes of the Variety of Complexion and Figure in the Human Species, which further articulated the theory of racial change and suggested that improving the social environment would tap into the innate equality of humankind and dramatically uplift nonwhite races. The proper society, he and others believed, could gradually “whiten” men the way nature spontaneously chose to whiten Henry Moss. Thomas Jefferson disagreed. While Jefferson thought Native Americans could improve and become “civilized,” he declared in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1784) that Black people were incapable of mental improvement and that they might even have a separate ancestry—a theory known as polygenesis, or multiple creations. His belief in polygenesis was less to justify slavery—enslavers universally rejected the theory as antibiblical and thus a threat to their primary instrument of justification, the Bible—and more to justify schemes for a white America, such as the plan to gradually send freed Black people to Africa. Many Americans believed nature had made the white and Black races too different to peacefully coexist, and they viewed African colonization as the solution to America’s racial problem.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia sparked considerable backlash from antislavery and Black communities. The celebrated Black surveyor Benjamin Banneker, for example, immediately wrote to Jefferson and demanded he “eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas” and instead embrace the belief that we are “all of one flesh” and with “all the same sensations and endowed . . . with the same faculties.” ((Banneker to Jefferson, August 19, 1791, Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-22-02-0049.))  Many years later, in his Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World (1829), David Walker channeled decades of Black protest, simultaneously denouncing the moral rot of slavery and racism while praising the inner strength of the race.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Jefferson had his defenders. White men such as Charles Caldwell and Samuel George Morton hardened Jefferson’s skepticism, offering a “biological” case for Black and white people not only having separate creations but actually being different species, a position increasingly articulated throughout the antebellum period. Few Americans subscribed wholesale to such theories, but many shared beliefs in white supremacy. As the decades passed, White Americans were forced to acknowledge that if the Black population was indeed whitening, it resulted from sexual violence and not the environment. The sense of inspiration and wonder that followed Henry Moss in the 1790s would have been impossible just a generation later.

III. Jeffersonian Republicanism

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Free and enslaved Black Americans were not alone in pushing against political hierarchies. Jefferson’s election to the presidency in 1800 represented a victory for non-elite white Americans in their bid to assume more direct control over the government. Elites had made no secret of their hostility toward the direct control of government by the people. In both private correspondence and published works, many of the nation’s founders argued that pure democracy would lead to anarchy. Massachusetts Federalist Fisher Ames spoke for many of his colleagues when he lamented the dangers that democracy posed because it depended on public opinion, which “shifts with every current of caprice.” Jefferson’s election, for Federalists like Ames, heralded a slide “down into the mire of a democracy.” ((Fisher Ames, “The Mire of a Democracy,” in W. B. Allen, ed., Works of Fisher Ames, 2 vols. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1984), Vol. 1: 6, 7.))

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Indeed, many political leaders and non-elite citizens believed Jefferson embraced the politics of the masses. “In a government like ours it is the duty of the Chief-magistrate . . . to unite in himself the confidence of the whole people,” Jefferson wrote in 1810. ((Jefferson to John Garland Jefferson, January 25, 1810, in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, ed. Julian P. Boyd et al., 40 vols. to date (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950–), Vol. 2: 183. Hereafter cited as PTJ, RS.)) Nine years later, looking back on his monumental election, Jefferson again linked his triumph to the political engagement of ordinary citizens: “The revolution of 1800 . . . was as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 76 was in it’s form,” he wrote, “not effected indeed by the sword . . . but by the rational and peaceable instrument of reform, the suffrage [voting] of the people.” ((Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, September 6, 1819, http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/137.html. )) Jefferson desired to convince Americans, and the world, that a government that answered directly to the people would lead to lasting national union, not anarchic division. He wanted to prove that free people could govern themselves democratically.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Jefferson set out to differentiate his administration from the Federalists. He defined American union by the voluntary bonds of fellow citizens toward one another and toward the government. In contrast, the Federalists supposedly imagined a union defined by expansive state power and public submission to the rule of aristocratic elites. For Jefferson, the American nation drew its “energy” and its strength from the “confidence” of a “reasonable” and “rational” people.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Democratic-Republican celebrations often credited Jefferson with saving the nation’s republican principles. In a move that enraged Federalists, they used the image of George Washington, who had passed away in 1799, linking the republican virtue Washington epitomized to the democratic liberty Jefferson championed. Leaving behind the military pomp of power-obsessed Federalists, Democratic-Republicans had peacefully elected the scribe of national independence, the philosopher-patriot who had battled tyranny with his pen, not with a sword or a gun.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 The celebrations of Jefferson’s presidency and the defeat of the Federalists expressed many citizens’ willingness to assert greater direct control over the government as citizens. The definition of citizenship was changing. Early American national identity was coded masculine, just as it was coded white and wealthy; yet, since the Revolution, women had repeatedly called for a place in the conversation. Mercy Otis Warren was one of the most noteworthy female contributors to the public ratification debate over the Constitution of 1787 and 1788, but women all over the country were urged to participate in the discussion over the Constitution. “It is the duty of the American ladies, in a particular manner, to interest themselves in the success of the measures that are now pursuing by the Federal Convention for the happiness of America,” a Philadelphia essayist announced. “They can retain their rank as rational beings only in a free government. In a monarchy . . . they will be considered as valuable members of a society, only in proportion as they are capable of being mothers for soldiers, who are the pillars of crowned heads.” ((Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer June 5, 1787, in Merrill Jensen, John P. Kaminski, Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, June 5, 1787, in Merrill Jensen, John P. Kaminski, Gaspare J. Saladino, et al., eds., The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, 22 vols. to date (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1976–), Vol. 13: 126–127. The digital edition of the first twenty volumes is available through the University of Virginia Press Rotunda project, edited by John P. Kaminski, Gaspare J. Saladino, et al., http://rotunda.upress.virginia.edu/founders/RNCN.html. Hereafter cited as DHRC.)) American women were more than mothers to soldiers; they were mothers to liberty.

The artist James Pealse painted this portrait of his wife Mary and five of their eventual six children. Peale and others represented women as responsibl for the health of the republic through their roles as wives as mothers. Though unmistakably steeped in the gendered assumptions about female sexuality and domesticity that denied women an equal share of the political rights men enjoyed, these statements also conceded the pivotal role women played as active participants in partisan politics. Via Wikimedia.
The artist James Peale painted this portrait of his wife Mary and five of their eventual six children. Peale and others represented women as responsible for the health of the republic through their roles as wives as mothers. Historians call this view of women Republican Motherhood. Wikimedia.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Historians have used the term Republican Motherhood to describe the early American belief that women were essential in nurturing the principles of liberty in the citizenry. Women would pass along important values of independence and virtue to their children, ensuring that each generation cherished the same values of the American Revolution. Because of these ideas, women’s actions became politicized. Some even described women’s choice of sexual partner as crucial to the health and well-being of both the party and the nation. “The fair Daughters of America” should “never disgrace themselves by giving their hands in marriage to any but real republicans,” a group of New Jersey Democratic-Republicans asserted. A Philadelphia paper toasted “The fair Daughters of Columbia. May their smiles be the reward of Republicans only.” ((Alexandria Times, and District of Columbia Daily Advertiser (Alexandria, VA), July 2, 1800; Constitutional Telegraphe (Boston, MA), February 15 and December 6, 1800; Carlisle Gazette (Carlisle, PA), November 6, 1799.)) Though unmistakably steeped in the gendered assumptions about female sexuality and domesticity that denied women an equal share of the political rights men enjoyed, these statements also conceded the pivotal role women played as active participants in partisan politics. ((See Linda K. Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997); and Mary Kelley, Learning to Stand and Speak: Women, Education, and Public Life in America’s Republic (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006).))

IV. Jefferson as President

This victory banner shows Thomas Jefferson's face and says Jefferson President of the United States of America and John Adams no more.
Thomas Jefferson’s victory over John Adams in the election of 1800 was celebrated through everyday Americans’ material culture, including this victory banner. Smithsonian Institute, National Museum of American History.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Buttressed by robust public support, Jefferson sought to implement policies that reflected his own political ideology. He worked to reduce taxes and cut the government’s budget, believing that this would expand the economic opportunities of free Americans. His cuts included national defense, and Jefferson restricted the regular army to three thousand men. England may have needed taxes and debt to support its military empire, but Jefferson was determined to live in peace—and that belief led him to reduce America’s national debt while getting rid of all internal taxes during his first term. In a move that became the crowning achievement of his presidency, Jefferson authorized the acquisition of Louisiana from France in 1803 in what is considered the largest real estate deal in American history. France had ceded Louisiana to Spain in exchange for West Florida after the Seven Years’ War decades earlier. Jefferson was concerned about American access to New Orleans, which served as an important port for western farmers. His worries multiplied when the French secretly reacquired Louisiana in 1800. Spain remained in Louisiana for two more years while the U.S. minister to France, Robert R. Livingston, tried to strike a compromise. Fortunately for the United States, the pressures of war in Europe and the slave insurrection in Haiti forced Napoleon to rethink his vast North American holdings. Rebellious enslaved people coupled with a yellow fever outbreak in Haiti defeated French forces, stripping Napoleon of his ability to control Haiti (the home of profitable sugar plantations). Deciding to cut his losses, Napoleon offered to sell the entire Louisiana Territory for $15 million—roughly equivalent to $250 million today. Negotiations between Livingston and Napoleon’s foreign minister, Talleyrand, succeeded more spectacularly than either Jefferson or Livingston could have imagined.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Jefferson made an inquiry to his cabinet regarding the constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase, but he believed he was obliged to operate outside the strict limitations of the Constitution if the good of the nation was at stake, as his ultimate responsibility was to the American people. Jefferson felt he should be able to “throw himself on the justice of his country” when he facilitated the interests of the very people he served. ((Jefferson to John B. Colvin, September 20, 1810, in PTJ, RS 3: 99, 100, 101.))

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Jefferson’s foreign policy, particularly the Embargo Act of 1807, elicited the most outrage from his Federalist critics. As Napoleon Bonaparte’s armies moved across Europe, Jefferson wrote to a European friend that he was glad that God had “divided the dry lands of your hemisphere from the dry lands of ours, and said ‘here, at least, be there peace.’” ((Jefferson to the Earl of Buchan Washington, July 10, 1803, in Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 40 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013), 708–709.)) Unfortunately, the Atlantic Ocean soon became the site of Jefferson’s greatest foreign policy test, as England, France, and Spain refused to respect American ships’ neutrality. The greatest offenses came from the British, who resumed the policy of impressment, seizing thousands of American sailors and forcing them to fight for the British navy.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Many Americans called for war when the British attacked the USS Chesapeake in 1807. The president, however, decided on a policy of “peaceable coercion” and Congress agreed. Under the Embargo Act of 1807, American ports were closed to all foreign trade in hopes of avoiding war. Jefferson hoped that an embargo would force European nations to respect American neutrality. Historians disagree over the wisdom of peaceable coercion. At first, withholding commerce rather than declaring war appeared to be the ultimate means of nonviolent conflict resolution. In practice, the embargo hurt the U.S. economy. Even Jefferson’s personal finances suffered. When Americans resorted to smuggling their goods out of the country, Jefferson expanded governmental powers to try to enforce their compliance, leading some to label him a “tyrant.”

The attack of the Chesapeake caused such furor in the hearts of Americans that even 80 years after the incident, an artist sketched this drawing of the event. Fred S. Cozzens, “The incident between HMS ‘Leopard; and USS ‘Chesapeake’ that sparked the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair,” 1897. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leopardchesapeake.jpg.
The attack of the Chesapeake caused such furor in the hearts of Americans that even eighty years after the incident, an artist sketched this drawing of the event. Fred S. Cozzens, The incident between HMS “Leopard” and USS “Chesapeake” that sparked the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, 1897. Wikimedia.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Criticism of Jefferson’s policies reflected the same rhetoric his supporters had used earlier against Adams and the Federalists. Federalists attacked the American Philosophical Society and the study of natural history, believing both to be too saturated with Democratic-Republicans. Some Federalists lamented the alleged decline of educational standards for children. Moreover, James Callender published accusations (that were later proven credible by DNA evidence) that Jefferson was involved in a sexual relationship with Sally Hemings, one of his enslaved laborers. ((For the Hemings controversy and the DNA evidence, see Annette Gordon-Reed, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1997).)) Callender referred to Jefferson as “our little mulatto president,” suggesting that sex with an enslaved person had somehow compromised Jefferson’s racial integrity. ((Recorder (Richmond, VA), November 3, 1802.)) Callender’s accusation joined previous Federalist attacks on Jefferson’s racial politics, including a scathing pamphlet written by South Carolinian William Loughton Smith in 1796 that described the principles of Jeffersonian democracy as the beginning of a slippery slope to dangerous racial equality. ((The Pretensions of Thomas Jefferson to the Presidency Examined; and the Charges Against John Adams Refuted. Addressed to the Citizens of America in General; and Particularly to the Electors of the President, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: s.n., 1796).))

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Arguments lamenting the democratization of America were far less effective than those that borrowed from democratic language and alleged that Jefferson’s actions undermined the sovereignty of the people. When Federalists attacked Jefferson, they often accused him of acting against the interests of the very public he claimed to serve. This tactic represented a pivotal development. As the Federalists scrambled to stay politically relevant, it became apparent that their ideology—rooted in eighteenth-century notions of virtue, paternalistic rule by wealthy elite, and the deference of ordinary citizens to an aristocracy of merit—was no longer tenable. The Federalists’ adoption of republican political rhetoric signaled a new political landscape in which both parties embraced the direct involvement of the citizenry. The Democratic-Republican Party rose to power on the promise to expand voting and promote a more direct link between political leaders and the electorate. The American populace continued to demand more direct access to political power. Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe sought to expand voting through policies that made it easier for Americans to purchase land. Under their leadership, seven new states entered the Union. By 1824, only three states still had rules about how much property someone had to own before he could vote. Never again would the Federalists regain dominance over either Congress or the presidency; the last Federalist to run for president, Rufus King, lost to Monroe in 1816.

V. Native American Power and the United States

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 The Jeffersonian rhetoric of equality contrasted harshly with the reality of a nation stratified along the lines of gender, class, race, and ethnicity. Diplomatic relations between Native Americans and local, state, and national governments offer a dramatic example of the dangers of those inequalities. Prior to the Revolution, many Native American nations had balanced a delicate diplomacy between European empires, which scholars have called the Play-off System. ((See, for example, Anthony F. C. Wallace, The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca (New York: Random House, 1969), 111.)) Moreover, in many parts of North America, Indigenous peoples dominated social relations.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Americans pushed for more land in all their interactions with Native diplomats and leaders. But boundaries were only one source of tension. Trade, criminal jurisdiction, roads, the sale of liquor, and alliances were also key negotiating points. Despite their role in fighting on both sides, Native American negotiators were not included in the diplomatic negotiations that ended the Revolutionary War. Unsurprisingly, the final document omitted concessions for Native allies. Even as Native peoples proved vital trading partners, scouts, and allies against hostile nations, they were often condemned by white settlers and government officials as “savages.” White ridicule of Indigenous practices and disregard for Indigenous nations’ property rights and sovereignty prompted some Indigenous peoples to turn away from white practices.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 In the wake of the American Revolution, Native American diplomats developed relationships with the United States, maintained or ceased relations with the British Empire (or with Spain in the South), and negotiated their relationship with other Native nations. Formal diplomatic negotiations included Native rituals to reestablish relationships and open communication. Treaty conferences took place in Native towns, at neutral sites in borderlands, and in state and federal capitals. While chiefs were politically important, skilled orators, such as Red Jacket, as well as intermediaries, and interpreters also played key roles in negotiations. Native American orators were known for metaphorical language, command of an audience, and compelling voice and gestures.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 .

Shown in this portrait as a refined gentleman, Red Jacket proved to be one of the most effective middlemen between native Americans and United States officials. The medal worn around his neck, apparently given to him by George Washington, reflects his position as an intermediary. Campbell & Burns, “Red Jacket. Seneca war chief,” Philadelphia: C. Hullmandel, 1838. Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003670111/.
Shown in this portrait as a refined gentleman, Red Jacket proved to be one of the most effective middlemen between Native Americans and U.S. officials. The medal worn around his neck, apparently given to him by George Washington, reflects his position as an intermediary. Campbell & Burns, Red Jacket. Seneca war chief, Philadelphia: C. Hullmandel, 1838. Library of Congress.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Throughout the early republic, diplomacy was preferred to war. Violence and warfare carried enormous costs for all parties—in lives, money, trade disruptions, and reputation. Diplomacy allowed parties to air their grievances, negotiate their relationships, and minimize violence. Violent conflicts arose when diplomacy failed.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Native diplomacy testified to the complexity of Indigenous cultures and their role in shaping the politics and policy of American communities, states, and the federal government. Yet white attitudes, words, and policies frequently relegated Native peoples to the literal and figurative margins as “ignorant savages.” Poor treatment like this inspired hostility and calls for alliances from leaders of distinct Native nations, including the Shawnee leader Tecumseh.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Tecumseh and his brother, Tenskwatawa, the Prophet, helped envision an alliance of North America’s Indigenous populations to halt the encroachments of the United States. They created towns in present-day Indiana, first at Greenville, then at Prophetstown, in defiance of the Treaty of Greenville (1795). Tecumseh traveled to many diverse Native nations from Canada to Georgia, calling for unification, resistance, and the restoration of sacred power.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa’s confederacy was the culmination of many movements that swept through Indigenous North America during the eighteenth century. An earlier coalition fought in Pontiac’s War. Neolin, the Delaware prophet, influenced Pontiac, an Ottawa (Odawa) war chief, with his vision of Native independence, cultural renewal, and religious revitalization. Through Neolin, the Master of Life—the Great Spirit—urged Native peoples to shrug off their dependency on European goods and technologies, reassert their faith in Native spirituality and rituals, and cooperate with one another against the “White people’s ways and nature.” ((Gregory Dowd, A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745–1815 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 33.)) Additionally, Neolin advocated violence against British encroachments on Native American lands, which escalated after the Seven Years’ War. His message was particularly effective in the Ohio and Upper Susquehanna Valleys, where polyglot communities of Indigenous refugees and migrants from across eastern North America lived together. When combined with the militant leadership of Pontiac, who took up Neolin’s message, the many Native peoples of the region united in attacks against British forts and people. From 1763 until 1765, the Great Lakes, Ohio Valley, and Upper Susquehanna Valley areas were embroiled in a war between Pontiac’s confederacy and the British Empire, a war that ultimately forced the English to restructure how they managed Native-British relations and trade.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 In the interim between 1765 and 1811, other Native prophets kept Neolin’s message alive while encouraging Indigenous peoples to resist Euro-American encroachments. These individuals included the Ottawa leader “the Trout,” also called Maya-Ga-Wy; Joseph Brant of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee); the Creek headman Mad Dog; Painted Pole of the Shawnee; a Mohawk woman named Coocoochee; Main Poc of the Potawatomi; and the Seneca prophet Handsome Lake. Once again, the epicenter of this resistance and revitalization originated in the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes regions, where from 1791 to 1795 a joint force of Shawnee, Delaware, Miami, Iroquois, Ojibwe, Ottawa, Huron, Potawatomi, Mingo, Chickamauga, and other Indigenous peoples waged war against the American republic. Although this “Western Confederacy” ultimately suffered defeat at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, this Native coalition achieved a number of military victories against the republic, including the destruction of two American armies, forcing President Washington to reformulate federal policy. Tecumseh’s experiences as a warrior against the American military in this conflict probably influenced his later efforts to generate solidarity among North American Indigenous communities.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa articulated ideas and beliefs similar to their eighteenth-century predecessors. In particular, Tenskwatawa pronounced that the Master of Life entrusted him and Tecumseh with the responsibility for returning Native peoples to the one true path and to rid Native communities of the dangerous and corrupting influences of Euro-American trade and culture. Tenskwatawa stressed the need for cultural and religious renewal, which coincided with his blending of the tenets, traditions, and rituals of Indigenous religions and Christianity. In particular, Tenskwatawa emphasized apocalyptic visions that he and his followers would usher in a new world and restore Native power to the continent. For Native peoples who gravitated to the Shawnee brothers, this emphasis on cultural and religious revitalization was empowering and spiritually liberating, especially given the continuous American assaults on Native land and power in the early nineteenth century.

Tenskwatawa as painted by George Catlin, in 1831, via Wikimedia.
Tenskwatawa as painted by George Catlin, in 1831. Caitlin acknowledged the prophet’s spiritual power and painted him with a medicine stick. Wikimedia.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Tecumseh’s confederacy drew heavily from Indigenous communities in the Old Northwest and the festering hatred for land-hungry Americans. Tecumseh attracted a wealth of allies in his adamant refusal to concede any more land. Tecumseh proclaimed that the Master of Life tasked him with the responsibility of returning Native lands to their rightful owners. In his efforts to promote unity among Native peoples, Tecumseh also offered these communities a distinctly Native American identity that brought disparate Native peoples together under the banner of a common spirituality, together resisting an oppressive force. In short, spirituality tied together the resistance movement. Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa were not above using this unifying rhetoric to legitimate their own authority within Indigenous communities at the expense of other Native leaders. This manifested most visibly during Tenskwatawa’s witch hunts of the 1800s. Those who opposed Tenskwatawa or sought to accommodate Americans were labeled witches.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 While Tecumseh attracted Native peoples from around the Northwest, the Red Stick Creeks brought these ideas to the Southeast. Led by the Creek prophet Hillis Hadjo, who accompanied Tecumseh when he toured throughout the Southeast in 1811, the Red Sticks integrated certain religious tenets from the north and invented new religious practices specific to the Creeks, all the while communicating and coordinating with Tecumseh after he left Creek Country. In doing so, the Red Sticks joined Tecumseh in his resistance movement while seeking to purge Creek society of its Euro-American dependencies. Creek leaders who maintained relationships with the United States, in contrast, believed that accommodation and diplomacy might stave off American encroachments better than violence.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Additionally, the Red Sticks discovered that most southeastern Indigenous leaders cared little for Tecumseh’s confederacy. This lack of allies hindered the spread of a movement in the southeast, and the Red Sticks soon found themselves in a civil war against other Creeks. Tecumseh thus found little support in the Southeast beyond the Red Sticks, who by 1813 were cut off from the North by Andrew Jackson. Shortly thereafter, Jackson’s forces were joined by Lower Creek and Cherokee forces that helped defeat the Red Sticks, culminating in Jackson’s victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Following their defeat, the Red Sticks were forced to cede an unprecedented fourteen million acres of land in the Treaty of Fort Jackson. As historian Adam Rothman argues, the defeat of the Red Sticks allowed the United States to expand west of the Mississippi, guaranteeing the continued existence and profitability of slavery. ((Adam Rothman, Slave Country: American Expansion and the Origins of the Deep South (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).))

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Many Native leaders refused to join Tecumseh and instead maintained their loyalties to the American republic. After the failures of Native American unity and loss at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, Tecumseh’s confederation floundered. The War of 1812 between the United States and Britain offered new opportunities for Tecumseh and his followers. ((Nicole Eustace, 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 149–153.)) With the United States distracted, Tecumseh and his confederated army seized several American forts on their own initiative. Eventually Tecumseh solicited British aid after sustaining heavy losses from American fighters at Fort Wayne and Fort Harrison. Even then, the confederacy faced an uphill battle, particularly after American naval forces secured control of the Great Lakes in September 1813, forcing British ships and reinforcements to retreat. Yet Tecumseh and his Native allies fought on despite being surrounded by American forces. Tecumseh told the British commander Henry Proctor, “Our lives are in the hands of the Great Spirit. We are determined to defend our lands, and if it is his will, we wish to leave our bones upon them.” ((Quoted in Edward Eggleston and Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye, Tecumseh and the Shawnee Prophet (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1878), 309.)) Soon thereafter, Tecumseh fell on the battlefields of Moraviantown, Ontario, in October 1813. His death dealt a severe blow to Native American resistance against the United States. Men like Tecumseh and Pontiac, however, left behind a legacy of Native American unity that was not soon forgotten.

VI. The War of 1812

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Soon after Jefferson retired from the presidency in 1808, Congress ended the embargo and the British relaxed their policies toward American ships. Despite the embargo’s unpopularity, Jefferson still believed that more time would have proven that peaceable coercion worked. Yet war with Britain loomed—a war that would galvanize the young American nation.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 The War of 1812 stemmed from American entanglement in two distinct sets of international issues. The first had to do with the nation’s desire to maintain its position as a neutral trading nation during the series of Anglo-French wars, which began in the aftermath of the French Revolution in 1793. The second had older roots in the colonial and Revolutionary era. In both cases, American interests conflicted with those of the British Empire. British leaders showed little interest in accommodating the Americans.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Impressments, the practice of forcing American sailors to join the British Navy, was among the most important sources of conflict between the two nations. Driven in part by trade with Europe, the American economy grew quickly during the first decade of the nineteenth century, creating a labor shortage in the American shipping industry. In response, pay rates for sailors increased and American captains recruited heavily from the ranks of British sailors. As a result, around 30 percent of sailors employed on American merchant ships were British. As a republic, the Americans advanced the notion that people could become citizens by renouncing their allegiance to their home nation. To the British, a person born in the British Empire was a subject of that empire for life, a status they could not change. The British Navy was embroiled in a difficult war and was unwilling to lose any of its labor force. In order to regain lost crewmen, the British often boarded American ships to reclaim their sailors. Of course, many American sailors found themselves caught up in these sweeps and “impressed” into the service of the British Navy. Between 1803 and 1812, some six thousand Americans suffered this fate. The British would release Americans who could prove their identity, but this process could take years while the sailor endured harsh conditions and the dangers of the Royal Navy.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 In 1806, responding to a French declaration of a complete naval blockade of Great Britain, the British demanded that neutral ships first carry their goods to Britain to pay a transit duty before they could proceed to France. Despite loopholes in these policies between 1807 and 1812, Britain, France, and their allies seized about nine hundred American ships, prompting a swift and angry American response. Jefferson’s embargo sent the nation into a deep depression and drove exports down from $108 million in 1807 to $22 million in 1808, all while having little effect on Europeans. ((Amanda Porterfield, Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 187.)) Within fifteen months Congress repealed the Embargo Act, replacing it with smaller restrictions on trade with Britain and France. Although efforts to stand against Great Britain had failed, resentment of British trade policy remained widespread.

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 Far from the Atlantic Ocean on the American frontier, Americans were also at odds with the British Empire. From their position in Canada, the British maintained relations with Native Americans in the Old Northwest, supplying them with goods and weapons in attempts to maintain ties in case of another war with the United States. The threat of a Native uprising increased after 1805 when Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh built their alliance. The territorial governor of Indiana, William Henry Harrison, eventually convinced the Madison administration to allow for military action against the Native Americans in the Ohio Valley. The resulting Battle of Tippecanoe drove the followers of the Prophet from their gathering place but did little to change the dynamics of the region. British efforts to arm and supply Native Americans, however, angered Americans and strengthened anti-British sentiments.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 Republicans began to talk of war as a solution to these problems, arguing that it was necessary to complete the War for Independence by preventing British efforts to keep America subjugated at sea and on land. The war would also represent another battle against the Loyalists, some thirty-eight thousand of whom had populated Upper Canada after the Revolution and sought to establish a counter to the radical experiment of the United States. ((Alan Taylor, The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies (New York: Random House, 2010), 5.))

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 In 1812, the Democratic-Republicans held 75 percent of the seats in the House and 82 percent of the Senate, giving them a free hand to set national policy. Among them were the “War Hawks,” whom one historian describes as “too young to remember the horrors of the American Revolution” and thus “willing to risk another British war to vindicate the nation’s rights and independence.” ((Donald R. Hickey, Glorious Victory: Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015), 8.)) This group included men who would remain influential long after the War of 1812, such as Henry Clay of Kentucky and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina.

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Convinced by the War Hawks in his party, Madison drafted a statement of the nation’s disputes with the British and asked Congress for a war declaration on June 1, 1812. The Democratic-Republicans hoped that an invasion of Canada might remove the British from their backyard and force the empire to change their naval policies. After much negotiation in Congress over the details of the bill, Madison signed a declaration of war on June 18, 1812. For the second time, the United States was at war with Great Britain.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 While the War of 1812 contained two key players—the United States and Great Britain—it also drew in other groups, such as Tecumseh and his Confederacy. The war can be organized into three stages or theaters. The first, the Atlantic Theater, lasted until the spring of 1813. During this time, Great Britain was chiefly occupied in Europe against Napoleon, and the United States invaded Canada and sent their fledgling navy against British ships. During the second stage, from early 1813 to 1814, the United States launched their second offensive against Canada and the Great Lakes. In this period, the Americans won their first successes. The third stage, the Southern Theater, concluded with Andrew Jackson’s January 1815 victory outside New Orleans, Louisiana.

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 During the war, the Americans were greatly interested in Canada and the Great Lakes borderlands. In July 1812, the United States launched their first offensive against Canada. By August, however, the British and their allies rebuffed the Americans, costing the United States control over Detroit and parts of the Michigan Territory. By the close of 1813, the Americans recaptured Detroit, shattered the Confederacy, killed Tecumseh, and eliminated the British threat in that theater. Despite these accomplishments, the American land forces proved outmatched by their adversaries.

This political cartoon depicts Native Americans scalping Americans and then giving the scalp to a British soldier. The top of the image reads, A Scene on the FRONTIERS as Practiced by the HUMANE BRITISH and their WORTHY ALLIES. The British soldier says "Bring me the scalps and the King our master will reward you." An Indigenous man carries a rifle labeled "reward for sixteen scalps."At the bottom a poem reads, Arise Colubmia's Sons and forward press, your country's wrongs call loudly for redress; the Savage Indian with his scaping knife, or Tomahawk may seek to take your life, By bravery awed they'll in a dreadfull Fright, shrink back for Refuge to the Woods in Flight; Their British leaders then will quickly shake, and for those wrongs shall restitution make.
As pictured in this 1812 political cartoon published in Philadelphia, Americans lambasted the British and their native allies for what they considered “savage” offenses during war, though Americans too were engaging in similar acts. William Charles, A scene on the frontiers as practiced by the “humane” British and their “worthy” allies, Philadelphia, 1812. Library of Congress.

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 After the land campaign of 1812 failed to secure America’s war aims, Americans turned to the infant navy in 1813. Privateers and the U.S. Navy rallied behind the slogan “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights!” Although the British possessed the most powerful navy in the world, surprisingly the young American navy extracted early victories with larger, more heavily armed ships. By 1814, however, the major naval battles had been fought with little effect on the war’s outcome.

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 With Britain’s main naval fleet fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, smaller ships and armaments stationed in North America were generally no match for their American counterparts. Early on, Americans humiliated the British in single ship battles. In retaliation, Captain Philip Broke of the HMS Shannon attacked the USS Chesapeake, captained by James Lawrence, on June 1, 1813. Within six minutes, the Chesapeake was destroyed and Lawrence mortally wounded. Yet the Americans did not give up. Lawrence commanded them, “Tell the men to fire faster! Don’t give up the ship!” ((“Martin Bibbings, “The Battle,” in Tim Voelcker, ed., Broke of the Shannon: And the War of 1812 (London: Seaworth Publishing, 2013), 138.)) Lawrence died of his wounds three days later, and although the Shannon defeated the Chesapeake, Lawrence’s words became a rallying cry for the Americans.

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 Two and a half months later the USS Constitution squared off with the HMS Guerriere. As the Guerriere tried to outmaneuver the Americans, the Constitution pulled along broadside and began hammering the British frigate. The Guerriere returned fire, but as one sailor observed, the cannonballs simply bounced off the Constitution’s thick hull. “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!” shouted the sailor, and henceforth, the Constitution became known as “Old Ironsides.” In less than thirty-five minutes, the Guerriere was so badly damaged that it was set aflame rather than taken as a prize.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 In 1814, Americans gained naval victories on Lake Champlain near Plattsburgh, preventing a British land invasion of the United States and on the Chesapeake Bay at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Fort McHenry repelled the nineteen-ship British fleet, enduring twenty-seven hours of bombardment virtually unscathed. Watching from aboard a British ship, American poet Francis Scott Key penned the stanzas of the poem that would later become the national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.”

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 Impressive though these accomplishments were, they belied what was actually a poorly executed military campaign against the British. The U.S. Navy won their most significant victories in the Atlantic Ocean in 1813. Napoleon’s defeat in early 1814, however, allowed the British to focus on North America and blockade American ports. Thanks to the blockade, the British were able to burn Washington, D.C., on August 24, 1814 and open a new theater of operations in the South. The British sailed for New Orleans, where they achieved a naval victory at Lake Borgne before losing the land invasion to Major General Andrew Jackson’s troops in January 1815. This American victory actually came after the United States and the United Kingdom signed the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814, but the Battle of New Orleans proved to be a psychological victory that boosted American morale and affected how the war has been remembered.

The artist shows Washington D.C. engulfed in flames as the British troops set fire to the city in 1813. "Capture of the City of Washington," August 1814. Wikimedia, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%22Capture_of_the_City_of_Washington,%22_August_1814,_1814_-_NARA_-_531090.jpg.
The artist shows Washington D.C. engulfed in flames as the British troops set fire to the city in 1813. “Capture of the City of Washington,” August 1814. Wikimedia.

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 But not all Americans supported the war. In 1814, New England Federalists met in Hartford, Connecticut, to try to end the war and curb the power of the Democratic-Republican Party. They produced a document that proposed abolishing the three-fifths rule that afforded southern enslavers disproportionate representation in Congress, limiting the president to a single term in office, and most importantly, demanding a two-thirds congressional majority, rather than a simple majority, for legislation that declared war, admitted new states into the Union, or regulated commerce. With the two-thirds majority, New England’s Federalist politicians believed they could limit the power of their political foes.

This political cartoon depicts prominent Federalists jumping off a cliff and into the arms of the British monarch.
Contemplating the possibility of secession over the War of 1812 (fueled in large part by the economic interests of New England merchants), the Hartford Convention posed the possibility of disaster for the still-young United States. England, represented by the figure John Bull on the right side, is shown in this political cartoon with arms open to accept New England back into its empire. William Charles Jr., The Hartford Convention or Leap No Leap. Wikimedia.

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 These proposals were sent to Washington, but unfortunately for the Federalists, the victory at New Orleans buoyed popular support for the Madison administration. With little evidence, newspapers accused the Hartford Convention’s delegates of plotting secession. The episode demonstrated the waning power of Federalism and the need for the region’s politicians to shed their aristocratic and Anglophile image. The next New England politician to assume the presidency, John Quincy Adams, would, in 1824, emerge not from within the Federalist fold but having served as secretary of state under President James Monroe, the leader of the Virginia Democratic-Republicans.

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 The Treaty of Ghent essentially returned relations between the United States and Britain to their prewar status. The war, however, mattered politically and strengthened American nationalism. During the war, Americans read patriotic newspaper stories, sang patriotic songs, and bought consumer goods decorated with national emblems. They also heard stories about how the British and their Native allies threatened to bring violence into American homes. For examples, rumors spread that British officers promised rewards of “beauty and booty” for their soldiers when they attacked New Orleans. ((Ronald L. Drez, The War of 1812: Conflict and Deception (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2014), 154.)) In the Great Lakes borderlands, wartime propaganda fueled Americans’ fear of Britain’s Native American allies, whom they believed would slaughter men, women, and children indiscriminately. Terror and love worked together to make American citizens feel a stronger bond with their country. Because the war mostly cut off America’s trade with Europe, it also encouraged Americans to see themselves as different and separate; it fostered a sense that the country had been reborn.

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 Former treasury secretary Albert Gallatin claimed that the War of 1812 revived “national feelings” that had dwindled after the Revolution. “The people,” he wrote, were now “more American; they feel and act more like a nation.” ((Morton Keller, America’s Three Regimes: A New Political History: A New Political History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 69.)) Politicians proposed measures to reinforce the fragile Union through capitalism and built on these sentiments of nationalism. The United States continued to expand into Native American territories with westward settlement in far-flung new states like Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi, and Illinois. Between 1810 and 1830, the country added more than six thousand new post offices.

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 In 1817, South Carolina congressman John C. Calhoun called for building projects to “bind the republic together with a perfect system of roads and canals.” ((Brian Balogh, A Government Out of Sight: The Mystery of National Authority in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 130.)) He joined with other politicians, such as Kentucky’s powerful Henry Clay, to promote what came to be called an American System. They aimed to make America economically independent and encouraged commerce between the states over trade with Europe and the West Indies. The American System would include a new Bank of the United States to provide capital; a high protective tariff, which would raise the prices of imported goods and help American-made products compete; and a network of “internal improvements,” roads and canals to let people take American goods to market.

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 These projects were controversial. Many people believed that they were unconstitutional or would increase the federal government’s power at the expense of the states. Even Calhoun later changed his mind and joined the opposition. The War of 1812, however, had reinforced Americans’ sense of the nation’s importance in their political and economic life. Even when the federal government did not act, states created banks, roads, and canals of their own.

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 What may have been the boldest declaration of America’s postwar pride came in 1823. President James Monroe issued an ultimatum to the empires of Europe in order to support several wars of independence in Latin America. The Monroe Doctrine declared that the United States considered its entire hemisphere, both North and South America, off-limits to new European colonization. Although Monroe was a Jeffersonian, some of his principles echoed Federalist policies. Whereas Jefferson cut the size of the military and ended all internal taxes in his first term, Monroe advocated the need for a strong military and an aggressive foreign policy. Since Americans were spreading out over the continent, Monroe authorized the federal government to invest in canals and roads, which he said would “shorten distances and, by making each part more accessible to and dependent on the other . . . shall bind the Union more closely together.” ((Inaugural Address, March 4, 1817,” in Stanislaus Murray Hamilton, ed., The Writings of James Monroe (New York: Putnam, 1902), Vol. 6: 11.)) As Federalists had attempted two decades earlier, Democratic-Republican leaders after the War of 1812 advocated strengthening the government to strengthen the nation.

VII. Conclusion

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 Monroe’s election after the conclusion of the War of 1812 signaled the death knell of the Federalists. Some predicted an “era of good feelings” and an end to party divisions. The War had cultivated a profound sense of union among a diverse and divided people. Yet that “era of good feelings” would never really come. Political division continued. Though the dying Federalists would fade from political relevance, a schism within the Democratic-Republican Party would give rise to Jacksonian Democrats. Political limits continued along class, gender, and racial and ethnic lines. At the same time, industrialization and the development of American capitalism required new justifications of inequality. Social change and increased immigration prompted nativist reactions that would divide “true” Americans from dangerous or undeserving “others.” Still, a cacophony of voices clamored to be heard and struggled to realize a social order compatible with the ideals of equality and individual liberty. As always, the meaning of democracy was in flux.

VIII. Primary Sources

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 1. Letter of Cato and petition by “the negroes who obtained freedom by the late act,” in Postscript to the Freeman’s Journal, September 21, 1781

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 The elimination of slavery in northern states like Pennsylvania was slow and hard-fought. A bill passed in 1780 began the slow process of eroding slavery in the state, but a proposal just one year later would have erased that bill and furthered the distance between slavery and freedom. The action of Black Philadelphians and others succeeded in defeating this measure. In this letter to the Black newspaper, Philadelphia Freedom’s Journal, a formerly enslaved man uses the rhetoric of the American Revolution to attack American slavery.

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 2. Thomas Jefferson’s racism, 1788

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 American racism spread during the first decades after the American Revolution. Racial prejudice existed for centuries, but the belief that African-descended peoples were inherently and permanently inferior to Anglo-descended peoples developed sometime around the late eighteenth century. Writings such as this piece from Thomas Jefferson fostered faulty scientific reasoning to justify laws that protected slavery and white supremacy.

65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 3. Black scientist Benjamin Banneker demonstrates Black intelligence to Thomas Jefferson, 1791

66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 Benjamin Banneker, a free Black American and largely self-taught astronomer and mathematician, wrote Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, on August 19, 1791. Banneker included this letter, as well as Jefferson’s short reply, in several of the first editions of his almanacs in part because he hoped it would dispel the widespread assumption that Jefferson perpetuated in his Notes on the State of Virginia that Black people were incapable of intellectual achievement.

67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 4. Creek headman Alexander McGillivray (Hoboi-Hili-Miko) seeks to build an alliance with Spain, 1785

68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 Native peoples had long employed strategies of playing Europeans off against each other to maintain their independence and neutrality. As early as 1785, the Creek headman Alexander McGillivray (Hoboi-Hili-Miko) saw the threat the expansionist Americans placed on Native peoples and the inability of a weak United States government to restrain their citizens from encroaching on Native lands. McGillivray sought the aid and protection of the Spanish in order to maintain the supply of trade goods into Creek country and counter the Americans.

69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 5. Tecumseh Calls for Native American resistance, 1810

70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 Like Pontiac before him, Tecumseh articulated a spiritual message of Native American unity and resistance. In this document, he acknowledges his Shawnee heritage, but appeals to a larger community of “red men,” who he describes as “once a happy race, since made miserable by the white people.” This document reveals not only Tecumseh’s message of resistance, but it also shows that Anglo-American understandings of race had spread to Native Americans as well. 

71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 6. Congress debates going to war, 1811

72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0 Americans were not united in their support for the War of 1812. In these two documents we hear from members of congress as they debate whether or not America should go to war against Great Britain. 

73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0 7. Abigail Bailey escapes an abusive relationship, 1815

74 Leave a comment on paragraph 74 0 Women in early America suffered from a lack of rights or means of defending themselves against domestic abuse. The case of Abigail Bailey is remarkable because she was able to successfully free herself and her children from an abusive husband and father.

75 Leave a comment on paragraph 75 0 8. Genius of the Ladies magazine illustration, 1792

76 Leave a comment on paragraph 76 0 Despite the restrictions imposed on their American citizenship, white women worked to expand their rights to education in the new nation using literature and the arts. The first journal for women in the United States, The Lady’s Magazine, and repository of entertaining knowledge, introduced their initial volume with an engraving celebrating the transatlantic exchange between women’s rights advocates. In the engraving, English writer Mary Wollstonecraft presents her work, “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” to Liberty who has the tools of the arts at her feet.

77 Leave a comment on paragraph 77 0 9. America Guided by Wisdom engraving, 1815

78 Leave a comment on paragraph 78 0 This engraving reflects the sense of triumph many white Americans felt following the War of 1812. Drawing from the visual language of Jeffersonian Republicans, we see America—represented as a woman in classical dress—surrounded by gods of wisdom, commerce, and agriculture on one side and a statue of George Washington emblazoned with the recent war’s victories on the other. The romantic sense of the United States as the heir to the ancient Roman republic, pride in military victory, and the glorification of domestic production contributed to the idea the young nation was about to enter an “era of good feelings.”

IX. Reference Material

79 Leave a comment on paragraph 79 0 This chapter was edited by Nathaniel C. Green, with content contributions by Justin Clark, Adam Costanzo, Stephanie Gamble, Dale Kretz, Julie Richter, Bryan Rindfleisch, Angela Riotto, James Risk, Cara Rogers, Jonathan Wilfred Wilson, and Charlton Yingling.

80 Leave a comment on paragraph 80 0 Recommended citation: Justin Clark et al., “The Early Republic,” Nathaniel C. Green, ed., in The American Yawp, eds. Joseph Locke and Ben Wright (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018).

81 Leave a comment on paragraph 81 0 Recommended Reading

  • Appleby, Joyce. Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1992.
  • Bailey, Jeremy D. Thomas Jefferson and Executive Power. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • Blackhawk, Ned. Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.
  • Bradburn, Douglas. The Citizenship Revolution: Politics and the Creation of the American Union, 1774–1804. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009.
  • Cleves, Rachel Hope. The Reign of Terror in America: Visions of Violence from Anti-Jacobinism to Antislavery. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  • Dubois, Laurent. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.
  • Edmunds, R. David. The Shawnee Prophet. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.
  • Eustace, Nicole. 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.
  • Fabian, Ann. The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
  • Freeman, Joanne B. Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001.
  • Furstenberg, François. In the Name of the Father: Washington’s Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation. New York: Penguin, 2006.
  • Kastor, Peter J. The Nation’s Crucible: The Louisiana Purchase and the Creation of America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004.
  • Kelley, Mary. Learning to Stand and Speak: Women, Education, and Public Life in America’s Republic. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
  • Kerber, Linda. Federalists in Dissent: Imagery and Ideology in Jeffersonian America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1970.
  • _________. Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Lewis, Jan. The Pursuit of Happiness: Family and Values in Jefferson’s Virginia. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
  • Manion, Jen. Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.
  • Onuf, Peter. Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000.
  • Porterfield, Amanda. Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.
  • Rothman, Adam. Slave Country: American Expansion and the Origins of the Deep South. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.
  • Rothman, Joshua D. Notorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and Families Across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787–1861. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
  • Sidbury, James. Ploughshares into Swords: Race, Rebellion, and Identity in Gabriel’s Virginia, 1730–1810. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. This Violent Empire: The Birth of an American National Identity. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.
  • Taylor, Alan. The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies. New York: Random House, 2010.
  • Waldstreicher, David. In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism 1776–1820. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

83 Leave a comment on paragraph 83 0 Notes

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