The American Republic Since 1877 © 2007
The Young Republic, 1816—1848
This chapter explores the changes in the United States that were initiated through a revolution in transportation, industry, and agriculture and the spirit of reforms that accompanied these changes. It also discusses the idea of manifest destiny and the expansion of the nation.
Section 1 describes the changes brought about by revolutions in transportation, industry, and agriculture in the United States. By the early 1800s, a transportation network of roads, canals, and railroads began to crisscross the country. New machines, such as the steamboat and the locomotive engine, stimulated commerce and travel, while the telegraph revolutionized communications. Factories with thousands of workers—mostly women, children, and immigrants—sprang up throughout the Northeast. Industrialization led to the rise of large cities and the first organized labor movements. In the South, Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin stimulated the Southern economy and increased the demand for enslaved labor. Most enslaved African Americans spent their lives in bondage, laboring year after year in rice and cotton fields. While some free African Americans prospered in the cities of the upper South, their rights varied from state to state. Free African Americans in the North, where slavery had been outlawed, still suffered discrimination and had few opportunities. Enslaved African Americans developed their own culture and exercised resistance to cope with the horrors of enslavement.
Section 2 details growing sectionalism and the Jackson presidency. Missouri's application for statehood sparked a heated debate among Northern and Southern leaders that was only quieted by the Missouri Compromise. This compromise was designed not only to preserve the balance of power between free and slave states in the Senate, but also to draw the borders of slavery. The presidential election of 1824 revealed regional differences within the Republican Party. A close vote handed the presidency to John Quincy Adams and led to the formation of a new political party. Jackson's election in 1828 ushered in a new era of American politics. Shunning the political elite, Andrew Jackson instituted government reforms that he believed would put political power in the hands of ordinary citizens. During his first term, disputes between the North and the South erupted in a crisis over states' rights that ended in another compromise. Jackson's forceful style showed in his heavy-handed policies toward Native Americans and his opposition to the Second Bank of the United States. By the mid-1830s the Whig Party emerged in opposition to Jackson, advocating a larger federal government and support for industry. The Whigs won the White House in the 1840 election, but on key issues President John Tyler acted more like a Democrat.
Section 3 discusses the spirit of reform that existed in the United States during the 1800s. The Second Great Awakening tried to revive Americans' commitment to religion. Revivalists also preached that individuals could improve themselves and the world. This optimism about human nature coincided with a flowering of literature with uniquely American works. It also sparked the formation of movements for social reforms such as temperance, prison reform, and changes in education. As women began expanding their roles to address problems of society, they began to argue for greater political rights to promote their ideas. The most divisive reform movement was the call for abolition. Early antislavery societies advocated gradualism and colonization as appropriate solutions to the slavery issue. After the 1830s abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison, argued for the immediate emancipation of enslaved African Americans. Freed African Americans used their slave experience to take prominent roles in the abolitionist movement. The Northern response to abolition ranged from support to indifference. Southern leaders, however, rushed to defend slavery—the institution that was the foundation of their economy.
Section 4 explores how the idea of Manifest Destiny guided the nation during the 1840s. Western settlers followed trails to the frontier states of the Midwest, California, and Oregon, seeking a better life and the opportunities for land ownership. A treaty attempted to settle rising conflicts between Native Americans and western settlers. In the early 1800s, Mexico's offers of cheap land lured many American emigrants to Texas. The Mexican government required that Americans live as Mexican citizens, but few settlers adopted Mexican ways. When Mexico enforced its authority on the colony, outraged Texans prepared for war. A surprise attack in the Battle of San Jacinto led to the capture of Santa Anna and the end of the war. The newly established Republic of Texas voted in favor of becoming part of the United States. Northern leaders, however, opposed admitting Texas as a slave state. They agreed to annexation when President James K. Polk introduced an ambitious program to stretch the nation's borders. A treaty split the Oregon territory with Great Britain, but Mexico rebuffed Polk's attempts to purchase California. Resigned that no diplomatic solution would end territorial tensions, Polk lured Mexico into war. His successful three-part military strategy gained control of California and secured the capture of Mexico's capital city. In signing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico gave up much of what became the American Southwest.