UNITED STATES HISTORY
*The War of 1812 is sometimes described as the Second War of
American Independence, and it certainly created a sense of
national pride and (outside New England, perhaps) a sense of
national unity, as William Henry Harrison, Oliver Hazard Perry,
Thomas Macdonough, the defenders of Fort McHenry, and Old Hickory
himself gave Americans their first national heroes since the
Revolutionary War. For a new generation of American
politicians, building a strong nation seemed a natural development
of this new nationalism.
*The most prominent of these new nationalists was the War Hawk
from Kentucky, 'Harry of the West,' Henry Clay. Over time,
he would propose what he would eventually come to call the
American System, and although he was a Jeffersonian Republican
when he began his career, his plan would have made Alexander
*To strengthen the American economy, he would promote American
industry, which could not compete with the cheap British goods
being dumped on the American market now that peace had come.
He was among the many nationalist Congressmen who voted in a much
higher tariff in 1816: the Tariff of 1816 was the first
truly protective tariff in American history (it had rates on many
goods as high as 20 or 25%).
*To stabilise the economy, Clay and other nationalists chartered a
Second Bank of the United States in 1816, based in Philadelphia
but eventually with twenty-five branches across the country.
Not only would it allow the United States Treasury to invest its
money at a profit, but it would issue reliable paper money
implicitly backed by the deposits of the US Treasury.
*Clay and some other nationalists also hoped that the wealth that
would be generated by growing industry and a high tariff would be
used to bind the nation together through a system of internal
improvements, particularly roads and canals to link the distant
frontier with the East. This would unite the nation and
facilitate commerce. In case of an emergency, it would also
make it easier for the Army to march to the frontier, which it had
often had trouble doing during the War of 1812.
*Internal improvements of this type were too much, though, even in
the atmosphere of nationalism that prevailed in the aftermath of
the War of 1812. Some people felt it was unfair that
national funds would be spent to benefit the particular regions
where the new roads ran. Furthermore, many Jeffersonian
Republicans felt that using national funds on local improvements
was a violation of the Constitution, and for the most part,
Federal funds were not expended on such projects.
*One of the few major internal improvements that was built was the
National Road (or Cumberland Road), begun on the roadbed laid by
General Braddock in the French and Indian War. It was
actually begun in 1811, but continued in stages until reaching
Illinois in the late 1830s.
*Instead of waiting for Federal funds, states had to build their
own improvements, which some did successfully, most notably New
York's Erie Canal linking Lake Erie with Albany on the Hudson
River and thus with New York harbour on the Atlantic Ocean.
Others borrowed money to build roads and canals that were never
finished or that did not pay for themselves, creating further
distrust of government spending on large public projects in some
parts of the country, especially the South.
*Although the Second American Revolution produced a new crop of
national heroes, the years immediately afterwards were supervised
by the last of the heroes of the first American Revolution.
In 1816, James Madison retired to Montpelier, Virginia, and the
Jeffersonian Republicans nominated another Virginia planter, the
last of the 'Virginia Dynasty.' James Monroe was a veteran of the
American Revolution who had crossed the Delaware with Washington
and been wounded by the Hessians at Trenton. He had also
helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase and had served as
Madison's Secretary of State. To remind Americans of his
status as the last of the Revolutionary generation, he still wore
a cocked hat and knee breeches, a decade or two after they had
gone out of fashion elsewhere.
*Although the Federalists did oppose him in 1816, Monroe defeated
Rufus King of New York by 183 to 34 electoral votes, and the
Federalists never ran a national candidate again, although they
did hold some state and local offices until the end of the
1820s. With the Federalists fading fast, and Monroe making
an effort to reconcile the different regions of the country with a
nation-wide goodwill tour in 1817 that included New England, the
country entered what was called an Era of Good Feelings, in which
two-party politics almost seemed like a thing of the past, and the
First Two-Party System came to an end. In 1820, Monroe was
re-elected with every electoral vote but one (from a New Hampshire
elector who thought Secretary of State John Quincy Adams would be
a better leader).
*The Era of Good Feelings did not, in fact, feel good to everyone,
and several of the efforts to link the country together seemed to
be backfiring. As Americans moved west, they sought to buy
up cheap western lands, often speculating that they could re-sell
it to later settlers at a profit. The Bank of the United
States facilitated this through its western branches, as did
smaller and less stable banks, by lending money to speculators to
buy large tracts of land on credit and by printing large sums of
paper money that was not properly backed by specie. Even the
US Government itself encouraged a degree of speculation, by
selling 160 acres of land at $2 an acre, but allowing buyers to
pay only one fourth of the value up front, and the rest over four
years. Many farmers and speculators bought land on credit,
and built up a great stock of debt.
*In 1817, crop prices collapsed around the world, as two years of
bad weather in Europe ended and American farmers could no longer
sell their crops at the high prices they had been enjoying.
Britain also began buying Indian cotton rather than the more
expensive American cotton. By 1819, a major financial
crisis, the Panic of 1819, had set in.
*Unable to pay their debts, farmers began to default on their
loans. The Bank of the United States, in turn, began
refusing paper money from small banks and demanded payment in
specie, which was rare. Many farms were foreclosed upon by
state banks and the Bank of the United States, which made many
Southerners and Westerners distrust banks, especially the Bank of
the United States, and for some people to feel that paper money
itself had caused the Panic.
*To partly satisfy the West, the Land Act of 1820 made it possible
to buy 80 acres of land at $1.25 an acre in cash.
*Expansion into the west also precipitated the first great
national crisis in peacetime. This came in 1819 when
Missouri requested admission as a state, and one that would allow
slavery (unlike those carved from the Northwest Territory).
*By this point, the anti-slavery movement, although still not
large, was growing. Furthermore, while the North (including
the Northwest) was growing in population much more quickly than
the South and was becoming the dominant force in the House of
Representatives, there had always been an equal number of
slave-owning states and free states (eleven of each), so that the
two regions were balanced in the Senate. Some northerners,
particularly New Englanders, resented this.
*When Missouri requested admission as a slave state, anti-slavery
New York Congressman James Tallmadge, proposed an amendment to the
bill that would have granted Missouri statehood. The
Tallmadge Amendment would have prohibited bringing more slaves
into the State of Missouri, and guaranteed that all children born
to slaves in that state would be born free, a method of gradual
emancipation already used by several Northern states.
*This infuriated Southerners, who felt that it was an attack on
their economic and social system, and it threatened the
compromises between North and South that had lasted since the
Three-Fifths Compromise during the Constitutional Convention.
*The anger expressed by both the North and the South frightened
many Americans, who feared it endangered the Republic, which was
still young and fragile, despite the new sense of nationalism
fostered by the War of 1812. Thomas Jefferson said that it
was 'like a firebell in the night' that filled him with terror.
*However, just as was the case in 1787, a compromise was reached,
in large part due to the work of Henry Clay, who would come to be
known as the Great Compromiser. The Missouri Compromise of
1820 admitted Missouri as a slave state, but admitted Maine as a
free state, keeping the balance at twelve free and twelve slave
states for years to come (and when new states were added, they
would come in two at a time, one in the North and one in the
South). To avoid ever arguing about it again, the southern
border of Missouri--36° 30' North Latitude--would become the
northern border of slavery: new states created south of it
would allow slavery and those created north of it would not.
This compromise would keep the balance between North and South
intact for thirty years.
*Beyond the general admiration for President Monroe and the
nationalism created by the War of 1812 and the compromise crafted
by Henry Clay, there was one force for national unity and power
that stood above all others: the Supreme Court, under the
leadership of the last Federalist, John Marshall.
*John Marshall stood for a strong central government throughout
his long career on the bench. Of course, his ruling in Marbury
v. Madison had created the precedent for judicial review,
and with that power, the Supreme Court established many other
legal precedents that secured the authority of the national
*In Maryland, the state legislature created a tax in 1818 that
could be levied on all banks in Maryland that had their
headquarters in another state. This was meant to target the
new Baltimore branch of the Bank of the United States, but James
McCulloch, the director of the Baltimore branch of the Bank
refused to pay the tax, beginning a case that reached the Supreme
Court in 1819. In McCulloch v. Maryland, the Court
ruled that the United States Constitution's Necessary and Proper
Clause gave Congress the power to create a National Bank (which
Jeffersonian Republicans had sometimes argued against) and that
the states had no power to tax a federal institution, thus
confirming the supremacy of the national government and the power
of the Elastic Clause.
*In 1821, in Cohens v. Virginia, the Court decided against
the Cohen brothers, who had been convicted of illegally selling
lottery tickets by the Virginia courts but had appealed to the
Supreme Court. Although Virginia won the case since their
decision was upheld, the fact that the case could be appealed to
the Supreme Court showed its supremacy over state courts.
*In the newly important industry of steamboat transportation,
Robert Livingston and Robert Fulton had a state-backed monopoly on
steamboat transportation in New York, although they sometimes
licensed the right to certain routes to others, including Aaron
Ogden, who operated a route between New Jersey and New York.
When a former business partner, Thomas Gibbons (who had a new
partner, Cornelius Vanderbilt) began to operate on the same route
without a license, Ogden sued him and won, but Gibbons challenged
him. In 1824, in Gibbons v. Ogden, the Supreme Court
ruled that New York could not grant a monopoly on that route
because it crossed state lines, and only Congress can regulate
interstate commerce, thus demonstrating the power of the Commerce
*In 1795, Georgia had sold a large tract of western land covering
most of modern Alabama and Mississippi for 1.4¢ an acre in the
Yazoo Land Act. However, legislators had passed this
generous law in exchange for bribes from the speculators who
bought the land up cheap, infuriating average Georgians who did
not get to benefit. It was also legally questionable, since
most of that land was in an area reserved for American Indians
under the protection of Congress and some was claimed by
Spain. In the next election, new legislators were elected to
overturn the law, which they did, but some of the speculators who
had bought the land said they were being cheated out of land they
bought under the letter of the law. Robert Fletcher and John
Peck were two of these speculators, and Fletcher sued Peck for
selling him land claimed by Indians (while hoping he would lose in
order to show that the Indians had no claim to the land, so he
would not have to give up his land to Indians). In
Fletcher v. Peck in 1810, the Marshall Court upheld the
original law (and the land purchases) because they said that the
purchases had been a contract and that state governments could not
*In New Hampshire, Dartmouth College had a charter as a private
school that had been granted to it forever by King George III in
1769, but the State of New Hampshire tried to take over the right
to appoint the college president, board of trustees, and other
officials, essentially making it a state school, in 1816.
The college sued, and had their most distinguished alumnus, Daniel
Webster, represent them. He was eloquent in court, telling
the justices that 'it is... a small college. And yet there
are those who love it.' In Dartmouth College v. Woodward
he successfully argued that the charter was a legal contract that
could not be violated by the state, and the Court agreed (based in
part on Fletcher v. Peck). Furthermore, it set the precedent
that a corporation itself could, in some cases (such as a lawsuit)
act as a person in its own right.
*Daniel Webster would later become a Senator from Massachusetts
and an outspoken supporter of the power of the national
government, which he defended so often and so eloquently that he
was known as the 'Godlike Daniel Webster.' He and Marshall
would be two of the most important forces in building a strong,
national, Hamiltonian government long after the death of both
Hamilton and his opponents.
*In this era of nationalism, another major accomplishment was the
securing of the nation's borders.
*The Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1817 limited the number of warships the
US and Britain could keep on the Great Lakes, and the Treaty of
1818 largely settled the border between the United States and
Canada at the 49th Parallel. In it the United States and
Britain also agreed to jointly occupy the Oregon Country, with
neither staking an exclusive claim to it.
*Elsewhere, America's western border was also secure, as New Spain
was too sparsely populated and the Spanish Empire was too weak to
threaten the frontier in the Great American Desert and the Rocky
*To the South, however, things were different, as both the Spanish
in the Florida and the Indians who lived in that territory were a
threat to American security.
*In the 1700s and 1800s, as European and American settlers pushed
into the Deep South, they fought with and displaced many native
peoples, many of whom fled to Florida. Among these were the
Yamasee and the Lower Creek (mostly living in Georgia), who sought
to escape Europeans, the Cherokee, and the Upper Creek (mostly
living in Alabama), but also some Choctaw and others.
Eventually these tribes (who had similar languages) and many
runaway slaves merged into one large group that the Spanish called
cimarrons (meaning runaways, or wild men), which the Indians came
to pronounce Seminole.
*Along the border with Florida, local whites and Indians made many
small raids on each other, mostly to steal livestock, although
white attacks often killed Indians as well and Indians sometimes
freed slaves. Finally, the Seminole went too far, killing a
woman named Mrs Garrett and her two children (one 3 years old and
the other 2 months old) in February, 1817. Not long
afterwards another ship sailing to Fort Scott, Georgia was
attacked, and many of the people on board (including women,
children, and sick soldiers) were killed in what was called the
Fort Scott Massacre. This was too much for the United
States, who also blamed the British for this, saying that they
encouraged (or at least did not restrain) Seminole attacks on the
*In March of 1818, Andrew Jackson invaded Florida with 800
regulars, 1,000 Tennessee militiamen, 1,000 Georgia militiamen,
and some Creek allies. On 6 April, 1818 he seized the
Spanish fort at St Mark’s. He soon arrested Alexander George
Arbuthnot, a Scottish trader accused of selling guns to the
Indians, and Robert Ambrister, an ex-Royal Marine who admitted to
being a British agent to the Indians. Both were sentenced to
death. Although Arbuthnot insisted his trade was legal, but
he was hanged from the yardarm of his own ship; Ambrister was
executed by a firing squad.
*Jackson then marched on Pensacola, and occupied it on 27 May,
1818. The Spanish surrendered the fort outside of town the
next day. Jackson then went home, leaving one of his
officers in charge of Pensacola.
*The Spanish and the British were outraged, but neither wanted a
war with the United States at the time (the US were too important
to British trade, and Spain was busy fighting most of its American
colonies’ efforts at independence).
*Many American politicians were outraged, too, that Jackson had
sparked an international incident and vastly exceeded the scope of
his orders. Some members of Congress, including a very vocal
Henry Clay, and even several members of President Monroe's cabinet
(including Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, who was furious that
Jackson had exceeded his orders from the War Department) wanted to
censure Jackson, but he was so highly-regarded as a hero that he
was later made governor of Florida instead (although he only
stayed for three months), plus Secretary of State John Quincy
Adams opposed the censure because saw an opportunity in Jackson's
*In 1819, John Quincy Adams and Luis de Onís Gonzalez Vara
negotiated the Adams-Onis treaty, ratified by Spain in 1820 and
the US in 1821. This ceded Florida to the United States in
exchange for American payment of Spanish debts to Americans up to
$5 million. It also fixed the border between New Spain and
the United States (which left Oregon outside of the Spanish
Empire), and when Mexico got its independence, it agreed to the
*As Spain's colonies in the New World (except its Caribbean
islands) won their independence in the late eighteen-teens and
early 1820s, the United States and Britain worried that Spain
might try to reclaim them or that some other European power might
try to step in. The British foreign minister suggested that
together the two English-speaking peoples insist that the
independent Latin American republics be left alone by everyone
(and thus left open to British and American trade). However,
John Quincy Adams and James Monroe felt that such an alliance was
inappropriate and unnecessary, particularly after the Second War
for American Independence. Instead, America would make the
*In December, 1823, James Monroe sent his annual message to
Congress, and it included a warning to the great powers of Europe
written largely by Adams. In what came to be known as the
Monroe Doctrine, Monroe asserted that European powers might not
claim any more land in the New World nor intervene in any
independent country in the New World, even to reclaim a lost
colony. In return, the United States would not intervene in
any conflicts in Europe.
*The Monroe Doctrine was both a matter of solidarity with fellow
republics who, like America, had won independence from a European
empire and an attempt to limit European expansion into unclaimed
territories where they might threaten American interests.
*Monroe may have particularly had Russia in mind, as that empire
had declared itself the open foe of democracy and was expanding
down the West Coast of North America, with trading posts almost as
far south as San Francisco Bay and definite claims well into the
Oregon Country. However, in 1824, the Tsar agreed to the
Russo-American Treaty of 1824, which fixed Russian America's
border at 54° 40' North Latitude, although Russia retained trading
rights below that line.
*In 1824, James Monroe made plans to retire to Virginia. The
Secretary of State (John Quincy Adams), Secretary of the Treasury
(William Crawford), Secretary of War (John C. Calhoun), Speaker of
the House of Representatives (Henry Clay), and a senator from
Tennessee and the Hero of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson all
expressed their interest in the Presidency, and the contest
between them would be bitter indeed. With the passing of the
Revolutionary generation, the Era of Good Feelings had come to an
end and party politics was returning to America.
This page last updated Saint Valentine's Day,