The Early Republic and the Age of Jackson

*The conflict between the Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans (or First Two-Party system) shaped politics in the Early Republic, with the Federalists wanting a relatively strong national government with the ability to interpret the Constitution loosely, while the Republicans wanted power to reside with the states and the Constitution to be carefully limited to its precise wording.  The Federalists also supported business and mercantile interests with a high tariff and a sound, specie-based currency while the Republicans favoured small farmers, a low tariff, and paper money.

*John Adams, the only truly Federalist president was seen as pompous and monarchical and too friendly to England, and was heavily criticised, leading to a Federalist-dominated Congress to pass the Sedition Acts outlawing criticism of the government. 

*Jefferson and Madison also tried to fight the Sedition Act by anonymously writing the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, stating that the states had the right to nullify unconstitutional laws.  This did not settle anything, but the Sedition Act was allowed to expire during Jefferson’s presidency. 

*Adams did enjoy some popularity when he defended America’s Freedom of the Seas in the Quasi-War with France, but lost it when he refused to support a full-scale war that he thought America could not afford (or win).

*Thomas Jefferson, who followed Adams (despite a dirty election in which Jefferson’s religious beliefs and his relationship with Sally Hemmings were both scandalous), discovered as president that he could interpret the Constitution loosely, when the chance came to buy Louisiana for $15,000,000.  For Jefferson, this offered the chance to build an Empire of Liberty, spreading democracy across the continent, which would be populated by small, independent farmers.  It also excited his scientific interests, as Lewis and Clark were sent to explore it (and claim Oregon, too).

*Jefferson also had to defend America’s Freedom of the Seas from the Barbary Pirates in the First Barbary War (1801-1805), but this was hard at first because Jefferson had reduced the size of the army and navy. 

*He also had to defend that right against the British and French attempts to stop American trade with each other.  The British were also impressing American sailors.  Jefferson responded in 1807 with the Embargo Act, cutting off all American trade with Britain and France, hoping to harm their economies until they had to stop harassing America.  Instead, it hurt American merchants (but indirectly promoted American manufacturing to fill the gap, promoting the early Industrial Revolution in America), and the Embargo was ended in 1809.

*James Madison’s primary challenge was the War of 1812, which combined the defence of the Freedom of the Seas with land hunger--defending the frontier from British-army Indians and trying to seize land in Canada. 

*Federalists, even in the army, tried to undermine the war effort, and three invasions of Canada all failed, although the Indians were defeated in the Northwest and in the Ontario Peninsula.  The British also burnt Washington, D.C., but were unable to capture Baltimore thanks to the defence of Fort McHenry that inspired ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’  Andrew Jackson defeated the Creek Indians in Alabama and then defeated the British at New Orleans (two weeks after the Treaty of Ghent officially ended the war) making him a national hero.

*The Federalists had not only opposed the war, some, at the Hartford Convention, had even considered New England seceding from the Union, making them seem like a party of traitors, and as a party they rapidly declined, so that James Monroe’s presidency, especially most of his second term (1821-24), is sometimes described as the Era of Good Feelings.

*There was one major problem during this time, whether Missouri could be admitted as a slave state or not in 1820.  Eventually, in the Missouri Compromise, it was decided that it could become a slave state, but that no more slave states could be created north of its southern boundary.  Furthermore, Maine would enter the Union as a free state, and for the next 30 years, whenever a slave state joined the Union, a free state did too, to keep the Senate balanced.

*Monroe is remembered for the Monroe Doctrine (expressed in 1823), promising to protect any independent country in the Western Hemisphere from European powers (and with the implied quid pro quo that America would not get involved in European affairs, although Andrew Jackson did seize Florida from Spain while Monroe was president).

*During this time, a new religious revival—a Second Great Awakening—began in the United States, first at Cane Ridge, Kentucky in 1801, but really booming in Upstate New York (the Burned-Over District) in the 1830s thanks in part to the great preacher Charles Grandison Finney.  Like the first Great Awakening, this revival promoted equality for all people (but to a much greater degree, making it very popular among women and also strongly encouraging the anti-slavery movement) and individualism through its emphasis on a personal relationship with God. 

*It also created many new denominations and religious groups, from the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Christian Churches to the Seventh-Day Adventists and the Mormons under Joseph Smith, who fled New York and were eventually led to Utah by Brigham Young to escape religious persecution.

*This individualism was also expressed in literature by the Transcendentalists, who also emphasised a personal spiritual experience and personal fulfilment, particularly in the sublime beauty of nature.

*Some historians view the Second Great Awakening as empowering the common man, and the 1820s and 1830s were certainly the era of the common man as the Era of Good Feelings came to an end in 1824 with the presidential contest between Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and William Crawford.  By this time, 18 of 24 states allowed the people (rather than the state legislatures) to choose presidential electors, and many also removed property qualifications to vote (or never had them in some Western states).  Many of these new voters favoured the Hero of New Orleans and Conqueror of Florida, who had risen from poverty to wealth and influence, and was seen as the champion of the common man.

*No one got a majority of the electors, although Jackson got the most, so the House of Representatives decided, and Speaker of the House Henry Clay had a great deal of influence and contributed to second-place John Quincy Adams becoming president.  This was described as a Corrupt Bargain, because Adams made Clay Secretary of State afterwards.  Political factions emerged around Jackson and Adams & Clay, and eventually formed into a Second Two-Party System.

*Jackson spent four years campaigning against Adams, and more and more states allowed more and more people (at least white male people) to vote, and in 1828 Jackson was elected with 178 of 261 votes in the electoral college in the Revolution of 1828.  As president, Jackson removed many government officials from office, which he called Rotation in Office, but many called the Spoils System—rewarding your political supporters with government jobs or other favours, and this would become a major part of machine politics in the 1800s (with Martin van Buren as one of the great early machine politicians).

*The major issue of Jackson’s first term was the Tariff of Abominations, passed in 1828 and one of the highest in American history.  John C. Calhoun had already anonymously written the South Carolina Exposition expressing the right of states to nullify Federal laws within their own boundaries, and South Carolina complained about the tariff and threatened to nullify it throughout Jackson’s first term.

*In 1832, a lower (but still high) tariff was created, and South Carolina said it would not enforce it, nullifying the tariff.  Jackson got Congress to pass the Force Bill, allowing him to raise 10,000 troops to invade South Carolina, which he threatened to do.  South Carolina took back its nullification, and Jackson did not invade (although South Carolina did nullify the Force Bill).  A lower tariff was created in 1833.

*The other great issue of Jackson’s presidency was the Bank of the United States, which offered financial security and a basis for a sound national banking system, but which favoured the wealthy and actively opposed Jackson’s re-election in 1832.  In that year, Henry Clay made the re-charter of the Bank a major campaign issue (and the Whig party formed around him to support the Bank and oppose Jackson) while Jackson vetoed the Bank’s re-charter.

*The Whig Party supported a strong national government, business interests, industry, a protective tariff, and the Bank of the United States.  Jackson’s faction, now known as Democrats, preferred States’ Rights, low tariffs, and the common man.  Both had northerners and southerners with a variety of viewpoints on many topics, loosely united mainly in their love or hatred of Andrew Jackson.

*Jackson won the election and the Bank War, and took government funds out of the Bank and put them in state banks, many of which lost it in bad loans for land speculation, contributing to the later Panic of 1837.

*Jackson also infamously supported the Indian Removal Act, which removed the Five Civilised Tribes of the Southeast to Oklahoma.  The Creek, Chickasaw, and Choctaw took payments to leave, the Seminole went to war, and the Cherokee sued, winning the case of Worcester v. Georgia, which Jackson famously ignored.  The Cherokee were eventually removed in the Trail of Tears in 1838.

*Jackson was followed by Martin van Buren, who suffered from Jackson’s Panic of 1837, and he was followed by Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too! Who won the election of 1840 on a platform of log cabins and hard cider—style rather than substance appealing to the Common Man.

*With the East settled, more Americans wanted to move West, and fulfil America’s Manifest Destiny, as named by John L. O’Sullivan.  This was America’s God-given right to fill up the entire continent from sea to shining sea, including Texas (claimed by Mexico until it won its independence in 1836), California (claimed by Mexico), and Oregon (shared by the US and UK). 

*In 1844, James K. Polk was elected on a platform of Manifest Destiny, promising the annex Texas, California, New Mexico, and Oregon—to 54° 40’ or fight!  In fact, Polk negotiated with Britain to share Oregon, but annexing Texas did start a fight with Mexico.

*Mexico did not recognise Texan independence or agree on where Texas’s border was located.  Polk sent the US Army into the disputed area near the border and the Mexican army attacked.  Polk said American blood had been shed on American soil, and Congress declared war.

*Zachary Taylor won a great victory at Monterrey and a close fight at Buena Vista in Northern Mexico, John C. Fremont and the US Navy seized California, Stephen Kearny captured Santa Fe, and Winfield Scott captured Vera Cruz and in a brilliant campaign marched to Mexico City, took it, and forced Mexico to surrender.  In its surrender, Mexico gave up claims to Texas, California, and all the land in between.  In years to come, though, disputes over how to accommodate slavery in these new territories.

*Expansion into the West was necessary in part because the national population was growing rapidly, in large part due to immigration, particularly from Ireland during the potato famine and from Germany following the Revolutions of 1848.

*Because they were different and especially because many were Catholic, these immigrants faced discrimination known as nativism, and the Know-Nothing Party was formed in large part to oppose immigration.  The Democrats welcomed immigrants, particularly the political machines that could offer them assistance in exchange for their votes.  The most famous of these was the Democratic machine of Tammany Hall in New York City led by of Boss Tweed.

This page last updated 15 April, 2016.
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