American History Lecture Four

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Lecture - Questions

Here are a few more tips on answering multiple-choice history questions:

  1. First determine the general time period of the question. Was it before the Revolutionary War, or after? Was it before the Civil War, or later? If possible, eliminate answers that have a time period different from the question.
  2. Next determine who was president, simply as a landmark for recalling other events. Was there a war going on? If it was before there were any presidents (i.e., during colonial times), what else was going on?
  3. Just as you use landmarks for finding your way to a location, use easy-to-recall events to find your "way around" history. If you know when the Constitutional Convention was (1787), then it becomes easier to estimate when George Washington first became president (he could only be elected president after the Constitution was ratified by the ninth state in June 1788).

After 1788, the easiest "landmark" for each period is the president. That does not mean he is the most important person, but being able to identify the president is an easy way to organize the important events. I should be able to name any date and you should be able to say who was president at that time. Or, if you prefer, you can organize events around the numerous wars, but that may not be as easy because there were long periods in American history without any wars, and some wars lasted a long time (like the Afghanistan War today).

Let's try it now: 1798: who was president?[1]1793?[2] 1790?[3]

In this lecture we focus on the period from 1800 to 1840, but first let's learn about tariffs.


Throughout the late 1700s and all of the 1800s the federal (national) government raised money for its operations primarily through tariffs, which are taxes on imports. When a foreign country sent goods to be sold in the United States, our federal government would impose a tariff (tax) on those goods. The more goods that were imported, the more revenue there would be from the tariffs. Tariffs were ultimately replaced in the 1900s by the income tax on individuals as the primary means for supporting our government, because President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) thought tariffs caused conflicts and wars between nations.

Average Tariff Rates in USA (1821-2016).png

Tariffs helped protect the domestic (United States) businesses by increasing the costs of the foreign competition, and thus are called "protective tariffs." If you were to own a factory that produces computers, and if there were a tariff imposing a $100 tax on all imported computers, then you would be thrilled because you could undersell the competition and make more profits for your company. The North liked tariffs because the tariffs protected their manufacturing companies against competition by foreign manufacturers; the South disliked tariffs because it caused their cotton farmers to pay more for equipment, and because foreign nations would retaliate by imposing similar tariffs on the cotton exported by the South, which reduced the southern farmers' revenue.

An example of a protective tariff today would be a surcharge of $2000 on every foreign car sold in the United States. American car manufacturers would benefit from such a tariff, and the government would benefit from the extra revenue, but buyers of cars would not be happy about it. People in the North in 1800 were like the car manufacturers today that would support tariffs; people in the South in 1800 were like car buyers today who would oppose the tariffs. The conflict between the North and the South over tariffs became a major economic cause of the Civil War.

District of Columbia

By 1800 decisions about tariffs and all other federal laws were being made in the marshy land now known as the District of Columbia. This, too, was a compromise between the North and the South. Our capital was initially in New York City, but then Alexander Hamilton brokered a compromise with Thomas Jefferson whereby the capital would move to Philadelphia in 1791 for ten years, and then to D.C. starting in 1800. In order to obtain support by northerners for moving the capital towards the South, Hamilton agreed to arrange for the federal government to assume debts incurred by the States for the Revolutionary War. So Washington actually suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion by riding from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, not from Washington, D.C., because the capital was in Philadelphia at that time.

Revolution of 1800

Jefferson initially learned the art of politics by serving in the House of Burgesses in Virginia, which was the lower house of the Virginia legislature and the first democratically elected legislature in the British colonies in the New World (it convened from 1619 until 1776). Jefferson was a brilliant writer, having authored perhaps the most influential sentence ever written in the English language (in the Declaration of Independence, 1776):

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.[4]

But Jefferson was not a good public speaker. He rarely spoke when he served in the Continental Congress, and in the rare moment that he did speak he offended John Adams, as Adams later explained:[5]

Mr. Jefferson had been now about a Year a Member of Congress, but had attended his Duty in the House but a very small part of the time and when there had never spoken in public: and during the whole Time I satt [sic] with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three Sentences together. The most of a Speech he ever made in my hearing was a gross insult on Religion, in one or two Sentences, for which I gave him immediately the Reprehension, which he richly merited.

After becoming president, Jefferson remained so afraid of speaking that he refused to read his annual address to Congress, instead insisting on sending it to Congress in written form.[5] On other occasions he would have someone else read his speech for him. But Jefferson's marvelous talent for writing more than made up for his weakness at speaking.

Jefferson benefited enormously from the formation of political parties. His rival John Adams, the incumbent president in 1800, was a member of the "Federalist Party," which was strong in the northeast (especially Massachusetts). The Federalist Party, unlike Jefferson, favored a more powerful national government, friendly dealings with England, and a liberal interpretation of the Constitution (known as "loose constructionism," because it "loosely" interpreted or construed the Constitution). In opposition to the Federalist Party, the Democratic-Republican Party formed to represent Americans who supported positions on the other side of the key issues, such as wanting a weaker national government (keeping the power at a local level, which the large state of Virginia preferred), friendly dealings with France, and a strict interpretation of the Constitution ("strict constructionism"). The Democratic-Republican Party was strongest in the State of Virginia. Politics is a team sport, and the fortunes of political candidates rose or fell based on the strength of the political party to which they belonged. The same is true today.

In 1800, when the Federalist Party leader John Adams was President, the Democratic-Republican Party ran Thomas Jefferson (who had founded the party) against Adams in the upcoming presidential election.

This presidential election of 1800 became known as the "Revolution of 1800," because it was the first peaceful change in power due to an election in modern history: the group in power, the Federalist Party, was defeated by a group not in power, the Democratic-Republican Party. The Democratic-Republican candidates, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, were victorious over the incumbent (Federalist) John Adams.[6] The victory by Jefferson and Burr against Adams was a victory for limited government and a "strict constructionist" interpretation and implementation of the Constitution.

At the time, the Electoral College voted for both President and Vice President. Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, each received 73 electoral votes. It made sense that everyone who voted for Jefferson would also vote for his running mate, since both were with the same political party, the Democratic-Republicans. But the inability of this early election system to resolve this "tie" reflected a flaw in the Constitution in how Presidents and Vice Presidents were chosen. This was fixed by the 12th Amendment, but before that was ratified, the House of Representatives had to resolve the tie between Jefferson and Burr.

In the House of Representatives, many Federalists supported Burr and liked him more than Jefferson. But Burr was actually a bad guy, despite being the grandson of Jonathan Edwards. Burr had access and wealth, and a good deal of charm, but was as evil as anyone. Even the charitable George Washington, who got along well with nearly everyone, felt compelled to banish Burr for misbehavior during the Revolution. Now the House of Representatives needed to choose between Burr and Jefferson as to who would be President.

Hamilton had fought Jefferson in politics for over a decade, and they disliked each other intensely. But Hamilton knew that Burr was rotten to the core. So Hamilton persuaded congressmen to choose Jefferson as President. Hamilton said that Burr was "the most unfit man in the United States for the office of president." Some suspect that Jefferson privately cut a deal with the Federalist Hamilton to act like more like a Federalist as President than Jefferson would have otherwise. Whether Hamilton and Jefferson cut a deal remains a mystery to this day. Regardless, after many "ballots" (votes), the House of Representatives at long last elected Jefferson on the thirty-sixth (36th) ballot.

Jefferson had a surprise waiting for him when he was sworn into the office of President. Before President Adams left office, Congress had passed a Judiciary Act to create many new federal courts below the U.S. Supreme Court, which is created by the Constitution itself. President Adams appointed Federalist judges to all of the new judicial positions.

When Jefferson took office, he refused to pay the salaries of some of these "midnight judges" appointed by Adams. This led to the famous court case of Marbury v. Madison (1803), where the Supreme Court held in Jefferson's favor by declaring a provision of the Judiciary Act to be unconstitutional. This was the first time that the Supreme Court held a federal law to be unconstitutional. Based on this "precedent" (the term used for decisions by a court which influence subsequent court cases), the Supreme Court has since held many federal laws to be unconstitutional.

For twelve years after Adams lost the presidential election to Jefferson, Adams would not speak to him. Later Adams and Jefferson corresponded with each other but Adams held a bitter rivalry with Jefferson until Adams died on July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after the Declaration of the Independence. Adams' final words were, "Thomas Jefferson survives." But unbeknownst to Adams, Jefferson had actually died a few hours earlier on the same day.[7]

Jefferson Administration

Jefferson like land, and was a big supporter of the value of farming as a way of life. He encouraged westward expansion more strongly than any previous president. To reach this goal, he made purchasing land very easy, and the population west of the Appalachians grew rapidly. He even believed that the Indians should be taught to farm, hoping that they would eventually become citizens of the United States.

In 1803, Jefferson appointed the former anti-Federalist James Monroe to negotiate terms for the purchase of New Orleans and West Florida from France, and to offer $2 million for this land but to go as high as $10 million if necessary for those two parcels of property. James Monroe was respected in France; he had even persuaded France to release the American writer Thomas Paine from prison there, where he had been convicted of treason for opposing use of the guillotine during the French Revolution.

Louisiana Purchase, 1803, overlaying U.S. today

By 1803 Napoleon had suffered a costly failure in connection with a successful slave revolt in Haiti, and he had decided that France should not try to colonize the New World any further. So France asked Monroe how much he would pay for all of France's territory on the North American continent, which included the vast tract of land northwest of Louisiana (stretching all the way along the Missouri River, to what is now Oregon on the Pacific coast). Monroe was able to negotiate extremely favorable terms of $11.25 million to France for all of the property (which translates to only a few pennies per acre), and not merely West Florida and New Orleans. This enormous tract of land was as large as the entire United States at the time. The overall purchase price was $15 million because Monroe also agreed that the United States would assume nearly $4 million in debts owed by France to American citizens at the time.

But the Constitution does not give the President the power to buy new territory. As a strict constructionist, Jefferson needed to violate his own principles about the Constitution in order to accept this unexpected, but extremely attractive, offer.

Debate: Was this "Louisiana Purchase" an improper exercise of power?

The Senate approved this "Louisiana Purchase" by a vote of 24-7, ratifying it by more than the 2/3rds required by the Constitution to approve treaties. Then, in 1804, Jefferson arranged for Meriwether Lewis, who was his secretary, to explore the territory west of the Mississippi River which was acquired in this Louisiana Purchase. Lewis chose William Clark, a soldier, as his assistant and their joint effort became known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806).[8] This expedition took about two years to complete, as the explorers traveled all the way to the Pacific Ocean and back.

In 1812, Louisiana because the first state admitted to the United States from this new territory. Much later, in 1828, the Supreme Court upheld the power of a president to acquire new territory for the United States (as Thomas Jefferson did), based on a theory that the power of the federal government to govern new territories implicitly includes the initial power to acquire new territories in the first place.[9]

Let's return to 1804. Burr was then running for Governor of New York, which was one of the biggest and most powerful states. By then, Hamilton was publishing a newspaper in New York (the New York Post), which still exists and is still conservative today. Hamilton ran stories to defeat Burr. After Burr lost, he challenged Hamilton to a duel. In those days, one man could challenge anyone to a duel to fight to the death, and the other man had to defend his honor by accepting the challenge and fighting. Duels were illegal in New York, but Burr insisted that they fight in New Jersey, where the law was less clear. Many of our future Presidents were challenged to duels and fought in them, including Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. It was considered dishonorable to decline a challenge to a duel, but 50 years later (perhaps after duels had lost their grip on society) Stonewall Jackson did refuse to duel a student who had a conflict with him at the Virginia Military Institute.

In 1804, Hamilton had no real choice but to accept Burr's challenge to a duel, and they met at dawn in Weehawkin, New Jersey. As was customary in duels, they walked twenty or so paces away from each other and then turned to shoot at each other. This time only one of the men fired to kill his opponent. Hamilton purposely shot away from Burr, feeling that it would be wrong to kill another man. But Burr shot and killed Hamilton. Burr then fled, having murdered one of the greatest Founding Fathers of all.

Later, Burr was indicted for murder, and he moved west to avoid jail. There, he and a military governor plotted to break Louisiana away from the United States. The plan failed, but it left behind a deep division in the United States.

Meanwhile, Jefferson had his hands full with foreign conflicts. Pirates were harassing and looting American shipping off the coasts of the Northern African countries of Morocco, Algiers and Tunis, which had a large port city known as "Tripoli" (it is now the capital city of Libya). When Tripoli demanded more payoffs to stop the pirating, Congress declared war against it in 1805, known as the First Barbary War (or the War with Tripoli). This war was actually unsuccessful for the United States, ending with a payment of a huge ransom to free the release of 270 sailors captured by the enemy. It was not until 1815 that brute force ended the harassment by the pirates of American shipping,[10] although pirates continued to harass and even kill Americans on the High Seas ever since. President Jefferson is given credit for winning this War with Tripoli. This war did inspire the opening lyric in the Marines' hymn, "From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli."[11]

In 1807, bigger troubled occurred between the United States and England. The British Orders in Council forbade any trade by the United States with France unless the trade first touched English ports. The British also added insult to injury. In 1807, the "Chesapeake Affair" was a humiliating seizure by the British ship H.M.S. Leopard of an American ship named the Chesapeake, in international waters where American shipping should have free travel. The British forcibly boarded the ship looking for other British sailors on it.

Jefferson tried to deal with the British Orders in Council by supporting and signing the Embargo Act in 1807. That law forbade all exports by the United States, and it harmed American shipping the most. Jefferson also supported and signed the Non-Intercourse Act, which forbade trade with Britain and France while authorizing President Jefferson to end the boycott once the European countries stopped violating the rights of Americans. These bans on exports were a huge failure, and hurt the American economy more than it hurt the European countries. By the end of Jefferson's two terms in office (a total of 8 years), he was no longer popular and he followed Washington's example of voluntarily leaving office, without running for a third term in 1808. The British burden on American shipping continued until it caused the War of 1812, although ironically England finally rescinded the Orders slightly before Congress declared war. (Keep in mind that there was no internet or telephones then to facilitate speedy communications!)

Only one additional state joined the United States during Jefferson's presidency: Ohio, in 1803.

Jefferson is credited with eliminated unnecessary taxes such as the whiskey tax and decreasing the size of the federal government.

As a writer and a farmer, Jefferson was in debt when he passed away exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence which he mostly authored.

The Marshall Court

Meanwhile, in another branch of government, the Supreme Court was expanding its power under Chief Justice John Marshall. Marshall was a Federalist appointed by President John Adams, and Marshall served as Chief Justice for an astounding 35 years. The Supreme Court when Marshall was Chief Justice is referred to as the "Marshall Court," just as other courts throughout history are referenced by the name of the Chief Justice during that period (e.g., the Taney Court or, today, the Roberts Court).

John Marshall was opposed to Thomas Jefferson, even though they were related to each other as second cousins. Marshall wanted a powerful federal court system, while Jefferson did not.

Virtually every important decision rendered by the Marshall Court, starting with Marbury v. Madison, expanded federal power. There was no "check and balance" on Marshall's expansion in judicial power for many decades, until near the end of Marshall's career when President Andrew Jackson stood up to him and ignored Marshall's decision on an Indian issue.

The expansion in federal power by the "Marshall Court" from 1801 to 1835 included the following decisions (the legal nomenclature "Smith v. Jones" means a lawsuit between a plaintiff or appellant named Smith and an opponent named Jones):

  • Marbury v. Madison (1803): established the power of "judicial review" to declare an Act of Congress unconstitutional.
  • Fletcher v. Peck (1810): established the power of federal court to invalidate a state law as unconstitutional (it held that a Georgia law violated the Contract Clause in the U.S. Constitution)
  • Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819): established that the Constitution prevents a state from altering the charter of a private corporation (Dartmouth College)
  • McCullough v. Maryland (1819): established that States may not tax a federal bank, and also that a federal bank is authorized by the "necessary and proper" clause in the Constitution
  • Cohens v. Virginia (1821): established the supremacy of federal law, by allowing D.C. lottery tickets to be sold in all states except those prohibiting it
  • Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831): held that the Cherokees are not a nation in the ordinary sense, and could not sue in federal court. The court ruled that the Cherokees were a "domestic, dependent nation," a status that would guide federal Indian relations for the next forty years.
  • Worcester v. Georgia (1832): ruled that Indian relations were the exclusive domain of the federal government and that the laws of the state of Georgia had no force within the boundaries of the Cherokee nation. Georgia ignored the ruling, and the Jackson administration made no attempt to enforce it.

When Marshall finally died in office after serving a record 35 years as Chief Justice, he was replaced by Roger Taney. The Taney Court did not expand federal power as much, but it did expand government power at the State level. For example, its decisions included:

  • Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge (1837): allowed Massachusetts to fund a free bridge for the public good, despite hurting a private toll bridge established under a prior state charter. This destroyed private toll bridges and led to public financing of bridges and roads.

There will be more about Chief Justice Taney later in this course, in connection with Civil War.

The War of 1812 and Madison's Presidency

James Madison was elected in 1808 to succeed Jefferson. Madison was an intellectual "egghead", one of the few presidents who did not serve in the Revolutionary War as others his age had, perhaps due to Madison's physical weakness and generally poor health. Instead, Madison was someone who showed up many days early for the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and took voluminous notes of what happened. Also, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, in late 1787 and early 1788 Madison wrote many articles urging New York to ratify the U.S. Constitution, which are called the Federalist Papers.

Madison was in over his head as a president. Madison was a thinker, writer, and scholar, but not a commander-in-chief. His skill was writing scholarly articles, not leading armies into battle. England was the most powerful country in the world, and not someone to pick a fight with, regardless of what things might look like on paper.

England was still in Canada and some "War Hawks" in Congress (led by Henry Clay) accused it of inciting Indian attacks against the United States. Then, more so than now, a politician can gain a great deal of support by calling for war. The "War Hawks" did exactly that.

There was some truth to what the War Hawks said. A Shawnee Indian named Tecumseh began to unite many of the tribes, and American settlers were terrified. It was believed that the British were arming these Indians and encouraging them to attack. In 1811, General William Henry Harrison (a future president) attacked Tecumseh's village. Of course, this only heightened tension between the Indians and settlers.

Meanwhile, England was also harassing American sailors and "impressing them," which means enlisting them as sailors for England against their will. Adding insult to injury, England invaded Washington, D.C. itself and even burned down the Capitol and the White House. President Madison was befuddled and almost helpless. His wife Dolly at least showed some initiative by supposedly grabbing the portrait of George Washington off the wall, and saving it as they fled. Historians say that the portrait was actually saved by White House staff. Regardless, the British sacked the entire city, until a very unusual tornado and rainstorm suddenly reined down on the city, which is called the "Storm that saved Washington." The British troops then left the city.

In 1814, in the harbor at Baltimore, a battle was fought at Fort McHenry, during which the British shelled the American fortress. An amateur poet named Francis Scott Key was detained during the battle and put his idle time to good use. He penned the Star-Spangled Banner in honor of how the American flag continued to fly throughout the bombardment. The words were immediately set to music, and became immensely popular. In 1931, over 100 years later, it became the official National Anthem.

Despite thrashing the United States in battle, England did not want to continue fighting. So on Christmas Eve, England agreed to end the war with the Treaty of Ghent, and the U.S. did not have to give back any land. The Treaty, which was negotiated by the Czar of Russia (a country depicted as a bear in political cartoons), arranged for the long, open Canadian-U.S. border that remains to this day. Sometimes the War of 1812 is called the Second Revolutionary War because it permanently resolved disputes lingering from the Revolutionary War itself. But Madison is frequently blamed by historians for allowing the mostly unnecessary War of 1812 to happen in the first place.

News traveled very slowly in those days, and for weeks many troops were unaware that a peace treaty had been signed. On Jan. 8, 1815, British troops assaulted General Andrew Jackson's troops down in New Orleans. Jackson had hated the British ever since he was a teenager, when a British soldier ordered Jackson to shine the soldier's shoes in a complete humiliation to Jackson. Jackson refused and the soldier took out his sword and smacked Jackson across his face, leaving a scar he bore for the rest of his life. Jackson would never forget where that scar came from.

Jackson had settled in Tennessee where there were many woodsmen and hunters. The Americans in Tennessee and Kentucky had rifles and were proficient in using them. They were expert marksmen. People in Tennessee also volunteer for military service in huge percentages, giving it the nickname the "Volunteer State" that it still uses to this day. Jackson called on these marksmen to help him in New Orleans against the British, and the residents of Tennessee and Kentucky answered his call. They rallied to Jackson's United States Army.

Jackson led his group of marksmen down to New Orleans to settle his nation's score against the British, and perhaps to settle his personal grudge against them as well. Great Britain was the mightiest nation in the world and her soldiers were confident they could charge and destroy the rag-tag American army.

The British soldiers began an all-out charge against the American troops led by Jackson, but the Americans were ready for them. The British were no match for the marksmen from Tennessee and Kentucky, who used their own rifles to mow down and decimate the charging British in the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson became an overnight hero to the entire country for destroying the British there. This was certainly the greatest military victory the United States had achieved up to that time, and one its greatest ever.

The battles with Indians also created a war hero. William Henry Harrison had defeated the Indians at Tippecanoe Creek several years earlier, in November 1811. Then Harrison destroyed Indian confederacy in Ohio. But Jackson was a bigger hero for defeating the British. Years later, first Jackson would become president based in his popularity as a war hero, and subsequently Harrison would also be elected president.

There was a surprise effect of the War of 1812 as well. Near the end of the war there was an extraordinary meeting called the Hartford Convention, which Federalists convened in Hartford, Connecticut, in late 1814. They drew up plans to oppose the war and perhaps even secede from the United States, due to the friendship by the Federalist Party with England. But around the same time the United States signed the peace treaty with England and the Federalists suddenly looked like traitors. This embarrassment destroyed the Federalist Party, and it would never again be a factor in American politics.

Finally, before leaving office, the Democratic-Republican James Madison vetoed the Bonus Bill in 1817, which would have required that a bonus made available by the Second Bank of the United States be spent on internal improvements.

The Conservative President: James Monroe

The most conservative president of the 19th century (1801-1900) was James Monroe, who was elected in 1816 (after President James Madison served his two terms and then retired). Monroe was so much against national (federal) power that he had even opposed the ratification of the Constitution as an "Anti-Federalist." But that was decades earlier, and by 1817 he was ready to be President. In many ways he became one of the best presidents in history.

His accomplishments were numerous and continue to shape our nation to this day, although he does not always receive the credit he deserves. Often tests ask about key achievements that happened under Monroe's leadership, but without mentioning his name.

In 1817, the United States and Britain agreed to limit armaments on the Great Lakes and waterways. This led to the complete demilitarization of our border with Canada which continues to this day. This is known as the "Rush-Bagot Treaty," and it saved both sides much money in military costs. It also enabled trade to flourish between the two countries, and Canada continues to be our largest trading partner with nearly $321 billion of goods and services exchanged annually, nearly twice the amount of trade we have with China.

In 1819, Monroe completed the Adams-Onis Treaty to annex Florida to the United States, and also added property north of the southern border of current Oregon (which we now call the "Northwest").

US territories at time of Missouri Compromise, 1820

In 1820, the successful "Missouri Compromise" resolved for several decades disputes about whether slavery would be permitted in new territories, and how to admit new states. This Compromise was between the North and the South, neither of which wanted to give up power by adding a state friendly to the other side. The Senate was evenly balanced at this time, and adding just one new state on one side would tip the balance in its favor. At the time there were 11 free states and 11 slave states (notice that, perhaps surprisingly, Delaware and Kentucky were slave states).

So the Missouri Compromise added Maine as a free state (which would side with the North), and Missouri as a slave state (which would side with the South until the Civil War, when it refused to join the southern Confederacy). Many of the other new states to be added from the Louisiana Purchase (once they had enough population) would be free: slavery was banned by this Compromise above the latitude of 36 degrees, 30 minutes.

The most lasting contribution of James Monroe was his "Monroe Doctrine" in 1823, which stated that Europe should not add any new colonies in North or South America because Europe's political and economic systems are vastly different from those in America. In fact, Monroe stated that Europe should not interfere further in the Western Hemisphere. To this day presidents continue to cite the Monroe Doctrine to oppose a European country whenever it tries to do something in our hemisphere.

America was immensely prosperous under Monroe's conservative leadership. The "Era of Good Feelings" overtook our country. Roads and canals were built. The economy blossomed. Monroe vetoed the Cumberland Road Bill (calling for more government-built roads) and under his leadership the House rejected most spending bills on internal projects.

By the time Monroe retired after two successful terms, there was only one political party in the United States: Monroe's Democratic-Republican Party. In fact, Monroe was so successful that he had no opposition for his reelection in 1820, and became the only president ever elected unopposed after George Washington.

The Election of 1824, also the Steamboat

After Monroe served two terms and retired just like Washington, a bitter race for president developed. Jackson started his own Democratic Party and ran against John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, the son of the former President John Adams. Other candidates, such as Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, also ran. John Quincy Adams, a Democratic-Republican (and later a National Republican), was a former Federalist who supported a strong national government. He had previously served as a minister to Russia when it acted as mediator to help negotiate the Treaty of Ghent to end the War of 1812.

Until 1824 presidential candidates were nominated by congressmen in an informal political meeting called a "caucus" (a favorite political term of John Adams). The caucus is still used today at some political conventions. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama did better than Hillary Clinton in states that used caucuses (rather than an election by voters), which enabled Obama to defeat Clinton for the Democratic nomination despite Clinton having defeated Obama in many states that used open primaries. But in 1824, all the leading candidates for president were from the same political party (the Democratic-Republican Party), and everyone who was nominated by the congressional caucus was on the ballot on Election Day for the millions of voters to decide.

Jackson won more votes from the public than Adams on Election Day, but not a majority of the Electoral College votes as required to choose a president. The Electoral College is the system set up by the Constitution whereby special "Electors" from each state cast their ballots for president based on how the people of their state voted, and a candidate must win a majority of the Electoral College to be elected a president. That minimum number required to win a presidential election is 270 Electoral College votes today.

When no one wins a majority of the Electoral College, as happened in 1824, then the Constitution requires that the election go to the House of Representatives, for it to pick a winner. There Clay apparently struck a private bargain with Adams, whereby Clay persuaded congressmen to vote for Adams, and Adams, after he won, appointed Clay to be Secretary of State. Supporters of Jackson ("Old Hickory") harshly criticized this as the "corrupt bargain." Jackson, campaigning four years later against this "corruption", then crushed Adams in the next presidential election in 1828.

Debate: Is it wrong for a politician to cut a deal with another politician like the "corrupt bargain" between Adams and Clay?

Under the John Quincy Adams Administration, Congress continued to pass tariffs to increase its funding, such as the Tariff of 1824. Henry Clay adopted a term, the "American System," to justify use of protective tariffs along with nationwide internal improvements, in order to expand the domestic economy and decrease our dependence on foreign nations. The American System sought to improve internal domestic commerce and the economic interconnections between the three sections of the United States: the North, South, and West.

The steamboat, invented in 1807 by Robert Fulton, with the first one constructed in America called the Clermont, had a major effect on the economy by 1820s. The steamboat enabled goods to be transported quickly and cheaply over water. Canals were then built. The most important canal was the Erie Canal, finished in 1825, to connect the Hudson River and New York City with the Great Lakes. Spectacular free market success enabled our nation's economy to grow immensely. The Erie Canal allowed New York City to become the financial center and biggest city in the United States. That canal cost $7 million but was soon generating profits of $3 million per year!

Another tariff passed in 1828, supported by some Democrats who wanted to anger the public against John Quincy Adams, so that Jackson would win the upcoming presidential election. Discussed in greater detail below, the supporters of free trade in the South were outraged and called this the Tariff of Abominations. Andrew Jackson had a political problem in keeping the United States together after he was elected in 1828.

After serving only one term as President, John Quincy Adams was remarkable in how he then continued to participate in politics. While virtually all other presidents and vice presidents felt that Congress was beneath them after they served, John Quincy Adams returned to Congress as a member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts. There he fought for 17 more years against slavery and in favor of abolitionism, though the "gag rule" (see below) muzzled his anti-slavery efforts for some of that time. He also ran unsuccessfully for the position of governor of Massachusetts. John Quincy Adams eventually died by collapsing on the floor of the House of Representatives as he prepared to give a speech, and is interred in Quincy, Massachusetts, which is named after the same ancestor of John Quincy Adams from whom he took his middle name.

Jacksonian Democracy

The Democrat Andrew Jackson was the first president to have been born in a log cabin, and he cultivated his image to represent the "common man." His landslide victory in the presidential election of 1828 was a triumph of democracy -- now called "Jacksonian Democracy" -- because the middle and lower class voters loved Jackson as much as the upper class disliked him. During his inauguration Jackson welcomed the public into the White House, and the common folk trashed it, with farmers and frontiersmen with muddy boots standing on antique White House furniture that once graced figures like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton.

There was never a dull moment in the eight years of the Jackson Administration, as he fought with anyone who disagreed with him, similar to how President Donald Trump does today. Jackson's political opponents began to characterize him as a king or a tyrant, but most voters felt that Jackson was looking out for the public against the self-serving government types. Jackson was a firm supporter of the "spoils system," which means that "to the victor goes the spoils": the winner gets to fire all the government workers and replace them with his friends and supporters, no matter how incompetent. (Today conservatives tend to prefer a spoils system because the alternative of an entrenched bureaucracy unresponsive to voters is worse.)

In personality, President Jackson had many similarities with President Donald Trump today: both were liked by the working class and less-educated, while the "Establishment" and highly educated people disliked both.

President Jackson hated banks, supposedly because a banker refused to give him a loan as a young man. Jackson vetoed renewal of the national bank, despite the insistence of wealthy bankers. Jackson encouraged the expansion of credit (loans to people to buy homes, start businesses, and farm) and speculative investments without using a national bank.

Jackson vetoed federal road projects because he was a strict constructionist: if the power is not expressly in the Constitution, then it did not exist, Jackson felt. Jackson's most famous veto of a road construction project was his Maysville Road Veto in 1830, which would have sent money to Kentucky, the State of the influential Senator Henry Clay (known as the "Great Compromiser"). Jackson said there was no national benefit to justify federal funding for the project. In contrast, future presidents did authorize interstate highways, because there are so many today.

Jackson disliked others in addition to bankers. For example, Jackson hated American Indians, and treated them very harshly. In 1830, Jackson forcibly evicted Indian tribes as part of the "Indian Removal," which increased Jackson's popularity in the Western frontier States having the most conflicts with Indians.

Jackson did not care much for Southerners who talked about nullifying federal law or seceding (leaving) the United States. Jackson, like President Abraham Lincoln 30 years later, was determined to hold the United States together.

A serious conflict between the North and South began before Jackson was even inaugurated. In 1828, Congress passed the "Tariff of Abominations," which raised tariffs despite a bitter protest by South Carolina, which was an exporter dependent on the good will of foreign countries in accepting its products. Raising tariffs on imports often caused other countries to retaliate, and also made it more expensive for farmers in the United States to buy the goods they needed. The North favored tariffs to reduce competition from foreign goods; the South opposed tariffs and wanted competition to reduce its costs in producing cotton. When the North raised the tariffs in 1828, John Calhoun of South Carolina secretly wrote the "South Carolina Exposition and Protest" in 1828, which stated that the:[12]

"whole system of legislation imposing duties on imports,--not for revenue, but the protection of one branch of industry at the expense of others,--is unconstitutional, unequal, and oppressive, and calculated to corrupt the public virtue and destroy the liberty of the Country...."

This Exposition and Protest embraced the concept of nullification, such that a State, if it decided that a federal law was unconstitutional, could nullify the law and not enforce it within the State. This Exposition and Protest was then adopted by South Carolina legislature as a formal protest against the federal law, and brought South Carolina a step closer to seceding from (leaving) the United States altogether. Georgia and Mississippi followed South Carolina in passing resolutions protesting the tariff.

Calhoun was Jackson's Vice President beginning in 1829, and Jackson was furious at this defiance by a State against federal authority. At a big political dinner in 1830, Jackson stared down Calhoun with the following toast: "Our Federal Union: It must be Preserved!"[13] Calhoun then rose and offered his different view as a toast: "The Union — next to our liberty, the most dear!"[13] Jackson was irritated by this, and by 1832 Jackson would take the unusual step of dropping Calhoun from his ticket and replacing him with a new Vice President (Martin Van Buren) when Jackson ran for reelection.

In 1831, gossip and social scandal hit the White House, demonstrating that "National Enquirer" or tabloid-style stories were just as big back then as today. The White House was like a social club, with members of the President's Cabinet of advisers and their wives being the members of this club. In what became known as the "Peggy Eaton Affair," gossip about the wife of the Secretary of War caused others in the Cabinet (and particularly the wives of Cabinet members) to turn against Peggy Eaton and her husband-Secretary of War. Jackson, who still resented gossip about his now-deceased wife which occurred before he was elected president, instinctively defended Peggy Eaton. Much of the Cabinet then resigned, forcing Jackson to form an entirely new Cabinet.

The North-South conflict boiled over in late 1832. The South Carolina legislature went one step further and passed the Ordinance of Nullification, prohibiting the collection of federal duties and declaring that the use of force by the federal government would be justification for South Carolina to secede from the Union. Jackson issued a proclamation that "disunion by armed force is treason." But South Carolina remained defiant. Jackson was furious, declaring that "if a single drop of blood is shed there in opposition to the laws of the United States, then I will hang the first person I can lay my hand on, upon the first tree I can reach."

In early 1833, Jackson requested the Force Bill in order to authorize federal troops to enforce the revenue laws, but Jackson also approved lowering the tariff to appease South Carolina. South Carolina then suspended its ordinance of nullification and the conflict was defused.

Debate: Can a State nullify an act of Congress? Can a State secede (withdraw) from the United States?

In 1836, Jackson followed the precedent set by George Washington and retired after two terms in office. Jackson's presidency has been described as follows by an historian:[14]

Andrew Jackson was the first modern president, because he was the first one who asserted that the president was not merely a member of the government's symphony: he was its conductor.

Jackson remained powerful in the Democratic Party in his retirement. For example, eight years after Jackson retired (in 1844) he switched his support from Van Buren to James K. Polk, and this enabled Polk to win the Democratic nomination for president and then win the general election also in order to become president. Jackson died a year later, in 1845.

Jackson, perhaps more than anyone else, established the powerful tools of the modern presidency. These included vetoing bills of Congress to prevent them from becoming law (Jackson vetoed more bills than all the presidents before him combined), removing people from office when the President disagreed with them, and using executive orders as President to give his views the power of law.[15]

Whig Party

A new political party arose just to defeat Jacksonian Democrats: the Whig Party, founded by the powerful Senator Henry Clay from Kentucky in 1834. This party absorbed the Antimasonic Party, which had been founded in 1832 in order to oppose the influential Masons. The Whig Party, which included bankers, states' rights supporters, prominent statesmen like Senator (and future Secretary of State) Daniel Webster and former Vice President (and future Senator) John Calhoun, along with everyone else who disliked Jackson, became a formidable political force and would ultimately elect Presidents William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor prior to the Civil War.

Whig Party wins its first presidential election in 1840

In the first post-Jackson presidential election, his popularity remained too strong for the Whig Party to defeat. Martin Van Buren won election as president in 1836 by riding Jackson's "coattails" (i.e., his popularity). Until the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008, Van Buren was the only president ever elected who was not of predominantly British (including Scottish and Irish) descent. But Van Buren was hurt by the financial Panic of 1837. Some felt that the financial panic was due to a lack of a national bank to prevent many local bank failures.

Van Buren was defeated for reelection in 1840 (results are in the image to the right) by clever slogans created by the Whig Party such as "Van, van the used up man" and "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!" (Van Buren's opponent William Harrison was a military hero for defeating the Indians at Tippecanoe, and Tyler was his running mate.)

Slavery 1800-1840

The importation of slaves into the United States was banned by Congress at its first available opportunity, in 1808, as allowed by the slavery compromise in the Constitution. The importation of slaves was morally offensive for two reasons: (1) up to a third of slaves died on ships as they were being imported from Africa, and (2) the importation perpetuated slavery which many thought should be abolished.

The United States banned slave trade around the same time that Britain did, and before other countries did. In Australia, another British colony, slavery was not abolished until 1901, although Britain banned slavery in most of its colonies in 1833 upon the urging of Wilber Wilberforce, a convert to Christianity. The last country to ban slavery was the Islamic Republic of Mauritani, located in northwest Africa, which did not ban it in 1981 and did not make it a criminal offense until 2007.

But slavery remained the foundation of the economy throughout the first half of the 19th century in many southern States, particularly South Carolina. The dispute over slavery increasingly divided the North, many of whom opposed it, from the South, many of whom relied on it.

An example of the divisiveness of the slavery issue was the Tallmadge Amendment proposed in the Senate in 1820. It would have outlawed further slave importation into Missouri and also would have freed older slaves. But it was defeated because the South was insistent that slavery continue, and even expand.

Why would some want to expand slavery? One reason was that the South feared being outvoted by the North in the Senate if the States abolishing slavery outnumbered the States using it. Slavery thereby became caught up in politics and many bitter conflicts over it continued to occur. The Missouri Compromise of 1820, discussed above, settled some issues but by no means all of them.

In 1831, Nat Turner led slave revolt in Virginia, and 57 whites died. That same year William Lloyd Garrison, a fiery Puritan abolitionist in Massachusetts, started the "Liberator" newspaper to demand an end to slavery. Two years later, he founded the American Antislavery Society along with others who opposed the institution of slavery.

By 1836 it became nearly impossible for Congress to function due to the repeated conflicts that would arise over slavery and many other issues that were related to slavery. Paralyzed, Congress instituted a "gag rule" from 1836 to 1844 to prohibit its members from circulating proposals concerning slavery, especially abolitionism (prohibition on slavery).

Then, in 1837, a horrific murder demonstrated that the continued existence of slavery threatened the constitutional rights of free speech and freedom of the press. Elijah Lovejoy, an antislavery newspaper publisher, was murdered in Alton, Illinois by a pro-slavery mob that had crossed the river from the slave State of Missouri. Lovejoy thereby became the first white martyr for abolitionist movement.

In 1841, the former President John Quincy Adams represented slaves who were being prosecuted for unlawfully taking control of a Spanish ship and killing its captain and crew (the serious crime of mutiny). The slaves ended up in the United States. Under President Martin Van Buren, the United States Department of Justice sought to deport these slaves to Cuba, where they would likely have been executed by the Spanish controlling that island. Adams argued that the slaves should be freed in the United States, even though they were not American citizens, because the U.S. had prohibited the slave trade by this time. The Supreme Court held in favor of the slaves and John Quincy Adams in United States v. The Amistad Africans. The slaves were freed and welcomed by a community in Connecticut.

Other Developments 1800-1840

There were other significant developments as the United States grew immensely in population and wealth from 1800 to 1840. Not everything in history is politics, war and foreign policy!

From 1811 to 1818, the first national road was built. Known as the Cumberland Road, it connected Cumberland, Maryland with Wheeling, now in West Virginia (then in Virginia). It was built using funds obtained from the sale of lands in Ohio.

The Second Bank of the United States was chartered by Congress because of financing failures during War of 1812. The owners of the bank included both government and private companies. Andrew Jackson refused to continue to allow this national bank to continue when he was president (Jackson vetoed a bill to recharter this bank).

The wealthiest man in the United States around 1840 was John Jacob Astor, who amassed his fortune first through fur trading and then by acquiring real estate in Manhattan. He helped the United States pay for the War of 1812, and even earned a profit from that! However, his great-grandson drowned when the Titanic sunk in 1912.

A bit of Indian history during this time: Tecumseh was an Indian leader who built an Indian confederacy from 1791-1813 in order to fight against the United States in the Ohio valley. He allied with the British during War of 1812.

In 1838, the "Trail of Tears" was a forced march of Cherokees to relocate them from Tennessee to Oklahoma, which tragically killed thousands of Indians during the grueling ordeal.

In 1836, Texas fought and won its independence from Mexico. The Texans sought independence based on Mexico's violation of settlers' rights under Mexico Constitution. In March of 1836, the Mexicans massacred the Texans at the Alamo (including Davey Crockett, who came from Tennessee to help), but in April the Texans defeated the Mexican army and its General Santa Anna. Sam Houston was elected the first President of the Republic of Texas (it did not yet join the United States). General Santa Anna was released from captivity in November of 1836, and traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with federal officials.[16]

There were social changes in the early-to-mid 1800s worth noting. In 1826, the Lowell System consisted of factory-based cities, with the planning of the city and its housing based on the existence of jobs in the local factory. Lowell, Massachusetts, was the first example, where the jobs in its textile mills were filled by single, white women from surrounding rural areas.

There were numerous reform movements worth noting: prison reform which included the elimination of "debtors' prison" (imprisonment of people simply because they could not pay their debts); a movement to help the disabled; a movement to ban alcohol ("prohibition", or the "temperance movement") which began in 1826 and lasted until the 18th Amendment passed in 1919 to ban alcohol nationwide (it was later repealed by the 21st Amendment during the Great Depression); and many experimental communities ("utopias") established from the 1820s to the 1840s, based on a belief in perfectionism and attempts to create "perfect" communities, which were all unsuccessful. The largest religion founded entirely in America, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), began during the 1830s; Mitt Romney is one of its leading members and was the Republican nominee for president in 2012, when he was defeated by Barack Obama.

And the most influential (and perhaps the most harmful) movement of all gained steam in the 1830s: public school education. Horace Mann, a member of the Whig Party from New England, established the first state school board. But public school would not reach its full extent as seen today until the 20th century.

The Industrial Revolution that started in Britain the late 1700s spread to the United States, particularly in the northern states, by the early 1800s. Factories then replaced what had been the "putting-out system," whereby finished goods were produced by craftsmen working in their own homes. In the antebellum (pre-Civil War) South, the putting-out system lasted longer than it did in the North.


  1. Answer: John Adams was the president in 1798.
  2. George Washington.
  3. Also George Washington.
  5. 5.0 5.1
  6. Thomas Jefferson had been John Adams' Vice President, which seems odd today because Adams and Jefferson were political opponents of each other.
  8. Later, in 1809, Lewis was found dead of multiple gunshot wounds and it remains a mystery to this day whether he was murdered; requests by his descendants to exhume Lewis's body to investigate whether he was murdered have been repeatedly denied by the executive branch of the federal government, which owns the national park where Lewis is buried.
  9. American Insurance Co v. Canter (1 Peters 511).
  11. "Montezuma" is a reference to the Mexican War and the Battle of Chapultepec.
  13. 13.0 13.1
  14. Quoting Jon Meacham, an historian