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Current R., Williams T. H., Freidel F., Brinkley A. American History: a survey. 7th edition; New York, 1987.


 

Chapter 7. The Jeffersonian Era

Thomas Jefferson and his followers assumed control of the national government in 1801 as the champions of a distinctive vision of America. They envisioned a society of sturdy, independent farmers, happily free from the workshops, the industrial towns, and the city mobs of Europe. They favored a system of universal education that would introduce all Americans to the scientific rationalism of the Enlightenment. They promoted a cultural outlook that emphasized localism and republican simplicity. And above all, they proposed a federal government of sharply limited power, with most authority remaining at the level of the states.

Almost nothing worked out as they had planned, for during their years in power the young republic was developing in ways that made much of their vision obsolete. The American economy in the period of Republican ascendancy became steadily more diversified and complex. Growing cities, expanding commerce, and nascent industrialism made the ideal of a simple, agrarian society impossible to maintain. The quest for universal education foundered, and the nation's institutions of learning remained largely the preserve of privileged elites. American cultural life, far from reflecting localism and simplicity, was dominated by a vigorous and ambitious nationalism reminiscent of (and often encouraged by) the Federalists. And although American religion began, as the Jeffersonians had hoped, to confront and adjust to the spread of Enlightenment rationalism, the new skepticism did not survive unchallenged. A great wave of revivalism, beginning early in the century, ultimately almost submerged the new rational philosophy.

The Republicans did manage to translate some of their political ideals into reality. Jefferson dismantled much of the Federalist power structure that had been erected in the 1790s, and he helped to ensure that in many respects the federal government would remain a relatively unimportant force in American life. Yet at the same time, he frequently encountered situations that required him to exercise strong national authority. On occasion, he used his power more forcefully and arbitrarily than his Federalist predecessors.

The Republicans did not always like these nationalizing and modernizing trends, and on occasion they resisted them. For the most part, however, they had the sense to recognize what could not be changed. And in adjusting to the new realities, they themselves began to become agents of the very transformation of American life they had once strenuously resisted.

The Rising Glory of America

In many respects, American cultural life in the early eighteenth century seemed to reflect the Republican vision of the nation's future. Opportunities for education increased; the nation's literary and artistic life began to free itself from European influences; and American religion came to terms with the ideas of the Enlightenment. In other respects, however, the new culture was posing a serious challenge to Republican ideals.

Education and Professionalism

Central to the Republican vision of America was the concept of a virtuous and enlightened citizenry. An ignorant electorate, the Jeffersonians believed, could not be trusted to preserve democracy; education, therefore, was essential. Jefferson himself called emphatically for a national "crusade against ignorance." Thus Republicans believed in the creation of a nationwide system of public schools, in which all male citizens would receive a free education.

Such hopes were not fulfilled. Although some states endorsed the principle of public education for all, none actually created a working system of free schools. A Massachusetts law of 1789 reaffirmed the colonial laws by which each town was obliged to support a school, but enforcement was so lax as to make it almost meaningless. Even in Boston, there were only seven public schools in 1790, most of them poorly housed. In Virginia, Jefferson had as wartime governor proposed a plan for universal elementary education and for advanced education for the gifted. Neither during nor after the war did the state legislature enact the proposal into law. As late as 1815 after more than a decade of Republican ascendancy in the nation's politicsnot a single state had a comprehensive public school system.

Instead, schooling became primarily the responsibility of private institutions, most of which were open only to those who could afford to pay for them. In the South and in the mid-Atlantic states, most schools were run by religious groups; almost every institution required tuition from the parents of prospective students. Poor farmers and workers, therefore, were usually excluded. In New England (and to a lesser extent elsewhere), there were a growing number of private academies available to the children of the relatively prosperous, but few schools for the less favored. Many of the new academies were modeled on those founded by the Phillips family: at Andover, Massachusetts, in 1778, and at Exeter, New Hampshire, three years later. By 1815, there were thirty such private secondary schools in Massachusetts, thirty-seven in New York, and several dozen more scattered throughout the country. Many were frankly aristocratic in outlook, training their students to become members of the nation's elite.

The Republican enthusiasm for education did not always include a belief in the importance of schooling for women. Private secondary schools such as those in New England generally accepted only male students; even many public schools excluded females from the classroom. No less than other groups of their era, the Republicans clung to a patriarchal vision of society, which envisioned virtuous white males presiding benevolently over a world in which all other groupsslaves, children, and women would be dependent.

Yet the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries did see some important advances. American women in the eighteenth century had received very little education of any kind, and the female illiteracy rate at the time of the Revolution was appallingly highat least 50 percent. At the same time, Americans had begun to place a new value on the importance of the "republican mother" in training the new generation. That raised an important question. If mothers remained ignorant, how could they raise their children to be enlightened? Such concerns led beginning as early as the 1770s and accelerating thereafterto the creation of a network of female academies throughout the nation (usually for the daughters of affluent families). Massachusetts required (beginning in 1789) that its public schools serve females as well as males. Other states (although not all) soon followed.

There were, however, strict limits to this new belief in education for women. Most men, at least, assumed that female education should serve only to make women better wives and mothers. There was no need, therefore, for women to receive advanced or professional training, no reason for colleges and universities to admit female students.

These assumptions did not go entirely unchallenged. In 1784, Judith Sargent Murray published an essay defending the rights of women to education, and defending it in terms very different from those used by most men. Men and women were equal in intellect and equal in potential, Murray argued.

Women, therefore, should have precisely the same educational opportunities as men. What was more, they should have opportunities to earn their own living, to establish a role for themselves in society apart from their husbands and families. Murray's ideas became an inspiration to later generations of women; but during most of her own lifetime (1751-1820), they attracted relatively little support.

The new educational systemwhether for men or for womenprovided opportunities sharply restricted by wealth. There were some efforts to provide the poor with access to this system of private education or with separate schools of their own. Religious schools and private academies occasionally waived tuition for some who could not afford to pay it. In New York, the Free School Society provided a special institution for the poor. But such efforts fell far short of fulfilling Jefferson's vision of equal and universal education. The institutions available to the poor were not nearly numerous enough to accommodate everyone; and the education they offered was often clearly inferior to that provided more prosperous students. The New York Free School, for example, economized by adopting the so-called Lancastrian method from England, by which teachers taught only a few bright student "monitors," who then drilled their fellow pupils in what they had learned.

There was a similar gap between the Republican ideal and the early eighteenth-century reality in the nature of American higher education. On the one hand, the number of colleges and universities in America grew substantially in the early years of the republic. At the outbreak of the Revolution there had been a total of nine colleges in all the colonies. By 1800, there were twenty-two, and the number continued to increase steadily thereafter. None of the new schools, however, was truly public. Even those established by state legislatures (in Georgia, North Carolina, Vermont, Ohio, and South Carolina, for example, all of which established universities between 1785 and 1805) relied on private contributions and on tuition fees to survive. Scarcely more than one man in a thousand (and no women at all) had access to any college education; and those few who did attend universities were almost without exception members of prosperous, propertied families.

The education that the colleges provided was, moreover, exceedingly limitednarrow training in the classics and a few other areas, and intensive work in theology. Indeed, the clergy was the only profession for which college training was generally required. There were a few institutions that attempted to provide advanced training in other fields to their students. The College of William and Mary in Virginia, th University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia College in New York all created law schools before 1800; but most lawyers continued to train for their profession simply by apprenticing themselves to practicing attorneys.

The University of Pennsylvania created the first American medical school early in the nineteenth century, under the leadership of Benjamin Rush. Most doctors, however, studied medicine by working with an established practitioner. And those such as Rush who believed in applying new scientific methods to medicine continued to struggle against age-old prejudices and superstitions. Efforts to teach anatomy, for example, encountered strong public hostility because of the dissection of cadavers that the study required. Medical knowledge remained so limited that cities were virtually helpless when faced with epidemics; only slowly did urban officials respond to the warnings of Rush and others that lack of adequate sanitation programs were to blame for disease. Individual patients often had more to fear from doctors than from illness itself. George Washington's death in 1799 was probably less a result of the minor throat infection that had afflicted him than of the efforts of his physicians to cure the disease by bleeding and "purging" him.

Education and professional training in the early republic thus fell far short of the Jeffersonian vision. Indeed, efforts to promote education often had the effect of strengthening existing elites rather than eroding them. Nevertheless, the ideal of equal educational opportunity survived, and in later decades it would become a vital force behind universal public education.

Cultural Nationalism

Jeffersonian Americans may have repudiated the belief of the Federalists in political and economic centralization. But they embraced another form of nationalism with great fervor. Having won political independence from Europe, they aspired now to a form of cultural independence. And in the process, they dreamed of an American literary and artistic life that would rival the greatest achievements of Europe. As a "Poem on the Rising Glory of America" had foretold as early as 1772, Americans believed that their "happy land" was destined to become the "seat of empire" and the "final stage" of civilization, with "glorious works of high invention and of wond'rous art." The United States, one eighteenth-century writer proclaimed, would serve as "the last and greatest theatre for the improvement of mankind." Such nationalism found expression, among other places, in early American schoolbooks. The Massachusetts geographer Jedidiah Morse, author of Geography Made Easy (1784), said the country must have its own textbooks so that the people would not be infected with the aristocratic ideas of England. The Connecticut schoolmaster and lawyer Noah Webster likewise contended that the American schoolboy should be educated as a patriot, his mind filled with nationalistic, American thoughts. "As soon as he opens his lips," Webster wrote, "he should rehearse the history of his own country; he should lisp the praise of liberty, and of those illustrious heroes and statesmen who have wrought a revolution in her favor.

Further to encourage a distinctive American culture and help unify the new nation, Webster insisted on a simplified and Americanized system of spellinghonor instead of honour, for example. His American Spelling Book, first published in 1783 and commonly known as the "blue-backed speller," eventually sold over 100 million copies, to become the best-selling book (except for the Bible) in the entire history of American publishing. Webster also wrote grammars and other schoolbooks. His school dictionary, issued in 1806, was republished in many editions and was eventually enlarged to become (in 1828) An American Dictionary of the English Language. His speller and his dictionary established a national standard of words and usages. Although Webster's Federalist political views fell into disfavor in the early nineteenth century, his cultural nationalism remained popular and influential.

Those Americans who aspired to create a more elevated national literary life faced a number of obstacles. There was, to be sure, a large potential audience for a national literaturea reading public developed in large part by the wide circulation of newspapers and political pamphlets during the Revolution. But there were few opportunities for a would-be American author to get his or her work before the public. Printers preferred to publish popular works by British writers (for which they had to pay no royalties); magazine publishers filled their pages largely with items clipped from British periodicals. Only those American writers willing to pay the cost and bear the risk of publishing their own works could compete for public attention.

Yet a growing number of American authors strove to create a strong native literature so that, as the poet Joel Barlow wrote, "true ideas of glory may be implanted in the minds of men here, to take the place of the false and destructive ones that have degraded the species in other countries." Barlow himself, one of a group of Connecticut writers known as the "Hartford Wits," published an epic poem, The Columbiad   in 1807, in an effort to convey the special character of American civilization. The acclaim it received helped to encourage other native writers.

Among the most ambitious was the Philadelphia writer Charles Brockden Brown. Like many Americans, he was attracted to the novel, a new literary form that had become popular in England in the late eighteenth century and had been successfully imported to America. But Brown sought to do more than simply imitate English forms; he tried to use his novels to give voice to distinctively American themes, to convey the "soaring passions and intellectual energy" of the new nation. His obsession with originality led him to produce a body of work characterized by a fascination with horror and deviant behaviornovels that failed to develop a large popular following.

Far more successful was Washington Irving, a resident of New York who won wide acclaim for his satirical histories of early American life and his powerful fables of society in the New World. His popular folk tales, recounting the adventures of such American rustics as Ichabod Crane and Rip Van Winkle, made him the widely acknowledged leader of American literary life in the early nineteenth century and one of the few writers of that era whose works would continue to be read by later generations.

Perhaps the most influential works by American authors in the early republic were not poems, novels, or stories, but works of history that glorified the nation's past. Mercy Otis Warren, the influential pamphleteer and agitator during the 1770s, continued her literary efforts with a three-volume History of the Revolution, published in 1805 and emphasizing the heroism of the American struggle. Mason Weems, an Anglican clergyman, published a eulogistic Life of Washington in 1806, which became one of the best-selling books of the era. Weems had little interest in historical accuracy. He portrayed the aristocratic former president as a homespun man possessing simple republican virtues. (He also invented the story of the young Washington cutting down a cherry tree.) History, like literature, was serving as a vehicle for instilling a sense of nationalism in the American people.

Religon and Revivalism

The American Revolution had had a disastrous impact on traditional forms of religious practice. Not only had the Anglicans suffered for their alleged British sympathies and the Quakers for their pacifism, but the position of almost all churches had in some ways declined. The detachment of religion from government in the years following independence weakened some established religionsnotably Congregationalism in New England. The ideology of individual liberty and reason weakened others. By the 1790s, although most Americans continued to hold strong religious beliefs, only a small proportion (perhaps as few as 10 percent) were members of formal churches. And the evangelical fervor aroused by the Great Awakening of the 1730s had almost entirely vanished. There were ample reasons for the frequent complaints of ministers during the Revolutionary era about the "decay of vital piety" and the luxurious growth of "vice."

Among the most disturbing challenges to religious traditionalists was the emergence of new, "rational" religious doctrinestheologies that attempted to reconcile modern, scientific attitudes with Christian faith. They offered an approach to religion that sharply deemphasized the role of God in the world and challenged much of conventional Christian orthodoxy. Some Americansincluding Jefferson and Franklinembraced "deism," which had originated among Enlightenment philosophers in France. Deists accepted the existence of God, but they considered Him a remote being who, after creating the universe, had withdrawn from direct involvement with the human race and its sins. Such views remained confined to a small group of highly educated people at first; but by 1800, deist ideas were reaching a much wider audience. Books and articles attacking religious "superstitions" were widely read and much discussed. Among the most influential was Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason, published between 1794 and 1796. Paine once declared that Christianity was the "strangest religion ever set up," for "it committed a murder upon Jesus in order to redeem mankind from the sin of eating an apple."

Religious skepticism also produced the philosophies of "universalism" and "unitarianism," which emerged at first as dissenting views within the New England Congregational church. Disciples of these new ideas rejected the traditional Calvinist belief in predestination, arguing that salvation was available to all. They rejected, too, the idea of the Trinity. Jesus was only a great religious teacher, they claimed, not the son of God. So wide was the gulf between these dissenters and the Congregationalist establishment that a permanent schism finally occurred. The Universalist church was founded as a separate denomination in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1779 (by James Murray, later the husband of Judith Sargent Murray), and the Unitarian church was established in Boston three years later.

Yet although many Americans believed that the spread of rationalism foretold the end of traditional, evangelistic religion in the new nation, nothing could have been further from the truth. Deism, universal-ism, and unitarianism all seemed more powerful than they actually were, in part because those who clung to more traditional faiths were for a time confused and disorganized, unable to react effectively. Beginning in 1801, however, traditional religion staged a dramatic comeback in the form of a wave of revivalism known as the Second Great Awakening.

The origins of the awakening lay in the efforts of conservative theologians of the 1790s to fight the spread of religious rationalism. Presbyterians strengthened their organization and expanded their efforts on the frontier, with conservatives in the church becoming increasingly militant in response to so-called New Light dissenters. Methodism, authoritarian and hierarchical in structure, was founded in England by John Wesley and spread to America in the 1770s, where it established itself as a formal church in 1784 under the leadership of Francis Asbury. The Methodists sent itinerant preachers throughout the nation to win recruits for the new church, which soon became the fastest-growing denomination in America. Almost as successful were the Baptists, who were themselves relatively new to America; they found an especially fervent following in the South.

By 1800, the revivalist energies of all these congregations were combining to create the greatest surge of evangelical fervor since the first Great Awakening sixty years before. Beginning among Presbyterians in several Eastern colleges (most notably at Yale, under the leadership of President Timothy Dwight), the new awakening soon spread throughout the country, reaching its greatest heights in the Western regions. In only a few years, a large proportion of the American people were mobilized by the movement; and membership in those churches embracing the revivalmost prominently the Methodists, the Baptists, and the Presbyterianswas mushrooming. At Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in the summer of 1801, a group of evangelical ministers presided over the nation's first "camp meeting"an extraordinary revival that lasted several days and impressed all who saw it with its size (some estimated that 25,000 people attended) and its fervor. Such events became common in subsequent years, as the Methodists in particular came to rely on them as a way to "harvest" new members. The Methodist circuit-riding preacher Peter Cartwright won national fame as he traveled from region to region exhorting his listeners to embrace the church. Even Cartwright, however, was often unprepared for the results of his effortsa religious frenzy that manifested itself at times in convulsions, fits, rolling in the dirt, and the twitching "holy jerks."

The message of the Second Great Awakening was not entirely uniform, but its basic thrust was clear. Individuals must readmit God and Christ into their daily lives, must embrace a fervent, active piety, and must reject the skeptical rationalism that threatened traditional beliefs. Yet the wave of revivalism did not serve to restore the religion of the past. Few denominations any longer accepted the idea of predestination; and the belief that a person could affect his or her own destiny, rather than encouraging irreligion as many had feared, added intensity to the individual's search for salvation. Nor did the awakening work to reestablish old institutional forms of religion. Instead, it reinforced the spread of different sects and denominations and helped to create a general public acceptance of the idea that people could belong to different Protestant churches and still be committed to essentially the same Christian faith. Finally, the new evangelicalismby spreading religious fervor into virtually every area of the nation, including remote regions where no formal church had ever existedprovided a vehicle for establishing a sense of order and social stability in communities still searching for an identity.

One of the striking features of the awakening was the preponderance of women involved in it. Young women, in particular, were drawn to revivalism; and female converts far outnumbered males. In some areas, church membership became overwhelmingly female as a result. One reason for this was that women were more numerous than men in certain regions during this era. Adventurous young men often struck out on their own and moved west; women, for the most part, had no such options. With their marriage prospects thus diminished, their futures plagued with uncertainty, women discovered in religion a foundation on which to build their lives. But even in areas where there was no shortage of men, women flocked to the revivals in enormous numbers, which suggests that they were responding as well to their changing economic roles. The movement of industrial work out of the home (where women had often contributed to the family economy through spinning and weaving) and into the factorya process making rapid strides in the early nineteenth centuryrobbed women of one of their most important social roles. Religious enthusiasm not only helped compensate for that loss; it also provided access to a new range of activities associated with the churchescharitable societies ministering to orphans and the poor, missionary organizations, and othersin which women came to play important roles.

The Second Great Awakening also had significant effects on black Americans and on relations between the races. In many areas, revivals were open to people of all races; and many blacks not only attended, but ardently embraced the new religious fervor. Out of these revivals, in fact, emerged a substantial group of black preachers, who became important figures within the slave community. Some of them translated the apparently egalitarian religious message of the awakeningthat salvation was available to all - into a similarly egalitarian message for blacks in the present world. Out of black revival meetings in Virginia, for example, arose an elaborate plan in 1800 (devised by Gabriel Prosser, the brother of a black preacher) for a slave rebellion and attack on Richmond. The plan was discovered and the rebellion forestalled by whites; but revivalism continued in subsequent years to create racial unrest in the South. In the coming years, fears of such challenges to white supremacy led directly to a strengthening of the laws governing race relations.

The Second Great Awakening also had effects, of course, on the rational "freethinkers," whose skeptical philosophies had done so much to produce it. They did not disappear after 1800, but their influence rapidly declined; and for many years to come they remained a distinct and defensive minority within American Christianity. Instead, the dominant religious characteristic of the new nation was a fervent revivalism, which would survive well into the mid-nineteenth century.

The new religious enthusiasm meshed with the cultural and political optimism of the early republic.' Many Americans were coming to believe that their nation had a special destiny: that its political system would serve as a model to the world, that its culture would become a beacon to mankind. Now there were voices arguing that the United States had a religious mission as well: that American revivalism would lead to the salvation of the entire globe. This expansive, at times even arrogant, assumption that Americans had been anointed to lead the world into a new era became one of the most powerful forces in the nation's outlook.

Stirrings of Industrialism

It was not only culturally and religiously that the nation was developing in ways unforeseen by Jefferson and his followers. Economically, the United States was taking the first, tentative steps toward a transformation that would ultimately shatter forever the vision of a simple, agrarian republic.

The Industrial Revolution in England

While Americans were engaged in a revolution to win their independence, an even more important revolution was in progress in England: the emergence of modern industrialism. Historians differ over precisely when the industrial revolution began, but it is clear that by the end of the eighteenth century it was well under way. Its essence was relatively simple: power-driven machines were taking the place of hand-operated tools and were permitting manufacturing to become more rapid and extensive. But however simple the causes, the social and economic consequences of the transformation were complex and profound. The factory system in England took root first in the manufacture of cotton thread and cloth. There, one invention followed another in quick succession. Improvements in weaving made necessary improvements in spinning; and these changes required new devices for carding (combing and straightening the fibers for the spinner). Water, wind, and animal power continued to be important in the textile industry; but far more important was the emergence of steam powerwhich began to proliferate after the appearance of James Watt's advanced steam engine (patented in 1769). Cumbersome and inefficient by modern standards, Watt's engine was nevertheless a major improvement over the earlier "atmospheric" engine of Thomas Newcomen. England's textile industry quickly became the most profitable in the world, and it helped encourage comparable advances in other fields of manufacturing as well.

At the same time, England's social system was undergoing a wrenching change. Hundreds of thousands of men and women were moving from rural areas into cities to work in factories; and there they experienced both the benefits and the costs of industrialization. The standard of living of the new working class, when objectively quantified, was significantly higher than that of the rural poor. Most of those who moved from farm to factory, in other words, experienced some improvement in their material circumstances. But the psychological costs of being suddenly uprooted from one way of life and thrust into another, fundamentally different one often outweighed the economic gains. There was little in the prior experience of most workers to prepare them for the nature of industrial labor: disciplined, routinized work on a fixed schedule, which stood in sharp contrast to the varying, seasonal work pattern of the rural economy. Nor were the factory workers often prepared for life in the new industrial towns and expanding cities. They experienced, too, a fundamental change in their relationship with their employers. Unlike the landlords and local aristocrats of rural England, factory owners and managersthe new class of industrial capitalists, many of them accumulating unprecedented wealthwere usually remote and inaccessible figures. They dealt with their workers impersonally, and the result was a growing schism between the two classeseach lacking access to or understanding of the other.

As a result, English life was being transformed at every level. The middle class was expanding and coming to dominate the economy, although not yet the culture or the nation's politics. Working men and women were beginning to think of themselves as a distinct class, with common goals and interests. And their simultaneous efforts to adjust to their new way of life and to resist its most damaging aspects made the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries a time of continuing social turbulence.

Not since the agrarian revolution thousands of years earlier, when humans had turned from hunting to farming for sustenance, had there been an economic change of a magnitude comparable to the industrial revolution. Centuries of traditions, of social patterns, of cultural and religious assumptions, were challenged and often shattered. Almost nothing would ever again be quite the same.

Technology in America

Nothing even remotely comparable to the English industrial revolution occurred in America in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Indeed, it was opposition to the kind of economic growth occurring in England that had helped the Republicans defeat the Federalists in 1800; and Americans continued to view British industrialization with deep ambivalence. Yet even while they warned of the dangers of rapid economic change, Americans of the age of Jefferson were welcoming a series of technological advances that would ultimately help ensure that the United States too would be transformed.

Some of these technological advances were imported from England. The British government attempted to protect the nation's manufacturing preeminence by preventing the export of textile machinery or the emigration of skilled mechanics. But despite such efforts, a number of immigrants arrived in the United States with advanced knowledge of English technology, eager to introduce the new machines to America. Samuel Slater, for example, used the knowledge he had acquired before leaving England to build a spinning mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, for the Quaker merchant Moses Brown in 1790. It was generally recognized as the first modern factory in America.

More important than imported technology, however, was that of purely domestic origin. America in the early nineteenth century produced several important inventors of its own. Among them was Oliver Evans, of Delaware, who devised a number of ingenious new machines: an automated flour mill, a card-making machine, and others. He worked several important improvements in the steam engine, and in 1795 he published America's first textbook of mechanical engineering: The Young Mill-Wright's and Miller's Guide. In his own flour mill, which went into operation in 1787 (the year the Constitutional Convention first met), virtually all operations were mechanized. Only two men were required to operate the mill: one of them emptying a bag of wheat into the machinery, another putting the lid on the barrels of flour and rolling them away.

Even more influential for the future of the nation were the inventions of the Massachusetts-born, Yale-educated Eli Whitney, who revolutionized both cotton production and weapons manufacturing. The growth of the textile industry in England had created an enormous demand for cotton, a demand that planters in the American South were finding it impossible to meet. Their greatest obstacle was the difficulty of separating seeds from cotton fibera process that was essential before cotton could be sold. There was one variety of cotton with smooth black seeds and long fibers that was easily cleaned; but this long-staple or Sea Island variety could be grown successfully only along the coast or on the offshore islands of Georgia and South Carolina. There was not nearly enough of it to satisfy the demand. Another variety, short-staple cotton, could be grown almost anywhere in the South; but its sticky green seeds were extremely difficult to remove, and a skilled worker could clean no more than a few pounds a day by hand. Then, in 1793, Whitney, who was working at the time as a tutor on the Georgia plantation of General Nathanael Greene's widow, invented a machine that performed the arduous task quickly and efficiently. It was dubbed the cotton gin ("gin" being a derivative of "engine"); and it would soon transform the life of the South.

Mechanically, the gin was very simple. A toothed roller caught the fibers of the cotton boll and pulled them between the wires of a grating. The grating caught the seeds, and a revolving brush removed the lint from the roller's teeth. With the device, a single operator could clean as much cotton in a few hours as a group of workers had once needed a whole day to do. The results were profound. Soon cotton growing spread into the upland South; and within a decade, the total crop increased eightfold. Black slavery, which with the decline of tobacco production had seemed for a time to be a dwindling institution, was now restored to importance, expanded, and firmly fixed upon the South.

The cotton gin not only changed the economy of the South. It also helped transform the North. The large supply of domestically produced fiber served as a strong incentive to entrepreneurs in New England and elsewhere to develop a native textile industry. Few Northern states could hope to thrive on the basis of agriculture alone; by learning to process cotton, they could become industrially prosperous instead. The manufacturing preeminence of the North, which emerged with the development of the textile industry in the 1820s and 1830s, helped drive a wedge between the nation's two most populous regions and ultimately contributed to the coming of the Civil War. It also helped ensure the eventual Union victory.

Whitney also made a major contribution to the development of modern warfare, and with it a contribution to other industrial techniques. During the two years of undeclared war with France (1798 and 1799), Americans were deeply troubled by their lack of sufficient armaments for the expected hostilities. Production of musketseach carefully handcrafted by a skilled gunsmithwas distressingly slow. Whitney responded by devising a machine to make each of the parts of a gun according to an exact pattern. Tasks could thus be divided among several workers, and one laborer could assemble a rifle out of parts made by several others. Before long, the same system was being applied to sewing machines, clocks, and many other complicated products.

The new technological advances were relatively isolated phenomena during the early years of the nineteenth century. Not until at least 1820 did the nation begin to develop a true manufacturing economy. But the inventions of this period were crucial in making the eventual transformation possible.

Trade and Transportation

One of the prerequisites for industrialization is a transportation system that allows the efficient conveyance of raw materials to factories and of finished goods to markets. The United States had no such system in the early years of the republic, and thus it had no domestic market extensive enough to justify large-scale production. Yet even then efforts were under way that would ultimately remove the transportation obstacle.

There were several ways to solve the problem of the small American market. One was to develop markets overseas; and American merchants continued their efforts to do that. One of the first acts of the new Congress when it met in 1789 was to pass two tariff bills giving preference to American ships in American ports, helping to stimulate an expansion of shipping. Also helpful was the outbreak of war in Europe in the 1790s, allowing Yankee merchant vessels to take over most of the carrying trade between Europe and the Western Hemisphere. As early as 1793, the young republic had a merchant marine and a foreign trade larger than those of any country except England. In proportion to its population, the United States had more ships and international commerce than any country in the world. And the shipping business was growing fast. Between 1789 and 1810, the total tonnage of American vessels engaged in overseas traffic rose from less than 125,000 to nearly 1 million. Only 30 percent of the country's exports had been carried in American ships in 1789; over 90 percent was being so carried by 1810. The figures for imports increased even more dramatically, from 17.5 percent to 90 percent in the same period.

Another solution to the problem of limited markets was to develop new markets at home, by improving transportation between the states and into the interior. Progress was slower here than in international shipping, but some improvements were occurring nevertheless. In river transportation, a new era began with the development of the steamboat. Oliver Evans's high-pressure engine, lighter and more efficient than James Watt's, made steam more feasible for powering boats and, eventually, the locomotive, as well as mill machinery. Even before the high-pressure engine was available, a number of inventors experimented with steam-powered craft, and John Fitch exhibited to some of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention a forty-five-foot vessel with paddles operated by steam. The perfecting of the steamboat was chiefly the work of the inventor Robert Fulton and the promoter Robert R. Livingston. Their Clermont, equipped with paddle wheels and an English-built engine, sailed up the Hudson in the summer of 1807, demonstrating the practicability of steam navigation (even though it took the ship thirty hours to go 150 miles). In 1811, a partner of Livingston, Nicholas J. Roosevelt (a remote ancestor of Theodore Roosevelt), introduced the steamboat to the West by sending the New Orleans from Pittsburgh down the Ohio and Mississippi. The next year, this vessel entered on a profitable career of service between New Orleans and Natchez.

Meanwhile, in land transportation, what was to become known as the turnpike era had begun. In 1792, a corporation constructed a toll road running the sixty miles from Philadelphia to Lancaster, with a hard-packed surface of crushed rock. This venture proved so successful that similar turnpikes (so named from the kind of tollgate frequently used) were laid out from other cities to neighboring towns. Since the turnpikes were built and operated for private profit, construction costs had to be low enough and the prospective traffic heavy enough to ensure an early and ample return. Therefore these roads, radiating from Eastern cities, ran for comparatively short distances and through thickly settled areas. Similar highways would not be extended over the mountains until the state governments or the federal government began to participate in the financing of the projects.

Country and City

Despite all the changes and all the advances, America remained in the early nineteenth century an overwhelmingly rural and agrarian nation. Only 3 percent of the population lived in towns of more than 8,000 at the time of the second census in 1800. Ten percent lived west of the Appalachian Mountains, far from what urban centers there were. Much of the country remained a wilderness. Even the nation's largest cities could not begin to compare, either in size or in cultural sophistication, with such European capitals as London and Paris.

Yet here too there were signs that the future might be different from the Jeffersonian vision of rural simplicity. The leading American cities might not yet have become world capitals, but they were large and complex enough to rival the important secondary cities of Europe. Philadelphia, with 70,000 residents, and New York, with 60,000, were becoming major centers of commerce, of learning, and of a distinctively urban culture. So too were the next largest cities of the new nation: Baltimore (26,000 in 1800), Boston (24,000), and Charleston (20,000).

Much remained to be done before this small and still half-formed nation would become a complex modern society. It was still possible in the early nineteenth century to believe that those changes might not ever occur. But forces were already at work that, in time, would lastingly transform the United States. And Thomas Jefferson, for all his commitment to the agrarian ideal, found himself as president obliged to confront and accommodate them.

Jefferson the President

Privately, Thomas Jefferson may well have considered his victory over John Adams in 1800 to be what he later termed it: a revolution "as real ... as that of 1776." Publicly, however, he was at the time restrained and conciliatory, attempting to minimize the differences between the two parties and calm the passions that the bitter campaign had aroused. "We are all republicans, we are all federalists," he said in his inaugural address. And during his eight years in office, he did much to prove those words correct. There was no complete repudiation of Federalist policies, no true "revolution." Indeed, at times Jefferson seemed to outdo the Federalists at their own work most notably in overseeing a remarkable expansion of the territory of the United States.

In some respects, however, the Jefferson presidency did indeed represent a fundamental change in the direction of the federal government. The new administration oversaw a drastic reduction in the powers of some national institutions, and it forestalled the development of new powers in areas where the Federalists would certainly have attempted to expand them. Neither the executive nor the legislative branch of government was willing or able to exercise decisive authority in most areas of national life by the end of the Jeffersonian era. Only the courts continued trying to assert federal power in the ways the Federalists had envisioned.

The Federal City

The relative unimportance of the federal government during the era of Jefferson was symbolized by the character of the newly founded national capital, the city of Washington. John Adams had moved to the new seat of government during the last year of his administration. And there were many at that time who envisioned that the raw, uncompleted town would soon emerge as a great and majestic city, a focus for the growing nationalism that the Federalists were promoting. The French architect Pierre L'Enfant had designed the capital on a grand scale, with broad avenues radiating from the uncompleted Capitol building, which was to adorn one of the area's highest hills. Washington was, many Americans believed, to become the Paris of the United States.

In reality, throughout Jefferson's presidencyindeed throughout most of the nineteenth century-Washington remained little more than a straggling, provincial village. Although the population increased steadily from the 3,200 counted in the 1800 census, it never rivaled that of New York, Philadelphia, and the other major cities of the nation. One problem was the climate: wet and cold in winter, hot and almost unbearably humid in summer, reflecting the marshy character of the site. Another problem, however, was that those in the federal government responsible for the development of the city did little to further its growth. The Republican administrations of the early nineteenth century oversaw the completion of several sections of the present-day Capitol building, of the White House, and of a few other government buildings. Otherwise, they allowed the city to remain a raw, inhospitable community, one whose muddy streets were at times almost impassable, one in which the Capitol and the White House were often cut off from each other by rising creeks and washed-away bridges.

Members of Congress viewed the city not as a home but as a place to visit briefly during sessions of the legislature and leave as quickly as possible. Few owned houses in Washington. Most lived in a cluster of simple boardinghouses in the vicinity of the Capitol. It was not unusual for a member of Congress to resign his seat in the midst of a session to return home if he had an opportunity to accept the more prestigious post of member of his state legislature. During the summers, the entire government in effect packed up and left town. The president, the cabinet, the Congress, and most other federal employees spent the hot summer months far from the uncomfortable capital.

President and Party Leader

'"From the outset, Jefferson acted in a spirit of democratic simplicity in keeping with the frontierlike character of the unfinished federal city. Although a wealthy and aristocratic planter by background, the owner of more than a 100 slaves, and a man of rare cultivation and sophistication, he conveyed to the public an image of plain, almost crude disdain for pretension. He walked like an ordinary citizen to and from his inauguration at the Capitol, instead of riding in a coach at the head of a procession. In the presidential mansion, which had not yet acquired the name the White House, he disregarded the courtly etiquette of his predecessors (in part, no doubt, because as a widower he had no first lady to take charge of social affairs). At state dinners, he let his guests scramble pell-mell for places at the table. He did not always bother to dress up, prompting the fastidious British ambassador to complain on one occasion of being received by the president in coat and pantaloons that were "indicative of utter slovenliness and indifference to appearances." Even when carefully dressed, the tall, freckle-faced, sandy-haired Jefferson did not offer an impressive physical appearance. He was shy. His posture was awkward. He walked with a shambling gait. And he was an ineffective public speaker.

Yet Jefferson managed nevertheless to impress most of those who knew him. He was a brilliant and charming conversationalist, a writer endowed with literary skills unmatched by any president before or since (with the possible exception of Lincoln), and undoubtedly one of the nation's most intelligent and creative men, with a wider range of interests and accomplishments than any public figure in American history. In addition to politics and diplomacy, he was an active architect, educator, inventor, scientific farmer, and philosopher-scientist. He diverted himself with such pastimes as sorting the bones of prehistoric animals or collecting volumes for one of the nation's greatest private libraries (which later became the basis of the original Library of Congress). Many years later, President John Kennedy referred to a White House dinner for Nobel Prize laureates as the greatest collection of genius ever gathered in the building except for those nights when "Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

Jefferson was, above all, a shrewd and practical politician, equaled in that regard perhaps only by Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. On the one hand, he went to great lengths to eliminate the aura of majesty surrounding the presidency that he believed his predecessors had created. He decided, for example, to submit his messages to Congress not by delivering them in person, as Washington and Adams had done, but by sending them in writing, thus avoiding even the semblance of attempting to dictate to the legislature. (The precedent he established survived for more than a century, until the administration of Woodrow Wilson.) At the same time, however, Jefferson worked hard to exert influence as the leader of his party, giving direction to Republicans in Congress by quiet and sometimes even devious means.

To his cabinet he appointed members of his own party who shared his philosophy. His secretary of state was James Madison, a long-time friend and neighbor in Virginia whose collaboration with the president throughout Jefferson's administration was so close that it was often difficult to tell who was more responsible for government policy. Secretary of the treasury was Albert Gallatin, a Swiss-born politician with a French accent who, despite a financial expertise that made him the rival of Hamilton, was a staunch opponent of Federalist policies. He had, for example, once acted as the lawyer defending the tax-resisting western Pennsylvania farmers who were engaged in the Whiskey Rebellion.

Although the Republicans had objected strenuously to the efforts of their Federalist predecessors to build a network of influence through patronage, Jefferson too used his powers of appointment as an effective political weapon. Like Washington before him, he believed that federal offices should be filled with men loyal to the principles and policies of the administration. True, he did not attempt a sudden and drastic removal of Federalist officeholders, possibly because of assurances to the contrary that had been given in his name when Federalist votes in Congress were needed to break the tie with Burr. Yet at every convenient opportunity he replaced the holdovers from the Adams administration with his own trusted followers. By the end of his first term about half the government jobs, and by the end of his second term practically all of them, were held by loyal Republicans. The president punished Burr and the Burrites by withholding patronage from them; he never forgave the man whom he believed guilty of plotting to frustrate the intentions of the party and the ambitions of its rightful candidate.

The Twelfth Amendment, added to the Constitution in 1804 before the election of that year, ensured that a tie vote between the presidential and vice-presidential candidates of the same party could not occur again. The amendment recognized by implication the function of political parties; it stipulated that the electors should vote for president and vice president as separate and distinct candidates. Burr had no chance to run on the ticket with Jefferson a second time. In place of Burr, the congressional caucus of Republicans nominated his New York factional foe, George Clinton. The Federalist presidential nominee, Charles C. Pinckney, fared poorly against the popular Jefferson, who carried even the New England states (except Connecticut) and was reelected by the overwhelming electoral majority of 162 to 14. The Republican membership of both houses of Congress increased.

Jefferson's popularity faded during his second term, and he had to deal with a revolt within the party ranks. His brilliant but erratic relative John Randolph of Roanoke, the House leader, turned against him, accusing him of acting like a Federalist instead of a states' rights Republican. Randolph mustered a handful of anti-Jefferson factionalists, who called themselves "Quids." Randolph's most importance grievance stemmed from a controversy over Western land claims. The Georgia legislature, before ceding its territorial rights to the federal government, had made and then canceled a grant of millions of acres along the Mississippi to the Yazoo Land Companies. The fate of the so-called Yazoo claims remained a subject of debate for years. Jefferson favored a compromise settlement that would have satisfied both the state of Georgia and the Yazoo investors, many of whom were Northern Republicans whose support he needed. But Randolph insisted that the company's claims were fraudulent and charged the president with complicity in corruption. A number of members of Congress were investors in the land companies or supporters of their claims, and time and again the tall, skinny Virginian would point his bony finger at one or another of these men and shriek contemptuously, "Yazoo!" He prevented the government from making any settlement of the question until both he and Jefferson were out of office.

Dollars and Ships

Despite Jefferson's use of forceful political methods, his administration did move far toward dismantling the federal power structure that the Federalists had attempted to erect. Under Washington and Adams, the Republicans believed, the government had been needlessly extravagant. Yearly federal expenditures had nearly tripled between 1793 and 1800. The public debt had also risen, as Hamilton had intended. And an extensive system of internal taxation, including the hated whiskey excise tax, had been erected.

The Jefferson administration moved deliberately to reverse the trend. In 1802, it persuaded Congress to abolish all internal taxes, leaving customs duties and the sale of Western lands as the only source of revenue for the government. At the same time, Secretary of the Treasury Gallatin carried out a plan for drastic retrenchment in government spending, scrimping as much as possible on expenditures for the normal operations of government, cutting the already small staffs of the executive departments to minuscule levels. Although Jefferson was unable entirely to retire the national debt as he had hoped, he did cut it almost in half (from $83 million to $45 million).

Jefferson also effected a "chaste reformation" of the armed forces. The tiny army of 4,000 men he reduced to 2,500. The navy he pared down from twenty-five ships in commission to seven, cutting the number of officers and sailors accordingly. Anything but the smallest of standing armies, he argued, might menace civil liberties and civilian control of government. And a large navy, he feared, might be misused to promote overseas commerce, which Jefferson believed should remain secondary to agriculture.

Yet despite his claims that "Peace is our passion," Jefferson was not a pacifist. At the same time that he was reducing the size of the army and navy, he was helping to establish the United States Military Academy at West Point, founded in 1802. And when trouble began brewing overseas, he began again to build up the fleet.

Such trouble appeared first in the Mediterranean, off the coast of northern Africa. For years the Barbary states of North AfricaMorocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli (now part of Libya)had made piracy a national enterprise. They demanded protection money from all nations whose ships sailed the Mediterranean. Even the ruler of the seas, Great Britain, gave regular contributions to the pirates. (England did not in fact particularly desire to eliminate a racket that hurt its naval rivals and maritime competitors more seriously than itself.) During the 1780s and 1790s the United States agreed to treaties providing for annual tribute to Morocco and the rest, and from time to time the Adams administration ransomed American sailors who had been captured and were being held as slaves. Jefferson was reluctant to continue this policy of appeasement. "Tribute or war is the usual alternative of these Barbary pirates,1' he said. "Why not build a navy and decide on war?"

The decision was not left to Jefferson. In 1801, the pasha of Tripoli, dissatisfied with the American response to his extortionate demands, had the flagpole of the American consulate chopped downhis way of declaring war. Jefferson concluded that, as president, he had a constitutional right to defend the United States without a war declaration by Congress; and he sent a naval squadron to relieve American ships already at the scene. Not until 1803, however, was the fleet strong enough to take effective action, under commodores Edward Preble and Samuel Bar-ron. In 1805, the pasha, by threatening to kill captive Americans, compelled Barron to agree to peace. The agreement ended the payment of tribute to Tripoli by America, but it exacted from the United States a substantial (and humiliating) ransom of $60,000 for the release of the prisoners.

Conflict with the Courts

Having won control of the executive and legislative branches of government, the Republicans looked with suspicion on the judiciary, which remained largely in the hands of Federalist judges. Soon after Jefferson's first inauguration, his followers in Congress launched an attack on this last preserve of the opposition. First, the legislators repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801, thus abolishing the new circuit courts and arranging instead for each of the Supreme Court justices to sit with a district judge on circuit duty. With their energies stretched thin, the Republicans believed, the jurists would be unable to become active or influential foes. Jefferson lacked authority to remove Adams's "midnight appointees" from their newly created jobs; but Congress had achieved the same objective by pulling their benches out from under them, despite Federalist protests that the repeal violated the constitutional provision that judges should hold office for life.

The debate over the Judiciary Act of 1801 led to one of the most important judicial decisions in the history of the nation. Federalists had long maintained that the Supreme Court had the authority to review acts of Congress and to nullify those that were in conflict with the Constitution. Hamilton had argued for such a power in The Federalist Papers (although the Constitution said nothing specifically to support him), and the Court itself had actually exercised the review power in 1796 when it upheld the validity of a law passed by the legislature. But the Court's authority would not be secure, it was clear, until it actually declared a congressional act unconstitutional. In 1803, in the case of Marbury v. Madison, it did so. William Marbury, one of Adams's "midnight appointments," had been named a justice of the peace in the District of Columbia. But his commission, although duly signed and sealed, had not been delivered to him before Adams left office. Madison, who as Jefferson's secretary of state was responsible for transmitting appointments, then refused to hand over the commission. Marbury applied to the Supreme Court for an order (a writ of mandamus) directing Madison to perform his official duty. In a historic ruling, the Court found that Marbury had a right to his commission but that the Court had no authority to order Madison to deliver it. On the surface, therefore, the decision was a victory for the administration. But of far greater importance than the relatively insignificant matter of Marbury's commission was the Court's reasoning in the decision.

The original Judiciary Act of 1789 had given the Court the power to compel executive officials to act in such matters as the delivery of commissions, and it was on that basis that Marbury had filed his suit. But the Court ruled that Congress had exceeded its authority, that the Constitution had defined the powers of the judiciary, and that the legislature had no right to expand them. The relevant section of the 1789 act was, therefore, void. In seeming to deny its own authority, the Court was in fact radically enlarging it. The justices had repudiated a relatively minor power (the power to force the delivery of a commission) by asserting a vastly greater one (the power to nullify an act of Congress). The administration, recognizing the significance of the ruling, was alarmed. But since the Court had shrewdly encased this assertion of its power within a ruling favorable to the government, there was no way for the Republicans to respond.

The chief justice of the United States at the time of the ruling was (as he would remain until 1835) John Marshall, one of the towering figures in the history of American law. A leading Federalist and prominent Virginia lawyer, he had served John Adams as secretary of state. (It had been Marshall, ironically, who had neglected to deliver Marbury's commission in the closing hours of the administration.) In 1801, just before leaving office, Adams had appointed him chief justice; and almost immediately Marshall established himself as the dominant figure on the Court, shaping virtually all its most important rulingsincluding, of course, Marbury v. Madison. Marshall had served with George Washington's army at Valley Forge during the Revolution, and he retained from the experience a vivid impression of a weak, divided, and inefficient government. Through a succession of Republican presidents, he battled to give the federal government unity and strength. And in so doing, he established the judiciary as a coequal branch of government with the executive and the legislaturea position that the founders of the republic had never clearly indicated it should occupy.

Jefferson recognized the threat that an assertive judiciary could pose to his policies, and even while the Marbury case was still pending he was preparing for a renewed assault on the last Federalist stronghold. If he could not remove the judges he considered obnoxious directly, perhaps he could do so indirectly through the process of impeachment. According to the Constitution, the House of Representatives was empowered to bring impeachment charges against any civil officer for "high crimes and misdemeanors," and the Senate sitting as a court was authorized to try the officer on the charges. Jefferson sent evidence to the House to show that one of the district judges, John Pickering of New Hampshire (who was suffering from severe mental illness), was unfit for his position. The House accordingly impeached him, the Senate found him guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, and Pickering was removed from the bench.

Later the Republicans went after bigger game, a justice of the Supreme Court itself. Justice Samuel Chase, a rabidly partisan Federalist, had in the 1790s applied the Sedition Act with what the Republicans considered particular brutality; and he had delivered political speeches from the bench, insulting President Jefferson and denouncing the Jeffersonian doctrine of equal liberty and equal rights. In so doing, Chase was guilty of no high crime or misdemeanor in the constitutional sense, and he was only saying what thousands of Federalists believed. Some Republicans concluded, however, that impeachment should not be viewed merely as a criminal proceeding and that a judge could properly be impeached for political reasonsfor obstructing the other branches of the government and disregarding the will of the people.

At Jefferson's own suggestion, the House of Representatives set up a committee to investigate Chase's conduct. Impeached on the basis of the committee's findings, the justice was brought to trial before the Senate early in 1805. Jefferson did his best to secure a conviction, even temporarily cultivating the friendship of Aaron Burr, who as vice president presided over the trial. But Burr performed his duties with aloof impartiality, and John Randolph as the impeachment manager bungled the prosecution. A majority of the senators finally voted for conviction, but not the necessary two-thirds majority. Chase was acquitted.

In one sense, the effort to impeach Chase was helpful to the Republicans despite the failure, for it pressured federal judges as a whole to be more discreet and less partisan in statements from the bench. Federalist jurists had reason to fear that were they to antagonize the Republicans and the public too greatly, future impeachment efforts might succeed. But in a larger sense, the Republican assault on the judiciary was a failure. Marshall remained secure in his position as chief justice. The duel between the Court and the president continued. And the judiciary survived as a powerful force within the governmentmore often than not on behalf of the centralizing, expansionary policies that the Republicans had been trying to reverse.

Doubling the National Domain

In the same year that Jefferson was elected president of the United States, Napoleon Bonaparte made himself ruler of France with the title of first consul; and in the year that Jefferson was reelected, Napoleon assumed the name and authority of emperor. The two men had little in common. Yet for a time they were of great assistance to each other in international politicsuntil Napoleon's ambitions moved from Europe to America and created conflict and estrangement.

Jefferson and Napoleon

Napoleon failed in a grandiose plan to seize India from the British Empire (although he succeeded in the conquest of Italy), and his imperial ambitions began to seek a new target. France, he recalled, had once possessed a vast empire in North America; and he began to dream of extending French power into the New World once again. The French possessions east of the Mississippi had been ceded to Great Britain in 1763 and were now, for the most part, incorporated within the United States. Those territories were lost to France forever. But the lands west of the Mississippi France had ceded to Spain, now a relatively weak neighbor; and those, Napoleon believed, could be recovered. In 1800 (on the day after the French agreed to the settlement with the United States, ending the quasi war), Napoleon reached a secret agreement with Spain (the treaty of San Ildefenso) to reacquire these North American possessions. Thus France once again held title to Louisiana, which included almost the whole of the Mississippi Valley to the west of the river, plus New Orleans to the east of the river near its mouth. Napoleon hoped that Louisiana would form the continental heartland of his proposed North American empire.

Other essential parts of his empire-to-be were the sugar-rich and strategically valuable West Indian islands that still belonged to FranceGuadeloupe, Martinique, and above all Santo Domingo. Plans for the islands were threatened, however, by unrest among the Caribbean slaves. Blacks in Santo Domingo had been inspired by the French Revolution to rise in revolt and create a republic of their own, under the remarkable black leader, Toussaint L'Ouverture. Taking advantage of a truce in his war with England, Napoleon sent to the West Indies an army led by his brother-in-law Charles Leclerc, which crushed the insurrection and restored French authority.

Jefferson was for a time unaware of Napoleon's imperial ambitions in America, and he pursued a foreign policy that reflected his well-known admiration for France. He appointed as the American minister to Paris the ardently pro-French Robert R. Livingston. Continuing the peace policy of Adams, he worked to secure ratification of the Franco-American settlement of 1800 and began observing the terms of the treaty even before it was ratified. The Adams administration had joined with the British in recognizing and supporting the rebel regime of Toussaint in Santo Domingo; Jefferson assured the French minister in Washington that the American people, especially those of the slaveholding states, did not approve of the black revolutionary, who was setting a bad example for their own slaves. He even implied that the United States might join with France in putting down the rebellion (although nothing ever came of the suggestion) .

Jefferson began to reappraise the whole subject of American relations with France when he heard rumors of the secret retrocession of Louisiana. "It completely reverses all the political relations of the U.S.," he wrote to Minister Livingston on April 18, 1802. Always before, America had looked to France as its "natural friend." But there was on the earth "one single spot" the possessor of which was "our natural and habitual enemy." That spot was New Orleans, the outlet through which the produce of the fast-growing Western regions of the United States was shipped to the markets of the world. If France should actually take and hold New Orleans, Jefferson said, then "we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation."

Jefferson was even more alarmed when, in the fall of 1802, he learned that the Spanish intendant at New Orleans (who still governed the city, since the French had not yet taken formal possession of the region) announced a disturbing new regulation. American shippers servicing the Mississippi River had for many years been accustomed to depositing their cargoes in New Orleans for transfer to ocean-going vessels. The intendant now forbade the practice, even though Spain had guaranteed Americans that right in the Pinckney Treaty of 1795. Without such a right, the lower Mississippi would be effectively closed to American shippers.

Westerners suspected that Napoleon himself had ordered the closing of the river for sinister purposes of his own, and they demanded that something be done to reopen it. Some of the more extreme among them clamored for war with France; and they were joined in that clamor by the Federalists of the Northeast, who were not greatly concerned about the specific problems of the Westerners but who believed that by encouraging Western discontent they could embarrass the Jefferson administration. The president faced a dilemma. If he yielded to the frontier clamor and sought satisfaction through force, he would run the risk of a major war with France. If, on the other hand, he ignored the Westerners' demands, he might lose their political support.

Jefferson, however, saw another way out of the dilemma: the purchase of New Orleans from Napoleon. Jefferson was not particularly interested in acquiring the lands of Louisiana to the west of the Mississippi. But he was eager to acquire the vital port city; and almost as soon as he heard the rumors of Napoleon's reacquisition of the Louisiana Territory, he instructed Livingston in Paris to negotiate for the purchase of New Orleans. Livingston on his own authority suggested to the French that they might be glad to be rid of the upper part of Louisiana as well. Jefferson also persuaded Congress to appropriate funds for an expansion of the army and the construction of a river fleet, and he allowed the impression to emerge that American forces, despite his own desire for peace, might soon descend on New Orleans. At the same time, he dispatched a special envoy to work with Livingston in Paris: James Monroe, who had served as minister to France in the 1790s and was well remembered there, and who was popular among Westerners in the United States. Jefferson told Monroe that if he and Livingston could not reach satisfactory terms with the French, they should cross the Channel and begin discussions with the British government. No one ever had a chance to determine whether Jefferson was serious in his hints of an attack on New Orleans and an alliance with Great Britain or whether he was merely attempting to put pressure on the French. Because even before Monroe arrived in Paris, Napoleon suddenly decided to dispose of the entire Louisiana Territory.

Startling though this decision seemed to some of his advisers, Napoleon had good reasons for it. His plans for an American empire had already gone seriously awry, partly because of misfortunes best described in two wordsmosquitoes and ice. Mosquitoes had brought yellow fever and death to General Leclerc and to thousands of the soldiers whom Napoleon had sent to reconquer Santo Domingo. Ice had locked in a Dutch harbor earlier than anticipated in the winter of 1802. That had delayed the departure of an expeditionary force that Napoleon wished to send to reinforce Leclerc's army and take possession of Louisiana. When the harbor thawed in the spring of 1803, it was too late to send the fleet to America. By then, Napoleon was preparing for a renewed war in Europe and feared that he would not be able to hold Louisiana if the British, with their superior naval power, should attempt to take it. He also realized that, quite apart from the British threat, there was danger from the United States itself. It would be virtually impossible to prevent the Americans, who were pushing steadily into the Mississippi Valley, from overrunning Louisiana sooner or later.

The Louisiana Purchase

Napoleon left the negotiations over Louisiana to his finance minister, Barbe-Marbois, rather than his foreign minister, Talleyrand (since Talleyrand was remembered and distrusted in America for the XYZ Affair). Barbe-Marbois had lived for some time in the United States and had married an American woman; the delegates from the United States considered him trustworthy. Livingston and Monroe had to decide first whether they should even consider making a treaty for the purchase of the entire Louisiana Territory, since they had not been authorized by their government to do so. But they were reluctant to wait for new instructions from home; they feared Napoleon might withdraw his offer as suddenly as he had made it. And so, aware that Jefferson could always reject any treaty they negotiated, they decided to proceed. After some haggling over the priceBarbe-Marbois asked and got somewhat more than Napoleon's minimumLivingston and Monroe signed the agreement on April 30, 1803.

By the terms of the treaty, the United States was to pay a total of 80 million francs ($15 million), directly or indirectly to the French government. The United States was also to grant certain exclusive commercial privileges to France in the port of New Orleans. Moreover, the United States was to incorporate the residents of Louisiana into the Union and grant them as soon as possible the same rights and privileges as other citizensan implication that the new territories would soon be admitted as states. The boundaries were not clearly defined; the treaty simply specificed that Louisiana would occupy the "same extent" as it had when owned by France and Spain. When Livingston and Monroe appealed to Talleyrand for his opinion about the boundary, he merely replied: "You have made a noble bargain for yourselves, and I suppose you will make the most of it."

In Washington, the president was both pleased and embarrassed when he received the treaty. He was glad to get such a "noble bargain"; but according to his oft-repeated views on the Constitution, the United States government lacked authority to accept it. Jefferson had always insisted that the federal government could rightfully exercise only those powers explicitly assigned to it, and nowhere did the Constitution say anything about the acquisition of new territory. But his advisers argued that his treaty-making power under the Constitution would justify the purchase of Louisiana. Finally the president gave in, trusting, as he said, "that the good sense of our country will correct the evil of loose construction when it shall produce ill effects."

Jefferson called Congress into special session. And despite objections to the treaty from a few die-hard Federalists from New England, the Senate promptly gave its consent and the House soon passed the necessary appropriation bill. Spain was then still administering Louisiana; the French had never taken actual possession. Finally, late in 1803, the French assumed formal control of Louisiana just long enough to turn the territory over to General James Wilkinson, the commissioner of the United States and the commander of a small occupation force. In New Orleans, beneath a bright December sun, the recently raised French tricolor was lowered and the American flag raised.

For the time being, the Louisiana Territory was given a semimilitary government with officials appointed by the president; later it was organized on the general pattern of the Northwest Territory, with the assumption that it would be divided into states. The first of these was admitted to the union as the state of Louisiana in 1812.

Exploring the West

Meanwhile, a series of bold explorations were revealing the geography of the far-flung new territory. In 1803, even before Napoleon's offer to sell Louisiana, Jefferson planned an expedition that was to cross the continent to the Pacific Ocean, gather geographical facts, and investigate prospects for trade with the Indians. Congress secretly provided the necessary funds, and Jefferson named as leader of the expedition his private secretary and Virginia neighbor, the thirty-two-year-old Meriwether Lewis, a veteran of Indian wars skilled in the ways of the wilderness. Lewis chose as a colleague the twenty-eight-year-old William Clark, wholike George Rogers Clark, his older brotherwas an experienced frontiersman and Indian fighter.

Lewis and Clark, with a company of four dozen men, set up winter quarters in St. Louis at about the time the United States took formal possession of Louisiana. In the spring of 1804, they started up the Missouri River, and with the Shoshoni woman Sacajawea as their guide, her baby on her back, they eventually crossed the Rocky Mountains, descended the Snake and the Columbia rivers, and in the late autumn of 1805 camped on the Pacific coast. In September 1806, they were back in St. Louis with elaborate records of what they had observed along the way. No longer was the Far West a completely unknown country.

While Lewis and Clark were on their epic journey, Jefferson dispatched other explorers to fill in the picture of the Louisiana Territory. The most important of these was Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike. Then only twenty-six years old, Pike led an expedition in the fall of 1805 from St. Louis up the Mississippi River in search of its source. He did not find it, but he learned a great deal about the upper Mississippi Valley. In the summer of 1806, Pike set out again and proceeded up the valley of the Arkansas river and into what later became Colorado, where he discovered, but failed in his attempt to climb, the peak that now bears his name. His account of his Western travels created an enduring (and inaccurate) impression among most Americans that the land between the Missouri and the Rockies was a desert that farmers could never cultivate and that ought to be left forever to the nomadic Indian tribes.

The Burr Conspiracy

In the long run, the Louisiana Purchase prepared the way for the growth of the United States as a great continental power. At first, however, the purchase provoked reactions that seemed to threaten the very existence of the Union.

Jefferson's triumphant reelection in 1804 suggested that most of the nation approved the new acquisition. But some New England Federalists raged against it. They realized that the more the West grew and the more new states joined the Union, the less power the Federalists and their region would retain. In Massachusetts, a group of the most extreme Federalists, known as the Essex Junto, concluded that the only recourse for New England was to secede from the Union and form a separate "Northern Confederacy." To justify their position, they cited states' rights arguments similar to those Jefferson had used only a few years earlier to justify his call for nullification of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

If a Northern Confederacy was to have any hope for lasting success as a separate nation, the Federalists believed, it would have to include New York and New Jersey as well as New England. But the leading Federalist in New York, Alexander Hamilton, refused to support the secessionist scheme. "Dismemberment of our empire," he wrote, "will be a clear sacrifice of great positive advantages without any counterbalancing good, administering no relief to our real disease, which is democracy." Hamilton feared that disorders like those of the French Revolution were about to sweep over the United States. If so, the country would need a military dictator, an American Napoleon, to bring order out of chaosperhaps Hamilton himself, who by now clearly had no future in electoral politics.

Hamilton opposed the secessionists as well because their plans threatened to strengthen his greatest political rival in New York. Vice President Aaron Burr was another politician without prospects, at least within the party of Thomas Jefferson, who had never forgiven him for his role in the 1800 election deadlock. When Federalists approached Burr and offered him their support if he would run for governor in 1804, he agreed. There were rumors that he had agreed as well to support disunion plans and that he would, if elected, lead the state into secession along with New England. There was no evidence to support such rumors. Hamilton, however, accused Burr of plotting treason and made numerous private remarks, widely reported in the press, about Burr's "despicable" character. When Burr lost the election, he blamed his defeat on Hamilton's malevolence and demanded redress. "These things," he wrote, "must have an end." And he challenged Hamilton to a duel.

Dueling had already fallen into some disrepute in America, but many people still considered it a legitimate institution for settling matters of "honor." Hamilton feared that refusing Burr's challenge would brand him a coward and damage his prospects of future glory. And so, on a July morning in 1804, the two men crossed the Hudson River and met at Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton was mortally wounded; he died the next day.

Burr fled New York to escape an indictment for murder and spent months traveling through the South. He returned to Washington to preside over the United States Senate the following winter and then, at the end of his term as vice president, faced a political outlook more hopeless than ever. He was ambitious, resourceful, and enormously charismatic. But he was largely discredited within the existing political organizations of his country. He was, in short, a man in search of a cause.

He found it, apparently, in the wilderness. Even before his duel with Hamilton, it seems Burr had dreamed of glorious exploits in the unsettled lands of the Southwest. (Hamilton had cherished some of the same ambitions, which may have been another reason for Burr's challenge to him.) Both before and after the duel, he corresponded with prominent men of the region, especially with General James Wilkinson, now governor of the Louisiana Territory.

Burr and Wilkinson hoped, it seems clear, to lead an expedition that would capture Mexico from the Spanish. "Mexico glitters in all our eyes," he wrote; "the word is all we wait for." But there were also rumors that they intended to separate the Southwest from the Union, which Burr would rule as an empire of his own. Historians disagree about Burr's real intentions, but there is little evidence that these rumors were true.

Whether true or not, many of Burr's opponents chose to believe the rumorsincluding, ultimately, Jefferson himself In the fall of 1806, Burr led a group of armed followers down the Ohio River by boat. Disturbing reports of his activities flowed into Washington throughout the winter, the most alarming from Wilkinson, who, having suddenly turned against Burr, informed the president that treason was afoot, that an attack on New Orleans was imminent. Jefferson ordered the arrest of Burr and his men as traitors; eventually Burr was tracked down and brought to Richmond for trial.

Jefferson was not present in Richmond but, determined to secure a conviction, carefully managed the government's case from Washington. The prosecution relied hopefully on its star witness, General Wilkinsona disreputable character who had been in the pay of the Spaniards during the entire affair and had demanded extra money from them on the grounds that in heading off the Burr expedition, he had saved their territory from attack. Despite the administration's efforts to influence the trial, Chief Justice Marshall, presiding over the case on circuit duty, insisted that Burr receive a fair hearingfor both judicial and political reasons.

In the course of the trial, which continued from May through October 1807, Marshall applied literally the constitutional provision that no one shall be convicted of treason except on the testimony of at least two witnesses to the same "overt act." He excluded all evidence not bearing directly on such an act. Thus the jury had little choice but to acquit Burr, since not even one witness had actually seen him waging war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to its enemies. The trial had given the chief justice another chance to frustrate the president. And it had set a precedent that made it almost impossible to convict anyone of treason against the United States.

Burr was free, but his political reputation was permanently destroyed. For several years, he lived in self-imposed exile in Europe. In 1812, he returned to America and established a successful legal practice in New York. He lived long enough to hail the Texas revolution of 1836 as the fruition of the movement to "liberate'1 Mexico that he had tried to launch.

The Burr conspiracy was in part the story of a single man's soaring ambitions and flamboyant personality. But it was also a symbol of the larger perils still facing the new nation. With a central government that remained deliberately weak, with vast tracts of land only nominally controlled by the United States, with ambitious political leaders willing, if necessary, to circumvent normal channels in their search for power, the United States remained an imperfectly realized nation. The legitimacy of the federal government was yet to be fully asserted.


 

 



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