, . " "

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


Chapter 8. Free Seas and Fresh Lands

Two very different conflicts took shape in the early nineteenth century that would, together, draw the United States into a difficult and frustrating war. One was the continuing struggle in Europe (the Napoleonic Wars), which in 1803 escalated once again into a full-scale conflict. At first, the hostilities posed no direct danger to the United States and in many respects worked indirectly to benefit itby enabling Americans to develop a profitable trade with belligerents on both sides. As the fighting continued, however, both the British and the French took steps to prevent the United States from trading with (and thus assisting) the other. And tensions between the Old and New Worlds rapidly grew.

The other conflict was an older one, on the North American continent itself. The ceaseless westward expansion of white settlement was now stretching to the Mississippi River and beyond, colliding once again with a native population committed to protecting its lands from intruders. In both the North and the Sauth, the threatened tribes mobilized themselvesand began building new and effective alliancesto resist white encroachments. And they began as well to forge connections with British forces in Canada and Spanish forces in Florida. The Indian conflict on land, therefore, became intertwined with the European conflict on the seas. Together they drew the United States into war with Great Britainthe War of 1812.

That war was far from a glorious experience for the United States. America drifted into the conflict with Britain gradually, not in response to a single great event that might have galvanized public opinion behind it. And so it provoked wide domestic opposition, especially from those whose economic fortunes were endangered by it. It also produced several humiliating defeats (including the British capture and burning of Washington) and only a few decisive American victories. It ended with a treaty that fell far short of guaranteeing the nation's war aimsa treaty that signaled, at best, a draw.

But the more important war, in the long run, was the conflict with the Indians. And in that, white America won a series of important, indeed decisive, victories. The most important Indian alliance in the West was destroyed. The most effective Indian leader was killed. Large new territories were opened for white settlement, and the way was paved for the ultimate removal of the tribes to the arid lands farther west. White Americans have long considered the conflict with Great Britain the real war. The conflict with the Indians is generally viewed as a minor "police action," or as a secondary aspect of the larger conflict. But the victories over the tribes had far more lasting effects on the nation than the inconclusive struggle with the British.

The war had other effects on the United States as well. It greatly stimulated American nationalism, helping to diminish for a time the tensions between North and South. And it stimulated manufacturing and economic growth, and thus accelerated progress toward industrialization. It was a Republican administration that presided over the War of 1812, and the conflict ultimately became another factor in consigning to oblivion the Jeffersonian vision of a small, decentralized, agrarian nation.

Causes of Conflict

Politicians at the time disagreed sharply over the causes of the War of 1812. Historians have continued to disagree over them ever since. Some have argued that the question of frontier lands and the conflicts with the Indians lay at the heart of the conflict. Others claim that the real issue was freedom of the seas. In fact, the two matters were closely related to each other. The war cannot be understood without considering both.

Neutral Rights

The early nineteenth century saw a dramatic expansion of American shipping in the Atlantic. Britain's naval superiority prevented France and Spain (constantly at war with the English) from carrying on more than a modest ocean trade. But the British merchant marine was preoccupied with commerce in Europe and Asia and devoted little energy to trade with America. Thus the United States stepped effectively into the void and developed one of the most important merchant marines in the world. Year after year, American shippers assumed a larger and larger proportion of the carrying trade between Europe and the West Indies.

In 1805, at the Battle of Trafalgar, a British fleet virtually destroyed what was left of the French navy. Napoleon continued in the following years to extend his domination over the continent of Europe by land; but Britain remained the undisputed master of the seas. And because France could no longer challenge the British navy, Napoleon was powerless to invade the British Isles. He needed, therefore, to find another way to bring England to termsthrough economic, rather than naval, pressure. The result was what he called the Continental System. The British, he reasoned, were a nation of shopkeepers; they depended for their existence on buying and selling in the rest of the world, especially in Europe. If he could close the Continent to their trade, he thought, they ultimately would have to give in. Accordingly, he issued a series of decrees (one in Berlin in 1806 and another in Milan in 1807) barring British ships and neutral ships touching at British ports from landing their cargoes at any European port controlled by France or its allies.

The British government replied to Napoleon's decrees by establishingthrough a series of "orders in council"an unusual blockade of the European coast. The blockade did not keep imported goods out of Napoleon's Europe; it required, rather, that the goods be carried either in British vessels or in neutral vessels stopping at British ports and paying for a special license. The blockade would thus not only frustrate the Continental System but also compel neutral shippers to help England finance its war effort. It would also limit the growth of its maritime rivals, above all the United States.

Caught between Napoleon's Berlin and Milan decrees and Britain's orders in council, American vessels ran a double risk. If they sailed directly for the European continent, they took the chance of being captured by the British navy. If they sailed by way of a British port, they ran the risk of seizure by the French. Both of the warring powers were violating America's rights as a neutral nation. But most Americans considered the British, with their much greater sea power, the worse offender. British ships pounced on Yankee merchantmen all over the wide ocean; the French could do so only in European ports. In particular, British vessels stopped American ships on the high seas and seized sailors off the decks, making them victims of "impressment."


The British navywith its floggings, its low pay, and its dirty and dangerous conditions on shipboard-was a "floating hell" to its sailors. They had to be "impressed" (forced) into the service, and at every good opportunity they deserted. By 1807, many of them had joined the American merchant marine or the American navy. To check this loss of vital manpower, the British claimed the right to stop and search American merchantmen (although not naval vessels) and reimpress deserters. They did not claim the right to take native-born Americans, but they did insist on the right to seize naturalized Americans born on British soil; according to the laws of England, a true-born subject could never give up allegiance to the king. In practice, the British often impressed native as well as naturalized Americans; thousands of sailors claiming the protection of the United States government were thus kidnapped. To these hapless men, impressment was little better than slavery. To their American shipowning employers, it was at least a serious nuisance. And to millions of proud and patriotic Americans, even those living far from the ocean, it was an intolerable affront to the national honor.

In the summer of 1807, the British went to more provocative extremes in an incident involving not an ordinary merchantman, but a vessel of the American navy. Sailing from Norfolk, with several alleged deserters from the British navy among the crew, the American naval frigate Chesapeake was hailed by His Majesty's Ship Leopard, which had been lying in wait off Cape Henry, at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. The American commander, Commodore James Bar-ron, refused to allow the Chesapeake to be searched, so the Leopard opened fire. Barron was unprepared for action and was compelled to surrender. A boarding party from the Leopard dragged four men off the American frigate.

When news of the Chesapeake-Leopard incident reached America, a loud cry arose for a war of revenge. Not since the days of Lexington and Concord had Americans been so strongly aroused. Even the "most temperate people and those most attached to England," the British minister reported home, "say that they are bound as a people and that they must assert their honor on the first attack upon it." If Congress had been in session, the country might have stampeded into war. But, as the French minister in Washington informed Talleyrand, "the president does not want war" and "Mr. Madison [the secretary of state] dreads it now still more."

Instead of calling a special session of Congress and demanding a war declaration, Jefferson made a determined effort to maintain the peace. First, he issued an order expelling all British warships from American waters, to lessen the likelihood of future incidents. Then he sent instructions to his minister in England, James Monroe, to demand from the British government the complete renunciation of impressment. The British government was conciliatoryto a degree. It disavowed the action of Admiral Berkeley, the officer primarily responsible for the Chesapeake-Leopard affair, and recalled him. It offered to compensate the wounded and the families of those killed in the exchange. And it promised to return three of the captured sailors (one of the original four had been hanged). But the British cabinet refused to concede anything to Jefferson's main point; instead, the cabinet issued a proclamation reasserting the right of search to recover deserting seamen.

The impressment issue therefore prevented any permanent settlement of Anglo-American differences. Even after the British completed a financial settlement, the Chesapeake outrage remained an open sore in the relations between the two nations. That incident, and the larger impressment issue it symbolized, was probably the most important single cause of the War of 1812, even though the conflict did not begin for another five years.

"Peaceable Coercion"

Even at the height of the excitement over the Chesapeake, Jefferson made no preparations for war. He and Madison believed that the United States could bring Great Britainand, if necessary, Franceto terms through the use of economic pressure instead of military or naval force. Dependent as both nations were on the Yankee carrying trade, they would presumably mend their ways if threatened with the complete loss of it.

Thus when Congress met for its regular session late in 1807, Jefferson hastily drafted a drastic measure. Madison revised it, and both the House and the Senate, dominated by Republicans, promptly enacted it into law. It was known as the Embargo, and it became one of the most controversial political issues of its time. The Embargo prohibited American ships from leaving the United States for any foreign port anywhere in the world. (If it had specified only British and French ports, Jefferson reasoned, it could have been evaded by means of false clearance papers.) Congress also passed a "force act" to give the government power to enforce the Embargo.

The law was widely evaded, but it was effective enough to have serious repercussionsin France, in Great Britain, and above all in the United States itself. Throughout the nationexcept in the frontier areas of Vermont and New York, which soon doubled their overland exports to Canadathe Embargo created a serious depression. The planters of the South and the farmers of the West, although deprived of foreign markets for their crops, were willing to suffer in comparative silence, devoted Jeffersonian Republicans that most of them were. But the Federalist merchants and shipowners of the Northeast, still harder hit by the depression, made no secret of their rabid discontent.

The Northeastern merchants disliked impressment, disliked the British blockade of the European continent, and disliked Napoleon's Continental System. But they hatedjefferson's Embargo much more. Previously, in spite of the risks from Britain and France, they had managed to keep up their business and had earned excellent profits. Now they lost money every day that their ships idled at the wharves. Again, as at the time of the Louisiana Purchase, they concluded that Jefferson had violated the Constitution and had subverted the original purposes of the republic.

The election of 1808 came in the midst of the Embargo-induced depression. James Madison was safely elected to succeed Jefferson as president; but the Federalist candidate, Charles Pinckney, made the most of the Embargo's unpopularity and won a far larger proportion of the popular and electoral votes than he had in 1804. And although the Republicans continued to hold a majority in Congress, the Federalists gained a number of seats in both the House and the Senate. To Jefferson and Madison, the returns plainly indicated that the Embargo was a growing political liability. A few days before leaving office, Jefferson approved a bill terminating his experiment with what he called "peaceable coercion." But Madison made no basic change in the general policy of attempting to settle differences with Britain through economic rather than military means.

By the time of his inauguration as president, Madison had already ensured himself immortality in his nation's history by his role in the founding of the republic. Now he was faced with preserving it in the face of its greatest threat since the Revolution. He was a stark contrast to his friend and predecessor, Thomas Jefferson. Small, wizened, with a scholarly frown that seemed perpetual, he had little personal charm and few political skills. His greatest political asset may have been his wife, Dolly, a native of North Carolina and a gracious, energetic, and popular woman. John C. Calhoun wrote of Madison at the time: "Our President tho a man of amiable manners and great talents has not I fear those commanding talents which are necessary to control those about him." Madison's presidency was marked, therefore, by frustration and contention. His diplomatic efforts to resolve the disputes with Europe came to naught; his preparations for war were inadequate; his administration was in constant confusion.

Just before Madison's inauguration, Congress passed a modified Embargo bill known as the Non-Intercourse Act, which reopened trade with all nations but Great Britain and France. A year later, in 1810, the Non-Intercourse Act expired and was replaced by another expedient, commonly called Macon's Bill No. 2. This measure reopened free commercial relations with the whole world, including Great Britain and France, but authorized the president to prohibit intercourse with either belligerent if it should continue its violations after the other had stopped. Napoleon had every incentive to induce the United States to reimpose the Embargo against his enemy; and so he issued a proclamation, the Cadore letter, which announced that France would no longer interfere with American shipping. The Cadore letter was, in fact, nothing but a diplomatic trick; the French continued to confiscate American ships. But Madison fell for Napoleon's bait and announced that an embargo against Great Britain alone would automatically go into effect early in 1811, in accordance with Macon's Bill, unless Britain renounced its restrictions on American shipping.

In time, the new Embargo, although less well enforced than the earlier, all-inclusive one had been, hurt the economy of England enough that the government repealed its blockade of Europe. The repeal would have been too late to prevent war even if the blockade had been the only grievance of the United States. But there were other grievancesnot just impressment, but the role of the British in the continuing conflicts with Indian tribes along America's Western frontier.

The "Indian Problem" and the British

Given the ruthlessness with which white settlers had dislodged Indian tribes to make room for expanding settlement, it was hardly surprising that ever since the Revolution most Indians had continued to look to Englandwhich had historically attempted to limit

Western expansionfor protection. The British in Canada, for their part, had relied on Indian friendship to keep up their fur trade, even within the territory of the United States, and to maintain potentially useful allies. At one point, in 1794, America had nearly gone to war with Great Britain because of its Indian policy; but Anthony Wayne's victory over the tribes at Fallen Timbers and the conclusion of Jay's Treaty dispelled the danger and brought on a period of comparative peace. Then, in 1807, the border quiet was disturbed by an event occurring far awaythe British assault on the Chesapeake. The ensuing war crisis greatly aggravated the frontier conflict between Indians and settlersa conflict that elevated to prominence two important (and very different) leaders: William Henry Harrison and Tecumseh.

In 1799 the Virginia-born Harrison, already at twenty-six years of age a veteran Indian fighter, went to Washington as the congressional delegate from the Northwest Territory. He was a committed advocate of growth and development in the Western lands, and he was largely responsible for the passage in 1800 of the so-called Harrison Land Law, which enabled settlers to acquire farms from the public domain on much easier terms than before. Land in the Northwest Territory soon was selling fast. The growth of population led to a division of the area into the state of Ohio and the territories of Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois. By 1812, Ohio contained 250,000 people and was beginning to resemble an Eastern state. Paths had widened into roads; villages had sprung up and had in some cases grown into cities; and the forests had receded before the spreading cornfields. Michigan still had few settlers in 1812; but Illinois contained a scattered population of about 13,000, and Indiana 25,000. Harrison's vision of the rapid expansion of white settlement westward was well on its way to realization.

In 1801, Jefferson appointed Harrison governor of Indiana Territory; and in that capacity, Harrison devoted himself to carrying out the president's now clearly defined approach to the "Indian problem." Jefferson offered the Indians a stark choice: they could convert themselves into settled farmers and become part of white society or they could migrate west of the Mississippi. In either case, they would have to give up their claims to their tribal lands in the Northwest. Harrison went about enforcing this policy with cold-blooded efficiency and with little regard for propriety. He played off one tribe against another, and he used whatever tactics he felt suited the occasion. Through threats, bribes, and trickery, he concluded treaty after treaty with the separate tribes of the Northwest. By 1807, the United States claimed treaty rights to eastern Michigan, southern Indiana, and most of Illinois. Meanwhile, in the Southwest, white Americans were taking millions of acres from other tribes in the states of Georgia and Tennessee and in Mississippi Territory. Having been forced off their traditional hunting grounds, the Indians throughout the Mississippi Valley seethed with discontent. But the separate tribes were helpless by themselves against the power of the United States. They might have passively accepted their fate if two complicating factors had not arisen.

One complication was the policy of the British authorities in Canada. For years they had neglected their Indian friends across the border to the south. Then came the Chesapeake incident and the surge of anti-British feeling throughout the United States. Now the British colonial authorities, expecting an American invasion of Canada, began to take desperate measures for their own defense. "Are the Indians to be employed in case of a rupture with the United States?" asked the lieutenant governor of upper Canada in a letter of December 1, 1807, to Sir James Craig, governor general of the entire province. The governor replied: "If we do not employ them, there cannot exist a moment's doubt that they will be employed against us." Craig at once took steps to renew friendship with the Indians and provide them with increased supplies. Thus the trouble on the sea over the question of impressment intensified the border conflict hundreds of miles inland.

Tecumseh and the Prophet

The second factor intensifying this conflict was the rise of a remarkable native leader, one of the most heroic in Indian history. Tecumseh, "The Shooting Star," chief of the Shawnees, understood, as few other Indian leaders had, that only through united action could the tribes hope to resist the steady advance of white civilization. Tecumseh set out to unite all the tribes of the Mississippi Valley, north and south. Together, he promised, they would halt white expansion, recover the whole Northwest, and make the Ohio River the boundary between the United States and the Indian country. He maintained that Harrison and others, by negotiating treaties with individual tribes, had obtained no real title to land. The land belonged to all the tribes; none of them could rightfully cede any of it without the consent of the others. "The Great Spirit gave this great island to his red children. He placed the whites on the other side of the big water," Tecumseh told Harrison. "They were not contented with their own, but came to take ours from us. They have driven us from the sea to the lakeswe can go no farther."

In his plans for united resistance, Tecumseh had the important assistance of his brother Tenskwatawa, a charismatic orator known as the Prophet. The Prophet had experienced a mystical awakening in the process of recovering from alcoholism. And having freed himself from the evil effects of white culture, he began to speak to his people of the superior virtues of Indian civilization and the sinfulness and corruption of the white world. In the process, he helped inspire a religious revival that spread through numerous tribes and helped unite them. The Prophet increased his influence, and convinced his followers of his supernatural powers, when he commanded the sun to be dark on the day of a solar eclipse. (He had learned of the eclipse in advance from Canadian traders.)

The Prophet's town, at the confluence of Tip-pecanoe Creek and the Wabash River, became the sacred place of the new religion as well as the headquarters of Tecumseh's confederacy. In 1811, Tecumseh left the settlement in the hands of his brother and traveled down the Mississippi to visit the tribes of the South and persuade them to join his alliance. At about the same time, a great earthquake with its center at New Madrid, Missourirumbled up and down the Mississippi Valley, causing much of the river to change its course. Many Indians saw this phenomenon as another sign that a new era was at hand.

During Tecumseh's absence, Governor Harrison saw a chance to destroy the growing influence of the two Indian leaders. With 1,000 soldiers he camped near the Prophet's town; and on November 7, 1811, he provoked an armed conflict. Although the white forces suffered losses as heavy as those of the natives, Harrison succeeded in driving off the Indians and burning the town. The Battle of Tippecanoe disillusioned many of the Prophet's followers, for they had come to believe that his magic would protect them from the white man's bullets. Tecumseh returned to find his confederacy in disarray. But there were still many warriors eager for combat, and by the spring of 1812 they were busy all along the frontier, from Michigan to Mississippi, raiding the white settlements and terrifying the white settlers.

The bloodshed along the frontier was largely at the hands of the Indians, but Britain's agents in Canada had encouraged Tecumseh (used the Prophet as a "vile instrument," as Harrison put it) and had provided the guns and supplies that enabled the Indians to do battle. To Harrison and to most of the frontiersmen, there seemed only one way to make the West safe for Americans. That was to drive the British out of Canada and annex that province to the United Statesa goal that many Westerners had long cherished for other reasons as well.

The Lure of Florida

While frontiersmen in the North demanded the conquest of Canada, those in the South looked to the acquisition of Florida (an expanse of land including not only the present state of Florida, but the southern areas of what are now Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana as well). Spanish possession of that territory created perpetual nuisances. Slaves escaped from the United States south across the Florida border, and Indians in Florida launched frequent raids north into white settlements along the border. But white Southerners coveted Florida for other reasons as well, for without it they had no direct access to the Gulf of Mexico. Through the territory ran such rivers as the Alabama, the Apalachicola, and others that could provide residents of the Southwest with access to valuable ports on the Gulf. In 1810, American settlers in West Florida (the area presently part of Mississippi and Louisiana) took matters into their own hands. They seized the Spanish fort at Baton Rouge, and they sent a request to the federal government that the territory be annexed to the United States. President Madison unhesitatingly proclaimed its annexation and then began scheming to get the rest of Florida too. With Madison's connivance, George Mathews, a former governor of Georgia, attempted in 1811 to foment a revolt in East Florida. Spain protested, and Madison backed down; but the desire of Southern frontiersmen for all of Florida did not abate. That desire became yet another motivation for war with Britain. Spain was Britain's ally, and a war would give these frontiersmen an excuse for taking Spanish as well as British territory.

By 1812, therefore, war fever was raging on both the northern and southern frontiers. The white residents of these outlying regions were not numerous in comparison with the population of the country as a whole. For the most part, moreover, they were represented in Congress by only a few, nonvoting territorial delegates. Their demands, however, found substantial support in Washington among a group of determined young congressmen who soon earned the name of "war hawks."

The War Hawks

Three days before the Battle of Tippecanoe, a new Congress met in Washington for the session of 1811-1812. In the congressional elections of 1810, voters had indicated their impatience with the temporizing measures of both Republicans and Federalists by electing a large number of representatives eager for war with Britain. A new generation had arrived on the political sceneaggressive and impatient young men, the most influential of whom came from the new states in the West or from the back country of the old states in the South.

Two of their natural leaders, both recently elected to the House of Representatives, were Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, men who would loom large in American politics for the next four decades. The tall, magnetic Clay, barely thirty-four when he arrived in Washington in 1811, was a Virginian by birth but had made Kentucky his home. He had already served briefly in the United States Senate in 1806 and 1807. Calhoun was only twenty-nine years old, the son of Scotch-Irish pioneers in the South Carolina hills. He was as striking in appearance as Clay but lacked the Kentuckian's personal magnetism. Calhoun's great strength was his powerful intellect and his equally powerful ambition.

When Congress organized itself in 1811, the war faction of young Republicans won control of both the House and the Senate. Clay was elected Speaker of the House, a position of influence then second only to that of the president, and he filled the committees with those who believed as he did in the necessity of preparing for war. He appointed Calhoun to the crucial Committee on Foreign Affairs, and he began agitating immediately for the conquest of Canada. Madison, who still hoped to maintain the peace, was losing control of his government.

The War of 1812

For a time, Great Britain was eager to avoid an open conflict with the United States. Preoccupied with the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, it hoped to avoid a distracting conflict in America. And so, in 1812, the British attempted to conciliate the United States. In an effort to restore peaceful commerce with America, the British moved on June 16, 1812, to remove their restrictions on American shipping in the Atlantic. But they acted too late. On June 14, 1812, the United States had declared war.

Even then, however, the British were unable to devote much attention (or many resources) to the American conflict. But in the fall of 1812, the course of battleand of European historychanged. Napoleon launched a catastrophic campaign against Russia; before the winter was over his army was in disarray, his power in Europe was greatly diminished, and his empire was well on the way to its final defeat. With the threat from France diminishing,

Britain was able by late 1813 to turn its military attention to America.

The Course of Battle

Thomas Jefferson believed that an American conquest of Canada, which so many Westerners were by 1812 demanding, would be a "mere matter of marching." It was not. American forces tried repeatedly to conquer the British territories to the north; all such efforts ended in frustration. In the summer of 1812, the elderly General William Hull, governor of Michigan Territory, led American forces into Canada by way of Detroit, as part of a planned three-pronged invasion. He was soon forced to retreat to Detroit, and in August he surrendered the fort there. Other invasion efforts also failed and Fort Dearborn (Chicago) fell before an Indian attack.

In the face of these disasters and defeats on land, the Madison administration and its supporters took what consolation they could from the news of American successes on the sea. American frigates engaged British warships in a series of duels and won some spectacular victories, one of the most renowned being the victory of the Constitution over the Guerriere. American privateers destroyed or captured one British merchant ship after another, occasionally braving the coastal waters of the British Isles and burning vessels within sight of the shore. But these acts of bravado soon provoked an angry and effective British counterattack. By 1813, the British navy was driving the American frigates to cover and imposing a close blockade on the United States.

While British sea power dominated the ocean, American fleets seized control of the Great Lakes. First, the Americans took command of Lake Ontario, enabling troops to cross over to York (Toronto), the capital of Canada. At York, on April 27, 1813, the invaders ran upon a cunningly contrived land mine, the explosion of which killed more than fifty, including General Zebulon M. Pike. Some of the enraged survivors, without authorization, set fire to the capital's public buildings, which burned to the ground After destroying some ships and military stores, the Americans departed to their own lands across the lake.

American forces next seized control of Lake Erie, mainly through the work of the youthful Oliver Hazard Perry. Having constructed a fleet at Presque Isle (Erie, Pennsylvania), Perry took up a position at Put-in Bay, near a group of islands off the mouth of the Maumee River. With the banner "Don't Give Up the Ship" flying on his flagship, he awaited the British fleet, whose intentions he had learned from a spy. When the fleet arrived on September 10, 1813, he dispersed it and established American dominance of the lake.

This made possible, at last, an American invasion of Canada by way of Detroit. The post had been hard to reach overland; but after Perry's victory at Put-in Bay, supplies as well as men could be quickly and easily transported by water. William Henry Harrison, who had replaced Hull in the Western command, now pushed up the river Thames into upper Canada and on October 5, 1813, won a victory chiefly notable for the death of Tecumseh, who had been commissioned a brigadier general in the British army. The Battle of the Thames resulted in no lasting occupation of Canada, but it weakened and disheartened the Indians of the Northwest and greatly diminished their ability to defend their claims to the region.

While Harrison was harrying the tribes of the Northwest, another Indian fighter was striking an even harder blow at the Creeks in the Southwest. The Creeks, aroused by Tecumseh on his Southern visit and supplied by the Spaniards in Florida, had fallen upon Fort Mims, on the Alabama River just north of the Florida border and had massacred the frontier families taking shelter within its stockade. Andrew Jackson, a wealthy Tennessee planter and a general in the state's militia, temporarily abandoned plans for an invasion of Florida and set off in pursuit of the Creeks instead. On March 27, 1814, in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Jackson's men took frightful vengeance on the Indians slaughtering women and children along with warriors. Jackson's victory broke the resistance of the Creeks; the tribe agreed to cede most of its lands to the United States and retreated westward, farther into the interior. The battle also won Jackson a commission as major general in the United States Army, and in that capacity he led his men further south into Florida and, on November 7, 1814, seized the Spanish fort at Pensacola.

Until 1814, the British had committed few forces of their own to the struggle on land and had restricted themselves largely to aiding the Indians. But after the Battles of the Thames and Horseshoe Bend, the Indians were no longer a major factor in the conflict, and the British approach to the war now shifted. The surrender of Napoleon made it possible for England to transfer part of its European army to America to dispose of what they called the "dirty shirts," the unkempt Americans. And so in 1814, the British prepared to invade the United States from three approachesChesapeake Bay, Lake Champlain, and the mouth of the Mississippi.

An armada under Admiral Sir George Cockburn sailed up the Patuxent River from Chesapeake Bay and landed an army that marched a short distance overland to Bladensburg, on the outskirts of Washington. A much more numerous force of American militiamen opposed the British, but they had been hastily assembled and poorly trained. Unnerved by the repeated assaults of the well-disciplined redcoats, they finally broke formation and ran. The British marched into Washington on August 24, 1814, and put the government to flight. Then they set fire to the public buildings, including the White House, in retaliation for the earlier American burning of the Canadian capital at York. The sack of Washington marked the low point of American fortunes in the war.

Leaving Washington in partial ruins, the invading army proceeded up the bay toward Baltimore. But Baltimore, guarded by Fort McHenry, was ready. To block the river approach, the garrison had stretched a chain across the Patapsco and had sunk several boats in the river, forcing the British to bombard the fort from a distance. Through the night of September 13, Francis Scott Key (a Washington lawyer who was on board one of the British ships on a mission to secure the release of an American prisoner) watched the bombardment. The next morning, "by the dawn's early light," he could see the flag on the fort still flying; he recorded his pride in the moment by scribbling a poem"The Star-Spangled Banner"on the back of an envelope. The British withdrew from Baltimore. Key's words were set to the tune of an old English drinking song and established lasting fame as an American patriotic anthem. (In 1931, it became the official national anthem.)

Meanwhile, another British invasion force was descending on northern New York. The British navy had gathered a fleet on Lake Champlain about the size of the American fleet drawn up in opposition; and they had an army nearby three times as large as the mixed force of American regulars and militia facing it. Despite the odds, however, the American defenders destroyed the invading fleet; the British army then retreated to Canada. This important victorythe Battle of Plattsburgh, on September 11, 1814secured the northern border of the United States.

Far to the south, the most serious threat of all soon materialized. In December 1814, a formidable array of battle-hardened British veterans, fresh from the duke of Wellington's peninsular campaign against the French in Spain, landed below New Orleans. On Christmas Day, Wellington's brother-in-law, Sir Edward Pakenham, arrived to take command. (Neither he nor anyone else in America knew that a treaty of peace between the British and American governments had been signed in faraway Belgium the day before.) Awaiting Pakenham's advance up the Mississippi was Andrew Jackson with a motley collection of Tennesseans, Kentuckians, Creoles, blacks, and pirates drawn up behind earthen breastworks. On January 8, 1815, the redcoats advanced on the American fortifications. For all their discipline and bravery, the exposed British forces were no match for Jackson's well-protected men. After the Americans had repulsed several waves of attackers, the British finally retreated, while an American band struck up "Hail, Columbia!" Left behind were 700 British dead, including Pakenham himself, 1,400 wounded, and 500 other prisoners. Jackson's losses: 8 killed, 13 wounded.

The Revolt of New England

With a few notable exceptions, such as the Battle of New Orleans, the military operations of the United States between 1812 and 1815 consisted of a series of bungled, humiliating failures. In retrospect, these frustrations seem unsurprising. The American government was woefully unprepared for the war at the outset, and it faced increasing popular opposition as the contest dragged on. In some areas, in fact, the opposition went to such extremes that it became almost a part of the British war effort. That was nowhere more true than in New England, where some Federalists celebrated British victories, deliberately sabotaged their own country's war effort, and even plotted disunion and a separate peace. Once again, the Federalistswho were beginning to regain some of their political strength because of dissatisfaction with Madison's handling of the wardestroyed their own prospects through extremism.

Until 1814, the British blockade of the American coast did not extend north of Newport, Rhode Island. The British government was deliberately cultivating the New England trade, and the merchants of New England happily responded. Goods carried in Yankee ships helped to feed British troops in Canada as well as in Spain, and for a time many New England shipowners grew rich by trading with the enemy while denouncing Madison and the war (although eventually the business of the shipowners as a whole fell far below the level of the prosperous prewar years).

Although most of the money in the nation was concentrated in New England, the government was unable to sell more than a very few war bonds there. One Treasury bond issue, desperately needed to keep soldiers in the field, almost fell through because of the refusal of the New England banks to make loans. Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin had to turn to his friend John Jacob Astor of New York and to two foreign-born bankers of Philadelphia for the necessary funds.

In Congress, the Republicans had continual trouble with the Federalist opposition. John C.Calhoun, leader of the administration forces, faced New England obstructionists in every effort to win approval of measures in support of the war. Foremost among the obstructionists was a young congressman from New Hampshire, Daniel Webster. Introducing resolution after resolution to embarrass the administration, Webster demanded to know the reasons for the war and intimated (correctly) that Napoleon had tricked the president into antagonizing England. Every measure to finance the fightingby loans, taxes, tariffs, or a national bankWebster and his Federalist allies vehemently denounced. At a time when voluntary enlistments were lagging and the army was seriously undermanned, he opposed a bill to encourage enlistments. In desperation, the administration proposed to draft men into the regular army from the state militias. (On several occasions, the governors of New England states had refused to allow their state militias to take orders from the president or to fight outside the country.) Webster declared that no such law could be enforced in his part of the country and thus helped doom the conscription bill to defeat.

As new states in the South and West, all strongly Republican, had joined the Union, the Federalists had become more and more hopelessly a minority party in the country as a whole. But they were still the majority party in New England. And some of them began to dream of creating a separate nation in that region, which they could dominate and in which they could escape the dictation of slaveholders and backwoodsmen. The talk of secession, heard before at the time of the Louisiana Purchase and again at the time of Jefferson's Embargo, revived during the war and reached a climax in the winter of 18141815, when the republic appeared to be on the verge of ruin.

On December 15, 1814, while the British were beginning their invasion by way of New Orleans, delegates from the New England states met in Hartford, Connecticut, to consider the grievances of their section against the Madison administration. The would-be seceders were overruled by the comparatively moderate men, who were in the overwhelming majority at the Hartford Convention. The convention's report reasserted the right of nullification but only hinted at secession, observing that "the severance of the Union by one or more States, against the will of the rest, and especially in time of war, can be justified only by absolute necessity." But the report proposed seven amendments to the Constitution (presumably as the condition of New England's remaining in the Union)amendments designed to protect New England from the growing influence of the South and the West.

The Federalists believed they were in a strong bargaining position. The war was going badly, and the government was becoming desperate. The New Englanders assumed, therefore, that the Republicans would have to give in to the Hartford Convention terms. Soon after the convention adjourned, however, the news of Jackson's smashing victory at New Orleans reached the cities of the Northeast. While most Americans rejoiced, the Federalists were plunged into gloom. A day or two later, reports arrived from abroad of a treaty of peace. The treaty, of course, had been signed before the Battle of New Orleans. But the publicwhich first heard the news of the battle and then the news of the treatyreceived the impression that the United States had won the war. "Peace is signed in the arms of victory!" the magazine Niles's Register exclaimed. In the euphoria of this presumed triumph, the Hartford Convention and the Federalist party came to seem futile, irrelevant, even treasonable.

The Peace Settlement

Peace talks between the United States and Britain had begun even before the first battles of the War of 1812 were fought. President Madison, who had never really wanted a declaration of war and who regretted "the necessity that had produced it," hoped for an early end to hostilities even after the war began.

The British government, eager to liquidate the minor war and concentrate on the major one, against Napoleon, sent an admiral to Washington in the fall of 1812 with proposals for an armistice; but the negotiations failed because of Madison's continued insistence that the British renounce impressment and Britain's continued refusal to do so. Twice Russia offered to mediate the conflict; twice the British declined. Finally, however, the British agreed to meet the Americans in direct negotiations on neutral ground. After prolonged delays, diplomats from the two countries met in Ghent, Belgium, on August 8, 1814.

The American peace delegation at Ghent was composed of men of exceptional ability, representing both parties and all regions of their country. John Quincy Adams, an experienced diplomat (and son of the former president) who had recently been minister to Russia, headed the delegation; a former Federalist, he had broken with his party in order to support Jefferson's Embargo. Serving with him was Henry Clay, once a war hawk, now eager for peace; and Albert Gallatin, secretary of the treasury in both Jefferson's and Madison's administrations. A natural diplomat, Gallatin held the delegation together by moderating the disputes between Adams and Clay.

At Ghent, the two delegations began by presenting extreme demands, then gradually backed down, and finally agreed to a compromise. The Americans originally demanded not only that Britain renounce impressment, but also that it cede all or part of Canada to the United States. They also demanded British aid in acquiring Florida from Spain. The English diplomats presented an ultimatum requiring the United States to cede territory in the Northwest for the formation of an Indian buffer state. Then, when London refused to sustain them in the ultimatum, they withdrew it and proposed that peace be made on the principle of uti possidetis. This meant that each of the belligerents would keep the territory it actually held whenever the fighting stopped. Expecting large territorial gains from the invasion of America, the English diplomats at Ghent tried to delay negotiations so as to maximize the gains. But the government in London, still principally concerned with developments in Europe, decided to hasten the settlement with the United States and recommended peace on the basis of the status quo ante helium, a return to things as they had been before the war began. President Madison, in the meantime, had advised his delegates that they need no longer insist on the renunciation of impressment. A treaty providing for the status quo, hastily drawn up, was signed on Christmas Eve 1814.

According to the Treaty of Ghent, the war was to end as soon as the document had been ratified on both sides. Each of the belligerents was to restore its wartime conquests to the other. Four commissions, composed of both Americans and Britons, were to be appointed to agree on disputed or undetermined segments of the boundary between Canada and the United States.

The Treaty of Ghent was followed by other settlements that contributed to the improvement of Anglo-American relations. A separate commercial treaty in 1815 gave Americans the right to trade freely with England and the British Empire except for the West Indies. A fisheries convention in 1818 renewed the privileges of Americans to catch and dry fish at specified places along the shores of British North America. The Rush-Bagot agreement of 1817 provided for mutual disarmament on the Great Lakes. Gradually disarmament was extended to the land, and eventually (although not until 1872) the Canadian-American boundary became the longest "unguarded frontier" in the world.

Although the British had not renounced impressment in principle, they ceased to apply it in practice after 1815. With the final end of the Napoleonic Wars after the Battle of Waterloo, the nations of Europe entered upon a century of comparative peace, broken only by wars of limited scale. So the British no longer felt the need to violate American sovereignty on the high seas, and the government and people of the United States could afford to devote their energies primarily to affairs at home.

Free Seas Again

No sooner had peace come in 1815 than Congress declared war again, this time against Algiers, which had taken advantage of the War of 1812 to loose its pirates once more against American shipping in the Mediterranean. Two American squadrons now proceeded to North African waters. One of the two, under the command of Stephen Decatur, a naval hero of the late war with England, captured a number of enemy ships, blockaded the coast of Algiers, and forced the dey (the Algerian ruler) to accept a treaty that not only ended the payment of tribute by the United States but required Algiers to pay reparations to America. Decatur then sailed on to Tunis and Tripoli and collected additional indemnities. This naval action in the Mediterranean did more to provide Americans with free access to the seas than the War of 1812 itself had done.

Postwar Expansion

With the international conflict settled, Americans could once again turn their attention to their internal affairs. The aftermath of the war made clear how far the nation had already moved from its simple, agrarian origins. Commerce, which had become central to the American economy, revived and expanded. Industry, which had made a few tentative beginnings in the first years of the century, advanced rapidly. Westward expansion, deterred for a time by the conflicts with the Indians and the British, now accelerated dramatically. The period following the war, in short, was one of rapid growth and progresstoo rapid, as it turned out, for the boom was followed in 1819 by a disastrous bust. The collapse proved to be only a temporary obstacle to economic expansion, but it revealed clearly that the United States continued to lack some of the basic institutions necessary to sustain long-term growth.

Banking and Currency

The War of 1812 may have stimulated the growth of manufactures. But it also produced chaos in shipping and banking; and it exposed dramatically the inadequacy of the existing transportation system. The aftermath of the war, therefore, saw the emergence of a series of political issues connected with national economic development: reestablishing the Bank of the United States (the first Bank's charter had not been renewed when it expired in 1811), protecting the new industries, and providing a nationwide network of roads and waterways. On these issues, the former war hawks Clay and Calhoun became the leading advocates of economic nationalism. Republicans both, they were now sponsoring measures of a kind once championed by the party of Hamilton. In regard to the Bank and the tariff, the new nationalists were fully successful; in regard to internal improvements, only partly so.

The wartime experience seemed to underline the need for another national bank. After the expiration of the first Bank's charter, a large number of state banks had sprung up. They issued vast quantities of bank notes (promises to pay, which then served much the same purpose as bank checks were later to do). But the state banks did not always bother to retain a large enough reserve of gold or silver to redeem the notes on demand. The notes passed from hand to hand more or less as money; but their actual value depended on the reputation of the bank that issued them. There was, therefore, a wide variety of notes, of widely differing value, in circulation at the same time. The result was a confusion that made honest business difficult and counterfeiting easy. In legal terms, bank notes were not genuine currency and thus did not technically violate the clause of the Constitution giving Congress the exclusive power to regulate the currency and forbidding the states to emit bills of credit. But the use of bank notes as money clearly challenged the spirit of that clause.

Congress struck at the currency problem not by prohibiting the bank notes but by chartering a second Bank of the United States in 1816. It was essentially the same institution as the one founded under Hamilton's leadership in 1791 except that it had more capital than its predecessor. The national bank could not forbid state banks from issuing notes; but its size and power gave it the ability to control the state banks. It could, if it chose, accumulate the state bank notes, present them to the local banks, and demand payment either in cash or in the national bank's own notes, which were as good as gold. Once the Bank of the United States began to exercise its power, as it did within a few years of its creation, the state banks had to stay on a specie-paying basis or risk being forced out of business.

Protecting Industry

Solving the problems of the currency was, for a time at least, less controversial than solving the problems that the end of the war created for American manufacturing. During the war, manufacturing had flourished, in large part because of the decline of American shipping. Between 1811 and 1814, American exports had dropped from $61 million to $7 million, and imports had fallen from $53 million to $13 million. The total tonnage of American vessels engaged in foreign trade had declined from about 950,000 to fewer than 60,000. America's principal export was agricultural goods, and the decline of the carrying trade had been disastrous for farmers, who were unable to get their produce to the markets of the world. But America's principal import was manufactured goods; and with imports effectively blocked, manufacturers prospered. Much of the capital and labor formerly employed in commerce and shipbuilding was diverted to manufacturing. Goods were so scarce that, even with comparatively unskilled labor and poor management, new factories could be started with an assurance of quick profits.

The American textile industry had experienced a particularly dramatic growth. The first census of manufacturing, in 1810, revealed 269 cotton and 24 woolen mills in the country. But the Embargo of 1807 and the War of 1812 had spurred a tremendous expansion. Between 1807 and 1815, the total number of cotton spindles increased more than fifteenfold, from 8,000 to 130,000. Until 1814, the textile factoriesmost of them in New Englandproduced only yarn and thread; the weaving of cloth was left to families operating handlooms at home. Then the Boston merchant Francis Cabot Lowell, after examining textile machinery in England, developed a power loom even better than its English counterpart. In 1813, Lowell organized the Boston Manufacturing Company and, at Waltham, Massachusetts, founded the first mill in America to carry on the processes of spinning and weaving under a single roof. Lowell's company was an important step in revolutionizing American manufacturing.

As the War of 1812 came to an end, however, the prospects for American industry suddenly dimmed. British ships swarmed into American ports and unloaded cargoes of manufactured goods to be sold at cut-rate prices, even below cost. As Lord Brougham explained to Parliament, it was "well worth while to incur a loss upon the first exportation, in order, by the glut, to stifle in the cradle those rising manufactures in the United States, which war had forced into existence, contrary to the natural course of things." The "infant industries" cried out for protection against these tactics, arguing that they needed time to grow strong enough to withstand the foreign competition. In 1816, protectionists in Congress won passage of a tariff law that effectively limited competition from abroad on a broad range of items, among the most important of which was cotton cloth. There were objections from agricultural interests, who stood to pay higher prices for manufactured goods. But the nationalist dream of creating an important American industrial economy prevailed.


The nation's most pressing economic need in the aftermath of the war, however, was for improvements in its transportation system. Without a better transportation network, manufacturers would not have access to the raw materials they needed and would not be able to send their finished goods to markets. So an old debate resumed: Should the federal government help to finance roads and other "internal improvements"?

The idea of using government funds to finance road building was not a new one. When Ohio entered the Union in 1803, the federal government had agreed that part of the proceeds from its sale of public lands there should be used for building roads. And in 1807, Jefferson's secretary of the treasury, Albert Gallatin, had proposed that a national road, financed partly by the Ohio land sales, be built from the Potomac to the Ohio. Both Congress and the president had approved. The next year, Gallatin presented a comprehensive plan of internal improvements that required an appropriation of $20 million. Work on the new roads did not begin until 1811 (partly because of Jefferson's doubts about the constitutionality of such expenditures). Finally, however, construction of the National Road got under way at Cumberland, Maryland, on the Potomac; and by 1818, this highwaywith a crushed stone surface and massive stone bridgeswas completed to Wheeling, Virginia, on the Ohio River. Meanwhile the state of Pennsylvania gave $100,000 to a private company that extended the Lancaster pike westward to Pittsburgh.

Over both of these roads moved a heavy traffic of stagecoaches, Conestoga wagons, private carriages, and other vehicles, as well as droves of cattle. Despite high tolls, freight rates across the mountains were now lower than ever before. They were not low enough to permit the long-distance hauling of such bulky loads as wheat or flour. But commodities with a high value in proportion to their weight, especially manufactures, moved from the Atlantic seaboard to the Ohio Valley in unprecedented quantities.

At the same time, on the rivers and the Great Lakes, steam-powered shipping was experiencing rapid expansion. The development of steamboat lines was already well under way before the War of 1812, thanks to the technological advances introduced by Robert Fulton and others. (See pp. 246-249.) The war had retarded expansion of the system for a time; but by 1816, river steamers were beginning to journey up and down the Mississippi to the Ohio River, and up the Ohio as far as Pittsburgh, for the first time. Within a few years, steamboats were carrying far more cargo on the Mississippi than all the earlier forms of river transportflatboats, barges, and otherscombined. They stimulated the agricultural economy of the West and the South, by providing much readier access to markets at greatly reduced cost. And they enabled Eastern manufacturers to send their finished goods west much more readily.

But despite the progress with steamboats and turnpikes, there remained serious gaps in the transportation network of the country, as experience during the War of 1812 had shown. Once Atlantic shipping was cut off by the British blockade, the coastal roads became choked by the unaccustomed volume of north-south traffic. At the river ferries, long lines of wagons waited for a chance to cross.

Oxcarts, pressed into emergency service, took six or seven weeks to go from Philadelphia to Charleston. In some areas there were serious shortages of goods normally carried by sea, and prices rose to new heights. Rice cost three times as much in New York as in Charleston, flour three times as much in Boston as in Richmond. There were military consequences as well. On the Northern and Western frontiers, the American campaigns were frustrated partly by the absence of good roads.

With this wartime experience in mind, President Madison in 1815 called the attention of Congress to the "great importance of establishing throughout our country the roads and canals which can be best executed under the national authority," and he suggested that a constitutional amendment would resolve any doubts about the authority of Congress to provide for the construction of canals and roads. Representative Calhoun promptly introduced a bill that would have used the funds owed the government by the Bank of the United States to finance internal improvements. "Let us, then, bind the republic together with a perfect system of roads and canals," Calhoun urged. "Let us conquer space."

Congress passed the internal improvements bill, but President Madison, on his last day in office (March 3, 1817), returned it with his veto. He supported the purpose of the bill, he explained, but he still believed that Congress lacked authority to fund the improvements without a constitutional amendment. And so on the issue of internal improvements, at least, the nationalists fell short of their goals. The tremendous task of building the transportation network necessary for the growing American economy was left to the state governments and to private enterprise.

The Great Migration

One reason for the growing interest in internal improvements was the sudden and dramatic surge in westward expansion in the years following the War of 1812. "Old America seems to be breaking up and moving westward," wrote an English observer at the time. By the time of the census of 1820, settlers had pushed well beyond the Mississippi River, and the population of the Western regions was increasing more rapidly than that of the nation as a whole. Almost one of every four Americans lived west of the Appalachians in 1820; ten years before, only one in seven had resided there. There were several important reasons for this expansion. Population pressures and economic pressures pushed many Americans from the East; the availability of new lands and the removal of old dangers drew them to the West.

The pressures driving Americans out of the East came in part from the continued growth of the American populationboth through natural increase and through immigration. Between 1800 and 1820, the nation's population nearly doubledfrom 5.3 million to 9.6 million. The growth of the nation's cities absorbed some of that increase; but most Americans were still farmers, and the agricultural lands of the East were by now largely occupied. Some of the farmland in the East, moreover, was now exhausted. And in the South, the spread of the plantation system, and of a slave labor force, limited opportunities for new settlers.

Meanwhile, the West itself was becoming increasingly attractive. The War of 1812 had helped diminish one of the traditional obstacles to Western expansion: Indian opposition. And in the aftermath of the war, the federal government continued its policy of pushing the remaining tribes farther and farther west. A series of treaties in 1815 wrested still more land from the Indians. And in the meantime, the government was erecting a chain of stockaded forts along the Great Lakes and the upper Mississippi, to protect the frontier. It also created a "factory" system, by which government factors or agents supplied the Indians with goods at cost. This not only worked to drive Canadian traders out of the region; it also helped create a situation of dependency that made the Indians themselves easier to control.

The fertile lands now made secure for white settlement drew migrants from throughout the East to what was then known as the Old Northwest (now part of the Midwest). For many of them, the Ohio River was the main routethe "grand track" westward, until the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825. The pioneers reached the river by traveling along the turnpike to Pittsburgh or along the National Road to Wheeling, or by sailing down one of its tributariessuch as the Kanawha, the Cumberland, or the Tennessee. Once on the Ohio, they floated downstream on flatboats bearing all their possessions, then left the river (often at Cincinnati, which was becoming one of the region'sand the nation's principal cities) and pressed on overland with wagons, handcarts, packhorses, cattle, and hogs.

Once having arrived at their destination, preferably in the spring or early summer, the settlers built a lean-to or cabin, then hewed a clearing out of the forest and put in a crop of corn to supplement the wild game they caught and the domestic animals they had brought with them. It was a rough existence, often plagued by loneliness, poverty, dirt, and disease. Men, women, and children worked side by side in the fieldsand at times had virtually no contact for weeks or months at a time with anyone outside their own families.

Life on the frontier was not, however, as solitary and individualistic as later myth suggested. Migrants often journeyed westward in groups, which at times became the basis of new communities where schools, churches, stores, and other community institutions were built. The labor shortage in the interior meant that neighbors developed systems of mutual aid, gathering periodically to raise a barn, clear land, harvest crops, or make quilts. Gradually, the settlers built a thriving farm economy based largely on family units of modest size and committed to the cultivation of grain and the raising of livestock.

Another common feature of life in the Northwest (and indeed in much of early nineteenth-century America) was mobility. Individuals and families were constantly on the move, settling for a few years in one place, then selling their land (often at a significant profit, given the rapidly rising price of farm properties in the region) and settling again somewhere else. When new areas for settlement opened farther to the west, it was often the people on the frontierrather than those who remained in the Eastwho flocked to them first.

In the Southwest, the new agricultural economy emerged along different lines-just as the economy of the Old South had long been different from that of the Northeast. The principal attraction there was cotton. The cotton lands in the uplands of the Old South had lost much of their fertility through overplanting and erosion. But the market for cotton continued to grow, and so there was no lack of ambitious farmers seeking fresh soil in a climate suitable for the crop. In the Southwest, around the end of the Appalachian range, stretched a broad zone within which cotton could thriveincluding what was to become known as the Black Belt of central Alabama and Mississippi, a vast prairie with a productive soil of rotted limestone.

The advance of the Southern frontier meant the spread of cotton and slavery. Usually the first arrivals were ordinary frontiersmen like those farther north, small farmers who made rough clearings in the forest. Then came wealthier planters, who bought up the cleared or partially cleared land, while the original settlers moved farther west and started over again. The large planters made the westward journey in a style quite different from that of the first pioneers. Over the alternately dusty and muddy roads came great caravans consisting of herds of livestock, wagonloads of household goods, long lines of slaves, andbringing up the rearthe planter's family riding in carriages. Success in the wilderness was by no means assured, even for the wealthiest settlers. But many planters soon expanded small clearings into vast fields white with cotton. They replaced the cabins of the pioneers with more sumptuous log dwellings and ultimately with imposing mansions that demonstrated the rise of a newly rich class.

The rapid growth of the West resulted in the admission of four new states to the Union in the immediate aftermath of the War of 1812: Indiana in 1816, Mississippi in 1817, Illinois in 1818, and Alabama in 1819.

The Far West

Not many Americans were yet much interested in the Far Western areas of the continent. Except for New Englanders engaged in Pacific whaling or in the China trade, few Americans were familiar with the Oregon coast. Only fur traders and trappers had any knowledge of the land between the Missouri and the Pacific.

Before the War of 1812, John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company had established Astoria as a trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. But when war came, Astor sold his interests to the Northwestern Fur Company, a British concern operating out of Canada; and after the war he centered his own operations in the Great Lakes area, from which he eventually extended them westward to the Rockies. Other companies carried on operations up the Missouri and its tributaries and in the Rocky Mountains. At first, fur traders did most of their business by purchasing pelts from the Indians. But beginning with Andrew and William Ashley's Rocky Mountain Fur Company, founded in 1822, more and more traders dispatched white trappers into the wilderness to capture animals themselves.

The trappers or "mountain men" explored the Far West and gained an intimate knowledge of it; but although such men as Jedediah S. Smith ultimately became famous for their exploits, they did not write books or draw maps, and thus their knowledge did not spread widely. Public awareness of the region increased as a result of the explorations of Major Stephen H. Long. In 1819 and 1820, with instructions from the War Department to find the sources of the Red River, Long led nineteen soldiers on a journey up the Platte and South Platte rivers through what is now Nebraska and eastern Colorado (where he discovered the peak named for him), and then returned eastward along the Arkansas River through what is now Kansas.

Long's expedition failed to find the headwaters of the Red River. But Long wrote an influential report on his trip and assessed the region's potential for future settlement and development. "In regard to this extensive section of country between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains," he said, "we do not hesitate in giving the opinion that it is almost wholly unfit for cultivation, and of course uninhabitable by a people depending upon agriculture for their subsistence." On the published map of his expedition, he labeled the Great Plains the "Great American Desert" giving increased currency to the idea earlier advanced by Pike and others that the land beyond the Missouri River was unfit for cultivation.

The "Era of Good Feelings"

The expansion of the economy, the growth of the West, the creation of new statesall reflected the rising spirit of nationalism that was permeating the United States in the years following the war. That spirit found reflection, for a time, in the course of American politics.

Ever since 1800, the presidency seemed to have been the special possession of Virginians, who had passed it from one to another in unvarying sequence. After two terms in office Jefferson named his secretary of state, James Madison, to succeed him; and after two more terms, Madison secured the presidential nomination for his secretary of state, James Monroe. Many in the North already were expressing their impatience with the so-called Virginia Dynasty, but the Republicans had no difficulty in electing their candidate in the remarkably listless campaign of 1816. Monroe received 183 ballots in the electoral college; his opponent, Rufus King of New York, only 34 from the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Delaware.

Monroe was sixty-one years old when he became president, and he seemed in many respects a relic of an earlier age. Tall and dignified, he wore the old-fashioned garb of his youthful days, including knee-length pantaloons and white-topped boots. In the course of his long and varied career, he had served as a soldier in the Revolution, as a diplomat, and most recently as a cabinet officer. He had once been regarded as impulsive and changeable, but he was by now noted for his caution and patience.

Monroe entered office under what seemed to be remarkably favorable circumstances. With the decline of the Federalists, his party faced no serious opposition. With the conclusion of the War of 1812, the nation faced no important international threats. American politicians had dreamed since the first days of the republic of a time in which partisan divisions and factional disputes might come to an end, a time in which the nation might learn to exhibit the harmony and virtue that the founders had envisioned. The postwar years seemed, at last, to provide an opportunity; and Monroe attempted to use his office to realize that dream.

He made that clear, above all, in the selection of his cabinet. For secretary of state, the first and most important position, he chose the New Englander and former Federalist John Quincy Adams. Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe had all served as secretary of state before becoming president; Adams, therefore, immediately became the heir apparent, suggesting that the Virginia Dynasty would soon come to an end. Monroe offered the office of secretary of war to Henry Clay, but Clay turned him down and remained Speaker of the House. So he chose instead the forceful South Carolinian John C. Calhoun. In his other appointments as well, Monroe seemed to go out of his way to include both Northerners and Southerners, Federalists and Republicansto harmonize the various interests and sections of the country in a government of national unity.

Soon after his inauguration, Monroe did what no other president since Washington had done: He made a goodwill tour through the country, eastward to New England, westward as far as Detroit. In New England, so recently the scene of rabid Federalist discontent, he was greeted everywhere with enthusiastic demonstrations. The Columbian Centinel, a Federalist newspaper in Boston, commenting on the "Presidential Jubilee" in that city, observed that an "era of good feelings" had arrived. This phrase soon spread throughout the country and became a popular label for the presidency of Monroe.

In 1817, there seemed every reason to expect the "era of good feelings" to bejust thata time of happy national unity. And on the surface, at least, those expectations were realized. In 1820, when Monroe was a candidate for reelection to the presidency, only one elector voted against him; and he did so only to ensure that Washington would remain the only unanimously elected president. The Federalists did not even bother to put up an opposing candidate. For all practical purposes, the opposition party had now ceased to exist.

But beneath this surface calm, serious social and political divisions were emerging. Indeed, the years of Monroe's presidency became in the end a time of very bad feelingsa time in which the dream of a harmonious republic unsullied by party and faction was shattered forever.

John Quincy Adams and Florida

Whatever problems there were, however, did not seem to affect Monroe's secretary of state, John Quincy Adams. Like his father, the second president of the United States, Adams had spent much of his life in diplomatic service. He had represented the United States in Britain, Russia, the Netherlands, and Prussia. He had helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent. And he had demonstrated in all his assignments a calmness and firmness that made him one of the great diplomats in American history.

He was also a committed nationalist; and when he assumed the office of secretary of state, he considered his most important task to be the promotion of American expansion. His first major challenge was Florida. The United States had already annexed West Florida, but most Americans still believed the nation should gain possession of the entire peninsula. Even the claim to West Florida was under dispute. Spain still claimed the whole of the province, East and West, and actually occupied most of it. In 1817, Adams began negotiations with the Spanish minister, Luis de Onis, in hopes of resolving the dispute and gaining the entire colony for the United States.

In the meantime, however, events were taking their own course in Florida itself. Andrew Jackson, now in command of American troops along the Florida frontier, had orders from Secretary of War Calhoun to "adopt the necessary measures" to put a stop to the continuing raids on American territory by the Seminole Indians south of the Florida border. Jackson (with, he later claimed, tacit encouragement from Washington) used those orders as an excuse to invade Florida, seize the Spanish forts at St. Marks and Pensacola, and order the hanging of two British subjects on the charge of supplying the Indians and inciting them to hostilities.

Instead of condemning Jackson or disavowing the raid, Adams urged the government to assume complete responsibility for it, for he saw in it a chance to win an important advantage in his negotiations with Spain. The United States, he told the Spanish, had the right under international law to defend itself against threats from across its borders. Since Spain was unwilling or unable to curb those threats, America had simply done what was necessary. And he implied that the nation might consider even more drastic action in the future.

Jackson's raid had demonstrated to the Spanish that the United States could easily take Florida by force. Onis realized, therefore, that he had little choice but to come to terms with the Americans, although he was determined to make the most of a bad situation. Under the terms of the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, Spain ceded all of Florida to the United States. In return, the American government assumed $5 million in outstanding claims by its citizens against Spain. The United States also gave up its claims to Texas, and Spain its claims to territory north of the 42nd parallel from the Rockies to the Pacific. Thus a line was drawn from the Gulf of Mexico northwestward across the continent establishing the northern border of the Spanish Empire and transferring to the United States the Spanish title to the West Coast north of California. Adams and Onis had concluded something more than a Florida agreement; it was a "transcontinental treaty."

The Panic of 1819

But the Monroe administration had little time to revel in its diplomatic successes. At the same time that Adams was completing his negotiations with Onis, the nation was falling victim to a serious economic crisis that helped revive many of the political disputes that the "era of good feelings" had presumably settled.

In part, the Panic of 1819 was a delayed reaction to the War of 1812 and to the preceding years of warfare in Europe. Ever since 1793, the continual fighting had drawn manpower from European fields, disrupted European business and agriculture, and created an abnormally high foreign demand for the produce of American plantations and farms. The whole period was one of exceptionally high prices for American producers, and although some prices fell with the decline of trade in 1814, they recovered with the resumption of exports to Europe after the war.

The rising prices for farm products stimulated a land boom in the United States, particularly in the West. After the war, the government land offices did a bigger business than ever before, a level of business they would maintain for twenty years. In 1815, sales totaled about 1 million acres; in 1819, more than 5 million. Many settlers bought on credit; under the land laws of 1800 and 1804 they could pay as little as $80 down, and then, they hoped, raise the remaining three installments within four years from the proceeds of their farming. Speculators bought large tracts of choice land, hoping to resell it at a profit to incoming settlers. At the land-office auctions, bidding became so spirited that much of the public land sold for prices far above the minimum of $2 an acre, some in the Black Belt of Alabama and Mississippi going for $100 and more. Optimistic real estate promoters often paid still higher prices and then laic! out town sites, even in swamps, hoping to make fortunes through the sale of city lots.

The availability of easy credit helped fuel the speculative boom. Until the refounding of the Bank of the United States in 1817, settlers and speculators could borrow readily from state banks and pay the government for the land with bank notes. Even after 1817, wildcat banks continued to provide easy credit for a few years. Indeed, the Bank of the United States itself at first offered easy loans. But in 1819, new management took over. Concerned that the Bank was endangering its stability by extending too much credit, the new governors called in loans and foreclosed mortgages, thus acquiring thousands of acres of mortgaged land in the West. They also gathered up state bank notes and presented them to the state banks for payment in cash. And since state banks often had too little cash on hand to meet the demand, many were forced to close their doors. That started a financial panic, with depositors flooding even the comparatively sound state banks with notes to be cashed, forcing many of them out of business as well. Many Americans, particularly those in the West, blamed the Bank of the United States for the crisis the beginning of a process that would ultimately make the Bank's existence one of the nation's most burning political issues.

Six years of depression followed. Prices for both manufactured goods and agricultural produce fell rapidly. Manufacturers demanded protection from foreign competition and ultimately secured passage of a new tariff in 1824. Farmers who had bought land on credit could no longer earn enough from sale of their crops to keep up their payments, and they too demanded relief. Congress responded with the land law of 1820 and the relief act of 1821. The new land law required new purchasers to buy their farms outright, without credit, but made land much cheaper than before. The relief act allowed existing landowners to pay off their debts at a reduced price and gave them more time to meet their installments.

The Panic of 1819 and the widespread distress that followed seemed to some Americans to confirm fears that rapid economic growth and territorial expansion would destabilize the nation and threaten the nation's survival. But those who continued to embrace thejeffersonian vision of a simple, agrarian republic had become a tiny minority, even within the Republican party. Most Americans by 1820 were irrevocably committed to economic growth and rapid expansion. And public debate in the future would revolve less around the question of whether such growth was good or bad, and more around the question of how it should be encouraged and controlled. That debate, which the Panic of 1819 did much to encourage, created new factional divisions within the Republican party and ultimately brought the era of nonpartisanshipthe "era of good feelings"to an acrimonious end.




© ..
2003 - 2010