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Table of contents

  1. Introduction

Colonial America

The Republic until 1877

The Republic 1877 to 2000

2000 to the Present


Keywords (People, Events, etc)

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This textbook is based on the College Entrance Examination Board test in Advanced Placement United States History. The test is a standard on the subject, covering what most students in the United States study in high school and college, so we treat it as the best reference.

The text was reorganized and edited in November 2008 to be closer to the content and organization the college board requires. The content was carefully chosen for significance and interest. We welcome reader feedback and suggestions for improvement.

Enjoy! The AP Course Description can be found here.

Colonial America



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Brief overview of European history (before 1492)

The peoples of Europe have had a tremendous effect on the development of the United States throughout the course of U.S. history. Europeans "discovered" and colonized the North American continent and, even after they lost political control over its territory, their influence has predominated due to a common language, social ideals, and culture. Therefore, when endeavoring to understand the history of the United States, it is helpful to briefly describe their European origin.

Greece and Rome

Ancient Greece

See also: Ancient History/Greece

The first significant civilizations of Europe formed in the second millennium BCE. By 800 BCE, various Greek city-states, sharing a language and a culture based on slavery, pioneered novel political cultures. In the Greek city of Athens, by about 500 BCE, the male citizens who owned land began to elect their leaders. These elections by the minority of a minority represent the first democracy in the world. Other states in Greece experimented with other forms of rule, as in the totalitarian state of Sparta. These polities existed side by side, sometimes warring with each other, at one time combining against an invading army from Persia. Ancient Athens is known for its literary achievements in drama, history, and personal narrative. The individual city-states did not usually see themselves as a single entity. (The conqueror Alexander the Great, who called himself a Greek, actually was a native of the non-Greek state of Macedon.) The city-states of Greece became provinces of the Roman Empire in 27 BCE.


The Roman Empire
See also: Ancient History/Rome

The city of Rome was founded (traditionally in the year 753 BCE). Slowly, Rome grew from a kingdom to a republic to a vast empire, which, at various points, included most of present-day Britain (a large part of Scotland never belonged to the empire), France (then known as Gaul), Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iraq, Palestine (including the territory claimed today by the modern state of Israel), Northern Arabia, Egypt, the Balkans, and the entire north coast of Africa. This empire was maintained through free-born or adoptive citizenship, citizen education and indoctrination, a large and well-drilled army, and taxes directed by a large bureaucracy directed by the emperor. As each province produced more Roman citizens, the state became hard to maintain. Whole kingdoms in the north and east, and the invading peoples we know as the Germanic tribes (the Ostrogoths and Visigoths and the Franks) sat apart from the system.

After the death of one emperor in 180 CE, power struggles between the army and a succession of rulers of contested origins produced anarchy. Diocletian (243 - 316) reinstated the Empire by 284. Rome regained territory until 395, when the Empire was so large that it had to be divided into two parts, each with a separate ruler. The two halves sat uneasily together. The East, which considered itself the heir of Alexander the Great, spoke Greek or a dialect, while the West spoke Latin. The Eastern Empire survived until 1453, but the system to maintain the Western Empire broke apart. Plagues and crop failures troubled the world. In 476, Germanic tribes deposed the boy who was then the Emperor. Roman roads fell into disrepair, and travel became difficult. Some memories remained in the lands which had once known Roman rule. The supreme rulers of various tribes called themselves king, a distortion of the Roman word Caesar.

The Roman Empire to the Holy Roman Empire

A mitred Adhémar de Monteil carrying the Holy Lance in one of the battles of the First Crusade

After Rome's fall, monks from Ireland (which had never known Rome) spread Catholic Christianity and the culture and language of the Western Roman Empire across Europe. Catholicism eventually spread through England (where the Germanic tribes of the Angles and the Saxons now lived)and to the lands of the post-Roman Germanic tribes. Among those tribes, the Franks rose to prominence.

Charlemagne (742 - 814), the King of the Franks, conquered great portions of Europe. He eventually took control of Rome. The senate and the political organs of Rome had disappeared, and Charlemagne did not pretend to become the head of the Church. Charlemagne's domain, a confederation of what had been Roman Gaul with Germanic states, was much smaller than Diocletian had known. But prestige came with identity with the past, and so this trunk of lands became The Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne's descendants, as well as local rulers, took their sanction from the Church, while the Church's pope influenced both religious and political matters.

The result of political stability was technological advance. After the year 1000, Western Europe caught some of the East's discoveries, and invented others. In addition to vellum, Europeans now started making paper of rags or wood pulp. They also adopted the wind and water mill, the horse collar (for plows and for heavy weights), the moldboard plow, and other agricultural and technological advances. Towns came into being, and then walled cities. More people survived, and the knights and kings over them grew restive.

Viking Exploration of North America

In the eighth century, pushed from their homes in Scandinavia by war and population expansion, Norsemen, or Vikings, began settling parts of the Faeroe, Shetland, and Orkney Islands in the North Atlantic. They went where ever treasure was, trading as far as Byzantium and Kiev in the East. In the West they raided from Ireland and England down to the Italian peninsula, sailing into a port, seizing its gold, and murdering or enslaving its people before fleeing. They began settling Iceland in approximately 874 CE. A Viking called Erik the Red was accused of murder and banished from his native Iceland in about 982. Eric explored and later founded a settlement in a snowy western island. Knowing that this bleak land would need many people to prosper, Eric returned to Iceland after his exile had passed and coined the word "Greenland" to appeal to the overpopulated and treeless settlement of Iceland. Eric returned to Greenland in 985 and established two colonies with a population of nearly 5000.

Leif Erikson, son of Erik the Red, and other members of his family began exploration of the North American coast in 986. He landed in three places, in the third establishing a small settlement called Vinland. The location of Vinland is uncertain, but an archeological site on the northern tip of Newfoundland, Canada (L'anse aux Meadows) has been identified as the site of a modest Viking settlement and is the oldest confirmed presence of Europeans in North America. The site contains the remains of eight Norse buildings, as well as a modern reproduction of a Norse longhouse. But the settlement in Vinland was abandoned in struggles between the Vikings and the native inhabitants, whom the settlers called Skraelingar. Bickering also broke out among the Norseman themselves. The settlement lasted less than two years. The Vikings would make brief excursions to North America for the next 200 years, though another attempt at colonization was soon thwarted.

By the thirteenth century, Iceland and Greenland had also entered a period of decline during the "Little Ice Age." Knowledge of their exploration, in the days before the printing press, was ignored in most of Europe. Yet the Vikings are now considered the true European discoverers of North America. The influence of their people outlasted even the terrible raids, and their grandchildren became kings and queens. For example, a branch of Viking descendants living in France, the Normans, conquered England from the Anglo-Saxons in 1066.

The Great Famine and Black Death

Burial of bodies during the black death

The Little Ice Age led to European famines in the years 1315-1317 and in 1321. In the year 1318 sheep and cattle began to die of a contagious disease. Farmers could not support the growing population. And then, in 1347, some Genoese trading ships inadvertently brought a new, invasive species of rat to Europe. These rats carried bubonic plague.

Plague was also called the Black Death, from the darkened skin left after death and from its deadly reach. It had three strands: bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic.[1] In bubonic plague fleas carried by the rats would leave their hosts and bite people. The masses of bacteria would flow through the human system, killing cells and leaving their refuse in lymph nodes in the armpit, groin, and neck. These nodes would swell and turn black, creating bubos. Infection could also spread into the lungs, so that a person might cough or sneeze the germ into the air. This created pneumonic plague, spreading disease into spaces where people gathered and where rats dared not go. It also spread through contamination of food. The last form of disease, and its most deadly, was septicemic. This attacked the blood, leaving stretches of pale skin looking black, and killing the person within hours.

Surviving laws of cities and guilds regulate public cleanliness and penalize adulteration of food. They cannot show how strictly these laws were applied. And they show no knowledge, of course, of germ theory and the need for sterilization. Older systems such as the few public baths which remained from the days of colonial Rome were seen as sinful and dangerous, invitations to the plague. The dwelling places of survivors of pre-Christian Rome, the Jews who were forced to live apart, were attacked by mobs who attributed the Black Death to their poisoning Christians' wells.

The responses to plague can be seen in the records left by survivors -- one third of the population of Europe died in repeated waves of disease -- and in the subsequent changes in society. Airplanes and satellites show the foundations of plague-era towns which were emptied by the disease. In just one square mile of pre-plague Europe there are reports of there being 50,000 people.[2] In large cities, families would flee or lock themselves away, trying to keep themselves from death. Other families were locked in by city authorities. This is the beginning of the modern system of quarantine.[3] Some branches of the family would not be among those so helped. The Black Death seemed erratic, sometimes taking people deemed good and pious, sometimes not. One priest or church prelate might die, and another survive. And a living priest might give no aid to other survivors. Some critiques of the Church which had become spread through most of Europe date from this era.

Although some lands became waste through lack of tilling, those people who survived grasped the property of those who had not. Europe then had a land-based economic system. Rich people became richer. There began a labor shortage: the farmers who survived needed hands to take in their crops. The wages of farm hands began to rise. In the surviving towns they needed people to guard the gates: in the courts they began to look for rising young men. Cities became more powerful in the depleted lands, and authority grew more centralized.


Doctors meeting at the university of Paris

During the Middle Ages Western society and education were heavily shaped by Christianity as expressed through the Roman Catholic Church. Towns, courts, and feudal manors had their priests, monasteries and nunneries had their scriptora or libraries, and after the 11th century CE, a few cities had Universities, schools to educate men to be high-ranking clerics, lawyers, or doctors. Where children had schools, their parents paid a fee so that they might learn Latin, the language St. Jerome had used for his translation of the Bible. Latin was the language of the Church. It was also learned, along with military tactics and the rules of chivalry, by men who trained to be knights. A smattering of Latin was necessary, along with Math, even for the elementary schools which sprang up in some cities. There both boys and girls were taught literacy and math, prerequisite for acceptance as an apprentice in many Guilds. Latin across Europe created a European-wide culture: a doctor from Padua could talk to his fellow from Oxford in Latin.

As in the Greek and Roman eras, only a minority of people went to school. There were not enough books, little travel, and no means of spreading standardized education. Schools were attended first by persons planning to enter religious life. Occasionally a cleric would reach out to educate a very bright peasant boy. This was one of the few ways peasants could rise in the world. But the vast majority of people were serfs who served as agricultural workers on the estates of feudal lords. They were, in effect, tied to the fate of the land. From the serf up to some high princes, the vast majority of people did not attend school, and were generally illiterate.

In the rise of the Universities in the 11th century, the Church translated several manuscripts of the ancient Greek writer Aristotle into Latin. From Aristotle's emphasis upon human reason, philosophy and science, and the Church's emphasis upon revelation and the teachings of Christ, medieval scholars developed Scholasticism. This was an philosophical and educational movement which attempted to integrate into an ordered system both the natural wisdom of Greece and Rome and the religious wisdom of Christianity. It was dominant in the medieval Christian schools and universities of Europe from about the middle of the 11th century to about the middle of the 15th century, though its influence continued in successive centuries. The idea of Man in the middle of ordered nature, and yet dominant over nature, bore fruit in the observation of natural phenomena, the beginnings of what the Western World knows as science. It also led to the exultation of system over observation, and the persistence of the Ptolemaic theories such as geocentrism among formally educated people.

Noble girls were sometimes sent to live in nunneries in order to receive basic schooling. Nuns would teach them to read and write and the chores necessary to run their establishments, including spinning and weaving. (Cloth-making was a major national industry in the Middle Ages.) They taught them their manners and their prayers. Some of these girls later became nuns themselves.

Christianity, Islam, Judaism

A medieval illustration of Jerusalem, an important city in all Abrahamic religions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

During the centuries after the fall of Rome, various flavors of Christian churches spread from Northern Africa and Armenia westward. This changed after Mohammed established Islam in 610 CE. Like Christianity, it spread through conversion and conflict. At its height it was also a faith of Europe, from Spain to Albania and Bosnia and their sister states. Both Prince and Caliph held that their state must have one faith, and no other belief was encouraged. When Jerusalem was reconquered by the Seljuq Turks, Christians were no longer able to go on religious pilgrimages to the Holy City.

At the end of the eleventh century, Pope Urban II inaugurated the Crusades, urging Western European kings and great nobles to begin what would be a century and a half of warfare. Christian armies fought first to reconquer and then to hold part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Crusaders ultimately failed in the face of resurgent Muslim forces. Western Europeans within Church and State argued for and against the Crusades.

Despite the failure of the Crusades, militant Western Christianity persisted in Spain in an effort known as the Reconquista (the "reconquest"), which purged the land of the Muslims who had arrived there in 711. By the fifteenth century, the Muslims were confined to the kingdom of Granada, which bordered the Mediterranean Sea in the southern side of the Iberian Peninsula. Granada finally fell in 1492 to the Spanish Christians, ending the reconquista.

Rome had destroyed Israel in 70 CE, but allowed a remnant of her people to survive. Fortified by rabbinic culture and centered on the Torah, they became a resilient group. They survived as the known world became Christian. They spread, as traders, through East and West. However, Christian relationships with Jews were punctuated by hatred. They were held to be guilty of Jesus' death, and they were supposed to be evil because they had not converted to Christianity. They were forced into the notorious ghettos, usually built on waste or undesirable land. They were forced to wear strange clothing which marked them off, and to pay heavy taxes.[4] Christians spread rumors that Jewish officials sometimes kidnapped and killed young boys for their sacrifices. Sometimes a mob might break into the ghetto, killing some people. Individuals were sometimes forced to convert. One of the effects of European nationalism was the expulsion of a country's Jewish population. England was the first, in the 13th century; later, a reviving France; later still, Spain and Portugal. Some men crewing the ships in the Age of Exploration were Jews, often practicing their faith in hiding.

For a period in the late Twelfth century there two sets of Popes, a line in Rome and another in the French city of Avignon under the sway of that Court. In reaction against this, the Church centralized its powers in parallel to what nations were doing. There had been dissension before, in medieval England's Lollards and later with the Czech priest John Hus. However, it was only in an age after the printing press, when people began printing the Bible in their own languages, when Martin Luther founded the Protestant church. England's King Henry VIII, who had won the title "Protector of the Faith" for a work defending the Pope, later left it to become the head of the Church of England. This division of Western Christianity created religious minorities, who were persecuted throughout Europe. Among these were the Pilgrims, who helped settle America.

The Renaissance

See also: European History
The School of Athens a famous Renaissance fresco by Raphael that depicted ancient Greek philosophers.

Another, more humble result of the plague was the accumulation of rags left over from clothing. These were quickly used to make paper. Books were very rare during the Middle Ages, and the monks who made them chained them to their shelves. It took one year for a man to make one book. In that climate Bibles took priority: we have only one copy of Democritus's most famous work surviving from this period. As rag paper replaced velum, books began to become more plentiful. The supply was augmented by Europe's adoption of Johannes Gutenberg 's fixed-type printing press in the 15th century.[5]

There had been earlier leaps in culture, including the wave of population and technological adaptation in the 12th century. This left its mark in increased population and the Roman Catholic Church's adoption of Aristotle. Yet the press made it possible for knowledge to have a foothold in society. Inventions in one place could be explained and adopted across a continent. The Greeks fleeing the fall of Byzantium brought their knowledge of ancient Greek culture to the West. The Bible, the basic book of Christendom, could be pored over by laypeople, and reading it could be learned by more people than ever before. Learning was no longer solely the province of the Church.

If the Bible was first off of the presses, pseudo-science and science followed soon after. The European witch trials were one result of the new medium. The questioning of scientific consensus was another. Andreas Vesalius published his observations about the circulatory system. Books discussing the theories of Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei demolished the old geocentric theory of the cosmos. The arts were not neglected. Giorgio Vasari's biographical Lives introduced such new artists as Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti to the larger world.

A later time called this growth of knowledge the Renaissance. They said it began in the Italian city-states, spreading throughout most of Europe. The Italian city of Florence was called the birthplace of this intellectual movement.

Books spread the Crusader's newly found experience and knowledge of the Mediterranean, a region whose technology was at that time superior to that of western Europe. Books written about traders, adventurers, and scholars spread knowledge of Chinese technology such as gunpowder and silk. They spread writings of the ancient world which had been lost to Europe, and nurtured a taste for new foods and flavors. They spread pictures of ancient Greek statues, Moorish carpets, and strange practices.

In the fifteenth century, the Mediterranean was a vigorous trading area. European ships brought in grains and salts for preserving fish, Chinese silks, Indian cotton, precious stones, and above all, spices. White cane sugar could be used to preserve fruit and to flavor medicine. Cinnamon was medicine against bad humors as well as preservative and flavoring, part of the mysterious poudre douce, and now available even to some European common people.

Toward Nation-States

The great age of exploration was undertaken by nation-states, cohesive entities with big treasuries who tended to use colonization as a national necessity. When such nations as Portugal, England, Spain, and France became stronger, they began building ships.

The Rise of Portugal

The Italian peninsula dominated the world because of its position in the Mediterranean Sea. Universities in Padua, Rome, and elsewhere taught men from East and West. Above all, principalities such as the Republic of Venice and Florence controlled trade. Genoa and Venice in particular ballooned into massive trading cities. Yet there was at yet no nation of Italy, so each city's riches belonged only to that city. Individual cities used their monopoly to raise the price of goods, which would have been expensive in any case, because they were often brought overland from Asia to ports on the eastern Mediterranean. The mad prices, in turn, increased the desire of purchasers to find other suppliers, and of potential suppliers to find a better and cheaper route to Asia.

Portugal was just one of many potential suppliers, with a location which extended its influence into the Atlantic and down, south and east, to Africa. Prince Henry, son of King John I, promoted the exploration of new routes to the East. He planned Portugal's 1415 capture of Ceuta in Muslim North Africa. He also sponsored voyages that pushed even farther down the West African coast. By the time of his death in 1460, these voyages had reached south to Sierra Leone.

Under King John II, who ruled from 1481 to 1495, Bartolomeu Dias finally sailed around the southernmost point of Africa to the Cape of Good Hope (1487-1488). In 1497-1499 Vasco da Gama of Portugal sailed up the east coast of Africa to India.

The Portuguese colonized and settled such islands in the Atlantic as Madeira, Cape Verde, the Azores, and Sao Tome. These islands supplied them with sugar and gave them territorial control of the Atlantic. West Africa was more promising, not only unearthing a valuable trade route to India, but also providing the Portuguese with ivory, fur, oils, black pepper, gold dust, and a supply of dark skinned slaves who were used as domestic servants, artisans, and market or transportation workers in Lisbon. They were later used as laborers on sugar plantations on the Atlantic.

France, England, And The Hundred Years' War

An idealized painting of Joan of Arc at the siege of Orléans

King Harold of England faced William the Norman usurper after defeating the last Viking forces holding the North of England. And when William the Norman became William the Conqueror, he held England by consolidating the nation. His army was ruled from newly built castles, and had the best technology of the time. His sons and their sons fought the original inhabitants of their country in Scotland and Wales, pushing their boarders. They also claimed the right to their ancestral Normandy, in what is now France. (There had long been rivalry between England and France over the wool trade.) By a English king's marriage to an former queen of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine, the king subsequently claimed Aquitaine. During the years of 1337 to 1453, the kings of England claimed the whole of France and beyond, fighting The Hundred Years' War there and in the Low Countries. For some years the English threatened Paris, and there was a question whether the small area of France proper would be entirely conquered. The early stages of the war marked by English victory against a demoralized French people and their Prince. But around 1428, a young peasant girl from Lorriene, France named Joan of Arc approached a garrison of the French army. She told them that Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret had told her to lead the army to victory. She said that God had come to her in a dream, and told her how to defeat the English. She claimed that God said Prince Charles of France needed to be crowned in order for France to claim victory over the English.[6] After gaining the new French king, support of the populace, and several key victories, Joan was sold to the English for treason and as an appeasement. Yet France had been renewed. It pushed back against the invaders, and took back most of the land. In the next few centuries it was to remove England from Continental Europe.

The Hundred Years' War devastated both countries. But it ultimately turned both of them into stronger, colonial powers. The Hundred Years' War created opportunities for wealth and advancement for the knights of both countries. The Chivalric code showed great influence during this period. France absorbed Aquitaine, Castile, and Normandy itself, prosperous areas. The twin strokes of the plague and the Inquisition weakened opposition to the French king's rule. And English centralization continued as its own royalty sought service of serf and Baron. A group of new dialects, Middle English, came out of the tug between Norman lord and Anglo-Saxon peasant. If the nation could not get new land in Europe, it could use its ships to sail elsewhere.

Review Questions

1. Explain how one of these late medieval devices affected prosperity: the wind mill; the horse collar; the printing press.

2. How did the plague infect individuals? How did mass death affect society?

3. What was the importance of these four men to the Renaissance? Galileo Galilei, Nicolaus Copernicus, Andreas Vesalius, Leonardo Da Vinci.


  1. Massachusetts Medical Society, New England Surgical Society. Boston medical and surgical journal, Volume 149, Issue 2. 1903
  2. Gottfried, Robert S. The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe. Simon and Schuster, 1985. 64.
  3. Hunter, Susan S. Black death: AIDS in Africa. Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. 115.
  4. (Charing pg. 18-23). Charing, Douglas. Judaism. New York, NY: DK Pub., 2003.
  5. Elizabeth Eisenstein, The printing press as an agent of change: communications and cultural transformations in early modern Europe (2 vols. ed.). Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press. 1979. ISBN 0-521-22044-0
  6. Warner, Marina. Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism. University of California Press, 1999

Pre-Columbian America (before 1492)

Artist depiction of the Kincaid Mounds Site in the Pre-Columbian era.

Human civilization in the Americas probably began in the last ice age, when prehistoric hunters crossed a land bridge between the Asian and North American continents.[1] Civilizations in North America, Central America, and South America had different levels of complexity, technology, and cohesiveness.

Some of the most powerful and organized societies occurred in South and Central America. These cultures developed writing, allowing them to spread and dominate. They created some of the largest cities in the Ancient world.

North American cultures were more fragmented and less unified. The tribe was often the major social unit, with exchanges between tribes creating similar societies over vast distances. Tribal dwellings as large as European towns flourished in the rugged desert of southwestern North America.

European-descended historians have difficulty referring to these cultures as a whole, as the native people did not have a unified name for themselves. At first, Europeans called natives "Indians". This term came from the belief by Christopher Columbus that he had discovered a new passage to India.[2] Despite Amerigo Vespucci ascertaining that the Americas were not actually India, Indian continued to be used as the 'de facto' name for native inhabitants until around 1960.[2] Starting in the 1960s, the term "Native American" was used. Yet this term may be too problematic: The name America derives from Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian who had little to do with the native people.[2] There is also "American Indian". This is too general a term for a group having little in common other than skin tone and non-European language. In Canada, the term "First People" is used. All these terms for the native people of America show just how diverse Pre-Columbian America was and the disagreement continues among scholars today about this period.

Early Inhabitants of the Americas

Bering Land Bridge

A map depicting the crossing of the people into the Americas from Asia.

American history does not begin with Columbus's 1492 arrival. The Americas were settled long before the first European arrived.[3] Civilization began during the last ice age, some 15 to 40 thousand years ago.[3] Huge ice sheets covered the north, so sea levels were much lower, creating a land bridge between Asia and North America.[3] This was the Bering land bridge, a gap in two large ice sheets creating a connection from lands near present day Alaska, through Alberta, and into the continental United States.[3]

Nomadic Asians following herds of wild game traveled into the continental United States. A characteristic arrow point was found and first described near the present day town of Clovis, NM. Specialized tools and common burial practices are seen in many archaeological sites through North America and into South America.

Clovis People

The Clovis people are one of North America's earliest civilizations. It is not clear if the finds represent one unified tribe, or many tribes with a common technology and belief. Their trek across 2000 rugged miles is one of the great feats of pre-history. Their culture disappears dramatically from the archaeological record 12,900 years ago, with widespread speculation about what caused their disappearance. Theories range from the extinction of the mammoth, to sudden environmental changes caused by a comet, to flooding caused by the break of a massive freshwater lake, Lake Agassiz.

There is controversy about Pre-Clovis settlement of North and South America. Comparisons of culture and linguistics offer evidence of the influence of early America by several different contemporary cultures. Some genetic and time-dating studies point to the possibility that ancient Americans came from other places and arrived earlier than at the Clovis sites in North America. Perhaps some ancient settlers to the hemisphere traveled by boat along the seashore, or arrived by boats from the Polynesian islands.

As time went on, many of these first settlers settled down into agricultural societies, complete with domesticated animals. Groups of people formed stable tribes and developed distinct languages of their own, to the point that more distant relatives could no longer understand them. Comparative linguistics -- the study of languages of different tribes -- shows fascinating diversity, with similarities between tribes hundreds of miles apart, yet startling differences with neighboring groups.

At times, tribes would gain regional importance and dominate large areas of America. Empires rose across the Americas that rivaled the greatest ones in Europe. For their time, some of these empires were highly advanced.

Early Empires of Mesoamerica

Meso-American civilizations are among of the most powerful and advanced civilizations of the ancient world. Reading and writing were widespread throughout Meso-America, and these civilizations achieved impressive political, artistic, scientific, agricultural, and architectural accomplishments. Many of these civilizations gathered the political and technological resources to build some of the largest, most ornate, and highly populated cities in the ancient world.


The Mayans were a sophisticated civilization, who had great skill in the arts.

The aboriginal Americans settled in the Yucatan peninsulas of present-day Mexico around 10,000 BCE. By 2000 BCE, the Mayan culture had evolved into a complex civilization. The Mayans developed a strong political, artistic and religious identity among the highly populated Yucatan lowlands. The classic period (250-900 CE) witnessed a rapid growth of the Mayan culture and it gained dominance within the region and influence throughout present-day Mexico. Large, independent city-states were founded and became the political, religious, and cultural centers for the Mayan people.

Mayan society was unified not by politics, but by their complex and highly-developed religion. Mayan religion was astrologically based, and supported by careful observations of the sky. The Mayans had a strong grasp of astronomy that rivaled, and, in many ways, exceeded that of concurrent European societies. They developed a very sophisticated system for measuring time, and had a great awareness of the movements in the nighttime sky. Particular significance was attached to the planet Venus, which was particularly bright and appeared in both the late evening and early morning sky.

Mayan art is also considered one of the most sophisticated and beautiful of the ancient New World.

The Mayan culture saw a decline during the 8th and 9th century. Although its causes are still the subject of intense scientific speculation, archaeologists see a definite cessation of inscriptions and architectural construction. The Mayan culture continued as a regional power until its discovery by Spanish conquistadors. In fact, an independent, non-centralized government allowed the Mayans to strongly resist the Spanish conquest of present-day Mexico. Mayan culture is preserved today throughout the Yucatan, although many of the inscriptions have been lost.


An Aztec calendar stone

The Aztec culture began with the migration of the Mexica people to present-day central Mexico. The leaders of this group of people created an alliance with the dominant tribes forming the Aztec triple alliance, and created an empire that influenced much of present-day Mexico.

The Aztec confederacy began a campaign of conquest and assimilation. Outlying lands were inducted into the empire and became part of the complex Aztec society. Local leaders could gain prestige by adopting and adding to the culture of the Aztec civilization. The Aztecs, in turn, adopted cultural, artistic, and astronomical innovations from its conquered people.

The heart of Aztec power was economic unity. Conquered lands paid tribute to the capital city Tenochtitlan, the present-day site of Mexico City. Rich in tribute, this capital grew in influence, size, and population. When the Spanish arrived in 1521, it was the fourth largest city in the world (including the once independent city Tlatelolco, which was by then a residential suburb) with an estimated population of 212,500 people. It contained the massive Temple de Mayo (a twin-towered pyramid 197 feet tall), 45 public buildings, a palace, two zoos, a botanical garden, and many houses. Surrounding the city and floating on the shallow flats of Lake Texcoco were enormous chinampas -- floating garden beds that fed the many thousands of residents of Tenochtitlan.

While many Meso-American civilizations practiced human sacrifice, none performed it to the scale of the Aztecs. To the Aztecs, human sacrifice was a necessary appeasement to the gods. According to their own records, one of the largest slaughters ever performed happened when the great pyramid of Tenochtitlan was reconsecrated in 1487. The Aztecs reported that they had sacrificed 84,400 prisoners over the course of four days.

With their arrival at Tenochtitlan, the Spanish would be the downfall of Aztec culture. Although shocked and impressed by the scale of Tenochtitlan, the display of massive human sacrifice offended European sensitivity, and the abundant displays of gold and silver inflamed their greed. The Spanish killed the reigning ruler, Montezuma in June 1520 and lay siege to the city, destroying it in 1521, aided by their alliance with a competing tribe, the Tlaxcala.


Machu Picchu, the "Lost city of the Incas".

With the ascension of Manco Capac to emperor of a tribe in the Cuzco area of what is modern-day Peru around 1200 BCE, the Incan civilization emerged as the largest Pre-Columbian empire in the Americas.

Religion was significant in Inca life. The royal family were believed to be descendants of the Inca Sun God. Thus, the emperor had absolute authority, checked only by tradition. Under the emperors, a complex political structure was apparent. The Incan emperor, regional and village leaders, and others were part of an enormous bureaucracy. For every ten people, there was, on average, one official. The organization of the Empire also included a complex transportation infrastructure. To communicate across the entire empire, runners ran from village to village, relaying royal messages.

In 1438, the ambitious Pachacuti, likely the greatest of the Incan emperors, came to the throne. Pachacuti rebuilt much of the capital city, Cuzco, and the Temple of the Sun. The success of Pachacuti was based upon his brilliant talent for military command (he is sometimes referred to as the "Napoleon of the Andes") and an amazing political campaign of integration. Leaders of regions that he wanted to conquer were bribed with luxury goods and enticed by promises of privilege and importance. As well, the Incans had developed a prestigious educational system which, not incidentally, just happened to extol the benefits of Incan civilization. Thus, much of the expansion throughout South America was peaceful.

At its height of power in the late 15th century, Incan civilization had conquered a vast patchwork of languages, people and cultures from present-day Ecuador, along the whole length of South America, to present-day Argentina.Cuzco, the capital city, was said by the Spanish to be "as fine as any city in Spain". Perhaps the most impressive city of the Incan empire, though, was not its capital, Cuzco, but the city Machu Picchu.

This mountain retreat was built high in the Andes and is sometimes called the "Lost City of the Incas." It was intended as a mountain retreat for the leaders of the Incan empire and demonstrates great artistry -- the abundant dry stone walls were entirely built without mortar, and the blocks were cut so carefully that one can't insert a knife-blade between them.

The Spanish discovered the Inca during a civil war of succession and enjoyed great military superiority over the slow siege warfare that the Incan empire had employed against its enemies. Fueled by greed at the opportunity to plunder another rich civilization, they conquered and executed the Incan emperor. The Incan empire fell quickly in 1533, but a small resistance force fled to the mountains, waging a guerrilla war of resistance for another 39 years.

Meso-American Empires

The Meso-American Empires were undoubtedly the most powerful and unified civilizations in the new world. Writings were common in Meso-America and allowed these cultures to spread in power and influence with far more ease than their counterparts in north America. Each of these civilizations built impressive urban areas and had a complex culture. They were as 'civilized' as the Spanish who conquered them in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Early Empires of the Southwest

Native Americans adapted the arid desert southwest. A period of relatively wet conditions saw many cultures in the area flourish. Extensive irrigation was developed that were among the biggest of the ancient world. Elaborate adobe and sandstone buildings were constructed. Highly ornamental and artistic pottery was created. The unusual weather conditions could not continue forever, though, and gave way, in time, to the more common drought of the area. These dry conditions necessitated a more minimal way of life and, eventually, the elaborate accomplishments of these cultures were abandoned.

Ancestral Puebloans

Cliff Palace, a structure of the Ancestral Puebloans.

One prominent group were the Ancestral Puebloans, who lived in the present day Northeastern Arizona and surrounding areas. The geography of this area is that of a flat arid, desert plain, surrounded by small areas of high plateau, called mesas. Softer rock layers within the mesas eroded to form steep canyons and overhangs along their slopes.

The Ancestral Puebloans culture used these cave-like overhangs in the side of steep mesas as shelter from the brief, fierce southwestern storms. They also found natural seeps and diverted small streams of snow melt into small plots of maize, squash and beans. Small seasonal rivers formed beds of natural clays and dried mud. The Ancestral Puebloans used hardened dry mud, called adobe, along with sandstone, to form intricate buildings that were sometimes found high in the natural overhangs of the mesas. The Ancestral Puebloans were also skilled at forming the natural clays into pottery.

Between 900 - 1130 CE a period of relatively wet conditions allowed the Ancestral Puebloans to flourish. Traditional architecture was perfected, pottery became intricate and artistic, turkeys were domesticated, and trade over long distances influenced the entire region. Following this golden period was the 300 year drought called Great Drought. The Ancestral Puebloan culture was stressed and erupted into warfare. Scientists once believed the entire people vanished, possibly moving great distances to avoid the arid desert. New research suggests that the Ancestral Puebloans dispersed; abandoning the intricate buildings and moving towards smaller settlements to utilize the limited water that existed.


Casa Grande Ruins, sheltered by a modern roof.

Bordering the Ancestral Puebloan culture in the north, a separate civilization emerged in southern Arizona, called the Hohokam. While many native Americans in the southwest used water irrigation on a limited scale, it was the Hohokam culture that perfected the technology (all without the benefit of modern powered excavating tools). The ability to divert water into small agricultural plots meant that the Hohokam could live in large agricultural communities of relatively high population density. This was particularly true in the Gila River valley, where the Gila River was diverted in many places to irrigate large fertile plains and numerous compact towns. The bigger towns had a 'Great House' at their centers, which was a large Adobe/stone structure. Some of these structures were four stories in size and probably were used by the managerial or religious elites. Smaller excavation or pits were enclosed by adobe walls and used as primary residences. Smaller pit rooms and pits were used for many different functions.

The successful use of irrigation is evident in the extensive Casa Grande village. Situated between two primary canals, the Casa Grande site has been the focus of nearly 9 decades of archaeological work. The original town was built around a Great House and incorporated open courtyards and circular plazas. By the 10th century neighboring settlements had been built to accommodate a large, highly developed region. The scale of this community can be seen in the results of one excavation of part of it in 1997. The project identified 247 pit houses, 27 pit rooms, 866 pits, 11 small canals, a ball court, and portions of four adobe walled compounds.

The Hohokam culture disintegrated when they had difficulty maintaining the canals in the dry conditions of the drought. Small blockages or collapses of the canal would choke the intricate irrigation networks. Large towns and extensive irrigation canals were abandoned. The people gave up their cultural way of life and dispersed into neighboring tribes.

Early Empires of the Mississippi

The Great Serpent Mount

Native Americans in the Eastern Continental United States developed mound-building cultures early in North American History. Groups of native Americans became more stratified as time went on and developed into tribes. These tribes participated in long networks of trade and cultural exchanges. The importance of trade routes developed urban cities of great influence.

The mound-building people were one of the earliest civilizations to emerge in North America. Beginning around 1000 BCE cultures developed that used mounds for religious and burial purposes. These mound-building people are categorized by a series of cultures that describe distinctive artwork and artifacts found in large areas throughout the present-day eastern United States.

The burial mound was the principle characteristic of all of these societies. These large structures were built by piling baskets of carefully selected earth into a mound. Mounds were pyramid shaped with truncated tops. Sometimes small buildings were built on top of them. Some of these mounds were quite large. The Grave Creek Mound, in the panhandle of present day West Virginia, is nearly 70 feet tall and 300 feet in diameter. Other mounds have even been shown to be oriented in a way that allows for astronomical alignments such as solstices and equinoxes.

Mound building cultures spread out in size and importance. The first culture, the Adena, lived in present-day Southern Ohio and the surrounding areas. The succeeding cultures united to create an impressive trade system that allowed each culture to influence the other. The Hopewell exchange included groups of people throughout the continental Eastern United States. There began to be considerable social stratification within these people. This organization predates the emergence of the tribe as a socio-political group of people that would dominate later eastern and western native American civilization.

The climax of this civilization was the Mississippian culture. The mound-building cultures had progressed to social complexity comparable to Post-Roman, Pre-Consolidation Tribal England. Mounds became numerous and some settlements had large complexes of them. Structures were frequently built on top of the mounds. Institutional social inequalities existed, such as slavery and human sacrifice. Cahokia, near the important trade routes of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, became an influential and highly developed community. Extensive trade networks extended from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

Cahokia was one of the great centers of Mississippian culture and its largest settlement of Mississippi. The focal point of the settlement was the ceremonial mound called Monk's Mound. Monk's Mound was the largest mound ever constructed by mound-building people and was nearly 100 feet tall and 900 feet long. Excavation on the top of Monk's Mound has revealed evidence of a large building - perhaps a temple - that could be seen throughout the city. The city was spread out on a large plain south of Monks mound.

Monk's Mound located at the Cahokia site near Collinsville, Illinois.

The city proper contained 120 mounds at varying distances from the city center. The mounds were divided into several different types, each of which may have had its own meaning and function. A circle of posts immediate to Monk's Mound marked a great variety of astronomical alignments. The city was surrounded by a series of watchtowers and occupied a diamond shape pattern that was nearly 5 miles across. At its best, the city may have contained as many as 40,000 people, making it the largest in North America.

It is likely the Mississippian culture was dispersed by the onslaught of viral diseases, such as smallpox, which were brought by European explorers. Urban areas were particularly vulnerable to these diseases, and Cahokia was abandoned in the 1500's. The dispersal of tribes made it impractical to build or maintain mounds and many were found abandoned by European explorers.

Contact with European Culture


Graph of the population population of Mexico, with major epidemics marked.

European contact brought immediate changes in many tribes of North America. One of the most significant changes to all Indian tribes was the introduction of viral diseases and epidemics.[4][5] Smallpox was probably the single biggest scourge to hit North America. Infected contagious Indians spread the plague far inland almost immediately after early encounters with European settlers. It is estimated that around 90% of all Native Americans died from diseases soon after first contact.[6] The effects traumatized many powerful and important cultures. Urban areas were particularly vulnerable and Native American culture adapted by becoming more isolated, less unified, and with a renewed round of inter-tribal warfare as tribes seized the opportunity to gain resources once owned by rivals.

Columbian Exchange

On the other hand, Europeans brought invasive plants and animals.[7][8] The horse was re-introduced to America[9] (as original paleo-American populations of wild horses from the Bering land bridge were extinct) and quickly adapted to free range on the sprawling great plains. Tribes of nomadic Native Americans were quick to see the horse's value as an increase in their mobility;[10] allowing them to better adapt to changing conditions and as a valuable asset in warfare.[11] Along with Europeans bringing plants and animals, the Europeans were able to take several plants such as corn, potatoes, and tomatoes back to their native countries.[12]

Review Questions

1. Give two names for the indigenous peoples living in America, and name the circumstances behind each name.

2. What evidence do we have for the Inca, Mayan, and Aztec cultures?

3. What in the climate contributed to the rise and fall of the indigenous peoples of South-West North America?


  1. Gerszak, Fen Montaigne,Jennie Rothenberg Gritz,Rafal. "The Story of How Humans Came to the Americas Is Constantly Evolving" (in en). Smithsonian Magazine. 
  2. a b c "American Indians and Native Americans". Retrieved 23 September 2020.
  3. a b c d "Migration of Humans into the Americas (c. 14,000 BCE)". Climate Across Curriculum. Retrieved 23 September 2020.
  4. "Conclusion :: U.S. History". Retrieved 26 December 2020.
  5. "Columbian Exchange" (in en). Immigration History Research Center College of Liberal Arts. 16 June 2015. 
  6. "Guns Germs & Steel: Variables. Smallpox PBS". Retrieved 26 December 2020.
  7. "APWG: Background Information". Retrieved 26 December 2020.
  8. "Escape of the invasives: Top six invasive plant species in the United States" (in en). Smithsonian Institution. 
  9. "History of Horses in America". Retrieved 26 December 2020.
  10. "Wealth & Status A Song for the Horse Nation - October 29, 2011 through January 7, 2013 - The National Museum of the American Indian - Washington, D.C." Retrieved 26 December 2020.
  11. "Warfare A Song for the Horse Nation - October 29, 2011 through January 7, 2013 - The National Museum of the American Indian - Washington, D.C." Retrieved 26 December 2020.
  12. "Columbian Exchange (1492-1800)". Retrieved 26 December 2020.

Vikings (1000-1013)

Who were the Vikings?

Map showing area of Scandinavian settlements during the 9th to 10th centuries. Also the trade and raid routes, often inseparable, are marked.

The Norsemen (Norwegians) who lived around the beginning of the second millennium are today more commonly known as Vikings. The Vikings were farmers who "traded" during the slow months. Now, "trading" doesn't mean "I'll give you five sheep for that cow." It means "I'll give you five sheep for that cow. If you don't want to trade, I'll kill you." These people loved to travel in boats from one place to another, and this led to the second discovery of North America (Native Americans first, Vikings second, and Columbus third). Although Irish monks, most famously Brendan, and other European explorers had voyaged in the western waters, the Vikings established a settlement, the remains of which can be seen today at L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland.

Proported Ancestry and Descendants

The Norse are believed by some to have descended from the Huns, a people of uncertain ancestry. The Norse are believed by some to be the ancestors of the Goths and of modern Germans. There is no proof for these claims.

Eric "the Red" and his Children

Eric "the Red" fled Norway to Iceland to avoid facing a murder charge, and later was banished from Iceland for yet another murder. His children would have great impact on the discovery and explorations of North America.

Bjarni Ericson

Bjarni travelled around trading in his little knarr. A knarr is a small Norwegian boat that only fits about three to five people. Bjarni sighted Vinland (modern Newfoundland).

An interesting fact is that Leif Ericson bought Bjarni Herjólfsson's boat about ten years later, in about 995 C. E. This is the same boat in which Lief had discovered Vinland. Leif Ericson was about thirty years old (or thirty three, depending on whether one follows the "Eiríks saga rauða", i.e. the Saga of Eric the Red, or the "Grœnlendinga saga", or the Greenlanders Saga).

Thorvald Ericson

Explored from 1004 to 1005 AD.

Thorfinn Ericson

Traveled from 1008-1009 AD. He bravely took cattle with him on his knarr, hoping to settle in Greenland. "Greenland" is a misnomer, since it's covered in ice; his cattle died.

Freydis Erikidottir

Freydis was Eric's daughter, his fourth child. Since Freydis was a woman, there were many restrictions put upon her, but she wanted to make a name for herself. In 1013 AD, she explored with 2 Icelandic men, and killed them and their men upon arriving in Vinland (North America).

Leif Ericson

Leif Ericson did further exploration of Vinland and settled there. In 986, Norwegian-born Eirik Thorvaldsson, known as Eirik the Red, explored and colonized the southwestern part of Greenland. It was his son, Leiv Eiriksson, who became the first European to set foot on the shores of North America, and the first explorer of Norwegian extraction now accorded worldwide recognition.

The date and place of Leiv Eiriksson's birth has not been definitely established, but it is believed that he grew up on Greenland. The Saga of Eric the Red relates that he set sail for Norway in 999, served King Olav Trygvasson for a term, and was sent back to Greenland one year later to bring Christianity to its people.

Exploration (1266-1522)

Christopher Columbus

A posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus

By the 15th Century European trade for luxuries such as spices and silk had inspired European explorers to seek new routes to Asia. The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 had closed a crucial trade corridor. Trade throughout the Ottoman Empire was difficult and unreliable. Portugal was in the lead in exploration, slowly exploring the shores of the African Continent in search of a better route to the spices and luxuries of the Orient.

Then the Italian Christopher Columbus submitted plans for a voyage to Asia by sailing around the world. By the late 15th century most educated Europeans knew the world was round. The Greek mathematician Eratosthenes had accurately deduced that the world was approximately 25,000 miles in circumference. Many of the experts studying Columbus's plans on behalf of the European monarchies he approached for funding realized that this was too far for any contemporary sailing ship to go. Columbus contested the measurements, claiming that the world was much smaller than was widely believed.

After approaching the monarchies of several Italian city-states, and repeated appeals to the English and Portuguese monarchies, the Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella finally decided to give Columbus a chance. King Ferdinand thought Columbus might find something to compete with the neighboring kingdom of Portugal. Columbus set out on August 3rd, 1492. Five weeks later, after almost being thrown overboard by his own crew, the long voyage ended when land was sighted. This was an island called Guanahani (now known as San Salvador, in the island chain called the Bahamas). During this voyage Columbus also explored what is now considered the northeast coast of Cuba and the northern coast of Hispaniola. On his return to Spain, news of the new lands spread throughout Europe. Columbus was to make three more voyages to the New World between 1492 and 1503, exploring the Caribbean and the mainland of Central and South America. He imported sugar cane to the Americas, beginning an important industry.

Columbus was granted authority by the Spanish Monarchy to claim land for the Spanish, begin a settlement, trade for valuable goods or gold, and explore. He was also made governor of all the lands which he found. Columbus become an increasingly savage and brutal governor in the course of his four voyages. He enslaved and stole from the natives, at one point threatening to cut off the hands of any native who failed to give him gold. He was retired, and to the end of his life he believed that he had reached Asia.

It took another Italian explorer for Spain, Amerigo Vespucci, to correct this error. Amerigo described the lands around his islands and tried to deduce their proximity to Asia. From his voyages, Amerigo deduced that Columbus had found a new Continent. This new continent would be named America.

French Empire in North America

A painting of Jacques Cartier meeting with the Iroquoian people of Stadacona.

Christopher Columbus's voyages inspired other European powers to seek out the new world as well. Jacques Cartier, a respected mariner in his native France, proposed a trip to the North to investigate whether Asia could be reached from another route. His trip in 1534 retraced much of the voyages of the vikings and established contacts with natives in modern-day Canada. He explored some of northern Canada, established friendly relations with the American Indians, and discovered that the St Lawrence river region neither had abundant gold nor a northwest passage to Asia.

During the 16th century, the taming of Siberian wilderness by the Russians established a thriving fur trade which created a great demand for fur throughout Europe. France was quick to realize that the North held great potential as a provider of fur. Samuel de Champlain settled the first permanent settlement in present-day Canada and created a thriving trade with the Native Americans for beaver pelts and other animal hides.

Meanwhile, in the South, Early French Protestants, called Huguenots, had the opportunity to leave hostile European lands while advancing French claims to the new world. Settlements in present-day Florida and Georgia would create tension with Spanish conquistadors, who after conquering Caribbean lands would begin to expand their search for new lands. In contrast to these French Protestant colonies, in the 17th century French members of the Catholic order of Jesuits organized a settlement in what would become Maine, and began missionary efforts in what would become lower Canada and upper New York State.

Spanish Empire in North America

Claims made by the Spanish Empire during the Rule of Phillip II, Phillip III, and Phillip IV. Claims and real control of an area could be different.

The Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon was an early visitor to the Americas, traveling to the new world on Columbus's second voyage. He became the first governor of the present-day area of Puerto Rico in 1509. However, upon the death of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish did not allow Christopher's son to succeed. Like his father, he had committed atrocities against the Native Americans of the Caribbean. The two governors were released and replaced with successors from Spain.

Ponce De Leon, freed of his governorship, decided to explore areas to the north, where there was rumored to be a fountain of youth that restored the youth of anyone drinking from it. Ponce de Leon found a peninsula on the coast of North America, called the new land 'Florida' and chartered a colonizing expedition. His role was brief: attacked by Native American forces, he died in nearby Cuba.

By the early 16th century, Spanish conquistadors had penetrated deep into the Central and South American continents. Native American cultures had collected large troves of gold and valuables and given them to leaders of these prosperous empires. The conquistadors, believing they held considerable military and technological superiority over these cultures, attacked and destroyed the Aztecs in 1521 and the Incas in 1532.

The wealth seized by the Spanish would lead to piracy and a new wave of settlements as the other colonial powers became increasingly hostile towards Spain. Many areas that had been colonized by Spain were inundated with French and English pirates.

By 1565, Spanish forces looked to expand their influence to the New World by attacking the French settlement of Fort Caroline. The Spanish navy overwhelmed 200 French Huguenot settlers, slaughtering them even as they surrendered to Spain's superior military might. Spain formed the settlement of St. Augustine as an outpost to ensure that French Huguenots where no longer welcome in the area. St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European-established city in North America.

In 1587 a Spanish Galleon landed in what is currently California with Filipinos aboard, making them among the first Asians to land in what would become the modern United States.[1]

Catholicism was introduced to the American colonies by the Spanish settlers in what is now present day Florida (1513) and the South West United States.[2] The first Christian worship service was a Catholic mass held in Florida in 1559, in what we now identify as Pensacola. Spain established the first permanent European Catholic settlement in St. Augustine, Florida in 1565, to help the settlers complete the "moral imperative" which was to convert all the Native peoples to Christianity, and to also to help support the treasure fleets of Spain.[3] During the time period of 1635-1675 Franciscans operated between 40 and 70 mission stations, attempting to convert about 26,000 "Hispanicized" natives who organized themselves into 4 provinces, Timucua, in central Florida, Guale, along the coast of Georgia, Apalachee on the northeastern edge of the Gulf of Mexico, and Apalachicola to the west.

British Empire in North America

1588 painting of Sir Walter Raleigh.

England funded an initial exploratory trip shortly after Christopher Columbus's first voyage. Departing England in 1501, John Cabot explored the North American continent. He correctly supposed that the spherical shape of the earth made the North, where the longitudes are much shorter, a quicker route to the New World than a trip to the South islands Columbus was exploring. Encouraged, he asked the English monarchy for a more substantial expedition to further explore and settle the lands which he had found. The ships departed and were never seen again. England remained preoccupied with political affairs for much of the 16th century. This was despite the insistence of the author Richard Haklyt, who translated some of the accounts of exploration into English. He wrote that England ought to seek colonies in America, specifically in Virginia.

By the beginning of the 17th century, England, Scotland, and other English possessions had formed the nation of Great Britain and was becoming a formidable foe on the world's stage. The quickly expanding British navy was preparing for a massive strike upon the Spanish armada.

Sir Walter Raleigh, who had gained considerable favor from Queen Elizabeth I by suppressing rebellions in Ireland, sought to establish an empire in the new world. His Roanoke colony would be relatively isolated from existing settlements in North America. He funded the colony with his own money, unlike the previous explorers who had been funded and sponsored by monarchies. It is assumed that the colony was destroyed during a three year period in which England was at war with Spain and did serious damage to the Spanish navy.

The war left the British monarchy so drained of money and resources that the monarchy sold a charter containing lands between present-day South Carolina and the US-Canada border to two competing groups of investors, the Plymouth Company and the London Company. The two companies were given the North and South portions of this area, respectively. There was an overlapping area of development in the middle of the two Companies, a place both could exploit provided one Company's settlement wasn't within a hundred miles of the other's settlement. The Northern Plymouth settlement in Maine failed and was abandoned, but the London company established a Jamestown settlement in 1606.

Virginia and Jamestown

The ruins of Jamestown still stand to this day.

The new area was named Virginia, after both the organizing Virginia Company of London and Queen Elizabeth, "the Virgin Queen." Founded in 1607 with a charter from the Virginia Company, Jamestown was the first permanent English colony in the Americas. However, the swampy terrain was a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which carried dysentery, malaria, and smallpox, diseases that the English did not know. Many of the settlers fell sick and died shortly after.

In addition, Virginia's first government was weak, and its individuals frequently quarreled over policies. The colonists frantically searched for gold, silver, and gems, ignoring their own sicknesses. Indian raids further weakened defense and unification, and Jamestown began to die off. By the winter of 1609-1610, also known as the Starving Time, only 60 settlers remained from the original 500 passengers.

Two men helped the colony to survive: John Smith and John Rolfe. Smith, who arrived in Virginia in 1608, introduced an ultimatum: those who did not work would not receive food or pay. The colonists at last learned how to raise crops and trade with the nearby Indians, with whom Smith had made peace. In 1612, the English businessman Rolfe discovered that Virginia had ideal conditions for growing tobacco. This discovery, and the breeding of a new, "sweeter" strain, led to the plant becoming the colony's major cash crop. Tobacco was then used as medicine against the plague. With English demand for tobacco rising, Virginia had found a way to support itself economically.

In 1619, Virginia set up the House of Burgesses, the first elected legislative assembly in America. It marked the beginnings of self-government, replacing the martial law that was previously imposed on the colonists. However, at the same time Virginia was declared a "crown colony." Its charter was transferred from the Virginia Company to the Crown of England, which meant that Jamestown was now a colony run by the English monarchy. While the House of Burgesses was still allowed to run the government, the king also appointed a royal governor to settle disputes and enforce certain British policies.

Review Questions

1. Name the areas associated with these explorers: Christopher Columbus, Jacques Cartier, John Cabot, Sir Walter Raleigh.

2. Name three motives behind Columbus's voyages.


  2. Death in Early America. Margaret M. Coffin. 1976
  3. American Catholics, James Hennesey, S.J. 1981

Early Colonial Period (1492 - 1607)

The Arrival of Columbus

Christopher Columbus and three ships - the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria - set sail on August 3, 1492. On October 12, a lookout cried out that he had sighted land. The crew set foot on an island that day, naming it San Salvador. It is unknown which exact island was discovered by Columbus. (Note that the island presently called San Salvador is so-called in honor of Columbus' discovery; it is not necessarily the one on which Columbus set foot.)

The Native Americans inhabiting the islands were described as "Indians" by Columbus, who had believed that he had discovered the East Indies (modern Indonesia). In reality, he had found an island in the Caribbean. He continued to explore the area, returning to Spain. Columbus' misconception that he found Asia was corrected years later by the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, after whom America may be named.

The Protestant Reformation

In Europe, the power of the Pope and the influence of Catholicism was undoubted. The Catholic religion affected every aspect of politics on the continent. However, in the sixteenth century, the conditions were ripe for reform. Gutenberg's printing press made the spread of ideas much easier. The influence of nationalism grew, and rulers began to resent the power possessed by the Pope.

The Protestant movement may have commenced earlier, but the publication of Ninety-Five Theses by Martin Luther in 1517 spurred on the revolution within the Church. Luther attacked the Church's theology, which, he believed, misrepresented The Bible and placed too much authority in the hands of the clergy, and wished to reform the Church. After being excommunicated, Luther published many books on Reform. Luther's works were most influential in Germany and Scandinavia.

Persons other than Luther championed the cause of Reform. In Switzerland, Huldreich Zwingli advanced Protestant ideas, which mostly affected his home country. Similarly, Frenchman John Calvin helped the spread of Protestantism in France and the Netherlands.

English Protestantism resulted from the direct influence of the British monarch. Henry VIII (1509-1547) sought to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, because she had failed to produce a viable male heir to the throne. When his divorce led to excommunication by the Pope, Henry simply declared the entire country free of Catholic domination and a bastion of Protestantism. Henry reasoned that England could survive under its own religious regulation (Anglican) and he named himself head of the church.

Elizabethan England

Elizabethan Succession

After Henry VIII died, he was succeeded by his son Edward VI (1547-1553) who reigned briefly before dying. Edward's death led to the ascension of Henry's daughter by Catherine, Mary I (1553-1558). A staunch Catholic, Mary sought to return England back to the Catholic church. Her religious zeal and persecution of Protestants earned her the nickname, "Bloody Mary." After a short reign, she was succeeded by her half-sister, Elizabeth. Elizabeth I (1558-1603) was the daughter of Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn. Her ascendency to the throne resulted when neither of her half siblings, Edward and Mary, produced an heir to the throne.

Religious Reform

Under her siblings' reign, the nation constantly battled religious fervor as it sought to identify itself as either Protestant or Catholic. Henry VIII had severed ties with the Roman Catholic Church upon his excommunication after divorcing Catherine of Aragon. He established the Church of England (the precursor to the Anglican Church) as the official state religion and named himself, not the Pope, as its head. Under Mary, the country returned to Catholic rule. The Elizabethan Age brought stability to English government. Elizabeth sought a compromise (the Elizabethan Settlement) which returned England to a nation governed by Protestant theology with a Catholic ritual. Elizabeth called Parliament in 1559 to consider the Reformation Bill that re-established an independent Church of England and redefined the sacrament of communion. Parliament also approved the Act of Supremacy, establishing ecclesiastical authority with the monarch.

Economic Reform

Elizabeth's far more important response was to stabilize the English economy following the 1551 collapse of the wool market. To respond to this economic crisis, Elizabeth used her power as monarch to shift the supply-demand curve. She expelled all non-English wool merchants from the empire. Her government placed quotas on the amount of wool that could be produced while also encouraging manors to return to agricultural production. She also started trading directly with the Spanish colonies in direct violation of their tariff regulations. This maritime violation would later result in an attack on England by the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Queen Elizabeth was a very popular monarch. Her people followed her in war and peace. She remained unmarried until her death, probably through a reluctance to share any power and preferring a series of suitors. This gave her the name, the Virgin Queen, and in honor of her, a colony was named Virginia a few years after her death.

In the aftermath of the Armada's overwhelming defeat and building on the development of a strong fleet started by Henry VIII, England began to gain recognition as a great naval power. Nationalism in England increased tremendously. Thoughts of becoming a colonial power were inspired. These thoughts were aided by the fact that the defeated Spanish lost both money and morale, and would be easy to oppose in the New World.

Early Colonial Ventures

Richard Hakluyt

In 1584, Richard Hakluyt proposed a strong argument for expansion of English settlement into the new world. With his Discourse Concerning Western Planting, Hakluyt argued that creating new world colonies would greatly benefit England. The colonies could easily produce raw materials that were unavailable in England. By establishing colonies, England would assure itself of a steady supply of materials that it currently purchased from other world powers. Second, inhabited colonies would provide a stable market for English manufactured goods. Finally, as the economic incentives were not enough, the colonies could provide a home for disavowed Englishmen.


The English had already begun the exploration of the New World prior to the Armada's defeat. In 1584, Queen Elizabeth granted Sir Walter Raleigh a charter authorizing him to explore the island of Roanoke, which is part of what is now North Carolina.

Between 1584 and 1586, Raleigh financed expeditions to explore the island of Roanoke and determine if the conditions were proper for settlement. In 1586, about a hundred men were left on the island. They struggled to survive, being reduced to eating dogs. They were, however, rescued- except for fifteen men whose fate remained a mystery.

After another expedition in 1587, another group of men, women, and children- a total of more than one-hundred people- remained on the island. Governor John White of the Roanoke colony discovered from a local Native American tribe that the fifteen men who were not rescued were killed by a rival tribe. While attempting to gain revenge, White's men killed members of a friendly tribe and not the members of the tribe that allegedly killed the fifteen men.

Having thus strained relations with the Natives, the settlers could not survive easily. John White decided to return to England in 1587 and return with more supplies. When he returned, England faced war against Spain. Thus delayed, White could not return to Roanoke until 1590. When he did return, White discovered that Roanoke was abandoned. All that gave clue to the fate of the colony was the word Croatan, the name of a nearby Native American tribe, carved out on to a tree. No attempt was made to discover the actual cause of the disappearance until several years later.

There are only theories as to the cause of the loss of Roanoke. There are two major possibilities. Firstly, the settlers may have been killed by the Natives. Second, the settlers may have assimilated themselves into the Native tribes. But there is no evidence that settles the matter beyond doubt.

Review Questions

Use the content in this chapter and/or from external sources to answer the following questions. Remember to properly cite any sources used.

  1. Identify or explain the significance of the following people:
    (a) Christopher Columbus
    (b) Martin Luther
    (c) King Henry VIII
    (d) Richard Hakluyt
    (e) Elizabeth I
    (f) Sir Walter Raleigh
  2. What primary factor(s) led to the shift from Catholicism to Protestant belief in England?
  3. Why did King Henry VIII establish the Church of England? How did this influence the English Reformation?
  4. Differentiate between Elizabeth I's policies and Henry VIII's. What attitudes did the English have toward Elizabeth and her rule?
  5. What did the defeat of the Spanish Armada symbolize to all of Europe?
  6. What difficulties did the colonists of Raleigh face between 1584 and 1587? What was the fate of the colony?

The English Colonies (1607 - 1754)

Patterns of Colonization

The islands of Great Britain changed greatly in the Renaissance, resulting in the Church of England, the British Civil War, and total transformation of economic, political, and legal systems. Yet through this time, despite pressure from other nations and America's own Natives, a diverse set of English colonies were planted and thrived.

These new colonies were funded in three different ways. In one plan, corporate colonies were established by joint stock companies. A joint stock company was a project in which people would invest shares of stock into building a new colony. Depending on the success of the colony, each investor would receive profit based on the shares he had bought. This investment was less risky than starting a colony from scratch, and each investor influenced how the colony was run. These investors often elected their own public officials. (An example of a joint stock company on another continent was the British East India Company.) Virginia was settled in this way.

Proprietary colonies were owned by a person or family who made laws and appointed officials as he or they pleased. Development was often a direct result of this ownership. Charles II granted William Penn the territory now known as Pennsylvania. Penn's new colony gave refuge to Quakers, a group of millennial Protestants who opposed the Church of England. (Quakers did not have ministers and did not hold to civil or religious inequality, making them a dangerous element in hierarchical societies.) Penn was an outspoken Quaker and had written many pamphlets defending the Quaker faith. He also invited settlers from other countries and other Protestant minorities, and even some Catholics.

Finally, royal colonies were under the direct control of the King, who appointed a Royal Governor. The resulting settlement was not always identical to England. For example, England had broken with Catholicism during the reign of Henry the Eighth, and the Old Faith was seen not only as religious heresy but the prelude to domination by other countries. Yet Maryland's grant of toleration of Catholics was granted as a boon from the British Crown. In 1634, Lord Baltimore appointed George Calvert of England to settle a narrow strip of land north of Virginia and south of Pennsylvania as a Catholic colony via a royal charter. Fifteen years later, in 1649, he signed the Act of Toleration, which proclaimed religious freedom for its colonists. Despite the original charter, Protestants later became the majority faith. After Lord Baltimore's death several years later, Margaret Brent, the wife of an esteemed landowner in Maryland, executed his will as governor of the colony. She defied gender roles in the colonies by being the first woman of non-royal heritage to govern an English colony.

Massachusetts Bay Colony

The Massachusetts Bay Colony, another corporate colony, was founded as a place far from England where its religious dissenters could live. The Puritans, a group of radical Protestants who wanted what they called a return to the faith of the Bible, suffered torture and execution because they disagreed with the official Church of England. In 1620, forty-one Puritans (who called themselves Pilgrims) sailed for the new world. Their own contemporary accounts show that the Pilgrims originally intended to settle the Hudson River region near present day Long Island, New York. Once Cape Cod was sighted, they turned south to head for the Hudson River, but encountered treacherous seas and nearly shipwrecked. They then decided to return to Cape Cod rather than risk another attempt to head south. After weeks of scouting for a suitable settlement area, the Mayflower's passengers finally landed at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts on December 26, 1620. They called it Massachusetts after the name of the Indian tribe then living there.

Passengers of the Mayflower signing the "Mayflower Compact"

William Bradford, who was selected as a governor after the death of John Carver, wrote a journal that helps us to better understand the hardships colonists endured, encounters with the Native Americans, and ultimately, the success of the colony. The Pilgrims agreed to govern themselves in the manner set forth in the Mayflower Compact, which signed on the Pilgrims' ship, The Mayflower. After two years they abandoned the communal form of partnership begun under the Compact and in 1623 assigned individual plots of land to each family to work.

Ten years later, the joint-stock Massachusetts Bay Company acquired a charter from King Charles of England. The colony of Plymouth was eventually absorbed by Massachusetts Bay, but it remained separate until 1691.

A large group of Pilgrims later migrated to the new colony of Massachusetts Bay. In keeping with its mother Church of England, the colony did not provide religious freedom. It only allowed (male) Puritans the right to vote, established Puritanism as the official religion of the colony in The Act of Toleration, and punished people who did not go to their Church.

New York

Other countries used the joint-stock company to fund exploration. In 1609, the Dutch East India company discovered a territory on the eastern coast of North America, from latitude 38 to 45 degrees north. This was an expedition in the yacht Halve Maen ("Half Moon") commanded by Henry Hudson. Adriaen Block and Hendrick Christiaensz explored the territory from 1611 until 1614. In March of 1614 the States General, the governing body of the Netherlands, proclaimed exclusive patent for trade in the New World. The States General issued patents for development of New Netherland as a private commercial venture. Ft. Nassau was swiftly built in the area of present day Albany to defend river traffic and to trade with Native Americans. New Netherland became a province of the Dutch Republic in 1624. The northern border was then reduced to 42 degrees north, as the English had encroached north of Cape Cod.

According to the Law of Nations, a claim on a territory required not only discovery and charting but settlement. In May 1624 the Dutch completed their claim by landing thirty Dutch families on Noten Eylant, modern Governors Island.

In the next few decades incompetent directors-general ran New Netherland. The settlers were attacked by Native Americans, and British and Dutch conflicts seemed destined to destroy the colony. All that changed when Peter Stuyvesant was appointed Director-General in 1647. As he arrived he said, "I shall govern you as a father his children". He expanded the colony's borders. He oversaw conquest of the one settlement of northernmost Europe, New Sweden, in 1655. He resolved the border dispute with New England in 1650. He improved defenses against Native American raids, and the population of the colony went from 500 in 1640 to 9,000 by 1664. But in August of 1664, four English warships arrived in New York Harbor demanding the surrender of the colony. At first, Stuyvesant vowed to fight, but there was little ammunition and gunpowder. He received weak support from the overwhelmed colonists, and was forced to surrender. New Netherland was subsequently renamed New York, in honor of the British Duke of York.

In an attempt to gain supremacy over trade, the English waged war against the Dutch in 1664. The English took control over the Dutch harbor of New Amsterdam on the Atlantic coast of America. James, the brother of King Charles II, received the charter for New Amsterdam and the surrounding Dutch territory.

In 1673 the Dutch, lead by Michiel de Ruyter, briefly reoccupied New Netherland again, this time naming it New Orange. After peace was made, ending the Third Anglo-Dutch War, they agreed to return it to the English.

Patterns of Colonization in the Other Early Colonies

The territory of Carolina, named after the British King Charles I, was granted as a proprietary colony to eight different nobles. The proprietors divided Carolina into two separate colonies -- North Carolina and South Carolina.

Four colonies were formed by division from already extant larger territories. When New Holland was taken to become New York, King James granted a portion of the territory, present-day New Jersey, to Lord Berkeley and Sir George Cartaret, while retaining present-day New York for himself as a proprietary colony. Sir George had come from the Isle of Jersey, and the new colony was named accordingly. Another portion of the territory became the crown colony Connecticut. This colony was also named for its native tribe of Indians. A corner of Pennsylvania which was not peopled by Quakers separated in 1704 to become the colony of Delaware. This was given the name of Thomas West, Third Baron De La Warr, a nobleman under Queen Elizabeth and a noted adventurer.

Rhode Island was a unique experiment in religious and political freedom. Massachusetts banished Roger Williams after he began asserting that Jesus Christ meant for the Church to be separate from the governing authority. This dissenter from the Church of England, and then from the Puritans, became the first American Baptist. After many adventures in other colonies, he bought land from the Narragansett Indians for a new settlement. Providence was meant to be a colony free from religious entanglements and a refuge for people of conscience. He was later followed by Anne Hutchinson. She had outraged Boston divines because she was a woman who preached, and because she believed that one's works were not always tied to grace, unlike the Puritans. She also bought land from the Indians. On this was the settlement subsequently named Portsmouth, and afterward a dissident sister town, Newport. The colony was partially based upon Aquidneck Island, later called Rhode Island for unknown reasons, and the entire establishment eventually took its name from that place.

Georgia was another proprietary colony, named after King George I, with a charter granted to James Oglethorpe and others in 1732. It was intended as a "buffer" colony to protect the others from attacks from the Florida Spanish and the Louisiana French. Because of this, Georgia was the only colony to receive funds from the Crown from its founding. The laws in Great Britain put people in prison for debt. Many of these people were shipped from overcrowded jails to freedom in the wilds of Georgia colony. America was already seen as a land of prosperity, and Oglethorpe hoped that the ex-prisoners would soon become honest and rich. However, few of the prisoners of London jails knew how to survive in the new wilderness.

Portrait of the British Colonies

The Colonies are often considered as three groups: New England (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut), the Southern Colonies (Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia), and the Middle Colonies (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware). Sometimes the Carolinas and Georgia are counted as separate from the Chesapeake Colonies.

Each group had geographic and economic characteristics. New England's rocky soil only encouraged small farms, and its agricultural opportunities were limited. Thus it focused on fishing, forestry, shipping, and small industry to make money.[1]

Richer land in the Southern colonies was taken over by individual farmers who grasped acreage. This created large plantation farms that grew tobacco, and later cotton. Farms in the Carolinas also farmed sugar, rice, and indigo. In the 17th century, these were farmed by indentured servants, people who would work for a period of years in return for passage to America and land. Many of these servants died before their indentures ended. A group of indentured servants rose up in Bacon's Rebellion in 1676. After Bacon's Rebellion, plantations began using African slaves instead. Even after release from indenture, many of these white people remained in the economic lower classes, though not subject to the slave codes, which became more harsh as time passed, denying almost all liberty to slaves in the southern colonies. By the American Revolution, one in five colonists was an African slave. And the products produced by slavery in the South were consumed and traded by towns in the Middle Colonies and New England. Few people questioned the slave economy.

The Middle Colonies had medium-sized farms. These colonies also had people from many different cultures with many different beliefs. Individuals in these states used indentured servants, and later slaves, but there was not the concentration of masses of slave labor found in the Southern colonies.

Another distinction lies in religious practices. New England was mostly Congregationalist, with some admixture of Presbyterian congregations and the religious non-conformists who called themselves Baptists. These were all descendants of dissenters before and during the British Civil War. The South was mostly Anglican, cherishing religious and secular traditions and holidays. The Middle Colonies held small groups of people from Holland, German lands, and even Bohemia, and they brought a welter of Catholic and Protestant faiths.

Among the whites sent to the colonies by English authorities were many Scots-Irish people from Ulster. These had been Calvinist Protestants in the middle of a Irish Catholic majority, at odds both with them and with England. This minority settled in the frontier region of the Appalachian Mountains and eventually beyond in the Ohio and Mississippi country. In America their desire for land and freedom pushed the colonial boundary westward at little cost to the government, and provided an armed buffer between the eastern settlements and Native American tribes which had been driven away from the seaboard. Colonial frontiersmen endured a very harsh life, building their towns and farms by hand in a dense wilderness amid economic deprivation and native attack.

Each colony developed its own areas of edification and amusement, depending upon the local faith and the local capacities. The culture of the South recorded early interest in musical theater, with Charleston, South Carolina and Williamsburg, Virginia as hubs of musical activity. A performance of Richard III, the first professional production of Shakespeare in America, took place in New York City in 1750. And preachers, lecturers, and singers entertained the colonists.

Their commonalities were stronger than their differences. All three regions shared a population mostly derived from the British Isles. All had terrible roads, and all had connections to the Atlantic Ocean as a means of transportation. And all were tied to the Atlantic economy. Atlantic merchants used ships to trade slaves, tobacco, rum, sugar, gold, silver, spices, fish, lumber, and manufactured goods between America, the West Indies, Europe and Africa.[2] New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charleston were the largest cities and main ports at that time.[3]

Early Technology

The first wave of colonists used hand labor to cultivate their farms, and established such land-based crafts such as pottery and tanning. As later ships brought cattle and horses, draft animals became part of the economy. Indentured servants, and then slaves kidnapped from Africa, were imported. This was when larger plantations began to be founded. In the latter part of the eighteenth century small-scale machine-based manufacturing began to appear. Individuals started to dig for coal and iron ore. New England used the latter to begin making building tools and horseshoes. A new textile industry arose, dependent in part upon Southern cotton. Powered by wood or coal and fed by the need for strong metal, household forges pioneered new techniques of iron-making. The blacksmith and the tinsmith became part of large settlements. Colonies started making mechanized clocks, guns, and lead type for printing.

Mercantilism, Salutary Neglect and British Interference

The American colonies, entirely new societies separated by an ocean from Great Britain, believed they had the right to govern themselves. This belief was encouraged by Great Britain's Glorious Revolution and 1689 Bill of Rights, which gave Parliament the ultimate authority in government. A policy of relatively lax controls or Salutary Neglect ended in increased British regulation resulting from the policy of mercantilism, and seen through the Lords of Trade and the later Navigation Acts.


Parliament placed controls on colonial trade in obedience to the economic policy of mercantilism. This was the idea that a nation's economic power depended on the value of its exports. A country could use its colonies to create finished goods, rather than raw materials. These could be traded to other countries, thus increasing the strength of the colonizing nation. This policy had been put forth by a Frenchman named Jean-Baptiste Colbert. It seemed tailor-made for Great Britain. Spain had American gold as its economic base, and France had American furs. England had neither of these. But it had American cotton, molasses, and tobacco, as well as its state-of-the-art ships. Prior to the mid-1700's, the colonies had enjoyed a long period of "salutary neglect", where the British largely let the colonies govern themselves. This now ended.

The Lords of Trade

In an attempt to enforce mercantilism policies, King Charles II created the Lords of Trade as a new committee on the Privy Council. The Lords of Trade attempted to affect the government of the colonies in a manner beneficial to the English, rather than to the colonists.

The Lords of Trade attempted to convert all American colonies to royal ones so that the Crown could gain more power. Under King James II, the successor to Charles II, New York, New Jersey, and the Puritan colonies were combined into the Dominion of New England in 1687.

However, the Dominion only lasted a brief time. King James II, a Catholic, was seen as a threat by British Protestants. James was overthrown (he was technically held abdicated by Parliament) in the bloodless Glorious Revolution of 1688. In 1689, James' daughter Mary II and her husband William III took the throne as joint rulers. However, the British Parliament actually held the power. The Dominion of New England was dissolved, the various separate colonies were reestablished, and the Lords of Trade were abandoned (replaced by a Board of Trade, a purely advisory body).

Beginning in 1660, the Parliament of England passed the Navigation Acts to increase its benefit from its colonies. The Acts required that any colonial imports or exports travel only on ships registered in England, meaning that only England could have the shipping power and the fees derived from them. They forbid the colonies to export tobacco and sugar to any nation other than England. (Tobacco was then used as medicine, and sugar was used to make alcohol, also a medicine.) And the colonies could not import anything manufactured outside England unless the goods were first taken to England, where taxes were paid, and then to the colonies.

In the 1730s, The Sugar Act established a tax of six pence per gallon of sugar or molasses imported into the colonies. By 1750, Parliament had begun to ban, restrict, or tax several more products. It tried to curtail all manufacture in the colonies. This provoked much anger among the colonists, despite the fact that their tax burdens were quite low, when compared to most subjects of European monarchies of the same period.

Colonists hated the Navigation Acts because they believed they would be more prosperous and rich if they could trade on their own behalf. They also believed that some vital resources would not be found in Britain.

Indians in the 1700s

Indians of the Great Plains:

Today, the area where the Indians of all the Great Plains lived is located from the Rocky mountains to the Mississippi River. During the 1700s, there were about 30 tribes that lived on the Great Plains. These tribes tended to rely on buffalo as their food source as well as other daily needs, such as clothing. Not only did Indians, specifically women, make their clothing out of buffalo, but also out of deer. Women would soak the deer or buffalo and scrape off the hair of the dead animal.[5]

Also, Indian tribes traded with one another. The number of horses an individual owned was a sign of wealth; Indians would trade their horses for food, tools, weapons(such as guns), and hides. Since the tribes spoke many different languages from one another, they had to use sign language to be able to trade with each other.[5]

Philadelphia Election Riot

A riot broke out on election day in Philadelphia in 1742 as a result of the Anglican population disagreeing with the Quaker majority. The riot stemmed over a power struggle between the Anglican and Quaker population. The Quakers had a history of political dominance over Philadelphia. The German population backed the Quaker vote because of the Quaker Pacifism which would protect from higher taxes and ultimately the draft. On election day, the Anglicans and sailors fought with the Quakers and Germans. The Quakers were able to seek shelter in the courthouse and complete the election. The Anglican party lost the election and 54 sailors were jailed following the riot.


As the three sections of the colonies through the 1700s were made up of people with different interests, they provided differing sorts of education for their children. Although there were commonalities -- a rich family in any of the three regions might send a son to Europe for his education -- people in different colonies tended to educate in differing ways.

New England's motives for education were both civil and religious. The good citizen had to know his or her Bible. The Massachusetts General School Law of 1647 stated that if more than 50 families lived in a community, a schoolteacher must be hired. This law gave a justification: "It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times by keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these latter times by persuading from the use of tongues, that so that at least the true sense and meaning of the original might be clouded and corrupted with love and false glosses of saint-seeming deceivers; and to the end that learning may not be buried in the grave of our forefathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors." This was the Pilgrim ethos, set up in opposition to what they saw as the ignorance imposed by tyrants. Both boys and girls were often taught to read the Bible by their parents, perhaps with the aid of a horn book, an alphabet and syllabary page covered by a protective layer of horn.

In addition to being able to read the Bible, a Christian ought to be able to govern in his society. (His society: for government was the province of godly, property-holding men, rather than women.) To obtain this youths had to gain a classical education -- that is, one based thoroughly on Latin. The 1647 law was the beginning of the American grammar school, which initially taught Latin, but later included practical subjects such as navigation, engineering, bookkeeping, and foreign languages.[6] Most of the schools opened in the colonial era were private. [7] However, they had been preceded by the first public-supported school, the Boston Latin School, in 1635. It had a rigorous education, and as a result, few students. Harvard was the first university in America, founded in 1636 and originally intended to teach Protestant clergy. Because of the small number of people graduating from the classical curriculum, attendance was low. Some people jumped directly from the classical curriculum to the University, sometimes entering Harvard as young as 14 or 15 years old. Cotton Mather graduated Harvard at 15, an exception only because of his extreme precocity. In private schools, boys and girls learned penmanship, basic Math, and reading and writing English. These fed the various trades, where older children were apprenticed. Girls who did not become servants were often trained for domestic life, learning needlework, cooking, and the several days-long task of cleaning clothes.

Like New England, the Middle Colonies had private schools which educated children in reading and writing. However, the basics were rarer. The further west one lived, the less likely one was to be able to go to school, or to read and write at all. Ethnic and religious sub-groups would have their own private schools, which taught their own children their own folk-ways. In none of the colonies was higher education certain. Secondary schools were very rare outside of such major towns as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.[8]

The Chesapeake experience was different again. Children could only could only read and write if their parents could.[9] And the South had few schools, of any kind, until the Revolutionary era. Children in wealthy families would study with private tutors. Though wealthy girls might learn 'the womanly arts,' they would not have the same curriculum as their brothers. Martha Washington's granddaughter Eliza Custis was laughed at by her stepfather when "[I] thought it hard they would not teach me Greek and Latin because I was a girl -- they laughed and said women ought not to know those things, and mending, writing, Arithmetic, and Music was all I could be permitted to acquire."[10] Middle class children might learn to read from their parents, and many poor children, as well as all black children, went unschooled. The literacy rates were lower in the South than the North until about the 19th century.[11]

Founded in 1636, Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.

In 1693 the College of William & Mary was founded, Virginia's first University. As the 18th century wore on, it specialized not in theology for clergymen but in law.[12] In 1701, the Collegiate College was founded. In 1718 it received funds from a Welsh governor of the British East India Company, Elihu Yale, and was renamed Yale College. These were later joined by several other universities, including Princeton in 1747. In the 18th century, astronomy, physics, modern history and politics took a bigger place in the college curriculum. Some colleges experimented with admitting Native American students in the 18th century, though not African-Americans.[13]

In 1640, The whole Booke of Psalms Faithfully Translated into English Metre, commonly known as the Bay Psalm Book, was printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was the first book written in the new world. The Bay Psalm Book was the first metrical English translation of the Biblical psalms.[14] This famous and influential songbook was succeeded by a whole New England publishing industry. Sometime after 1687 the first New England Primer was published as an aid to childhood reading and spelling.

An alternative to the classical curriculum emerged in Benjamin Franklin's American Academy, founded in Philadelphia in 1751. This body represented something closer to the modern American high school, offering vocational education. This sort of school later outnumbered the classical secondary school. However, Franklin's Academy was private as well, making such learning open only to those who could afford it.

During this period colonists attempted to convert Native Americans to Christianity.[15]

Review Questions

1. Choose one of the following colonies: New York, Virginia, Massachusetts, Georgia. In which of the three areas is it located? Why and how was it initially colonized? How did its immigrants and the religions they adhered to affect it?

2. Why did the British interfere with the colonies?


  1. Morison, Samuel Eliot (1972). The Oxford History of the American People. New York City: Mentor. pp. 199–200. ISBN 0451-62600-1. {{cite book}}: Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  2. Kurlansky, Mark. Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. New York: Walker. ISBN 0-8027-1326-2.
  3. U.S. Census Bureau. "Earliest Population Figures for American Cities". Retrieved 2010-08-29.
  4. "Resistance and Punishment". George Washington's Mount Vernon. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  5. a b Englar, Mary. The Great Plains Indians: Daily Life in the 1700s. Mankato, MN: Capstone, 2006. Print.
  6. A People and a Nation, Eighth Edition
  8. A People and a Nation Eighth Edition
  9. A People and a Nation Eighth Edition
  10. Edmund S. Morgan. Virginians At Home: Family Life in the Eighteenth Century. Charlottesville, VA: Dominion Books, 1962(1952). P. 17
  11. A People and a Nation, Eighth Edition
  12. Morgan, p. 27.
  13. A People and a Nation, Eighth Edition
  14. Farris, Jean Americans Musical Landscape, Volume 5

Road to Revolution (1754 - 1774)

The French and Indian War

(The following text is from Wikipedia)

The French and Indian War (1754–1763) was the North American chapter of the Seven Years' War.[1] The name refers to the two main enemies of the British, the royal French forces and the various American Indian forces allied with them. This conflict, the fourth such colonial war between the kingdoms of France and Great Britain, resulted in the British conquest of all of New France east of the Mississippi River, as well as Spanish Florida. France ceded control of French Louisiana west of the Mississippi to its Spanish ally, to compensate it for its loss of Florida. By the end of this war France kept only the tiny islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon north of the Caribbean. These colonies today still allow France access to the Grand Banks.

In Great Britain and France, the North American theatre of the Seven Years' War war usually has no special name, and so the entire worldwide conflict is known as the Seven Years' War (or the Guerre de sept ans). The "Seven Years" refers to events in Europe, from the official declaration of war in 1756 to the signing of the peace treaty in 1763. These dates do not correspond with the actual fighting in North America, where the fighting between the two colonial powers was largely concluded in six years, from the Jumonville Glen skirmish in 1754 to the capture of Montreal in 1760.[2]

Elsewhere the conflict is known by several names. In British North America, wars were often named after the sitting British monarch, such as King William's War or Queen Anne's War. Because there had already been a King George's War in the 1740s, British colonists named the second war in King George's reign after their opponents, and thus it became known as the French and Indian War.[3] This traditional name remains standard in the United States, although it obscures the fact that American Indians fought on both sides of the conflict.[4] American historians generally use the traditional name or the European title (the Seven Years' War), and have also invented other, less frequently used names for the war, including the Fourth Intercolonial War and the Great War for the Empire.[5] Canadian francophones and English speakers both refer to it as the Seven Years' War (Guerre de Sept Ans) or the War of the Conquest (Guerre de la Conquête), as the war in which New France was conquered by the British and became part of the British Empire. This war was also known as the Forgotten War.

Reasons for war

A French fur trader. Economic interests were one of the main drivers of the war.

The French and Indian War began less than a decade after France and Great Britain had fought on opposing sides in the European War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748). One cause for the conflict was territorial expansion. Newfoundland's Grand Banks were fertile fishing grounds and coveted by both sides. Both sides also wanted to expand their territories for trapping furs to trade, and for other pursuits that aided their economic interests. Both the British and the French used trading posts and forts to claim the Ohio Country, the vast territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. English claims resulted from royal grants with no definite western boundaries. La Salle had claimed the Mississippi River for France: its drainage area includes the Ohio River Valley. Both Great Britain and France took advantage of Native American factions to secure these claims, to protect their territories, and to keep the other from growing too strong.

A second cause was political & religious ideology. The English Protestant colonists feared papal influence in North America. New France was administered by French governors and Roman Catholic hierarchy. French missionaries included Armand de La Richardie. English history was told as a story of freedom from Catholic (i.e., foreign) influence. French control over North America represented a threat to Great Britain. In their turn, the French feared English anti-Catholicism, in a time when Catholics were still being persecuted under English law.

Declaration and Action Anticipating the War

Céloron's expedition

In June 1747 the Governor-General of New France, the Marquis de la Jonquière, ordered Pierre-Joseph Céloron to lead an expedition to the Ohio Country to remove British influence from the area. Céloron was also to confirm allegiance of the Native Americans in the Ohio territory to the French crown.

Céloron's expedition consisted of 213 soldiers of the Troupes de la marine (French Marines) transported by twenty-three canoes. The expedition left Lachine on June 15, 1749, and two days later reached Fort Frontenac. It then continued along the shoreline of present-day Lake Erie. At Chautauqua Portage (Barcelona, New York), it moved inland to the Allegheny River.

The troop headed south to the Ohio River at present-day Pittsburgh, where Céloron buried lead plates engraved with the French claim to the Ohio Country. Whenever British merchants or fur-traders were encountered by the French, they were informed of the illegality of being on French territory and told to leave the Ohio Country. When the expedition arrived at Logstown, the Native Americans there informed Céloron that they owned the Ohio Country, and they would trade with the British, despite anything the French said.[6]

Céloron continued the expedition. At its farthest point south, it reached the junction between the Ohio River and the Miami River, just south of the village of Pickawillany. Here lived the old Chief of the Miami tribe, whom Céloron called "Old Britain." When Céloron arrived at Pickawillany, he informed the elderly Chief of "dire consequences" of continuing to trade with the British. "Old Britain" ignored the warning. After this meeting, Céloron and his expedition began the trip home, reaching Montreal only on November 10, 1749. In his report, Céloron wrote: "All I can say is that the Natives of these localities are very badly disposed towards the French, and are entirely devoted to the English. I don't know in what way they could be brought back."[7]

Langlade's expedition

On March 17, 1752, Governor-General de la Jonquière died. His temporary replacement was Charles le Moyne de Longueuil. It was not until July 1, 1752 that Ange Duquense de Menneville arrived in New France to take over the post.

In the spring of 1752, Longueuil dispatched an expedition to the Ohio River area. The expedition was led by Charles Michel de Langlade, an officer in the Troupes de la marine. Langlade was given 300 men, some French-Canadians, and others members of the Ottawa tribe. His objective was to punish the Miami of Pickawillany for continuing to trade with the British. At dawn on June 21, 1752, the war party attacked the British trading center at Pickawillany, killing fourteen people of the Miami nation, including "Old Britain." The expedition then returned home.

Marin's expedition

In the spring of 1754, Paul Marin de la Malgue was given command of a 2,000 man force of Troupes de la Marine and Aboriginals. His orders were to protect the Ohio from the British. Marin followed the route that Céloron had mapped out four years before. However, where Céloron had buried lead plates, Marin was constructing and garrisoning forts. The first fort that was constructed by Paul Marin was at Presque Isle (Erie, Pennsylvania) on Lake Erie's south shore. He then had a road built to the headwaters of Rivière aux Boeuf (now known as Waterford, Pennsylvania). Marin then constructed a second fort at Le Boeuf, designed to guard the headwaters of the Rivière aux Boeuf.

Tanaghrisson's proclamation

On September 3, 1753, Tanaghrisson (d. 1754), Chief of the Mingo, arrived at Fort Le Boeuf. One tradition states that Tanaghrisson hated the French because they had killed and eaten his father. Tanaghrisson told Marin, "I shall strike . . .",[8] threatening the French. The show of force by the French had alarmed the Iroquois in the area. They sent Mohawk runners to William Johnson's manor in Upper New York. Johnson, known to the Iroquois as "Warraghiggey", meaning "He who does big business", had become a respected member of the Iroquois Confederacy in the area. In 1746, Johnson was made a colonel of the Iroquois, and later a colonel of the Western New York Militia.

At Albany, New York, there was a meeting between Governor Clinton of New York and Chief Hendrick, as well as other officials from a handful of American colonies. Chief Hendrick insisted that the British abide by their obligations and block French expansion. When an unsatisfactory response was offered by Clinton, Chief Hendrick proclaimed that the "Covenant Chain", a long-standing friendly relationship between the Iroquois Confederacy and the British Crown, was broken.

Dinwiddie's reaction

The earliest authenticated portrait of George Washington shows him wearing his colonel's uniform of the Virginia Regiment from the French and Indian War. However, this portrait was painted years after the war in 1772.

Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia found himself in a predicament. Many merchants had invested heavily in fur trading in Ohio. If the French made good on their claim to the Ohio Country and drove out the British, then the Virginian merchants would lose a lot of money. Dinwiddie could not possibly allow the loss of the Ohio Country to France. In October 1753 he wrote a letter to the commander of the French forces in the Ohio Country, Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, demanding an immediate French withdrawal. To deliver it he delegated Major George Washington of the Virginia militia. Major Washington left for Fort Le Boeuf on the 31st of October, along with his interpreter Jacob Van Braam and several other men.

A few days later, Washington and his party arrived at Wills Creek (Cumberland, Maryland). Here Washington enlisted the help of Christopher Gist, a surveyor who was familiar with the area. They arrived at Logstown on November 24, 1753. At Logstown, Washington met with Tanaghrisson, who was angry over the French military encroachment upon his land. Washington convinced Tanaghrisson to accompany his small group to Fort Le Boeuf.

On December 12, 1753, Washington and his men reached Fort Le Boeuf. Commander Saint-Pierre invited Washington to dine with him that evening. Over dinner, Washington presented Saint-Pierre with the letter from Dinwiddie. Saint-Pierre was civil in his response, saying, "As to the Summons you send me to retire, I do not think myself obliged to obey it."[9] The French explained to Washington that France's claim to the region was superior to that of the British, as René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de a Salle (1643–1687) had explored the Ohio Country nearly a century earlier.[10]

Washington's party left Fort Le Boeuf early on December 16, 1753. By January 16, 1754, they had arrived in Williamsburg, Virginia. In his report, Washington stated, "The French had swept south."[11] They had constructed and garrisoned forts at Presque Isle, Le Boeuf and Venango.


The French and Indian War was the last of four major colonial wars between the British, the French, and their Native American allies. Unlike the previous three wars, the French and Indian War began on North American soil and then spread to Europe, where Britain officially declared war on France on May 15, 1756, marking the beginnings of the Seven Years' War in Europe. Native Americans fought for both sides, but primarily alongside the French (with one exception being the Iroquois Confederacy, which sided with the American colonies and Britain). The first major event of the war was in 1754. Lieutenant Colonel George Washington, then twenty-one years of age, was sent to negotiate boundaries with the French, who did not give up their forts. Washington led a group of Virginian (colonial) troops to confront the French at Fort Duquesne (present day Pittsburgh). Washington discovered the French troops at the Battle of Jumonville Glen (about six miles or ten kilometers North-West of soon-to-be-established Fort Necessity). In the ensuing skirmish, a French Officer, Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, was killed. Washington pulled back a few miles and established Fort Necessity. The French forced Washington and his men to retreat. Meanwhile, the Albany Congress was taking place as means to discuss further action.

Edward Braddock led a campaign against the French at Fort Duquesne in 1755. Washington was again among the British and colonial troops. Braddock employed European tactics -- bold, linear marches and firing formations -- and employed heavy cannon. This led to disaster at the Monongahela. The French and natives were heavily outmanned and outgunned. But they used superior tactics, taking cover behind trees and bushes to gun down and rout the British. Braddock was killed. Despite four close calls, Washington escaped unharmed and led the survivors in retreat. This stunning British defeat heralded a string of major French victories over the next few years, at Fort Oswego, Fort William Henry, Fort Duquesne, and Carillon, where veteran Montcalm famously defeated five times his number. The sole British successes in the early years of the war came in 1755, at the Battle of Lake George, which secured the Hudson Valley; and in the taking of Fort Beauséjour (which protected the Nova Scotia frontier) by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Monckton. A consequence of this last battle was the subsequent forced deportation of the Acadian population of Nova Scotia and the Beaubassin region of Acadia.

In 1756 William Pitt became Secretary of State of Great Britain. His leadership, and France's continued neglect of the North-American theater, eventually turned the tide in favor of the British. The French were driven from many frontier posts such as Fort Niagara, and the key Fortress Louisbourg fell to the British in 1758. In 1759, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham gave Quebec City to the British, who had to withstand a siege there after the Battle of Sainte-Foy a year later. In September of 1760, Pierre François de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnal, the King's Governor of New France, negotiated a surrender with British General Jeffrey Amherst. General Amherst granted Vaudreuil's request that any French residents who chose to remain in the colony would be given freedom to continue worshiping in their Roman Catholic tradition, continued ownership of their property, and the right to remain undisturbed in their homes. The British provided medical treatment for the sick and wounded French soldiers, and French regular troops were returned to France aboard British ships with an agreement that they were not to serve again in the present war.

Summary of the war in America In 1752 the French and their Native allies raided a trading outpost sited at modern day Cleveland rid the area of Pennsylvanians. In 1754 General George Washington attacked French soldiers and then became trapped in his poorly built, Fort Necessity in Great Meadows Pennsylvania and more than one-third of Washingtons's men shortly became casualties. Twenty-two year old Washington and his men surrendered and were allowed to leave back to Virginia. In July 1755, a few miles south of Fort Duquensne in Pennsylvania, the combined forces of French and Natives attacked British colonial troops that were preparing a to assault the fort. The aftermath that ensued would result in a British defeat and General Edward Braddock would be killed. Once London heard of this Britain declared war upon France and formally began the seven years war. After this the British feared that France would attempt to retake Nova Scotia and that the 12,000 French Nova Scotians would break their neutrality, so the British military forced around seven thousand French Nova Scotians from their homeland. This was history's first large-scale modern deportation, the French would be sent from Louisiana to the Caribbean and families would become torn apart. In July of 1758 The British had recaptured the fort at Loiusberg winning control of the St. Lawerence River. This would cut the major French supply route and open up more supply lines for the British. In the fall of 1758 the Shawnee and Delaware Natives accepted peace offerings from the British and the French abandoned Fort Duquesne. A decisive attack would happen in the fall of 1759 when General James Wolfe's forces defeated the French on the Plains of Abraham and thus taking Quebec. A year after this event the British would capture Montreal and the North American stage of the war would be over.


The descent of the French on St. John's, Newfoundland, 1762.

Though most of the North American fighting ended on September 8, 1760, when the Marquis de Vaudreuil surrendered Montreal — and effectively all of Canada — to Britain (one notable late battle allowed the capture of Spanish Havana by British and colonial forces in 1762), the war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763. The treaty sealed France's loss of all its North American possessions east of the Mississippi except for Saint Pierre and Miquelon islands off Newfoundland. All of Canada was ceded to Britain. France regained the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, which had been occupied by the British. The economic value of these islands to France was greater than that of Canada at the time, because of their rich sugar crops; and the islands were easier to defend. However, the British were happy to take New France: defense was not an issue, and they had many sources of sugar. Spain gained Louisiana, including New Orleans, in compensation for its loss of Florida to the British.

French Canada contained approximately 65,000 French-speaking Roman Catholic residents. Early in the war, in 1755, the British had expelled French settlers from Acadia. (Some of these eventually fled to Louisiana, creating the Cajun population.) Now at peace, and eager to secure control of its hard-won colony, Great Britain made concessions to its newly conquered subjects with the Quebec Act of 1774. The history of the Seven Years' War, particularly the siege of Québec and the death of British Brigadier General James Wolfe, generated a vast number of ballads, broadsides, images, maps and other printed materials, which testify to how this event continued to capture the imagination of the British public long after Wolfe's death in 1759.[12]

The European theatre of the war was settled by the Treaty of Hubertusburg on February 15, 1763. The war changed economic, political, and social relations between Britain and its colonies. It plunged Britain into debt, which the Crown chose to pay off with tax money from its colonies. These taxes contributed to the beginning the American Revolutionary War.

Battles and expeditions

United States
    • Battle of Jumonville Glen (May 28, 1754)
    • Battle of Fort Necessity, aka the Battle of Great Meadows (July 3, 1754)
    • Braddock Expedition (Battle of the Monongahela aka Battle of the Wilderness) (July 9, 1755)
    • Kittanning Expedition (climax September 8, 1756)
    • Battle of Fort Duquesne (September 14, 1758)
    • Battle of Fort Ligonier (October 12, 1758)
    • Forbes Expedition (climax November 25, 1758)
  • Province of New York
    • Battle of Lake George (1755)
    • Battle of Fort Oswego (August, 1756)
    • Battle on Snowshoes (January 21, 1757)
    • Battle of Fort Bull (March 27, 1756)
    • Battle of Sabbath Day Point (July 26, 1757)
    • Battle of Fort William Henry (August 9, 1757)
    • Attack on German Flatts (1757) (November 12, 1757)
    • Battle of Carillon (July 8, 1758)
    • Battle of Ticonderoga (1759)
    • Battle of La Belle-Famille (July 24, 1759)
    • Battle of Fort Niagara (1759)
    • Battle of the Thousand Islands, 16-25 August, 1760
  • West Virginia
    • Battle of Great Cacapon (April 18, 1756)
  • New Brunswick
    • Battle of Fort Beauséjour (June 16, 1755)
  • Nova Scotia
    • Battle of Louisburg (July 27, 1758)
  • Ontario
    • Battle of Fort Frontenac (August 25, 1758)
    • Battle of the Thousand Islands, 16-25 August, 1760
  • Quebec
    • Battle of Beauport (July 31, 1759)
    • Battle of the Plains of Abraham (September 13, 1759)
    • Battle of Sainte-Foy (April 28, 1760)
    • Battle of Restigouche, July 3-8, (1760)
  • Newfoundland
    • Battle of Signal Hill September 15, 1762

Proclamation of 1763

(The following text is taken from the Wikipedia article)

A portion of eastern North America; the 1763 "Proclamation line" is the border between the red and the pink areas.

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was issued October 7, 1763 by George III following Great Britain's acquisition of French territory in North America after the end of the Seven Years' War. The purpose of the proclamation was to make sure Britain could control its new territory for its The Proclamation in essence forbade Americans from settling or buying land west of the Appalachians. Colonists were angry because many already had land in that area. Additionally, the Proclamation gave the Crown a monopoly in land bought from Native Americans.

Native land

In the fall of 1763, a royal decree was issued that prohibited the North American colonists from establishing or maintaining settlements west of an imaginary line running down the crest of the Appalachian Mountains. The proclamation acknowledged that Native Americans owned the lands on which they were then residing and white settlers in the area were to be removed.

However, provision was made to allow specially licensed individuals and entities to operate fur trading ventures in the proscribed area. There were two motivations for this policy:

To avoid warfare with the Indians. Neither side evidenced any affection for the tribes, but Indian conflicts were very expensive, and the British hadn't yet deployed enough soldiers in the West to keep the peace. Some Indians welcomed this policy, believing that separation from the colonies would allow them to resume their traditions. Others realized that the proclamation would, at best, only provide breathing room before the next onslaught of settlers.

To concentrate colonial settlements on the seaboard where they could be active parts of the British mercantile system. British trade officials took it as a first priority to populate the recently secured areas of Canada and Florida (referring to the Treaty of Paris), where colonists could reasonably be expected to trade with the mother country. Settlers living west of the Appalachians would be highly self-sufficient and have little opportunity to trade with English merchants.

The reaction of colonial land speculators and frontiersmen was immediate and negative. They believed their fight in the recent war had been "rewarded" by the creation of a vast restricted native reserve in the lands they coveted. Most concluded that the proclamation was only a temporary measure: a number ignored it entirely and moved into the prohibited area. Almost from its inception, the proclamation was modified to suit the needs of influential people with interests in the American West, both high British officials and colonial leaders.

Beginning in 1764, portions of the Proclamation Line were adjusted westward to accommodate speculative interests. Later, in 1768, the first Treaty of Fort Stanwix formally recognized the surrender of transmontane lands claimed by the Iroquois.

The Proclamation of 1763 was a well-intentioned measure. Pontiac’s Rebellion had inflicted a terrible toll on the frontier settlements in North America and the British government acted prudently by attempting to avoid such conflict in the foreseeable future.

The colonists, however, were not appreciative and regarded the new policy as an infringement of their basic rights. The fact that western expansion was halted at roughly the same time that other restrictive measures were being implemented, made the colonists increasingly suspicious

Almost immediately, many British colonists and land speculators objected to the proclamation boundary, since there were already many settlements beyond the line (some of which had been temporarily evacuated during Pontiac's War), as well as many existing land claims yet to be settled. Indeed, the proclamation itself called for lands to be granted to British soldiers who had served in the Seven Years' War. Prominent American colonists joined with land speculators in Britain to lobby the government to move the line further west. As a result, the boundary line was adjusted in a series of treaties with Native Americans. The Treaty of Fort Stanwix and the Treaty of Hard Labor (both 1768) and the Treaty of Lochaber (1770) opened much of what is now West Virginia and Kentucky to British settlement.

Organization of new colonies

Besides regulating colonial expansion, the proclamation dealt with the management of newly ceded French colonies. It established government for four areas: Quebec, West Florida, East Florida, and Grenada. All of these were granted the ability to elect general assemblies under a royally appointed governor or a high council, which could then create laws and ordinances specific to the area in agreement with British and colonial laws. In the meantime, the new colonies enjoyed the same rights as native-born Englishmen, something that British colonists had been fighting over for years. An even bigger affront to the British colonies was the establishment of both civil and criminal courts complete with the right to appeal--but those charged with violating the Stamp or Sugar Act were to be tried in admiralty court, where the defendant was considered guilty until he or she could prove his or her innocence.


The influence of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 on the coming of the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) has been variously interpreted. Many historians argue that the proclamation ceased to be a major source of tension after 1768, since the aforementioned treaties opened up extensive lands for settlement. Others have argued that colonial resentment of the proclamation contributed to the growing divide between the colonies and the Mother Country.

In the United States, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 ended with the American Revolutionary War, because Great Britain ceded the land in question to the United States in the Treaty of Paris (1783). Afterwards, the U.S. government also faced difficulties in preventing frontier violence, and eventually adopted policies similar to those of the Royal Proclamation. The first in a series of Indian Intercourse Acts was passed in 1790, prohibiting unregulated trade and travel in Native American lands. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court case Johnson v. M'Intosh (1823) established that only the U.S. government, and not private individuals, could purchase land from Native Americans.

The Royal Proclamation continued to govern the cession of aboriginal land in British North America, especially Upper Canada and Rupert's Land. The proclamation forms the basis of land claims of aboriginal peoples in Canada – First Nations, Inuit, and Metis. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 is thus mentioned in Section Twenty-five of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Stamp Act and other Laws

The Boston Massacre in 1770 worsened American opinions of British rule.

In 1764, George Grenville became the British Chancellor of the Exchequer (minister of finance). He allowed customs officers to obtain general writs of assistance, which allowed officers to search random houses for smuggled goods. Grenville thought that if profits from smuggled goods could be directed towards Britain, the money could help pay off debts. Colonists were horrified that they could be searched without warrant at any given moment. Also in 1764, with persuasion from Grenville, Parliament began to impose several taxes on the colonists. The Sugar Act of 1764 reduced the taxes imposed by the Molasses Act, but at the same time strengthened the collection of the taxes. It also provided that British judges, and not juries, would try cases involving that Act.

The next year, Parliament passed the Quartering Act, which required the colonies to provide room and board for British soldiers stationed in North America; the soldiers would serve various purposes, chiefly to enforce the previously passed acts of Parliament.

Following the Quartering Act, Parliament passed one of the most infamous pieces of legislation: the Stamp Act. Previously, Parliament imposed only external taxes on imports. But the Stamp Act provided the first internal tax on the colonists, requiring that a tax stamp be applied to books, newspapers, pamphlets, legal documents, playing cards, and dice. The legislature of Massachusetts requested a conference on the Stamp Act; the Stamp Act Congress met in October that year, petitioning the King and Parliament to repeal the act before it went into effect at the end of the month, crying "taxation without representation."

The act faced vehement opposition throughout the colonies. Merchants threatened to boycott British products. Thousands of New Yorkers rioted near the location where the stamps were stored. In Boston, the Sons of Liberty, a violent group led by radical statesman Samuel Adams, destroyed the home of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson. Parliament did indeed repeal the Stamp Act, but additionally passed the Declaratory Act, which stated that Great Britain retained the power to tax the colonists, even without substantive representation.

Believing that the colonists only objected to internal taxes, Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend proposed bills that would later become the Townshend Acts. The Acts, passed in 1767, taxed imports of tea, glass, paint, lead, and even paper. The colonial merchants again threatened to boycott the taxed products, reducing the profits of British merchants, who in turn petitioned Parliament to repeal the Townshend Acts. Parliament eventually agreed to repeal much of the Townshend legislation. But Parliament refused to remove the tax on tea, implying that the British retained the authority to tax the colonies despite a lack of representation.

In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, which exempted the British East India Company from the Townshend taxes. Thus, the East India Company gained a great advantage over other companies when selling tea in the colonies. The colonists who resented the advantages given to British companies dumped British tea overboard in the Boston Tea Party in December of 1773.

The Boston Tea Party

In retaliation for the Boston Tea Party, Parliament passed the Coercive Acts, which were in the colonies known as the Intolerable Acts. Parliament reduced the power of the Massachusetts legislature and closed the port of Boston. Also, the Quartering Act was extended to require private individuals to lodge soldiers. Furthermore, Parliament allowed royal officials accused of crimes to be tried by a British, rather than a colonial, jury.

First Continental Congress

Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia, where the First Continental Congress met.

In order to debate a response to the Intolerable Acts, all American colonies except for Georgia sent delegates to the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia. The Congress met in September 1774 and issued a Declaration of Rights and Grievances. When the Congress adjourned, it stipulated another Congress would meet if King George III did not meet the demands of the Declaration. When the Second Congress did meet, the military hostilities of the Revolutionary War had already begun, and the issue of Independence, rather than a redress of grievances, dominated the debates.


Literacy grew for both men and women during the 18th century.[13] In New England and the Middle States, more middle-class girls were sent to school. However, as Science and the requirements for citizenship became more a part of education, girls were excluded from learning these topics.

Higher education continued to develop, with the 1746 opening of The College of New Jersey (later known as Princeton), and King's College (now Columbia) in 1754. All of these universities were meant exclusively for White men, though some of the colleges experimented by admitting Native Americans. In the public schools, vocational education expanded.[14][15][16]

Though what was lost by failing to educate the underclasses was incalculable, we can gauge the lost possibilities through such individuals as Benjamin Banneker and Phillis Wheatley. Mr. Banneker, a self-educated free African-American, observed the stars, wrote his own almanac, and was one of the surveyors of what would later become the District of Columbia. Miss Wheatley, an African-born slave educated and freed by her mistress, wrote a remarkable volume of poems published in the year 1773. Most of these had been published in The Newport Mercury, edited by Benjamin Franklin's brother James.

Questions For Review

1. What were the reasons for the French and Indian War?

2. What was the strategy of General Braddock against the French at Fort Duquesne? What was the strategy of the defending French and Indian forces?

3. Examine the succession of acts imposed upon the American Colonists in the wake of the war, beginning with the Sugar Act. What was the intended purpose of each act? What was its actual effect?


  2. Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. New York: Knopf, 2000. p. 747
  3. Anderson, Crucible of War. p. 747.
  4. Jennings, Francis. Empire of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies, and Tribes in the Seven Years War in America. New York: Norton, 1988. p. xv.
  5. Anderson, Crucible of War. P. 747
  6. Fowler, W. M. Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763. New York: Walker, 2005. P. 14
  7. Fowler, W. M. Empires at War. P. 14
  8. Fowler, Empires at War. P. 31
  9. Fowler, Empires at War. P. 35.
  10. Ellis, Joseph J. His Excellency George Washington. New York: Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc., 2004. P. 5
  11. Fowler, Empires at War, p. 36
  12. Virtual Vault, an online exhibition of Canadian historical art at Library and Archives Canada
  14. A people and a nation eight edition
  15.\ education_in_the_Age_of_Enlightenment.
  16. American Education the colonial experience by Cremin A. Lawrence

Further reading

  • Eckert, Allan W. Wilderness Empire. Bantam Books, 1994, originally published 1969. ISBN 0-553-26488-5. Second volume in a series of historical narratives, with emphasis on Sir William Johnson. Academic historians often regard Eckert's books, which are written in the style of novels, to be fiction.
  • Parkman, Francis. Montcalm and Wolfe: The French and Indian War. Originally published 1884. New York: Da Capo, 1984. ISBN 0-306-81077-8.
  • Taylor, Alan. American Colonies: The Settling of North America. Penguin Books, 2001. Edited by Eric Foner. ISBN 0-670-87282-2.

The Republic until 1877

The American Revolution (1774 - 1783)


The British forces might at first glance seem to have every advantage. At the outset of the War they had stocks of cannon and ammunition. The Colonists had single-shot rifles from local forges, guns which took time to load and could easily misfire or explode. When Washington took command of the army in 1775, he learned that there was only enough gunpowder to provide nine rounds of ammunition per man.[1] The British had a large professional army drilled to a pitch like that of Ancient Rome, well-supplied with food, uniforms, and arms. But the American lack of training meant that they did not mass in the European style. Instead they relied on snipers, individuals hidden behind the trees who shot their bullet and then loaded again while their neighbors fired. They had learned this during the French and Indian War. Snipers helped strengthen the American odds.

The Beginning of the War (1775 - 1778)

Lexington and Concord

The skirmish at Lexington.

The British government commanded General Thomas Gage to enforce the Intolerable Acts and limit rights in Massachusetts.[2] Gage decided to confiscate a stockpile of colonial arms located in Concord. On April 19, 1775, Gage's troops marched to Concord. On the way, at the town of Lexington, Americans who had been warned in advance by Paul Revere and others of the British movements made an attempt to stop the troops. No one knows which side fired the first shot, but it sparked battle on Lexington Green between the British and the Minutemen. Faced against an overwhelmingly superior number of British regular troops in an open field, the Minutemen were quickly routed. Nevertheless, alarms sounded through the countryside. The colonial militias poured in and were able to launch guerrilla attacks on the British while they marched on to Concord. The colonials amassed of troops at Concord. They engaged the British in force there, and they were able to repulse them. They then claimed the contents of the armory. The British retreated to Boston under a constant and withering fire from all sides.[3] Only a reinforcing column with artillery support on the outskirts of Boston prevented the British withdrawal from becoming a total rout. The following day the British woke up to find Boston surrounded by 20,000 armed colonists, occupying the neck of land extending to the peninsula the city stood on.

The Battle of Bunker Hill

The Battle of Bunker Hill.
Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.
—Colonel William Prescott, Order prior to the battle[4]

The action changed from a battle to a siege, where one army bottles up another in a town or a city. (Though in traditional terms, the British were not besieged, since the Royal Navy controlled the harbor and supplies came in by ship.) General Artemas Ward, the head of the Massachusetts militia, had the initial oversight of the siege. He set up headquarters at Cambridge, Massachusetts and positioned his forces at Charlestown Neck, Roxbury, and Dorchester Heights. The 6,000 to 8,000 rebels faced some 4,000 British regulars under General Thomas Gage. Boston and little else was controlled by British troops. General Gage countered the siege on June 17 by attacking the colonists on Breed's Hill and Bunker Hill. Although the British suffered tremendous casualties compared to the colonial losses, the British were eventually able to dislodge the American forces from their entrenched positions. The colonists were forced to retreat when many colonial soldiers ran out of ammunition. Soon after, the area surrounding Boston fell to the British. However, because of the losses they suffered, they were unable to break the siege of the city. Despite the early defeat for the colonists, the battle proved that they had the potential to counter British forces, which were at that time considered the best in the world.

The Last Chance For Peace

The Second Continental Congress adopted the Olive Branch Petition, a petition for peace, on July 5, 1775. The Congress affirmed its allegiance to the Crown. It was received in London at the same time as it heard of the Battle For Bunker Hill. The King refused to read the petition or to meet with its ambassadors.[5] Parliament reacted by passing the Prohibitory Act, which banned trade with the colonies.[6]

Battle For Boston

Despite the British access to the ships, the town and the army were on short rations. Salt pork was the order of the day, and prices escalated rapidly. While the American forces had some information about what was happening in the city, General Gage had no effective intelligence of rebel activities.

On May 25, 1775, 4,500 reinforcements and three new generals arrived in Boston Harbor. The fresh leaders were Major General William Howe and Brigadiers John Burgoyne and Henry Clinton. Gage began planing to break out of the city.

On July 3, 1775, George Washington arrived to take charge of the new Continental Army. Forces and supplies came in from as far away as Maryland. Trenches were built at Dorchester Neck, extending toward Boston. Washington reoccupied Bunker Hill and Breeds Hill without opposition. However, these activities had little effect on the British occupation.

Henry Knox helped bring the Continental Army the artillery used to defeat the British.

In the winter of 1775– 1776, Henry Knox and his engineers under order from George Washington used sledges to retrieve sixty tons of heavy artillery that had been captured at Fort Ticonderoga. Knox, who had come up with the idea to use sledges, believed that he would have the artillery there in eighteen days. It took six weeks to bring them across the frozen Connecticut River, and they arrived back at Cambridge on January 24, 1776. Weeks later, in an amazing feat of deception and mobility, Washington moved artillery and several thousand men overnight to take Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston. General John Thomas fortified the area. The British fleet had become a liability, anchored in a shallow harbor with limited maneuverability, and under the American guns on Dorchester Heights.

When General Howe saw the cannons, he knew he could not hold the city. He asked that George Washington let them evacuate the city in peace. In return, they would not burn the city to the ground. Washington agreed: he had no choice. He had artillery guns, but did not have the gunpowder. The whole plan had been a masterful bluff. The siege ended when the British set sail for Halifax, Nova Scotia on March 17, 1776. The militia went home, and in April Washington took most of the Continental Army forces to fortify New York City.

Ethan Allen and Fort Ticonderoga

Ethan Allen capturing Fort Tinconderoga.

The British had considered Fort Ticonderoga a relatively unimportant outpost in a conflict which had up to then been mostly based in Massachusetts. However, a veteran of the French and Indian War, Ethan Allen, had his eye on the fort. Allen had built up a Vermont territorial militia, the Green Mountain Boys, until it was an effective fighting force. Vermont was claimed by the New York colony, but Allen wanted more independence. In April of 1775, Allen was surprised by a visit by Commander Benedict Arnold of the Connecticut Militia. Arnold announced that he had been commissioned to seize the cannons of Fort Ticonderoga. A heated discussion between the two concluded with the agreement that the two militias would combine to attack the fort. This was for the best, for both forces together were small, well short of brigade strength. On May tenth, the combined American forces captured the fort. They seized the arms, including the cannons, which were then hauled by oxen all the way to Boston.

Strengthening The Cause

Through the media available in that day, the Revolution promoted the idea of honorable men in revolt against tyranny. Newspapers in North and South published incendiary stories and inspiring engravings. The theater contributed dramatic outcries, including those of Mary Otis Warren. Songs were played and sung to rally flagging spirits.

Thomas Paine's 1776

In January of 1776, the Englishman Thomas Paine published the pamphlet Common Sense. This anti-monarchical publication encouraged American independence, using examples from the Bible and republican virtues to argue that kings were never good for any free state. In late 1776 he began printing his series of pamphlets, The American Crisis, calling soldiers to mass to the cause of the Revolution. The first of these pamphlets begins with the stirring words, "These are the times that try men's souls."

The Declaration of Independence

Raising the first flag at Independence Hall. Copy of a painting by Clyde O. Deland.

As military hostilities built up, the Second Continental Congress appointed George Washington as General of the Continental Army. Washington gave up his salary for the position all through the war. (As he was among the richest men in the colonies, he could afford this choice.) In June of 1776, the Second Continental Congress felt it needed a spur for separation from Great Britain. It appointed a Committee of Five to draft a declaration of independence: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, Roger Sherman and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson became the principal author of this document.

Although the British king was no longer principally responsible for his dominion's policy, the Declaration of Independence called him a tyrant. It justified the rights of the rebellion with words the European Enlightenment would have hailed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal[.]" The Continental Congress signed the document on July 4, 1776. However, the signatures at this point showed that they wished independence: they could not alone achieve it.

Army Bands

One of the attributes of a well-drilled company of soldiers was its military band. The British and Hessian troops drilled to the beat of drums, which carried the rhythm of the march above the noise of musket fire, and provided a way to communicate on the battlefield. "By 1778 soldiers marched at seventy-five 24″ steps per minute in common time and nearly double that (120 steps per minute) when marching in quick time."[7] The music of the fife (a shrill flute) and drum helped build soldier morale.

If the Rebellion could not have good supplies, it would at least have high morale. With the Middle-brook Order, George Washington directed that every officer must provide military music for his troops. This was despite the limited number of instruments.[8] The bands were used to announce the beginning and end of the day, direct troops in battle, and uplift spirits.

One of the two major songs of the Revolution was the hymn Chester, first published in 1770 in "The New England Psalm Singer" and revised in 1778. Its author and composer, William Billings, created a combination of the biblical (Let tyrants shake their iron rod) and the topical (Howe and Burgoyne and Clinton too,/ With Prescot and Cornwallis join'd).

Another was the song Yankee Doodle, adapted from a tune of the Seven Years War. This was originally used by the British to laugh at the provincial manners of the Colonists, but was turned into a theme of the American upstarts.


In September of 1775, the Colonists, led by General Richard Montgomery, invaded Canada. At first the invasion proved successful, with Montgomery capturing Fort St. Jean and the city of Montreal. On December 30 he made the decision to launch an attack onto the British held city of Quebec. It proved disastrous, and Montgomery was killed in battle. This was the last major action in Canada, although Benidict Arnold and a number of other generals did attack the coasts or Canada, or launch raids across the border.

The Turning Point of the War

Despite the numerous defeats they faced in the early years of the war, the colonists were able to turn the tide around with several major victories.

New York and New Jersey

In July, 1776, General William Howe and thirty-thousand British troops arrived at Staten Island in New York. The large army attacked and defeated General George Washington's American forces in the Battle of Long Island. After nearly having his entire army captured, Washington led a skilled withdrawal out of New York. Eventually the Continental Army was forced to set up camp in Pennsylvania.

Howe could have ended the war by pursuing Washington's forces. But Howe was very cautious and took almost no risks. He feared losing too many men so far from home. Britain hired German mercenaries (Hessians) to guard the British fort at Trenton. Howe took advantage of these replacements and decided to wait until spring to attack the Continental Army again.

Washington also took advantage of the situation, though from a different perspective. He figured that the Hessians would be weakest on Christmas night, after heavy feasting and drinking. On the night of December 25, 1776, Washington led his troops 9 miles, and across the Delaware River to ambush the Hessians. Crossing the river was difficult. A hail and sleet storm had broken out early in the crossing, winds were strong and the river was full of ice floes. The crossing took 3 hours longer than expected, but Washington decided to continue the attack anyway. As Washington predicted, the mercenaries were completely caught off guard and had little time to respond. Within just a over an hour, on the morning of December 26, the Continental Army had won the Battle of Trenton. The Americans had just 4 wounded and 0 killed against 25 Hessians Killed, 90 wounded and 920 captured. The victory increased the troops' morale and eventually led to re-enlistments. Some historians even speculate Trenton saved the revolution.

On January 2, the British came to re-take Trenton, and did so with heavy casualties. Washington once again led a clever withdrawal, and advanced on Princeton. At the Battle of Princeton, the Continental Army attacked the rear-guard of the British Army, and forced them to retreat from New Jersey.

During the war, the New World was being devastated by the 1775–1782 North American smallpox epidemic. Having survived the diseased in his youth[9], and having been warned about the effect the disease may have on the Army by Benjamin Franklin[10], George Washington wrote he had more dread of the disease crippling the continental army then the British Troops.[10] On February 5, George Washington ordered the first mass inoculation of troops, following large disruptions caused by smallpox outbreaks.[10] The policy was unpopular among soldiers, but stopped the mass infections from continuing.[10]

The Battle of Saratoga

Burgoyne surrendering to the Continental Army.

In the summer of 1777, British General John Burgoyne and General Howe agreed to attack the colonial Army from two sides and defeat it. Howe marched north, winning the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown and eventually capturing Philadelphia. But Burgoyne was not so fortunate. Delayed by natural traps set up by the Continental Army, his troops slowly marched from Canada to Albany. By September of the year, his forces reached Saratoga, where an enormous American Army attacked the troops. In October, General Burgoyne surrendered all his forces to the Americans. General Howe resigned his post, thwarted despite his victories in Pennsylvania.

The Battle of Saratoga proved to be the major turning point in the war. It persuaded France that America had to overthrow Great Britain, and French aid now was introduced to the colonists. The battle was also the last time the British would advance North. By the summer of 1778, following the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey, all fighting would take place in the South.

Defeat of the Iroquois

The Iroquois Confederacy in its zenith had been the equal of the European Powers. But since the French and Indian war it had been in decline. The Tribes of the Confederacy disagreed on who to support in the Revolution. The Onedia and Tuscaroras supported the Americans, while the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, and the Seneca supported the British. The Confederacy managed to stay together until 1777, when following the Battle of Saratoga, the 4 Tribes supporting the British began to attack American settlements across New York and Pennslyvenia.

A back and forth battle followed. The Iroquois would attack American Forts and Towns, then the Americans would burn Iroquois villages. In 1779 George Washington sent General Sullivan to destroy the Iroquois Nation. After defeating the Iroquois at the Battle of Newtown, Sullivan's army then carried out a scorched earth campaign, methodically destroying at least forty Iroquois villages. The devastation created great hardships for the thousands of Iroquois refugees outside Fort Niagara that winter, and many starved or froze to death. The survivors fled to British regions in Canada and the Niagara Falls and Buffalo areas. Thus ended the 700-year history of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Conclusion of the War (1778 - 1781)

After the loss at Saratoga, the French, traditional rivals of the British, offered their aid in the Revolution. The United States allied itself with France in 1778. Spain and the Dutch Republic also joined the American side, both lending money to the United States and going to war with Britain.

Valley Forge

A painting of Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge.

Following the capture of Philadelphia by the British, Washington took his followers to Valley Forge on December 17th, 1777, a defensible nearby area, and built camp for 12,000 soldiers and 400 civilians, then the fourth largest settlement in the colonies.[11] Following the introduction of the Prussian protege of Frederick the Great, Baron Von Steuben to Congress by way of Benjamin Franklin, he was directed to Valley Forge, where he arrived on February 23, 1778.[12][13]

On the Seas

War broke out on the seas as well. Americans granted commissions to "privateers" to attack and destroy all British ships, whether they were military or not. One of the most famous privateers, John Paul Jones, scored several victories at sea for the Americans, even attacking the shores of Britain itself.

Benjamin Lincoln accepting the British surrender at Yorktown, with Washington in the background.

The War Heads South

An attempted treachery was defeated when its architect, British Major John Andre, was captured in September of 1780. Benedict Arnold, one of the heroes of Fort Ticonderoga, had been placed in charge of Fort Clinton, New York (now called West Point). In response to a bribe, Arnold neglected maintenance of the fortification, and was then preparing to turn the fort over to the British. After he had learned of Andre's arrest he fled to join the British army.

Britain turned its attention from the North to the South, where more loyalists lived. They were at first very successful, defeating the Americans at Waxhaws, Charleston, and Camden. Lord Cornwallis, commander of the British forces in the south, was faced with the challenge of chasing down the Americans. Nathanael Greene had split his army into two, leaving one under the control of Daniel Morgan. Morgan drew Banastre Tarleton, who was commanding one half of the British Army, to Cowpens where they were they decisively defeated the British. The other half of the British Army, still under control of Cornwallis, defeated the Americans at the Battle of Guilford Court House. However, it was a bloody victory for Cornwallis and he was forced to withdraw to Yorktown Virginia to regroup.

After hearing that the British were in Yorktown, and there was a French Fleet arriving, Washington took the Continental Army, along with French Troops, to Yorktown and surrounded the British. By mid September the town was under siege. Cornwallis was assured by British Commander-in-Chief, Henry Clinton, who was in New York, that he would be relieved shortly. However, the British relief force was defeated by the French fleet. The British continued to hold off for a few more days, but the allied army moved in closer and closer to Yorktown, and their cannons destroyed many of the British defenses. On October 19, 1781, Cornwallis surrendered his entire army, over 7,000 men.

Scattered fighting continued, but back in Britain, the British were crushed by this defeat. Parliament voted to cease all offensive operations in "the colonies." Washington took his army to Newburgh, New York, where he stopped a mutiny in the Army.

At the conclusion of the war in 1783 large numbers of loyalists and their families relocated to the home country of England and in large part to Canada as well as to other British Colonies. They submitted claims for lost property and lands in America. Many of the claims were not accepted by the English government for lack of evidence of the losses or significantly reduced. The property and lands were acquired by the American communities and then resold to the highest bidders.

Due to the climatic effects of a 1782 eruption of an Icelandic volcano, the loyalists also experienced one of the coldest Canadian winters on record which contributed to poor crops in 1783-1784. Starvation, disease and hardship were rampant and many resolved to return to the United States despite the threats of retribution rather than subsist on their meager produce.

Treaty of Paris (1783)

The British lost hope of crushing the rebellion after Yorktown. They decided to negotiate peace with The United States, France, and Spain. The Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3rd, 1783. In it, the United States was recognized as an independent nation, with boundaries stretching from the Canadian border in the North, to the Mississippi River to the West, and the northern border of Florida in the South. Britain was forced to return Florida to Spain, but could still hold Canada. Congress was told to advise the states to restore property lost or stolen from the Loyalists. (However, many Loyalists had fled during the Revolution, and many of them did not return to claim their property.)

Religion & the Revolution

Catholics in the Revolution

The complex situation of Catholicism in Great Britain had results in its Colonies. At the time of the American revolution, Catholics formed approximately 1.6% of the total American population of the original 13 colonies. If Catholics were seen as potential enemies of the British state, Irish Catholics, subject to British rule, were doubly-damned. In Ireland they had been subject to British domination. In America Catholics were still forbidden from settling in some of the colonies. Although the head of their faith dwelt in Rome, they were under the official representation of the Catholic Bishop of the London diocese, one James Talbot. When War began, Bishop Talbot declared his faithfulness to the British Crown. (If he had done otherwise, Catholics in England would have been in trouble. Anti-Catholic sentiment still ran high.) He forbade any Colonial priest to serve Communion. This made practice of the faith impossible. This created sympathy for the Colonial rebels. The Continental Army's alliance with the French increased sympathy for the faith. When the French fleet arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, the colony repealed the Act of 1664 and allowed citizenship to Catholics. (This anticipated the provision of the Constitutional Bill of Rights which would strike anti-Catholic laws from the books.) After the war, the Pope created an American Bishop, John Carroll -- a descendant of the same Carrolls who had helped found Maryland -- and an American Diocese communicating directly with Rome.

From Anglicanism to Episcopalianism

On the one hand the colonial Church of England was an organ of the British government and a collaborator with it. Its clergy swore allegiance to the King. Several colonial governments paid monies to the local Anglican Church. Although other faiths were allowed in those states, the Anglican was considered the Official (Established) Church, putting pressure on other denominations. Still, several Revolutionaries, including Thomas Jefferson, rented their pews in a Church of England building. (Jefferson's own faith was Low Church, and he disagreed with the miracles in Christianity.) Significant meetings of the rebellion were held in Church of England buildings.

But after the war, the Church needed to find a new role. Some of the Loyalist clergy went north to Canada. Others were allowed to remain after swearing an oath to the new government. The formerly Established Church was no more: even before the creation of the Constitution, with its separation of Church and State, Americans did not want to pay any extra fees. The Book of Common Prayer, the form of worship in that Church, was pragmatically revised for the new Episcopal Church so that people prayed for "Civil Rulers," instead of the King. But many Church buildings were closed, and there was now room for other denominations to flourish in Virginia and other states.

The Early Government of the New United States

[Copied from Wikipedia]

The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among the 13 founding states that established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution.[14] Its drafting by the Continental Congress began in mid-1776, and an approved version was sent to the states for ratification in late 1777. The formal ratification by all 13 states was completed in early 1781. Even when not yet ratified, the Articles provided domestic and international legitimacy for the Continental Congress to direct the American Revolutionary War, conduct diplomacy with Europe and deal with territorial issues and Native American relations. Nevertheless, the weakness of the government created by the Articles became a matter of concern for key nationalists. [Whom?]


  1. McCullough, David. 1776. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005. p. 28
  7. Anon. "Middle-brook Order, June 4, 1777: What It Really Says about the Quality of Revolutionary War Field Music." Paper read at School of the Musician, Brigade of the American Revolution, April 4, 1989. Revised February 12, 2011. Copyright 1989, 2011 HistoryOfTheAncientsDotOrg.
  8. Anon, "Middle-brook Order.
  10. a b c d
  14. Jensen, Merrill (1959). The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774–1781. University of Wisconsin Press. pp. xi, 184. ISBN 978-0-299-00204-6.

Questions for Review

1. Who were these authors/composers, and what were they known for? (Mary Otis Warren, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, William Billings.)

2. How do the battles of Lexington and Concord show the early strengths and weaknesses of the American fighters?

3. Examine a copy of the Declaration of Independence in relation to this and the previous chapters. How does its rhetoric (choice of words) address the concerns of the American rebellion? How does it deviate from actual events to make a point?

A New Nation is Formed (1783 - 1787)

The Articles of Confederation

(The following text is taken from Wikipedia)

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, also the Articles of Confederation, was the governing constitution of the alliance of thirteen independent and sovereign states styled "United States of America." The Article's ratification (proposed in 1777) was completed in 1782, legally uniting the states by compact into the "United States of America" as a union with a confederation government. Under the Articles (and the succeeding Constitution) the states retained sovereignty over all governmental functions not specifically deputed to the confederation.

The final draft of the Articles was written in the summer of 1777 and adopted by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777 in York, Pennsylvania after a year of debate. In practice the final draft of the Articles served as the de facto system of government used by the Congress ("the United States in Congress assembled") until it became de jure by final ratification on March 1, 1781; at which point Congress became the Congress of the Confederation. The Articles set the rules for operations of the "United States" confederation. The confederation was capable of making war, negotiating diplomatic agreements, and resolving issues regarding the western territories; it could mint coins and borrow inside and outside the United States. An important element of the Articles was that Article XIII stipulated that "their provisions shall be inviolably observed by every state" and "the Union shall be perpetual." This article was put to the test in the American Civil War.

The Articles were created by the chosen representatives of the states in the Second Continental Congress out of a perceived need to have "a plan of confederacy for securing the freedom, sovereignty, and independence of the United States." Although serving a crucial role in the attainment of nationhood for the thirteen states, a group of reformers, known as "federalists", felt that the Articles lacked the necessary provisions for a sufficiently effective government. Fundamentally, a federation was sought to replace the confederation. The key criticism by those who favored a more powerful central state (i.e. the federalists) was that the government (i.e. the Congress of the Confederation) lacked taxing authority; it had to request funds from the states. Another criticism of the Articles was that they did not strike the right balance between large and small states in the legislative decision making process. Due to its one-state, one-vote plank, the larger states were expected to contribute more but had only one vote. The Articles were replaced by the United States Constitution on June 21, 1788.


The political push for the colonies to increase cooperation began in the French and Indian Wars in the mid 1750s. The opening of the American Revolutionary War in 1775 induced the various states to cooperate in seceding from the British Empire. The Second Continental Congress starting 1775 acted as the confederation organ that ran the war. Congress presented the Articles for enactment by the states in 1777, while prosecuting the American Revolutionary war against the Kingdom of Great Britain.


Congress began to move for ratification of the Articles in 1777:

The articles can always be candidly reviewed under a sense of the difficulty of combining in one general system the various sentiments and interests of a continent divided into so many sovereign and independent communities, under a conviction of the absolute necessity of uniting all our councils and all our strength, to maintain and defend our common liberties...[1]

The document could not become officially effective until it was ratified by all of the thirteen colonies. The first state to ratify was Virginia on December 16, 1777. [2] The process dragged on for several years, stalled by the refusal of some states to rescind their claims to land in the West. Maryland was the last holdout; it refused to go along until Virginia and New York agreed to cede their claims in the Ohio River valley. A little over three years passed before Maryland's ratification on March 1, 1781.

Article summaries

Even though the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution were established by many of the same people, the two documents were very different. The original five-paged Articles contained thirteen articles, a conclusion, and a signatory section. The following list contains short summaries of each of the thirteen articles.

  1. Establishes the name of the confederation as "The United States of America."
  2. Asserts the precedence of the separate states over the confederation government, i.e. "Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated."
  3. Establishes the United States as a league of states united ". . . for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them . . . ."
  4. Establishes freedom of movement–anyone can pass freely between states, excluding "paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice." All people are entitled to the rights established by the state into which he travels. If a crime is committed in one state and the perpetrator flees to another state, he will be extradited to and tried in the state in which the crime was committed.
  5. Allocates one vote in the Congress of the Confederation (United States in Congress Assembled) to each state, which was entitled to a delegation of between two and seven members. Members of Congress were appointed by state legislatures; individuals could not serve more than three out of any six years.
  6. Only the central government is allowed to conduct foreign relations and to declare war. No states may have navies or standing armies, or engage in war, without permission of Congress (although the state militias are encouraged).
  7. When an army is raised for common defense, colonels and military ranks below colonel will be named by the state legislatures.
  8. Expenditures by the United States will be paid by funds raised by state legislatures, and apportioned to the states based on the real property values of each.
  9. Defines the powers of the central government: to declare war, to set weights and measures (including coins), and for Congress to serve as a final court for disputes between states.
  10. Defines a Committee of the States to be a government when Congress is not in session.
  11. Requires nine states to approve the admission of a new state into the confederacy; pre-approves Canada, if it applies for membership.
  12. Reaffirms that the Confederation accepts war debt incurred by Congress before the Articles.
  13. Declares that the Articles are perpetual, and can only be altered by approval of Congress with ratification by all the state legislatures.

Still at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain, the colonists were reluctant to establish another powerful national government. Jealously guarding their new independence, members of the Continental Congress created a loosely-structured unicameral legislature that protected the liberty of the individual states. While calling on Congress to regulate military and monetary affairs, for example, the Articles of Confederation provided no mechanism to force the states to comply with requests for troops or revenue. At times, this left the military in a precarious position, as George Washington wrote in a 1781 letter to the governor of Massachusetts, John Hancock.

The end of the war

The Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended hostilities with Great Britain, languished in Congress for months because state representatives failed to attend sessions of the national legislature. Yet Congress had no power to enforce attendance. Writing to George Clinton in September 1783, George Washington complained:

Congress have come to no determination yet respecting the Peace Establishment nor am I able to say when they will. I have lately had a conference with a Committee on this subject, and have reiterated my former opinions, but it appears to me that there is not a sufficient representation to discuss Great National points.[3]


The Articles supported the Congressional direction of the Continental Army, and allowed the 13 states to present a unified front when dealing with the European powers. As a tool to build a centralized war-making government, they were largely a failure, but since guerrilla warfare was correct strategy in a war against the British Empire's army, this "failure" succeeded in winning independence.[4] Under the articles, Congress could make decisions, but had no power to enforce them. There was a requirement for unanimous approval before any modifications could be made to the Articles. Because the majority of lawmaking rested with the states, the central government was also kept limited.

Congress was denied the power of taxation: it could only request money from the states. The states did not generally comply with the requests in full, leaving the confederation chronically short of funds. Congress was also denied the power to regulate commerce, and as a result, the states fought over trade as well.[citation needed] The states and the national congress had both incurred debts during the war, and how to pay the debts became a major issue. Some states paid off their debts; however, the centralizers favored federal assumption of states' debts.

Nevertheless, the Congress of the Confederation did take two actions with lasting impact. The Land Ordinance of 1785 established the general land survey and ownership provisions used throughout later American expansion. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 noted the agreement of the original states to give up western land claims and cleared the way for the entry of new states.

Once the war was won, the Continental Army was largely disbanded. A very small national force was maintained to man frontier forts and protect against Indian attacks. Meanwhile, each of the states had an army (or militia), and 11 of them had navies. The wartime promises of bounties and land grants to be paid for service were not being met. In 1783, Washington defused the Newburgh conspiracy, but riots by unpaid Pennsylvania veterans forced the Congress to leave Philadelphia temporarily.[5]


The Second Continental Congress approved the Articles for distribution to the states on November 15 1777. A copy was made for each state and one was kept by the Congress. The copies sent to the states for ratification were unsigned, and a cover letter had only the signatures of Henry Laurens and Charles Thomson, who were the president and secretary to the Congress.

But, the Articles at that time were unsigned, and the date was blank. Congress began the signing process by examining their copy of the Articles on June 27 1778. They ordered a final copy prepared (the one in the National Archives), and that delegates should inform the secretary of their authority for ratification.

On July 9, 1778, the prepared copy was ready. They dated it, and began to sign. They also requested each of the remaining states to notify its delegation when ratification was completed. On that date, delegates present from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina signed the Articles to indicate that their states had ratified. New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland could not, since their states had not ratified. North Carolina and Georgia also didn't sign that day, since their delegations were absent.

After the first signing, some delegates signed at the next meeting they attended. For example, John Wentworth of New Hampshire added his name on August 8. John Penn was the first of North Carolina's delegates to arrive (on July 10), and the delegation signed the Articles on July 21 1778.

The other states had to wait until they ratified the Articles and notified their Congressional delegation. Georgia signed on July 24, New Jersey on November 26, and Delaware on February 12 1779. Maryland refused to ratify the Articles until every state had ceded its western land claims.

The Act of the Maryland legislature to ratify the Articles of Confederation on February 2, 1781

On February 2, 1781, the much-awaited decision was taken by the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis[6]. As the last piece of business during the afternoon Session, "among engrossed Bills" was "signed and sealed by Governor Thomas Sim Lee in the Senate Chamber, in the presence of the members of both Houses… an Act to empower the delegates of this state in Congress to subscribe and ratify the articles of confederation" and perpetual union among the states. The Senate then adjourned "to the first Monday in August next." The decision of Maryland to ratify the Articles was reported to the Continental Congress on February 12. The formal signing of the Articles by the Maryland delegates took place in Philadelphia at noon time on March 1, 1781 and was celebrated in the afternoon. With these events, the Articles entered into force and the United States came into being as a united, sovereign and national state.

Congress had debated the Articles for over a year and a half, and the ratification process had taken nearly three and a half years. Many participants in the original debates were no longer delegates, and some of the signers had only recently arrived. The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were signed by a group of men who were never present in the Congress at the same time.

The signers and the states they represented were:

  • New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett and John Wentworth Jr.
  • Massachusetts Bay: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, Francis Dana, James Lovell, and Samuel Holten
  • Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: William Ellery, Henry Marchant, and John Collins
  • Connecticut: Roger Sherman¹, Samuel Huntington, Oliver Wolcott, Titus Hosmer, and Andrew Adams
  • New York: James Duane, Francis Lewis, William Duer, and Gouverneur Morris
  • New Jersey: John Witherspoon and Nathaniel Scudder
  • Pennsylvania:Robert Morris², Daniel Roberdeau, Jonathan Bayard Smith, William Clingan, and Joseph Reed
  • Delaware: Thomas McKean, John Dickinson³, and Nicholas Van Dyke
  • Maryland: John Hanson and Daniel Carroll³
  • Virginia: Richard Henry Lee, John Banister, Thomas Adams, John Harvie, and Francis Lightfoot Lee
  • North Carolina: John Penn, Cornelius Harnett, and John Williams
  • South Carolina: Henry Laurens, William Henry Drayton, John Mathews, Richard Hutson, and Thomas Heyward Jr.
  • Georgia: John Walton, Edward Telfair, and Edward Langworthy

¹ The only person to sign all four great state papers of the United States: the Articles of Association, the United States Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.
² One of only 2 people to sign three of the great state papers of the United States: the United States Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.
³ One of only 4 people to sign both the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.

Presidents of the Congress

The following list is of those who led the Congress of the Confederation under the Articles of Confederation as the presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled. Under the Articles, the president was the presiding officer of Congress, chaired the Cabinet (the Committee of the States) when Congress was in recess, and performed other administrative functions. He was not, however, a chief executive in the way the successor President of the United States is a chief executive, but all of the functions he executed were under the auspices and in service of the Congress.

  • Samuel Huntington (March 1, 1781 – July 9, 1781)
  • Thomas McKean (July 10, 1781 – November 4, 1781)
  • John Hanson (November 5, 1781 – November 3, 1782)
  • Elias Boudinot (November 4, 1782 – November 2, 1783)
  • Thomas Mifflin (November 3, 1783 – October 31, 1784)
  • Richard Henry Lee (November 30, 1784 – November 6, 1785)
  • John Hancock (November 23, 1785 – May 29, 1786)
  • Nathaniel Gorham (June 6, 1786 – November 5, 1786)
  • Arthur St. Clair (February 2, 1787 – November 4, 1787)
  • Cyrus Griffin (January 22, 1788 – November 2, 1788)

For a full list of presidents of the Congress Assembled and presidents under the two Continental Congresses before the Articles, see President of the Continental Congress.

Revision and replacement

In May 1786, Charles Pinckney of South Carolina proposed that Congress revise the Articles of Confederation. Recommended changes included granting Congress power over foreign and domestic commerce, and providing means for Congress to collect money from state treasuries. Unanimous approval was necessary to make the alterations, however, and Congress failed to reach a consensus.

In September, five states assembled in the Annapolis Convention to discuss adjustments that would improve commerce. Under their chairman, Alexander Hamilton, they invited state representatives to convene in Philadelphia to discuss improvements to the federal government. Although the states' representatives to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia were only authorized to amend the Articles, the representatives held secret, closed-door sessions and wrote a new constitution. The new Constitution gave much more power to the central government, but characterization of the result is disputed. Historian Forrest McDonald, using the ideas of James Madison from Federalist 39, describes the change this way:

The constitutional reallocation of powers created a new form of government, unprecedented under the sun. Every previous national authority either had been centralized or else had been a confederation of sovereign states. The new American system was neither one nor the other; it was a mixture of both.[7]

Historian Ralph Ketcham comments on the opinions of Patrick Henry, George Mason, and other antifederalists who were not so eager to give up the local autonomy won by the revolution:

Antifederalists feared what Patrick Henry termed the "consolidated government" proposed by the new Constitution. They saw in Federalist hopes for commercial growth and international prestige only the lust of ambitious men for a "splendid empire" that, in the time-honored way of empires, would oppress the people with taxes, conscription, and military campaigns. Uncertain that any government over so vast a domain as the United States could be controlled by the people, Antifederalists saw in the enlarged powers of the general government only the familiar threats to the rights and liberties of the people.[8]

According to their own terms for modification (Article XIII), the Articles would still have been in effect until 1790, the year in which the last of the 13 states ratified the new Constitution. The Congress under the Articles continued to sit until November 1788,[9][10][11][12] overseeing the adoption of the new Constitution by the states, and setting elections.

Historians have given many reasons for the perceived need to replace the articles in 1787. Jillson and Wilson (1994) point to the financial weakness as well as the norms, rules and institutional structures of the Congress, and the propensity to divide along sectional lines.

Rakove (1988) identifies several factors that explain the collapse of the Confederation. The lack of compulsory direct taxation power was objectionable to those wanting a strong centralized state or expecting to benefit from such power. It could not collect customs after the war because tariffs were vetoed by Rhode Island. Rakove concludes that their failure to implement national measures "stemmed not from a heady sense of independence but rather from the enormous difficulties that all the states encountered in collecting taxes, mustering men, and gathering supplies from a war-weary populace."[13] The second group of factors Rakove identified derived from the substantive nature of the problems the Continental Congress confronted after 1783, especially the inability to create a strong foreign policy. Finally, the Confederation's lack of coercive power reduced the likelihood for profit to be made by political means, thus potential rulers were uninspired to seek power.

When the war ended in 1783, certain special interests had incentives to create a new "merchant state," much like the British state people had rebelled against. In particular, holders of war scrip and land speculators wanted a central government to pay off scrip at face value and to legalize western land holdings with disputed claims. Also, manufacturers wanted a high tariff as a barrier to foreign goods, but competition among states made this impossible without a central government.

Historical importance

The Articles are historically important for two major reasons: i) they were the first constitution or governing document for the United States of America and ii) they legally established a union of the thirteen founding states; a Perpetual Union. Early on, tensions developed surrounding the Union, not least because of the fact that with the US Constitution the basis of government was changed from that of confederation to federation. Thomas Jefferson and John C. Calhoun were in their time leading proponents of guaranteeing the constitutional rights of states in federal legislation. Over time, a legal view developed that if the union violated the constitutional rights of states they might rightfully seceed.[14] A significant tension in the 19th century surrounded the expansion of slavery (which was generally supported in agricultural Southern states and opposed in industrial Northern states). As the secessionist view gained support in the South, the opposing view in the North was that since the U.S. Constitution declared itself to be "a more perfect union" than the Articles, it too must be perpetual, and also could not be broken without the consent of the other states. This view was promoted by Daniel Webster and Abraham Lincoln. In 1861, these constitutional contracts were cited by President Lincoln against any claims by the seceding states that unilaterally withdrawing from the Union and taking federal property within those states was legal.[15]

The Northwest Ordinance

The Congress established the Northwest Territory around the Great Lakes between 1784 and 1787. In 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance banning slavery in the new Territory. Congressional legislation divided the Territory into townships of six square miles each and provided for the sale of land to settlers. The Northwest Territory would eventually become the states of Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.

Problems with the Confederation

The Confederation faced several difficulties in its early years. Firstly, Congress became extremely dependent on the states for income. Also, states refused to require its citizens to pay debts to British merchants, straining relations with Great Britain. France prohibited Americans from using the important port of New Orleans, crippling American trade down the Mississippi river.

Shays' Rebellion

Due to the post-revolution economic woes, agitated by inflation, many worried of social instability. This was especially true for those in Massachusetts. The legislature's response to the shaky economy was to put emphasis on maintaining a sound currency by paying off the state debt through levying massive taxes. The tax burden hit those with moderate incomes dramatically. The average farmer paid a third of their annual income to these taxes from 1780 to 1786. Those who couldn't pay had their property foreclosed and were thrown into crowded prisons filled with other debtors.

But in the summer of 1786, a revolutionary war veteran named Daniel Shays began to organize western communities in Massachusetts to stop foreclosures, with force, by prohibiting the courts from holding their proceedings. Later that fall, Shays marched the newly formed "rebellion" into Springfield to stop the state supreme court from gathering. The state responded with troops sent to suppress the rebellion. After a failed attempt by the rebels to attack the Springfield arsenal, and other small skirmishes, the rebels retreated and then uprising collapsed. Shays retreated to Vermont by 1787.

While Daniel Shays was in hiding, the government condemned him to death on the charge of treason. Shays pleaded for his life in a petition which was finally granted by John Hancock on June 17, 1788. With the threat of treason behind him, Shays moved to New York and died September 25, 1825

U.S. presidents before George Washington

Who was the first president of the United States? Ask any school child and they will readily tell you "George Washington." And of course, they would be correct—at least technically. Washington was inaugurated on April 30, 1789, and yet, the United States continually had functioning governments from as early as September 5, 1774, and operated as a confederated nation from as early as July 4, 1776. During that nearly fifteen-year interval, Congress—first the Continental Congress and then later the Confederation Congress—was always moderated by a duly elected president. This officer was known as the "President of the Continental Congress", and later as the "President of the United States, in Congress Assembled".

However, the office of President of the Continental Congress had very little relationship to the office of President of the United States beyond the name. The president of the United States is the head of the executive branch of government, while the president of the Continental Congress was merely the chair of a body that most resembled a legislature, although it possessed legislative, executive, and judicial powers. The following brief biographies profile these "forgotten presidents."

Peyton Randolph of Virginia (1723–1775)

A portrait of Peyton Randolph

When delegates gathered in Philadelphia for the first Continental Congress, they promptly elected the former King's Attorney of Virginia as the moderator and president of their convocation. He was a propitious choice. He was a legal prodigy—having studied at the Inner Temple in London, served as his native colony's Attorney General, and tutored many of the most able men of the South at William and Mary College—including the young Patrick Henry. His home in Williamsburg was the gathering place for Virginia's legal and political gentry—and it remains a popular attraction in the restored colonial capital. He had served as a delegate in the Virginia House of Burgesses, and had been a commander under William Byrd in the colonial militia. He was a scholar of some renown—having begun a self-guided reading of the classics when he was thirteen. Despite suffering poor health served the Continental Congress as president twice, in 1774 from September 5 to October 21, and then again for a few days in 1775 from May 10 to May 23. He never lived to see independence, yet was numbered among the nation's most revered founders.

Henry Middleton (1717–1784) America's second elected president was one of the wealthiest planters in the South, the patriarch of the most powerful families anywhere in the nation. His public spirit was evident from an early age. He was a member of his state's Common House from 1744 to 1747. During the last two years he served as the Speaker. During 1755 he was the King's Commissioner of Indian Affairs. He was a member of the South Carolina Council from 1755 to 1770. His valor in the War with the Cherokees during 1760–1761 earned him wide recognition throughout the colonies—and demonstrated his leadership abilities while under pressure. He was elected as a delegate to the first session of the Continental Congress and when Peyton Randolph was forced to resign the presidency, his peers immediately turned to Middleton to complete the term. He served as the fledgling coalition's president from October 22, 1774, until Randolph was able to resume his duties briefly beginning on May 10, 1775. Afterward, he was a member of the Congressional Council of Safety and helped to establish the young nation's policy toward the encouragement and support of education. In February 1776 he resigned his political involvements in order to prepare his family and lands for what he believed was inevitable war—but he was replaced by his son Arthur who eventually became a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, served time as an English prisoner of war, and was twice elected Governor of his state.

John Hancock (1737–1793)

John Hancock, a signer of the Declaration of Independence

The third president was a patriot, rebel leader, merchant who signed his name into immortality in giant strokes on the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The boldness of his signature has made it live in American minds as a perfect expression of the strength and freedom—and defiance—of the individual in the face of British tyranny. As President of the Continental Congress during two widely spaced terms—the first from May 24 1775 to October 30 1777 and the second from November 23, 1785, to June 5, 1786—Hancock was the presiding officer when the members approved the Declaration of Independence. Because of his position, it was his official duty to sign the document first—but not necessarily as dramatically as he did. Hancock figured prominently in another historic event—the battle at Lexington: British troops who fought there April 10, 1775, had known Hancock and Samuel Adams were in Lexington and had come there to capture these rebel leaders. And the two would have been captured, if they had not been warned by Paul Revere. As early as 1768, Hancock defied the British by refusing to pay customs charges on the cargo of one of his ships. One of Boston's wealthiest merchants, he was recognized by the citizens, as well as by the British, as a rebel leader—and was elected President of the first Massachusetts Provincial Congress. After he was chosen President of the Continental Congress in 1775, Hancock became known beyond the borders of Massachusetts, and, having served as colonel of the Massachusetts Governor's Guards he hoped to be named commander of the American forces—until John Adams nominated George Washington. In 1778 Hancock was commissioned Major General and took part in an unsuccessful campaign in Rhode Island. But it was as a political leader that his real distinction was earned—as the first Governor of Massachusetts, as President of Congress, and as President of the Massachusetts constitutional ratification convention. He helped win ratification in Massachusetts, gaining enough popular recognition to make him a contender for the newly created Presidency of the United States, but again he saw Washington gain the prize. Like his rival, George Washington, Hancock was a wealthy man who risked much for the cause of independence. He was the wealthiest New Englander supporting the patriotic cause, and, although he lacked the brilliance of John Adams or the capacity to inspire of Samuel Adams, he became one of the foremost leaders of the new nation—perhaps, in part, because he was willing to commit so much at such risk to the cause of freedom.

Henry Laurens (1724–1792)

Henry Laurens, "father of our country"

The only American president ever to be held as a prisoner of war by a foreign power, Laurens was heralded after he was released as "the father of our country," by no less a personage than George Washington. He was of Huguenot extraction, his ancestors having come to America from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes made the Reformed faith illegal. Raised and educated for a life of mercantilism at his home in Charleston, he also had the opportunity to spend more than a year in continental travel. It was while in Europe that he began to write revolutionary pamphlets—gaining him renown as a patriot. He served as vice-president of South Carolina in 1776. He was then elected to the Continental Congress. He succeeded John Hancock as President of the newly independent but war beleaguered United States on November 1, 1777. He served until December 9, 1778, at which time he was appointed Ambassador to the Netherlands. Unfortunately for the cause of the young nation, he was captured by an English warship during his cross-Atlantic voyage and was confined to the Tower of London until the end of the war. After the Battle of Yorktown, the American government regained his freedom in a dramatic prisoner exchange—President Laurens for Lord Cornwallis. Ever the patriot, Laurens continued to serve his nation as one of the three representatives selected to negotiate terms at the Paris Peace Conference in 1782.

John Jay (1745–1829)

John Jay, Chief Justice

America's first Secretary of State, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, one of its first ambassadors, and author of some of the celebrated Federalist Papers, Jay was a Founding Father who, by a quirk of fate, missed signing the Declaration of Independence—at the time of the vote for independence and the signing, he had temporarily left the Continental Congress to serve in New York's revolutionary legislature. Nevertheless, he was chosen by his peers to succeed Henry Laurens as President of the United States—serving a term from December 10, 1778, to September 27, 1779. A conservative New York lawyer who was at first against the idea of independence for the colonies, the aristocratic Jay in 1776 turned into a patriot who was willing to give the next twenty-five years of his life to help establish the new nation. During those years, he won the regard of his peers as a dedicated and accomplished statesman and a man of unwavering principle. In the Continental Congress Jay prepared addresses to the people of Canada and Great Britain. In New York he drafted the State constitution and served as Chief Justice during the war. He was President of the Continental Congress before he undertook the difficult assignment, as ambassador, of trying to gain support and funds from Spain. After helping Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and Laurens complete peace negotiations in Paris in 1783, Jay returned to become the first Secretary of State, called "Secretary of Foreign Affairs" under the Articles of Confederation. He negotiated valuable commercial treaties with Russia and Morocco, and dealt with the continuing controversy with Britain and Spain over the southern and western boundaries of the United States. He proposed that America and Britain establish a joint commission to arbitrate disputes that remained after the war—a proposal which, though not adopted, influenced the government's use of arbitration and diplomacy in settling later international problems. In this post Jay felt keenly the weakness of the Articles of Confederation and was one of the first to advocate a new governmental compact. He wrote five Federalist Papers supporting the Constitution, and he was a leader in the New York ratification convention. As first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Jay made the historic decision that a State could be sued by a citizen from another State, which led to the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution. On a special mission to London he concluded the "Jay Treaty," which helped avert a renewal of hostilities with Britain but won little popular favor at home—and it is probably for this treaty that this Founding Father is best remembered.

Samuel Huntington (1732–1796) An industrious youth who mastered his studies of the law without the advantage of a school, a tutor, or a master—borrowing books and snatching opportunities to read and research between odd jobs—he was one of the greatest self-made men among the Founders. He was also one of the greatest legal minds of the age—all the more remarkable for his lack of advantage as a youth. In 1764, in recognition of his obvious abilities and initiative, he was elected to the General Assembly of Connecticut. The next year he was chosen to serve on the Executive Council. In 1774 he was appointed Associate Judge of the Superior Court and, as a delegate to the Continental Congress, was acknowledged to be a legal scholar of some respect. He served in Congress for five consecutive terms, during the last of which he was elected President. He served in that office from September 28, 1779 until ill health forced him to resign on July 9, 1781. He returned to his home in Connecticut—and as he recuperated, he accepted more Councilor and Bench duties. He again took his seat in Congress in 1783, but left it to become Chief Justice of his state's Superior Court. He was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1785 and Governor in 1786. According to John Jay, he was "the most precisely trained Christian jurists ever to serve his country."

Thomas McKean (1734–1817) During his astonishingly varied fifty-year career in public life he held almost every possible position—from deputy county attorney to President of the United States under the Confederation. Besides signing the Declaration of Independence, he contributed significantly to the development and establishment of constitutional government in both his home state of Delaware and the nation. At the Stamp Act Congress he proposed the voting procedure that Congress adopted: that each colony, regardless of size or population, has one vote—the practice adopted by the Continental Congress and the Congress of the Confederation, and the principle of state equality manifest in the composition of the Senate. And as county judge in 1765, he defied the British by ordering his court to work only with documents that did not bear the hated stamps. In June 1776, at the Continental Congress, McKean joined with Caesar Rodney to register Delaware's approval of the Declaration of Independence, over the negative vote of the third Delaware delegate, George Read—permitting it to be "The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States." And at a special Delaware convention, he drafted the constitution for that State. McKean also helped draft—and signed—the Articles of Confederation. It was during his tenure of service as President—from July 10, 1781 to November 4, 1782—when news arrived from General Washington in October 1781 that the British had surrendered following the Battle of Yorktown. As Chief Justice of the supreme court of Pennsylvania, he contributed to the establishment of the legal system in that State, and, in 1787, he strongly supported the Constitution at the Pennsylvania Ratification Convention, declaring it "the best the world has yet seen." At sixty-five, after over forty years of public service, McKean resigned from his post as Chief Justice. A candidate on the Democratic-Republican ticket in 1799, McKean was elected Governor of Pennsylvania. As Governor, he followed such a strict policy of appointing only fellow Republicans to office that he became the father of the spoils system in America. He served three tempestuous terms as Governor, completing one of the longest continuous careers of public service of any of the Founding Fathers.

John Hanson (1715–1783) He was the heir of one of the greatest family traditions in the colonies and became the patriarch of a long line of American patriots—his great grandfather died at Lutzen beside the great King Gustavus Aldophus of Sweden; his grandfather was one of the founders of New Sweden along the Delaware River in Maryland; one of his nephews was the military secretary to George Washington; another was a signer of the Declaration; still another was a signer of the Constitution; yet another was Governor of Maryland during the Revolution; and still another was a member of the first Congress; two sons were killed in action with the Continental Army; a grandson served as a member of Congress under the new Constitution; and another grandson was a Maryland Senator. Thus, even if Hanson had not served as President himself, he would have greatly contributed to the life of the nation through his ancestry and progeny. As a youngster he began a self-guided reading of classics and rather quickly became an acknowledged expert in the juridicalism of Anselm and the practical philosophy of Seneca—both of which were influential in the development of the political philosophy of the great leaders of the Reformation. It was based upon these legal and theological studies that the young planter—his farm, Mulberry Grove was just across the Potomac from Mount Vernon—began to espouse the cause of the patriots. In 1775 he was elected to the Provincial Legislature of Maryland. Then in 1777, he became a member of Congress where he distinguished himself as a brilliant administrator. Thus, he was elected President in 1781. He served in that office from November 5, 1781 until November 3, 1782. He was the first president to serve a full term after the full ratification of the Articles of Confederation—and like so many of the Southern and New England Founders, he was strongly opposed to the Constitution when it was first discussed. He remained a confirmed anti-federalist until his untimely death.

Elias Boudinot (1741–1802) He did not sign the Declaration, the Articles, or the Constitution. He did not serve in the Continental Army with distinction. He was not renowned for his legal mind or his political skills. He was instead a man who spent his entire career in foreign diplomacy. He earned the respect of his fellow patriots during the dangerous days following the traitorous action of Benedict Arnold. His deft handling of relations with Canada also earned him great praise. After being elected to the Congress from his home state of New Jersey, he served as the new nation's Secretary for Foreign Affairs—managing the influx of aid from France, Spain, and Holland. The in 1783 he was elected to the Presidency. He served in that office from November 4, 1782 until November 2, 1783. Like so many of the other early presidents, he was a classically trained scholar, of the Reformed faith, and an anti-federalist in political matters. He was the father and grandfather of frontiersmen—and one of his grandchildren and namesakes eventually became a leader of the Cherokee nation in its bid for independence from the sprawling expansion of the United States.

Thomas Mifflin (1744–1800) By an ironic sort of providence, Thomas Mifflin served as George Washington's first aide-de-camp at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, and, when the war was over, he was the man, as President of the United States, who accepted Washington's resignation of his commission. In the years between, Mifflin greatly served the cause of freedom—and, apparently, his own cause—while serving as the first Quartermaster General of the Continental Army. He obtained desperately needed supplies for the new army—and was suspected of making excessive profit himself. Although experienced in business and successful in obtaining supplies for the war, Mifflin preferred the front lines, and he distinguished himself in military actions on Long Island and near Philadelphia. Born and reared a Quaker, he was excluded from their meetings for his military activities. A controversial figure, Mifflin lost favor with Washington and was part of the Conway Cabal—a rather notorious plan to replace Washington with General Horatio Gates. And Mifflin narrowly missed court-martial action over his handling of funds by resigning his commission in 1778. In spite of these problems—and of repeated charges that he was a drunkard—Mifflin continued to be elected to positions of responsibility—as President and Governor of Pennsylvania, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, as well as the highest office in the land—where he served from November 3, 1783, to November 29, 1784. Most of Mifflin's significant contributions occurred in his earlier years—in the First and Second Continental Congresses he was firm in his stand for independence and for fighting for it, and he helped obtain both men and supplies for Washington's army in the early critical period. In 1784, as president, he signed the treaty with Great Britain which ended the war. Although a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, he did not make a significant contribution—beyond signing the document. As Governor of Pennsylvania, although he was accused of negligence, he supported improvements of roads, and reformed the State penal and judicial systems. He had gradually become sympathetic to Jefferson's principles regarding states' rights; even so, he directed the Pennsylvania militia to support the Federal tax collectors in the Whiskey Rebellion. In spite of charges of corruption, the affable Mifflin remained a popular figure. A magnetic personality and an effective speaker, he managed to hold a variety of elective offices for almost thirty years of the critical Revolutionary period.

Richard Henry Lee (1732–1794) His resolution "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States", approved by the Continental Congress July 2, 1776, was the first official act of the United Colonies that set them irrevocably on the road to independence. It was not surprising that it came from Lee's pen—as early as 1768 he proposed the idea of committees of correspondence among the colonies, and in 1774 he proposed that the colonies meet in what became the Continental Congress. From the first, his eye was on independence. A wealthy Virginia planter whose ancestors had been granted extensive lands by King Charles II, Lee disdained the traditional aristocratic role and the aristocratic view. In the House of Burgesses he flatly denounced the practice of slavery. He saw independent America as "an asylum where the unhappy may find solace, and the persecuted repose." In 1764, when news of the proposed Stamp Act reached Virginia, Lee was a member of the committee of the House of Burgesses that drew up an address to the King, an official protest against such a tax. After the tax was established, Lee organized the citizens of his county into the Westmoreland Association, a group pledged to buy no British goods until the Stamp Act was repealed. At the First Continental Congress, Lee persuaded representatives from all the colonies to adopt this non-importation idea, leading to the formation of the Continental Association, which was one of the first steps toward union of the colonies. Lee also proposed to the First Continental Congress that a militia be organized and armed—the year before the first shots were fired at Lexington; but this and other proposals of his were considered too radical—at the time. Three days after Lee introduced his resolution, in June of 1776, he was appointed by Congress to the committee responsible for drafting a declaration of independence, but he was called home when his wife fell ill, and his place was taken by his young protégé, Thomas Jefferson. Thus Lee missed the chance to draft the document—though his influence greatly shaped it and he was able to return in time to sign it. He was elected President—serving from November 30, 1784 to November 22, 1785 when he was succeeded by the second administration of John Hancock. Elected to the Constitutional Convention, Lee refused to attend, but as a member of the Congress of the Confederation, he contributed to another great document, the Northwest Ordinance, which provided for the formation of new States from the Northwest Territory. When the completed Constitution was sent to the States for ratification, Lee opposed it as anti-democratic and anti-Christian. However, as one of Virginia's first Senators, he helped assure passage of the amendments that, he felt, corrected many of the document's gravest faults—the Bill of Rights. He was the great uncle of Robert E. Lee and the scion of a great family tradition.

Nathaniel Gorham (1738–1796) Another self-made man, Gorham was one of the many successful Boston merchants who risked all he had for the cause of freedom. He was first elected to the Massachusetts General Court in 1771. His honesty and integrity won his acclaim and was thus among the first delegates chose to serve in the Continental Congress. He remained in public service throughout the war and into the Constitutional period, though his greatest contribution was his call for a stronger central government. But even though he was an avid federalist, he did not believe that the union could—or even should—be maintained peaceably for more than a hundred years. He was convinced that eventually, in order to avoid civil or cultural war, smaller regional interests should pursue an independent course. His support of a new constitution was rooted more in pragmatism than ideology. When John Hancock was unable to complete his second term as President, Gorham was elected to succeed him—serving from June 6, 1786 to February 1, 1787. It was during this time that the Congress actually entertained the idea of asking Prince Henry—the brother of Frederick II of Prussia—and Bonnie Prince Charlie—the leader of the ill-fated Scottish Jacobite Rising and heir of the Stuart royal line—to consider the possibility of establishing a constitutional monarch in America. It was a plan that had much to recommend it but eventually the advocates of republicanism held the day. During the final years of his life, Gorham was concerned with several speculative land deals which nearly cost him his entire fortune.

Arthur St. Clair (1734–1818) Born and educated in Edinburgh, Scotland, during the tumultuous days of the final Jacobite Rising and the Tartan Suppression, St. Clair was the only president of the United States born and bred on foreign soil. Though most of his family and friends abandoned their devastated homeland in the years following the Battle of Culloden—after which nearly a third of the land was depopulated through emigration to America—he stayed behind to learn the ways of the hated Hanoverian English in the Royal Navy. His plan was to learn of the enemy's military might in order to fight another day. During the global conflict of the Seven Years' War—generally known as the French and Indian War—he was stationed in the American theater. Afterward, he decided to settle in Pennsylvania where many of his kin had established themselves. His civic-mindedness quickly became apparent: he helped to organize both the New Jersey and the Pennsylvania militias, led the Continental Army's Canadian expedition, and was elected Congress. His long years of training in the enemy camp was finally paying off. He was elected President in 1787—and he served from February 2 of that year until January 21 of the next. Following his term of duty in the highest office in the land, he became the first Governor of the Northwest Territory. Though he briefly supported the idea of creating a constitutional monarchy under the Stuart's Bonnie Prince Charlie, he was a strident Anti-Federalist—believing that the proposed federal constitution would eventually allow for the intrusion of government into virtually every sphere and aspect of life. He even predicted that under the vastly expanded centralized power of the state the taxing powers of bureaucrats and other unelected officials would eventually confiscate as much as a quarter of the income of the citizens—a notion that seemed laughable at the time but that has proven to be ominously modest in light of our current governmental leviathan. St. Clair lived to see the hated English tyrants who destroyed his homeland defeated. But he despaired that his adopted home might actually create similar tyrannies and impose them upon themselves.

Cyrus Griffin (1736–1796) Like Peyton Randolph, he was trained in London's Inner Temple to be a lawyer—and thus was counted among his nation's legal elite. Like so many other Virginians, he was an anti-federalist, though he eventually accepted the new Constitution with the promise of the Bill of Rights as a hedge against the establishment of an American monarchy—which still had a good deal of currency. The Articles of Confederation afforded such freedoms that he had become convinced that even with the incumbent loss of liberty, some new form of government would be required. A protégé of George Washington—having worked with him on several speculative land deals in the West—he was a reluctant supporter of the constitutional ratifying process. It was during his term in the office of the presidency—the last before the new national compact went into effect–that ratification was formalized and finalized. He served as the nation's chief executive from January 22, 1788 until George Washington's inauguration on April 30, 1789.


  1. Monday, November 17 1777, Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789. A Century of Lawmaking, 1774-1873
  2. "Articles of Confederation, 1777-1781". U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on 2007-09-15. Retrieved 2008-01-26.
  3. Letter George Washington to George Clinton, September 11 1783. The George Washington Papers, 1741-1799
  4. "While Washington and Steuben were taking the army in an ever more European direction, Lee in captivity was moving the other way — pursuing his insights into a fullfledged and elaborated proposal for guerrilla warfare. He presented his plan to Congress, as a "Plan for the Formation of the American Army." Bitterly attacking Steuben's training of the army according to the "European Plan," Lee charged that fighting British regulars on their own terms was madness and courted crushing defeat: "If the Americans are servilely kept to the European Plan, they will … be laugh'd at as a bad army by their enemy, and defeated in every [encounter]… . [The idea] that a decisive action in fair ground may be risqued is talking nonsense." Instead, he declared that "a plan of defense, harassing and impeding can alone succeed," particularly if based on the rough terrain west of the Susquehannah River in Pennsylvania. He also urged the use of cavalry and of light infantry (in the manner of Dan Morgan), both forces highly mobile and eminently suitable for the guerrilla strategy. This strategic plan was ignored both by Congress and by Washington, all eagerly attuned to the new fashion of Prussianizing and to the attractions of a "real" army." - Murray N. Rothbard, Generalissimo Washington: How He Crushed the Spirit of Liberty excerpted from Conceived in Liberty, Volume IV, chapters 8 and 41.Template:Relevance
  5. Henry Cabot Lodge. George Washington, Vol. I. Vol. I.
  6. Friday, February 2 1781, Laws of Maryland, 1781. An ACT to empower the delegates
  7. McDonald pg. 276
  8. Ralph Ketcham, Roots of the Republic: American Founding Documents Interpreted, pg. 383
  9. Emory, Bobby (1993). "The Articles of Confederation". Libertarian Nation Foundation. Retrieved 2008-01-26.
  10. "Religion and the Congress of the Confederation, 1774-89 (Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Library of Congress Exhibition)". Library of Congress. 2003-10-27.
  11. "Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention". U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
  12. Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789 - To Form a More Perfect Union: The Work of the Continental Congress & the Constitutional Convention (American Memory from the Library of Congress)
  13. Rakove 1988 p. 230
  14. In his book Life of Webster Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge writes, "It is safe to say that there was not a man in the country, from Washington and Hamilton to Clinton and Mason, who did not regard the new system as an experiment from which each and every State had a right to peaceably withdraw." A textbook used at West Point before the Civil War, A View of the Constitution, written by Judge William Rawle, states, "The secession of a State depends on the will of the people of such a State."
  15. "First Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln, Monday, March 4, 1861". State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and that acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.


  • R. B. Bernstein, "Parliamentary Principles, American Realities: The Continental and Confederation Congresses, 1774-1789," in Inventing Congress: Origins & Establishment Of First Federal Congress ed by Kenneth R. Bowling and Donald R. Kennon (1999) pp 76-108
  • Burnett, Edmund Cody. The Continental Congress: A Definitive History of the Continental Congress From Its Inception in 1774 to March, 1789 (1941)
  • Barbara Feinberg, The Articles Of Confederation (2002). [for middle school children.]
  • Robert W. Hoffert, A Politics of Tensions: The Articles of Confederation and American Political Ideas (1992).
  • Lucille E. Horgan. Forged in War: The Continental Congress and the Origin of Military Supply and Acquisition Policy (2002)
  • Merrill Jensen, The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774-1781 (1959).
  • Merrill Jensen: "The Idea of a National Government During the American Revolution", Political Science Quarterly, 58 (1943), 356-79. online at JSTOR
  • Calvin Jillson and Rick K. Wilson. Congressional Dynamics: Structure, Coordination, and Choice in the First American Congress, 1774-1789. (1994)
  • Forest McDonald.Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution. (1985)
  • Andrew C. Mclaughlin, A Constitutional History of the United States (1935) online version
  • Pauline Maier, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (1998).
  • Jackson T. Main, Political Parties before the Constitution. University of North Carolina Press, 1974
  • Jack N. Rakove, The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress (1982).
  • Jack N. Rakove, “The Collapse of the Articles of Confederation,” in The American Founding: Essays on the Formation of the Constitution. Ed by J. Jackson Barlow, Leonard W. Levy and Ken Masugi. Greenwood Press. 1988. Pp 225-45 ISBN 0313256101

Further reading

  • Klos, Stanley L. (2004). President Who? Forgotten Founders. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Evisum, Inc. p. 261. ISBN 0-9752627-5-0.

The Early Years of the Constitutional Republic (1787 - 1800)

Early Immigration to the Americas as of 1790

The following table is an approximation of the countries of origin for new arrivals to United States up to 1790.[1] The regions marked * were a part of Great Britain. The Irish in the 1790 census were probably mostly Irish Protestants and the French Huguenots. The total U.S. Catholic population in 1790 was probably less than 5%. [2]

Group Immigrants before 1790 Population 1790
Africa 360,000 (most as slaves) 800,000
England* 230,000 1,900,000
Ulster Scot-Irish* 135,000 300,000
Germany 103,000 270,000
Scotland* 48,500 150,000
Ireland* 8,000 (Incl. in Scot-Irish)
Netherlands 6,000 100,000
Wales* 4,000 10,000
France 3,000 50,000
Jews 1,000 2,000
Sweden 500 2,000
Other --- 200,000

James Webb, among others, has argued that not enough credit is given to early Scots-Irish for the role they played in early American history. These people formed a full 40% of the American Revolutionary army: their culture is now dominant in the American South, Midwest and Appalachian Region.

Failures Under Confederation

The original constitution as defined in the Articles of Confederation was meant to provide a league of sovereign states, rather than a united government. However, the uniting of these states in the Revolution showed flaws in this legislation. From place to place the same goods and services had a wide variation in price, and a wide variation in the way they were paid for. Should they be paid with trade in kind, as with many rural communities; in tobacco, as in Virginia; in gold and silver ores; or in Spanish Dollars or British Pound Sterling? If the last, how to establish that the states were neither Spanish nor British? Hard currency was in short supply following the American Revolution. The Revolution had been paid for in Continental specie: inflation left these bills "not worth a Continental." Several states had also printed paper currency, but it, like the Continental dollar, was heavily depreciated. Article Twelve said that War debts would be paid for by the central government, but Article Eight said that these monies would be raised by State legislatures. Without a strong central authority, how could equality of funding be assured? In fact, none of the debts, individual or national, had yet been paid, since the confederation had not the power of taxation. With all their rich resources, the States were running a trade deficit, buying many of their goods from the British. The confederation was also powerless to defend American navigational rights, evict the British from forts they were holding in violation of the Treaty of Paris, or settle disputes between two states.

The bankrupt confederation had trouble paying the soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War. This led to the Newburgh Conspiracy, an planned overthrow of the confederation which would have installed General Washington as head of a military junta. Washington, not interested in being a military dictator, quelled the cabal, negotiated pay and pensions for his soldiers[3], and resigned his commission, returning to civilian life at Mount Vernon.

One event that made it clear that some reform of the Articles was necessary was Shays' Rebellion. Thousands of disgruntled and impoverished farmer-soldiers, led by Daniel Shays, shut down courthouses and led an (ultimately unsuccessful) military uprising against the government of Massachusetts.

The Constitutional Convention

Signing of the Constitution

In 1787, a Convention was called in Philadelphia with the declared purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation. However many delegates intended to use this convention for the purpose of drafting a new constitution. All states except for Rhode Island sent delegates, though all delegates did not attend. It was presided over by George Washington. Other leading figures at the convention included James Madison and John Randolph of Virginia, Ben Franklin, Gouverneur Morris and Robert Morris of Pennsylvania and Alexander Hamilton of New York. At the convention, the primary issue was representation of the states. Under the Articles, each state had one vote in Congress. The more populous states wanted representation to be based on population (proportional representation). James Madison of Virginia crafted the Virginia Plan, which guaranteed proportional representation and granted wide powers to the Congress. The small states, on the other hand, supported equal representation through William Paterson's New Jersey Plan. The New Jersey Plan also increased the Congress' power, but it did not go nearly as far as the Virginia Plan. The conflict threatened to end the Convention, but Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed the "Great Compromise" (or Connecticut Compromise) under which one house of Congress would be based on proportional representation, while the other would be based on equal representation. Eventually, the Compromise was accepted and the Convention saved.

After settling on representation, compromises seemed easy for other issues. The question about the counting of slaves when determining the official population of a state was resolved by the Three-Fifths Compromise, which provided that slaves would count as three-fifths of persons. In another compromise, the Congress was empowered to ban the slave trade, but only after 1808. Similarly, issues relating to the empowerment and election of the President were resolved, leading to the Electoral College method for choosing the Chief Executive of the nation.

The Federalist Papers and Ratification

Alexander Hamilton wrote many of the Federalist Papers

The Convention required that the Constitution come into effect only after nine states ratify, or approve, it. The fight for ratification was difficult, but the Constitution eventually came into effect in 1788.

During 1788 and 1789, there were 85 essays published in several New York State newspapers, designed to convince New York and Virginia voters to ratify the Constitution. The three people who are generally acknowledged for writing these essays are Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay. Since Hamilton, Madison, and Jay were considered Federalists, this series of essays became known as "The Federalist Papers. One of the most famous Federalist Papers is Federalist No. 10, which was written by Madison and argues that the checks and balances in the Constitution prevent the government from falling victim to factions.

Anti-Federalists did not support ratification. Many individuals, such as Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Richard Henry Lee, were Anti-Federalists. The Anti-Federalists had several complaints with the constitution. One of their biggest was that the Constitution did not provide for a Bill of Rights protecting the people. They also thought the Constitution gave too much power to the federal government and too little to individual states. A third complaint of the Anti-Federalists was that Senators and the President were not directly elected by the people, and that the House of Representatives was elected every two years instead of annually.

On December 7, 1787, Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution. The vote was unanimous, 30-0. Pennsylvania followed on December 12 and New Jersey on ratified on December 18, also in a unanimous vote. By summer 1788, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia and New York had ratified the Constitution, and it went into effect. On August 2, 1788, North Carolina refused to ratify the Constitution without amendments, but it relented and ratified it a year later.

A number of states that ratified the Constitution also issued statements requesting changes to the constitution, such as a Bill of Rights. This led to the Bill of Rights being drawn up in the first few years of the federal government.

The Bill of Rights

George Washington was inaugurated as the first United States president on April 30, 1789. However, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Vermont had not ratified the Constitution. Although governance was assured, there were no protections of people's religion, speech, or civil liberties. On September 26, 1789, Congress sent a list of twelve amendments to the states for ratification. Ten of the amendments would become the Bill of Rights. North Carolina ratified the Constitution in November of 1789, followed by Rhode Island in May 1790. Vermont became the last state to ratify the Constitution on January 10, 1791, becoming the 14th state in the Union.

The Bill of Rights was enacted on December 15, 1791. Here is a summary of the ten amendments ratified on that day:

  1. Establishes freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly, petition.
  2. Establishes the right to keep and bear arms as part of a well-regulated militia.
  3. Bans the forced quartering of soldiers.
  4. Interdiction of unreasonable searches and seizures; a search warrant is required to search persons or property.
  5. Details the concepts of indictments, due process, self-incrimination, double jeopardy, rules for eminent domain.
  6. Establishes rights to a fair and speedy public trial, to a notice of accusations, to confront the accuser, to subpoenas, and to counsel.
  7. Provides for the right to trial by jury in civil cases
  8. Bans cruel and unusual punishment, and excessive fines or bail
  9. Lists unremunerated rights
  10. Limits the powers of the federal government to only those specifically granted by the constitution.

Washington Administration

George Washington, the first President of the United States

After George Washington had become the successful Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War, he became the first President of the United States, holding office from 1789 to 1797. [4]

In 1788, the Electors unanimously chose Washington as president.[4] A short time after he had helped bring the government together, rivalries arose between his closest advisors, particularly between Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Out of these developments evolved two new political parties: The Federalists, who shared the same name as the earlier pro-ratification party, and the Democratic-Republican Party, also known as the Jeffersonian party, or as the Anti-Federalists.

Washington's two-term administration set many policies and traditions that survive today. He was again unanimously elected in 1792. But after his second term expired, Washington again voluntarily relinquished power, thereby establishing an important precedent that was to serve as an example for the United States and also for other future republics.[4] Washington also abjured titles. He didn't want to be called "Your Excellency" or "Your Majesty." He insisted on being called "Mr. President," and referred to as "The President of the United States". Because of his central role in the founding of the United States, Washington is often called the "Father of his Country". Scholars rank him with Abraham Lincoln among the greatest of United States presidents.

Hamilton's Financial Plan

The First Bank of the United States in Philadelphia, an institution spearheaded by Alexander Hamilton.

One of the main conflicts between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists was over how to pay off Revolutionary War Debts. In 1790, Alexander Hamilton wrote his First Report on Public Credit to achieve this end. The report advocated that the federal government assume, or take over, state debts and turn them into one national debt. However, Jefferson and the anti-Federalists criticized this plan. In the Compromise of 1790, the federal government was allowed to assume state debts in exchange for the national capital being relocated to the District of Columbia.

In the Second Report on Public Credit, Hamilton argued that a National Bank was necessary to expand the flow of legal tender and encourage investment in the United States. Jefferson claimed that the creation of the National Bank violated the 10th Amendment of the Constitution, and therefore was unconstitutional. Hamilton responded that the bank was constitutional because the constitution gave "implied powers" to the Federal Government to do what was "necessary and proper" to fulfill its duties. Legislation creating the bank was passed in February 1791, and gave the bank a charter of twenty years.

Jefferson did not agree with Hamilton's idea of a national bank. Jefferson's faction envisioned an America more similar to ancient Athens or pre-Imperial Rome, with independent farming households following their own interests and nurturing liberty. Jefferson believed America should teach people to be self-sufficient farmers, and he wanted the federal government to stop interfering in state matters. (However, some evidence suggests Jefferson did support Hamilton's plan for paying off state debts. He wanted leverage to pressure Hamilton's agreement to locate the government's permanent capital in the South, on the Potomac River in what would become Washington, D.C.)

Both President Washington and Congress agreed to Hamilton's Bank. Jefferson's plan was overruled, and he eventually resigned as Secretary of State.

Whiskey Rebellion (1794)

Washington rallies troops to quell the Whiskey Rebellion.

Washington was involved in one controversy during his presidency, the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. The new Republic needed funds. This motivated Alexander Hamilton to press Congress to pass an excise tax on the sale of whiskey. Rural Pennsylvania farmers, who had never known a centralized American authority, were horrified by a call on what they considered their own profit and refused to pay the tax. A mob of 500 men attacked a tax collector's house. In response, Washington and Hamilton led an army of 15,000 men to quell the rebellion, an army larger than the force Washington had commanded in the American Revolution. When the army showed up, the rebels dispersed. The whiskey tax was eventually repealed by the Democratic Republicans in 1801.

Foreign Affairs

The French Revolution

The French Revolution broke out in 1789, a few months after the American Constitution had gone into effect. At first, as France overthrew the monarchy and declared itself a republic, many Americans supported the revolution. They believed their own revolt against England had spurred France to republicanism. But as the Reign of Terror began, and thousands of French aristocrats went to the guillotine, many Americans were shocked at the revolution's excesses. By the mid-1790s, as France went to war against neighboring monarchies, the revolution polarized American public opinion. Federalists viewed England, France's traditional enemy, as the bastion of stable government against a growing tide of French anarchy. Members of the emerging Democratic Republican Party, on the other hand, who took their party's name in part from the French Republic, believed the Terror to be a temporary excess and continued to view England as the true enemy of liberty.

President Washington's policy was neutrality. He knew that England, France, or even Spain, would be happy to eat up American resources and territory. The United States in the 1790s was still new and frail. He hoped that America could stay out of European conflicts until it was strong enough to withstand any serious foreign threat. Yet both England and France found opportunities to each use American resources against the other.

Hamilton and Jefferson clashed here as well. The former argued that the mutual defense treaty that the United States had signed with France in 1778 was no longer binding, as the French regime that had made that treaty no longer existed. The latter disagreed. But Washington sided with Hamilton, issuing a formal Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793. Washington repeated his belief in neutrality and argued against factionalism in his Farewell Address of 1796.

That same year, Citizen Edmund Charles Genêt arrived as the French minister to the United States. He soon began issuing commissions to captains of American ships who were willing to serve as privateers for France. This blatant disregard of American neutrality angered Washington, who demanded and got Genêt's recall.

English and Spanish Negotiations

The Royal Navy, meanwhile, began pressing sailors into service, including sailors on American merchant ships. Many English sailors had been lured into the American merchant service by high wages and comparatively good standards of living, and England needed these sailors to man its own fleet, on which England's national security depended. This violation of the American flag, however, infuriated Americans, as did the fact that England had not yet withdrawn its soldiers from posts in the Northwest Territory, as required by the Treaty of Paris of 1783.

In response, President Washington sent Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay to negotiate a treaty with England. But Jay had little leverage with which to negotiate: the final treaty did require immediate English evacuation of the frontier forts, but it said nothing about the matter of impressments. The Jay Treaty provoked an outcry among American citizens, and although the Senate ratified it narrowly, the debate it sparked was the final blow which solidified the Federalist and Republican factions into full-scale political parties, Federalists acquiescing in the treaty, and Republicans viewing it as a sell-out to England (and against France).

Spain, meanwhile, viewed the Jay Treaty negotiations with alarm, fearing that America and England might be moving towards an alliance. Without being certain of the treaty provisions, Spain decided to mollify the United States and give ground in the southwest before a future Anglo-American alliance could take New Orleans and Louisiana. Spain thus agreed to abandon all territorial claims north of Florida and east of the Mississippi, with the exception of New Orleans, and to grant the United States both the right to navigate the Mississippi and the right of commercial deposit in New Orleans. This would give westerners greater security and allow them to trade with the outside world. This Treaty of San Lorenzo, also called Pinckney's Treaty after American diplomat Charles Pinckney, was signed in 1795 and ratified the following year. Unlike Jay's treaty, it was quite popular.

If Jay's Treaty alarmed Spain, it angered France, which saw it as a violation of the Franco-American mutual defense treaty of 1778. By 1797, French privateers began attacking American merchant shipping in the Caribbean.

Election of 1796

The 1796 Electoral College results.

The first election where the presidency was not a foregone conclusion produced four candidates: Washington's Federalist Vice President John Adams, Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson, the Federalist Thomas Pinckney, and the Democratic-Republican Aaron Burr. (Burr was in fact hoping to become Vice President if the other Democratic-Republican were to win.) There were no Vice Presidential candidates, for under the original draft of the Constitution, the Vice President would be the candidate with the second-largest number of votes.

This was also the election testing the Constitution's Electoral College. Voters in each state did not directly elect candidates. Instead, their choices directed the two votes cast by the state's Electors.

In the election of 1796, John Adams won the required majority, but Thomas Jefferson came in second place. The President and the Vice President were in two different parties. The Constitutional role of the Vice President was defined in relation to the President: there was little else for him to do. Jefferson was isolated from an administration which supported strong government and a central Bank, and his contrary views were not consulted in the Adams administration.

The XYZ Affair

Painting showing American and French ships trading blows during the Quasi-war.

Newly-elected President John Adams sent a delegation to Paris, resolving to negotiate a settlement with France. However, the delegates found it impossible even to secure an appointment with Talleyrand, the French foreign minister. The delegates were approached by three minor functionaries who insisted that the Americans pay a bribe to inaugurate negotiations, warning them of "the power and violence of France" if they refused. The delegates refused. ("The answer is no; no; not a sixpence," one of them retorted. This was popularly rendered as "Millions for defense, not a penny for tribute.") When Adams made the correspondence public, after replacing the names of the French functionaries with X, Y, and Z, American sentiment swung strongly against France. Under the control of the Federalists, Congress initiated a military buildup, fielding several excellent warships and calling Washington out of retirement to head the army. (Washington agreed only on condition that he not command until the army actually took the field. The army was never marshaled.)

The result was a Quasi-war, or an undeclared naval war with France. It consisted of combat between individual ships, mostly in the Caribbean, from 1798 to 1800. Eventually the United States and France agreed to end hostilities and to end the mutual defense treaty of 1778. Adams considered this one of his finest achievements.

Alien and Sedition Acts

Under Adams, the Federalist-dominated congress pushed passage of a series of laws under the cover of overcoming dangerous "aliens." In fact, the four acts were used to silence domestic political opponents.

  1. The Alien Act authorized the president to deport an alien deemed "dangerous."
  2. The Alien Enemies Act authorized the president to deport or imprison any alien from a country that the United States was fighting a declared war with.
  3. The Sedition Act made it a crime to criticize government officials and publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its agents.
  4. The Naturalization Act changed the residency requirements for aliens to become citizens from 5 to 14 years.

Although it was openly deemed to be a security act, it provided powerful tools to the ruling Federalist party to quiet opposition from the growing Democratic-Republican Party. By extending the time required to become a citizen, they decreased the number of new voters that might choose to support the minority party. However, these acts were rarely enacted against political opponents due to the possibility of conflict such actions could create.


In well-off families both boys and girls went to a form of infant school called a petty school. However only boys went to what you call grammar school. Upper class girls and sometimes boys were taught by tutors. Middle class girls might be taught by their mothers. Moreover during the 17th century boarding schools for girls were founded in many towns. In the boarding schools girls were taught subjects like writing, music and needlework. In the grammar schools conditions were hard. Boys started work at 6 or 7 in the morning and worked to 5 or 5.30 pm, with breaks for meals. Corporal punishment was usual. Normally the teacher hit naughty boys on the bare butt with birch twigs. Other boys in the class would hold the naughty boy down.

In the 17th and early 18th centuries women were not encouraged to get an education. Some people believed that if women were well educated it would ruin their marriage prospects and be harmful to their mind. Protestants believed that women as well as men should be able to read the bible. Only the daughters of the wealthy or nobility could get an education. By the mid 17th century young women were allowed to go to school with their brothers. Sometimes if you had the money you would be placed within a household of a friend and within the household and you would be taught various things. Some of the things you would learn would be to read and write, run a household, and practice surgery.

After the signing of the Declaration of Independence, several states had their own constitutions and there were sections in them that had information pertaining to education. But Thomas Jefferson had the thought that education should be left up to the government. He believed that education should not have a religious bias in it and believed that it should be free to all people not matter what their social status was. It was still very hard to make the concept of public schools easy for people to accept because of the vast number of people who were immigrating, the many different political views, and the different levels of economic difficulties.[5]


In the 1790s certain New England weavers began building large, automated looms, driven by water power. To house them they created the first American factories. Working the looms required less skill and more speed than household laborers could provide. The looms needed people brought to them; and they also required laborers who did not know the origin of the word sabotage. These factories sought out young women.

The factory owners said they wanted to hire these women just for a few years, with the ideal being that they could raise a dowry for their wedding. They were carefully supervised, with their time laid out for them. Some mill owners created evening classes to teach these women how to write and how to organize a household.

The factories provided a cheaper source of cotton cloth, sent out on ships and on roads improved by a stronger government. For the first time some people could afford more than two outfits, work and Sunday best. They also provided an outlet for cotton from the slave states in the South. Cotton was at that time one among many crops. Many slaves had to work to separate cotton from the seeds of the cotton plant, and to ship it to cloth-hungry New England. This was made simpler by Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin in 1793. Cotton became a profitable crop, and many Southern farms now made it their only crop. Growing and picking cotton was long, difficult labor, and the Southern plantation made it the work for slaves. Northern factories became part of the economy of slavery.

This renewed reliance on slavery was going against the trend in other parts of the country. Vermont had prohibited it in its state constitution in 1777. Pennsylvania passed laws for the gradual abolition of the condition in 1780, and New York State in 1799. Education, resources, and economic development created the beginnings of industrialization in many Northern states and plantations and slavery and less development in states in the Deep South.

Review Questions

1. Identify, and explain the significance of the following people:

(a) James Madison
(b) William Paterson
(c) Alexander Hamilton
(d) Patrick Henry
(e) Thomas Jefferson
(f) George Washington
(g) John Adams
(h) Edmund Genet
(i) Charles Pinckney

2. What was accomplished during the Constitutional Convention in terms of states' representations in the national government?

3. How did Hamilton take measures to ensure the ratification of the Constitution?

4. Name two problems or complaints the Anti-Federalists had with the Constitution.

5. What precedents did George Washington set in his two terms in office?

6. On what issues did Jefferson and Hamilton differ? How did this affect policies during the Washington administration?

7. What was the Whiskey Rebellion? Why was it significant?

8. What did Jay's Treaty and Pinckney's Treaty accomplish?

9. How did the United States respond to the French Revolution?

10. What was the XYZ Affair? What was its result?

11. What was the original purpose of the Alien, Sedition, and Naturalization Acts? How did their purpose change?


  1. Meyerink, Kory L., and Loretto Dennis Szucs. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy.
  2. Meyerink and Szucs. The ancestry of the 3.9 million population in 1790 has been estimated by various sources by sampling last names in the 1790 census and assigning them a country of origin. This is an uncertain procedure, particularly in the similarity of some Scot-Irish, Irish, and English last names. None of these numbers are definitive and only "educated" guesses.
  4. a b c
  5. A People and a Nation, Eighth Edition.

Jeffersonian Republicanism (1800 - 1824)

1805 painting of President Thomas Jefferson

The Election of 1800

1800 Election electoral college results.

John Adams' Presidency was not popular. Adams and Congress enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts, which restricted the free speech of the opposing Democratic-Republicans. Anti-Federalists in Virginia and Kentucky responded by passing the Virginia and Kentucky Resolves, written by Jefferson and Madison, which tried to invalidate the Alien and Sedition Acts. Adams even angered his own party by disregarding his cabinet's advice. By 1800, Adams was clearly vulnerable.

The Constitution originally called for the individual with the most votes in an election to become President, and for the runner-up to become Vice President. George Washington, who had approved of this system, had justified it by the belief that it worked against factionalism in political parties. However, it had already resulted in the alienation of Vice President Thomas Jefferson under the Adams administration.

In 1800, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr ran against Adams and his running mate Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. The two Anti-Federalist candidates would have preferred for Jefferson to become President and Burr to become Vice President. But the Electoral College vote was tied between the two of them. The Federalist-controlled House of Representatives was called upon to chose between them. It had to vote thirty-six times before Jefferson was chosen to be President, and then only with the reluctant agreement of Alexander Hamilton. Congress later approved a Constitutional amendment allowing for separate balloting for President and Vice President in the Electoral College. (Vice President Aaron Burr bore a grudge against Hamilton for this. In 1804, when the two ran for Governor of New York, they dueled, and Burr killed Hamilton.)

Jeffersonian Democracy

Jefferson's first term was called the Revolution of 1800, because of the many changes to America resulting from the first transition of power from one party to another.[1] The peaceful transition of power effectively capped the demise of the Federalists, but not before the Federalists had established a strong, working central government structured and principled as described in the Constitution, instituted a sound financial system, and began diversifying the economy. An indirect legacy of the Federalists, via the Judiciary Act of 1801 and the ensuing Marbury v. Madison, was the doctrine of judicial review, or the power of the federal judiciary to invalidate federal laws on constitutional grounds.

Jefferson differed from the Federalists in that he saw government as a threat to individual freedom; the only protection against that threat was democracy and strong protections of personal liberties. He did not, however, reject wholesale the accomplishments of the Federalist administrations that preceded him, and his combination of them with his own beliefs came to be known as Jeffersonian democracy.

Important Supreme Court cases

In 1803, the U.S. Supreme Court established some principles that would have a profound effect in the life of America. The first was the issue of judicial review and the second was the controversial trial of Aaron Burr. The first trial Marbury v. Madison dealt with the court packing policies of the previous president John Adams. This trial introduced the concept of judicial review to the political scene.

Louisiana Purchase

The Purchase was one of several territorial additions to the U.S.

The French province of Louisiana included present-day North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri as well as most of Kansas, the western part of Minnesota, the eastern parts of Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming, and, of course, Louisiana. This big territory, lightly developed by the French, was recognized as a raw asset, and was the object of speculation by many nations.

After the French and Indian War, France ceded all of Louisiana east of the Mississippi to Britain, keeping back only the city of New Orleans. France gave New Orleans and the western part of Louisiana to Spain. It was a Spanish colony after 1762. The Treaty of Paris gave the British part of Louisiana to the United States. Napoleon Bonaparte obtained the return of Louisiana from Spain in 1800, under the Treaty of San Ildefonso. The treaty was kept secret, and Louisiana remained under Spanish control for an interval. The transfer of power finally took place on November 30, 1803, just three weeks before the colony was due to be ceded to the United States.

The port of New Orleans was crucial to trade on the Mississippi. President Jefferson sent James Monroe to Paris in 1802, seeking to negotiate a treaty with France that would allow the United States to benefit from New Orleans. Jefferson put forth four options: the purchase of only New Orleans, the purchase of New Orleans and Florida, the purchase of some Louisianan land allowing the US to build a port there, or the purchase of navigation rights on the Mississippi. But the French rejected all four options. It was all of Louisiana or nothing. Napoleon was preparing to invade Great Britain. The French faction who wanted funds for war had overruled those like de Talleyrand, who had hoped for French empire in North America. (It is also possible that the French knew that Jefferson was prepared to go to war rather than tolerate a strong French presence in America. Napoleon did not want to fight on two fronts at once.) The U.S. agreed to purchase Louisiana for $15 million. The Senate ratified the treaty in 1803, thus dramatically increasing the size of the United States.

Although Jefferson did make the Louisiana Purchase, he had to stretch the Democratic-Republican view of literal constitutionality.[2] The Constitution did not give a president the right to buy land. Jefferson's excuse was that the land would greatly benefit Americans. The Federalists were opposed to the purchase, arguing that the interests of Louisiana territory settlers would conflict with the interests of the established States, threatening the Union.

The Lewis & Clark Expedition

A painting of The Lewis & Clark expedition on the Columbia river.

After purchasing the Louisiana Territory, Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to survey the new land. The two men, and forty or so others, set out from St. Louis in 1804 and traveled northwest over the next two years. They had the help of Sacajawea, a Shoshone Indian who served as their interpreter, and her husband Toussaint Charbonneau, a Canadian fur trapper. Along the way they traded a few goods with the Native Americans. By December 1805, the party had reached the mouth of the Columbia River as it spilled into the Pacific Ocean. The party split into two groups in 1806 -- one led by Lewis, the other by Clark -- eventually reconvening in Fort Mandan, in present-day North Dakota.

The expedition returned to St. Louis by September 1806, Lewis and Clark with journals in hand to report their findings to Jefferson. They had set up diplomatic relations with some of the people they had traded with. In their journals they recorded their native contacts, writing and drawing the shape of the landscape and the new creatures of this Western word. William Clark had also drawn a series of detailed maps, noting and naming rivers and creeks, significant points in the landscape, the shape of river shore, and spots where the expedition had spent each night or camped or portaged for longer periods of time.

The Pike Expedition

In 1805, the soldier Zebulon Pike set out to explore the new territory. Like Lewis and Clark, Captain Pike started in St. Louis, but unlike them he traveled directly west into the Rocky Mountains. He reached Santa Fe, where he was captured briefly by Spanish soldiers. Pike returned to Washington in 1807 to report the number of Spanish forces in the region. More important, however, was his description of the sparsely-vegetated territory, which he called "The Great American Desert." This name deterred settlers from "moving west" for the next thirty to forty years.

Embargo and Non-Intercourse Acts

In 1807, Britain and France, frustrated with America's refusal to help either of them in the Napoleonic Wars, were constantly seizing American merchant ships and taking their cargo and sailors.

The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair

A depiction of the British HMS Leopard on the right firing at the USS Chesapeake on the left.

Britain disregarded American neutrality. It seized American ships and forced their sailors to join the Royal Navy, often without regard for the sailors' nationality. This forced service was known as impressment. The British claim that these impressed sailors were "deserters" was not subject to review, and these sailors were often not really deserters from the Royal Navy. In June of 1807, the commander of the American ship Chesapeake had refused to let an encroaching British ship search it for British deserters. The British ship, Leopard, attacked in American waters. The Chesapeake lost, and four "deserters" were taken from its crew. President Jefferson demanded an apology for the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair from the British, and an end to impressment. Yet while the British government did apologize for the Affair, they did not stop searching American ships or end impressment. British impressment of American citizens, with subsequent personal loss to the families of these sailors and economic problems for their ships, was a major cause of the War of 1812.

The Embargo Act and its aftermath

A political cartoon mocking the Embargo act.

On June 22, 1807, Jefferson called an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss continuing British and French disregard for American sea neutrality. The pro-British faction of Americans urged Jefferson to go to war with France. But the Congress kept to its principles in extremis, and on December 22 it passed the Embargo Act. This law stopped American merchants from trading by sea with any other nation. The originators of the law hoped that it would protect all merchant ships, and perhaps weaken the economies of both Great Britain and France. The embargo did indeed stop nearly all trade between America and Europe. But it severely damaged the economy of the United States. Merchants, who mainly belonged to the Federalist Party, howled in complaint. Smuggling flourished. And the embargo made neither Great Britain or France respect US neutrality.

In 1808 the Democratic-Republican candidate James Madison was elected. He was also a Virginian and had been Jefferson's Secretary of State. Yet the Democrat-Republicans suffered reverses in the House of Representatives. The Embargo Act was unpopular and had damaged the party. In 1809 Congress modified it with the Non-Intercourse Act, an addendum to the embargo which let merchants trade with any nation other than Britain and France. Although trade improved, British and French ships begin seizing American ships again.

A final change to the Embargo and Non-Intercourse acts was passed in 1810 with Macon's Bill No. 2. The bill said that if either Britain or France dropped trade restrictions against the U.S. and stopped seizing American ships, the United States would trade with them and not with the other. The French Emperor Napoleon consented to the conditions of the Bill. America agreed to trade with France and its colonies, rather than Great Britain and its colonies. The end of an American impartiality maintained for years was a prelude to The War of 1812.


Another product of the Second Great Awakening in America was the appearance of Sunday Schools and adult education in New England and the Middle States. The Sunday School movement began in England, partly as a result of reaction to the Church of England's grip on the British educational system. In America it reached out to children in the cities, often too poor for private schools, and children on the frontier to whom the name of Washington was practically unknown. They taught literacy, primarily of the Bible, basic math, and some principles of cleanliness and decorum. In Northern mill towns such as Lowell, Massachusetts, as well as in the Middle States, the churches reached out to workers in the new factories, some of whom were illiterate. They began teaching adults on Sundays (their only day free), as part of denominational education, as well as in the late evenings. Workers believed that knowing how to read and write meant a chance at a better job, and a few more pennies in the weekly wage. Some factory owners began sponsoring these classes, thinking that an educated man would be a more Christian worker -- and, perhaps, a more docile worker. Yet these efforts would be overtaken by a national system of public elementary schools.

Thomas Jefferson's love of knowledge and hatred of religious denomination persisted through his life. As early as 1778 he had mooted a system of public education. On December 2nd, 1806, he pushed an amendment into congress that would legalize federal support for public education. Congress did not pass it, so Jefferson had it written into the constitution of his home state of Virginia. Jefferson made an understandable plan for education which included the elementary, high school, and college levels. Despite this, Virginia did not adopt his plan.

President Jefferson thought that elementary education was the most important form. He had six goals for education: to allow free-born men to deal with their own business, make them able to express their own opinions and ideas in writing, to better their thoughts and faculties through reading, to comprehend civic duties and the duties of their neighbors, to know their rights and how to use them, and to use what they knew in their social lives. He hoped that this would make all men “productive and informed voters.”

Questions For Review

Burning of the USS Philadelphia during the First Barbary War.

1. Define Jeffersonian democracy.

2. Why did France sell America its portion in the Louisiana Purchase?

3. Macon's Bill Number 2, The Embargo Act, and The Non-Intercourse Act. Place these laws in their correct order. What were the reasons for and the effects of each of them?


  1. "Because of Her Story". Because of Her Story. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  2. "Our Documents - Louisiana Purchase Treaty (1803)". Retrieved 19 September 2020.

Westward Expansion and Manifest Destiny (1824 - 1849)

The Election of 1840

President William Henry Harrison

President Martin Van Buren was blamed for the Panic of 1837,[1] but felt that he deserved to be reelected in 1840. Van Buren was a Democrat from New York who had continued the policies of Andrew Jackson. To oppose him the Whig Party joined to bring in a hero of the Indian wars, William Henry Harrison, "Old Tippecanoe." The ticket was balanced by the Vice Presidential candidate, a Southerner named John Tyler.

The Harrison campaign was thoroughly managed. The campaign song, "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," was headed with an image of the log cabin where Harrison had supposedly grown up. Paid staffers went to frontier towns rolling a huge canvas ball, inscribed, "Keep it rolling for Tippecanoe and Tyler Too." (The American idiom "Keep the ball rolling" comes from this usage.) The ball would stop in front of a local tavern, then a common meeting place of the community. There they would stage a rally, typically with some free cider. Another sign of Harrison's plain man status was his title as "the hard cider candidate." There was little discussion of the issues. For its part, Van Buren's campaign called Harrison a provincial, out-of-touch old man. (The latter was then sixty-eight years old, a rare age in those days.)

Harrison won, and gave an hours-long, polished inaugural speech to prove his sophistication. Three weeks afterward, he came down with a cold which turned into pneumonia. He died in April of 1841, and John Tyler was sworn in as President. Thus the Whig Party, predominately Northern and ambivalent about slavery, elected a Virginian advocate of slavery and opponent of the American System. This was a startling omen for those like Clay who believed in American unity.

John Tyler Presidency

President John Tyler

Tyler's dislike of Jackson had moved him to change his party from Democrat to Whig. His government marked the only Whig presidency. His supporters included formerly anti-Jackson Democrats and National Republicans. He supported states' rights; so when many of the Whig bills came to him, they were never voted in. In fact, Tyler vetoed the entire Whig congressional agenda. The Whigs saw this as a party leader turning on his own party. He was officially expelled from the Whig party in 1841.

The Tyler presidency threw the Whig party into disarray. Because of divisions between the two factions in the party, the Whigs could not agree on one goal. Much of the public did not take Tyler's presidency seriously. They saw his lack of appeal in Congress and the embarrassing resignations of all of but one of Harrison's cabinet appointees in a single month. Yet Tyler's administration helped polarize the two parties. When he appointed John C. Calhoun, a staunch pro-slavery Democrat, as his Secretary of State, he confirmed a growing feeling that Democrats were the party of the South and Whigs the party of the North. In the election of 1844, Whigs voted by sectional ties. Because of these weakening divisions within the party, the Democratic candidate, James Polk, won. After one term, the Whigs were out of power.

Manifest Destiny

A frontier fort.

Many Western European-descended "White" Americans supported anti-Native American policies. The theme of conquest over the Indian was seen as early as John Filson's story of Daniel Boone in 1784. In the Nineteenth Century this was joined to the conviction that the United States was destined to take over the whole continent of North America, the process of Manifest Destiny articulated by John O' Sullivan in 1845.[source needed] America carried the Bible, civilization, and democracy: the Indian had none of these. Many European descendants believed other ethnic groups, including those people imported as slaves from Africa and their descendants, were childlike, stupid, and feckless. It was the duty of so-called superior groups to meet these inferior groups and to dominate them. So-called inferior ethnic groups could not advance technologically or spiritually. The idea of Manifest Destiny resulted in the murders and dislocation of millions of people. The Cherokee had been converted to Christianity, they were by-and-large peaceful, and they were using a self-invented alphabet to print newspapers. But their deportation, the "Trail of Tears," was justified by Manifest Destiny. The conviction was behind the Louisiana Purchase, the final shaking of French colonialism in what would become the Continental United States. It was behind the defeat of Spanish and Mexicans in a succession of skirmishes and wars. It helped send out pro- and anti-slavery factions across new areas, and still later brought about legislation such as the Homestead Act.

Amistad Case

In February of 1839, Portuguese slave hunters abducted a large group of Africans from Sierra Leone and shipped them to Havana, Cuba, a center for the slave trade. This abduction violated all of the treaties then in existence. Fifty-three Africans were purchased by two Spanish planters and put aboard the Cuban schooner Amistad for shipment to a Caribbean plantation. On July 1, 1839, the Africans seized the ship, killed the captain and the cook, and ordered the planters to sail to Africa. On August 24, 1839, the Amistad was seized off Long Island, NY, by the U.S. brig Washington. The planters were freed and the Africans were imprisoned in New Haven, CT, on charges of murder. Although the murder charges were dismissed, the Africans continued to be held in confinement as the focus of the case turned to salvage claims and property rights. President Van Buren was in favor of extraditing the Africans to Cuba. However, abolitionists in the North opposed extradition and raised money to defend the Africans. Claims to the Africans by the planters, the government of Spain, and the captain of the brig led the case to trial in the Federal District Court in Connecticut. The court ruled that the case fell within Federal jurisdiction and that the claims to the Africans as property were not legitimate because they were illegally held as slaves. The case went to the Supreme Court in January 1841, and former President John Quincy Adams argued the defendants' case. Adams defended the right of the accused to fight to regain their freedom. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the Africans, and 35 of them were returned to their homeland. The others died at sea or in prison while awaiting trial. The result, widely publicized court cases in the United States helped the abolitionist movement.


The canals had been a radical innovation. But they had their limitations. They could only overcome mountains with complicated, overland bypasses, and in winter they froze, stopping traffic completely. But an answer was found in the steam-driven, coal-powered engine. The steamboat was already bringing cotton and people up the rivers, erasing an age-old transportation problem. The development of railroad engines made travel and manufacture possible even in winter. It made the expensive canal obsolete: wherever you could run a rail, you could have a town. And the coal-fired, steam-powered engine could bring manufacturing to places without great rivers. The prosperity of the New England mill towns could be replicated elsewhere.

By 1857 Pittsburgh, like many other cities, was industrializing.

Coal and its byproducts became a major industry in America. (In the 1850s some German cities became known for creating coal-based dyes to make bold-colored fabrics.) Iron works and glass plants built large furnaces, fueled by coke, a coal derivative. They were contained by huge buildings. Steam-boats burned coke. So did steam-driven works. Smoke and smut from industry and household coal fires poured into city air. In his 1842 tour of Pittsburgh, Charles Dickens looked at the haze and fire and called it "Hell with the lid off."

Canals, railroads, and the teletype system tied the country together in a way thought impossible in 1790. They increased the market for goods, and thus the demand. The Second Industrial Revolution produced faster ways of satisfying that demand. In 1855 Henry Bessemer patented a furnace which could turn iron into steel, in high quantity. Iron workers, "puddlers," had worked slowly and regularly, had been paid a high wage, and had been considered craftsmen. The new steelworkers did not need that skill. They could be paid more cheaply. In other industries, faster processes of work either made a mockery of the apprenticeship system or eliminated it altogether. Manufacturers faced the same situation of the New England cloth makers a generation before, and solved it another way. To find fresh, fast, cheap labor, you could often hire children. You didn't have to pay them as much, and they didn't complain. Where children used to work on the farm, they now worked in groups in factories for higher wages. These children were, at the best, expected to work long and hard. (It was cheaper to run big machines in shifts than to have them idle all night.) Boys and girls worked naked in the coal mines; boys got burned in the glassworks; boys got maimed or killed running heavy machinery. None of them went to school, so even the ones who survived to adulthood were unfit for jobs when they came of age.

The ideals of Thomas Jefferson were dead. Instead of craftsmen and farmers living by their own hands, the cities were being filled by people who owned little or nothing, getting on by the wages paid by often indifferent employers. This was true in New England and the Middle States, though not in the South (except for the Tregar Ironworks in Richmond, Virginia, itself partially manned by slaves). Politicians such as John C. Calhoun jeered at Northern "wage slaves," and dreamed of a South with the technology and government of Sparta.

Compromise of 1850

Missouri Compromise Line.

The Compromise of 1850 was an intricate package of five bills passed in September 1850. It defused a four-year confrontation between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North that arose following the Mexican-American War. The compromise, drafted by Whig Henry Clay and brokered by Democrat Stephen Douglas, quieted sectional conflict for four years. The calm was greeted with relief, although each side disliked specific provisions. Texas surrendered its claim to New Mexico, but received debt relief and the Texas Panhandle, and retained the control over El Paso that it had established earlier in 1850. The South avoided the humiliating Wilmot Proviso, but did not receive desired Pacific territory in Southern California or a guarantee of slavery south of a territorial compromise line like the Missouri Compromise Line or the 35th parallel north. As compensation, the South received the possibility of slave states by popular sovereignty in the new New Mexico Territory and Utah Territory, which, however, were unsuited to plantation agriculture and populated by non-Southerners; a stronger Fugitive Slave Act, which in practice outraged Northern public opinion; and preservation of slavery in the national capital, although the slave trade was banned there except in the portion of the District of Columbia that adjoined Virginia. The Compromise became possible after the sudden death of President Zachary Taylor, who, although a slave owner himself, tried to implement the Northern policy of excluding slavery from the Southwest. Whig leader Henry Clay designed a compromise, which failed to pass in early 1850. In the next session of Congress, Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois narrowly passed a slightly modified package over opposition by extremists on both sides, including Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina.

Texas and Mexico

Map of the Republic of Texas

Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821. Weakened by more than a decade of struggle, the new Republic of Mexico attempted to attract settlers from the United States to the then-sparsely populated Mexican state of Coahuila y Texas. The first white settlers were 200 families led by Stephen F. Austin as a part of a business venture started by Austin's father. Despite nominal attempts to ensure that immigrants would be double penetrated with Mexican cultural values -- by requiring, for example, acceptance of Catholicism and a ban on slave holding -- Mexico's immigration policy led to the whites, rather than Mexicans, becoming the demographic majority in Texas by the 1830's, their beliefs and American values intact.

Due to past US actions in Texas, Mexico feared that white Americans would convince the United States to annex Texas and Mexico. In April 1830, Mexico issued a proclamation that people from the United States could no longer enter Texas. Mexico also would start to place custom duties on goods from the United States. In October 1835, white colonists in Texas revolted against Mexico by attacking a Mexican fort at Goliad, defeating the Mexican garrison. At about the same time, the Mexican president, Antonio López de Santa Anna, provoked a constitutional crisis that was among the causes of the revolt in Texas, as well as a rebellion in the southern Mexican province of Yucután. An official declaration of Texas independence was signed at Goliad that December. The next March, the declaration was officially enacted at the Texan capital of Washington-on-the-Brazos, creating the Republic of Texas.

Depiction of the Fall of the Alamo.

A few days before the enactment of the declaration, a Mexican force led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna laid siege to the Alamo, a mission in present day San Antonio. Vastly outnumbered, fewer than 200 Texans at San Antonio de Béxa, renamed the Alamo, held out for 12 days, until the final attack at dawn on March 6, 1836. Santa Anna, as he had promised during the siege, killed the few prisoners taken in the capture. Though the Alamo had been garrisoned in contravention of orders from Sam Houston, who had been placed in charge of Texan armed forces, the delay their defense forced on the Mexican army allowed the Texan government some crucial time to organize.

The next month saw the battle of San Jacinto, the final battle of the Texas Revolution. A force of 800 led by Sam Houston, empowered by their rallying war cry of "Remember the Alamo!", defeated Santa Anna's force of 1600 as they camped beside the sluggish creek for which the 20-minute-long battle is named. Santa Anna himself was captured and the next day signed the Treaties of Velasco, which ended Mexico-Texas hostilities. After the fighting had ended, Texas asked to be admitted to the Union, but Texas's request forced Congress to an impasse.

Evolution of the Mexican territory.

One of the most significant problems with the annexation of Texas was slavery. Despite Mexican attempts to exclude the practice, a number of white-Texans held slaves, and the new Republic of Texas recognized the practice as legitimate. In the United States, The Missouri Compromise of 1818 provided for an equality in the numbers of slave and non-slave states in the US, and to allow Texas to join would upset that power balance. For about ten years, the issue was unresolved, until President James Polk agreed to support the annexation of Texas. In 1845, Texas formally voted to join the US. The Mexicans, however, who had never formally recognized Texas's independence, resented this decision.

The southern boundary with Texas had never officially been settled and when the United States moved federal troops into this disputed territory, war broke out (assisted by raids carried out across the border by both sides). In the Mexican-American War, as this was called, the US quickly defeated the Mexican Army by 1848. The peace settlement, called the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ceded one-third of Mexico's territory to the United States. In addition to Texas, with the border fixed at the Rio Grande River, the United States acquired land that would become the present-day states of New Mexico, California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming; the US paid Mexico $15 million. However, the new territories posed even more problems relating to slavery: the balance between slave and non-slave states seemed threatened again.


Map of contested US and British claims on Oregon Country.

In 1824 and 1825 Russia gave up its claim to Oregon. The U.S. and British Canada jointly made an agreement for occupation. However, disputes surfaced over the northwestern boundary of the US and the southwestern boundary of Canada. The US claimed that it owned land south of Alaska, while the British claimed that the boundary was drawn at present-day Oregon. President Polk, who had initiated the dispute, gave Great Britain an ultimatum - negotiate or go to war. On June 15, 1846, Britain agreed to give up the land south of the 49th parallel, while keeping Vancouver Island and navigation rights to the Columbia River. Polk agreed. Comparing this incident to the president's aggressiveness toward Mexico, several individuals [whom?] concluded that Polk favored the causes of the South over those of the North.

Oregon Trail

Trail ruts from the Oregon Trail can still be seen - Shown here in this photo from 2008.

Sometimes Native Americans and white settlers met in peace. During the twenty years after 1840, around 250,000 to 500,000 people walked the Oregon Trail across most of the continent on foot, with the trek taking an average of seven months. Many of these settlers were armed in preparation for Native attack, but the majority of the encounters were peaceful. Most of the starting points were along the Missouri River, including Independence, St. Joseph, and Westport, Missouri. Many settlers set out on organized wagon trains, while others went on their own. Settlers timed their departures so they would arrive after spring, allowing their livestock days of pasture at the end, and yet early enough to not travel during the harsh winter. Walking beside their wagons, settlers would usually cover fifteen miles a day. Men, women and children sometimes endured weather ranging from extreme heat to frozen winter in their 2,000 mile journey West. If a traveler became ill, he or she would have no doctor and no aid apart from fellow travelers. Only the strong finished the trail. Although most interactions between Native Americans and settlers were undertaken in good faith, sometimes things went bad. Eventually hostile relations would escalate into full blown war and many years of bloodshed.


California Territory

Dramatic depiction of the Bear Flag Revolt

When war broke out between the United States and Mexico in 1845, a few white settlers in the Sacramento Valley in the Mexican state of California seized the opportunity to advance white business interests by declaring independence from Mexico despite the wishes of many Mexicans and natives present in California. Before the arrival of Europeans, scholars place the population of California at 10 million natives. The sparsely populated Bear Flag Republic, as the new nation was called, quickly asked the US for protection from Mexico, allowing US military operations in the new Republic's territory. As skirmishes occurred in California, Mexicans suffered many abuses at the hands of the new white government.

When the war ended, the California territory and a large surrounding territory were ceded by Mexico to the US in exchange for $15 million. The territory included what would become present day California, Nevada, Utah, most of New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado and a small part of Wyoming. The continental US was nearly complete. The final piece would come in 1853, when southern Arizona and New Mexico were bought from Mexico for $10 million. The land from the purchase, known as the Gadsden Purchase, was well suited for building a southern transcontinental railroad.

California Gold Rush

Prospectors during the gold rush.

In 1848 gold was found at the mill of John Sutter, who lived in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, 40 miles east of Sacramento. Word of the gold on the American River (the river on which Sutter's mill was located on) spread, and hordes of people rushed into California to mine gold. The rush peaked in 1849, and those who came during that year were known as "forty-niners." The population of the northern California city of San Francisco exploded as a result of the immigration to the region.

Many immigrants that joined the Gold Rush did not find opportunity but rather discrimination at the hands of white prospectors and newly changed government. One of these, Joaquin Murrieta, known as the Mexican Robin Hood, had become a bandit and hero of those still loyal to Mexico. As a reaction the Governor of California, John Bigler, formed the California Rangers. This group went after and allegedly found Murrieta and his companions. They cut off his head, which was later put on display. Many still doubt whether the person the California Rangers decapitated was actually Murrieta or some other poor soul. Be that as it may, the memory of Murrieta is still much loved and respected by Mexican Americans today.

Apart from being gained by a handful of very lucky prospectors, a great deal of the wealth generated by the Gold Rush belonged to those who owned businesses that were relevant to gold mining. For example, Levi Strauss, a German Jew, invented denim pants for prospectors when he observed that normal pants could not withstand the strenuous activities of mining. Strauss eventually became a millionaire, and the Levi's brand still is recognized today.


The Birth of the Latter Day Saints

Portrait of Joseph Smith Jr.

One continuation of the Second Great Revival is seen in the birth of an American faith, Mormonism, or The Church of God of the Latter Day Saints. Joseph Smith, a resident of New York State, said that he had found golden plates. The documents which he supposedly translated from these plates revealed what he said was a restoration of the faith which Jesus and the apostles had known, a new American-based order. In 1830 he organized what he designated The Church of Christ, or the Church of the Latter Day Saints. This body spread through conversion, its truth seen in its organization and its prosperity. It had several divergences from existing United States law, including the doctrine that men might have more than one wife. After Smith had been arrested in 1844 in Illinois, charged by civil officials with starting a riot and with treason, a crowd broke into the jail where he was being held and murdered him.

The Great Mormon Exodus

A painting of Mormons entering the Salt Lake Valley

Yet the Latter Day Saints persevered. Smith's successor was another prophet, Brigham Young. Continued conflict between the U.S. Government, most signally the state of Illinois, and the Mormons led to the decision to leave the States and go to a less-settled place. The territory of Utah, obtained through the wars with Mexico, certainly counted as less-settled: a vast alkali desert, punctuated by grotesque mountains, and sparsely peopled by Spanish-speaking settlements and Indian tribes.

The Mormons began sending out a few pioneers for the new territory as early as 1846. In the two decades afterward, while conversion and population growth further increased the Mormons, about 70,000 people made the trek through difficult conditions. In some cases the migrants walked on foot through hostile landscapes, carrying all their goods with them in handcarts they pulled themselves.

When they reached Utah, they formed tightly-organized, top-down structures driven by doctrine and individual discipline. The settlers diverted mountain streams to their fields. In places which had been waste, they created fertile farms and productive vegetable gardens.

Continuing Skirmishes

Yet even in this new land, conflicts continued between Mormons and the U.S. government. In the spring of 1857, President James Buchanan appointed a non-Mormon, Alfred Cumming, as governor of the Utah Territory, replacing Brigham Young, and dispatched troops to enforce the order. The Mormons prepared to defend themselves and their property; Young declared martial law and issued an order on Sept. 15, 1857, forbidding the entry of U.S. troops into Utah. The order was disregarded, and throughout the winter sporadic raids were conducted by the Mormon militia against the encamped U.S. army. Buchanan dispatched (Apr., 1858) representatives to work out a settlement, and on June 26, the army entered Salt Lake City, Cumming was installed as governor, and peace was restored.

In 1890, the president of the Mormon Church, Wilford Woodruff, ruled that there would be no more plural marriages. Other distinctive practices which had become Church practice under Joseph Smith continued, including theocratic rule and declaration of people as gods. By 1896, when Utah became one of the United States, it was both Mormon and as American as Massachusetts or New York State.

Public Schools and Education

Horace Mann

The Board of Education in Massachusetts was established in 1837, making it the oldest state board in the United States. Its responsibilities were and are to interpret and implement laws for public education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Public education in the Commonwealth was organized by the regulations adopted by the Board of Education, which were good faith interpretations of Massachusetts and federal law.[2] The Board of Education was also responsible for granting and renewing school applications, developing and implementing the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, submitting yearly budget proposals for public education to the Massachusetts General Court, setting standards for teachers, certifying teachers, principals, and superintendents, and monitoring achievements of districts in the Commonwealth.

There was a movement for reform in public education. The leader of this movement was Horace Mann, a Massachusetts lawyer and reformer. He supported free, tax-supported education to replace church schools and the private schools set up by untrained, young men. Mann proposed universal education, which would help Americanize immigrants. During Mann’s tenure as secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education from 1837 to 1848, Massachusetts led the common school movement brought training for teachers, lengthened school years and raised the teachers pay to attract people to that profession.[2]

In this period education began being extended more and more to women. Early elementary schools had separate rooms for boy students and girl students. Now some elementary classes became co-educational, and women began to be hired as teachers. The first woman's college, Mt. Holyoke, was founded in South Hadley, Massachusetts. It was created by Mary Lyon, and intended as a liberal arts college.

"Bleeding Kansas"

There was never much doubt that the settlers of Nebraska would, in the face of popular sovereignty, choose to bar slavery. Kansas, however, was another matter. Abolitionist and pro-slavery groups tried to rush settlers to Kansas in hopes of swinging the vote in the group's own direction. Eventually, both a free-state and a slave-state government were functioning in Kansas - both illegal.

Violence was abundant. In May 1856, a pro-slavery mob ransacked the chiefly abolitionist town of Lawrence, demolishing private property of the anti-slavery governor, burning printing presses, and destroying a hotel. Two days later, in retaliation, Abolitionist John Brown and his sons went to the pro-slavery town of Pottawatomie Creek and hacked five men to death in front of their families. This set off a guerilla war in Kansas that lasted through most of 1856.

Depiction of Representative Preston Brooks hitting Senator Sumner with a cane on the Senate floor.

Violence over the issue of Kansas was even seen in the Senate. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner accused South Carolinian Andrew Butler of having "chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows - Slavery." Upon hearing these words, Butler's nephew, Representative Preston Brooks, walked onto the Senate floor and proceeded to cane Sumner in the head. Sumner suffered so much damage from the attack that he could not return to the Senate for over three years. Brooks was expelled by the House. Cheered on by southern supporters (many of whom sent Brooks new canes, to show approval of his actions), came back after a resounding reelection.

After much controversy and extra legislation, Kansas found itself firmly abolitionist by 1858.

Dred Scott v. Stanford - 1857

A painting of Dred Scott

Dred Scott was an African-American slave who first sued for his freedom in 1846. His case stated that he and his wife Harriet had been transported to both the state of Illinois and Minnesota territory. Laws in both places made slavery illegal. Dred and Harriet began with two separate cases, one for each of them. Slaves were not allowed legal marriage, but the two considered themselves married, and wanted to protect their two teenage daughters. As Dred became ill, the two merged their suit. At first it was the rule that state courts could decide if African-Americans in their jurisdictions were slave or free. After many years and much hesitation, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.[2] The United States Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of the slave master, citing precedent that found that neither Dred nor his wife could claim citizenship. As they were not citizens, they did not have a claim in Federal Court. The majority argument cited the Missouri Compromise of 1854 to state that a temporary residence outside of Missouri did not immediately emancipate them, since the owner would be unfairly deprived of property.

Ostend Manifesto

James Buchanan

Southern slave owners had a special interest in Spanish-held Cuba. Slavery existed on the island, but a recent rebellion in Haiti had spurred some Spanish officials to consider emancipation. The Southerners did not want freed slaves so close to their shores, and other observers thought Manifest Destiny should be extended to Cuba. In 1854 three American diplomats, Pierre Soulé (the minister to Spain), James Buchanan (the minister to Great Britain), and John Y. Mason (the minister to France), met in Ostend, Belgium. They held in common the same views as many Southern Democrats. The diplomats together issued a warning to Spain that it must sell Cuba to the United States or risk having it taken by force. This statement had not been authorized by the Franklin Pierce administration and was immediately repudiated. Reaction, both at home and abroad, was extremely negative.

Women's History of the Period

Declaration of Sentiments

1848 marked the year of the Declaration of Sentiments; it was a document written as a plea for the end of discrimination against women in all spheres of Society. Main credit is given to Elizabeth Cady Stanton for writing the document. The document was presented at the first women's rights convention held at Seneca Falls, New York. Though the convention was attended by 300 women and men, only 100 of them actually signed the document which included; 68 women and 32 men.

Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell

In 1849 Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to receive a medical degree. She attended Geneva College in New York and graduated on January 23, 1849. Even though she had her medical degree she was still banned from practicing in most hospitals. She then relocated to Paris, France and continued her training as a midwife instead of a physician. While in Paris she contracted an eye infection from a small baby that forced her to lose her right eye. It was replaced by a glass eye which ended her medical career.

Missouri v. Celia

This murder trial took place in Calloway County, Missouri beginning October 9, 1855. It involved a slave woman named Celia and her master Robert Newsome. After being purchased at the age of 14 in 1850 Celia bore two of her masters children. Soon after becoming intimate with another slave while still being sought after by her master Celia became pregnant. On June 23, 1855, feeling unwell from the pregnancy, Celia pleaded with her master to let her rest; when Newsome ignored her pleas she struck him twice in the head with a heavy stick. She then spent the night burning his corpse in her fireplace and grinding the smaller bones into pieces with a rock. Although Missouri statutes forbade anyone "to take any woman unlawfully against her will and by force, menace or duress, compel her to be defiled," the judge residing over the case instructed the jury that Celia, being enslaved, did not fall within the meaning of "any woman" thus since the "sexual abuser" was her master the murder was not justified on the claim of self-defense. Celia was found guilty of the crime on October 10, 1855 and was sentenced to be hanged. The case still remains significant in history because it graphically illustrates the dreadful truth that enslaved women had absolutely no recourse when it came to being raped by their masters.

Panic of 1857

A bank run during the Panic of 1857.

The Panic of 1857 introduced the United States, at least in a small way, to the intricate dealings of the worldwide economy. On the same day that the Central America wrecked, Cincinnati's Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company ceased operation thanks to embezzlement. News of the twin disasters spread quickly, in part because of the telegraph now becoming common. Investors, including British investors, began to withdraw money from Wall Street in massive numbers. Bank failures increased, mostly in the industrial Northeast and New England states, while the West and South, still more dependent on agriculture, seemed to weather the storm better. There were many underlying causes for the Panic of 1857, and by the time the twin disasters occurred the United States was well on its way into the economic downturn. For 3 years the Crimean War had involved European and Asian countries which increase foreign dependence on American agriculture. The return of the men and land to agricultural production meant an abundance of crops in 1857 which led to falling prices for farm goods. Land speculation, too, had become rampant throughout the United States. This led to an unsustainable expansion of the railroads. As investment money dried up, the land speculation collapsed, as did many of the railroads shortly thereafter. Attempts were made by the federal government to remedy the situation. A bank holiday was declared in October, 1857 and Secretary of the Treasury Howell Cobb recommended the government selling revenue bonds and reducing the tariff (Tariff of 1857). By 1859 the country was slowly pulling out of the downturn, but the effect lasted until the opening shots of the Civil War.

Rebellion at Harper's Ferry, Virginia

John Brown

Portrait of John Brown.

John Brown had been born in Connecticut on May 19, 1800. He grew up in Ohio, where his father worked as a tanner and a minister near Oberlin, Ohio. His father preached abolitionism, and John Brown learned from him. He married twice, his first wife dying while giving birth to their seventh child. He would ultimately father twenty children, eleven of them surviving to adulthood. He started several failed business ventures and land deals in Ohio and Massachusetts. For a while he settled in a community of both black and white settlers. He lived there peacefully until the mid-1850s. Then two of his sons who had moved to Kansas asked him for guns to defend themselves against Missouri Border Ruffians. After two failed defense efforts, Brown left the Kansas area to avoid prosecution for the Pottawatomie massacre. He was already gaining some mention in the press for his efforts. He moved back East and decided to plan a way to destroy slavery in America forever.

Brown's Raid On Harper's Ferry

Marines attack John Brown during the raid on Harper's Ferry.

After the troubles in Kansas Brown decided on a plan. A lightly-defended armory in Harper's Ferry, Northern Virginia, contained 100,000 muskets and rifles. An attacker would need some monetary investment to obtain a battalion of men, a similar number of rifles, and a thousand pikes. With the weapons seized at the armory, Brown planned on arming sympathizers and slaves freed by his personal army as it swept through the South. Harper's Ferry had no plantations, and Brown expected no resistance from the local townspeople. On October 16, 1859, Brown carried out his raid, which he planned as the beginning of his revolution. However, instead of his battalion of 450 men, he went in with a group of twenty, including two of his sons. They easily overtook the single nightwatchman and killed several townspeople on the way in, including a free African American man who discovered their plot. Brown had also underestimated the resolve of the local townspeople, who formed a militia and surrounded Brown and his raiders in the armory. After a siege of two days, the U.S. Army sent in a detachment of Marines from Washington, D.C., the closest available contingent. The marines, led by Robert E. Lee, stormed the armory, and in a three minute battle ten of Brown's men were killed. Brown and six others were taken alive and imprisoned for a swift trial. Brown and five of his raiders were hung before the end of the year. Three others were killed in early 1860.

Public Reaction

News of the rebellion spread rapidly around the country by telegraph and newspaper, though opinions differed about what it meant. The Charleston Mercury of November seven, 1859, represents one Southern view: "With five millions of negroes turned loose in the South, what would be the state of society? It would be worse than the 'Reign of Terror'. The day of compromise is passed."[3] The reaction was most mixed and vigorous among those who called themselves Christians. Abraham Lincoln typified the response of many others when he said that, though Brown "agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong," "[t]hat cannot excuse violence, bloodshed, and treason."[4] The Unitarian William Lloyd Garrison, already having swerved from his previously-held pacifism, on the day of Brown's death preached a sermon commemorating him. "Whenever there is a contest between the oppressed and the oppressor, -– the weapons being equal between the parties, –- God knows that my heart must be with the oppressed, and always against the oppressor. Therefore, whenever commenced, I cannot but wish success to all slave insurrections."[5] The Congregationalist Minister Henry Ward Beecher likewise supported Brown from the pulpit. In short, a faction of White people of faith both conservative and liberal began saying that only by violence could slavery be struck from America.

Election of 1860

A poster advocating Abraham Lincoln as president.

The new-born Republican party supported Northern industry, as the Whigs had done. It also promised a tariff for the protection of industry and pledged the enactment of a law granting free homesteads to settlers who would help in the opening of the West. But by 1860, it had become the party of abolition. Many Republicans believed that Lincoln's election would prevent any further spread of slavery. It selected Abraham Lincoln of Illinois as its presidential candidate, and Hannibal Hamlin of Maine as its vice-presidential candidate.

The Democratic party split in two. The main party or the Northern Democrats could not immediately decide on a candidate, and after several votes, their nominating convention was postponed when the Southern delegates walked out. When it eventually resumed, the party decided on Stephen Douglas of Illinois as its candidate. The first vice-presidential candidate, Benjamin Fitzpatrick, dropped his name from consideration once his home state of Alabama seceded from the Union. His replacement was Herschel Johnson of Georgia. The Southern delegates from the Democratic party selected their own candidate to run for president. John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky with Joseph Lane of Oregon as their vice-presidential candidate.

Former Whigs and Southern Republicans who supported the Union in the slavery issue formed the Constitutional Union party. Tennessee senator John Bell was chosen as the Constitutional Union party presidential candidate, over former Texas governor Sam Houston. Harvard President Edward Everett was chosen as the vice-presidential candidate.

Abraham Lincoln won the election with only forty percent of the vote. But with the electorate split four ways, it led to a landslide victory in the Electoral College. Lincoln garnered 180 electoral votes without being listed on any of the ballots of any of the future secessionist states in the deep South (except for Virginia, where he received 1.1% of the vote). Stephen Douglas won just under 30% of the popular vote, but only carried 2 states for a total of 12 electoral votes. John Breckenridge carried every state in the deep South, Maryland, and Delaware, for a total of 72 electoral votes. Bell carried the border slave states of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee, for a total of 39 electoral votes. Except for the split decision in the presidential election of 1824, no President in US History has won with a smaller percentage of the popular vote.

Lincoln's election ensured South Carolina's secession, along with Southern belief that they now no longer had a political voice in Washington. Other Southern states followed suit. They claimed that they were no longer bound by the Union, because the Northern states had in effect broken a constitutional contract by not honoring the South's right to own slaves as property.

Questions For Review

  1. What affect did proslavery sentiments have on the Mexican War?
  2. Reconstruct Brown's raid in terms of what happened first, second, and so on.


  1. "Previous Director Martin Van Buren". US Census Bureau. Retrieved 13 January 2024.
  2. a b c A people and a nation: a history of the United States (8. ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2008. ISBN 978-0618951963.
  3. reprinted at
  4. Lincoln, Abraham. Speech in The Illinois State Journal of December 12, 1859, "in Leavenworth city on the 4th inst. as we find it in the Leavenworth Register. Basler, Roy P., editor; Marion Dolores Pratt and Lloyd A. Dunlap, assistant editors. Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 1953. Vol. 3, p. 502.;view=fulltext
  5. Reprinted at

Friction Between the States (1849 - 1860)

Ideas and Questions of the Time

The overriding question throughout the decade preceding the Civil War was, “Should slavery be allowed in the new territories of the United States?” Before 1848, the question had been hypothetical; however, with the new lands acquired during the Mexican War, it was time for America to make a firm decision regarding the expansion of slavery.

The central ideas dominating the debate were:

The Wilmot Proviso

David Wilmot tried to stop slavery from expanding into lands gained from Mexico

On August 8, 1846, Representative David Wilmot, a Pennsylvania Democrat, presented a proposal expressing that “slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of any territory obtained from Mexico.” The Wilmot Proviso was never accepted as law, but it at long last put the issue forth on the political table.

The Calhoun Resolutions

John C. Calhoun defended the institution of Slavery with the Calhoun Resolutions.

John C. Calhoun, the South Carolina statesman, responded with the Calhoun Resolutions, which said that Congress had no right to stop any citizen with slaves in their possession from taking those slaves into one of the territories. If they did so, the Fifth Amendment, which states that no person can be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” would be violated. While this was not made formal legislation either, this belief became the standard in most of the south.

A third option, which appealed to many moderates, most prominently Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, was the idea of popular sovereignty. This was the idea of letting the settlers of a territory themselves decide whether slavery was to be allowed in it, by voting on state constitutions and other such measures. The primary merit of this initiative was that it took the debate out of Congress, which quickly grew tired of the issue, and put it into the hands of people it truly affected. There was also an unspoken understanding that most of the territories would end up being free, as most settlers that were already in those areas did not bring their slaves with them.

Compromise of 1850

America looked to the Senate for an answer to the question of slavery within the territories. Henry Clay, nicknamed the "Great Compromiser," constructed a compromise: California was admitted as a free state, but all other territories in the Mexican Cession were allowed to choose between becoming a free territory or a slave territory. Also, as part of the Compromise, the slave trade was banned in the District of Columbia, and a Fugitive Slave Act was passed to allow the capture of fugitive slaves.

The Fugitive Slave Act was a very controversial measure. Previously, many in the North felt that slavery merely occurred in the South and that they had nothing to do with it. But under the Fugitive Slave Act, Northerners were required to help return runaway slaves. Thus, the Northerners felt that they were being dragged into aiding the institution of slavery. Several Northern states passed laws prohibiting their officials from aiding the enforcement of the Act.

While the admission of California as a free state gave the free states the majority in Congress, the pro-slavery measures in the Fugitive Slave Act made the Compromise seem more favorable to the South.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin showed readers the suffering that slaves faced in their lives.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852, is often called “the book that started the Civil War.” The melodramatic story of the evil overseer Simon Legree and his slaves Eliza and Uncle Tom painted an accurate picture of the horrors of slavery, and gave rise to much abolitionist feeling in the North. However, the effects were not easily visible from the start: because the country was growing tired of the sectional bickering over slavery, it took a while for the story to becoming embedded in the American imagination.

Nat Turner

Nat, commonly called Nat Turner, (October 2, 1800 – November 11, 1831) was an American slave whose slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia, was the most remarkable instance of black resistance to enslavement in the antebellum southern United States. His methodical slaughter of white civilians during the uprising makes his legacy controversial, but he is still considered by many to be a heroic figure of black resistance to oppression. At birth he was not given a surname, but was recorded solely by his given name, Nat. In accordance with a common practice, he was often called by the surname of his owner, Samuel Turner.

Election of 1852

In one of the less spectacular elections in American history, Senator Franklin Pierce of the Democratic party defeated General Winfield Scott of the Whig party. The Whigs tried to rely on Scott’s heroics as a general during the Mexican war to get him elected, a strategy that proved unsuccessful. Pierce, of New Hampshire, ended up being largely an ineffective president, trying and failing to please both the North and the South.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act and its Effects

Throughout this time, plans were underway for a transcontinental railroad. A question arose as to what Eastern city should be the main terminus. Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois hoped to advance his own state’s interests by making Chicago the railroad hub. To do this, he suggested a piece of legislation known as the “Kansas-Nebraska Act,” requiring recognition of two new territories, Kansas and Nebraska, west of Missouri and Iowa, respectively. These territories would both help his railroad and solve the overdue issue of the territories in the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase.

But to get the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed, he would have to get the support of Southerners, who wanted a railroad along a more southern route. For this reason, Douglas included in the Act the provision of popular sovereignty in the territories.

This blatantly violated the Missouri Compromise of 1821, which stated that slavery would be prohibited above the 36º30’ line. Douglas therefore opened himself up to the verbal barrage of protests from the North, who denounced the cancellation of the Missouri Compromise as unfair. Yet the Act passed, to the indignation of many Northerners, with the support of President Pierce.

The North

Many in the North figured that if the Missouri Compromise was not an unbreakable law, neither was the Fugitive Slave Act, leading to many demonstrations against it. Boston witnessed the most remarkable of these, leading to many New Englanders turning against Pierce for his support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Political Parties

The Whig party essentially buckled under the pressure of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, with the North condemning it and the South supporting it. Whigs from the North joined some Democrats and Free Soilers that united under the general principle of the Wilmot Proviso, eventually calling themselves the Republican Party and offering its first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont in 1856.

Rachel v. Walker

Rachel v. Walker was a lawsuit involving a slave who, in 1834, sued for her freedom from John Walker in the Supreme Court of Missouri, and won. This result was cited in 1856 in the famous Dred Scott v. Sandford case before the Supreme Court of the United States.[1]

Dred Scott

The question of the constitutionality of Congressional Compromises was decided by the Supreme Court in 1856. In "Scott v. Sanford", the Court ruled against a slave, Dred Scott, who had sued to become free. The Court ruled 7-2 that Scott remained a slave, and there were nine written opinions. The Chief Justice of the United States, Roger Taney, decided that blacks were so inferior that they could not be citizens of the United States, and that, consequently, they could not sue for his freedom (a state issue)in diversity in federal court, and therefore the court lacked jurisdiction. Nevetheless (the biggest "nevertheless" in American history) in a supererogatory effort to settle the question of slavery once and for all, the Marylander Taney ruled that the Missouri Compromise (which had banned the expansion of slavery into the territories north of Missouri) among other laws, was unconstitutional because it restricted the Constitutional right to own property. Many felt that Taney had committed a legal error in his decision. First, Taney had ruled that Scott had no right to sue. The case should have ended there. Taney had ruled on the constitutionality of the Missouri Compromise, which had, under Taney's own ruling that Scott had no right to sue, no bearing upon the case. Thus, the outrage against the Dred Scott decision was increased even more.

Free and Slave States in 1869

John Brown’s Raid

John Brown

John Brown, an extreme abolitionist known for fighting in Bloody Kanasas, came to the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia for his last fight. He planned to take over the arsenal, give weapons to the slaves that would support him, and make a center of black power in the Appalachian Mountains that would support slave uprisings in the south.

The raid did not go as planned. Brown did take over the arsenal and took a couple of hostages, but ended up being assaulted by Virginia militia and U.S. Marines under the command of Col. Robert E. Lee of the US 2nd Cavalry. He was tried, convicted, and hanged for treason to the State of Virginia.

However, his raid left a profound impact. John Brown became a martyr for the abolitionist cause during the Civil War. In the South, his actions gave cause to rumors of Northern conspiracy supporting slave insurrections, engendering further suspicion of outsiders in the South. A later Northern marching song sang “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but his soul is marching on.”


Lincoln campaign poster

In 1860, four major candidates ran for President. The Whigs, adopting the name "Constitutional Union", nominated Tennessean Senator John Bell. The Northern Democrats nominated Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois and the Southern Democrats nominated the Vice President John Breckenridge of Kentucky. The more united Republican party nominated Abraham Lincoln, who spoke out against expansion of slavery. Though he assumed that, under the constitution, Congress could not outlaw slavery in the South, he assured all that he would work to admit only free states to the US. Due to divisions between the parties, Lincoln won the election by carrying every Northern State. Douglas won Missouri, Bell the Upper South, and Breckenridge the Deep South. The South was outraged. The North had a far larger population than the South, and thus had more electoral votes. The South had been out voted.

Intro to Secession

Secession and the Southern Confederacy

With the demise of the Whig Party and the split of the Northern and Southern branches of the Democratic Party, the opportunity afforded itself for the recently organized Republican Party to increase its political power in both chambers of Congress and to successfully elect Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency. Wendell Phillips acknowledged that the Republican Party was "a sectional party, organized against the South." Several other leading Republicans even went so far as to advocate civil war in order to keep the Southern States in a condition of subordination to a Northern majority.


Southern leaders, such as John C. Calhoun, had warned that if the North ever gained control of the federal Government the rights of the Southern people would be lost. In the Republicans' pledge to confine slavery within the existing States and to prevent its spread into the common Territories was perceived an intent to destroy the rights of the Southern people wholesale. Many Republicans, such as the former Whig and Henry Clay admirer, Abraham Lincoln, also openly advocated a high tariff and internal improvement system (which Clay had named, "The American System"). Historically, high tariffs benefited Northern industry and had adverse effects on the price of exported Southern cotton.

Why They Fought

Consequently, the conflict between the North and the South had much more to do with differing views on the relation of the States to the federal Government, the extent of State power, and economics rather than the issues of slavery or African-American rights. In fact, some of the Northern people deplored Abolitionism and were opposed to African-American equality. Even Lincoln openly declared himself in opposition to African-American citizenship. Most of the Northern States had various anti-African American laws on the books and Lincoln's own State of Illinois altered its constitution in 1862 to prohibit the immigration of free African Americans entirely.


Upon receiving news of Lincoln's election, the South Carolina Convention voted for secession on December 20, 1860. In the next few months, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas had all seceded and joined South Carolina in forming the Confederate States of America. The other four Southern States - Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas - originally voted against secession, but later joined the Southern Confederacy when Lincoln's call for 75,000 militia was issued on April 15, 1861.


Secession was generally accepted as a revolutionary, if not a constitutional right, by both North and South prior to the actual secession of the seven Gulf States. In fact, secession was first threatened in the early years of the Union by the State of Massachusetts, and the threat was repeated several times over the decades preceding the War Between the States. A Northern Confederacy of the New England States was proposed and nearly formed in protest of the War of 1812. Of course, Southern leaders such as Jefferson Davis believed that since the original thirteen States had voluntarily acceded to the Union, they could also rescind that accession and lawfully secede. This act of secession was to be voted upon and declared to the world by the same sovereign power which had brought the State into the Union - that of the people assembled in convention. According to this logic, those States which were admitted to the Union after 1789 also retained this right of secession, since the main ground of their admission was that they would stand "on equal footing" with the other States. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution was also appealed to with the claim that the several States never surrendered their sovereignty to the federal Government, and could therefore recall their delegated powers from their common agent by withdrawing from the Union.

Lincoln's View

Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, insisted that the relation of the States to the Federal Government was akin to that of counties to States. He believed that the Union preceded the States, rather than vice versa, and that State sovereignty was a myth. Consequently, secession was treason and could only result in anarchy. For these views, he relied upon Daniel Webster's speeches in the Senate in the early 1830s.

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis (June 3, 1808 – December 6, 1889) was an American soldier and politician, most famous for serving as the first and only President of the Confederate States, leading the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. Before the Civil War, Davis served in the Mississippi Legislature, the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. He fought in the Mexican-American War as a colonel of a volunteer regiment. Later he became Secretary of War in the cabinet of U.S. President Franklin Pierce.

The Civil War (1860 - 1865)

Causes of the Civil War

There are several fundamental causes of the civil war, most of which were related to the south's use of slavery.[1] These include the election of Abraham Lincoln without a single southern electoral college vote.[1] The rise of the Republican party which was opposed to the westward expansion of slavery.[1] The south wanted to protect the rights of their states to determine how they could treat slaves free of federal interference.[1] The northern and southern economies were vastly different, mainly as a result of the south's use of slavery compared to the north's use of free labor which encouraged industrialization.[2][3]

A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.

He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free" and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

—Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union - December 24, 1860[4]

Dixie's Constitution

By the end of March, 1861, the Confederacy had created a constitution and elected its first and only president, Jefferson Davis. The Constitution of the Confederate States of America was the supreme law of the Confederate States of America, as adopted on March 11, 1861 and in effect through the conclusion of the American Civil War. The Confederacy also operated under a Provisional Constitution from February 8, 1861 to March 11, 1861.

In regard to most articles of the Constitution, the document is a word-for-word duplicate of the United States Constitution. The original, hand-written document is currently located in the University of Georgia archives at Athens, Georgia. The major differences between the two constitutions was the Confederacy's greater emphasis on the rights of individual member states, and an explicit support of slavery.

Fort Sumter and the Beginning of the War

A painting depicting the bombardment of Fort Sumter.

Several federal forts were seized and converted to Confederate strongholds. By the time of Lincoln's inauguration only two major forts had not been taken. On April 11, Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard demanded that Union Major Robert Anderson surrender Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. Sumter had a strategic position on an island defending Charleston's harbor. The supplies of the besieged forts would only last a few weeks. The Union sent ships to resupply the fort, but they were held off by Confederate ships. Beauregard's troops surrounded the fort and opened fire. A tremendous cannon firefight remarkably claimed no casualties. By April 14, Anderson was forced to surrender the fort. The first casualties of the War occurred after the surrender: while the fort flag was being lowered, a Union cannon misfired.

The next day, President Lincoln declared that the US faced a rebellion. Lincoln called up state militias and requested volunteers to enlist in the Army. In response to this call and to the surrender of Fort Sumter, four more states seceded; Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The Civil War had begun.

A cartoon depicting the Anaconda Plan, General Scott's plan to strangle the south.

Each side determined its strategies. The Confederate leadership felt that its army only needed to defend itself to gain independence. By its tactical strengths and its material shortages, it created what Jefferson Davis named an "offensive defensive" strategy. It would strengthen its defense posture, when conditions were right, by occasional offensive strikes into the North. However, three people who had important roles in Confederate plans had different strategies. While President Davis argued for a solely defensive war, General Robert E. Lee asserted they had to fight the Union head on, and General Thomas Jackson claimed they needed to invade the Union's important cities first and defeat the enemy to reclaim the cities.

The strategy of aging Union General Winfield Scott became popularly known as the Anaconda Plan. Named for the South American snake that strangles its victims to death, the plan aimed to defeat the Confederacy by surrounding it on all sides with a blockade of Southern ports and the swift capture of the Mississippi River.

Many civil war battles have two names. The Union typically named battles after nearby landmarks, often rivers. The Confederacy typically named battles after nearby cities.

First Battle of Bull Run and the Early Stages of the War

Citizens organize a picnic to observe the Battle of Bull Run. Many incorrectly assumed the battle would be an easy union victory.
A lithograph depicting the First Battle of Bull Run.

Four slave states remained in the Union; Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. The four border states were all important, and Lincoln did not want them to join the Confederacy. Missouri controlled parts of the Mississippi River, Kentucky controlled the Ohio river, and Delaware was close to the important Pennsylvania city of Philadelphia. Perhaps the most important border state was Maryland. It was close to the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia, and the Union capital of Washington was located between pro-Confederate sections of Maryland and seceded Virginia. Lincoln knew he had to be cautious if he did not want these states to join the Confederacy. But after the Battle of Fort Sumter, all of these states except for Maryland joined the South.

Both sides had strengths and weaknesses. The North had a greater population, more factories, more supplies, and more money than the South. The South had more experienced military leadership, better-trained armies, and the advantage of fighting on familiar territory. Robert E. Lee is an example of the leadership the South relied upon. Before the Civil War, President Lincoln asked him to lead the Union army. Even though Lee was himself against slavery, he followed the people of his home state of Virginia into succession.

Support for secession and the war was not unanimous in the Confederacy, and all of the southern states provided substantial numbers of troops for the Union armies. Moreover, the presence of slavery acted as a drain of southern manpower, as adult males who might otherwise join the army were required to police the slaves.

On July 21, 1861, the armies of General Beauregard and Union General Irvin McDowell met at Manassas, Virginia in the Battle of Bull Run. Here the North originally had the upper hand, but Confederate General Thomas Jackson and his troops blocked Northern progress. Jackson's men began to retreat but Jackson stayed, standing "as a stone wall" (he was hereafter nicknamed "Stonewall Jackson"). As Confederate reinforcements arrived, McDowell's army retreated in confusion and was totally defeated. Before this, the North had nurtured a hope of quick victory over the Confederacy. The loss killed that hope. Though the Confederates achieved victory, General Beauregard did not chase stragglers of the defeated Union Army. Angered by this, Davis replaced him with General Robert E. Lee. Northern general McDowell's defeat by Confederates caused his replacement by George McClellan.

Early Southern victories raised the complete defeat of the Union. The Confederacy appointed two representatives to the United Kingdom and France. Both traveled to Europe on a British ship, the RMS Trent. A Union Captain, Charles Wilkes, seized the Trent and forced the Confederate representatives to board the Union ship. This seizure violated the neutrality of the United Kingdom. The British demanded apologies, and Lincoln eventually complied, even releasing the Confederate representatives. If he had failed to do so, the United Kingdom would have had an excuse to join with the Confederacy against the Union. Factories in the North of England depended upon Confederate cotton, and their neutrality was not assured.


The Civil War was affected by technological innovations that changed the nature of battle. The most lethal change was the introduction of rifling to muskets. In previous wars, the maximum effective range of a musket was between 70 to 110 meters. Muskets, which were smooth bore firearms, weren't accurate beyond that. Tactics involved moving masses of troops to musket range, firing a volley, and then charging the opposing force with the bayonet, which is a sword blade attached to a firearm. However, a bullet from an aimed rifled musket could hit a soldier more than 1300 meters away. This drastically improved any defense. Massed attacks were easier to stop from a longer distance. The standardization of the rifle during the revolutionary war was extended to these new armaments, and to other military supplies.

Some other key changes on land dealt with logistics -- the art of military supply -- and communications. By 1860, there were approximately 30,000 miles of railroad track, mostly in the Northern states. The railroads meant that supplies need not be obtained from local farms and cities, and that armies could operate for extended periods of time without fear of starvation. The advances in food preservation created during the Napoleonic Wars brought a wider variety of food to the soldier. In addition, armies could be moved across the country within days, without marching. Doctors could move to the wounded.

The telegraph is the third of the key technologies that changed the nature of the war. Washington City and Richmond, the capitals of the two opposing sides, could stay in touch with commanders in the field, passing on updated intelligence and orders. President Lincoln used the telegraph frequently, as did his chief general, Halleck, and field commanders such as Grant.

At sea, the greatest innovation was the introduction of ironclad warships. In 1862, the Confederate Navy built the CSS Virginia on the half-burned hull of the USS Merrimack. This ship, with iron armor, was impervious to cannon fire that would drive off or sink a wooden ship. The Virginia sank the U.S. frigate Cumberland. It might have broken the blockade of the Federal fleet if it had not been for the arrival of the ironclad USS Monitor, built by Swedish-American John Ericsson. The two met in May 1862 off Hampton Roads, Virginia. The battle was a draw, but this sufficed for the Union to continue its blockade of the Confederacy. The Virginia'had retreated into a bay where it could not be of much use, and the Confederacy later burned it to prevent Union capture.

The U.S. Civil War introduced the first American railroad artillery; a successful submarine; a "snorkel" breathing device; the periscope for trench warfare; field trenches, land-mine fields, and wire entanglements, as battles began to take place for days at a time; American use of flame throwers and naval torpedoes; aerial reconnaissance, using hot-air balloons and cameras, and antiaircraft fire; resultant camouflage and blackouts; repeating rifles; telescopic sights for rifles for the aid of snipers, fixed ammunition, and long-range rifles for general use; electronic exploding bombs and torpedoes; revolving gun turrets on boats; and a workable machine gun. As part of the organization of men and materiel, the Civil War introduced foreign social innovations such as incorporation of female and civilian support in the Northern Sanitation Fairs, an organized medical and nursing corps with bandages, opium, and other anesthetics, hospital ships, and an army ambulance corps. To supply newspapers and magazines, with their sophisticated new engraving devices, there arose a wide-range corps of press correspondents in war zones. New aids in communication included the bugle call, "Taps," and other new calls, and the wigwag signal code in battle. To enable the federal prosecution of the war, the North inaugurated American conscription, legal voting for servicemen, The U.S. Secret Service, the income, withholding, and tobacco (cigarette) taxes, and the Medal of Honor. The Southern forces created a Confederate Department of Justice. The North created the first U.S. Navy admiral. Both sides commissioned Army Chaplains. The North commissioned African-American fighters, and its first African-American U.S. Army Officer, Major M.R. Delany.

Shiloh and Ulysses Grant

A chromolithograph depicting the Battle of Shiloh.

While Union military efforts in the East were frustrated and even disastrous, the war west of the Appalachians developed differently, resulting in the first significant battlefield successes for the North.

On the border between the Union and Confederacy, Kentucky was divided in its sentiments toward the two sides and attempted political neutrality. By the autumn of 1861, the Kentucky state government decided to support the Union, despite its being a slave state. Its indecision and the divided loyalties of its population directed the course of military operations in the West; neither North or South wished to alienate Kentucky.

Below the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers where the Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri borders come together, Union Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant, under command of Major General Henry W. Halleck, conducted a series of operations that would bring him national recognition. It was just across the Mississippi from Kentucky in Columbus, Missouri that Grant fought his first major battle.

The western campaigns continued into 1862 under Halleck's overall direction with Grant continuing into Western Tennessee along the Mississippi. In February, Grant attacked and captured the Tennessean Fort Donelson, providing a significant victory for the North.

About two months after the victory at Fort Donelson, Grant fought an even more important battle at Shiloh. Confederate generals A. S. Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard made a surprise attack on the Union army. Though the initial attack was successful, the Union made a counter-attack and the Confederates were defeated.

After the Union took Fort Donelson, Grant wanted to push onto into Charleston and Memphis, perhaps gaining control of the Eastern railroad and supply line. But General Helleck vetoed their proposal.

Grant's troops killed Confederate General Albert Johnston and defeated the Confederate troops, but at a steep price. Approximately thirteen thousand Union soldiers and eleven thousand Confederate soldiers died, and Grant lost a chance of capturing the West quickly.

Peninsular Campaign

General Stonewall Jackson was nearing Washington. To prevent Jackson from invading, Union General George McClellan left over fifty thousand men in Washington. Yet Jackson's threat was deceptive, as he did not even have five thousand men in his army. McClellan's unnecessary fear forced him to wait over half a year before continuing the war in Virginia, allowing enough time for the Confederates to strengthen their position and earning him the nickname "Tardy George. Jackson's deception had a further effect in the Peninsular Campaign, the Union attempt to take the Confederate capital Richmond without the aid of the force remaining in Washington. (The Union strategy for a quick end to the war was capturing Richmond, which was close to Washington.)

Union artillery outside Yorktown, Virginia.

In early April 1862, McClellan's troops began the Campaign, traveling over sea to the peninsula formed by the mouths of the York and James Rivers. This spit of land included Yorktown and Williamsburg and led straight to Richmond. By late May, McClellan was a few miles from Richmond, when Robert E. Lee took control of one of the Confederate Armies. After several victorious battles, it seemed as if McClellan could march to Richmond. But he refused to attack without reinforcements, which he saw as necessary to defeat Jackson's illusory troops. The forces he wanted were instead defending Washington. During the last week of June, Confederate General Robert E. Lee started the Seven Days' Battles that forced McClellan to retreat. By July, McClellan had lost over fifteen thousand men: there was little consolation in the fact that Lee had lost even more.

Other important skirmishes occurred in the course of the Peninsular Campaign. Flag Officer David Farragut of the Union Navy easily took control of the Mississippi River when he captured the key port of New Orleans in April, providing a key advantage to the Union and depriving the Confederacy of the river. The North raised a blockade around the ports of the South, cutting off dry goods such as shoes and vastly increasing inflation.[5] (Although the Confederates produced raw materials, they did not have the industrial wherewithal to finish them -- for example, the cotton mills in the North and abroad -- or the railroads to fully distribute them.)

Second Bull Run and Antietam

Depiction of the Battle of Antietam

A new Union Army was organized at the same time under General John Pope. Pope attempted to join his army with McClellan's to combine their strengths. Stonewall Jackson headed this off by surrounding Pope's Army in Manassas, which the North called the Second Battle of Bull Run. Both sides fought on August 29, and the Confederates won against a much larger Union force.

President Lincoln meets with General McClellan following the battle.

Pope's battered Army did eventually combine with McClellan's. But the Second Battle of Bull Run had encouraged General Lee to invade Maryland. In Sharpsburg, Maryland, McClellan and Lee led their armies against each other. On September 17, 1862, the Battle of Antietam (named for a nearby creek) led to the deaths of over ten thousand soldiers from each side; no other one-day battle led to more deaths in one day. This day is called "Bloodiest day of American History". McClellan's scouts had found Lee's battle plans with a discarded packet of cigars, but he did not act on the intelligence immediately. The Union technically won the Pyrrhic victory; McClellan lost about one-sixth of his Army, but Lee lost around one-third of his. Even though they could march and end the war, McClellan didn't go forward because he thought he's already lost too many soldiers. This was the victory needed for Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, so that it did not appear as an act of desperation.

The Emancipation Proclamation

General McClellan seemed too defensive to Lincoln, who replaced McClellan with General Ambrose Burnside. Burnside decided to go on the offensive against Lee. In December 1862, at Fredricksburg, Virginia, Burnside's Army of the Potomac assaulted built-up Confederate positions and suffered terrible casualties to Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The Federal superiority in numbers was matched by Lee's use of terrain and modern firepower. "Burnside's Slaughter Pen" resulted in over ten thousand Union casualties, as the North used Napoleonic tactics against the South's carbines. Burnside then again attempted to capture Richmond, but was foiled by winter weather. The "Mud March" forced the Army of the Potomac to return to winter quarters.

President Lincoln liked men who did not campaign on the abolition of slavery. He only intended to prevent slavery in all new states and territories. On the 22nd of August, 1862, Lincoln was coming to the decision that abolishing slavery might help the Union, in a letter from that time he wrote "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.". Doing so would especially disrupt the Confederate economy. In September, 1862, after the Battle of Antietam, Lincoln and his Cabinet agreed to emancipate, or free, southern slaves. On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared all slaves in rebel states "forever free."

A map showing where the Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery. Red areas are where the Proclamation abolished slavery. Blue areas were exempt, though most had banned slavery on their own.

The constitutional authority for the Emancipation Proclamation cannot be challenged. The Proclamation did not abolish slavery everywhere; it was restricted to states "still in rebellion" against the Union on the day it took effect. The Proclamation, technically, was part of a military strategy against states that had rebelled; this was to prevent internal conflict with the border states. Still, all the border states except Kentucky and Delaware had abolished slavery on their own. Naturally, the proclamation had no way of being enforced: the Executive in the form of military action was still trying to force the Confederacy to rejoin. Nonetheless, many slaves who had heard of the Proclamation escaped when Union forces approached.

The Proclamation had another profound effect on the war: it changed the objective from forcing the Confederacy to rejoin the Union to eliminating slavery throughout the United States. The South had been trying too woo Great Britain (which relied on the South's agricultural exports, especially cotton, for manufacturing) into an alliance; now all hopes for one were eliminated. Great Britain was firmly against the institution of slavery, and it had been illegal throughout the British Empire since 1833. In fact, some slaves freed via the Underground Railroad were taken to Britain, since it was safe from bounty hunters. (Canada was too close to the U.S. for some).

Although the Union did not at first accept black freedmen for combat, it hired them for other jobs. When troops became scarce, the Union began enlisting blacks. At the end of the war, the 180,000 enlisted blacks made up about 10% of the Union Army, and 29500 enlisted blacks to Navy. Until 1864, the South refused to recognize captured black soldiers as prisoners of war, and executed several of them at Fort Pillow as escaped slaves. Lincoln believed in the necessity of black soldiers: in August 1864, he said if the black soldiers of the Union army all joined the Confederacy, "we would be compelled to abandon the war in three weeks."

Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville

Depiction of the battle of Fredericksburg

In 1863, Lincoln again changed leadership, replacing Burnside with General Joseph Hooker. Hooker had a reputation for aggressiveness; his nickname was "Fighting Joe". From May 1 to May 4, 1863, near Chancellorsville, Virginia, General Lee, again outnumbered, used audacious tactics — he divided his smaller force in two in the face of superior numbers, sending Stonewall Jackson to the Union's flank, and defeated Hooker. Again, the Confederacy won, but at a great cost. Shortly after the battle of Chancellorsville, Stonewall Jackson was accidentally shot by Confederate soldiers who didn't recognize him in the poor evening light, dying soon after.


Depiction of the Battle of Vicksburg.

The North already held New Orleans. If it could control the entire Mississippi River, it could divide the Confederacy in two, making Confederate transportation of weapons and troops more difficult. Vicksburg and Fort Hudson were major Confederate ports. General Scott's "Anaconda Plan" was based on gaining control of the Mississippi.

The city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, was located on high bluffs on the eastern bank of the river. At the time, the Mississippi River went through a 180-degree U shaped bend by the city. (It has since shifted course westward and the bend no longer exists.) Guns batteries there prevented Federal steamboats from crossing. Vicksburg was also on one of the major railroads running east-west through the Confederacy. Vicksburg was therefore a key point under Confederate control.

Major General Ulysses Grant marched on land from Memphis, Tennessee, while General William Tecumseh Sherman and his troops traveled by water. Both intended to converge on Vicksburg. Both failed, at least for the time being. In December, 1862, Grant's supply line was disrupted, and Sherman had to attack alone.

Since Vicksburg had not fallen to a frontal assault, the Union forces made several attempts to bypass Vicksburg by building canals to divert the Mississippi River, but these failed.

Grant decided to attack Vicksburg again in April. Instead of approaching from the north, as had been done before, his army approached Vicksburg from the south. Grant's Army of Tennessee crossed from the West bank to the East at Big Bluff on April 18, 1863. Then, in a series of battles, including Raymond and Champion's Hill, defeated Southern forces coming to the relief of Confederate general Pemberton. Sherman and Grant together besieged Vicksburg. Two major assaults were repelled by the defenders of Vicksburg, including one in which a giant Union land mine was set off under the Confederate fortifications.

From May to July, Vicksburg remained in Confederate hands, but on July 3, 1863, one day before Independence Day, General Pemberton finally capitulated. Thirty thousand Confederates were taken prisoner, but released after taking an oath to not participate in fighting the United States unless properly exchanged (a practice called parole).

This victory cut the Confederate States in two, accomplishing one of the Union total war goals. Confederate forces would not be able to draw on the food and horses previously supplied by Texas.

This victory was very important, giving the Union control of the whole Mississippi River and effectively splitting the Confederacy. Confederate forces were now deprived of food and supplies from Texas.


A Harvest of Death: dead soldiers await burial following the Battle of Gettysburg. NARA, public domain.


At the same time as the opening of the Vicksburg Campaign, General Lee decided to march his troops into Pennsylvania. He had three reasons for doing this. He intended to win a major victory on Northern soil, increasing Southern morale, encouraging Northern peace activists sympathetic to the South (the "Copperheads"), and increasing the likelihood of political recognition by England and France. His hungry, poorly shod army could raid supplies from the North, reducing the burden on the Confederate economy. And he intended to encroach upon the Northern capital, forcing the recall of Federal troops from the Western Theater and easing some of the pressure on Vicksburg.

Keeping the Blue Ridge Mountains between him and the Federal army, Lee advanced up the Shenandoah Valley into West Virginia and Maryland before finally marching into South-Central Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the Union forces moved north on roads to Lee's east, without the latter's knowledge. His cavalry commander and chief scout, Jeb Stuart, had launched a raid eastward to "ride around" the Union army. On July first, 1863, Confederate Division Leader Henry Heth's soldiers ran into John Buford's Federal cavalry unit west of the city of Gettysburg. Buford's two brigades held their ground for several hours, until the arrival of the Union 1st Corps, and then withdrew through the town. The Confederates occupied Gettysburg, but by then the Union forces had formed a strong defensive line on the hills south of the town.

The Battle

Depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg.

For the next three days, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia faced the Union Army of the Potomac, now under the command of General George G. Meade, a Pennsylvanian who replaced Hooker, who had resigned as commander. (Hooker was given a corps command in the Army of the Cumberland, then in eastern Tennessee, where he performed satisfactorily for the remainder of the war.)

South of Gettysburg are high hills shaped like an inverted letter "J". At the end of the first day, the Union held this important high ground, partially because the Confederate left wing had dawdled moving into position. One July 2, Lee planned to attack up Emmitsburg Road from the south and west, hoping to force the Union troops to abandon the important hills and ridges. The attack went awry, and some Confederate forces, including Law's Alabama Brigade, attempted to force a gap in the Federal line between the two Round Tops, dominant heights at the extreme southern end of the Union's fish hook-shaped defensive line. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commander of the 20th Maine Regiment, anchored this gap. He and the rest of his brigade, commanded by Colonel Strong Vincent, held the hill despite several hard-pressed attacks, including launching a bayonet charge when the regiment was low on ammunition.

Meanwhile, north of the Round Tops, a small ridge immediately to the west of the Federal line drew the attention of Union General Daniel Sickles, a former New York congressman, who commanded the Third Corps. He ordered his corps to advance to the peach-orchard crested ridge, which led to hard fighting around the "Devil's Den," Wheatfield, and Peach Orchard. Sickles lost a leg in the fight.

Pickett's Charge

Depiction of Pickett's Charge

On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee decided to try a direct attack on the Union and "virtually destroy their army." Putting Lieutenant General James Longstreet in charge of the three-division main assault, he wanted his men, including the division of Major General George Pickett, to march across a mile and a half up a gradual slope to the center of the Union line. Lee promised artillery support, but any trained soldier who looked across those fields knew that they would be an open target for the Union soldiers--much the reverse of the situation six months before in Fredericksburg. However, the choice was either to attack or withdraw, and Lee was a naturally aggressive soldier.

By the end of the attack, half of Longstreet's force was dead, wounded or captured and the position was not taken. George Pickett never forgave Lee for "slaughtering" his men. Pickett's Charge, called the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy," was practically the last hope of the Southern cause at Gettysburg.

Aftermath & The Gettysburg Address

Lee withdrew across the Potomac River. Meade did not pursue quickly, and Lee was able to reestablish himself in Virginia. He offered to Confederate President Jefferson Davis to resign as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, saying, "Everything, therefore, points to the advantages to be derived from a new commander, and I the more anxiously urge the matter upon Your Excellency from my belief that a younger and abler man than myself can readily be attained." Davis did not relieve Lee; neither did Lincoln relieve Meade, though he wrote a letter of censure, saying "Again, my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee's escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely."

The battle of Gettysburg lasted three days. Both sides lost nearly twenty-five thousand men each. After Gettysburg, the South remained on the defensive.

On November 19, 1863 Lincoln delivered his most famous speech in the wake of this battle. The Gettysburg Address is often cited for its brevity (it followed a two-hour speech by Edward Everett) and its masterful rhetoric. As with other early Republican documents, it placed its justification in the Founding Fathers. Unlike them, it did not place the justification of emancipation in the Constitution, but in the Declaration of Independence: "All men are created equal."

Black Americans and the Civil War

A lithograph depicting Black regiments fighting hard while storming Fort Wagner.

The view of the Union towards blacks had changed during the previous two years. At the beginning of hostilities, the war was seen as an effort to save the Union, not free slaves. Several black slaves who reached Federal lines were returned to their owners. This stopped when Major General Benjamin F. Butler, a New Jersey lawyer and prominent member of the Democratic party, announced that slaves, being the property of persons in rebellion against the United States, would be seized as "contraband of war" and the Fugitive Slave Act could not apply. "Contrabands" were, if not always welcome by white soldiers, not turned away.

However, as the struggle grew more intense, abolition became a more popular option. Frederick Douglas, a former slave, urged that the war aim of the Union include the emancipation of slaves and the enlistment of black soldiers in the Union Army. This was done on a nationwide basis in 1863, though the state of Massachusetts had raised two regiments (the 54th and 55th Massachusetts) before this.

The 54th Massachusetts Regiment was the first black regiment recruited in the North. Col. Robert Gould Shaw, the 25 year old son of very wealthy abolitionist parents, was chosen to command. On May 28, the well equipped and drilled 54th paraded through the streets of Boston and then boarded ships bound for the coast of South Carolina. Their first conflict with Confederate soldiers came on July 16, when the regiment repelled an attack on James Island. But on July 18 came the supreme test of the courage and valor of the black soldiers; they were chosen to lead the assault on Battery Wagner, a Confederate fort on Morris Island at Charleston. In addressing his soldiers before leading them in charge across the beach, Colonel Shaw said, "I want you to prove yourselves. The eyes of thousands will look on what you do tonight."

African American troops fighting for the union.

While some blacks choose to join the military fight others fought by other means. An American teacher named Mary S. Peake worked to educate the freedmen and "contraband". She spent her days under a large oak tree teaching others near Fort Monroe in Virginia. (This giant tree is now over 140 years old and called Emancipation Oak). Since Fort Monroe remained under Union control this area was some what of a safe location for refugees and runaways to come to. Soon Mary began teaching in the Brown Cottage. This endeavor, sponsored by the American Missionary Association, became the basis from which Hampton University would spawn. Mary's school would house around 50 children during the day and 20 adults at night. This remarkable American died from tuberculosis on Washington's birthday in 1862.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis reacted to the raising of black regiments by passing General Order No. 111, which stated that captured black Federal soldiers would be returned into slavery (whether born free or not) and that white officers who led black soldiers would be tried for abetting servile rebellion. The Confederate Congress codified this into law on May 1, 1863. President Lincoln's order of July 30, 1863 responded:

It is therefore ordered that for every soldier of the United States killed in violation of the laws of war, a rebel soldier shall be executed; and for every one enslaved by the enemy or sold into slavery, a rebel soldier shall be placed at hard labor on the public works and continued at such labor until the other shall be released and receive the treatment due to a prisoner of war.

Eventually the Federal forces had several divisions' worth of black soldiers. Their treatment was not equal to white soldiers: at first, for example, black privates were paid $10 a month, the same as laborers, while white privates earned $13 a month. In addition, blacks could not be commissioned officers. The pay difference was settled retroactively in 1864.

The issue of black prisoners of war was a continual contention between the two sides. In the early stages of the war, prisoners of war would be exchanged rank for rank. However, the Confederates refused to exchange any black prisoner. The Union response was to stop exchanging any prisoner of war. The Confederate position changed to allowing blacks who were born free to be exchanged, and finally to exchange all soldiers, regardless of race. By then, the Federal leadership understood that the scarcity of white Confederates capable of serving as soldiers was an advantage, and there were no mass exchanges of prisoners, black or white, until the Confederate collapse.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga

A lithograph depicting the Battle of Chickamauga.

In September 1863, Union Major General William Rosecrans decided to attempt the takeover of Chattanooga, a Confederate rail center in the eastern part of Tennessee. Controlling Chattanooga would provide a base to attack Georgia. The Confederates originally gave up Chattanooga, thinking that they could launch a devastating attack as the Union Army attempted to take control of it. Rosecrans did not, in the end, fall into such a trap. However, on November 23, 1863, the Union and Confederate Armies met at Chickamauga Creek, south of Chattanooga, upon which a rail line passed into Georgia.

The battle of Chickamauga was a Confederate victory. The Army of the Cumberland was forced to withdraw to Chattanooga, but Union General George Thomas, "the Rock of Chickamauga," and his troops prevented total defeat by standing their ground.

After Rosecrans withdrew to Chattanooga, the Confederates under General Braxton Bragg decided to besiege the city. Rosecrans was relieved of command; Lincoln's comment was that he appeared "stunned and confused, like a duck hit on the head." Meanwhile, by great effort, the Federal forces kept a "cracker line" open to supply Chattanooga with food and forage. Ulysses Grant replaced Rosecrans.

Grant's forces began to attack on November 23, 1863. On November 24 came the Battle of Lookout Mountain, an improbable victory in which Union soldiers, without the initiative of higher command, advanced up this mountain, which overlooks Chattanooga, and captured it. One of the authors of this text had an ancestor in the Confederate forces there; his comment was when the battle started, he was on top of the hill throwing rocks at the Yankees, and when it was over, the Yankees were throwing rocks at him.

By the end of November, Grant and his troops had pushed the Confederates out of East Tennessee and begun operations in Georgia.

Ulysses Grant As General-in-Chief

A 1864 photograph of General Grant at Cold Harbor.

Lincoln recognized the great victories won by Ulysses Grant. In March, 1864, the President made Grant the general-in-chief of Union Forces, with the rank of Lieutenant General (a rank only previously held by George Washington). Grant decided on a campaign of continual pressure on all fronts, which would prevent Confederate forces from reinforcing each other.

He went east and made his headquarters with General Meade's Army of the Potomac (although Grant never took direct command of this Army). The Army of the Potomac's chief mission would be to whittle down the manpower of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee's army. In May 1864, the two sides met in Virginia near site of the previous year's Battle of Chancellorsville. The terrain was heavily wooded and movement to attack or reinforce was particularly difficult.

During the Battle of the Wilderness, the Union lost eighteen thousand soldiers, while the Confederates lost eleven thousand. Nevertheless, the Union pushed on. The two Armies fought each other again at Spotsylvania Court House and at Cold Harbor. In each case, the Union again lost large numbers of soldiers. Grant then hatched a plan to go around rather than through the Confederate Army in order to capture Richmond. At the last second, due to a hesitation by Major General "Baldy" Smith, the Army of Northern Virginia blocked the Union troops at Petersburg. Grant then decided to siege the city (and Lee's forces) and force it to surrender; if Lee could not move, he could not help other Confederate armies.

The siege took almost one year.

The Georgia Campaign and Total War

Battles for Atlanta

This victory had a significant effect on the election of 1864. Without it, there might have been more support for his Copperhead opponent General McClellan.

The March to the Sea

An engraving depicting Sherman's March to the Sea. Note the burning of buildings, destruction of roalroads, and toppling of telegraph poles. Far away from Union support, and engaging in a policy of Total War, General Sherman inflicted great damage to Confederate Logistics and Infrastructure.

The ultimate Union strategy emerged with six parts: blockade the Confederate coastlines, preventing trade; free the slaves, destroying the domestic economy; disconnect the Upper South from the Deep South by controlling the Mississippi River; further split the Confederacy by attacking the Southeast coast (Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina), denying access to foreign supply; capture the capital of Richmond, which would severely incapacitate the Confederacy; and engage the enemy everywhere, weakening the army through attrition.

If Richmond had indeed been captured quickly and the war had ended within a few months, the Plantation system and slavery would probably not have changed significantly. Because the South was fighting predominately in its own territory, primarily rural farmland, its soldiers could take or force food and support from the people around them. After the unsuccessful Union attacks in Virginia, Lincoln began to think about the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Union changed its strategy from a quick capture of Richmond to the destruction of the South through total war. In total war, an invading army destroys both military and non-combatant resources important to war. It can involve attacks on civilians or the destruction of civilian property. General William Sherman used total war in his March to the Sea in November and December in 1864.

Once Atlanta was taken, General Sherman and four army corps disconnected themselves from any railroad or telegraphic communications with the Union and headed through the state of Georgia. Their objective was Savannah, Georgia, a major seaport. Sherman's strategy was to inflict as much damage on the civilian population of Georgia as possible, short of killing people. To accomplish this, he issued orders to "forage liberally on the country." Many of his soldiers saw this as a license to loot any food or valuable property they could. Sherman officially disapproved of this.

Some of Sherman's neckties can be found in the South to this day.

Sherman's army carved a path of destruction 300 miles long and over 60 miles wide from Atlanta to the coastal city of Savannah. It destroyed public buildings and railroad tracks wherever it went. Troops heated railroad rails to white heat and twisted them around the trees, creating "Sherman's neckties." Sherman's strategy separated his forces from the main body of the Union army, yet maintained the men with food and weapons. It not only aided his regiments without supply lines -- Southern destruction of supply lines had previously halted Northern advances -- but destroyed supply caches for Confederate forces in the area as well. But this destruction combined with Southern army raids to throw non-combatants into starvation.

On his way to Savannah, Sherman did not burn down every town he passed through, choosing to spare some such as [Madison, Georgia for political reasons.[6]

The Confederate forces were unable to take on Sherman's forces, and evacuated, leaving behind large amounts of supplies in the city of Savannah.[7] Undefended, the historic city of Savannah surrendered to Sherman, and it was spared.[8] He reached the city of Savannah on December 24, 1864, and telegraphed President Lincoln "I present to you the city of Savannah as a Christmas present."

Moving through the Carolinas

Sherman's forces then moved north into South Carolina, while faking an approach on Augusta, Georgia; the general's eventual goal was to coordinate his forces with those of General Grant in Virginia and entrap and destroy Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The pattern of destruction by the Union soldiers continued, often with a more personal feeling of vengeance. A Federal soldier said to his comrades, "Here is where treason began and, by God, here is where it will end!"

On February 17, 1865, Sherman's forces reached Columbia, the capital of South Carolina. After a brief bombardment, the city surrendered. However, a large stock of whiskey was left behind as the Confederates retreated. Drunken soldiers broke discipline; convicts were let loose from the city jail, and somehow fires broke out, destroying much of the city.

Hood's Invasion of Tennessee and the Battle of Nashville

Spring Hill

The battle of Spring Hill was fought on November 29, 1864, at Spring Hill, Tennessee. The Confederates attacked the Union as it retreated from Columbia. The Confederates were not able to inflict significant damage to the retreating Union force. So the Union Army was still able to make it safely north to Franklin during the night. The following day the Confederates decided to follow the Union and attack a much more fortified group at the Battle of Franklin. This did not prove to be a wise decision, as the Confederates suffered many casualties.


The Battle of Franklin was fought on November 30, 1864 at Franklin, Tennessee. This battle was a devastating loss for the Confederate Army. It detrimentally shut down their leadership. Fourteen Confederate Generals were extinguished with 6 killed, 7 wounded and 1 captured. 55 Regimental Commanders were casualties as well. After this battle the Confederate Army in this area was effectively handicapped.


Chromolithograph of the Battle of Nashville. Note the Black soldiers advancing over the ridge.

In one of the decisive battles of the war, two brigades of black troops helped crush one of the Confederacy's finest armies at the Battle of Nashville on December 15-16, 1864. Black troops opened the battle on the first day and successfully engaged the right of the rebel line. On the second day Col. Charles R. Thompson's black brigade made a brilliant charge up Overton Hill. The 13th US Colored Troops sustained more casualties than any other regiment involved in the battle.

Fort Pillow

The Battle of Fort Pillow was fought on was fought on April 12, 1864, at Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River at Henning, Tennessee. The battle ended with a massacre of surrendered Union African-American troops under the direction of Confederate Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The End of the Confederacy

The Siege of Petersburg

Ruins of Richmond following the Siege of Petersburg.

The Siege of Petersburg, also known as The Richmond Petersburg Campaign, began on June 15, 1864 with the intent by the Union Army to take control of Petersburg which was Virginia's second largest city and the supply center for the Confederate capital at Richmond. The campaign lasted 292 days and concluded with the occupation of Union forces on April 3, 1865. Thirty-two black infantry and cavalry regiments took part in the siege.

First Battle of Deep Bottom

The First Battle of Deep Bottom is also known as Darbytown, Strawberry Plains, New Market Road, and Gravel Hill. It was part of The Siege of Petersburg, and was fought July 27-29, 1864, at Deep Bottom in Henrico County, Virginia.

The Crater

A photograph of the Crater about 47 years later in 1911.

The Battle of the Crater was part of the Siege of Petersburg and took place on July 30, 1864. The battle took place between the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of Potomac. The battle was an unusual attempt by the Union to penetrate the Confederate defenses south of Petersburg, VA. The battle showed to be a Union disaster. The Union Army went into battle with 16,500 troops, under the direct command of Ulysses S. Grant; the Confederate Army was commanded by Robert E. Lee and entered battle with 9,500 troops. Pennsylvania miners in the Union general Ambrose E. Burnside's Ninth Corps, worked for several weeks digging a long tunnel, and packing it with explosives. The explosives were then detonated at 3:15 on the morning of July 30, 1864. Burnside originally wanted to send a fresh division of black troops against the breach, but his superiors, Ulysses S. Grant, ruled against it. The job, chosen by short straw, went to James H. Ledlie. Ledlie watched from behind the lines as his white soldiers, rather than go around, pile into the deep crater, which was 170 feet long, 60 feet across, and 30 feet deep. They were not able to escape making the Union soldiers easy targets for the Confederates. The battle was marked by the cruel treatment of black soldiers who took part in the fight, most of them were captured and murdered. The battle ended with a confederate victory. The Confederacy took out 3,798 Union soldiers, while the Union were only able to defeat 1,491 Confederate soldiers. The United States Colored Troops suffered the most with their casualties being 1,327 which would include 450 men being captured.

Second Deep Bottom

The Second Battle of Deep Bottom was fought August 14-20, 1864, at Deep Bottom in Henrico County, Virginia; it was part of the Siege of Petersburg. The battle is also known as Fussell's Mill, Kingsland Creek, White's Tavern, Bailey's Creeks, and Charles City Road. General Winfield Scott Hancock came across the James River at Deep Bottom where he would threaten Richmond, Virginia. This would also cause the Confederates to leave Peterburgs, Virginia and the trenches and Shenandoah Valley.

Retreat from Richmond


A painting of General Lee surrendering at Appomattox Court House.

Sherman did not stop in Georgia. As he marched North, he burnt several towns in South Carolina, including Columbia, the capital. (Sherman's troops felt more anger towards South Carolina, the first state to secede and in their eyes responsible for the war.) In March 1865, Lincoln, Sherman, and Grant all met outside Petersburg. Lincoln called for a quick end to the Civil War. Union General Sheridan said to Lincoln, "If the thing be pressed I think Lee will surrender." Lincoln responded, "Let the thing be pressed."

On April 2, 1865, the Confederate lines of Petersburg, Richmond's defense, which had been extended steadily to the west for 9 months, broke. General Lee informed President Davis he could no longer hold the lines; the Confederate government then evacuated Richmond. Lee pulled his forces out of the lines and moved west; Federal forces chased Lee's forces, annihilated a Confederate rear guard defense, and finally trapped the Army of Northern Virginia. General Lee requested terms. The two senior Army officers met each other near Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia on April 9th,1865. The men met at the home of Wilmer McLean. The gathering lasted about two and half hours. Grant offered extremely generous terms, requiring only that Lee's troops surrender and swear not to bear arms till the end of the War. This meeting helped to nearly end the bloodiest war in American history.

General Sherman met with Confederate General Robert E. Lee to discuss the surrender of Confederate troops in the South. Sherman initially allowed even more generous terms than Grant. However, the Secretary of War refused to accept the terms because of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by the Confederate John Wilkes Booth. By killing Lincoln at Ford's Theater, Booth made things worse for the Confederacy. Sherman was forced to offer harsher terms of surrender than he originally proposed, and General Johnston surrendered on April 26 under the Appomattox terms. All Confederate armies had surrendered by the end of May, ending the Civil War.

Notable Raids

The Great Locomotive Chase resulted in the first Medal of Honor being issued.

Morgan's Raid was a Confederate raid that went deep into Union territory.

Besides the Fighting

Not all the important events of the Civil War took place on the battlefield.

Petroleum Nasby

Operating under the pseudonym "Petroleum V. Nasby", journalist David Ross Locke gained a large amount of popularity by Union residents during the war, including by President Abraham Lincoln.[9] "Petroleum V Nasby" was a mockery of Pro South Democrats, with his published letters being filled with misspellings, drunkenness, vitriol, bigotry, and a general desire to slack and grift his way to a comfy position as a postmaster.

Domestic Affairs

On April 22, 1864, the U.S. Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1864 which mandates that the inscription "In God We Trust" be placed on all coins minted as United States currency.

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler becomes the first black woman to receive a medical degree in 1864.[10]

As far back as the 1850s Whig interests had introduced three bills to Congress: a homestead act, a Pacific railroad act, and grants to establish agricultural and technical colleges.[11] These measures were seen as remedies for the depression of 1857. Southern interests had vetoed all of them. Now Republicans took advantage of a legislature free of slave interests.

On May 20, 1862, the United States Congress passed the Homestead Act. Now any adult American citizen, or a person intending to become an American citizen, who was the head of a household, could qualify for a grant of 160 acres (67 hectares) of land by paying a small fee and living on the land continuously for five years. If a person was willing to pay $1.25 an acre, the time of occupation dwindled to six months.

The Pacific Railway Acts of 1862 and 1864 enabled the United States Government to make a direct grant of land to railway companies for a transcontinental railroad, as well as a payment of $48,000 for every mile of track completed and lower-than-prime rate loans for any railway company who would build such a railway. The Central Pacific and the Union Pacific began to construct lines. The two railways finally met four years after the war, in Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869.

The third major bill of these three, which established a land-grant university, is discussed below.

The Draft

The federal government started a draft lottery in July 1863. Men could avoid the draft by paying $300, or hiring another man to take their place. This caused resentment among the lower classes as they could not afford to dodge the draft. On Monday, July 13, 1863, between 6 and 7 A.M., the Civil War Draft Riots began in New York City. Rioters attacked the draft offices, the Bull's Head Hotel on 44th Street, and more upscale residences near 5th Avenue. They lynched black men, burned down the Colored Orphan Asylum on 5th Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets, and forced hundreds of blacks out of the city. Members of the 7th New York Infantry and 71st New York Infantry subdued the riot.

Military Intelligence

A reproduction of a Confederate cipher disk based on a Vigenère cipher. As the war raged in 1863, a Prussian officer published a general method for breaking such ciphers.[12]

Both the Union and the Confederacy operated intelligence gathering efforts during the Civil War.

A number of Women conducted Espionage during the war.[13][14][15] Harriot Tubman was one such spy for the Union.[16][17]

The Confederate Secret Service and the Confederate Signal Corps both conducted espionage for the Confederacy.

The Union intercepted a number of Confederate cipher messages during the war.[18]

Indigenous People

While Lincoln proved to be instrumental in the emancipation of blacks, the Native Americans were not so lucky. Lincoln was responsible for the largest mass hanging in United States history. Thirty-eight Native Americans from the Santee Sioux tribe were hung on December 26, 1862. The US government failed to honor its treaties with the Indian Nations. They were supposed to supply the Indians with money and food for signing a treaty to turn over more than one million acres of land. Instead the agents kept the money and sold the food that was supposed to go the Indians to the white settlers. The food that was given to the Indians was spoiled and unfit for human consumption. Subsequently, the Indians went off the reservation in hunting parties to try to find suitable food. One of the Indian hunting groups took some eggs from a white settler's land and that caused this extreme government action. Authorities in Minnesota asked President Lincoln to order the execution of all 303 Indian males. However, Lincoln was afraid of how Europe would react so he tried to compromise. They would only execute those who were in the group. Lincoln also agreed to kill or remove every Indian from the state and provide Minnesota with 2 million dollars in federal funds. Ironically, he owed the Sioux only 1.4 million dollars for the land.


Land Grant Universities

An early building at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A number of notable institutions, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are Land Grant Universities[19]. These Institutions would have major impacts on American life through their scientific and technological developments.[20]

In the Morrill Act of 1862, the government granted land to Union states to sell for funding educational institutions. This excluded the states which had seceded from the Union. The schools would teach military tactics, agriculture, and engineering. This answered the Republican campaign promise of 1860. These "Land Grant Universities" were proposed to spread small farm prosperity, as opposed to the large, inherited plantations, and to increase industrial innovations across a wider area.

1860's schoolhouses

In the 1860s, most schools were small, multiple grades were taught in one classroom at one time. Paper was expensive, and the more prosperous schools had students write their problems on individual student slates. Memorization was a common means of learning, and student knowledge was measured by oral recitation. Teachers often punished "bad children" with the dunce cap, a rap on a palm with a ruler, hitting or spanking, or even striking a child with a rod or a whip. Corporal punishment was seen as simply one way of enforcing obedience. Teacher and parent both generally agreed that obedience was the trait of good children.


Farming was still a major form of employment in America. It had been so since the first semester, the time when students were allowed to be in school because the crops had been sown. Students worked in the fields during harvest time, and most left school for good to work on a farm. Abraham Lincoln himself, as a youth on the frontier, had had little schooling. Yet despite these brief periods of education, the reading levels were actually quite high. By the fifth grade students were sometimes reading books that we would consider college level, and Latin was still a part of many curricula.


Academies during this time provided education for children between the ages of thirteen and twenty. These academies offered an array of classes. Most of the academies kept the boys and girls separate. There were also seminaries, or private schools, which might cater to boys or girls. Girl's schools varied widely. Emily Dickinson's school, Amherst Academy, taught Mental Philosophy, Geology, Latin, and Botany.[21] Some schools left girls idle, with not even what we would call physical education. Others taught non-intellectual, "feminine" skills such as deportment, needle craft, and perhaps arts and crafts. The Home Economics movement, inaugurated by Catherine Beecher, advocated teaching homemaking skills in school. It also promoted female physical education. In contrast, feminists such as Susan B. Anthony and Emma Willard, and reformers such as Jane Addams and Mary McLeod Bethune, wanted to expand women's education into the plane of men. These women helped establish the higher education institutions where women were able to take classes not otherwise offered to them. The first co-educational college was Oberlin College, established in 1833. The first all-women's college was Vassar College in 1861.

Questions For Review

1. What are the four principal causes of the Civil War?

2. Why did Sherman feel compelled to adopt the total war strategy in his March to the Sea? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this strategy?

3. The Morrill Act of 1862, the Homestead Act of 1862, and the Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 and 1864: why did slave-holding Southern interests oppose their predecessors? What effect did they have?


  1. a b c d "Causes Of The Civil War History Detectives PBS". Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  2. "Overview Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877 U.S. History Primary Source Timeline Classroom Materials at the Library of Congress Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  3. "A Guide to Primary Resources for US History :". Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  4. "Avalon Project - Confederate States of America - Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union". Retrieved 20 September 2020.
  5. MacPherson, 381.
  6. Prugh, Jeff (14 October 1979). "The Town Sherman Refused to Burn". Los Angeles Times via Washington Post. 
  9. McClure, Alexander. "Abe" Lincoln's yarns and stories; a complete collection of the funny and witty anecdotes that made Lincoln famous as America's greatest story teller. Philadelphia? Henry Neil. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  10. Janee, Dominique; Hafner, Katie (November 2, 2023). "The U.S.'s First Black Female Physician Cared for Patients from Cradle to Grave" (in en). Scientific American. 
  11. McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. The Oxford History of the United States, Vol VI. C. Vann Woodward, General Editor. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. p. 193

Reconstruction (1865 - 1877)

Start of Reconstruction

A railyard in Atlanta, Georgia in 1866. Following the Civil War, the south was devastated.

Congress passed the first Reconstruction Act on 2nd March, 1867. The South was now divided into five military districts, each under a major general. New elections were to be held in each state with freed male slaves being allowed to vote. The act also included an amendment that offered readmission to the Southern states after they had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment and guaranteed adult male suffrage. President Andrew Johnson immediately vetoed the bill but Congress re-passed the bill the same day.

Andrew Johnson consulted General Ulysses S. Grant before selecting the generals to administer the military districts. Eventually he appointed John Schofield (Virginia), Daniel Sickles (the Carolinas), John Pope (Georgia, Alabama and Florida), Edward Ord (Arkansas and Mississippi) and Philip Sheridan (Louisiana and Texas).

During the American Civil War, in which the nation decided how to handle the return of the seceded states and the status of the Freedmen (the newly freed slaves).[what] Most scholars have accepted 1865-1877 as the boundaries for Reconstruction.

The era itself was controversial and pitted various segments of American society against one another. Differing conceptions on how to restore the former Confederate States into the Union collided with diverse opinions concerning the status of African-Americans.

The meaning of freedom itself was at stake in this crucial time period. The nascent Republican Party was divided between the mainstream which wanted a modicum of protection for blacks, and the Radicals, who wanted a thorough reorganization of Southern society. Conservative elements of this time period (in particular the Democrats) believed that the old order that governed relations between the states and between blacks and whites should remain intact.

The bulk of African-Americans desired equal civil and political rights, protection of their person, and in many cases a redistribution of land and the break-up of the plantation system. These diverse perspectives enabled the period from 1865 to 1877 to be, in many ways, a grand experiment in interracial democracy, but the period was also dominated by tense political relations and a preponderant violence across the South.


Reconstruction, in United States history, refers both to the period after the Civil War when the states of the breakaway Confederate States of America were reintegrated into the United States of America, and to the process by which this was accomplished.

For victory in the American Civil War to be achieved, Northern moderate Republicans and Radical Republicans concurred that the Confederacy and its system of slavery had to be destroyed, and the possibility of either being revived had to be eliminated. Controversy focused on how to achieve those goals, and who would decide when they were achieved. The Radical Republicans held that reaching those goals was essential to the destruction of the Slave Power, and necessary to guaranteeing perpetual unity of the states, as well as a solution to the many problems of Freedmen.

United States Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, a Radical Republican, held that Congress should abolish slavery along with the Confederacy, extend civil and political rights to blacks, and educate black and white students together.

The "moderates" claimed early success in achieving the goals by assurances that the former Confederates had renounced secession and abolished slavery. Most moderates, like Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, wanted suffrage for black army veterans but not other African Americans. Southern political leaders renounced secession and gave up slavery, but were angered in 1867 when their state governments were ousted by federal military forces, and replaced by Radical Republican governments made up of Freedmen, Carpetbaggers and Scalawags.

Their primary instrument was the Black Codes (1865). These restricted the rights of Blacks and limited economic and educational opportunities. For example, there was very little, if any, employment available in the south. The Yankees may have won the war to end slavery, however the reconstruction did not benefit the African Americans who searched for employment.

The Problem of Reconstruction

Wealth per capita in the United States in 1872. The South was devastated.

Reconstruction was the effort of rebuilding the South based on free labor instead of slave labor. The issue to Northern politicians was how it would be done. At the end of the Civil War, Congress proposed the Thirteenth Amendment, which sought to prohibit slavery. A state was not to gain re-admittance into the Union until it ratified the Amendment, but some states such as Mississippi were admitted despite failing to ratify. The Amendment became a part of the Constitution in December 6,1865.

During this time many Northerners moved to the South to start new lives. Sometimes carrying their belongings in briefcases made of carpet, they were known by Confederate Southerners as "carpetbaggers." Confederate Southerners also had a derogatory name for southern whites who sided with the Republicans. They called them scalawags. The period just after the war also saw the rise of black codes, which restricted the basic human rights of freed slaves. Some of the more common codes seen were: race was dependent on blood, which meant if you had any amount of black blood in your body, you were considered black, freedmen could not get together unless accompanied by a white person, public restrooms and other facilities were segregated.[1]

This time in history was really volatile. Many racially motivated riots broke out all over the country. The hostilities the south held toward the north and the African Americans grew stronger and stronger.

Ku Klux Klan

KKK in Mississippi

Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is the name of several past and present organizations in the United States that have advocated white supremacy, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, racism, homophobia, anti-Communism and nativism. These organizations have often used terrorism, violence, and acts of intimidation, such as cross burning and lynching, to oppress African Americans and other social or ethnic groups.

The first branch of the Ku Klux Klan was established in Pulaski, Tennessee, in May, 1866. A year later, a general organization of local Klans was established in Nashville in April, 1867. Most of the leaders were former members of the Confederate Army and the first Grand Wizard was Nathan Forrest, an outstanding general during the American Civil War. During the next two years Klansmen wearing masks, white cardboard hats and draped in white sheets, tortured and killed black Americans and sympathetic whites. Immigrants, who they blamed for the election of Radical Republicans, were also targets of their hatred. Between 1868 and 1870, the Ku Klux Klan played an important role in restoring white rule in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia.

The Klan's first incarnation was in 1866. Founded by veterans of the Confederate Army, its main purpose was to resist Reconstruction. It focused as much on intimidating "carpetbaggers" and "scalawags" as on putting down the freed slaves. The KKK quickly adopted violent methods. A rapid reaction set in. The Klan's leadership disowned violence as Southern elites saw the Klan as an excuse for federal troops to continue their activities in the South. The organization declined from 1868 to 1870 and was destroyed in the early 1870s by President Ulysses S. Grant's vigorous action under the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act).

At the end of the American Civil War, members of Congress attempted to destroy the white power structure of the Rebel states. The Freeman’s Bureau was established by Congress on March 3rd, 1865. The bureau was designed to protect the interests of former slaves. This included helping them to find new employment and to improve educational and health facilities. In the year that followed, the bureau spent $17,000,000 establishing 4,000 schools, 100 hospitals and providing homes and food for former slaves.

Violence against African Americans started on the first days of Reconstruction and became more organized significant after 1867. Members of The Klan looked to frustrate Reconstruction. They also, tried to keep freedom in subjection. Terrorism dominated some counties and regions so, nighttime harassment, whippings, beatings, rapes, and murders became more common. The Klan's main purpose was political, even though, they tormented blacks who stood up for their rights. Active Republicans were the target of lawless night riders. When freedmen that worked for a South Carolina scalawag started to vote, terrorists went to the plantation and, in the words of a victim, "whipped every ... [black] man they could lay their hands on."

Lincoln and Reconstruction

A drawing of African Americans voting for the first time. Jim Crow laws would later be developed to deprive African Americans of their civil liberties once again.

Lincoln firmly believed that the southern states had never actually seceded, because, constitutionally, they cannot. He hoped that the 11 states that seceded could be "readmitted" by meeting some tests of political loyalty. Lincoln began thinking about re-admittance early on. In his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which was issued in 1863, Lincoln established a simple process, hoping that Unionists would rise to political power rather than secessionalists. This plan would have granted presidential pardons to all southerners (save the political leaders at the time) who took an oath of future allegiance to the Union. Under Lincoln's plan, a state could be established as legitimate as soon as 10 percent of the voting population in the 1860 general election took this oath and a government was set up accepting the emancipation of the slaves.

Rejecting Lincoln's Presidential reconstruction plan, radical Republicans in congress arguing that it was too lenient, passed the Wade-Davis bill in 1864, which proposed far more demanding terms. It required 50 percent of the voters to take the loyalty oath and allowed only those who could swear that they had never supported the confederacy to run for office or hold federal employment. Lincoln rejected this plan and pocket-vetoed the bill. In March 1865, Congress created a new agency, the Freedman's Bureau. This agency provided food, shelter, medical aid, help to find employment, education, and other needs for blacks and poor whites. The Freedman's Bureau was the largest scale federal aid relief plan at this time. It was the first large scale governmental welfare program.

Artwork depicting the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. This horrific event led to Andrew Johnson assuming the Presidency, which would radically change the course of southern reconstruction.

In 1864, his Vice Presidential running mate was the only Southern Senator to remain loyal to the Union - Andrew Johnson from Tennessee. After Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, and Johnson became President, the latter proved to be an obstacle to the Radical Republicans in Congress, who attempted to completely overhaul the Southern government and economy, which would have caused further tensions.

In May, 1865, Johnson made his own proclamation, one that was very similar to Lincoln's. Offering amnesty to almost all Confederates who took an oath of allegiance to the Union, Johnson also reversed General Sherman's decision to set aside land for the express use of freed slaves. Not long after Johnson took office, all of the ex-Confederate states were able to be readmitted under President Johnson's plan. In 1866, Johnson vetoed two important bills, one that bolstered the protection that the Freedmen's Bureau gave to blacks and a civil rights bill that gave full citizenship to blacks.

After realizing that if all of the Republicans, moderate and radical alike, united, they could overcome Johnson's vetoes, they soon passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Fourteenth Amendment. This amendment declared citizenship for all persons born in the United States and required the states to respect the rights of all US citizens. The Civil Rights Act outlawed the black codes that had been prevalent throughout the South.

Over Johnson's vetoes, Congress passed three Reconstruction acts in 1867. They divided the southern states into five military districts under the control of the Union army. The military commander in charge of each district was to ensure that the state fulfilled the requirements of Reconstruction by ratifying the Fourteenth Amendment and by providing voting rights without a race qualification. Tennessee was not included in the districts because it had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment in 1866 and was quickly readmitted to the Union.

In 1868, the House of Representatives impeached Andrew Johnson. Earlier, Congress had passed the Tenure of Office Act (over Johnson's veto), which required the President to dismiss officers only with the advice and consent of the Senate if he appointed them with the same advice and consent. Johnson believed that the Act was unconstitutional (and the Supreme Court, years after his Presidency, agreed in 1926), and intentionally violated it, to "test the waters." Radical Republicans used this violation as an excuse to impeach Johnson, who was acquitted by one vote in the Senate.

In the election of 1868, Ulysses Grant was nominated for the Republican ticket and won on an incredibly small margin. Republicans noticed that if they did not act swiftly to protect the voting rights of blacks, they might soon lose a majority. Thus, Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment in 1869, which enforced that the suffrage of male citizens shall not be denied on account of race. This was a major blow to the women's movement, as it was the first time gender was deliberately placed into the Constitution. Republicans claimed that if the amendment had included both race and gender discrimination clauses, it would have never had a chance to pass in Congress.

African-Americans in Congress

Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African American to serve in Congress

A number of African-Americans were elected for the first time in American history during this period. With the Reconstruction Acts sending federal troops in the southern states where African-Americans held majorities in South Carolina and Mississippi, and nearly equal numbers with whites in Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, Blacks were elected to Congress from these states.

John Willis Menard was elected in the 2nd District of Louisiana in 1868. His challenger, Caleb Hunt, filed an objection with the election result and the House of Representatives, upon hearing arguments from both candidates, decided to seat neither of them.

Hiram Revels was elected by the Mississippi Senate by an 81-15 margin to finish the term of Mississippi Senator Albert G. Brown, who vacated the seat during the Civil War. Revels served from February 23, 1870 to March 3, 1871.

Joseph Rainey was elected to the US House of Representatives from South Carolina's 1st District in the elections of 1870. He was the longest serving African-American member of congress prior to William L. Dawson in the 1950's.

Blanche Bruce was elected to serve a full term in the US Senate by the Mississippi state senate in 1871. Bruce was the only former slave to ever serve in the US Senate.

Alaskan Purchase

A painting depicting the signing of the Alaska Treaty of Cessation on March 30, 1867.

Beginning in the 1770's the Russian Empire began colonizing Alaska.[2] On March 30, 1867 the American Government purchased Alaska from the Russian empire for 7.2 million dollars.[3] The decision was widely ridiculed at the time, but the purchase was later proven to be a bargain when gold and oil were discovered there.[3] The few Russian settlers in the territory were given three years to return to Russia, with the option of staying and becoming American citizens.[3]

The Panic of 1873

A bank run in New York City during the Panic of 1873.

The Panic of 1873 was the first depression experienced by America and Europe following the Civil War. The depression was a result of the fall for an international demand for silver. Germany stopped using the silver standard after the Franco-Prussia war. The United States enacted the Coinage Act of 1873 which shifted the backing of our monetary system with gold and silver to just gold. The act immediately depreciated the value of silver and hurt western mining operations. Another factor that influenced the Panic of 1873 was the risky over investment into railroad companies that would not bring quick returns. The Jay Cook and Company was a United States bank that declared bankruptcy on September 18, 1873. The bank went under as a result of over investment in the railroad business. As a result, the New York Stock Exchange closed for ten days starting September 20, 1873. 89 of 364 railroad companies failed during the depression. Real estate values, wages, and profits by corporations decreased over the course of the panic. Thousands of businesses fell during the depression as well. The depression was a major highlight in President Grant's second term.

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877

Blockade of engines during the strike.

The strike started on July 14, 1877 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. The strike was caused by wage cuts from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company. The workers refused to let the railroad operate. State militia was sent in to quell the strike but would not fire upon the strikers. Governor Henry Mathews called upon federal troops to put down the strike and resume operations of the railroad. The strike spread to Cumberland, Maryland. Troops in Maryland fired upon the mob of strikers and killed ten rioters. The strike occurred in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and even spread to St. Louis. The strikes resulted in millions of dollars of property damage the casualties of many. The great strike lasted 45 days, after finally being put down by federal troops from city to city.

Republicans fall from power

Grant's presidency would bring about the decline of the Republican Party. He appointed a great number of corrupt officials to federal positions and to his cabinet. Many split with the party over that issue. Others grew tired of Reconstruction and proposed reconciliation with the South in a peaceful manner. These people called themselves Liberal Republicans, and nominated Horace Greeley to run against Grant in 1872. The Democrats also endorsed Greeley. Despite wide support, Grant won the election of 1872 decisively.

During the election season, Liberal Republicans were busy pushing the Amnesty Act through Congress, and in May 1872, it passed. The Amnesty Act pardoned most former Confederate citizens, and allowed them to run for office. The act restored the rights to the Democratic majorities in the South. Soon, Democrats had control of the Virginia and North Carolina governments. In states with black Republican majorities, the Ku Klux Klan (formed after the civil war as a white supremacist group) terrorized Republicans and forced them to vote Democratic or not at all. By 1876, Republicans controlled only three states in the South: Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina-- all of which were still occupied by Union troops.

Republicans continued to decline during Grant's second term, after many high level political scandals came to light. Most shocking to the public was that a scandal involved the Vice President, and another involved the Secretary of War. The Northern population's confidence in the party was shaken even more when the nation slipped into a Depression that same year.

In the congressional elections of 1874, Republicans would suffer huge losses in both houses, and for the first time since before the start of the Civil War, Democrats were able to gain control of a part of Congress (the House). Congress no longer was able to be committed strongly to Reconstruction.

The certificate for the electoral vote for Rutherford B. Hayes and William A. Wheeler for the State of Louisiana

In the election of 1876, Democrats nominated New York governor S.J. Tilden to run, and the Republicans nominated Ohio governor Rutherford B. Hayes. On election day, it seemed that Tilden would win by more than 250,000 votes. But the seven, four, and eight electoral votes from South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana, respectively, were disputed (Northern troops still occupied these states). Also, one of Oregon's three electoral votes was disputed. If Hayes won all 20 votes, he would win the election. Congress created a special commission of seven Democrats, seven Republicans, and one independent to review the election and decide a winner. But the independent resigned, and a Republican was appointed to take his place. The commission voted along party lines to award Hayes the election, but Democrats warned that they would fight the decision.

Republican and Democratic leaders secretly met up to draw up a compromise, and the result of the meeting was the Compromise of 1877. Proclaiming that Hayes would win the election, troops left the South and more aid was given to the South; it marked the end of Reconstruction. Ultimately, Reconstruction and the Compromise itself would be failures, as Democrats refused to hold up their end of the compromise, which was to protect the rights of African Americans in the South.

The period after Reconstruction saw the rise of the Democratic "Redeemers" in the South. The Redeemers vowed to take back the South from Republican rule, which had been ousted after the 1876 election. They passed Jim Crow laws, which segregated blacks and whites, and put voting restrictions on blacks that wouldn't be outlawed until the next century. Jim Crow laws were challenged in Plessy v. Ferguson, when the Supreme Court voted to uphold the laws if and only if segregated facilities remained "separate but equal."


A captured Sujagi, flag of a commanding general, on the USS Colorado in 1871.

The United States expedition to Korea in 1871, also known as Sinmiyangyo (Western Disturbance of the Year Sinmi year) was the first American military action in Korea. It took place predominantly on and around the Korean island of Ganghwa. America sent a military expeditionary force to Korea to support an American diplomatic delegation sent to establish trade and diplomatic relations with Korea, to ascertain the fate of the General Sherman merchant ship, and to establish a treaty assuring aid for shipwrecked sailors. The isolationist Joseon Dynasty government and the assertive Americans led to a misunderstanding between the two parties that changed a diplomatic expedition into an armed conflict. The United States won a minor military victory, but the Koreans refused to open up the country to them. As the U.S. forces in Korea did not have the authority or strength to press the issue, the United States failed to secure their diplomatic objectives.

Religion During the 19th Century

The New Wave of Jewish Immigration

1887 picture depicting European immigrants arriving in New York City.

Between the years of 1820 and 1880, about 250,000 Jews came to the U.S. The immigration was not only based in a troubled European economy but also in the 1848 failure of liberal revolutions in the German states.[4]

Railways and the great steamer ships opened up immigration to America in the later 1800s and early 1900s. Yet the trip was dirty, uncomfortable, and dangerous. While prosperous families in upper-class compartments had private cabins, most of the immigrants went across in steerage class: three hundred tightly-packed men, women and children, sleeping on double- or even triple-bunk beds. The beds were about six feet long and two feet wide, with only two-and-a-half feet separating each bunk. Their goods, such as they were, rested on the bunk. The people had little or no running water, the stench was incredible, and there was little recourse against vermin. One witness, a Sophia Kreitzberg, said, "When you scratched your head [. . .] you got lice on your hands."[5] This close environment joined with the background of privation and the strain of long travel to cause break-outs of diseases. The Jews were served unkosher meat and soup, which many refused to eat. Instead they nibbled on what they had brought with them, mostly dried fruit, hard bread, or stale cheese.[6]

At the other end of the passage was often a few ports of entry to the United States. From 1855 to 1890 this was predominantly Castle Garden (also called Castle Clinton), a point at the tip of Manhattan Island in what would later be called New York City. From 1890 onward a vast number of immigrants came through the new reception area at Ellis Island.[7] In these places human beings were duly categorized by ship, country of origin, past employment, and other relevant information. (This next footnote shows one such document from Castle Garden.)[8]

Catholic America

James Gibbons, a prominent Catholic leader in the United States from the 1860's to the early 1900's.
A political cartoon from 1875, protraying the Catholic church as an enemy of American public education. Thomas Nast feared that public money would be shifted from public education to support Catholic education.

Catholic Immigration

A massive influx of immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Russian Empire (most notably Poland) caused a dramatic increase in the U.S. Catholic population during the latter half of the 19th century. From 1840 to 1851 Ireland suffered famine and oppression. The other immigration was caused by nationalization and national upheavals. By 1850 Catholicism had become the United States' largest religious denomination: between 1860 and 1890 the Catholic population tripled, mostly because of immigration. This massive influx of Catholics to the United States eventually led to a significant increase of power for the Catholic church.


American Protestants often feared the increasing power and prominence of American Catholics. In pre-Civil War America anti-Catholic prejudice was shown through the "Know Nothings" and the American branch of the Orange Institution. After the war the American Protective Association, and the Ku Klux Klan regularly persecuted and discriminated against Catholics with such acts as The Philadelphia Nativist Riot, "Bloody Monday", and the Orange Riots of New York City in 1871 and 1872[9].


The severe anti-Catholic activities revealed the sentiments of Nativism, which encouraged all "native-born American men" to rise up against foreigners. (This appeal went out to European-descended Protestants, of course, rather than the actual Native Americans who lived there before the had settled here.)

The first Nativist publication was called The Protestant; its first edition sold on January 2nd, 1830. Its editor was George Bourne, and as he wrote, "the goal of the paper is centered around the denunciation of the Catholic faith" [10] Anti-Catholic rhetoric was occasionally met with violence; yet the Nativists produced one of the greatest violent acts of the 1830's. On August 10, 1834, forty to fifty people gathered outside the Ursuline Convent school and burned it to the ground. [11] In 1834 F. B. Morse, a nativist leader who was a professor of sculpture and painting at New York University, wrote "The Foreign Conspiracies Against the Liberties of the United States", in which his basic message is centered around protecting the American birth right of liberty.

The concern, and fear of the foreign and Catholic communities grew out of the Protestant fear of the monarchial tendencies of Catholicism, during this time urban areas were also starting to grow rapidly with the massive influx of immigrants who all congregated and lived in the same areas. Nativists saw this as an act of "clannishness", and an attempt to avoid or resist "Americanization." With the success of Morse, and his contemporary Lyman Beecher, the nativist movement reached a point where the public did not care whether the stories they heard were true or false, but began to accept works of fiction as truth as well.

In 1836 Maria Monk authored a worked called "Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery of Montreal." In her book she tells of her experiences with Catholicism, which involved forced sexual intercourse with priests and the murdering of nuns and children, the book concludes with her [Maria] escaping to save her unborn child. Monk's mother denies her work, and said that Maria was never in a nunnery, and that a brain injury Maria received as a child may have been the cause of her stories. In the Midwest and northern sections of the country Catholics were seen as incapable of free thought and were said to be "anti-American Papists" because it was thought that they took every direction from the Pope in Rome.

During the Mexican-American war Mexican Catholics were displayed in the media as silly or stupid due to their "Papist superstition". It was because of the general attitude in America about Catholics that about 100 American Catholics, mostly recently immigrated Irish, fought against the United States in the Mexican-American war. These men fought for the Mexicans and were known as "Saint Patrick's Battalion ([12]). In 1850, Franklin Pierce presented several resolutions that would remove the restrictions on Catholics from holding public office in New Hampshire, these resolutions that were, at the time, considered "pro-Catholic' were defeated (Battle of Religious Tolerance," The World Almanac, 1950, 53). However as the 19th century passed, hostilities between Catholics and Protestants eased due to the fact that many Irish Catholics fought alongside Protestants during the Civil War, for both the North and the South.[13]


The General Oliver Otis Howard House, built in 1867 and the oldest building at Howard University still standing.

Ex-slaves everywhere across the nation reached out for education. Blacks of all ages really wanted to know what was in the books that had been only permitted to whites. With freedom they started their own schools and the classes were packed days and nights. They sat on log seats or the dirt floors. They would study their letters in old almanacs and in discarded dictionaries. Because the desire to escape slavery's ignorance was so great, ignoring their poverty, many blacks would pay tuition, sometimes $1 or $1.50 a month.[14] Blacks and their white allies also saw a need for colleges and universities, in this case to train teachers, ministers, and professionals for leadership. There were seven colleges founded by the American Missionary Association, Fisk and Atlanta Universities, between 1866 and 1869. The Freedoms Bureau helped to establish Howard University in Washington D.C. As well as Northern religious groups, such as the Methodists, Baptists, and Congregationalists, supported dozens of seminaries and teachers’ colleges.[15] The earliest forms of education that blacks received was from the missionaries to convert them to Christianity. The education of blacks was very low during the civil war, until Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The Department of Education was developed in 1867 to help start more effective schools systems. Howard University was developed in Washington D.C. for black youth “in the liberal arts and sciences.” The first public school day was in Boston in 1869.


An oil field in Pennsylvania.

Just before the Civil War a vast source of petroleum was discovered in and around Titusville, Pennsylvania, and after the War this began to be exploited. At first oil was used for medicinal purposes alone. However, as the supply increased, it also began to be used for industrial purposes, and instead of whale oil. The dangerous and expensive whaling industry collapsed. While some cities used coal gas for night illumination, others began to use oil lamps, and major cities were lit at night. Petroleum, lamp oil (for the great engine lamp), and machine oil increased the usefulness of railways.

First Transcontinental Railroad, Utah, 1869

Information could be transmitted across great distances via the telegraph. In the 1870s and 1880s inventors vied to transmit a human voice. The two major competitors were the Scots-born Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray. In the year 1875, Alexander Graham Bell used an electromagnetic machine to transmit the sound of a steel reed. On February 14, 1876, a partner of Bell presented his patent to the patent office in Washington, D.C., on the same day as his rival Elisha Gray. Three weeks later, on March Seventh, Bell’s patent won out and was granted.

Native Americans After The War

The injustices that Native Americans dealt with during the Civil War did not go away at War's end. The U. S. National government made it clear that though these people were indigenous to the continent, they were not going to be citizens of the country. The Native Americans were forced to live out in the west on reservations. Their travel was restricted and scrutinized by government agents who monitored them. Traveling off the reservations to hunt, fish or even visit the neighboring reservations was frowned upon by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Subsequently, the Bureau instituted a pass system in order keep them under control. This system required the Natives to get a pass from the agents before they were allowed off the reservation.

White settlers also took issue with Indians traveling on trains. However, the Central Pacific Railroad in Nevada granted the Native Americans permission to ride on top of the trains in exchange for their railroads being allowed to cross through the reservations. Many Indian agents were unhappy with this free travel arrangement. They began writing letters to the Bureau to stop it. One of the agents commented that "The injurious effects of this freedom from restraint, and continual change of place, on the Indian, can not be overestimated."

With the 14th amendment the civil rights acts were contrived. For the Indians however, their positioning was made clear. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 states “That all persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States."

Battle at Little Bighorn

A depiction of the battle by a Cheyenne artist.

In 1876, after a few uneventful confrontations, Col. George A. Custer and his small cavalry came across the Sioux and some of their allies at the Little Bighorn River. To force the large Indian army back to the reservations, the Army dispatched three columns to attack. One of these groups contained Lt. Custer and the Seventh Cavalry. They spotted the Sioux village about fifteen miles away just along the Rosebud River, Custer also found a nearby group of about forty men. He ignored orders to wait, and decided to attack before they could alert the main party. He was unaware of how much he was outnumbered. The Sioux and their allies had three times as much force. Custer divided his forces in three, He sent troops under control of Captain Frederick Benteen to try to stop them from escaping through the upper valley of the Little Bighorn River. Major Marcus Reno job was to pursue the group, then cross the river, and attack the Indian village in a conjunction with the remaining troops under his command. He Intended to strike the Indian camp from the north and south, but he had no idea that he would have to cross a rough terrain in order to achieve this. As the Indians descended Custer ordered his men to shoot their horses and stack the carcasses in front of them in order to form a wall. But this did not protect them against bullets. In less than an hour, Custer and all his men were killed in one of the worst American military disasters of all time. After one more day of fighting, Reno and Benteen's now unified forces fled when the Indians stopped fighting. They [who?] knew two more columns of soldiers were coming towards them, so they escaped toward them.

The massacre of Custer's final battle eclipsed any success he had had in the Civil War. Custer was defeated and killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, while fighting Native American tribes in a battle that has come to be known as "Custer's Last Stand".

Women's History of the Period

Victoria Woodhull

Presidential Candidate Victoria Woodhull

In 1872 Victoria Woodhull became the first woman to run for President of the United States. She was nominated by the Equal Rights Party on May 10. Though it is undisputed that she was the first female to run for president, the legality of her petition is questioned; her name didn't actually appear on the ballot and she was under the age of 35 which is the required age for a presidential candidate according to the constitution. Woodhull did not receive any electoral votes, but evidence supports that she received popular votes that were never counted.

Woman's Christian Temperance Union

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union was formed on December 22, 1873. Fredonia, New York is credited as being the birthplace of the group. The temperance movement was a social movement that pushed for the reduction of alcohol consumption. The movement spread all over the country, and women would go to bars and drug stores to sing and pray. The National Woman's Christian Temperance Union was established in 1874 in Cleveland, Ohio. The women demonstrated use of non violent protestation of the consumption of alcohol by praying in saloons. Often, they were denied entrance and yelled at by patrons. The movement ultimately contributed to prohibition in America's future.


  2. "Russians in Alaska and U.S. Purchase Federal Indian Law for Alaska Tribes". Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  3. a b c "The myth—and memorabilia—of Seward's Folly". NewsCenter. 29 March 2018. Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  4. Stone, Amy. Jewish Americans. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: World Almanac Library, 2007. Pp. 6-9.
  5. Stone, p.15
  6. Stone.
  7. Retrieved on March 15, 2015.
  8. Retrieved on March 15, 2015.
  9. Michael Gordon, The Orange riots: Irish political violence in New York City, 1870 and 1871 (1993
  10. Baker, Sean. The American Religious Experience, American Nativism, 1830-1845.
  11. Baker, Sean
  12. Amy S. Greenberg: Manifest Manhood and the Antebellum American Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993
  13. Baker, Sean.
  14. A People and A Nation, Eighth Edition
  15. A People and A Nation, Eighth Edition

The Republic 1877 to 2000

The Age of Invention and the Gilded Age (1877 - 1900)

President Grover Cleveland

President Grover Cleveland

In 1884, as the presidential campaign season approached, the Republican party chose former Speaker of the House James G. Blane as its candidate, with John Logan as the vice presidential candidate. Against them the Democrats ran New York governor Stephen Grover Cleveland for a presidential candidate and vice presidential candidate Thomas A. Hendricks. Cleveland and Hendricks won[1] with the combined support of Democrats and reform Republicans, the "Mugwumps."[2]

Grover Cleveland was the only Democrat elected to the presidency during the era of Republican political domination that lasted from 1860 to 1912. In fact, he won the popular vote for president three times, in 1884, 1888, and 1892. His last election in 1892 defeated Republican president Benjamin Harrison. He was thus the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms, and is the only individual to be counted twice in the numbering of the presidents. (In that last election, Cleveland's vice president was Adlai E. Stevenson; Harrison's Vice President was Whitelaw Reid.) Cleveland's conservative economic stand in favor of the gold standard brought him the support of various business interests. The democrats then won control of both houses of Congress.[3]


Public Lynchings were rampant during this time, such as this 1893 lynching of Henry Smith in Texas.

Racism was a major blight of the 1890s', largely unacknowledged by the government in Washington. The freedoms which had been given to the former slaves by Emancipation were taken away in Southern states. Every one of them passed laws which disenfranchised African Americans, including poll taxes and literacy tests. The notorious Jim Crow laws, named for an old minstrel show song, started to take effect even in some states which had not seceded. Blacks were barred from public drinking fountains, bathrooms, and train cars, and directed by sign to "Negro only" facilities which were often dirty and defective. A new set of photographic post cards started going through the mail. These showed the results of public lynchings, largely of African American men. Many of these postcards show large crowds, some including White children, and the hung, mutilated, or burnt body of the victim. These proud shows seldom resulted in any prosecution of the attackers, who sometimes included local public officials.

In 1898 white citizens of Wilmington, North Carolina, resenting African Americans’ involvement in local government and incensed by an editorial in an African American newspaper accusing white women of loose sexual behavior, rioted and killed dozens of blacks. In the fury’s wake, white supremacists overthrew the city government, expelling black and white office holders, and instituted restrictions to prevent blacks from voting.


Rise of Industrial Power

The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. With the railroad finished by a golden spike, the east and west coast were connected by rail.

In the 1870's, as the Civil War receded into memory, the United States became a leading Industrial power. Advances in technology and new access to the immense resources of the North American continent drove American Industrialization. This industrialization brought the growth of new American cities such as Chicago, and the arrival of a flood of immigrants from all over Europe to man the factories. During the Gilded Age, businessmen reaped enormous profits from this new economy. Powerful tycoons formed giant trusts to monopolize the production of goods that were in high demand. Andrew Carnegie built a giant steel empire using vertical integration, a business tactic that increased profits by eliminating middlemen from the production line. Jay Gould grabbed the railroads, and then the resources brought by those railroads. Though industrialization caused many long-term positives, it did cause problems in the short-term.[4] Rich farmers who could afford new machinery grew even richer, while poorer farmers were forced to move to urban areas, unable to compete in the agricultural sector.

In 1878 the U.S. had entered an era of success after a long downfall of the mid 1870's. The number of manufacturing plants and number of people doubled. By the 1900s the South had more than 400 mills. Women and children worked in bad conditions for up to 12 to 16 hours per day. They only made about a half a dollar per day, equivalent to fifteen 2015 dollars.

The War of the Currents

During the 1880's and 1890's the War of the currents was fought between American Thomas Alva Edison and George Westinghouse, then Titans in the American electrical industry.

Type Revolution

An 1876 Sholes Typewriter

In 1868 the typewriter was perfected by an editor named Christopher Sholes. This invention brought about a wave of new employment opportunities for women. The machine was made popular by several authors, most notably Mark Twain: the first to make a typewritten manuscript, and the first to send it to a printer. Not even the best and most accurate copperplate printer could fit as many words on a page as the standard typewriter. (For many years, a "typewriter" was the name for the person operating the machine.) It was cheaper to employ women than men as typists and telephone and telegraph operators. Along with this new machine also came other inventions such as the telephone and the telegraph. In the 1890s the number of telephone and telegraph operators went up 167 percent, and the number of women stenographers and typists went up 305 percent.

Internal Combustion Engine

Among the early innovations in technology was development of the internal-combustion engine. In 1885 a German engineer, Gottlieb Daimler, built a lightweight engine driven by vaporized gasoline. This development inspired American Henry Ford. In the 1880's, while he was still an electrical engineer in Detroit's Edison Company, Ford experimented in his spare time using Daimler's engine to power a vehicle. George Selden, a Rochester, New York, lawyer, had already been tinkering with such technology, but it was Ford who created a massive industry.[5]

Factory Jobs

An 1888 engraving, depicting a seat shop boss threatening an employee.

As industrialization increased, more job opportunities opened. Factory jobs were perfect for women and children, with their smaller hands and their lower pay rates. Despite terrible work conditions, increasing numbers of women moved from the home to factories. But while women became part of the factory floor, virtually none were trusted with management, or even with handling money. The factories also took in immigrants and used them as cheap labor. Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Germany and Jews from Eastern Europe were second-class citizens in the workplace, with very low wages and no benefits. Without safety precautions, workers often suffered serious injury and lost their jobs.

Workers adjusted to mechanization as best they could. Some people submitted to the demands of the factory, machine, and time clock. Some tried to blend old ways of working into the new system. Others turned to resistance. Individuals challenged the system by ignoring management's orders, skipping work, or quitting. But also, anxiety over the loss of independence and a desire for better wages, hours, and working conditions drew disgruntled workers into unions. [6]

In the cities, laborers and employers often clashed over wages, sanitary conditions, working hours, benefits, and several other issues. Laborers organized themselves into unions to negotiate with companies. The companies, however, attempted to shut down labor unions. Some imposed yellow dog contracts, under which an employer could dismiss a worker who participated in union activity.

In 1886, the American Federation of Labor was formed to fight for laborers in general. The AFL and other union groups employed as many tactics as possible to force employers to accede to their demands. One tactic was the strike. Some strikes escalated into riots, as with the Knights of Labor's strike in 1886 becoming the Haymarket Riots. The Haymarket Riots of 1886 occurred when an unknown person threw a dynamite bomb into a group of police officers. Eight officers were killed in the explosion and gunfight that ensued. As a result, eight anarchists were tried for murder -- four were sentenced to death and one committed suicide.

Significant Strikes

The Pullman Strike.

The Pullman Strike occurred in 1894, in response to Pullman Company workers' wages being cut following the Panic of 1893, an economic depression which was caused in part by excessive railroad speculation. Approximately 3,000 workers began the strike on May 11. Many of the workers were members of the American Railway Union, and although the strike began without authorization from union officials (known as a "wildcat strike"), the ARU eventually supported the strike by launching a nationwide boycott of Pullman cars on June 26. Within four days, approximately 125,000 ARU members had quit their jobs rather than switch Pullman cars. On July 6, President Cleveland sent Army troops to break up the strike, ostensibly because it prevented delivery of mail and was considered a threat to public safety.

The companies sometimes retaliated against strikes by suing the unions. Congress had passed the Sherman Antitrust Act to prevent trusts, or corporations that held stock in several different companies, from obstructing the activities of competitors. Though the Sherman Act was intended to target trusts, the companies sued the union under it, claiming that unions obstructed interstate commerce.

During the machine age, there were a number of strikes that took place due to the demands from factories and time clocks. It was hard for individuals to adjust to that system, and as a result, they challenged the system by ignoring management's orders, skipping work, or quitting. The desire and longing for better wages let to anxiety and frustration. Like farming and mining, industry was massive in size and changed not only the nature of the work but the person doing it. Soon, all of these disgruntled individuals formed specialized groups into unions. The different jobs varied in not only skill, but other things as well that were non-related to worker conflict; race, sex, etc. These jobs were such as working on/in railroads, steel factories, and automobiles. The outcome for many working in labor during the Gilded Age led to horrific labor violence. Industrialists and workers literally fought over control of the workplace. Many suffered due to the strikes and riots and it inevitably led to deaths, loss of jobs, and often continuous violence. For most American workers, the Machine age had varying results. At times there was no job stability and when costs of living would increase drastically there were even more problems. [7]

Prices and Wages Fall

Prices, and consequently wages, fell sharply in about the 1870s and stayed that way all the way through the 1970s. The prices of necessities in the late 1800s were: 4 pounds butter for $1.60, 1 bag of flour $1.80, a quart of milk for $0.56, vegetables $0.50, 2 bushels of coal $1.36, soap, starch, pepper, salt, vinegar, etc. $1.00, rent for $4.00 a week, and more. The average total of a person's wages was $16.00. By the time that person bought the necessities such as food and soap and rent, most, if not all, of the money would be gone.

Woman's Movement

The Woman's Movement, the group of women advocating women's suffrage and equality, continued after the Civil War. Even many women who were not interested in the Vote were creating clubs and crusades, advocating for public issues both before and after marriage. The argument of "separate spheres" for men and women, the rough public world for the former and the gentle domestic world for the latter, was being contested. Jane Addams argued that “If women have in any sense been responsible for the gentler side of life which softens and blurs some of its harsher conditions, may not they have a duty to perform in our American cities?”


This era saw the construction of some of the first skyscrapers

With industrialization came urbanization. The increasing factory businesses created many more job opportunities in the cities. Soon people began to flock from rural, farm areas, to large cities. Minorities and immigrants added to these numbers. Factory jobs were the only jobs some immigrants could get, and as more came to the cities to work, the larger the urbanization process became. In 1870 there were only two American cities with a population of more than 500,000, but by 1900 there were six, and three of these, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia had over one million inhabitants. Roughly 40 percent of Americans lived in cities and the number was climbing. These large populations in the cities caused the crime rates to go up, and disease was rapidly spreading. Not only did urbanization cause cities to grow in population, it also caused cities to grow in building size. Skyscrapers were being built in the cities and the idea of mass transit had started. With these mass transits being built it allowed people to commute to work from further distances. Suburbs were beginning to form and higher class families began to move to them to get out of the over crowded city but still gave them the ability to go into the city to work each day. City living was for the lower class the upper class had enough money to get away from all of the pollution and the city stench. This still holds true today in larger cities a lot of the nicer homes are located further out from the center of the city. For example, in the city of Chicago, you will find a lot of the nicer homes away from the city, and more towards the suburbs. In this case, this is because there are a lot of violence in the inner city. Therefore, people try to live more further out from the city in order to stay away from the violence.


A tractor from around the turn of the century. Mechanization of agriculture allowed less people to farm more land.

In the late 1880s and early 1900s, a typical farm would be about 100 acres. Farmers could only plow with the aid of a horse or a mule. Later on the internal combustion engine was used to create tractors. Unlike Southern cotton plantations, most farms raised a variety of foodstuffs, breeding cows, pigs and chickens, and growing turnips, potatoes, carrots, wheat, and corn. They were often self-sufficient. Farmers made their bread from their own wheat, and killed the runt pig for their own table.

While industry generally increased in importance, farmers struggled due to debt and falling prices. In the 1880s there were crop failures. Steamships and railways brought in wheat from abroad, lowering American farm prices still more. Economic transformation created industrial prosperity and new lifestyles, but in states still dominated by farming these changes also had a widespread negative effect. Crop diversification and a greater focus on cotton as a cash crop did not give many farmers any potential to get ahead.[8]

American farmers helped to create regulation of the railroads. When domestic farmers needed to transport their crops, they also had to rely on the railroad system. But railroads often charged outrageous prices. Farmers, small merchants, and reform politicians started to demand rate regulation. In 1877, in Munn v. Illinois, the Supreme Court upheld the principle of state regulation, declaring that grain warehouses owned by railroads acted in the public interest and therefore must submit to regulation for the common good. By 1880 fourteen states had established commissions to limit freight and storage charges of state-chartered lines.

Between 1860 and 1905 the number of farms tripled from two million to six million. In 1905 the number of people living on farms grew to thirty-one million. The value of farms went from eight billion in 1860 to thirty billion in 1906. Then as now, wheat was a major crop, creating such common food as bread, a major source of both starch and protein for poorer people.

Farmers had to rise early, often at four or five in the morning. Cows and goats had to be milked twice a day, at morning and at evening. Chickens' eggs were gathered every morning, cleaned, and packed in cases. Because they laid eggs, female chickens or pullets were more important than the male chickens or roosters. Because of this, and to keep roosters from attacking each other, poultry farmers would have only one rooster with several hens.

After the Civil War, more prosperous farmers gained more machinery to plant and harvest their crops. In 1879 the centrifugal cream separator was patented. In 1885, chicken raising became a lot more profitable due to the invention of the mechanized incubator. Complicated horse-drawn mechanical combines and threshers were used about this time. With the aid of machines a farmer could harvest about 135 acres of wheat; without them, he or she could only harvest about 7.5 acres of wheat in the same amount of time. The Montgomery Ward & Company mail order catalogue of 1895 listed various grist mills, seeders and planters, a hay pitcher, a hay tedder, and nearly a full page of mechanical churns.[9]


A 1899 map showing land claimed by the United States.

As time progressed, Industrialization caused American businessmen to seek new international markets in which to sell their goods. In addition, the increasing influence of Social Darwinism led to the belief that the United States had the inherent responsibility to bring concepts like industry, democracy and Christianity to less scientifically developed, "savage" societies. The combination of these attitudes, along with other factors, led the United States toward Imperialism, the practice of a nation increasing its sphere of influence.

The Orient

American troops scaling the walls of Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion.

In the Orient, Russia, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany all exercised influence.[citation needed] US Secretary of State John Hay endorsed the Open Door Policy, under which all foreign powers would exercise equal economic power in the Orient. The US thus protected its interests in China and maintained a balance of power there.

Chinese nationalists known as the "Righteous Fists of Harmony", or "Boxers" in English, who resented foreign influence, promoted hatred of non-Chinese as well as Chinese Christians. In June 1900 in Beijing, Boxer fighters threatened foreigners and forced them to seek refuge in the Legation Quarter. In response, the initially hesitant Empress Dowager Cixi, urged by the conservatives of the Imperial Court, supported the Boxers and declared war on foreign powers. Diplomats, foreign civilians, soldiers, and Chinese Christians in the Legation Quarter were under siege by the Imperial Army of China and the Boxers for 55 days. The siege was raised when the Eight-Nation Alliance brought 20,000 armed troops to China, defeated the Imperial Army, and captured Beijing. The Boxer Protocol of 7 September 1901 specified an indemnity of 67 million pounds (450 million taels of silver), more than the government's annual tax revenue, to be paid over a course of thirty-nine years to the eight nations involved.[10]

Spanish Territories

The Battle of Manilla Bay helped secure the Philippines.

By 1825 Spain had acknowledged the independence of its possessions in the present-day United States. The only remnants of the Spanish Empire in the Western Hemisphere were Cuba, Puerto Rico, across the Pacific in the Philippines Islands, as well as the Carolina, Marshall, and Mariana Islands (including Guam) in Micronesia.

In 1898, the American battleship USS Maine was destroyed by an explosion in the Cuban Harbor of Havana. Although later investigations proved that an internal problem was to blame, at the time it was thought that Spanish forces had sunk it. On the advice of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, President William McKinley asked Congress to declare war on April 11, 1898. Senator Henry M. Teller of Colorado added an amendment to the proposed U.S. declaration of war against Spain on April 19, which proclaimed that the United States would not establish permanent control over Cuba. The amendment stated that the United States "hereby disclaims any disposition of intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over said island except for pacification thereof, and asserts its determination, when that is accomplished, to leave the government and control of the island to its people."

At that time Spanish troops stationed on the island included 150,000 regulars and 40,000 irregulars and volunteers while rebels inside Cuba numbered as many as 50,000. Total U.S. army strength at the time totalled 26,000, requiring the passage of the Mobilization Act of April 22 that allowed for an army of at first 125,000 volunteers (later increased to 200,000) and a regular army of 65,000.

Depiction of the American Flag being raised over Fort Santiago in Manila on August 13, 1898.

On April 25, 1898 Congress declared war on Spain. The United States Navy won two decisive naval battles, destroying the Spanish Pacific Fleet at Manila in the Philippines and the Atlantic fleet at Santiago, Cuba. The U.S. then landed forces in Cuba, which fought the tropical climate and associated diseases as well as the Spanish forces. In the Battle of San Juan Hill (actually Kettle Hill), Lt. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt earned a reputation as a military hero by leading the attack on entrenched Spanish positions. The regiment to which Roosevelt belonged, the First U.S. Volunteers, was recruited throughout the United States and known as the Rough Riders because of the large number of cowboys to volunteer. The 10th Cavalry, a regiment of black soldiers, supported the Rough Riders in the attack. Joseph Wheeler, a Confederate general of the Civil War, commanded U.S. forces in Cuba. Two of Robert E. Lee's nephews were also U.S. generals. The war ended eight months later with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. As a result Spain lost its control over the remains of its overseas empire. The treaty allowed the United States to purchase the Philippines Islands from Spain for $20 million. The war had cost the United States $250 million and 3,000 lives, of whom 90% had perished from infectious diseases. True to the letter of the Teller Amendment, American forces left Cuba in 1902.

The Spanish-American War was seen domestically as a sign of increasing national unity.


Kingdom of Hawaii

Iolani Palace was the residence of the monarchy of Hawai'i, and still stands to this day as the only royal palace in the United States.[11]

The Kingdom of Hawaii was established in 1795 with the subjugation of the smaller independent chiefdoms of Oʻahu, Maui, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kauaʻi and Niʻihau by the chiefdom of Hawaiʻi (or the "Big Island"), ruled by the dynasty of King Kamehameha the Great. In 1887 the Honolulu Rifle Company, a paramilitary force also known as the Honolulu Rifles, deposed the Hawaiian monarchy and forced King David Kalākaua to sign a new constitution at gunpoint. The bayonets fixed to their guns led to the term Bayonet Constitution. No voting rights were extended to Asiatics and the requirements for voting rights included land ownership. The Bayonet Constitution has become one of the most controversial documents in history.

Native-born, European-descended Hawaiian Sanford B. Dole, serving as a friend of both Hawaiian royalty and the elite immigrant community, advocated the westernization of Hawaiian government and culture. Dole was a lawyer and jurist in the Hawaiian Islands as a kingdom, protectorate, republic and territory. King Kalākaua appointed Dole a justice of the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Hawaii on December 28, 1887, and to a commission to revise judiciary laws on January 24, 1888. After Kalākaua's death, his sister Queen Liliʻuokalani appointed him to her Privy Council on August 31, 1891.

A native Hawaiian with surfboard in 1890.


On January 17, 1893, the Queen, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, was deposed in a coup d'état led largely by American citizens opposed to her attempt to establish a new Constitution. Dole was named president of the Provisional Government of Hawaii formed after the coup, and was recognized within forty-eight hours by all nations with diplomatic ties to the Kingdom of Hawaii, with the exception of the United Kingdom.

The Americans in Hawaii asked the US to annex the islands, but President Benjamin Harrison's annexation treaty was stalled in the Senate by Democrats until a Democratic President, Stephen Grover Cleveland, took office. With Grover Cleveland's election as President of the United States, the Provisional Government's hopes of annexation were derailed. In fact, Cleveland tried to directly help reinstate the monarchy, after an investigation led by James Henderson Blount. The Blount Report of July 17, 1893, commissioned by President Cleveland, concluded that the Committee of Safety conspired with U.S. ambassador John L. Stevens to land the United States Marine Corps, to forcibly remove Queen Liliʻuokalani from power, and declare a Provisional Government of Hawaii consisting of members from the Committee of Safety. Although unable to restore Lili'uokalani to her former position, Cleveland withdrew the treaty.

The Territory of Hawaii or Hawaii Territory existed as a United States organized incorporated territory from July 7, 1898, until August 21, 1959, when its territory, with the exception of Johnston Atoll, was admitted to the Union as the fiftieth U.S. state.

Resource Booms

Klondike prospectors cross the Chilkoot Pass

There were a number of resource booms, resulting in the development of certain rural areas. Notable booms during this time include the Colorado Silver Boom, the Ohio Oil Rush, the Indiana gas boom, and the Cripple Creek Gold Rush. The Klondike Gold Rush was famous for showing there was value in Alaska with the discovery of Gold.


  1. "Super Review; United States History"
  2. Biography of Cleveland at, noted on August 3, 2014.
  3. "Super Review; United States History"
  4. “The Gilded Age & the Progressive Era (1877–1917),” founded on January 15, 2011,
  5. Mary Beth Norton et al., “A People and A Nation: A History of the United States; The Machine Age: 1877-1920,” ed. Mary Beth Norton et al. (Boston: Cengage Learning 2009), 512.
  6. Mary Beth Norton et al., “A People and A Nation: A History of the United States; The Machine Age: 1877-1920,” ed. Mary Beth Norton et al. (Boston: Cengage Learning 2009), 522.
  7. Mary Beth Norton et al., “A People and A Nation: A History of the United States; The Machine Age: 1877-1920,” ed. Mary Beth Norton et al. (Boston: Cengage Learning 2009),
  8. The Encyclopaedia of Arkansas History and Culture; “Post-Reconstruction through the Gilded Age, 1875 through 1900,” last modified on 12/17/2010,
  9. Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalogue and Buyers' Guide No. 57, Spring And Summer 1895. Unabridged reprint. Dover: NY, 1969.
  10. Spence, In Search of Modern China, pp. 230-235; Keith Schoppa, Revolution and Its Past, pp. 118-123.
  11. "Iolani Palace, Honolulu, Hawai'i (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved 18 September 2020.

The Progressive Era (1900 - 1914)


A Progressive Era cartoon in favor of Women's Rights. Suffragists saw success on the west coast, and wanted to extend equality to the east coast.

Industrialization led to the rise of big businesses at the expense of the worker. Factory laborers faced long hours, low wages, and unsanitary conditions. The large corporations protected themselves by allying with political parties. The parties, in turn, were controlled by party leaders, rather than by the voters. The Progressive movement was an effort to cure America: not so much an organized movement, but a general spirit of reform embraced by Americans with diverse goals and backgrounds during the early twentieth century [1]. These problems included the aftermath of slavery, Reconstruction from the American Civil War, and female subjugation. The goal was to remove corrupt political machines and get more common people into the political process. Progressivism believed individuals could make the world better through regulation and reform. It worked on the Federal, state, local and public and private spheres, moving toward local public safety and efficiency, elimination of corruption, social justice, and the social control of knowledge.

Local Reform

At the urban level, Progressivism mainly affected municipal government. The system whereby the city is governed by a powerful mayor and a council was replaced by the council-manager or the commission system. Under the council-manager system, the council would pass laws, while the manager would do no more than ensure their execution. The manager was essentially a weak mayor. Under the commission system, the executive would be composed of people who each controlled one area of government. The commission was essentially a multi-member, rather than single-member, executive.

At the state level, several electoral reforms were made. Firstly, the secret ballot was introduced. Prior to the secret ballot, the ballots were colored papers printed by the political parties. Due to the lack of secrecy, bribing or blackmailing voters became common. It was to prevent businessmen or politicians from thus coercing voters that the secret ballot was introduced. Also, reforms were made to give voters more say in government. The initiative allowed voters to propose new laws. The referendum allowed certain laws (for example tax increases) to be approved by the voters first. Finally, the recall, allowed the voters to remove public officials for wrongdoing while in office.

In addition, Progressives sought to combat the power of party leaders over which candidates would be nominated. The direct primary was instituted, under which the voters cast ballots to nominate candidates. Before the primary was introduced, the party leaders or party faithful were the only ones allowed to nominate candidates. The South pioneered some political reforms; "the direct primarily originated in North Carolina; the city commission plan arose in Galveston, Texas; and the city manager plan began in Stanton, Virgina. Progressive governors introduced business regulation, educational expansion,and other reforms that duplicated actions taken by northern counterparts.

Labor Reforms

Progressive movement also attempted to give more power over legislation to the general populace. Three practices - the referendum, the initiative, and the recall - were created. The referendum allowed the voters to vote on a bill at an election before it took force as law. The initiative permitted the voters to petition and force the legislature to vote on a certain bill. Finally, the recall permitted voters to remove elected officials from office in the middle of the term. State laws were formed to improve labor conditions. Many states enacted factory inspection laws, and by 1916 nearly two-thirds of the states required compensation for the victims in industrial accidents.

In 1901, Jane Addams founded the Juvenile Protective Association, a non-profit agency dedicated to protecting children from abuse. In 1903, Mary Harris Jones organized the Children's Crusade, a march of child workers from Kensington, Pennsylvania to the home of President Theodore Roosevelt in Oyster Bay, New York, bringing national attention to the issue of child labor. In 1909, President Roosevelt hosted the first White House Conference on Children, which continued to be held every decade through the 1970s. In 1912, the United States Children's Bureau was created in order to investigate "all matters pertaining to the welfare of children and child life among all classes of our people." At the instigation of middle class coalitions, many states enacted factory inspection laws, and by 1916 two-thirds of the states required compensation for victims of industrial accidents. An alliance of labor and humanitarian groups induced some legislatures to grant aid to mothers with dependent children. Under pressure from the National Child Labor to Committee, nearly every state set a minimum age for employment and limited hours that employers could make children work.Families that needed extra income evaded child labor restrictions by falsifying their children's ages to employers.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on March 25, 1911.

States also regulated female labor by setting maximum work hours, especially when an accident at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory resulted in the deaths of more than 100 women. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of regulated work hours for women in "Muller v. Oregon". Finally, some minimum wage provisions were introduced (for men and women).

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was founded in Chicago in 1905 at a convention of anarchist and socialist union members who were opposed to the policies of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Unlike the AFL, which was a group composed of separate unions for each different trade (craft unionism), the IWW supported the concept of industrial unionism, in which all workers in a given industry are organized in one union, regardless of each worker's particular trade. They promoted the idea of "One Big Union" in the hopes that one large, centralized body would be better equipped to deal with similarly-large capitalist enterprises.

1881 The Great influx of Russian and Polish Jews. They formed an objectionable part of the population, because they couldn't speak English, lived closely crowded, and dirty. Penniless and unfamiliar with industrial conditions. They were apart of industrial, intellectual, and civil life. Their willingness to work 18 hours obnoxiously was crazy compared to Americans who worked (part-time). "It's not the condition that the immigrant comes from that determines he's usefulness;But the power one shows to rise above the condition."

President Theodore Roosevelt

President Theodore Roosevelt circa 1904.

At the national level, Progressivism centered on defeating the power of large businesses. President Theodore Roosevelt, who succeeded to the Presidency when President McKinley was assassinated in 1901, helped the Progressive movement greatly.

Coal Strike

In early 1902, anthracite coal miners struck. Their salaries had not been raised in over two decades. Furthermore, they were paid with scrips. Scrips were essentially coupons for goods from pricey company stores.

The president of the Reading Railroad, George F. Baer, said that the miners had erred by distrusting the owners. He declared that the mine owners were "Christian men of property to whom God has given control of the property rights of the country,"[2] who could be trusted more than union leaders.

The owners and the miners refused to negotiate with each other. As autumn approached, many feared that the coal strike would cripple the economy. President Roosevelt intervened by asking the owners and miners to submit to arbitration. The miners accepted, but the owners refused Roosevelt's suggestion. Roosevelt then threatened to use the Army to take over the mines. The owners finally acquiesced; the strike was settled in 1903. Roosevelt's policy triumphed in 1904 when the Supreme Court, convinced by the government's arguments, created by J.P Morgan and his business allies. Roosevelt choose however , not to attack others trust, such as u.s steel another of Morgan's creations. Prosecution of northern securities began reportedly collared Roosevelt and offered "if we have done anything wrong, send your man to my man and we can fix it up".

Sherman Antitrust Act

Roosevelt continued his Progressive actions when he revived the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Act sought to prevent companies from combining into trusts and gaining monopolies. A trust is formed when many companies loosely join together under a common board of directors to gain total control of an entire market so that prices can be raised without the threat of competitors. This total control of a market and subsequent price raising is a monopoly. However, until Roosevelt's administration, the Act was rarely enforced.

Hepburn Act

Roosevelt also enforced the Hepburn Act, which allowed the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate railroads. The railroads had allied themselves with large businesses, charging higher rates to those business' competitors. Thus, the large businesses would gain even more power. The Hepburn Act prevented railroads from granting reduced rates to businesses.

Panama Canal

President Roosevelt visits workers on the Panama Canal in 1906

President Roosevelt oversaw the successful completion of the Panama Canal. The finished canal vastly improved shipping logistics, allowing boats going from the Atlantic to the Pacific and vice versa to bypass the voyage around South America, saving much time on each trip.


Roosevelt also championed the cause of conservation. He set aside large amounts of land as part of the national park system.

Conflicts with other Imperialist Nations

A political cartoon showing Roosevelt's use of naval power as a way to protect American nations from European interference.

Imperialism was yet a common theme in the relations between nations in this era. It should be noted that although the US annexed Hawaii, Japan also had interests in the island and an aggressive foreign policy; Japan had already seized Taiwan from China in 1885 and would annex Korea in 1905. Imperial Germany was another aggressive power. The U.S. and Germany had conflicts over who would control Samoa, in the Pacific, as well as nearly faced a naval war with Germany in 1902 over German plans to seize the customs revenues of Venezuela.

However, under the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt, the United States became more open in asserting international power. In 1905, Russia and Japan went to war over control of Korea and China. The Japanese won naval victories over two Russian fleets, in the Battles of the Yellow Sea and Tsushima. President Roosevelt offered to negotiate peace between the two nations, and in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a peace treaty was signed.

To demonstrate the ability of the United States to project power around the world (unlike Russia), Roosevelt ordered a fleet of U.S. men-o'war to sail around the world. The fleet left the east coast of the U.S. in 1908 and returned in 1909, visiting ports in Europe, Australia, and Japan.

President William Howard Taft

President Taft

When Theodore Roosevelt decided not to run for the presidency again in the election of 1908, that opened the doors for another Republican candidate. Into the gap stepped William H. Taft, former Ohio Supreme Court Justice, former Solicitor General of the United States, and former judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. James S. Sherman was chosen as his vice president. They ran against the Democratic slate of William Jennings Bryan and John Kern, and Socialist nominee Eugene V. Debs. Taft won the election by over a million votes and the Republicans retained control of both houses of Congress. During Taft's presidency, his primary goals were to continue Roosevelt's trust-busting and to reconcile old guard conservatives and young progressive reformers in the Republican Party. [3] Taft was somewhat more cautious and quiet than Roosevelt, despite his own credentials, and therefore had less public attention.

Taft tried to win over the Filipino people by reforming education, transportation, and health care. New railroads, bridges, and telegraph lines strengthened the economy. A public school system was founded, and new health care policies virtually eliminated such diseases as cholera and smallpox. These reforms slowly reduced Filipino hostility.

Although Taft was less of an attention-grabber than Roosevelt, he went far beyond what Roosevelt ever did. Taft used the Sherman Antitrust Act, a law passed in 1890 that made trusts and monopolies illegal, and they had to sue many large and economically damaging corporations. Taft won more antitrust lawsuits in four years than Roosevelt had won in seven.

Taft also pushed for the Sixteenth Amendment, which gave the federal government the right to tax citizens' income. The amendment was meant to supply the government with cash to replace the revenue generated from tariffs, which Progressives had hoped that Taft would lower. Taft failed to lower the tariff. In addition, he failed to fight for conservation and environmentalism, actually weakening some conservation policies to favor business. When Roosevelt came back from an expedition to Africa in 1910, he was disappointed in Taft, and vigorously campaigned for progressive republicans in the congressional elections of 1910.

Roosevelt tried to capitalize on his still enormous popularity by again running for reelection in 1912, but he failed to win the nomination because of Taft's connections to influential people in the Republican Party. Roosevelt and his supporters then broke off from the Republicans, forming the Progressive Party. (This later was known as the Bull Moose party after Roosevelt declared that he felt "as strong as a bull moose!") The Republican split hurt the two candidates, and Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson gathered a 42 percent plurality of the popular votes and 435 out of 531 electoral votes.

On the Supreme Court

Taft as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1921.

Taft would later become a member of the Supreme Court, making him the only former President to do so. In 1921, when Chief Justice Edward Douglass White died, President Warren G. Harding nominated Taft to take his place, thereby fulfilling Taft's lifelong ambition to become Chief Justice of the United States. Very little opposition existed to the nomination, and the Senate approved him 60-4 in a secret session, but the roll call of the vote has never been made public. He readily took up the position, serving until 1930. As such, he became the only President to serve as Chief Justice, and thus is also the only former President to swear in subsequent Presidents, giving the oath of office to both Calvin Coolidge (in 1925) and Herbert Hoover (in 1929). He remains the only person to have led both the Executive and Judicial branches of the United States government. He considered his time as Chief Justice to be the highest point of his career: he allegedly once remarked, "I don't remember that I ever was President."

President Woodrow Wilson

Official portrait of President Woodrow Wilson, painted in 1913.

Although Woodrow Wilson was a Democrat, he still pushed for progressive reforms. One of the first successes of his administration was the lowering of tariffs, which he accomplished in 1913. Wilson believed that increased foreign competition would spur U.S. based manufacturers to lower prices and improve their goods. That same year, Wilson passed the Federal Reserve Act, which created twelve regional banks that would be run by a central board in the capitol. This system gave the government more control over banking activities.

Wilson also pushed for governmental control over business. In 1914, a Democratic-controlled Congress established the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate companies that participated in suspected unfair and illegal trade practices. Wilson also supported the Clayton Antitrust Act, which joined the Sherman Antitrust Act as one the government's tools to fight trusts the same year.

By the end of Wilson's First term, progressives had won many victories. The entire movement lost steam, though, as Americans became much more interested in international affairs, especially the war that had broken out in Europe in 1914.

The Supreme Court and Labor

Upset workers had succeeded in lobbying Congress to pass legislation that improved work conditions. However, the Supreme Court of the United States somewhat limited the range of these acts. In Holden v. Hardy (1896), the Supreme Court ruled that miners' hours must be short because long hours made the job too dangerous. However, in Lochner v. New York, laws ruled that bakery workers did not have a job dangerous enough to put restrictions on the free sale of labor. Putting aside this decision, in 1908, the decision in Muller v. Oregon said that women's health must be protected "to preserve the strength and vigor of the race." This did, clearly, protect women's health, but it also locked them into menial jobs.

Controlling Prostitution

An anti-prostitution cartoon, portraying a women being conned in an Ice Cream parlor.

Moral outrage erupted when muckraking journalists charged that international gangs were kidnapping young women and forcing them into prostitution, a practice called white slavery. Accusations were exaggerated, but they alarmed some moralists who falsely perceived a link between immigration and prostitution. Although some women voluntarily entered "the profession" because it offered income and independence from their male counterparts, some women had very little option to a life where they had little if any amenities and many were forced into this profession and lifestyle. Reformers nonetheless believed they could attack prostitution by punishing both those who promoted it and those who practiced it. In 1910 Congress passed the White Slave Traffic Act (Mann Act), prohibiting interstate and international transportation of a woman for immoral purposes. By 1915 nearly all states outlawed brothels and solicitation of sex. Such laws ostensibly protected young women from exploitation, but in reality they failed to address the more serious problem of sexual violence that women suffered at the hands of family members, presumed friends, and employers. [4]

Football and the Formation of the NCAA

A college football game in 1921.

By the turn of the century American football was already in the process of becoming a large national sport. Originally formed and played at universities as an intercollegiate sport, it was seen as only for the upper class. The size of the field depended on what the players agreed with, but it was almost always over 100 yards. Once a player started a game, the player could not leave unless he/she became injured. [5] Very soon the sport began to gain spectators, and with spectators came controversy. With over 15 deaths in 1905 alone, many saw a need for change in the sport. However, others liked the violence and would watch because of this. President Roosevelt formed a group to reconstruct the rules of football and make it less violent. Standard rules would not be made and used until 1894.[6] The group was originally named the Intercollegiate Athletic Association, and in 1910 it was renamed to the National College Athletic Association.


  2. Workers Don't Suffer by James O. Castagnera
  3. "Super Review; United States History"
  4. Mary Beth Norton et al., “A People and A Nation: A History of the United States; The Progressive Era;1895-1920,” ed. Mary Beth Norton et al. (Boston: Cengage Learning 2009).

World War I and the Treaty of Versailles (1914 - 1920)


European Military Alliances in 1914

In 1815, Europe had united to defeat French Emperor Napoleon. For a century since that time, there had been no major war in Europe. Countries had organized themselves in a complex system of alliances.

After Napoleon's defeat, the United Kingdom, France, Prussia, Russia, and Austria met in Vienna. These nations decided that if power in Europe was balanced, then no nation would become so powerful as to pose a threat to the others. The most important of these were the German Confederation. In 1871, after defeating France and Prussia, several small German nations combined into the German Empire. This upset the traditional balance of power.

German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck began to construct a web of alliances to protect German dominance. Germany and the United Kingdom were on good terms, as Germany had not built a navy to go up against British sea power. In 1873, Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Germany formed the Three Emperors' League. Nine years later, Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Germany formed the Triple Alliance. In 1887, the Reinsurance Treaty ensured that Russia would not interfere in a war between France and Germany.

During this time the British Queen Victoria built alliances in her own way. During years of relative peace, she had her children marry into many of the royal families of Europe, believing that this would solidify relations among the nations. In the first decade of the Twentieth century the Kaiser and the King of England were cousins through Victoria, as were the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia.

In 1890, Bismarck was fired by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who then began to undo many of Bismarck's policies. He decided to build up a German navy, antagonizing the United Kingdom. He did not renew German agreements with Russia. In 1894, this led Russia to form a new alliance with Germany's rival France.

In 1904, France and the United Kingdom decided to end centuries of bitter enmity by signing the Entente Cordiale. Three years later, those two nations and Russia entered the Triple Entente. Imperial Russia began to build its army, as did Germany and Austria-Hungary.

War Breaks Out

Austria-Hungary was a patchwork of several nations ruled by the Habsburg family. Several ethnic groups resented rule by the Habsburgs. In June, 1914, the heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, traveled to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A Serbian nationalist named Gavrilo Princip, who hated Habsburg rule, assassinated the Archduke and his wife. This assassination triggered the First World War.

The Central Powers.

The Austro-Hungarian government decided to retaliate by crushing Serbian nationalism. They threatened the Serbian government with war. Russia came to the aid of the Serbs. To oppose this alliance, Austria-Hungary called on Germany. Kaiser Wilhelm II said his country would give Austria-Hungary whatever it needed to win the war; in effect, a "blank check." In addition to these open agreements, any of these countries might have had secret agreements with other states. The result was almost all of Europe at war, with the largest battlefield ever seen before.

In July, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Germany began to mobilize their troops. The conflict in Austria-Hungary quickly spread over Europe. In August, Germany declared war on France. The Germans demanded that Belgium allow German troops to pass through the neutral nation. When King Albert of Belgium refused, Germany violated Belgian neutrality and invaded. Belgium appealed to the United Kingdom for aid. The British House of Commons threatened that Great Britain would wage war against Germany unless it withdrew from Belgium. The Germans refused, and the United Kingdom joined the battle. The Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary, were pitted against the Allies, the United Kingdom, Russia, and France.

The Early Stages

German troops entered Belgium on August 4. By August 16, they had begun to enter France. The French Army met the Germans near the French border with Belgium. France lost tens of thousands of men in less than a week, causing the French Army to retreat to Paris. The Germans penetrated deep into France, attempting to win a quick victory.

On August 5, the United States formally declared their neutrality in the war. They also offered to mediate the growing conflict. In the United States, the opinions were divided. Some felt we should aid England, France, and Belgium because they were depicted as victims of barbarous German aggression and atrocities. Others felt we should avoid taking sides.[1]

The Allies won a key battle at Marne, repelling the German offensive. The Germans lost especially due to a disorganized supply line and a weak communications network. The French Army, however, had not completely defeated the Germans. Both sides continually fought each other, to no avail. On the Western Front, Germany and France would continue to fight for more than three years without any decisive victories for either side.

Meanwhile, on the Eastern Front, Germany faced Russia. In the third week of August, Russian troops entered the eastern part of Germany. Germany was at a severe disadvantage because it had to fight on two different fronts, splitting its troops. However, despite Germany's disadvantage, no decisive action occurred for three years.

The United Kingdom used its powerful Royal Navy in the war against Germany. British ships set up naval blockades. The Germans, however, countered with submarines called U-boats. U-boats sank several ships, but could not, during the early stages of the war, seriously challenge the mighty Royal Navy.

The war spread to Asia when Japan declared war on Germany in August, 1914. The Japanese sought control of German colonies in the Pacific. Germany already faced a two-front war, and could not afford to defend its Pacific possessions.

In October, 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered, allying itself with the Central Powers. The entry of the Ottoman Empire was disastrous to the Allies. The Ottoman Empire controlled the Dardanelles strait, which provided a route between Russia and the Mediterranean. The Ottoman sultan declared holy war- jihad- against the Allies. Muslims in the British Empire and French Empire were thus encouraged to rebel against their Christian rulers. However, the Allies' concerns were premature. Few Muslims accepted the sultan's proclamation. In fact, some Muslims in the Ottoman Empire supported the Allies so that the Ottoman Empire could be broken up, and the nations they ruled could gain independence.

The Middle Stages

A British propaganda poster showing a German Zeppelin falling down in flames. The Germans used strategic bombing during the war, and also made use of talented fighter pilot aces such as the Red Baron (Manfred von Richthofen).

Between 1914 and 1917, the war was characterized by millions of deaths leading nowhere. Neither side could gain a decisive advantage on either front.

In 1915, the Germans began to realize the full potential of Submarines. German Submarines engaged in official unrestricted warfare, engaging and sinking any ship found within the war zone regardless of the flag flown. Germany's justification for this use of force was that there was no certain method to ascertain the ultimate destination of the passengers and cargo carried by the ships in the war zone, and thus they were all taken as attempts at maintaining the anti-German blockade.

In May, 1915, Italy broke the Triple Alliance by becoming an Allied Power. In October, Bulgaria joined the Central Powers. Each side had induced their new partners to join by offering territorial concessions. Italy prevented Austria-Hungary from concentrating its efforts on Russia, while Bulgaria prevented Russia from having connections with other Allied Powers.

In May, 1916, one of the most significant naval battles in World War I occurred. The Royal Navy faced a German fleet during the Battle of Jutland. The Battle proved that the Allied naval force was still superior to that possessed by the Central Powers. The Germans grew even more dependent on U-boats in naval battle.

In August, 1916, Romania joined the Allies. Romania invaded Transylvania, a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But when the Central Powers struck back, they took control of important Romanian wheat fields.

In 1917, the liberal-democratic government of Russia that was lead by Aleksander Kerensky was over thrown by Vladimir Lenin[notes 1]. When Lenin took over in Russia one of the things he promised was to change world politics. The terms by which Lenin wanted to changed world politics challenged Woodrow Wilson's vision and Lenin's Bolshevik-style revolutions spreading world wide was something that western leaders did not want.[2]

The United States Declares War

Through all of this, America was neutral. It adopted the policy of isolationism because it felt that the increasing colonialism in Europe did not affect North America. There was a strong pacifist strain in American society, as evidenced by such popular songs as "I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier" and "Don't Take My Darling Boy Away," though at the same time many ethnic groups agitated for involvement. Economic links with the Allies also made neutrality difficult. The British were flooding America with new orders, many of them for arms. The sales were helping America get out of its recession. Although this was good for the economic health of the United States, Germany saw America becoming the Allied arsenal and bank.[3]

Drawing of the Lusitania being hit.

On May 7, 1915, the German navy sunk the Cunard Line passenger ship R.M.S. Lusitania, operating under the flag of Great Britain. Of the 1,959 passengers 1200 died, including one hundred twenty Americans. The ship's quick explosion was due to a hidden cargo of American weaponry, a fact the US government denied. Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, a pacifist, resigned over Wilson's responsibility for the placement of arms and the consequent inevitability of war. Various American citizens from different ethnic groups put pressure on their government to join the war. However, the US government was calmed by the Germans, who agreed to limit submarine warfare. In 1917, the Germans reinstated unrestricted submarine warfare in order to cripple the British economy by destroying merchant ships, and break the sea blockade of Britain.

On February 24, 1917, the American ambassador received a telegram in London from the British. It enclosed a British-decoded message, originally sent as a ciphered telegram from the German foreign Secretary, Arthur Zimmerman, to the ambassador in Mexico. Zimmerman proposed that the event of the war with the United States, Germany and Mexico would join in alliance. Germany would fund Mexico's conflict with the US: victory achieved. Mexico would then be able to gain their lost territories with Arizona. The message was published in American newspapers on March 1st.[4]

On the evening of April 4, 1917 at 8:30 P.M., President Wilson appeared before a joint session of Congress, asking for the declaration of war to make the world "safe for democracy." He was hoping for a quick resolution of the conflict. Congress complied on April 6, 1917. The United States was at last at war with Germany.

The last American war had been the minor Spanish-American War a generation before. A draft of men above the age of eighteen followed the call to war, but many more volunteered. Men wanted to escape their lives and join the military for a job and an adventure.

A 1917 poster depicting Uncle Sam saying "I want you for U.S. Army". Propaganda like this was key for mobilizing troops.

The US had to mobilize its military before it could aid the Allies by sending troops. The cadre of the U.S. Army had experience in mobilizing and moving troops from its Mexican expedition, but the Army needed to expand to over one million men, most of which were untrained. This new draft was for a "scientific" army. Military officers were selected by the new "IQ" tests. The new conscripts met en massein embarkation camps in places such as Yahank, New York. Companies exercised together and drilled together. At this time, soldiers were taught techniques such as assembling and disassembling weapons blindfolded. They drilled constantly in formation. There was much amusement at these shaven-headed, first-time solders.

The chorus of a contemporary song went, "Good morning, Mister Zip-Zip-Zip,/ With your hair cut just as short as mine,/ Good morning, Mister Zip-Zip-Zip,/ You're surely looking fine!/ Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust,/ If the Camels don't get you,/ The Fatimas must . . . [Camels and Fatimas were brands of cigarettes.]

Then they went into ships to be transported to Europe. On the battlefield, they were placed in companies with other Americans, rather than being embedded with other nations.

American business and industry became involved as men created more military supplies, and jobs opened for building and designing new materials to be used in battle. However, for purposes of the battle, most of the weapons American soldiers carried had been designed by Europeans. An American-style tank was produced but only came out after the war.

In the same way, the Navy could send a battleship division to assist the British Grand Fleet, but needed to expand. To supply the American forces, new supply lines in France would be needed south of the British and French lines, which meant the U.S. would take over the southern part of the Western Front battle line. The US could and did help the Allies with monetary assistance. Increased taxes and the sale of war bonds allowed the US to raise enormous sums of money. Politicians and celebrities, as well as such movie stars as Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, headed huge patriotic "Bond Rallies," where people were encouraged to buy bonds.

A government committee to influence the public on the war was formed, the Committee on Public Information or CPI. Among its organs of publicity were the "Four Minute Men," speakers who talked on pertinent subjects on Vaudeville stages, in movie theaters, and in public assemblies. There was also an organization of private citizens formed to root out German sympathizers, the American Protective League. A hit movie, "The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin," was one hit of 1918. To strengthen the United States in this time of stress, families were encouraged to grow Victory Gardens, and American women and African Americans were encouraged to go into jobs the servicemen had left. This is the beginning of the Great Migration, when Southern African Americans began moving to Northern cities for jobs.

Trench Warfare

An American Doughboy

The U.S. commander, General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, faced immense pressure from the British and French governments to use American forces in small units to reinforce depleted British and French units. This was impossible politically. Pershing insisted to General Foch, the Generalissimo of the Allied armies, that the U.S. Army would fight as a single Army. Pershing did not want to give his men to other Allied commanders, many of whose strategies he disagreed with.

A first aid station in an American trench

The European method of fighting, as it had been since the Boer War, was trench warfare. An army on the French battleground protected itself from the enemy with zigzag trenches, mines, barbed wire, and a line of rifles and machine guns. Between the enemy lines was a contested area, "no man's land." An attempt to advance toward the enemy was met with gunfire. These trenches stalemated military advances, as any man who raised his head from the trenches would be shot. At the Battle of the Somme in 1916, for example, Allied troops suffered 600,000 dead and wounded to earn only 125 square miles; the Germans lost 400,000 men. Rain fell in the trenches. As one song put it, a soldier was "Up to your waist in water, up to your eyes in slush." The damp produced a foot disease known as "trench foot": if untreated, it could rot flesh from the bone. The close, unsanitary conditions of the front lines encouraged fleas and lice, and typhoid, typhus, and dysentery caused deaths unrelated to gunfire. Worst of all, perhaps, was that sometimes the enemy would gas your trench. There was no way to escape, and sometimes no masks to protect you.

First used by the Germans in April 1915, chlorine gas stimulated overproduction of fluid in the lungs, leading to death by drowning. One British officer tended to troops who had been gassed reported that,

quite 200 men passed through my hands . . . Some died with me, others on the way down . . . I had to argue with many of them as to whether they were dead or not.

Chlorine, mustard, and phosgene gas would continue in use throughout the war, sometimes blistering, sometimes incapacitating, and often killing.

The End of the War

Despite the fact that the Germans could concentrate their efforts in one area, the Central Powers faced grim prospects in 1918. Encouraged by the United States joining the war, several nations joined the Allied Powers. The four Central Powers of Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria faced the combined might of the Allied Powers of the United Kingdom and the British Empire, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, France, Belgium, Japan, Serbia, Montenegro, San Marino, Italy, Portugal, Romania, the United States, Cuba, Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, Costa Rica, Brazil, Liberia, Siam (Thailand) and China (some of the above nations did not support the war with troops, but did contribute monetarily.) The Germans launched a final, desperate attack on France, but it failed miserably. Due to Allied counterattacks, the Central Powers slowly began to capitulate.

Bulgaria was the first to collapse. A combined force of Italians, Serbs, Greeks, Britons, and Frenchmen attacked Bulgaria through Albania in September, 1918. By the end of September, Bulgaria surrendered, withdrawing its troops from Serbia and Greece, and even allowing the Allies to use Bulgaria in military operations.

British forces, led by T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), together with nationalist Arabs, were successful in the Ottoman Empire. About a month after Bulgaria's surrender, the Ottoman Empire surrendered, permitting Allies to use the Ottoman territory, including the Dardanelles Strait, in military operations.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire also decided to surrender in October. The royal family, the Habsburgs, and the Austro-Hungarian government desperately sought to keep the Empire of diverse nationalities united. Though Austria-Hungary surrendered, it failed to unite its peoples. The once-powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire was destroyed by the end of October, splitting into Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia.

Germany, remaining all alone, also decided to surrender. President Wilson required that Germany accede to the terms of the Fourteen Points, which, among other things, required Germany to return territory acquired by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk to Russia and the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to France. Germany found the terms too harsh, while the Allies found them too lenient. But when German Emperor Wilhelm II abdicated the throne, the new German government quickly agreed to Wilson's demands. On November 11, 1918, World War I had come to an end.

The war had been marked by millions and millions of casualties. The deaths were so wide-spread and so vast that people in England talked of "The Lost Generation." Many died in battle, others died from disease and some even died after when hit with an influenza that spread throughout the whole world in 1918. Destruction of factories and farms, not to mention houses, created economic damage, and was one of the factors creating widespread European starvation during the winter of 1918-1919.[5]

Police in Seattle wear masks during the Spanish Flu pandemic.

In contrast, damage was low in America. Although America had also suffered from the flu, the war had not touched U.S. shores. For years afterward, in Germany, France, and even British Commonwealth countries such as Canada, you could see men wearing artificial tin faces to hide battle wounds, men who wheezed because of damage from poison gas, and "war cripples" begging with bowls on the street corner. But American men were by-and-large intact. U.S. factories had been fully supplied, and the nation was on a sounder financial footing because of profit from the War.

At the end of the war, as American soldiers returned from Europe, employment rose. Some of the veterans returned to find themselves without homes or jobs. Overseas, some Black men were organized into a top fighting unit. However, Homeland outrage at the success helped to fuel riots in the notorious "Red Summer" of 1919. Each veteran returned with a certificate promising certain monies for their service; however, the certificate could not be cashed in until 1945.

American After-Effects Of The War

Suffrage For American Women

Suffragists parade in New York City in 1917

An after-effect of the employment of women during the war was the Nineteenth Amendment, giving them the right to vote. There had been a Suffrage movement since the nineteenth century. President Wilson and his contemporaries were reluctant, but conceded it as a quid pro quo. After the servicemen had returned, there were still two million more women in the workforce. However, instead of being in factory jobs, they were largely only permitted in "women's work": the "caring professions" such as nurses or teachers, secretaries or "stenographers," and waitresses, cooks, or washerwomen. These jobs paid little, and women were often expected to quit the job when they got married.[6]

Politically active women still remained excluded from local and national power structures. Their voluntary organizations used tactics that advanced modern pressure-group politics. Issues ranged from birth control, peace, education, Indian Affairs, or opposition to lynching. Women in these associations lobbied legislators to support their causes. At the state level women achieved rights such as the ability to serve on juries. [7]

Increasing Racial Tension

African Americans from the 369th Infantry Regiment who earned the Croix de guerre from France.

A force of African Americans had served in the War:

More than 350,000 African Americans served in segregated units during World War I, mostly as support troops. Several units saw action alongside French soldiers fighting against the Germans, and 171 African Americans were awarded the French Legion of Honor. In response to protests of discrimination and mistreatment from the black community, several hundred African American men received officers' training in Des Moines, Iowa. By October 1917, over six hundred African Americans were commissioned as captains and first and second lieutenants.


Fighting units such as the Harlem Hellfighters proved their mettle. Yet they received no recognition. Upon their return, particularly to the South, they faced resentment and sometimes lynchings.

In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson had segregated the Civil Service, which before had been an employer for black Americans. The war and the Great Migration triggered more oppression and more violence. When Caucasian White Americans were drawn into the army or defense industries, their jobs were sometimes given to black workers, for lower wages. The owners considered this a double good, keeping production going while destroying the workingman unions which agitated for higher pay. But while bosses were dependent, for the moment, on black workers, they did not think they owed anything to these employees.

An influx of unskilled Black strikebreakers into East St Louis, Illinois, heightened racial tensions in 1917. Rumors that Blacks were arming themselves for an attack on Whites resulted in numerous attacks by White mobs on Black neighborhoods. On July 1, Blacks fired back at a car whose occupants they believed had shot into their homes and mistakenly killed two policemen riding in a car. The next day, a full scale riot erupted which ended only after nine Whites and 39 Blacks had been killed and over three hundred buildings were destroyed. The anxieties of war helped fuel violence: Southern and Midwestern war vigilance committees formed the matrix for a revival of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Great Experiment

On August 1, 1917, the Senate voted to send the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution to the states for ratification. The vote was bi-partisan, 65 to 20. Section One read, in part,

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors [. . . ] is hereby prohibited.

By 1919, the requisite number of states had ratified the Amendment. The Amendment actually came into effect, under its own terms, one year after ratification.

The Temperance movement had been in effect for more than a hundred years, since the Second Great Revival. The late 19th and early 20th century Anti-Saloon League had been successful in turning the discussion from social discouragement of alcohol to legal prohibition of the substance. It was not simply a creature of Protestant or Catholic Churches, but was "united with Democrats and Republicans, Progressives, Populists, and suffragists, the Ku Klux Klan and the NAACP, the International Workers of the World, and many of America's most powerful industrialists including Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Andrew Carnegie – all of whom lent support to the ASL's increasingly effective campaign."[9]

But if Prohibition was not a simple reaction to World War I, it drew strength from the conflict. The War was funded by an income tax, thus unlocking saloon profits from the interests of the nation.[10] The Lever Act of 1917, with the aim of feeding soldiers, prohibited grain from being used for alcoholic beverages. There were nationalist concerns, too: the most famous brewers of beer had German last names.

Treaty of Versailles

Woodrow Wilson meeting with the leaders of France, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

The Treaty of Versailles was the peace settlement signed after World War One had ended in 1918 and in the shadow of the Russian Revolution and other events in Russia. The treaty was signed at the vast Versailles Palace near Paris - hence its title - between Germany and the Allies. The three most important politicians there were David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, and Woodrow Wilson. The Versailles Palace was considered the most appropriate venue simply because of its size - many hundreds of people were involved in the process and the final signing ceremony in the Hall of Mirrors could accommodate hundreds of dignitaries. Many wanted Germany, now led by Friedrich Ebert, smashed. Others, like Lloyd George, were privately more cautious.

"The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, 28th June 1919" by William Orpen

On June 28th 1919, the chief Allied and Associated Powers of the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Italy, and Japan met with the Central Powers in France to discuss a peace settlement. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, American President Woodrow Wilson, and French President Clemenceau were known as "The Big Three." Each of the Allied and Associated Powers had distinct national interests. The UK wanted to keep the Royal Navy supreme by dismantling the German Navy. The British also wished to end Germany's colonial empire, which might have become a threat to the vast British Empire. Lloyd George wanted to be hard on the Germans to bolster his popular support at home in Great Britain.[11]. Italy wanted the Allies to fulfill their promise of territory given to Rome at the beginning of the war. Clemenceau wanted Germany to be brought to its knees so it could never start another war against France. The French also wanted Germany to compensate Paris for damage inflicted on France during the War. Japan had already largely served its interests by taking over German colonies in the Pacific. President Wilson's main goal for the conference was the creation of a "League of Nations." He believed that such an organization was essential to preventing future wars. Many historians believe that Wilson's concentration on the League, forcing him to sacrifice possible compassion toward Germany, helped contribute to the conditions leading to World War II.

The Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to cede Alsace and Lorraine to France, dismantle its Army and Navy, give up its colonial Empire, pay massive reparations to the Allies, and take full responsibility for causing the war. The conference also led to the creation of the League of Nations. The US Senate, however, did not consent to the Treaty, and the European powers were left to enforce its provisions themselves. This eventually led to violations of the treaty by Germany, which then led to the Second World War. The treaty crippled the Weimar Government in Berlin and led to great bitterness in Germany, which helped to strengthen Adolf Hitler's National Socialist, or Nazi Party.

American Troops in Valdivostok, Russia in 1918. Americans had intervened in the Russian Civil War to protect their own interests, to prevent Japan from taking advantage of the situation to invade Siberia, and to secure an exit for allied Czech troops who had been fighting the Bolsheviks.[12] The expedition ultimately accomplished little and left in 1920.[13]

Questions For Review

1. What extended a conflict between Serbians and the Austro-Hungarian Empire into the globe-straddling World War I?

2. How did the advances of technology lead to trench warfare?

3. What in 1914-1915 led to an economic advantage for America from the War? What were the nation's post-war advantages?

4. Listen to songs from this period: "I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier." "Oh, How I Hate to Get up in the Morning." "Oh! It's a Lovely War." "Over There." "K-k-k-Katy." What is the song's point of view?


  1. "Don't Know Much About History" by Kenneth C. Davis
  2. A People and A Nation
  3. "A People and A Nation" the eighth edition
  4. Teaching With Documents: The Zimmermann Telegram.
  5. A People and A Nation
  6. A People and A Nation Eighth Edition
  7. Mary Beth Norton et al., “A People and A Nation: A History of the United States; The New Era; 1920-1929,” ed. Mary Beth Norton et al. (Boston: Cengage Learning 2009).
  8. "African American Odyssey: World War I & Post-War Society. Part 1: Fighting at Home and Abroad." American Memory, Library of Congress. , retrieved June 9, 2018.
  9. Roots of Prohibition. Web page in association of the Ken Burns documentary Prohibition. Retrieved on August 17, 2014.
  10. Roots of Prohibition.
  12. "Guarding the Railroad, Taming the Cossacks". National Archives. 15 August 2016. Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  13. "In Russia, Scant Traces And Negative Memories Of A Century-Old U.S. Intervention" (in en). Retrieved 18 September 2020. 

The Roaring Twenties and Prohibition (1920 - 1929)

Politics and Government

Presidency of Warren G. Harding

A new sympathy toward business was shown in the election of Republican Warren G. Harding as president in 1920. His administration helped streamline federal spending with the Budgeting and Accounting Act of 1921, supported anti-lynching legislation (which was, however, rejected by Congress), and approved bills assisting farm cooperatives and liberalizing farm credit.


The Harding administration was also known for its scandals. He had had an affair with the wife of an Ohio merchant: the resulting daughter was never officially acknowledged. He also appointed some cronies, who saw office as an invitation to personal gain. One of those men was Charles Forbes, head of the Veterans Bureau. He was convicted of fraud and bribery in connection with government contracts, and was sent to prison. Another crony, Attorney General Harry Daugherty, was involved with an illegal liquor scheme. He only escaped prosecution by refusing to testify against himself.

Teapot Dome Scandal

The most notorious of these scandals was the revelation that the Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, accepted bribes to lease government property to private oil companies in the Teapot Dome Scandal. The popular conservation legislation created by Harding's predecessors, presidents Teddy Roosevelt, William Taft, and Woodrow Wilson, had set aside naval petroleum reserves in Wyoming and California. Three naval oil fields, Elk Hills and Buena Vista Hills in California and Teapot Dome in Wyoming, were tracts of public land meant as emergency underground supplies to be used by the navy only when regular oil supplies diminished. Teapot Dome received its name because of a rock resembling a teapot above the oil-bearing land. Politicians and private oil interests had opposed the restrictions placed on the oil fields, claiming that the reserves were unnecessary, and that the American oil companies could provide for the U.S. Navy.[1][2]

Civil and criminal suits concerning Teapot Dome lasted through the 1920s. In 1927 the Supreme Court finally ruled that the oil leases had been corruptly obtained and invalidated the Elk Hills lease in February of that year and the Teapot lease in October of the same year. The navy regained control of Teapot Dome and Elk Hills reserves. Albert Fall was found guilty of bribery in 1929, fined $100,000, and sentenced to one year in prison. Harry Sinclair refused to cooperate with the government investigators, was charged with contempt, and received a short sentence for jury tampering. Edward Doheny was acquitted in 1930 of attempts to bribe Fall.

The Teapot Dome scandal was a victory for neither political party. It became a major issue in the presidential election of 1924, but neither party could claim full credit for divulging the wrongdoing. It became the first true evidence of government corruption in America. The scandal revealed the problem of natural resource scarcity and the need to protect for the future against emergency depletion of resources. Vice President Calvin Coolidge, who assumed the presidency after Harding's death, handled the problem very systematically, and his administration avoided any damage to its reputation.


Although there were innumerable technical innovations, the vast changes in American life about this time had two major technical bases, mass production (the assembly line), and mass testing.

In the vast steel factories and in cloth mills individuals had to move together with the machines. Any mistake could lead to an accident, perhaps a fatal one. Henry Ford's assembly line worked on the same principle, but went much further. A car went from station to station, from worker to worker. Each worker had one function—tightening nuts, adding a component—and only that function, as if he were himself a machine. His main interest was in doing those motions which would do his job and do it most efficiently. (In this respect the system drew upon work efficiency experts such as Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Gilbreths.)

The advantages to this extreme systemization were fundamental. As with the cloth factories, the product was produced extremely quickly at all hours of the day or night. Very little training was needed for those jobs. The results of this system were extremely long-lasting. The Model T was seen as a durable car, and "the tin Lizzie" retained public affection even when it was superseded by cars with self-starters. The cars were also affordable, with results as seen below. Henry Ford raised his wages regularly, urging that the men who made the cars also buy them.

A small demerit was that these new cars were extremely ugly. The Stanley Steamer had been sleek, with lines like what would later be called "streamlining." Dusenbergs and Pierce-Arrows had a variety of hues and such extras as bud vases. Ford famously said that his purchasers could have any color they wanted, "so long as it is black." As people became more prosperous, they could shop for colored paint jobs and detailing for their luxury cars. However, creating affordable and beautiful goods was a movement away from Ford's version of the market.

More importantly, working on the assembly line wore on the workers. Standing in one place and squinting, working with a few muscles for hours a day (or night) could be very fatiguing. Human beings weren't made to live like that. When there were a limited set of priorities for working, workers could be easily replaced, just like machines. Not every boss of the assembly line paid as well as Ford.

Mass testing was a requirement for the assembly line—a bad part made a bad product. But it had actually begun as a human policy, in the requirements for the late 19th Century census. It was accelerated in the desire to find sound men for the First World War. Psychologists were employed to create intelligence tests to weed out unfit soldiers. Their weapons had to be carefully inspected, for when shoddy goods reached the front lines, the result could be a disaster.

In the post-war world, Big Business began developing research and development departments. Before a change was implemented, there had to be a prototype, and the effects on the public had to be carefully measured. Economics became a matter, not merely of becoming prosperous, but of selling to the largest number possible. (The term mass market originated in the 1920s.)

The Automobile

A scene from Tampa, Florida. Here Pedestrians, Trollies, a