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For my mother, Liza Foner (1909–2005), an accomplished artist who lived

through most of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first



E R I C F O N E R is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, where he earned his B.A. and Ph.D. In his teaching and scholarship, he focuses on the Civil War and Reconstruction, slavery, and nineteenth-century America. Professor Foner’s publi- cations include Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War; Tom Paine and Revolutionary America; Nothing but Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy; Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877; The Story of American Free- dom; and Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. His history of Recon- struction won the Los Angeles Times Book Award for History, the Bancroft Prize, and the Parkman Prize. He has served as president of the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association. In 2006 he received the Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching from Columbia University. His most recent book is The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, winner of the Lincoln Prize, the Bancroft Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize.








vi i

1 . A N E W W O R L D . . . 1


The Settling of the Americas … 3  Indian Societies of the Americas … 3

 Mound Builders of the Mississippi River Valley … 5  Western Indians … 6

 Indians of Eastern North America … 6  Native American Religion … 7

 Land and Property … 9  Gender Relations … 10  European Views

of the Indians … 10


Indian Freedom … 11  Christian Liberty … 12  Freedom and

Authority … 12  Liberty and Liberties … 13


Chinese and Portuguese Navigation … 14  Freedom and Slavery in

Africa … 14  The Voyages of Columbus … 16

CONTACT . . . 16

Columbus in the New World … 16  Exploration and Conquest … 17

 The Demographic Disaster … 19


Governing Spanish America … 21  Colonists and Indians in Spanish

America … 21  Justifications for Conquest … 22  Piety and Profit … 23

 Reforming the Empire … 24  Exploring North America … 25

 Spanish in Florida and the Southwest … 25  The Pueblo Revolt … 27

Voices of Freedom: From Bartolomé de las Casas, History of the Indies

(1528), and From “Declaration of Josephe” (December 19, 1681) … 28


French Colonization … 32  New France and the Indians … 32  The

Dutch Empire … 34  Dutch Freedom … 34  The Dutch and Religious

Toleration … 35  Settling New Netherland … 36  Features of European

Settlement … 36

REVIEW .. . 37

2 . B E G I N N I N G S O F E N G L I S H A M E R I C A , 1 6 0 7 – 1 6 6 0 . . . 3 8


Unifying the English Nation … 40  England and Ireland … 40  England

and North America … 40  Motives for Colonization … 41  The Social

Crisis … 42  Masterless Men … 43

A b o u t t h e A u t h o r . . . v

L i s t o f M a p s , T a b l e s , a n d F i g u r e s . . . x v i i i

P r e f a c e . . . x x



vii i



English Emigrants … 43  Indentured Servants … 44  Land and

Liberty … 44  Englishmen and Indians … 45  The Transformation

of Indian Life … 46


The Jamestown Colony … 47  Powhatan and Pocahontas … 48  The

Uprising of 1622 … 49  A Tobacco Colony … 50  Women and the

Family … 50  The Maryland Experiment … 52  Religion in

Maryland … 52


The Rise of Puritanism … 53  Moral Liberty … 53  The Pilgrims at

Plymouth … 54  The Great Migration … 55  The Puritan Family … 55 

Government and Society in Massachusetts … 56  Church and State in

Puritan Massachusetts … 58


Roger Williams … 60  Rhode Island and Connecticut … 60  The Trials

of Anne Hutchinson … 61  Puritans and Indians … 61

Voices of Freedom: From “The Trial of Anne Hutchinson” (1637),

and From John Winthrop, Speech to the Massachusetts General Court

(July 3, 1645) … 62

The Pequot War … 64  The New England Economy … 65  A Growing

Commercial Society … 66


The Rights of Englishmen … 67  The English Civil War … 68 

England’s Debate over Freedom … 68  The Civil War and English

America … 69  Cromwell and the Empire … 70

REVIEW .. . 71

3 . C R E A T I N G A N G L O – A M E R I C A , 1 6 6 0 – 1 7 5 0 . . . 7 2



The Mercantilist System … 74  The Conquest of New Netherland … 74 

New York and the Indians … 75  The Charter of Liberties … 77  The

Founding of Carolina … 77  The Holy Experiment … 78  Land in

Pennsylvania … 79


Englishmen and Africans … 80  Slavery in History … 81  Slavery

in the West Indies … 81  Slavery and the Law … 82  The Rise of

Chesapeake Slavery … 83  Bacon’s Rebellion: Land and Labor in

Virginia … 83  A Slave Society … 85






The Glorious Revolution … 86  The Glorious Revolution in America … 87 

The Salem Witch Trials … 89


A Diverse Population … 90  The German Migration … 91

Voices of Freedom: From Memorial against Non-English Immigration

(December 1727), and From Letter by a Swiss-German Immigrant

to Pennsylvania (August 23, 1769) … 92

Religious Diversity … 95  Indian Life in Transition … 95  Regional

Diversity … 96  The Consumer Revolution … 97  Colonial Cities … 97 

An Atlantic World … 98


The Colonial Elite … 99  Anglicization … 100  Poverty in the

Colonies … 100  The Middle Ranks … 101  Women and the

Household Economy … 101  North America at Mid-Century … 102

REVIEW .. . 103

4 . S L A V E R Y , F R E E D O M , A N D T H E S T R U G G L E F O R E M P I R E , T O 1 7 6 3 . . . 1 0 4


Atlantic Trade … 106  Africa and the Slave Trade … 107  The Middle

Passage … 109  Chesapeake Slavery … 109  The Rice Kingdom … 110

 The Georgia Experiment … 111  Slavery in the North … 112


Becoming African-American … 113  African Religion in Colonial America

… 113  African-American Cultures … 114  Resistance to Slavery … 115


British Patriotism … 116  The British Constitution … 117  Republican

Liberty … 117  Liberal Freedom … 118


The Right to Vote … 119  Political Cultures … 120  The Rise of the

Assemblies … 121  Politics in Public … 121  The Colonial Press … 122

 Freedom of Expression and Its Limits … 122  The Trial of Zenger … 123

 The American Enlightenment … 124


Religious Revivals … 125  The Preaching of Whitefield … 126  The

Awakening’s Impact … 126


Spanish North America … 127  The Spanish in California … 127  The

French Empire … 129






The Middle Ground … 130  The Seven Years’ War … 130  A World

Transformed … 131  Pontiac’s Rebellion … 132  The Proclamation

Line … 132

Voices of Freedom: From Pontiac, Speeches (1762 and 1763), and

From The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or

Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789) … 134

Pennsylvania and the Indians … 136  Colonial Identities … 137

REVIEW .. . 138

5 . T H E A M E R I C A N R E V O L U T I O N , 1 7 6 3 – 1 7 8 3 . . . 1 3 9


Consolidating the Empire … 140  Taxing the Colonies … 142 

Taxation and Representation … 143  Liberty and Resistance … 144 

The Regulators … 145


The Townshend Crisis … 145  The Boston Massacre … 146  Wilkes

and Liberty … 147  The Tea Act … 148  The Intolerable Acts … 148


The Continental Congress … 149  The Continental Association … 150

 The Sweets of Liberty … 150  The Outbreak of War … 151 

Independence? … 151  Paine’s Common Sense … 152  The Declaration

of Independence … 153  An Asylum for Mankind … 154  The Global

Declaration of Independence … 155

Voices of Freedom: From Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776), and

From Jonathan Boucher, A View of the Causes and Consequences of

the American Revolution (1775) … 156


The Balance of Power … 158  Blacks in the Revolution … 158  The

First Years of the War … 159  The Battle of Saratoga … 161  The War

in the South … 162  Victory at Last … 162

REVIEW .. . 166

6 . T H E R E V O L U T I O N W I T H I N . . . 1 6 7


The Dream of Equality … 169  Expanding the Political Nation … 169

 The Revolution in Pennsylvania … 170  The New Constitutions … 171

 The Right to Vote … 171


Catholic Americans … 173  Separating Church and State … 173

 Jefferson and Religious Liberty … 174  Christian Republicanism … 175

 A Virtuous Citizenry … 175






Toward Free Labor … 176  The Soul of a Republic … 176  The Politics

of Inflation … 177  The Debate over Free Trade … 178


Colonial Loyalists … 178  The Loyalists’ Plight … 179  The Indians’

Revolution … 181


The Language of Slavery and Freedom … 182  Obstacles to Abolition … 183

 The Cause of General Liberty … 183  Petitions for Freedom … 184

 British Emancipators … 185  Voluntary Emancipations … 185

Voices of Freedom: From Abigail Adams to John Adams, Braintree,

Mass. (March 31, 1776), and From Petitions of Slaves to the

Massachusetts Legislature (1773 and 1777) … 186

Abolition in the North … 188  Free Black Communities … 188


Revolutionary Women … 189  Republican Motherhood … 190  The

Arduous Struggle for Liberty … 190

REVIEW .. . 192

7 . F O U N D I N G A N A T I O N , 1 7 8 3 – 1 7 9 1 . . . 1 9 3


The Articles of Confederation … 195  Congress, Settlers, and the West …

196  The Land Ordinances … 198  The Confederation’s Weaknesses …

200  Shays’s Rebellion … 200  Nationalists of the 1780s … 201


The Structure of Government … 202  The Limits of Democracy … 203

 The Division and Separation of Powers … 204  The Debate over Slavery

… 205  Slavery in the Constitution … 205  The Final Document … 207


OF RIGHTS . . . 208

The Federalist … 208  “Extend the Sphere” … 208  The Anti-

Federalists … 209

Voices of Freedom: From David Ramsay, The History of the American

Revolution (1789), and From James Winthrop, Anti-Federalist Essay

Signed “Agrippa” (1787) … 210

The Bill of Rights … 214

“WE THE PEOPLE” . . . 215

National Identity … 215  Indians in the New Nation … 215  Blacks and

the Republic … 217  Jefferson, Slavery, and Race … 218  Principles of

Freedom … 219

REVIEW .. . 220





8 . S E C U R I N G T H E R E P U B L I C , 1 7 9 1 – 1 8 1 5 . . . 2 2 1


Hamilton’s Program … 223  The Emergence of Opposition … 223  The

Jefferson-Hamilton Bargain … 224  The Impact of the French Revolution

… 225  Political Parties … 226  The Whiskey Rebellion … 226  The

Republican Party … 226  An Expanding Public Sphere … 227

Voices of Freedom: From Judith Sargent Murray, “On the Equality of

the Sexes” (1790), and From Address of the Democratic-Republican

Society of Pennsylvania (December 18, 1794) … 228

The Rights of Women … 230


The Election of 1796 … 231  The “Reign of Witches” … 232  The

Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions … 233  The “Revolution of

1800” … 233  Slavery and Politics … 234  The Haitian

Revolution … 235  Gabriel’s Rebellion … 235


Judicial Review … 237  The Louisiana Purchase … 237  Lewis and

Clark … 239  Incorporating Louisiana … 240  The Barbary Wars … 241

 The Embargo … 241  Madison and Pressure for War … 242


The Indian Response … 243  The War of 1812 … 244  The War’s

Aftermath … 246  The End of the Federalist Party … 247

REVIEW .. . 248

9 . T H E M A R K E T R E V O L U T I O N , 1 8 0 0 – 1 8 4 0 . . . 2 4 9

A NEW ECONOMY .. . 251

Roads and Steamboats … 251  The Erie Canal … 252  Railroads

and the Telegraph … 254  The Rise of the West … 255  The Cotton

Kingdom … 257


Commercial Farmers … 260  The Growth of Cities … 260  The Factory

System … 261  The “Mill Girls” … 262  The Growth of Immigration …

263  The Rise of Nativism … 265  The Transformation of Law … 266


The West and Freedom … 267  The Transcendentalists … 267  The

Second Great Awakening … 268  The Awakening’s Impact … 269

Voices of Freedom: From Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American

Scholar” (1837), and From “Factory Life as It Is, by an Operative”

(1845) … 270

The Emergence of Mormonism … 272




xi i i


Liberty and Prosperity … 273  Race and Opportunity … 274  The Cult

of Domesticity … 275  Women and Work … 276  The Early Labor

Movement … 277  The “Liberty of Living” … 277

REVIEW .. . 279

1 0 . D E M O C R A C Y I N A M E R I C A , 1 8 1 5 – 1 8 4 0 . . . 2 8 0


Property and Democracy … 281  The Dorr War … 282  Tocqueville on

Democracy … 282  The Information Revolution … 283  The Limits of

Democracy … 284  A Racial Democracy … 284


The American System … 285  Banks and Money … 287  The Panic

of 1819 … 287  The Missouri Controversy … 288


The United States and the Latin American Wars of Independence … 289

 The Monroe Doctrine … 290  The Election of 1824 … 291

Voices of Freedom: From President James Monroe, Annual Message

to Congress (1823), and From John C. Calhoun, “A Disquisition on

Government” (ca. 1845) … 292

The Nationalism of John Quincy Adams … 294  “Liberty Is Power” … 294

 Martin Van Buren and the Democratic Party … 294  The Election

of 1828 … 295


The Party System … 296  Democrats and Whigs … 297  Public and

Private Freedom … 298  South Carolina and Nullification … 299

 Calhoun’s Political Theory … 299  The Nullification Crisis … 301

 Indian Removal … 301  The Supreme Court and the Indians … 302


Biddle’s Bank … 304  Pet Banks, the Economy, and the Panic

of 1837 … 306  Van Buren in Office … 307  The Election of 1840 … 307

REVIEW .. . 310

1 1 . T H E P E C U L I A R I N S T I T U T I O N . . . 3 1 1

THE OLD SOUTH .. . 312

Cotton Is King … 313  The Second Middle Passage … 314  Slavery

and the Nation … 314  The Southern Economy … 314  Plain Folk

of the Old South … 316  The Planter Class … 317  The Paternalist

Ethos … 318  The Proslavery Argument … 318  Abolition in the

Americas … 320  Slavery and Liberty … 320






Slaves and the Law … 321  Conditions of Slave Life … 322  Free

Blacks in the Old South … 322  Slave Labor … 323  Slavery in the

Cities … 324  Maintaining Order … 325


The Slave Family … 326  The Threat of Sale … 327  Gender Roles

among Slaves … 327  Slave Religion … 328  The Desire for Liberty … 329


Forms of Resistance … 330

Voices of Freedom: From Letter by Joseph Taper to Joseph Long

(1840), and From “Slavery and the Bible” (1850) … 332

The Amistad … 334  Slave Revolts … 335  Nat Turner’s Rebellion … 336

REVIEW .. . 338

1 2 . A N A G E O F R E F O R M , 1 8 2 0 – 1 8 4 0 . . . 3 3 9


Utopian Communities … 341  The Shakers … 343  Oneida … 343 

Worldly Communities … 344  Religion and Reform … 345  Critics of

Reform … 346  Reformers and Freedom … 346  The Invention of the

Asylum … 347  The Common School … 347


Colonization … 348  Militant Abolitionism … 349  Spreading the

Abolitionist Message … 350  Slavery and Moral Suasion … 351  A

New Vision of America … 352


Black Abolitionists … 353  Gentlemen of Property and Standing … 354


The Rise of the Public Woman … 356  Women and Free Speech … 356 

Women’s Rights … 357  Feminism and Freedom … 358  Women and

Work … 358  The Slavery of Sex … 359

Voices of Freedom: From Angelina Grimké, Letter in The Liberator

(August 2, 1837), and From Frederick Douglass, Speech on July 5,

1852, Rochester, New York … 360

“Social Freedom” … 362  The Abolitionist Schism … 363

REVIEW .. . 365

1 3 . A H O U S E D I V I D E D , 1 8 4 0 – 1 8 6 1 . . . 3 6 6


Continental Expansion … 368  The Mexican Frontier: New Mexico and

California … 368  The Texas Revolt … 370  The Election of 1844 … 370

 The Road to War … 372  The War and Its Critics … 372  Combat





in Mexico … 373  Race and Manifest Destiny … 374  Gold-Rush

California … 376  Opening Japan … 377


The Wilmot Proviso … 378  The Free Soil Appeal … 379  Crisis and

Compromise … 380  The Great Debate … 380  The Fugitive Slave

Issue … 381  Douglas and Popular Sovereignty … 382  The Kansas-

Nebraska Act … 382


The Northern Economy … 383  The Rise and Fall of the Know-

Nothings … 385  The Free Labor Ideology … 386  “Bleeding Kansas”

and the Election of 1856 … 387


The Dred Scott Decision … 389  Lincoln and Slavery … 390  The

Lincoln-Douglas Campaign … 390  John Brown at Harpers Ferry … 391

Voices of Freedom: From The Lincoln-Douglas Debates (1858) … 392

The Rise of Southern Nationalism … 394  The Election of 1860 … 395


The Secession Movement … 397  The Secession Crisis … 398  And

the War Came … 399

REVIEW .. . 401

1 4 . A N E W B I R T H O F F R E E D O M : T H E C I V I L W A R , 1 8 6 1 – 1 8 6 5 . . . 4 0 2


The Two Combatants … 404  The Technology of War … 405  The

Public and the War … 406  Mobilizing Resources … 407  Military

Strategies … 407  The War Begins … 408  The War in the East,

1862 … 409  The War in the West … 410


Slavery and the War … 410  Steps toward Emancipation … 413 

Lincoln’s Decision … 413  The Emancipation Proclamation … 414 

Enlisting Black Troops … 416  The Black Soldier … 416


Liberty, Union, and Nation … 418  The War and American Religion … 419

Voices of Freedom: From Letter of Thomas F. Drayton (April 17,

1861), and From Abraham Lincoln, Address at Sanitary Fair,

Baltimore (April 18, 1864) … 420

Liberty in Wartime … 422  The North’s Transformation … 422 

Government and the Economy … 423  The War and Native

Americans … 423  A New Financial System … 425  Women and

the War … 425  The Divided North … 426






Leadership and Government … 428  The Inner Civil War … 428 

Economic Problems … 429  Women and the Confederacy … 430 

Black Soldiers for the Confederacy … 431


Gettysburg and Vicksburg … 431  1864 … 433


OF THE WAR .. . 434

The Sea Islands Experiment … 434  Wartime Reconstruction in the West

… 435  The Politics of Wartime Reconstruction … 435  Victory at Last …

436  The War and the World … 438  The War in American History … 438

REVIEW .. . 440

1 5 . “ W H A T I S F R E E D O M ? ” : R E C O N S T R U C T I O N , 1 8 6 5 – 1 8 7 7 . . . 4 4 1


Families in Freedom … 443  Church and School … 444  Political

Freedom … 444  Land, Labor, and Freedom … 445  Masters without

Slaves … 445  The Free Labor Vision … 447  The Freedmen’s Bureau

… 447  The Failure of Land Reform … 448  The White Farmer … 449

Voices of Freedom: From Petition of Committee in Behalf of the

Freedmen to Andrew Johnson (1865), and From A Sharecropping

Contract (1866) … 450

Aftermath of Slavery … 453


Andrew Johnson … 454  The Failure of Presidential Reconstruction …

454  The Black Codes … 455  The Radical Republicans … 456  The

Origins of Civil Rights … 456  The Fourteenth Amendment … 457

 The Reconstruction Act … 458  Impeachment and the Election

of Grant … 458  The Fifteenth Amendment … 460  The “Great

Constitutional Revolution” … 461  The Rights of Women … 461


“The Tocsin of Freedom” … 462  The Black Officeholder … 464

 Carpetbaggers and Scalawags … 464  Southern Republicans in

Power … 465  The Quest for Prosperity … 465


Reconstruction’s Opponents … 466  “A Reign of Terror” … 467

 The Liberal Republicans … 469  The North’s Retreat … 470  The

Triumph of the Redeemers … 471  The Disputed Election and Bargain

of 1877 … 472  The End of Reconstruction … 473

REVIEW .. . 474







The Declaration of Independence (1776) … A-2

The Constitution of The United States (1787) … A-5

From George Washington’s Farewell Address (1796) … A-17

The Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments And Resolutions (1848) … A-22

From Frederick Douglass’s “What, To the Slave, Is The Fourth Of July?”

Speech (1852) … A-25 The Gettysburg Address (1863) … A-29

Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (1865) … A-30

The Populist Platform of 1892 … A-31

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address (1933) … A-34

From The Program For The March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom

(1963) … A-37 Ronald Reagan’s First Inaugural Address (1981) … A-38

Barack Obama’s First Inaugural Address (2009) … A-42


Presidential Elections … A-46

Admission of States … A-54

Population of the United States … A-55

Historical Statistics of The United States:

Labor Force—Selected Characteristics Expressed As A Percentage

of The Labor Force, 1800–2010 … A-56

Immigration, By Origin … A-56

Unemployment Rate, 1890–2013 … A-57

Union Membership As A Percentage Of Nonagricultural Employment,

1880–2012 … A-57

Voter Participation in Presidential Elections 1824–2012 … A-57

Birthrate, 1820–2011 … A-57

S U G G E S T E D R E A D I N G S … A – 5 9

G L O S S A R Y … A – 6 7

C R E D I T S … A – 9 5

I N D E X … A – 9 9



xvii i

List of Maps, Tables, and Figures



The First Americans … 4

Native Ways of Life, ca. 1500 … 8

The Old World on the Eve of American

Colonization, ca. 1500 … 15

Voyages of Discovery … 18

Early Spanish Conquests and Explorations in the

New World … 26

The New World—New France and New

Netherland, ca. 1650 … 31


English Settlement in the Chesapeake,

ca. 1650 … 48

English Settlement in New England,

ca. 1640 … 59


Eastern North America in the Seventeenth and

Early Eighteenth Centuries … 76

European Settlement and Ethnic Diversity on the

Atlantic Coast of North America, 1760 … 94


Atlantic Trading Routes … 107

The Slave Trade in the Atlantic World,

1460–1770 … 108

European Empires in North America,

ca. 1750 … 128

Eastern North America after the Peace of

Paris, 1763 … 133


The Revolutionary War in the North,

1775–1781 … 160

The Revolutionary War in the South,

1775–1781 … 163

North America, 1783 … 164


Loyalism in the American Revolution … 180


Western Lands, 1782–1802 … 197

Western Ordinances, 1785–1787 … 199

Ratification of the Constitution … 213


The Presidential Election of 1800 … 234

The Louisiana Purchase … 239

The War of 1812 … 245


The Market Revolution: Roads and Canals,

1840 … 253

Travel Times from New York City in 1800

and 1830 … 256

The Market Revolution: The Spread of

Cotton Cultivation, 1820–1840 … 258

Cotton Mills, 1820s … 263


The Missouri Compromise, 1820 … 289

The Presidential Election of 1824 … 291

The Presidential Election of 1828 … 296

Indian Removals, 1830–1840 … 302

The Presidential Election of 1840 … 308


Slave Population, 1860 … 315

Size of Slaveholdings, 1860 … 319

Major Crops of the South, 1860 … 325

Slave Resistance in the Nineteenth-Century

Atlantic World … 331


Utopian Communities, Mid-Nineteenth

Century … 342


The Trans-Mississippi West, 1830s–1840s … 369

The Mexican War, 1846–1848 … 374

Continental Expansion through 1853 … 375

The Kansas-Nebraska Act, 1854 … 383



Lists of Maps, Tables, and Figures


The Railroad Network, 1850s … 384

The Presidential Election of 1856 … 389

The Presidential Election of 1860 … 396


The Secession of Southern States, 1860–1861 …


The Civil War in the East, 1861–1862 … 409

The Civil War in the West, 1861–1862 … 411

The Emancipation Proclamation … 414

The Civil War, 1863 … 432

The Civil War, Late 1864–1865 … 437


The Barrow Plantation … 446

Sharecropping in the South,

1880 … 452

The Presidential Election of 1868 … 460

Reconstruction in the South,

1867–1877 … 471

The Presidential Election of 1876 … 472



Table 1.1 Estimated Regional Populations:

The Americas, ca. 1500 … 24

Table 1.2 Estimated Regional Populations:

The World, ca. 1500 … 25


Table 3.1 Origins and Status of Migrants

to British North American Colonies,

1700–1775 … 91


Table 4.1 Slave Population as Percentage of

Total Population of Original Thirteen

Colonies, 1770 … 112


Table 7.1 Total Population and Black Population

of the United States, 1790 … 217


Table 9.1 Population Growth of Selected Western

States, 1800–1850 (Excluding Indians)… 257

Table 9.2 Total Number of Immigrants by

Five-Year Period … 264

Figure 9.1 Sources of Immigration, 1850 … 265


Table 11.1 Growth of the Slave Population … 314

Table 11.2 Slaveholding, 1850 (in Round

Numbers) … 318


Figure 14.1 Resources for War: Union versus

Confederacy … 407






Since it originally appeared late in 2004, Give Me Liberty! An American History has gone through three editions and been adopted for use in survey courses at close to one thousand two- and four-year colleges in the United States, as well as a good number overseas. Of course, I am extremely gratified by this response. The book offers students a clear narra- tive of American history from the earliest days of European exploration and conquest of the New World to the first decade of the twenty-first century. Its central theme is the changing contours of American freedom.

The comments I have received from instructors and students encour- age me to think that Give Me Liberty! has worked well in the classroom. These comments have also included many valuable suggestions, ranging from corrections of typographical and factual errors to thoughts about subjects that need more extensive treatment. In preparing new editions of the book I have tried to take these suggestions into account, as well as incorporating the insights of recent historical scholarship.

Since the original edition was written, I have frequently been asked to produce a more succinct version of the textbook, which now runs to some 1,200 pages. This Brief Edition is a response to these requests. The text of the current volume is about one-third shorter than the full version. The result, I believe, is a book more suited to use in one-semester survey courses, classes





where the instructor wishes to supplement the text with additional read- ings, and in other situations where a briefer volume is desirable.

Since some publishers have been known to assign the task of reduction in cases like this to editors rather than the actual author, I wish to empha- size that I did all the cutting and necessary rewriting for this Brief Edition myself. My guiding principle was to preserve the coverage, structure, and emphases of the regular edition and to compress the book by eliminating details of secondary importance, streamlining the narrative of events, and avoiding unnecessary repetition. While the book is significantly shorter, no subject treated in the full edition has been eliminated entirely and noth- ing essential, I believe, has been sacrificed. The sequence of chapters and subjects remains the same, and the freedom theme is present and operative throughout.

In abridging the textbook I have retained the original interpretive framework as well as the new emphases added when the second and third editions of the book were published. The second edition incorporated new material about the history of Native Americans, an area of American his- tory that has been the subject of significant new scholarship in the past few years. It also devoted greater attention to the history of immigration and the controversies surrounding it—issues of considerable relevance to Amer- ican social and political life today.

The most significant change in the third edition reflected my desire to place American history more fully in a global context. In the past few years, scholars writing about the American past have sought to delineate the influ- ences of the United States on the rest of the world as well as the global devel- opments that have helped to shape the course of events here at home. They have also devoted greater attention to transnational processes—the expan- sion of empires, international labor migrations, the rise and fall of slavery, the globalization of economic enterprise—that cannot be understood solely within the confines of one country’s national boundaries. Without seek- ing in any way to homogenize the history of individual nations or neglect the domestic forces that have shaped American development, this edition retains this emphasis.

The most significant changes in this Fourth Edition reflect my desire to integrate more fully into the narrative the history of American religion. Today, this is a thriving subfield of American historical writing, partly because of the increased prominence in our own time of debates over the relations between government and religion and over the definition of reli- gious liberty—issues that are deeply rooted in the American experience. The Brief Edition also employs a bright new design for the text and its vari- ous elements. The popular Voices of Freedom feature—a pair of excerpts from primary source documents in each chapter that illuminate divergent interpretations of freedom—is present here. So too are the useful chapter





opening focus questions, which appear in the running heads of the relevant text pages as well. There are chapter opening chronologies and end-of- chapter review pages with questions and key terms. As a new feature in the Brief Edition there are marginal glosses in the text pages that are meant to highlight key points and indicate the chapter structure for students. They are also useful means for review. The Brief Edition features more than 400 illustrations and over 100 captioned maps in easy to read four-color renditions. The Further Readings sections appear in the Appendix along with the Glossary and the collection of key documents. The Brief Edition is fully supported by the same array of print and electronic supplements that support the other editions of Give Me Liberty! These materials have been revised to match the content of the Brief Edition.

Americans have always had a divided attitude toward history. On the one hand, they tend to be remarkably future-oriented, dismissing events of even the recent past as “ancient history” and sometimes seeing history as a bur- den to be overcome, a prison from which to escape. On the other hand, like many other peoples, Americans have always looked to history for a sense of personal or group identity and of national cohesiveness. This is why so many Americans devote time and energy to tracing their family trees and why they visit historical museums and National Park Service historical sites in ever-increasing numbers. My hope is that this book will help to con- vince readers with all degrees of interest that history does matter to them.

The novelist and essayist James Baldwin once observed that history “does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, . . . [that] history is literally present in all that we do.” As Baldwin recognized, the power of history is evident in our own world. Especially in a political democracy like the United States, whose government is designed to rest on the consent of informed citizens, knowledge of the past is essential—not only for those of us whose profession is the teaching and writing of history, but for everyone. History, to be sure, does not offer simple lessons or imme- diate answers to current questions. Knowing the history of immigration to the United States, and all of the tensions, turmoil, and aspirations associated with it, for example, does not tell us what current immigration policy ought to be. But without that knowledge, we have no way of understanding which approaches have worked and which have not—essential information for the formulation of future public policy.

History, it has been said, is what the present chooses to remember about the past. Rather than a fixed collection of facts, or a group of inter- pretations that cannot be challenged, our understanding of history is con- stantly changing. There is nothing unusual in the fact that each generation rewrites history to meet its own needs, or that scholars disagree among




xxii i

themselves on basic questions like the causes of the Civil War or the rea- sons for the Great Depression. Precisely because each generation asks dif- ferent questions of the past, each generation formulates different answers. The past thirty years have witnessed a remarkable expansion of the scope of historical study. The experiences of groups neglected by earlier scholars, including women, African-Americans, working people, and others, have received unprecedented attention from historians. New subfields—social history, cultural history, and family history among them—have taken their place alongside traditional political and diplomatic history.

Give Me Liberty! draws on this voluminous historical literature to pres- ent an up-to-date and inclusive account of the American past, paying due attention to the experience of diverse groups of Americans while in no way neglecting the events and processes Americans have experienced in common. It devotes serious attention to political, social, cultural, and eco- nomic history, and to their interconnections. The narrative brings together major events and prominent leaders with the many groups of ordinary peo- ple who make up American society. Give Me Liberty! has a rich cast of char- acters, from Thomas Jefferson to campaigners for woman suffrage, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to former slaves seeking to breathe meaning into emancipation during and after the Civil War.

The unifying theme of freedom that runs through the text gives shape to the narrative and integrates the numerous strands that make up the American experience. This approach builds on that of my earlier book, The Story of American Freedom (1998), although Give Me Liberty! places events and personalities in the foreground and is more geared to the structure of the introductory survey course.

Freedom, and battles to define its meaning, has long been central to my own scholarship and undergraduate teaching, which focuses on the nineteenth century and especially the era of Civil War and Reconstruction (1850–1877). This was a time when the future of slavery tore the nation apart and emancipation produced a national debate over what rights the former slaves, and all Americans, should enjoy as free citizens. I have found that attention to clashing definitions of freedom and the struggles of differ- ent groups to achieve freedom as they understood it offers a way of mak- ing sense of the bitter battles and vast transformations of that pivotal era. I believe that the same is true for American history as a whole.

No idea is more fundamental to Americans’ sense of themselves as individuals and as a nation than freedom. The central term in our politi- cal language, freedom—or liberty, with which it is almost always used interchangeably—is deeply embedded in the record of our history and the language of everyday life. The Declaration of Independence lists liberty among mankind’s inalienable rights; the Constitution announces its purpose





as securing liberty’s blessings. The United States fought the Civil War to bring about a new birth of freedom, World War II for the Four Freedoms, and the Cold War to defend the Free World. Americans’ love of liberty has been represented by liberty poles, liberty caps, and statues of liberty, and acted out by burning stamps and burning draft cards, by running away from slavery, and by demonstrating for the right to vote. “Every man in the street, white, black, red or yellow,” wrote the educator and statesman Ralph Bunche in 1940, “knows that this is ‘the land of the free’ . . . ‘the cradle of liberty.’”

The very universality of the idea of freedom, however, can be mislead- ing. Freedom is not a fixed, timeless category with a single unchanging defi- nition. Indeed, the history of the United States is, in part, a story of debates, disagreements, and struggles over freedom. Crises like the American Revo- lution, the Civil War, and the Cold War have permanently transformed the idea of freedom. So too have demands by various groups of Americans to enjoy greater freedom. The meaning of freedom has been constructed not only in congressional debates and political treatises, but on plantations and picket lines, in parlors and even bedrooms.

Over the course of our history, American freedom has been both a real- ity and a mythic ideal—a living truth for millions of Americans, a cruel mockery for others. For some, freedom has been what some scholars call a “habit of the heart,” an ideal so taken for granted that it is lived out but rarely analyzed. For others, freedom is not a birthright but a distant goal that has inspired great sacrifice.

Give Me Liberty! draws attention to three dimensions of freedom that have been critical in American history: (1) the meanings of freedom; (2) the social conditions that make freedom possible; and (3) the boundaries of free- dom that determine who is entitled to enjoy freedom and who is not. All have changed over time.

In the era of the American Revolution, for example, freedom was pri- marily a set of rights enjoyed in public activity—including the right of a com- munity to be governed by laws to which its representatives had consented and of individuals to engage in religious worship without governmental interference. In the nineteenth century, freedom came to be closely identi- fied with each person’s opportunity to develop to the fullest his or her innate talents. In the twentieth, the “ability to choose,” in both public and private life, became perhaps the dominant understanding of freedom. This develop- ment was encouraged by the explosive growth of the consumer marketplace which offered Americans an unprecedented array of goods with which to satisfy their needs and desires. During the 1960s, a crucial chapter in the history of American freedom, the idea of personal freedom was extended into virtually every realm, from attire and “lifestyle” to relations between





the sexes. Thus, over time, more and more areas of life have been drawn into Americans’ debates about the meaning of freedom.

A second important dimension of freedom focuses on the social con- ditions necessary to allow freedom to flourish. What kinds of economic institutions and relationships best encourage individual freedom? In the colonial era and for more than a century after independence, the answer centered on economic autonomy, enshrined in the glorification of the inde- pendent small producer—the farmer, skilled craftsman, or shopkeeper— who did not have to depend on another person for his livelihood. As the industrial economy matured, new conceptions of economic freedom came to the fore: “liberty of contract” in the Gilded Age, “industrial freedom” (a say in corporate decision making) in the Progressive era, economic security during the New Deal, and, more recently, the ability to enjoy mass consump- tion within a market economy.

The boundaries of freedom, the third dimension of this theme, have inspired some of the most intense struggles in American history. Although founded on the premise that liberty is an entitlement of all humanity, the United States for much of its history deprived many of its own people of free- dom. Non-whites have rarely enjoyed the same access to freedom as white Americans. The belief in equal opportunity as the birthright of all Ameri- cans has coexisted with persistent efforts to limit freedom by race, gender, class, and in other ways.

Less obvious, perhaps, is the fact that one person’s freedom has fre- quently been linked to another’s servitude. In the colonial era and nine- teenth century, expanding freedom for many Americans rested on the lack of freedom—slavery, indentured servitude, the subordinate position of women—for others. By the same token, it has been through battles at the boundaries—the efforts of racial minorities, women, and others to secure greater freedom—that the meaning and experience of freedom have been deepened and the concept extended into new realms.

Time and again in American history, freedom has been transformed by the demands of excluded groups for inclusion. The idea of freedom as a universal birthright owes much to abolitionists who sought to extend the blessings of liberty to blacks and to immigrant groups who insisted on full recognition as American citizens. The principle of equal protection of the law without regard to race, which became a central element of American freedom, arose from the antislavery struggle and Civil War and was rein- vigorated by the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, which called itself the “freedom movement.” The battle for the right of free speech by labor radicals and birth control advocates in the first part of the twentieth century helped to make civil liberties an essential element of freedom for all Americans.

Freedom is the oldest of clichés and the most modern of aspirations. At various times in our history, it has served as the rallying cry of the





powerless and as a justification of the status quo. Freedom helps to bind our culture together and exposes the contradictions between what Amer- ica claims to be and what it sometimes has been. American history is not a narrative of continual progress toward greater and greater freedom. As the abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson noted after the Civil War, “revolutions may go backward.” While freedom can be achieved, it may also be taken away. This happened, for example, when the equal rights granted to former slaves immediately after the Civil War were essentially nullified during the era of segregation. As was said in the eighteenth century, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

In the early twenty-first century, freedom continues to play a central role in our political and social life and thought. It is invoked by individuals and groups of all kinds, from critics of economic globalization to those who seek to export American freedom overseas. As with the longer version of the book, I hope that this Brief Edition of Give Me Liberty! will offer begin- ning students a clear account of the course of American history, and of its central theme, freedom, which today remains as varied, contentious, and ever-changing as America itself.






All works of history are, to a considerable extent, collaborative books, in that every writer builds on the research and writing of previous scholars. This is especially true of a textbook that covers the entire American experience, over more than five centuries. My greatest debt is to the innumerable histo- rians on whose work I have drawn in preparing this volume. The Suggested Reading list in the Appendix offers only a brief introduction to the vast body of historical scholarship that has influenced and informed this book. More specifically, however, I wish to thank the following scholars, who gener- ously read portions of this work and offered valuable comments, criticisms, and suggestions:

Wayne Ackerson, Salisbury University Mary E. Adams, City College of San Francisco Jeff Adler, University of Florida David Anderson, Louisiana Tech University John Barr, Lone Star College, Kingwood Lauren Braun-Strumfels, Raritan Valley Community College James Broussard, Lebanon Valley College Michael Bryan, Greenville Technical College Stephanie Cole, The University of Texas at Arlington Ashley Cruseturner, McLennan Community College Jim Dudlo, Brookhaven College Beverly Gage, Yale University Monica Gisolfi, University of North Carolina, Wilmington Adam Goudsouzian, University of Memphis Mike Green, Community College of Southern Nevada Vanessa Gunther, California State University, Fullerton David E. Hamilton, University of Kentucky Brian Harding, Mott Community College Sandra Harvey, Lone Star College–Cy Fair April Holm, University of Mississippi David Hsiung, Juniata College James Karmel, Harford Community College Kelly Knight, Penn State University Marianne Leeper, Trinity Valley Community College Jeffrey K. Lucas, University of North Carolina at Pembroke Tina Margolis, Westchester Community College Kent McGaughy, HCC Northwest College James Mills, University of Texas, Brownsville Gil Montemayor, McLennan Community College Jonathan Noyalas, Lord Fairfax Community College Robert M. O’Brien, Lone Star College–Cy Fair



xxvii i


Joseph Palermo, California State University, Sacramento Ann Plane, University of California, Santa Barbara Nancy Marie Robertson, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis Esther Robinson, Lone Star College–Cy Fair Richard Samuelson, California State University, San Bernadino Diane Sager, Maple Woods Community College John Shaw, Portland Community College Mark Spencer, Brock University David Stebenne, Ohio State University Judith Stein, City College, City University of New York George Stevens, Duchess Community College Robert Tinkler, California State University, Chico Elaine Thompson, Louisiana Tech University David Weiman, Barnard College William Young, Maple Woods Community College

I am particularly grateful to my colleagues in the Columbia University Department of History: Pablo Piccato, for his advice on Latin American his- tory; Evan Haefeli and Ellen Baker, who read and made many suggestions for improvements in their areas of expertise (colonial America and the history of the West, respectively); and Sarah Phillips, who offered advice on treating the history of the environment.

I am also deeply indebted to the graduate students at Columbia Univer- sity’s Department of History who helped with this project. Theresa Ventura offered invaluable assistance in gathering material for the new sections plac- ing American history in a global context. April Holm provided similar assis- tance for new coverage in this edition of the history of American religion and debates over religious freedom. James Delbourgo conducted research for the chapters on the colonial era. Beverly Gage did the same for the twenti- eth century. Daniel Freund provided all-round research assistance. Victoria Cain did a superb job of locating images. I also want to thank my colleagues Elizabeth Blackmar and Alan Brinkley for offering advice and encourage- ment throughout the writing of this book.

Many thanks to Joshua Brown, director of the American Social History Project, whose website, History Matters, lists innumerable online resources for the study of American history. Nancy Robertson at IUIPUI did a superb job revising and enhancing the in-book pedagogy. Monica Gisolfi (Univer- sity of North Carolina, Wilmington) and Robert Tinkler (California State University, Chico) did excellent work on the Instructor’s Manual and Test Bank. Kathleen Thomas (University of Wisconsin, Stout) helped greatly in the revisions of the companion media packages.





At W. W. Norton & Company, Steve Forman was an ideal editor— patient, encouraging, and always ready to offer sage advice. I would also like to thank Steve’s assistants, Justin Cahill and Penelope Lin, for their indispensable and always cheerful help on all aspects of the project; Ellen Lohman and Debbie Nichols for their careful copyediting and proof read- ing work. Stephanie Romeo and Donna Ranieri for their resourceful atten- tion to the illustrations program; Hope Miller Goodell and Chin-Yee Lai for their refinements of the book design; Mike Fodera and Debra Morton-Hoyt for splendid work on the covers for the Fourth Edition; Kim Yi for keep- ing the many threads of the project aligned and then tying them together; Sean Mintus for his efficiency and care in book production; Steve Hoge for orchestrating the rich media package that accompanies the textbook; Jessica Brannon-Wranosky, Texas A&M University–Commerce, our digital media author for the terrific new web quizzes and outlines; Volker Janssen, Cali- fornia State University, Fullerton, for the helpful new online reading exer- cises; Nicole Netherton, Steve Dunn, and Mike Wright for their alert reads of the U.S. survey market and their hard work in helping establish Give Me Liberty! within it; and Drake McFeely, Roby Harrington, and Julia Reidhead for maintaining Norton as an independent, employee-owned publisher ded- icated to excellence in its work.

Many students may have heard stories of how publishing companies alter the language and content of textbooks in an attempt to maximize sales and avoid alienating any potential reader. In this case, I can honestly say that W. W. Norton allowed me a free hand in writing the book and, apart from the usual editorial corrections, did not try to influence its content at all. For this I thank them, while I accept full responsibility for the interpretations pre- sented and for any errors the book may contain. Since no book of this length can be entirely free of mistakes, I welcome readers to send me corrections at ef17@columbia.edu.

My greatest debt, as always, is to my family—my wife, Lynn Garafola, for her good-natured support while I was preoccupied by a project that con- sumed more than its fair share of my time and energy, and my daughter, Daria, who while a ninth and tenth grader read every chapter as it was writ- ten and offered invaluable suggestions about improving the book’s clarity, logic, and grammar.

Eric Foner New York City

July 2013





L I B E R T Y ! A N A M E R I C A N H I S T O R Y

B r i e f F o u r t h E d i t i o n




C H A P T E R 1



7000 BC Agriculture developed in Mexico and Andes

900– Hopi and Zuni tribes build 1200 AD planned towns

1200 Cahokia city-empire along the Mississippi

1400s Iroquois League established

1434 Portuguese explore sub- Saharan African Coast

1487 Bartolomeu Dias reaches the Cape of Good Hope

1492 Reconquista of Spain

Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas

1498 Vasco da Gama sails to the Indian Ocean

1500 Pedro Cabral claims Brazil for Portugal

1502 First African slaves trans- ported to the Caribbean islands

1517 Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses

1519 Hernán Cortés arrives in Mexico

1528 Las Casas’s History of the Indies

1530s Pizarro’s conquest of Peru

1542 Spain promulgates the New Laws

1608 Champlain establishes Quebec

1609 Hudson claims New Netherland

1610 Santa Fe established

1680 Pueblo Revolt



C H A P T E R 1

France Bringing the Faith to the Indians

of New France. European nations

justified colonization with the argument

that they were bringing Christianity—

without which freedom was impossible—

to Native Americans. In this painting

from the 1670s, an Indian kneels before

a female representation of France. Both

hold a painting of the Trinity.



Chapter 1  A New World2

What were the major pat-

terns of Native American

life in North America

before Europeans arrived?

How did Indian and Euro-

pean ideas of freedom dif-

fer on the eve of contact?

What impelled European

explorers to look west

across the Atlantic?

What happened when the

peoples of the Americas

came in contact with


What were the chief

features of the Spanish

empire in America?

What were the chief fea-

tures of the French and

Dutch empires in North



T he discovery of America,” the British writer Adam Smith announced in his celebrated work The Wealth of Nations (1776), was one of “the two greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind.” Historians no longer use the word “discovery” to describe the European exploration, conquest, and colonization of a hemisphere already home to millions of people. But there can be no doubt that when Christopher Columbus made landfall in the West Indian islands in 1492, he set in motion some of the most pivotal developments in human history. Immense changes soon followed in both the Old and New Worlds; the consequences of these changes are still with us today.

The peoples of the American continents and Europe, previously unaware of each other’s existence, were thrown into continuous interaction. Crops new to each hemisphere crossed the Atlantic, reshaping diets and transforming the natural environment. Because of their long isolation, the inhabitants of North and South America had developed no immunity to the germs that also accompanied the colonizers. As a result, they suffered a series of devastating epidemics, the greatest population catastrophe in human history. Within a decade of Columbus’s voyage, a fourth continent—Africa—found itself drawn into the new Atlantic system of trade and population movement. In Africa, Europeans found a supply of unfree labor that enabled them to exploit the fertile lands of the Western Hemisphere. Indeed, of approximately 10 million men, women, and children who crossed from the Old World to the New between 1492 and 1820, the vast majority, about 7.7 million, were African slaves.

From the vantage point of 1776, the year the United States declared itself an independent nation, it seemed to Adam Smith that the “discovery” of America had produced both great “benefits” and great “misfortunes.” To the nations of western Europe, the development of American colonies brought an era of “splendor and glory.” Smith also noted, however, that to the “natives” of the Americas the years since 1492 had been ones of “dreadful misfortunes” and “every sort of injustice.” And for millions of Africans, the settlement of America meant a descent into the abyss of slavery.

Long before Columbus sailed, Europeans had dreamed of a land of abundance, riches, and ease beyond the western horizon. Europeans envisioned America as a religious refuge, a society of equals, a source of power and glory. They searched the New World for golden cities and fountains of eternal youth. Some of these dreams would indeed be fulfilled. To many European settlers, America offered a far greater chance to own land and worship as they pleased than existed in Europe, with its rigid, unequal social order and official churches. Yet the New World also became



3T H E F I R S T A M E R I C A N S

What were the major patterns of Native American life in North America before Europeans arrived?

the site of many forms of unfree labor, including indentured servitude, forced labor, and one of the most brutal and unjust systems, plantation slavery. The conquest and settlement of the Western Hemisphere opened new chapters in the long histories of both freedom and slavery.


The Settling of the Americas

The residents of the Americas were no more a single group than Europeans or Africans. They spoke hundreds of different languages and lived in numerous kinds of societies. Most, however, were descended from bands of hunters and fishers who had crossed the Bering Strait via a land bridge at various times between 15,000 and 60,000 years ago—the exact dates are hotly debated by archaeologists.

The New World was new to Europeans but an ancient homeland to those who already lived there. The hemisphere had witnessed many changes during its human history. First, the early inhabitants and their descendants spread across the two continents, reaching the tip of South America perhaps 11,000 years ago. As the climate warmed, they faced a food crisis as the immense animals they hunted, including woolly mam- moths and giant bison, became extinct. Around 9,000 years ago, at the same time that agriculture was being developed in the Near East, it also emerged in modern-day Mexico and the Andes, and then spread to other parts of the Americas, making settled civilizations possible.

Indian Societies of the Americas

North and South America were hardly an empty wilderness when Europeans arrived. The hemisphere contained cities, roads, irrigation systems, extensive trade networks, and large structures such as the pyramid-temples whose beauty still inspires wonder. With a population close to 250,000, Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec empire in what is now Mexico, was one of the world’s largest cities. Farther south lay the Inca kingdom, centered in modern-day Peru. Its population of perhaps 12 million was linked by a complex system of roads and bridges that extended 2,000 miles along the Andes mountain chain.

Indian civilizations in North America had not developed the scale, gran- deur, or centralized organization of the Aztec and Inca societies to their south.

Emergence of agriculture

Roads, trade networks, and irrigation systems



Chapter 1  A New World4


Monte Alban

Poverty Point

Chichen Itzá

Chaco Canyon






Chukc h i Pe n insu la

Yucatán Pen ins u la

Aleut ian I s lands INCAS










Be rin

g St rait

Gulf of Mexico

Caribbean Sea

Atlantic Ocean

Paci f ic Ocean





1,000 miles

1,000 kilometers

Possible migration routes

Oh io Ri

ve r

M ississippi R.


A map illustrating the probable routes by which the first Americans settled the Western Hemisphere at various times between 15,000

and 60,000 years ago.



5T H E F I R S T A M E R I C A N S

What were the major patterns of Native American life in North America before Europeans arrived?

North American Indians lacked the technologies Europeans had mastered, such as metal tools and machines, gunpowder, and the scientific knowledge necessary for long-distance navigation. No society north of Mexico had achieved literacy (although some made maps on bark and animal hides). Their “backwardness” became a central justification for European conquest. But, over time, Indian societies had perfected techniques of farming, hunt- ing, and fishing, developed structures of political power and religious belief, and engaged in far-reaching networks of trade and communication.

Mound Builders of the Mississippi River Valley

Remarkable physical remains still exist from some of the early civilizations in North America. Around 3,500 years ago, before Egyptians built the pyramids, Native Americans constructed a large community centered on a series of giant semicircular mounds on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in present-day Louisiana. Known today as Poverty Point, it was a commercial and governmental center whose residents established trade routes throughout the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys.

More than a thousand years before Columbus sailed, Indians of the Ohio River valley, called “mound builders” by eighteenth-century set- tlers who encountered the large earthen burial mounds they created, had traded across half the continent. After their decline, another culture flour- ished in the Mississippi River valley, centered on the city of Cahokia near present-day St. Louis, a fortified community with between 10,000 and

Map of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán

and the Gulf of Mexico, probably

produced by a Spanish conquistador

and published in 1524 in an edition of

the letters of Hernán Cortés. The map

shows the city’s complex system of

canals, bridges, and dams, with the

Great Temple at the center. Gardens

and a zoo are also visible.

“Mound builders”

Justification for conquest



Chapter 1  A New World6

30,000 inhabitants in the year 1200. It stood as the largest settled com- munity in what is now the United States until surpassed in population by New York and Philadelphia around 1800.

Western Indians

In the arid northeastern area of present-day Arizona, the Hopi and Zuni and their ancestors engaged in settled village life for over 3,000 years. During the peak of the region’s culture, between the years 900 and 1200, these peoples built great planned towns with large multiple-family dwell- ings in local canyons, constructed dams and canals to gather and distribute water, and conducted trade with groups as far away as central Mexico and the Mississippi River valley. The largest of their structures, Pueblo Bonita, in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, stood five stories high and had over 600 rooms. Not until the 1880s was a dwelling of comparable size constructed in the United States.

After the decline of these communities, probably because of drought, survivors moved to the south and east, where they established villages and perfected the techniques of desert farming. These were the people Spanish explorers called the Pueblo Indians (because they lived in small villages, or pueblos, when the Spanish first encountered them in the sixteenth cen- tury). On the Pacific coast, another densely populated region, hundreds of distinct groups resided in independent villages and lived primarily by fishing, hunting sea mammals, and gathering wild plants and nuts.

Indians of Eastern North America

In eastern North America, hundreds of tribes inhabited towns and villages scattered from the Gulf of Mexico to present-day Canada. They lived on corn, squash, and beans, sup- plemented by fishing and hunting deer, tur- keys, and other animals. Indian trade routes crisscrossed the eastern part of the continent. Tribes frequently warred with one another to obtain goods, seize captives, or take revenge for the killing of relatives. They conducted diplomacy and made peace. Little in the way of centralized authority existed until, in the fifteenth century, various leagues or

Village life and trade

A modern aerial photograph of the

ruins of Pueblo Bonita, in Chaco

Canyon in present-day New Mexico.

The rectangular structures are the

foundations of dwellings, and the

circular ones are kivas, or places

of religious worship.



7T H E F I R S T A M E R I C A N S

What were the major patterns of Native American life in North America before Europeans arrived?

confederations emerged in an effort to bring order to local regions. In the Southeast, the Choctaw, Cherokee, and Chickasaw each united dozens of towns in loose alliances. In present-day New York and Pennsylvania, five Iroquois peoples—the Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Onondaga— formed a Great League of Peace, bringing a period of stability to the area.

The most striking feature of Native American society at the time Europeans arrived was its sheer diversity. Each group had its own political system and set of religious beliefs, and North America was home to liter- ally hundreds of mutually unintelligible languages. Indians did not think of themselves as a single unified people, an idea invented by Europeans and only many years later adopted by Indians themselves. Indian identity centered on the immediate social group—a tribe, village, chiefdom, or con- federacy. When Europeans first arrived, many Indians saw them as simply one group among many. The sharp dichotomy between Indians and “white” persons did not emerge until later in the colonial era.

Native American Religion

Nonetheless, the diverse Indian societies of North America did share cer- tain common characteristics. Their lives were steeped in religious ceremo- nies often directly related to farming and hunting. Spiritual power, they

Diversity of Native American society

The Village of Secoton, by John

White, an English artist who spent

a year on the Outer Banks of North

Carolina in 1585–1586 as part of an

expedition sponsored by Sir Walter

Raleigh. A central street links houses

surrounded by fields of corn. In the

lower part, dancing Indians take part

in a religious ceremony.



Chapter 1  A New World8









































































t h i n l y p o p u l a t e d

th i n

l y p o p u l a t e d

L. Sup erior

L. M

ic hi

ga n

L. Huron

L. E rie

L. O ntar


Gulf of Mexico

Hudson Bay

Paci f ic Oc ean





500 miles

500 kilometers

Arctic hunter-gatherers Subarctic hunter-fisher-gatherers Northwest coast marine economy Plains hunter-gatherers Plains horticulturalists

Non-horticultural rancherian peoples Rancherian peoples with low-intensity horticulture Rancherian peoples with intensive horticulture Pueblos with intensive horticulture Seacoast foragers

Ways of Life in North America, AD 1515 Marginal horticultural hunters River-based horticultural chiefdoms Orchard-growing alligator hunters Tidewater horticulturalists Fishers and wild-rice gatherers

N A T I V E W A Y S O F L I F E , c a . 1 5 0 0

The native population of North America at the time of first contact with Europeans consisted of numerous tribes with their own

languages, religious beliefs, and economic and social structures. This map suggests the numerous ways of life existing at the time.



9T H E F I R S T A M E R I C A N S

What were the major patterns of Native American life in North America before Europeans arrived?

believed, suffused the world, and sacred spirits could be found in all kinds of living and inanimate things—animals, plants, trees, water, and wind. Through religious ceremonies, they aimed to harness the aid of powerful supernatural forces to serve human interests. Indian villages also held elab- orate religious rites, participation in which helped to define the boundaries of community membership. In all Indian societies, those who seemed to pos- sess special abilities to invoke supernatural powers—shamans, medicine men, and other religious leaders—held positions of respect and authority.

In some respects, Indian religion was not that different from popular spiritual beliefs in Europe. Most Indians held that a single Creator stood atop the spiritual hierarchy. Nonetheless, nearly all Europeans arriving in the New World quickly concluded that Indians were in dire need of being converted to a true, Christian faith.

Land and Property

Equally alien in European eyes were Indian attitudes toward property. Generally, village leaders assigned plots of land to individual families to use for a season or more, and tribes claimed specific areas for hunting. Unclaimed land remained free for anyone to use. Families “owned” the right to use land, but they did not own the land itself. Indians saw land as a common resource, not an economic commodity. There was no market in real estate before the coming of Europeans.

Land as a common resource

Indian religious rituals

A Catawba map illustrates the

differences between Indian and

European conceptions of landed

property. The map depicts not

possession of a specific territory, but

trade and diplomatic connections

between various native groups

and with the colony of Virginia,

represented by the rectangle on the

lower right. The map, inscribed on

deerskin, was originally presented

by Indian chiefs to Governor Francis

Nicholson of South Carolina in 1721.

This copy, the only version that

survives, was made by the governor

for the authorities in London. It added

English labels that conveyed what the

Indians had related orally with the gift.



Chapter 1  A New World10

Nor were Indians devoted to the accumulation of wealth and mate- rial goods. Especially east of the Mississippi River, where villages moved every few years when soil or game became depleted, acquiring numer- ous possessions made little sense. However, status certainly mattered in Indian societies. Tribal leaders tended to come from a small number of families, and chiefs lived more splendidly than average members of soci- ety. But their reputation often rested on their willingness to share goods with others rather than hoarding them for themselves.

Generosity was among the most valued social qualities, and gift giv- ing was essential to Indian society. Trade, for example, meant more than a commercial transaction—it was accompanied by elaborate ceremonies of gift exchange that bound different groups in webs of mutual obligation. “There are no beggars among them,” reported the English colonial leader Roger Williams of New England’s Indians.

Gender Relations

The system of gender relations in most Indian societies also differed mark- edly from that of Europe. Membership in a family defined women’s lives, but they openly engaged in premarital sexual relations and could even choose to divorce their husbands. Most, although not all, Indian societies were matrilineal—that is, centered on clans or kinship groups in which children became members of the mother’s family, not the father’s. Under English law, a married man controlled the family’s property and a wife had no independent legal identity. In contrast, Indian women owned dwellings and tools, and a husband generally moved to live with the family of his wife. Because men were frequently away on the hunt, women took responsibility not only for household duties but for most agricultural work as well.

European Views of the Indians

Europeans tended to view Indians in extreme terms. They were regarded either as “noble savages,” gentle, friendly, and superior in some ways to Europeans, or as uncivilized and brutal savages. Over time, however, n egative images of Indians came to overshadow positive ones. Early European descriptions of North American Indians as barbaric centered on three areas—religion, land use, and gender relations. Whatever their country of origin, European newcomers concluded that Indians

Gift giving

Matrilineal societies

Indian women planting crops while

men break the sod. An engraving by

Theodor de Bry, based on a painting

by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues.

Morgues was part of an expedition

of French Huguenots to Florida in

1564; he escaped when the Spanish

destroyed the outpost in the following




11I N D I A N F R E E D O M , E U R O P E A N F R E E D O M

What were the major patterns of Native American life in North America before Europeans arrived?

lacked genuine religion, or in fact worshiped the devil. Whereas the Indians saw nature as a world of spirits and souls, the Europeans viewed it as a collection of potential commodities, a source of economic opportunity.

Europeans invoked the Indians’ distinctive pattern of land use and ideas about property to answer the awkward question raised by a British minister at an early stage of England’s colonization: “By what right or warrant can we enter into the land of these Savages, take away their right- ful inheritance from them, and plant ourselves in their places?” While the Spanish claimed title to land in America by right of conquest and papal authority, the English, French, and Dutch came to rely on the idea that Indians had not actually “used” the land and thus had no claim to it. Despite the Indians’ highly developed agriculture and well-established towns, Europeans frequently described them as nomads without settled communities.

In the Indians’ gender division of labor and matrilineal family struc- tures, Europeans saw weak men and mistreated women. Hunting and fishing, the primary occupations of Indian men, were considered leisure activities in much of Europe, not “real” work. Because Indian women worked in the fields, Europeans often described them as lacking freedom. Europeans insisted that by subduing the Indians, they were actually bringing them freedom—the freedom of true religion, private property, and the liberation of both men and women from uncivilized and unchristian gender roles.

I N D I A N F R E E D O M , E U R O P E A N F R E E D O M

Indian Freedom

Although many Europeans initially saw Indians as embodying freedom, most colonizers quickly concluded that the notion of “freedom” was alien to Indian societies. European settlers reached this conclusion in part because Indians did not appear to live under established governments or fixed laws, followed their own—not European—definitions of authority, and lacked the kind of order and discipline common in European society. Indians also did not define freedom as individual autonomy or tie it to the ownership of property—two attributes important to Europeans.

What were the Indians’ ideas of freedom? The modern notion of free- dom as personal independence had little meaning in most Indian societies, but individuals were expected to think for themselves and did not always have to go along with collective decision making. Far more important

A seventeenth-century engraving by

a French Jesuit priest illustrates many

Europeans’ view of Indian religion.

A demon hovers over an Iroquois

longhouse, suggesting that Indians

worship the devil.

Freedom in the group



Chapter 1  A New World12

than individual autonomy were kinship ties, the ability to follow one’s spiritual values, and the well-being and security of one’s community. In Indian culture, group autonomy and self-determination, and the mutual obligations that came with a sense of belonging and connectedness, took precedence over individual freedom. Ironically, the coming of Europeans, armed with their own language of liberty, would make freedom a preoc- cupation of American Indians, as part and parcel of the very process by which they were reduced to dependence on the colonizers.

Christian Liberty

On the eve of colonization, Europeans held numerous ideas of freedom. Some were as old as the city-states of ancient Greece, others arose during the political struggles of the early modern era. Some laid the foundations for modern conceptions of freedom, others are quite unfamiliar today. Freedom was not a single idea but a collection of distinct rights and privi- leges, many enjoyed by only a small portion of the population.

One conception common throughout Europe understood freedom less as a political or social status than as a moral or spiritual condition. Freedom meant abandoning the life of sin to embrace the teachings of Christ. “Christian Liberty,” however, had no connection to later ideas of religious toleration, a notion that scarcely existed anywhere on the eve of colonization. Every nation in Europe had an established church that decreed what forms of religious worship and belief were acceptable. Dissenters faced persecu- tion by the state as well as condemnation by church authorities. Religious uniformity was thought to be essential to public order; the modern idea that a person’s religious beliefs and practices are a matter of private choice, not legal obligation, was almost unknown.

Freedom and Authority

In its secular form, the equating of liberty with obedience to a higher authority suggested that freedom meant not anarchy but obedience to law. The identification of freedom with the rule of law did not, though, mean that all subjects of the crown enjoyed the same degree of freedom. Early modern European societies were extremely hierarchical, with marked gra- dations of social status ranging from the king and hereditary aristocracy down to the urban and rural poor. Inequality was built into virtually every social relationship.

Within families, men exercised authority over their wives and chil- dren. According to the widespread legal doctrine known as “coverture,” when a woman married she surrendered her legal identity, which became

Freedom as a spiritual condition

Hierarchy in the family



13T H E E X P A N S I O N O F E U R O P E

How did Indian and European ideas of freedom differ on the eve of contact?

“covered” by that of her husband. She could not own property or sign contracts in her own name, control her wages if she worked, write a separate will, or, except in the rarest of circumstances, go to court seeking a divorce. The husband had the exclusive right to his wife’s “company,” including domestic labor and sexual relations.

Everywhere in Europe, family life depended on male dominance and female submission. Indeed, political writers of the sixteenth century explicitly compared the king’s authority over his subjects with the hus- band’s over his family. Both were ordained by God.

Liberty and Liberties

In this hierarchical society, liberty came from knowing one’s social place and fulfilling the duties appropriate to one’s rank. Most men lacked the freedom that came with economic independence. Property qualifications and other restrictions limited the electorate to a minuscule part of the adult male population. The law required strict obedience of employees, and breaches of labor contracts carried criminal penalties.

European ideas of freedom still bore the imprint of the Middle Ages, when “liberties” meant formal, specific privileges such as self-government, exemption from taxation, or the right to practice a particular trade, granted to individuals or groups by contract, royal decree, or purchase. Only those who enjoyed the “freedom of the city,” for example, could engage in cer- tain economic activities. Numerous modern civil liberties did not exist. The law decreed acceptable forms of religious worship. The government regularly suppressed publications it did not like, and criticism of author- ity could lead to imprisonment. Nonetheless, every European country that colonized the New World claimed to be spreading freedom—for its own population and for Native Americans.


It is fitting that the second epochal event that Adam Smith linked to Columbus’s voyage of 1492 was the discovery by Portuguese navigators of a sea route from Europe to Asia around the southern tip of Africa. The European conquest of America began as an offshoot of the quest for a sea route to India, China, and the islands of the East Indies, the source of the silk, tea, spices, porcelain, and other luxury goods on which international trade in the early modern era centered. For centuries, this commerce had been conducted across land, from China and South Asia to the Middle East

Hierarchy in society

Sea route to the East



Chapter 1  A New World14

and the Mediterranean region. Profit and piety—the desire to eliminate Islamic middlemen and win control of the lucrative trade for Christian western Europe—combined to inspire the quest for a direct route to Asia.

Chinese and Portuguese Navigation

At the beginning of the fifteenth century, one might have predicted that China would establish the world’s first global empire. Between 1405 and 1433, Admiral Zheng He led seven large naval expeditions in the Indian Ocean. The first convoy consisted of 62 ships that were larger than those of any European nation, along with 225 support vessels and more than 25,000 men. On his sixth voyage, Zheng explored the coast of East Africa. Had his ships continued westward, they could easily have reached North and South America. But as a wealthy land-based empire, China did not feel the need for overseas expansion, and after 1433 the government ended support for long- distance maritime expeditions.

It fell to Portugal, far removed from the overland route to Asia, to begin exploring the Atlantic. Taking advantage of new long-distance ships known as caravels and new navigational devices such as the compass and quadrant, the Portuguese showed that it was possible to sail down the coast of Africa and return to Portugal. No European sailor had seen the coast of Africa below the Sahara. But in that year, a Portuguese ship brought a sprig of rosemary from West Africa, proof that one could sail beyond the desert and return.

Little by little, Portuguese ships moved farther down the coast. In 1485, they reached Benin, an imposing city whose craftsmen produced bronze sculptures that still inspire admiration for their artistic beauty and superb casting techniques. The Portuguese established fortified trading posts on the western coast of Africa. The profits reaped by these Portuguese “factories”—so named because merchants were known as “factors”— inspired other European powers to follow in their footsteps.

Portugal also began to colonize Madeira, the Azores, and the Canary and Cape Verde Islands, which lie in the Atlantic off the African coast. The Portuguese established plantations on the Atlantic islands, eventually replacing the native populations with thousands of slaves shipped from Africa—an ominous precedent for the New World.

Freedom and Slavery in Africa

Slavery in Africa long predated the coming of Europeans. Traditionally, African slaves tended to be criminals, debtors, and captives in war. They worked within the households of their owners and had well-defined rights, such as possessing property and marrying free persons. It was not uncom-

Zheng He’s voyages

New techniques of sailing and navigation

Portuguese explorations



15T H E E X P A N S I O N O F E U R O P E

What impelled European explorers to look west across the Atlantic?

mon for African slaves to acquire their freedom. Slavery was one of several forms of labor, not the basis of the economy as it would become in large parts of the New World. The coming of the Portuguese, soon followed by traders from other European nations, accelerated the buying and selling of slaves within Africa. At least 100,000 African slaves were transported to Spain and Portugal between 1450 and 1500.

Having reached West Africa, Portuguese mariners pushed their explo- rations ever southward along the coast. Bartholomeu Dias reached the Cape of Good Hope at the continent’s southern tip in 1487. In 1498, Vasco da Gama sailed around it to India, demonstrating the feasibility of a sea route to the East. With a population of under 1 million, Portugal established a vast trading empire, with bases in India, southern China, and Indonesia. But six years before da Gama’s voyage, Christopher Columbus had, he believed, discovered a new route to China and India by sailing west.

T H E O L D W O R L D O N T H E E V E O F A M E R I C A N C O L O N I Z A T I O N , c a . 1 5 0 0

In the fifteenth century, the world

known to Europeans was limited to

Europe, parts of Africa, and Asia.

Explorers from Portugal sought to

find a sea route to the East in order to

circumvent the Italian city-states and

Middle Eastern rulers who controlled

the overland trade.


Genoa Venice

da Gama

da G ama


Zh en

g He

Zhe ng
















H o rmuz




Made i ra I s .

Canary I s .

Cape o f Good Hope

Cape Verde

I s .


Cyprus Crete


J ava


Cey lo n

Mediterranean Sea

Atlantic Ocean

Indian Oce an

Paci f ic Oce an





2,000 miles

2,000 kilometers



Chapter 1  A New World16

The Voyages of Columbus

A seasoned mariner and fearless explorer from Genoa, a major port in northern Italy, Columbus had for years sailed the Mediterranean and North Atlantic, studying ocean currents and wind patterns. Like nearly all navigators of the time, Columbus knew the earth was round. But he drasti- cally underestimated its size. He believed that by sailing westward he could relatively quickly cross the Atlantic and reach Asia. No one in Europe knew that two giant continents lay 3,000 miles to the west. The Vikings, to be sure, had sailed from Greenland to Newfoundland around the year 1000 and established a settlement, Vinland. But this outpost was abandoned after a few years and had been forgotten, except in Norse legends.

For Columbus, as for other figures of the time, religious and com- mercial motives reinforced one another. A devout Catholic, he drew on the Bible for his estimate of the size of the globe. Along with developing trade with the East, he hoped to convert Asians to Christianity and enlist them in a crusade to redeem Jerusalem from Muslim control.

Columbus sought financial support throughout Europe for the planned voyage. Eventually, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain agreed to become sponsors. Their marriage in 1469 had united the warring king- doms of Aragon and Castile. In 1492, they completed the reconquista—the “reconquest” of Spain from the Moors, African Muslims who had occupied part of the Iberian Peninsula for centuries. With Spain’s territory united, Ferdinand and Isabella—like the rulers of the Italian city-states—were anx-

ious to circumvent the Muslim stranglehold on eastern trade. It is not surprising, then, that Columbus set sail with royal letters of introduction to Asian rulers, autho- rizing him to negotiate trade agreements.


Columbus in the New World

On October 12, 1492, after only thirty-three days of sail- ing from the Canary Islands, where he had stopped to resupply his three ships, Columbus and his expedition arrived at the Bahamas. Soon afterward, he encountered the far larger islands of Hispaniola (today the site of Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and Cuba. When one of his ships ran aground, he abandoned it and left thirty-eight

Columbus’s Landfall, an engraving

from La lettera dell’isole (Letter from

the Islands). This 1493 pamphlet

reproduced, in the form of a poem,

Columbus’s first letter describing his

voyage of the previous year. Under

the watchful eye of King Ferdinand

of Spain, Columbus and his men land

on a Caribbean island, while local

Indians flee.

Norse settlement



17C O N T A C T

What happened when the peoples of the Americas came in contact with Europeans?

men behind on Hispaniola. But he found room to bring ten inhabitants of the island back to Spain for conversion to Christianity.

In the following year, 1493, Columbus returned with seventeen ships and more than 1,000 men to explore the area and establish a Spanish outpost. Columbus’s settlement on the island of Hispaniola, which he named La Isabella, failed, but in 1502 another Spanish explorer, Nicolás de Ovando, arrived with 2,500 men and established a permanent base, the first center of the Spanish empire in America. Columbus went to his grave believing that he had discovered a westward route to Asia. The explorations of another Italian, Amerigo Vespucci, along the coast of South America between 1499 and 1502 made plain that a continent entirely unknown to Europeans had been encountered. The New World would come to bear not Columbus’s name but one based on Vespucci’s—America. Vespucci also realized that the native inhabitants were distinct peoples, not residents of the East Indies as Columbus had believed, although the name “Indians,” applied to them by Columbus, has endured to this day.

Exploration and Conquest

Thanks to Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the 1430s, news of Columbus’s achievement traveled quickly, at least among the educated minority in Europe. Other explorers were inspired to follow in his wake. John Cabot, a Genoese merchant who had settled in England, reached Newfoundland in 1497. Soon, scores of fishing boats from France, Spain, and England were active in the region. Pedro Cabral claimed Brazil for Portugal in 1500.

But the Spanish took the lead in exploration and conquest. Inspired by a search for wealth, national glory, and the desire to spread Catholicism, Spanish conquistadores, often accompanied by religious missionaries and carrying flags emblazoned with the sign of the cross, radiated outward from Hispaniola. In 1513, Vasco Núñez de Balboa trekked across the isth- mus of Panama and became the first European to gaze upon the Pacific Ocean. Between 1519 and 1522, Ferdinand Magellan led the first expedition to sail around the world, encountering Pacific islands and peoples previ- ously unknown to Europe.

The first explorer to encounter a major American civilization was Hernán Cortés, who in 1519 arrived at Tenochtitlán, the nerve center of the Aztec empire, whose wealth and power rested on domination of numerous subordinate peoples nearby. The Aztecs were violent warriors who engaged in the ritual sacrifice of captives and others, sometimes thou- sands at a time. This practice thoroughly alienated their neighbors.

Spain takes the lead



Hispaniola settlement



Chapter 1  A New World18


Magellan (1519-1522)

Cabot (1497)

Columbus (1492)

Ba lbo

a ( 151


M ag

ell an

(1 51

9- 15

22 )

Ve sp

uc ci

(1 50

1- 15

02 )

Ca br

al (1

50 0)


Cor tés (1519) Colum

bus (1 493)

Colu mbus

(150 2)

Columbus (1498)






At lant ic Oce an

Paci f ic Ocean





2,000 miles

2,000 kilometers


Christopher Columbus’s first Atlantic crossing, in 1492, was soon followed by voyages of discovery by English, Portuguese, Spanish,

and Italian explorers.



19C O N T A C T

What happened when the peoples of the Americas came in contact with Europeans?

With only a few hundred European men, Cortés conquered the Aztec city, relying on superior military technology such as iron weapons and gunpowder, as well as shrewdness in enlisting the aid of some of the Aztecs’ subject peoples, who supplied him with thou- sands of warriors. His most powerful ally, however, was disease—a smallpox epidemic that devastated Aztec society. A few years later, Francisco Pizarro conquered the great Inca kingdom centered in modern-day Peru. Pizarro’s tactics were typical of the conquistadores. He captured the Incan king, demanded and received a ran- som, and then killed the king anyway. Soon, treasure fleets carrying cargoes of gold and silver from the mines of Mexico and Peru were traversing the Atlantic to enrich the Spanish crown.

The Demographic Disaster

The transatlantic flow of goods and people is sometimes called the Columbian Exchange. Plants, animals, and cultures that had evolved inde- pendently on separate continents were now thrown together. Products introduced to Europe from the Americas included corn, tomatoes, pota- toes, peanuts, and tobacco, while people from the Old World brought wheat, rice, sugarcane, horses, cattle, pigs, and sheep to the New. But Europeans also carried germs previously unknown in the Americas.

No one knows exactly how many people lived in the Americas at the time of Columbus’s voyages—current estimates range between 50 and 90 million, most of whom lived in Central and South America. In 1492, the Indian population within what are now the borders of the United States was between 2 and 5 million. The Indian populations of the Americas suf- fered a catastrophic decline because of contact with Europeans and their wars, enslavement, and especially diseases like smallpox, influenza, and measles. Never having encountered these diseases, Indians had not devel- oped antibodies to fight them. The result was devastating. The population of Mexico would fall by more than 90 percent in the sixteenth century, from perhaps 20 million to under 2 million. As for the area that now forms the United States, its Native American population fell continuously. It reached its lowest point around 1900, at only 250,000.

Overall, the death of perhaps 80 million people—close to one-fifth of humankind—in the first century and a half after contact with Europeans

Engravings, from the Florentine

Codex, of the forces of Cortés

marching on Tenochtitlán and

assaulting the city with cannon fire.

The difference in military technology

between the Spanish and Aztecs

is evident. Indians who allied with

Cortés had helped him build vessels

and carry them in pieces over

mountains to the city. The codex

(a volume formed by stitching

together manuscript pages) was

prepared under the supervision of

a Spanish missionary in sixteenth-

century Mexico.

Decline of Indian populations



Chapter 1  A New World20

represents the greatest loss of life in human history. It was disease as much as military prowess and more advanced technology that enabled Europeans to conquer the Americas.


By the middle of the sixteenth century, Spain had established an immense empire that reached from Europe to the Americas and Asia. The Atlantic and Pacific oceans, once barriers separating different parts of the world, now became highways for the exchange of goods and the movement of people. Spanish galleons carried gold and silver from Mexico and Peru east- ward to Spain and westward to Manila in the Philippines and on to China.

Stretching from the Andes Mountains of South America through present-day Mexico and the Caribbean and eventually into Florida and the southwestern United States, Spain’s empire exceeded in size the Roman empire of the ancient world. Its center was Mexico City, a magnificent capi- tal built on the ruins of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán that boasted churches, hospitals, monasteries, government buildings, and the New World’s first university. Unlike the English and French New World empires, Spanish

A late-seventeenth-century painting

of the Plaza Mayor (main square)

of Mexico City. The image includes

a parade of over 1,000 persons, of

different ethnic groups and

occupations, dressed in their

characteristic attire.

Extent of the empire



21T H E S P A N I S H E M P I R E

What were the chief features of the Spanish empire in America?

America was essentially an urban civilization. For centuries, its great cit- ies, notably Mexico City, Quito, and Lima, far outshone any urban centers in North America and most of those in Europe.

Governing Spanish America

At least in theory, the government of Spanish America reflected the absolut- ism of the newly unified nation at home. Authority originated with the king and flowed downward through the Council of the Indies—the main body in Spain for colonial administration—and then to viceroys in Mexico and Peru and other local officials in America. The Catholic Church also played a significant role in the administration of Spanish colonies, frequently exert- ing its authority on matters of faith, morals, and treatment of the Indians.

Successive kings kept elected assemblies out of Spain’s New World empire. Royal officials were generally appointees from Spain, rather than criollos, as persons born in the colonies of European ancestry were called. But as Spain’s power declined in Europe beginning in the seventeenth century, the local elite came to enjoy more and more effective authority over colonial affairs.

Colonists and Indians in Spanish America

Despite the decline in the native population, Spanish America remained populous enough that, with the exception of the West Indies and a few cit- ies, large-scale importations of African slaves were unnecessary. Instead, the Spanish forced tens of thousands of Indians to work in gold and silver mines, which supplied the empire’s wealth, and on large-scale farms, or haciendas, controlled by Spanish landlords. In Spanish America, unlike other New World empires, Indians performed most of the labor.

The opportunity for social advancement drew numerous colonists from Spain—225,000 in the sixteenth century and a total of 750,000 in the three centuries of Spain’s colonial rule. Eventually, a significant num- ber came in families, but at first the large majority were young, single men, many of them laborers, craftsmen, and soldiers. Many also came as gov- ernment officials, priests, professionals, and minor aristocrats, all ready to direct the manual work of Indians, since living without having to labor was a sign of noble status. The most successful of these colonists enjoyed lives of luxury similar to those of the upper classes at home.

Unlike in the later British empire, Indian inhabitants always out- numbered European colonists and their descendants in Spanish America, and large areas remained effectively under Indian control for many years.

Labor in Spanish America

Authority in Spanish America



Chapter 1  A New World22

Spanish authorities granted Indians certain rights within colonial society and looked forward to their eventual assimilation. Indeed, the success of the Spanish empire depended on the nature of the native societies on which it could build. In Florida, the Amazon, and Caribbean islands like Jamaica, which lacked major Indian cities and large native populations, Spanish rule remained tenuous.

The Spanish crown ordered wives of colonists to join them in America and demanded that single men marry. But with the population of Spanish women remaining low, the intermixing of the colonial and Indian peoples soon began. As early as 1514, the Spanish government formally approved of such marriages, partly as a way of bringing Christianity to the native population. By 1600, mestizos (persons of mixed origin) made up a large part of the urban population of Spanish America. Over time, Spanish America evolved into a hybrid culture, part Spanish, part Indian, and in some areas part African, but with a single official faith, language, and governmental system.

Justifications for Conquest

The Europeans who crossed the Atlantic in the wake of Columbus’s voy- age had immense confidence in the superiority of their own cultures to those they encountered in America. They expected these societies to aban- don their own beliefs and traditions and embrace those of the newcomers. Failure to do so reinforced the conviction that these people were uncivi- lized “heathens” (non-Christians). In addition, Europeans brought with them a long history of using violence to subdue their foes and a missionary zeal to spread the benefits of their own civilization to others, while reaping the benefits of empire. Spain was no exception.

To further legitimize Spain’s claim to rule the New World, a year after Columbus’s first voyage Pope Alexander VI divided the non-Christian world between Spain and Portugal. The line was subsequently adjusted to give Portugal control of Brazil, with the remainder of the Western Hemisphere falling under Spanish authority. Its missionary purpose in colonization was already familiar because of the long holy war against Islam within Spain itself and Spain’s 1492 order that all Muslims and Jews had to convert to Catholicism or leave the country. But missionary zeal was power- fully reinforced in the sixteenth century, when the Protestant Reformation divided the Catholic Church. In 1517, Martin Luther, a German priest, posted his Ninety-Five Theses, which accused the Church of worldliness and cor- ruption. Luther wanted to cleanse the Church of abuses such as the sale of indulgences (official dispensations forgiving sins). He insisted that all

The Virgin of Guadalupe, a symbol

of Mexican culture, in an image

from 1770. She is portrayed as the

protector of the Indians.

A hybrid culture



23T H E S P A N I S H E M P I R E

What were the chief features of the Spanish empire in America?

believers should read the Bible for themselves, rather than relying on priests to interpret it for them. His call for reform led to the rise of new Protestant churches independent of Rome and plunged Europe into more than a cen- tury of religious and political strife.

Spain, the most powerful bastion of orthodox Catholicism, redoubled its efforts to convert the Indians to the “true faith.” Spain insisted that the primary goal of colonization was to save the Indians from heathenism and prevent them from falling under the sway of Protestantism.

Piety and Profit

To the Spanish colonizers, the large native populations of the Americas were not only souls to be saved but also a labor force to be organized to extract gold and silver for the mother country. The tension between these two outlooks would mark Spanish rule in America for three centuries. On the one hand, religious orders established missions throughout the empire, and over time millions of Indians were converted to Catholicism. On the other hand, Spanish rule, especially in its initial period, decimated the Indian population and subjected Indians to brutal labor conditions. The conquistadores and subsequent governors, who required conquered peoples to acknowledge the Catholic Church and provide gold and silver,

Spanish conquistadores murdering

Indians at Cuzco, in Peru. The

Dutch-born engraver Theodor de Bry

and his sons illustrated ten volumes

about New World exploration

published between 1590 and 1618.

A Protestant, de Bry created vivid

images that helped to spread the

Black Legend of Spain as a uniquely

cruel colonizer.

Converting Indians

Tensions in the empire



Chapter 1  A New World24

saw no contradiction between serving God and enriching themselves. Others, however, did.

As early as 1537, Pope Paul III, who hoped to see Indians become devout subjects of Catholic monarchs, outlawed Indians’ enslavement (an edict never extended to apply to Africans). Fifteen years later, the Dominican priest Bartolomé de Las Casas published an account of the decimation of the Indian population with the compelling title A Very Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies.

Las Casas’s writings denounced Spain for causing the death of millions of innocent people and for denying Indians their freedom. He narrated in shocking detail the “strange cruelties” carried out by “the Christians,” including the burning alive of men, women, and children and the imposition of forced labor. “The entire human race is one,” he pro- claimed, and while he continued to believe that Spain had a right to rule in America, largely on religious grounds, he called for Indians to enjoy “all guarantees of liberty and justice” from the moment they became subjects of Spain. Las Casas also suggested, however, that importing slaves from Africa would help to protect the Indians from exploitation.

Reforming the Empire

Largely because of Las Casas’s efforts, Spain in 1542 promulgated the New Laws, commanding that Indians no longer be enslaved. In 1550, Spain abolished the encomienda system, under which the first settlers had been

granted authority over conquered Indian lands with the right to extract forced labor from the native inhab- itants. In its place, the government established the repartimiento system, whereby residents of Indian villages remained legally free and entitled to wages, but were still required to perform a fixed amount of labor each year. The Indians were not slaves—they had access to land, were paid wages, and could not be bought and sold. But since the requirement that they work for the Spanish remained the essence of the system, it still allowed for many abuses by Spanish landlords and by priests who required Indians to toil on mission lands as part of the conversion process.

Over time, Spain’s brutal treatment of Indi- ans improved somewhat. But Las Casas’s writings, translated almost immediately into several European languages, contributed to the spread of the Black

TABLE 1.1 Estimated Regional Populations:

The Americas, ca. 1500

North America 3,800,000

Mexico 17,200,000

Central America 5,625,000

Hispaniola 1,000,000

The Caribbean 3,000,000

The Andes 15,700,000

South America 8,620,000


Las Casas



25T H E S P A N I S H E M P I R E

What were the chief features of the Spanish empire in America?

Legend—the image of Spain as a uniquely brutal and exploitative colonizer. This image would provide a potent justification for other European powers to challenge Spain’s predominance in the New World.

Exploring North America

While the Spanish empire centered on Mexico, Peru, and the West Indies, the hope of finding a new kingdom of gold soon led Spanish explorers into territory that now forms part of the United States. Juan Ponce de León, who had conquered Puerto Rico, entered Florida in 1513 in search of slaves, wealth, and a fabled fountain of youth, only to be repelled by local Indians. In the late 1530s and 1540s, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo explored the Pacific coast as far north as present-day Oregon, and expeditions led by Hernando de Soto, Cabeza de Vaca, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, and others marched through the Gulf region and the Southwest, fruitlessly searching for another Mexico or Peru. These expeditions, really mobile communities with hundreds of adventurers, priests, potential settlers, slaves, and livestock, spread disease and dev- astation among Indian communities. De Soto’s was particularly brutal. His men tortured, raped, and enslaved countless Indians and transmitted deadly diseases. When Europeans in the seventeenth century returned to colonize the area traversed by de Soto’s party, little remained of the societ- ies he had encountered.

Spain in Florida and the Southwest

Nonetheless, these explorations established Spain’s claim to a large part of what is now the American South and Southwest. The first region to be col- onized within the present-day United States was Florida. Spain hoped to establish a military base there to combat pirates who threatened the trea- sure fleet that each year sailed from Havana for Europe loaded with gold and silver from Mexico and Peru. Spain also wanted to forestall French incursions in the area. In 1565, Philip II of Spain authorized the noble- man Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to lead a colonizing expedition to Florida. Menéndez destroyed a small outpost at Fort Caroline, which a group of Huguenots (French Protestants) had established in 1562 near present-day

TABLE 1.2 Estimated Regional Populations: The World, ca. 1500

India 110,000,000

China 103,000,000

Other Asia 55,400,000

Western Europe 57,200,000

The Americas 55,000,000

Russia and Eastern Europe 34,000,000

Sub-Saharan Africa 38,300,000

Japan 15,400,000


De Soto

Florida as military base



Chapter 1  A New World26

Mexico City

St. Augustine

Santa Fe



Pi za


Cort és

Ponce de León

Cabeza de Vaca

de Soto Coronado


Ca br


Fort Caroline

Pueblo Revolt, 1680


Hispan io la

Gulf of Mexico

Caribbean Sea

A tl an ti c O cean

Paci f ic Ocean

0 0

500 500

1,000 miles 1,000 kilometers

Cabrillo Oñate Coronado de Soto Cabeza de Vaca Ponce de León Cortés Pizarro Extent of Incan peoples Extent of Aztec peoples

By around 1600, New Spain had become a vast empire stretching from the modern-day American

Southwest through Mexico, Central America, and into the former Inca kingdom in South America.

This map shows early Spanish exploration, especially in the present-day United States, Mexico,

and Peru.




27T H E S P A N I S H E M P I R E

What were the chief features of the Spanish empire in America?

Jacksonville. Menéndez and his men went on to establish Spanish forts on St. Simons Island, Georgia, and at St. Augustine, Florida. The latter remains the oldest site in the United States continuously inhabited by European settlers and their descendants. In general, though, Florida failed to attract settlers, remaining an isolated military settlement, in effect a fortified outpost of Cuba. As late as 1763, Spanish Florida had only 4,000 inhabitants of European descent.

Spain took even longer to begin the colonization of the American Southwest. It was not until 1598 that Juan de Oñate led a group of 400 soldiers, colonists, and missionaries north from Mexico to establish a per- manent settlement. While searching for fabled deposits of precious met- als, Oñate’s nephew and fourteen soldiers were killed by inhabitants of Acoma, the “sky city” located on a high bluff in present-day New Mexico.

Oñate decided to teach the local Indians a lesson. After a two-day siege, his forces scaled the seemingly impregnable heights and destroyed Acoma, killing more than 800 of its 1,500 or so inhabitants, including 300 women. Of the 600 Indians captured, the women and children were consigned to servitude in Spanish families, while adult men were punished by the cutting off of one foot. Oñate’s message was plain—any Indians who resisted Spanish authority would be crushed. In 1606, how- ever, Oñate was ordered home and punished for his treatment of New Mexico’s Indians. In 1610, Spain established the capital of New Mexico at Santa Fe, the first permanent European settlement in the Southwest.

The Pueblo Revolt

In 1680, New Mexico’s small and vulnerable colonist population numbered less than 3,000. Relations between the Pueblo Indians and colonial author- ities had deteriorated throughout the seventeenth century, as governors, settlers, and missionaries sought to exploit the labor of an Indian population that declined from about 60,000 in 1600 to some 17,000 eighty years later. Franciscan friars worked relentlessly to convert Indians to Catholicism, often using intimidation and violence. As the Inquisition—the persecution of non-Catholics—became more and more intense in Spain, so did the friars’ efforts to stamp out traditional religious ceremonies in New Mexico. At the same time, the Spanish assumed that the Indians could never unite against the colonizers. In August 1680, they were proven wrong.

Little is known about the life of Popé, who became the main orga- nizer of an uprising that aimed to drive the Spanish from the colony and restore the Indians’ traditional autonomy. Under Popé’s leadership, New Mexico’s Indians joined in a coordinated uprising. Ironically, because

Juan de Oñate in New Mexico


Religious tensions




Las Casas was the Dominican priest who condemned the treatment of Indians in the

Spanish empire. His widely disseminated History of the Indies helped to establish

the Black Legend of Spanish cruelty.

The Indians [of Hispaniola] were totally deprived of their freedom and were put in the harshest, fiercest, most horrible servitude and captivity which no one who has not seen it can understand. Even beasts enjoy more freedom when they are allowed to graze in the fields. But our Spaniards gave no such opportunity to Indians and truly considered them perpetual slaves, since the Indians had not the free will to dispose of their persons but instead were disposed of according to Spanish greed and cruelty, not as men in captivity but as beasts tied to a rope to prevent free movement. When they were allowed to go home, they often found it deserted and had no other recourse than to go out into the woods to find food and to die. When they fell ill, which was very frequently because they are a delicate people unaccustomed to such work, the Spaniards did not believe them and pitilessly called them lazy dogs and kicked and beat them; and when illness was apparent they sent them home as useless. . . . They would go then, falling into the first stream and dying there in desperation; others would hold on longer but very few ever made it home. I sometimes came upon dead bodies on my way, and upon others who were gasping and moaning in their death agony, repeating “Hungry, hungry.” And this was the freedom, the good treatment and the Christianity the Indians received.

About eight years passed under [Spanish rule] and this disorder had time to grow; no one gave it a thought and the multitude of people who originally lived on the island . . . was consumed at such a rate that in these eight years 90 per cent had perished. From here this sweeping plague went to San Juan, Jamaica, Cuba and the continent, spreading destruction over the whole hemisphere.

From Bartolomé de Las Casas,

History of the Indies (1528)

Chapter 1  A New World28



Josephe was a Spanish-speaking Indian questioned by a royal attorney in Mexico

City investigating the Pueblo Revolt. The revolt of the Indian population, in 1680,

temporarily drove Spanish settlers from present-day New Mexico.

Asked what causes or motives the said Indian rebels had for renouncing the law of God and obedience to his Majesty, and for committing so many of crimes, [he answered] the causes they have were alleged ill treatment and injuries received from [Spanish authorities], because they beat them, took away what they had, and made them work without pay. Thus he replies.

Asked if he has learned if it has come to his notice during the time that he has been here the reason why the apostates burned the images, churches, and things pertaining to divine worship, making a mockery and a trophy of them, killing the priests and doing the other things they did, he said that he knows and had heard it generally stated that while they were besieging the villa the rebellious traitors burned the church and shouted in loud voices, “Now the God of the Spaniards, who was their father, is dead, and Santa Maria, who was their mother, and the saints, who were pieces of rotten wood,” saying that only their own god lived. Thus they ordered all the temples and images, crosses and rosaries burned, and their function being over, they all went to bathe in the rivers, saying that they thereby washed away the water of baptism. For their churches, they placed on the four sides and in the center of the plaza some small circular enclosures of stone where they went to offer flour, feathers, and the seed of maguey [a local plant], maize, and tobacco, and performed other superstitious rites, giving the children to understand that they must all do this in the future. The captains and the chiefs ordered that the names of Jesus and Mary should nowhere be uttered. . . . He has seen many houses of idolatry which they have built, dancing the dance of the cachina [part of a traditional Indian religious ceremony], which this declarant has also danced. Thus he replies to the question.

From “Declaration of Josephe”

(December 19, 1681)


1. Why does Las Casas, after describ-

ing the ill treatment of Indians, write,

“And this was the freedom, the good

treatment and the Christianity the

Indians received”?

2. What role did religion play in the

Pueblo Revolt?

3. What ideas of freedom are apparent in

the two documents?




Chapter 1  A New World30

the Pueblos spoke six different languages, Spanish became the revolt’s “lingua franca” (a common means of communication among persons of different linguistic backgrounds). Some 2,000 warriors destroyed isolated farms and missions, killing 400 colonists, including 21 Franciscan missionaries. Most of the Spanish survivors, accompanied by several hundred Christian Indians, made their way south out of New Mexico. Within a few weeks, a century of colonization in the area had been destroyed.

The Pueblo Revolt was the most complete victory for Native Americans over Europeans and the only wholesale expulsion of settlers in the history of North America. Cooperation among the Pueblo peoples, how- ever, soon evaporated. By the end of the 1680s, warfare had broken out among several villages, even as Apache and Navajo raids continued. Popé died around 1690. In 1692, the Spanish launched an invasion that recon- quered New Mexico. Some communities welcomed them back as a source of military protection. But Spain had learned a lesson. In the eighteenth century, colonial authorities adopted a more tolerant attitude toward traditional religious practices and made fewer demands on Indian labor.


If the Black Legend inspired a sense of superiority among Spain’s European rivals, the precious metals that poured from the New World into the Spanish treasury aroused the desire to match Spain’s success. The establishment of Spain’s American empire transformed the balance of power in the world economy. The Atlantic replaced the overland route to Asia as the major axis of global trade. During the seventeenth century, the French, Dutch, and English established colonies in North America. England’s mainland colonies, to be discussed in the next chapter, consisted of agricultural settlements with growing populations whose hunger for land produced incessant conflict with native peoples. New France and

St. Anthony and the Infant Jesus,

painted on a tanned buffalo hide by a

Franciscan priest in New Mexico in the

early eighteenth century. This was not

long after the Spanish reconquered

the area, from which they had been

driven by the Pueblo Revolt.



31T H E F R E N C H A N D D U T C H E M P I R E S

What were the chief features of the French and Dutch empires in North America?




New York Harbor

St . La

w re

nc e R

iv er

Oh io R


M is

sis sip

pi R

iv er

Lak e Superior

La ke

M ic

hi ga


Lak e E


L. O ntario

L. H


Gulf of Mexico

Hudson Bay

Gulf of St. Lawrence

Atlantic Ocean





400 miles

400 kilometers

New France New Netherland

T H E N E W W O R L D — N E W F R A N C E A N D N E W N E T H E R L A N D , c a . 1 6 5 0



Chapter 1  A New World32

New Netherland were primarily commercial ventures that never attracted large numbers of colonists. More dependent on Indians as trading partners and military allies, these French and Dutch settlements allowed Native Americans greater freedom than the English.

French Colonization

The first of Spain’s major European rivals to embark on New World explorations was France. The explorer Samuel de Champlain, sponsored by a French fur-trading company, founded Quebec in 1608. In 1673, the Jesuit priest Jacques Marquette and the fur trader Louis Joliet located the Mississippi River, and by 1681 René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, had descended to the Gulf of Mexico, claiming the entire Mississippi River valley for France. New France eventually formed a giant arc along the St. Lawrence, Mississippi, and Ohio rivers.

By 1700, the number of white inhabitants of New France had risen to only 19,000. With a far larger population than England, France sent many fewer emigrants to the Western Hemisphere. The government at home feared that significant emigration would undermine France’s role as a European great power and might compromise its effort to establish trade and good relations with the Indians. Unfavorable reports about America cir- culated widely in France. Canada was widely depicted as an icebox, a land of savage Indians, a dumping ground for criminals. Most French who left their homes during these years preferred to settle in the Netherlands, Spain, or the West Indies. The revocation in 1685 of the Edict of Nantes, which had extended religious toleration to French Protestants, led well over 100,000 Huguenots to flee their country. But they were not welcome in New France, which the crown desired to remain an outpost of Catholicism.

New France and the Indians

With its small white population and emphasis on the fur trade rather than agricultural settlement, the viability of New France depended on friendly relations with local Indians. The French prided themselves on adopting a more humane policy than their imperial rivals. “Only our nation,” declared one French writer, “knows the secret of winning the Indians’ affection.” The French worked out a complex series of military, commercial, and diplomatic connections, the most enduring alliances between Indians and settlers in colonial North America. They neither appropriated substantial amounts of Indian land, like the English, nor conquered native inhabit- ants militarily and set them to forced labor, like the Spanish. Samuel de Champlain, the intrepid explorer who dominated the early history of New

Settlement in New France

Alliances with Indians



33T H E F R E N C H A N D D U T C H E M P I R E S

What were the chief features of the French and Dutch empires in North America?

France, denied that Native Americans were intellectually or culturally inferior to Europeans. Although he occasionally engaged in wars with local Indians, he dreamed of creating a colony based on mutual respect between diverse peoples. The Jesuits, a missionary religious order, did seek, with some success, to convert Indians to Catholicism. But unlike Spanish mis- sionaries in early New Mexico, they allowed Christian Indians to retain a high degree of independence and much of their traditional social structure, and they did not seek to suppress all traditional religious practices.

Like other colonists throughout North America, however, the French brought striking changes in Indian life. Contact with Europeans was inevitably followed by the spread of disease. Participation in the fur trade drew natives into the burgeoning Atlantic economy, introducing new goods and transform- ing hunting from a search for food into a quest for marketable commodities. Indians were soon swept into the rivalries among European empires.

As in the Spanish empire, New France witnessed considerable cultural exchange and intermixing between colonial and native populations. On the “middle ground” of the upper Great Lakes region in French America, Indians and whites encountered each other for many years on a basis of relative equality. And métis, or children of marriages between Indian women and French traders and officials, became guides, traders, and inter- preters. Like the Spanish, the French seemed willing to accept Indians as part of colonial society. Indians who converted to Catholicism were prom- ised full citizenship. In fact, however, it was far rarer for natives to adopt French ways than for French settlers to become attracted to the “free” life of the Indians. “It happens more commonly,” one official complained, “that a Frenchman becomes savage than a savage becomes a Frenchman.”

This engraving, which appears in

Samuel de Champlain’s 1613 account

of his voyages, is the only likeness

of the explorer from his own time.

Champlain, wearing European armor

and brandishing an arquebus (an

advanced weapon of the period),

stands at the center of this pitched

battle between his Indian allies and

the hostile Iroquois.

The middle ground

Movement between societies




Chapter 1  A New World34

The Dutch Empire

In 1609, Henry Hudson, an Englishman employed by the Dutch East India Company, sailed into New York Harbor searching for a northwest passage to Asia. Hudson and his crew became the first Europeans to sail up the river that now bears his name. Hudson did not find a route to Asia, but he did encounter abundant fur-bearing animals and Native Americans more than willing to trade furs for European goods. He claimed the area for the Netherlands, and his voyage planted the seeds of what would eventu- ally become a great metropolis, New York City. In 1624, the Dutch West India Company, which had been awarded a monopoly of Dutch trade with America, settled colonists on Manhattan Island.

These ventures formed one small part in the rise of the Dutch over- seas empire. In the early seventeenth century, the Netherlands dominated international commerce, and Amsterdam was Europe’s foremost shipping and banking center. The small nation had entered a golden age of rapidly accumulating wealth and stunning achievements in painting, philosophy, and the sciences. With a population of only 2 million, the Netherlands established a far-flung empire that reached from Indonesia to South Africa and the Caribbean and temporarily wrested control of Brazil from Portugal.

Dutch Freedom

The Dutch prided themselves on their devotion to liberty. Indeed, in the early seventeenth century they enjoyed two freedoms not recognized elsewhere in Europe—freedom of the press and of private religious prac- tice. Amsterdam became a haven for persecuted Protestants from all over Europe and for Jews as well.

Despite the Dutch reputation for cherishing freedom, New Netherland was hardly governed democratically. New Amsterdam, the main population center, was essentially a fortified military outpost controlled by appointees of the West India Company. Although the governor called on prominent citizens for advice from time to time, neither an elected assembly nor a town council, the basic unit of government at home, was established.

In other ways, however, the colonists enjoyed more liberty than their counterparts elsewhere in North America. Even their slaves possessed rights. Some enjoyed “half-freedom”—they were required to pay an annual fee to the company and work for it when called upon, but they were given land to support their families. Settlers employed slaves on family farms or for household or craft labor, not on large plantations as in the West Indies.

Women in the Dutch settlement enjoyed far more independence than in other colonies. According to Dutch law, married women retained their

Dutch trade

New Netherland

Henry Hudson



35T H E F R E N C H A N D D U T C H E M P I R E S

What were the chief features of the French and Dutch empires in North America?

separate legal identity. They could go to court, borrow money, and own property. Men were used to sharing property with their wives.

New Netherland attracted a remarkably diverse population. As early as the 1630s, at least eighteen languages were said to be spoken in New Amsterdam, whose residents included not only Dutch settlers but also Africans, Belgians, English, French, Germans, Irish, and Scandinavians.

The Dutch and Religious Toleration

The Dutch long prided themselves on being uniquely tolerant in religious matters compared to other European nations and their empires. It would be wrong, however, to attribute modern ideas of religious freedom to either the Dutch government and company at home or the rulers of New Netherland. Both Holland and New Netherland had an official religion, the Dutch Reformed Church, one of the Protestant national churches to emerge from the Reformation. The Dutch commitment to freedom of conscience extended to religious devotion exercised in private, not public worship in nonestablished churches.

When Jews, Quakers, Lutherans, and others demanded the right to practice their religion openly, Governor Petrus Stuyvesant adamantly refused, seeing such diversity as a threat to a godly, prosperous order. Twenty-three Jews arrived in New Amsterdam in 1654 from Brazil and the Caribbean. Referring to them as “members of a deceitful race,” Stuyvesant ordered the newcomers to leave. But the company overruled him, noting that Jews at home had invested “a large amount of capital” in its shares.

Nonetheless, it is true that the Dutch dealt with religious pluralism in ways quite different from the practices common in other New World empires. Religious dissent was tolerated as long as it did not involve open and public worship. No one in New Netherland was forced to attend the official church, nor was anyone executed for holding the wrong religious beliefs (as would happen in Puritan New England).

A view of New Amsterdam from 1651

illustrates the tiny size of the outpost.

Religious pluralism

Denial of religious freedom



Chapter 1  A New World36

Settling New Netherland

During the seventeenth century, the Netherlands sent 1 million people overseas (many of them recent immigrants who were not in fact Dutch) to populate and govern their far-flung colonies. Very few, however, made North America their destination. By the mid-1660s, the European population of New Netherland numbered only 9,000. New Netherland remained a tiny backwater in the Dutch empire. So did an even smaller outpost near present-day Wilmington, Delaware, established in 1638 by a group of Dutch merchants. To circumvent the West India Company’s trade monopoly, they claimed to be operating under the Swedish flag and called their settlement New Sweden. Only 300 settlers were living there when New Netherland seized the colony in 1655.

Features of European Settlement

The Dutch came to North America to trade, not to conquer. Mindful of the Black Legend of Spanish cruelty, the Dutch determined to treat the native inhabitants more humanely than the Spanish. Having won their own independence from Spain after the longest and bloodiest war of sixteenth- century Europe, many Dutch identified with American Indians as fellow victims of Spanish oppression.

From the beginning, Dutch authorities recognized Indian sovereignty over the land and forbade settlement in any area until it had been pur- chased. But they also required tribes to make payments to colonial authori- ties. Near the coast, where most newcomers settled, New Netherland was hardly free of conflict with the Indians. With the powerful Iroquois Confederacy of the upper Hudson Valley, however, the Dutch established friendly commercial and diplomatic relations.

Thus, before the planting of English colonies in North America, other European nations had established various kinds of settlements in the New

World. Despite their differences, the Spanish, French, and Dutch empires shared certain features. All brought Christianity, new forms of technol-

ogy and learning, new legal systems and family relations, and new forms of economic enterprise and wealth creation. They also brought savage warfare and widespread disease. These empires were aware of one another’s existence. They studied and borrowed from one another, each lauding itself as superior to the others.

From the outset, dreams of freedom—for Indians, for settlers, for the entire world through the spread of Christianity—inspired and justi-

fied colonization. It would be no different when, at the beginning of the sev- enteenth century, England entered the struggle for empire in North America.

The seal of New Netherland, adopted

by the Dutch West India Company in

1630, suggests the centrality of the

fur trade to the colony’s prospects.

Surrounding the beaver is wampum,

a string of beads used by Indians in

religious rituals and as currency.

Sparse European settlement in New Netherland




1. Describe why the “discovery” of America was one of the “most important events recorded in the history of mankind,” according to Adam Smith.

2. Describe the different global economies that Europeans participated in or created during the European age of expansion.

3. One of the most striking features of Indian societies at the time of the encounter with Europeans was their diversity. Support this statement with several examples.

4. Compare and contrast European values and ways of life with those of the Indians. Consider addressing religion, views about ownership of land, gender relations, and notions of freedom.

5. What were the main factors fueling the European age of expansion?

6. Compare the different economic and political systems of Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and France in the age of expansion.

7. Compare the political, economic, and religious motiva- tions behind the French and Dutch empires with those of New Spain.

8. How would European settlers explain their superiority to Native Americans and justify both the conquest of Native lands and terminating their freedom?


Tenochtitlán (p. 3)

Cahokia (p. 5)

Iroquois (p. 7)

“Christian Liberty” (p. 12)

caravels (p. 14)

reconquista (p. 16)

Columbian Exchange (p. 19)

mestizos (p. 22)

repartimiento system (p. 24)

Black Legend (p. 24)

Pueblo Revolt (p. 30)

métis (p. 33)


wwnorton.com /studyspace



A chapter outline

A diagnostic chapter quiz

Interactive maps

Map worksheets

Multimedia documents

37C H A P T E R R E V I E W A N D O N L I N E R E S O U R C E S



1215 Magna Carta

1584 Hakluyt’s A Discourse Con- cerning Western Planting

1585 Roanoke Island settlement

1607 Jamestown established

1619 First Africans arrive in Virginia

1619 House of Burgesses convenes

1620 Pilgrims found Plymouth

1622 Uprising led by Opechan- canough against Virginia

1624 Virginia becomes first royal colony

1630s Great Migration to New England

1630 Massachusetts Bay Colony founded

1632 Maryland founded

1636 Roger Williams banished from Massachusetts to Rhode Island

1637 Anne Hutchinson placed on trial in Massachusetts

1637– Pequot War 1638

1639 Fundamental Orders of Connecticut

1641 Body of Liberties

1642– English Civil War 1651

1649 Maryland adopts an Act Concerning Religion

1662 Puritans’ Half-Way Covenant

1691 Virginia outlaws English- Indian marriages

The Armada Portrait of Queen

Elizabeth I, by the artist George Gower,

commemorates the defeat of the

Spanish Armada in 1588 and appears

to link it with English colonization of the

New World. England’s victorious navy

is visible through the window, while the

queen’s hand rests on a globe, with her

fingers pointing to the coast of North




C H A P T E R 2

1 6 0 7 – 1 6 6 0



39B E G I N N I N G S O F E N G L I S H A M E R I C A

O n April 26, 1607, three small ships carrying colonists from England sailed into the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. After exploring the area for a little over two weeks, they chose a site sixty miles inland on the James River for their settlement, hoping to protect themselves from marauding Spanish warships. Here they established Jamestown (named for the king of England) as the capital of the colony of Virginia (named for his predecessor, Elizabeth I, the “virgin queen”). But despite these bows to royal authority, the voyage was sponsored not by the English government, which in 1607 was hard-pressed for funds, but by the Virginia Company, a private business organization whose shareholders included merchants, aristocrats, and members of Parliament, and to which the queen had given her blessing before her death in 1603.

When the three ships returned home, 104 settlers remained in Virginia. All were men, for the Virginia Company had more interest in searching for gold and in other ways exploiting the area’s natural resources than in establishing a functioning society. Nevertheless, Jamestown became the first permanent English settlement in the area that is now the United States. The settlers were the first of tens of thousands of Europeans who crossed the Atlantic during the seventeenth century to live and work in North America. They led the way for new empires that mobilized labor and economic resources, reshaped societies throughout the Atlantic world, and shifted the balance of power at home from Spain and Portugal to the nations of northwestern Europe.

English North America in the seventeenth century was a place where entrepreneurs sought to make fortunes, religious minorities hoped to worship without governmental interference and to create societies based on biblical teachings, and aristocrats dreamed of re-creating a vanished world of feudalism. For ordinary men and women, emigration offered an escape from lives of deprivation and inequality. “No man,” wrote John Smith, an early leader of Jamestown, “will go from [England] to have less freedom” in America. The settlers of English America came to enjoy greater rights than colonists of other empires, including the power to choose members of elected assemblies, protections of the common law such as the right to trial by jury, and access to land, the key to economic independence. In some colonies, though by no means all, colonists enjoyed considerably more religious freedom than existed in Europe.

Many degrees of freedom coexisted in seventeenth-century North America, from the slave, stripped completely of liberty, to the independent landowner, who enjoyed a full range of rights. The settlers’ success, however, rested on depriving Native Americans of their land and, in some colonies, on importing large numbers of African slaves as laborers. Freedom and lack of freedom expanded together in seventeenth-century America.

What were the main

contours of English

colonization in the

seventeenth century?

What challenges did the

early English settlers


How did Virginia and

Maryland develop in their

early years?

What made the English

settlement of New England


What were the main

sources of discord in early

New England?

How did the English Civil

War affect the colonies in





Chapter 2  Beginnings of English America40


Unifying the English Nation

As the case of Spain suggests, early empire building was, in large part, an extension of the consolidation of national power in Europe. But during the sixteenth century, England was a second-rate power racked by inter- nal disunity. Henry VIII, crowned in 1509, launched the Reformation in England. When the Pope refused to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry severed the nation from the Catholic Church. In its place he established the Church of England, or Anglican Church, with himself at the head. Decades of religious strife followed, as did considerable perse- cution of Catholics under Henry’s successor, Edward VI. In 1553, Edward’s half sister Mary became queen. She temporarily restored Catholicism as the state religion and executed a number of Protestants. Mary’s successor, Elizabeth I (reigned 1558–1603), restored the Anglican ascendancy and executed more than 100 Catholic priests.

England and Ireland

England’s long struggle to conquer and pacify Ireland, which lasted well into the seventeenth century, absorbed money and energy that might have been directed toward the New World. In subduing Ireland, whose Catholic population was deemed a threat to the stability of Protestant rule in England, the government employed a variety of approaches, including military conquest, the slaughter of civilians, the seizure of land and introduction of English economic practices, and the dispatch of large numbers of settlers. Rather than seeking to absorb the Irish into English society, the English excluded the native population from a ter- ritory of settlement known as the Pale, where the colonists created their own social order.

The methods used in Ireland anticipated policies England would undertake in America. Some sixteenth- century English writers directly compared the allegedly barbaric “wild Irish” with American Indians.

England and North America

Not until the reign of Elizabeth I did the English turn their attention to North America, although sailors and adventurers still showed more interest in raiding Spanish cities and treasure fleets in the Caribbean than establishing settlements. The government granted charters (grants of

Religious strife in England

Subduing Ireland




What were the main contours of English colonization in the seventeenth century?


exclusive rights and privileges) to Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh, authorizing them to establish colonies in North America at their own expense.

With little or no support from the crown, both ventures failed. Gilbert, who had earned a reputation for brutality in the Irish wars by murdering civilians and burning their crops, established a short-lived settlement on Newfoundland in 1582. Three years later, Raleigh dispatched a fleet of five ships with some 100 colonists to set up a base on Roanoke Island, off the North Carolina coast. But the colonists, mostly young men under mili- tary leadership, abandoned the venture in 1586 and returned to England. A second group of 100 settlers, composed of families who hoped to estab- lish a permanent colony, was dispatched that year. Their fate remains a mystery. When a ship bearing supplies arrived in 1590, the sailors found the colony abandoned. Raleigh, by now nearly bankrupt, lost his enthu- siasm for colonization. To establish a successful colony, it seemed clear, would require more planning and economic resources than any individual could provide.

Motives for Colonization

As in the case of Spain, national glory, profit, and religious mission merged in early English thinking about the New World. The Reformation heightened the English government’s sense of Catholic Spain as its mortal enemy (a belief reinforced in 1588 when a Spanish naval armada unsuc- cessfully attempted to invade the British Isles). By the late sixteenth cen- tury, anti-Catholicism had become deeply ingrained in English popular culture. Reports of the atrocities of Spanish rule were widely circulated. English translations of Bartolomé de Las Casas’s writings appeared during Elizabeth’s reign.

Although atrocities were hardly confined to any one nation—as England’s own conduct in Ireland demonstrated—the idea that the empire of Catholic Spain was uniquely murderous and tyrannical enabled the English to describe their own imperial ambitions in the language of freedom. In A Discourse Concerning Western Planting, written in 1584, the Protestant minister and scholar Richard Hakluyt listed twenty-three rea- sons that Queen Elizabeth I should support the establishment of colonies. Among them was the idea that English settlements would strike a blow against Spain’s empire and therefore form part of a divine mission to res- cue the New World and its inhabitants from the influence of Catholicism and tyranny.

The failed Roanoke settlement

Religion and imperial purpose

Richard Hakluyt



Chapter 2  Beginnings of English America42

But bringing freedom to Indians was hardly the only motivation Hakluyt and other writers advanced. National power and glory, they argued, could be achieved through colonization. England, a relatively minor power at the end of the sixteenth century, could come to rival great nations like Spain and France.

Yet another motivation was that colonists could enrich the mother country and themselves by provid- ing English consumers with goods now supplied by foreigners and opening a new market for English prod- ucts. Unlike early adventurers such as Raleigh, who thought of wealth in terms of deposits of gold, Hakluyt insisted that trade would be the basis of England’s empire.

The Social Crisis

Equally important, America could be a refuge for England’s “surplus” population, benefiting mother country and emigrants alike. The late sixteenth century was a time of social crisis in England, with economic growth unable to keep pace with the needs of a population that grew from 3 million in 1550 to about 4 million in 1600. In the sixteenth and seven- teenth centuries, landlords sought profits by raising sheep for the expand- ing trade in wool and introducing more modern farming practices such as crop rotation. They evicted small farmers and fenced in “commons” previously open to all.

While many landlords, farmers, and town merchants benefited from the enclosure movement, as this process was called, thousands of persons were uprooted from the land. Many flooded into England’s cities. Others, denounced by authorities as rogues, vagabonds, and vagrants, wandered the roads in search of work. “All our towns,” wrote the Puritan leader John Winthrop in 1629, shortly before leaving England for Massachusetts, “com- plain of the burden of poor people and strive by all means to rid any such as they have.” England, he added somberly, “grows weary of her inhabitants.”

For years, the government struggled to deal with this social crisis, sometimes resorting to extreme measures, such as whipping or hanging the unemployed or forcing them to accept any job offered to them. Another solution was to encourage the unruly poor to leave for the New World. As colonists, they could become productive citizens, contributing to the nation’s wealth.

An engraving by Theodor de Bry

depicts colonists hunting and fishing

in Virginia. Promotional images such

as this emphasized the abundance of

the New World and suggested that

colonists could live familiar lives there.

From poverty to emigration



43T H E C O M I N G O F T H E E N G L I S H

What were the main contours of English colonization in the seventeenth century?

Masterless Men

Although authorities saw wandering or unemployed “masterless men” as a danger to society, working for wages was itself widely associated with servility and loss of liberty. Only those who controlled their own labor could be regarded as truly free. Indeed, popular tales and ballads roman- ticized the very vagabonds, highwaymen, and even beggars denounced by the propertied and powerful, since despite their poverty they at least enjoyed freedom from wage work.

The image of the New World as a unique place of opportunity, where the English laboring classes could regain economic independence by acquiring land and where even criminals would enjoy a second chance, was deeply rooted from the earliest days of settlement. John Smith had scarcely landed in Virginia in 1607 when he wrote that in America “every man may be the master and owner of his own labor and land.” The main lure for emigrants from England to the New World was not so much riches in gold and silver as the promise of independence that followed from own- ing land. Economic freedom and the possibility of passing it on to one’s children attracted the largest number of English colonists.


English Emigrants

Seventeenth-century North America was an unstable and dangerous environment. Diseases decimated Indian and settler populations alike. Without sustained immigration, most settlements would have collapsed. With a population of between 4 million and 5 million, about half that of Spain and a quarter of that of France, England produced a far larger num- ber of men, women, and children willing to brave the dangers of emigra- tion to the New World. In large part, this was because economic conditions in England were so bad.

Between 1607 and 1700, more than half a million people left England. North America was not the destination of the majority of these emigrants. Approximately 180,000 settled in Ireland, and about the same number migrated to the West Indies, where the introduction of sugar cultivation promised riches for those who could obtain land. Nonetheless, the popula- tion of England’s mainland colonies quickly outstripped that of their rivals. The Chesapeake area, where the tobacco-producing colonies of Virginia

A pamphlet published in 1609

promoting emigration to Virginia.

The New World as a land of opportunity



Chapter 2  Beginnings of English America44

and Maryland developed a constant demand for cheap labor, received about 120,000 settlers. New England attracted 21,000 emigrants, nearly all of them arriving before 1640. In the second part of the seventeenth century, the Middle Colonies (New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) attracted about 23,000 settlers. Although the arrivals to New England and the Middle Colonies included many families, the majority of newcomers were young, single men from the bottom rungs of English society, who had little to lose by emigrating.

Indentured Servants

Settlers who could pay for their own passage—government officials, cler- gymen, merchants, artisans, landowning farmers, and members of the lesser nobility—arrived in America as free persons. Most quickly acquired land. In the seventeenth century, however, nearly two-thirds of English settlers came as indentured servants, who voluntarily surrendered their freedom for a specified time (usually five to seven years) in exchange for passage to America.

Like slaves, servants could be bought and sold, could not marry with- out the permission of their owner, were subject to physical punishment, and saw their obligation to labor enforced by the courts. But, unlike slaves, servants could look forward to a release from bondage. Assuming they survived their period of labor, servants would receive a payment known as “freedom dues” and become free members of society.

Given the high death rate, many servants did not live to the end of their terms. Freedom dues were sometimes so meager that they did not enable recipients to acquire land. Many servants found the reality of life in the New World less appealing than they had anticipated. Employers constantly complained of servants running away, not working diligently, or being unruly, all manifestations of what one commentator called their “fondness for freedom.”

Land and Liberty

Access to land played many roles in seventeenth-century America. Land, English settlers believed, was the basis of liberty. Owning land gave men control over their own labor and, in most colonies, the right to vote. The promise of immediate access to land lured free settlers, and freedom dues that included land persuaded potential immigrants to sign contracts as indentured servants. Land in America also became a way for the king to

Landownership as the basis of liberty

Slavery and indentured servitude

Demographics of colonists



45T H E C O M I N G O F T H E E N G L I S H

What challenges did the early English settlers face?

reward relatives and allies. Each colony was launched with a huge grant of land from the crown, either to a company or to a private individual known as a proprietor. Some grants, if taken literally, stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.

Without labor, however, land would have little value. Since emigrants did not come to America intending to work the land of others (except tem- porarily in the case of indentured servants), the very abundance of “free” land eventually led many property owners to turn to slaves as a workforce.

Englishmen and Indians

Land in North America, of course, was already occupied. And the arrival of English settlers presented the native inhabitants of eastern North America with the greatest crisis in their history. Unlike the Spanish, English colo- nists were chiefly interested in displacing the Indians and settling on their land, not intermarrying with them, organizing their labor, or making them subjects of the crown. The English exchanged goods with the native popu- lation, and Indians often traveled through colonial settlements. Fur trad- ers on the frontiers of settlement sometimes married Indian women, partly as a way of gaining access to native societies and the kin networks essen- tial to economic relationships. Most English settlers, however, remained obstinately separate from their Indian neighbors. Moreover, the aim of converting Indians to Christianity foundered on Indian indifference to the religious disputes that racked Europe and the unavoidable reality that churches transplanted to English America had their hands full providing religious services for European colonists.

Despite their insistence that Indians had no real claim to the land since they did not cultivate or improve it, most colonial authorities acquired land by purchase, often in treaties forced upon Indians after they had suffered military defeat. To keep the peace, some colonial govern- ments tried to prevent the private seizure or purchase of Indian lands, or they declared certain areas off-limits to settlers. But these measures were rarely enforced and ultimately proved ineffective. New settlers and freed servants sought land for themselves, and those who established families in America needed land for their children.

The seventeenth century was marked by recurrent warfare between colonists and Indians. These conflicts generated a strong feeling of supe- riority among the colonists and left them intent on maintaining the real and imagined boundaries separating the two peoples. Over time the English displaced the original inhabitants more thoroughly than any other European empire.

The English and Indian land

Failure of converting Indians

Recurrent warfare between colonists and Indians



Chapter 2  Beginnings of English America46

The Transformation of Indian Life

Many eastern Indians initially welcomed the newcomers, or at least their goods, which they appreciated for their practical advantages. Items like woven cloth, metal kettles, iron axes, fishhooks, hoes, and guns were quickly integrated into Indian life. Indians also displayed a great desire for goods like colorful glass beads and copper ornaments that could be incorporated into their religious ceremonies.

As Indians became integrated into the Atlantic economy, subtle changes took place in Indian life. European metal goods changed their farming, hunting, and cooking practices. Men devoted more time to hunt- ing beaver for fur trading. Later observers would describe this trade as one in which Indians exchanged valuable commodities like furs and ani- mal skins for worthless European trinkets. In fact, both Europeans and Indians gave up goods they had in abundance in exchange for items in short supply in their own society. But as the colonists achieved military superiority over the Indians, the profits of trade mostly flowed to colo- nial and European merchants. Growing connections with Europeans stimulated warfare among Indian tribes, and the overhunting of beaver and deer forced some groups to encroach on territory claimed by others. And newcomers from Europe brought epidemics that decimated Indian populations.

A drawing by the artist John White

shows ten male and seven female

Native Americans dancing around

a circle of posts in a religious ritual.

White was a careful observer of their

clothing, body markings, and objects

used in the ceremony.

Changes in Indian farming, hunting, and cooking practices



47S E T T L I N G T H E C H E S A P E A K E

What challenges did the early English settlers face?

As settlers fenced in more and more land and introduced new crops and livestock, the natural environment changed in ways that undermined traditional Indian agriculture and hunting. Pigs and cattle roamed freely, trampling Indian corn- fields and gardens. The need for wood to build and heat homes and export to England depleted forests on which Indians relied for hunting. The rapid expansion of the fur trade diminished the population of beaver and other animals. In short, Indians’ lives were powerfully altered by the changes set in motion in 1607 when English colo- nists landed at Jamestown.



The Jamestown Colony

The early history of Jamestown was, to say the least, not promising. The colony’s leadership changed repeatedly, its inhabitants suffered an extraordinarily high death rate, and, with the Virginia Company seeking a quick profit, supplies from England proved inadequate. The first settlers were “a quarrelsome band of gentlemen and servants.” They included few farmers and laborers and numerous sons of English gentry who preferred to prospect for gold rather than farm.

Disease and lack of food took a heavy toll. By the end of the first year, the original population of 104 had fallen by half. New arrivals (includ- ing the first two women, who landed in 1608) brought the numbers up to 400 in 1609, but by 1610, after a winter long remembered as the “starv- ing time,” only 65 settlers remained alive. At one point, the survivors abandoned Jamestown and sailed for England, only to be intercepted and persuaded to return to Virginia by ships carrying a new governor, 250 colonists, and supplies.

Only rigorous military discipline held the colony together. John Smith imposed a regime of forced labor on company lands. “He that will not work, shall not eat,” Smith declared. Smith’s autocratic mode of govern- ing alienated many of the colonists. After being injured in an accidental

The only known contemporary portrait

of a New England Indian, this 1681

painting by an unnamed artist was

long thought to represent Ninigret II, a

leader of the Narragansetts of Rhode

Island. It has been more recently

identified as David, an Indian who

saved the life of John Winthrop II,

a governor of colonial Connecticut.

Apart from the wampum beads

around his neck, everything the Indian

wears is of English manufacture.

John Smith’s iron rule



Chapter 2  Beginnings of English America48

gunpowder explosion in 1609, he was forced to return to England. But his immediate successors continued his iron rule.

The Virginia Company slowly realized that for the colony to survive it would have to abandon the search for gold, grow its own food, and find a marketable commodity. It would also have to attract more settlers. With this end in view, it announced new policies in 1618. Instead of retaining all the land for itself, the company introduced the headright system, award- ing fifty acres of land to any colonist who paid for his own or another’s passage. Thus, anyone who brought in a sizable number of servants would immediately acquire a large estate. In place of the governor’s militaristic

regime, a “charter of grants and liberties” was issued, including the establishment of a House of Burgesses. When it convened in 1619, this became the first elected assem- bly in colonial America. Also in 1619, the first twenty blacks arrived in Virginia on a Dutch vessel. These events laid the foun- dation for a society that would one day be dominated economically and politically by slaveowning planters.

Powhatan and Pocahontas

When the English arrived at Jamestown, they landed in an area inhabited by some 15,000 to 25,000 Indians living in numerous small agricultural villages. Most acknowledged the rule of Wahunsonacock, a shrewd and forceful leader who had recently consolidated his authority over the region and collected tribute from some thirty subordinate tribes. Called Powhatan by the settlers after the Indian word for both his tribe and his title of paramount chief, he quickly realized the advantages of trade with the newcomers.

In the first two years of Jamestown’s existence, relations with Indians were mostly peaceful and based on a fairly equal give-and-take. At one point, Smith was







Roanoke I s land












York R.

James R.

Roanoke R.

Chesapeake B ay

0 0

25 25

50 miles 50 kilometers

Date of settlement English settlement, ca. 1650


E N G L I S H S E T T L E M E N T I N T H E C H E S A P E A K E , c a . 1 6 5 0

By 1650, English settlement in the

Chesapeake had spread well beyond

the initial colony at Jamestown, as

tobacco planters sought fertile land

near navigable waterways.



49S E T T L I N G T H E C H E S A P E A K E

How did Virginia and Maryland develop in their early years?

captured by the Indians and threatened with execution by Powhatan, only to be rescued by Pocahontas, reputedly the favorite among his many children by dozens of wives. The incident has come down in legend as an example of a rebellious, love-struck teenager defying her father. In fact, it was probably part of an elaborate ceremony designed by Powhatan to demonstrate his power over the colonists and incorporate them into his realm. Pocahontas subsequently became an intermediary between the two peoples, bringing food and messages to Jamestown. In 1614, she mar- ried the English colonist John Rolfe. Two years later, she accompanied her husband to England, where she caused a sensation in the court of James I as a symbol of Anglo-Indian harmony and missionary success. But she succumbed to disease in 1617. Her father died the following year.

The Uprising of 1622

Once it became clear that the English were interested in establishing a per- manent and constantly expanding colony, not a trading post, conflict with local Indians was inevitable. In 1622, Powhatan’s brother and successor, Opechancanough, led a brilliantly planned surprise attack that in a single day wiped out one-quarter of Virginia’s settler population of 1,200. The surviving 900 colonists organized themselves into military bands, which then massa- cred scores of Indians and devastated their villages. By going to war, declared Governor Francis Wyatt, the Indians had forfeited any claim to the land. Virginia’s policy, he continued, must now be nothing less than the “expulsion of the savages to gain the free range of the country.”

The unsuccessful uprising of 1622 fundamentally shifted the balance of power in the colony. The settlers’ supremacy was reinforced in 1644 when a last desperate rebellion led by Opechancanough, now said to be 100 years old, was crushed after causing the deaths of some 500 colonists. Virginia forced a treaty on the surviving coastal Indians, who now num- bered less than 2,000, that acknowledged their subordination to the gov- ernment at Jamestown and required them to move to tribal reservations to the west and not enter areas of European settlement without permission. Settlers spreading inland into the Virginia countryside continued to seize Indian lands.

The destruction caused by the Uprising of 1622 was the last in a series of blows suffered by the Virginia Company. Two years later, it surrendered its charter and Virginia became the first royal colony, its governor now appointed by the crown. Investors had not turned a profit, and although the company had sent 6,000 settlers to Virginia, its white population

Powhatan, the most prominent Indian

leader in the original area of English

settlement in Virginia. This image,

showing Powhatan and his court, was

engraved on John Smith’s map of

Virginia and included in Smith’s General

History of Virginia, published in 1624.

The only portrait of Pocahontas made

during her lifetime was engraved by

Simon van de Passe in England in

1616. After converting to Christianity,

Pocahontas took the name Rebecca.



Chapter 2  Beginnings of English America50

numbered only 1,200 when the king assumed control. The government in London for years paid little attention to Virginia. Henceforth, the local elite, not a faraway company, controlled the colony’s development. And that elite was growing rapidly in wealth and power thanks to the cultiva- tion of a crop introduced from the West Indies by John Rolfe—tobacco.

A Tobacco Colony

King James I considered tobacco “harmful to the brain and dangerous to the lungs” and issued a spirited warning against its use. But increasing numbers of Europeans enjoyed smoking and believed the tobacco plant had medicinal benefits. Tobacco became Virginia’s substitute for gold. It enriched an emerging class of tobacco planters, as well as members of the colonial government who assigned good land to themselves. The crown profited from customs duties (taxes on tobacco that entered or left the kingdom). The spread of tobacco farming produced a dispersed society with few towns and inspired a frenzied scramble for land. By the middle of the seventeenth century, a new influx of immigrants with ample financial resources—sons of merchants and English gentlemen—had taken advan- tage of the headright system and governmental connections to acquire large estates along navigable rivers. They established themselves as the colony’s social and political elite.

The expansion of tobacco cultivation also led to an increased demand for field labor, met for most of the seventeenth century by young, male indentured servants. Despite harsh conditions of work in the tobacco fields, a persistently high death rate, and laws mandating punishments from whipping to an extension of service for those who ran away or were unruly, the abundance of land continued to attract migrants. Of the 120,000 English immigrants who entered the Chesapeake region dur- ing the seventeenth century, three-quarters came as servants. Virginia’s white society increasingly came to resemble that of England, with a wealthy landed gentry at the top; a group of small farmers, mostly former indentured servants who had managed to acquire land, in the middle; and an army of poor laborers—servants and landless former indentured servants—at the bottom.

Women and the Family

Virginia, however, lacked one essential element of English society— stable family life. Given the demand for male servants to work in the tobacco fields, men in the Chesapeake outnumbered women for most

Tobacco and social change in Virginia

An advertisement for tobacco

includes images of slaves handling

barrels and tobacco plants.



51S E T T L I N G T H E C H E S A P E A K E

How did Virginia and Maryland develop in their early years?

of the seventeenth century by four or five to one. The vast majority of women who emigrated to the region came as indentured servants. Since they usually had to complete their terms of service before marrying, they did not begin to form families until their mid-twenties. The high death rate, unequal ratio between the sexes, and late age of marriage retarded population growth and resulted in large numbers of single men, widows, and orphans.

In the colonies as in England, a married woman possessed certain rights before the law, including a claim to “dower rights” of one-third of her husband’s property in the event that he died before she did. When the widow died, however, the property passed to the husband’s male heirs. (English law was far less generous than in Spain, where a woman could hold independently any property inherited from her parents, and a man and wife owned jointly all the wealth accumulated during a marriage.)

Social conditions in the colonies, however, opened the door to roles women rarely assumed in England. A widow or one of the few women who never married could sometimes take advantage of her legal status as a femme sole (a woman alone, who enjoyed an independent legal iden- tity denied to married women) to make contracts and conduct business. Margaret Brent, who emigrated to the Chesapeake in 1638, acquired land,

Processing tobacco was as labor

intensive as caring for the plant in

the fields. Here slaves and female

indentured servants work with the

crop after it has been harvested.

Women’s lives



Chapter 2  Beginnings of English America52

managed her own plantation, and acted as a lawyer in court. But because most women came to Virginia as indentured servants, they could look forward only to a life of hard labor in the tobacco fields and early death.

The Maryland Experiment

The second Chesapeake colony, Maryland, followed a similar course of development. As in Virginia, tobacco came to dominate the economy and tobacco planters the society. But in other ways, Maryland’s history was strikingly different.

Maryland was established in 1632 as a proprietary colony, that is, a grant of land and governmental authority to a single individual. This was Cecilius Calvert, the son of a recently deceased favorite of King Charles I. The charter granted him “full, free, and absolute power,” including control of trade and the right to initiate all legislation, with an elected assembly confined to approving or disapproving his proposals. Although Calvert disliked representative institutions, the charter guaranteed to colonists “all privileges, franchises, and liberties” of Englishmen. While these were not spelled out, they undoubtedly included the idea of a government lim- ited by the law. Here was a recipe for conflict, and Maryland had more than its share during the seventeenth century.

Religion in Maryland

Further aggravating instability in the colony was the fact that Calvert, a Catholic, envisioned Maryland as a refuge for his persecuted coreligion- ists in England, especially the younger sons of Catholic gentry who had few economic or political prospects in England. In Maryland, he hoped, Protestants and Catholics could live in a harmony unknown in Europe. Most appointed officials were Catholic, including relatives of the propri- etor. But Protestants always formed a majority of the settlers. Most, as in Virginia, came as indentured servants.

As in Virginia, the death rate remained very high. Almost 70 percent of male settlers in Maryland died before reaching the age of fifty, and half the children born in the colony did not live to adulthood. But at least initially, Maryland seems to have offered servants greater opportunity for landown- ership than Virginia. Unlike in the older colony, freedom dues in Maryland included fifty acres of land. As tobacco planters engrossed the best land later in the century, however, the prospects for landless men diminished.

Maryland as a refuge for persecuted Catholics

Proprietary colony



53T H E N E W E N G L A N D W A Y


The Rise of Puritanism

As Virginia and Maryland evolved toward societies dominated by a small aristocracy ruling over numerous bound laborers, a very different social order emerged in seventeenth-century New England. The early history of that region is intimately connected to the religious movement known as “Puritanism,” which arose in England late in the sixteenth century. The term was initially coined by opponents to ridicule those not satisfied with the progress of the Protestant Reformation in England. Puritans differed among themselves on many issues. But all shared the conviction that the Church of England retained too many elements of Catholicism in its reli- gious rituals and doctrines. Puritans saw elaborate church ceremonies, the rule that priests could not marry, and ornate church decorations as vestiges of “popery.” Many rejected the Catholic structure of religious authority descending from a pope or king to archbishops, bishops, and priests. Only independent local congregations, they believed, should choose clergymen and determine modes of worship. These Puritans were called “Congregationalists.” They believed that neither the church nor the nation was living up to its ideals.

Puritans considered religious belief a complex and demanding matter and urged believers to seek the truth by reading the Bible and listening to sermons by educated ministers, rather than devoting themselves to sacra- ments administered by priests and to what Puritans considered formulaic prayers. The sermon was the central rite of Puritan practice. In the course of a lifetime, according to one estimate, the average Puritan listened to some 7,000 sermons. In their religious beliefs, Puritans followed the ideas of the French-born Swiss theologian John Calvin. The world, Calvin taught, was divided between the elect and the damned, but no one knew who was destined to be saved, which had already been determined by God. Nevertheless, leading a good life and prospering economically might be indications of God’s grace, whereas idleness and immoral behavior were sure signs of damnation.

Moral Liberty

Puritanism was characterized by a zeal that alienated many who held differing religious views. A minority of Puritans (such as those who settled in Plymouth Colony) became separatists, abandoning the Church of England entirely to form their own independent churches. Most,

The Bible and the sermon

John Calvin

What made the English settlement of New England distinctive?

Puritanism and the Protestant Reformation in England



Chapter 2  Beginnings of English America54

however, hoped to purify the church from within. But in the 1620s and 1630s, as Charles I seemed to be moving toward a restoration of Catholic ceremonies and the Church of England dismissed Puritan ministers and censored their writings, many Puritans decided to emigrate. When Puritans emigrated to New England, they hoped to escape what they believed to be the religious and worldly corruptions of English society. They would establish a “city set upon a hill,” a Bible Commonwealth whose influence would flow back across the Atlantic and rescue England from godlessness and social decay.

Like so many other emigrants to America, Puritans came in search of liberty, especially the right to worship and govern themselves in what they deemed a truly Christian manner. Freedom certainly did not mean unrestrained action, improper religious practices, or sinful behavior, of which, Puritans thought, there were far too many examples in England. In a 1645 speech to the Massachusetts legislature explaining the Puritan conception of freedom, John Winthrop, the colony’s governor, distin- guished sharply between two kinds of liberty. “Natural” liberty, or acting without restraint, suggested “a liberty to do evil.” This was the false idea of freedom supposedly adopted by the Irish, Indians, and bad Christians generally. Genuine “moral” liberty meant “a liberty to that only which is good.” It was quite compatible with severe restraints on speech, religion, and personal behavior. True freedom, Winthrop insisted, depended on “subjection to authority,” both religious and secular; otherwise, anarchy was sure to follow. To Puritans, liberty meant that the elect had a right to establish churches and govern society, not that others could challenge their beliefs or authority.

The Pilgrims at Plymouth

The first Puritans to emigrate to America were a group of separatists known as the Pilgrims. They had already fled to the Netherlands in 1608. A decade later, fearing that their children were being corrupted by the surrounding culture, they decided to emigrate to Virginia. In September 1620, the Mayflower, carrying 150 settlers and crew (among them many non-Puritans), embarked from England. Blown off course, they landed not in Virginia but hundreds of miles to the north, on Cape Cod. Here the 102 who survived the journey established the colony of Plymouth. Before landing, the Pilgrim leaders drew up the Mayflower Compact, in which the adult men going ashore agreed to obey “just and equal laws” enacted by representatives of their own choosing. This was the first written frame of government in what is now the United States.

A portrait of John Winthrop, first

governor of the Massachusetts Bay

Colony, painted in the 1640s.

Freedom and subjection to authority

Plymouth colony



55T H E N E W E N G L A N D W A Y

What made the English settlement of New England distinctive?

The Pilgrims arrived in an area whose native population had recently been decimated by smallpox. They established Plymouth on the site of an abandoned Indian village whose fields had been cleared before the epi- demic and were ready for cultivation. Nonetheless, the settlers arrived six weeks before winter without food or farm animals. Half died during the first winter, and the remaining colonists survived only through the help of local Indians. In the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims invited their Indian allies to a harvest feast celebrating their survival, the first Thanksgiving.

The Pilgrims hoped to establish a society based on the lives of the early Christian saints. Their government rested on the principle of con- sent, and voting was not restricted to church members. All land was held in common until 1627, when it was divided among the settlers. Plymouth survived as an independent colony until 1691, but it was soon overshad- owed by Massachusetts Bay to its north.

The Great Migration

Chartered in 1629, the Massachusetts Bay Company was founded by a group of London merchants who hoped to further the Puritan cause and turn a profit through trade with the Indians. The first five ships sailed from England in 1629, and by 1642 some 21,000 Puritans had emigrated to Mas- sachusetts, a flow of population long remembered as the Great Migration. After 1640, migration to New England virtually ceased, and in some years more colonists left the region than arrived. Nonetheless, the Great Migration established the basis for a stable and thriving society.

In many ways, the settling of New England was unique. Although ser- vants represented about one-quarter of the Great Migration, most settlers arrived in Massachusetts in families. Compared with colonists in Virginia and Maryland, they were older and more prosperous, and the number of men and women more equally balanced. Because of the even sex ratio and New England’s healthier climate, the population grew rapidly, doubling every twenty-seven years. By 1700 New England’s white population of 91,000 outnumbered that of both the Chesapeake and the West Indies.

The Puritan Family

Whatever their differences with other Englishmen on religious mat- ters, Puritans shared with the larger society a belief in male authority within the household as well as an adherence to the common-law tradition that severely limited married women’s legal and economic rights. Male authority was especially vital in America because in a farming society

Seal of the Massachusetts Bay

Colony. The Indian’s scanty attire

suggests a lack of civilization. His

statement “Come Over and Help Us,”

based on an incident in the Bible,

illustrates the English conviction

that they were liberating the native

population, rather than exploiting

them as other empires had.

A migration of families

Male authority in the household



Chapter 2  Beginnings of English America56

without large numbers of slaves or servants, control over the labor of one’s family was essential to a man’s economic success.

To be sure, Puritans deemed women to be the spiritual equals of men, and women were allowed to become full church members. Although all ministers were men, the Puritan belief in the ability of believers to interpret the Bible opened the door for some women to claim positions of religious leadership. The ideal Puritan marriage was based on reciprocal affection and companionship, and divorce was legal. Yet within the house- hold, the husband’s authority was virtually absolute.

The family was the foundation of strong communities, and unmar- ried adults seemed a danger to the social fabric. The typical New England woman married at twenty-two, a younger age than her English counter- part, and gave birth seven times. Because New England was a far healthier environment than the Chesapeake, more children survived infancy. Thus, much of a woman’s adult life was devoted to bearing and rearing children.

Government and Society in Massachusetts

Since Puritans feared excessive individualism and lack of social unity, the leaders of Massachusetts organized the colony in self-governing towns. Groups of settlers received a land grant from the colony’s government and then subdivided it, with residents awarded house lots in a central area and land on the outskirts for farming. Much land remained in commons,

The Savage Family, a 1779 painting

by the New England artist Edward

Savage, depicts several generations

of a typically numerous Puritan family.

Family and society

Women and Puritan religion



57T H E N E W E N G L A N D W A Y

What made the English settlement of New England distinctive?

either for collective use or to be divided among later settlers or the sons of the town’s founders. Each town had its own Congregational Church. Each, according to a law of 1647, was required to establish a school, since the ability to read the Bible was central to Puritan belief. To train an educated ministry, Harvard College was established in 1636 (nearly a century after the Royal University of Mexico, founded in 1551), and two years later the first printing press in English America was established in Cambridge.

Wishing to rule the colony without outside interference and to pre- vent non-Puritans from influencing decision making, the eight sharehold- ers of the Massachusetts Bay Company emigrated to America, taking the charter with them and transforming a commercial document into a form of government. In 1634, a group of deputies elected by freemen (landowning church members) was added to form a single ruling body, the General Court. Ten years later, company officers and elected deputies were divided into two legislative houses. Unlike Virginia, whose governors were appointed first by a faraway company and, after 1624, by the crown, or Maryland, where authority rested with a single proprietor, the freemen of Massachusetts elected their governor.

The principle of consent was central to Puritanism. Churches were formed by voluntary agreement among members, who elected the

The New England town

The Massachusetts Bay Charter

An embroidered banner depicting

the main building at Harvard, the first

college established in the English

colonies. It was probably made by a

Massachusetts woman for a husband

or son who attended Harvard.



Chapter 2  Beginnings of English America58

minister. No important church decision was made without the agreement of the male members. Towns governed themselves, and local officials, delegates to the General Court, and the colonial governor were all elected. Puritans, however, were hardly believers in equality. Church member- ship, a status that carried great prestige and power, was a restrictive category. Anyone could worship at a church, but to be a full member required demonstrating that one had experienced divine grace and could be considered a “visible saint,” usually by testifying about a conversion experience. Voting in colony-wide elections was limited to men who had been accepted as full church members. Puritan democracy was for those within the circle of church membership; those outside the boundary occu- pied a secondary place in the Bible Commonwealth.

Church and State in Puritan Massachusetts

Seventeenth-century New England was a hierarchical society in which socially prominent families were assigned the best land and the most desirable seats in church. Ordinary settlers were addressed as “goodman” and “goodwife,” while the better sort were called “gentleman” and “lady” or “master” and “mistress.” When the General Court in 1641 issued a Body of Liberties outlining the rights and responsibilities of Massachusetts colonists, it adopted the traditional understanding of liberties as privileges that derived from one’s place in the social order. Inequality was considered an expression of God’s will, and while some liberties, such as freedom of speech and assembly, applied to all inhabitants, there were separate lists of rights for freemen, women, children, and servants. The Body of Liberties also allowed for slavery. The first African slave appears in the records of Massachusetts Bay in 1640.

Massachusetts forbade ministers to hold office so as not to interfere with their spiritual responsibilities. But church and state were closely interconnected. The law required each town to establish a church and to levy a tax to support the minister. Massachusetts prescribed the death penalty for, among other things, worshiping “any god, but the lord god,” practicing witchcraft, or committing blasphemy.

Like many others in the seventeenth century, Puritans believed that religious uniformity was essential to social order. Thus, the church and civil government were intimately interconnected. Puritans did not believe in religious toleration—there was one truth, and their faith embodied it. Religious liberty meant the liberty to practice this truth. But the desire to give autonomy to local congregations soon clashed with the desire for religious uniformity.

The Body of Liberties

Church membership

Religious uniformity



59N E W E N G L A N D E R S D I V I D E D


Modern ideas of individualism, privacy, and personal freedom would have struck Puritans as quite strange. They considered too much emphasis on the “self” dangerous to social harmony and community stability. In the closely knit towns of New England, residents carefully monitored one another’s behavior and chastised or expelled those who violated com- munal norms. Towns banished individuals for such offenses as criticizing the church or government, complaining about the colony in letters home to England, or, in the case of one individual, Abigail Gifford, for being “a very burdensome woman.” Tolerance of difference was not high on the list of Puritan values.

What were the main sources of discord in early New England?






New Haven

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Pequot War, 1637







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By the mid-seventeenth century,

English settlement in New England

had spread well inland and up and

down the Atlantic coast.



Chapter 2  Beginnings of English America60

Roger Williams

Differences of opinion about how to organize a Bible Commonwealth, however, emerged almost from the founding of Massachusetts. With its emphasis on individual interpretation of the Bible, Puritanism contained the seeds of its own fragmentation. The first sustained criticism of the existing order came from the young minister Roger Williams, who arrived in Massachusetts in 1631 and soon began to insist that its congregations withdraw from the Church of England and that church and state be sepa- rated. Williams believed that any law-abiding citizen should be allowed to practice whatever form of religion he chose.

Williams aimed to strengthen religion, not weaken it. The embrace of government, he insisted, corrupted the purity of Christian faith and drew believers into endless religious wars like those that racked Europe. Furthermore, Williams rejected the conviction that Puritans were an elect people on a divine mission to spread the true faith. Williams denied that God had singled out any group as special favorites.

Rhode Island and Connecticut

Banished from Massachusetts in 1636, Williams and his followers moved south, where they established the colony of Rhode Island, which eventu- ally received a charter from London. Rhode Island became a beacon of religious freedom. It had no established church, no religious qualifica- tions for voting until the eighteenth century, and no requirement that citizens attend church. It became a haven for Dissenters (Protestants who belonged to denominations other than the established church) and Jews persecuted in other colonies. Rhode Island’s frame of government was also more democratic. The assembly was elected twice a year, the governor annually, and town meetings were held more frequently than elsewhere in New England.

Religious disagreements in Massachusetts generated other colonies as well. In 1636, the minister Thomas Hooker established a settlement at Hartford. Its system of government, embodied in the Fundamental Orders of 1639, was modeled on that of Massachusetts—with the significant excep- tion that men did not have to be church members to vote. Quite different was the colony of New Haven, founded in 1638 by emigrants who wanted an even closer connection between church and state. In 1662, Hartford and New Haven received a royal charter that united them as the colony of Connecticut.

Religious freedom in Rhode Island


Roger Williams, New England’s most

prominent advocate of religious




61N E W E N G L A N D E R S D I V I D E D

What were the main sources of discord in early New England?

The Trials of Anne Hutchinson

Another threat to the Puritan establishment both because of her gender and influential following was Anne Hutchinson. A midwife and the daugh- ter of a clergyman, Hutchinson, wrote John Winthrop, was “a woman of a ready wit and bold spirit.” Hutchinson began holding meetings in her home, where she led discussions of religious issues among men and women, including a number of prominent merchants and public officials. In Hutchinson’s view, salvation was God’s direct gift to the elect and could not be earned by good works, devotional practices, or other human effort. Most Puritans shared this belief. What set Hutchinson apart was her charge that nearly all the ministers in Massachusetts were guilty of faulty preaching for distinguishing “saints” from the damned on the basis of activities such as church attendance and moral behavior rather than an inner state of grace.

Critics denounced Hutchinson for Antinomianism (a term for put- ting one’s own judgment or faith above both human law and the teach- ings of the church). In 1637, she was tried in civil court for sedition (expressing opinions dangerous to authority). An articulate woman, Hutchinson ably debated her university-educated accusers during her trial. But when she said God spoke to her directly rather than through ministers or the Bible, she violated Puritan doctrine and sealed her own fate. Such a claim, the colony’s leaders felt, posed a threat to organized churches—and, indeed, to all authority. Hutchinson and a number of her followers were banished.

Anne Hutchinson lived in New England for only eight years, but she left her mark on the region’s religious culture. As in the case of Roger Williams, her career showed how the Puritan belief in individual interpretation of the Bible could easily lead to criticism of the religious and political establish- ment. It would take many years before religious toleration—which violated the Puritans’ understanding of “moral liberty” and social harmony—came to Massachusetts.

Puritans and Indians

Along with disruptive religious controversies, New England, like other colonies, had to deal with the difficult problem of relations with Indians. The native population of New England numbered perhaps 100,000 when the Puritans arrived. But because of recent epidemics, the migrants encountered fewer Indians near the coast than in other

Hutchinson’s criticisms of Puritan leaders

Hutchinson’s trial

Significance of Anne Hutchinson




Anne Hutchinson began holding religious meetings in her home in Massachusetts

in 1634. She attracted followers who believed that most ministers were not adhering

strictly to Puritan theology. In 1637, she was placed on trial for sedition. In her

defense, she claimed to be inspired by a revelation from God, a violation of Puritan

beliefs. The examination of Hutchinson is a classic example of the clash between

established power and individual conscience.

GOV. JOHN WINTHROP: Mrs. Hutchinson, you are called here as one of those that have troubled the peace of the commonwealth and the churches here; you are known to be a woman that hath had a great share in the promoting and divulging of those opinions that are the cause of this trouble, . . . and you have maintained a meeting and an assembly in your house that hath been condemned by the general assembly as a thing not tolerable nor comely on the sight of God nor fitting for your sex . . . MRS. ANNE HUTCHINSON: That’s matter of conscience, Sir. GOV. JOHN WINTHROP: Your conscience you must keep, or it must be kept for you. . . . Your course is not to be suffered for. Besides we find such a course as this to be greatly prejudicial to the state. . . . And besides that it will not well stand with the commonwealth that families should be neglected for so many neighbors and dames and so much time spent. We see no rule of God for this. We see not that any should have authority to set up any other exercises besides what authority hath already set up . . . MRS. ANNE HUTCHINSON: I bless the Lord, he hath let me see which was the clear ministry and which the wrong. . . . Now if you do condemn me for speaking what in my conscience I know to be truth I must commit myself unto the Lord. MR. NOWEL (ASSISTANT TO THE COURT): How do you know that was the spirit? MRS. ANNE HUTCHINSON: By an immediate revelation. DEP. GOV. THOMAS DUDLEY: How! An immediate revelation. . . . GOV. JOHN WINTHORP: Mrs. Hutchinson, the sentence of the court you hear is that your are banished from out of our jurisdiction as being a woman not fit for our society, and are to be imprisoned till the court shall send you away.

From “The Trial of Anne Hutchinson” (1637)

Chapter 2  Beginnings of English America62



From John Winthrop,

Speech to the Massachusetts General Court

(July 3, 1645)


John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, describes two very

different definitions of liberty in this speech.

The great questions that have troubled the country, are about the authority of the magistrates and the liberty of the people. . . . Concerning liberty, I observe a great mistake in the country about that. There is a twofold liberty, natural (I mean as our nature is now corrupt) and civil or federal. The first is common to man with beasts and other creatures. By this, man, as he stands in relation to man simply, hath liberty to do what he lists; it is a liberty to do evil as well as to [do] good. This liberty is incompatible and inconsistent with authority, and cannot endure the least restraint of the most just authority. The exercise and maintaining of this liberty makes men grow more evil, and in time to be worse than brute beasts. . . . This is that great enemy of truth and peace, that wild beast, which all the ordinances of God are bent against, to restrain and subdue it.

The other kind of liberty I call civil or federal, it may also be termed moral. . . . This liberty is the proper end and object of authority, and cannot subsist without it; and it is a liberty to that only which is good, just, and honest. . . . This liberty is maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority; it is of the same kind of liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. The woman’s own choice makes . . . a man her husband; yet being so chosen, he is her lord, and she is to be subject to him, yet in a way of liberty, not of bondage; and a true wife accounts her subjection her honor and freedom, and would not think her condition safe and free, but in her subjection to her husband’s authority. Such is the liberty of the church under the authority of Christ.


1. To what extent does Hutchinson’s

being a woman play a part in the

accusations against her?

2. Why does Winthrop consider “natu-

ral” liberty dangerous?

3. How do Hutchinson and Winthrop

differ in their understanding of

religious liberty?



Chapter 2  Beginnings of English America64

parts of eastern North America. In areas of European settlement, colo- nists quickly outnumbered the native population. Some settlers, nota- bly Roger Williams, sought to treat the Indians with justice. Williams insisted that the king had no right to grant land already belonging to someone else. No town, said Williams, should be established before its site had been purchased. John Winthrop, on the other hand, believed uncultivated land could legitimately be taken. Although he recognized the benefits of buying land rather than simply seizing it, he insisted that such purchases require Indians to submit to English authority and pay tribute to the colonists.

To New England’s leaders, the Indians represented both savagery and temptation. They enjoyed freedom but of the wrong kind—what Winthrop condemned as undisciplined “natural liberty.” Puritans feared that Indian society might attract colonists who lacked the proper moral fiber. In 1642, the Connecticut General Court set a penalty of three years at hard labor for any colonist who abandoned “godly society” to live with the Indians. To counteract the attraction of Indian life, the leaders of New England also encouraged the publication of “captivity” narratives by those captured by Indians. The most popular was The Sovereignty and Goodness of God by Mary Rowlandson, who was seized with other set- tlers and held for three months until ransomed during an Indian war in the 1670s. Rowlandson acknowledged that she had been well treated and suffered “not the least abuse or unchastity,” but her book’s overriding theme was her determination to return to Christian society.

Puritans announced that they intended to bring Christian faith to the Indians, but they did nothing in the first two decades of settlement to accomplish this. They generally saw Indians as an obstacle to be pushed aside, rather than as potential converts.

The Pequot War

Indians in New England lacked a paramount chief like Powhatan in Virginia. Coastal Indian tribes, their numbers severely reduced by disease, initially sought to forge alliances with the newcomers to enhance their own position against inland rivals. But as the white population expanded and new towns proliferated, conflict with the region’s Indians became unavoidable. The turning point came in 1637 when a fur trader was killed by Pequots—a powerful tribe who controlled southern New England’s fur trade and exacted tribute from other Indians. A force of Connecticut and Massachusetts soldiers, augmented by Narragansett allies, surrounded the main Pequot fortified village at Mystic and set it ablaze, killing those

The title page of a translation of the

Bible into the Massachusett language,

published by John Eliot in 1663.

Conflict between Indians and New England colonists



65N E W E N G L A N D E R S D I V I D E D

What were the main sources of discord in early New England?

who tried to escape. Over 500 men, women, and children lost their lives in the massacre. By the end of the war a few months later, most of the Pequot had been exterminated or sold into Caribbean slavery. The treaty that restored peace decreed that their name be wiped from the historical record.

The colonists’ ferocity shocked their Indian allies, who considered European military practices barbaric. Pilgrim leader William Bradford agreed: “It was a fearful sight to see them frying in the fire,” he wrote of the raid on Mystic. But to most Puritans, the defeat of a “barbarous nation” by “the sword of the Lord” offered further proof that Indians were unworthy of sharing New England with the visible saints of the church.

The New England Economy

The leaders of the New England colonies prided themselves on the idea that religion was the primary motivation for emigration. But economic motives were hardly unimportant. One promotional pamphlet of the 1620s spoke of New England as a place “where religion and profit jump together.”

Most Puritans came from the middle ranks of society and paid for their family’s passage rather than indenturing themselves to labor. They sought in New England not only religious liberty but also economic

An engraving from John Underhill’s

News from America, published

in London in 1638, shows the

destruction of the Pequot village on

the Mystic River in 1637. The colonial

forces, firing guns, are aided by

Indian allies with bows and arrows.

Massacre at Mystic

Economic motivation for emigrants



Chapter 2  Beginnings of English America66

Mrs. Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary.

Painted by an anonymous artist in

the 1670s, this portrait depicts the

wife and daughter of John Freake,

a prominent Boston merchant and

lawyer. To illustrate the family’s

wealth, Mrs. Freake wears a triple

strand of pearls, a garnet bracelet,

and a gold ring, and her child wears

a yellow silk dress.

advancement—if not riches, then at least a “competency,” the economic independence that came with secure landownership or craft status.

Lacking a marketable staple like sugar or tobacco, New Englanders turned to fishing and timber for exports. With very few slaves in seventeenth- century New England, most households relied on the labor of their own members, including women in the home and children in the fields. Sons remained unmarried into their mid-twenties, when they could expect to receive land from their fathers, from local authorities, or by moving to a new town.

A Growing Commercial Society

Per capita wealth in New England lagged far behind that of the Chesapeake, but it was much more equally distributed. A majority of New England families owned their own land, the foundation for a comfortable indepen- dence. Nonetheless, as in the Chesapeake, economic development pro- duced some social inequalities. For example, on completing their terms, indentured servants rarely achieved full church membership or received grants of land. Most became disenfranchised wage earners.

New England gradually assumed a growing role within the British empire based on trade. As early as the 1640s, New England merchants shipped and marketed the staples of other colonies to markets in Europe and Africa. They engaged in a particularly profitable trade with the West Indies, whose growing slave plantations they supplied with fish, timber, and agricultural produce gathered at home. Especially in Boston, a powerful class of merchants arose who challenged some key Puritan policies, includ- ing the subordination of economic activity to the common good. As early as the 1630s, when the General Court established limits on prices and wages and gave a small group of merchants a monopoly on imports from Europe, others protested. Some left Boston to establish a new town at Portsmouth, in the region eventually chartered as the royal colony of New Hampshire. Others remained to fight, with increasing success, for the right to conduct business as they pleased. By the 1640s, Massachusetts had repealed many of its early economic regulations. Eventually, the Puritan experiment would evolve into a merchant-dominated colonial government.

Some Puritan leaders were understandably worried about their soci- ety’s growing commercialization. By 1650, less than half the population of Boston had become full church members, which forced Puritan leaders to deal with the religious status of the third generation. Should they uphold the rigorous admission standards of the Congregational Church, thus limiting its size? Or should they make admission easier and remain con-

Fish and timber exports



67R E L I G I O N , P O L I T I C S , A N D F R E E D O M

nected to more people? The Half-Way Covenant of 1662 tried to address this problem by allowing for the baptism of and a kind of “half-way” membership for grandchildren of those who emigrated during the Great Migration. But church membership continued to stagnate.

By the 1660s and 1670s, ministers were regularly castigating the people for selfishness and a “great backsliding” from the colony’s original purposes. These warnings, called “jeremiads” after the ancient Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, interpreted crop failures and disease as signs of divine disapproval and warned of further punishment to come if New Englanders did not mend their ways. Yet hard work and commercial success had always been central Puritan values. In this sense, the commercialization of New England was as much a fulfillment of the Puritan mission in America as a betrayal.

R E L I G I O N , P O L I T I C S , A N D F R E E D O M

The Rights of Englishmen

Even as English emigrants began the settlement of colonies in North America, England itself became enmeshed in political and religious con- flict, in which ideas of liberty played a central role. By 1600, the traditional definition of “liberties” as a set of privileges confined to one or another social group still persisted, but alongside it had arisen the idea that certain “rights of Englishmen” applied to all within the kingdom. This tradition rested on the Magna Carta (or Great Charter) of 1215. An agreement between King John and a group of barons, the Magna Carta listed a series of “liberties” granted by the king to “all the free men of our realm,” a restricted group at the time, since many residents of England were serfs. The liberties men- tioned in the Magna Carta included protection against arbitrary imprison- ment and the seizure of one’s property without due process of law.

Over time, the document came to be seen as embodying the idea of “English freedom”—that the king was subject to the rule of law, and that all persons should enjoy security of person and property. These rights were embodied in the common law, whose provisions, such as habeas corpus (a protection against being imprisoned without a legal charge), the right to face one’s accuser, and trial by jury came to apply to all free sub- jects of the English crown. As serfdom slowly disappeared, the number of Englishmen considered “freeborn,” and therefore entitled to these rights, expanded enormously.

The Magna Carta

Rights of “free borns”


What were the main sources of discord in early New England?



Chapter 2  Beginnings of English America68

The execution of Charles I in 1649, a

central event of the English Civil War.

The English Civil War

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, when English emigrants began arriving in the New World, “freedom” still played only a minor role in England’s political debates. But the political upheavals of that century elevated the notion of “English freedom” to a central place. The struggle for political supremacy between Parliament and the Stuart monarchs James I and Charles I culminated in the English Civil War of the 1640s.

The leaders of the House of Commons (the elective body that, along with the hereditary aristocrats of the House of Lords, makes up the English Parliament) accused the Stuart kings of endangering liberty by imposing taxes without parliamentary consent, imprisoning political foes, and leading the nation back toward Catholicism. Civil war broke out in 1642, resulting in a victory for the forces of Parliament. In 1649, Charles I was beheaded, the monarchy abolished, and England declared “a Commonwealth and Free State”—a nation governed by the will of the people. Oliver Cromwell, the head of the victorious Parliamentary army, ruled for almost a decade after the execution of the king. In 1660, the monarchy was restored and Charles II assumed the throne. But by then, the breakdown of authority had stimulated intense discussions of liberty, authority, and what it meant to be a “freeborn Englishman.”

England’s Debate over Freedom

The idea of freedom suddenly took on new and expanded meanings between 1640 and 1660. The writer John Milton called for freedom of speech and of the press. New religious sects sprang up, demanding reli-

The struggles of monarchy and Parliament

The Levellers and the Diggers



69R E L I G I O N , P O L I T I C S , A N D F R E E D O M

How did the English Civil War affect the colonies in America?

gious toleration for all Protestants as well as the end of public financing and special privileges for the Anglican Church. The Levellers, history’s first democratic political movement, proposed a written constitution, the Agreement of the People, which began by proclaiming “at how high a rate we value our just freedom.” Although “democracy” was still widely equated with anarchy, the document proposed to abolish the monarchy and House of Lords and to greatly expand the right to vote.

The Levellers offered a glimpse of the modern definition of freedom as a universal entitlement in a society based on equal rights, not a function of social class. Another new group, the Diggers, went even further, hoping to give freedom an economic underpinning through the common ownership of land. Previous discussion of freedom, declared Gerard Winstanley, the Diggers’ leader, said that true freedom applied equally “to the poor as well as the rich”; all were entitled to “a comfortable livelihood in this their own land.” Some of the ideas of liberty that flourished during the 1640s and 1650s would be carried to America by English emigrants.

The Civil War and English America

The Civil War, accompanied by vigorous discussions of the rights of free- born Englishmen, inevitably reverberated in England’s colonies, dividing them from one another and internally. Most New Englanders sided with Parliament in the Civil War of the 1640s. Some returned to England to join the Parliamentary army or take up pulpits to help create a godly common- wealth at home. But Puritan leaders were increasingly uncomfortable as the idea of religious toleration for Protestants gained favor in England.

Meanwhile, a number of followers of Anne Hutchinson became Quakers, one of the sects that sprang up in England during the Civil War. Quakers held that the spirit of God dwelled within every individual, not just the elect, and that this “inner light,” rather than the Bible or teach- ings of the clergy, offered the surest guidance in spiritual matters. When Quakers appeared in Massachusetts, colonial officials had them whipped, fined, and banished. In 1659 and 1660, four Quakers who returned from exile were hanged. When Charles II, after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, reaffirmed the Massachusetts charter, he ordered the colony to recognize the “liberty of conscience” of all Protestants.

In Maryland, the combination of the religious and political battles of the Civil War, homegrown conflict between Catholic and Protestant settlers, and anti-proprietary feeling produced a violent civil war within the colony, later recalled as the “plundering time.” Indeed, Maryland in the 1640s verged on total anarchy, with a pro-Parliament force assaulting those loyal to Charles I.

The Quakers

Meeting of the General Council of the

Army at Putney, scene of the debate

in 1647 over liberty and democracy

between Levellers and more-

conservative army officers.



Chapter 2  Beginnings of English America70

After years of struggle between the Protestant planter class and the Catholic elite, Maryland in 1649 adopted an Act Concerning Religion, which institutionalized the principle of toleration that had prevailed from the colony’s beginning. All Christians were guaranteed the “free exercise” of religion. Although the Act did not grant this right to non-Christians, it did, over time, bring some political stability to Maryland. The law was also a milestone in the history of religious freedom in colonial America.

Cromwell and the Empire

Oliver Cromwell, who ruled England from 1649 until his death in 1658, undertook an aggressive policy of colonial expansion, the promotion of Protestantism, and commercial empowerment in the British Isles and the Western Hemisphere. His army forcibly extended English control over Ireland, massacring civilians, banning the public practice of Catholicism, and seizing land owned by Catholics. In the Caribbean, England seized Jamaica, a valuable sugar island, from Spain.

By the middle of the seventeenth century, several English colonies existed along the Atlantic coast of North America. Established as part of an ad hoc process rather than arising under any coherent national plan, they differed enormously in economic, political, and social structure. The seeds had been planted, in the Chesapeake, for the development of planta- tion societies based on unfree labor, and in New England, for settlements centered on small towns and family farms. Throughout the colonies, many residents enjoyed freedoms they had not possessed at home, especially access to land and the right to worship as they desired. Others found them- selves confined to unfree labor for many years or an entire lifetime.

The next century would be a time of crisis and consolidation as the population expanded, social conflicts intensified, and Britain moved to exert greater control over its flourishing North American colonies.

England’s colonial expansion

Religious freedom in Maryland




1. Compare and contrast settlement patterns, treatment of Indians, and religion of the Spanish and English in the Americas.

2. For English settlers, land was the basis of independence and liberty. Explain the reasoning behind that concept and how it differed from the Indians’ conception of land.

3. Describe the factors promoting and limiting religious free- dom in the New England and Chesapeake colonies.

4. Describe who chose to emigrate to North America from England in the seventeenth century and explain their reasons.

5. In what ways did the economy, government, and house- hold structure differ in New England and the Chesapeake colonies?

6. The English believed that, unlike the Spanish, their motives for colonization were pure, and that the growth of empire and freedom would always go hand-in-hand. How did the expansion of the British empire affect the freedoms of Native Americans, the Irish, and even many English citizens?

7. Considering politics, social tensions, and debates over the meaning of liberty, how do the events and aftermath of the English Civil War demonstrate that the English colonies in North America were part of a larger Atlantic community?

8. How did the tobacco economy draw the Chesapeake colo- nies into the greater Atlantic World?


Virginia Company (p. 39)

Roanoke (p. 41)

A Discourse Concerning Western Planting (p. 41)

enclosure movement (p. 42)

indentured servant (p. 44)

John Smith (p. 47)

headright system (p. 48)

House of Burgesses (p. 48)

Uprising of 1622 (p. 49)

tobacco (p. 50)

dower rights (p. 51)

Puritanism (p. 53)

John Winthrop (p. 54)

Moral liberty (p. 54)

Pilgrims (p. 54)

Mayflower Compact (p. 54)

Great Migration (p. 55)

captivity narratives (p. 64)

The Sovereignty and Goodness of God (p. 64)

Pequot War (p. 64)

Half-Way Covenant (p. 67)

English freedom (p. 67)

Act Concerning Religion (p. 70)


71C H A P T E R R E V I E W A N D O N L I N E R E S O U R C E S



A chapter outline

A diagnostic chapter quiz

Interactive maps

Map worksheets

Multimedia documents

wwnorton.com /studyspace




A N G L O – A M E R I C A

C H A P T E R 3

1 6 6 0 – 1 7 5 0

1651 First Navigation Act issued by Parliament

1664 English seize New Nether- land, which becomes New York

1670 First English settlers arrive in Carolina

1675 Lords of Trade established

1675– King Philip’s War 1676

1676 Bacon’s Rebellion

1677 Covenant Chain alliance

1681 William Penn granted Pennsylvania

1682 Charter of Liberty drafted by Penn

1683 Charter of Liberties and Privileges drafted by New York assembly

1686– Dominion of New England 1689

1688 Glorious Revolution in England

1689 Parliament enacts a Bill of Rights

Maryland Protestant Association revolts

Leisler’s Rebellion

Parliament passes Toleration Act

1691 Plymouth colony absorbed into Massachusetts

1692 Salem witch trials

1705 Virginia passes Slave Code

1715– Yamasee uprising 1717

1737 Walking Purchase

The Residence of David Twining, a

painting of a Pennsylvania farm as it

appeared in the eighteenth century.

Edward Hicks, who had lived there as a

youth, painted the scene from memory

in the 1840s. Hicks depicts a prosperous

farm, largely self-sufficient but also

producing for the market, typical of

colonial eastern Pennsylvania. One of

the farm workers is a slave.



73C R E A T I N G A N G L O – A M E R I C A

I n the last quarter of the seventeenth century, a series of crises rocked the European colonies of North America. Social and political ten-sions boiled over in sometimes ruthless conflicts between rich and poor, free and slave, settler and Indian, and members of different reli- gious groups. At the same time, struggles within and between European empires echoed in the colonies.

The bloodiest and most bitter conflict occurred in southern New England, where in 1675 an Indian alliance launched attacks on farms and settlements that were encroaching on Indian lands. It was the most dra- matic and violent warfare in the region in the entire seventeenth century.

New Englanders described the Wampanoag leader Metacom (known to the colonists as King Philip) as the uprising’s mastermind, although in fact most tribes fought under their own leaders. By 1676, Indian forces had attacked nearly half of New England’s ninety towns. Twelve in Mas- sachusetts were destroyed. As refugees fled eastward, the line of settle- ment was pushed back almost to the Atlantic coast. Some 1,000 set tlers, out of a population of 52,000, and 3,000 of New England’s 20,000 Indi- ans, perished in the fighting.

In mid-1676, the tide of battle turned and a ferocious counterattack broke the Indians’ power once and for all. Although the uprising united numerous tribes, others remained loyal to the colonists. The role of the Iroquois in providing essential military aid to the colonists helped to solidify their developing alliance with the government of New York. Together, colonial and Indian forces inflicted devastating punishment on the rebels. Metacom was executed, Indian villages were destroyed, and captives were killed or sold into slavery in the West Indies. Both sides committed atrocities in this merciless conflict, but in its aftermath the image of Indians as bloodthirsty savages became firmly entrenched in the New England mind.

In the long run, King Philip’s War produced a broadening of free- dom for white New Englanders by expanding their access to land. But this freedom rested on the final dispossession of the region’s Indians.

How did the English

empire in America expand

in the mid-seventeenth


How was slavery estab-

lished in the Western

Atlantic world?

What major social and

political crises rocked the

colonies in the late seven-

teenth century?

What were the directions

of social and economic

change in the eighteenth-

century colonies?

How did patterns of class

and gender roles change

in eighteenth-century





Chapter 3  Creating Anglo-America74


E X P A N S I O N O F E N G L A N D ’ S E M P I R E

The Mercantilist System

By the middle of the seventeenth century, it was apparent that the colonies could be an important source of wealth for England. According to the prevailing theory known as “mercantilism,” governments should regulate economic activity so as to promote national power. They should encourage manufacturing and commerce by special bounties, monopolies, and other measures. Above all, trade should be controlled so that more gold and sil- ver flowed into countries than left them. That is, exports of goods, which generated revenue from abroad, should exceed imports, which required paying foreigners for their products. In the mercantilist outlook, the role of colonies was to serve the interests of the mother country by producing marketable raw materials and importing manufactured goods from home. “Foreign trade,” declared an influential work written in 1664 by a London merchant, formed the basis of “England’s treasure.” Commerce, not territo- rial plunder, was the foundation of empire.

Parliament in 1651 passed the first Navigation Act, which aimed to wrest control of world trade from the Dutch, whose merchants profited from free trade with all parts of the world and all existing empires. Additional measures followed in 1660 and 1663. According to the Navigation laws, certain “enumerated” goods—essentially the most valuable colonial prod- ucts, such as tobacco and sugar—had to be transported in English ships and sold initially in English ports, although they could then be re-exported to foreign markets. Similarly, most European goods imported into the colonies had to be shipped through England, where customs duties were paid. This enabled English merchants, manufacturers, shipbuilders, and sailors to reap the benefits of colonial trade, and the government to enjoy added income from taxes. As members of the empire, American colonies would profit as well, since their ships were considered English. Indeed, the Navigation Acts stimulated the rise of New England’s shipbuilding industry.

The Conquest of New Netherland

The restoration of the English monarchy when Charles II assumed the throne in 1660 sparked a new period of colonial expansion. The govern- ment chartered new trading ventures, notably the Royal African Company,

The role of colonies

Enumerated goods



75G L O B A L C O M P E T I T I O N A N D T H E E X P A N S I O N O F E N G L A N D ’ S E M P I R E

How did the English empire in America expand in the mid-seventeenth century?

which was given a monopoly of the slave trade. Within a generation, the number of English colonies in North America doubled.

First to come under English control was New Netherland, seized in 1664 during an Anglo-Dutch war that also saw England gain control of Dutch trading posts in Africa. King Charles II awarded the colony to his younger brother James, the duke of York, with “full and absolute power” to govern as he pleased. (Hence the colony’s name became New York.) English rule transformed this minor military base into an important imperial outpost, a seaport trading with the Caribbean and Europe, and a launching pad for military operations against the French. New York’s European population, around 9,000 when the English assumed control, rose to 20,000 by 1685.

English rule expanded the freedom of some New Yorkers, while reduc- ing that of others. The terms of surrender guaranteed that the English would respect the religious beliefs and property holdings of the colony’s many ethnic communities. But English law ended the Dutch tradition by which married women conducted business in their own name and inher- ited some of the property acquired during marriage. There had been many female traders in New Amsterdam, but few remained by the end of the seventeenth century.

The English also introduced more restrictive attitudes toward blacks. In colonial New York City, as in New Amsterdam, those residents who enjoyed the status of “freeman,” obtained by birth in the city or by an act of local authorities, enjoyed special privileges, including the right to work in various trades. But the English, in a reversal of Dutch practice, expelled free blacks from many skilled jobs.

Others benefited enormously from English rule. The duke of York and his appointed governors continued the Dutch practice of awarding immense land grants to favorites. By 1700, nearly 2 million acres of land were owned by only five New York families who intermarried regu- larly, exerted considerable political influence, and formed one of colonial America’s most tightly knit landed elites.

New York and the Indians

Initially, English rule also strengthened the position of the Iroquois Confederacy of upstate New York. Sir Edmund Andros, who had been appointed governor of New York after fighting the French in the Caribbean, formed an alliance known as the Covenant Chain, in which the imperial ambitions of the English and Indians reinforced one another. The Five (later Six) Iroquois Nations assisted Andros in clearing parts of New York of rival tribes and helped the British in attacks on the French and

English rule in New York

The Iroquois Nations

English rule and blacks



Chapter 3  Creating Anglo-America76

Charles Town (Charleston)


Jamestown Williamsburg



Wilmington (Fort Christina) Philadelphia

New Amsterdam New Haven (1638)

Hartford Narragansett Bay Providence (1636)



Quebec (1608)

Port Royal (1606)

Fort Orange van Rensselaer Estate

West Mystic (May 26, 1637)

Raleigh expedition to Roanoke Island (1585)




GEORGIA (1732)



RHODE ISLAND (1636–1643)

CONNECTICUT (1636–1639)



NEW YORK (1664)



























St . L

aw ren

ce R .

James R.

Lake H uron

Lake E rie

Lake Ontario

Lake Champlain

La ke

M ich

ig an


Lake Superior

Ba y o

f F un


Gulf of St. Lawrence

At lant ic Oce an





200 miles

200 kilometers

Date of settlement Dutch settlement *English from 1664 English settlement French settlement Spanish settlement



By the early eighteenth century, numerous English colonies populated eastern North America, while the French had established their

own presence to the north and west.



77G L O B A L C O M P E T I T I O N A N D T H E E X P A N S I O N O F E N G L A N D ’ S E M P I R E

How did the English empire in America expand in the mid-seventeenth century?

their Indian allies. Andros, for his part, recognized the Iroquois claim to authority over Indian communities in the vast area stretching to the Ohio River. But beginning in the 1680s, Indians around the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regrouped and with French aid attacked the Iroquois, pushing them to the east. By the end of the century, the Iroquois Nations adopted a policy of careful neutrality, seeking to play the European empires off one another while continuing to profit from the fur trade.

The Charter of Liberties

Many New York colonists, meanwhile, began to complain that they were being denied the “liberties of Englishmen,” especially the right to consent to taxation. In 1683, the duke of York agreed to call an elected assembly, whose first act was to draft a Charter of Liberties and Privileges. The Charter required that elections be held every three years among male property owners and the freemen of New York City; it also reaffirmed tradi- tional English rights such as trial by jury and security of property, as well as religious toleration for all Protestants.

The Founding of Carolina

For more than three decades after the establishment of Maryland in 1634, no new English settlement was planted in North America. Then, in 1663, Charles II awarded to eight proprietors the right to establish a colony

An engraving representing the Grand

Council of the Iroquois Nations of

the area of present-day upstate New

York. From a book about American

Indians published in Paris by a Jesuit

missionary, who depicts the Indians in

the attire of ancient Romans. Note the

prevalence of wampum belts in the

image, in the foreground and in

the hand and at the feet of the central

figure. Wampum was used to certify

treaties and other transactions.

English rights



Chapter 3  Creating Anglo-America78

to the north of Florida, as a barrier to Spanish expansion. Not until 1670 did the first settlers arrive to found Carolina. In its early years, Carolina was the “colony of a colony,” an offshoot of the tiny island of Barbados. In the mid-seventeenth century, Barbados was the Caribbean’s richest plan- tation economy, but a shortage of available land led wealthy planters to seek opportunities in Carolina for their sons. At first, Carolinians armed friendly Indians, employing them on raids into Spanish Florida, and enslaved others, shipping them to other mainland colonies and the West Indies. Between 1670 and 1720, the number of Indian slaves exported from Charleston was larger than the number of African slaves imported. In 1715, the Yamasee and Creek rebelled, but the uprising was crushed, and most of the remaining Indians were enslaved or driven out of the colony into Spanish Florida.

The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, issued by the proprietors in 1669, proposed to establish a feudal society with a hereditary nobility, serfs, and slaves. Needing to attract settlers quickly, however, the propri- etors also provided for an elected assembly and religious toleration—by now recognized as essential to enticing migrants to North America. They also instituted a generous headright system, offering 150 acres for each member of an arriving family (in the case of indentured servants, of course, the land went to the employer) and 100 acres to male servants who com- pleted their terms.

The proprietors instituted a rigorous legal code that promised slave- owners “absolute power and authority” over their human property and included imported slaves in the headright system. This allowed any per- sons who settled in Carolina and brought with them slaves instantly to acquire large new landholdings. In its early days, however, the economy centered on cattle raising and trade with local Indians. Carolina grew slowly until planters discovered the staple—rice—that would make them the wealthiest elite in English North America and their colony an epicenter of mainland slavery.

The Holy Experiment

The last English colony to be established in the seventeenth century was Pennsylvania in 1681. The proprietor, William Penn, envisioned it as a place where those facing religious persecution in Europe could enjoy spiri- tual freedom, and colonists and Indians would coexist in harmony.

A devout member of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, Penn was particularly concerned with establishing a refuge for his coreligionists, who faced increasing persecution in England. He had already assisted

Carolina as a barrier to Spanish expansion

The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina

William Penn



79G L O B A L C O M P E T I T I O N A N D T H E E X P A N S I O N O F E N G L A N D ’ S E M P I R E

How did the English empire in America expand in the mid-seventeenth century?

a group of English Quakers in purchasing half of what became the colony of New Jersey from Lord John Berkeley, who had received a land grant from the duke of York. Penn was largely responsible for the frame of government announced in 1677, the West Jersey Concessions, which created an elected assembly with a broad suffrage and established religious liberty.

Like the Puritans, Penn considered his colony a “holy experiment,” but of a different kind—“a free colony for all man- kind that should go hither.” He hoped that Pennsylvania could be governed according to Quaker principles, among them the equality of all persons (including women, blacks, and Indians) before God and the primacy of the individual conscience. To Quakers, liberty was a universal entitlement, not the posses- sion of any single people—a position that would eventually make them the first group of whites to repudiate slavery. Penn also treated Indians with a consideration almost unique in the colonial experience, arranging to purchase land before reselling it to colonists and offering refuge to tribes driven out of other colonies by warfare. Since Quakers were pacifists who came to America unarmed and did not even organize a militia until the 1740s, peace with the native population was essential.

Religious freedom was Penn’s most fundamental principle. His Charter of Liberty, approved by the assembly in 1682, offered “Christian liberty” to all who affirmed a belief in God and did not use their freedom to promote “licentiousness.” There was no established church in Pennsylvania, and attendance at religious services was entirely voluntary, although Jews were barred from office by a required oath affirming belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ. At the same time, the Quakers upheld a strict code of personal morality. Penn’s Frame of Government prohibited swearing, drunkenness, and adultery. Not religious uniformity but a virtuous citizenry would be the foundation of Penn’s social order.

Land in Pennsylvania

Given the power to determine the colony’s form of government, Penn established an appointed council to originate legislation and an assembly elected by male taxpayers and “freemen” (owners of 100 acres of land for free immigrants and 50 acres for former indentured servants). These rules

A Quaker Meeting, a painting by an

unidentified British artist, dating from

the late eighteenth or early nineteenth

century. It illustrates the prominent

place of women in Quaker gatherings.

Penn and religious liberty



Chapter 3  Creating Anglo-America80

made a majority of the male population eligible to vote. Penn owned all the colony’s land and sold it to settlers at low prices, which helped the colony prosper. Pennsylvania’s religious toleration, healthy climate, and inex- pensive land, along with Penn’s aggressive efforts to publicize the colony’s advantages, soon attracted immigrants from all over western Europe.

Ironically, the freedoms Pennsylvania offered to European immigrants contributed to the deterioration of freedom for others. The colony’s success- ful efforts to attract settlers would eventually come into conflict with Penn’s benevolent Indian policy. And the opening of Pennsylvania caused fewer indentured servants to choose Virginia and Maryland, a development that did much to shift those colonies toward reliance on slave labor.


The incessant demand for workers spurred by the spread of tobacco cul- tivation eventually led Chesapeake planters to turn to the transatlantic trade in slaves. Compared with indentured servants, slaves offered plant- ers many advantages. As Africans, they could not claim the protections of English common law. Slaves’ terms of service never expired, and they therefore did not become a population of unruly landless men. Their chil- dren were slaves, and their skin color made it more difficult for them to escape into the surrounding society. African men, moreover, unlike their Native American counterparts, were accustomed to intensive agricultural labor, and they had encountered many diseases known in Europe and developed resistance to them, so were less likely to succumb to epidemics.

Englishmen and Africans

The English had long viewed alien peoples with disdain, including the Irish, Native Americans, and Africans. They described these strangers in remarkably similar language as savage, pagan, and uncivilized, often comparing them to animals. “Race”—the idea that humanity is divided into well-defined groups associated with skin color—is a modern concept that had not fully developed in the seventeenth century. Nor had “racism”—an ideology based on the belief that some races are inherently superior to oth- ers and entitled to rule over them.

Nonetheless, anti-black stereotypes flourished in seventeenth-century England. Africans were seen as so alien—in color, religion, and social

Freedoms in Pennsylvania

The turn to slavery

English views of alien peoples



81O R I G I N S O F A M E R I C A N S L A V E R Y

How was slavery established in the Western Atlantic world?

practices—that they were “enslavable” in a way that poor Englishmen were not. Most English also deemed Indians to be uncivilized. But the Indian population declined so rapidly, and it was so easy for Indians, familiar with the countryside, to run away, that Indian slavery never became viable in the Atlantic colonies.

Slavery in History

Slavery has existed for nearly the entire span of human history. It was central to the societies of ancient Greece and Rome. In the Mediterranean world, a slave trade in Slavic peoples survived into the fifteenth century. (The English word “slavery” derives from “Slav.”) In West Africa, as noted in Chapter 1, slavery and a slave trade predated the coming of Europeans, and small-scale slavery existed among Native Americans. But slavery in nearly all these instances differed greatly from the institution that devel- oped in the New World.

In the Americas, slavery was based on the plantation, an agricul- tural enterprise that brought together large numbers of workers under the control of a single owner. This imbalance magnified the possibility of slave resistance and made it necessary to police the system rigidly. Labor on slave plantations was far more demanding than the household slavery common in Africa, and the death rate among slaves much higher. In the New World, slavery would come to be associated with race, a concept that drew a permanent line between whites and blacks.

Slavery in the West Indies

A sense of Africans as alien and inferior made their enslavement by the English possible. But prejudice by itself did not create North American slavery. For this institution to take root, planters and government authori- ties had to be convinced that importing African slaves was the best way to solve their persistent shortage of labor. During the seventeenth century, the shipping of slaves from Africa to the New World became a major international business. By 1600, huge sugar plantations worked by slaves from Africa had made their appearance in Brazil, a colony of Portugal. In the seventeenth century, England, Holland, Denmark, and France joined Spain as owners of West Indian islands.

With the Indian population having been wiped out by disease, and with the white indentured servants unwilling to do the back- breaking, monoto- nous work of sugar cultivation, the massive importation of slaves from Africa

Plantation slavery

Sugar and slavery



Chapter 3  Creating Anglo-America82

began. On Barbados, for example, the slave population increased from 20,000 to more than 80,000 between 1660 and 1670. By the end of the seventeenth century, huge sugar plantations manned by hundreds of slaves dominated the West Indian economy, and on most of the islands the African population far outnumbered that of European origin.

Sugar was the first crop to be mass- marketed to consumers in Europe. Before its emergence, international trade consisted largely of precious metals like gold and sil- ver, and luxury goods aimed at an elite mar- ket, like the spices and silks imported from Asia. Sugar was by far the most important

product of the British, French, and Portuguese empires, and New World sugar plantations produced immense profits. Saint Domingue, today’s Haiti, was the jewel of the French empire. In 1660, Barbados generated more trade than all the other English colonies combined.

Compared with its rapid introduction in Brazil and the West Indies, slav- ery developed slowly in North America. Slaves cost more than indentured servants, and the high death rate among tobacco workers made it economi- cally unappealing to pay for a lifetime of labor. As late as 1680, there were only 4,500 blacks in the Chesapeake, a little over 5 percent of the region’s population. The most important social distinction in the seventeenth- century Chesapeake was not between black and white but between the white plantation owners who dominated politics and society and everybody else—small farmers, indentured servants, and slaves.

Slavery and the Law

Centuries before the voyages of Columbus, Spain had enacted a series of laws granting slaves certain rights relating to marriage, the holding of property, and access to freedom. These laws were transferred to Spain’s American empire. They were often violated but nonetheless gave slaves opportunities to claim rights under the law. The law of slavery in English North America would become far more repressive than in the Spanish empire, especially on the all-important question of whether avenues existed by which slaves could obtain freedom.

For much of the seventeenth century, however, the legal status of Chesapeake blacks remained ambiguous and the line between s lavery

Cutting Sugar Cane, an engraving

from Ten Views in Antigua, published

in 1823. Male and female slaves

harvest and load the sugar crop while

an overseer on horseback addresses

a slave. During the eighteenth

century, sugar was the chief crop

produced by Western Hemisphere


English and Spanish empires on slavery



83O R I G I N S O F A M E R I C A N S L A V E R Y

How was slavery established in the Western Atlantic world?

and freedom more permeable than it would later become. The first Africans, twenty in all, arrived in Virginia in 1619. Although the first black arrivals were almost certainly treated as slaves, it appears that at least some managed to become free after serving a term of years. To be sure, racial distinctions were enacted into law from the outset. As early as the 1620s, the law barred blacks from serving in the Virginia militia. In 1643, a poll tax (a tax levied on individuals) was imposed on African but not white women. In both Virginia and Maryland, however, free blacks could sue and testify in court, and some even managed to acquire land and purchase white servants or African slaves. Blacks and whites labored side by side in the tobacco fields, sometimes ran away together, and established intimate relationships.

The Rise of Chesapeake Slavery

Not until the 1660s did the laws of Virginia and Maryland refer explicitly to slavery. As tobacco planting spread and the demand for labor increased, the condition of black and white servants diverged sharply. Authorities sought to improve the status of white servants, hoping to counteract the widespread impression in England that Virginia was a death trap. At the same time, access to freedom for blacks receded.

A Virginia law of 1662 provided that in the case of a child one of whose parents was free and one slave, the status of the offspring followed that of the mother. (This provision not only reversed the European practice of defining a child’s status through the father but also made the sexual abuse of slave women profitable for slaveholders, since any children that resulted remained the owner’s property.) In 1667, the Virginia House of Burgesses decreed that religious conversion did not release a slave from bondage. Thus, Christians could own other Christians as slaves. Authorities also defined all offspring of interracial relationships as illegitimate. By 1680, even though the black population was still small, notions of racial differ- ence were well entrenched in the law. In British North America, unlike the Spanish empire, no distinctive mulatto, or mixed-race, class existed; the law treated everyone with African ancestry as black.

Bacon’s Rebellion: Land and Labor in Virginia

Virginia’s shift from white indentured servants to African slaves as the main plantation labor force was accelerated by one of the most dramatic confrontations of this era, Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676. Governor William

Legal changes in the 1660s

Rights of the free blacks

Black slavery



Chapter 3  Creating Anglo-America84

Berkeley had for thirty years run a corrupt regime in alliance with an inner circle of the colony’s wealthiest tobacco planters. He rewarded his follow- ers with land grants and lucrative offices. But as tobacco farming spread inland, planters connected with the governor engrossed the best lands, leaving freed servants (a growing population, since Virginia’s death rate was finally falling) with no options but to work as tenants or to move to the frontier. By the 1670s, poverty among whites had reached levels remi- niscent of England. In addition, the right to vote, previously enjoyed by all adult men, was confined to landowners in 1670. Governor Berkeley main- tained peaceful relations with Virginia’s remaining native population. His refusal to allow white settlement in areas reserved for Indians angered many land-hungry colonists.

Long-simmering social tensions coupled with widespread resent- ment against the injustices of the Berkeley regime erupted in Bacon’s Rebellion. In 1676, after a minor confrontation between Indians and colonists on Virginia’s western frontier, settlers demanded that the gov- ernor authorize the extermination or removal of the colony’s Indians, to open more land for whites. When Berkeley refused, a series of Indian massacres quickly grew into a full-fledged rebellion against Berkeley and his system of rule.

To some extent, Bacon’s Rebellion was a conflict within the Virginia elite—between Berkeley’s men and the backers of Nathaniel Bacon, a wealthy and ambi- tious planter who disdained Berkeley’s cronies. But Bacon’s call for the removal of all Indians from the colony, a reduction of taxes at a time of economic reces- sion, and an end to rule by “grandees” rapidly gained support from small farmers, landless men, indentured servants, and even some Africans. The bulk of his army consisted of discontented men who had recently been servants.

Bacon promised freedom (including access to Indian lands) to all who joined his ranks. In 1676, Bacon gathered an armed force for an unauthorized and indiscriminate campaign against those he called the governor’s “protected and darling Indians.” He refused Berkeley’s order to disband and marched on Jamestown, burning it to the ground. The governor fled, and Bacon became the ruler of Virginia. Only the arrival of a squad- ron of warships from England restored order.

Sir William Berkeley, governor of

colonial Virginia, 1641–1652 and

1660–1677, in a portrait by Sir Peter

Lely. Berkeley’s authoritarian rule

helped to spark Bacon’s Rebellion.

Social tension in Virginia



85O R I G I N S O F A M E R I C A N S L A V E R Y

How was slavery established in the Western Atlantic world?

The specter of a civil war among whites greatly frightened Virginia’s ruling elite, who took dramatic steps to consolidate their power and improve their image after Bacon’s death in October 1676. They restored property qualifications for voting, which Bacon had rescinded, and reduced taxes. They also adopted a more aggressive Indian policy, opening western areas to small farmers, many of whom prospered from a rise in tobacco prices after 1680. To avert the further rise of a rebellious population of landless former indentured servants, Virginia’s authorities accelerated the shift to slaves (who would never become free) on the tobacco plantations.

A Slave Society

Between 1680 and 1700, slave labor began to supplant indentured ser- vitude on Chesapeake plantations. Bacon’s Rebellion contributed to this development, but so did other factors. As the death rate began to fall, it became more economical to purchase a laborer for life. Moreover, the Royal Africa Company’s monopoly on the English slave trade ended, thus open- ing the door to other traders and reducing the price of imported African slaves.

By 1700, blacks constituted more than 10 percent of Virginia’s popula- tion. Fifty years later, they made up nearly half. Recognizing the growing importance of slavery, the House of Burgesses in 1705 enacted a new slave code. Slaves were property, completely subject to the will of their masters and, more generally, of the white community. They could be bought and sold, leased, fought over in court, and passed on to one’s descendants. Henceforth, blacks and whites were tried in separate courts. No black, free or slave, could own arms, strike a white man, or employ a white servant. Virginia had changed from a “society with slaves,” in which slavery was one system of labor among others, to a “slave society,” where slavery stood at the center of the economic process.

One sentiment shared by Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans was fear of enslavement. Throughout history, slaves have run away and in other ways resisted bondage. They did the same in the colonial Chesapeake. Colonial newspapers were filled with advertisements for runaway slaves. These notices described the appearance and skills of the fugitive and included such comments as “he has great notions of freedom.” After the suppression of a slave conspiracy in 1709, Alexander Spotswood, the gov- ernor of Virginia, warned planters to be vigilant. The desire for freedom, he reminded them, can “call together all those who long to shake off the fetters of slavery.”

Effects of Bacon’s Rebellion

Slave code of 1705

Runaway slaves



Chapter 3  Creating Anglo-America86

A scene from King Philip’s War,

included on a 1675 map of New



King Philip’s War of 1675 and Bacon’s Rebellion the following year coin- cided with disturbances in other colonies. In Maryland, where the pro- prietor, Lord Baltimore, in 1670 had suddenly restricted the right to vote to owners of fifty acres of land or a certain amount of personal property, a Protestant uprising unsuccessfully sought to oust his government and restore the suffrage for all freemen. In several colonies, increasing settlement on the frontier led to resistance by alarmed Indians. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 (discussed in Chapter 1) indicated that the crisis of colonial authority was not confined to the British empire.

The Glorious Revolution

Turmoil in England also reverberated in the colonies. In 1688, the long struggle for domination of English government between Parliament and the crown reached its culmination in the Glorious Revolution, which established parliamentary supremacy once and for all and secured the


Parliamentary supremacy



87C O L O N I E S I N C R I S I S

What major social and political crises rocked the colonies in the late seventeenth century?

Protestant succession to the throne. Under Charles II, Parliament had asserted its authority in the formation of national policy. When Charles died in 1685, he was succeeded by his brother James II (formerly the duke of York), a practicing Catholic and a believer that kings ruled by divine right. In 1687, James decreed religious toleration for both Protestant Dissenters and Catholics. The following year, the birth of James’s son raised the alarming prospect of a Catholic succession. A group of English aristocrats invited the Dutch nobleman William of Orange, the husband of James’s Protestant daughter Mary, to assume the throne in the name of English liberties. As the landed elite and leaders of the Anglican Church rallied to William’s cause, James II fled and the revolution was complete.

Unlike the broad social upheaval that marked the English Civil War of the 1640s, the Glorious Revolution was in effect a coup engineered by a small group of aristocrats in alliance with an ambitious Dutch prince. But the overthrow of James II entrenched more firmly than ever the notion that liberty was the birthright of all Englishmen and that the king was subject to the rule of law. To justify the ouster of James II, Parliament in 1689 enacted a Bill of Rights, which listed parliamentary powers such as control over taxation as well as rights of individuals, including trial by jury. In the following year, the Toleration Act allowed Protestant Dissenters (but not Catholics) to worship freely, although only Anglicans could hold public office.

As always, British politics were mirrored in the American colonies. After the Glorious Revolution, Protestant domination was secured in most of the colonies, with the established churches of England (Anglican) and Scotland (Presbyterian) growing the fastest, while Catholics and Dissenters suffered various forms of discrimination. Throughout English America the Glorious Revolution powerfully reinforced among the colo- nists the sense of sharing a proud legacy of freedom and Protestantism with the mother country.

The Glorious Revolution in America

The Glorious Revolution exposed fault lines in colonial society and offered local elites an opportunity to regain authority that had recently been chal- lenged. Until the mid-1670s, the North American colonies had essentially governed themselves, with little interference from England. Governor Berkeley ran Virginia as he saw fit; proprietors in New York, Maryland, and Carolina governed in any fashion they could persuade colonists to accept; and New England colonies elected their own officials and openly flouted trade regulations. In 1675, however, England established the

English authority and colonial autonomy

Liberty as the birthright of all Englishmen



Chapter 3  Creating Anglo-America88

Lords of Trade to oversee colonial affairs. Three years later, the Lords questioned the Massachusetts government about its compliance with the Navigation Acts. They received the surprising reply that since the colony had no representatives in Parliament, the Acts did not apply to it unless the Massachusetts General Court approved.

In the 1680s, England moved to reduce colonial autonomy. Shortly before his death, Charles II revoked the Massachusetts charter, citing whole- sale violations of the Navigation Acts. James II between 1686 and 1688 com- bined Connecticut, Plymouth, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, and East and West Jersey into a single super-colony, the Dominion of New England. It was ruled by the former New York governor Sir Edmund Andros, who did not have to answer to an elected assembly. These events reinforced the impression that James II was an enemy of freedom.

In 1689, news of the overthrow of James II triggered rebellions in several American colonies. In April, the Boston militia seized and jailed Edmund Andros and other officials, whereupon the New England colo- nies reestablished the governments abolished when the Dominion of New England was created. In May, a rebel militia headed by Captain Jacob Leisler established a Committee of Safety and took control of New York. Two months later, Maryland’s Protestant Association overthrew the gov- ernment of the colony’s Catholic proprietor, Lord Baltimore.

All of these new regimes claimed to have acted in the name of English liberties and looked to London for approval. But the degrees of success of these coups varied markedly. Concluding that Lord Baltimore had mis- managed the Maryland colony, William revoked his charter (although the proprietor retained his land and rents) and established a new, Protestant- dominated government. In 1715, after the Baltimore family had converted to Anglicanism, proprietary power was restored. But the events of 1689 transformed the ruling group in Maryland and put an end to the colony’s unique history of religious toleration.

The outcome in New York was far different. Although it was not his intention, Jacob Leisler’s regime divided the colony along ethnic and eco- nomic lines. Members of the Dutch majority reclaimed local power after more than two decades of English rule, while bands of rebels ransacked the homes of wealthy New Yorkers. William refused to recognize Leisler’s authority and dispatched a new governor, backed by troops. Many of Leisler’s followers were imprisoned, and he himself was executed, a reflec- tion of the hatred the rebellion had inspired. For generations, the rivalry between Leisler and anti-Leisler parties polarized New York politics.

The New England colonies, after deposing Edmund Andros, lobbied hard in London for the restoration of their original charters. Most were

Turmoil in New York

Rebellions in American colonies



89C O L O N I E S I N C R I S I S

successful, but Massachusetts was not. In 1691, the crown issued a new charter that absorbed Plymouth into Massachusetts and transformed the political structure of the Bible Commonwealth. Town government remained intact, but henceforth property ownership, not church mem- bership, would be the requirement to vote in elections for the General Court. The governor was now appointed in London rather than elected. Massachusetts became a royal colony, the majority of whose voters were no longer Puritan “saints.” Moreover, it was required to abide by the English Toleration Act of 1690—that is, to allow all Protestants to worship freely.

These events produced an atmosphere of considerable tension in Massachusetts, exacerbated by raids by French troops and their Indian allies on the northern New England frontier. The advent of religious tolera- tion heightened anxieties among the Puritan clergy, who considered other Protestant denominations a form of heresy. Indeed, not a few Puritans thought they saw the hand of Satan in the events of 1690 and 1691.

The Salem Witch Trials

Belief in magic, astrology, and witchcraft was widespread in seventeenth- century Europe and America, existing alongside the religious beliefs sanctioned by the clergy and churches. Witches were individuals, usually women, who were accused of having entered into a pact with the devil to obtain supernatural powers, which they used to harm others or to interfere with natural processes. When a child was stillborn or crops failed, many believed that witchcraft was at work.

In Europe and the colonies, witchcraft was punishable by execution. It is estimated that between the years 1400 and 1800, more than 50,000 people were executed in Europe after being con- victed of witchcraft. Witches were, from time to time, hanged in seventeenth-century New England. Most were women beyond child- bearing age who were outspoken, economi- cally independent, or estranged from their husbands, or who in other ways violated traditional gender norms.

Until 1692, the prosecution of witches had been sporadic. But in that year, a series of trials and executions took place in Salem that made its name to this day a byword for fanaticism and persecution. The crisis began when several young girls began to

An engraving from Ralph Gardiner’s

England’s Grievance Discovered,

published in 1655, depicts women

hanged as witches in England. The

letters identify local officials: A is

the hangman, B the town crier,

C the sheriff, and D a magistrate.

Political change in Massachusetts

What major social and political crises rocked the colonies in the late seventeenth century?



Chapter 3  Creating Anglo-America90

suffer fits and nightmares, attributed by their elders to witchcraft. Soon, three witches had been named, including Tituba, an Indian from the Caribbean who was a slave in the home of one of the girls. Since the only way to avoid prosecution was to confess and name others, accusations of witchcraft began to snowball. By the middle of 1692, hundreds of residents of Salem had come forward to accuse their neighbors. Although many of the accused confessed to save their lives, fourteen women and five men were hanged, protesting their innocence to the end.

As accusations and executions multiplied, it became clear that some- thing was seriously wrong with the colony’s system of justice. The gover- nor of Massachusetts dissolved the Salem court and ordered the remaining prisoners released. The events in Salem discredited the tradition of pros- ecuting witches and encouraged prominent colonists to seek scientific explanations for natural events such as comets and illnesses, rather than attribute them to magic.


As stability returned after the crises of the late seventeenth century, English North America experienced an era of remarkable growth. Between 1700 and 1770, crude backwoods settlements became bustling provincial capitals. The hazards of disease among colonists diminished, agricultural settlement pressed westward, and hundreds of thousands of newcomers arrived from the Old World. Thanks to a high birthrate and continuing immigration, the population of England’s mainland colonies, 265,000 in 1700, grew nearly tenfold, to over 2.3 million seventy years later. (It is worth noting, however, that because of the decline suffered by the Indians, the North American population was considerably lower in 1770 than it had been in 1492.)

A Diverse Population

Probably the most striking characteristic of colonial American society in the eighteenth century was its sheer diversity. In 1700, the colonies were essentially English outposts. In the eighteenth century, African and non- English European arrivals skyrocketed, while the number emigrating from England declined.

About 30 percent of European immigrants to the colonies during the eighteenth century continued to arrive as bound laborers who had

Population increase

Executions in Salem

Surge in African and non- English arrivals



91T H E G R O W T H O F C O L O N I A L A M E R I C A

What were the directions of social and economic change in the eighteenth-century colonies?

tem porarily sacrificed their freedom to make the voyage to the New World. But as the colonial economy prospered, poor indentured migrants were increasingly joined by professionals and skilled craftsmen—teachers, min- isters, weavers, carpenters—whom England could ill afford to lose. This brought to an end official efforts to promote English emigration.

Nevertheless, the government in London remained convinced that colonial development enhanced the nation’s power and wealth. To bolster the Chesapeake labor force, nearly 50,000 convicts (a group not desired in Britain) were sent to work in the tobacco fields. Officials also actively encouraged Protestant immigration from the non-English (and less pros- perous) parts of the British Isles and from the European continent, promis- ing newcomers easy access to land and the right to worship freely.

Among eighteenth-century migrants from the British Isles, the 70,000 English newcomers were considerably outnumbered by 145,000 from Scotland and Ulster, the northern part of Ireland, where many Scots had set- tled as part of England’s effort to subdue the island. Mostly Presbyterians, they added significantly to religious diversity in North America.

The German Migration

Germans, 85,000 in all, formed the largest group of newcomers from the European continent. In the eighteenth century, Germany was divided into numerous small states, each with a ruling prince who determined the


TABLE 3.1 Origins and Status of Migrants to British North American Colonies, 1700–1775

Africa 278,400 278,400 — — —

Ireland 108,600 — 39,000 17,500 52,100

Germany 84,500 — 30,000 — 54,500

England/Wales 73,100 — 27,200 32,500 13,400

Scotland 35,300 — 7,400 2,200 25,700

Other 5,900 — — — 5,900

Total 585,800 278,400 103,600 52,200 151,600

Germans the largest group of newcomers from Europe

End of official English emigration efforts




Only a minority of emigrants from Europe to British North America in the eighteenth

century came from the British Isles. Some English settlers, such as the authors of this

petition from Pennsylvania to the authorities in London, found the growing diversity

of the colonial population quite disturbing.

How careful every European state, that has Colonies in America, has been of preserving the advantages arising from them wholly to their own Nation and People, is obvious to all who will consider the policy & conduct of the Spanish, French & others in relation to theirs. . . .

About the year 1710 a Company of religious People called Menists [Mennonites] from the Palatinate of the Rhine, transported themselves into the Province of Pennsylvania from Holland in British shipping, and purchased Lands at low rates towards the River Susquehanna. The Terms & Reception they met with proved so encouraging, that they invited diverse of their relations and friends to follow them. In the succeeding years . . . several thousands were settled in that Province. . . . We are now assured by the same people that five or six thousand more are to follow them this next ensuing year. . . .

All these men young & old who arrived since the first, come generally very well armed. Many of them are Papists, & most of them appear inured to War & other hardships. They retire commonly back into the woods amongst or behind the remoter inhabitants, sometimes purchase land, but often sit down on any piece they find vacant that they judge convenient for them without asking questions. . . . Few of them apply now to be Naturalized, [and] they . . . generally . . . adhere to their own customs. The part of the country they principally settle in is that towards the French of Canada, whose interest, it may be apprehended, . . . (since several of them speak their language) [they] would as willingly favor as the English. . . . It is hoped therefore that nothing need be added to shew the present necessity of putting a stop to that augmentation of their strength. . . . A general provision against all Foreigners may be necessary.

From Memorial against Non-English Immigration

(December 1727)

Chapter 3  Creating Anglo-America92



Germans were among the most numerous immigrants to the eighteenth-century

colonies. Many wrote letters to family members at home, relating their experiences

and impressions.

Dearest Father, Brother, and Sister and Brother-in-law, I have told you quite fully about the trip, and I will tell you what will not surprise you—that

we have a free country. Of the sundry craftsmen, one may do whatever one wants. Nor does the land require payment of tithes [taxes to support a local landlord, typical in Europe]. . . . The land is very big from Canada to the east of us to Carolina in the south and to the Spanish border in the west. . . . One can settle wherever one wants without asking anyone when he buys or leases something. . . .

I have always enough to do and we have no shortage of food. Bread is plentiful. If I work for two days I earn more bread than in eight days [at home]. . . . Also I can buy many things so reasonably [for example] a pair of shoes for [roughly] seven Pennsylvania shillings. . . . I think that with God’s help I will obtain land. I am not pushing for it until I am in a better position.

I would like for my brother to come . . . and it will then be even nicer in the country. . . . I assume that the land has been described to you sufficiently by various people and it is not surprising that the immigrant agents [demand payment]. For the journey is long and it costs much to stay away for one year. . . .

Johannes Hänner

From Letter by a Swiss-German Immigrant to


(August 23, 1769)


1. What do the petitioners find objection-

able about non-English migrants to


2. What does Johannes Hänner have in

mind when he calls America a “free


3. How do these documents reflect differ-

ent views of who should be entitled to

the benefits of freedom in the American





Chapter 3  Creating Anglo-America94



Charlotte Fayetteville New Bern








Boston Providence

Newport Hartford

New Haven

New York
































MAINE (to Massachusetts)










Long I s land

St. La

wr enc

e R.

C on

ne ct

icu t R


H ud

so n


Oh io R


Lake H uron

Lake Erie


Lake Ontario

A t lan t ic Oc e an





200 miles

200 kilometers

English French German Dutch Africans Scotch-Irish Highland Scots Jews Swedes Welsh French Huguenots




O F N O R T H A M E R I C A , 1 7 6 0

Among the most striking features

of eighteenth-century colonial

society was the racial and ethnic

diversity of the population (except

in New England). This resulted from

increased immigration from the non-

English parts of the British Isles and

from mainland Europe, as well as the

rapid expansion of the slave trade

from Africa.

official religion. Those who found themselves worshiping the “wrong” religion—Lutherans in Catholic areas, Catholics in Lutheran areas, and everywhere, followers of small Protestant sects such as Mennonites, Moravians, and Dunkers—faced persecution. Many decided to emigrate.



95T H E G R O W T H O F C O L O N I A L A M E R I C A

What were the directions of social and economic change in the eighteenth-century colonies?

Other migrants were motivated by persistent agricultural crises and the difficulty of acquiring land.

English and Dutch merchants created a well-organized system whereby “redemptioners” (as indentured families were called) received passage in exchange for a promise to work off their debt in America. Most settled in frontier areas—rural New York, western Pennsylvania, and the southern backcountry—where they formed tightly knit farming commu- nities in which German for many years remained the dominant language.

Religious Diversity

Eighteenth-century British America was not a “melting pot” of cultures. Ethnic groups tended to live and worship in relatively homogeneous com- munities. But outside of New England, which received few immigrants and retained its overwhelmingly English ethnic character, American society had a far more diverse population than Britain. Nowhere was this more evident than in the practice of religion.

Apart from New Jersey (formed from East and West Jersey in 1702), Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania, the colonies did not adhere to a modern separation of church and state. Nearly every colony levied taxes to pay the salaries of ministers of an established church, and most barred Catholics and Jews from voting and holding public office. But increasingly, de facto tol- eration among Protestant denominations flourished. By the mid- eighteenth century, dissenting Protestants in most colonies had gained the right to worship as they pleased and own their churches, although many places still barred them from holding public office and taxed them to support the official church. A visitor to Pennsylvania in 1750 described the colony’s religious diversity: “We find there Lutherans, Reformed, Catholics, Quakers, Menonists or Anabaptists, Herrnhuters or Moravian Brethren, Pietists, Seventh Day Baptists, Dunkers, Presbyterians, . . . Jews, Mohammedans, Pagans.”

Indian Life in Transition

The tide of newcomers, who equated liberty with secure possession of land, threatened to engulf the surviving Indian populations. By the eighteenth century, Indian societies

William Penn’s Treaty with the

Indians. Penn’s grandson, Thomas,

the proprietor of Pennsylvania,

commissioned this romanticized

painting from the artist Benjamin

West in 1771, by which time

harmony between Indians and

colonists had long since turned to

hostility. In the nineteenth century,

many reproductions of this image

circulated, reminding Americans that

Indians had once been central figures

in their history.

German settlements



Chapter 3  Creating Anglo-America96

that had existed for centuries had disappeared, the victims of disease and warfare, and the communities that remained were well integrated into the British imperial system. Indeed, Indian warriors did much of the fighting in the century’s imperial wars. Few Indians chose to live among whites rather than in their own communities. But they had become well accus- tomed to using European products like knives, hatchets, needles, kettles, and firearms. Alcohol introduced by traders created social chaos in many Indian communities. One Cherokee told the governor of South Carolina in 1753, “The clothes we wear, we cannot make ourselves. . . . We use their ammunition with which we kill deer. . . . Every necessary thing we must have from the white people.”

While traders saw in Indian villages potential profits and British officials saw allies against France and Spain, farmers and planters viewed Indians as little more than an obstruction to their desire for land. They expected Indians to give way to white settlers. In Pennsylvania, for example, the flood of German and Scotch-Irish settlers into the back- country upset the relatively peaceful Indian-white relations constructed by William Penn. The infamous Walking Purchase of 1737 brought the fraudulent dealing so common in other colonies to Pennsylvania. The Lenni Lanape Indians agreed to cede a tract of land bounded by the dis- tance a man could walk in thirty-six hours. To their amazement, Governor James Logan hired a team of swift runners, who marked out an area far in excess of what the Indians had anticipated. By 1760, when Pennsylvania’s population, a mere 20,000 in 1700, had grown to 220,000, Indian-colonist relations, initially the most harmonious in British North America, had become poisoned by suspicion and hostility.

Regional Diversity

By the mid-eighteenth century, the different regions of the British colonies had developed distinct economic and social orders. Small farms tilled by family labor and geared primarily to production for local consumption predominated in New England and the new settlements of the backcoun- try (the area stretching from central Pennsylvania southward through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and into upland North and South Carolina). The backcountry was the most rapidly growing region in North America. By the eve of the American Revolution, the region contained one- quarter of Virginia’s population and half of South Carolina’s. Most were farm families raising grain and livestock.

In the older portions of the Middle Colonies of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, farmers were more oriented to commerce than on the

Indians and settlers

The backcountry



97T H E G R O W T H O F C O L O N I A L A M E R I C A

frontier. They grew grain both for their own use and for sale abroad and supplemented the work of family members by employing wage laborers, tenants, and in some instances slaves. With its fertile soil, favorable climate, initially peaceful Indian relations, generous governmental land distribu- tion policy, and rivers that facilitated long-distance trading, Pennsylvania came to be known as “the best poor man’s country.” Ordinary colonists there enjoyed a standard of living unimaginable in Europe.

The Consumer Revolution

During the eighteenth century, Great Britain eclipsed the Dutch as the lead- ing producer and trader of inexpensive consumer goods, including colonial products like coffee and tea, and such manufactured goods as linen, metal- ware, pins, ribbons, glassware, ceramics, and clothing. Trade integrated the British empire. As the American colonies were drawn more and more fully into the system of Atlantic commerce, they shared in the era’s consumer revolution. In port cities and small inland towns, shops proliferated and American newspapers were filled with advertisements for British goods.

Consumerism in a modern sense—the mass production, advertis- ing, and sale of consumer goods—did not exist in colonial America. Nonetheless, even modest farmers and artisans owned books, ceramic plates, metal cutlery, and items made of imported silk and cotton. Tea, once a luxury enjoyed only by the wealthy, became virtually a necessity of life.

Colonial Cities

Colonial cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston were quite small by the standards of Europe or Spanish America. In 1700, when the population of Mexico City stood at 100,000, Boston had 6,000 residents and New York 4,500.

British North American cities were mainly gathering places for agricultural goods and for imported items to be distributed to the countryside. Nonetheless, the expan- sion of trade encouraged the rise of port cities, home to a growing population of colonial merchants and artisans (skilled craftsmen) as well as an increasing number of poor. In 1770, with some 30,000 inhabitants, Philadelphia was “the capital of the New World,” at least its British com- ponent, and, after London and Liverpool, the empire’s third busiest port. The financial, commercial, and cultural center of British America, Philadelphia founded its growth on economic

What were the directions of social and economic change in the eighteenth-century colonies?

This piece of china made in England

and exported to New England

celebrates the coronation of James

II in 1685. It is an example of the

growing colonial demand for English

consumer goods.

“The best poor man’s country”

Inexpensive consumer goods



Chapter 3  Creating Anglo-America98

integration with the rich agricultural region nearby. Philadelphia mer- chants organized the collection of farm goods, supplied rural storekeepers, and extended credit to consumers. They exported flour, bread, and meat to the West Indies and Europe.

The city was also home to a large population of furniture makers, jew- elers, and silversmiths serving wealthier citizens, and hundreds of lesser artisans like weavers, blacksmiths, coopers, and construction workers. The typical artisan owned his own tools and labored in a small workshop, often his home, assisted by family members and young journeymen and appren- tices learning the trade. The artisan’s skill gave him a far greater degree of economic freedom than those dependent on others for a livelihood.

Despite the influx of British goods, American craftsmen benefited from the expanding consumer market. Most journeymen enjoyed a reason- able chance of rising to the status of master and establishing workshops of their own.

An Atlantic World

People, ideas, and goods flowed back and forth across the Atlantic, knitting together the empire and its diverse populations—British merchants and consumers, American colonists, African slaves, and surviving Indians— and creating webs of interdependence among the European empires. As trade expanded, the North American and West Indian colonies became the major overseas market for British manufactured goods. Although most colonial output was consumed at home, North Americans shipped farm products to Britain, the West Indies, and with the exception of goods like tobacco “enumerated” under the Navigation Acts, outside the empire. Virtually the entire Chesapeake tobacco crop was marketed in Britain, with most of it then re-exported to Europe by British merchants. Most of the bread and flour exported from the colonies was destined for the West Indies. African slaves there grew sugar that could be distilled into rum, a product increasingly popular among both North American colonists and Indians, who obtained it by trading furs and deerskins that were then shipped to Europe. The mainland colonies carried on a flourishing trade in fish and grains with southern Europe. Ships built in New England made up one-third of the British empire’s trading fleet.

Membership in the empire had many advantages for the colonists. Most Americans did not complain about British regulation of their trade because commerce enriched the colonies as well as the mother country and lax enforcement of the Navigation Acts allowed smuggling to flourish. In a dangerous world, moreover, the Royal Navy protected American shipping.

American craftsmen and the expanding consumer market

Trade in the Atlantic world

Advantages of British empire



99S O C I A L C L A S S E S I N T H E C O L O N I E S

And despite the many differences between life in England and its colonies, eighteenth-century English America drew closer to, and in some ways became more similar to, the mother country across the Atlantic.


The Colonial Elite

Most free Americans benefited from economic growth, but as colonial soci- ety matured an elite emerged that, while neither as powerful or wealthy as the aristocracy of England, increasingly dominated politics and society. In New England and the Middle Colonies, expanding trade made possible the emergence of a powerful upper class of merchants, often linked by family or commercial ties to great trading firms in London. By 1750, the colonies of the Chesapeake and Lower South were dominated by slave plantations produc- ing staple crops, especially tobacco and rice, for the world market. Here great planters accumulated enormous wealth. The colonial elite also included the rulers of proprietary colonies like Pennsylvania and Maryland.

America had no titled aristocracy as in Britain. But throughout British America, men of prominence controlled colonial government. In Virginia, the upper class was so tightly knit and intermarried so often that the colony was said to be governed by a “cousinocracy.” Nearly every Virginian of note achieved prominence through family connections. Thomas Jefferson’s grandfather was a justice of the peace (an impor- tant local official), militia captain, and sheriff, and his father was a member of the House of Burgesses. George Washington’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had been justices of the peace. The Virginia gentry used its control of provincial government to gain posses- sion of large tracts of land as western areas opened for settlement.

The richest group of mainland colo- nists were South Carolina planters. Like their Virginia counterparts, South Carolina grandees lived a lavish lifestyle amid imported furniture, fine wines, silk cloth- ing, and other items from England. Their wealth enabled them to spend much of their

A 1732 portrait of Daniel, Peter, and

Andrew Oliver, sons of a wealthy

Boston merchant. The prominent

display of their delicate hands tells

the viewer that they have never had

to do manual labor.

Merchants, gentry, and planters

What were the directions of social and economic change in the eighteenth-century colonies?



Chapter 3  Creating Anglo-America100

time enjoying the social life of Charleston, the only real urban center south of Philadelphia and the richest city in British North America.


For much of the eighteenth century, the American colonies had more regu- lar trade and communications with Britain than among themselves. Rather than thinking of themselves as distinctively American, they became more and more English—a process historians call “Anglicization.”

Wealthy Americans tried to model their lives on British etiquette and behavior. Somewhat resentful at living in provincial isolation—“at the end of the world,” as one Virginia aristocrat put it—they sought to demonstrate their status and legitimacy by importing the latest London fashions and literature, sending their sons to Britain for education, and building homes equipped with fashionable furnishings modeled on the country estates and town houses of the English gentry.

Throughout the colonies, elites emulated what they saw as England’s balanced, stable social order. Liberty, in their eyes, meant, in part, the power to rule—the right of those blessed with wealth and prominence to dominate others. They viewed society as a hierarchical structure in which some men were endowed with greater talents than others and were destined to rule. Each place in the hierarchy carried with it different responsibilities, and one’s status was revealed in dress, manners, and the splendor of one’s home. On both sides of the Atlantic, elites viewed work as something reserved for common folk and slaves. Freedom from labor was the mark of the gentleman.

Poverty in the Colonies

At the other end of the social scale, poverty emerged as a visible feature of eighteenth-century colonial life. Although not considered by most colonists part of their society, the growing number of slaves lived in impoverished conditions. Among free Americans, poverty was hardly as widespread as in Britain, where in the early part of the century between one-quarter and one-half of the people regularly required public assistance. But as the colo- nial population expanded, access to land diminished rapidly, especially in long-settled areas, forcing many propertyless males to seek work in their region’s cities or in other colonies.

In colonial cities, the number of propertyless wage earners subsisting at the poverty line steadily increased. In Boston, one-third of the popula- tion in 1771 owned no property at all. In rural Augusta County, carved out

Increase in poverty in eighteenth-century colonies

Colonial elites and English identity



101S O C I A L C L A S S E S I N T H E C O L O N I E S

of Virginia’s Shenandoah River valley in 1738, land was quickly engrossed by planters and speculators. By the 1760s, two-thirds of the county’s white men owned no land and had little prospect of obtaining it unless they migrated farther west. Taking the colonies as a whole, half of the wealth at mid-century was concentrated in the hands of the richest 10 percent of the population.

Attitudes and policies toward poverty in colonial America mirrored British precedents. The better-off colonists generally viewed the poor as lazy, shiftless, and responsible for their own plight. To minimize the bur- den on taxpayers, poor persons were frequently set to labor in workhouses, where they produced goods that reimbursed authorities for part of their upkeep.

The Middle Ranks

The large majority of free Americans lived between the extremes of wealth and poverty. Along with racial and ethnic diversity, what distinguished the mainland colonies from Europe was the wide distribution of land and the economic autonomy of most ordinary free families. Altogether, perhaps two-thirds of the free male population were farmers who owned their own land.

By the eighteenth century, colonial farm families viewed landowner- ship almost as a right, the social precondition of freedom. They strongly resented efforts, whether by Native Americans, great landlords, or colonial governments, to limit their access to land. A dislike of personal dependence and an understanding of freedom as not relying on others for a livelihood sank deep roots in British North America.

Women and the Household Economy

In the household economy of eighteenth- century America, the family was the cen- ter of economic life. The independence of the small farmer depended in considerable measure on the labor of dependent women and children. “He that hath an industrious family shall soon be rich,” declared one colonial saying, and the high birthrate in part reflected the need for as many hands as possible on colonial farms.

This portrait of the Cheney family by

an unknown late-eighteenth-century

artist illustrates the high birthrate in

colonial America and suggests how

many years of a woman’s life were

spent bearing and raising children.

Landownership and freedom

The richest 10 percent

How did patterns of class and gender roles change in eighteenth-century America?



Chapter 3  Creating Anglo-America102

As the population grew and the death rate declined, family life stabi- lized and more marriages became lifetime commitments. Free women were expected to devote their lives to being good wives and mothers. As colonial society became more structured, opportunities that had existed for women in the early period receded. In Connecticut, for example, the courts were informal and unorganized in the seventeenth century, and women often represented themselves. In the eighteenth century, it became necessary to hire a lawyer as one’s spokesman in court. Women, barred from practic- ing as attorneys, disappeared from judicial proceedings. Because of the desperate need for labor in the seventeenth century, men and women both did various kinds of work. In the eighteenth century, the division of labor along gender lines solidified. Women’s work was clearly defined, including cooking, cleaning, sewing, making butter, and assisting with agricultural chores. Even as the consumer revolution reduced the demands on many women by making available store-bought goods previously produced at home, women’s work seemed to increase. Lower infant mortality meant more time spent in child care and domestic chores.

North America at Mid-Century

By the mid-eighteenth century, the area that would become the United States was home to a remarkable diversity of peoples and different kinds of social organization, from Pueblo villages of the Southwest to tobacco plantations of the Chesapeake, towns and small farms of New England, and fur-trading outposts of the northern and western frontier. Elites tied to imperial centers of power dominated the political and economic life of nearly every colony. But large numbers of colonists enjoyed far greater opportunities for freedom—access to the vote, prospects of acquiring land, the right to worship as they pleased, and an escape from oppressive government—than existed in Europe. The colonies’ economic growth con- tributed to a high birthrate, long life expectancy, and expanding demand for consumer goods.

Yet many others found themselves confined to the partial freedom of indentured servitude or to the complete absence of freedom in slavery. Both timeless longings for freedom and new and unprecedented forms of unfreedom had been essential to the North American colonies’ remarkable development.

Division of labor along gender lines

Opportunities for freedom

Freedom and unfreedom




1. Both the Puritans and William Penn viewed their colonies as “holy experiments.” How did they differ?

2. The textbook states “Prejudice by itself did not create American slavery.” Examine the economic forces, events, and laws that shaped the experiences of enslaved people.

3. How did English leaders understand the place and role of the American colonies in England’s empire?

4. How did King Philip’s War, Bacon’s Rebellion, and the Salem witch trials illustrate a widespread crisis in British North America in the late seventeenth century?

5. The social structure of the eighteenth-century colonies was growing more open for some but not for others. Consider the statement with respect to: men and women; whites and blacks; and rich and poor.

6. By the end of the seventeenth century, commerce was the foundation of empire and the leading cause of com- petition between European empires. Explain how the North American colonies were directly linked to Atlantic commerce by laws and trade.

7. If you traveled from New England to the South, how would you describe the diversity you saw between the dif- ferent colonies?

8. What impact did the family’s being the center of economic life have on gender relations and the roles of women?


Metacom (p. 73)

King Philip’s War (p. 73)

mercantilism (p. 74)

Navigation Acts (p. 74)

Covenant Chain (p. 75)

Society of Friends (Quakers) (p. 78)

sugar (p. 82)

Bacon’s Rebellion (p. 83)

slave code of 1705 (p. 85)

Glorious Revolution (p. 86)

English Bill of Rights (p. 87)

Lords of Trade (p. 88)

Dominion of New England (p. 88)

English Toleration Act (p. 89)

Salem witch trials (p. 89)

redemptioners (p. 95)

Walking Purchase (p. 96)

backcountry (p. 96)

artisans (p. 97)

“cousinocracy” (p. 99)


wwnorton.com /studyspace



A chapter outline

A diagnostic chapter quiz

Interactive maps

Map worksheets

Multimedia documents

103 C H A P T E R R E V I E W A N D O N L I N E R E S O U R C E S



1689 Locke’s Two Treatises of Government published

1707 Act of Union creating Great Britain

1712 Slave uprising in New York City

1718 French establish New Orleans

1728 Pennsylvania Gazette established

1730s Beginnings of the Great Awakening

1733 Georgia colony founded

1735 John Peter Zenger tried for libel

1739 Stono Rebellion

1791 Rumors of slave revolt in New York

1749 Virginia awards land to the Ohio Company

1754– Seven Years’ 1763 War

1754 Albany Plan of Union proposed

1763 Pontiac’s Rebellion

Proclamation of 1763

1764 Paxton Boys march on Philadelphia

1769 Father Serra establishes first mission in California

1789 The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano published

The Old Plantation, a late-eighteenth-

century watercolor, depicts slaves

dancing in a plantation’s slave quarters,

perhaps at a wedding. The musical

instruments and pottery are African in

origin while much of the clothing is of

European manufacture, indicating the

mixing of African and white cultures

among the era’s slaves. The artist has

recently been identified as John Rose,

owner of a rice plantation near Beaufort,

South Carolina.

S L A V E R Y , F R E E D O M ,



C H A P T E R 4

T O 1 7 6 3



105S L A V E R Y , F R E E D O M , A N D T H E S T R U G G L E F O R E M P I R E

S ometime in the mid-1750s, Olaudah Equiano, the eleven-year-old son of a West African village chief, was kidnapped by slave traders. He soon found himself on a ship headed for Barbados. Equiano was sold to a plantation owner in Virginia and then purchased by a British sea captain, who renamed him Gustavus Vassa. While still a slave, he enrolled in a school in England where he learned to read and write, and then enlisted in the Royal Navy. In 1763, however, Equiano was sold once again and returned to the Caribbean. Three years later, he was able to purchase his freedom and went on to experience shipwrecks, a colonizing venture in Central America, and even an expedition to the Arctic Circle.

Equiano eventually settled in London, and in 1789 he published The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the

African, which he described as a “history of neither a saint, a hero, nor a tyrant,” but of a victim of slavery who through luck or fate ended up more fortunate than most of his people. He condemned the idea that Africans were inferior to Europeans and therefore deserved to be slaves. The book became the era’s most widely read account by a slave of his own experiences. Equiano died in 1797.

Recent scholars have suggested that Equiano may have been born in the New World rather than Africa. In either case, while his life was no doubt unusual, it illuminates broad patterns of eighteenth-century American history. As noted in the previous chapter, this was a period of sustained development for British North America. Compared with England and Scotland—united to create Great Britain by the Act of Union of 1707—the colonies were growing much more rapidly.

Ideas, people, and goods flowed back and forth across the ocean. Even as the colonies’ populations became more diverse, they were increasingly integrated into the British empire. Their laws and political institutions were extensions of those of Britain, their ideas about society and culture reflected British values, their economies were geared to serving the empire’s needs.

Equiano’s life also underscores the greatest irony in the history of the eighteenth century—the simultaneous expansion of freedom and slavery. This was the era when the idea of the “freeborn Englishman” became powerfully entrenched in the outlook of both colonists and Britons. More than any other principle, liberty was seen as what made the British empire distinct. Yet the eighteenth century was also the height of the Atlantic slave trade, a commerce increasingly dominated by British merchants and ships. Although concentrated in the Chesapeake

How did African slav-

ery differ regionally in

eighteenth-century North


What factors led to

distinct African-American

cultures in the eighteenth


What were the meanings of

British liberty in the eigh-

teenth century?

What concepts and institu-

tions dominated colonial

politics in the eighteenth


How did the Great Awak-

ening challenge the reli-

gious and social structure

of British North America?

How did the Spanish

and French empires in

America develop in the

eighteenth century?

What was the impact of

the Seven Years’ War on

imperial and Indian–

white relations?




Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire106

and areas farther south, slavery existed in every colony of British North America. And unlike Equiano, very few slaves were fortunate enough to gain their freedom.


Of the estimated 7.7 million Africans transported to the New World between 1492 and 1820, more than half arrived between 1700 and 1800. The Atlantic slave trade would later be condemned by statesmen and gen- eral opinion as a crime against humanity. But in the eighteenth century, it was a regularized business in which European merchants, African trad- ers, and American planters engaged in complex bargaining over human lives, all with the expectation of securing a profit. The slave trade was a vital part of world commerce.

In the British empire of the eighteenth century, free laborers working for wages were atypical and slavery was the norm. The first mass consumer goods in international trade were produced by slaves—sugar, rice, coffee, and tobacco. The rising demand for these products fueled the rapid growth of the Atlantic slave trade.

Atlantic Trade

In the eighteenth century, the Caribbean remained the commercial focus of the British empire and the major producer of revenue for the crown. A series of triangular trading routes crisscrossed the Atlantic, carrying British manufactured goods to Africa and the colonies, colonial products including tobacco, indigo, sugar, and rice to Europe, and slaves from Africa to the New World. Most colonial vessels, however, went back and forth between cities like New York, Charleston, and Savannah, and to ports in the Caribbean. Merchants in New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island participated actively in the slave trade, shipping slaves from Africa to the Caribbean or southern colonies. The slave economies of the West Indies were the largest market for fish, grain, livestock, and lumber exported from New England and the Middle Colonies. In Britain itself, the profits from slavery and the slave trade stimulated the rise of ports like Liverpool and Bristol and the growth of banking, shipbuild- ing, and insurance. They also helped to finance the early industrial revolution.

Triangular trade routes

The frontispiece of Olaudah Equiano’s

account of his life, the best-known

narrative by an eighteenth-century

slave. The portrait of Equiano in

European dress and holding a Bible

challenges stereotypes of blacks as

“savages” incapable of becoming




107S L A V E R Y A N D E M P I R E

How did African slavery differ regionally in eighteenth-century North America?

With slavery so central to Atlantic commerce, it should not be surpris- ing that for large numbers of free colonists and Europeans, freedom meant in part the power and right to enslave others. And as slavery became more and more entrenched, so too, as the Quaker abolitionist John Woolman commented in 1762, did “the idea of slavery being connected with the black color, and liberty with the white.”

Africa and the Slave Trade

A few African societies, like Benin for a time, opted out of the Atlantic slave trade, hoping to avoid the disruptions it inevitably caused. But most African rulers took part, and they proved quite adept at playing

Boston Newport

New York Philadelphia Baltimore

Norfolk Wilmington

Charleston Savannah


Lisbon Cadiz



Furs, fish, naval stor


Manufact ured good


Manufa ctured


Manu factur

ed goo ds

Manufactured goods

Lin en

s, ho

rse s

Tobacc o

Rice, i ndigo,


Grain, rum, fish, lumber

Mo lass

es, frui


Europ ean p

roduc ts

Wine W in

e, fr

ui t

M anufactured goods

Slaves RumSlaves, gold

Fish, livestock, flour, lum ber

Slaves, sugar

Sl av

es , s

ug ar

Rice Slaves
















Caribbean Sea

Atla n tic Oce an





1,000 miles

1,000 kilometers


A series of trading routes

crisscrossed the Atlantic, bringing

manufactured goods to Africa and

Britain’s American colonies, slaves to

the New World, and colonial products

to Europe.



Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire108

the Europeans off against one another, collecting taxes from foreign mer- chants, and keeping the capture and sale of slaves under their own control. Few Europeans ventured inland from the coast. Traders remained in their “factories” and purchased slaves brought to them by African rulers and dealers.

From a minor institution, slavery grew to become more and more central to West African society, a source of wealth for African merchants and of power for newly emerging African kingdoms. The loss every year of tens of thousands of men and women in the prime of their lives to the slave trade weakened and distorted West Africa’s society and economy.

Spanish Colonies 13%

Dutch Colonies 7%

Portuguese Emp ire 32%

British Caribbean 24%

French Caribbean 17%



The Middle Passage






























Caribbean Sea

Atlan tic Ocean





1,000 miles

1,000 kilometers

T H E S L A V E T R A D E I N T H E A T L A N T I C W O R L D , 1 4 6 0 – 1 7 7 0

The Atlantic slave trade expanded

rapidly in the eighteenth century. The

mainland colonies received only a tiny

proportion of the Africans brought to

the New World, most of whom were

transported to Brazil and the West


Slavery’s impact in West Africa



109S L A V E R Y A N D E M P I R E

How did African slavery differ regionally in eighteenth-century North America?

The Middle Passage

For slaves, the voyage across the Atlantic— known as the Middle Passage because it was the second, or middle, leg in the trian- gular trading routes linking Europe, Africa, and America—was a harrowing experience. Men, women, and children were crammed aboard vessels as tightly as possible to max- imize profits. Equiano, who later described “the shrieks of the women and the groans of the dying,” survived the Middle Passage, but many Africans did not. Diseases such as measles and smallpox spread rapidly, and about one slave in five perished before reaching the New World. Ship captains were known to throw the sick overboard in order to prevent the spread of epidemics.

Only a small proportion (less than 5 percent) of slaves carried to the New World were destined for mainland North America. The vast majority landed in Brazil or the West Indies, where the high death rate on the sugar plantations led to a constant demand for new slave imports. Overall, the area that was to become the United States imported between 400,000 and 600,000 slaves. By 1770, due to the natural reproduction of the slave population, around one-fifth of the estimated 2.3 million persons (not including Indians) living in the English colonies of North America were Africans and their descendants.

Chesapeake Slavery

By the mid-eighteenth century, three distinct slave systems were well entrenched in Britain’s mainland colonies: tobacco-based plantation slav- ery in the Chesapeake, rice-based plantation slavery in South Carolina and Georgia, and nonplantation slavery in New England and the Middle Colonies. The largest and oldest of these was the plantation system of the Chesapeake, where more than 270,000 slaves resided in 1770, nearly half of the region’s population. Virginia and Maryland were as closely tied to Britain as any other colonies and their economies were models of mercan- tilist policy (described in Chapter 3).

As Virginia expanded westward, so did slavery. By the eve of the American Revolution, the center of gravity of slavery in the colony had

This image, made by a sailor in 1769

for the ship’s owner, a merchant in

Nantes, France, depicts the interior

of a slave-trading vessel, the Marie-

Séraphique. The cargo carried in

barrels, generally guns, cloth, and

metal goods, were to be traded for

slaves. The third image from the left

depicts the conditions under which

slaves endured the Middle Passage

across the Atlantic. The ship carried

over 300 slaves. The broadside also

included a calculation of the profit of

the voyage.

Tobacco-based plantation slavery



Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire110

shifted from the Tidewater (the region along the coast) to the Piedmont farther inland. Most Chesapeake slaves, male and female, worked in the tobacco fields, but thousands labored as teamsters, as boatmen, and in skilled crafts. Numerous slave women became cooks, seamstresses, dairy maids, and personal servants. Slavery was common on small farms as well as plantations; nearly half of Virginia’s white families owned at least one slave in 1770.

Slavery transformed Chesapeake society into an elaborate hierarchy of degrees of freedom. At the top stood large planters, below them numer- ous lesser planters and landowning yeomen, and at the bottom a large population of convicts, indentured servants, tenant farmers (who made up half the white households in 1770), and, of course, the slaves. Violence lay at the heart of the slave system. Even a planter like Landon Carter, who prided himself on his concern for the well-being of his slaves, noted casu- ally in his diary, “they have been severely whipped day by day.”

Race took on more and more importance as a line of social division. Whites increasingly considered free blacks dangerous and undesirable. Free blacks lost the right to employ white servants and to bear arms, were subjected to special taxes, and could be punished for striking a white per- son, regardless of the cause. In 1723, Virginia revoked the voting privileges of property-owning free blacks. Because Virginia law required that freed slaves be sent out of the colony, free blacks remained only a tiny part of the population—less than 4 percent in 1750.

The Rice Kingdom

As in early Virginia, frontier conditions allowed leeway to South Carolina’s small population of African-born slaves, who farmed, tended livestock, and were initially allowed to serve in the militia to fight the Spanish and Indians. And as in Virginia, the introduction of a marketable staple crop, in this case rice, led directly to economic development, the large-scale importation of slaves, and a growing divide between white and black. In the 1740s, another staple, indigo (a crop used in producing blue dye), was developed. Like rice, indigo required large-scale cultivation and was grown by slaves.

Since rice production requires considerable capital investment to drain swamps and create irrigation systems, it is economically advanta- geous for rice plantations to be as large as possible. Thus, South Carolina planters owned far more land and slaves than their counterparts in Virginia. Moreover, since mosquitoes bearing malaria (a disease to which

Race as a line of social division

Large-scale rice plantations

Hierarchy of Chesapeake society



111S L A V E R Y A N D E M P I R E

How did African slavery differ regionally in eighteenth-century North America?

Africans had developed partial immunity) flourished in the watery rice fields, planters tended to leave plantations under the control of overseers and the slaves themselves.

In the Chesapeake, field slaves worked in groups under constant supervision. Under the “task” system that developed in eighteenth- century South Carolina, individual slaves were assigned daily jobs, the completion of which allowed them time for leisure or to cultivate crops of their own. In 1762, one rice district had a population of only 76 white males among 1,000 slaves. By 1770, the number of South Carolina slaves had reached 100,000, well over half the colony’s population.

The Georgia Experiment

Rice cultivation also spread into Georgia. The colony was founded in 1733 by a group of philanthropists led by James Oglethorpe, a wealthy reformer who sought to improve conditions for imprisoned debtors and abolish slavery. Oglethorpe hoped to establish a haven where the “worthy poor” of England could enjoy economic opportunity. The government in London supported the creation of Georgia to protect South Carolina against the Spanish and their Indian allies in Florida.

Initially, the proprietors banned liquor and slaves, leading to con- tinual battles with settlers, who desired both. By the 1740s, Georgia offered

Benjamin Latrobe’s watercolor,

An Overseer Doing His Duty, was

sketched near Fredericksburg,

Virginia, in 1798. The title is meant to

be ironic: the well-dressed overseer

relaxes while two female slaves work

in the fields.

The task system

James Oglethorpe



Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire112

the spectacle of colonists pleading for the “English liberty” of self-government so that they could enact laws introducing slavery. In 1751, the proprietors surrendered the colony to the crown. The colonists quickly won the right to an elected assembly, which met in Savannah. It repealed the ban on slavery (and liquor), as well as an early measure that had limited landholdings to 500 acres. Georgia became a miniature version of South Carolina. By 1770, as many as 15,000 slaves labored on its coastal rice plantations.

Slavery in the North

Unlike in the plantation regions, slavery was far less central to the economies of New England and the Middle Colonies, where small farms predominated. Slaves made up only a small percentage of these colonies’ populations, and it was unusual for even rich families to own more than one slave. Nonetheless, slavery was not entirely marginal to northern colonial life. Slaves worked as farm hands, in artisan shops, as stevedores

loading and unloading ships, and as per- sonal servants. But with slaves so small a part of the population that they seemed to pose no threat to the white majority, laws were less harsh than in the South. In New England, where in 1770 the 17,000 slaves represented less than 3 percent of the region’s population, slave marriages were recognized in law; the severe physical punishment of slaves was prohibited; and slaves could bring suits in court, testify against whites, and own property and pass it on to their children—rights unknown in the South.

Slavery had been present in New York from the earliest days of Dutch set- tlement. As New York City’s role in the slave trade expanded, so did slavery in the city. In 1746, its 2,440 slaves amounted to one-fifth of New York City’s total popula- tion. Most were domestic workers, but slaves worked in all sectors of the econ- omy. In 1770, about 27,000 slaves lived in New York and New Jersey, 10 per cent

TABLE 4.1 Slave Population as Percentage of Total Population of Original Thirteen Colonies, 1770

New Hampshire 654 1%

Massachusetts 4,754 2

Connecticut 5,698 3

Rhode Island 3,761 6

New York 19,062 12

New Jersey 8,220 7

Pennsylvania 5,561 2

Delaware 1,836 5

Maryland 63,818 32

Virginia 187,600 42

North Carolina 69,600 35

South Carolina 75,168 61

Georgia 15,000 45


Social and political change in Georgia

Small farms in northern colonies



113S L A V E C U L T U R E S A N D S L A V E R E S I S T A N C E

of their total population. Slavery was also a significant presence in Philadelphia, although the institution stagnated after 1750 as artisans and merchants relied increasingly on wage laborers, whose numbers were augmented by population growth and the completion of the terms of indentured servants.



Becoming African-American

The nearly 300,000 Africans brought to the mainland colonies during the eighteenth century were not a single people. They came from different cultures, spoke different languages, and practiced many religions. Slavery threw together individuals who would never otherwise have encountered one another and who had never considered their color or residence on a single continent a source of identity or unity. Their bond was not kin- ship, language, or even “race,” but slavery itself. The process of creating a cohesive culture took many years. But by the nineteenth century, slaves no longer identified themselves as Ibo, Ashanti, Yoruba, and so on, but as African-Americans. In music, art, folklore, language, and religion, their cultural expressions emerged as a synthesis of African traditions, European elements, and new conditions in America.

For most of the eighteenth century, the majority of American slaves were African by birth. Advertisements seeking information about run- aways often described them by African origin (“young Gambia Negro,” “new Banbara Negro fellow”) and spoke of their bearing on their bodies “country marks”—visible signs of ethnic identity in Africa. Indeed, during the eighteenth century, black life in the colonies was “re-Africanized” as the earlier Creoles (slaves born in the New World) came to be outnum- bered by large-scale importations from Africa.

African Religion in Colonial America

No experience was more wrenching for African slaves in the colonies than the transition from traditional religions to Christianity. Although African religions varied as much as those on other continents, they shared some

How did African slavery differ regionally in eighteenth-century North America?

African-American culture

Diverse origins



Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire114

elements, especially belief in the presence of spiritual forces in nature and a close relationship between the sacred and secular worlds. In the religions of West Africa, the region from which most slaves brought to British North America originated, there was no hard and fast distinction between the secular and spiritual worlds. Nature was suffused with spirits and the dead could influence the living. It was customary, Equiano wrote, before eating, to set aside some food for the spirits of departed ancestors.

Although some slaves came to the colonies familiar with Christianity or Islam, the majority of North American slaves practiced traditional African religions (which many Europeans deemed superstition or even witchcraft) well into the eighteenth century. When they did adopt Christian practices, many slaves merged them with traditional beliefs, adding the Christian God to their own pantheon of lesser spirits, whom they continued to worship.

African-American Cultures

By the mid-eighteenth century, the three slave systems in British North America had produced distinct African-American cultures. In the Chesa- peake, because of a more healthful climate, the slave population began to reproduce itself by 1740. Because of the small size of most plantations and the large number of white yeoman farmers, slaves here were continuously exposed to white culture. They soon learned English, and many were swept up in the religious revivals known as the Great Awakening, discussed later in this chapter.

In South Carolina and Georgia, two very different black societies emerged. On the rice plantations, slaves lived in extremely harsh condi- tions and had a low birthrate throughout the eighteenth century, making

An advertisement seeking the return

of a runaway slave from Port Royal,

in the Sea Islands of South Carolina.

“Mustee” was a term for a person of

mixed European and African ancestry.

From the South Carolina Gazette,

June 11, 1747.

Distinctive cultures



115S L A V E C U L T U R E S A N D S L A V E R E S I S T A N C E

What factors led to distinct African-American cultures in the eighteenth century?

rice production dependent on continued slave imports from Africa. The slaves seldom came into contact with whites. They constructed African- style houses, chose African names for their children, and spoke Gullah, a language that mixed various African roots and was unintelligible to most whites. In Charleston and Savannah, however, the experience of slaves who labored as servants or skilled workers was quite different. They assimilated more quickly into Euro-American culture, and sexual liaisons between white owners and slave women produced the beginning of a class of free mulattos.

In the northern colonies, where slaves represented a smaller part of the population, dispersed in small holdings among the white population, a distinctive African-American culture developed more slowly. Living in close proximity to whites, they enjoyed more mobility and access to the mainstream of life than their counterparts farther south. But they had fewer opportunities to create stable family life or a cohesive community.

Resistance to Slavery

The common threads that linked these regional African-American cultures were the experience of slavery and the desire for freedom. Throughout the eighteenth century, blacks risked their lives in efforts to resist enslavement. Colonial newspapers, especially in the southern colonies, were filled with advertisements for runaway slaves. In South Carolina and Georgia, they fled to Florida, to uninhabited coastal and river swamps, or to Charleston and Savannah, where they could pass for free. In the Chesapeake and Middle Colonies, fugitive slaves tended to be familiar with white culture and therefore, as one advertisement put it, could “pretend to be free.”

What Edward Trelawny, the colonial governor of Jamaica, called “a dangerous spirit of liberty” was widespread among the New World’s slaves. The eighteenth century’s first slave uprising occurred in New York City in 1712, when a group of slaves set fire to houses on the out- skirts of the city and killed the first nine whites who arrived on the scene. During the 1730s and 1740s, continuous warfare involving European empires and Indians opened the door to slave resistance. In 1731, a slave rebellion in Louisiana, where the French and the Natchez Indians were at war, temporarily halted efforts to introduce the plantation system in that region.

Slaves seized the opportunity for rebellion offered by the War of Jenkins’ Ear, which pitted England against Spain. In September 1739, a group of South Carolina slaves, most of them recently arrived from Kongo where some, it appears, had been soldiers, seized a store containing numerous

Regional differences

Slaves’ desire for freedom

Slave rebellions



Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire116

weapons at the town of Stono. Beating drums to attract followers, the armed band marched southward toward Florida, burning houses and barns, kill- ing whites they encountered, and shouting “Liberty.” The Stono Rebellion took the lives of more than two dozen whites and as many as 200 slaves. Some slaves managed to reach Florida, where in 1740 they were armed by the Spanish to help repel an attack on St. Augustine by a force from Georgia.

In 1741, a panic (which some observers compared to the fear of witches in Salem in the 1690s) swept New York City. Rumors spread that slaves, with some white allies, planned to burn part of the city, seize weap- ons, and either turn New York over to Spain or murder the white popula- tion. More than 150 blacks and 20 whites were arrested, and 34 alleged conspirators, including 4 white persons, were executed. Historians still disagree as to how extensive the plot was or whether it existed at all. In eighteenth-century America, dreams of freedom knew no racial boundary.


British Patriotism

Despite the centrality of slavery to its empire, eighteenth-century Great Britain prided itself on being the world’s most advanced and freest nation. It was not only the era’s greatest naval and commercial power but also the home of a complex governmental system, with a powerful Parliament representing the interests of a self-confident landed aristocracy and mer- chant class. For much of the eighteenth century, Britain found itself at war with France, which had replaced Spain as its major continental rival. This situation led to a large military, high taxes, and the creation of the Bank of England to help finance the conflicts. For both Britons and colonists, war helped to sharpen a sense of national identity against foreign foes.

British patriotic sentiment became more assertive as the eighteenth century progressed. Symbols of British identity proliferated: the songs “God Save the King” and “Rule Britannia,” and even the modern rules of cricket, the national sport. Writers hailed commerce as a progressive, civilizing force, a way for different peoples to interact for mutual benefit without domination or military conflict. Especially in contrast to France, Britain saw itself as a realm of widespread prosperity, individual liberty, the rule of law, and the Protestant faith. Wealth, religion, and freedom went together.

Panic in New York

British power

British identity



117A N E M P I R E O F F R E E D O M

What were the meanings of British liberty in the eighteenth century?

The British Constitution

Central to this sense of British identity was the concept of liberty. Eighteenth-century Britons believed power and liberty to be natural antagonists. To mediate between them, advocates of British freedom cel- ebrated the rule of law, the right to live under legislation to which one’s represen- tatives had consented, restraints on the arbitrary exercise of political authority, and rights such as trial by jury enshrined in the common law. In its “balanced con- stitution” and the principle that no man, even the king, is above the law, Britons claimed to have devised the best means of preventing political tyranny. Until the 1770s, most colonists believed themselves to be part of the freest political system mankind had ever known.

These ideas sank deep roots not only within the “political nation”— those who voted, held office, and engaged in structured political debate— but also far more broadly in British and colonial society. Increasingly, the idea of liberty lost its traditional association with privileges derived from membership in a distinct social class and became more and more identi- fied with a general right to resist arbitrary government. Ordinary persons thought nothing of taking to the streets to protest efforts by merchants to raise the cost of bread above the traditional “just price” or the Royal Navy’s practice of “impressment”—kidnapping poor men on the streets for mari- time service.

Republican Liberty

Liberty was central to two sets of political ideas that flourished in the Anglo-American world. One is termed by scholars “republicanism,” which celebrated active participation in public life by economically inde- pendent citizens as the essence of liberty. Republicans assumed that only property-owning citizens possessed “virtue”—defined in the eighteenth century not simply as a personal moral quality but as the willingness to subordinate self-interest to the pursuit of the public good.

In eighteenth-century Britain, this body of thought about freedom was most closely associated with a group of critics known as the “Country

Power, liberty, and law

A 1770 engraving from the Boston

Gazette by Paul Revere illustrates the

association of British patriotism and

liberty. Britannia sits with a liberty cap

and her national shield, and releases

a bird from a cage.

Moral and economic ideas of liberty



Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire118

Party” because much of their support arose from the landed gentry. They called for the election of men of “independence” who could not be con- trolled by the ministry, and they criticized the expanding national debt and the growing wealth of financial speculators. Britain, they claimed, was succumbing to luxury and political manipulation—in other words, a loss of virtue—thereby endangering the careful balance of its system of government and, indeed, liberty itself. In Britain, Country Party writings had little impact, but they were eagerly devoured in the American colo- nies, whose elites were attracted to the emphasis on the political role of the independent landowner and their warnings against the constant tendency of political power to infringe on liberty.

Liberal Freedom

The second set of eighteenth-century political ideas celebrating freedom came to be known as “liberalism” (although its meaning was quite dif- ferent from what the word suggests today). Whereas republican liberty had a public and social quality, liberalism was essentially individual and private. The leading philosopher of liberalism was John Locke, whose Two Treatises of Government, written around 1680, had limited influence in his own lifetime but became extremely well known in the next century. Government, he wrote, was formed by a mutual agreement among equals (the parties being male heads of households, not all persons). In this “social contract,” men surrendered a part of their right to govern themselves in order to enjoy the benefits of the rule of law. They retained, however, their natural rights, whose existence predated the establishment of political authority. Protecting the security of life, liberty, and property required shielding a realm of private life and personal concerns—including family relations, religious preferences, and economic activity—from interference by the state. During the eighteenth century, Lockean ideas—individual rights, the consent of the governed, the right of rebellion against unjust or oppressive government—would become familiar on both sides of the Atlantic.

Like other Britons, Locke spoke of liberty as a universal right yet seemed to exclude many persons from its full benefits. The free individual in liberal thought was essentially the propertied white man. Slaves, he wrote, “cannot be considered as any part of civil society.” Nonetheless, by proclaiming that all individuals possess natural rights that no government may violate, Lockean liberalism opened the door to the poor, women, and even slaves to challenge limitations on their own freedom.

The title page of John Locke’s Two

Treatises of Government, which

traced the origins of government

to an original state of nature and

insisted that political authorities must

not abridge mankind’s natural rights.

The “Country Party”



119T H E P U B L I C S P H E R E

What were the meanings of British liberty in the eighteenth century?

In the eighteenth century, republicanism and liberalism often rein- forced each other. Both political outlooks could inspire a commitment to constitutional government and restraints on despotic power. Both empha- sized the security of property as a foundation of freedom. Both traditions were transported to eighteenth-century America and would eventually help to divide the empire.


Colonial politics for most of the eighteenth century was considerably less tempestuous than in the seventeenth, with its bitter struggles for power and frequent armed uprisings. Political stability in Britain coupled with the maturation of local elites in America made for more tranquil government.

The Right to Vote

In many respects, politics in eighteenth-century America had a more democratic quality than in Great Britain. Suffrage requirements varied from colony to colony, but as in Britain the linchpin of voting laws was the property qualification. Its purpose was to ensure that men who possessed an economic stake in society and the independence of judgment that went with it determined the policies of the government. Slaves, servants, ten- ants, adult sons living in the homes of their parents, the poor, and women all lacked a “will of their own” and were therefore ineligible to vote. The wide distribution of property in the colonies, however, meant that a far higher percentage of the population enjoyed voting rights than in the Old World. It is estimated that between 50 and 80 percent of adult white men could vote in eighteenth-century colonial America, as opposed to fewer than 5 percent in Britain at the time.

Colonial politics, however, was hardly democratic in a modern sense. Voting was almost everywhere considered a male prerogative. In some colonies, Jews, Catholics, and Protestant Dissenters like Baptists and Quakers could not vote. Propertied free blacks, who enjoyed the franchise in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia in the early days of settlement, lost that right during the eighteenth century (although North Carolina restored it in the 1730s). In the northern colonies, although the law did not bar blacks from voting, local custom did. Native Americans were generally prohibited from voting.

Property and the vote

Limits on voting

Relationship between republicanism and liberalism



Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire120

Political Cultures

Despite the broad electorate among white men, “the people” existed only on election day. Between elections, members of colonial assemblies remained out of touch with their constituents. Strongly competitive elections were the norm only in the Middle Colonies. Considerable power in colonial poli- tics rested with those who held appointive, not elective, office. Governors and councils were appointed by the crown in the nine royal colonies and by the proprietors of Pennsylvania and Maryland. Moreover, laws passed by colonial assemblies could be vetoed by governors or in London. In New England, most town officers were elected, but local officials in other colo- nies were appointed by the governor or by powerful officials in London.

Property qualifications for officeholding were far higher than for vot- ing. In South Carolina, for example, nearly every adult white male could meet the voting qualification of fifty acres of land or payment of twenty shillings in taxes, but to sit in the assembly one had to own 500 acres of land and ten slaves or town property worth £1,000. As a result, through- out the eighteenth century nearly all of South Carolina’s legislators were planters or wealthy merchants.

In some colonies, an ingrained tradition of “deference”—the assump- tion among ordinary people that wealth, education, and social prominence carried a right to public office—sharply limited effective choice in elections. Virginia politics, for example, combined political democracy for white men with the tradition that voters should choose among candidates from the gentry. Aspirants for public office actively sought to ingratiate themselves with ordinary voters, distributing food and liquor freely at the courthouse where balloting took place. In Thomas Jefferson’s first campaign for the House of Burgesses in 1768, his expenses included hiring two men “for

This 1765 engraving depicting an

election in Pennsylvania suggests

the intensity of political debate in

the Middle Colonies, as well as the

social composition of the electorate.

Those shown arguing outside the

Old Court House in Philadelphia

include physicians (with wigs and

gold-topped canes), ministers, and

lawyers. A line of men wait on the

steps to vote.

Democracy and deference

Appointive office

Qualifications for voting and office



121T H E P U B L I C S P H E R E

What concepts and institutions dominated colonial politics in the eighteenth century?

bringing up rum” to the polling place. Even in New England, with its larger number of elective positions, town leaders were generally the larg- est property holders, and offices frequently passed down from generation to generation in the same family.

The Rise of the Assemblies

In the seventeenth century, the governor was the focal point of political authority, and colonial assemblies were weak bodies that met infre- quently. But in the eighteenth, as economic development enhanced the power of American elites, the assemblies they dominated became more and more assertive. Their leaders insisted that assemblies possessed the same rights and powers in local affairs as the House of Commons enjoyed in Britain. The most successful governors were those who accommodated the rising power of the assemblies and used their appointive powers and control of land grants to win allies among assembly members.

Many of the conflicts between governors and elected assemblies stemmed from the colonies’ economic growth. To deal with the scarcity of gold and silver coins, the only legal form of currency, some colonies printed paper money, although this was strongly opposed by the gover- nors, authorities in London, and British merchants who did not wish to be paid in what they considered worthless paper. Numerous battles also took place over land policy (sometimes involving divergent attitudes toward the remaining Indian population) and the level of rents charged to farmers on land owned by the crown or proprietors.

In their negotiations and conflicts with royal governors, leaders of the assemblies drew on the writings of the English Country Party, whose emphasis on the constant tension between liberty and political power and the dangers of executive influence over the legislature made sense of their own experience. Of the European settlements in North America, only the British colonies possessed any considerable degree of popular participation in government. This fact reinforced the assemblies’ claim to embody the rights of Englishmen and the principle of popular consent to government.

Politics in Public

The language of liberty reverberated outside the relatively narrow world of elective and legislative politics. The “political nation” was dominated by the American gentry, whose members addressed each other in letters, speeches, newspaper articles, and pamphlets filled with Latin expressions

Conflicts between governors and assemblies

Popular participation in British colonial government

Colonial governors



Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire122

and references to classical learning. But especially in colonial towns and cities, the eighteenth century witnessed a considerable expansion of the “public sphere”—the world of political organization and debate indepen- dent of the government, where an informed citizenry openly discussed questions that had previously been the preserve of officials.

In Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, clubs proliferated where liter- ary, philosophical, scientific, and political issues were debated. Such groups were generally composed of men of property and commerce, but some drew ordinary citizens into discussions of public affairs. Colonial taverns and cof- feehouses also became important sites not only for social conviviality but also for political debates. In Philadelphia, one clergyman commented, “the poorest laborer thinks himself entitled to deliver his sentiments in matters of religion or politics with as much freedom as the gentleman or scholar.”

The Colonial Press

Neither the Spanish possessions of Florida and New Mexico nor New France possessed a printing press, although missionaries had established one in Mexico City in the 1530s. In British North America, however, the press expanded rapidly during the eighteenth century. So did the number of political broadsides and pamphlets published, especially at election time. By the eve of the American Revolution, some three-quarters of the free adult male population in the colonies (and more than one-third of the women) could read and write, and a majority of American families owned at least one book. Circulating libraries appeared in many colonial cities and towns, making possible a wider dissemination of knowledge at a time when books were still expensive. The first, the Library Company of Philadelphia, was established by Benjamin Franklin in 1731.

The first continuously published colonial newspaper, the Boston News-Letter, appeared in 1704. There were thirteen colonial newspapers by 1740 and twenty-five in 1765, mostly weeklies with small circulations—an average of 600 sales per issue. Probably the best-edited newspaper was the Pennsylvania Gazette, established in 1728 in Philadelphia and purchased the following year by Benjamin Franklin. At its peak, the Gazette attracted 2,000 subscribers. By the 1730s, political commentary was widespread in the American press.

Freedom of Expression and Its Limits

The public sphere thrived on the free exchange of ideas. But freedom of expression was not generally considered one of the ancient rights of

The public sphere

Taverns and coffeehouses

Literacy in colonial America




123T H E P U B L I C S P H E R E

What concepts and institutions dominated colonial politics in the eighteenth century?

Englishmen. The phrase “freedom of speech” originated in Britain dur- ing the sixteenth century. A right of legislators, not ordinary citizens, it referred to the ability of members of Parliament to express their views without fear of reprisal, on the grounds that only in this way could they effectively represent the people. Outside of Parliament, free speech had no legal protection. A subject could be beheaded for accusing the king of failing to hold “true” religious beliefs, and language from swearing to criti- cism of the government exposed a person to criminal penalties.

As for freedom of the press, governments on both sides of the Atlantic viewed this as extremely dangerous. Until 1695, when a British law requiring the licensing of printed works before publication lapsed, no newspaper, book, or pamphlet could legally be printed without a government license. After 1695, the government could not censor newspapers, books, and pamphlets before they appeared in print, although it continued to try to manage the press by direct payments to publishers and individual journalists. Authors and publishers could still be prosecuted for “seditious libel”—a crime that included defaming government officials—or punished for contempt.

Elected assemblies, not governors, most frequently discouraged free- dom of the press in colonial America. Dozens of publishers were hauled before assemblies and forced to apologize for comments regarding one or another member. Colonial newspapers vigorously defended freedom of the press as a central component of liberty, insisting that the citizenry had a right to monitor the workings of government and sub- ject public officials to criticism. But since government printing contracts were crucial for economic success, few newspapers attacked colonial governments unless financially supported by an opposition faction.

The Trial of Zenger

The most famous colonial court case involving free- dom of the press demonstrated that popular sentiment opposed prosecutions for criticism of public officials. This was the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, a German- born printer who had emigrated to New York as a youth. Financed by wealthy opponents of Governor William Cosby, Zenger’s newspaper, the Weekly Journal, lam- basted the governor for corruption, influence peddling, and “tyranny.” New York’s council ordered four issues burned and had Zenger himself arrested and tried for

The first page of the New York

Weekly Journal, edited by John Peter

Zenger, one of four issues ordered to

be burned by local authorities.

Freedom of speech



Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire124

seditious libel. Zenger’s attorney, Andrew Hamilton, urged the jury to judge not the publisher but the governor. If they decided that Zenger’s charges were correct, they must acquit him, and, Hamilton proclaimed, “every man who prefers freedom to a life of slavery will bless you.”

Zenger was found not guilty. The case sent a warning to prosecutors that libel cases might be very difficult to win, especially in the superheated atmosphere of New York partisan politics. The outcome helped to promote the idea that the publication of truth should always be permitted, and it demonstrated that the idea of free expression was becoming ingrained in the popular imagination.

The American Enlightenment

During the eighteenth century, many educated Americans began to be influenced by the outlook of the European Enlightenment. This philo- sophical movement, which originated among French thinkers and soon spread to Britain, sought to apply the scientific method of careful inves- tigation based on research and experiment to political and social life. Enlightenment ideas crisscrossed the Atlantic along with goods and people. Enlightenment thinkers insisted that every human institution, authority, and tradition be judged before the bar of reason. The self- educated Benjamin Franklin’s wide range of activities—establishing a newspaper, debating club, and library; publishing the widely circulated Poor Richard’s Almanack; and conducting experiments to demonstrate that lightning is a form of electricity—exemplified the Enlightenment spirit and made him probably the best-known American in the eighteenth-century world.

Enlightenment thinkers hoped that “reason,” not religious enthu- siasm, could govern human life. During the eighteenth century, many prominent Americans moved toward the position called Arminianism, which taught that reason alone was capable of establishing the essentials of religion. Others adopted Deism, a belief that God essentially withdrew after creating the world, leaving it to function according to scientific laws without divine intervention. Belief in miracles, in the revealed truth of the Bible, and in the innate sinfulness of mankind were viewed by Arminians, Deists, and others as outdated superstitions that should be abandoned in the modern age.

In the seventeenth century, the English scientist Isaac Newton had revealed the natural laws that governed the physical universe. Here, Deists believed, was the purest evidence of God’s handiwork. Deists con- cluded that the best form of religious devotion was to study the workings

A 1762 portrait of Benjamin Franklin,

done in London by the English artist

Mason Chamberlain while Franklin

was in the city as agent for the

Pennsylvania Assembly. Franklin is

depicted as a scientist making notes

on his experiments, rather than a


Freedom of expression



125T H E G R E A T A W A K E N I N G

What concepts and institutions dominated colonial politics in the eighteenth century?

of nature, rather than to worship in organized churches or appeal to divine grace for salvation. By the late colonial era, a small but influential group of leading Americans, including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, could be classified as Deists.


Like freedom of the press, religion was another realm where the actual experience of liberty outstripped its legal recognition. Religion remained central to eighteenth-century American life. Sermons, theological trea- tises, and copies of the Bible were by far the largest category of material produced by colonial printers.

Religious Revivals

Many ministers were concerned that westward expansion, commercial development, the growth of Enlightenment rationalism, and lack of individual engagement in church services were undermining religious devotion. These fears helped to inspire the revivals that swept through the colonies beginning in the 1730s. Known collectively as the Great Awakening, the revivals were less a coordinated movement than a series of local events united by a commitment to a “religion of the heart,” a more emotional and personal Christianity than that offered by existing churches.

The eighteenth century witnessed a revival of religious fundamental- ism in many parts of the world, in part a response to the rationalism of the Enlightenment and a desire for greater religious purity. In the Middle East and Central Asia, where Islam was widespread, followers of a form of the religion known as Wahabbism called for a return to the practices of the religion’s early days. Methodism and other forms of enthusiastic religion were flourishing in Europe. Like other intellectual currents of the time, the Great Awakening was a transatlantic movement.

During the 1720s and 1730s, the New Jersey Dutch Reformed clergy- man Theodore Frelinghuysen, his Presbyterian neighbors William and Gilbert Tennent, and the Massachusetts Congregationalist minister Jonathan Edwards pioneered an intensely emotional style of preaching. Edwards’s famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God portrayed sinful man as a “loathsome insect” suspended over a bottomless pit of eternal fire by a

A more emotional and personal Christianity

Jonathan Edwards




Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire126

slender thread that might break at any moment. Only a “new birth”—imme- diately acknowledging one’s sins and pleading for divine grace—could save men from eternal damnation.

The Preaching of Whitefield

More than any other individual, the English minister George Whitefield, who declared “the whole world his parish,” sparked the Great Awakening. For two years after his arrival in America in 1739, Whitefield brought his highly emotional brand of preaching to colonies from Georgia to New England. God, Whitefield proclaimed, was merciful. Rather than being predestined for damnation, men and women could save themselves by repenting of their sins. Whitefield appealed to the passions of his listen- ers, powerfully sketching the boundless joy of salvation and the horrors of damnation.

Tens of thousands of colonists flocked to Whitefield’s sermons, which were widely reported in the American press, making him a celebrity and helping to establish the revivals as the first major intercolonial event in North American history. In Whitefield’s footsteps, a host of traveling preachers or “evangelists” (meaning, literally, bearers of good news) held revivalist meetings, often to the alarm of established ministers.

The Awakening’s Impact

By the time they subsided in the 1760s, the revivals had changed the reli- gious configuration of the colonies and enlarged the boundaries of liberty. Whitefield had inspired the emergence of numerous Dissenting churches. Congregations split into factions headed by Old Lights (traditionalists) and New Lights (revivalists), and new churches proliferated—Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and others. Many of these new churches began to criticize the colonial practice of levying taxes to support an established church; they defended religious freedom as one of the natural rights gov- ernment must not restrict.

Although the revivals were primarily a spiritual matter, the Great Awakening threw into question many forms of authority, and inspired criticism of aspects of colonial society. Revivalist preachers frequently crit- icized commercial society, insisting that believers should make salvation, not profit, “the one business of their lives.” Preaching to the small farmers of the southern backcountry, Baptist and Methodist revivalists criticized the worldliness of wealthy planters and attacked as sinful activities such

George Whitefield, the English

evangelist who helped to spark the

Great Awakening in the colonies.

Painted around 1742 by John

Wollaston, who had emigrated from

England to the colonies, the work

depicts Whitefield’s powerful effect

on male and female listeners. It also

illustrates Whitefield’s eye problem,

which led critics to dub him

“Dr. Squintum.”

Critique of commercial society




as gambling, horse racing, and lavish entertainments on the Sabbath. A few preachers explicitly condemned slavery. Especially in the Chesapeake, the revivals brought numerous slaves into the Christian fold, an important step in their acculturation as African-Americans.

The revivals encouraged many colonists to trust their own views rather than those of established elites. In listening to the sermons of self- educated preachers, forming Bible study groups, and engaging in intense religious discussions, ordinary colonists asserted the right to independent judgment. Although the revivalists’ aim was spiritual salvation, the inde- pendent frame of mind they encouraged would have significant political consequences.


Spanish North America

The rapid growth of Britain’s North American colonies took place at a time of increased jockeying for power among European empires. But the colo- nies of England’s rivals, although covering immense territories, remained thinly populated and far weaker economically. The Spanish empire encom- passed an area that stretched from the Pacific coast and New Mexico into the Great Plains and eastward through Texas and Florida. After 1763, it also included Louisiana, which Spain obtained from France. On paper a vast territorial empire, Spanish North America actually consisted of a few small and isolated urban clusters, most prominently St. Augustine in Florida, San Antonio in Texas, and Santa Fe and Albuquerque in New Mexico.

New Mexico’s population in 1765 was only 20,000, equally divided between Spanish settlers and Pueblo Indians. Spain began the coloniza- tion of Texas at the beginning of the eighteenth century, partly as a buffer to prevent French commercial influence, then spreading in the Mississippi Valley, from intruding into New Mexico. The Spanish established com- plexes consisting of religious missions and presidios (military outposts) at Los Adaes, La Bahía, and San Antonio. But the region attracted few settlers. Texas had only 1,200 Spanish colonists in 1760. Florida stagnated as well.

The Spanish in California

On the Pacific coast, Russian fur traders in the eighteenth century estab- lished a series of forts and trading posts in Alaska. Spain, alarmed by


How did the Great Awakening challenge the religious and social structure of British North America?

Colonization of Texas

Independent judgement

Extent of Spanish empire



Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire128

what it saw as a danger to its American empire, ordered the coloniza- tion of California. A string of Spanish missions and presidios soon dotted the California coastline, from San Diego to Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Monterey, San Francisco, and Sonoma. Born on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Mallorca, Father Junípero Serra became one of the most contro- versial figures in California’s early history. He founded the first California mission, in San Diego, in 1769 and administered the mission network until his death in 1784. Serra was widely praised in Spain for converting thou- sands of Indians to Christianity. But forced labor and disease took a heavy toll among Indians who lived at the missions Serra directed.

Present-day California was a densely populated area, with a native population of perhaps 250,000 when Spanish settlement began. But as in

Baton Rouge

El Paso del Norte

San Blas

New Orleans

Santa Fe


Montreal Trois RivieresSault Ste. Marie

Cahokia Ste. Genevieve Kaskaskia

Los Adaes

St. Marks

St. Augustine Apalachee

Albuquerque Socorro


Port Royal

Boston Salem


New York Philadelphia



Savannah CharlestonSan Diego

San Francisco Monterey

Santa Barbara

Ft. La Jonquiere Ft. Dauphin

Ft. Frontenac

Ft. St. Joseph

Ft. St. Joseph Ft. Pontchartrain

Ft. Miami

Ft. Vincennes

Ft. Toulouse Ft. Arkansas

Nacogdoches Natchitoches



Ft. Prudhomme

Ft. Crevecoeur Ft. St. Louis

Ft. St. Croix

San Luis Obispo San Gabriel San Juan Capistrano


Ft. Duquesne Ft. Le Boeuf

Ft. Niagara

San Antonio

La Bahía












Gulf of Mexico

At lant ic Oce an

Pac i f ic Ocean





500 miles

500 kilometers

Fort or presidio Mission British settlement British land claims Area of French influence Area of Spanish influence

E U R O P E A N E M P I R E S I N N O R T H A M E R I C A , c a . 1 7 5 0

Three great empires—the British,

French, and Spanish—competed for

influence in North America for much

of the eighteenth century.



129I M P E R I A L R I V A L R I E S

How did the Spanish and French empires in America develop in the eighteenth century?

other regions, the coming of soldiers and missionaries proved a disaster for the Indians. More than any other Spanish colony, California was a mission frontier. These outposts served simultaneously as religious institutions and centers of government and labor. Father Serra and other missionaries hoped to convert the natives to Christianity and settled farming. The mis- sions also relied on forced Indian labor to grow grain, work in orchards and vineyards, and tend cattle. By 1821, when Mexico won its independence from Spain, California’s native population had declined by more than one- third. But the area had not attracted Spanish settlers. When Spanish rule came to an end in 1821, Californios (California residents of Spanish descent) numbered only 3,200.

The French Empire

A greater rival to British power in North America—as well as in Europe and the Caribbean—was France. During the eighteenth century, the popu- lation and economy of Canada expanded. At the same time, French traders pushed into the Mississippi River valley southward from the Great Lakes and northward from Mobile, founded in 1702, and New Orleans, estab- lished in 1718. In the St. Lawrence River valley of French Canada, prosper- ous farming communities developed. By 1750, the area had a population of about 55,000 colonists. Another 10,000 (about half Europeans, half African-American slaves) resided in Louisiana.

Despite these gains, the population of French North America contin- ued to be dwarfed by the British colonies. Prejudice against emigration to North America remained widespread in France because many there viewed the French colony as a place of cruel exile for criminals and social outcasts. Nonetheless, by claiming control of a large arc of territory and by establishing close trading and military relations with many Indian tribes, the French empire posed a real challenge to the British. French

A sketch of New Orleans as it

appeared in 1720.

Spanish missions

French expansion

French ties to Indian tribes



Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire130

forts and trading posts ringed the British colonies. The French were a presence on the New England and New York frontiers and in western Pennsylvania.


The Middle Ground

For much of the eighteenth century, the western frontier of British North America was the flashpoint of imperial rivalries. The Ohio Valley became caught up in a complex struggle for power involving the French, British, rival Indian communities, and settlers and land companies pursuing their own interests. On this “middle ground” between European empires and Indian sovereignty, villages sprang up where members of numerous tribes lived side by side, along with European traders and the occasional missionary.

By the mid-eighteenth century, Indians had learned that direct mili- tary confrontation with Europeans meant suicide, and that an alliance with a single European power exposed them to danger from others. The Indians of the Ohio Valley sought (with some success) to play the British and French empires off one another and to control the lucrative commerce with whites. The Iroquois were masters of balance-of-power diplomacy.

In 1750, few white settlers inhabited the Ohio Valley. But already, Scotch-Irish and German immigrants, Virginia planters, and land specu- lators were eyeing the region’s fertile soil. In 1749, the government of Virginia awarded an immense land grant—half a million acres—to the Ohio Company. The company’s members included the colony’s royal governor, Robert Dinwiddie, and the cream of Virginia society—Lees, Carters, and the young George Washington. The land grant sparked the French to bolster their presence in the region. It was the Ohio Company’s demand for French recognition of its land claims that inaugurated the Seven Years’ War (known in the colonies as the French and Indian War), the first of the century’s impe- rial wars to begin in the colonies and the first to result in a decisive victory for one combatant. It permanently altered the global balance of power.

The Seven Years’ War

Only in the eighteenth century, after numerous wars against its great rivals France and Spain, did Britain emerge as the world’s leading empire and its center of trade and banking. By the 1750s, British possessions and

The Ohio Valley

The Ohio Company

The world’s leading empire



131B A T T L E F O R T H E C O N T I N E N T

What was the impact of the Seven Years’ War on imperial and Indian–white relations?

trade reached around the globe. The existence of global empires implied that warfare among them would also be global.

What became a worldwide struggle for imperial domination, which eventually spread to Europe, West Africa, and Asia, began in 1754 with British efforts to dislodge the French from forts they had constructed in western Pennsylvania. In the previous year, George Washington, then only twenty-one years old, had been dispatched by the colony’s governor on an unsuccessful mission to persuade French soldiers to abandon a fort they were building on lands claimed by the Ohio Company. In 1754, Washington returned to the area with two companies of soldiers. After an ill-considered attempt against a larger French and Indian force, resulting in the loss of one-third of his men, Washington was forced to surrender. Soon afterward, an expedition led by General Edward Braddock against Fort Duquesne (today’s Pittsburgh) was ambushed by French and Indian forces, leaving Braddock and two-thirds of his 3,000 soldiers dead or wounded.

For two years, the war went against the British. The southern back- country was ablaze with fighting among British forces, colonists, and Indians. Inhumanity flourished on all sides. Indians killed hundreds of colonists in western Pennsylvania and pushed the line of settlement all the way back to Carlisle, only 100 miles west of Philadelphia. In Nova Scotia, the British rounded up around 5,000 local French residents, called Acadians, confiscated their land, and expelled them from the region, selling their farms to settlers from New England. Some of those expelled eventu- ally returned to France; others ended up as far away as Louisiana, where their descendants came to be known as Cajuns.

As the British government under Secretary of State William Pitt, who took office in 1757, raised huge sums of money and poured men and naval forces into the war, the tide of battle turned. By 1759, Britain—with colonial and Indian soldiers playing a major role—had captured the pivotal French outposts Forts Duquesne, Ticonderoga (north of Albany), and Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, which guarded the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. In September of that year, a French army was defeated on the Plains of Abraham near Quebec. British forces also seized nearly all the islands in the French Caribbean and established control of India.

A World Transformed

Britain’s victory fundamentally reshaped the world balance of power. In the Peace of Paris in 1763, France ceded Canada to Britain, receiving back in return the sugar islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique (far more lucra- tive colonies from the point of view of French authorities). Spain ceded

Benjamin Franklin produced this

famous cartoon in 1754, calling on

Britain’s North American colonies to

unite against the French.

William Pitt

The global balance of power



Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire132

Florida to Britain in exchange for the return of the Philippines and Cuba (seized by the British during the war). Spain also acquired from France the vast Louisiana colony. France’s 200-year-old North American empire had come to an end. The entire continent east of the Mississippi River was now in British hands.

Eighteenth-century warfare, conducted on land and sea across the globe, was enormously expensive. The Seven Years’ War put strains on all the participants. The war’s cost produced a financial crisis in France that almost three decades later would help to spark the French Revolution. The British would try to recoup part of the cost of war by increasing taxes on their American colonies.

Pontiac’s Rebellion

Throughout eastern North America, the abrupt departure of the French in the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War eliminated the balance-of-power diplomacy that had enabled groups like the Iroquois to maintain a sig- nificant degree of autonomy. Domination by any outside power, Indians feared, meant the loss of freedom. Without consulting them, the French had ceded land Indians claimed as their own to British control. The Treaty of Paris left Indians more dependent than ever on the British and ushered in a period of confusion over land claims, control of the fur trade, and tribal relations in general.

In 1763, in the wake of the French defeat, Indians of the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes launched a revolt against British rule. Although known as Pontiac’s Rebellion after an Ottawa war leader, the rebellion owed at least as much to the teachings of Neolin, a Delaware religious prophet. During a religious vision, the Master of Life instructed Neolin that his people must reject European technology, free themselves from commer- cial ties with whites and dependence on alcohol, clothe themselves in the garb of their ancestors, and drive the British from their territory (although friendly French inhabitants could remain). Neolin combined this mes- sage with the relatively new idea of pan-Indian identity. All Indians, he preached, were a single people, and only through cooperation could they regain their lost independence.

The Proclamation Line

In the spring and summer of 1763, Ottawas, Hurons, and other Indians besieged Detroit, then a major British military outpost, seized nine other forts, and killed hundreds of white settlers who had intruded onto Indian

The costs of war

Neolin’s message

Effect on Indians



133B A T T L E F O R T H E C O N T I N E N T

What was the impact of the Seven Years’ War on imperial and Indian–white relations?

E A S T E R N N O R T H A M E R I C A A F T E R T H E P E A C E O F P A R I S , 1 7 6 3

The Peace of Paris, which ended the Seven Years’ War, left all of North America east of the Mississippi in British hands, ending the

French presence on the continent.

Halifax Quebec



Portsmouth Boston

Albany NewportHartford

New Haven New York



Mose St. Augustine

New Orleans

Perth Amboy Burlington

Philadelphia New Castle

New Bern

















MAINE (part of Massachusetts)




































St . L

aw re

nc e R


M iss

iss ip

pi R


Lak e On


La ke

Eri e

Lake H uron

La ke

M ic

hi ga


Lake Superior

Gulf of St. Lawrence

Gulf of Mexico

At lant ic Oce an





400 miles

400 kilometers

Colonial capitals Proclamation line of 1763 Spanish territory English territory




Pontiac was a leader of the pan-Indian resistance to English rule known as Pontiac’s

Rebellion, which followed the end of the Seven Years’ War. Neolin was a Delaware

religious prophet who helped to inspire the rebellion.

Englishmen, although you have conquered the French, you have not yet conquered us! We are not your slaves. These lakes, these woods, and mountains were left to us by our ancestors. They are our inheritance; and we will part with them to none. Your nation supposes that we, like the white people, cannot live without bread and pork and beef! But you ought to know that He, the Great Spirit and Master of Life, has provided food for us in these spacious lakes, and on these woody mountains.

[The Master of Life has said to Neolin:] I am the Maker of heaven and earth, the trees, lakes, rivers, and all else. I am the Maker

of all mankind; and because I love you, you must do my will. The land on which you live I have made for you and not for others. Why do you suffer the white man to dwell among you? My children, you have forgotten the customs and traditions of your forefathers. Why do you not clothe yourselves in skins, as they did, use bows and arrows and the stone-pointed lances, which they used? You have bought guns, knives, kettles and blankets from the white man until you can no longer do without them; and what is worse, you have drunk the poison firewater, which turns you into fools. Fling all these things away; live as your wise forefathers did before you. And as for these English—these dogs dressed in red, who have come to rob you of your hunting-grounds, and drive away the game—you must lift the hatchet against them. Wipe them from the face of the earth, and then you will win my favor back again, and once more be happy and prosperous.

From Pontiac, Speeches

(1762 and 1763)

Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire134



Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography, published in London, was the most prominent

account of the slave experience written in the eighteenth century. In this passage,

which comes after Equiano’s description of a slave auction in the Caribbean, he calls

on white persons to live up to their professed belief in liberty.

We were not many days in the merchant’s custody before we were sold after their usual manner, which is this: On a signal given (as the beat of a drum), the buyers rush in at once into the yard where the slaves are confined, and make choice of that parcel they like best. . . . In this manner, without scruple, are relations and friends separated, most of them never to see each other again. I remember in the vessel in which I was brought over, . . . there were several brothers, who, in the sale, were sold in different lots; and it was very moving on this occasion to see and hear their cries at parting.

O, ye nominal Christians! Might not an African ask you, learned you this from your God? Who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you? Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friends to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? Must every tender feeling be sacrificed to your avarice? Are the dearest friends and relations, now rendered more dear by their separation from their kindred, still to be parted from each other, and thus prevented from cheering the gloom of slavery with the small comfort of being together and mingling their sufferings and sorrows? Why are parents to lose their children, brothers their sisters, or husbands their wives? Surely this is a new refinement in cruelty.

From The Interesting Narrative

of the Life of Olaudah Equiano,

or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789)


1. What elements of Indian life does

Neolin criticize most strongly?

2. What aspect of slavery does Equiano

emphasize in his account, and why do

you think he does so?

3. How do Pontiac and Equiano differ in

the ways they address white audiences?




Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire136

lands. British forces soon launched a counterattack, and over the next few years the tribes one by one made peace. But the uprising inspired the gov- ernment in London to issue the Proclamation of 1763, prohibiting further colonial settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. These lands were reserved exclusively for Indians. Moreover, the Proclamation banned the sale of Indian lands to private individuals.

The British aim was less to protect the Indians than to stabilize the situation on the colonial frontier and to avoid being dragged into an end- less series of border conflicts. But the Proclamation enraged both settlers and speculators hoping to take advantage of the expulsion of the French to consolidate their claims to western lands. They ignored the new policy. George Washington himself ordered his agents to buy up as much Indian land as possible, while keeping the transactions “a profound secret” because of their illegality. Failing to offer a viable solution to the question of westward expansion, the Proclamation of 1763 ended up further exacer- bating settler-Indian relations.

Pennsylvania and the Indians

The Seven Years’ War not only redrew the map of the world but pro duced dramatic changes within the American colonies as well. In Pennsylvania, the conflict shattered the decades-old rule of the Quaker elite and dealt the final blow to the colony’s policy of accommodation with the Indians. During the war, with the frontier ablaze with battles between settlers and French and Indian warriors, western Pennsylvanians demanded that colonial authorities adopt a more aggressive stance. When the gov- ernor declared war on hostile Delawares, raised a militia, and offered a bounty for Indian scalps, many of the assembly’s pacifist Quakers resigned their seats, effectively ending their control of Pennsylvania politics.

In December 1763, while Pontiac’s Rebellion still raged, a party of fifty armed men, mostly Scotch-Irish farmers from the vicinity of the Pennsylvania town of Paxton, destroyed the Indian village of Conestoga, massacring half a dozen men, women, and children who lived there under the protection of Pennsylvania’s governor. When the Paxton Boys marched on Philadelphia in February 1764, intending to attack Moravian Indians who resided near the city, the governor ordered the expulsion of much of the Indian population. By the 1760s, Pennsylvania’s Holy Experiment was at an end and with it William Penn’s promise of “true friendship and amity” between colonists and the native population.

Frontier tensions

The Paxton Boys

Proclamation of 1763



137B A T T L E F O R T H E C O N T I N E N T

What was the impact of the Seven Years’ War on imperial and Indian–white relations?

Colonial Identities

Before the war, the colonies had been largely isolated from one another. Outside of New England, more Americans probably traveled to England than from one colony to another. The Albany Plan of Union of 1754, drafted by Benjamin Franklin at the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War, envisioned the creation of a Grand Council composed of delegates from each colony, with the power to levy taxes and deal with Indian relations and the common defense. Rejected by the colonial assemblies, whose pow- ers Franklin’s proposal would curtail, the plan was never sent to London for approval.

Participation in the Seven Years’ War created greater bonds among the colonies. But the war also strengthened colonists’ pride in being mem- bers of the British empire. It has been said that Americans were never more British than in 1763. British victory in the Seven Years’ War seemed a triumph of liberty over tyranny. The defeat of the Catholic French rein- forced the equation of British nationality, Protestantism, and freedom.

But soon, the American colonists would come to believe that member- ship in the empire jeopardized their liberty. When they did, they set out on a road that led to independence.

The war and American identity



Chapter 4  Slavery, Freedom, and the Struggle for Empire


1. How did Great Britain’s position in North America change relative to the other European powers during the first three-quarters of the eighteenth century?

2. How did the ideas of republicanism and liberalism differ in eighteenth-century British North America?

3. Three distinct slave systems were well entrenched in Britain’s mainland colonies. Describe the main characteristics of each system.

4. How and why did the colonists’ sense of a collective British identity change during the years before 1764?

5. What ideas generated by the American Enlightenment and the Great Awakening prompted challenges to religious, social, and political authorities in the British colonies?

6. How were colonial merchants in British America involved in the Atlantic economy, and what was the role of the slave trade in that economy?

7. We often consider the impact of the slave trade only on the United States, but its impact extended much further. How did it affect West African nations and society, other regions of the New World, and the nations of Europe?

8. How was an African-American collective identity created in these years and what role did slave rebellions play in that process?



wwnorton.com /studyspace



A chapter outline

A diagnostic chapter quiz

Interactive maps

Map worksheets

Multimedia documents


Atlantic slave trade (p. 106)

Middle Passage (p. 109)

Stono Rebellion (p. 116)

republicanism (p. 117)

virtue (p. 117)

liberalism (p. 118)

freedom of the press (p. 123)

American Enlightenment (p. 124)

Great Awakening (p. 125)

Father Junípero Serra (p. 128)

“middle ground” (p. 130)

Acadians (p. 131)

Pontiac’s Rebellion (p. 132)

Albany Plan of Union (p. 137)



1760 George III assumes the British throne

1764 Sugar Act

1765 Stamp Act

Sons of Liberty organized

Stamp Act Congress

1767 Townshend Acts

1767– Letters from a Farmer in 1768 Pennsylvania

British troops stationed in Boston

1770 Boston Massacre

1773 Tea Act

Boston Tea Party

1774 Intolerable Acts

First Continental Congress convenes

1775 Battles at Lexington and Concord

Lord Dunmore’s proclamation

1776 Thomas Paine’s Common Sense

Declaration of Independence

Battle of Trenton

1777 Battle of Saratoga

1778 Treaty of Amity and Commerce with France

1781 Cornwallis surrenders at Yorktown

1783 Treaty of Paris



C H A P T E R 5

A rare print from 1776 depicts George

Washington as commander of the

American armies, “the supporter of

liberty,” and “benefactor of mankind.”

It illustrates the linkage of liberty and

American independence, and Americans’

conviction that their struggle was of

worldwide significance.

1 7 6 3 – 1 7 8 3



Chapter 5  The American Revolution140

O n the night of August 26, 1765, a violent crowd of Bostonians assaulted the elegant home of Thomas Hutchinson, chief justice and lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. Hutchinson and his family barely had time to escape before the crowd broke down the front door and proceeded to destroy or carry off most of their possessions, including paintings, furniture, silverware, and notes for a history of Massachusetts Hutchinson was writing. By the time the crowd departed, only the outer walls of the home remained standing.

The immediate cause of the riot was the Stamp Act, a recently enacted British tax that many colonists felt violated their liberty. Only a few days earlier, Hutchinson had helped to disperse a crowd attacking a building owned by his relative Andrew Oliver, a merchant who had been appointed to help administer the new law. Both crowds were led by Ebenezer Mackintosh, a shoemaker who enjoyed a wide following among Boston’s working people.

The riot of August 26 was one small episode in a series of events that launched a half-century of popular protest and political upheaval throughout the Western world. The momentous era that came to be called the Age of Revolution began in British North America, spread to Europe and the Caribbean, and culminated in the Latin American wars for independence. In all these struggles, liberty emerged as the foremost rallying cry for popular discontent. Rarely has the idea played so central a role in political debate and social upheaval.

If the attack on Hutchinson’s home demonstrated the depths of feeling aroused by Britain’s efforts to impose greater control over its empire, it also revealed that revolution is a dynamic process whose consequences no one can anticipate. The crowd’s fury expressed resentments against the rich and powerful quite different from colonial leaders’ objections to Parliament’s attempt to tax the colonies. The Stamp Act crisis inaugurated not only a struggle for colonial liberty in relation to Great Britain but also a multisided battle to define and extend liberty within America.


Consolidating the Empire

When George III assumed the throne of Great Britain in 1760, no one on either side of the Atlantic imagined that within two decades Britain’s American colonies would separate from the empire. Having treated the

What were the roots and

significance of the Stamp

Act controversy?

What key events sharp-

ened the divisions between

Britain and the colonists

in the late 1760s and early


What key events marked

the move toward American


How were American forces

able to prevail in the

Revolutionary War?





What were the roots and significance of the Stamp Act controversy?

colonists as allies during the war, Britain reverted in the mid-1760s to seeing them as subordinates whose main role was to enrich the mother country. During this period, the government in London concerned itself with the colonies in unprecedented ways, hoping to make British rule more efficient and systematic and to raise funds to help pay for the war and to finance the empire. Nearly all British political leaders sup- ported the new laws that so enraged the colonists. Americans, Britons felt, should be grateful to the empire. To fight the Seven Years’ War, Britain had bor- rowed from banks and individual investors more than £150 million (the equivalent of tens of trillions of dollars in today’s money). It seemed only reasonable that the colonies should help pay this national debt, foot part of the bill for continued British protection, and stop cheating the treasury by violating the Navigation Acts.

Nearly all Britons, moreover, believed that Parliament represented the entire empire and had a right to legislate for it. Millions of Britons, including the residents of major cities like Manchester and Birmingham, had no representatives in Parliament. But according to the widely accepted theory of “virtual representation”—which held that each member rep- resented the entire empire, not just his own district—the interests of all who lived under the British crown were supposedly taken into account. When Americans began to insist that because they were unrepresented in Parliament, the British government could not tax the colonies, they won little support in the mother country.

The British government had already alarmed many colonists by issu- ing writs of assistance to combat smuggling. These were general search warrants that allowed customs officials to search anywhere they chose for smuggled goods. In a celebrated court case in Boston in 1761, the law- yer James Otis insisted that the writs were “an instrument of arbitrary power, destructive to English liberty, and the fundamental principles of the Constitution,” and that Parliament therefore had no right to authorize them. (“American independence was then and there born,” the Boston lawyer John Adams later remarked—a considerable exaggeration.) Many colonists were also outraged by the Proclamation of 1763 (mentioned in the previous chapter), which barred further settlement on lands west of the Appalachian Mountains.


According to the doctrine of “virtual

representation,” the House of

Commons represented all residents

of the British empire, whether or not

they could vote for members. In this

1775 cartoon criticizing the idea, a

blinded Britannia, on the far right,

stumbles into a pit. Next to her, two

colonists complain of being robbed

by British taxation. In the background,

according to an accompanying

explanation of the cartoon, stand

the “Catholic” city of Quebec and

the “Protestant town of Boston,” the

latter in flames.

Outrage in the colonies



Chapter 5  The American Revolution142

Taxing the Colonies

In 1764, the Sugar Act, introduced by Prime Minister George Grenville, reduced the existing tax on molasses imported into North America from the French West Indies from six pence to three pence per gallon. But the act also established a new machinery to end widespread smuggling by colonial merchants. And to counteract the tendency of colonial juries to acquit merchants charged with violating trade regulations, it strengthened the admiralty courts, where accused smugglers could be judged without benefit of a jury trial. Thus, colonists saw the measure not as a welcome reduction in taxation but as an attempt to get them to pay a levy they would otherwise have evaded. At the same time, the Currency Act reaffirmed the earlier ban on colonial assemblies’ issuing paper as “legal tender”—that is, money that individuals are required to accept in payment of debts.

The Sugar Act was an effort to strengthen the long-established (and long-evaded) Navigation Acts. The Stamp Act of 1765 was a new depar- ture in imperial policy. For the first time, Parliament attempted to raise money from direct taxes in the colonies rather than through the regulation of trade. The act required that all sorts of printed material produced in the colonies—such as newspapers, books, court documents, commercial papers, land deeds, almanacs—carry a stamp purchased from authorities. Its purpose was to help finance the operations of the empire, including the cost of stationing British troops in North America, without seeking rev- enue from colonial assemblies.

Whereas the Sugar Act had mainly affected residents of colonial ports, the Stamp Act managed to offend virtually every free colonist—rich and poor, farmers, artisans, and merchants. It was especially resented by members of the public sphere who wrote, published, and read books and newspapers and followed political affairs. The prospect of a British army permanently stationed on American soil also alarmed many colonists. And by imposing the stamp tax without colonial consent, Parliament directly challenged the authority of local elites who, through the assemblies they controlled, had established their power over the raising and spending of money. They were ready to defend this authority in the name of liberty.

Opposition to the Stamp Act was the first great drama of the revolu- tionary era and the first major split between colonists and Great Britain over the meaning of freedom. Nearly all colonial political leaders opposed the act. In voicing their grievances, they invoked the rights of the freeborn Englishman, which, they insisted, colonists should also enjoy. Opponents of the act occasionally referred to the natural rights of all mankind. More frequently, however, they drew on time-honored British principles such as

The Sugar Act of 1764

The Stamp Act of 1765

Opposition to the Stamp Act



143T H E C R I S I S B E G I N S

a community’s right not to be taxed except by its elected representatives. Liberty, they insisted, could not be secure where property was “taken away without consent.”

Taxation and Representation

At stake were clashing ideas of the British empire itself. American lead- ers viewed the empire as an association of equals in which free settlers overseas enjoyed the same rights as Britons at home. Colonists in other outposts of the empire, such as India, the West Indies, and Canada, echoed this outlook. All, in the name of liberty, claimed the right to govern their own affairs. The British government and its appointed representatives in America, by contrast, saw the empire as a system of unequal parts in which different principles governed different areas, and all were subject to the authority of Parliament. To surrender the right to tax the colonies would set a dangerous precedent for the empire as a whole.

Some opponents of the Stamp Act distinguished between “internal” taxes like the stamp duty, which they claimed Parliament had no right to impose, and revenue legitimately raised through the regulation of trade. But more and more colonists insisted that Britain had no right to tax them at all, since Americans were unrepresented in the House of Commons. “No taxation without representation” became their rallying cry. Virginia’s House of Burgesses approved four resolutions offered by the fiery orator Patrick Henry. They insisted that the colonists enjoyed the same “liberties, privileges, franchises, and immunities” as residents of the mother country and that the right to consent to taxation was a cornerstone of “British free- dom.” (The House of Burgesses rejected as too radical three other resolu- tions, including Henry’s call for outright resistance to unlawful taxation, but these were also reprinted in colonial newspapers.)

In October 1765, the Stamp Act Congress, with twenty-seven del- egates from nine colonies, including some of the most prominent men in America, met in New York and endorsed Virginia’s position. Its resolu- tions began by affirming the “allegiance” of all colonists to the “Crown of Great Britain” and their “due subordination” to Parliament. But they went on to insist that the right to consent to taxation was “essential to the freedom of a people.” Soon, merchants throughout the colonies agreed to boycott British goods until Parliament repealed the Stamp Act. This was the first major cooperative action among Britain’s mainland colonies. In a sense, by seeking to impose uniformity on the colonies rather than dealing with them individually as in the past, Parliament had inadvertently united America.

What were the roots and significance of the Stamp Act controversy?

This teapot protesting the Stamp

Act was produced in England and

marketed in colonial America,

illustrating the close political and

economic connections between

the two.

Views of the British empire

“No taxation without representation”



Chapter 5  The American Revolution144

Liberty and Resistance

No word was more frequently invoked by critics of the Stamp Act than “liberty.” Throughout the colonies, opponents of the new tax staged mock funerals in which liberty’s coffin was carried to a burial ground, only to have the occupant miraculously revived at the last moment, whereupon the assembled crowd repaired to a tavern to celebrate. As the crisis contin- ued, symbols of liberty proliferated. The large elm tree in Boston on which protesters had hanged an effigy of the stamp distributor Andrew Oliver to persuade him to resign his post came to be known as the Liberty Tree. Its image soon appeared in prints and pamphlets throughout the colonies.

Colonial leaders resolved to prevent the new law’s implementation, and by and large they succeeded. Even before the passage of the Stamp Act, a Committee of Correspondence in Boston communicated with other colonies to encourage opposition to the Sugar and Currency Acts. Now, such committees sprang up in other colonies, exchanging ideas and infor- mation about resistance. Initiated by colonial elites, the movement against the Stamp Act quickly drew in a far broader range of Americans. The act, wrote John Adams, who drafted a set of widely reprinted resolutions against the measure, had inspired “the people, even to the lowest ranks,” to become “more attentive to their liberties, more inquisitive about them, and more determined to defend them, than they were ever before known.”

Opponents of the Stamp Act, however, did not rely solely on debate. Even before the law went into effect, crowds forced those chosen to admin- ister it to resign and destroyed shipments of stamps. In 1765, New York City residents were organized by the newly created Sons of Liberty, who led them in protest processions, posted notices reading “Liberty, Property, and No Stamps,” and took the lead in enforcing the boycott of British imports.

Stunned by the ferocity of American resistance and pressured by London merchants and manufactur- ers who did not wish to lose their American markets, the British government retreated. In 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act. But this concession was accompanied by the Declaratory Act, which rejected Americans’ claims that only their elected representatives could levy taxes. Parliament, proclaimed this measure, possessed the power to pass laws for “the colonies and people of America . . . in all cases whatsoever.” Since the debt-ridden British government continued to need money raised in the colonies, passage of the Declaratory Act promised further conflict.

Organized resistance

The Liberty Tree

A warning by the Sons of Liberty

against using the stamps required by

the Stamp Act, which are shown on

the left.




The Regulators

The Stamp Act crisis was not the only example of violent social turmoil dur- ing the 1760s. Many colonies experienced contentious internal divisions as well. As population moved westward, the conflicting land claims of settlers, speculators, colonial governments, and Indians sparked fierce disputes. As in the Stamp Act crisis, “liberty” was the rallying cry, but in this case liberty had less to do with imperial policy than secure possession of land.

Beginning in the mid-1760s, a group of wealthy residents of the South Carolina backcountry calling themselves Regulators protested the under- representation of western settlements in the colony’s assembly and the legislators’ failure to establish local governments that could regularize land titles and suppress bands of outlaws.

A parallel movement in North Carolina mobilized small farmers, who refused to pay taxes, kidnapped local officials, assaulted the homes of land speculators, merchants, and lawyers, and disrupted court pro- ceedings. Here, the complaint was not a lack of government, but corrupt county authorities. Demanding the democratization of local government, the Regulators condemned the “rich and powerful” (the colony’s elite) who used their political authority to prosper at the expense of “poor industrious” farmers. At their peak, the Regulators numbered around 8,000 armed farmers. The region remained in turmoil until 1771, when, in the “battle of Alamance,” the farmers were suppressed by the colony’s militia.

The emerging rift between Britain and America eventually super- imposed itself on conflicts within the colonies. But the social divisions revealed in the Stamp Act riots and backcountry uprisings made some members of the colonial elite fear that opposition to British measures might unleash turmoil at home. As a result, they were more reluctant to challenge British authority when the next imperial crisis arose.


The Townshend Crisis

In 1767, the government in London decided to impose a new set of taxes on Americans. They were devised by the chancellor of the Exchequer (the cabinet’s chief financial minister), Charles Townshend. In opposing

Backcountry tensions

Social divisions and politics


What were the roots and significance of the Stamp Act controversy?



Chapter 5  The American Revolution146

the Stamp Act, some colonists had seemed to suggest that they would not object if Britain raised revenue by regulating trade. Taking them at their word, Townshend persuaded Parliament to impose new taxes on goods imported into the colonies and to create a new board of customs commissioners to collect them and suppress smuggling. Although many merchants objected to the new enforcement procedures, opposition to the Townshend duties developed more slowly than in the case of the Stamp Act. Leaders in several colonies nonetheless decided in 1768 to reimpose the ban on importing British goods.

The boycott began in Boston and soon spread to the southern colonies. Reliance on American rather than British goods, on homespun clothing rather than imported finery, became a symbol of American resistance. It also reflected, as the colonists saw it, a virtuous spirit of self-sacrifice as compared with the self-indulgence and luxury many Americans were coming to associate with Britain. Women who spun and wove at home so as not to purchase British goods were hailed as Daughters of Liberty.

The idea of using homemade rather than imported goods espe- cially appealed to Chesapeake planters, who found themselves owing increasing amounts of money to British merchants. Nonimportation, wrote George Washington, gave “the extravagant man” an opportunity to “retrench his expenses” by reducing the purchase of British luxuries, without having to advertise to his neighbors that he might be in financial distress.

Urban artisans, who welcomed an end to competition from imported British manufactured goods, strongly supported the boycott. Philadelphia and New York merchants at first were reluctant to take part, although they eventually agreed to go along. Nonimportation threatened their liveli- hoods and raised the prospect of unleashing further lower-class turmoil. As had happened during the Stamp Act crisis, the streets of American cit- ies filled with popular protests against the duties imposed by Parliament. Extralegal local committees attempted to enforce the boycott of British goods.

The Boston Massacre

Boston once again became the focal point of conflict. Royal troops had been stationed in the city in 1768 after rioting that followed the British seizure of the ship Liberty for violating trade regulations. The soldiers, who competed for jobs on Boston’s waterfront with the city’s laborers, became more and more unpopular. On March 5, 1770, a fight between a snowball-throwing


Royal troops in Boston

Homespun clothing, a symbol of American resistance



147T H E R O A D T O R E V O L U T I O N

crowd of Bostonians and British troops escalated into an armed confrontation that left five Bostonians dead. One of those who fell in what came to be called the Boston Massacre was Crispus Attucks, a sailor of mixed Indian-African-white ancestry. The commanding officer and eight soldiers were put on trial in Massachusetts. Ably defended by John Adams, who viewed lower-class crowd actions as a dangerous method of opposing British policies, seven were found not guilty, while two were con- victed of manslaughter. But Paul Revere, a member of the Boston Sons of Liberty and a silversmith and engraver, helped to stir up indignation against the British army by producing a widely circulated (and quite inaccurate) print of the Boston Massacre depicting a line of British soldiers firing into an unarmed crowd.

By 1770, as merchants’ profits shriveled and many members of the colonial elite found they could not do without British goods, the non- importation movement was collapsing. British merchants, who wished to remove a possible source of future interruption of trade, pressed for repeal of the Townshend duties. When the British ministry agreed, leav- ing in place only a tax on tea, and agreed to remove troops from Boston, American merchants quickly abandoned the boycott.

Wilkes and Liberty

Once again, an immediate crisis had been resolved. Nonetheless, many Americans concluded that Britain was succumbing to the same pat- tern of political corruption and decline of liberty that afflicted other countries. The overlap of the Townshend crisis with a controversy in Britain over the treatment of John Wilkes reinforced this sentiment. A radical journalist known for scandalous writings about the king and ministry, Wilkes had been elected to Parliament from London but was expelled from his seat. “Wilkes and Liberty” became a popular rallying cry on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition, rumors circulated in the colonies that the Anglican Church in England planned to send bishops

What key events sharpened the divisions between Britain and the colonists?

The Boston Massacre. Less than a

month after the Boston Massacre of

1770, in which five colonists died,

Paul Revere produced this engraving

of the event. Although it inaccurately

depicts what was actually a

disorganized brawl between residents

of Boston and British soldiers,

this image became one of the

most influential pieces of political

propaganda of the revolutionary era.



Chapter 5  The American Revolution148

to America. Among members of other Protestant denominations, the rumors—strongly denied in London—sparked fears that bishops would establish religious courts like those that had once persecuted Dissenters.

The Tea Act

The next crisis underscored how powerfully events in other parts of Britain’s global empire affected the American colonies. The East India Company, a giant trading monopoly, effectively governed recently acquired British possessions in India. Numerous British merchants, bankers, and other individuals had invested heavily in its stock. A classic speculative bubble ensued, with the price of stock in the company rising sharply and then collapsing. To rescue the company and its investors, the British gov- ernment decided to help it market its enormous holdings of Chinese tea in North America.

To further stimulate its sales and bail out the East India Company, the British government, now headed by Frederick Lord North, offered the company a series of rebates and tax exemptions. These enabled it to dump low-priced tea on the American market, undercutting both established merchants and smugglers.

The tax on tea was not new. But many colonists insisted that to pay it on this large new body of imports would acknowledge Britain’s right to tax the colonies. As tea shipments arrived, resistance developed in the major ports. On December 16, 1773, a group of colonists disguised as Indians boarded three ships at anchor in Boston Harbor and threw more than 300 chests of tea into the water. The event became known as the Boston Tea Party. The loss to the East India Company was around £10,000 (the equivalent of more than $4 million today).

The Intolerable Acts

The British government, declared Lord North, must now demonstrate “whether we have, or have not, any authority in that country.” Its response to the Boston Tea Party was swift and decisive. Parliament closed the port of Boston to all trade until the tea was paid for. It radically altered the Massachusetts Charter of 1691 by curtailing town meetings and authoriz- ing the governor to appoint members to the council—positions previously filled by election. Parliament also empowered military commanders to lodge soldiers in private homes. These measures, called the Coercive or Intolerable Acts by Americans, united the colonies in opposition to what was widely seen as a direct threat to their political freedom.

William Hogarth’s depiction of John

Wilkes holding a liberty cap. Wilkes’s

publication, North Briton, bitterly

attacked the king and prime minister,

for which Wilkes was arrested, tried,

and acquitted by a London jury. He

became a popular symbol of freedom

on both sides of the Atlantic.

British response to the Tea Party




At almost the same time, Parliament passed the Quebec Act. This extended the southern boundary of that Canadian province to the Ohio River and granted legal toleration to the Roman Catholic Church in Canada. The act not only threw into question land claims in the Ohio country but persuaded many colonists that the government in London was conspiring to strengthen Catholicism— dreaded by most Protestants—in its American empire.


The Continental Congress

Opposition to the Intolerable Acts now spread to small towns and rural areas that had not participated actively in previous resistance. In Septem- ber 1774, in the town of Worcester, Massachusetts, 4,600 militiamen from thirty-seven towns (half the adult male population of the entire county) lined both sides of Main Street as the British-appointed officials walked the gauntlet between them. In the same month, a convention of delegates from Massachusetts towns approved a series of resolutions (called the Suffolk Resolves for the county in which Boston is located) that urged Americans to refuse obedience to the new laws, withhold taxes, and prepare for war.

To coordinate resistance to the Intolerable Acts, a Continental Con- g ress convened in Philadelphia that month, bringing together the most prominent political leaders of twelve mainland colonies (Georgia did not take part). From Massachusetts came the “brace of Adamses”—John and his more radical cousin Samuel. Virginia’s seven delegates included George Washington, Richard Henry Lee, and the renowned orator Patrick Henry. “The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders,” Henry declared, “are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American.” In March 1775, Henry concluded a speech urging a Virginia convention to begin military preparations with a legend- ary credo: “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

The Mitred Minuet, a British cartoon

from 1774, shows four Roman

Catholic bishops dancing around a

copy of the Quebec Act. On the left,

British officials Lord Bute, Lord North,

and Lord Mansfield look on, while the

devil oversees the proceedings.

Suffolk Resolves

Leaders of the Congress


What key events sharpened the divisions between Britain and the colonists?



Chapter 5  The American Revolution150

The Continental Association

Before it adjourned at the end of October 1774, the Congress endorsed the Suffolk Resolves and adopted the Continental Association, which called for an almost complete halt to trade with Great Britain and the West Indies (at South Carolina’s insistence, exports of rice to Europe were exempted). Congress authorized local Committees of Safety to oversee its mandates and to take action against “enemies of American liberty,” including busi- nessmen who tried to profit from the sudden scarcity of goods.

The Committees of Safety began the process of transferring effective political power from established governments whose authority derived from Great Britain to extralegal grassroots bodies reflecting the will of the people. By early 1775, some 7,000 men were serving on local committees throughout the colonies, a vast expansion of the “political nation.” The committees became training grounds where small farmers, city artisans, propertyless laborers, and others who had heretofore had little role in gov- ernment discussed political issues and exercised political power. When the New York assembly refused to endorse the association, local commit- tees continued to enforce it anyway.

The Sweets of Liberty

By 1775, talk of liberty pervaded the colonies. The past few years had wit- nessed an endless parade of pamphlets with titles like A Chariot of Liberty and Oration on the Beauties of Liberty. (The latter, a sermon delivered in Boston by Joseph Allen in 1772, became the most popular public address of the years before independence.) Sober men spoke longingly of the “sweets of liberty.” One anonymous essayist reported a “night vision” of the word written in the sun’s rays. Commented a British emigrant who arrived in Maryland early in 1775: “They are all liberty mad.”

As the crisis deepened, Americans increasingly based their claims not simply on the historical rights of Englishmen but on the more abstract language of natural rights and universal freedom. The First Continental Congress defended its actions by appealing to the “principles of the English constitution,” the “liberties of free and natural-born subjects within the realm of England,” and the “immutable law of nature.” John Locke’s theory of natural rights offered a powerful justification for colonial resistance, as did Thomas Jefferson in A Summary View of the Rights of British America, written in 1774. Americans, Jefferson declared, were “a free people claiming their rights, as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.”

The Committees of Safety

Natural rights



151T H E C O M I N G O F I N D E P E N D E N C E

What key events marked the move toward American independence?

The Outbreak of War

By the time the Second Continental Congress convened in May 1775, war had broken out between British soldiers and armed citi- zens of Massachusetts. On April 19, a force of British soldiers marched from Boston toward the nearby town of Concord seeking to seize arms being stockpiled there. Riders from Boston, among them Paul Revere, warned local leaders of the troops’ approach. Militiamen took up arms and tried to resist the British advance. Skirmishes between Americans and British soldiers took place at Lexington and again at Concord. By the time the British retreated to the safety of Boston, some forty-nine Americans and seventy-three members of the Royal Army lay dead.

What the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson would later call “the shot heard ’round the world” began the American War of Independence. In May 1775, Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys from Vermont, together with militiamen from Connecticut led by Benedict Arnold, surrounded Fort Ticonderoga in New York and forced it to surrender. The following winter, Henry Knox, George Washington’s commander of artillery, arranged for some of the Ticonderoga cannon to be dragged hundreds of miles to the east to reinforce the siege of Boston, where British forces were ensconced. On June 17, 1775, two months after Lexington and Concord, the British had dis- lodged colonial militiamen from Breed’s Hill, although only at a heavy cost in casualties. (The battle came to be named after the nearby Bunker Hill.) But the arrival of American cannon in March 1776 and their entrenchment above the city made the British position in Boston untenable. The British army under the command of Sir William Howe was forced to abandon the city. Before leaving, Howe’s forces cut down the original Liberty Tree.

Meanwhile, the Second Continental Congress authorized the raising of an army, printed money to pay for it, and appointed George Washington its commander. In response, Britain declared the colonies in a state of rebellion, dispatched thousands of troops, and ordered the closing of all colonial ports.


By the end of 1775, the breach with Britain seemed irreparable. But many colonists shied away from the idea of independence. Pride in membership in the British empire was still strong, and many political leaders, especially

Conflict in Boston

In March 1776, James Pike, a

soldier in the Massachusetts militia,

carved this scene on his powder

horn to commemorate the battles of

Lexington and Concord. At the center

stands the Liberty Tree.

The Second Continental Congress



Chapter 5  The American Revolution152

in colonies that had experienced internal turmoil, feared that a complete break with the mother country might unleash further conflict.

Such fears affected how colonial leaders responded to the idea of inde- pendence. The elites of Massachusetts and Virginia, who felt supremely confident of their ability to retain authority at home, tended to support a break with Britain. Southern leaders not only were highly protective of their political liberty but also were outraged by a proclamation issued in November 1775 by Lord Dunmore, the British governor and military com- mander in Virginia, offering freedom to any slave who escaped to his lines and bore arms for the king.

In New York and Pennsylvania, however, the diversity of the popula- tion made it difficult to work out a consensus on how far to go in resisting British measures. Many established leaders drew back from further resis- tance. Joseph Galloway, a Pennsylvania leader and delegate to the Second Continental Congress who worked to devise a compromise between British and colonial positions, warned that independence would be accompanied by constant disputes within America. He even predicted a war between the northern and southern colonies.

Paine’s Common Sense

As 1776 dawned, America presented the unusual spectacle of colonists at war against the British empire but still pleading for their rights within it. Ironically, it was a recent emigrant from England, not a colonist from a family long-established on American soil, who grasped the inner logic of the situation and offered a vision of the broad significance of American independence. Thomas Paine had emigrated to Philadelphia late in 1774. He quickly became associated with a group of advocates of the American cause, including John Adams and Dr. Benjamin Rush, a leading Philadelphia physician. It was Rush who suggested to Paine that he write a pamphlet supporting American independence.

Common Sense appeared in January 1776. The pamphlet began not with a recital of colonial grievances but with an attack on the “so much boasted Constitution of England” and the principles of hereditary rule and monarchi- cal government. Rather than being the most perfect system of government in the world, Paine wrote, the English monarchy was headed by “the royal brute of England,” and the English constitution was composed in large part of “the base remains of two ancient tyrannies . . . monarchical tyranny in the person of the king [and] aristocratical tyranny in the persons of the peers.”

Turning to independence, Paine drew on the colonists’ experiences to make his case. “There is something absurd,” he wrote, “in supposing a

The Dunmore proclamation

Fear of domestic turmoil

Paine on monarchy and aristocracy



153T H E C O M I N G O F I N D E P E N D E N C E

What key events marked the move toward American independence?

Continent to be perpetually governed by an island.” With independence, moreover, the colonies could for the first time trade freely with the entire world and insulate themselves from involvement in the endless imperial wars of Europe. Membership in the British empire, Paine insisted, was a burden to the colonies, not a benefit.

Toward the close of the pamphlet, Paine moved beyond practical con- siderations to outline a breathtaking vision of the historical importance of the American Revolution. “The cause of America,” he proclaimed in stirring language, “is in great measure, the cause of all mankind.” The new nation would become the home of freedom, “an asylum for mankind.”

Most of Paine’s ideas were not original. What made Common Sense unique was his mode of expressing them and the audience he addressed. Previous political writings had generally been directed toward the edu- cated elite. Paine, however, pioneered a new style of political writing, one designed to expand dramatically the public sphere where political discus- sion took place. He wrote clearly and directly, and he avoided the complex language and Latin phrases common in pamphlets aimed at educated readers. Common Sense quickly became one of the most successful and influential pamphlets in the history of political writing, selling, by Paine’s estimate, some 150,000 copies. Paine directed that his share of the profits be used to buy supplies for the Continental army.

In the spring of 1776, scores of American communities adopted resolutions calling for a separation from Britain. Only six months elapsed between the appearance of Common Sense and the decision by the Second Continental Congress to sever the colonies’ ties with Great Britain.

The Declaration of Independence

On July 2, 1776, the Congress formally declared the United States an independent nation. Two days later, it approved the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson and revised by the Congress before approval. (See the Appendix for the full text.) Most of the Declaration consists of a lengthy list of grievances directed against King George III, ranging from quartering troops in colonial homes to imposing taxes without the colonists’ consent. One clause in Jefferson’s draft, which con- demned the inhumanity of the slave trade and criticized the king for over- turning colonial laws that sought to restrict the importation of slaves, was deleted by the Congress at the insistence of Georgia and South Carolina.

The Declaration’s enduring impact came not from the complaints against George III but from Jefferson’s preamble, especially the second paragraph, which begins, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all

The cover of Common Sense,

Thomas Paine’s influential pamphlet

denouncing the idea of hereditary

rule and calling for American


Jefferson’s preamble

Colonial grievances



Chapter 5  The American Revolution154

men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” By “unalienable rights,” Jefferson meant rights so basic, so rooted in human nature itself, that no government could take them away.

Jefferson then went on to justify the breach with Britain. Government, he wrote, derives its powers from “the consent of the governed.” When a government threatens its subjects’ natural rights, the people have the authority “to alter or to abolish it.” The Declaration of Independence is ultimately an assertion of the right of revolution.

The Declaration also changed forever the meaning of American free- dom. It completed the shift from the rights of Englishmen to the rights of mankind as the object of American independence. No longer a set of specific rights, no longer a privilege to be enjoyed by a corporate body or people in certain social circumstances, liberty had become a universal entitlement.

When Jefferson substituted the “pursuit of happiness” for property in the familiar triad that opens the Declaration, he tied the new nation’s star to an open-ended, democratic process whereby individuals develop their own potential and seek to realize their own life goals. Individual self- fulfillment, unimpeded by government, would become a central element of American freedom. Tradition would no longer rule the present, and Americans could shape their society as they saw fit.

An Asylum for Mankind

A distinctive definition of nationality resting on American freedom was born in the Revolution. From the beginning, the idea of “American

exceptionalism”—the belief that the United States has a special mission to be a ref- uge from tyranny, a symbol of freedom, and a model for the rest of the world— has occupied a central place in American nationalism. The new nation declared itself, in the words of Virginia leader James Madison, the “workshop of liberty to the Civilized World.” Countless sermons, political tracts, and newspaper articles of the time repeated this idea. Unburdened by the institutions—monarchy, aristocracy, hereditary privilege—that oppressed the peoples of the Old World, America and America alone was the place where the

America as a Symbol of Liberty,

a 1775 engraving from the cover

of the Pennsylvania Magazine,

edited by Thomas Paine soon after

his arrival in America. The shield

displays the colony’s coat of arms.

The female figure holding a liberty

cap is surrounded by weaponry

of the patriotic struggle, including

a cartridge box marked “liberty,”

hanging from a tree (right).

The Declaration and American freedom

“Unalienable rights”




principle of universal freedom could take root. This was why Jefferson addressed the Declaration to “the opinions of mankind,” not just the colonists themselves or Great Britain.

First to add his name to the Declaration of Independence was the Massachusetts merchant John Hancock, president of the Second Continental Congress, with a sig- nature so large, he declared, according to legend, that King George III could read it without his spectacles.

The Global Declaration of Independence

The American colonists were less concerned with securing human rights for all mankind than with winning international recognition in their struggle for independence from Britain. But Jefferson hoped that this rebellion would become “the signal of arousing men to burst the chains . . . and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.” And for more than two centuries, the Declaration has remained an inspiration not only to generations of Americans denied the enjoyment of their natural rights but to colonial peoples around the world seeking independence. The Declaration quickly appeared in French and German translations, although not, at first, in Spanish, since the government feared it would inspire dangerous ideas among the peoples of Spain’s American empire.

In the years since 1776, numerous anti-colonial movements have modeled their own declarations of independence on America’s, often echoing Jefferson’s own words. Today more than half the countries in the world, in places as far-flung as China (issued after the revolution of 1911) and Vietnam (1945), have such declarations, though few of them include a list, like Jefferson’s, of the rights of citizens that their govern- ments cannot abridge.

But even more than the specific language of the Declaration, the principle that legitimate political authority rests on the will of “the people” has been adopted around the world. The idea that “the people” possess rights was quickly internationalized. Slaves in the Caribbean, colonial subjects in India, and indigenous inhabitants of Latin America could all speak this language, to the dismay of those who exercised power over them.

What key events marked the move toward American independence?


Inspired by the American Revolution,

the British reformer John Cartwright

published an appeal for the annual

election of Parliament as essential

to liberty in Britain. He included an

engraving contrasting the principles

of reform, on the left, with despotism,

on the right.

The will of “the people”

Legacy of the Declaration




A recent emigrant from England, Thomas Paine in January 1776 published Common

Sense, a highly influential pamphlet that in stirring language made the case for

American independence.

In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense. . . .

Male and female are the distinctions of nature, good and bad the distinctions of heaven; but how a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest, and distinguished like some new species, is worth enquiring into, and whether they are the means of happiness or of misery to mankind. . . . One of the strongest natural proofs of the folly of hereditary right in kings, is, that nature disapproves it, otherwise she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule, by giving mankind an ass for a lion. . . .

The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth. ’Tis not the affair of a city, a country, a province, or a kingdom, but of a continent—of at least one eighth part of the habitable globe. ’Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity are virtually involved in the context, and will be more or less affected, even to the end of time, by the proceedings now. Now is the seed time of continental union, faith and honor. . . .

I challenge the warmest advocate for reconciliation to show a single advantage that this continent can reap by being connected with Great Britain. . . . But the injuries and disadvantages which we sustain by that connection, are without number. . . . Any submission to, or dependence on, Great Britain, tends directly to involve this Continent in European wars and quarrels, and set us at variance with nations who would otherwise seek our friendship, and against whom we have neither anger nor complaint.

O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! Receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.

From Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)

Chapter 5  The American Revolution156



An English-born Episcopal minister, Jonathan Boucher preached in Virginia from

1759 to 1775, when he returned to England after receiving threats on his life because

of his loyalty to the crown. In 1797 he published in London a series of sermons he had

delivered in 1775 explaining his opposition to the revolutionary movement.

Obedience to government is every man’s duty, because it is every man’s interest; but it is particularly incumbent on Christians, because . . . it is enjoined by the positive commands of God; and, therefore, when Christians are disobedient to human ordinances, they are also disobedient to God. If the form of government . . . be mild and free, it is our duty to enjoy it with gratitude and with thankfulness and, in particular, to be careful not to abuse it by licentiousness. If it be less indulgent and less liberal than in reason it ought to be, still it is our duty not to disturb and destroy the peace of the community by becoming refractory and rebellious subjects. . . . However humiliating such acquiescence may seem to men of warm and eager minds, the wisdom of God in having made it our duty is manifest. For, as it is the natural temper and bias of the human mind to be impatient under restraint, it was wise and merciful in the blessed Author of our religion . . . with the whole weight of his authority, altogether to discountenance every tendency to disobedience. . . .

Liberty is not the setting at nought and despising established laws—much less the making our own wills the rule of our own actions, or the actions of others . . . but it is the being governed by law and by law only. The Greeks described Eleutheria, or Liberty, as the daughter of Jupiter, the supreme fountain of power and law. . . . Their idea, no doubt, was that liberty was the fair fruit of just authority and that it consisted in men’s being subjected to law. The more carefully well-devised restraints of law are enacted, and the more rigorously they are executed in any country, the greater degree of civil liberty does that country enjoy. To pursue liberty, then, in a manner not warranted by law, whatever the pretense may be, is clearly to be hostile to liberty; and those persons who thus promise you liberty are themselves the servants of corruption.

From Jonathan Boucher, A View of the Causes and

Consequences of the American Revolution (1775)



1. What does Paine see as the global sig-

nificance of the American struggle for


2. Why does Boucher believe that obedi-

ence to government is particularly

important for Christians?

3. How do the two writers differ in their

understanding of freedom?



Chapter 5  The American Revolution158


The Balance of Power

Declaring Americans independent was one thing; winning independence another. The newly created American army confronted the greatest mili- tary power on earth. Viewing the Americans as traitors, Britain resolved to crush the rebellion. On the surface, the balance of power seemed heavily weighted in Britain’s favor. It had a well-trained army (supplemented by hired soldiers from German states like Hesse), the world’s most powerful navy, and experienced military commanders. The Americans had to rely on local militias and an inadequately equipped Continental army.

On the other hand, American soldiers were fighting on their own soil for a cause that inspired devotion and sacrifice. During the eight years of war from 1775 to 1783, some 200,000 men bore arms in the American army (whose soldiers were volunteers) and militias (where service was required of every able-bodied man unless he provided a substitute). The patriots suffered dearly for the cause. Of the colonies’ free white male population aged sixteen to forty-five, one in twenty died in the War of Independence, the equivalent of nearly 3 million deaths in today’s population. But so long as the Americans maintained an army in the field, the idea of independence remained alive no matter how much territory the British occupied.

Despite British power, to conquer the thirteen colonies would be an enormous and expensive task, and it was not at all certain that the public at home wished to pay the additional taxes that a lengthy war would require. Moreover, European rivals, notably France, welcomed the prospect of a British defeat. If the Americans could forge an alliance with France, a world power second only to Britain, it would go a long way toward equal- izing the balance of forces.

Blacks in the Revolution

At the war’s outset, George Washington refused to accept black recruits. But he changed his mind after Lord Dunmore’s 1775 proclamation, which offered freedom to slaves who joined the British cause. Some 5,000 blacks enlisted in state militias and the Continental army and navy. Since individuals drafted into the militia were allowed to provide a substitute, slaves suddenly gained considerable bargaining power. Not a few acquired their freedom by agreeing to serve in place of an owner or his son. In 1778, Rhode Island, with a higher proportion of slaves in its population than any other New England state, formed a black regiment and promised freedom to slaves who enlisted,

Britain’s advantages

American advantages

The role of France

Trading military service for freedom



159S E C U R I N G I N D E P E N D E N C E

How were American forces able to prevail in the Revolutionary War?

while compensating the owners for their loss of property. Blacks who fought under George Washington and in other state mili- tias did so in racially integrated companies (although invariably under white officers). They were the last black American soldiers to do so officially until the Korean War.

Except for South Carolina and Georgia, the southern colonies also enrolled free blacks and slaves to fight. They were not explicitly promised freedom, but many received it individually after the war ended.

Fighting on the side of the British also offered opportunities for freedom. Before his forces were expelled from Virginia, 800 or more slaves had escaped from their owners to join Lord Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment, wearing uniforms that bore the motto “Liberty to Slaves.” Other escaped slaves served the Royal Army as spies, guided their troops through swamps, and worked as military cooks, laundresses, and con- struction workers. George Washington himself saw seventeen of his slaves flee to the British, some of whom signed up to fight the colonists. “There is not a man of them, but would leave us, if they believed they could make their escape,” his cousin Lund Washington reported. “Liberty is sweet.”

The First Years of the War

Had the British commander, Sir William Howe, prosecuted the war more vigorously at the outset, he might have nipped the rebellion in the bud by destroying Washington’s army. But although Washington suffered numerous defeats in the first years of the war, he generally avoided direct confrontations with the British and managed to keep his army intact. Having abandoned Boston, Howe attacked New York City in the summer of 1776. Washington’s army had likewise moved from Massachusetts to Brooklyn to defend the city. Howe pushed American forces back and almost cut off Washington’s retreat across the East River.

Howe pursued the American army but never managed to inflict a decisive defeat. Demoralized by successive failures, however, many American soldiers simply went home. Once 28,000 men, Washington’s army dwindled to fewer than 3,000. To restore morale and regain the initiative, he launched successful surprise attacks on Hessian soldiers

American Foot Soldiers, Yorktown

Campaign, a 1781 watercolor by a

French officer, includes a black soldier

from the First Rhode Island Regiment,

an all-black unit of 250 men.

Early setbacks



Chapter 5  The American Revolution160

Albany Boston


New York

York Philadelphia


Valley Forge


Fort Ticonderoga July 1777

Bennington Aug. 1777

Lexington April 1775

Concord April 1775

Bunker Hill June 1775

Saratoga Oct. 1777

Princeton Jan. 1777

Trenton Dec. 1776

New York City Sep. 1776

MAINE (part of Massachusetts)













How e

How e

Bu rg

oy ne



Clin to


Oh io R


St. L aw

ren ce R


Lake Erie

H uron

Lake Ontario

Atlantic Ocean

0 100 200 miles

British victories American victories Forts British troop movements A i t t

T H E R E V O L U T I O N A R Y W A R I N T H E N O R T H 1 7 7 5 – 1 7 8 1

Key battles in the North during the War of Independence included Lexington and Concord, which began the armed conflict; the

campaign in New York and New Jersey; and Saratoga, sometimes called the turning point of the war.



161S E C U R I N G I N D E P E N D E N C E

How were American forces able to prevail in the Revolutionary War?

at Trenton, New Jersey, on December 26, 1776, and on a British force at Princeton on January 3, 1777. Shortly before crossing the Delaware River to attack the Hessians, Washington had Thomas Paine’s inspiring essay The American Crisis read to his troops. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” Paine wrote. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

The Battle of Saratoga

In the summer of 1777, a second British army, led by General John Burgoyne, advanced south from Canada, hoping to link up with Howe and isolate New England. But in July, Howe instead moved his forces from New York City to attack Philadelphia. In September, the Continental Congress fled to Lancaster in central Pennsylvania, and Howe occupied the City of Brotherly Love. Not having been informed of Burgoyne’s plans, Howe had unintentionally abandoned him. American forces blocked Burgoyne’s way, surrounded his army, and on October 17, 1777, forced him to surrender at Saratoga. The victory provided a significant boost to American morale.

During the winter of 1777–1778, the British army, now commanded by Sir Henry Clinton, was quartered in Philadelphia. (In the Revolution, as in most eighteenth-century wars, fighting came to a halt during the winter.) Meanwhile, Washington’s army remained encamped at Valley Forge, where they suffered terribly from the frigid weather. Men who had other options simply went home. By the end of that difficult winter, recent immigrants and African-Americans made up half the soldiers at Valley Forge, and most of the rest were landless or unskilled laborers.

But Saratoga helped to persuade the French that American victory was possible. In 1778, American diplomats led by Benjamin Franklin concluded a Treaty of Amity and Commerce in which France recognized the United States and agreed to supply military assistance. Soon after- ward, Spain also joined the war on the American side. French assistance would play a decisive part in the war’s end. At the outset, however, the French fleet showed more interest in attacking British outposts in the West Indies than directly aiding the Americans. Nonetheless, French and Spanish entry transformed the War of Independence into a global conflict. By putting the British on the defensive in places ranging from Gibraltar to the West Indies, it greatly complicated their military prospects.

Howe and Burgoyne

Valley Forge

Alliance with France



Chapter 5  The American Revolution162

The War in the South

In 1778, the focus of the war shifted to the South. Here the British hoped to exploit the social tensions between backcountry farmers and wealthy planters that had surfaced in the Regulator movements, to enlist the support of the numerous colonists in the region who remained loyal to the crown, and to disrupt the economy by encouraging slaves to escape. In December 1778, British forces occupied Savannah, Georgia. In May 1780, Clinton captured Charleston, South Carolina, and with it an American army of 5,000 men.

The year 1780 was arguably the low point of the struggle for independence. Congress was essentially bankrupt, and the army went months without being paid. The British seemed successful in playing on social conflicts within the colonies, as thousands of southern Loyalists joined up with British forces (fourteen regiments from Savannah alone) and tens of thousands of slaves sought freedom by fleeing to British lines. In August, Lord Charles Cornwallis routed an American army at Camden, South Carolina. The following month one of Washington’s ablest commanders, Benedict Arnold, defected and almost succeeded in turning over to the British the important fort at West Point on the Hudson River.

But the British failed to turn these advantages into victory. British commanders were unable to consolidate their hold on the South. Wherever their forces went, American militias harassed them. Hit-and-run attacks by militiamen under Francis Marion, called the “swamp fox” because his men emerged from hiding places in swamps to strike swiftly and then dis- appear, eroded the British position in South Carolina. A bloody civil war engulfed North and South Carolina and Georgia, with patriot and Loyalist militias inflicting retribution on each other and plundering the farms of their opponents’ supporters. The brutal treatment of civilians by British forces under Colonel Banastre Tarleton persuaded many Americans to join the patriot cause.

Victory at Last

In January 1781, American forces under Daniel Morgan dealt a crush- ing defeat to Tarleton at Cowpens, South Carolina. Two months later, at Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, General Nathanael Greene, while conducting a campaign of strategic retreats, inflicted heavy losses on Lord Charles Cornwallis, the British commander in the South. Cornwallis moved into Virginia and encamped at Yorktown, located on a peninsula Yorktown

Setbacks in 1780

Militia attacks



163S E C U R I N G I N D E P E N D E N C E

How were American forces able to prevail in the Revolutionary War?

New York




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After 1777, the focus of the War of Independence shifted to the South, where it culminated in 1781

with the British defeat at Yorktown.



Chapter 5  The American Revolution164

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165S E C U R I N G I N D E P E N D E N C E

How were American forces able to prevail in the Revolutionary War?

that juts into Chesapeake Bay. Brilliantly recognizing the opportunity to surround Cornwallis, Washington rushed his forces, augmented by French troops under the Marquis de Lafayette, to block a British escape by land. Meanwhile, a French fleet controlled the mouth of the Chesapeake, preventing supplies and reinforcements from reaching Cornwallis’s army.

Imperial rivalries had helped to create the American colonies. Now, the rivalry of European empires helped to secure American independence. Taking land and sea forces together, more Frenchmen than Americans participated in the decisive Yorktown campaign. On October 19, 1781, Cornwallis surren- dered his army of 8,000 men. When the news reached London, public support for the war evaporated and peace negotiations soon began.

Two years later, in September 1783, American and British negotiators concluded the Treaty of Paris. The American delegation—John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay—achieved one of the greatest diplo- matic triumphs in the country’s history. They not only won recognition of American independence but also gained control of the entire region between Canada and Florida east of the Mississippi River and the right of Americans to fish in Atlantic waters off of Canada (a matter of consider- able importance to New Englanders). At British insistence, the Americans agreed that colonists who had remained loyal to the mother country would not suffer persecution and that Loyalists’ property that had been seized by local and state governments would be restored.

Until independence, the thirteen colonies had formed part of Britain’s American empire, along with Canada and the West Indies. But Canada rebuffed repeated calls to join the War of Independence, and leaders of the West Indies, fearful of slave uprisings, also remained loyal to the crown. With the Treaty of Paris, the United States of America became the Western Hemisphere’s first independent nation. Its boundaries reflected not so much the long-standing unity of a geographical region, but the circum- stances of its birth.

Territorial gains

A French engraving depicts New

Yorkers tearing down the statue of

King George III in July 1776, after

the approval of the Declaration of

Independence. Slaves are doing

the work, while whites look on. The

statue was later melted down to

make bullets for the Continental army.




1. Patrick Henry proclaimed that he was not a Virginian, but rather an American. What unified the colonists and what divided them at the time of the Revolution?

2. Discuss the ramifications of using slaves in the British and Continental armies. Why did the British authorize the use of slaves? Why did the Americans? How did the slaves benefit?

3. Why did the colonists reach the conclusion that member- ship in the empire threatened their freedoms, rather than guaranteed them?

4. How did new ideas of liberty contribute to tensions between the social classes in the American colonies?

5. Why did people in other countries believe that the American Revolution (or the Declaration of Independence) was important to them or their own countries?

6. Summarize the difference of opinion between British offi- cials and colonial leaders over the issues of taxation and representation.

7. How did the actions of the British authorities help to unite the American colonists during the 1760s and 1770s?


virtual representation (p. 141)

writs of assistance (p. 141)

Sugar Act (p. 142)

Committee of Correspondence (p. 144)

Sons of Liberty (p. 144)

Regulators (p. 145)

Daughters of Liberty (p. 146)

Boston Massacre (p. 147)

Boston Tea Party (p. 148)

Lord Dunmore (p. 152)

Common Sense (p. 152)

Declaration of Independence (p. 153)

Treaty of Paris (p. 165)

wwnorton.com /studyspace



A chapter outline

A diagnostic chapter quiz

Interactive maps

Map worksheets

Multimedia documents

Chapter 5  The American Revolution166




1700 Samuel Sewall’s The Selling of Joseph, first antislavery tract in America

1770s Freedom petitions presented by slaves to New England courts and legislatures

1776 Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations

John Adams’s Thoughts on Government

1777 Vermont state constitution bans slavery

1779 Thomas Jefferson writes Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom

Phillipsburgh Proclamation

1780 Ladies’ Association of Philadelphia founded

1782 Deborah Sampson enlists in Continental army



C H A P T E R 6

Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences.

This 1792 painting by Samuel Jennings

is one of the few visual images of the

early republic explicitly linking slavery

with tyranny and liberty with abolition.

The female figure offers books to newly

freed slaves. Other forms of knowledge

depicted include a globe and an artist’s

palette. Beneath her left foot lies a

broken chain. In the background, free

slaves enjoy some leisure time.



Chapter 6  The Revolution Within168

B orn in Massachusetts in 1744, Abigail Adams became one of the revolutionary era’s most articulate and influential women. At a time when educational opportunities for girls were extremely limited, she taught herself by reading books in the library of her father, a Congregational minister. In 1764, she married John Adams. During the War of Independence, with her husband away in Philadelphia and Europe serving the American cause, she stayed behind at their Massachusetts home, raising their four children and managing the family’s farm. The letters they exchanged form one of the most remarkable correspondences in American history. A keen observer of public affairs, she kept her husband informed of events in Massachusetts and offered opinions on political matters. Later, when Adams served as president, he relied on her for advice more than on members of his cabinet.

In March 1776, a few months before the Second Continental Congress declared American independence, Abigail Adams wrote her best-known letter to her husband. She began by commenting indirectly on the evils of slavery. How strong, she wondered, could the “passion for Liberty” be among those “accustomed to deprive their fellow citizens of theirs.” She went on to urge Congress, when it drew up a “Code of Laws” for the new republic, to “remember the ladies.” All men, she warned, “would be tyrants if they could.”

It was the leaders of colonial society who initiated resistance to British taxation. But as Abigail Adams’s letter illustrates, the struggle for American liberty emboldened other colonists to demand more liberty for themselves. At a time when so many Americans—slaves, indentured servants, women, Indians, apprentices, propertyless men—were denied full freedom, the struggle against Britain threw into question many forms of authority and inequality.

Abigail Adams accepted the prevailing belief that a woman’s primary responsibility was to her family. But she resented the “absolute power” husbands exercised over their wives. Her letter is widely remembered today. Less familiar is John Adams’s response, which illuminated how the Revolution had unleashed challenges to all sorts of inherited ideas of deference and authority: “We have been told that our struggle has loosened the bands of government everywhere; that children and apprentices were disobedient; that schools and colleges were grown turbulent; that Indians slighted their guardians, and negroes grew insolent to their masters.” To John Adams, this upheaval, including his wife’s claim to greater freedom, was an affront to the natural order of things. To others, it formed the essence of the American Revolution.

How did equality become

a stronger component of

American freedom after

the Revolution?

How did the expansion

of religious liberty after

the Revolution reflect the

new American ideal of


How did the definition of

economic freedom change

after the Revolution, and

who benefited from the


How did the Revolution

diminish the freedoms of

both Loyalists and Native


What was the impact of the

Revolution on slavery?

How did the Revolution

affect the status of women?




169D E M O C R A T I Z I N G F R E E D O M

How did equality become a stronger component of American freedom after the Revolution?


The Dream of Equality

The American Revolution took place at three levels simultaneously. It was a struggle for national independence, a phase in a century-long global battle among European empires, and a conflict over what kind of nation an independent America should be.

The Revolution unleashed public debates and political and social struggles that enlarged the scope of freedom and challenged inherited structures of power within America. In rejecting the crown and the prin- ciple of hereditary aristocracy, many Americans also rejected the society of privilege, patronage, and fixed status that these institutions embodied. The idea of liberty became a revolutionary rallying cry, a standard by which to judge and challenge homegrown institutions as well as imperial ones.

Jefferson’s seemingly straightforward assertion in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” announced a radical principle whose full implications no one could anticipate. In both Britain and its colonies, a well-ordered society was widely thought to depend on obedience to authority—the power of rulers over their subjects, hus- bands over wives, parents over children, employers over servants and apprentices, slaveholders over slaves. Inequality had been fundamental to the colonial social order; the Revolution challenged it in many ways. Henceforth, American freedom would be forever linked with the idea of equality—equality before the law, equality in political rights, equality of economic opportunity, and, for some, equality of condition. “Whenever I use the words freedom or rights,” wrote Thomas Paine, “I desire to be understood to mean a perfect equality of them. . . . The floor of Freedom is as level as water.”

Expanding the Political Nation

In political, social, and religious life, previously marginalized groups chal- lenged the domination by a privileged few. In the end, the Revolution did not undo the obedience to which male heads of household were entitled from their wives and children, and, at least in the southern states, their slaves. For free men, however, the democratization of freedom was dra- matic. Nowhere was this more evident than in challenges to the traditional limitation of political participation to those who owned property.

Abigail Adams, a portrait by Gilbert

Stuart, painted over several years

beginning in 1800. Stuart told a friend

that, as a young woman, Adams must

have been a “perfect Venus.”

The Revolution and equality

Political participation



Chapter 6  The Revolution Within170

In the political thought of the eighteenth century, “democracy” had several meanings. One, derived from the writings of Aristotle, defined democracy as a system in which the entire people governed directly. However, this was thought to mean mob rule. British thinkers sometimes used the word when referring to the House of Commons, the “democratic” branch of a mixed government. In the wake of the American Revolution, the term came into wider use to express the popular aspirations for greater equality inspired by the struggle for independence.

Throughout the colonies, election campaigns became freewheeling debates on the fundamentals of government. Universal male suffrage, religious toleration, and even the abolition of slavery were discussed not only by the educated elite but also by artisans, small farmers, and laborers, now emerging as a self-conscious element in politics. In many colonies-turned-states, members of the militia demanded the right to elect all their officers and to vote for public officials whether or not they met age and property qualifications. They thereby established the tradition that service in the army enabled excluded groups to stake a claim to full citizenship.

The Revolution in Pennsylvania

The Revolution’s radical potential was more evident in Pennsylvania than in any other state. Nearly the entire prewar elite opposed independence, fearing that severing the tie with Britain would lead to rule by the “rabble” and to attacks on property. The vacuum of political leadership opened the door for the rise of a new pro-independence grouping, based on the artisan and lower-class communities of Philadelphia, and organized in extralegal committees and the local militia.

Staunch advocates of equality, Pennsylvania’s radical leaders par- ticularly attacked property qualifications for voting. “God gave mankind freedom by nature,” declared the anonymous author of the pamphlet The People the Best Governors, “and made every man equal to his neighbors.” The people, therefore, were “the best guardians of their own liberties,” and every free man should be eligible to vote and hold office. Three months after independence, Pennsylvania adopted a new state constitution that sought to institutionalize democracy by concentrating power in a one- house legislature elected annually by all men over age twenty-one who paid taxes. It abolished the office of governor, dispensed with property qualifications for officeholding, and provided that schools with low fees be established in every county. It also included clauses guaranteeing “free- dom of speech, and of writing,” and religious liberty.

John Dickinson’s copy of the

Pennsylvania constitution of 1776,

with handwritten proposals for

changes. Dickinson, one of the

more conservative advocates of

independence, felt the new state

constitution was far too democratic.

He crossed out a provision that all

“free men” should be eligible to hold

office, and another declaring the

people not bound by laws that did

not promote “the common good.”




171D E M O C R A T I Z I N G F R E E D O M

How did equality become a stronger component of American freedom after the Revolution?

The New Constitutions

Like Pennsylvania, every state adopted a new constitution in the aftermath of independence. Nearly all Americans now agreed that their governments must be republics, meaning that their authority rested on the consent of the governed, and that there would be no king or hereditary aristocracy.

In part to counteract what he saw as Pennsylvania’s excessive radi- calism, John Adams in 1776 published Thoughts on Government, which insisted that the new constitutions should create “balanced governments” whose structure would reflect the division of society between the wealthy (represented in the upper house) and ordinary men (who would control the lower). A powerful governor and judiciary would ensure that neither class infringed on the liberty of the other. Adams’s call for two-house legislatures was followed by every state except Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Vermont. But only his own state, Massachusetts, gave the governor an effective veto over laws passed by the legislature. Americans had come to believe that excessive royal authority had undermined British liberty. They had long resented efforts by appointed governors to challenge the power of colonial assemblies. They preferred power to rest with the legislature.

The Right to Vote

The issue of requirements for voting and officeholding proved far more contentious. To John Adams, as conservative on the internal affairs of America as he had been radical on independence, freedom and equality were opposites. Men without property, he believed, had no “judgment of their own,” and the removal of property qualifications, therefore, would “confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks to one com- mon level.” Eliminating traditional social ranks, however, was precisely the aim of the era’s radical democrats.

Democracy gained the least ground in the southern states, whose highly deferential political traditions enabled the landed gentry to retain their control of political affairs. In Virginia and South Carolina, the new constitutions retained property qualifications for voting and authorized the gentry-dominated legislature to choose the governor.

The most democratic new constitutions moved much of the way toward the idea of voting as an entitlement rather than a privilege, but they generally stopped short of universal suffrage, even for free men. Pennsylvania’s constitution no longer required ownership of property, but it retained the taxpaying qualification. As a result, it enfranchised nearly all of the state’s free male population but still barred a small number, mainly

New state constitutions

Power in legislature

The property qualification for suffrage



Chapter 6  The Revolution Within172

paupers and domestic servants, from voting. Nonetheless, even with the taxpaying requirement, it was a dramatic departure from the colonial prac- tice of restricting the suffrage to those who could claim to be economically independent. It elevated “personal liberty,” in the words of one essayist, to a position more important than property ownership in defining the boundar- ies of the political nation.

By the 1780s, except in Virginia, Maryland, and New York, a large majority of the adult white male population could meet voting require- ments. New Jersey’s new state constitution of 1776 granted the suffrage to all “inhabitants” who met a property qualification. Until the state added the word “male” (along with “white”) in 1807, property-owning women, mostly widows, did cast ballots. In the popular language of politics if not in law, freedom and an individual’s right to vote had become interchangeable.


As remarkable as the expansion of political freedom was the Revolution’s impact on American religion. Religious toleration, declared one Virginia patriot, was part of “the common cause of Freedom.” We have already seen that some colonies, like Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, had long made a practice of toleration. But freedom of worship before the Revolution arose more from the reality of religious pluralism than from a well-developed theory of religious liberty. Most colonies supported religious institutions with public funds and discriminated in voting and officeholding against

Freedom and the right to vote

Religious pluralism

A 1771 image of New York City lists

some of the numerous churches

visible from the New Jersey shore,

illustrating the diversity of religions

practiced in the city.



173T O W A R D R E L I G I O U S T O L E R A T I O N

How did the expansion of religious liberty reflect the new American ideal of freedom?

Catholics, Jews, and even dissenting Protestants. On the very eve of inde- pendence, Baptists who refused to pay taxes to support local Congrega- tional ministers were still being jailed in Massachusetts. “While our country are pleading so high for liberty,” the victims complained, “yet they are denying of it to their neighbors.”

Catholic Americans

The War of Independence weakened the deep tradition of American anti-Catholicism. When the Second Continental Congress decided on an ill-fated invasion of Canada, it invited the inhabitants of predominantly Catholic Quebec to join in the struggle against Britain, assuring them that Protestants and Catholics could readily cooperate. In 1778, the United States formed an alliance with France, a Catholic nation. The indispens- able assistance provided by France to American victory strengthened the idea that Catholics had a role to play in the newly independent nation. In fact, this was a marked departure from the traditional notion that the full rights of Englishmen applied only to Protestants. When America’s first Roman Catholic bishop, John Carroll of Maryland, visited Boston in 1791, he received a cordial welcome.

Separating Church and State

Many of the leaders of the Revolution con- sidered it essential for the new nation to shield itself from the unruly passions and violent conflicts that religious differences had inspired during the past three cen- turies. Men like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton viewed religious doctrines through the Enlightenment lens of ratio- nalism and skepticism. They believed in a benevolent Creator but not in supernatural interventions into the affairs of men.

The drive to separate church and state brought together Deists like Jefferson, who hoped to erect a “wall of separation” that would free politics and the exercise of the intellect from religious control, with

Anti-Catholicism weakened

In Side of the Old Lutheran Church

in 1800, York, Pa. A watercolor by

a local artist depicts the interior

of one of the numerous churches

that flourished after independence.

While the choir sings, a man chases

a dog out of the building and

another man stokes the stove. The

institutionalization of religious liberty

was one of the most important results

of the American Revolution.



Chapter 6  The Revolution Within174

members of evangelical sects, who sought to protect religion from the corrupting embrace of government.

The movement toward religious freedom received a major impetus during the revolutionary era. Throughout the new nation, states disestab- lished their established churches—that is, deprived them of public funding and special legal privileges—although in some cases they appropriated money for the general support of Protestant denominations. The seven state constitutions that began with declarations of rights all declared a commitment to “the free exercise of religion.”

To be sure, every state but New York—whose constitution of 1777 established complete religious liberty—kept intact colonial provisions barring Jews from voting and holding public office. Massachusetts retained its Congregationalist establishment well into the nineteenth century. It would not end public financial support for religious institutions until 1833. Throughout the country, however, Catholics gained the right to wor- ship without persecution.

Jefferson and Religious Liberty

In Virginia, Thomas Jefferson drew up a Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, which was introduced in the House of Burgesses in 1779 and adopted, after considerable controversy, in 1786. Jefferson’s bill, whose preamble declared that God “hath created the mind free,” eliminated reli- gious requirements for voting and officeholding and government financial support for churches, and barred the state from “forcing” individuals to adopt one or another religious outlook. Late in life, Jefferson would list this measure, along with the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the University of Virginia, as the three accomplishments (leaving out his two terms as president) for which he wished to be remembered.

Religious liberty became the model for the revolutionary genera- tion’s definition of “rights” as private matters that must be protected from governmental interference. In an overwhelmingly Christian (though not necessarily churchgoing) nation, the separation of church and state drew a sharp line between public authority and a realm defined as “private,” reinforcing the idea that rights exist as restraints on the power of govern- ment. It also offered a new justification for the idea of the United States as a beacon of liberty. In successfully opposing a Virginia tax for the general support of Christian churches, James Madison insisted that one reason for the complete separation of church and state was to reinforce the principle that the new nation offered “asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every nation and religion.”

Disestablishing churches

Limits of religious freedom

Definition of “rights”



175T O W A R D R E L I G I O U S T O L E R A T I O N

How did the expansion of religious liberty reflect the new American ideal of freedom?

The Revolution did not end the influence of religion on American society—quite the reverse. Thanks to religious freedom, the early repub lic witnessed an amazing pro- liferation of religious denominations. The most well- established churches—Anglican, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist—found themselves con- stantly challenged by upstarts like Free-Will Baptists and Universalists. Today, even as debate continues over the proper relationship between spiritual and political authority, more than 1,300 religions are practiced in the United States.

Christian Republicanism

Despite the separation of church and state, colonial leaders were not hostile to religion. Indeed, religious and secular lan- guage merged in the struggle for independence, producing an outlook scholars have called Chris tian Republicanism. Proponents of evangelical religion and of republican government both believed that in the absence of some kind of moral restraint (provided by religion and government), human nature was likely to succumb to corruption and vice. Samuel Adams, for example, believed the new nation would become a “Christian Sparta,” in which Christianity and personal self-discipline underpinned both personal and national progress. American religious leaders inter- preted the American Revolution as a divinely sanctioned event, part of God’s plan to promote the development of a good society. Rather than being so sinful that it would have to be destroyed before Christ returned, as many ministers had previously preached, the world, the Revolution demonstrated, could be perfected.

A Virtuous Citizenry

Patriot leaders worried about the character of future citizens, especially how to encourage the quality of “virtue,” the ability to sacrifice self-interest for the public good. Some, like Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Rush, put forward plans for the establishment of free, state-supported public schools. These would instruct future citizens in what Adams called “the principles of freedom,” equipping them for participation in the now- expanded public sphere and for the wise election of representatives. A broad diffusion of

Circle of the Social and Benevolent

Affections, an engraving in The

Columbian Magazine, 1789, illustrates

various admirable qualities radiating

outward from the virtuous citizen,

including love for one’s family,

community, nation, and all humanity.

Affection only for those of the

same religion or “colour” is labeled


Plans for public schools



Chapter 6  The Revolution Within176

knowledge was essential for a government based on the will of the people to survive and for America to avoid the fixed class structure of Europe. No nation, Jefferson wrote, could “expect to be ignorant and free.”


Toward Free Labor

In economic as well as political and religious affairs, the Revolution rewrote the definition of freedom. In colonial America, slavery was one part of a broad spectrum of kinds of unfree labor. In the generation after independence, with the rapid decline of indentured servitude and apprenticeship and the transformation of paid domestic service into an occupation for blacks and white females, the halfway houses between slavery and freedom disappeared, at least for white men.

The democratization of freedom contributed to these changes. The lack of freedom inherent in apprenticeship and servitude increasingly came to be seen as incompatible with republican citizenship. In 1784, a group of “respectable” New Yorkers released a newly arrived shipload of indentured servants on the grounds that their status was “contrary to . . . the idea of liberty this country has so happily established.” By 1800, indentured servitude had all but disappeared from the United States. This development sharpened the distinction between freedom and slavery and between a northern economy relying on what would come to be called “free labor” (that is, working for wages or owning a farm or shop) and a southern economy ever more heavily dependent on the labor of slaves.

The Soul of a Republic

Americans of the revolutionary generation were preoccupied with the social conditions of freedom. Could a republic survive with a sizable dependent class of citizens? “A general and tolerably equal distribution of landed property,” proclaimed the educator and newspaper editor Noah Webster, “is the whole basis of national freedom.” “Equality,” he added, was “the very soul of a republic.” At the Revolution’s radical edge, some patriots believed that government had a responsibility to limit accu- mulations of property in the name of equality. To most free Americans, however, “equality” meant equal opportunity, rather than equality of

Unfree labor

Decline in indentured servitude

Equal opportunity rather than equality of condition



177D E F I N I N G E C O N O M I C F R E E D O M

How did the definition of economic freedom change after the Revolution, and who benefited?

condition. Many leaders of the Revolution nevertheless assumed that in the exceptional circumstances of the New World, with its vast areas of available land and large population of independent farmers and artisans, the natural workings of society would produce justice, liberty, and equality.

Like many other Americans of his generation, Thomas Jefferson believed that to lack economic resources was to lack freedom. Among his achievements included laws passed by Virginia abolishing entail (the limi- tation of inheritance to a specified line of heirs to keep an estate within a family) and primogeniture (the practice of passing a family’s land entirely to the eldest son). These measures, he believed, would help to prevent the rise of a “future aristocracy.”

The Politics of Inflation

The Revolution thrust to the forefront of politics debates over whether local or national authorities should take steps to bolster household inde- pendence and protect Americans’ livelihoods by limiting price increases. To finance the war, Congress issued hundreds of millions of dollars in paper money. Coupled with wartime disruption of agriculture and trade and the hoarding of goods by some Americans hoping to profit from short- ages, this produced an enormous increase in prices.

Between 1776 and 1779, more than thirty incidents took place in which crowds confronted merchants accused of holding scarce goods off the mar- ket. Often, they seized stocks of food and sold them at the traditional “just price,” a form of protest common in eighteenth-century England. In one such incident, a crowd of 100 Massachusetts women accused an “eminent, wealthy, stingy merchant” of hoarding coffee, opened his warehouse, and

View from Bushongo Tavern, an

engraving from The Columbian

Magazine, 1788, depicts the

landscape of York County,

Pennsylvania, exemplifying the kind of

rural independence many Americans

thought essential to freedom.

Responses to wartime inflation

Abolishing entail and primogeniture



Chapter 6  The Revolution Within178

carted off the goods. “A large concourse of men,” wrote Abigail Adams, “stood amazed, silent spectators of the whole transaction.”

The Debate over Free Trade

In 1779, with inflation totally out of control (in one month, prices in Philadelphia jumped 45 percent), Congress urged states to adopt measures to fix wages and prices. This request reflected the belief that the task of republican government was to promote the public good, not individuals’ self-interest. But when a Committee of Safety tried to enforce price controls, it met spirited opposition from merchants and other advocates of a free market.

In opposition to the traditional view that men should sacrifice for the public good, believers in free trade argued that economic development arose from economic self-interest. Adam Smith’s great treatise on econom- ics, The Wealth of Nations, published in England in 1776, was beginning to become known in the United States. Smith’s argument that the “invisible hand” of the free market directed economic life more effectively and fairly than governmental intervention offered intellectual justification for those who believed that the economy should be left to regulate itself.

Advocates of independence had envisioned America, released from the British Navigation Acts, trading freely with all the world. Opponents of price controls advocated free trade at home as well. “Natural liberty” would regulate prices. Here were two competing conceptions of economic freedom—one based on the traditional view that the interests of the com- munity took precedence over the property rights of individuals, the other that unregulated economic freedom would produce social harmony and public gain. After 1779, state and federal efforts to regulate prices ceased. But the clash between these two visions of economic freedom would con- tinue long after independence had been achieved.


Colonial Loyalists

Not all Americans shared in the democratization of freedom brought on by the American Revolution. Loyalists—those who retained their allegiance to the crown—experienced the conflict and its aftermath as a loss of liberty. Many leading Loyalists had supported American resistance in the 1760s

A cartoon from 1777 illustrates

discontent with rising prices. One

soldier identifies “extortioners” as

“the worst enemies of the country.”

Another complains about serving

“my country for sixteen pence

per day.”

Two visions of economic freedom



179T H E L I M I T S O F L I B E R T Y

How did the Revolution diminish the freedoms of both Loyalists and Native Americans?

but drew back at the prospect of independence and war. Altogether, an estimated 20 to 25 percent of free Americans remained loyal to the British, and nearly 20,000 fought on their side.

There were Loyalists in every colony, but they were most numer- ous in New York, Pennsylvania, and the backcountry of the Carolinas and Georgia. Some were wealthy men whose livelihoods depended on close working relationships with Britain—lawyers, merchants, Anglican ministers, and imperial officials. Many feared anarchy in the event of an American victory.

The struggle for independence heightened existing tensions between ethnic groups and social classes within the colonies. Some Loyalist ethnic minorities, like Highland Scots in North Carolina, feared that local majori- ties would infringe on their cultural autonomy. In the South, many back- country farmers who had long resented the domination of public affairs by wealthy planters sided with the British, as did numerous slaves, who hoped an American defeat would bring them freedom.

The Loyalists’ Plight

The War of Independence was in some respects a civil war among Americans. The new state governments, or in other instances crowds of patriots, suppressed newspapers thought to be loyal to Britain. Pennsylvania arrested and seized the property of Quak ers, Mennonites, and Moravians—pacifist denominations who refused to bear arms because of their religious beliefs. With the approval of Congress, many states required residents to take oaths of allegiance to the new nation. Those who refused were d enied the right to vote and in many cases forced into exile. Some wealthy Loyalists saw their land confiscated and sold at auction.

When the war ended, as many as 60,000 Loyalists (including 10,000 slaves) were banished from the United States or emigrated voluntarily—mostly to Britain, Canada, or the West Indies—rather than live in an independent United States. But for those who remained, hostility proved to be short-lived. In the Treaty of Paris of 1783, as noted in Chapter 5, Americans pledged to end the persecution of Loyalists by state and local governments and to restore property seized during the war. Loyalists who did not leave the country were quickly reintegrated

A 1780 British cartoon commenting

on the “cruel fate” of American

Loyalists. Pro-independence colonists

are likened to savage Indians.

Social bases of loyalism

A sizable Loyalist population



Chapter 6  The Revolution Within180






MAINE (part of MA)

















St . P i e r re & Mi que lon ( France)

Be rmuda


Lake Superior

La ke

M ic

hi ga

n Lake H


Lak e E


L. O ntario


Gulf of Mexico

Hudson Bay

Atlantic Ocean





400 miles

400 kilometers

Strongly Loyalist colonists Loyalists or neutral Indians Neutral colonists Strong patriot support Other British territory


The Revolutionary War was, in some ways, a civil war within the colonies. There were Loyalists in

every colony; they were most numerous in New York and North and South Carolina.



181T H E L I M I T S O F L I B E R T Y

How did the Revolution diminish the freedoms of both Loyalists and Native Americans?

into American society, although confiscated Loyalist property was not returned.

The Indians’ Revolution

Another group for whom American independence spelled a loss of freedom—the Indians—was less fortunate. About 200,000 Native Ameri cans lived east of the Mississippi River in 1790. Like white Americans, Indians divided in allegiance during the War of Indepen- dence. Some, like the Stockbridge tribe in Massachusetts, suffered heavy losses fighting the British. Many tribes tried to maintain neutrality, only to see themselves break into pro-American and pro-British factions. Most of the Iroquois nations sided with the British, but the Oneida joined the Americans. Despite strenuous efforts to avoid conflict, members of the Iroquois Confederacy for the first time faced each other in battle. (After the war, the Oneida submitted to Congress claims for losses suf- fered during the war, including sheep, hogs, kettles, frying pans, plows, and pewter plates—evidence of how fully they had been integrated into the market economy.) In the South, younger Cherokee leaders joined the British while older chiefs tended to favor the Americans. Other southern tribes like the Choctaw and Creek remained loyal to the crown.

Among the grievances Jefferson listed in the Declaration of Inde- pendence was Britain’s enlisting “savages” to fight on its side. But in the war that raged throughout the western frontier, savagery was not confined to either combatant. In the Ohio country, the British encouraged Indian allies to burn frontier farms and settlements. For their part, otherwise humane patriot leaders ignored the traditional rules of warfare when it came to Indians. Washington dispatched an expedition, led by General John Sullivan, against hostile Iroquois, with the aim of “the total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible.” After his campaign ended, Sullivan reported that he had burned forty Indian towns, destroyed thousands of bushels of corn, and uprooted a vast number of fruit trees and vegetable gardens.

Independence created governments democratically accountable to voters who coveted Indian land. But liberty for whites meant loss of liberty for Indians. Independence offered the opportunity to complete the process of dispossessing Indians of their rich lands in upstate New York, the Ohio Valley, and the southern backcountry. The only hope for the Indians, Jefferson wrote, lay in their “removal beyond the Mississippi.”

American independence, a group of visiting Indians told the Spanish governor of St. Louis, was “the greatest blow that could have been dealt

Indians’ allegiances during the War of Independence

Savage warfare

Dispossession of Indian lands



Chapter 6  The Revolution Within182

us.” The Treaty of Paris marked the culmination of a century in which the balance of power in eastern North America shifted away from the Indians and toward white Americans. In the treaty, the British abandoned their Indian allies, agreeing to recognize American sovereignty over the entire region east of the Mississippi River, completely ignoring the Indian pres- ence. In the end there seemed to be no permanent place for the descendants of the continent’s native population in a new nation bent on creating an empire in the West.


Although Indians experienced American independence as a real threat to their own liberty, African-Americans saw in the ideals of the Revolution and the reality of war an opportunity to claim freedom. When the United States declared its independence in 1776, the slave population had grown to 500,000, about one-fifth of the new nation’s inhabitants.

The Language of Slavery and Freedom

Slavery played a central part in the language of revolution. Apart from “liberty,” it was the word most frequently invoked in the era’s legal and political literature. In the era’s debates over British rule, slavery was pri- marily a political category, shorthand for the denial of one’s personal and political rights by arbitrary government. Those who lacked a voice in pub- lic affairs, declared a 1769 petition demanding an expansion of the right to vote in Britain, were “enslaved.”

The presence of hundreds of thousands of slaves powerfully affected the meaning of freedom for the leaders of the American Revolution.

In a famous speech to Parliament warning against attempts to intimidate the colonies, the British statesman Edmund Burke sug- gested that familiarity with slavery made colonial leaders unusually sensitive to threats to their own liberties. Where free- dom was a privilege, not a common right, he observed, “those who are free are by far the most proud and jealous of their freedom.” On the other hand, many British observers

The Treaty of Paris and Indian peoples

Advertisement for newly arrived

slaves, in a Savannah newspaper,

1774. Even as colonists defended

their own liberty against the British,

the buying and selling of slaves




183S L A V E R Y A N D T H E R E V O L U T I O N

What was the impact of the Revolution on slavery?

could not resist pointing out the colonists’ apparent hypocrisy. “How is it,” asked Dr. Samuel Johnson, “that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of negroes?”

Obstacles to Abolition

The contradiction between freedom and slavery seems so self-evident that it is difficult today to appreciate the power of the obstacles to abolition. At the time of the Revolution, slavery was already an old institution in America. It existed in every colony and formed the basis of the economy and social structure from Maryland southward. Virtually every founding father owned slaves at one point in his life, including not only southern planters but northern merchants, lawyers, and farmers. (John Adams and Tom Paine were notable exceptions.) Thomas Jefferson owned more than 100 slaves when he wrote of mankind’s unalienable right to liberty, and everything he cherished in his own manner of life, from lavish entertain- ments to the leisure that made possible the pursuit of arts and sciences, ultimately rested on slave labor.

Some patriots, in fact, argued that slavery for blacks made freedom possible for whites. Eliminating the great bulk of the dependent poor from the political nation left the public arena to men of propertied indepen- dence. Owning slaves offered a route to the economic autonomy widely deemed necessary for genuine freedom, a point driven home by a 1780 Virginia law that rewarded veterans of the War of Independence with 300 acres of land—and a slave.

The Cause of General Liberty

Nonetheless, by imparting so absolute a value to liberty and defining free- dom as a universal entitlement rather than a set of rights specific to a par- ticular place or people, the Revolution inevitably raised questions about the status of slavery in the new nation. Before independence, there had been little public discussion of the institution, even though enlightened opinion in the Atlantic world had come to view slavery as morally wrong and economically inefficient, a relic of a barbarous past.

Samuel Sewall, a Boston merchant, published The Selling of Joseph in 1700, the first antislavery tract printed in America. All “the sons of Adam,” Sewall insisted, were entitled to “have equal right unto liberty.” During the course of the eighteenth century, antislavery sentiments had spread among Pennsylvania’s Quakers, whose belief that all persons possessed the divine “inner light” made them particularly receptive.

Slavery entrenched

Slavery amidst freedom

Freedom as universal



Chapter 6  The Revolution Within184

But it was during the revolutionary era that slavery for the first time became a focus of public debate. The Pennsylvania patriot Benjamin Rush in 1773 called on “advocates for American liberty” to “espouse the cause of . . . general liberty” and warned that slavery was one of those “national crimes” that one day would bring “national punishment.”

Petitions for Freedom

The Revolution inspired widespread hopes that slavery could be removed from American life. Most dramatically, slaves themselves appreciated that by defining freedom as a universal right, the leaders of the Revolution had devised a weapon that could be used against their own bondage. The lan- guage of liberty echoed in slave communities, North and South. The most insistent advocates of freedom as a universal entitlement were African- Americans, who demanded that the leaders of the struggle for indepen- dence live up to their self-proclaimed creed.

The first concrete steps toward emancipation in revolutionary America were “freedom petitions”—arguments for liberty presented to New England’s courts and legislatures in the early 1770s by enslaved African-Americans. How, one such petition asked, could America “seek release from English tyranny and not seek the same for disadvantaged Africans in her midst?” The turmoil of war offered other avenues to free- dom. Many slaves ran away from their masters and tried to pass as free- born. The number of fugitive-slave advertisements in colonial newspapers rose dramatically in the 1770s and 1780s. As one owner put it in accounting for his slave Jim’s escape, “I believe he has nothing in view but freedom.”

In 1776, the year of American independence, Lemuel Haynes, a black member of the Massa-

chusetts militia and later a celebrated minister, urged Americans to “extend” their concep- tion of freedom. If liberty were truly “an innate principle” for all mankind, Haynes insisted, “even an African [had] as equally

good a right to his liberty in common with Englishmen.” Like Haynes, many black

writers and leaders sought to make white Americans understand slavery as a concrete reality—the denial of all the essential ele-

ments of freedom—not a metaphor for lack of political representation, as many whites used

the word.

African-Americans advocates for freedom

A tray painted by an unknown artist in

the early nineteenth century portrays

Lemuel Haynes, a celebrated black

preacher and critic of slavery.



185S L A V E R Y A N D T H E R E V O L U T I O N

What was the impact of the Revolution on slavery?

Most slaves of the revolutionary era were only one or two generations removed from Africa. They did not need the ideology of the Revolution to persuade them that freedom was a birthright—the experience of their parents and grandparents suggested as much. “My love of freedom,” wrote the black poet Phillis Wheatley in 1783, arose from the “cruel fate” of being “snatch’d from Afric’s” shore. Yet when blacks invoked the Revolution’s ideology of liberty to demand their own rights and defined freedom as a universal entitlement, they demonstrated how American they had become.

British Emancipators

As noted in the previous chapter, some 5,000 slaves fought for American independence, and many thereby gained their freedom. Yet far more slaves obtained liberty from the British. Lord Dunmore’s proclamation of 1775, and the Phillipsburgh Proclamation of General Henry Clinton issued four years later, offered sanctuary to slaves who escaped to British lines. All told, nearly 100,000 slaves, including one-quarter of all the slaves in South Carolina and one-third of those in Georgia, deserted their owners and fled to British lines. This was by far the largest exodus from the planta- tions until the outbreak of the Civil War.

Some of these escaped slaves were recaptured as the tide of battle turned in the patriots’ favor. But at the war’s end, more than 15,000 black men, women, and children accompanied the British out of the country. They ended up in Nova Scotia, England, and Sierra Leone, a settlement for former slaves from the United States established by the British on the coast of West Africa. Some were re-enslaved in the West Indies.

The issue of compensation for the slaves who departed with the British poisoned relations between Britain and the new United States for decades to come. Finally, in 1827, Britain agreed to make payments to 1,100 Americans who claimed they had been improperly deprived of their slave property.

Voluntary Emancipations

For a brief moment, the revolutionary upheaval appeared to threaten the continued existence of slavery. During the War of Independence, nearly every state prohibited or discouraged the further importation of slaves from Africa. The war left much of the plantation South in ruins. During the 1780s and 1790s, a considerable number of slaveholders, especially in Virginia and Maryland, voluntarily emancipated their slaves. In 1796, for example, Richard Randolph, a member of a prominent Virginia family, drafted a will

A portrait of the poet Phillis Wheatley


Voluntary emancipations in the South

Freedom through the British




From their home in Massachusetts, Abigail Adams maintained a lively correspon-

dence with her husband while he was in Philadelphia serving in the Continental

Congress. In this letter, she suggests some of the limits of the patriots’ commitment

to liberty.

I wish you would write me a letter half as long as I write you, and tell me if you may where your fleet have gone? What sort of defense Virginia can make against our common enemy? Whether it is so situated as to make an able defense? . . . I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for Liberty cannot be equally strong in the breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow creatures of theirs. Of this I am certain, that it is not founded upon that generous and Christian principle of doing to others as we would that others should do unto us. . . .

I long to hear that you have declared an independency, and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any such laws in which we have no voice, or representation.

That your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend. Why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity? Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your sex. Regard us then as beings placed by providence under your protection and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness.

From Abigail Adams to John Adams,

Braintree, Mass. (March 31, 1776)

Chapter 6  The Revolution Within186




Many slaves saw the struggle for independence as an opportunity to assert their

own claims to freedom. Among the first efforts toward abolition were petitions by

Massachusetts slaves to their legislature.

The efforts made by the legislative of this province in their last sessions to free themselves from slavery, gave us, who are in that deplorable state, a high degree of satisfaction. We expect great things from men who have made such a noble stand against the designs of their fellow-men to enslave them. We cannot but wish and hope Sir, that you will have the same grand object, we mean civil and religious liberty, in view in your next session. The divine spirit of freedom, seems to fire every breast on this continent. . . .

* * * Your petitioners apprehend that they have in common with all other men a natural and

unalienable right to that freedom which the great parent of the universe hath bestowed equally on all mankind and which they have never forfeited by any compact or agreement whatever but [they] were unjustly dragged by the hand of cruel power from their dearest friends and . . . from a populous, pleasant, and plentiful country and in violation of laws of nature and of nations and in defiance of all the tender feelings of humanity brought here . . . to be sold like beast[s] of burden . . . among a people professing the mild religion of Jesus. . . .

In imitation of the laudable example of the good people of these states your petitioners have long and patiently waited the event of petition after petition by them presented to the legislative body. . . . They cannot but express their astonishment that it has never been considered that every principle from which America has acted in the course of their unhappy difficulties with Great Britain pleads stronger than a thousand arguments in favor of your petitioners [and their desire] to be restored to the enjoyment of that which is the natural right of all men.

From Petitions of Slaves to

the Massachusetts Legislature (1773 and 1777)


1. What does Abigail Adams have in

mind when she refers to the “unlimited

power” husbands exercise over their


2. How do the slaves employ the principles

of the Revolution for their own aims?

3. What do these documents suggest

about the boundaries of freedom in the

era of the American Revolution?



Chapter 6  The Revolution Within188

that condemned slavery as an “infamous practice,” provided for the freedom of about 90 slaves, and set aside part of his land for them to own. Farther south, however, voluntary emancipation never got under way. Even dur- ing the war, when South Carolina needed more troops, the colony’s leaders rejected the idea of emancipating some blacks to aid in the fight against the British. They would rather lose the war than lose their slaves.

Abolition in the North

Between 1777 (when Vermont drew up a constitution that banned slavery) and 1804 (when New Jersey acted), every state north of Maryland took steps toward emancipation, the first time in recorded history that legisla- tive power had been invoked to eradicate slavery. But even here, where slavery was peripheral to the economy, the method of abolition reflected how property rights impeded emancipation. Generally, abolition laws did not free living slaves. Instead, they provided for the liberty of any child born in the future to a slave mother, but only after he or she had served the mother’s master until adulthood as compensation for the owner’s future economic loss.

Because of these legal provisions, abolition in the North was a slow, drawn-out process. The first national census, in 1790, recorded 21,000 slaves still living in New York and 11,000 in New Jersey. The New Yorker John Jay, chief justice of the United States, owned five slaves in 1800. As late as 1830, the census revealed that there were still 3,500 slaves in the North.

Free Black Communities

All in all, the Revolution had a contradictory impact on American slavery and, therefore, on American freedom. Gradual as it was, the abolition of slavery in the North drew a line across the new nation, creating the danger- ous division between free and slave states. Abolition in the North, volun- tary emancipation in the Upper South, and the escape of thousands from bondage created, for the first time in American history, a sizable popula- tion of free blacks (many of whose members took new family names like Freeman or Freeland).

On the eve of independence, virtually every black person in America had been a slave. Now, free communities, with their own churches, schools, and leaders, came into existence. They formed a standing chal- lenge to the logic of slavery, a haven for fugitives, and a springboard for further efforts at abolition. From 1776 to 1810, the number of free blacks residing in the United States grew from 10,000 to nearly 200,000, and

Legislation against slavery

A photograph from around 1851 of

Caesar, who had been a slave in

New York State until the institution

was finally ended in 1827.



189D A U G H T E R S O F L I B E R T Y

What was the impact of the Revolution on slavery?

many free black men, especially in the North, enjoyed the right to vote under new state constitutions.

Nonetheless, the stark fact is that slavery survived the War of Inde- pendence and, thanks to the natural increase of the slave population, con- tinued to grow. The national census of 1790 revealed that despite all those who had become free through state laws, voluntary emancipation, and escape, the number of slaves in the United States had grown to 700,000— 200,000 more than in 1776.


Revolutionary Women

The revolutionary generation included numerous women who contrib- uted to the struggle for independence. Deborah Sampson, the daughter of a poor Massachusetts farmer, disguised herself as a man and in 1782, at age twenty-one, enlisted in the Continental army. Ultimately, her command- ing officer discovered her secret but kept it to himself, and she was honor- ably discharged at the end of the war. Years later, Congress awarded her a soldier’s pension. Other patriotic women participated in crowd actions against unscrupulous merchants, raised funds to assist soldiers, contrib- uted homespun goods to the army, and passed along information about British army movements.

Within American households, women participated in the political discussions unleashed by independence. “Was not every fireside,” John Adams later recalled, “a theater of politics?” Gender, nonetheless, formed a boundary limiting those entitled to the full bless- ings of American freedom. The principle of “coverture” (described in Chapter 1) remained intact in the new nation. The husband still held legal authority over the person, property, and choices of his wife. Despite the expansion of democracy, politics remained overwhelmingly a male realm.

For men, political freedom meant the right to self-government, the power to consent to the individuals and political arrangements that ruled over them. For

The 1781 cipher book (a notebook

for mathematics exercises) of Martha

Ryan, a North Carolina girl, contains

images of ships and a port town

and the patriotic slogan “Liberty

or Death,” illustrating how women

shared in the political culture of the

revolutionary era.

Growth in slave population



Chapter 6  The Revolution Within190

women, however, the marriage contract superseded the social contract. A woman’s relationship to the larger society was mediated through her rela- tionship with her husband. In both law and social reality, women lacked the essential qualification of political participation—the opportunity for autonomy based on ownership of property or control of one’s own person. Overall, the republican citizen was, by definition, male.

Republican Motherhood

The Revolution nonetheless did produce an improvement in status for many women. According to the ideology of “republican motherhood” that emerged as a result of independence, women played an indispensable role by training future citizens. Even though republican motherhood ruled out direct female involvement in politics, it encouraged the expansion of educational opportunities for women, so that they could impart political wisdom to their children. Women, wrote Benjamin Rush, needed to have a “suitable education,” to enable them to “instruct their sons in the prin- ciples of liberty and government.”

The idea of republican motherhood reinforced the trend, already evident in the eighteenth century, toward the idea of “companionate” marriage, a voluntary union held together by affection and mutual depen- dency rather than male authority. In her letter to John Adams quoted above, Abigail Adams recommended that men should willingly give up “the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend.”

The structure of family life itself was altered by the Revolution. In colo- nial America, those living within the household often included indentured servants, apprentices, and slaves. After independence, southern slaves remained, rhetorically at least, members of the owner’s “family.” In the North, however, with the rapid decline of various forms of indentured ser- vitude and apprenticeship, a more modern definition of the household as consisting of parents and their children took hold. Hired workers, whether domestic servants or farm laborers, were not considered part of the family.

The Arduous Struggle for Liberty

The Revolution changed the life of virtually every American. As a result of the long struggle against British rule, the public sphere, and with it the right to vote, expanded markedly. Bound labor among whites declined dramatically, religious groups enjoyed greater liberty, blacks mounted a challenge to slavery in which many won their freedom, and women in

Portrait of John and Elizabeth Lloyd

Cadwalader and Their Daughter Anne.

This 1772 portrait of a prominent

Philadelphia businessman and his

family by the American artist Charles

Willson Peale illustrates the emerging

ideal of the “companionate” marriage,

which is based on affection rather

than male authority.

A more modern household

Significance of the Revolution



191D A U G H T E R S O F L I B E R T Y

How did the Revolution affect the status of women?

some ways enjoyed a higher status. On the other hand, for Indians, many Loyalists, and the majority of slaves, American independence meant a deprivation of freedom.

The winds of change were sweeping across the Atlantic world. The year 1776 saw not only Paine’s Common Sense and Jefferson’s Declaration but also the publication in England of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, which attacked the British policy of closely regulating trade, and Jeremy Bentham’s Fragment on Government, which criticized the nature of British government. Moreover, the ideals of the American Revolution helped to inspire countless subsequent struggles for social equality and national independence, from the French Revolution, which exploded in 1789, to the uprising that overthrew the slave system in Haiti in the 1790s, to the Latin American wars for independence in the early nineteenth century, and numerous struggles of colonial peoples for nationhood in the twentieth. But within the new republic, the debate over who should enjoy the blessings of liberty would continue long after independence had been achieved.

America Triumphant and Britannia

in Distress. An elaborate allegory

representing American independence

as a triumph of liberty, from an

almanac published in Boston in

1781. An accompanying key explains

the symbolism: (1) America [on the

right] holds an olive branch of peace

and invites all nations to trade with

her. (2) News of America’s triumph

is broadcast around the world.

(3) Britain, seated next to the devil,

laments the loss of trade with

America. (4) The British flag falls

from a fortress. (5) European ships in

American waters. (6) Benedict Arnold,

the traitor, hangs himself in New York

City [in fact, Arnold died of natural

causes in London in 1801].

The Revolution’s legacy



Chapter 6  The Revolution Within192


1. For the lower classes, colonial society had been based on inequality, deference, and obedience. How did the American Revolution challenge that social order?

2. Why did the Revolution cause more radical changes in Pennsylvania than elsewhere, and how was this radicalism demonstrated in the new state constitution?

3. How did ideas of political freedom affect people’s ideas about economic rights and relationships?

4. What role did the founders foresee for religion in American government and society?

5. What was the impact of the American Revolution on Native Americans?

6. What were the most important features of the new state constitutions?

7. How did popular views of property rights prevent slaves from enjoying all the freedoms of the social contract?

8. How did revolutionary America see both improvements and limitations in women’s roles and rights?


republics (p. 171)

Thoughts on Government (p. 171)

balanced government (p. 171)

suffrage (p. 171)

wall of separation (p. 173)

Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (p. 174)

Christian Republicanism (p. 175)

free labor (p. 176)

inflation (p. 177)

free trade (p. 178)

The Wealth of Nations (p. 178)

Loyalists (p. 178)

General John Sullivan (p. 181)

abolition (p. 183)

freedom petitions (p. 184)

Lemuel Haynes (p. 184)

free blacks (p. 188)

coverture (p. 189)

republican motherhood (p. 190)


wwnorton.com /studyspace



A chapter outline

A diagnostic chapter quiz

Interactive maps

Map worksheets

Multimedia documents



1777 Articles of Confederation drafted

1781 Articles of Confederation ratified

1782 Letters from an American Farmer

1783 Treaty of Paris

1784– Land Ordinances approved 1785

1785 Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia

1786– Shays’s Rebellion 1787

1787 Constitutional Convention

Northwest Ordinance of 1787

1788 The Federalist

Constitution ratified

1790 Naturalization Act

First national census

1791 Little Turtle defeats Arthur St. Clair’s forces

Bill of Rights ratified

1794 Little Turtle defeated at Battle of Fallen Timbers

1795 Treaty of Greenville

1808 Congress prohibits the slave trade



C H A P T E R 7

Banner of the Society of Pewterers.

A banner carried by one of the many

artisan groups that took part in New

York City’s Grand Federal Procession

of 1788 celebrating the ratification of

the Constitution. The banner depicts

artisans at work in their shop and some

of their products. The words “Solid and

Pure,” and the inscription at the upper

right, link the quality of their pewter

to their opinion of the new frame of

government and hopes for the future.

The inscription reads:

The Federal Plan Most Solid and Secure

Americans Their Freedom Will Endure

All Arts Shall Flourish in Columbia’s Land

And All Her Sons Join as One Social Band

1 7 8 3 – 1 7 9 1



Chapter 7  Founding a Nation194

D uring June and July of 1788, civic leaders in cities up and down the Atlantic coast organized colorful pageants to celebrate the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. For one day, Benjamin Rush commented of Philadelphia’s parade, social class “forgot its claims,” as thousands of marchers—rich and poor, businessman and apprentice— joined in a common public ceremony. The parades testified to the strong popular support for the Constitution in the nation’s cities. Elaborate banners and floats gave voice to the hopes inspired by the new structure of government. “May commerce flourish and industry be rewarded,” declared Philadelphia’s mariners and shipbuilders.

Throughout the era of the Revolution, Americans spoke of their nation as a “rising empire,” destined to populate and control the entire North American continent. Whereas Europe’s empires were governed by force, America’s would be different. In Jefferson’s phrase, it would be “an empire of liberty,” bound together by a common devotion to the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Already, the United States exceeded in size Great Britain, Spain, and France combined. As a new nation, it possessed many advantages, including physical isolation from the Old World (a significant asset between 1789 and 1815, when European powers were almost constantly at war), a youthful population certain to grow much larger, and a broad distribution of property ownership and literacy among white citizens.

On the other hand, the nation’s prospects at the time of indepen- dence were not entirely promising. Control of its vast territory was by no means secure. Nearly all of the 3.9 million Americans recorded in the first national census of 1790 lived near the Atlantic coast. Large areas west of the Appalachian Mountains remained in Indian hands. The Brit- ish retained military posts on American territory near the Great Lakes, and there were fears that Spain might close the port of New Orleans to American commerce on the Mississippi River.

Away from navigable waterways, communication and transporta- tion were primitive. The country was overwhelmingly rural—fewer than one American in thirty lived in a place with 8,000 inhabitants or more. The population consisted of numerous ethnic and religious groups and some 700,000 slaves, making unity difficult to achieve. No republican government had ever been established over so vast a territory or with so diverse a population. “We have no Americans in America,” commented John Adams. It would take time for consciousness of a common national- ity to sink deep roots.

Profound questions needed to be answered. What course of develop- ment should the United States follow? How could the competing claims


What were the achieve-

ments and problems

of the Confederation


What major compromises

molded the final content of

the Constitution?

How did Anti-Federalist

concerns raised during the

ratification process lead to

the creation of the Bill of


How did the defini-

tion of citizenship in the

new republic exclude

Native Americans and




195A M E R I C A U N D E R T H E C O N F E D E R A T I O N

What were the achievements and problems of the Confederation government?

of local self-government, sectional interests, and national authority be balanced? Who should be considered full-fledged members of the Ameri- can people, entitled to the blessings of liberty? These issues became the focus of heated debate as the first generation of Americans sought to consolidate their new republic.


The Articles of Confederation

The first written constitution of the United States was the Articles of Confederation, drafted by Congress in 1777 and ratified by the states four years later. The Articles sought to balance the need for national coordina- tion of the War of Independence with widespread fear that centralized political power posed a danger to liberty. It explicitly declared the new national government to be a “perpetual union.” But it resembled less a blueprint for a common government than a treaty for mutual defense— in its own words, a “firm league of friendship” among the states. Under the Articles, the thirteen states retained their individual “sovereignty, freedom, and independence.” The national government consisted of a one- house Congress, in which each state, no matter how large or populous, cast a single vote. There was no president to enforce the laws and no judiciary to interpret them. Major decisions required the approval of nine states rather than a simple majority.

The only powers specifically granted to the national government by the Articles of Confederation were those essential to the struggle for independence—declaring war, conducting foreign affairs, and making treaties with other governments. Congress had no real financial resources. It could coin money but lacked the power to levy taxes or regulate com- merce. Its revenue came mainly from contributions by the individual states. To amend the Articles required the unanimous consent of the states, a formidable obstacle to change.

But Congress in the 1780s did not lack for accomplishments. The most important was establishing national control over land to the west of the thirteen states and devising rules for its settlement. Citing their original royal charters, which granted territory running all the way to the “South Sea” (the Pacific Ocean), states such as Virginia, the Carolinas, and Connecticut claimed immense tracts of western land. Land specu lators, politicians, and prospective settlers from states with clearly

Accomplishments under the Articles

Limitations of the Articles



Chapter 7  Founding a Nation196

defined boundaries insisted that such land must belong to the nation at large. Only after the land-rich states, in the interest of national unity, ceded their western claims to the central government did the Articles win ratification.

Congress, Settlers, and the West

Establishing rules for the settlement of this national domain—the area controlled by the federal government, stretching from the western bound- aries of existing states to the Mississippi River—was critical. Although some Americans spoke of it as if it were empty, some 100,000 Indians inhabited the region. Congress took the position that by aiding the British, Indians had forfeited the right to their lands. But little distinction was made among tribes that had sided with the enemy, aided the patriots, or played no part in the war at all. At peace conferences at Fort Stanwix, New York, in 1784 and Fort McIntosh near Pittsburgh the following year, American representatives demanded and received large surrenders of Indian land north of the Ohio River. Similar treaties soon followed with the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw tribes in the South. The treaties secured national control of a large part of the country’s western territory.

When it came to disposing of western land and regulating its settle- ment, the Confederation government faced conflicting pressures. Many leaders believed that the economic health of the new republic required that farmers have access to land in the West. But they also saw land sales as a potential source of revenue.

The arrival of peace meanwhile triggered a large population move- ment from settled parts of the original states into frontier areas like upstate New York and across the Appalachian Mountains into Kentucky and Tennessee. To settlers, the right to take possession of western lands and use them as they saw fit was an essential element of American freedom. When a group of Ohioans petitioned Congress in 1785, assailing landlords and speculators who monopolized available acreage and asking that pref- erence in land ownership be given to “actual settlements,” their motto was “Grant us Liberty.”

At the same time, however, like British colonial officials before them, many leaders of the new nation feared that an unregulated flow of popula- tion across the Appalachian Mountains would provoke constant warfare with Indians. Moreover, they viewed frontier settlers as disorderly and lacking in proper respect for authority.

Rapid settlement in frontier areas

Treaties to secure Indian land

Frontier fears



197A M E R I C A U N D E R T H E C O N F E D E R A T I O N

What were the achievements and problems of the Confederation government?

MAINE (part of Massachusetts)












Ceded by VIRGINIA, 1784

Ceded by MASSACHUSETTS, 1785 and VIRGINIA, 1784

Ceded by CONNECTICUT, 1786 and VIRGINIA, 1784

Ceded by VIRGINIA, 1784

Ceded by VIRGINIA, 1792

Ceded by NORTH CAROLINA, 1790

Ceded by GEORGIA, 1802

Ceded by SPAIN, 1795 Ceded by GEORGIA, 1802



Ceded by CONNECTICUT, 1800





VERMONT (1791)




St . L

aw ren

ce R .

H ud

so n


Ohio R.

M ississippi R.

Lake Michigan

Lake Superior

Lake H uron

Lak e Er


Lake On tario


Gulf of Mexico

At lant ic Oce an

0 0

100 100

200 miles 200 kilometers

States after land cessions Ceded territory Territory ceded by New York, 1782

The creation of a nationally controlled public domain from western land ceded by the states was one of the main achievements of the

federal government under the Articles of Confederation.

W E S T E R N L A N D S , 1 7 8 2 – 1 8 0 2



Chapter 7  Founding a Nation198

The Land Ordinances

A series of measures approved by Congress during the 1780s defined the terms by which western land would be marketed and settled. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the Ordinance of 1784 established stages of self- government for the West. The region would be divided into districts initially governed by Congress and eventually admitted to the Union as member states. By a single vote, Congress rejected a clause that would have prohib- ited slavery throughout the West. A second ordinance, in 1785, regulated land sales in the region north of the Ohio River, which came to be known as the Old Northwest. Land would be surveyed by the government and then sold in “sections” of a square mile (640 acres) at $1 per acre. In each town- ship, one section would be set aside to provide funds for public education.

Like the British before them, American officials found it difficult to regulate the thirst for new land. The minimum purchase price of $640, however, put public land out of the financial reach of most settlers. They generally ended up buying smaller parcels from speculators and land com- panies. In 1787, Congress decided to sell off large tracts to private groups, including 1.5 million acres to the Ohio Company, organized by New England land speculators and army officers. (This was a different orga- nization from the Ohio Company of the 1750s, mentioned in Chapter 4.) For many years, actual and prospective settlers pressed for a reduction in the price of government-owned land, a movement that did not end until the Homestead Act of 1862 offered free land on the public domain.

A final measure, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, called for the eventual establishment of from three to five states north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi. Thus was enacted the basic principle of what Jefferson called the “empire of liberty”—rather than ruling over the West as a colonial power, the United States would admit the area’s population as equal members of the political system. Territorial expansion and self- government would grow together.

The Northwest Ordinance pledged that “the utmost good faith” would be observed toward local Indians and that their land would not be taken without consent. “It will cost much less,” one congressman noted, “to con- ciliate the good opinion of the Indians than to pay men for destroying them.” But national land policy assumed that whether through purchase, treaties, or voluntary removal, the Indian presence would soon disappear. The ordinance also prohibited slavery in the Old Northwest, a provision that would have far-reaching consequences when the sectional conflict between North and South developed. But for years, owners brought slaves into the area, claiming that they had voluntarily signed long-term labor contracts.

Western settlement and self-government

Price of land

Slavery prohibited

Territorial expansion and self-government



199A M E R I C A U N D E R T H E C O N F E D E R A T I O N

What were the achievements and problems of the Confederation government?

Fort Detroit

Fort Niagara

Fort Michilimackinac


Point- au-Fer

Dutchman’s Point



INDIANA (1816)


OHIO (1803)

MAINE (part of Massachusetts)















St . L

aw ren



H ud

so n


Oh io R


Mississippi R.

Lake Superior

La ke

M ic

hi ga

n Lake H

uron Lak

e E rie

Lake Ontario


Atlantic Ocean

DETAIL OF SECTION 1 square mile (640 acres)

Half-section (320 acres)

Quarter -section

(160 acres)

Half-quarter-section (80 acres) Quarter-quarter-section (40 acres each)

1 Income from section 16reserved for school support




































DETAIL OF TOWNSHIP 36 square miles

1 mile

1 m ile

THE SEVEN RANGES First Area Survey

7t h

Ra ng

e 6t

h Ra

ng e

5t h

Ra ng

e 6

m ile


4t h

Ra ng

e 3r

d Ra

ng e

6 miles

2n d

Ra ng

e 1s

t R an

ge VI










200 miles

200 kilometers

Forts Disputed boundaries Northwest Territory

W E S T E R N O R D I N A N C E S , 1 7 8 4 – 1 7 8 7

A series of ordinances in the 1780s provided for both the surveying and sale of lands in the public domain north of the Ohio River and

the eventual admission of states carved from the area as equal members of the Union.



Chapter 7  Founding a Nation200

The Confederation’s Weaknesses

Whatever the achievements of the Confederation government, in the eyes of many influential Americans they were outweighed by its failings. Both the national government and the country at large faced worsening economic problems. To finance the War of Independence, Congress had borrowed large sums of money by selling interest-bearing bonds and pay- ing soldiers and suppliers in notes to be redeemed in the future. Lacking a secure source of revenue, it found itself unable to pay either interest or the debts themselves. With the United States now outside the British empire, American ships were barred from trading with the West Indies. Imported goods, however, flooded the market, undercutting the business of many craftsmen, driving down wages, and draining money out of the country.

With Congress unable to act, the states adopted their own economic policies. Several imposed tariff duties on goods imported from abroad. In order to increase the amount of currency in circulation and make it easier for individuals to pay their debts, several states printed large sums of paper money. Others enacted laws postponing debt collection. Creditors considered such measures attacks on their property rights.

Shays’s Rebellion

In late 1786 and early 1787, crowds of debt-ridden farmers closed the courts in western Massachusetts to prevent the seizure of their land for failure to pay taxes. They called themselves “regulators”—a term already used by protesters in the Carolina backcountry in the 1760s. The uprising came to be known as Shays’s Rebellion, a name affixed to it by its oppo- nents, after Daniel Shays, one of the leaders and a veteran of the War of Independence. The participants in Shays’s Rebellion modeled their tactics on the crowd activities of the 1760s and 1770s and employed liberty trees and liberty poles as symbols of their cause. They received no sympathy from Governor James Bowdoin, who dispatched an army headed by the former revolutionary war general Benjamin Lincoln. The rebels were dis- persed in January 1787.

Observing Shays’s Rebellion from Paris where he was serving as ambassador, Thomas Jefferson refused to be alarmed. “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing,” he wrote to a friend. “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” But the uprising was the culmination of a series of events in the 1780s that persuaded an influential group of Americans that the national

A Bankruptcy Scene. Creditors

repossess the belongings of a family

unable to pay its debts, while a

woman weeps in the background.

Popular fears of bankruptcy led

several states during the 1780s to

pass laws postponing the collection

of debts.

Uprising in Massachusetts



201A M E R I C A U N D E R T H E C O N F E D E R A T I O N

government must be strengthened so that it could develop uniform economic policies and protect property owners from infringements on their rights by local majorities.

Among proponents of stronger national authority, liberty had lost some of its luster. The danger to individual rights, they came to believe, now arose not from a tyrannical central government, but from the people themselves. “Liberty,” declared James Madison, “may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as the abuses of power.” To put it another way, private liberty, especially the secure enjoyment of property rights, could be endangered by public liberty—unchecked power in the hands of the people.

Nationalists of the 1780s

Madison, a diminutive Virginian and the lifelong disciple and ally of Thomas Jefferson, thought deeply and creatively about the nature of political freedom. He was among the group of talented and well-organized men who spearheaded the movement for a stronger national government. Another was Alexander Hamilton, who had come to North America from the West Indies as a youth. Hamilton was perhaps the most vigor- ous proponent of an “energetic” government that would enable the new nation to become a powerful commercial and diplomatic presence in world affairs. Men like Madison and Hamilton were nation builders. They came to believe during the 1780s that Americans were squandering the fruits of independence and that the country’s future greatness depended on enhancing national authority.

The concerns voiced by critics of the Articles found a sympathetic hearing among men who had developed a national consciousness during the Revolution. Nationalists included army officers, members of Congress accustomed to working with individuals from different states, and diplomats who represented the country abroad. Influential economic interests also desired a stronger national government. Among these were bondholders who despaired of being paid so long as Congress lacked a source of revenue, urban artisans seeking tariff protection from foreign imports, merchants desiring access to British markets, and all those who feared that the states were seriously interfering with property rights.

In September 1786, delegates from six states met at Annapolis, Maryland, to consider ways for better regulating interstate and inter- national commerce. The delegates proposed another gathering, in Phil- adelphia, to amend the Articles of Confederation. Every state except Rhode Island, which had gone the furthest in developing its own debtor relief

What were the achievements and problems of the Confederation government?

James Madison, “father of the

Constitution,” in a miniature portrait

painted by Charles Willson Peale in

1783. Madison was only thirty-six

years old when the Constitutional

Convention met.

Alexander Hamilton, another youthful

leader of the nationalists of the

1780s, was born in the West Indies

in 1755. This portrait was painted

by Charles Willson Peale in the

early 1790s.



Chapter 7  Founding a Nation202

and trade policies, decided to send delegates to the Philadelphia convention. When they assembled in May 1787, they decided to scrap the Articles of Confederation entirely and draft a new constitution for the United States.


The fifty-five men who gathered for the Constitutional Convention included some of the most prominent Americans. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, serving as dip-

lomats in Europe, did not take part. But among the delegates were George Washington (whose willingness to lend his prestige to the gathering and to serve as presiding officer was an enormous asset) and Benjamin Franklin (who had returned to Philadelphia after helping to negotiate the Treaty of Paris of 1783, and was now eighty-one years old). John Adams described the convention as a gathering of men of “ability, weight, and experience.” He might have added, “and wealth.” They earned their liv- ings as lawyers, merchants, planters, and large farmers. Nearly all were quite prosperous by the standards of the day.

At a time when fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans attended college, more than half the delegates had college educations. Their shared social status and political experiences bolstered their common belief in the need to strengthen national authority and curb what one called “the excesses of democracy.” To ensure free and candid debate, the deliberations took place in private. Madison, who believed the out- come would have great consequences for “the cause of liberty throughout the world,” took careful notes. They were not published, however, until 1840, four years after he became the last delegate to pass away.

The Structure of Government

It quickly became apparent that the delegates agreed on many points. The new constitution would create a legislature, an executive, and a national judiciary. Congress would have the power to raise money without rely- ing on the states. States would be prohibited from infringing on the rights of property. And the government would represent the people. Most

The Philadelphia State House (now

called Independence Hall), where the

Declaration of Independence was

signed in 1776 and the Constitutional

Convention took place in 1787.

Elite convention delegates

Legislature, executive, and national judiciary



203A N E W C O N S T I T U T I O N

delegates hoped to find a middle ground between the despotism of mon- archy and aristocracy and what they considered the excesses of popular self-government. “We had been too democratic,” observed George Mason of Virginia, but he warned against the danger of going to “the opposite extreme.” The key to stable, effective republican government was finding a way to balance the competing claims of liberty and power.

Differences quickly emerged over the proper balance between the federal and state governments and between the interests of large and small states. Early in the proceedings, Madison presented what came to be called the Virginia Plan. It proposed the creation of a two-house legislature with a state’s population determining its representation in each. Smaller states, fearing that populous Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania would dominate the new government, rallied behind the New Jersey Plan. This called for a single-house Congress in which each state cast one vote, as under the Articles of Confederation. In the end, a compromise was reached—a two-house Congress consisting of a Senate in which each state had two members, and a House of Representatives apportioned according to population. Senators would be chosen by state legislatures for six-year terms. They were thus insulated from sudden shifts in public opinion. Representatives were to be elected every two years directly by the people.

The Limits of Democracy

Under the Articles of Confederation, no national official had been chosen by popular vote. Thus, the mode of choosing the House of Representatives signaled an expansion of democracy. The Constitution, moreover, imposed neither property nor religious qualifications for voting, leaving it to the states to set voting rules.

Overall, however, the new structure of government was less than democratic. The delegates sought to shield the national government from the popular enthusiasms that had alarmed them during the 1780s and to ensure that the right kind of men held office. The delegates assumed that the Senate would be composed of each state’s most distinguished citizens. They made the House of Representatives quite small (initially 65 members, at a time when the Massachusetts assembly had 200), on the assumption that only prominent individuals could win election in large districts.

Nor did the delegates provide for direct election of either federal judges or the president. Members of the Supreme Court would be appointed

What major compromises molded the final content of the Constitution?

Large vs. small states

Compromise on a two-house Congress

Less than democratic structure



Chapter 7  Founding a Nation204

by the president for life terms. The president would be chosen either by members of an electoral college or by the House of Representatives. A state’s electors would be chosen either by its legislature or by popular vote.

The actual system of election seemed a recipe for confusion. Each elector was to cast votes for two candidates for president, with the second- place finisher becoming vice president. If no candidate received a major- ity of the electoral ballots—as the delegates seem to have assumed would normally be the case—the president would be chosen from among the top three finishers by the House of Representatives, with each state casting one vote. The Senate would then elect the vice president. The delegates devised this extremely cumbersome system of indirect election because they did not trust ordinary voters to choose the president and vice presi- dent directly.

The Division and Separation of Powers

Hammered out in four months of discussion and compromise, the Constitution is a spare document of only 4,000 words that provides only the briefest outline of the new structure of government. (See the Appendix for the full text.) It embodies two basic political principles—federalism, sometimes called the “division of powers,” and the system of “checks and balances” between the different branches of the national government, also known as the “separation of powers.”

“Federalism” refers to the relationship between the national govern- ment and the states. Compared with the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution significantly strengthened national authority. It charged the president with enforcing the law and commanding the military. It empow- ered Congress to levy taxes, borrow money, regulate commerce, declare war, deal with foreign nations and Indians, and promote the “general welfare.” The Constitution also included strong provisions to prevent the states from infringing on property rights. They were barred from issuing paper money, impairing contracts, interfering with interstate commerce, and levying their own import or export duties. On the other hand, most day-to-day affairs of government, from education to law enforcement, remained in the hands of the states. This principle of divided sovereignty was a recipe for debate, which continues to this day, over the balance of power between the national government and the states.

The “separation of powers,” or the system of “checks and balances,” refers to the way the Constitution seeks to prevent any branch of the national government from dominating the other two. To prevent an accu- mulation of power dangerous to liberty, authority within the government

Indirect elections


Checks and balances



205A N E W C O N S T I T U T I O N

is diffused and balanced against itself. Congress enacts laws, but the presi- dent can veto them, and a two-thirds majority is required to pass legisla- tion over his objection. Federal judges are nominated by the president and approved by Congress, but to ensure their independence, the judges then serve for life. The president can be impeached by the House and removed from office by the Senate for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The Debate over Slavery

The structure of government was not the only source of debate at the Constitutional Convention. As Madison recorded, “the institution of slav- ery and its implications” divided the delegates at many sessions. Those who gathered in Philadelphia included numerous slaveholders, as well as some dedicated advocates of abolition.

The words “slave” and “slavery” did not appear in the Constitution— a concession to the sensibilities of delegates who feared they would “con- taminate the glorious fabric of American liberty.” Nonetheless, the docu- ment contained strong protections for slavery. It prohibited Congress from abolishing the African slave trade for twenty years. It required states to return to their owners fugitives from bondage. And it provided that three- fifths of the slave population would be counted in determining each state’s representation in the House of Representatives and its electoral votes for president.

South Carolina’s delegates had come to Philadelphia determined to defend slavery, and they had a powerful impact on the final document. They originated the fugitive slave clause and the electoral college. They insisted on strict limits on the power of Congress to levy taxes within the states, fearing future efforts to raise revenue by taxing slave property. Gouverneur Morris, one of Pennsylvania’s delegates, declared that he was being forced to decide between offending the southern states or doing injustice to “human nature.” For the sake of national unity, he said, he would choose the latter.

Slavery in the Constitution

The Constitution’s slavery clauses were compromises, efforts to find a middle ground between the institution’s critics and defenders. Taken together, however, they embedded slavery more deeply than ever in American life and politics. The slave trade clause allowed a commerce condemned by civilized society—one that had been suspended during

What major compromises molded the final content of the Constitution?

This advertisement for the sale of

100 slaves from Virginia to states

farther south appeared in a Richmond

newspaper only a few months after

the signing of the Constitution.

Slavery was a major subject

of debate at the Constitutional


The slave trade clause

South Carolina’s influence



Chapter 7  Founding a Nation206

the War of Independence—to continue until 1808. On January 1, 1808, the first day that Congress was allowed under the Constitution, it pro- hibited the further importation of slaves. But in the interim, partly to replace slaves who had escaped to the British and partly to provide labor for the expansion of slavery to fertile land away from the coast, some 170,000 Africans were brought to the new nation as slaves. South Carolina and Georgia imported 100,000. This number accounted for more than one-quarter of all the slaves brought to mainland North America after 1700.

The fugitive slave clause accorded slave laws “extraterritoriality”— that is, the condition of bondage remained attached to a person even if he or she escaped to a state where slavery had been abolished. The Constitution gave the national government no power to interfere with slavery in the states. And the three-fifths clause allowed the white South to exercise far greater power in national affairs than the size of its free population war- ranted. The clause greatly enhanced the number of southern votes in the House of Representatives and therefore in the electoral college (where the number of electors for each state was determined by adding together its number of senators and representatives). Of the first sixteen presidential elections, between 1788 and 1848, all but four placed a southern slave- holder in the White House.

Nevertheless, some slaveholders detected a potential threat buried in the Constitution. Patrick Henry, who condemned slavery but feared aboli- tion, warned that, in time of war, the new government might take steps to

The Signing of the Constitution, by

mid-nineteenth-century American

artist Thomas Pritchard Rossiter,

depicts the conclusion of the

Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Among the founding fathers depicted

are James Wilson, signing the

document at the table in the center,

and George Washington, presiding

from the dais with an image of the

sun behind him.

Fugitive slave clause



207A N E W C O N S T I T U T I O N

arm and liberate the slaves. “May Congress not say,” he asked, “that every black man must fight?” What Henry could not anticipate was that the war that eventually destroyed slavery would be launched by the South itself to protect the institution.

The Final Document

Gouverneur Morris put the finishing touches on the final draft of the new Constitution, trying to make it, he explained, “as clear as our language would permit.” For the original preamble, which began, “We the people of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts,” etc., he substituted the far more powerful, “We the people of the United States.” He added a statement of the Constitution’s purposes, including to “establish justice,” promote “the general welfare,” and “secure the blessings of liberty”—things the Articles of Confederation, in the eyes of most of the delegates, had failed to accomplish.

The last session of the Constitutional Convention took place on September 17, 1787. Benjamin Franklin urged the delegates to put aside individual objections and approve the document, whatever its imperfec- tions. Of the forty-five delegates who remained in Philadelphia, thirty-nine signed the Constitution. It was then sent to the states for ratification.

What major compromises molded the final content of the Constitution?

This satirical engraving by Amos

Doolittle depicts some of the issues

in the debate over the ratification

of the Constitution. The wagon in

the center is carrying Connecticut

and sinking into the mud under the

weight of debts and paper money as

“Federals” and “Antifederals” try to

pull it out. Federals call for the state

to “comply with Congress” (that is,

to pay money requisitioned by the

national government); the Antifederals

reply “tax luxury” and “success

to Shays,” a reference to Shays’s

Rebellion. The Connecticut shoreline

and the buildings of Manhattan are

on the right. Underneath the three

merchant ships is a phrase criticizing

the tariffs that states were imposing

on imports from one another (which

the Constitution prohibited). At the

bottom is the biblical motto, “A house

divided against itself cannot stand,”

later made famous by Abraham


The Preamble



Chapter 7  Founding a Nation208

The Constitution created a new framework for American develop- ment. It made possible a national economic market. It created national political institutions, reduced the powers of the states, and sought to place limits on popular democracy. The ratification process, however, unleashed a nationwide debate over the best means of preserving American freedom.



The Federalist

Even though the Constitution provided that it would go into effect when nine states, not all thirteen as required by the Articles of Confederation, had given their approval, ratification was by no means certain. Each state held an election for delegates to a special ratifying convention. A fierce public battle ensued, producing hundreds of pamphlets and newspaper articles and spirited campaigns to elect delegates. To generate support, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay composed a series of eighty-five essays that appeared in newspapers under the pen name Publius and were gathered as a book, The Federalist, in 1788. Today, the essays are regarded as among the most important American contributions to political thought. At the time, however, they were only one part of a much larger national debate over ratification.

Again and again, Hamilton and Madison repeated that rather than posing a danger to Americans’ liberties, the Constitution in fact protected them. Any government, Hamilton insisted, could become oppressive, but with its checks and balances and division of power, the Constitution made political tyranny almost impossible. At the New York ratifying conven- tion, Hamilton assured the delegates that the Constitution had created “the perfect balance between liberty and power.”

“Extend the Sphere”

Madison, too, emphasized how the Consti tution was structured to prevent abuses of authority. But in several essays, especially Federalist nos. 10 and 51, he moved beyond such assurances to develop a strikingly new vision

For ratification: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay

A new framework



209T H E R A T I F I C A T I O N D E B A T E A N D T H E O R I G I N O F T H E B I L L O F R I G H T S

How did Anti-Federalist concerns lead to the creation of the Bill of Rights?

of the relationship between government and society in the United States. Madison identified the essential dilemma, as he saw it, of the new republic—government must be based on the will of the people, yet the people had shown themselves susceptible to dangerous enthusiasms. The problem of balancing democracy and respect for prop- erty would only grow in the years ahead because, he warned, economic development would inevitably increase the numbers of poor. What was to prevent them from using their political power to secure “a more equal distribution” of wealth?

The answer, Madison explained, lay not simply in the way power balanced power in the structure of government, but in the nation’s size and diversity. Previous repub- lics had existed only in small territories—the Dutch republic or the Italian city-states of the Renaissance. But, argued Madison, the very size of the United States was a source of stability, not, as many feared, weak- ness. “Extend the sphere,” he wrote. The multiplicity of religious denomina- tions, he argued, offered the best security for religious liberty. Likewise, in a nation as large as the United States, so many distinct interests—economic, regional, and political—would arise, that no single one would ever be able to take over the government and oppress the rest.

Madison’s writings did much to shape the early nation’s understand- ing of its new political institutions. In arguing that the size of the republic helped to secure Americans’ rights, they reinforced the tradition that saw continuous westward expansion as essential to freedom.

The Anti-Federalists

Opponents of ratification, called Anti-Federalists, insisted that the Constitution shifted the balance between liberty and power too far in the direction of the latter. Anti-Federalists lacked the coherent leadership of the Constitution’s defenders. They included state politicians fearful of seeing their influence diminish, among them such revolutionary heroes as Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Patrick Henry. Small farmers, many of whom supported the state debtor-relief measures of the 1780s that

In this late-eighteenth-century

engraving, Americans celebrate the

signing of the Constitution beneath a

temple of liberty.

America’s size and diversity

Against ratification: Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Patrick Henry




A member of the Continental Congress from South Carolina, David Ramsay

published his history of the Revolution the year after the Constitution was ratified.

In this excerpt, he lauds the principles of representative government and the right of

future amendment, embodied in the state constitutions and adopted in the national

one, as unique American political principles and the best ways of securing liberty.

The world has not hitherto exhibited so fair an opportunity for promoting social happiness. It is hoped for the honor of human nature, that the result will prove the fallacy of those theories that mankind are incapable of self government. The ancients, not knowing the doctrine of representation, were apt in their public meetings to run into confusion, but in America this mode of taking the sense of the people, is so well understood, and so completely reduced to system, that its most populous states are often peaceably convened in an assembly of deputies, not too large for orderly deliberation, and yet representing the whole in equal proportion. These popular branches of legislature are miniature pictures of the community, and from their mode of election are likely to be influenced by the same interests and feelings with the people whom they represent. . . .

In no age before, and in no other country, did man ever possess an election of the kind of government, under which he would choose to live. The constituent parts of the ancient free governments were thrown together by accident. The freedom of modern European governments was, for the most part, obtained by concessions, or liberality of monarchs, or military leaders. In America alone, reason and liberty concurred in the formation of constitutions . . . In one thing they were all perfect. They left the people in the power of altering and amending them, whenever they pleased. In this happy peculiarity they placed the science of politics on a footing with the other sciences, by opening it to improvements from experience, and the discoveries of future ages. By means of this power of amending American constitutions, the friends of mankind have fondly hoped that oppression will one day be no more.

From David Ramsay, The History of the

American Revolution (1789)

Chapter 7  Founding a Nation210



From James Winthrop, Anti-Federalist Essay

Signed “Agrippa” (1787)

A local official in Middlesex, Massachusetts, James Winthrop published sixteen

public letters between November 1787 and February 1788 opposing ratification of

the Constitution.

It is the opinion of the ablest writers on the subject, that no extensive empire can be governed upon republican principles, and that such a government will degenerate into a despotism, unless it be made up of a confederacy of smaller states, each having the full powers of internal regulation. This is precisely the principle which has hitherto preserved our freedom. No instance can be found of any free government of considerable extent which has been supported upon any other plan. Large and consolidated empires may indeed dazzle the eyes of a distant spectator with their splendor, but if examined more nearly are always found to be full of misery. . . . It is under such tyranny that the Spanish provinces languish, and such would be our misfortune and degradation, if we should submit to have the concerns of the whole empire managed by one empire. To promote the happiness of the people it is necessary that there should be local laws; and it is necessary that those laws should be made by the representatives of those who are immediately subject to [them]. . . .

It is impossible for one code of laws to suit Georgia and Massachusetts. They must, therefore, legislate for themselves. Yet there is, I believe, not one point of legislation that is not surrendered in the proposed plan. Questions of every kind respecting property are determinable in a continental court, and so are all kinds of criminal causes. The continental legislature has, therefore, a right to make rules in all cases. . . . No rights are reserved to the citizens. . . . This new system is, therefore, a consolidation of all the states into one large mass, however diverse the parts may be of which it is composed. . . .

A bill of rights . . . serves to secure the minority against the usurpation and tyranny of the majority. . . . The experience of all mankind has proved the prevalence of a disposition to use power wantonly. It is therefore as necessary to defend an individual against the majority in a republic as against the king in a monarchy.


1. Why does Ramsay feel that the power

to amend the Constitution is so impor-

tant a political innovation?

2. Why does Winthrop believe that

a Bill of Rights is essential in the


3. How do Ramsay and Winthrop

differ concerning how the principle

of representation operates in the

United States?




Chapter 7  Founding a Nation212

the Constitution’s supporters deplored, also saw no need for a stronger central government. Some opponents of the Constitution denounced the document’s protections for slavery; others warned that the powers of Congress were so broad that it might enact a law for abolition.

Anti-Federalists repeatedly predicted that the new government would fall under the sway of merchants, creditors, and others hostile to the inter- ests of ordinary Americans. Popular self-government, they claimed, flour- ished best in small communities, where rulers and ruled interacted daily. The result of the Constitution, warned Melancton Smith of New York, a member of Congress under the Articles of Confederation, would be domi- nation of the “common people” by the “well-born.”

“Liberty” was the Anti-Federalists’ watchword. America’s happiness, they insisted, “arises from the freedom of our institutions and the limited nature of our government,” both threatened by the new Constitution. To the vision of the United States as an energetic great power, Anti- Federalists counterposed a way of life grounded in local, democratic insti- tutions. Anti-Federalists also pointed to the Constitution’s lack of a Bill of Rights, which left unprotected rights such as trial by jury and freedom of speech and the press.

In general, pro-Constitution sentiment flourished in the nation’s cit- ies and in rural areas closely tied to the commercial marketplace. The Constitution’s most energetic supporters were men of substantial property. But what George Bryan of Pennsylvania, a supporter of ratification, called the “golden phantom” of prosperity also swung urban artisans, laborers, and sailors behind the movement for a government that would use its “energy and power” to revive the depressed economy. Anti-Federalism drew its support from small farmers in more isolated rural areas such as the Hudson Valley of New York, western Massachusetts, and the southern backcountry.

In the end, the supporters’ energy and organization, coupled with their domination of the colonial press, carried the day. Ninety-two newspapers and magazines existed in the United States in 1787. Of these, only twelve published a significant number of Anti-Federalist pieces. Madison also won support for the new Constitution by promising that the first Congress would enact a Bill of Rights. By mid-1788, the required nine states had ratified. Only Rhode Island and North Carolina voted against ratification, and they subse- quently had little choice but to join the new government. Anti-Federalism died. But as with other movements in American history that did not imme- diately achieve their goals—for example, the Populists of the late nineteenth century—some of the Anti-Federalists’ ideas eventually entered the political mainstream. To this day, their belief that a too-powerful central government is a threat to liberty continues to influence American political culture.

Rule by the “well-born”

Social bases of support and opposition




213T H E R A T I F I C A T I O N D E B A T E A N D T H E O R I G I N O F T H E B I L L O F R I G H T S

How did Anti-Federalist concerns lead to the creation of the Bill of Rights?

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Federalist majority (for ratification) Anti-Federalist majority (against ratification) Evenly divided Politically unorganized


Federalists—those who supported the new Constitution—tended to be concentrated in cities and nearby rural areas, whereas

backcountry farmers were more likely to oppose the new frame of government.



Chapter 7  Founding a Nation214

The Bill of Rights

Ironically, the parts of the Constitution Americans most value today—the freedoms of speech, the press, and religion; protection against unjust criminal procedures; equality before the law—were not in the original docu- ment. All of these but the last (which was enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment after the Civil War) were contained in the first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights. Madison believed a Bill of Rights “redundant or pointless.” “Parchment barriers” to the abuse of author- ity, he observed, would prove least effective when most

needed. Madison’s prediction would be amply borne out at future times of popular hysteria, such as during the Red Scare following World War I and the McCarthy era of the 1950s, when all branches of government joined in trampling on freedom of expression, and during World War II, when hatred of a foreign enemy led to the internment of more than 100,000 Japanese- Americans, most of them citizens of the United States.

Nevertheless, every new state constitution contained some kind of declaration of citizens’ rights, and large numbers of Americans—Federalist and Anti-Federalist alike—believed the new national Constitution should also have one. Madison presented to Congress a series of amendments that became the basis of the Bill of Rights, which was ratified by the states in 1791. The First Amendment prohibited Congress from legislating with regard to religion or infringing on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or the right of assembly. The Second upheld the people’s right to “keep and bear arms” in conjunction with “a well-regulated militia.” Others prohibited abuses such as arrests without warrants and forcing a person accused of a crime to testify against himself, and reaffirmed the right to trial by jury. The Tenth Amendment, meant to answer fears that the fed- eral government would ride roughshod over the states, affirmed that pow- ers not delegated to the national government or prohibited to the states continued to reside with the states.

Although the roots and even the specific language of some parts of the Bill of Rights lay far back in English history, other provisions reflected the changes in American life brought about by the Revolution. The most remarkable of these was constitutional recognition of religious freedom. Unlike the Declaration of Independence, which invokes the blessing of divine providence, the Constitution is a purely secular document that con- tains no reference to God and bars religious tests for federal officeholders. The First Amendment prohibits the federal government from legislating

An engraving and poem, published in

1788 in an American newspaper, after

New York became the eleventh state

to ratify the new Constitution. North

Carolina would ratify in 1789 and

Rhode Island in 1790.

First Amendment rights

Constitutional recognition of religious freedom



215“ W E T H E P E O P L E ”

on the subject of religion—a complete departure from British and colonial precedent. Under the Constitution it was and remains possible, as one critic complained, for “a papist, a Mohomatan, a deist, yea an atheist” to become president of the United States. Madison was so adamant about separating church and state that he even opposed the appointment of chaplains to serve Congress and the military.

The Bill of Rights aroused little enthusiasm on ratification and for decades was all but ignored. Not until the twentieth century would it come to be revered as an indispensable expression of American freedom. Nonetheless, the Bill of Rights subtly affected the language of liberty. Applying only to the federal government, not the states, it reinforced the idea that concentrated national power posed the greatest threat to freedom. And it contributed to the long process whereby freedom came to be dis- cussed in the vocabulary of rights.

Among the most important rights were freedom of speech and the press, vital building blocks of a democratic public sphere. Once an entitle- ment of members of Parliament and colonial assemblies, free speech came to be seen as a basic right of citizenship.

“ W E T H E P E O P L E ”

National Identity

The Constitution opens with the words, “We the People.” Although one might assume that the “people” of the United States included all those liv- ing within the nation’s borders, the text made clear that this was not the case. The Constitution identifies three populations inhabiting the United States: Indians, treated as members of independent tribes and not part of the American body politic; “other persons”—that is, slaves; and the “people.” Only the third were entitled to American freedom.

Indians in the New Nation

The early republic’s policies toward Indians and African-Americans illustrate the conflicting principles that shaped American nationality. American leaders agreed that the West should not be left in Indian hands, but they disagreed about the Indians’ ultimate fate. The government hoped to encourage the westward expansion of white settlement, which implied one of three things: the removal of the Indian population to lands even

Legacy of the Bill of Rights

Exclusion of Indians and slaves

How did Anti-Federalist concerns lead to the creation of the Bill of Rights?



Chapter 7  Founding a Nation216

farther west, their total disappearance, or their incorporation into white “civilization” with the expectation that they might one day become part of American society.

Indian tribes had no representation in the new government, and the Constitution excluded Indians “not taxed” from being counted in deter- mining each state’s number of congressmen. The treaty system gave them a unique status within the American political system. But despite this rec- ognition of their sovereignty, treaties were essentially ways of transferring land from Indians to the federal government or the states.

Open warfare continued in the Ohio Valley after ratification. In 1791, Little Turtle, leader of the Miami Confederacy, inflicted a humiliating defeat on American forces led by Arthur St. Clair, the American governor of the Northwest Territory. With 630 dead, this was the costliest loss ever suffered by the U.S. Army at the hands of Indians. In 1794, 3,000 American troops under Anthony Wayne defeated Little Turtle’s forces at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. This led directly to the Treaty of Greenville of 1795, in which twelve Indian tribes ceded most of Ohio and Indiana to the federal government. The treaty also established the “annuity” system—yearly grants of federal money to Indian tribes that institutional- ized continuing government influence in tribal affairs and gave outsiders considerable control over Indian life.

Many prominent figures, however, rejected the idea that Indians were innately inferior to white Americans. Thomas Jefferson believed that Indians merely lived at a less advanced stage of civilization. Indians could become full-fledged members of the republic by abandoning communal landholding and hunting in favor of small-scale farming.

To pursue the goal of assimilation, Congress in the 1790s authorized President Washington to distribute agricultural tools and livestock to Indian men and spinning wheels and looms to Indian women. To whites, the adoption of American gender norms, with men working the land and women tending to their homes, would be a crucial sign that the Indians were becom- ing “civilized.” But the American notion of civilization required so great a transforma- tion of Indian life that most tribes rejected it. One missionary was told, “If we want to work, we know how to do it accord- ing to our own way and as it pleases us.”

The signing of the Treaty of Greenville

of 1795, painted by an unknown

member of General Anthony Wayne’s

staff. In the treaty, a group of tribes

ceded most of the area of the current

state of Ohio, along with the site that

became the city of Chicago, to the

United States.

Political status of Indian tribes

Continuing warfare



217“ W E T H E P E O P L E ”

How did the definition of citizenship exclude Native Americans and African-Americans?

To Indians, freedom meant retaining tribal autonomy and identity, including the abil- ity to travel widely in search of game. “Since our acquaintance with our brother white people,” declared a Mohawk speaker at a 1796 treaty council, “that which we call free- dom and liberty, becomes an entire stranger to us.” There was no room for Indians who desired to retain their traditional way of life in the American empire of liberty.

Blacks and the Republic

By 1790, the number of African-Americans far exceeded the Indian population within the United States. The status of free blacks was somewhat indeterminate. Nowhere does the original Constitution define who in fact are citizens of the United States. The indi- vidual states were left free to determine the boundaries of liberty. The North’s gradual emancipation acts assumed that former slaves would remain in the country, not be colonized abroad. During the era of the Revolution, free blacks enjoyed at least some of the legal rights accorded to whites, includ- ing, in most states, the right to vote. The large majority of blacks, of course, were slaves, and slavery rendered them all but invisible to those imagining the American community.

One of the era’s most widely read books, Letters from an American Farmer, published in France in 1782 by Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, strikingly illustrated this process of exclusion. Born in France, Crèvecoeur eventually married the daugh- ter of a prominent New York landowner and lived with his own family on a farm in Orange County. In this book, Crèvecoeur popularized the idea, which would become so common in the twentieth century, of the United States as a melting pot. “Here,” he wrote, “individuals of all nations are melted

TABLE 7.1 Total Population and Black Population of the United States, 1790

New Hampshire 141,899 158 630

Vermont* 85,341 0 271

Massachusetts 378,556 0 5,369

Connecticut 237,655 2,764 2,771

Rhode Island 69,112 948 3,484

Maine** 96,643 0 536

New York 340,241 21,324 4,682

New Jersey 184,139 11,423 2,762

Pennsylvania 433,611 3,737 6,531

Delaware 59,096 8,887 3,899

Maryland 319,728 103,036 8,043

Virginia 747,610 292,627 12,866

North Carolina 395,005 100,572 5,041

South Carolina 249,073 107,094 1,801

Georgia 82,548 29,264 398

Kentucky* 73,677 12,430 114

Tennessee* 35,691 3,417 361

3,929,625 697,624 59,557


*Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee were territories that had not yet been

admitted as states.

**Maine was part of Massachusetts in 1790.



Chapter 7  Founding a Nation218

into a new one.” When he posed the famous question, “What then is the American, this new man?” he answered, “a mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes. . . . He is either a European, or the descendant of a European.” This at a time when fully one-fifth of the population (the highest proportion in U.S. history) consisted of Africans and their descendants.

Like Crèvecoeur, many white Americans excluded blacks from their conception of the American people. The Constitution empowered Congress to create a uniform system by which immigrants became citizens, and the Naturalization Act of 1790 offered the first legislative definition of American nationality. With no debate, Congress restricted the process of becoming a citizen from abroad to “free white persons.” The word “white” in this act excluded a large majority of the world’s population from emigrating to the “asylum for mankind” and partaking in the blessings of American freedom. For eighty years, no non-white immigrant could become a naturalized citizen. Africans were allowed to do so in 1870, but not until the 1940s did persons of Asian origin become eligible. (Native Americans were granted American citizenship in 1924.)

Jefferson, Slavery, and Race

Man’s liberty, John Locke had written, flowed from “his having reason.” To deny liberty to those who were not considered rational beings did not seem to be a contradiction. White Americans increasingly viewed blacks as permanently deficient in the qualities that made freedom possible—the capacity for self-control, reason, and devotion to the larger community. These were the characteristics that Jefferson, in a famous comparison of the races in his book Notes on the State of Virginia, published in 1785, claimed blacks lacked, partly due to natural incapacity and partly because the bitter experience of slavery had (quite understandably, he felt) rendered them disloyal to the nation.

Jefferson was obsessed with the connection between heredity and environment, race and intelligence. His belief that individuals’ abilities and achievements are shaped by social conditions inclined him to hope that no group was fixed permanently in a status of inferiority. In the case of blacks, however, he could not avoid the “suspicion” that nature had permanently deprived them of the qualities that made republican citizenship possible. Benjamin Banneker, a free African-American from Maryland who had taught himself the principles of mathematics, sent Jefferson a copy of an astronomical almanac he had published, along with a plea for the aboli- tion of slavery. Jefferson replied, “Nobody wishes more than I do to see

The artist John Singleton Copley, best

known for his portraits of prominent

Americans and Britons, painted this

young African-American in the late

1770s. The subject probably worked

on a New England fishing boat. This

is one of the era’s very few portraits

of a black person.

Melting pot

American nationality



219“ W E T H E P E O P L E ”

How did the definition of citizenship exclude Native Americans and African-Americans?

such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to the other colors of men.” To his friend Joel Barlow, however, Jefferson suggested that a white person must have helped Banneker with his calculations.

“Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate,” wrote Jefferson, “than that these people are to be free.” Yet he felt that America should have a homogeneous citi- zenry with common experiences, values, and inborn abilities. These contradictions in Jefferson reflected the divided mind of his generation. Some prominent Virginians assumed that blacks could become part of the American nation. Edward Coles, an early governor of Illinois, brought his slaves from Virginia, freed them, and settled them on farms. Washington, who died in 1799, provided in his will that his 277 slaves would become free after the death of his wife, Martha. Believing the slave trade immoral, Jefferson tried to avoid selling slaves to pay off his mounting debts. But his will provided for the freedom of only five, all relatives of his slave Sally Hemings, with whom he appears to have had fathered one or more children.

Principles of Freedom

Even as the decline of apprenticeship and indentured servitude narrowed the gradations of freedom among the white population, the Revolution widened the divide between free Americans and those who remained in slavery. Race, one among many kinds of legal and social inequality in colo- nial America, now emerged as a convenient justification for the existence of slavery in a land that claimed to be committed to freedom. Blacks’ “natu- ral faculties,” Alexander Hamilton noted in 1779, were “probably as good as ours.” But the existence of slavery, he added, “makes us fancy many things that are founded neither in reason or experience.”

“We the people” increasingly meant only white Americans. “Principles of freedom, which embrace only half mankind, are only half systems,” declared the anonymous author of a Fourth of July speech in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1800. “Declaration of Independence,” he wondered, “where art thou now?” The answer came from a Richmond newspaper: “Tell us not of principles. Those principles have been annihilated by the existence of slavery among us.”

Emergence of racial distinctions

Thomas Jefferson, future author of

the Declaration of Independence and

in private a sharp critic of slavery,

placed this advertisement in a Virginia

newspaper in 1769, seeking the

return of a runaway slave. Sandy was

in fact recaptured, and Jefferson sold

him in 1773.



Chapter 7  Founding a Nation220


1. How did the limited central government created by the Articles of Confederation reflect the issues behind the Revolution and fears for individual liberties?

2. What were the ideas and motivations that pushed Americans to expand west?

3. What events and ideas led to the belief in 1786 and 1787 that the Articles of Confederation were not working well?

4. The Constitution has been described as a “bundle of com- promises.” Which compromises were the most significant in shaping the direction of the new nation and why?

5. What were the major arguments in support of the Constitution given by the Federalists?

6. What were the major arguments against the Constitution put forth by the Anti-Federalists?

7. How accurate was Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s description of America as a melting pot?


Land Ordinances of 1784 and 1785 (p. 198)

Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (p. 198)

“empire of liberty” (p. 198)

Shays’s Rebellion (p. 200)

federalism (p. 204)

checks and balances (p. 204)

separation of powers (p. 204)

three-fifths clause (p. 206)

The Federalist (p. 208)

Anti-Federalists (p. 209)

Bill of Rights (p. 214)

Miami Confederation (p. 216)

Battle of Fallen Timbers (p. 216)

Treaty of Greenville (p. 216)

“annuity” system (p. 216)

gradual emancipation (p. 217)

Letters from an American Farmer (p. 217)

Notes on the State of Virginia (p. 218)

wwnorton.com /studyspace




A chapter outline

A diagnostic chapter quiz

Interactive maps

Map worksheets

Multimedia documents



1789 Inauguration of George Washington

French Revolution begins

1791 First Bank of the United States

Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures

1791– Haitian Revolution 1804

1791 Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man

1792 Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

1793 First federal fugitive slave law

1794 Whiskey Rebellion

Jay’s Treaty

1797 Inauguration of John Adams

1798 XYZ affair

Alien and Sedition Acts

1800 Gabriel’s Rebellion

1801 Inauguration of Thomas Jefferson

1801– First Barbary War 1805

1803 Louisiana Purchase

1804– Lewis and Clark 1806 expedition

1809 Inauguration of James Madison

1812– War of 1812 1814

1814 Treaty of Ghent

Hartford Convention



C H A P T E R 8

This colorful painting by the artist John

Archibald Woodside from around the time

of the War of 1812 contains numerous

symbols of freedom, among them the

goddess of liberty with her liberty cap,

a broken chain at the sailor’s feet, the fallen

crown (under his left foot), a broken royal

scepter, and the sailor himself, because

English interference with American

shipping was one of the war’s causes.

1 7 9 1 – 1 8 1 5



222 Chapter 8 ★ Securing the Republic

O n April 30, 1789, in New York City, the nation’s temporary capi-tal, George Washington became the first president under the new Constitution. All sixty-nine electors had awarded him their votes. Dressed in a plain suit of “superfine American broad cloth” rather than European finery, Washington took the oath of office on the balcony of Federal Hall before a large crowd that reacted with “loud and repeated shouts” of approval. He then retreated inside to deliver his inaugural address before members of Congress and other dignitaries.

Washington’s speech expressed the revolutionary generation’s con- viction that it had embarked on an experiment of enormous historical importance, whose outcome was by no means certain. “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government,” Washington proclaimed, depended on the success of the American experiment in self-government.

American leaders believed that maintaining political harmony was crucial to this success. They were especially anxious to avoid the emer- gence of organized political parties, which had already appeared in sev- eral states. Parties were considered divisive and disloyal. “They serve to organize faction,” Washington would later declare, and to substitute the aims of “a small but artful” minority for the “will of the nation.” The Con- stitution makes no mention of political parties, and the original method of electing the president assumes that candidates would run as individuals, not on a party ticket (otherwise, the second-place finisher would not have become vice president). Nonetheless, national political parties quickly arose. Originating in Congress, they soon spread to the general populace. Instead of harmony, the 1790s became, in the words of one historian, an “age of passion.” Political rhetoric became inflamed because the stakes seemed so high—nothing less than the legacy of the Revolution, the new nation’s future, and the survival of American freedom.


President Washington provided a much-needed symbol of national unity. He brought into his cabinet some of the new nation’s most prominent political leaders, including Thomas Jefferson as secretary of state and Alexander Hamilton to head the Treasury Department. He also appointed a Supreme Court of six members, headed by John Jay of New York. But harmonious government proved short lived.

What issues made the

politics of the 1790s so


How did competing views

of freedom and global

events promote the politi-

cal divisions of the 1790s?

What were the achieve-

ments and failures of

Jefferson’s presidency?

What were the causes and

significant results of the

War of 1812?


Washington’s first administration



223P O L I T I C S I N A N A G E O F P A S S I O N

What issues made the politics of the 1790s so divisive?

Hamilton’s Program

Political divisions first surfaced over the financial plan developed by Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton in 1790 and 1791. Hamilton’s imme- diate aims were to establish the nation’s financial stability, bring to the government’s support the country’s most powerful financial interests, and encourage economic development. His long-term purpose was to make the United States a major commercial and military power. The goal of national greatness, he believed, could never be realized if the government suffered from the same weaknesses as under the Articles of Confederation.

Hamilton’s program had five parts. The first step was to establish the new nation’s credit-worthiness—that is, to create conditions under which persons would loan money to the government by purchasing its bonds, confident that they would be repaid. Hamilton proposed that the federal government assume responsibility for paying off at its full face value the national debt inherited from the War of Independence, as well as outstand- ing debts of the states. Second, he called for the creation of a new national debt. The old debts would be replaced by new interest-bearing bonds issued to the government’s creditors. This would give men of economic substance a stake in promoting the new nation’s stability, because the stronger and more economically secure the federal government, the more likely it would be to pay its debts.

The third part of Hamilton’s program called for the creation of a Bank of the United States, modeled on the Bank of England, to serve as the nation’s main financial agent. A private corporation rather than a branch of the government, it would hold public funds, issue bank notes that would serve as currency, and make loans to the government when neces- sary, all the while returning a tidy profit to its stockholders. Fourth, to raise revenue, Hamilton proposed a tax on producers of whiskey. Finally, in a Report on Manufactures delivered to Congress in December 1791, Hamilton called for the imposition of a tariff (a tax on imported foreign goods) and government subsidies to encourage the development of facto- ries that could manufacture products currently purchased from abroad.

The Emergence of Opposition

Hamilton’s vision of a powerful commercial republic won strong support from American financiers, manufacturers, and merchants. But it alarmed those who believed the new nation’s destiny lay in charting a different path of development. Hamilton’s plans hinged on close ties with Britain, America’s main trading partner. To James Madison and Thomas Jefferson,

Liberty and Washington, painted

by an unknown artist around 1800,

depicts a female figure of liberty

placing a wreath on a bust of the first

president. She carries an American

flag and stands on a royal crown,

which has been thrown to the ground.

In the background is a liberty cap.

Washington had died in 1799 and

was now immortalized as a symbol of

freedom, independence, and national


Support for Hamilton’s plan



Chapter 8 ★ Securing the Republic224

the future lay in westward expansion, not connections with Europe. Their goal was a republic of independent farmers marketing grain, tobacco, and other products freely to the entire world. Jefferson and Madison quickly concluded that the greatest threat to American freedom lay in the alliance of a powerful central government with an emerging class of commercial capitalists, such as Hamilton appeared to envision.

To Jefferson, Hamilton’s system “flowed from principles adverse to liberty, and was calculated to undermine and demolish the republic.” Hamilton’s plans for a standing army seemed to his critics a bold threat to freedom. The national bank and assumption of state debts, they feared, would introduce into American politics the same corruption that had undermined British liberty, and enrich those already wealthy at the expense of ordinary Americans. During the 1780s, speculators had bought up at great discounts (often only a few cents on the dollar) govern- ment bonds and paper notes that had been used to pay those who fought in the Revolution or supplied the army. Under Hamilton’s plan, specula- tors would reap a windfall by being paid at face value while the original holders received nothing. Because transportation was so poor, moreover, many backcountry farmers were used to distilling their grain harvest into whiskey, which could then be carried more easily to market. Hamilton’s whiskey tax seemed to single them out unfairly in order to enrich bond- holders.

The Jefferson-Hamilton Bargain

At first, opposition to Hamilton’s program arose almost entirely from the South, the region that had the least interest in manufacturing develop- ment and the least diversified economy. It also had fewer holders of fed- eral bonds than the Middle States and New England. Because Hamilton insisted that all his plans were authorized by the Constitution’s broad “general welfare” clause, many southerners who had supported the new Constitution now became “strict constructionists,” who insisted that the federal government could exercise only powers specifically listed in the document. Jefferson, for example, believed the new national bank unconstitutional, because the right of Congress to create a bank was not mentioned in the Constitution.

Opposition in Congress threatened the enactment of Hamilton’s plans. Behind-the-scenes negotiations followed. They culminated at a famous dinner in 1790 at which Jefferson brokered an agreement whereby southerners accepted Hamilton’s fiscal program (with the exception of

Venerate the Plough, a medal of

the Philadelphia Society for the

Promotion of Agriculture, 1786.

Americans such as Jefferson and

Madison believed that farmers

were the most virtuous citizens and

therefore agriculture must remain the

foundation of American life.

A bargain struck

Opposition to Hamilton’s plan



225P O L I T I C S I N A N A G E O F P A S S I O N

What issues made the politics of the 1790s so divisive?

subsidies to manufacturers) in exchange for the establishment of the permanent national capital on the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. Major Pierre-Charles L’Enfant, a French-born veteran of the War of Independence, designed a grandiose plan for the “federal city” modeled on the great urban centers of Europe, with wide boulevards, parks, and fountains. When it came to constructing public buildings in the nation’s new capital, most of the labor was performed by slaves.

The Impact of the French Revolution

Political divisions began over Hamilton’s fiscal program, but they deep- ened in response to events in Europe. When it began in 1789, nearly all Americans welcomed the French Revolution, inspired in part by the example of their own rebellion. But in 1793, the revolution took a more radi- cal turn with the execution of King Louis XVI along with numerous aris- tocrats and other foes of the new government, and war broke out between France and Great Britain.

Events in France became a source of bitter conflict in America. Jefferson and his followers believed that despite its excesses the revolution marked a historic victory for the idea of popular self-government, which must be defended at all costs. Enthusiasm for France inspired a rebirth of symbols of liberty. Liberty poles and caps reappeared on the streets of American towns and cities. To Washington, Hamilton, and their support- ers, however, the revolution raised the specter of anarchy.

The rivalry between Britain and France did much to shape early American politics. The “permanent” alliance between France and the United States, which dated to 1778, complicated the situation. No one advocated that the United States should become involved in the European war, and Washington in April 1793 issued a proclamation of American neutrality. Meanwhile, the British seized hundreds of American ships trading with the French West Indies and resumed the hated practice of impressment— kidnapping sailors, including American citizens of British origin, to serve in their navy. Sent to London to present objections, while still serving as chief justice, John Jay negotiated an agreement in 1794 that produced the greatest public controversy of Washington’s presidency. Jay’s Treaty contained no British concessions on impressment or the rights of American shipping. Britain did agree to abandon outposts on the western frontier, which it was supposed to have done in 1783. In return, the United States guaranteed favored treatment to British imported goods. Critics of the administration charged that it aligned the United States with

The rivalry of Britain and France

Favored treatment to British imports

The national capital



Chapter 8 ★ Securing the Republic226

monarchical Britain in its conflict with republican France. Ultimately, Jay’s Treaty sharpened political divisions in the United States and led directly to the formation of an organized opposition party.

Political Parties

By the mid-1790s, two increasingly coherent parties had appeared in Congress, calling themselves Federalists and Republicans. (The latter had no connection with today’s Republican Party, which was founded in the 1850s.) Both parties laid claim to the language of liberty, and each accused its opponent of engaging in a conspiracy to destroy it.

The Federalists, supporters of the Washington administration, favored Hamilton’s economic program and close ties with Britain. Prosperous merchants, farmers, lawyers, and established political leaders (especially outside the South) tended to support the Federalists. Their outlook was generally elitist, reflecting the traditional eighteenth-century view of soci- ety as a fixed hierarchy and of public office as reserved for men of economic substance—the “rich, the able, and the well-born,” as Hamilton put it. Freedom, Federalists insisted, rested on deference to authority. Federalists feared that the “spirit of liberty” unleashed by the American Revolution was degenerating into anarchy and “licentiousness.”

The Whiskey Rebellion

The Federalists may have been the only major party in American his- tory forthrightly to proclaim democracy and freedom dangerous in the hands of ordinary citizens. The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, which broke out when backcountry Pennsylvania farmers sought to block collection of the new tax on distilled spirits, reinforced this conviction. The “rebels” invoked the symbols of 1776, displaying liberty poles and banners read- ing “Liberty or Death.” But Washington dispatched 13,000 militiamen to western Pennsylvania (a larger force than he had commanded during the Revolution). He accompanied them part of the way to the scene of the dis- turbances, the only time in American history that a president has actually commanded an army in the field. The “rebels” offered no resistance.

The Republican Party

Republicans, led by Madison and Jefferson, were more sympathetic to France than the Federalists and had more faith in democratic self- government. They drew their support from an unusual alliance of wealthy

Opposition to the tax on distilled spirits

Republicans favored self-government

Federalists supported Washington and favored Hamilton’s economic program



227P O L I T I C S I N A N A G E O F P A S S I O N

What issues made the politics of the 1790s so divisive?

A 1794 painting by the Baltimore

artist and sign painter Frederick

Kemmelmayer depicting President

George Washington as commander-

in-chief of the army dispatched to put

down the Whiskey Rebellion.

southern planters and ordinary farmers throughout the country. Enthusiasm for the French Revolution increasingly drew urban artisans into Republican ranks as well. Republicans were far more critical than the Federalists of social and economic inequal- ity, and more accepting of broad democratic participation as essential to freedom.

Political language became more and more heated. Federalists denounced Republicans as French agents, anarchists, and traitors. Republicans called their opponents monar- chists intent on transforming the new national government into a corrupt, British-style aris- tocracy. Each charged the other with betray- ing the principles of the War of Independence and of American freedom. Washington himself received mounting abuse. When he left office, a Republican newspaper declared that his name had become synonymous with “political iniquity” and “legalized corruption.”

An Expanding Public Sphere

The debates of the 1790s produced not only one of the most intense periods of partisan warfare in American history but also an enduring expansion of the public sphere and with it the democratic content of American free- dom. More and more citizens attended political meetings and became avid readers of pamphlets and newspapers. The establishment of nearly 1,000 post offices made possible the wider circulation of personal letters and printed materials. The era witnessed the rapid growth of the American press—the number of newspapers rose from around 100 to 260 during the 1790s, and reached nearly 400 by 1810.

Inspired by the Jacobin clubs of Paris, supporters of the French Revolution and critics of the Washington administration in 1793 and 1794 formed nearly fifty Democratic-Republican societies. The Republican press publicized their meetings, replete with toasts to French and American liberty. Federalists saw the societies as another example of how liberty was getting out of hand. The government, not “self-created societies,” declared the president, was the authentic voice of the American people. Forced to justify their existence, the societies developed a defense of the right of the people to debate political issues and organize to affect public policy. To the societies, political liberty

Democratic-Republican societies

Growth in American press





From Judith Sargent Murray, “On the

Equality of the Sexes” (1790)

A prominent writer of plays, novels, and poetry, Judith Sargent Murray of Massa-

chusetts was one of the first women to demand equal educational opportunities for


Is it upon mature consideration we adopt the idea, that nature is thus partial in her distributions? Is it indeed a fact, that she hath yielded to one half of the human species so unquestionable a mental superiority? I know that to both sexes elevated understandings, and the reverse, are common. But, suffer me to ask, in what the minds of females are so notoriously deficient, or unequal. . . .

Are we deficient in reason? We can only reason from what we know, and if an opportunity of acquiring knowledge hath been denied us, the inferiority of our sex cannot fairly be deduced from thence. . . . Will it be said that the judgment of a male of two years old, is more sage than that of a female’s of the same age? I believe the reverse is generally observed to be true. But from that period what partiality! How is the one exalted, and the other depressed, by the contrary modes of education which are adopted! The one is taught to aspire, and the other is early confined and limited. As their years increase, the sister must be wholly domesticated, while the brother is led by the hand through all the flowery paths of science. Grant that their minds are by nature equal, yet who shall wonder at the apparent superiority. . . . At length arrived at womanhood, the uncultivated fair one feels a void, which the employments allotted her are by no means capable of filling. . . . She herself is most unhappy; she feels the want of a cultivated mind. . . . Should it . . . be vociferated, ‘Your domestic employments are sufficient’—I would calmly ask, is it reasonable, that a candidate for immortality, for the joys of heaven, an intelligent being, who is to spend an eternity in contemplating the works of Deity, should at present be so degraded, as to be allowed no other ideas, than those which are suggested by the mechanism of a pudding, or the sewing the seams of a garment? . . .

Yes, ye lordly, ye haughty sex, our souls are by nature equal to yours.

Chapter 8 ★ Securing the Republic




The creation of around fifty Democratic-Republican societies in 1793 and 1794

reflected the expansion of the public sphere. The Pennsylvania society issued an

address defending itself against critics who questioned its right to criticize the

administration of George Washington.

The principles and proceedings of our Association have lately been caluminated [tarred by malicious falsehoods]. We should think ourselves unworthy to be ranked as Freemen, if awed by the name of any man, however he may command the public gratitude for past services, we could suffer in silence so sacred a right, so important a principle, as the freedom of opinion to be infringed, by attack on Societies which stand on that constitutional basis.

Freedom of thought, and a free communication of opinions by speech through the medium of the press, are the safeguards of our Liberties. . . . By the freedom of opinion, cannot be meant the right of thinking merely; for of this right the greatest Tyrant cannot deprive his meanest slave; but, it is freedom in the communication of sentiments [by] speech or through the press. This liberty is an imprescriptable [unlimitable] right, independent of any Constitution or social compact; it is as complete a right as that which any man has to the enjoyment of his life. These principles are eternal—they are recognized by our Constitution; and that nation is already enslaved that does not acknowledge their truth. . . .

If freedom of opinion, in the sense we understand it, is the right of every Citizen, by what mode of reasoning can that right be denied to an assemblage of Citizens? . . . The Society are free to declare that they never were more strongly impressed with . . . the importance of associations . . . than at the present time. The germ of an odious Aristocracy is planted among us—it has taken root. . . . Let us remain firm in attachment to principles. . . . Let us be particularly watchful to preserve inviolate the freedom of opinion, assured that it is the most effectual weapon for the protection of our liberty.

From Address of the Democratic-Republican

Society of Pennsylvania (December 18, 1794)


1. How does Murray answer the argu-

ment that offering education to women

will lead them to neglect their “domestic


2. Why does the Democratic-Republican

society insist on the centrality of “free

communication of opinions” in preserving

American liberty?

3. How do these documents reflect expanding

ideas about who should enjoy the freedom

to express one’s ideas in the early republic?




Chapter 8 ★ Securing the Republic230

meant not simply voting in elections but constant involvement in public affairs. It included the right to “exercise watchful- ness and inspection, upon the conduct of public officers.” Blamed by Federalists for helping to inspire the Whiskey Rebellion, the societies disappeared by the end of 1795. But much of their organization and outlook was absorbed into the emerging Republican Party. They helped to legiti- mize the right of “any portion of the people,” regardless of station in life, to express political opinions and take an active role in public life.

The Rights of Women

The democratic ferment of the 1790s inspired renewed discussion about women’s rights. In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft published in England her extra ordinary pamphlet A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Wollstonecraft did not directly challenge traditional gender roles. Her call for greater access to education and to paid employment for women rested on the idea that this would enable single women to support themselves and married women to perform more capably as wives and mothers. But she did “drop a hint,” as she put it, that women “ought to have representation” in government. Within two years, American editions of Wollstonecraft’s work had appeared, signal- ing new opportunities for women in the public sphere. Increasing numbers began expressing their thoughts in print. Judith Sargent Murray, one of the era’s most accomplished American women, wrote essays for the Massachusetts Magazine under the pen name “The Gleaner.” In her essay “On the Equality of the Sexes,” written in 1779 and published in 1790, Murray insisted that women had as much right as men to exercise all their talents and should be allowed equal educational opportunities to enable them to do so.

Women were contributing new ideas, but were they part of the new body politic? There was nothing explicitly limiting the rights in the Constitution to men. The Constitution’s use of the word “he” to describe officeholders, however, reflected the widespread assumption that politics was a realm for men. The time had not yet come for a broad assault on gender inequality.

The men who wrote the Constitution did not envision the active and continuing involvement of ordinary citizens in affairs of state. But the rise

A print shop in the early republic. The

increasing number of newspapers

played a major role in the expansion

of the public sphere.

Mary Wollstonecraft

“On the Equality of the Sexes”



231T H E A D A M S P R E S I D E N C Y

How did competing views of freedom and global events promote political divisions?

of political parties seeking to mobilize voters in hotly contested elections, the emergence of the “self-created societies,” the stirrings of women’s political consciousness, and even armed uprisings such as the Whiskey Rebellion broadened and deepened the democratization of public life set in motion by the American Revolution.


In 1792, Washington won unanimous reelection. Four years later, he decided to retire from public life, in part to establish the precedent that the presidency is not a life office. In his Farewell Address (mostly drafted by Hamilton and published in the newspapers rather than delivered orally; see the Appendix for excerpts from the speech), Washington defended his administration against criticism, warned against the party spirit, and advised his countrymen to steer clear of international power politics by avoiding “permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”

The Election of 1796

George Washington’s departure unleashed fierce party competition over the choice of his successor. In this, the first contested presidential election, two tickets presented themselves: John Adams, with Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina for vice president, representing the Federalists, and Thomas Jefferson, with Aaron Burr of New York, for the Republicans. Adams received seventy-one electoral votes to Jefferson’s sixty-eight. Because of factionalism among the Federalists, Pinckney received only fifty-nine votes, so Jefferson, the leader of the opposition party, became vice president. Voting fell almost entirely along sectional lines: Adams carried New England, New York, and New Jersey, while Jefferson swept the South, along with Pennsylvania.

In 1797, John Adams assumed leadership of a divided nation. His presidency was beset by crises. On the international front, the country was nearly dragged into the ongoing European war. As a neutral nation, the United States claimed the right to trade nonmilitary goods with both Britain and France, but both countries seized American ships with impunity. In 1797, American diplomats were sent to Paris to negotiate a treaty to replace the old alliance of 1778. French officials presented them with a demand for bribes before negotiations could proceed. When Adams made public the envoys’ dispatches, the French officials were

An engraving from The Lady’s

Magazine and Repository of

Entertaining Knowledge, published

in Philadelphia in 1792. A woman

identified as the “Genius of the Ladies

Magazine” kneels before Liberty,

presenting a petition for the “Rights

of Women.” In the foreground are

symbols of the arts, science, and

literature—knowledge that should be

available to women as well as men.

Adams’s presidency beset by crises



Chapter 8 ★ Securing the Republic232

designated by the last three letters of the alphabet. This “XYZ affair” poisoned America’s relations with its former ally. By 1798, the United States and France were engaged in a “quasi-war” at sea. Despite pressure from Hamilton, who desired a declaration of war, Adams in 1800 negotiated peace with France.

Adams was less cautious in domestic affairs. Unrest continued in many rural areas. In 1799, farm- ers in southeastern Pennsylvania obstructed the assessment of a tax on land and houses that Congress had imposed to help fund an expanded army and navy. A crowd led by John Fries, a local militia leader and auctioneer, released arrested men from prison. The army arrested Fries for treason and proceeded to terrorize his supporters, tear down liberty poles, and whip Republican newspaper editors.

The “Reign of Witches”

But the greatest crisis of the Adams administration arose over the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Confronted

with mounting opposition, some of it voiced by immigrant pamphleteers and editors, Federalists moved to silence their critics. A new Naturalization Act extended from five to fourteen years the residency requirement for immigrants seeking American citizenship. The Alien Act allowed the deportation of persons from abroad deemed “dangerous” by federal author- ities. The Sedition Act (which was set to expire in 1801, by which time Adams hoped to have been reelected) authorized the prosecution of virtu- ally any public assembly or publication critical of the government. The new law meant that opposition editors could be prosecuted for almost any political comment they printed. The main target was the Republican press.

The passage of these measures launched what Jefferson—recalling events in Salem, Massachusetts, a century earlier—termed a “reign of witches.” Eighteen individuals, including several Republican newspaper editors, were charged under the Sedition Act. Ten were convicted of spreading “false, scandalous, and malicious” information about the government. Matthew Lyon, a member of Congress from Vermont and editor of a Republican newspaper, The Scourge of Aristocracy, received a sentence of four months in prison and a fine of $1,000. In Massachusetts, authorities indicted several men for erecting a liberty pole bearing the inscription, “No Stamp Act, no Sedition, no Alien Bill, no Land Tax; Downfall to the Tyrants of America.”

A New Display of the United States,

an 1803 engraving by Amos Doolittle,

depicts President John Adams

surrounded by shields of sixteen

states (the original thirteen plus

Kentucky, Tennessee, and Vermont),

with the population and number of

senators and representatives of each.

At the top, an eagle holds an arrow,

an olive branch, and a banner reading

“Millions for our Defence not a Cent

for Tribute,” a motto that originated

during the XYZ affair of 1798 when

French officials demanded bribes

before entering into negotiations to

avoid war with the United States.

Matthew Lyon



233T H E A D A M S P R E S I D E N C Y

How did competing views of freedom and global events promote political divisions?

The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions

The Sedition Act thrust freedom of expression to the center of discussions of American liberty. Madison and Jefferson mobilized opposition, draft- ing resolutions adopted by the Virginia and Kentucky legislatures. Both resolutions attacked the Sedition Act as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. Virginia’s, written by Madison, called on the federal courts to protect free speech. The original version of Jefferson’s Kentucky resolution went further, asserting that states could nullify laws of Congress that violated the Constitution—that is, states could unilaterally prevent the enforcement of such laws within their borders. The legislature prudently deleted this passage.

No other state endorsed the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions. Many Americans, including many Republicans, were horrified by the idea of state action that might endanger the Union. But the “crisis of freedom” of the late 1790s strongly reinforced the idea that “freedom of discussion” was an indispensable attribute of American liberty and of democratic government. Free speech, as the Massachusetts Federalist Harrison Gray Otis noted, had become the people’s “darling privilege.”

The “Revolution of 1800”

“Jefferson and Liberty” became the watchword of the Republican campaign of 1800. By this time, Republicans had developed effective techniques for mobilizing voters, such as printing pamphlets, handbills, and newspa- pers and holding mass meetings to promote their cause. The Federalists, who viewed politics as an activity for a small group of elite men, found it difficult to match their opponents’ mobilization. Nonetheless, they still dominated New England and enjoyed considerable support in the Middle Atlantic states. Jefferson triumphed, with seventy-three electoral votes to Adams’s sixty-five.

Before assuming office, Jefferson was forced to weather an unusual constitutional crisis. Each party arranged to have an elector throw away one of his two votes for president, so that its presidential candidate would come out a vote ahead of the vice presidential. But the designated Republican elector failed to do so. As a result, both Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, received seventy-three electoral votes. With no candidate having a majority, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives that had been elected in 1798, where the Federalists enjoyed a slight majority. For thirty-five ballots, neither man received a majority of the votes. Finally, Hamilton intervened. He disliked Jefferson

An 1800 campaign banner, with a

portrait of Thomas Jefferson and the

words, “John Adams is no more.”

Opposition to the Sedition Act

“Freedom of discussion”



Chapter 8 ★ Securing the Republic234

but believed him enough of a statesman to recognize that the Federalist financial sys- tem could not be dismantled.

Hamilton’s support for Jefferson tipped the balance. To avoid a repetition of the cri- sis, Congress and the states soon adopted the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, requiring electors to cast separate votes for president and vice president. The election of 1800 also set in motion a chain of events that culminated four years later when Burr killed Hamilton in a duel.

The events of the 1790s demonstrated that a majority of Americans believed ordi- nary people had a right to play an active role in politics, express their opinions freely, and contest the policies of their government. To their credit, Federalists never considered resistance to the election result. Adams’s acceptance of defeat established the vital precedent of a peaceful transfer of power from a defeated party to its successor.

Slavery and Politics

Lurking behind the political battles of the 1790s lay the potentially divi- sive issue of slavery. Jefferson, after all, received every one of the South’s forty-one electoral votes. The triumph of “Jefferson and Liberty” would not have been possible without slavery. Had three-fifths of the slaves not been counted in apportionment, John Adams would have been reelected in 1800.

The issue of slavery would not disappear. The very first Congress under the new Constitution received petitions calling for emancipa- tion. One bore the weighty signature of Benjamin Franklin, who in 1787 had agreed to serve as president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. The blessings of liberty, Franklin’s petition insisted, should be available “without distinction of color to all descriptions of people.” Despite heated debate on both sides of the slavery question, Congress avoided the issue of emancipation. In 1793, to implement the Constitution’s fugitive slave clause, Congress enacted a law providing for federal and state judges and local officials to facilitate the return of escaped slaves.

8 7 7

21 5

4 3 8


8 4

3 5

12 4

6 16

9 4

Non-voting territory

Party Candidate Republican Jefferson* Burr**

Federalist Adams Pinckney Jay

73 73

65 64




Electoral Vote

Share of Electoral Vote

*Chosen as president by House of Representatives **Chosen as vice president by House of Representatives

T H E P R E S I D E N T I A L E L E C T I O N O F 1 8 0 0

Franklin and abolition



235T H E A D A M S P R E S I D E N C Y

How did competing views of freedom and global events promote political divisions?

The Haitian Revolution

Events during the 1790s underscored how powerfully slavery defined and distorted American freedom. The same Jeffersonians who hailed the French Revolution as a step in the universal progress of liberty reacted in horror at the slave revolution that began in 1791 in Saint Domingue, the jewel of the French overseas empire situated not far from the south- ern coast of the United States. Toussaint L’Ouverture, an educated slave on a sugar plantation, forged the rebellious slaves into an army able to defeat British forces seeking to seize the island and then an expedition hoping to reestablish French authority. The slave uprising led to the establishment of Haiti as an independent nation in 1804.

Although much of the country was left in ruins by years of warfare, the Haitian Revolution affirmed the universality of the revolutionary era’s creed of liberty. It inspired hopes for freedom among slaves in the United States. Throughout the nineteenth century, black Americans would celebrate the winning of Haitian independence.

Among white Americans, the response to the Haitian Revolution was different. Thousands of refugees from Haiti poured into the United States, fleeing the upheaval. Many spread tales of the massacres of slaveowners and the burning of their plantations, which reinforced white Americans’ fears of slave insurrection at home. When Jefferson became president, he sought to quarantine and destroy the hemisphere’s second independent republic.

Gabriel’s Rebellion

The momentous year of 1800 witnessed not only the “revolution” of Jefferson’s election but an attempted real one, a plot by slaves in Virginia itself to gain their freedom. It was organized by a Richmond blacksmith, Gabriel, and his brothers Solomon, also a blacksmith, and Martin, a slave preacher. The conspirators planned to march on the city, which had recently become the state capital, from surrounding plantations. They would kill some white inhabitants and hold the rest, including Governor James Monroe, hostage until their demand for the abolition of slavery was met. The plot was soon discovered and the leaders arrested. Twenty-six slaves, including Gabriel, were hanged and dozens more transported out of the state.

Blacks in 1800 made up half of Richmond’s population. One-fifth were free. A black community had emerged in the 1780s and 1790s, and the conspiracy was rooted in its institutions. In cities like Richmond, many skilled slave craftsmen, including Gabriel himself, could read and write

Toussaint L’Overture, leader of the

slave revolution in Saint Domingue

(modern-day Haiti). Painted in 1800

as part of a series of portraits of

French military leaders, it depicts him

as a courageous general.

Toussaint L’Ouverture



Chapter 8 ★ Securing the Republic236

and enjoyed the privilege of hiring themselves out to employers—that is, negotiating their own labor arrangements, with their owner receiving their “wages.” Their relative autonomy helps account for slave artisans’ promi- nent role in the conspiracy.

Like other Virginians, the participants in the conspiracy spoke the language of liberty forged in the American Revolution and reinvigorated during the 1790s. “We have as much right,” one conspirator declared, “to fight for our liberty as any men.” After the rebellion, however, the Virginia legislature tightened controls over the black population—making it ille- gal for them to congregate on Sundays without white supervision—and severely restricted the possibility that masters could voluntarily free their slaves. Any slave freed after 1806 was required to leave Virginia or be sold back into slavery. The door to emancipation, thrown open during the American Revolution, had been slammed shut.


The first president to begin his term in Washington, D.C., Jefferson assumed office on March 4, 1801. The city, with its unpaved streets, impov- erished residents, and unfinished public buildings, scarcely resembled L’Enfant’s grand plan. At one point, part of the roof of the Capitol collapsed, narrowly missing the vice president.

Jefferson’s inaugural address was conciliatory toward his oppo- nents. “Every difference of opinion,” he declared, “is not a difference of principle. . . . We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” He went on to expound the policies his administration would follow—economy in gov- ernment, unrestricted trade, freedom of religion and the press, friendship to all nations but “entangling alliances” with none. America, “the world’s best hope,” would flourish if a limited government allowed its citizens to be “free to regulate their own pursuits.”

Jefferson hoped to dismantle as much of the Federalist system as pos- sible. Among his first acts as president was to pardon all those imprisoned under the Sedition Act. During his eight years as president, he reduced the number of government employees and slashed the army and navy. He abolished all taxes except the tariff, including the hated tax on whiskey, and paid off part of the national debt. He aimed to minimize federal power and eliminate government oversight of the economy. His policies ensured that the United States would not become a centralized state on a European model, as Hamilton had envisioned.

Tightening control over blacks in Virginia

Jefferson’s inauguration

Dismantling the Federalist system



237J E F F E R S O N I N P O W E R

What were the achievements and failures of Jefferson’s presidency?

Judicial Review

Nonetheless, as Hamilton predicted, it proved impossible to uproot national authority entirely. Jefferson distrusted the unelected judiciary. But during his presidency, and for many years thereafter, the Federalist John Marshall headed the Supreme Court. A strong believer in national supremacy, Marshall established the Court’s power to review laws of Congress and the states.

The first landmark decision of the Marshall Court came in 1803, in the case of Marbury v. Madison. On the eve of leaving office, Adams had appointed a number of justices of the peace for the District of Columbia. Madison, Jefferson’s secretary of state, refused to issue commissions (the official documents entitling them to assume their posts) to these “midnight judges.” Four, including William Marbury, sued for their offices. Marshall’s decision declared unconstitutional the section of the Judiciary Act of 1789 that allowed the courts to order executive officials to deliver judges’ com- missions. It exceeded the power of Congress as outlined in the Constitution and was therefore void. Marbury, in other words, may have been entitled to his commission, but the Court had no power under the Constitution to order Madison to deliver it. The Supreme Court had assumed the right to determine whether an act of Congress violates the Constitution—a power known as “judicial review.”

Seven years later, in Fletcher v. Peck, the Court extended judicial review to state laws. In 1794, four land companies had paid nearly every member of the state legislature, Georgia’s two U.S. senators, and a number of fed- eral judges to secure their right to purchase land in present-day Alabama and Mississippi claimed by Georgia. Two years later, many of the corrupt lawmakers were defeated for reelection, and the new legislature rescinded the land grant and subsequent sales. Whatever the circumstances of the legislature’s initial action, Marshall declared, the Constitution prohibited Georgia from taking any action that impaired a contract. Therefore, the individual purchasers could keep their land, and the legislature could not repeal the original grant.

The Louisiana Purchase

But the greatest irony of Jefferson’s presidency involved his greatest achievement, the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. This resulted not from astute American diplomacy but because the rebellious slaves of Saint Domingue defeated forces sent by the ruler of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, to recon- quer the island. Moreover, to take advantage of the sudden opportunity

Fletcher v. Peck

The Marshall court



Chapter 8 ★ Securing the Republic238

to purchase Louisiana, Jefferson had to abandon his conviction that the federal government was limited to powers specifically mentioned in the Constitution, because the document said nothing about buying territory from a foreign power.

This vast Louisiana Territory, which stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada and from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, had been ceded by France to Spain in 1762 as part of the reshuffling of colonial possessions at the end of the Seven Years’ War. France secretly reacquired it in 1800. Soon after taking office, Jefferson learned of the arrangement. He had long been concerned about American access to the port of New Orleans, which lay within Louisiana at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The right to trade through New Orleans, essential to western farmers, had been acknowledged in the Treaty of San Lorenzo (also known as Pinckney’s Treaty) of 1795 between the United States and Spain. But Jefferson feared that the far more powerful French might try to interfere with American commerce. Needing money for military campaigns in Europe and with his dreams of American empire in ruins because of his inability to reestablish control over Saint Domingue, Napoleon offered to sell the entire Louisiana Territory. The cost, $15 million (the equivalent of perhaps $250 million in today’s money), made the Louisiana Purchase one of history’s greatest real estate bargains.

In a stroke, Jefferson had doubled the size of the United States and ended the French presence in North America. Jefferson admitted that he had “done an act beyond the Constitution.” But he believed the benefits jus- tified his transgression. Farmers, Jefferson had written, were “the chosen

White Hall Plantation, painted around

1800, depicts a Louisiana plantation

and the dynamism of the region’s

economy on the eve of its acquisition

by the United States. Black oarsmen

man a boat carrying bales of cotton

for sale in New Orleans.

Reasons for the Louisiana Purchase

Effects of the Purchase



239J E F F E R S O N I N P O W E R

people of God,” and the country would remain “virtuous” as long as it was “chiefly agricultural.” Now, Jefferson believed, he had ensured the agrar- ian character of the United States and its political stability for centuries to come.

Lewis and Clark

Within a year of the purchase, Jefferson dispatched an expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, two Virginia-born veterans of Indian wars in the Ohio Valley, to explore the new territory. Their objects were both scientific and commercial—to study the area’s plants, animal life, and geography, and to discover how the region could be exploited economically.

What were the achievements and failures of Jefferson’s presidency?

Great Falls

Mandan Villages

St. Louis

New Orleans

Santa Fe

Clark 1 806

Lewis 1806

Lew is and Clark 1804

Fort Clatsop















MAINE (part of





(claimed by Spain, Britain, and the United States)


Lewi s an d Cl ark Pass

Lemh i Pass

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iss ip

pi R


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Red R.

Arkansas R.

Platte R.

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Co lor

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Rio Grande

Ohio R.


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Yello wstone

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Great Salt Lake

L. H uron

Gulf of Mexico

Hudson Bay

Paci f ic Ocean

Atlantic Ocean





500 miles

500 kilometers

Lewis and Clark’s expedition, 1804–1806 Louisiana Purchase, 1803 United States, 1803


The Louisiana Purchase of 1803

doubled the land area of the

United States.

Scientific and commercial objectives



Chapter 8 ★ Securing the Republic240

Jefferson hoped the explorers would establish trading relations with west- ern Indians and locate a water route to the Pacific Ocean.

In the spring of 1804, Lewis and Clark’s fifty-member “corps of discovery” set out from St. Louis on the most famous exploring party in American history. They were accompanied by a fifteen-year-old Shoshone Indian woman, Sacajawea, the wife of a French fur trader, who served as their guide and interpreter. After crossing the Rocky Mountains, the expe- dition reached the Pacific Ocean in the area of present-day Oregon. They returned in 1806, bringing with them an immense amount of information about the region as well as numerous plant and animal specimens. The success of their journey helped to strengthen the idea that American terri- tory was destined to reach all the way to the Pacific.

Incorporating Louisiana

The only part of the Louisiana Purchase with a significant non-Indian population in 1803 was the region around New Orleans. When the United States took control, the city had around 8,000 inhabitants, including nearly 3,000 slaves and 1,300 free persons of color. Incorporating this diverse population into the United States was by no means easy. French and Spanish law accorded free blacks, many of whom were the offspring of unions between white military officers and slave women, nearly all the rights of white citizens. Moreover, Spain made it easy for slaves to obtain their freedom through purchase or voluntary emancipation by the owners.

The treaty that transferred Louisiana to the United States promised that all free inhabitants would enjoy “the rights, advantages, and immu-

A page from William Clark’s journal

of the Lewis and Clark expedition,

depicting a salmon. Among their

tasks was to record information about

the West’s plants, animal life, and


New Orleans in 1803, at the time of

the Louisiana Purchase. The painting

shows a view of the city from a

nearby plantation. The town houses

of merchants and plantation owners

line the broad promenade along the

waterfront. At the lower center, a

slave goes about his work. An eagle

holds aloft a banner that suggests

the heady optimism of the young

republic: Under My Wings Every

Thing Prospers.



241J E F F E R S O N I N P O W E R

What were the achievements and failures of Jefferson’s presidency?

nities of citizens.” Spanish and French civil codes, unlike British and American law, recognized women as co-owners of family property. Under American rule, Louisiana retained this principle of “community property” within marriage. But free blacks suffered a steady decline in status. And the local legislature soon adopted one of the most sweeping slave codes in the South. Louisiana’s slaves had enjoyed far more freedom under the rule of tyrannical Spain than as part of the liberty-loving United States.

The Barbary Wars

Jefferson hoped to avoid foreign entanglements, but he found it impossible as president to avoid being drawn into the continuing wars of Europe. Even as he sought to limit the power of the national government, foreign rela- tions compelled him to expand it. The first war fought by the United States was to protect American commerce in a dangerous world.

The Barbary states on the northern coast of Africa had long preyed on shipping in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, receiving tribute from several countries, including the United States, to protect their vessels. In 1801, Jefferson refused demands for increased payments, and the pasha of Tripoli declared war on the United States. The naval conflict lasted until 1804, when an American squadron won a victory at Tripoli harbor (a victory commemorated in the official hymn of the Marine Corps, which mentions fighting on “the shores of Tripoli”).

The Barbary Wars were the new nation’s first encounter with the Islamic world. In the 1790s, as part of an attempt to establish peaceful rela- tions, the federal government declared that the United States was “not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” But the conflicts helped to establish a long-lasting pattern in which Americans viewed Muslims as an exotic people whose way of life did not adhere to Western standards.

The Embargo

Far more serious in its impact on the United States was warfare between Britain and France, which resumed in 1803 after a brief lull. By 1806, each combatant had declared the other under blockade, seeking to deny trade with America to its rival. The Royal Navy resumed the practice of impress- ment. By the end of 1807, it had seized more than 6,000 American sailors (claiming they were British citizens and deserters).

To Jefferson, the economic health of the United States required free- dom of trade with which no foreign government had a right to interfere. American farmers needed access to markets in Europe and the Caribbean.

Protecting American commerce

Blockades by Britain and France

Louisiana slavery



Chapter 8 ★ Securing the Republic242

Deciding to use trade as a weapon, in December 1807 he persuaded Congress to enact the Embargo, a ban on all American vessels sailing for foreign ports. For a believer in limited government, this was an amazing exercise of federal power.

In 1808, American exports plummeted by 80 percent. Unfortunately, neither Britain nor France, locked in a death struggle, took much notice. But the Embargo devastated the economies of American port cities. Just before his term ended, in March 1809, Jefferson signed the Non-Intercourse Act, banning trade only with Britain and France but providing that if either side rescinded its edicts against American shipping, commerce with that country would resume.

Madison and Pressure for War

Jefferson left office at the lowest point of his career. He had won a sweeping reelection in 1804, receiving 162 electoral votes to only 14 for the Federalist candidate, Charles C. Pinckney. With the exception of Connecticut, he even carried the Federalist stronghold of New England. Four years later, his handpicked successor, James Madison, also won an easy victory. The Embargo, however, had failed to achieve its diplomatic aims and was increasingly violated by American shippers. In 1810, Madison adopted a new policy. Congress enacted a measure known as Macon’s Bill No. 2, which allowed trade to resume but provided that if either France or Britain ceased interfering with American rights, the president could reimpose an embargo on the other. With little to lose, since Britain controlled the seas, the French emperor Napoleon announced that he had repealed his decrees against neutral shipping. But the British continued to attack American vessels. In the spring of 1812, Madison reimposed the embargo on trade with Britain.

Meanwhile, a group of younger congressmen, mostly from the West, were calling for war with Britain. Known as the War Hawks, this new generation of political leaders had come of age after the winning of independence and were ardent nationalists. Their leaders included Henry Clay of Kentucky, elected Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1810, and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. The War Hawks spoke passionately of defending the national honor against British insults, but they also had more practical goals in mind, notably the annexation of Canada and the conquest of Florida, a haven for fugitive slaves owned by Britain’s ally Spain. Members of Congress also spoke of the necessity of upholding the principle of free trade and liberating the United States once and for all from European infringements on its independence.

Effects of the Embargo

Macon’s Bill No. 2

War Hawks



243T H E “ S E C O N D W A R O F I N D E P E N D E N C E ”

What were the causes and significant results of the War of 1812?

T H E “ S E C O N D W A R O F I N D E P E N D E N C E ”

The growing crisis between the United States and Britain took place against the background of deteriorating Indian relations in the West, which also helped propel the United States down the road to war. Jefferson had long favored the removal beyond the Mississippi River of Indian tribes that refused to cooperate in “civilizing” themselves. He encouraged traders to lend money to Indians, in the hope that accumulating debt would force them to sell some of their holdings west of the Appalachian Mountains, thus freeing up more land for “our increasing numbers.” On the other hand, the government continued President Washington’s policy of promot- ing settled farming among the Indians.

The Indian Response

By 1800, nearly 400,000 American settlers lived west of the Appalachian Mountains. They far outnumbered the remaining Indians, whose seemingly irreversible decline in power led some Indians to rethink their opposition to assimilation. Among the Creek and Cherokee, a group led by men of mixed Indian-white ancestry like Major Ridge and John Ross enthusiastically endorsed the federal policy of promoting “civilization.” Many had established businesses as traders and slaveowning farmers with the help of their white fathers. Their views, in turn, infuriated “nativ- ists,” who strongly opposed assimilation.

The period from 1800 to 1812 was an “age of prophecy” among the Indians, as many tribal leaders sought to revitalize Indian life. A militant message was expounded by two Shawnee brothers—Tecumseh, a chief who had refused to sign the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, and Tenskwatawa, a religious prophet who called for complete separation from whites, the revival of traditional Indian culture, and resistance to federal policies. White people, Tenskwatawa preached, were the source of all evil in the world, and Indians should abandon American alcohol, clothing, food, and manufactured goods. His followers gathered at Prophetstown, located on the Wabash River in Indiana.

Tecumseh meanwhile traversed the Mississippi Valley, pressing the argument that the alternative to Indian resistance was extermination. He repudiated chiefs who had sold land to the federal government: “Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?” In 1810, Tecumseh called for attacks on American frontier settlements. In November 1811,

Indian relations in the West

Tenskwatawa (the Prophet), in a

portrait by the American artist Charles

Bird King, who painted numerous

Indian leaders.

Changing attitudes toward assimilation



Chapter 8 ★ Securing the Republic244

while he was absent, American forces under William Henry Harrison destroyed Prophetstown in the Battle of Tippecanoe.

The War of 1812

In 1795, James Madison had written that war is the greatest enemy of “true liberty.” Nonetheless, Madison became a war president. Reports that the British were encouraging Tecumseh’s efforts contributed to the coming of the War of 1812. In June 1812, with assaults on American shipping continu- ing, Madison asked Congress for a declaration of war. American nationality, the president declared, was at stake—would Americans remain “an inde- pendent people” or become “colonists and vassals” of Great Britain? The vote revealed a deeply divided country. Both Federalists and Republicans representing the states from New Jersey northward, where most of the mercantile and financial resources of the country were concentrated, voted against war. The South and West were strongly in favor. The bill passed the House by a vote of 79–49 and the Senate by 19–13. It was the first time the United States declared war on another country, and it was approved by the smallest margin of any declaration of war in American history.

In retrospect, it seems remarkably foolhardy for a disunited and militarily unprepared nation to go to war with one of the world’s two major powers. Fortunately for the United States, Great Britain at the outset was preoccupied with the struggle in Europe. But it easily repelled two feeble American invasions of Canada and imposed a blockade that all but destroyed American commerce. In 1814, having finally defeated Napoleon, Britain invaded the United States. Its forces seized Washington, D.C., and burned the White House, while the government fled for safety.

Americans did enjoy a few military successes. In August 1812, the American frigate Constitution defeated the British warship Guerriere. Commodore Oliver H. Perry defeated a British naval force in September 1813 on Lake Erie. In the following year, a British assault on Baltimore was repulsed when Fort McHenry at the entrance to the harbor withstood a British bombardment. This was the occasion when Francis Scott Key com- posed “The Star-Spangled Banner,” an ode to the “land of the free and home of the brave” that became the national anthem during the 1930s.

Like the War of Independence, the War of 1812 was a two-front struggle—against the British and against the Indians. The war produced significant victories over western Indians who sided with the British. In 1813, pan-Indian forces led by Tecumseh (who had been commissioned a general in the British army) were defeated, and he himself was killed, at the Battle of the Thames, near Detroit, by an American force led by William Henry Harrison. In March 1814, an army of Americans and pro-assimilation


America’s first war declared

Fighting the British and the Indians



245T H E “ S E C O N D W A R O F I N D E P E N D E N C E ”

What were the causes and significant results of the War of 1812?


Cincinnati Baltimore


British set up blockade of American ports 1812

Battle of the Thames October 5, 1813

Commodore Perry defeats British navy

September 1813

Americans defend Fort McHenry from British attack (August 1814)

Horseshoe Bend March 27, 1814

General Jackson wins Battle of New Orleans

January 8, 1815

British capture and burn Washington, D.C.

August 24, 1814

Tippecanoe November 7, 1811

Fort Dearborn

Fort Niagara





















MAINE (part of Massachusetts)





St . L

aw ren

ce R .

M ississippi R.

M iss

iss ip

pi R


Te nn

esse e R.



io R .

H ud

so n


Lake Superior

La ke

M ic

hi ga

n Lake H uron

Lak e Eri


Lake Ontario

Lake Champlain

Gulf of Mexico

Atlantic Ocean





200 miles

200 kilometers

U.S. victory U.S. victory over Native Americans British victory U.S. forces British forces British naval blockade

T H E W A R O F 1 8 1 2

Although the British burned the nation’s capital, the War of 1812 essentially was a military draw.



Chapter 8 ★ Securing the Republic246

Cherokees and Creeks under the command of Andrew Jackson defeated hostile Creeks known as the Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama, killing more than 800 of them. He dictated terms of surrender that required the Indians, hostile and friendly alike, to cede more than half their land, over 23 million acres in all, to the federal government.

Jackson then proceeded to New Orleans, where he engineered the war’s greatest American victory, fighting off a British invasion in January 1815. Although a slaveholder, Jackson recruited the city’s free men of color into his forces, appealing to them as “sons of freedom” and promising them the same pay and land bounties as white recruits.

With neither side wishing to continue the conflict, the United States and Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent, ending the war. Although the treaty was signed in December 1814, ships carrying news of the agreement did not reach America until after the Battle of New Orleans had been fought. The treaty restored the previous status quo. No territory exchanged hands, nor did any provisions relate to impressment or neutral shipping rights.

The War’s Aftermath

A number of contemporaries called the War of 1812 the Second War of Independence. Jackson’s victory at New Orleans not only made him a national hero but also became a celebrated example of the ability of virtuous citizens of a republic to defeat the forces of despotic Europe.

Moreover, the war completed the conquest of the area east of the Mississippi River, which had begun during the Revolution. Never again

The Hornet and Peacock, Or, John

Bull in Distress, a watercolor by

Amos B. Doolittle from 1813,

celebrates a victory by the American

warship Hornet over the British vessel

Peacock during the War of 1812.

Britain is represented as a half-bull,

half-peacock creature being stung in

the neck by a hornet.

Battle of New Orleans

Treaty of Ghent

American control east of the Mississippi



247T H E “ S E C O N D W A R O F I N D E P E N D E N C E ”

What were the causes and significant results of the War of 1812?

would the British or Indians pose a threat to American control of this vast region. In its aftermath, white settlers poured into Indiana, Michigan, Alabama, and Mississippi, bringing with them their distinctive forms of social organization.

Britain’s defeat of Napoleon inaugu- rated a long period of peace in Europe. With diplomatic affairs playing less and less of a role in American public life, Americans’ sense of separateness from the Old World grew ever stronger.

The End of the Federalist Party

Jefferson and Madison succeeded in one major political aim—the elimina- tion of the Federalist Party. At first, the war led to a revival of Federalist fortunes. With antiwar sentiment at its peak in 1812, Madison had been reelected by the relatively narrow margin of 128 electoral votes to 89 over his Federalist opponent, DeWitt Clinton of New York. But then came a self-inflicted blow. In December 1814, a group of New England Federalists gathered at Hartford, Connecticut, to give voice to their party’s long- standing grievances, especially the domination of the federal government by Virginia presidents and their own region’s declining influence as new western states entered the Union. Contrary to later myth, the Hartford Convention did not call for secession or disunion. But it affirmed the right of a state to “interpose” its authority if the federal government violated the Constitution.

The Hartford Convention had barely adjourned before Jackson electrified the nation with his victory at New Orleans. In speeches and sermons, political and religious leaders alike proclaimed that Jackson’s triumph revealed, once again, that a divine hand oversaw America’s destiny. The Federalists could not free themselves from the charge of lacking patriotism. Within a few years, their party no longer existed. Yet in their dying moments Federalists had raised an issue—southern domination of the national government—that would long outlive their political party. And the country stood on the verge of a profound eco- nomic and social transformation that strengthened the very forces of commercial development that Federalists had welcomed and many Republicans feared.

War Party at Fort Douglas, a

watercolor by the Swiss-born

Canadian artist Peter Rindisbacher.

Painted in 1823, it depicts an incident

during the War of 1812 when Indian

allies of Great Britain fired rifles into

the air to greet their commander,

Captain Andrew Bulger, pictured on

the far right.

Legacy of Federalist Party





1. Identify the major parts of Hamilton’s financial plan, who supported these proposals, and why they aroused such passionate opposition.

2. How did the French Revolution and the ensuing global struggle between Great Britain and France shape early American politics?

3. How did the United States become involved in foreign affairs in this period?

4. How did the expansion of the public sphere and a new language of rights offer opportunities to women?

5. What caused the demise of the Federalists?

6. What impact did the Haitian Revolution have on the United States?

7. How did the Louisiana Purchase affect the situation of Native Americans in that region?

8. Whose status was changed the most by the War of 1812— Great Britain, the United States, or Native Americans?


Bank of the United States (p. 223)

Report on Manufactures (p. 223)

strict constructionists (p. 224)

impressment (p. 225)

Jay’s Treaty (p. 225)

Federalists and Republicans (p. 226)

Whiskey Rebellion (p. 226)

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (p. 230)

Judith Sargent Murray (p. 230)

XYZ affair (p. 232)

Alien and Sedition Acts (p. 232)

Virginia and Kentucky resolutions (p. 233)

Haitian Revolution (p. 235)

Gabriel’s Rebellion (p. 235)

Marbury v. Madison (p. 237)

Louisiana Purchase (p. 237)

expedition of Lewis and Clark (p. 239)

Barbary Wars (p. 241)

Embargo Act (p. 242)

Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa (p. 243)

Hartford Convention (p. 247)


wwnorton.com /studyspace



A chapter outline

A diagnostic chapter quiz

Interactive maps

Map worksheets

Multimedia documents

Chapter 8 ★ Securing the Republic



1793 Eli Whitney’s cotton gin

1790s– Second Great Awakening 1830s

1806 Congress approves funds for the National Road

1807 Robert Fulton’s steamboat

1814 Waltham textile factory

1819 Dartmouth College v. Woodward

Adams-Onís Treaty with Spain

1825 Erie Canal opens

1831 Cyrus McCormick’s reaper

1837 John Deere’s steel plow

Depression begins

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar”

1844 Telegraph put into commercial operation

1845 John O’Sullivan coins phrase “manifest destiny”

1845– Ireland’s Great Famine 1851

1854 Henry David Thoreau’s Walden



C H A P T E R 9

A watercolor from 1829 depicts the Erie

Canal five years after it opened. Boats

carrying passengers and goods traverse

the waterway, along whose banks farms

and villages have sprung up.

1 8 0 0 – 1 8 4 0



Chapter 9  The Market Revolution250

I n 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette visited the United States. Nearly fifty years had passed since, as a youth of twenty, the French nobleman fought at Washington’s side in the War of Independence. Since 1784, when he had last journeyed to the United States, the nation’s population had tripled to nearly 12 million, its land area had more than doubled, and its political institutions had thrived. The thirteen states of 1784 had grown to twenty-four, and Lafayette visited every one. He traveled up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers by steamboat, a recent invention that was helping to bring economic development to the trans- Appalachian West, and crossed upstate New York via the Erie Canal, the world’s longest man-made waterway, which linked the region around the Great Lakes with the Atlantic coast via the Hudson River.

Americans in the first half of the nineteenth century were fond of describing liberty as the defining quality of their new nation, the unique genius of its institutions. Likenesses of the goddess of Liberty, a familiar figure in eighteenth-century British visual imagery, became even more common in the United States, appearing in paintings and sculpture and on folk art from weather vanes to quilts and tavern signs. In Democracy in America, the French historian and politician Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of the “holy cult of freedom” he encountered on his own visit to the United States during the early 1830s. “For fifty years,” he wrote, “the inhabitants of the United States have been repeatedly and constantly told that they are the only religious, enlightened, and free people. They . . . have an immensely high opinion of themselves and are not far from believing that they form a species apart from the rest of the human race.”

Even as Lafayette, Tocqueville, and numerous other visitors from abroad toured the United States, however, Americans’ understandings of freedom were changing. Three historical processes unleashed by the Revolution accelerated after the War of 1812: the spread of market relations, the westward movement of the population, and the rise of a vigorous political democracy. (The first two will be discussed in this chapter, the third in Chapter 10.) All helped to reshape the idea of freedom, identifying it ever more closely with economic opportunity, physical mobility, and participation in a vibrantly democratic political system.

But American freedom also continued to be shaped by the presence of slavery. Lafayette, who had purchased a plantation in the West Indies and freed its slaves, once wrote, “I would never have drawn my sword in the cause of America if I could have conceived that thereby I was founding a land of slavery.” Yet slavery was moving westward with the

What were the main

elements of the market


How did the market

revolution spark social


How did the meanings of

American freedom change

in this period?

How did the market

revolution affect the lives

of workers, women, and





251A N E W E C O N O M Y

What were the main elements of the market revolution?

young republic. Half a century after the winning of independence, the coexistence of liberty and slavery, and their simultaneous expansion, remained the central contradiction of American life.


In the first half of the nineteenth century, an economic transformation known to historians as the market revolution swept over the United States. Its catalyst was a series of innovations in transportation and communica- tion. The market revolution was an acceleration of developments already under way in the colonial era. As noted in previous chapters, southern planters were selling the products of slave labor in the international mar- ket as early as the seventeenth century. By the eighteenth, many colonists had been drawn into Britain’s commercial empire. Consumer goods like sugar and tea and market-oriented tactics like the boycott of British goods had been central to the political battles leading up to independence.

Nonetheless, as Americans moved across the Appalachian Mountains and into interior regions of the states along the Atlantic coast, they found themselves more and more isolated from markets. In 1800, American farm families produced at home most of what they needed, from clothing to farm implements. What they could not make themselves, they obtained by bartering with their neighbors or purchasing from local stores and from rural craftsmen like blacksmiths and shoemakers. Those farmers not located near cities or navigable waterways found it almost impos- sible to market their produce. Many Americans devoted their energies to solving the technological problems that inhibited commerce within the country.

Roads and Steamboats

In the first half of the nineteenth century, in rapid succession, the steam- boat, canal, railroad, and telegraph wrenched America out of its economic past. These innovations opened new land to settlement, lowered trans- portation costs, and made it far easier for economic enterprises to sell their products. They linked farmers to national and world markets and made them major consumers of manufactured goods. Americans, wrote Tocqueville, had “annihilated space and time.”

An economic transformation

An early version of the great seal of

Ohio, which entered the Union in

1803, depicts a canal boat.



Chapter 9  The Market Revolution252

In 1806, Congress authorized the construction of the paved National Road from Cumberland, Maryland, to the Old Northwest. It reached Wheeling, on the Ohio River, in 1818 and by 1838 extended to Illinois, where it ended. But it was improved water transportation that most dra- matically increased the speed and lowered the expense of commerce.

Robert Fulton, a Pennsylvania-born artist and engineer, had experi- mented with steamboat designs while living in France during the 1790s. But not until 1807, when Fulton’s ship, the Clermont, navigated the Hudson River from New York City to Albany, was the steamboat’s technological and commercial feasibility demonstrated. The invention made possible upstream commerce (that is, travel against the current) on the country’s major rivers as well as rapid transport across the Great Lakes and, eventu- ally, the Atlantic Ocean. By 1811, the first steamboat had been introduced on the Mississippi River; twenty years later some 200 plied its waters.

The Erie Canal

The completion in 1825 of the 363-mile Erie Canal across upstate New York (a remarkable feat of engineering at a time when America’s next larg- est canal was only twenty-eight miles long) allowed goods to flow between the Great Lakes and New York City. Almost instantaneously, the canal attracted an influx of farmers migrating from New England, giving birth to cities like Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse along its path.

New York governor DeWitt Clinton, who oversaw the construction of the state-financed canal, predicted that it would make New York City “the granary of the world, the emporium of commerce, the seat of manufac- tures, the focus of great moneyed operations.” And, indeed, the canal gave

A view of New York City, in 1849,

by the noted lithographer Nathaniel

Currier. Steamships and sailing

vessels of various sizes crowd the

harbor of the nation’s largest city and

busiest port.

Connecting New York City and the Old Northwest

The Cumberland road

Advantages of the steamboat



253A N E W E C O N O M Y

What were the main elements of the market revolution?

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l l l l l

Main road Navigable section of river Main canal Canal under construction

T H E M A R K E T R E V O L U T I O N : R O A D S A N D C A N A L S , 1 8 4 0

The improvement of existing roads and building of new roads and canals sharply reduced transportation times and costs and

stimulated the growth of the market economy.



Chapter 9  The Market Revolution254

An 1827 engraving designed to show

the feasibility of railroads driven by

steam-powered locomotives, and

dedicated to the president of the

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which

began construction in the following

year. The engraver placed passengers

as far from the locomotive as

possible to ensure their safety in case

of an explosion.

New York City primacy over competing ports in access to trade with the Old Northwest. In its financing by the state government, the Erie Canal typified the developing transportation infrastructure.

The completion of the Erie Canal set off a scramble among other states to match New York’s success. Several borrowed so much money to finance elaborate programs of canal construction that they went bankrupt dur- ing the economic depression that began in 1837. By then, however, more than 3,000 miles of canals had been built, creating a network linking the Atlantic states with the Ohio and Mississippi valleys and drastically reducing the cost of transportation.

Railroads and the Telegraph

Canals connected existing waterways. The railroad opened vast new areas of the American interior to settlement, while stimulating the mining of coal for fuel and the manufacture of iron for locomotives and rails. Work on the Baltimore and Ohio, the nation’s first commercial railroad, began in 1828. By 1860, the railroad network had grown to 30,000 miles, more than the total in the rest of the world combined.

At the same time, the telegraph made possible instantaneous commu- nication throughout the nation. The device was invented during the 1830s by Samuel F. B. Morse, an artist and amateur scientist living in New York City, and it was put into commercial operation in 1844. Within sixteen years, some 50,000 miles of telegraph wire had been strung. Initially, the telegraph was a service for businesses, and especially newspapers, rather than individuals. It helped speed the flow of information and brought uni- formity to prices throughout the country.

State spending for internal improvements



255A N E W E C O N O M Y

What were the main elements of the market revolution?

The Rise of the West

Improvements in transportation and communication made possible the rise of the West as a powerful, self-conscious region of the new nation. Between 1790 and 1840, some 4.5 million people crossed the Appalachian Mountains—more than the entire U.S. population at the time of Washington’s first inauguration. Most of this migration took place after the end of the War of 1812, which unleashed a flood of land-hungry settlers moving from eastern states. In the six years following the end of the war in 1815, six new states entered the Union (Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi, and Maine—the last an eastern frontier for New England).

Few Americans moved west as lone pioneers. More frequently, people traveled in groups and, once they arrived in the West, cooper- ated with each other to clear land, build houses and barns, and establish communities. One stream of migration, including both small farmers and planters with their slaves, flowed out of the South to create the new Cotton Kingdom of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Many farm families from the Upper South crossed into southern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. A third population stream moved from New England across New York to the Upper Northwest—northern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and Michigan and Wisconsin.

Some western migrants became “squatters,” setting up farms on unoc- cupied land without a clear legal title. Those who purchased land acquired it either from the federal government, at the price, after 1820, of $1.25 per acre payable in cash or from land speculators on long-term credit. The West became the home of regional cultures very much like those the migrants

Migration west

Regional cultures in the West

A watercolor by the artist Edwin

Whitefield depicts a squatter’s cabin

in the Minnesota woods.



256 Chapter 9  The Market Revolution

These maps illustrate how the

transportation revolution of the early

nineteenth century made possible

much more rapid travel within the

United States.

had left behind. Upstate New York and the Upper Northwest resembled New England, with its small towns, churches, and schools, while the Lower South replicated the plantation-based society of the southern Atlantic states.

National boundaries made little difference to territorial expansion— in Florida, and later in Texas and Oregon, American settlers rushed in to claim land under the jurisdiction of foreign countries (Spain, Mexico, and Britain) or Indian tribes, confident that American sovereignty would soon follow in their wake. In 1810, American residents of West Florida rebelled and seized Baton Rouge, and the United States soon annexed the area. The drive for the acquisition of East Florida was spurred by Georgia and Alabama planters who wished to eliminate a refuge for fugitive slaves and hostile Seminole Indians. Andrew Jackson led troops into the area in 1818. While on foreign soil, he created an international crisis by execut- ing two British traders and a number of Indian chiefs. Although Jackson withdrew, Spain, aware that it could not defend the territory, sold it to the United States in the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 negotiated by John Quincy Adams.

T R A V E L T I M E S F R O M N E W Y O R K C I T Y I N 1 8 0 0 A N D 1 8 3 0

New York New York

Ohi o R


M iss

iss ip

pi R


Ohio R.


M iss

iss ip

pi R


L. E rie

L. Superior

L. M

ic hi

ga n

L. H uron L. On tario


L. E rie

L. Superior

L. M

ic hi

ga n

L. H uron L. O

ntari o





500 miles

500 kilometers

1 day 2 days 3 days 4 days 5 days 6 days 1 week 2 weeks 3 weeks 4 weeks 5 weeks 6 weeks

1800 1830

Expansion into Florida



257A N E W E C O N O M Y

What were the main elements of the market revolution?

Successive censuses told the remarkable story of western growth. In 1840, by which time the government had sold to settlers and land companies nearly 43 million acres of land, 7 million Americans—two-fifths of the total population—lived beyond the Appalachian Mountains. Between 1810 and 1830, Ohio’s population grew from 231,000 to more than 900,000. It reached nearly 2 million in 1850, when it ranked third among all the states. The careers of the era’s leading public figures reflected the westward movement. Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and many other statesmen were born in states along the Atlantic coast but made their mark in politics after moving west.

The Cotton Kingdom

Although the market revolution and westward expansion occurred simul- taneously in the North and the South, their combined effects heightened the nation’s sectional divisions. In some ways, the most dynamic feature of the American economy in the first thirty years of the nineteenth cen- tury was the rise of the Cotton Kingdom. The early industrial revolution, which began in England and soon spread to parts of the North, centered on factories producing cotton textiles with water-powered spinning and weaving machinery. These factories generated an immense demand for cotton, a crop the Deep South was particularly suited to growing because of its climate and soil fertility. Until 1793, the marketing of cotton had been slowed by the laborious task of removing seeds from the plant itself. But

STATE 1810 1830 1850

TABLE 9.1 Population Growth of Selected Western States, 1800–1850

(Excluding Indians)

Alabama 9,000 310,000 772,000

Illinois 12,000 157,000 851,000

Indiana 25,000 343,000 988,000

Louisiana 77,000 216,000 518,000

Mississippi 31,000 137,000 607,000

Missouri 20,000 140,000 682,000

Ohio 231,000 938,000 1,980,000

Cotton and industry

40 percent of Americans west of the Appalachian Mountains



Chapter 9  The Market Revolution258






































200 miles

200 kilometers





200 miles

200 kilometers

Each dot represents 2,000 bales of cotton

Cotton Production 1820

Each dot represents 2,000 bales of cotton

Cotton Production 1840

T H E M A R K E T R E V O L U T I O N : T H E S P R E A D O F C O T T O N C U L T I V A T I O N , 1 8 2 0 – 1 8 4 0

Maps of cotton production graphically illustrate the rise of the Cotton Kingdom stretching from South Carolina to Louisiana.



259M A R K E T S O C I E T Y

What were the main elements of the market revolution?

in that year, Eli Whitney, a Yale graduate working in Georgia as a private tutor, invented the cotton gin. A fairly simple device consisting of rollers and brushes, the gin quickly separated the seed from the cotton. Coupled with rising demand for cotton and the opening of new lands in the West, Whitney’s invention revo- lutionized American slavery, an institution that many Americans had expected to die out because its major crop, tobacco, exhausted the soil.

After the War of 1812, the federal government moved to consolidate American control over the Deep South, forcing defeated Indians to cede land, encourag- ing white settlement, and acquiring Florida. Settlers from the older southern states flooded into the region. Planters monopolized the most fertile land, whereas poorer farmers were generally confined to less productive and less acces- sible areas in the “hill country” and piney woods. After Congress pro- hibited the Atlantic slave trade in 1808—the earliest date allowed by the Constitution—a massive trade in slaves developed within the United States, supplying the labor force required by the new Cotton Kingdom.

Slave trading became a well-organized business, with firms gathering slaves in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina and shipping them to mar- kets in Mobile, Natchez, and New Orleans. Slave coffles—groups chained to one another on forced marches to the Deep South—became a common sight. Indeed, historians estimate that around 1 million slaves were shifted from the older slave states to the Deep South between 1800 and 1860. A source of greater freedom for many whites, the westward movement meant to African-Americans the destruction of family ties, the breakup of long- standing communities, and receding opportunities for liberty.

In 1793, when Whitney designed his invention, the United States pro- duced 5 million pounds of cotton. By 1820, the crop had grown to nearly 170 million pounds.


Since cotton was produced solely for sale in national and international markets, the South was in some ways the most commercially oriented region of the United States. Yet rather than spurring economic change, the South’s expansion westward simply reproduced the same agrarian,

Slave Trader, Sold to Tennessee, a

watercolor sketch by the artist Lewis

Miller from the mid-1850s. Miller

depicts a group of slaves being

marched from Virginia to Tennessee.

Once Congress voted to prohibit

the further importation of slaves into

the country, slaveowners in newly

opened areas of the country had to

obtain slaves from other parts of the

United States.

Surge in cotton production



Chapter 9  The Market Revolution260

slave-based social order of the older states. The region remained over- whelmingly rural. In 1860, roughly 80 percent of southerners worked the land—the same proportion as in 1800.

Commercial Farmers

In the North, however, the market revolution and westward expansion set in motion changes that transformed the region into an integrated economy of commercial farms and manufacturing cities. As the Old Northwest became a more settled society, bound by a web of transporta- tion and credit to eastern centers of commerce and banking, farmers found themselves drawn into the new market economy. They increasingly con- centrated on growing crops and raising livestock for sale, while purchas- ing at stores goods previously produced at home.

Western farmers found in the growing cities of the East a market for their produce and a source of credit. Loans originating with eastern banks and insurance companies financed the acquisition of land and supplies and, in the 1840s and 1850s, the purchase of fertilizer and new agricul- tural machinery to expand production. The steel plow, invented by John Deere in 1837 and mass-produced by the 1850s, made possible the rapid subduing of the western prairies. The reaper, a horse-drawn machine that greatly increased the amount of wheat a farmer could harvest, was invented by Cyrus McCormick in 1831 and produced in large quanti- ties soon afterward. Eastern farmers, unable to grow wheat and corn as cheaply as their western counterparts, increasingly concentrated on pro- ducing dairy products, fruits, and vegetables for nearby urban centers.

The Growth of Cities

From the beginning, cities formed part of the western frontier. Cincinnati was known as “porkopolis,” after its slaughterhouses where hundreds of thousands of pigs were butchered each year and processed for ship- ment to eastern consumers of meat. The greatest of all the western cities was Chicago. In the early 1830s, it was a tiny settlement on the shore of Lake Michigan. By 1860, thanks to the railroad, Chicago had become the nation’s fourth largest city, where farm products from throughout the Northwest were gathered to be sent east.

Like rural areas, urban centers witnessed dramatic changes due to the market revolution. Urban merchants, bankers, and master craftsmen took advantage of the economic opportunities created by the expanding market among commercial farmers. The drive among these businessmen

A trade card depicts the interior of

a chair-manufacturing workshop in

New York City. The owner stands at

the center, dressed quite differently

from his employees. The men are

using traditional hand tools; furniture

manufacturing had not yet been


Western cities



261M A R K E T S O C I E T Y

How did the market revolution spark social change?

to increase production and reduce labor costs fundamentally altered the nature of work. Traditionally, skilled artisans had manufactured goods at home, where they controlled the pace and intensity of their own labor. Now, entrepreneurs gathered artisans into large workshops in order to oversee their work and subdivide their tasks. Craftsmen who traditionally produced an entire pair of shoes or piece of furniture saw the labor process broken down into numerous steps requiring far less skill and training. They found themselves subjected to constant supervision by their employ- ers and relentless pressure for greater output and lower wages.

The Factory System

In some industries, most notably textiles, the factory super- seded traditional craft production altogether. Factories gath- ered large groups of workers under central supervision and replaced hand tools with power-driven machinery. Samuel Slater, an immigrant from England, established America’s first factory in 1790 at Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Since British law made it illegal to export the plans for industrial machinery, Slater, a skilled mechanic, built from memory a power-driven spinning jenny, one of the key inventions of the early industrial revolution.

A painting of Cincinnati, self-styled

Queen City of the West, from 1835.

Steamboats line the Ohio River


A broadside from 1853 illustrates

the long hours of work (from 5 AM

to 6:30 PM with brief breaks for

meals) in the textile mills of Holyoke,

Massachusetts. Factory labor was

strictly regulated by the clock.



Chapter 9  The Market Revolution262

Spinning factories such as Slater’s produced yarn, which was then sent to traditional hand-loom weavers and farm families to be woven into cloth. This “outwork” system, in which rural men and women earned money by taking in jobs from factories, typified early industrialization. Eventually, however, the entire manufacturing process in textiles, shoes, and many other products was brought under a single factory roof.

The cutoff of British imports because of the Embargo of 1807 and the War of 1812 stimulated the establishment of the first large-scale American factory utilizing power looms for weaving cotton cloth. This was constructed in 1814 at Waltham, Massachusetts, by a group of merchants who came to be called the Boston Associates. In the 1820s, they expanded their enterprise by creating an entirely new factory town (incorporated as the city of Lowell in 1836) on the Merrimack River, twenty-seven miles from Boston. Here they built a group of modern textile factories that brought together all phases of production from the spinning of thread to the weaving and finishing of cloth.

The earliest factories, including those at Pawtucket, Waltham, and Lowell, were located along the “fall line,” where waterfalls and river rapids could be harnessed to provide power for spinning and weaving machinery. By the 1840s, steam power made it possible for factory owners to locate in towns like New Bedford that were nearer to the coast, and in large cities like Philadelphia and Chicago with their immense local markets. In 1850, manufacturers produced in factories not only textiles but also a wide vari- ety of other goods, including tools, firearms, shoes, clocks, ironware, and agricultural machinery. What came to be called the “American system of manufactures” relied on the mass production of interchangeable parts that could be rapidly assembled into standardized finished products. More impressive, in a way, than factory production was the wide dispersion of mechanical skills throughout northern society. Every town, it seemed, had its sawmill, paper mill, iron works, shoemaker, hatmaker, tailor, and a host of other such small enterprises.

The “Mill Girls”

Although some factories employed entire families, the early New England textile mills relied largely on female and child labor. At Lowell, the most famous center of early textile manufacturing, young unmarried women from Yankee farm families dominated the workforce that tended the spinning machines. To persuade parents to allow their daughters to leave home to work in the mills, Lowell owners set up boarding houses with strict rules regulating personal behavior. They also established lecture halls and churches to occupy the women’s free time.

Women at work tending machines in

the Lowell textile mills.

Female and child labor

Steam power and factories

Interchangable parts



263M A R K E T S O C I E T Y

How did the market revolution spark social change?



Fall River






Delaware County












Susqu eha

nn a R


D ela

wa re


Mohawk R.

H ud

so n


C on

ne cti

cu t R


M errim

ack R.

Lake Ontario

Lake Champlain

Atlantic Ocean





100 miles

100 kilometers

Towns with 50–499 cotton-mill employees Towns with 500–999 cotton-mill employees Towns with 1,000 or more cotton-mill employees

C O T T O N M I L L S , 1 8 2 0 s

The early industrial revolution was

concentrated in New England, where

factories producing textiles from raw

cotton sprang up along the region’s

many rivers, taking advantage of

water power to drive their machinery.

This was the first time in history that large numbers of women left their homes to participate in the public world. Most valued the opportu- nity to earn money independently at a time when few other jobs were open to women. But these women did not become a permanent class of factory workers. They typically remained in the factories for only a few years, after which they left to return home, marry, or move west.

The Growth of Immigration

Economic expansion fueled a demand for labor, which was met, in part, by increased immigration from abroad. Between 1790 and 1830, immigrants contributed only marginally to American population growth. But between



Chapter 9  The Market Revolution264

1840 and 1860, over 4 million people (more than the entire population in 1790) entered the United States, the majority from Ireland and Germany. About 90 percent headed for the northern states, where job opportunities were most abundant and the new arrivals would not have to compete with slave labor. In 1860, the 814,000 residents of New York City, the major port of entry, included more than 384,000 immigrants, and one-third of the population of Wisconsin was foreign-born.

Numerous factors inspired this massive flow of population across the Atlantic. In Europe, the modernization of agriculture and the industrial revolution disrupted centuries-old patterns of life, pushing peasants off the land and eliminating the jobs of traditional craft workers. The intro- duction of the oceangoing steamship and the railroad made long-distance travel more practical. Moreover, America’s political and religious free- doms attracted Europeans, including political refugees from the failed revolutions of 1848, who chafed under the continent’s repressive govern- ments and rigid social hierarchies.

The largest number of immigrants, however, were refugees from disaster—Irish men and women fleeing the Great Famine of 1845–1851, when a blight destroyed the potato crop on which the island’s diet relied. An estimated 1 million persons starved to death and another million emigrated in those years, most of them to the United States. Lacking industrial skills and capital, these impoverished agricultural laborers and small farmers ended up filling the low-wage unskilled jobs native- born Americans sought to avoid. Male Irish immigrants built America’s railroads, dug canals, and worked as common laborers, servants, long- shoremen, and factory operatives. Irish women frequently went to work

as servants in the homes of native-born Americans, although some preferred factory work to domestic service. By the end of the 1850s, the Lowell textile mills had largely replaced Yankee farm women with immigrant Irish families. Four-fifths of Irish immi- grants remained in the Northeast.

The second-largest group of immigrants, Germans, included a considerably larger number of skilled craftsmen than the Irish. Germans also settled in tightly knit neighborhoods in eastern cities, but many were able to move to the West, where they established themselves as craftsmen, shopkeepers, and farmers. The “German triangle,” as the cities of Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Milwaukee were sometimes called, all attracted large German populations.

Some 40,000 Scandinavians also emigrated to the United States in these years, most of whom settled on farms in the Old Northwest.

TABLE 9.2 Total Number of Immigrants

by Five-Year Period

1841–1845 430,000

1846–1850 1,283,000

1851–1855 1,748,000

1856–1860 850,000


Young women workers from the

Amoskeag textile mills in Manchester,

New Hampshire, photographed

in 1854.



265M A R K E T S O C I E T Y

How did the market revolution spark social change?

The Rise of Nativism

The idea of the United States as a refuge for those seeking economic opportunity or as an escape from oppression has always coexisted with suspicion of and hostility to foreign newcomers. American history has witnessed periods of intense anxiety over immigration. The Alien Act of 1798 reflected fear of immigrants with radical political views. During the early twentieth century, as will be discussed below, there was widespread hostility to the “new immigration” from southern and eastern Europe. In the early twenty-first century, the question of how many persons should be allowed to enter the United States, and under what circumstances, remains a volatile political issue.

Archbishop John Hughes of New York City made the Catholic Church a more assertive institution. He condemned the use of the Protestant King James Bible in the city’s public schools, pressed Catholic parents to send their children to an expanding network of parochial schools, and sought government funding to pay for them. He aggressively sought to win con- verts from Protestantism.

Many Protestants found such activities alarming. Catholicism, they feared, threatened American institutions and American freedom. In 1834, Lyman Beecher, a prominent Presbyterian minister (and father of the reli- gious leader Henry Ward Beecher and the writers Harriet Beecher Stowe and Catharine Beecher), delivered a sermon in Boston, soon published as “A Plea for the West.” Beecher warned that Catholics were seeking to dominate the American West, where the future of Christianity in the

Lyman Beecher

FIGURE 9.1 Sources of

Immigration, 1850

(77,700) (51,800)



Riot in Philadelphia, an 1844

lithograph, depicts street battles

between nativists and Irish Catholics

that left fifteen persons dead. The

violence originated in a dispute over

the use of the Protestant King James

Bible in the city’s public schools.



Chapter 9  The Market Revolution266

world would be worked out. His sermon inspired a mob to burn a Catholic convent in the city.

The Irish influx of the 1840s and 1850s thoroughly alarmed many native-born Americans and led to violent anti-immigrant riots in New York City and Philadelphia. Those who feared the impact of immigration on American political and social life were called “nativists.” They blamed immigrants for urban crime, political corruption, and a fondness for intoxicating liquor, and they accused them of undercutting native-born skilled laborers by working for starvation wages. Stereotypes similar to those directed at blacks flourished regarding the Irish as well—childlike, lazy, and slaves of their passions, they were said to be unsuited for repub- lican freedom.

The Transformation of Law

American law increasingly supported the efforts of entrepreneurs to par- ticipate in the market revolution, while shielding them from interference by local governments and liability for some of the less desirable results of economic growth. The corporate form of business organization became cen- tral to the new market economy. A corporate firm enjoys special privileges and powers granted in a charter from the government, among them that investors and directors are not personally liable for the company’s debts. Unlike companies owned by an individual, family, or limited partnership, in other words, a corporation can fail without ruining its directors and stockholders.

Many Americans distrusted corporate charters as a form of government-granted special privilege. But the courts upheld their valid- ity, while opposing efforts by established firms to limit competition from newcomers. In Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819), John Marshall’s Supreme Court defined corporate charters issued by state legislatures as contracts, which future lawmakers could not alter or rescind. Five years later, in Gibbons v. Ogden, the Court struck down a monopoly the New York legislature had granted for steamboat navigation. And in 1837, with Roger B. Taney now the chief justice, the Court ruled that the Massachusetts legislature did not infringe the charter of an existing company that had constructed a bridge over the Charles River when it empowered a second company to build a competing bridge. The commu- nity, Taney declared, had a legitimate interest in promoting transporta- tion and prosperity.

Nativist stereotypes


Court decisions on the economy



267T H E F R E E I N D I V I D U A L


By the 1830s, the market revolution and westward expansion had pro- duced a society that amazed European visitors: energetic, materialistic, and seemingly in constant motion. Alexis de Tocqueville was struck by Americans’ restless energy and apparent lack of attachment to place. “No sooner do you set foot on American soil,” he observed, “than you find your- self in a sort of tumult. All around you, everything is on the move.”

The West and Freedom

Westward expansion and the market revolution reinforced some older ideas of freedom and helped to create new ones. American freedom, for example, had long been linked with the availability of land in the West. A New York journalist, John L. O’Sullivan, first employed the phrase “manifest destiny,” meaning that the United States had a divinely appointed mission, so obvious as to be beyond dispute, to occupy all of North America. Americans, he proclaimed, had a far better title to western lands than could be provided by any international treaty, right of discovery, or long-term settlement.

O’Sullivan wrote these words in 1845, but the essential idea was familiar much earlier. Many Americans believed that the settlement and economic exploitation of the West would prevent the United States from following the path of Europe and becoming a society with fixed social classes and a large group of wage-earning poor. In the West, where land was more readily available and oppressive factory labor far less com- mon, there continued to be the chance to achieve economic independence, the social condition of freedom. In national myth and ideology, the West would long remain, as the writer Wallace Stegner would later put it, “the last home of the freeborn American.”

The Transcendentalists

The restless, competitive world of the market revolution strongly encour- aged the identification of American freedom with the absence of restraints on self-directed individuals seeking economic advancement and personal development. The “one important revolution” of the day, the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in the 1830s, was “the new value of the pri- vate man.” In Emerson’s definition, rather than a preexisting set of rights

How did the meanings of American freedom change in this period?

An energetic society

The West and economic independence

Individual freedom



Chapter 9  The Market Revolution268

or privileges, freedom was an open-ended process of self-realization by which individuals could remake themselves and their own lives.

Emerson was perhaps the most prominent member of a group of New England intellectuals known as the transcendentalists, who insisted on the primacy of individual judgment over existing social traditions and institutions. Emerson’s Concord, Massachusetts, neighbor, the writer Henry David Thoreau, echoed his call for individual self-reliance. “Any man more right than his neighbors,” Thoreau wrote, “is a majority of one.”

In his own life, Thoreau illustrated Emerson’s point about the pri- macy of individual conscience in matters political, social, and personal, and the need to find one’s own way rather than following the crowd. Thoreau became persuaded that modern society stifled individual judg- ment by making men “tools of their tools,” trapped in stultifying jobs by their obsession with acquiring wealth. Even in “this comparatively free country,” he wrote, most persons were so preoccupied with material things that they had no time to contemplate the beauties of nature.

To escape this fate, Thoreau retreated for two years to a cabin on Walden Pond near Concord, where he could enjoy the freedom of isola- tion from the “economical and moral tyranny” he believed ruled American society. He subsequently published Walden (1854), an account of his expe- riences and a critique of how the market revolution was, in his opinion, degrading both Americans’ values and the natural environment. An area that had been covered with dense forest in his youth, he observed, had been so transformed by woodcutters and farmers that it had become almost completely devoid of trees and wild animals. Thoreau appealed to Americans to “simplify” their lives rather than become obsessed with the accumulation of wealth. Genuine freedom, he insisted, lay within.

The Second Great Awakening

The popular religious revivals that swept the country during the Second Great Awakening added a religious underpinning to the celebration of personal self-improvement, self-reliance, and self-determination. These revivals, which began at the turn of the century, were originally orga- nized by established religious leaders alarmed by low levels of church attendance in the young republic (perhaps as few as 10 percent of white Americans regularly attended church during the 1790s). But they quickly expanded far beyond existing churches. They reached a crescendo in the 1820s and early 1830s, when the Reverend Charles Grandison Finney held months-long revival meetings in upstate New York and New York City.

The daguerreotype, an early form

of photography, required the sitter

to remain perfectly still for twenty

seconds or longer. The philosopher

Ralph Waldo Emerson, depicted here,

did not like the result. He complained

in his journal that in his “zeal not to

blur the image,” every muscle had

become “rigid” and his face was

fixed in a frown as “in madness, or

in death.”

Emerson and Thoreau



269T H E F R E E I N D I V I D U A L

How did the meanings of American freedom change in this period?

Like the evangelists (traveling preachers) of the first Great Awakening of the mid-eighteenth century discussed in Chapter 4, Finney warned of hell in vivid language while offering the promise of salvation to converts who abandoned their sinful ways.

The Second Great Awakening democratized American Christianity, making it a truly mass enterprise. At the time of independence, fewer than 2,000 Christian ministers preached in the United States. In 1845, they numbered 40,000. Evangelical denominations such as the Methodists and Baptists enjoyed explosive growth in membership, and smaller sects proliferated. By the 1840s, Methodism, with more than 1 million members, had become the country’s largest denomination. At large camp meetings, especially prominent on the frontier, fiery revivalist preachers rejected the idea that man is a sinful creature with a preordained fate, promot- ing instead the doctrine of human free will. At these gatherings, rich and poor, male and female, and in some instances whites and blacks worshiped alongside one another and pledged to abandon worldly sins in favor of the godly life.

The Awakening’s Impact

Even more than its predecessor of several decades earlier, the Second Great Awaken ing stressed the right of private judgment in spiritual mat- ters and the possibility of universal salvation through faith and good

Religious Camp Meeting, a watercolor

from the late 1830s depicting an

evangelical preacher at a revival

meeting. Some of the audience

members seem inattentive, while

others are moved by his fiery sermon.

Democratizing American Christianity

Camp meetings




Ralph Waldo Emerson was perhaps the most prominent intellectual in mid-nineteenth-century

America. In this famous address, delivered at Harvard College, he insisted on the primacy of

individual judgment over existing social traditions as the essence of freedom.

Perhaps the time is already come, when . . . the sluggard intellect of this continent will look from under its iron lids and fill the postponed expectation of the world with something better than the exertions of mechanical skill. Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close. . . .

In self-trust, all the virtues are comprehended. Free should the scholar be—free and brave. Free even to the definition of freedom. . . . Not he is great who can alter matter, but he who can alter my state of mind. They are the kings of the world who give the color of their present thought to all nature and all art. . . .

[A] sign of the times . . . is the new importance given to the single individual. Every thing that tends to insulate the individual—to surround him with barriers of natural respect, so that each man shall feel the world is his, and man shall treat with man as a sovereign state with a sovereign state—tends to true union as well as greatness. ‘I learned,’ said the melancholy Pestalozzi [a Swiss educator], “that no man in God’s wide earth is either willing or able to help any other man.” Help must come from his bosom alone. . . .

We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe. The spirit of the American freeman is already suspected to be timid, imitative, tame. . . . The scholar is decent, indolent, complaisant. See already the tragic consequence. The mind of this country taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself. Young men . . . do not yet see, that if the single man [should] plant himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him. . . . We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds.

From Ralph Waldo Emerson,

“The American Scholar” (1837)


270 Chapter 9  The Market Revolution



Beginning in the 1830s, young women who worked in the cotton textile factories in Lowell,

Massachusetts, organized to demand shorter hours of work and better labor conditions. In

this pamphlet from 1845, a factory worker details her grievances as well as those of female

domestic workers, the largest group of women workers.

Philanthropists of the nineteenth century!—shall not the operatives of our country be permitted to speak for themselves? Shall the worthy laborer be awed into silence by wealth and power, and for fear of being deprived of the means of procuring his daily bread? Shall tyranny and cruel oppression be allowed to rivet the chains of physical and mental slavery on the millions of our country who are the real producers of all its improvements and wealth, and they fear to speak out in noble self-defense? Shall they fear to appeal to the sympathies of the people, or the justice of this far-famed republican nation? God forbid!

Much has been written and spoken in woman’s behalf, especially in America; and yet a large class of females are, and have been, destined to a state of servitude as degrading as unceasing toil can make it. I refer to the female operatives of New England—the free states of our union—the states where no colored slave can breathe the balmy air, and exist as such—but yet there are those, a host of them, too, who are in fact nothing more nor less than slaves in every sense of the word! Slaves to a system of labor which requires them to toil from five until seven o’clock, with one hour only to attend to the wants of nature, allowed—slaves to ignorance—and how can it be otherwise? What time has the operative to bestow on moral, religious or intellectual culture? Common sense will teach every one the utter impossibility of improving the mind under these circumstances, however great the desire may be for knowledge.

Again, we hear much said on the subject of benevolence among the wealthy and so called, Christian part of community. Have we not cause to question the sincerity of those who, while they talk benevolence in the parlor, compel their help to labor for a mean, paltry pittance in the kitchen? And while they manifest great concern for the souls of the heathen in distant lands, care nothing for the bodies and intellects of those within their own precincts? . . .

In the strength of our united influence we

will soon show these drivelling cotton lords, this mushroom aristocracy of New England, who so arrogantly aspire to lord it over God’s heritage, that our rights cannot be trampled upon with impunity; that we WILL not longer submit to that arbitrary power which has for the last ten years been so abundantly exercised over us.

From “Factory Life as It Is,

by an Operative” (1845)


1. How does Emerson define the freedom

of what he calls “the single individual”?

2. Why does the female factory worker

compare her conditions with those of


3. What does the contrast between these

two documents suggest about the

impact of the market revolution on

American thought?

271V O I C E S O F F R E E D O M



Chapter 9  The Market Revolution272

works. Every person, Finney insisted, was a “moral free agent”—that is, a person free to choose between a Christian life and sin.

Revivalist ministers seized the oppor- tunities offered by the market revolution to spread their message. They raised funds, embarked on lengthy preaching tours by canal, steamboat, and railroad, and flooded the country with mass-produced, inexpen- sive religious tracts. The revivals’ opening of religion to mass participation and their message that ordinary Americans could shape their own spiritual destinies reso- nated with the spread of market values.

To be sure, evangelical preachers can hardly be described as cheerleaders for a

market society. They regularly railed against greed and indifference to the welfare of others as sins. Yet the revivals thrived in areas caught up in the rapid expansion of the market economy, such as the region of upstate New York along the path of the Erie Canal. Most of Finney’s converts here came from the commercial and professional classes. Evangelical ministers promoted what might be called a controlled individualism as the essence of freedom. In stressing the importance of industry, sobriety, and self- discipline as examples of freely chosen moral behavior, evan- gelical preachers promoted the very qualities necessary for success in a market culture.

The Emergence of Mormonism

The end of governmental support for established churches promoted com- petition among religious groups that kept religion vibrant and promoted the emergence of new denominations. Among the most successful of the religions that sprang up was the Church of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons, which hoped to create a Kingdom of God on earth. The Mormons were founded in the 1820s by Joseph Smith, a farmer in upstate New York who as a youth began to experience religious visions. He claimed to have been led by an angel to a set of golden plates covered with strange writing. Smith translated and published them as The Book of Mormon, after a fourth-century prophet.

The Book of Mormon tells the story of three families who traveled from the ancient Middle East to the Americas, where they eventually evolved into Native American tribes. Jesus Christ plays a prominent role in the

Das neue Jerusalem (The New

Jerusalem), an early-nineteenth-

century watercolor, in German,

illustrates the narrow gateway to

heaven and the fate awaiting sinners

in hell. These were common themes

of preachers in the Second Great


Joseph Smith



273T H E L I M I T S O F P R O S P E R I T Y

book, appearing to one of the family groups in the Western Hemisphere after his death and resurrection. The second coming of Christ would take place in the New World, where Smith was God’s prophet.

Mormonism emerged in a cen- ter of the Second Great Awakening, upstate New York. The church founded by Smith shared some fea- tures with other Christian denomi- nations including a focus on the family and community as the basis of social order and a rejection of alcohol. Gradually, however, Smith began to receive visions that led to more con- troversial doctrines, notably polygamy, which allows one man to have more than one wife. By the end of his life, Smith had married no fewer than thirty women. Along with the absolute authority Smith exercised over his followers, this doctrine outraged the Mormons’ neighbors. Mobs drove Smith and his followers out of New York, Ohio, and Missouri before they settled in 1839 in Nauvoo, Illinois. There, five years later, Smith was arrested on the charge of inciting a riot that destroyed an anti-Mormon newspaper. While in jail awaiting trial, Smith was murdered by a group of intruders. In 1847, his successor as Mormon leader, Brigham Young, led more than 2,000 followers across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains to the shores of the Great Salt Lake in present-day Utah. By 1852, the number of Mormons in various settlements in Utah reached 16,000. The Mormons’ experience revealed the limits of religious toleration in nineteenth-century America but also the opportunities offered by religious pluralism. Today, Mormons constitute the fourth largest church in the United States, and The Book of Mormon has been translated into over 100 languages.


Liberty and Prosperity

As the market revolution progressed, the right to compete for economic advancement became a touchstone of American freedom. Americans cel- ebrated the opportunities open to the “self-made man,” a term that came

How did the meanings of American freedom change in this period?

In this 1846 photograph, the massive

Mormon temple in Nauvoo, Illinois,

towers over the ramshackle wooden

buildings of this town along the

Mississippi River.

Brigham Young



Chapter 9  The Market Revolution274

into use at this time. According to this idea, those who achieved success in America did so not as a result of hereditary privilege or government favor- itism as in Europe, but through their own intelligence and hard work. The market revolution enriched numerous bankers, merchants, industrialists, and planters. It produced a new middle class—an army of clerks, accoun- tants, and other office employees who staffed businesses in Boston, New York, and elsewhere. It created new opportunities for farmers who profited from the growing demand at home and abroad for American agricultural products, and for skilled craftsmen such as Thomas Rodgers, a machine builder who established a successful locomotive factory in Paterson, New Jersey. New opportunities for talented men opened in professions such as law, medicine, and teaching. By the early 1820s, there were an estimated 10,000 physicians in the United States.

Race and Opportunity

The market revolution affected the lives of all Americans. But not all were positioned to take advantage of its benefits. Most blacks, of course, were slaves, but even free blacks found themselves excluded from the new economic opportunities. The 220,000 blacks living in the free states on the eve of the Civil War (less than 2 percent of the North’s popula- tion) suffered discrimination in every phase of their lives. The majority of blacks lived in the poorest, unhealthiest sections of cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. And even these neighborhoods were subject to occasional violent assault by white mobs, like the armed bands that attacked blacks and destroyed their homes and businesses in Cincinnati in 1829.

Barred from schools and other public facilities, free blacks laboriously constructed their own institutional life, centered on mutual-aid and educa- tional societies, as well as independent churches, most notably the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Richard Allen of Philadelphia, a Methodist preacher, had been spurred to found the church after being forcibly removed from his former church for praying at the altar rail, a place reserved for whites.

Whereas many white Americans could look forward to a life of eco- nomic accumulation and individual advancement, large numbers of free blacks experienced downward mobility. At the time of abolition in the North, because of widespread slave ownership among eighteenth-century artisans, a considerable number of northern blacks possessed craft skills. But it became more and more difficult for blacks to utilize these skills once they became free. Although many white artisans criticized slavery, most

Pat Lyon at the Forge, an 1826–1827

painting of a prosperous blacksmith.

Proud of his accomplishments as a

self-made man who had achieved

success through hard work and skill

rather than inheritance, Lyon asked

the artist to paint him in his shop

wearing his work clothes.

Black institutions

Downward mobility of free blacks



275T H E L I M I T S O F P R O S P E R I T Y

How did the market revolution affect the lives of workers, women, and African-Americans?

viewed the freed slaves as low-wage competitors and sought to bar them from skilled employment.

Hostility from white craftsmen, however, was only one of many obsta- cles that kept blacks confined to the lowest ranks of the labor market. White employers refused to hire them in anything but menial positions, and white customers did not wish to be served by them. The result was a rapid decline in economic status until by mid-century, the vast majority of northern blacks labored for wages in unskilled jobs and as domestic servants. The state census of 1855 revealed 122 black barbers and 808 black servants in New York City, but only 1 lawyer and 6 doctors. Nor could free blacks take advantage of the opening of the West to improve their economic status, a central component of American freedom. Federal law barred them from access to public land, and by 1860 four states—Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Oregon—prohibited them from entering their territory altogether.

The Cult of Domesticity

Women, too, found many of the opportunities opened by the market revo- lution closed to them. As the household declined as a center of economic production, many women saw their traditional roles undermined by the availability of mass-produced goods previously made at home. Some women, as noted above, followed work as it moved from household to fac- tory. Others embraced a new definition of femininity, which glorified not a woman’s contribution to the family’s economic well-being, but her ability to create a private environment shielded from the competitive tensions of the market economy. Woman’s “place” was in the home, a site increasingly emptied of economically productive functions as work moved from the household to workshops and factories. Her role was to sustain nonmarket values like love, friendship, and mutual obligation, providing men with a shelter from the competitive marketplace.

The earlier ideology of “republican motherhood,” which allowed women a kind of public role as mothers of future citizens, subtly evolved into the mid-nineteenth-century “cult of domesticity.” “In whatever situ- ation of life a woman is placed from her cradle to her grave,” declared The Young Lady’s Book, one of numerous popular magazines addressed to female audiences of the 1820s and 1830s, “a spirit of obedience and submission, pliability of temper, and humility of mind, are required from her.”

With more and more men leaving the home for work, women did exercise considerable power over personal affairs within the family. The rapid decline in the American birthrate during the nineteenth century

Married, a lithograph from around

1849, depicts a young, middle-class

family at home. It exemplifies the cult

of domesticity, in which women’s

social role was to fulfill their family


Limited opportunity for free blacks



Chapter 9  The Market Revolution276

(from an average of seven children per woman in 1800 to four in 1900) cannot be explained except by the con- scious decision of millions of women to limit the num- ber of children they bore. But the idea of domesticity minimized women’s even indirect participation in the outside world. Men moved freely between the public and private “spheres”; women were supposed to remain cloistered in the private realm of the family.

Women and Work

Prevailing ideas concerning gender bore little relation to the experience of those women who worked for wages at least some time in their lives. They did so despite

severe disadvantages. Women could not compete freely for employment, since only low-paying jobs were available to them. Married women still could not sign independent contracts or sue in their own names, and not until after the Civil War did they, not their husbands, control the wages they earned. Nonetheless, for poor city dwellers and farm families, the labor of all family members was essential to economic survival. Thousands of poor women found jobs as domestic servants, factory workers, and seamstresses.

For the expanding middle class, however, it became a badge of respect- ability for wives to remain at home, outside the disorderly new market economy, while husbands conducted business in their offices, shops, and factories. In larger cities, where families of different social classes had previously lived alongside one another, fashionable middle-class neigh- borhoods populated by merchants, factory owners, and professionals like lawyers and doctors began to develop. Work in middle-class homes was done by domestic servants, the largest employment category for women in nineteenth-century America. The freedom of the middle-class woman— defined in part as freedom from labor—rested on the employment of other women within her household.

Even though most women were anything but idle, in a market econ- omy where labor increasingly meant work that created monetary value, it became more and more difficult to think of labor as encompassing anyone but men. Discussions of labor rarely mentioned housewives, domestic ser- vants, and female outworkers, except as an indication of how the spread of capitalism was degrading men. The idea that the male head of household should command a “family wage” that enabled him to support his wife and children became a popular definition of social justice. It sank deep roots not only among middle-class Americans but among working-class men as well.

Expanding middle class

An image from a female infant’s 1830

birth and baptismal certificate depicts

a domestic scene, with women at

work while men relax.

A “family wage”



277T H E L I M I T S O F P R O S P E R I T Y

How did the market revolution affect the lives of workers, women, and African-Americans?

The Early Labor Movement

Although many Americans welcomed the market rev- olution, others felt threatened by its consequences. Surviving members of the revolutionary generation feared that the obsession with personal economic gain was undermining devotion to the public good.

Many Americans experienced the market revolu- tion not as an enhancement of the power to shape their own lives, but as a loss of freedom. The period between the War of 1812 and 1840 witnessed a sharp economic downturn in 1819, a full-fledged depression starting in 1837, and numerous ups and downs in between, during which employment was irregular and numerous busi- nesses failed. The economic transformation significantly widened the gap between wealthy merchants and indus- trialists on the one hand and impoverished factory work- ers, unskilled dockworkers, and seamstresses laboring at home on the other. In Massachusetts, the most industrialized state in the country, the richest 5 percent of the population owned more than half the wealth.

Alarmed at the erosion of traditional skills and the threat of being reduced to the status of dependent wage earners, skilled craftsmen in the late 1820s created the world’s first Workingmen’s Parties, short-lived political organizations that sought to mobilize lower-class support for can- didates who would press for free public education, an end to imprisonment for debt, and legislation limiting work to ten hours per day. In the 1830s, a time of rapidly rising prices, union organization spread and strikes became commonplace. Along with demands for higher wages and shorter hours, the early labor movement called for free homesteads for settlers on public land and an end to the imprisonment of union leaders for conspiracy.

The “Liberty of Living”

But over and above these specific issues, workers’ language of protest drew on older ideas of freedom linked to economic autonomy, public-spirited virtue, and social equality. The conviction of twenty New York tailors in 1835 under the common law of conspiracy for combining to seek higher wages inspired a public procession marking the “burial of liberty.” Such actions and language were not confined to male workers. The young mill women of Lowell walked off their jobs in 1834 to protest a reduction in wages and again two years later when employers raised rents at their

The Shoemakers’ Strike in Lynn—

Procession in the Midst of a Snow-

Storm, of Eight Hundred Women

Operatives, an engraving from Frank

Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper,

March 17, 1860. The striking women

workers carry a banner comparing

their condition to that of slaves.

Labor actions

Demands of early labor movement



Chapter 9  The Market Revolution278

boardinghouses. They carried banners affirming their rights as “daughters of free men,” and, addressing the factory owners, they charged that “the oppressive hand of avarice [greed] would enslave us.”

Rooted in the traditions of the small producer and the identification of freedom with economic independence, labor’s critique of the market econ- omy directly challenged the idea that individual improvement—Emerson’s “self-trust, self-reliance, self-control, self-culture”—offered an adequate response to social inequality. Orestes Brownson, in his influential essay “The Laboring Classes” (1840), argued that the solution to workers’ problems did not require a more complete individualism. What was needed instead, he believed, was a “radical change [in] existing social arrangements” so as to produce “equality between man and man.” Here lay the origins of the idea, which would become far more prominent in the late nineteenth and twen- tieth centuries, that economic security—a standard of life below which no person would fall—formed an essential part of American freedom.

Thus, the market revolution transformed and divided American society and its conceptions of freedom. It encouraged a new emphasis on individu- alism and physical mobility among white men while severely limiting the options available to women and African-Americans. It opened new opportu- nities for economic freedom for many Americans while leading others to fear that their traditional economic independence was being eroded. In a demo- cratic society, it was inevitable that the debate over the market revolution and its consequences for freedom would be reflected in American politics.

The idea of economic security

Tensions in the market revolution



279Chapter Review and Online Resources


1. Identify the major transportation improvements in this period, and explain how they influenced the market economy.

2. How did state and local governments promote the national economy in this period?

3. How did the market economy and westward expansion entrench the institution of slavery?

4. How did westward expansion and the market revolution drive each other?

5. What role did immigrants play in the new market society?

6. How did changes in the law promote development in the economic system?

7. As it democratized American Christianity, the Second Great Awakening both took advantage of the market revolution and criticized its excesses. Explain.

8. How did the market revolution change women’s work and family roles?

9. Give some examples of the rise of individualism in these years.


steamboats (p. 252)

Erie Canal (p. 252)

railroads (p. 254)

telegraph (p. 254)

squatters (p. 255)

Cotton Kingdom (p. 257)

cotton gin (p. 259)

John Deere steel plow (p. 260)

Cyrus McCormick reaper (p. 260)

factory system (p. 261)

“American system of manufactures” (p. 262)

mill girls (p. 262)

immigration (p. 263)

nativists (p. 266)

Dartmouth College v. Woodward (p. 266)

manifest destiny (p. 267)

transcendentalists (p. 268)

Second Great Awakening (p. 268)

Church of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons (p. 272)

“self-made man” (p. 273)

cult of domesticity (p. 275)


wwnorton.com /studyspace



A chapter outline

A diagnostic chapter quiz

Interactive maps

Map worksheets

Multimedia documents



1811 Bank of the United States charter expires

1816 Second Bank of the United States established

1817 Inauguration of James Monroe

1819 Panic of 1819

McCulloch v. Maryland

1820 Missouri Compromise

1823 Monroe Doctrine

1825 Inauguration of John Quincy Adams

1828 “Tariff of abominations”

1829 Inauguration of Andrew Jackson

1830 Indian Removal Act

1831 Cherokee Nation v. Georgia

1832 Nullification crisis

Worcester v. Georgia

1833 Force Act

1835 Tocqueville’s Democracy in America

1835– Second Seminole War 1842

1837 Inauguration of Martin Van Buren

1837– Panic of 1837 and ensuing 1843 depression

1838– Trail of Tears 1839

1841 Inauguration of William Henry Harrison

Dorr War

Justice’s Court in the Back Woods, an

1852 painting by Tompkins Harrison

Matteson, depicts the expansion of

the public sphere to include ordinary

Americans. A court is in session in a local

tavern. The justice of the peace, who

presides, is a shoemaker who has set

aside his tools but still wears his leather

work apron. A lawyer appeals to the jury,

composed of average (male) citizens.

The case has to do with an assault. The

plaintiff, his head bandaged, leans on

the table at the right, while a woman

consoles the defendant on the far left.



C H A P T E R 1 0

1 8 1 5 – 1 8 4 0



281T H E T R I U M P H O F D E M O C R A C Y

T he inauguration of Andrew Jackson on March 4, 1829, made it clear that something had changed in American politics. The swearing-in of the president had previously been a small, dignified event. Jackson’s inauguration attracted a crowd of some 20,000 people who poured into the White House after the ceremony, ruining furniture and breaking china and glassware in the crush. It was “the reign of King Mob,” lamented Justice Joseph Story of the Supreme Court.

Jackson’s career embodied the major developments of his era—the market revolution, the westward movement, the expansion of slavery, and the growth of democracy. He was a symbol of the self-made man. Unlike previous presidents, Jackson rose to prominence from a humble background, reflecting his era’s democratic opportunities. Born in 1767 on the South Carolina frontier, he had been orphaned during the American Revolution. While still a youth, he served as a courier for patriotic forces during the War of Independence. His military campaigns against the British and Indians during the War of 1812 helped to consolidate American control over the Deep South, making possible the rise of the Cotton Kingdom. He himself acquired a large plantation in Tennessee. But more than anything else, to this generation of Americans Andrew Jackson symbolized one of the most crucial features of national life—the triumph of political democracy.

Americans pride themselves on being the world’s oldest democracy. New Zealand, whose constitution of 1893 gave women and Maoris (the native population) the right to vote, may have a better claim. Europe, however, lagged far behind. Britain did not achieve universal male suffrage until the 1880s. France instituted it in 1793, abandoned it in 1799, reintroduced it in 1848, and abandoned it again a few years later. More to the point, perhaps, democracy became part of the definition of American nationality and the American idea of freedom.


Property and Democracy

The market revolution and territorial expansion were intimately con- nected with a third central element of American freedom—political demo c- racy. The challenge to property qualifications for voting, begun during

What were the social bases

for the flourishing democ-

racy of the early mid-

nineteenth century?

What efforts strengthened

or hindered the economic

integration of the nation?

What were the major areas

of conflict between nation-

alism and sectionalism?

In what ways did Andrew

Jackson embody the con-

tradictions of democratic


How did the Bank War

influence the economy and

party competition?


What were the social bases for the flourishing democracy of the early mid-nineteenth century?



Chapter 10  Democracy in America282

the American Revolution, reached its culmination in the early nineteenth century. Not a single state that entered the Union after the original thir- teen required ownership of property to vote. In the older states, by 1860 all but one had ended property requirements for voting (though several continued to bar persons accepting poor relief, on the grounds that they lacked genuine independence). The personal independence necessary in the citizen now rested not on ownership of property but on ownership of one’s self—a reflection of the era’s individualism.

The Dorr War

The lone exception to the trend toward democratization was Rhode Island, which required voters to own real estate valued at $134 or rent property for at least $7 per year. A center of factory production, Rhode Island had a steadily growing population of propertyless wage earners unable to vote. In October 1841, proponents of democratic reform organized a People’s Convention, which drafted a new state constitution. It enfranchised all adult white men while eliminating entirely blacks (although in a subse- quent referendum, blacks’ right to vote was restored). When the reformers ratified their constitution in an extralegal referendum and proceeded to inaugurate Thomas Dorr, a prominent Rhode Island lawyer, as governor, President John Tyler dispatched federal troops to the state. The movement collapsed, and Dorr subsequently served nearly two years in prison for treason.

Tocqueville on Democracy

By 1840, more than 90 percent of adult white men were eligible to vote. A flourishing democratic system had been consolidated. American politics was boisterous, highly partisan, and sometimes violent, and it engaged the energies of massive numbers of citizens. In a country that lacked more tradi tional bases of nationality—a powerful and menacing neighbor, his- toric ethnic, religious, or cultural unity—democratic political institutions came to define the nation’s sense of its own identity.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the French writer who visited the United States in the early 1830s, returned home to produce Democracy in America, a classic account of a society in the midst of a political transformation. Tocqueville had come to the United States to study prisons. But he soon realized that to understand America, he must understand democracy (which as a person of aristocratic background he rather disliked). His key

An anti-Jackson cartoon from

1832 portrays Andrew Jackson as

an aspiring monarch, wielding the

veto power while trampling on the


White male suffrage

Alexis de Tocqueville



283T H E T R I U M P H O F D E M O C R A C Y

insight was that democracy by this time meant far more than either the right to vote or a particular set of political institutions. It was what scholars call a “habit of the heart,” a culture that encouraged individual initiative, belief in equality, and an active public sphere populated by numerous voluntary organizations that sought to improve society. Democracy, Tocqueville saw, had become an essential attribute of American freedom.

As Tocqueville recognized, the idea that sovereignty belongs to the mass of ordinary citizens was a profound shift in political thought. The founders of the republic, who believed that government must rest on the consent of the governed, also sought to shield political authority from excessive influence by ordinary people (hence the Electoral College, Supreme Court, and other undemocratic features of the Constitution). Nonetheless, thanks to persis- tent pressure from those originally excluded from political participation, democracy—for white males—had triumphed by the Age of Jackson.

The Information Revolution

The market revolution and political democracy produced a large expansion of the public sphere and an explosion in printing sometimes called the “infor- mation revolution.” The application of steam power to newspaper printing led to a great increase in output and the rise of the mass-circulation “penny press,” priced at one cent per issue instead of the traditional six. Newspapers such as the New York Sun and New York Herald introduced a new style of journalism, appealing to a mass audience by emphasizing sensationalism,

Independence Day Celebration in

Centre Square, an 1819 painting

by John Lewis Krimmel, a German-

American artist, depicts a gathering

to celebrate the Fourth of July in

Philadelphia. On the left, beneath a

portrait of George Washington, is a

depiction of a naval battle from the

War of 1812; on the right, beneath

the state flag of Pennsylvania, is an

image of the Battle of New Orleans.

The celebration, an example of rising

American nationalism, includes men

and women, soldiers, merchants, and

ordinary citizens but is entirely white

except for a young black boy in the

lower left.

Democratic culture

Popular sovereignty

The rise of the mass-circulation press

What were the social bases for the flourishing democracy of the early mid-nineteenth century?



Chapter 10  Democracy in America284

crime stories, and exposés of official misconduct. By 1840, according to one estimate, the total weekly circulation of newspapers in the United States, whose population was 17 million, exceeded that of Europe, with 233 million people.

The reduction in the cost of printing also made possible the appear- ance of “alternative” newspapers in the late 1820s and early 1830s, includ- ing Freedom’s Journal (the first black newspaper), Philadelphia Mechanic’s Advocate and other labor publications, the abolitionist weekly The Liberator, and Cherokee Phoenix, the first Native American newspaper.

The Limits of Democracy

By the 1830s, the time of Andrew Jackson’s presidency, the axiom that “the people” ruled had become a universally accepted part of American politics. Those who opposed this principle, wrote Tocqueville, “hide their heads.” But the very centrality of democracy to the definition of both freedom and nationality made it all the more necessary to define the boundaries of the political nation. As older economic exclusions fell away, others survived and new ones were added.

The “principle of universal suffrage,” declared the United States Maga- zine and Democratic Review in 1851, meant that “white males of age consti- tuted the political nation.” How could the word “universal” be reconciled with barring blacks and women from political participation? As democracy triumphed, the intellectual grounds for exclusion shifted from economic dependency to natural incapacity. Gender and racial differences were widely understood as part of a single, natural hierarchy of innate endow- ments. White males were considered inherently superior in character and abilities to non-whites and women. The debate over which people are and are not qualified to take part in American democracy lasted well into the twentieth century. Not until 1920 was the Constitution amended to require states to allow women to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 swept away restrictions on black voting imposed by many southern states.

A Racial Democracy

If the exclusion of women from political freedom continued a long-standing practice, the increasing identification of democracy and whiteness marked something of a departure. Blacks were increasingly considered a group apart. Racist imagery became the stock-in-trade of popular theatrical presentations like minstrel shows, in which white actors in blackface entertained the audience by portraying African-Americans as stupid,

Democracy, gender, and race

“Universal suffrage”

Alternative journalism



285N A T I O N A L I S M A N D I T S D I S C O N T E N T S

dishonest, and altogether ridiculous. With the exception of Herman Melville, who portrayed complex, sometimes heroic black characters in works like Moby Dick and Benito Cereno (the latter a fictionalized account of a shipboard slave rebellion), American authors either ignored blacks entirely or presented them as stereotypes—happy slaves prone to super- stition or long-suffering but devout Christians. Meanwhile, the somewhat tentative thinking of the revolutionary era about the status of non-whites flowered into an elaborate ideology of racial superiority and inferiority, complete with “scientific” underpinnings. These developments affected the boundaries of the political nation.

In the revolutionary era, only Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia explicitly confined the vote to whites, although elsewhere, custom often made it difficult for free blacks to exercise the franchise. As late as 1800, no northern state barred blacks from voting. But every state that entered the Union after that year, with the single exception of Maine, limited the right to vote to white males. And, beginning with Kentucky in 1799 and Maryland two years later, many states that had allowed blacks to vote rescinded the privilege. By 1860, blacks could vote on the same basis as whites in only five New England states, which contained only 4 percent of the nation’s free black population.

In effect, race had replaced class as the boundary between those American men who were entitled to enjoy political freedom and those who were not. Even as this focus on race limited America’s political com- munity as a whole, it helped to solidify a sense of national identity among the diverse groups of European origin. In a country where the right to vote had become central to the meaning of freedom, it is difficult to overstate the importance of the fact that white male immigrants could vote in some states almost from the moment they landed in America, whereas nearly all free blacks (and, of course, slaves), whose ancestors had lived in the coun- try for centuries, could not vote at all.


The American System

The War of 1812, which the United States and Great Britain—the world’s foremost military power—fought to a draw, inspired an outburst of nationalist pride. But the war also revealed how far the United States still was from being a truly integrated nation. With the Bank of the United

“Dandy Jim,” a piece of sheet

music from 1843. Minstrel shows

were a form of nineteenth-century

entertainment in which white actors

impersonated blacks. Here, the actor

makes fun of a black man attempting

to adopt the style of middle-class

white Americans.

War of 1812 and American nationalism

What were the social bases for the flourishing democracy of the early mid-nineteenth century?



Chapter 10  Democracy in America286

States having gone out of existence when its charter expired in 1811, the country lacked a uniform currency and found it almost impossible to raise funds for the war effort. Given the primitive state of transportation, it proved very difficult to move men and goods around the country. One shipment of supplies from New England had taken seventy-five days to reach New Orleans. With the coming of peace, the manufacturing enter- prises that sprang up while trade with Britain had been suspended faced intense competition from low-cost imported goods. A younger generation of Republicans, led by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, believed these “infant industries” deserved national protection.

In his annual message (now known as the State of the Union address) to Congress in December 1815, President James Madison put forward a blueprint for government-promoted economic development that came to be known as the American System, a label coined by Henry Clay. The plan rested on three pillars: a new national bank, a tariff on imported manufactured goods to protect American industry, and federal financing of improved roads and canals. The last was particularly important to those worried about the dangers of disunity. “Let us bind the nation together, with a perfect system of roads and canals,” John C. Calhoun implored Congress in 1815. “Let us conquer space.”

Congress enacted an internal-improvements program drafted by Calhoun, only to be astonished when the president, on the eve of his retirement from office in March 1817, vetoed the bill. Since calling for its enactment, Madison had become convinced that allowing the national government to exercise powers not mentioned in the Constitution would prove dangerous to individual liberty and southern interests. The other

An image from a broadside from the

campaign of 1824, promoting the

American System of government-

sponsored economic development.

The illustrations represent industry,

commerce, and agriculture. The ship

at the center is named the John

Quincy Adams. Its flag, “No Colonial

Subjection,” suggests that without a

balanced economy, the United States

will remain economically dependent

on Great Britain.

Madison’s veto

Madison’s blueprint for economic development



287N A T I O N A L I S M A N D I T S D I S C O N T E N T S

two parts of his plan, however, became law. The tariff of 1816 offered pro- tection to goods that could be produced in the United States, especially cheap cotton textiles, while admitting tax-free those that could not be manufactured at home. Many southerners supported the tariff, believing that it would enable their region to develop a manufacturing base to rival New England’s. And in 1816, a new Bank of the United States was created, with a twenty-year charter from Congress.

Banks and Money

The Second Bank of the United States soon became the focus of public resentment. Like its predecessor, it was a private, profit-making corpora- tion that acted as the government’s financial agent, issuing paper money, collecting taxes, and paying the government’s debts. It was also charged with ensuring that paper money issued by local banks had real value. In the nineteenth century, paper money consisted of notes promising to pay the bearer on demand a specified amount of “specie” (gold or silver). Since banks often printed far more money than the specie in their vaults, the value of paper currency fluctuated wildly. The Bank of the United States was supposed to correct this problem by preventing the overissuance of money.

The Panic of 1819

But instead of effectively regulating the currency and loans issued by local banks, the Bank of the United States participated in a speculative fever that swept the country after the end of the War of 1812. The resumption of trade with Europe created a huge overseas market for American cotton and grain. Coupled with the rapid expansion of settlement into the West, this stimulated demand for loans to purchase land, which local banks and branches of the Bank of the United States were only too happy to meet by printing more money. The land boom was especially acute in the South, where the Cotton Kingdom was expanding.

Early in 1819, as European demand for American farm products declined to normal levels, the economic bubble burst. The Bank of the United States, followed by state banks, began asking for payments from those to whom it had loaned money. Farmers and businessmen who could not repay declared bankruptcy, and unemployment rose in eastern cities.

The Panic of 1819 lasted little more than a year, but it severely disrupted the political harmony of the previous years. To the consternation of credi- tors, many states, especially in the West, suspended the collection of debts. Kentucky went even further, establishing a state bank that flooded the state with paper money that creditors were required to accept in repayment of

Tariff of 1816

Land boom

Regulating local banks

The economic bubble bursts

What efforts strengthened or hindered the economic integration of the nation?



Chapter 10  Democracy in America288

loans. This eased the burden on indebted farmers but injured those who had loaned them the money. Overall, the panic deepened many Americans’ tra- ditional distrust of banks. It undermined the reputation of the Second Bank of the United States, which was widely blamed for causing the panic. Several states retaliated against the national bank by taxing its local branches.

These tax laws produced another of John Marshall’s landmark Supreme Court decisions, in the case of McCulloch v. Maryland (1819). Reasserting his broad interpretation of governmental powers, Marshall declared the Bank a legitimate exercise of congressional authority under the Constitution’s clause that allowed Congress to pass “necessary and proper” laws. Marshall’s interpretation of the Constitution directly con- tradicted the “strict construction” view that limited Congress to powers specifically granted in the Constitution.

The Missouri Controversy

In 1816, James Monroe handily defeated the Federalist candidate Rufus King, becoming the last of the Virginia presidents. By 1820, the Federalists fielded electoral tickets in only two states, and Monroe carried the entire country. Monroe’s two terms in office were years of one-party government, sometimes called the Era of Good Feelings. Plenty of bad feelings, how- ever, surfaced during his presidency. In the absence of two-party competi- tion, politics was organized along lines of competing sectional interests.

In 1819, Congress considered a request from Missouri, an area carved out of the Louisiana Purchase, to draft a constitution in preparation for admission to the Union as a state. Missouri’s slave population already exceeded 10,000. James Tallmadge, a Republican congressman from New York, moved that the introduction of further slaves be prohibited and that children of those already in Missouri be freed at age twenty-five.

Tallmadge’s proposal sparked two years of controversy, during which Republican unity shattered along sectional lines. His restriction passed the House, where most northern congressmen supported it over the objec- tions of southern representatives. It died in the Senate, however. When Congress reconvened in 1820, Senator Jesse Thomas of Illinois proposed a compromise. Missouri would be authorized to draft a constitution without Tallmadge’s restriction. Maine, which prohibited slavery, would be admit- ted to the Union to maintain the sectional balance between free and slave states. And slavery would be prohibited in all remaining territory within the Louisiana Purchase north of latitude 36°30′ (Missouri’s southern bound- ary). Congress adopted Thomas’s plan as the Missouri Compromise.

The Missouri controversy raised for the first time what would prove to be a fatal issue—the westward expansion of slavery. The sectional division

Sectional division and the spread of slavery

Distrust of banks

Era of Good Feelings



289N A T I O N , S E C T I O N , A N D P A R T Y

The new Latin American republics

Washington, D.C.

Missouri Compromise line



(Joint U.S.-British occupation of

disputed territory)



MO (Admitted as a

slave state, 1821)














ME (Admitted as a

free state, 1820)



NEW SPAIN (Independent Mexico, 1821)

Rio Grande

Arkansas R.

Missouri R.

Snake R.

Co lor

ado R.


Red R.


ississippi R.

Ohi o R



. L aw

ren ce


L. Superior

L. M

ic hi

ga n

L. Huron

L. E rie

L. O ntario

Gulf of Mexico

Atlantic OceanPaci f icOcean





500 miles

500 kilometers

Territory closed to slavery by the Missouri Compromise Free states and territories Territory opened to slavery by the Missouri Compromise Slave states and territories

T H E M I S S O U R I C O M P R O M I S E , 1 8 2 0

The Missouri Compromise temporarily

settled the question of the expansion

of slavery by dividing the Louisiana

Purchase into free and slave areas.

it revealed aroused widespread feelings of dismay. “This momentous ques- tion,” wrote Jefferson, “like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the union.” For the moment, however, the slavery issue faded once again from national debate.

N A T I O N , S E C T I O N , A N D P A R T Y

The United States and the Latin American Wars of Independence

Between 1810 and 1822, Spain’s Latin American colonies rose in rebel- lion and established a series of independent nations, including Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru. By 1825, Spain’s once vast American empire had been reduced to the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico. The uprisings inspired a wave of sympathy in the United States. In 1822, the Monroe administration became the first government to extend diplomatic recognition to the new Latin American republics.

What efforts strengthened or hindered the economic integration of the nation?



Chapter 10  Democracy in America290

Parallels existed between the Spanish-American revolutions and the one that had given birth to the United States. In both cases, the cri- sis of empire was precipitated by programs launched by the imperial country aimed in large measure at making the colonies contribute more to its finances. As had happened in British North America, local elites demanded status and treatment equal to residents of the imperial power. The Spanish-American declarations of independence borrowed directly from that of the United States. The first, issued in 1811, declared that the “United Provinces” of Venezuela now enjoyed “among the sovereign nations of the earth the rank which the Supreme Being and nature has assigned us”—language strikingly similar to Jefferson’s.

In some ways, the new Latin American constitutions—adopted by seventeen different nations—were more democratic than that of the United States. Most sought to implement the trans-Atlantic ideals of rights and freedom by creating a single national “people” out of the diverse popula- tions that made up the Spanish empire. To do so, they extended the right to vote to Indians and free blacks. The Latin American wars of independence, in which black soldiers participated on both sides, also set in motion the gradual abolition of slavery. But the Latin American wars of independence lasted longer—sometimes more than a decade—and were more destructive than the one in the United States had been. As a result, it proved far more difficult for the new Latin American republics to achieve economic devel- opment than the United States.

The Monroe Doctrine

John Quincy Adams, who was serving as James Monroe’s secretary of state, was devoted to consolidating the power of the national government at home and abroad. Adams feared that Spain would try to regain its Latin American colonies. In 1823, he drafted a section of the president’s annual message to Congress that became known as the Monroe Doctrine. It expressed three principles. First, the United States would oppose any fur- ther efforts at colonization by European powers in the Americas. Second, the United States would abstain from involvement in the wars of Europe. Finally, Monroe warned European powers not to interfere with the newly independent states of Latin America.

The Monroe Doctrine is sometimes called America’s diplomatic dec- laration of independence. For many decades, it remained a cornerstone of American foreign policy. Based on the assumption that the Old and New Worlds formed separate political and diplomatic systems, it claimed for the United States the role of dominant power in the Western Hemisphere.

Latin American constitutions

John Quincy Adams

America’s diplomatic declaration of independence



291N A T I O N , S E C T I O N , A N D P A R T Y

The Election of 1824

The Monroe Doctrine reflected a rising sense of American nationalism. But sec- tionalism seemed to rule domestic politics. As the election of 1824 approached, only Andrew Jackson could claim truly national support. Jackson’s popularity rested not on any specific public policy—few voters knew his views—but on military victo- ries over the British at the Battle of New Orleans, and over the Creek and Seminole Indians. Other candidates included John Quincy Adams, Secre tary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia, and Henry Clay of Kentucky. Adams’s sup- port was concentrated in New England and, more generally, in the North, where Republican leaders insisted the time had come for the South to relinquish the presi- dency. Crawford represented the South’s Old Republicans, who wanted the party to reaffirm the principles of states’ rights and limited government. Clay was one of the era’s most popular politicians, but his support in 1824 lay primarily in the West.

Jackson received 153,544 votes and carried states in all the regions out- side of New England. But with four candidates in the field, none received a majority of the electoral votes. As required by the Constitution, Clay, who finished fourth, was eliminated, and the choice among the other three fell to the House of Representatives. Sincerely believing Adams to be the most qualified candidate and the one most likely to promote the American System, and probably calculating that the election of Jackson, a westerner, would impede his own presidential ambitions, Clay gave his support to Adams, helping to elect him. He soon became secretary of state in Adams’s cabinet. The charge that he had made a “corrupt bargain”—bartering critical votes in the presidential contest for a public office—clung to Clay for the rest of his career, making it all but impossible for him to reach the White House. The election of 1824 laid the groundwork for a new system of political parties. Supporters of Jackson and Crawford would soon unite in the Democratic Party. The alliance of Clay and Adams became the basis for the Whig Party of the 1830s.

3 2

3 5 9 11


3 21 5

14 24

16 28


9 7 8


5 1


15 4

8812 17

Jackson 99 (38%) 153,544 (43%) Adams 84 (32%) 108,740 (31%) Crawford 41 (16%) 46,618 (13%) Clay 37 (14%) 47,136 (13%)

Candidate Electoral Vote

(Share) Popular Vote


Non-voting territory

Note: Adams won 3 electoral votes in Maryland, and 1 in Delaware.

No Parties

T H E P R E S I D E N T I A L E L E C T I O N O F 1 8 2 4

The “corrupt bargain”

What were the major areas of conflict between nationalism and sectionalism?





From President James Monroe,

Annual Message to Congress (1823)

In the wake of the Latin American struggle for independence, President James Monroe

included in his annual message a passage that became known as the Monroe Doctrine. It

outlined principles that would help to govern the country’s relations with the rest of the

world for nearly a century—that the Western Hemisphere was no longer open to European

colonization and that the United States would remain uninvolved in the wars of Europe.

[This] occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle, . . . that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers. . . .

It was stated at the commencement of the last session that a great effort was then making in Spain and Portugal to improve the condition of the people of those countries, and that it appeared to be conducted with extraordinary moderation. It need scarcely be remarked that the results have been so far very different from what was then anticipated. Of events in that quarter of the globe, with which we have so much intercourse and from which we derive our origin, we have always been anxious and interested spectators. The citizens of the United States cherish sentiments the most friendly in favor of the liberty and happiness of their fellow-men on that side of the Atlantic. In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy to do so. It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced that we resent injuries or make preparation for our defense. With the movements in this hemisphere we are of necessity more immediately connected, and by causes which must be obvious to all enlightened and impartial observers. The political system of the allied powers [of Europe] is essentially different in this respect from that of America. . . .

We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States

and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintain it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.

Chapter 10  Democracy in America




The most prominent political philosopher in the pre–Civil War South, John C. Calhoun sought

to devise ways that the South could retain the power to protect its interests within the Union

(especially the institution of slavery) as it fell behind the North in population and political


There are two different modes in which the sense of the community may be taken; one, simply by the right of suffrage, unaided; the other, by the right through a proper organism. Each collects the sense of the majority. But one regards numbers only, and considers the whole community as a unit, having but one common interest throughout; and collects the sense of the greater number of the whole, as that of the community. The other, on the contrary, regards interests as well as numbers;—considering the community as made up of different and conflicting interests, as far as the action of the government is concerned; and takes the sense of each, through its majority or appropriate organ, and the united sense of all, as the sense of the entire community. The former of these I shall call the numerical, or absolute majority; and the latter, the concurrent, or constitutional majority. I call it the constitutional majority, because it is an essential element in every constitutional government,—be whatever form it takes. So great is the difference, politically speaking, between the two majorities, that they cannot be confounded, without leading to great and fatal errors; and yet the distinction between them has been so entirely overlooked, that when the term majority is used in political discussions, it is applied exclusively to designate the numerical,—as if there were no other. . . .

The first and leading error which naturally arises from overlooking the distinction referred to, is, to confound the numerical majority with the people, and this is so completely as to regard them as identical. This is a consequence that necessarily results from considering the numerical as the only majority. All admit, that a popular government, or democracy, is the government of the people. . . . Those who regard the numerical as the only majority . . . [are] forced to regard the numerical majority as, in effect, the entire people. . . .

The necessary consequence of taking the sense

of the community by the concurrent majority is . . . to give to each interest or portion of the community a negative on the others. It is this mutual negative among its various conflicting interests, which invests each with the power of protecting itself; . . . Without this, there can be no constitution.

From John C. Calhoun, “A Disquisition on

Government” (ca. 1845)


1. Why does Monroe think that the

“systems” of Europe and the Western

Hemisphere are fundamentally


2. Which Americans would be most likely

to object to Calhoun’s political system?

3. How do the two documents differ in

their conception of how powerful the

national government ought to be?




Chapter 10  Democracy in America294

John Quincy Adams in an 1843


The Nationalism of John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams enjoyed one of the most distinguished pre-presidential careers of any American president. The son of John Adams, he had wit- nessed the Battle of Bunker Hill at age eight and at fourteen had worked as private secretary and French interpreter for an American envoy in Europe. He had gone on to serve as ambassador to Prussia, the Netherlands, Britain, and Russia, and as a senator from Massachusetts.

Adams was not an engaging figure. He described himself as “a man of cold, austere, and foreboding manners.” But he had a clear vision of national greatness. At home, he strongly supported the American System of government-sponsored economic development. Abroad, he hoped to encourage American commerce throughout the world and, as illustrated by his authorship of the Monroe Doctrine, enhance American influence in the Western Hemisphere. An ardent expansionist, Adams was certain that the United States would eventually, and peacefully, absorb Canada, Cuba, and at least part of Mexico.

“Liberty Is Power”

Adams held a view of federal power far more expansive than did most of his contemporaries. In his first message to Congress, in December 1825, he set forth a comprehensive program for an activist national state. “The spirit of improvement is abroad in the land,” Adams announced, and the federal government should be its patron. He called for legislation promoting agri- culture, commerce, manufacturing, and “the mechanical and elegant arts.” His plans included the establishment of a national university, an astro- nomical observatory, and a naval academy. At a time when many Americans felt that governmental authority posed the greatest threat to freedom, Adams astonished many listeners with the bold statement “liberty is power.”

Adams’s proposals alarmed all believers in strict construction of the Constitution. His administration spent more on internal improve- ments than those of his five predecessors combined, and it enacted a steep increase in tariff rates in 1828. But the rest of Adams’s ambitious ideas received little support in Congress.

Martin Van Buren and the Democratic Party

Adams’s program handed his political rivals a powerful weapon. With individual liberty, states’ rights, and limited government as their rally- ing cries, Jackson’s supporters began to organize for the election of 1828

Adams’s nationalism



295N A T I O N , S E C T I O N , A N D P A R T Y

almost as soon as Adams assumed office. Martin Van Buren, a senator from New York, supervised the task. The clash between Adams and Van Buren demonstrated how democracy was changing the nature of American politics. Adams typified the old politics—he was the son of a president and, like Jefferson and Madison, a man of sterling intellectual accomplishments. Van Buren represented the new political era. The son of a tavern keeper, he was a talented party manager, not a person of great vision or intellect.

But Van Buren did have a compelling idea. Rather than being danger- ous and divisive, as the founding generation had believed, political parties, he insisted, were necessary and desirable. Party competition provided a check on those in power and offered voters a real choice in elections. And by bringing together political leaders from different regions in support of common candidates and principles, national parties could counteract the sectionalism that had reared its head during the 1820s. National political parties, Van Buren realized, formed a bond of unity in a divided nation. He set out to reconstruct the Jeffersonian political alliance between “the planters of the South and the plain republicans [the farmers and urban workers] of the North.”

The Election of 1828

By 1828, Van Buren had established the political apparatus of the Democratic Party, complete with local and state party units overseen by a national committee and a network of local newspapers devoted to the party and to the election of Andrew Jackson. Apart from a general com- mitment to limited government, Jackson’s supporters made few campaign promises, relying on their candidate’s popularity and the workings of party machinery to get out the vote. The 1828 election campaign was scurrilous. Jackson’s supporters praised their candidate’s frontier manli- ness and ridiculed Adams’s intellectual attainments. (“Vote for Andrew Jackson who can fight, not John Quincy Adams who can write,” declared one campaign slogan.) Jackson’s opponents condemned him as a murderer for having executed army deserters and killing men in duels. They ques- tioned the morality of his wife, Rachel, because she had married Jackson before her divorce from her first husband had become final.

Nearly 57 percent of the eligible electorate cast ballots, more than double the percentage four years earlier. Jackson won a resounding vic- tory, carrying the entire South and West, along with Pennsylvania. His election was the first to demonstrate how the advent of universal white

The new politics

Van Buren and political parties

Van Buren’s Democratic Party machine

What were the major areas of conflict between nationalism and sectionalism?



Chapter 10  Democracy in America296

male voting, organized by national political parties, had transformed American politics. For better or worse, the United States had entered the Age of Jackson.


Andrew Jackson was a man of many contradictions. Although he had little formal education, Jackson was capable of genuine eloquence in his public statements. A self-proclaimed champion of the common man, he held a vision of democracy that excluded any role for Indians, who he believed should be pushed west of the Mississippi River, and African-Americans, who should remain as slaves or be freed and sent abroad. A strong nation- alist, Jackson nonetheless believed that the states, not Washington, D.C., should be the focal point of governmental activity.

The Party System

By the time of Jackson’s presidency, politics had become more than a series of political contests—it was a spectacle, a form of mass entertainment, a part

of Americans’ daily lives. Every year wit- nessed elections to some office—local, state, or national—and millions took part in the parades and rallies organized by the parties. Politicians were popular heroes with mass followings and popular nicknames. Jackson was Old Hickory, Clay was Harry of the West, and Van Buren the Little Magician (or, to his critics, the Sly Fox). Thousands of Americans willingly attended lengthy political orations and debates.

Party machines, headed by profes- sional politicians, reached into every neighborhood, especially in cities. They provided benefits like jobs to constitu- ents and ensured that voters went to the polls on election day. Government posts, Jackson declared, should be open to the people, not reserved for a privileged class of permanent bureaucrats. He introduced

A broadside from the 1828 campaign

illustrates how Andrew Jackson’s

supporters promoted him as a military

hero and “man of the people.”

5 3 5 9

11 1511


3 5 16 28

14 24

16 20

8 1

7 8

15 4

8 8 3 65

Democrat Jackson National Republican Adams

Party Candidate Electoral Vote

(Share) Popular Vote


Non-voting territory

178 (68%) 83 (32%)

647,286 (56%) 508,064 (44%)

T H E P R E S I D E N T I A L E L E C T I O N O F 1 8 2 8



297T H E A G E O F J A C K S O N

Issues for the Democratic Party

Issues for the Whig Party

the principle of rotation in office (called the “spoils system” by oppo- nents) into national government, making loyalty to the party the main qualification for jobs like postmaster and customs official.

Large national conventions where state leaders gathered to ham- mer out a platform now chose national candidates. Newspapers played a greater and greater role in politics. Every significant town, it seemed, had its Democratic and Whig papers whose job was not so much to report the news as to present the party’s position on issues of the day. Jackson’s Kitchen Cabinet—an informal group of advisers who helped to write his speeches and supervise communication between the White House and local party officials—mostly consisted of newspaper editors.

Democrats and Whigs

There was more to party politics, however, than spectacle and organiza- tion. Jacksonian politics revolved around issues spawned by the market revolution and the continuing tension between national and sectional loyalties. Democrats tended to be alarmed by the widening gap between social classes. They warned that “nonproducers”—bankers, merchants, and speculators—were seeking to use connections with government to enhance their wealth to the disadvantage of the “producing classes” of farm- ers, artisans, and laborers. They believed the government should adopt a hands-off attitude toward the economy and not award special favors to entrenched economic interests. This would enable ordinary Americans to test their abilities in the fair competition of the self- regulating market. The Democratic Party attracted aspiring entrepreneurs who resented gov- ernment aid to established businessmen, as well as large numbers of farm- ers and city workingmen suspicious of new corporate enterprises. Poorer farming regions isolated from markets, like the lower Northwest and the southern backcountry, tended to vote Democratic.

Whigs united behind the American System, believing that via a protective tariff, a national bank, and aid to internal improvements, the federal government could guide economic development. They were stron- gest in the Northeast, the most rapidly modernizing region of the country. Most established businessmen and bankers supported their program of government-promoted economic growth, as did farmers in regions near rivers, canals, and the Great Lakes, who benefited from economic changes or hoped to do so. The counties of upstate New York along the Erie Canal, for example, became a Whig stronghold, whereas more isolated rural communities tended to vote Democratic. Many slaveholders supported

In what ways did Andrew Jackson embody the contradictions of democratic nationalism?

Political innovations



Chapter 10  Democracy in America298

the Democrats, believing states’ rights to be slavery’s first line of defense. But like well-to-do merchants and industrialists in the North, the largest southern planters generally voted Whig.

Public and Private Freedom

The party battles of the Jacksonian era reflected the clash between “pub- lic” and “private” definitions of American freedom and their relationship to governmental power, a persistent tension in the nation’s history. For Democrats, liberty was a set of private rights best secured by local govern- ments and endangered by powerful national authority. “The limitation of power, in every branch of our government,” wrote a Democratic newspa- per in 1842, “is the only safeguard of liberty.” During Jackson’s presidency, Democrats reduced expenditures, lowered the tariff, killed the national bank, and refused pleas for federal aid to internal improvements. By 1835, Jackson had even managed to pay off the national debt. As a result, states replaced the federal government as the country’s main economic actors, planning systems of canals and roads and chartering banks and other corporations.

Democrats, moreover, considered individual morality a private mat- ter, not a public concern. They opposed attempts to impose a unified moral vision on society, such as “temperance” legislation, which restricted or outlawed the production and sale of liquor, and laws prohibiting various kinds of entertainment on Sundays. “In this country,” declared the New York Journal of Commerce in 1848, “liberty is understood to be the absence of government from private affairs.”

Whigs, for their part, insisted that liberty and power reinforced each other. “A weak government,” wrote Francis Lieber, the founding father of American political science, was “a negation of liberty.” An activist national government, on the other hand, could enhance the realm of freedom. The government, Whigs believed, should create the conditions for balanced and regulated economic development, thereby promoting a prosperity in which all classes and regions would share.

Whigs, moreover, rejected the premise that the government must not interfere in private life. To function as free—that is, self-directed and self- disciplined—moral agents, individuals required certain character traits, which government could help to instill. Many evangelical Protestants supported the Whigs, convinced that via public education, the building of schools and asylums, temperance legislation, and the like, democratic governments could inculcate the “principles of morality.” And during the

The Democrats: power a threat to liberty

The Whigs: power allied with liberty

Government and private life



299T H E A G E O F J A C K S O N

Jacksonian era, popularly elected local authorities enacted numerous laws, ordinances, and regulations that tried to shape public morals by banning prostitution and the consumption of alcohol, and regulating other kinds of personal behavior. Pennsylvania was as renowned in the nineteenth cen- tury for its stringent laws against profanity and desecrating the Sabbath as it had been in the colonial era for its commitment to religious liberty.

South Carolina and Nullification

Andrew Jackson, it has been said, left office with many more principles than he came in with. Elected as a military hero backed by an efficient party machinery, he was soon forced to define his stance on public issues. Despite his commitment to states’ rights, Jackson’s first term was dominated by a battle to uphold the supremacy of federal over state law. The tariff of 1828, which raised taxes on imported manufactured goods made of wool as well as on raw materials such as iron, had aroused considerable opposition in the South, nowhere more than in South Carolina, where it was called the “tariff of abominations.” The state’s leaders no longer believed it pos- sible or desirable to compete with the North in industrial development. Insisting that the tariff on imported manufactured goods raised the prices paid by southern consumers to benefit the North, the legislature threat- ened to “nullify” it—that is, declare it null and void within their state.

The state with the largest proportion of slaves in its population (55 percent in 1830), South Carolina was controlled by a tightly knit group of large planters. They maintained their grip on power by a state constitu- tion that gave plantation counties far greater representation in the legis- lature than their population warranted, as well as through high property qualifications for officeholders. Behind their economic complaints against the tariff lay the conviction that the federal government must be weakened lest it one day take action against slavery.

Calhoun’s Political Theory

John C. Calhoun soon emerged as the leading theorist of nullification. As the South began to fall behind the rest of the country in popula- tion, Calhoun had evolved from the nationalist of 1812 into a powerful defender of southern sectionalism. Having been elected vice president in 1828, Calhoun at first remained behind the scenes, secretly drafting the Exposition and Protest in which the South Carolina legislature justified nul- lification. The national government, Calhoun insisted, had been created by

Calhoun’s Exposition and Protest

In what ways did Andrew Jackson embody the contradictions of democratic nationalism?

Shaping public morals

Tariff of 1828

Sectional economic differences



Chapter 10  Democracy in America300

an agreement, or compact, among sovereign states, each of which retained the right to prevent the enforcement within its borders of acts of Congress that exceeded the powers specifically spelled out in the Constitution.

Almost from the beginning of Jackson’s first term, Calhoun’s influ- ence in the administration waned, while Secretary of State Martin Van Buren emerged as the president’s closest adviser. One incident that helped set Jackson against Calhoun occurred a few weeks after the inauguration. Led by Calhoun’s wife, Floride, Washington society women ostracized Peggy Eaton, the wife of Jackson’s secretary of war, because she was the daughter of a Washington tavern keeper and, allegedly, a woman of “easy virtue.” Jackson identified the criticism of Peggy Eaton with the abuse his own wife had suffered during the campaign of 1828.

Far weightier matters soon divided Jackson and Calhoun. Debate over nullification raged in Washington. In a memorable exchange in the Senate in January 1830, Daniel Webster, a senator from Massachusetts, responded to South Carolina senator Robert Y. Hayne, a disciple of Calhoun. The people, not the states, declared Webster, created the Constitution, making the federal government sovereign. He called nullification illegal, unconsti- tutional, and treasonous. Webster’s ending was widely hailed throughout the country—“Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.” A few weeks later, at a White House dinner, Jackson delivered a toast while fixing his gaze on Calhoun: “Our Federal Union—it must be pre- served.” Calhoun’s reply came immediately: “The Union—next to our liberty most dear.” By 1831, Calhoun had publicly emerged as the leading theorist of states’ rights.

Webster-Hayne debate

Eaton affair

An 1834 print portrays the United

States as a Temple of Liberty. At

the center, a figure of liberty rises

from the flames, holding the Bill

of Rights and a staff with a liberty

cap. Justice and Minerva (Roman

goddess of war and wisdom) flank

the temple, above which flies a

banner, “The Union Must and Shall

Be Preserved.”



301T H E A G E O F J A C K S O N

The Nullification Crisis

Nullification was not a purely sectional issue. South Carolina stood alone during the crisis, and several southern states passed resolutions con- demning its action. Nonetheless, the elaboration of the compact theory of the Constitution gave the South a well-developed political philosophy to which it would turn when sectional conflict became more intense.

To Jackson, nullification amounted to nothing less than disunion. He dismissed Calhoun’s constitutional arguments out of hand: “Can anyone of common sense believe the absurdity, that a faction of any state, or a state, has a right to secede and destroy this union, and the liberty of the country with it?” The issue came to a head in 1832, when a new tariff was enacted. Despite a reduction in tariff rates, South Carolina declared the tax on imported goods null and void in the state after the following February. In response, Jackson persuaded Congress to enact a Force Bill authorizing him to use the army and navy to collect customs duties. To avert a confron- tation, Henry Clay, with Calhoun’s assistance, engineered the passage of a new tariff, in 1833, further reducing duties. South Carolina then rescinded the ordinance of nullification, although it proceeded to “nullify” the Force Act. Calhoun abandoned the Democratic Party for the Whigs, where, with Clay and Webster, he became part of a formidable trio of political leaders (even though the three agreed on virtually nothing except hostility toward Jackson).

Indian Removal

The nullification crisis underscored Jackson’s commitment to the sov- ereignty of the nation. His exclusion of Indians from the era’s assertive democratic nationalism led to the final act in the centuries-long conflict between white Americans and Indians east of the Mississippi River. In the slave states, the onward march of cotton cultivation placed enormous pressure on remaining Indian holdings. One of the early laws of Jackson’s administration, the Indian Removal Act of 1830, provided funds for uprooting the so-called Five Civilized Tribes—the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole—with a population of around 60,000 liv- ing in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi.

The law marked a repudiation of the Jeffersonian idea that “civilized” Indians could be assimilated into the American population. These tribes had made great efforts to become everything republican citizens should be. The Cherokee had taken the lead, establishing schools, adopting written laws and a constitution modeled on that of the United States, and becoming

Jackson’s stance

Shift in Indian policy

South Carolina and the tariff of 1832

In what ways did Andrew Jackson embody the contradictions of democratic nationalism?



Chapter 10  Democracy in America302

New Echota


Black Hawk War, 1832

Trail of Tears


1830 1832
































Rio G rande

Arkansas R.

M ississippi R.

M issouri R.


io R .

Gulf of Mexico

Atlantic Ocean





400 miles

400 kilometers

Battle site Routes taken by Indians Ceded to Indians Ceded by Indians with date of cession

I N D I A N R E M O V A L S , 1 8 3 0 – 1 8 4 0

The removal of the so-called Five

Civilized Tribes from the Southeast all

but ended the Indian presence east of

the Mississippi River.

successful farmers, many of whom owned slaves. But in his messages to Congress, Jackson repeatedly referred to them as “savages” and supported Georgia’s effort to seize Cherokee land and nullify the tribe’s laws. In good American fashion, Cherokee leaders went to court to protect their rights, guaranteed in treaties with the federal government. Their appeals forced the Supreme Court to clarify the unique status of American Indians.

The Supreme Court and the Indians

In a crucial case involving Indians in 1823, Johnson v. M’Intosh, the Court had proclaimed that Indians were not in fact owners of their land but merely had a “right of occupancy.” Chief Justice John Marshall claimed that from the early colonial era, Indians had lived as nomads and hunters, not farmers. Entirely inaccurate as history, the decision struck a serious blow against Indian efforts to retain their lands. In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), Marshall described Indians as “wards” of the federal government.

“Right of occupancy”



303T H E A G E O F J A C K S O N

They deserved paternal regard and protection, but they lacked the standing as citizens that would allow the Supreme Court to enforce their rights. The justices could not, therefore, block Georgia’s effort to extend its jurisdiction over the tribe.

Marshall, however, believed strongly in the supremacy of the federal government over the states. In 1832, in Worcester v. Georgia, the Court seemed to change its mind, holding that Indian nations were a distinct people with the right to maintain a separate political identity. They must be dealt with by the federal government, not the states, and Georgia’s actions violated the Cherokees’ treaties with Washington. Jackson, however, refused to recognize the validity of the Worcester ruling. “John Marshall has made his decision,” he supposedly declared, “now let him enforce it.”

With legal appeals exhausted, one faction of the tribe agreed to cede their lands, but the majority, led by John Ross, who had been elected “principal chief” under the Cherokee constitution, adopted a policy of passive resistance. Federal soldiers forcibly removed them during the presidency of Jackson’s successor, Martin Van Buren. The army herded 18,000 Cherokee men, women, and children into stockades and then forced them to move west. At least one-quarter perished during the winter of 1838–1839 on the Trail of Tears, as the removal route from Georgia to the area of present-day Oklahoma came to be called. (In the Cherokee lan- guage, it literally meant “the trail on which we cried.”)

A lithograph from 1836 depicts

Sequoia, with the alphabet of

the Cherokee language that he

developed. Because of their written

language and constitution, the

Cherokee were considered by many

white Americans to be a “civilized


In what ways did Andrew Jackson embody the contradictions of democratic nationalism?

Buffalo Chase over Prairie Bluffs, a

painting from the 1830s by George

Catlin, who created dozens of works

depicting Native Americans in the

trans-Mississippi West. Catlin saw

himself as recording for posterity a

vanishing way of life. At the time,

millions of buffalo inhabited the West,

providing food and hides for Native




Chapter 10  Democracy in America304

Seminole resistance

Effects of Indian removal

Nicholas Biddle

Distrust of banks

During the 1830s, most of the other southern tribes bowed to the inev- itable and departed peacefully. But with the assistance of escaped slaves, the Seminoles of sparsely settled Florida resisted. In the Second Seminole War, which lasted from 1835 to 1842 (the first had followed American acquisition of Florida in 1819), some 1,500 American soldiers and the same number of Seminoles were killed, and perhaps 3,000 Indians and 500 blacks were forced to move to the West. A small number of Seminoles managed to remain in Florida, a tiny remnant of the once sizable Indian population east of the Mississippi River.

Removal of the Indians powerfully reinforced the racial definition of American nationhood and freedom. At the time of independence, Indians had been a familiar presence in many parts of the United States. But by 1840, in the eyes of most whites east of the Mississippi River, they were simply a curiosity, a relic of an earlier period of American his- tory. Although Indians still dominated the trans-Mississippi West, as American settlement pushed relentlessly westward it was clear that their days of freedom there also were numbered.


Biddle’s Bank

The central political struggle of the Age of Jackson was the president’s war on the Bank of the United States. The Bank symbolized the hopes and fears inspired by the market revolution. The expansion of banking helped to finance the nation’s economic development. But many Americans, including Jackson, distrusted bankers as “nonproducers” who contributed nothing to the nation’s wealth but profited from the labor of others. The tendency of banks to overissue paper money, whose deterioration in value reduced the real income of wage earners, reinforced this conviction.

Heading the Bank was Nicholas Biddle of Pennsylvania, who during the 1820s had effectively used the institution’s power to curb the over- issuing of money by local banks and to create a stable currency throughout the nation. A snobbish, aristocratic Philadelphian, Biddle was as strong- willed as Jackson and as unwilling to back down in a fight. In 1832, he told a congressional committee that his Bank had the ability to “destroy” any state bank. He hastened to add that he had never “injured” any of them. But Democrats wondered whether any institution, public or private, ought



305T H E B A N K W A R A N D A F T E R

to possess such power. Many called it the Monster Bank, an illegitimate union of political authority and entrenched economic privilege. The issue of the Bank’s future came to a head in 1832. Although the institution’s charter would not expire until 1836, Biddle’s allies persuaded Congress to approve a bill extending it for another twenty years. Jackson saw the tactic as a form of blackmail—if he did not sign the bill, the Bank would use its considerable resources to oppose his reelection.

Jackson’s veto message is perhaps the central document of his presi- dency. In a democratic government, Jackson insisted, it was unaccept- able for Congress to create a source of concentrated power and economic privilege unaccountable to the people. “It is to be regretted,” he declared, “that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.” Exclusive privileges like the Bank’s charter widened the gap between the wealthy and “the humble members of society—the farm- ers, mechanics, and laborers.” Jackson presented himself as the defender of these “humble” Americans.

The Bank War reflected how Jackson enhanced the power of the pres- idency during his eight years in office, proclaiming himself the symbolic representative of all the people. He was the first president to use the veto power as a major weapon and to appeal directly to the public for political support, over the head of Congress. Whigs denounced him for usurping the power of the legislature. But Jackson’s effective appeal to democratic popular sentiments helped him win a sweeping reelection victory in 1832 over the Whig candidate, Henry Clay. His victory ensured the death of the Bank of the United States.

The Downfall of Mother Bank, a

Democratic cartoon celebrating the

destruction of the Second Bank of

the United States. President Andrew

Jackson topples the building by

brandishing his order removing

federal funds from the Bank. Led by

Nicholas Biddle, with the head of a

demon, the Bank’s corrupt supporters

flee, among them Henry Clay, Daniel

Webster, and newspaper editors

allegedly paid by the institution.

Enhancing the power of the presidency

Jackson’s veto of the bank bill

How did the Bank War influence the economy and party competition?



Chapter 10  Democracy in America306

Pet Banks, the Economy, and the Panic of 1837

What, however, would take the Bank’s place? Not content to wait for the charter of the Bank of the United States to expire in 1836, Jackson authorized the removal of federal funds from its vaults and their deposit in select local banks. Not surprisingly, political and personal connec- tions often determined the choice of these “pet banks.” Two secretaries of the Treasury refused to transfer federal money to the pet banks, since the law creating the Bank had specified that government funds could not be removed except for a good cause as communicated to Congress. Jackson finally appointed Attorney General Roger B. Taney, a loyal Maryland Democrat, to the Treasury post, and he carried out the order. When John Marshall died in 1835, Jackson rewarded Taney by appointing him chief justice.

Without government deposits, the Bank of the United States lost its ability to regulate the activities of state banks. The value of bank notes in circulation rose from $10 million in 1833 to $149 million in 1837. As prices rose dramatically, “real wages”—the actual value of workers’ pay— declined. Numerous labor unions emerged, which attempted to protect the earnings of urban workers. Meanwhile, speculators hastened to cash in on rising land prices. Using paper money, they bought up huge blocks of public land, which they resold to farmers or to eastern purchasers of lots in entirely nonexistent western towns.

Inevitably, the speculative boom collapsed. The government sold 20 million acres of federal land in 1836, ten times the amount sold in 1830, nearly all of it paid for in paper money, often of questionable value. In July 1836, the Jackson administration issued the Specie Circular, declaring that henceforth it would only accept gold and silver as payment for public land. At the same time, the Bank of England, increasingly suspicious about the value of American bank notes, demanded that American merchants pay their creditors in London in gold or silver. Then, an economic downturn in Britain dampened demand for American cotton, the country’s major export.

Taken together, these events triggered an economic collapse in the United States, the Panic of 1837, followed by a depression that lasted to 1843. Businesses throughout the country failed, and many farmers, unable to meet mortgage payments because of declining income, lost their land. Tens of thousands of urban workers saw their jobs disappear. The fledg- ling labor movement collapsed as strikes became impossible, given the surplus of unemployed labor.

Consequences of the removal of federal deposits

The Specie Circular

Economic collapse



307T H E B A N K W A R A N D A F T E R

Van Buren in Office

The president forced to deal with the depression was Martin Van Buren, who had been elected in 1836 over three regional candidates put forward by the Whigs. Under Van Buren, the hard money, anti-bank wing of the Democratic Party came to power. In 1837, the administration announced its intention to remove federal funds from the pet banks and hold them in the Treasury Department in Washington, under the control of government officials. Not until 1840 did Congress approve the new policy, known as the Independent Treasury, which completely separated the federal gov- ernment from the nation’s banking system. It would be repealed in 1841 when the Whigs returned to power, but it was reinstated under President James K. Polk in 1846.

The Election of 1840

Despite his reputation as a political magician, Van Buren found that with- out Jackson’s personal popularity he could not hold the Democratic coali- tion together. In 1840, he also discovered that his Whig opponents had mastered the political techniques he had helped to pioneer. Confronting an unprecedented opportunity for victory because of the continuing economic depression, the Whigs abandoned their most prominent leader, Henry Clay, and nominated William Henry Harrison. Harrison’s main claim to fame was military success against the British and Indians during the War of 1812.

The Independent Treasury

William Henry Harrison

How did the Bank War influence the economy and party competition?

The Times, an 1837 engraving that

blames Andrew Jackson’s policies

for the economic depression. The

Custom House is idle, while next

door a bank is mobbed by worried

depositors. Beneath Jackson’s

hat, spectacles, and clay pipe (with

the ironic word “glory”), images of

hardship abound.



Chapter 10  Democracy in America308

A political cartoon from the 1840

presidential campaign shows public

opinion as the “almighty lever” of

politics in a democracy. Under the

gaze of the American eagle, “Loco-

Foco” Democrats slide into an abyss,

while the people are poised to lift

William Henry Harrison, the Whig

candidate, to victory.

The party nominated Harrison without a platform. In a flood of publica- tions, banners, parades, and mass meetings, they promoted him as the “log cabin” candidate, the champion of the common man. This tactic proved enor-

mously effective, even though it bore little relationship to the actual life of the wealthy Harrison. His running mate was John Tyler, a states’-rights Democrat from Virginia who had joined the Whigs after the nullification crisis and did not follow Calhoun back to the Democrats. On almost every issue of political significance, Tyler held views totally opposed to those of other Whigs. But party leaders hoped he could expand their base in the South.

By 1840, the mass democratic politics of the Age of Jackson had absorbed the logic of the marketplace. Selling candidates and their images was as important as the positions for which they stood. With two highly organized parties competing throughout the country, voter turnout soared to 80 per cent of those eligible. Harrison won a sweeping victory. “We have taught them how to conquer us,” lamented a Democratic newspaper.




4 7 11 11

1515 15

23 9 21

3 30


7 7 10

14 4 883

10 5

Whig Harrison Democrat Van Buren

1,275,016 (53%) 1,129,102 (47%)

234 (80%) 60 (20%)

Party Candidate Electoral Vote

(Share) Popular Vote


Non-voting territory

T H E P R E S I D E N T I A L E L E C T I O N O F 1 8 4 0



309T H E B A N K W A R A N D A F T E R

Whig success proved short-lived. Immediately on assuming office, Harrison contracted pneumonia. He died a month later, and John Tyler suc- ceeded him. When the Whig majority in Congress tried to enact the American System into law, Tyler vetoed nearly every measure, including a new national bank and higher tariff. Most of the cabinet resigned, and his party repudiated him. Tyler’s four years in office were nearly devoid of accomplishment. If the campaign that resulted in the election of Harrison and Tyler demonstrated how a flourishing system of democratic politics had come into existence, Tyler’s lack of success showed that political parties had become central to American government. Without a party behind him, a president could not govern. But a storm was now gathering that would test the stability of American democracy and the statesmanship of its political leaders.

How did the Bank War influence the economy and party competition?

Importance of political parties



Chapter 10  Democracy in America310


1. What global changes prompted the Monroe Doctrine? What were its key provisions? How does it show America’s growing international presence?

2. How did Andrew Jackson represent the major develop- ments of the era: westward movement, the market revolu- tion, and the expansion of democracy for some alongside the limits on it for others?

3. How did the expansion of white male democracy run counter to the ideals of the founders, who believed gov- ernment should be sheltered from excessive influence by ordinary people?

4. What were the components of the American System, and how were they designed to promote the national economy under the guidance of the federal government?

5. How did the Missouri Compromise and the nullification crisis demonstrate increasing sectional competition and disagreements over slavery?

6. According to Martin Van Buren, why were political par- ties a desirable element of public life? What did he do to build the party system?

7. What were the major economic, humanitarian, political, and social arguments for and against Indian Removal?

8. What were the key issues that divided the Democratic and Whig Parties? Where did each party stand on those issues?

9. Explain the causes and effects of the Panic of 1837.


Dorr War (p. 282)

Democracy in America (p. 282)

“information revolution” (p. 283)

“infant industries” (p. 286)

American System (p. 286)

internal improvements (p. 286)

Second Bank of the United States (p. 287)

Panic of 1819 (p. 287)

McCulloch v. Maryland (p. 288)

Missouri Compromise (p. 288)

Monroe Doctrine (p. 290)

“spoils system” (p. 297)

Democratic Party and Whig Party (p. 297)

“tariff of abominations” (p. 299)

nullification crisis (p. 301)

Force Act (p. 301)

Indian Removal Act (p. 301)

Worcester v. Georgia (p. 303)

Trail of Tears (p. 303)

Bank War (p. 305)

“pet banks” (p. 306)

Panic of 1837 (p. 306)


wwnorton.com /studyspace



A chapter outline

A diagnostic chapter quiz

Interactive maps

Map worksheets

Multimedia documents





C H A P T E R 1 1 1791– Haitian Revolution1804 1800 Gabriel’s Rebellion

1811 Slave revolt in Louisiana

1822 Denmark Vesey’s slave conspiracy

1830s States legislate against teaching slaves to read or write

1831 William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator debuts

Nat Turner’s Rebellion

1831– Slave revolt in Jamaica 1832

1832 Virginia laws tighten the slave system

1833 Great Britain abolishes slavery within its empire

1838 Frederick Douglas escapes slavery

1839 Slaves take control of the Amistad

1841 Slave uprising on the Creole

1849 Harriet Tubman escapes slavery

1855 Trial of Celia

Richmond’s Slave Market Auction, by

the British artist Eyre Crowe, depicts

a scene in an auction house. A slave

sale is in progress, while on the right,

slaves wait apprehensively for their

turn to be sold. A child clings to her

mother, perhaps for the last time, while

potential buyers examine the seated

women. Crowe entered the auction

house in March 1853 after seeing an

advertisement for a slave sale, and

began sketching. When the white

crowd realized what he was doing,

they “rushed on him savagely and

obliged him to quit,” Crowe’s traveling

companion wrote to a friend. The

painting is based on his sketches.



Chapter 11  The Peculiar Institution312

I n an age of “self-made” men, no American rose more dramatically from humble origins to national and international distinction than Frederick Douglass. Born into slavery in 1818, he became a major figure in the crusade for abolition, the drama of emancipation, and the effort during Reconstruction to give meaning to black freedom.

Douglass was the son of a slave mother and an unidentified white man, possibly his owner. As a youth in Maryland, he gazed out at the ships in Chesapeake Bay, seeing them as “freedom’s swift-winged angels.” In violation of Maryland law, Douglass learned to read and write, initially with the assistance of his owner’s wife and then, after her husband forbade her to continue, with the help of local white children. “From that moment,” he later wrote, he understood that knowledge was “the pathway from slavery to freedom.” In 1838, having borrowed the free papers of a black sailor, he escaped to the North.

Frederick Douglass went on to become the most influential African- American of the nineteenth century and the nation’s preeminent advocate of racial equality. He also published a widely read autobiography that offered an eloquent condemnation of slavery and racism. Indeed, his own accomplishments testified to the incorrectness of prevailing ideas about blacks’ inborn inferiority. Douglass was also active in other reform move- ments, including the campaign for women’s rights. Douglass argued that in their desire for freedom, the slaves were truer to the nation’s underlying principles than the white Americans who annually celebrated the Fourth of July while allowing the continued existence of slavery.


When Frederick Douglass was born, slavery was already an old institu- tion in America. Two centuries had passed since the first twenty Africans were landed in Virginia from a Dutch ship. After abolition in the North, slavery had become the “peculiar institution” of the South—that is, an institution unique to southern society. The Mason-Dixon Line, drawn by two surveyors in the eighteenth century to settle a boundary dispute between Maryland and Pennsylvania, eventually became the dividing line between slavery and freedom.

Despite the hope of some of the founders that slavery might die out, in fact the institution survived the crisis of the American Revolution and rap- idly expanded westward. On the eve of the Civil War, the slave population had risen to nearly 4 million, its high rate of natural increase more than

How did slavery shape

social and economic rela-

tions in the Old South?

What were the legal and

material constraints on

slaves’ lives and work?

How did distinct slave

cultures emerge in the Old


What were the major

forms of resistance to



The expansion of slavery

Mason-Dixon line



313T H E O L D S O U T H

making up for the prohibition in 1808 of further slave imports from Africa. In the South as a whole, slaves made up one-third of the total population, and in the cotton-producing states of the Deep South, around half. By the 1850s, slavery had crossed the Mississippi River and was expanding rap- idly in Arkansas, Louisiana, and eastern Texas.

Cotton Is King

In the nineteenth century, cotton replaced sugar as the world’s major crop produced by slave labor. And although slavery survived in Brazil and the Spanish and French Caribbean, its abolition in the British empire in 1833 made the United States indisputably the center of New World slavery.

Because the early industrial revolution centered on factories using cotton as the raw material to manufacture cloth, cotton had become by far the most important commodity in international trade. And three-fourths of the world’s cotton supply came from the southern United States. Textile manufacturers in places as far flung as Massachusetts, Lancashire in Great Britain, Normandy in France, and the suburbs of Moscow depended on a regular supply of American cotton.

As early as 1803, cotton had become the most important American export. Cotton sales earned the money from abroad that allowed the United States to pay for imported manufactured goods. On the eve of the Civil War, it accounted for well over half of the total value of American exports. In 1860, the economic investment represented by the slave popu- lation exceeded the value of the nation’s factories, railroads, and banks combined.

A photograph of Frederick Douglass,

the fugitive slave who became

a prominent abolitionist, taken

between 1847 and 1852. As a fellow

abolitionist noted at the time, “The

very look and bearing of Douglass

are an irresistible logic against the

oppression of his race.”

“Cotton Pressing in Louisiana,” from

Ballou’s Magazine in 1856, illustrates

how slaves were used to supply

power for a partially mechanized work


How did slavery shape social and economic relations in the Old South?

Economic value of slavery



Chapter 11  The Peculiar Institution314

The Second Middle Passage

As noted in Chapter 9, to replace the slave trade from Africa, which had been prohibited by Congress in 1808, a massive trade in slaves developed within the United States. More than 2 million slaves were sold between 1820 and 1860. The main business districts of southern cities contained the offices of slave traders, complete with signs reading “Negro Sales” or “Negroes Bought Here.” Auctions of slaves took place at public slave markets, as in New Orleans, or at courthouses. Southern newspapers carried advertise- ments for slave sales, southern banks financed slave trading, southern ships and railroads carried slaves from buyers to sellers, and southern states and municipalities earned revenue by taxing the sale of slaves.

Slavery and the Nation

Slavery shaped the lives of all Americans, white as well as black. It helped to determine where they lived, how they worked, and under what conditions they could exercise their freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press.

Northern merchants and manufacturers participated in the slave economy and shared in its profits. Money earned in the cotton trade helped to finance industrial development and internal improvements in the North. Northern ships carried cotton to New York and Europe, northern bankers financed cotton plantations, northern companies insured slave property,

and northern factories turned cotton into cloth. New York City’s rise to commer- cial prominence depended as much on the establishment of shipping lines that gath- ered the South’s cotton and transported it to Europe as on the Erie Canal.

The Southern Economy

There was no single South before the Civil War. In the eight slave states of the Upper South, slaves and slave owners made up a smaller percentage of the total popula- tion than in the seven Deep South states, which stretched from South Carolina west to Texas. The Upper South had major cen- ters of industry in Baltimore, Richmond,


1790 697,624

1800 893,602

1810 1,191,362

1820 1,538,022

1830 2,009,043

1840 2,487,355

1850 3,204,313

1860 3,953,760

TABLE 11.1 Growth of the Slave Population

Slave trade in the South

Northern participation



315T H E O L D S O U T H

How did slavery shape social and economic relations in the Old South?

and St. Louis, and its economies were more diversified than those in the Deep South, which was heavily dependent on cotton. Not surprisingly, during the secession crisis of 1860–1861, the Deep South states were the first to leave the Union.

Nonetheless, slavery led the South down a very different path of economic development than the North’s, limiting the growth of industry, discouraging immigrants from entering the region, and inhibiting techno- logical progress. The South did not share in the urban growth experienced by the rest of the country. In the Cotton Kingdom, the only city of signifi- cant size was New Orleans. With a population of 168,000 in 1860, New Orleans ranked as the nation’s sixth-largest city. As the gathering point for cotton grown along the Mississippi River and sugar from the plantations of southeastern Louisiana, it was the world’s leading exporter of slave- grown crops.

S L A V E P O P U L A T I O N , 1 8 6 0

HoustonSan Antonio New Orleans

Vicksburg Jackson









Memphis Little Rock
























Gulf of Mexico

At lant ic Oce an





300 miles

300 kilometers Slave distribution (one dot represents 200 slaves)

Rather than being evenly distributed

throughout the South, the slave

population was concentrated in areas

with the most fertile soil and easiest

access to national and international

markets. By 1860, a significant

percentage of the slave population

had been transported from the

Atlantic coast to the Deep South via

the internal slave trade.

New Orleans



Chapter 11  The Peculiar Institution316

In 1860, the South produced less than 10 percent of the nation’s manufactured goods. Many northerners viewed slavery as an obstacle to American economic progress. But as New Orleans showed, slavery and economic growth could go hand in hand. In general, the southern economy was hardly stagnant, and slavery proved very profitable for most owners. The profits produced by slavery for the South and the nation as a whole formed a powerful obstacle to abolition. Speaking of cotton, Senator James Henry Hammond of South Carolina declared, “No power on earth dares to make war upon it. Cotton is king.”

Plain Folk of the Old South

The foundation of the Old South’s economy, slavery powerfully shaped race relations, politics, religion, and the law. Its influence was pervasive: “Nothing escaped,” writes one historian, “nothing and no one.” This was true despite the fact that the majority of white southerners—three out of four white families—owned no slaves. Many southern farmers lived outside the plantation belt in hilly areas unsuitable for cotton pro- duction. Using family labor, they raised livestock and grew food for their own use, purchasing relatively few goods at local stores. Unlike northern farmers, there- fore, they did not provide a market for manufactured

This 1860 view of New Orleans

captures the size and scale of the

cotton trade in the South’s largest

city. More than 3,500 steamboats

arrived in New Orleans in 1860.

An upcountry family, dressed in

homespun, in Cedar Mountain,

Virginia. Many white families in the

pre–Civil War South were largely

isolated from the market economy.

This photograph was taken in 1862

but reflects the prewar way of life.



317T H E O L D S O U T H

How did slavery shape social and economic relations in the Old South?

goods. This was one of the main reasons that the South did not develop an industrial base.

Some poorer whites resented the power and privileges of the great planters. Politicians such as Andrew Johnson of Tennessee and Joseph Brown of Georgia rose to power as self-proclaimed spokesmen of the com- mon man against the “slaveocracy.” But most poor whites made their peace with the planters in whose hands economic and social power was concen- trated. Racism, kinship ties, common participation in a democratic politi- cal culture, and regional loyalty in the face of outside criticism all served to cement bonds between planters and the South’s “plain folk.” Like other white southerners, most small farmers believed their economic and personal freedom rested on slavery. Not until the Civil War would class tensions among the white population threaten the planters’ domination.

The Planter Class

Even among slaveholders, the planter was far from typical. In 1850, a majority of slaveholding families owned five or fewer slaves. Fewer than 40,000 families possessed the twenty or more slaves that qualified them as planters. Fewer than 2,000 families owned a hundred slaves or more. Nonetheless, even though the planter was not the typical slaveholder or white southerner, his values and aspirations dominated southern life. The plantation, wrote Frederick Douglass, was “a little nation by itself, with its own language, its own rules, regulations, and customs.” These rules and customs set the tone for southern society.

Ownership of slaves provided the route to wealth, status, and influ- ence. Planters not only held the majority of slaves but also controlled the most fertile land, enjoyed the highest incomes, and dom- inated state and local offices and the leadership of both political parties. Slavery, of course, was a profit-making system, and slaveowners kept close watch on world prices for their products, invested in enterprises such as railroads and canals, and carefully supervised their plantations. Their wives—the “plantation mistresses” idealized in southern lore for femininity, beauty, and dependence on men—were hardly idle. They cared for sick slaves, directed the domestic servants, and super- vised the entire plantation when their husbands were away. The wealthiest Americans before the Civil War were planters in the South Carolina low country and the cotton region around Natchez, Mississippi.

Planters and “plain folk”

A slave dealer’s place of business

in Atlanta. The buying and selling

of slaves was a regularized part of

the southern economy, and such

businesses were a common sight in

every southern town.

Lack of southern market for manufactures



Chapter 11  The Peculiar Institution318

On the cotton frontier, many planters lived in crude log homes. But in the older slave states, and as settled society developed in the Deep South, they constructed elegant mansions adorned with white columns in the Greek Revival style of architecture. Planters discouraged their sons from entering “lowly” trades such as commerce and manufacturing, one reason that the South remained overwhelmingly agricultural.

The Paternalist Ethos

The slave plantation was deeply embedded in the world market, and plant- ers sought to accumulate land, slaves, and profits. However, planters’ val- ues glorified not the competitive capitalist marketplace but a hierarchical, agrarian society in which slaveholding gentlemen took personal responsi- bility for the physical and moral well-being of their dependents—women, children, and slaves.

This outlook, known as “paternalism” (from the Latin word for “father”), had been a feature of American slavery even in the eighteenth century. But it became more ingrained after the closing of the African slave trade in 1808, which narrowed the cultural gap between master and slave and gave owners an economic interest in the survival of their human prop- erty. Unlike the absentee planters of the West Indies, many of whom resided in Great Britain, southern slaveholders lived on their plantations and thus had year-round contact with their slaves.

The paternalist outlook both masked and justified the brutal reality of slavery. It enabled slaveowners to think of themselves as kind, responsible masters even as they bought and sold their human property—a practice at odds with the claim that slaves formed part of the master’s “family.”

The Proslavery Argument

In the thirty years before the outbreak of the Civil War, even as northern criticism of the “peculiar institution” began to deepen, pro- slavery thought came to dominate southern public life. Fewer and fewer white south- erners shared the view, common among the founding fathers, that slavery was, at best, a “necessary evil.”


1 68,000

2–4 105,000

5–9 80,000

10–19 55,000

20–49 30,000

50–99 6,000

100–199 1,500

200+ 250

TABLE 11.2 Slaveholding, 1850 (in Round Numbers)

Plantation hierarchy



319T H E O L D S O U T H

How did slavery shape social and economic relations in the Old South?

Even those who had no direct stake in slavery shared with planters a deep commitment to white supremacy. Indeed, racism—the belief that blacks were innately inferior to whites and unsuited for life in any condition other than slavery—formed one pillar of the proslavery ideology. Most slavehold- ers also found legitimation for slavery in biblical passages such as the injunc- tion that servants should obey their masters. Others argued that slavery was essential to human progress. Without slavery, they believed, planters would be unable to cultivate the arts, sciences, and other civilized pursuits.

Still other defenders of slavery insisted that the institution guaran- teed equality for whites by preventing the growth of a class doomed to a life of unskilled labor. Like northerners, they claimed to be committed to the ideal of freedom. Slavery for blacks, they declared, was the surest guarantee of “perfect equality” among whites, liberating them from the “low, menial” jobs such as factory labor and domestic service performed by wage laborers in the North.

S I Z E O F S L A V E H O L D I N G S , 1 8 6 0












Gulf of Mexico

At lant ic Oce an





200 miles

200 kilometers

20+ 15–20 10–15 5–10 0–5

Average number of slaves per slaveholding, 1860

Most southern slaveholders owned

fewer than five slaves. The largest

plantations were concentrated in

coastal South Carolina and along the

Mississippi River.

Slavery and white supremacy

Equality for whites



Chapter 11  The Peculiar Institution320

Abolition in the Americas

American slaveowners were well aware of developments in slave systems elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere. They

observed carefully the results of the wave of emancipations that swept the hemisphere in the first four decades of the century. In these years, slavery was abolished in most of Spanish America and in the British empire.

The experience of emancipation in other parts of the hemisphere strongly affected debates over slavery in the

United States. Southern slaveowners judged the vitality of the Caribbean economy by how much sugar and other

crops it produced for the world market. Since many former slaves preferred to grow food for their own families, defenders

of slavery in the United States charged that British emancipa- tion had been a failure. Abolitionists disagreed, pointing to the rising

standard of living of freed slaves, the spread of education among them, and other improvements in their lives. But the stark fact remained that, in a hemispheric perspective, slavery was a declining institution. At mid- century, significant New World slave systems remained only in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil—and the United States.

Slavery and Liberty

Many white southerners declared themselves the true heirs of the American Revolution. They claimed to be inspired by “the same spirit of freedom and independence” that motivated the founding generation. Beginning in the 1830s, however, proslavery writers began to question the ideals of liberty, equality, and democracy so widely shared elsewhere in the nation. South Carolina, the only southern state where a majority of white families owned slaves, became the home of an aggressive defense of slavery that repudiated the idea that freedom and equality were universal entitlements. The language of the Declaration of Independence—that all men were created equal and entitled to liberty—was “the most false and dangerous of all political errors,” insisted John C. Calhoun.

The Virginia writer George Fitzhugh took the argument to its most radical conclusion, repudiating not only Jeffersonian ideals but the notion of America’s special mission in the world. Far from being the natural con- dition of mankind, Fitzhugh wrote, “universal liberty” was the exception, an experiment carried on “for a little while” in “a corner of Europe” and the northern United States. Taking the world and its history as a whole,

A plate manufactured in England

to celebrate emancipation in the

British empire. After a brief period of

apprenticeship, the end of slavery

came on August 1,1838. At the

center, a family of former slaves

celebrates outside their cabin.

George Fitzhugh

Questioning founding ideals



321L I F E U N D E R S L A V E R Y

slavery, “without regard to race and color,” was “the general, . . . normal, natural” basis of “civilized society.”

After 1830, southern writers, newspaper editors, politicians, and clergymen increasingly devoted themselves to spreading the defense of slavery. The majority of white southerners came to believe that free- dom for whites rested on the power to command the labor of blacks. In the words of the Richmond Enquirer, “freedom is not possible without slavery.”


Slaves and the Law

For slaves, the “peculiar institution” meant a life of incessant toil, brutal punishment, and the constant fear that their families would be destroyed by sale. Before the law, slaves were property. Although they had a few legal rights (all states made it illegal to kill a slave except in self-defense, and slaves accused of serious crimes were entitled to their day in court, before all-white judges and juries), these were haphazardly enforced. Slaves could be sold or leased by their owners at will and lacked any voice in the governments that ruled over them. They could not testify in court against a white person, sign contracts or acquire property, own firearms, hold meetings unless a white person was present, or leave the farm or plantation without the permission of their owner. By the 1830s, it was against the law to teach a slave to read or write.

Not all of these laws were rigorously enforced. Some members of slaveholding families taught slave children to read (although rather few, since well over 90 percent of the slave population was illiterate in 1860). It was quite common throughout the South for slaves to gather without white supervision at crossroads villages and country stores on Sunday, their day of rest.

The slave, declared a Louisiana law, “owes to his master . . . a respect without bounds, and an absolute obedience.” No aspect of slaves’ lives, from the choice of marriage partners to how they spent their free time, was immune from his interference. The entire system of southern justice, from the state militia and courts down to armed patrols in each locality, was designed to enforce the master’s control over the persons and labor of his slaves.

In one famous case, a Missouri court considered the “crime” of Celia, a slave who had killed her master in 1855 while resisting a sexual assault.

Legal restrictions on slaves

A poster advertising the raffle of

a horse and a slave, treated as

equivalents, at a Missouri store.

Spreading defense of slavery

Slaves as property

How did slavery shape social and economic relations in the Old South?



Chapter 11  The Peculiar Institution322

State law deemed “any woman” in such cir- cumstances to be acting in self-defense. But Celia, the court ruled, was not a “woman” in the eyes of the law. She was a slave, whose master had complete power over her person. The court sentenced her to death. However, since Celia was pregnant, her execution was postponed until the child was born, so as not to deprive her owner’s heirs of their property rights.

Conditions of Slave Life

Compared with their counterparts in the West Indies and Brazil, American slaves enjoyed better diets, lower rates of infant mortality, and longer life expectancies. Many factors contributed to improving material conditions. Most of the South lies outside the geographical area where tropical diseases like malaria, yellow fever, and typhoid fever flourish, so health among all southerners was better than in the Caribbean. And with the price of slaves rising dramatically after the closing of the African slave trade, it made economic sense for owners to become concerned with the health and living conditions of their human property.

Although slaves in the United States enjoyed better material lives than elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, they had far less access to freedom. In Brazil, it was not uncommon for an owner to free slaves as a form of celebration—on the occasion of a wedding in the owner’s family, for example— or to allow slaves to purchase their freedom. In the nineteenth-century South, however, more and more states set limits on voluntary manumission, requir- ing that such acts be approved by the legislature. Few slave societies in history have so systematically closed off all avenues to freedom as the Old South.

Free Blacks in the Old South

The existence of slavery helped to define the status of those blacks who did enjoy freedom. On the eve of the Civil War, nearly half a million free blacks lived in the United States, a majority in the South. Most were the descendants of slaves freed by southern owners in the aftermath of the Revolution or by the gradual emancipation laws of the northern states. Their numbers were supplemented by slaves who had been voluntarily liberated by their masters, who had been allowed to purchase their free- dom, or who succeeded in running away.

Slaves outside their cabin on a

South Carolina plantation, probably

photographed in the 1850s. They had

brought their furniture outdoors to be

included in the photo.

Limiting voluntary manumission



323L I F E U N D E R S L A V E R Y

What were the legal and material constraints on slaves’ lives and work?

When followed by “black” or “Negro,” the word “free” took on an entirely new meaning. Free blacks in the South could legally own property and marry and, of course, could not be bought and sold. But many regulations restricting the lives of slaves also applied to them. Free blacks had no voice in select- ing public officials. They were not allowed to testify in court or serve on juries, and they had to carry at all times a certificate of freedom. Poor free blacks who required public assistance could be bound out to labor alongside slaves. By the 1850s, most south- ern states prohibited free blacks from entering their territory. A few states even moved to expel them altogether, offering the choice of enslavement or departure.

In New Orleans and Charleston, on the other hand, relatively pros perous free black communities developed, mostly composed of mixed-race descen- dants of unions between white men and slave women. Many free blacks in these cities acquired an education and worked as skilled craftsmen such as tailors, carpenters, and mechanics. They estab- lished churches for their communities and schools for their children. In the Upper South, where the large majority of southern free blacks lived, they generally worked for wages as farm laborers. Overall, in the words of Willis A. Hodges, a member of a free Virginia family that helped runaways to reach the North, free blacks and slaves were “one man of sorrow.”

Slave Labor

First and foremost, slavery was a system of labor; “from sunup to first dark,” with only brief interruptions for meals, work occupied most of the slaves’ time. Large plantations were diversified communities, where slaves performed all kinds of work. The 125 slaves on one plantation, for instance, included a butler, two waitresses, a nurse, a dairymaid, a gar- dener, ten carpenters, and two shoemakers. Other plantations counted among their slaves engineers, blacksmiths, and weavers, as well as domestic workers from cooks to coachmen.

The large majority of slaves—75 percent of women and nearly 90 per- cent of men, according to one study—worked in the fields. The precise organization of their labor varied according to the crop and the size of

Slaves were an ever-present part

of southern daily life. In this 1826

portrait of the five children of

Commodore John Daniel Daniels,

a wealthy Baltimore shipowner, a

young slave lies on the floor at their

side, holding the soap for a game

of blowing bubbles, while another

hovers in the background, almost

depicted as part of the room’s


Varieties of slave labor



Chapter 11  The Peculiar Institution324

the holding. On small farms, the owner often toiled side by side with his slaves. The largest concentration of slaves, how- ever, lived and worked on plantations in the Cotton Belt, where men, women, and children labored in gangs, often under the direction of an overseer and perhaps a slave “driver” who assisted him. Among slaves, overseers had a reputation for meting out brutal treatment.

The 150,000 slaves who worked in the sugar fields of southern Louisiana also labored in large gangs. Conditions here were among the harshest in the South, for the late fall harvest season required round-the-clock labor to cut and process the sugarcane before

it spoiled. On the rice plantations of South Carolina and Georgia, the system of task labor, which had originated in the colonial era, prevailed. With few whites willing to venture into the malaria-infested swamps, slaves were assigned daily tasks and allowed to set their own pace of work. Once a slave’s task had been completed, he or she could spend the rest of the day hunting, fishing, or cultivating garden crops.

Slavery in the Cities

Businessmen, merchants, lawyers, and civil servants owned slaves, and by 1860 some 200,000 worked in industry, especially in the ironworks and tobacco factories of the Upper South. In southern cities, thousands were employed as unskilled laborers and skilled artisans. Most city slaves were servants, cooks, and other domestic laborers. But own- ers sometimes allowed those with craft skills to “hire their own time.” This meant that they could make work arrangements individually with employers, with most of the wages going to the slave’s owner. Many urban slaves even lived on their own. But slaveholders increasingly became convinced that, as one wrote, the growing independence of skilled urban slaves “exerts a most injurious influence upon the relation of master and servant.” For this reason, many owners in the 1850s sold city slaves to the countryside and sought replacements among skilled white labor.

In this undated photograph, men,

women, and children pick cotton

under the watchful eye of an

overseer. Unlike sugarcane, cotton

does not grow to a great height,

allowing an overseer to supervise a

large number of slaves.

Skilled labor



325L I F E U N D E R S L A V E R Y

What were the legal and material constraints on slaves’ lives and work?

Maintaining Order

Slaveowners employed a variety of means in their attempts to maintain order and discipline among their human property and persuade them to labor productively. At base, the system rested on force. Masters had almost complete discretion in inflicting punishment, and rare was the slave who went through his or her life without experiencing a whipping. Any infrac- tion of plantation rules, no matter how minor, could be punished by the lash. One Georgia planter recorded in his journal that he had whipped

M A J O R C R O P S O F T H E S O U T H , 1 8 6 0
























M iss

iss ip

pi R


M issouri R.

Rio G rande

Oh io


Arkansas R.

Gulf of Mexico

Atlantic Ocean





300 miles

300 kilometers

Hemp Cotton Rice Sugarcane Tobacco

Cotton was the major agricultural

crop of the South, and, indeed, the

nation, but slaves also grew rice,

sugarcane, tobacco, and hemp.

A system based on force



Chapter 11  The Peculiar Institution326

a slave “for not bringing over milk for my coffee, being compelled to take it without.”

Subtler means of control supplemented violence. Owners encouraged and exploited divisions among the slaves, especially between field hands and house servants. They created systems of incentives that rewarded good work with time off or even money payments. Probably the most power- ful weapon wielded by slaveowners was the threat of sale, which separated slaves from their immediate families and from the com-

munities that, despite overwhelming odds, African-Americans created on plantations throughout the South.


Slaves never abandoned their desire for freedom or their determination to resist total white control over their lives. In the face of grim realities, they succeeded in forging a semi-independent culture, centered on the family and church. This enabled them to survive the experience of bond- age without surrendering their self-esteem and to pass from generation to generation a set of ideas and values fundamentally at odds with those of their masters.

Slave culture drew on the African heritage. African influences were evident in the slaves’ music and dances, their style of religious worship, and the use of herbs by slave healers to combat disease. Slave culture was a new creation, shaped by African traditions and American values and experiences.

The Slave Family

At the center of the slave community stood the family. On the sugar plantations of the West Indies, the number of males far exceeded that of females, the workers lived in barracks-type buildings, and settled family life was nearly impossible. The United States, where the slave popula- tion grew from natural increase rather than continued importation from Africa, had an even male-female ratio, making the creation of families far more possible. To be sure, the law did not recognize the legality of slave marriages. The master had to consent before a man and woman could

A Public Whipping of Slaves in

Lexington, Missouri, in 1856, an

illustration from the abolitionist

publication The Suppressed Book

about Slavery. Whipping was a

common form of punishment for


African heritage

Slave marriages



327S L A V E C U L T U R E

“jump over the broomstick” (the slaves’ marriage cer- emony), and families stood in constant danger of being broken up by sale.

Nonetheless, most adult slaves married, and their unions, when not disrupted by sale, typically lasted for a lifetime. To solidify a sense of family continuity, slaves frequently named children after cousins, uncles, grandparents, and other relatives. Most slaves lived in two-parent families. But because of constant sales, the slave community had a significantly higher number of female-headed households than among whites, as well as families in which grandparents, other relatives, or even non-kin assumed responsibility for raising children.

The Threat of Sale

As noted above, the threat of sale, which disrupted family ties, was perhaps the most powerful disciplin- ary weapon slaveholders possessed. As the domestic slave trade expanded with the rise of the Cotton Kingdom, about one slave marriage in three in slave- selling states like Virginia was broken by sale. Many children were separated from their parents by sale.

Slave traders gave little attention to preserving family ties. A public notice, “Sale of Slaves and Stock,” announced the 1852 auction of property belonging to a recently deceased Georgia planter. It listed thirty-six individuals ranging from an infant to a sixty-nine-year- old woman and ended with the proviso: “Slaves will be sold separate, or in lots, as best suits the purchaser.” Sales like this were a human tragedy.

Gender Roles among Slaves

In some ways, gender roles under slavery differed markedly from those in the larger society. Slave men and women experienced, in a sense, the equality of powerlessness. The nineteenth century’s “cult of domesticity,” which defined the home as a woman’s proper sphere, did not apply to slave women, who regularly worked in the fields. Slave men could not act as the economic providers for their families. Nor could they protect their

A broadside advertising the public

sale of slaves, along with horses,

mules, and cattle, after the death

of their owner. The advertisement

notes that the slaves will be sold

individually or in groups “as best suits

the purchaser,” an indication that

families were likely to be broken up.

The prices are based on each slave’s

sex, age, and skill.

How did distinct slave cultures emerge in the Old South?



Chapter 11  The Peculiar Institution328

Religion and social control

wives from physical or sexual abuse by owners and overseers (a frequent occur- rence on many plantations) or determine when and under what conditions their chil- dren worked.

When slaves worked “on their own time,” however, more conventional gender roles prevailed. Slave men chopped wood, hunted, and fished, while women washed, sewed, and assumed primary responsibil- ity for the care of children. Some planters allowed their slaves small plots of land on which to grow food to supplement the rations provided by the owner; women usually took charge of these “garden plots.”

Slave Religion

A distinctive version of Christianity also offered solace to slaves in the face of hardship and hope for liberation from bondage. Some blacks, free and slave, had taken part in the Great Awakening of the colonial era, and even more were swept into the South’s Baptist and Methodist churches during the religious revivals of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As one preacher recalled of the great camp meeting that drew thousands of worshipers to Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1801, no distinctions were made “as to age, sex, color, or anything of a temporary nature; old and young, male and female, black and white, had equal privilege to minister the light which they received, in whatever way the Spirit directed.”

Even though the law prohibited slaves from gathering without a white person present, every plantation, it seemed, had its own black preacher. Usually the preacher was a “self-called” slave who possessed little or no formal education but whose rhetorical abilities and familiarity with the Bible made him one of the most respected members of the slave community. Especially in southern cities, slaves also worshiped in biracial congregations with white ministers, where they generally were required to sit in the back pews or in the balcony. Urban free blacks established their own churches, sometimes attended by slaves.

To masters, Christianity offered another means of social control. Many required slaves to attend services conducted by white ministers, who preached that theft was immoral and that the Bible required servants to

Virginian Luxuries. Originally painted

on the back panel of a formal portrait,

this image illustrates two “luxuries” of

a Virginia slaveowner—the power to

sexually abuse slave women and to

whip slaves.

Black preachers



329S L A V E C U L T U R E

How did distinct slave cultures emerge in the Old South?

obey their masters. One slave later recalled being told in a white minister’s sermon “how good God was in bringing us over to this country from dark and benighted Africa, and permitting us to listen to the sound of the gospel.”

In their own religious gatherings, slaves transformed the Christianity they had embraced, turning it to their own purposes. The biblical story of Exodus, for example, in which God chose Moses to lead the enslaved Jews of Egypt into a promised land of freedom, played a cen- tral role in black Christianity. Slaves iden- tified themselves as a chosen people whom God in the fullness of time would deliver from bondage. At the same time, the figure of Jesus Christ represented to slaves a personal redeemer, one who truly cared for the oppressed. And in the slaves’ eyes, the Christian message of brother- hood and the equality of all souls before the Creator offered an irrefut- able indictment of the institution of slavery.

The Desire for Liberty

Despite their masters’ elaborate ideology defending the South’s “peculiar institution,” slave culture rested on a conviction of the injustices of bond- age and the desire for freedom. When slaves sang, “I’m bound for the land of Canaan,” they meant not only relief from worldly woes in an afterlife but also escaping to the North or witnessing the breaking of slavery’s chains. A fugitive who reached the North later recalled that the “desire for freedom” was the “constant theme” of conversations in the slave quarters.

Most slaves, however, fully understood the impossibility of directly confronting such an entrenched system. Their folk tales had no figures equivalent to Paul Bunyan, the powerful, larger-than-life backwoodsman popular in white folklore. Slaves’ folklore, such as the Brer Rabbit stories, glorified the weak hare who outwitted stronger foes like the bear and fox, rather than challenging them outright. Their religious songs, or spirituals, spoke of lives of sorrow (“I’ve been ’buked and I’ve been scorned”), while holding out hope for ultimate liberation (“Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel?”).

Owners attempted to prevent slaves from learning about the larger world. But slaves created neighborhood networks that transmitted information between plantations. Skilled craftsmen, preachers, pilots

Kitchen Ball at White Sulphur

Springs, Virginia, an 1838 painting

by the German-born American artist

Christian Mayr. Fashionably dressed

domestic slaves celebrate the

wedding of a couple, dressed in white

at the center.

Slave culture

Neighborhood networks



Chapter 11  The Peculiar Institution330

on ships, and other privileged slaves spread news of local and national events. James Henry Hammond of South Carolina was “astonished and shocked” to find that his slaves understood the political views of the presidential candidates of 1844, Henry Clay and James K. Polk, and knew “most of what the abolitionists are doing.”

The world of most rural slaves was bounded by their local communities and kin. Nor could slaves remain indifferent to the currents of thought unleashed by the American Revolution or to the language of freedom in the society around them. “I am

in a land of liberty,” wrote Joseph Taper, a Virginia slave who escaped to Canada around 1840. “Here man is as God intended he should be.”


Confronted with federal, state, and local authorities committed to preserv- ing slavery, and outnumbered within the South as a whole by the white population, slaves could only rarely express their desire for freedom by outright rebellion. Compared with revolts in Brazil and the West Indies, which experienced numerous uprisings, involving hundreds or even thou- sands of slaves, revolts in the United States were smaller and less frequent. Resistance to slavery took many forms in the Old South, from individual acts of defiance to occasional uprisings. These actions posed a constant challenge to the slaveholders’ self-image as benign paternalists and their belief that slaves were obedient subjects grateful for their owners’ care.

Forms of Resistance

The most widespread expression of hostility to slavery was “day-to-day resistance” or “silent sabotage”—doing poor work, breaking tools, abus- ing animals, and in other ways disrupting the plantation routine. Then there was the theft of food, a form of resistance so common that one south- ern physician diagnosed it as a hereditary disease unique to blacks. Less frequent, but more dangerous, were serious crimes committed by slaves, including arson, poisoning, and armed assaults against individual whites.

Plantation Burial, a painting from

around 1860 by John Antrobus, an

English artist who emigrated to New

Orleans in 1850 and later married

the daughter of a plantation owner.

A slave preacher conducts a funeral

service while black men, women, and

children look on. The well-dressed

white man and woman on the far

right are, presumably, the plantation

owner and his wife. This is a rare

eyewitness depiction of black culture

under slavery.

Everyday resistance



331R E S I S T A N C E T O S L A V E R Y



New York



New Haven

Philadelphia Baltimore

Richmond, 1800 (Gabriel’s Rebellion)

Charleston, 1822 (Denmark Vesey Conspiracy)

Insurrection aboard the slave ship Creole, 1841

Insurrection aboard the slave ship Amistad, 1839

Haiti, 1791–1804

Barbados, 1816

Denemarra, 1823

Louisiana, 1811

Jamaica, 1831

Southampton County, 1831 (Nat Turner’s Rebellion)



























Baham a I s lands

St . K i t t s Nev i s Ant igu a

St . V incent

Tr in idad

Gulf of Mexico

Caribbean Sea

Atlantic Ocean

Paci f i c O cean





500 miles

500 kilometers

Insurrections and major conspiracies

S L A V E R E S I S T A N C E I N T H E N I N E T E E N T H – C E N T U R Y A T L A N T I C W O R L D

Instances of slave resistance occurred throughout the Western Hemisphere, on land and at sea. This map shows the location of major

events in the nineteenth century.

What were the major forms of resistance to slavery?





No one knows how many slaves succeeded in escaping from bondage before the Civil War.

Some settled in northern cities like Boston, Cincinnati, and New York. But because the

Constitution required that fugitives be returned to slavery, many continued northward until

they reached Canada.

One successful fugitive was Joseph Taper, a slave in Frederick County, Virginia, who in

1837 ran away to Pennsylvania with his wife and children. Two years later, learning that a

“slave catcher” was in the neighborhood, the Tapers fled to Canada. In 1840, Taper wrote to a

white acquaintance in Virginia recounting some of his experiences.

The biblical passage to which Taper refers reads: “And I will come near to you to judgment;

and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false

swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless,

and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts.”

Dear sir, I now take the opportunity to inform you that I am in a land of liberty, in good health. . . . Since I have been in the Queen’s dominions I have been well contented, Yes well contented for Sure, man is as God intended he should be. That is, all are born free and equal. This is a wholesome law, not like the Southern laws which puts man made in the image of God, on level with brutes. O, what will become of the people, and where will they stand in the day of Judgment. Would that the 5th verse of the 3d chapter of Malachi were written as with the bar of iron, and the point of a diamond upon every oppressor’s heart that they might repent of this evil, and let the oppressed go free. . . .

We have good schools, and all the colored population supplied with schools. My boy Edward who will be six years next January, is now reading, and I intend keeping him at school until he becomes a good scholar.

I have enjoyed more pleasure within one month here than in all my life in the land of bondage. . . . My wife and self are sitting by a good comfortable fire happy, knowing that there are none to molest [us] or make [us] afraid. God save Queen Victoria. The Lord bless her in this life, and crown her with glory in the world to come is my prayer,

Yours With much respect most obt, Joseph Taper

From Letter by Joseph Taper to

Joseph Long (1840)

Chapter 11  The Peculiar Institution




White southerners developed an elaborate set of arguments defending slavery in the period

before the Civil War. One pillar of proslavery thought was the idea that the institution was

sanctioned by the Bible, as in this essay from the influential southern magazine De Bow’s Review.

A very large party in the United States believe that holding slaves is morally wrong; this party founds its belief upon precepts taught in the Bible, and takes that book as the standard of morality and religion.

. . . We think we can show, that the Bible teaches clearly and conclusively that the holding of slaves is right; and if so, no deduction from general principles can make it wrong, if that book is true. . . .

Slavery has existed in some form or under some name, in almost every country of the globe. It existed in every country known, even by name, to any one of the sacred writers, at the time of his writing; yet none of them condemns it in the slightest degree. Would this have been the case had it been wrong in itself? Would not some one of the host of sacred writers have spoken of this alleged crime, in such terms as to show, in a manner not to be misunderstood, that God wished all men to be equal?

Abraham, the chosen servant of God, had his bond servants, whose condition was similar to, or worse than, that of our slaves. He considered them as his property, to be bought and sold as any other property which he owned. . . .

We find . . . that both the Old and New Testa- ments speak of slavery—that they do not condemn the relation, but, on the contrary, expressly allow it or create it; and they give commands and exhor- tations, which are based upon its legality and pro- priety. It can not, then, be wrong.

From “Slavery and the Bible” (1850)


1. How does Taper’s letter reverse the rhet-

oric, common among white Americans,

which saw the United States as a land of

freedom and the British empire as lack-

ing in liberty?

2. Why does De Bow feel that it is impor-

tant to show that the Bible sanctions


3. How do Taper and De Bow differ in

their understanding of the relationship

of slavery and Christianity?




Chapter 11  The Peculiar Institution334

Even more threatening to the stability of the slave system were slaves who ran away. Formidable obstacles confronted the prospective fugi- tive. Patrols were constantly on the lookout for runaway slaves. Slaves had little or no knowledge of geography, apart from understanding that following the north star led to freedom. No one knows how many slaves succeeded in reaching the North or Canada—the most common rough estimate is around 1,000 per year. Not surprisingly, most of those who succeeded lived, like Frederick Douglass, in the Upper South, especially Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky, which bordered on the free states. Douglass, who escaped at age twenty, was also typical in that the large majority of fugitives were young men. Most slave women were not willing to leave children behind, and taking them along on the arduous escape journey was nearly impossible.

In the Deep South, fugitives tended to head for cities like New Orleans or Charleston, where they hoped to lose themselves in the free black com- munity. Other escapees fled to remote areas like the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia or the Florida Everglades, where the Seminole Indians offered refuge before they were forced to move west. Even in Tennessee, a study of newspaper advertisements for runaways finds that around 40 percent were thought to have remained in the local neighborhood and 30 percent to have headed to other locations in the South, while only 25 percent tried to reach the North.

The Underground Railroad, a loose organization of sympathetic abolitionists who hid fugitives in their homes and sent them on to the next “station,” assisted some runaway slaves. A few courageous indi- viduals made forays into the South to liberate slaves. The best known was Harriet Tubman. Born in Maryland in 1820, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia in 1849 and during the next decade risked her life by mak- ing some twenty trips back to her state of birth to lead relatives and other slaves to freedom.

The Amistad

In a few instances, large groups of slaves collectively seized their freedom. The most celebrated instance involved fifty-three slaves who in 1839 took control of the Amistad, a ship transporting them from one port in Cuba to another, and tried to force the navigator to steer it to Africa. The Amistad wended its way up the Atlantic coast until an American vessel seized it off the coast of Long Island. President Martin Van Buren favored returning the slaves to Cuba. But abolitionists brought their case to the Supreme Court, where the former president John Quincy Adams argued that since

Runaway slaves

The top part of a typical broadside

offering a reward for the capture

of four runaway slaves. This was

distributed in Mississippi County,

Missouri, in 1852. The high reward for

George, $1,000, suggests that he is

an extremely valued worker.

Fugitive destinations



335R E S I S T A N C E T O S L A V E R Y

they had been recently brought from Africa in violation of international treaties banning the slave trade, the captives should be freed. The Court accepted Adams’s reasoning, and most of the captives made their way back to Africa.

The Amistad case had no legal bearing on slaves within the United States. But it may well have inspired a similar uprising in 1841, when 135 slaves being transported by sea from Norfolk, Virginia, to New Orleans seized control of the ship Creole and sailed for Nassau in the British Bahamas. Their leader had the evocative name Madison Washington. To the dismay of the Tyler administration, the British gave refuge to the Creole slaves.

Slave Revolts

Resistance to slavery occasionally moved beyond such individual and group acts of defiance to outright rebellion. The four largest conspiracies in American history occurred within the space of thirty-one years in the early nineteenth century. The first, organized by the Virginia slave Gabriel in 1800, was discussed in Chapter 8. It was followed eleven years later by an uprising on sugar plantations upriver from New Orleans. Somewhere between 200 and 500 men and women, armed with sugarcane knives, axes, clubs, and a few guns, marched toward the city, destroying property as they proceeded. The white population along the route fled in panic to

A painting depicting an incident in the

Maroon War of 1795 on the island of

Jamaica, when British troops were

ambushed near a sugar plantation.

Maroons were runaway slaves who

established independent communities

in the mountains, and fought to

prevent being returned to slavery.

Uprising near New Orleans

What were the major forms of resistance to slavery?

Success of Amistad case



Chapter 11  The Peculiar Institution336

New Orleans. Within two days, the militia and regular army troops met the rebels and dispersed them in a pitched battle, killing sixty-six.

The next major conspiracy was organized in 1822 by Denmark Vesey, a slave carpenter in Charleston, South Carolina, who had pur- chased his freedom after winning a local lottery. His conspiracy reflected the combination of American and African influences then circulating in the Atlantic world and coming together in black culture. “He studied the Bible a great deal,” recalled one of his followers, “and tried to prove from it that slavery and bondage is against the Bible.” Vesey also quoted the Declaration of Independence, pored over newspaper reports of the debates in Congress regarding the Missouri Compromise, and made pronouncements like “all men had equal rights, blacks as well as whites.” And he read to his conspirators accounts of the successful slave revolu- tion in Haiti. The African heritage was present in the person of Vesey’s lieutenant Gullah Jack, a religious “conjurer” from Angola who claimed to be able to protect the rebels against injury or death. The plot was dis- covered before it could reach fruition.

As with many slave conspiracies, evidence about the Vesey plot is contradictory and disputed. Much of it comes from a series of trials in which the court operated in secret and failed to allow the accused to con- front those who testified against them.

Nat Turner’s Rebellion

The best known of all slave rebels was Nat Turner, a slave preacher and religious mystic in Southampton County, Virginia, who came to believe that God had chosen him to lead a black uprising. Turner traveled widely in the county, conducting religious services. He told of seeing black and white angels fighting in the sky and the heavens running red with blood. Perhaps from a sense of irony, Turner initially chose July 4, 1831, for his rebellion, only to fall ill on the appointed day. On August 22, he and a handful of followers marched from farm to farm assaulting the white inhabitants. By the time the militia put down the uprising, about eighty slaves had joined Turner’s band, and some sixty whites had been killed. Turner was subsequently captured and, with seventeen other rebels, con- demned to die. Asked before his execution whether he regretted what he had done, Turner responded, “Was not Christ crucified?”

Turner’s rebellion sent shock waves through the entire South. “A Nat Turner,” one white Virginian warned, “might be in any family.” In the panic that followed the revolt, hundreds of innocent slaves were whipped, and

The most prominent slave revolt

Vesey’s influences

Panic among whites



337R E S I S T A N C E T O S L A V E R Y

What were the major forms of resistance to slavery?

scores executed. For one last time, Virginia’s leaders openly debated whether steps ought to be taken to do away with the “pecu- liar institution.” But a proposal to commit the state to gradual emancipation and the removal of the black population from the state failed to win legislative approval. The measure gained overwhelming support in the western part of Virginia, where slaves represented less than 10 percent of the pop- ulation, but it failed to win sufficient votes in the eastern counties, where slavery was centered.

Instead of moving toward emancipa- tion, the Virginia legislature of 1832 decided to fasten even more tightly the chains of bondage. New laws prohibited blacks, free or slave, from acting as preach- ers (a measure that proved impossible to enforce), strengthened the militia and patrol systems, banned free blacks from owning firearms, and prohib- ited teaching slaves to read. Other southern states followed suit.

In some ways, 1831 marked a turning point for the Old South. In that year, Parliament launched a program for abolishing slavery throughout the British empire (a process completed in 1838), underscoring the South’s growing isolation in the Western world. Turner’s rebellion, following only a few months after the appearance in Boston of William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist journal, The Liberator (discussed in the next chapter), sug- gested that American slavery faced enemies both within and outside the South. The proslavery argument increasingly permeated southern intellectual and political life, while dissenting opinions were suppressed. Some states made membership in an abolitionist society a criminal offense, while mobs drove critics of slavery from their homes. The South’s “great reaction” produced one of the most thoroughgoing suppressions of freedom of speech in American history. Even as reform movements arose in the North that condemned slavery as contrary to Christianity and to basic American values, and national debate over the peculiar institution intensified, southern society closed in defense of slavery.

An engraving depicting Nat Turner’s

slave rebellion of 1831, from a book

published soon after the revolt.

A turning point

An intensifying debate




1. Given that most northern states had abolished slavery by the 1830s, how is it useful to think of slavery as a national—rather than regional—economic and political system?

2. Although some poor southern whites resented the dominance of the “slavocracy,” most supported the institution and accepted the power of the planter class. Why did the “plain folk” continue to support slavery?

3. How did the planters’ paternalism serve to justify the system of slavery? How did it hide the reality of life for slaves?

4. Identify the basic elements of the proslavery defense and those points aimed especially at non-southern audiences.

5. Compare slaves in the Old South with those elsewhere in the world, focusing on health, diet, and opportunities for freedom.

6. Describe the difference between gang labor and task labor for slaves, and explain how slaves’ tasks varied by region across the Old South.

7. How did enslaved people create community and a culture that allowed them to survive in an oppressive society?

8. Identify the different types of resistance to slavery. Which ones were the most common, the most effective, and the most demonstrative?


the “peculiar institution” (p. 312)

Cotton Is King (p. 313)

Second Middle Passage (p. 314)

“plain folk” (p. 317)

paternalism (p. 318)

proslavery argument (p. 318)

slave family (p. 326)

slave religion (p. 328)

silent sabotage (p. 330)

Underground Railroad (p. 334)

Harriet Tubman (p. 334)

the Amistad (p. 334)

Denmark Vesey (p. 336)

Nat Turner’s Rebellion (p. 336)


wwnorton.com /studyspace



A chapter outline

A diagnostic chapter quiz

Interactive maps

Map worksheets

Multimedia documents

Chapter 11  The Peculiar Institution338



C H A P T E R 1 2



1 8 2 0 – 1 8 4 0

An abolitionist banner. Antislavery

organizations adopted the Liberty Bell

as a symbol of their campaign to extend

freedom to black Americans. Previously,

the bell, forged in Philadelphia in the

eighteenth century, had simply been

known as the Old State House Bell.

1816 American Colonization Society founded

1825 Owenite community established at New Harmony, Indiana

1826 American Temperance Society founded

1827 First U.S. black newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, established

1829 David Walker’s An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World

1833 American Anti-Slavery Society founded

1836 Congress adopts the “gag rule”

1837 Elijah Lovejoy killed

1845 Margaret Fuller’s Woman in the Nineteenth Century

1848 John Humphrey Noyes founds Oneida, New York

Seneca Falls Convention held

1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Frederick Douglass’s speech “What, to the Slave, is the Fourth of July?”

1860 Tax-supported school systems established in all northern states



Chapter 12  An Age of Reform340

A mong the many Americans who devoted their lives to the crusade against slavery, few were as selfless or courageous as Abby Kelley. As a teacher in Lynn, Massachusetts, she joined the Female Anti-Slavery Society and, like thousands of other northern women, threw herself into the abolitionist movement. In 1838, Kelley began to give public speeches about slavery. Her first lecture outside of Lynn was literally a baptism of fire. Enraged by reports that abolitionists favored “amalgamation” of the races—that is, sexual relations between whites and blacks—residents of Philadelphia stormed the meeting hall and burned it to the ground.

For two decades, Kelley traveled throughout the North, speaking almost daily in churches, public halls, and antislavery homes on “the holy cause of human rights.” Her career illustrated the interconnections of the era’s reform movements. In addition to abolitionism, she was active in pacifist organizations—which opposed the use of force, including war, to settle disputes—and was a pioneer in the early struggle for women’s rights. She forthrightly challenged her era’s assumption that woman’s “place” was in the home. More than any other individual, remarked Lucy Stone, another women’s rights advocate, Kelley “earned for us all the right of free speech.”

Abby Kelley’s private life was as unconventional as her public career. Happily married to the ardent abolitionist Stephen S. Foster, she gave birth to a daughter in 1847 but soon returned to lecturing. When criticized for not devoting herself to the care of her infant, Kelley replied: “I have done it for the sake of the mothers whose babies are sold away from them. The most precious legacy I can leave my child is a free country.”


“In the history of the world,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1841, “the doc- trine of reform has never such hope as at the present hour.” Abolitionism was only one of this era’s numerous efforts to improve American society. Americans established voluntary organizations that worked to prevent the manufacture and sale of liquor, end public entertainments and the delivery of the mail on Sunday, improve conditions in prisons, expand public education, uplift the condition of wage laborers, and reorganize society on the basis of cooperation rather than competitive individualism.

Nearly all these groups worked to convert public opinion to their cause. They sent out speakers, gathered signatures on petitions, and published

What were the major

movements and goals of

antebellum reform?

What were the different

varieties of abolitionism?

How did abolitionism

challenge barriers to

racial equality and free


What were the diverse

sources of the antebellum

women’s rights movement

and its significance?


Goals of reformers



341T H E R E F O R M I M P U L S E

pamphlets. Some reform movements, like restraining the consumption of liquor and alleviating the plight of the blind and insane, flourished through- out the nation. Others, including women’s rights, labor unionism, and edu- cational reform, were weak or nonexistent in the South, where they were widely associated with antislavery sentiment. Reform was an international crusade. Peace, temperance, women’s rights, and antislavery advocates regularly crisscrossed the Atlantic to promote their cause.

Reformers adopted a wide variety of tactics to bring about social change. Some relied on “moral suasion” to convert people to their cause. Others, such as opponents of “demon rum,” sought to use the power of the government to force sinners to change their ways. Some reformers decided to withdraw altogether from the larger society and establish their own cooperative settlements. They hoped to change American life by creating “heavens on earth,” where they could demonstrate by example the superi- ority of a collective way of life.

Utopian Communities

About 100 reform communities were established in the decades before the Civil War. Historians call them “utopian” after Thomas More’s sixteenth- century novel Utopia, an outline of a perfect society. (The word has also

A rare photograph of an abolitionist

meeting in New York State around

1850. Frederick Douglass is to the left

of the woman at the center.

Reform tactics

Thomas More

What were the major movements and goals of antebellum reform?



Chapter 12  An Age of Reform342

In the first half of the nineteenth

century, dozens of utopian

communities were established in the

United States, where small groups

of men and women attempted to

establish a more perfect social order

within the larger society.


Oneida Putney Brook Farm

New Harmony


Modern Times




















La ke

M ic

hi ga


Lake H uron

Lake Eri


Lake Ontario

At lant ic Oce an





200 miles

200 kilometers

Brook Farm Oneidan Owenite

Fourierist Mormon Pietistic

Rappite Shaker Others

Mainly New Englander settlement

U T O P I A N C O M M U N I T I E S , M I D – N I N E T E E N T H C E N T U R Y

come to imply that such plans are impractical and impossible to real- ize.) Most communities arose from religious conviction, but others were inspired by the secular desire to counteract the social and economic changes set in motion by the market revolution.

Nearly all the communities set out to reorganize society on a coop- erative basis, hoping to restore social harmony to a world of excessive individualism and to narrow the widening gap between rich and poor. Through their efforts, the words “socialism” and “communism,” mean- ing a social organization in which productive property is owned by the community rather than private individuals, entered the language of politics. Most utopian communities also tried to find substitutes for conventional gender relations and marriage patterns. Some prohibited sexual relations between men and women altogether; others allowed them to change partners at will. But nearly all insisted that the abolition of private property must be accompanied by an end to men’s “property” in women.

Social harmony



343T H E R E F O R M I M P U L S E

The Shakers

Religious communities attracted those who sought to find a retreat from a society permeated by sin. But the Shakers, the most successful of the religious communities, also had a significant impact on the outside world. At their peak during the 1840s, cooperative Shaker settlements, which stretched from Maine to Kentucky, included more than 5,000 members.

God, the Shakers believed, had a “dual” personality, both male and female, and thus the two sexes were spiritually equal. “Virgin purity” formed a pillar of the Shakers’ faith. They completely abandoned tradi- tional family life. Men and women lived separately in large dormitory- like structures and ate in communal dining rooms. They increased their numbers by attracting converts and adopting children from orphanages, rather than through natural increase. Although they rejected the indi- vidual accumulation of private property, the Shakers proved remarkably successful economically. They were among the first to market vegetable and flower seeds and herbal medicines commercially and to breed cattle for profit. Their beautifully crafted furniture is still widely admired today.


Another influential and controversial community was Oneida, founded in 1848 in upstate New York by John Humphrey Noyes, the Vermont-born son of a U.S. congressman. In 1836, Noyes and his followers formed a small

An engraving of a Shaker dance,

drawn by Benson Lossing, an artist

who visited a Shaker community and

reported on life there for Harper’s

Magazine in 1857.

Shaker beliefs

John Humphrey Noyes

What were the major movements and goals of antebellum reform?



Chapter 12  An Age of Reform344

community in Putney, Vermont. His community became notorious for what Noyes called “complex marriage,” whereby any man could propose sexual relations to any woman, who had the right to reject or accept his invitation, which would then be registered in a public record book. The great danger was “exclusive affections,” which, Noyes felt, destroyed the harmony of the community.

After being indicted for adultery by local officials, Noyes in 1848 moved his community to Oneida, where it survived until 1881. Oneida was an extremely dictatorial environment. To become a member of the com- munity, one had to demonstrate command of Noyes’s religious teachings and live according to his rules.

Worldly Communities

To outside observers, utopian communities like Oneida seemed cases of “voluntary slavery.” But because of their members’ selfless devotion to the teachings and rules laid down by their leader, spiritually oriented com- munities often achieved remarkable longevity. The Shakers survived well into the twentieth century. Communities with a more worldly orientation tended to be beset by internal divisions and therefore lasted for much shorter periods.

The most important secular communitarian (meaning a person who plans or lives in a cooperative community) was Robert Owen, a British fac- tory owner. Appalled by the degradation of workers in the early industrial revolution, Owen created a model factory village at New Lanark, Scotland, which combined strict rules of work discipline with comfortable housing and free public education. Around 1815, its 1,500 employees made New Lanark the largest center of cotton manufacturing in the world. In 1824, he purchased the Harmony community in Indiana—originally founded by the German Protestant religious leader George Rapp, who had emigrated to America with his followers at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Here, Owen established New Harmony, where he hoped to create a “new moral world.”

In Owen’s scheme, children would be removed at an early age from the care of their parents to be educated in schools where they would be trained to subordinate individual ambition to the common good. Owen also defended women’s rights, especially access to education and the right to divorce. At New Harmony, he promised, women would no longer be “enslaved” to their husbands, and “false notions” about innate differences between the sexes would be abandoned.

The Crisis, a publication by the

communitarian Robert Owen and his

son, Robert Dale Owen. The cover

depicts Owen’s vision of a planned

socialist community.

“Complex marriage”



345T H E R E F O R M I M P U L S E

Harmony eluded the residents of New Harmony. They squabbled about everything from the community’s constitution to the distribution of property. Owen’s settlement survived for only a few years, but it strongly influenced the labor movement, educational reformers, and women’s rights advocates. Owen’s vision resonated with the widely held American belief that a community of equals could be created in the New World.

Religion and Reform

Most Americans saw the ownership of property as the key to economic independence—and, therefore, to freedom—and marriage as the foun- dation of the social order. Few were likely to join communities that required them to surrender both. Far more typical of the reform impulse were movements that aimed at liberating men and women either from restraints external to themselves, such as slavery and war, or from forms of internal “servitude” like drinking, illiteracy, and a tendency toward criminality. Many of these reform movements drew their inspiration from the religious revivalism of the Second Great Awakening, discussed in Chapter 9. If, as the revivalist preachers maintained, God had created man as a “free moral agent,” sinners could not only reform themselves but could also remake the world.

The revivals popularized the outlook known as “perfectionism,” which saw both individuals and society at large as capable of indefinite improvement. Under the impact of the revivals, older reform efforts moved in a new, radical direction. Temperance (which literally means moderation in the consumption of liquor) was transformed into a crusade to eliminate drinking entirely. Criticism of war became outright pacifism. And, as will be related below, critics of slavery now demanded not gradual emancipa- tion but immediate and total abolition.

To members of the North’s emerging middle-class culture, reform became a badge of respectability, an indication that individuals had taken control of their own lives and had become morally accountable human beings. The American Temperance Society, founded in 1826, directed its efforts to redeeming not only habitual drunkards but also the occasional drinker. It claimed by the 1830s to have persuaded hundreds of thousands of Americans to renounce liquor. By 1840, the consumption of alcohol per person had fallen to less than half the level of a decade earlier. (It had peaked in 1830 at seven gallons per person per year, compared with around two gallons today.)

Robert Owen’s New Harmony

Mainstream reform

What were the major movements and goals of antebellum reform?

A temperance banner from around

1850 depicts a young man torn

between a woman in white, who

illustrates female purity, and a

temptress, who offers him a drink

of liquor.



Chapter 12  An Age of Reform346

Critics of Reform

Many Americans saw the reform impulse as an attack on their own freedom. Taverns were popular meeting places for urban workingmen, sites not only of drinking but also of political discussions, organizational meetings, and recreation. Drinking was a prominent feature of festive cel- ebrations and events like militia gatherings. A “Liberty Loving Citizen” of Worcester, Massachusetts, wondered what gave one group of citizens the right to dictate to others how to conduct their personal lives.

American Catholics, their numbers growing because of Irish and German immigration, proved hostile to the reform impulse. Catholics understood freedom in ways quite different from how Protestant reform- ers did. They viewed sin as an inescapable burden of individuals and society. The perfectionist idea that evil could be banished from the world struck them as an affront to genuine religion, and they bitterly opposed what they saw as reformers’ efforts to impose their own version of Protestant morality on their neighbors. Whereas reformers spoke of man as a free moral agent, Catholics tended to place less emphasis on individual independence and more on the importance of communities centered on family and church.

Reformers and Freedom

Reformers had to reconcile their desire to create moral order and their quest to enhance personal freedom. They did this through a vision of free- dom that was liberating and controlling at the same time. On the one hand, reformers insisted that their goal was to enable Americans to enjoy genu- ine liberty. In a world in which personal freedom increasingly meant the op portunity to compete for economic gain and individual self-improve- ment, they spoke of liberating Americans from various forms of “slavery” that made it impossible to succeed—slavery to drink, to poverty, to sin.

On the other hand, reformers insisted that self-fulfillment came through self-discipline. Their definition of the free individual was the person who internalized the practice of self-control. In some ways, reform- ers believed, American society suffered from an excess of liberty—the anarchic “natural liberty” John Winthrop had warned against in the early days of Puritan Massachusetts, as opposed to the “Christian liberty” of the morally upright citizen.

Many religious groups in the East worried that settlers in the West and immigrants from abroad lacked self-control and led lives of vice, exhibited by drinking, violations of the Sabbath, and lack of Protestant

Tension between liberation and control


Catholics on reform



347T H E R E F O R M I M P U L S E

devotion. They formed the American Tract Society, the American Bible Society, and other groups that flooded eastern cities and the western fron- tier with copies of the gospel and pamphlets promoting religious virtue. Between 1825 and 1835, the pamphlets distributed by the Tract Society amounted to more than 500 million pages.

The Invention of the Asylum

The tension between liberation and control in the era’s reform movements was vividly evident in the proliferation of new institutions that reformers hoped could remake human beings into free, morally upright citizens. In colonial America, crime had mostly been punished by whipping, fines, or banishment. The poor received relief in their own homes, orphans lived with neighbors, and families took care of mentally ill members.

During the 1830s and 1840s, Americans embarked on a program of institution building—jails for criminals, poorhouses for the destitute, asy- lums for the insane, and orphanages for children without families. These institutions differed in many respects, but they shared with communitar- ians and religious believers in “perfectionism” the idea that social ills once considered incurable could in fact be eliminated. Prisons and asylums would eventually become overcrowded places where rehabilitating the inmates seemed less important than simply holding them at bay, away from society. At the outset, however, these institutions were inspired by the conviction that those who passed through their doors could eventually be released to become productive, self-disciplined citizens.

The Common School

The largest effort at institution building before the Civil War came in the movement to establish common schools—that is, tax-supported state school systems open to all children. In the early nineteenth century, most children were educated in locally supported schools, private academies, charity schools, or at home. Many had no access to learning at all. School reform reflected the numerous purposes that came together in the era’s reform impulse. Horace Mann, a Massachusetts lawyer and Whig politi- cian who served as director of the state’s board of education, was the era’s leading educational reformer. He hoped that universal public education could restore equality to a fractured society by bringing the children of all classes together in a common learning experience and equipping the less fortunate to advance in the social scale.

American Tract Society

Reform institutions

Horace Mann

What were the major movements and goals of antebellum reform?



Chapter 12  An Age of Reform348

With labor organizations, factory owners, and middle-class reformers all supporting the idea, every northern state by 1860 had established tax- supported school systems for its children. The common-school movement created the first real career opportunity for women, who quickly came to dominate the ranks of teachers. The South, where literate blacks were increasingly viewed as a danger to social order and planters had no desire to tax themselves to pay for education for poor white children, lagged far behind in public education. This was one of many ways in which North and South seemed to be growing apart.


Compared with drinking, Sabbath-breaking, and illiteracy, the greatest evil in American society at first appeared to attract the least attention from reformers. For many years, it seemed that the only Americans willing to challenge the existence of slavery were Quakers, slaves, and free blacks.


Before the 1830s, those white Americans willing to contemplate an end to bondage almost always coupled calls for abolition with the “coloni- zation” of freed slaves—their deportation to Africa, the Caribbean, or Central America. In 1816, proponents of this idea founded the American Colonization Society, which promoted the gradual abolition of slavery and the settlement of black Americans in Africa. It soon established Liberia on the coast of West Africa, an outpost of American influence whose capital, Monrovia, was named for President James Monroe.

Colonization struck many observers as totally impractical. None- theless, numerous prominent political leaders of the Jacksonian era— including Henry Clay, John Marshall, Daniel Webster, and Jackson himself—supported the Colonization Society. Many colonizationists believed that slavery and racism were so deeply embedded in American life that blacks could never achieve equality if freed and allowed to remain in the country. Like Indian removal, colonization rested on the premise that America is fundamentally a white society.

In the decades before the Civil War, several thousand black Americans did emigrate to Liberia with the aid of the Colonization Society. Some were slaves emancipated by their owners on the condition that they depart, while others left voluntarily, motivated by a desire to spread Christianity


Beliefs of colonizationists

The rise of public education



349T H E C R U S A D E A G A I N S T S L A V E R Y

in Africa or to enjoy rights denied them in the United States. Having expe- rienced “the legal slavery of the South and the social slavery of the North,” wrote one emigrant on leaving for Liberia, he knew he could “never be a free man in this country.”

But most African-Americans adamantly opposed the idea of coloniza- tion. In fact, the formation of the American Colonization Society galvanized free blacks to claim their rights as Americans. Early in 1817, some 3,000 free blacks assembled in Philadelphia for the first national black conven- tion. Their resolutions insisted that blacks were Americans, entitled to the same freedom and rights enjoyed by whites.

Militant Abolitionism

The abolitionist movement that arose in the 1830s differed profoundly from its genteel, conservative predecessor. Drawing on the religious con- viction that slavery was an unparalleled sin and the secular one that it con- tradicted the values enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, a new generation of reformers rejected the traditional approach of gradual eman- cipation and demanded immediate abolition. Also unlike their predeces- sors, they directed explosive language against slavery and slaveholders and insisted that blacks, once free, should be incorporated as equal citizens of the republic rather than being deported. Perfecting American society, they insisted, meant rooting out not just slavery, but racism in all its forms.

The first indication of the new spirit of abolitionism came in 1829 with the appearance of An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World by David Walker, a free black who had been born in North Carolina and now oper- ated a used-clothing store in Boston. A passionate indictment of slavery and racial prejudice, the Appeal called on black Americans to mobilize for abolition—by force if necessary—and warned whites that the nation faced divine punishment if it did not mend its sinful ways. Walker called on blacks to take pride in the achievements of ancient African civilizations and to claim all their rights as Americans. “Tell us no more about coloniza- tion,” Walker wrote, addressing white readers, “for America is as much our country as it is yours.” Like other reformers, Walker used both secular and religious language. He warned that God would wreak vengeance on the United States for violating the principles of justice and heaped scorn on ministers who defended slavery for violating the golden rule espoused by Jesus Christ (“whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do yet even so unto them”).

Walker died in mysterious circumstances in 1830. Not until the appearance in 1831 of The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison’s weekly

William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The

Liberator and probably the nation’s

most prominent abolitionist, in a

daguerreotype from around 1850.

What were the different varieties of abolitionism?

African-American responses to colonization

Immediate abolition



Chapter 12  An Age of Reform350

journal published in Boston, did the new breed of abolitionism find a permanent voice. “I will be as harsh as truth,” Garrison announced, “and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. . . . I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—and I will be heard.”

And heard he was. Some of Garrison’s ideas, such as his suggestion that the North abrogate the Constitution and dissolve the Union to end its complicity in the evil of slavery, were rejected by many abolitionists. But his call for the immediate abolition of slavery echoed throughout antislavery circles. Garrison’s pamphlet, Thoughts on African Colonization, persuaded many foes of slavery that blacks must be recognized as part of American society, not viewed as aliens to be shipped overseas.

Spreading the Abolitionist Message

Beginning with a handful of activists, the abolitionist movement expanded rapidly throughout the North. Antislavery leaders took advantage of the rapid development of print technology and the expansion of literacy due to common-school education to spread their message. Like radical pamphleteers of the American Revolution and evangelical ministers of the Second Great Awakening, they recognized the democratic potential

Pages from an abolitionist book

for children. Abolitionists sought to

convince young and old of the evils

of slavery.

Pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers

Garrison’s Thoughts on African Colonization



351T H E C R U S A D E A G A I N S T S L A V E R Y

in the production of printed material. Abolitionists seized on the recently invented steam printing press to produce millions of copies of pamphlets, newspapers, petitions, novels, and broadsides. Between the formation of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 and the end of the decade, some 100,000 northerners joined local groups devoted to abolition. Most were ordinary citizens—farmers, shopkeepers, craftsmen, laborers, along with a few prominent businessmen like the merchants Arthur and Lewis Tappan of New York.

If Garrison was the movement’s most notable propagandist, Theodore Weld, a young minister who had been converted by the evangelical preacher Charles G. Finney, helped to create its mass constituency. A bril- liant orator, Weld trained a band of speakers who brought the abolitionist message into the heart of the rural and small-town North. Their methods were those of the revivalists—fervent preaching, lengthy meetings, calls for individuals to renounce their immoral ways—and their message was a simple one: slavery was a sin.

Slavery and Moral Suasion

Many southerners feared that the abolitionists intended to spark a slave insurrection, a belief strengthened by the outbreak of Nat Turner’s Rebellion a few months after The Liberator made its appearance. Yet not only was Garrison completely unknown to Turner, but nearly all abolitionists, despite their militant language, rejected violence as a means of ending

Slave Market of America, an

engraving produced by the American

Anti-Slavery Society in 1836,

illustrates how abolitionists sought

to identify their cause with American

traditions, even as they mocked the

nation’s claim to be a “land of the


Theodore Weld

What were the different varieties of abolitionism?



Chapter 12  An Age of Reform352

slavery. Many were pacifists or “non-resistants,” who believed that coer- cion should be eliminated from all human relationships and institutions. Their strategy was “moral suasion” and their arena the public sphere. Slaveholders must be convinced of the sinfulness of their ways, and the North of its complicity in the peculiar institution.

Among the first to appreciate the key role of public opinion in a mass democracy, abolitionists focused their efforts not on infiltrating the existing political parties, but on awakening the nation to the moral evil of slavery. Their language was deliberately provocative, calculated to seize public attention. “Slavery,” said Garrison, “will not be overthrown without excitement, without a most tremendous excitement.” Abolitionists argued that slavery was so deeply embedded in American life that its destruction would require fundamental changes in the North as well as the South. They insisted that the inherent, natural, and absolute right to personal lib- erty, regardless of race, took precedence over other forms of freedom, such as the right of citizens to accumulate and hold property or self-government by local political communities.

A New Vision of America

In a society in which the rights of citizenship had become more and more closely associated with whiteness, the antislavery movement sought to rein- vigorate the idea of freedom as a truly universal entitlement. The origins of the idea of an American people unbounded by race lies not with the found- ers, who by and large made their peace with slavery, but with the abolition- ists. The antislavery crusade viewed slaves and free blacks as members of the national community, a position summarized in the title of Lydia Maria Child’s popular treatise of 1833, An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans. The idea that birthplace alone, not race, should determine who was an American, later enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment, rep- resented a radical departure from the traditions of American life.

The crusade against slavery, wrote Angelina Grimké, who became a leading abolitionist speaker, was the nation’s preeminent “school in which human rights are . . . investigated.” Abolitionists debated the Constitution’s relationship to slavery. William Lloyd Garrison burned the document, calling it a covenant with the devil; Frederick Douglass came to believe that it offered no national protection to slavery. But despite this difference of opinion, abolitionists developed an alternative, rights-oriented view of constitutional law, grounded in their universal- istic understanding of liberty. Seeking to define the core rights to which

An American people unbounded by race

Angelina Grimké

Awakening the nation



353B L A C K A N D W H I T E A B O L I T I O N I S M

all Americans were entitled—the meaning of freedom in concrete legal terms—abolitionists invented the concept of equality before the law regardless of race, one all but unknown in American life before the Civil War. Abolitionist literature also helped to expand the definition of cruelty. The graphic descriptions of the beatings, brandings, and other physical sufferings of the slaves helped to popularize the idea of bodily integrity as a basic right that slavery violated.

Despite being denounced by their opponents as enemies of American principles, abolitionists consciously identified their movement with the revolutionary heritage. The Declaration of Independence was not as fun- damental to public oratory in the early republic as it would later become. Abolitionists seized upon it, interpreting the document’s preamble as a condemnation of slavery. The Liberty Bell, later one of the nation’s most venerated emblems of freedom, did not achieve that status until abolition- ists adopted it as a symbol and gave it its name as part of an effort to iden- tify their principles with those of the founders. Of course, Americans of all regions and political beliefs claimed the Revolution’s legacy. Abolitionists never represented more than a small part of the North’s population. But as the slavery controversy intensified, the belief spread far beyond abolition- ist circles that slavery contradicted the nation’s heritage of freedom.


Black Abolitionists

Blacks played a leading role in the antislavery movement. Frederick Douglass was only one among many former slaves who published accounts of their lives in bondage; these accounts convinced thousands of northerners of the evils of slavery. Indeed, the most effective piece of anti- slavery literature of the entire period, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was to some extent modeled on the autobiography of the fugi- tive slave Josiah Henson. Serialized in 1851 in a Washington antislavery newspaper and published as a book the following year, Uncle Tom’s Cabin sold more than 1 million copies by 1854, and it also inspired numerous stage versions. By portraying slaves as sympathetic men and women, and as Christians at the mercy of slaveholders who split up families and set bloodhounds on innocent mothers and children, Stowe’s melodrama gave the abolitionist message a powerful human appeal.

Abolitionism and the revolutionary heritage

Abolitionism and the Constitution

One of many popular lithographs

illustrating scenes from Harriet

Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s

Cabin, the most widely read of all

antislavery writings. This depicts the

slave Eliza escaping with her child

across the ice floes of the Ohio River.

How did abolitionism challenge barriers to racial equality and free speech?



Chapter 12  An Age of Reform354

By the 1840s, black abolitionists sought an independent role within the movement, regularly holding their own conventions. The black aboli- tionist Henry Highland Garnet, who as a child had escaped from slavery in Maryland with his father, proclaimed at one such gathering in 1843 that slaves should rise in rebellion to throw off their shackles. His position was so at odds with the prevailing belief in moral suasion that the published proceedings entirely omitted the speech.

At every opportunity, black abolitionists rejected the nation’s preten- sions as a land of liberty. Free black communities in the North devised an alternative calendar of “freedom celebrations” centered on January 1, the date in 1808 on which the slave trade became illegal, and August 1, the anniversary of West Indian emancipation, rather than July 4. In doing so, they offered a stinging rebuke to white Americans’ claims to live in a land of freedom.

Even more persistently than their white counterparts, black abolition- ists articulated the ideal of color-blind citizenship. “The real battleground between liberty and slavery,” wrote Samuel Cornish, “is prejudice against color.” (Cornish, a Presbyterian minister, had helped to establish the nation’s first black newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, in New York City in 1827. The first editor, John B. Russwurm, closed the paper after two years and moved to Liberia, explaining, “we consider it a waste of mere words to talk of ever enjoying citizenship in this country.”)

The greatest oration on American slavery and American freedom was delivered in Rochester in 1852 by Frederick Douglass. Speaking just after the annual Independence Day celebration, Douglass posed the question, “What, to the Slave, is the Fourth of July?” He answered that Fourth of July festivities revealed the hypocrisy of a nation that proclaimed its belief in lib- erty yet daily committed “practices more shocking and bloody” than did any other country on earth. Like other abolitionists, however, Douglass also laid claim to the founders’ legacy. The Revolution had left a “rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence” from which subsequent generations had tragically strayed. Only by abolishing slavery and freeing the “great doctrines” of the Declaration of Independence from the “narrow bounds” of race could the United States recapture its original mission.

Gentlemen of Property and Standing

At first, abolitionism aroused violent hostility from northerners who feared that the movement threatened to disrupt the Union, interfere with profits wrested from slave labor, and overturn white supremacy. Led by “gentlemen of property and standing” (often merchants with close commercial ties to the South), mobs disrupted abolitionist meetings in northern cities.

Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July speech

Opposition to abolitionism

Color-blind citizenship



355B L A C K A N D W H I T E A B O L I T I O N I S M

In 1837, antislavery editor Elijah P. Lovejoy became the move- ment’s first martyr when he was killed by a mob in Alton, Illinois, while defending his press. In 1838, a mob in Philadelphia burned to the ground Pennsylvania Hall, which abolitionists had built to hold their meetings. Before starting the fire, however, the mob patriotically carried a portrait of George Washington to safety.

Elsewhere, crowds of southerners, with the unspoken approval of Andrew Jackson’s postmaster general, Amos Kendall, burned abolitionist literature that they had removed from the mails. In 1836, when abolitionists began to flood Washington with petitions calling for emancipation in the nation’s capital, the House of Representatives adopted the notorious “gag rule,” which prohibited their consideration. The rule was repealed in 1844, thanks largely to the tireless opposition of former president John Quincy Adams, who since 1831 had represented Massachusetts in the House.

Far from stemming the movement’s growth, however, mob attacks and attempts to limit abolitionists’ freedom of speech convinced many northerners that slavery was incompatible with the democratic liberties of white Americans. “We commenced the present struggle,” announced abo- litionist William Jay, “to obtain the freedom of the slave; we are compelled to continue it to preserve our own. We are now contending . . . for the lib- erty of speech, of the press, and of conscience.”

The abolitionist movement now broadened its appeal so as to win the support of northerners who cared little about the rights of blacks but could be convinced that slavery endangered their own cherished freedoms. The gag rule aroused considerable resentment in the North. “If the government

How did abolitionism challenge barriers to racial equality and free speech?

Destruction by Fire of Pennsylvania

Hall, a lithograph depicting the

burning of the abolitionist meeting

hall by a Philadelphia mob in 1838.

Am I Not a Man and a Brother?

The most common abolitionist

depiction of a slave, this image not

only presents African-Americans as

unthreatening individuals seeking

white assistance but also calls

upon white Americans to recognize

blacks as fellow men unjustly held in


Elijah P. Lovejoy



Chapter 12  An Age of Reform356

once begins to discriminate as to what is orthodox and what heterodox in opinion,” wrote the New York Evening Post, hardly a supporter of abolition- ism, “farewell, a long farewell to our freedom.”


The Rise of the Public Woman

“When the true history of the antislavery cause shall be written,” Frederick Douglass later recalled, “women will occupy a large space in its pages.” Much of the movement’s grassroots strength derived from northern women, who joined by the thousands. Most were evangelical Protestants, New England Congregationalists, or Quakers convinced, as Martha Higginson of Vermont wrote, that slavery was “a disgrace in this land of Christian light and liberty.”

The public sphere was open to women in ways government and party politics were not. Women’s letters and diaries reveal a keen interest in political issues, from slavery to presidential campaigns. Long before they could vote, women circulated petitions, attended mass meetings, marched in political parades, delivered public lectures, and raised money for politi- cal causes. They became active in the temperance movement, the building of asylums, and other reform activities. Dorothea Dix, a Massachusetts schoolteacher, for example, was the leading advocate of more humane treatment of the insane, who at the time generally were placed in jails alongside debtors and hardened criminals. Thanks to her efforts, twenty- eight states constructed mental hospitals before the Civil War.

Women and Free Speech

All these activities enabled women to carve out a place in the public sphere. But it was participation in abolitionism that inspired the early movement for women’s rights. In working for the rights of the slave, not a few women developed a new understanding of their own subordinate social and legal status. The daughters of a prominent South Carolina slaveholder, Angelina and Sarah Grimké had been converted first to Quakerism and then abolitionism while visiting Philadelphia. During the 1830s, they began to deliver popular lectures that offered a scathing condemnation of slavery from the perspective of those who had witnessed its evils firsthand.

Women and politics

Northern women in abolitionism

Abolitionism and women’s rights



357T H E O R I G I N S O F F E M I N I S M

Outraged by the sight of females sacrificing all “modesty and delicacy” by appearing on the public lecture platform, a group of Massachusetts clergymen denounced the sisters. In reply, they forthrightly defended not only the right of women to take part in political debate but also their right to share the social and educational privileges enjoyed by men. “Since I engaged in the investigation of the rights of the slave,” declared Angelina Grimké, “I have necessarily been led to a better understanding of my own.” Her sister Sarah proceeded to publish Letters on the Equality of the Sexes (1838), a powerful call for equal rights for women and a critique of the notion of separate spheres. The book raised numerous issues familiar even today, including what later generations would call “equal pay for equal work.” Why, Sarah Grimké wondered, did male teachers invariably receive higher wages than women, and a male tailor earn “two or three times as much” as a female counterpart “although the work done by each may be equally good?”

Women’s Rights

The Grimké sisters were the first to apply the abolitionist doctrine of uni- versal freedom and equality to the status of women. Although they soon retired from the fray, unwilling to endure the intense criticism to which they were subjected, their writings helped to spark the movement for women’s rights, which arose in the 1840s.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, the key organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, were veterans of the antislavery crusade. In 1840, they had traveled to London as delegates to the World Anti-Slavery Convention, only to be barred from participating because of their sex. The Seneca Falls Convention, a gathering on behalf of women’s rights held in the upstate New York town where Stanton lived, raised the issue of woman suffrage for the first time. Stanton, the principal author, modeled the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments on the Declaration of Independence (see the Appendix for the full text). But the document added “women” to Jefferson’s axiom “all men are created equal,” and in place of a list of injustices committed by George III, it condemned the “injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman.” The first to be listed was denying her the right to vote. As Stanton told the convention, only the vote would make woman “free as man is free,” since in a democratic society, freedom was impossible without access to the ballot. The argument was simple and irrefutable: in the words of Lydia Maria Child, “either the theory of our government [the democratic principle that government rests on the will of the people] is false, or women have a right to vote.”

The Grimké sisters

The Seneca Falls Convention

The Declaration of Sentiments

What were the diverse sources of the antebellum women’s rights movement and its significance?



Chapter 12  An Age of Reform358

Seneca Falls marked the beginning of the seventy-year struggle for woman suffrage. The vote, however, was hardly the only issue raised at the convention. The Declaration of Sentiments condemned the entire structure of inequality that denied women access to education and employment, gave husbands control over the property and wages of their wives and cus- tody of children in the event of divorce, deprived women of independent legal status after they married, and restricted them to the home as their “sphere of action.” Equal rights became the rallying cry of the early move- ment for women’s rights, and equal rights meant claiming access to all the prevailing definitions of freedom.

Feminism and Freedom

Like abolitionism, temperance, and other reforms, women’s rights was an international movement. Lacking broad backing at home, early feminists found allies abroad. “Women alone will say what freedom they want,” declared an article in The Free Woman, a journal established in Paris in 1832.

Women, wrote Margaret Fuller, had the same right as men to develop their talents, to “grow . . . to live freely and unimpeded.” The daughter of a Jeffersonian congressman, Fuller was educated at home, at first under her father’s supervision (she learned Latin before the age of six) and later on her own. She became part of New England’s transcendentalist circle (discussed in Chapter 9) and from 1840 to 1842 edited The Dial, a magazine that reflected the group’s views. In 1844, Fuller became literary editor of the New York Tribune, the first woman to achieve so important a position in American journalism.

In Woman in the Nineteenth Century, published in 1845, Fuller sought to apply to women the transcendentalist idea that freedom meant a quest for personal development. “Every path” to self-fulfillment, she insisted, should be “open to woman as freely as to man.” Fuller traveled to Europe as a correspondent for the Tribune, and there she married an Italian patriot. Along with her husband and baby, she died in a shipwreck in 1850 while returning to the United States.

Women and Work

Women also demanded the right to participate in the market revolution. At an 1851 women’s rights convention, the black abolitionist Sojourner Truth insisted that the movement devote attention to the plight of poor and working-class women and repudiate the idea that women were too delicate

Portrait of feminist Margaret Fuller

(1810–1850) from an undated


Start of the struggle for suffrage

Margaret Fuller



359T H E O R I G I N S O F F E M I N I S M

to engage in work outside the home. Born a slave in New York State around 1799, Truth did not obtain her freedom until the state’s emancipation law of 1827. A listener at her 1851 speech (which was not recorded at the time) later recalled that Truth had spoken of her years of hard physical labor, had flexed her arm to show her strength, and exclaimed, “and aren’t I a woman?”

Although those who convened at Seneca Falls were predominantly from the middle class—no representatives of the growing number of “factory girls” and domestic servants took part— the participants rejected the identification of the home as the women’s “sphere.” During the 1850s, some feminists tried to popularize a new style of dress, devised by Amelia Bloomer, consisting of a loose-fitting tunic and trousers. The target of innumerable male jokes, the “bloomer” costume attempted to make a serious point—that the long dresses, tight corsets, and numerous petticoats considered to be appropriate female attire were so confining that they made it almost impossible for women to claim a place in the public sphere or to work outside the home.

The Slavery of Sex

The dichotomy between freedom and slavery powerfully shaped early fem- inists’ political language. Just as the idea of “wage slavery” enabled north- ern workers to challenge the inequalities inherent in market definitions of freedom, the concept of the “slavery of sex” empowered the women’s movement to develop an all-encompassing critique of male authority and their own subordination. Feminists of the 1840s and 1850s pointed out that the law of marriage made nonsense of the description of the family as a “private” institution independent of public authority. When the abo- litionists and women’s rights activists Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell married, they felt obliged to repudiate New York’s laws that clothed the husband “with legal powers which . . . no man should possess.” The anal- ogy between free women and slaves gained prominence as it was swept up in the accelerating debate over slavery. For their part, southern defenders of slavery frequently linked slavery and marriage as natural and just forms of inequality. Eliminating the former institution, they charged, would threaten the latter.

Woman’s Emancipation, a satirical

engraving from Harper’s Monthly,

August 1851, illustrating the much-

ridiculed “Bloomer” costume.

What were the diverse sources of the antebellum women’s rights movement and its significance?

Feminists and marriage





From Angelina Grimké, Letter in

The Liberator (August 2, 1837)

The daughters of a prominent South Carolina slaveholder, Angelina and Sarah Grimké became

abolitionists after being sent to Philadelphia for education. In this article, Angelina Grimké

explains how participation in the movement against slavery led her to a greater recognition of

women’s lack of basic freedoms.

Since I engaged in the investigation of the rights of the slave, I have necessarily been led to a better understanding of my own; for I have found the Anti-Slavery cause to be . . . the school in which human rights are more fully investigated, and better understood and taught, than in any other [reform] enterprise. . . . Here we are led to examine why human beings have any rights. It is because they are moral beings. . . . Now it naturally occurred to me, that if rights were founded in moral being, then the circumstance of sex could not give to man higher rights and responsibilities, than to woman. . . .

When I look at human beings as moral beings, all distinction in sex sinks to insignificance and nothingness; for I believe it regulates rights and responsibilities no more than the color of the skin or the eyes. My doctrine, then is, that whatever it is morally right for man to do, it is morally right for woman to do. . . . This regulation of duty by the mere circumstance of sex . . . has led to all that [numerous] train of evils flowing out of the anti-christian doctrine of masculine and feminine virtues. By this doctrine, man has been converted into the warrior, and clothed in sternness . . . whilst woman has been taught to lean upon an arm of flesh, to . . . be admired for her personal charms, and caressed and humored like a spoiled child, or converted into a mere drudge to suit the convenience of her lord and master. . . . It has robbed woman of . . . the right to think and speak and act on all great moral questions, just as men think and speak and act. . . .

The discussion of the wrongs of slavery has opened the way for the discussion of other rights, and the ultimate result will most certainly be . . . the letting of the oppressed of every grade and description

go free.

Chapter 12  An Age of Reform




From Frederick Douglass, Speech on July 5, 1852,

Rochester, New York

One of the most prominent reform leaders of his era, Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery

in 1838 and soon became an internationally known writer and orator against slavery. His speech

of July 1852 condemned the hypocrisy of a nation that proclaimed its devotion to freedom while

practicing slavery. It was reprinted in 1855 in his autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom.

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? . . . Such is not the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. . . . The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. . . .

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, . . . acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries . . . confessing and worshiping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men! . . .

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? That he is the rightful owner of his body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? . . . that men have a natural right to freedom? . . . To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him. . . .

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery—a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.


1. What consequences does Grimké

believe follow from the idea of rights

being founded in the individual’s

“moral being”?

2. How does Douglass turn the ideals

proclaimed by white Americans into

weapons against slavery?

3. What do these documents suggest

about the language and arguments

employed by abolitionists?




Chapter 12  An Age of Reform362

Marriage was not, literally speaking, equivalent to slavery. The mar- ried woman, however, did not enjoy the fruits of her own labor—a central element of freedom. Beginning with Mississippi in 1839, numerous states enacted married women’s property laws, shielding from a husband’s creditors property brought into a marriage by his wife. Such laws initially aimed not to expand women’s rights so much as to prevent families from losing their property during the depression that began in 1837. But in 1860, New York enacted a more far-reaching measure, allowing married women to sign contracts, buy and sell property, and keep their own wages. In most states, however, property accumulated after marriage, as well as wages earned by the wife, still belonged to the husband.

“Social Freedom”

Influenced by abolitionism, women’s rights advocates turned another popular understanding of freedom—self-ownership, or control over one’s own person—in an entirely new direction. The law of domestic relations presupposed the husband’s right of sexual access to his wife and to inflict corporal punishment on her. Courts proved reluctant to intervene in cases of physical abuse so long as it was not “extreme” or “intolerable.” “Women’s Rights,” declared a Boston meeting in 1859, included “freedom and equal rights in the family.” The demand that women should enjoy the rights to regulate their own sexual activity and procreation and to be protected by the state against violence at the hands of their husbands chal- lenged the notion that claims for justice, freedom, and individual rights should stop at the household’s door.

The issue of women’s private freedom revealed underlying differ- ences within the movement for women’s rights. Belief in equality between the sexes and in the sexes’ natural differences coexisted in antebellum feminist thought. Even as they entered the public sphere and thereby chal- lenged some aspects of the era’s “cult of domesticity” (discussed in Chapter 9), many early feminists accepted other elements. Allowing women a greater role in the public sphere, many female reformers argued, would bring their “inborn” maternal instincts to bear on public life, to the benefit of the entire society.

Even feminists critical of the existing institution of marriage generally refrained from raising in public the explosive issue of women’s “private” freedom. Not until the twentieth century would the demand that freedom be extended to intimate aspects of life inspire a mass movement. But the dramatic fall in the birthrate over the course of the nineteenth century

Married women’s property and the law

Rights within the family

Women’s private freedom



363T H E O R I G I N S O F F E M I N I S M

suggests that many women were quietly exercising “personal freedom” in their most intimate relationships.

The Abolitionist Schism

Even in reform circles, the demand for a greater public role for women remained extremely controversial. Massachusetts physician Samuel Gridley Howe pioneered humane treatment of the blind and educational reform, and he was an ardent abolitionist. But Howe did not support his wife’s participation in the movement for female suffrage, which, he com- plained, caused her to “neglect domestic relations.” When organized abo- litionism split into two wings in 1840, the immediate cause was a dispute over the proper role of women in antislavery work. Abby Kelley’s appoint- ment to the business committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society sparked the formation of a rival abolitionist organization, the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, which believed it wrong for a woman to occupy so prominent a position. The antislavery poet John Greenleaf Whittier compared Kelley to Eve, Delilah, and Helen of Troy, women who had sown the seeds of male destruction.

Behind the split lay the fear among some abolitionists that Garrison’s radicalism on issues like women’s rights, as well as his refusal to sup- port the idea of abolitionists voting or running for public office, impeded

What were the diverse sources of the antebellum women’s rights movement and its significance?

This image appeared on the cover

of the sheet music for “Get Off

the Track!”, a song popularized

by the Hutchinson singers, who

performed antislavery songs. The

trains Immediate Emancipation (with

The Liberator as its front wheel)

and Liberty Party pull into a railroad

station. The Herald of Freedom and

American Standard were antislavery

newspapers. The song’s lyrics

praised William Lloyd Garrison and

criticized various politicians, among

them Henry Clay. The chorus went:

“Roll it along! Through the nation /

Freedom’s car, Emancipation.”

The role of women in abolitionism



Chapter 12  An Age of Reform364

the movement’s growth. Determined to make abolitionism a political movement, the seceders formed the Liberty Party, which nominated James G. Birney as its candidate for president. He received only 7,000 votes (about one-third of 1 percent of the total). In 1840, antislavery north- erners saw little wisdom in “throwing away” their ballots on a third-party candidate.

Although the achievement of most of their demands lay far in the future, the women’s rights movement succeeded in making “the woman question” a permanent part of the transatlantic discussion of social reform. As for abolitionism, although it remained a significant presence in northern public life until emancipation was achieved, by 1840 the move- ment had accomplished its most important work. More than 1,000 local antislavery societies were now scattered throughout the North, repre- senting a broad constituency awakened to the moral issue of slavery. The “great duty of freedom,” Ralph Waldo Emerson had declared in 1837, was “to open our halls to discussion of this question.” The abolitionists’ great- est achievement lay in shattering the conspiracy of silence that had sought to preserve national unity by suppressing public debate over slavery.

Achievements of feminism and abolitionism



Focus Question

365T H E O R I G I N S O F F E M I N I S M


1. How did the utopian communities challenge existing ideas about property and marriage?

2. How did the supporters and opponents of temperance understand the meaning of freedom differently?

3. What were the similarities and differences between the common school and the institutions like asylums, orphanages, and prisons that were created by reformers?

4. Why did so many prominent white Americans, from both the North and South, support the colonization of freed slaves?

5. How was the abolition movement affected by other social and economic changes such as the rise in literacy, new print technology, and ideas associated with the market revolution?

6. How was racism evident even in the abolitionist move- ment? What steps did some abolitionists take to fight racism in American society?

7. How could antebellum women participate in the public sphere even though they were excluded from government and politics?

8. How did white women’s participation in the abolitionist movement push them to a new understanding of their own rights and oppression?

9. How did advocates for women’s rights in these years both accept and challenge existing gender beliefs and social roles?

10. To what degree was antebellum reform international in scope?


utopian communities (p. 342)

“perfectionism” (p. 345)

temperance (p. 345)

self-discipline (p. 346)

asylums (p. 347)

common schools (p. 347)

public education (p. 347)

American Colonization Society (p. 348)

American Anti-Slavery Society (p. 351)

“moral suasion” (p. 352)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (p. 353)

“gentlemen of property and standing” (p. 354)

“Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” (p. 355)

gag rule (p. 355)

Dorothea Dix (p. 356)

woman suffrage (p. 357)

Woman in the Nineteenth Century (p. 358)

“slavery of sex” (p. 359)

Liberty Party (p. 364)


wwnorton.com /studyspace



A chapter outline

A diagnostic chapter quiz

Interactive maps

Map worksheets

Multimedia documents

Chapter Review and Online Resources 365



1820 Moses Austin receives Mexican land grant

1836 Texas independence from Mexico

1845 Inauguration of James Polk

United States annexes Texas

1846– Mexican War 1848

1846 Wilmot Proviso

1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

Gold discovered in California

Free Soil Party organized

1849 Inauguration of Zachary Taylor

1850 Compromise of 1850

Fugitive Slave Act

1853 Inauguration of Franklin Pierce

1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act

Know-Nothing Party established

Ostend Manifesto

Republican Party organized

1856 “Bleeding Kansas”

1857 Inauguration of James Buchanan

Dred Scott decision

1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates

1859 John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry

1860 South Carolina secedes

1861 Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln

Fort Sumter fired on

Abraham Lincoln’s nickname, “The

Railsplitter,” recalled his humble origins.

An unknown artist created this larger-

than-life portrait. The White House is

visible in the distance. The painting

is said to have been displayed during

campaign rallies in 1860.


C H A P T E R 1 3

1 8 4 0 – 1 8 6 1




The original and final designs for

Thomas Crawford’s Statue of

Freedom for the dome of the Capitol

building. Secretary of War Jefferson

Davis of Mississippi insisted that

the liberty cap in the first design, a

symbol of the emancipated slave in

ancient Rome, be replaced.


I n 1855, Thomas Crawford, one of the era’s most prominent Ameri-can sculptors, was asked to design a statue to adorn the Capitol’s dome, still under construction in Washington, D.C. He proposed a statue of Freedom, a female figure wearing a liberty cap. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, one of the country’s largest slaveholders, objected to Crawford’s plan. Ancient Romans, he noted, regarded the cap as “the badge of the freed slave.” Its use, he feared, might suggest that there was a connection between the slaves’ longing for freedom and the liberty of freeborn Americans. Davis ordered the liberty cap replaced with a less controversial military symbol, a feathered helmet.

In 1863, the colossal Statue of Freedom was installed atop the Capitol, where it can still be seen today. By the time it was put in place, the country was immersed in the Civil War and Jefferson Davis had become president of the Confederate States of America. The dispute over the Statue of Freedom offers a small illustration of how, by the mid-1850s, nearly every public question was being swept up into the gathering storm over slavery.

What were the major

factors contributing to

U.S. territorial expansion

in the 1840s?

Why did the expansion of

slavery become the most

divisive political issue in

the 1840s and 1850s?

What combination of

issues and events fueled

the creation of the Repub-

lican Party in the 1850s?

What enabled Lincoln to

emerge from the divisive

party politics of the


What were the final steps

on the road to secession?




Chapter 13  A House Divided368


Continental Expansion

In the 1840s, slavery moved to the center stage of American politics. It did so not in the moral language or with the immediatist program of abolition- ism, but as a result of the nation’s territorial expansion. Between 1840 and 1860, nearly 300,000 men, women, and children had braved disease, star- vation, the natural barrier of the Rocky Mountains, and occasional Indian attacks to travel overland to Oregon and California.

During most of the 1840s, the United States and Great Britain jointly administered Oregon, and Utah was part of Mexico. This did not stop Americans from settling in either region. National boundaries meant little to those who moved west. The 1840s witnessed an intensification of the old belief that God intended the American nation to reach all the way to the Pacific Ocean. As noted in Chapter 9, the term that became a shorthand for this expansionist spirit was “manifest destiny.”

The Mexican Frontier: New Mexico and California

Settlement of Oregon did not directly raise the issue of slavery. But the nation’s acquisition of part of Mexico did. When Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821, it was nearly as large as the United

A watercolor of a scene on a ranch

near Monterey, California, in 1849

depicts Californios supervising the

work of Native Americans.

“Manifest destiny”



369F R U I T S O F M A N I F E S T D E S T I N Y

States, and its population of 6.5 million was about two-thirds that of its northern neighbor. However, Mexico’s northern provinces—California, New Mexico, and Texas—were isolated and sparsely settled outposts sur- rounded by Indian country. California’s non-Indian population in 1821, some 3,200 missionaries, soldiers, and settlers, was vastly outnumbered by about 20,000 Indians living and working on land owned by religious missions and by 150,000 members of unsubdued tribes in the interior. By 1840, California was already linked commercially with the United States, and New England ships were trading with the region. In 1846, Alfred Robinson, who had moved from Boston, published Life in California. “In this age of annexation,” he wondered, “why not extend the ‘area of freedom’ by the annexation of California?”

Salt Lake City

San Francisco


San Diego

Santa Fe




The Alamo San Jacinto













TEXAS (Independent 1836–1845)



Gulf of Mexico

Paci f i c Ocean





400 miles

400 kilometers

Battle Mormon Trek Oregon Trail Boundaries disputed with United States Mexico after independence from Spain, 1821

T H E T R A N S – M I S S I S S I P P I W E S T , 1 8 3 0 s – 1 8 4 0 s

Westward migration in the early and

mid-1840s took American settlers

across Indian country into the Oregon

Territory, ownership of which was

disputed with Great Britain. The

Mormons migrated west to Salt Lake

City, then part of Mexico.

What were the major factors contributing to U.S. territorial expansion in the 1840s?

Mexican California



Chapter 13  A House Divided370

The Texas Revolt

The first part of Mexico to be settled by significant numbers of Americans was Texas, whose non-Indian population of Spanish origin (called Tejanos) numbered only about 2,000 when Mexico became independent. In order to develop the region, the Spanish government had accepted an offer by Moses Austin, a Connecticut-born farmer, to colonize it with Americans. In 1820, Austin received a large land grant. He died soon afterward, and his son Stephen continued the plan, now in independent Mexico, reselling land in smaller plots to American settlers at twelve cents per acre.

Alarmed that its grip on the area was weakening, the Mexican government in 1830 annulled existing land contracts and barred future emigration from the United States. Led by Stephen Austin, American set- tlers demanded greater autonomy within Mexico. Part of the area’s tiny Tejano elite joined them. Mostly ranchers and large farmers, they had wel- comed the economic boom that accompanied the settlers and had formed economic alliances with American traders. The issue of slavery further exacerbated matters. Mexico had abolished slavery, but local authori- ties allowed American settlers to bring slaves with them. Mexico’s ruler, General Antonio López de Santa Anna, sent an army in 1835 to impose central authority.

The appearance of Santa Anna’s army sparked a chaotic revolt in Texas. The rebels formed a provisional government that soon called for Texan independence. On March 6, 1836, Santa Anna’s army stormed the Alamo, a mission compound in San Antonio, killing its 187 American and Tejano defenders. “Remember the Alamo” became the Texans’ rallying cry. In April, forces under Sam Houston, a former governor of Tennessee, routed Santa Anna’s army at the Battle of San Jacinto and forced him to recognize Texan independence. In 1837, the Texas Congress called for union with the United States. But fearing the political disputes certain to result from an attempt to add another slave state to the Union, Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren shelved the question. Settlers from the United States nonetheless poured into the region, many of them slaveowners taking up fertile cotton land. By 1845, the population of Texas had reached nearly 150,000.

The Election of 1844

Texas annexation remained on the political back burner until President John Tyler revived it in the hope of rescuing his failed administration and securing southern support for renomination in 1844. In April 1844,

Moses and Stephen Austin

Reasons for the Texas revolt

Battle of San Jacinto

The Tyler administration and Texas



371F R U I T S O F M A N I F E S T D E S T I N Y

a letter by John C. Calhoun, whom Tyler had appointed secretary of state, was leaked to the press. It linked the idea of absorbing Texas directly to the goal of strengthening slavery in the United States. Some southern leaders, indeed, hoped that Texas could be divided into several states, thus further enhancing the South’s power in Congress. Late that month, Henry Clay and former president Van Buren, the prospective Whig and Democratic candidates for president and two of the party system’s most venerable leaders, met at Clay’s Kentucky plantation. They agreed to issue letters rejecting immediate annexation on the grounds that it might provoke war with Mexico.

Clay went on to receive the Whig nomination, but for Van Buren the letters proved to be a disaster. At the Democratic convention, southerners bent on annexation deserted Van Buren’s cause, and he failed to receive the two-thirds majority necessary for nomination. The delegates then turned to the little-known James K. Polk, a former governor of Tennessee whose main assets were his support for annexation and his close association with Andrew Jackson, still the party’s most popular figure. To soothe injured feelings among northern Democrats over the rejection of Van Buren, the party platform called not only for the “reannexation” of Texas (implying that Texas had been part of the Louisiana Purchase and therefore had once belonged to the United States) but also the “reoccupation” of all of Oregon. “Fifty-four forty or fight”—American control of Oregon all the way to its northern boundary at north latitude 54°40’—became a popular campaign slogan.

Polk was the first “dark horse” candidate for president—that is, one whose nomination was completely unexpected. In the fall, he defeated

The plaza in San Antonio not long

after the United States annexed

Texas in 1845.

What were the major factors contributing to U.S. territorial expansion in the 1840s?

Slavery and expansion

Emergence of Polk



Chapter 13  A House Divided372

Clay in an extremely close election. Polk’s margin in the popular vote was less than 2 percent. Had not James G. Birney, running again as the Liberty Party candidate, received 16,000 votes in New York, mostly from anti- slavery Whigs, Clay would have been elected. In March 1845, only days before Polk’s inauguration, Congress declared Texas part of the United States.

The Road to War

James K. Polk may have been virtually unknown, but he assumed the presidency with a clearly defined set of goals: to reduce the tariff, reestab- lish the independent Treasury system, settle the dispute over ownership of Oregon, and bring California into the Union. Congress soon enacted the first two goals, and the third was accomplished in an agreement with Great Britain dividing Oregon at the forty-ninth parallel.

Acquiring California proved more difficult. Polk dispatched an emissary to Mexico offering to purchase the region, but the Mexican gov- ernment refused to negotiate. By the spring of 1846, Polk was planning for military action. In April, American soldiers under Zachary Taylor moved into the region between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande, land claimed by both countries on the disputed border between Texas and Mexico. Th