W. W. Norton & Company has been independent since its founding in 1923, when William Warder Norton and Mary D. Herter Norton first published lectures delivered at the People’s Institute, the adult education division of New York City’s Cooper Union.

American History




W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. • www.NortonEbooks.com



George Brown Tindall and David Emory Shi


Volume One




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Seventh Edition Volume One



W . W . N O R T O N & C O M P A N Y . N E W Y O R K . L O N D O N


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W. W. Norton & Company has been independent since its founding in 1923, when William Warder Norton and Mary D. Herter Norton first published lectures delivered at the People’s Institute, the adult education division of New York City’s Cooper Union. The Nortons soon expanded their program beyond the Institute, publishing books by celebrated academics from America and abroad. By mid-century, the two major pillars of Norton’s publishing program—trade books and college texts—were firmly established. In the 1950s, the Norton family transferred control of the company to its employees, and today—with a staff of four hundred and a comparable number of trade, col- lege, and professional titles published each year—W. W. Norton & Company stands as the largest and oldest publishing house owned wholly by its employees.

Copyright © 2007, 2004, 1999, 1996, 1992, 1988, 1984 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America

Composition by TechBooks Manufacturing by Quebecor, Taunton

Book design by Antonina Krass Editor: Karl Bakeman

Manuscript editor: Abigail Winograd Project editor: Lory A. Frenkel

Director of Manufacturing, College: Roy Tedoff Editorial assistant: Rebecca Arata

Cartographer: CARTO-GRAPHICS/Alice Thiede and William Thiede

Acknowledgments and copyrights continue on page A104, which serves as a continuation of the copyright page.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the one-volume edition as follows:

Tindall, George Brown. America : a narrative history / George Brown Tindall,

David E. Shi.—7th ed. p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 13: 978-0-393-92820-4 ISBN 10: 0-393-11087-7 1. United States—History. I. Shi, David E. II. Title.

E178.1 .T55 2006 2006047300 973—dc22

ISBN 13: 978-0-393-92732-0 ISBN 10: 0-393-11087-7

W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110 www.wwnorton.com

W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., Castle House, 75/76 Wells Street, London W1T 3QT

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

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List of Maps • xv

Preface • xix















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x • Contents

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Contents • xi

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Part Four / A H O U S E D I V I D E D 15 | THE OLD SOUTH 531








xii • Contents

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Contents • xiii

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�M A P S

The First Migration 6

Pre-Columbian Civilizations in Middle

and South America 8

Pre-Columbian Civilizations in North America 10

Norse Discoveries 12

Columbus’s Voyages 17

Spanish and Portuguese Explorations 23

Spanish Explorations of the Mainland 30

English, French, and Dutch Explorations 39

Land Grants to the Virginia Company 53

Early Virginia and Maryland 61

Early New England Settlements 64

The West Indies, 1600–1800 67

Early Settlements in the South 79

The Middle Colonies 88

European Settlements and Indian Tribes in Early America 92–93

The African Slave Trade, 1500–1800 113

Atlantic Trade Routes 124

Major Immigrant Groups in Colonial America 133

The French in North America 160

Major Campaigns of the French and Indian War 164

North America, 1713 170

North America, 1763 171

Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775 196

Major Campaigns in New York and New Jersey, 1776–1777 216


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Major Campaigns in New York and Pennsylvania, 1777 222

Western Campaigns, 1776–1779 227

Major Campaigns in the South, 1778–1781 231

Yorktown, 1781 231

North America, 1783 236

Western Land Cessions, 1781–1802 253

The Old Northwest, 1785 254

The Vote on the Constitution, 1787–1790 275

Treaty of Greenville, 1795 300

Pinckney’s Treaty, 1795 303

The Election of 1800 317

Explorations of the Louisiana Purchase, 1804–1807 330

Major Northern Campaigns of the War of 1812 343

Major Southern Campaigns of the War of 1812 345

The National Road, 1811–1838 361

Boundary Treaties, 1818–1819 364

The Missouri Compromise, 1820 369

The Election of 1828 383

Indian Removal, 1820–1840 398

The Election of 1840 412

Population Density, 1820 420

Population Density, 1860 421

Transportation West, about 1840 422–423

The Growth of Railroads, 1850 428

The Growth of Railroads, 1860 429

The Growth of Industry in the 1840s 437

The Growth of Cities, 1820 440

The Growth of Cities, 1860 441

The Mormon Trek, 1830–1851 466

The Webster-Ashburton Treaty, 1842 492

Wagon Trails West 503

The Election of 1844 512

The Oregon Dispute, 1818–1846 516

Major Campaigns of the Mexican War 521

Cotton Production, 1821 534

Population Growth and Cotton Production, 1821–1859 535

The Slave Population, 1820 546

The Slave Population, 1860 547

xvi • Maps

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The Compromise of 1850 576

The Gadsden Purchase, 1853 582

The Kansas-Nebraska Act, 1854 584

The Election of 1856 590

The Election of 1860 603

Secession, 1860–1861 610

The First Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861 615

Campaigns in the West, February–April 1862 621

The Peninsular Campaign, 1862 625

Campaigns in Virginia and Maryland, 1862 626

The Vicksburg Campaign, 1863 642

Campaigns in the East, 1863 643

Grant in Virginia, 1864–1865 649

Sherman’s Campaigns, 1864–1865 652

Reconstruction, 1865–1877 685

The Election of 1876 696

Maps • xvii

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�P R E F A C E

Just as history is never complete, neither is a historical textbook. We have

learned much from the responses of readers and instructors to the first six

editions of America: A Narrative History. Perhaps the most important and

reassuring lesson is that our original intention has proved valid: to provide a

compelling narrative history of the American experience, a narrative ani-

mated by human characters, informed by analysis and social texture, and

guided by the unfolding of events. Readers have also endorsed the book’s

distinctive size and format. America is designed to be read and to carry a

moderate price. While the book retains its classic look, America sports a new

color design for the Seventh Edition. We have added new eye-catching maps

and included new art in full color. Despite these changes, we have not raised

the price between the Sixth and the Seventh Editions.

As in previous revisions of America, we have adopted an overarching theme

that informs many of the new sections we introduce throughout the Seventh

Edition. In previous editions we have traced such broad-ranging themes as

immigration, the frontier and the West, popular culture, and work. In each

case we blend our discussions of the selected theme into the narrative, where

they reside through succeeding editions.

The Seventh Edition of America highlights environmental history, a rela-

tively new field that examines how people have shaped—and been shaped

by—the natural world. Geographic features, weather, plants, animals, and

diseases are important elements of environmental history. Environmental

historians study how environments have changed as a result of natural

processes such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires,

droughts, floods, and climatic changes. They also study how societies have

used and abused their natural environment through economic activities such

as hunting, farming, logging and mining, manufacturing, building dams, and


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irrigation. Equally interesting is how different societies over time have per-

ceived nature, as reflected in their religion, art, literature, and popular cul-

ture, and how they have reshaped nature according to those perceptions

through the creation of parks, preserves, and designed landscapes. Finally,

another major area of inquiry among environmental historians centers on

the development of laws and regulations to govern the use of nature and

maintain the quality of the natural environment.

Some of the new additions to the Seventh Edition related to environmen-

tal history are listed below.

• Chapter 1 includes discussions of the transmission of deadly infectious

diseases from Europe to the New World and the ecological and social im-

pact of the arrival of horses on the Great Plains.

• Chapter 3 examines the ways in which European livestock reshaped

the New World environment and complicated relations with Native


• Chapters 5 and 6 describe the effects of smallpox on the American armies

during the Revolution.

• Chapter 12 details the impact of early industrialization on the environment.

• Chapter 17 describes the impact of the Civil War on the southern land-


• Chapter 19 includes new material related to the environmental impact of

the sharecrop-tenant farm system in the South after the Civil War, indus-

trial mining in the Far West, and the demise of the buffalo on the Great


• Chapter 21 describes the dramatic rise of large cities after the Civil War

and the distinctive aspects of the urban environment.

• Chapter 24 surveys the key role played by sportsmen in the emergence of

the conservation movement during the late nineteenth century and de-

tails Theodore Roosevelt’s efforts to preserve the nation’s natural re-


• Chapter 28 surveys the environmental and human effects of the “dust

bowl” during the Great Depression.

• Chapter 37 discusses President George W. Bush’s controversial environ-

mental policies and describes the devastation in Mississippi and

Louisiana wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

xx • Preface

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Beyond these explorations of environmental history we have introduced

other new material throughout the Seventh Edition. Fresh insights from im-

portant new scholarly works have been incorporated, and we feel confident

that the book provides students with an excellent introduction to the Amer-

ican experience.

To enhance the pedagogical features of the text, we have added Focus

Questions at the beginning of each chapter. Students can use these review

tools to remind themselves of the key themes and central issues in the chap-

ters. These questions are also available online as quizzes, the results of which

students can e-mail to their instructors. In addition, the maps feature new

Enhanced Captions designed to encourage students to think analytically

about the relationship between geography and American history.

We have also revised the outstanding ancillary package that supplements

the text. For the Record: A Documentary History of America, Third Edition, by

David E. Shi and Holly A. Mayer (Duquesne University), is a rich resource

with over 300 primary source readings from diaries, journals, newspaper ar-

ticles, speeches, government documents, and novels. The Study Guide, by

Charles Eagles (University of Mississippi), is another valuable resource. This

edition contains chapter outlines, learning objectives, timelines, expanded

vocabulary exercises, and many new short-answer and essay questions.

America: A Narrative History Study Space is an online collection of tools for

review and research. It includes chapter summaries, review questions and

quizzes, interactive map exercises, timelines, and research modules, many

new to this edition. Norton Media Library is a CD-ROM slide and text re-

source that includes images from the text, four-color maps, additional

images from the Library of Congress archives, and audio files of significant

historical speeches. Finally, the Instructor’s Manual and Test Bank, by Mark

Goldman (Tallahassee Community College) and Steven Davis (Kingwood

College) includes a test bank of short-answer and essay questions, as well as

detailed chapter outlines, lecture suggestions, and bibliographies.

In preparing the Seventh Edition, we have benefited from the insights and

suggestions of many people. Some of these insights have come from student

readers of the text and we encourage such feedback. Among the scholars and

survey instructors who offered us their comments and suggestions are: James

Lindgren (SUNY Plattsburgh), Joe Kudless (Raritan Valley Community Col-

lege), Anthony Quiroz (Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi), Steve Davis

(Kingwood College), Mark Fiege (Colorado State University), David Head

(John Tyler Community College), Hutch Johnson (Gordon College), Charles

Preface • xxi

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Eagles (University of Mississippi), Christina White and Eddie Weller at the

South campus of San Jacinto College, Blanche Brick, Cathy Lively, Stephen

Kirkpatrick, Patrick Johnson, Thomas Stephens, and others at the Bryan

Campus of Blinn College, Evelyn Mangie (University of South Florida),

Michael McConnell (University of Alabama – Birmingham), Alan Lessoff

(Illinois State University), Joseph Cullon (Dartmouth University), Keith Bo-

hannon (University of West Georgia), Tim Heinrichs (Bellevue Community

College), Mary Ann Heiss (Kent State University), Edmund Wehrle (Eastern

Illinois University), Adam Howard (University of Florida), David Parker

(Kennesaw State University), Barrett Esworthy (Jamestown Community Col-

lege), Samantha Barbas (Chapman University), Jason Newman (Cosumnes

River College), Paul Cimbala (Fordham University), Dean Fafoutis (Salisbury

University), Thomas Schilz (Miramar Community College), Richard Frucht

(Northwest Missouri State University), James Vlasich (Southern Utah Uni-

versity), Michael Egan (Washington State University), Robert Goldberg (Uni-

versity of Utah), Jason Lantzer (Indiana University), and Beth Kreydatus

(College of William & Mary). Our special thanks go Tom Pearcy (Slippery

Rock University) for all of his work on the timelines. Once again, we thank

our friends at W. W. Norton, especially Steve Forman, Steve Hoge, Karl Bake-

man, Neil Hoos, Lory Frenkel, Roy Tedoff, Dan Jost, Rebecca Arata, and Matt

Arnold, for their care and attention along the way.

—George B. Tindall —David E. Shi

xxii • Preface

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Part One

� A N E W W O R L D

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History is filled with ironies. Luck and accident often shape humanaffairs. Long before Christopher Columbus accidentally discovered the New World in his effort to find a passage to Asia, the tribal peoples he mis- labeled Indians had occupied and shaped the lands of the Western Hemi- sphere. The first people to settle the New World were nomadic hunters and gatherers who had migrated from northeastern Asia during the last glacial advance of the Ice Age, nearly 20,000 years ago. By the end of the fifteenth century, when Columbus began his voyage west, there were mil- lions of Native Americans living in the Western Hemisphere. Over the centuries they had developed diverse and often highly sophisticated soci- eties, some rooted in agriculture, others in trade or imperial conquest.

The Native American cultures were, of course, profoundly affected by the arrival of peoples from Europe and Africa. Indians were exploited, enslaved, displaced, and exterminated. Yet this conventional tale of conquest over- simplifies the complex process by which Indians, Europeans, and Africans interacted. The Indians were more than passive victims; they were also trading partners and rivals of the transatlantic newcomers. They became enemies and allies, neighbors and advisers, converts and spouses. As such they fully participated in the creation of the new society known as America.

The Europeans who risked their lives to settle in the New World were themselves quite varied. Young and old, men and women, they came from Spain, Portugal, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, and the various German states. A variety of motives inspired them to under- take the often harrowing transatlantic voyage. Some were adventurers and fortune seekers eager to find gold and spices. Others were fervent Christians determined to create kingdoms of God in the New World. Still others were convicts, debtors, indentured servants, or political or religious exiles. Many were simply seeking a piece of land, higher wages, and greater economic opportunity. A settler in Pennsylvania noted that “poor people (both men and women) of all kinds can here get three times the wages for their labour than they can in England or Wales.”

Yet such enticements were not sufficient to attract enough workers to keep up with the rapidly expanding colonial economies. So the Euro- peans began to force Indians to work for them. But there were never enough laborers to meet the unceasing demand. Moreover, captive Indians often escaped or were so rebellious that several colonies banned their use. The Massachusetts legislature did so because it claimed that Indians were of such “a malicious, surly and revengeful spirit; rude and insolent in their behavior, and very ungovernable.”

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Beginning early in the seventeenth century more and more colonists turned to the African slave trade for their labor needs. In 1619 white traders began transporting captured Africans to the English colonies. This development would transform American society in ways that no one at the time envisioned. Few Europeans during the colonial era saw the contradiction between the New World’s promise of individual free- dom and the expanding institution of race-based slavery. Nor did they reckon with the problems associated with introducing into the new society people they considered alien and unassimilable.

The intermingling of peoples, cultures, and ecosystems from the continents of Africa, Europe, and North America gave colonial American society its distinctive vitality and variety. In turn, the diversity of the environment and the climate led to the creation of quite different economies and patterns of living in the various re- gions of North America. As the original settlements grew into pros- perous and populous colonies, the transplanted Europeans had to fashion social institutions and political systems to manage growth and control tensions.

At the same time, imperial rivalries among the Spanish, French, English, and Dutch produced numerous intrigues and costly wars. The monarchs of Europe struggled to manage and exploit this fluid and often volatile colo- nial society. Many of the colonists, they discovered, had brought with them to the New World a feisty inde- pendence that led them to re- sent government interference in their affairs. A British official in North Carolina reported that the residents of the Piedmont region were “without any Law or Order. Impudence is so very high [among them], as to be past bearing.” As long as the reins of imperial control were loosely applied, the two parties maintained an uneasy partner- ship. But as the British authori- ties tightened their control dur- ing the mid–eighteenth century, they met resistance, which be- came revolt and culminated in revolution.

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The “New World” discovered by Christopher Columbus wasin fact home to civilizations thousands of years old. Until re-cently archaeologists had long assumed that the first humans in the Western Hemisphere were Siberians who some 12,000 to 15,000 years ago had crossed the Bering Strait on a land bridge to Alaska made accessible by receding waters during the last Ice Age. These nomadic hunters and their descendants had then drifted south in pursuit of grazing herds of large mammals: mammoths, musk oxen, bison, and woolly rhinoceroses. Over the next 500 years these people had fanned out in small bands across the entire hemisphere, from the Arctic Circle to the tip of South America. Recent archaeological discoveries in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Chile, however, suggest that ancient humans may have arrived by sea much earlier (perhaps 18,000 to 40,000 years ago) from various parts of Asia—and some may even have crossed the Atlantic Ocean from southwestern Europe.





• What civilizations existed in pre-Columbian America? What were their origins?

• What were the goals of the European voyages of discovery and of the explorers who probed the shorelines of America?

• What were the consequences of the exchanges and clashes that accompanied European contact with the plants, animals, and people of the New World?

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When did people first cross the Bering Sea? What evidence have archaeologists and anthropologists found from the lives of the first people in America? Why did they travel to North America?

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The first humans in North America discovered an immense continent with extraordinary climatic and environmental diversity. Coastal plains, broad grasslands, harsh deserts, and soaring mountain ranges generated dis- tinct environments, social structures, and cultural patterns. By the time Columbus happened upon the New World, the native peoples of North America had developed a diverse array of communities in which more than 400 languages were spoken. Yet despite the distances and dialects separating them, the Indian societies created extensive trading networks that helped spread ideas and innovations. Contrary to the romantic myth of early Indian civilizations living in perfect harmony with nature and one another, the na- tive societies exerted great pressure on their environment and engaged in frequent warfare with one another.

E A R LY C U LT U R E S After centuries of nomadic life, the ancient Indians settled in more permanent villages. Thousands of years after people first ap- peared in North America, climatic changes and extensive hunting had killed off the largest mammals. Global warming diminished grasslands and stimu- lated forest growth, which provided plants and small animals for human consumption. The ancient Indians adapted to the new environments by in- venting fiber snares, basketry, and mills for grinding nuts, and they domesticated the dog and the turkey. A new cultural stage arrived with the introduction of farming, fishing, and pottery making. Hunting now focused on faster and more elusive mammals: deer, antelope, elk, moose, and caribou. Already by about 5000 B.C., Indians of the Mexican highlands were consum- ing plant foods that became the staples of the New World: chiefly maize (corn), beans, and squash but also chili peppers, avocados, and pumpkins.

T H E M AYA S , A Z T E C S , C H I B C H A S , A N D I N C A S Between about 2000 and 1500 B.C., permanent farming towns appeared in Mexico. The more settled life in turn provided time for the cultivation of religion, crafts, art, science, administration—and warfare. From about A.D. 300 to 900, Mid- dle America (Mesoamerica) developed great city centers complete with gi- gantic pyramids, temples, and palaces, all supported by the surrounding peasant villages. Moreover, the Mayas developed enough mathematics and astronomy to devise a calendar more accurate than the one the Europeans were using at the time of Columbus.

In about A.D. 900 the complex Mayan culture collapsed. The Mayas had overexploited the rain forest upon whose fragile ecosystem they depended.

Pre-Columbian Indian Civilizations • 7

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As an archaeologist has explained, “Too many farmers grew too many crops on too much of the landscape.” Deforestation led to hillside erosion and a catastrophic loss of farmland. Overpopulation added to the strain on Mayan society. Unrelenting civil wars erupted among the Mayas. Mayan war parties destroyed one another’s cities and took prisoners, who were then sacrificed to the gods in theatrical rituals. Whatever the reasons for the weakening of Mayan society, it succumbed to the Toltecs, a warlike people who conquered most of the region in the tenth century. But around A.D. 1200 the Toltecs mysteriously withdrew.








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What were the major pre-Columbian civilizations? What factors caused the demise of the Mayan civilization? When did the Aztecs build Tenochtitlán?

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The Aztecs arrived from the northwest to fill the vacuum, founded the city of Tenochtitlán (twenty-five miles north of what is now Mexico City) in 1325, and gradually expanded their control over central Mexico. When the Spanish invaded in 1519, the Aztec Empire under Montezuma II ruled over perhaps 5 million people—though estimates range as high as 20 million.

Farther south, in what is now Colombia, the Chibchas built a similar em- pire on a smaller scale. Still farther south the Quechuas (better known as the Incas, from the name for their ruler) controlled an empire that by the fif- teenth century stretched 1,000 miles along the Andes Mountains from Ecuador to Chile. It was crisscrossed by an elaborate system of roads and or- ganized under an autocratic government.

I N D I A N C U LT U R E S O F N O RT H A M E R I C A The Indians of the present-day United States developed three identifiable civilizations: the Adena-Hopewell culture of the Northeast (800 B.C.–A.D. 600), the Mississippian culture of the Southeast (A.D. 600–1500), and the Pueblo-Hohokam culture of the Southwest (400 B.C.–present). None of these developed as fully as the civilizations of the Mayas, Aztecs, and Incas to the south.

Pre-Columbian Indian Civilizations • 9

Mayan Society

A fresco depicting the social divisions of Mayan society. A Mayan lord, at the center, receives offerings.

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The Adena-Hopewell culture, centered in the Ohio River valley, left be- hind enormous earthworks and burial mounds—some of them elaborately shaped like great snakes, birds, or other animals. Evidence from the mounds suggests a complex social structure and a specialized division of labor. More- over, the Hopewell Indians developed an elaborate trade network that spanned the continent.

The Mississippian culture, centered in the Mississippi River valley, resem- bled the Mayan and Aztec societies in its intensive agriculture, substantial towns built around central plazas, temple mounds (vaguely resembling pyra- mids), and death cults, which involved human torture and sacrifice. The Mis- sissippians developed a specialized labor force, an effective government, and an extensive trading network. They worshipped the sun. The Mississippian



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What were the three dominant pre-Columbian civilizations in North America? Where was the Adena-Hopewell culture centered? How was the Mississippian civi- lization similar to that of the Mayans or Aztecs? What made the Anasazi culture dif- ferent from the other North American cultures?

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culture peaked in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and finally succumbed to diseases transmit- ted from Europe.

The arid Southwest hosted irrigation-based cultures, elements of which persist today and heirs of which (the Hopis, Zunis, and others) still live in the adobe pueblos erected by their ances- tors. The most widespread and best known of the cultures, the Anasazi (“enemy’s ancestors” in the Navajo language), developed in the “four corners,” where the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah meet.

The Anasazis lived in baked-mud adobe structures built four or five sto- ries high. In contrast to the Mesoamerican and Mississippian cultures,

Pre-Columbian Indian Civilizations • 11

Mississippian Artifacts

Mississippian people produced finely made pottery, such as this deer-effigy jar.

Cliff Dwellings

Ruins of Anasazi cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

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Anasazi society lacked a rigid class structure. The religious leaders and war- riors labored much as the rest of the people did. In fact, they engaged in war- fare only as a means of self-defense (Hopi means “Peaceful People”), and there is little evidence of human sacrifice or human trophies. Environmental factors shaped Anasazi culture and eventually caused its demise. Toward the end of the thirteenth century, a lengthy drought and the pressure of new ar- rivals from the north began to restrict the territory of the Anasazis. Into their peaceful world came the aggressive Navajos and Apaches, followed two centuries later by Spaniards marching up from the south.


The European discovery of America was fueled by curiosity. People had long imagined what lay beyond the western horizon. Norse expeditions to the New World during the tenth and eleventh centuries are the earliest







Norse settlements








VINLAND (Newfoundland)

MARKLAND (Labrador)

L’Anse aux Meadows




When did the first Norse settlers reach North America? What was the symbolic sig- nificance of these lands of the Western Hemisphere? How far south in North Amer- ica did the Norse explorers travel?

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that can be verified, and even they have dissolved into legend. Around A.D. 985 an Icelander named Erik the Red—the New World’s first real-estate booster—colonized the west coast of a rocky, fogbound island he deceptively called Greenland, and about a year later a trader missed Greenland and sighted land beyond. Knowing of this, Leif Eriksson, son of Erik the Red, sailed out from Greenland about A.D. 1001 and sighted the coasts of Hellu- land (Baffin Island), Markland (Labrador), and Vinland (Newfoundland), where he settled for the winter. The Norse settlers withdrew from North America in the face of hostile natives, and the Greenland colonies vanished mysteriously in the fifteenth century. Nowhere in Europe had the forces yet developed that would inspire adventurers to subdue the New World.


During the late fifteenth century, Europeans developed the maritime technology to venture around the world and the imperial ambitions to search for riches, colonies, and pagans to convert. This age of discovery coin- cided with the rise of an inquiring spirit; the growth of trade, towns, and modern corporations; the decline of feudalism and the formation of na- tional states; the Protestant and Catholic Reformations; and the resurgence of some old sins—greed, conquest, exploitation, oppression, racism, and slavery—that quickly defiled the fancied innocence of the New World.

R E N A I S S A N C E G E O G R A P H Y For more than two centuries before Columbus, the mind of Europe quickened with the so-called Renaissance— the rediscovery of ancient texts, the rebirth of secular learning, the spirit of inquiry, all of which spread more rapidly after Johannes Gutenberg’s inven- tion of a printing press with movable type around 1440. Learned Europeans of the fifteenth century held in almost reverential awe the authority of an- cient learning. The age of discovery was especially influenced by ancient con- cepts of geography. As early as the sixth century B.C., the Pythagoreans had taught the sphericity of the earth, and in the third century B.C. the earth’s size was computed very nearly correctly. All this was accepted in Renaissance universities on the word of Aristotle, and the myth that Columbus was try- ing to prove this theory is one of those falsehoods that will not disappear even in the face of evidence. No informed person at that time thought the earth was flat.

Progress in the art of navigation accompanied the revival of learning. In the fifteenth century, mariners employed new instruments to sight stars and

The Expansion of Europe • 13

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find the latitude. Steering across the open sea, however, remained a matter of dead reckoning. A ship’s captain set his course along a given latitude and cal- culated it from the angle of the North Star or, with less certainty, the sun, es- timating speed by the eye. Longitude remained a matter of guesswork since accurate timepieces were needed to determine it. Ship’s clocks remained too inaccurate until the development of more precise chronometers in the eigh- teenth century.

T H E G ROW T H O F T R A D E, TOW N S, A N D NAT I O N-S TAT E S The forces that would invade and reshape the New World found their focus in Europe’s rising towns, the centers of a growing trade that slowly broadened the narrow horizons of feudal culture. In its farthest reaches this commerce moved either overland or through the eastern Mediterranean all the way to east Asia, where Europeans acquired medicine, silks, precious stones, dye- woods, perfumes, and rugs. There they also purchased the spices—pepper, nutmeg, clove—so essential to the preserving of food and for enhancing its flavor. The trade gave rise to a merchant class and to the idea of corporations through which stockholders would share risks and profits.

The foreign trade was chancy and costly. Goods commonly passed from hand to hand, from ships to pack trains and back to ships along the way, sub- ject to tax levies by all sorts of princes and potentates. The Muslim world, from Spain across North Africa into central Asia, straddled the important trade routes, adding to the hazards. Muslims tenaciously opposed efforts to “Christianize” their lands. Little wonder, then, that Europeans should dream of an all-water route to the coveted spices of east Asia and the Indies.

Another spur to exploration was the rise of national states, ruled by kings and queens who had the power and the money to sponsor the search for foreign riches. The growth of the merchant class went hand in hand with the growth of centralized political power. Merchants wanted uniform currencies, trade laws, and the elimination of trade barriers. They thus be- came natural allies of the monarchs who could meet their needs. In turn, merchants and university-trained professionals supplied the monarchs with money, lawyers, and government officials. The Crusades to capture the Holy Land (1095–1270) had also advanced the process of international trade and exploration. They had brought Europe into contact with the Middle East and had decimated the ranks of the feudal lords. And new means of warfare—the use of gunpowder and standing armies—further weakened the independence of the nobility relative to royal power.

By 1492 the map of western Europe showed several united kingdoms: France, where in 1453 Charles VII had emerged from the Hundred Years’


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War as head of a unified state; England, where in 1485 Henry VII had emerged victorious after thirty years of civil strife known as the Wars of the Roses; Portugal, where John I had fought off the Castilians to ensure na- tional independence; and Spain, where in 1469 Ferdinand of Aragon and Is- abella of Castile had ended an era of chronic civil war when they united two great kingdoms in marriage. The Spanish king and queen were crusading expansionists. On January 1, 1492, after nearly eight centuries of religious warfare between Spanish Christians and Moorish Muslims on the Iberian peninsula, Ferdinand and Isabella declared victory at Granada, the last Muslim stronghold. They gave the defeated Muslims a desperate choice: convert to Christianity or leave Spain. Soon thereafter the Christian mon- archs gave Sephardi, Jews from Spain or Portugal, the same awful ultima- tum: baptism or exile.

These factors—urbanization, world trade, the rise of centralized national states, and advances in knowledge, technology, and firepower—combined with natural human curiosity, greed, and religious zeal to create an outburst of energy, spurring the discovery and conquest of the New World. Beginning in the late fifteenth century, Europeans set in motion the events that, as one historian has observed, bound together “four continents, three races, and a great diversity of regional parts.”


It was in Portugal, with the guidance of King John’s son Prince Henry the Navigator, that exploration and discovery began in earnest. In 1422 Prince Henry dispatched his first naval expedition to map the African coast. Driven partly by the hope of outflanking the Islamic world and partly by the hope of trade, the Portuguese by 1446 had reached Cape Verde and then the equator and, by 1482, the Congo River. In 1488 Bartholomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip.

Christopher Columbus, meanwhile, was learning his trade in the school of Portuguese seamanship. Born in 1451, the son of an Italian weaver, Columbus took to the sea at an early age, making up for his lack of formal education by teaching himself geography, navigation, and Latin. By the 1480s, Columbus, a tall, white-haired, pious man, was an experienced mariner and a skilled nav- igator. Dazzled by the prospect of Asian riches, he developed an outrageous plan to reach the Indies (India, China, the East Indies, or Japan) by sailing west across the Atlantic. Columbus won the support of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Spanish monarchs. They awarded him a tenth share of any pearls; gold, silver,

The Voyages of Columbus • 15

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or other precious metals; and valuable spices he found in any new territories. The legend that the queen had to hock the crown jewels is as spurious as the fable that Columbus set out to prove the earth was round.

Columbus chartered one seventy- five-foot ship, the Santa María, and the Spanish city of Palos supplied two smaller caravels, the Pinta and the Niña. From Palos this little squadron, with eighty-seven officers and men, set sail westward for what Columbus thought was Asia. The expedition stopped at the Canary Islands, the westernmost Spanish possessions, off the west coast of Africa. Early on Octo- ber 12, 1492, a lookout on the Santa

María yelled, “Tierra! Tierra!” (Land! Land!) It was an island in the Bahamas east of Florida that Columbus named San Salvador (Blessed Savior). Columbus decided they were near the Indies, so he called the island people los Indios. He described the “Indians” as naked people, “very well made, of very handsome bodies and very good faces.” He added that “with fifty men they could all be subjugated and compelled to do anything one wishes.” The natives, Columbus wrote, were “to be ruled and set to work, to cultivate the land and to do all else that may be necessary . . . and to adopt our customs.”

Columbus continued to search for a passage to the fabled Indies through the Bahamian Cays, down to Cuba (a place-name that suggested Marco Polo’s Cipangu [associated with modern-day Japan]), and then eastward to the island he named Española (or Hispaniola, now the site of Haiti and the Dominican Republic), where he first found significant amounts of gold jewelry. Columbus learned of, but did not encounter until his second voy- age, the fierce Caribs of the Lesser Antilles. The Caribbean Sea was named after them, and because of their alleged bad habits the word cannibal was de- rived from a Spanish version of their name (Caníbal).

On the night before Christmas 1492, the Santa María ran aground off Hispaniola. Columbus, still believing he had reached Asia, decided to return home. He left about forty men behind and seized a dozen natives to present as gifts to Spain’s royal couple. When Columbus reached Palos, he received a hero’s welcome. The news of his discovery spread rapidly across Europe


Christopher Columbus

A portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo, ca. 1519.

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thanks to the improved communications brought about by Gutenberg’s printing press. In Italy, Pope Alexander VI, himself a Spaniard, was so con- vinced that God favored the conquest of the New World that he awarded Spain the right to control the entire hemisphere so that its pagan natives could be brought to Christ. Buoyed by such support and by the same burn- ing religious zeal to battle heathens that had forced the Moors into exile or conversion, Ferdinand and Isabella instructed Columbus to prepare for a second voyage. The Spanish monarchs also set about shoring up their legal claim against Portugal’s pretensions to the newly discovered lands. Spain and Portugal reached a compromise agreement, called the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), which drew an imaginary line west of the Cape Verde Islands and stipulated that the area west of it would be a Spanish sphere of exploration and settlement.

Columbus returned across the Atlantic in 1493 with seventeen ships, live- stock, and over 1,000 men, as well as royal instructions to “treat the Indians very well.” Back in the New World, Admiral Columbus discovered that the

The Voyages of Columbus • 17






























How many voyages did Columbus make to the Americas? What is the origin of the name for the Caribbean Sea? What happened to the colony that Columbus left on Hispaniola in 1493?

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camp he had left behind was in chaos. The unsupervised soldiers had run amok, raping native women, robbing Indian villages, and as Columbus’s son later added, “committing a thousand excesses for which they were mortally hated by the Indians.” The natives finally struck back and killed ten Spaniards. A furious Columbus immediately attacked the Indian villages. The Spaniards, armed with crossbows, guns, and ferocious dogs, decimated the natives and loaded 550 of them onto ships bound for the slave market in Spain.

Columbus then ventured out across the Caribbean Sea. He found the Lesser Antilles, explored the coast of Cuba, discovered Jamaica, and finally returned to Spain in 1496. On a third voyage, in 1498, Columbus found Trinidad and explored the northern coast of South America. He led a fourth voyage in 1502, during which he sailed along the coast of Central America, still looking in vain for Asia. Having been marooned on Jamaica for more than a year, he finally returned to Spain in 1504. He died two years later.

To the end, Columbus refused to believe that he had discovered anything other than outlying parts of Asia. Full awareness that a great land mass lay between Europe and Asia dawned on Europeans very slowly. By one of his- tory’s greatest ironies, this led the New World to be named not for its discov- erer but for another Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, who sailed to the New World in 1499. Vespucci landed on the coast of South America and re- ported that it was so large it must be a new continent. European mapmakers thereafter began to label the New World using a variant of Vespucci’s first name: America.


The first European contacts with the New World began an unprece- dented worldwide biological exchange. It was in fact more than a diffusion of cultures: it was a diffusion of distinctive social and ecological elements that ultimately worked in favor of the Europeans at the expense of the na- tives. Indians, Europeans, and eventually Africans intersected to create new religious beliefs and languages, adopt new tastes in food, and develop new modes of dress.

If anything, the plants and animals of the two worlds were more different than the people and their ways of life. Europeans had never seen such crea- tures as the fearsome (if harmless) iguana, the flying squirrel, fish with whiskers like those of a cat, or the rattlesnake, nor had they seen anything quite like several other species: bison, cougars, armadillos, opossums, sloths,


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tapirs, anacondas, American eels, toucans, condors, and humming- birds. Among the few domesticated animals they could recognize the dog and the duck, but turkeys, guinea pigs, llamas, and alpacas were all new. Nor did the Native Americans know of horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, and (maybe) chickens, which soon arrived from Europe in abundance. Yet within a half century whole islands of the Caribbean would be overrun by pigs.

The exchange of plant life between Old and New Worlds worked a revolu- tion in the diets of both hemispheres. Before Columbus’s voyage three staples of the modern diet were unknown in Europe: maize (corn), potatoes (sweet and white), and many kinds of beans (snap, kidney, lima, and others). The white potato, although commonly called Irish, actually migrated from South America to Europe and reached North America only with the Scotch-Irish immigrants of the early eighteenth century. Other New World food plants in- clude peanuts, squash, peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, pineapples, sassafras, papayas, guavas, avocados, cacao (the source of chocolate), and chicle (for chewing gum). Europeans in turn soon introduced rice, wheat, barley, oats, wine grapes, melons, coffee, olives, bananas, “Kentucky” bluegrass, daisies, and dandelions to the New World.

The beauty of the exchange was that the food plants were more complemen- tary than competitive. Corn, it turned out, could flourish almost anywhere—in highland or low, in hot climates or cold, in wet land or dry. It spread quickly throughout the world. Before the end of the 1500s, American maize and sweet potatoes were staple crops in China. The nutritious food crops exported from the Americas thus helped nourish a worldwide population explosion probably greater than any since the invention of agriculture. The dramatic increase in the European populations fueled by the new foods in turn helped provide the surplus of people that colonized the New World.

Europeans, moreover, adopted many Native American devices: canoes, snowshoes, moccasins, hammocks, kayaks, ponchos, dogsleds, and tobog- gans. The rubber ball and the game of lacrosse have Indian origins. New words entered European languages: wigwam, tepee, papoose, tomahawk, succotash, hominy, moose, skunk, raccoon, opossum, woodchuck, chipmunk,

The Great Biological Exchange • 19

Unfamiliar Wildlife

A box tortoise drawn by John White, one of the earliest English settlers in America.

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hickory, pecan, and hundreds of others. And new terms appeared in transla- tion: warpath, war paint, paleface, medicine man, firewater. The natives also left the map dotted with place-names of Indian origin long after they were gone, from Miami to Yakima, from Penobscot to Yuma. There were still other New World contributions: tobacco and a number of other drugs, including coca (for cocaine), curare (a muscle relaxant), and cinchona bark (for quinine).

By far, however, the most significant aspect of the biological exchange was the transmission of infectious diseases from Europe and Africa to the New World. European colonists and enslaved Africans brought with them deadly pathogens that Native Americans had never experienced: smallpox, typhus, diphtheria, bubonic plague, malaria, yellow fever, and cholera. In dealing with such diseases over the centuries, people in the Old World had developed anti- bodies that enabled most of them to survive infection. Disease-toughened



Aztec victims of the 1538 smallpox epidemic are covered in shrouds (center) as two others lie dying (at right).

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adventurers, colonists, and slaves invading the New World thus carried viruses and bacteria that consumed Indians, who lacked the immunologic resistance that forms from experience with the diseases.

The results were catastrophic. Epidemics are one of the most powerful forces shaping history, and disease played a profound role in decimating the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere. Far more Indians died of contagions than from combat. Major diseases such as typhus and smallpox produced pandemics in the New World on a scale never witnessed in history. The social chaos caused by the European invaders contributed to the devas- tation of native communities. In the face of such terrible and mysterious diseases, panic-stricken and often malnourished Indians fled to neighboring villages, unwittingly spreading the diseases in the process. Unable to explain or cure the contagions, Indian chiefs and religious leaders often lost their stature. Consequently, tribal cohesion and cultural life disintegrated, and

The Great Biological Exchange • 21

Impact of European Diseases

This 1592 engraving shows a shaman in a Tupinamba village in Brazil (at left) using his rattle to attract benevolent spirits to heal the diseases brought by Europeans.

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efforts to resist European assaults collapsed. Over time, Native Americans adapted to the presence of the diseases and better managed their effects. They began to quarantine victims and infected villages to confine the spread of germs, and they developed elaborate rituals to sanctify such practices.

Smallpox was an especially ghastly and highly contagious disease in the New World. Santo Domingo boasted almost 4 million inhabitants in 1496; by 1570 the number of natives had plummeted to 125. In central Mexico alone, some 8 million people, perhaps one third of the entire Indian popula- tion, died of smallpox within a decade of the arrival of the Spanish. Small- pox brought horrific suffering. The virus passes through the air on moisture droplets or dust particles that enter the lungs of its victims. After incubating for twelve days, the virus causes headaches, backache, fever, and nausea. Vic- tims then develop sores in the mouth, nose, and throat. Within a few days gruesome skin eruptions cover the body. Death usually results from massive internal bleeding.

In colonial America, as Indians died by the thousands, disease became the most powerful weapon of the European invaders. A Spanish explorer noted that “half the natives” died from smallpox and “blamed us.” Many Euro- peans, however, interpreted such epidemics as diseases sent by God to pun- ish Indians who resisted conversion to Christianity.


Undeterred by new diseases and encouraged by Columbus’s discover- ies, professional explorers, mostly Italians, hired themselves out to look for the elusive western passage to Asia. They probed the shorelines of America during the early sixteenth century in the vain search for an opening and thus increased by leaps and bounds European knowledge of the New World.

The first to sight the North American continent was John Cabot, a Venetian sponsored by Henry VII of England. Cabot sailed across the North Atlantic in 1497. His landfall at what the king called “the new founde lande” gave England the basis for a later claim to all of North America. During the early sixteenth century, however, the English grew so preoccupied with internal divisions and conflicts with France that they failed to capitalize on Cabot’s discoveries. Only fishermen exploited the teeming waters of the Grand Banks. In 1513 the Spaniard Vasco Núñez de Balboa became the first European to sight the Pacific Ocean, having crossed the Isthmus of Panama on foot.

The Spanish were eager to find a nautical passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. To that end, in 1519 Ferdinand Magellan, a haughty Portuguese


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seaman hired by the Spanish, discovered the strait that now bears his name at the southern tip of South America. Magellan kept sailing north and west across the Pacific Ocean, discovering Guam and eventually the Philippines, where he was killed by natives. Surviving crew members made their way back to Spain, arriving in 1522, having been at sea for three years. Their ac- counts of the global voyage quickened Spanish interest in exploration.


During the sixteenth century, Spain created the most powerful empire in the world by conquering and colonizing the Americas. The Caribbean Sea

The Spanish Empire • 23

Congo River

Amazon River

Ves puc


M ag

el la


D ias

Prince Henry the Navigator

del Can o (in M

agell an’s

ship )






























Line of Treaty of Tordesillas, 1494

Line of Treaty of Tordesillas, 1494



Magellan Strait







0 2,000 Kilometers

2,000 Miles

What is the significance of Magellan’s 1519 voyage? What was the controversy over the Treaty of Tordesillas? What biological exchanges resulted from these early explorations?

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served as the funnel through which Spanish power entered the New World. After establishing colonies on Hispaniola, including Santo Domingo, which became the capital of the West Indies, the Spanish proceeded eastward to Puerto Rico (1508) and westward to Cuba (1511–1514). Their motives were explicit. Said one soldier, “We came here to serve God and the king, and also to get rich.” Like the French and the British after them, the Spanish who ex- plored and conquered new worlds in the Western Hemisphere were willing to risk everything in pursuit of wealth, power, glory, or divine approval. The first adventurers were often larger-than-life figures. They displayed ambi- tion and courage, ruthlessness and duplicity, resilience and creativity, as well as crusading religiosity and imperial arrogance.

The European colonization of the New World was difficult and deadly. Most of those in the first wave of settlement died of malnutrition or disease. But the natives suffered even more casualties. A Spaniard on Hispaniola reported in 1494 that over 50,000 Indians had died from infectious diseases carried by the Europeans, and more were “falling each day, with every step, like cattle in an infected herd.” Even the most developed Indian societies of the sixteenth cen- tury were ill equipped to resist the European cultures invading their world. Disunity everywhere—civil disorder and rebellion plagued the Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas—left the native peoples of the New World vulnerable to division and foreign conquest. The onslaught of men and microbes from Europe per- plexed and overwhelmed the Indians. Prejudices and misunderstandings had tragic consequences. Europeans presumed that their civilization was superior to those they discovered in the New World. And such presumed superiority justified in their minds the conquest and enslavement of Indians, the destruc- tion of their way of life, and the seizure of their land and resources.

A C L A S H O F C U LT U R E S The violent encounter between Spaniards and Indians in North America involved more than a clash between different peoples. It also involved contrasting forms of technological development. The Indians of Mexico had copper and bronze but no iron. They had domes- ticated dogs and llamas but no horses. Whereas Indians used dugout canoes for transport, Europeans sailed heavily armed oceangoing vessels. The Span- ish ships not only carried human cargo; they also brought steel swords, firearms, explosives, and armor. These advanced military tools struck fear into many Indians. A Spanish priest in Florida observed that gunpowder “frightens the most valiant and courageous Indian and renders him slave to the white man’s command.” Such weaponry helps explain why the Euro- peans were able to defeat far superior numbers of Indians. Arrows and tom- ahawks were seldom a match for guns and cannon.


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The Europeans enjoyed other cultural advantages. For example, the only domestic four-legged animals in North America were dogs and llamas. The Spaniards, on the other hand, brought with them horses, pigs, and cattle, all of which served as sources of food and leather. Horses provided greater speed in battle and introduced a decided psychological advantage. “The most essential thing in new lands is horses,” reported one Spanish soldier. “They instill the greatest fear in the enemy and make the Indians respect the leaders of the army.” Even more feared among the Indians were the grey- hound dogs that the Spaniards used to guard their camps.

C O RT É S ’ S C O N Q U E S T The first European conquest of a major Indian civilization on the North American mainland began on February 18, 1519, when Hernando Cortés, driven by dreams of gold and glory, set sail from Cuba with nearly 600 soldiers and sailors. Also on board were 200 Cuban na- tives, sixteen horses, and several cannons. When the invaders landed at Vera Cruz, on the Mexican Gulf coast, they were assaulted by thousands of Indian warriors. After defeating the native force, Cortés invited the warriors to join his advance on the Aztecs. He then burned all but one of the Spanish ships. There would be no turning back.

The Spanish Empire • 25

Cortés in Mexico

Page from the Tlaxcala Lienzo, a historical narrative from the sixteenth century. The scene, in which Cortés is shown seated on a throne, depicts the arrival of the Spaniards in Tlaxcala.

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Cortés’s expedition was unauthorized. His soldiers, called conquistadores, received no pay; they were military entrepreneurs willing to risk their lives for a share in the expected plunder and slaves. The ruthless Cortés had participated in the Spanish occupation of Cuba and had acquired his own plantations and gold mines. But he yearned for even more wealth and glory. Against the wishes of the Spanish governor in Cuba, who wanted the Aztec Empire for himself, Cortés launched the daring invasion of Mexico. The 200-mile march from Vera Cruz through difficult mountain passes to the magnificent Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán (north of present-day Mexico City) and the subjugation of the Aztecs, who thought themselves “masters of the world,” constituted one of the most remarkable feats in history.

Tenochtitlán, with some 200,000 inhabitants, was the largest city in the Americas and was much larger than Seville, the most populous city in Spain. Graced by wide canals and verdant gardens and boasting beautiful stone pyramids and other buildings, the fabled capital seemed impreg- nable. But Cortés made the most of his assets. His invasion force had landed in a coastal region where the local Indians were still fighting off the spread of Aztec power and were ready to embrace new allies, especially those possessing strange animals (horses) and powerful weapons. By a combination of threats and deceptions, Cortés entered Tenochtitlán peacefully and made the emperor, Montezuma II, his puppet. Cortés ex- plained to Montezuma why the invasion was necessary: “We Spaniards have a disease of the heart that only gold can cure.” Montezuma mistook Cortés for a returning god.

After taking all the Aztec gold, the Spanish forced Montezuma to pro- vide Indian laborers to mine more. This state of affairs lasted until the spring of 1520, when disgruntled Aztecs, regarding Montezuma as a trai- tor, rebelled, stoned him to death, and attacked Cortés’s forces. The Spaniards lost about one third of their men as they retreated. Their 20,000 Indian allies remained loyal, however, and Cortés gradually re- grouped his men. In 1521, having been reinforced with troops from Cuba and thousands of Indians eager to defeat the Aztecs, he besieged the im- perial city for eighty-five days, cutting off its access to water and food and allowing a smallpox epidemic to decimate the inhabitants. An African slave infected with the virus spawned the contagion. As a Spaniard ob- served, the smallpox “spread over the people as great destruction. Some it covered on all parts—their faces, their heads, their breasts, and so on. There was great havoc. Very many died of it. . . . They could not move; they could not stir.” The ravages of smallpox help explain how such a small force of determined Spaniards lusting for gold and silver was able to


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vanquish a proud nation of nearly 1 million people. Montezuma’s nephew led the final fierce assault by the desperate Aztecs. Some 15,000 died in the battle. After the Aztecs surrendered, a merciless Cortés ordered the leaders hanged and the priests devoured by dogs. He and his officers replaced them as rulers over the Aztec Empire. In two years the brilliant Cortés and his dis- ciplined army had conquered a fabled empire that had taken thirty centuries to develop.

Cortés and his army set the style for plundering conquistadores to follow, who within twenty years had established a sprawling Spanish Empire in the New World. Between 1522 and 1528 various lieutenants of Cortés’s conquered the remnants of Indian culture in the Yucatán Peninsula and Guatemala. In 1531 Francisco Pizarro led a band of soldiers down the Pacific coast from Panama toward Peru, where they brutally subdued the Inca Empire. From Peru, conquistadores had extended Spanish authority south through Chile by about 1553 and north, to present-day Colombia, by 1536 to 1538.

S PA N I S H A M E R I C A The Spaniards sought to displace the “pagan” civ- ilizations of the Americas with their Catholic-based culture. Believing that God was on their side in this cultural exchange, the Spaniards carried with them a fervent sense of mission that bred both intolerance and zeal. The conquistadores transferred to America a system known as the encomienda, whereby favored officers became privileged landowners who controlled Indian villages or groups of villages. As encomenderos, they were called upon to pro- tect and care for the villages and support missionary priests. In turn they could require Indians to provide them with goods and labor. Spanish Amer- ica therefore developed from the start a society of extremes: wealthy con- quistadores and encomenderos at one end of the spectrum and native peoples held in poverty at the other end.

What was left of them, that is. By the mid-1500s native Indians were nearly extinct in the West Indies, reduced more by European diseases than by Spanish brutality. To take their place, as early as 1503 the colonizers began to transport Africans to work as slaves, the first in a wretched traffic that eventually would carry over 9 million people across the Atlantic. In all of Spain’s New World empire, by one informed estimate, the Indian population dropped from about 50 million at the outset to 4 million in the seventeenth century and slowly rose again to 7.5 million by the end of the eighteenth century. Whites, who totaled no more than 100,000 in the mid–sixteenth century, numbered over 3 million by the end of the colonial period.

The Indians, however, did not always lack advocates. In many cases Catholic missionaries offered a sharp contrast to the conquistadores. Setting

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an example of self-denial, they ventured into remote areas, usually without weapons or protection, to spread the gospel—and often suffered martyrdom for their efforts. Among them rose defenders of the Indians, the most noted of whom was Bartolomé de Las Casas, a priest in Hispaniola and later a bishop in Mexico, author of A Brief Relation of the Destruction of the Indies (1552).

From such violently contrasting forces, Spanish America gradually devel- oped into a settled society. The independent conquistadores were replaced by a second generation of bureaucrats, and the encomienda was succeeded by the hacienda (a great farm or ranch) as the claim to land became a more important source of wealth than the Spanish claim to labor. From the outset, in sharp con- trast to the later English experience, the Spanish government regulated every detail of colonial administration. After 1524 the Council of the Indies, directly under the crown, issued laws for America, served as the appellate court for civil cases arising in the colonies, and administered the bureaucracy.

The culture of Spanish America would be fundamentally unlike the English- speaking culture that would arise to the north. In fact, a difference already ex- isted among the pre-Columbian Indians with largely nomadic tribes to the north and the more complex civilizations inhabiting Mesoamerica. On the lat- ter world the Spaniards imposed an overlay of their own peculiar ways, but without uprooting the deeply planted cultures they found. Catholicism, which for centuries had absorbed pagan gods and transformed pagan feasts into such holy days as Christmas and Easter, in turn adapted Indian beliefs and rituals to its own purposes. The Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe Hidalgo, for instance, evoked memories of feminine divinities in native cults. Thus Spanish America, in the words of the modern-day Mexican writer Octavio Paz, became a land of superimposed pasts: “Mexico City was built on the ruins of Tenochtitlán, the Aztec city that was built in the likeness of Tula, the Toltec city that was built in the likeness of Teotihuacán, the first great city on the American continent. Every Mexican bears within him this continuity, which goes back two thousand years.”

S PA N I S H E X P L O R AT I O N S Throughout the sixteenth century no European power other than Spain had more than a brief foothold in the New World. Spain had the advantage not only of having sponsored the dis- covery but also of having stumbled onto those parts of America that would bring the quickest profits. While France and England struggled with domes- tic quarrels and religious conflict, Spain had forged an intense national unity. Under Charles V, heir to the throne of Austria and the Netherlands and Holy Roman emperor to boot, Spain dominated Europe as well as the


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New World. The treasures of the Aztecs and the Incas added to its power, but the easy reliance on American gold and silver also undermined the basic economy of Spain and tempted the government to live beyond its means. The influx of gold from the New World also caused inflation throughout Europe.

For most of the colonial period, much of what is now the United States belonged to Spain, and Spanish culture has left a lasting imprint upon American ways of life. Spain’s colonial presence lasted more than three cen- turies, much longer than either England’s or France’s. New Spain was cen- tered in Mexico, but its frontiers extended from the Florida Keys to Alaska and included areas not currently thought of as formerly Spanish, such as the Deep South and the lower Midwest. Hispanic place-names—San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tucson, Santa Fe, San Antonio, Pen- sacola, and St. Augustine—survive to this day, as do Hispanic influences in art, architecture, literature, music, law, and cuisine.

The Spanish encounter with Native American populations and their di- verse cultures produced a two-way exchange by which the two societies blended, coexisted, and interacted. Even when locked in mortal conflict and riven by hostility and mutual suspicion, the two cultures necessarily affected each other. The imperative of survival forced both natives and conquerors to devise creative adaptations. In other words, the frontier world, while perme- ated with violence, coercion, and intolerance, also produced a mutual ac- commodation that enabled two living traditions to persist side by side. For example, the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest practiced two religious tradi- tions simultaneously, adopting Spanish Catholicism while retaining the essence of their inherited animistic faith.

The “Spanish borderlands” of the southern United States preserve many reminders of the Spanish presence. The earliest known exploration of Florida was made in 1513 by Juan Ponce de León, then governor of Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, Spanish explorers skirted the Gulf coast from Florida to Vera Cruz, scouted the Atlantic coast from Key West to Newfoundland, and established a short-lived colony on the Carolina coast.

Sixteenth-century knowledge of the North American interior came mostly from would-be conquistadores who sought to plunder the hinter- lands. The first, Pánfilo de Narváez, landed in 1528 at Tampa Bay, marched northward to Apalachee, an Indian village in present-day Alabama, and then returned to the coast near present-day St. Marks, Florida, where his party contrived crude vessels in the hope of reaching Mexico. Wrecked on the coast of Texas, a few survivors under Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca worked their way painfully overland and after eight years stumbled into a Spanish outpost in western Mexico.

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Hernando de Soto followed their example. With 600 men, as well as horses, and war dogs, he landed on Florida’s west coast in 1539, hiked up as far as western North Carolina and then moved westward beyond the Mississippi River and up the Arkansas River, looting and destroying Indian villages along the way. In the spring of 1542, de Soto died near Natchez; the next year the








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What were the Spanish conquistadores’ goals for exploring the Americas? How did Cortés conquer the Aztecs? Why did the Spanish first explore North America, and why did they establish St. Augustine, the first European settlement in what would become the United States?

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survivors among his party floated down the Mississippi, and 311 of the original adventurers found their way to Mexico. In 1540 Francisco Vásquez de Coron- ado, inspired by rumors of gold, traveled northward into New Mexico and northeast across Texas and Oklahoma as far as Kansas. He returned in 1542 without gold but with a more realistic view of what lay in those arid lands.

The Spanish established provinces in North America not so much as com- mercial enterprises but as defensive buffers protecting their more lucrative trading empire in Mexico and South America. They were concerned about French traders infiltrating from Louisiana, English settlers crossing into Florida, and Russian seal hunters wandering down the California coast.

Yet the Spanish settlements in what is today the United States never flour- ished. Preoccupied with a lust for gold, the Spanish never understood the signif- icance of developing a viable market economy. England and France eventually surpassed Spain in America because Spain mistakenly assumed that developing a thriving trade in goods with the Native Americans was less important than the conversion of “heathens” and the relentless search for gold and silver.

The first Spanish outpost in the present United States emerged in response to French encroachments on Spanish claims. In the 1560s French Huguenots (Protestants) established short-lived colonies in what became South Carolina and Florida. In 1565 a Spanish outpost, St. Augustine, became the first Euro- pean town in the present-day United States and is now its oldest urban center, except for the pueblos of New Mexico. Spain’s colony at St. Augustine in- cluded fort, church, hospital, fish market, and over 100 shops and houses—all built decades before the first English settlements at Jamestown and Ply- mouth. While other outposts failed, St. Augustine survived as a defensive base perched on the edge of a continent.

T H E S PA N I S H S O U T H W E S T The Spanish eventually established other permanent settlements in what is now New Mexico, Texas, and Califor- nia. Eager to pacify rather than fight the far more numerous Indians of the region, the Spanish used religion as an effective instrument of colonial con- trol. Missionaries, particularly Franciscans and Jesuits, established isolated Catholic missions where they taught Christianity to the Indians. After about ten years a mission would be secularized: its lands would be divided among the converted Indians, the mission chapel would become a parish church, and the inhabitants would be given full Spanish citizenship—including the privilege of paying taxes. The soldiers who were sent to protect the missions were housed in presidios, or forts; their families and the merchants accom- panying them lived in adjacent villages.

The land that would later be called New Mexico was the first center of mission activity in the American Southwest. In 1598 Juan de Oñate, the

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wealthy son of a Spanish mining family in Mexico, received a patent for the territory north of Mexico above the Rio Grande. With an expeditionary military force made up mostly of Mexican Indians and mestizos (sons of Spanish fathers and native mothers), he took possession of New Mexico, es- tablished a capital north of present-day Santa Fe at San Gabriel, and sent out expeditions to search for evidence of gold and silver deposits. He promised the Pueblo Indian leaders that Spanish dominion would bring them peace, justice, prosperity, and protection. Conversion to Catholicism offered even greater benefits: “an eternal life of great bliss” instead of “cruel and everlast- ing torment.”

Some Indians welcomed the missionaries as “powerful witches” capable of easing their burdens. Others tried to use the invaders as allies against rival tribes. Still others saw no alternative but to submit. The Indians living in Spanish New Mexico were required to pay tribute to their encomenderos and perform personal tasks for them, including sexual favors. Disobedient Indi- ans were flogged, by soldiers and priests.

Before the end of the province’s first year, the Indians revolted, killing several soldiers and incur- ring Oñate’s wrath. During three days of relentless fighting, the army killed 500 Pueblo men and 300 women and children. Survivors were enslaved. Pueblo males over the age of twenty-five had one foot severed in a public ritual in- tended to strike fear in the hearts of the Indians and keep them from escaping or resisting. Chil- dren were taken from their par- ents and placed under the care of a Franciscan mission, where, Oñate remarked, “they may attain the knowledge of God and the salva- tion of their souls.”

During the first three quarters of the seventeenth century, Span- ish New Mexico expanded very slowly. The hoped-for deposits of gold and silver were never found,


Cultural Conflict

This 1616 Peruvian illustration, from a manuscript by Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala, shows a Dominican friar forcing a native woman to weave.

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and a sparse food supply blunted the interest of potential colonists. The Span- ish king prepared to abandon the colony only to realize that Franciscan mis- sionaries had baptized so many Pueblo Indians that they could not be deserted. In 1608 the government decided to turn New Mexico into a royal province. The following year it dispatched a royal governor, and in 1610, as English settlers were struggling to survive at Jamestown, in Virginia, the Span- ish moved the capital of New Mexico to Santa Fe, the first permanent seat of government in the present-day United States. By 1630 there were fifty Catholic churches and friaries in New Mexico and some 3,000 Spaniards.

The leader of the Franciscan missionaries claimed that 86,000 Pueblo Indians had been converted to Christianity. In fact, however, resentment among the Indians increased with time. In 1680 a charismatic Indian leader named Popé organized a massive rebellion that spread across hundreds of miles. Within a few weeks the Spaniards had been driven from New Mexico. The outraged Indians burned churches; tortured, mutilated, and executed priests; and destroyed all relics of Christianity. The Pueblo revolt of 1680 was the greatest setback that the natives ever inflicted on European efforts to conquer and colonize the New World. It took fourteen years and four military assaults for the Spaniards to reestablish control over New Mexico. Thereafter, except for sporadic raids by Apaches and Navajos, the Spanish pacified the region. Spanish outposts on the Florida and Texas Gulf coasts and in California did not appear until the eighteenth century.

H O R S E S A N D T H E G R E AT P L A I N S Another major consequence of the Pueblo Revolt was the opportunity it afforded Indian rebels to acquire hundreds of coveted Spanish horses (Spanish authorities had made it illegal for Indians to own horses). The Pueblos in turn established a thriving horse trade with Navajos, Apaches, and other tribes. By 1690 horses were evident in Texas, and they soon spread across the Great Plains, the vast rolling grass- lands extending from the Missouri River valley in the east to the base of the Rocky Mountains in the west.

Horses were a disruptive ecological force in North America; they provided the pedestrian Plains Indians with a transforming source of mobility and power. Prior to the arrival of horses, Indians hunted on foot and used dogs as their beasts of burden, hauling their supplies on travois, devices made from two long poles connected by leather straps. But dogs are carnivores, and it was often difficult to find enough meat to feed them. Horses changed every- thing. They are grazing animals, and the endless grasslands of the Great Plains offered plenty of forage. Horses could also haul up to seven times as much weight as dogs, and their speed and endurance made the Indians much

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more effective hunters and warriors. In addition, horses enabled Indians to travel farther to trade and fight.

The ready availability of large numbers of horses thus worked a revolu- tion in the economy and ecology of the Great Plains. Such tribes as the Ara- paho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, and Sioux reinvented themselves as equestrian societies. They left their traditional woodland villages on the fringes of the plains and became nomadic bison (buffalo) hunters. Using horses, they could haul larger tepees and more meat and hides with them, building temporary camps as they migrated year-round with the immense bison herds, wintering in sheltered glades along rivers. The once-deserted plains soon were a crossroads of activity. Indians used virtually every part of the bison they killed: meat for food; hides for clothing, shoes, bedding, and shelter; muscles and tendons for thread and bowstrings; intestines for con- tainers; bones for tools; horns for eating utensils; hair for headdresses; and dung for fuel. One scholar has referred to the bison as the “tribal department store.” The Plains Indians supplemented bison meat with roots and berries they gathered along the way. In the fall the nomadic tribes would travel


Plains Indians

The horse-stealing raid depicted in this hide painting demonstrates the essential role horses played in Plains life.

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south to exchange hides and robes for food or to raid Indian farming villages.

In the short run the horse brought prosperity and mobility to the Plains In- dians. Horses became the center and symbol of Indian life on the plains. Yet the noble animal also brought insecurity, instability, and conflict. Indians began to kill more bison than the herds could replace. In addition, the herds of horses competed with the bison for food, often depleting the grass and compacting the soil in the river valleys during the winter. As tribes traveled greater distances and encountered more people, infectious diseases spread more widely.

Horses became so valuable that they provoked thievery and intensified intertribal competition and warfare. Within tribes a family’s status was deter- mined by the number of horses it possessed. Horses eased some of the physi- cal burdens on women but imposed new demands. Women and girls were assigned the responsibility of tending to the horses. They also had to butcher and dry the buffalo meat and tan the hides. As the value of the hides grew, male hunters began to indulge in polygamy: more wives could process more buffalo. The rising economic value of wives eventually led Plains Indians to raid farming tribes in search of captive brides as well as horses. The introduc- tion of horses into the Great Plains, then, was a decidedly mixed blessing. By 1800 a plains trader could observe that “this is a delightful country, and were it not for perpetual wars, the natives might be the happiest people on earth.”


While Spain was building her empire in the Americas, a new movement was growing in Europe: the Protestant Reformation. It would intensify national rivalries and, by encouraging serious challenges to Catholic Spain’s power, pro- foundly affect the course of early American history. When Columbus sailed in 1492, all of western Europe acknowledged the supremacy of the Catholic Church and its pope in Rome. The unity of Christendom began to crack in 1517, however, when Martin Luther, a German theologian and monk, posted his ninety-five theses in protest against abuses in the church. He especially criticized the sale of indulgences, whereby priests would forgive sins in ex- change for money or goods. Sinners, Luther argued, could win salvation nei- ther by good works nor through the mediation of the church but only by faith in the redemptive power of Christ and through a direct relationship with God—the “priesthood of all believers.”

Lutheranism spread rapidly among the people and their rulers—some of them with an eye to seizing church property. When the pope expelled Luther

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from the church in 1521, reconciliation became impossible. The German states erupted in conflict over religious differences; a settlement did not come until 1555, when they agreed to let each prince determine the religion of his subjects. Most of northern Germany, along with Scandinavia, became Lutheran. The principle of close association between church and state thus carried over into Protestant lands, but Luther had unleashed volatile ideas that ran beyond his control.

Other Protestants pursued Luther’s doctrine to its logical end and preached religious liberty for all. Further divisions on doctrinal matters led to the appearance of various sects, such as the Anabaptists, who rejected infant baptism and favored the separation of church and state. Other offshoots— including the Mennonites, Amish, Bretheren (Dunkers), Familists, and Schwenkfelders—appeared first in Europe and later in America, but the more numerous like-minded groups would be the Baptists and the Quakers, whose origins were English.

C A LV I N I S M Soon after Martin Luther began his revolt, Swiss Protestants also challenged the authority of Rome. In Geneva the reform movement looked to John Calvin, a French scholar who had fled to that city and brought it under the sway of his beliefs. In his great theological work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536), Calvin set forth a stern doctrine. All people, he taught, were damned by Adam’s original sin, but the sacrifice of Christ made possible their redemption. The experience of grace, however, was open only to those whom God had elected and thus had predestined to salvation from the beginning of time. Predestination was an uncompromising doctrine, but the infinite wisdom of God was beyond human understanding.

Calvin insisted upon strict morality and hard work, values that especially suited the rising middle class. Moreover, he taught that people serve God through any legitimate labor, and he permitted lay members a share in the governance of the church through a body of elders and ministers called the presbytery. Calvin’s doctrines became the basis for the beliefs of the German Reformed Church, the Dutch Reformed Church, the Presbyterians in Scot- land, some of the Puritans in England, and the Huguenots in France. Through these and other groups, Calvin exerted a greater effect upon reli- gious belief and practice in the English colonies than did any other single leader of the Reformation.

T H E R E F O R M AT I O N I N E N G L A N D In England the Reformation followed a unique course. The Church of England, or the Anglican Church, took form through a gradual process of integrating Calvinism with English


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Catholicism. In early modern England, church and state were united and mutually supportive. The government required citizens to attend religious services and to pay taxes to support the Church of England. The English monarchs also supervised the hierarchy of church officials: two archbishops, twenty-six bishops, and thousands of parish clergy. The royal rulers often in- structed the religious leaders to preach sermons in support of particular government policies. As one English king explained, “People are governed by the pulpit more than the sword in time of peace.”

Purely political reasons initially led to the rejection of papal authority in England. Henry VIII (r. 1509–1547), the second monarch of the Tudor dy- nasty, had in fact won from the pope the title of Defender of the Faith for re- futing Martin Luther’s ideas. But Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon had produced no male heir, and to marry again he required an annulment. In the past, popes had found ways to accommodate such requests, but Catherine was the aunt of Charles V, king of Spain and ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, whose support was vital to the church’s cause on the Conti- nent. So the pope refused to grant an annulment. Unwilling to accept the rebuff, Henry severed England’s connection with Rome, named a new arch- bishop of Canterbury, who granted the annulment, and married his mis- tress, the lively Anne Boleyn.

In one of history’s greatest ironies, Anne Boleyn gave birth not to the male heir that Henry demanded but to a daughter, named Elizabeth. The disap- pointed king later accused his wife of adultery, ordered her beheaded, and declared the infant Elizabeth a bastard. Yet Elizabeth received a first- rate education and grew up to be quick-witted and nimble, cunning and courageous. After the bloody reigns of her Protestant half brother, Edward VI, and her Catholic half sis- ter, Mary I, she ascended the throne in 1558 and over the next forty-five years proved to be the most remark- able female ruler in history. Her long reign over the troubled island king- dom was punctuated by political tur- moil, religious tension, economic crises, and foreign wars. Yet Queen Elizabeth came to rule over England’s golden age.

The Protestant Reformation • 37

Queen Elizabeth I

Shown here in her coronation robes, ca. 1590.

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Born into a man’s world and given a man’s role, Elizabeth could not be a Catholic, for in the Catholic view she was illegitimate. During her reign, there- fore, the Church of England became Protestant, but in its own way. The orga- nizational structure, centered on bishops and archbishops, remained much the same, but the doctrine and practice changed: the Latin liturgy became, with some changes, the English Book of Common Prayer, the cult of saints was dropped, and the clergy were permitted to marry. For the sake of unity, the “Elizabethan settlement” allowed some latitude in theology and other matters, but this did not satisfy all. Some Britons tried to enforce the letter of the law, stressing traditional Catholic practices. Many others, however, especially those under Calvinist influence, wished to “purify” the church of all its Catholic remnants. Some of these Puritans would leave England to build their own churches in America. Those who broke altogether with the Church of England were called Separatists. Thus, the religious controversies associated with the English Reformation so dominated the nation’s political life that interest in colonizing the New World was forced to the periphery of concern.


The Spanish monopoly on New World colonies remained intact throughout the sixteenth century, but not without challenge from national rivals spurred by the emotion unleashed by the Protestant Reformation. The French were the first to pose a serious threat. Spanish treasure ships from the New World were tempting targets for French privateers. In 1524 the French king sent the Italian Giovanni da Verrazano in search of a passage to Asia. Sighting land (probably at Cape Fear, North Carolina), Verrazano ranged along the coast as far north as Maine. On a second voyage, in 1528, his life met an abrupt end in the West Indies at the hands of the Caribs.

Unlike the Verrazano voyages, those of Jacques Cartier, beginning in the next decade, led to the first French effort at colonization. On three voyages, Cartier explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence and ventured up the St. Lawrence River. Twice he got as far as present-day Montreal and twice wintered at or near the site of Quebec, near which a short-lived French colony appeared in 1541–1542. From that time forward, however, French kings lost interest in Canada. France after midcentury plunged into religious civil wars, and the colonization of Canada had to await the coming of Samuel de Champlain, “the Father of New France,” after 1600.

From the mid-1500s, greater threats to Spanish power arose from the grow- ing strength of the Dutch and the English. The provinces of the Netherlands,


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Challenges to the Spanish Empire • 39

Who were the first European explorers to rival Spanish dominance in the New World, and why did they cross the Atlantic? Why was the defeat of the Spanish Ar- mada important to the history of English exploration? What was the significance of the voyages of Gilbert and Raleigh?


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which had passed by inheritance to the Spanish king and had become largely Protestant, rebelled against Spanish rule in 1567. A bloody struggle for inde- pendence ensued. Spain did not accept the independence of the Dutch repub- lic until 1648.

Almost from the beginning of the Dutch revolt against Spain, the Dutch “Sea Beggars,” privateers working out of English and Dutch ports, plundered Spanish ships in the Atlantic and carried on illegal trade with Spain’s colonies. The Sea Beggars soon had their counterpart in the English “sea dogges”: John Hawkins, Francis Drake, and others. While Queen Elizabeth steered a tortuous course to avoid open war with Catholic Spain, she en- couraged both Dutch and English captains to engage in smuggling and piracy. In 1577 Drake embarked on his famous adventure around South America, raiding Spanish towns along the Pacific and surprising a treasure ship from Peru. Continuing in a vain search for a passage back to the At- lantic, he spent seven weeks at Drake’s Bay in New Albion, as he called California. Eventually he found his way westward around the world and ar- rived home in 1580. Elizabeth knighted him upon his return.

T H E A R M A DA’ S D E F E AT The plundering of Spanish shipping by English privateers continued for some twenty years before open war erupted. In 1568 Queen Elizabeth’s cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, ousted by Scottish Presbyterians in favor of her infant son, fled to England. Mary, who was Catholic, had a claim to the English throne by virtue of her descent from Henry VII and soon became the focus of Spanish-Catholic intrigues to over- throw the Protestant Elizabeth. In 1587, after the discovery of a plot to kill her and elevate Mary to the throne, Elizabeth yielded to the demands of her ministers and had Mary beheaded.

Seeking revenge for Mary’s execution, Spain’s king, Philip II, decided to crush Protestant England and so began to gather his ill-fated Armada, whereupon Admiral Francis Drake’s warships destroyed part of the Spanish fleet before it was ready to sail. Drake’s foray postponed for a year the depar- ture of the “Invincible Armada,” which set out to invade England in 1588. As the two fleets positioned themselves for the great naval battle, Elizabeth donned a silver breastplate and told the English forces, “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and a King of England too.” As the battle unfolded, the heavy Spanish galleons could not compete with the smaller, faster English vessels. Drake’s fleet harried the Spanish ships through the English Channel on their way to the Netherlands, where the Armada was to pick up an invasion force. But caught up in a powerful “Protestant wind” from the south, the storm-tossed


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Spanish fleet was swept into the North Sea instead. What was left of it finally found its way home around the British Isles, scattering wreckage on the shores of Scotland and Ireland.

Defeat of the Spanish Armada marked the beginning of English naval su- premacy and cleared the way for English colonization of America. The naval victory was the climactic event of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. England at the end of the sixteenth century was in the springtime of its power, filled with a youthful zest for new worlds and new wonders.

E N G L I S H E X P L O R AT I O N The history of the English efforts to colo- nize America begins with Sir Humphrey Gilbert and his half brother, Sir Walter Raleigh. In 1578 Gilbert, who had long been a favorite of the queen’s, secured a royal patent to possess “heathen and barbarous landes countries and territories not actually possessed of any Christian prince or people.” Significantly, the patent guaranteed to settlers and their descendants in such a colony the rights and privileges of Englishmen “in suche like ample man- ner and fourme as if they were borne and personally residaunte within our

Challenges to the Spanish Empire • 41

The “Invincible Armada”

The fleet of the Spanish Armada in a contemporary English oil painting.

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sed Realme of England.” Their laws had to be “agreable to the forme of the lawes and pollicies of England.”

Gilbert, after two false starts, set out with a colonial expedition in 1583, intending to settle near Narragansett Bay (in present-day Rhode Island). He instead landed in Newfoundland and took possession of the land for Eliza- beth. With winter approaching and his largest vessels lost, Gilbert resolved to return home. While in transit, however, his ship vanished, and he was never seen again.

R A L E I G H ’ S L O S T C O L O N Y The next year, Sir Walter Raleigh per- suaded the queen to renew Gilbert’s colonizing mission in his own name. Sailing by way of the West Indies, the flotilla came to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and discovered Roanoke Island, where the soil seemed fruit- ful and the natives friendly. After several false starts, Raleigh in 1587 spon- sored an expedition of about 100 colonists, including women and children,


The Arrival of the English in Virginia

The 1585 arrival of English explorers on the Outer Banks, with Roanoke Island at left.

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under Governor John White. White spent a month in Roanoke and then returned to England for supplies, leaving behind his daughter Elinor and his granddaughter Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World. White’s return was delayed because of the war with Spain. When he finally landed, in 1590, he found Roanoke abandoned and pillaged.

No trace of the “lost colonists” was ever found. Hostile Indians may have destroyed the colony, or hostile Spaniards—who had certainly planned to attack—may have done the job. The most recent evidence indicates that the “Lost Colony” fell prey to the region’s worst drought in eight centuries. Tree- ring samples reveal that the colonists arrived during the driest seven-year period in 770 years. While some may have gone south, the main body of colonists appears to have gone north, to the southern shores of Chesapeake Bay, as they had talked of doing, and lived there for some years until they were killed by local Indians. Unless some remnant of the Roanoke settle- ment did survive in the woods, there was not a single English colonist in North America when Queen Elizabeth died in 1603.

Further Reading • 43


• The funding of the voyages of discovery by various European nations had implications for the settlement and control of the New World, as will be discussed in later chapters.

• The settlement pattern of the Spanish in the New World and the wealth they plundered will be contrasted in the next chapter with the patterns of English settlement and the English sources of wealth in the New World.

• The next chapter describes how the Reformation and religious controversies in Europe led various groups to found their own settlements in the New World, where they did not face religious discrimination and persecution.


A fascinating study of pre-Columbian migration is Brian M. Fagan’s The Great Journey: The Peopling of Ancient America, rev. ed. (2004). Alice B. Kehoe’s

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North American Indians: A Comprehensive Account, 2nd ed. (1992) provides an encyclopedic treatment of Native Americans.

The conflict between Native Americans and Europeans is treated well in James Axtell’s The Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North America (1986) and Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial North America (1992). Colin G. Calloway’s New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America (1997) explores the ecological effects of Euro- pean settlement.

The most comprehensive overviews of European exploration are two vol- umes by Samuel Eliot Morison, The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages, A.D. 500–1600 (1971) and The Southern Voyages A.D. 1492–1616 (1974).

The voyages of Columbus are surveyed in William D. Phillips Jr. and Carla Rahn Phillips’s The Worlds of Christopher Columbus (1992). For sweeping overviews of Spain’s creation of a global empire, see Henry Kamen’s Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492–1763 (2003) and Hugh Thomas’s Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, from Columbus to Magellan (2004). David J. Weber examines Spanish colonization in The Spanish Frontier in North America (1992). For the French experience, see William J. Eccles’s France in America, rev. ed. (1990).

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The England that Queen Elizabeth bequeathed to the ScottishKing James I in 1603, like the colonies it would plant, was aunique blend of elements. The language and the people themselves mixed Germanic and Latin ingredients. The Anglican Church mixed Protestant theology and Catholic rituals. And the growth of royal power paradoxically had been linked to the rise of English liberties, in which even Tudor monarchs took pride. In the course of their history, the English people have displayed a genius for “muddling through,” a gift for the prag- matic compromise that defies logic but in the light of experience somehow works.





• What were the reasons for the founding of the different colonies in North America?

• How did the British colonists and the Native Americans adapt to each other’s presence?

• What factors made England successful in North America?

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Dominated by England, the British Isles included the distinct king- doms of Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. England, set off from continental Europe by the English Channel, had safe frontiers after the union of the English and Scottish crowns in 1603. Such comparative isolation enabled the nation to develop institutions quite different from those on the Conti- nent. Unlike the absolute monarchs of France and Spain, the British rulers had to share power with the aristocracy and a lesser aristocracy, known as the gentry, whose representatives formed the bicameral legislature known as Parliament.

By 1600 the decline of feudal practices was far advanced. The great nobles, decimated by the Wars of the Roses, had been brought to heel by Tudor monarchs and their ranks filled with men loyal to the crown. In fact the only nobles left, strictly speaking, were those who sat in the House of Lords. All others were commoners, and among their ranks the aristocratic pecking order ran through a great class of landholding squires, distinguished mainly by their wealth and bearing the simple titles of “esquire” and “gentleman,” as did many well-to-do townsmen. They in turn mingled freely, and often intermarried, with the classes of yeomen (small freehold farmers) and merchants.

E N G L I S H L I B E RT I E S It was to these middle classes that the Tudors looked for support and, for want of bureaucrats or a standing army, local government. Chief reliance in the English counties was on the country gen- tlemen, who usually served as officials without pay. Government, therefore, allowed a large measure of local initiative. Self-rule in the counties and towns became a habit—one that, along with the offices of justice of the peace and sheriff, English colonists took along to the New World as part of their cultural baggage.

In the making of laws, the monarch’s subjects consented through repre- sentatives in the House of Commons. Subjects could be taxed only with the consent of Parliament. By its control of the purse strings, Parliament drew other strands of power into its hands. This structure of powers served as an unwritten constitution. The Magna Carta (Great Charter) of 1215 was a statement of privileges wrested by certain nobles from the king, but it be- came part of a broader assumption that the people as a whole had rights that even the monarch could not violate.

A further safeguard of English liberty was the tradition of common law, which had developed since the twelfth century in royal courts established to


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check the arbitrary power of local nobles. Without laws to cover every detail, judges had to exercise their own ideas of fairness in settling disputes. Deci- sions once made became precedents for subsequent decisions, and over the years a body of judge-made law developed, the outgrowth more of practical experience than of abstract logic. The courts evolved the principle that peo- ple could be arrested or their goods seized only upon a warrant issued by a court and that individuals were entitled to a trial by a jury of their peers (their equals) in accordance with established rules of evidence.

E N G L I S H E N T E R P R I S E English liberties inspired a sense of personal initiative and enterprise that spawned prosperity and empire. The ranks of entrepreneurs and adventurers were constantly replenished by the younger sons of the squirearchy, cut off from the estate that the oldest son inherited according to the law of primogeniture (or firstborn). At the same time the formation of joint-stock companies spurred commercial expansion. These entrepreneurial companies were the ancestors of the modern corporation, in which stockholders, not the government, shared the risks and profits, some- times for a single venture but more and more on a permanent basis. In the late sixteenth century some of the larger companies managed to get royal charters that entitled them to monopolies in certain areas and even govern- ment powers in their outposts. Such companies would become the first in- struments of colonization.

For all the vaunted glories of English liberty and enterprise, it was not the best of times for the common people. During the late sixteenth century the “lower sort” in Britain experienced a population explosion that outstripped the ability of the economy to support so many workers. An additional strain on the population was the “enclosure” of farmlands where peasants had lived and worked. For more than two centuries, serfdom had been on the way to extinction as the feudal duties of serfs were transformed into rents and the serfs themselves into tenants. But while tenancy gave people a degree of independence, it also allowed landlords to increase demands and, as the trade in woolen products grew, to “enclose” farmlands and evict the human tenants in favor of sheep. The enclosure movement of the sixteenth century, coupled with the rising population, gave rise to the great number of beggars and rogues who peopled the literature of Elizabethan times and gained im- mortality in Mother Goose: “Hark, hark, the dogs do bark. The beggars have come to town.” The needs of this displaced peasant population, on the move throughout Great Britain, became another powerful argument for colonial expansion. The displaced poor migrated from farms to crowded towns and cities. London became a powerful magnet for vagabonds. By the seventeenth

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century the English capital was notorious for its filth, poverty, crime, and class tensions—all of which helped persuade the ruling elite to send idle and larcenous commoners abroad to settle new colonies.

PA R L I A M E N T A N D T H E S T UA RT S With the death of Elizabeth, who never married and did not give birth to an heir, the Tudor family line ran out and the throne fell to the first of the Stuarts, whose dynasty would span most of the seventeenth century, a turbulent time during which the English planted their overseas empire. In 1603 James VI of Scotland, son of the ill-fated Mary, Queen of Scots, and great-great-grandson of Henry VII, became James I of England—as Elizabeth had planned. A man of ponderous learning, James fully earned his reputation as the “wisest fool in Christen- dom.” Tall and broad-shouldered, he was bisexual, conceited, profligate, and lazy and possessed an undiplomatic tongue. He lectured the people on every topic but remained blind to English traditions and sensibilities. Whereas the Tudors had wielded absolute power through constitutional forms, James promoted the theory of divine right, by which monarchs answered only to God. Whereas the Puritans hoped to find a Presbyterian ally in their op- position to Anglican trappings, they found instead a testy autocrat who


Stuart Kings

(Left) James I, the successor to Queen Elizabeth and the first of England’s Stuart kings. (Right) Charles I in a portrait by Gerrit van Honthorst.

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promised to banish them. He even offended Anglicans, by deciding to end his cousin Elizabeth’s war with Catholic Spain.

Charles I, who succeeded his father James, in 1625, proved even more stubborn about royal power. He disbanded Parliament from 1629 to 1640 and levied taxes by decree. In the religious arena the archbishop of Canter- bury, William Laud, directed a systematic persecution of Puritans but finally overreached himself when he tried to impose Anglican worship on Presby- terian Scots. In 1638 Scotland rose in revolt, and in 1640 Charles called Parliament to raise money for the defense of his kingdom. The “Long Parlia- ment” impeached Laud instead and condemned to death the king’s chief minister. In 1642, when the king tried to arrest five members of Parliament, civil war erupted between the “Roundheads,” who backed Parliament, and the “Cavaliers,” who supported the king.

In 1646 Royalist resistance collapsed, and parliamentary forces captured the king. Parliament, however, could not agree on a permanent settlement. A dispute arose between Presbyterians and Independents (who preferred a congregational church government), and in 1648 the Independents purged the Presbyterians, leaving a “Rump Parliament” that then instigated the trial and execution of King Charles I on charges of treason.

Oliver Cromwell, the tenacious commander of the army, operated like a military dictator, ruling first through a council chosen by Parliament (the Commonwealth) and, after forcible dissolution of Parliament, as lord pro- tector (the Protectorate). Cromwell extended religious toleration to all Britons except Catholics and Anglicans, but his arbitrary governance and his stern moralistic codes provoked growing public resentment. When, af- ter his death in 1658, his son proved too weak to carry on, the army once again took control, permitted new elections for Parliament, and in 1660 supported the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, son of the martyred king.

Charles II accepted as terms of the Restoration settlement the principle that he must rule jointly with Parliament. By tact or shrewd maneuvering, he managed to hold his throne. His younger brother, the duke of York (who be- came James II upon succeeding to the throne in 1685), was less flexible. He openly avowed Catholicism and assumed the same unyielding stance as the first two Stuarts. The people could bear it so long as they expected one of his Protestant daughters, Mary or Anne, to succeed him. In 1688, however, the birth of a son who would be reared a Catholic finally brought matters to a crisis. Leaders of Parliament invited Mary and her husband, William of Orange, a Dutch prince, to assume the throne jointly, and James fled the country.

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By this “Glorious Revolution,” Parliament finally established its freedom from royal control. Under the Bill of Rights, in 1689, William and Mary gave up the royal prerogatives of suspending laws, erecting special courts, keeping a standing army, or levying taxes except by Parliament’s consent. They further agreed to hold frequent legislative sessions and allow freedom of speech in Parliament, freedom of petition to the crown, and restrictions against exces- sive bail and cruel and unusual punishments. The Act of Toleration of 1689 extended a degree of freedom of worship to all Christians except Catholics and Unitarians, although dissenters from the established church still had few political rights. In 1701 the Act of Settlement ensured Protestant succession through Queen Anne (r. 1702–1714). And by the Act of Union in 1707, Eng- land and Scotland became the United Kingdom of Great Britain.


During these eventful years all but one of Britain’s thirteen North American colonies had their start. They began as corporations rather than new countries. In 1606 King James I chartered a joint-stock enterprise called the Virginia Company, with two divisions, the First Colony of London and the Second Colony of Plymouth. The London group of investors could plant a settlement between the 34th and 38th parallels, the Plymouth group between the 41st and 45th parallels, and either between the 38th and 41st parallels, provided they kept 100 miles apart. The stockholders expected a potential return from gold and other minerals; products—such as wine, cit- rus fruits, and olive oil—that would free England from dependence on Spain; trade with the Indians; pitch, tar, potash, and other forest products needed for naval use; and perhaps a passage to east Asia. Some investors saw colonization as an opportunity to transplant the growing number of jobless vagrants from Britain to the New World. Others dreamed of finding another Aztec or Inca Empire. Few if any foresaw what the first English colony would actually become: a place to grow tobacco.

From the outset the pattern of English colonization diverged significantly from the Spanish pattern, which involved conquering highly sophisticated peoples and regulating all aspects of colonial life. While interest in America was growing, the English were already involved in planting settlements, or “plantations,” in Ireland, which the English had conquered by military force under Queen Elizabeth. Within their own pale (or limit) of settlement in Ireland, the English set about transplanting their familiar way of life insofar as possible.


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The English would apply the same pattern as they settled North America, subjugating (and converting) the Indians there as they had the Irish in Ireland. Yet in America the English settled along the Atlantic seaboard, where the na- tive populations were relatively sparse. There was no Aztec or Inca Empire to conquer. The colonists thus had to establish their own communities in a largely wilderness setting. Describing the “settlement” of the Atlantic seaboard is somewhat misleading, however, for the British colonists who arrived in the seventeenth century rarely settled in one place for long. They were migrants more than settlers, people who had been on the move in Britain and continued to pursue new opportunities in different places once they arrived in America.

V I R G I N I A The London group of the Virginia Company planted the first permanent colony in Virginia, named after Elizabeth I, “the Virgin Queen.” On May 6, 1607, three tiny ships carrying 105 men reached Chesapeake Bay

Settling the Chesapeake • 51

“Ould Virginia”

A 1624 map of Virginia by John Smith, showing Chief Powhatan in the upper left.

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after four storm-tossed months at sea. They chose a river with a northwest bend—in the hope of finding a passage to Asia—and settled about forty miles inland, to hide from marauding Spaniards.

The river they called the James and the colony, Jamestown. The seaweary colonists began building a fort, thatched huts, a storehouse, and a church. They then set to planting, but most were either townsmen unfamiliar with farming or “gentleman” adventurers who scorned manual labor. They had come expecting to find gold, friendly natives, and easy living. Instead they found disease, starvation, dissension, and death. Ignorant of woodlore, they did not know how to exploit the area’s abundant game and fish. Supplies from England were undependable, and only some effective leadership and trade with the Indians, who taught the colonists to grow maize, enabled them to survive.

The Indians of the region were loosely organized. Powhatan was the pow- erful, charismatic chief of numerous Algonquian-speaking towns in eastern Virginia, representing over 10,000 Indians. The Indians making up the so- called Powhatan Confederacy were largely an agricultural people focused on raising corn. They lived along rivers in fortified towns and resided in wood houses sheathed with bark. Chief Powhatan collected tribute from the tribes he had conquered—fully 80 percent of the corn that they grew was handed over. Despite occasional clashes with the colonists, the Indians initially adopted a stance of nervous assistance and watchful waiting. Powhatan de- veloped a lucrative trade with the colonists, exchanging corn and hides for hatchets, swords, and muskets; he realized too late that the newcomers in- tended to expropriate his lands and subjugate his people.

The colonists, as it happened, had more than a match for Powhatan in Captain John Smith, a stocky twenty-seven-year-old soldier of fortune with rare powers of leadership and self-promotion. The Virginia Com- pany, impressed by Smith’s exploits in foreign wars, had appointed him a member of the council to manage the new colony in America. It was a wise decision. Of the original 105 settlers, only 38 survived the first nine months. With the colonists on the verge of starvation, Smith imposed strict discipline and forced all to labor, declaring that “he that will not work shall not eat.” In dealing with mutinies, skirmishes, and ambushes, he imprisoned, whipped, and forced colonists to labor. Smith also bargained with the Indians and explored and mapped the Chesapeake region. Through his efforts, Jamestown survived, but Smith’s dictatorial acts did not endear him to many of the colonists.

In 1609 the Virginia Company moved to reinforce Jamestown. More colonists were dispatched, including several women. A new charter replaced


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What did the stockholders of the Virginia company hope to gain from the first two English colonies in North America? How were the first English settlements different from the Spanish settlements in North America? What were the major differences between the first colony of London and the second colony of Plymouth?

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the largely ineffective council with an all-powerful governor whose council was only advisory. The company then lured new investors and attracted new settlers with the promise of free land after seven years of labor. The company in effect had given up hope of prospering except through the sale of land, which would rise in value as the colony grew. The governor, the noble Lord De La Warr (Delaware), sent as interim governor Sir Thomas Gates. In 1609 Gates set out with a fleet of nine vessels and about 500 passengers and crew. On the way he was shipwrecked on Bermuda, where he and the other survivors win- tered in comparative ease, subsisting on fish, fowl, and wild pigs. (Their story was transformed by William Shakespeare into his play The Tempest.)

Most of the fleet did reach Jamestown, however. Some 400 settlers over- whelmed the remnant of about 80. All chance that John Smith might control things was lost when he suffered a gunpowder burn and sailed back to Eng- land. The consequence was anarchy and the “starving time” of the winter of 1609–1610, during which most of the colonists, weakened by hunger, died of disease or starvation. A prolonged drought had hindered efforts to grow


Colonial Necessities

A list of provisions recommended to new settlers by the Virginia Company in 1622.

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food. By May 1610, when Gates and his companions made their way to Jamestown on two small ships built in Bermuda, only about 60 settlers re- mained alive. During the winter of 1610, as starvation grew pervasive, des- perate colonists consumed their horses, cats, and dogs, then rats and mice. A few even ate the leather from their shoes and boots. Some fled to nearby In- dian villages, only to be welcomed with arrows. One man was executed for killing his pregnant wife and feasting on her remains.

In June 1610, as the colonists made their way down the river toward the sea, the new governor, Lord Delaware, providentially arrived with three ships and 150 men. The colonists returned to Jamestown and created new settle- ments upstream at Henrico (Richmond) and two more downstream, near the mouth of the river. It was a critical turning point for the colony, whose survival required a combination of stern measures and not a little luck. When Lord Delaware returned to England in 1611, Gates took charge of the colony and established a strict system of laws. Severe even by the standards of a ruthless age, the new code enforced a militaristic discipline needed for survival. When one laborer was caught stealing oatmeal, the authorities had a long needle thrust through his tongue, chained him to a tree, and let him starve to death as a grisly example to the community. Desperate colonists who fled to join the Indians were caught and hanged or burned at the stake. The new colonial regime also assaulted the local Indians. English colonists attacked Indian villages and destroyed their crops. One commander re- ported that they marched a captured Indian queen and her children to the river, where they “put the Children to death . . . by throwing them overboard and shooting out their brains in the water.”

Over the next seven years the Jamestown colony limped along until it gradually found a reason for being: tobacco. The plant had been grown in the West Indies for years, and smoking had become a popular habit in Eu- rope. In 1612 John Rolfe had begun to experiment with the harsh Virginia tobacco. Eventually he got hold of some seed from the more savory Spanish varieties, and by 1616 the weed had become a profitable export staple. Even though King James dismissed smoking as “loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, and dangerous to the lungs,” he swallowed his objections to the “noxious weed” when he realized how much revenue it pro- vided the monarchy. Virginia’s tobacco production soared during the seven- teenth century. Tobacco was such a profitable crop for Virginia planters that they could afford to purchase more indentured servants, thus increasing the flow of immigrants to the colony.

Meanwhile John Rolfe had made another contribution to stability by mar- rying Pocahontas, the daughter of Chief Powhatan. Pocahontas (a nickname

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usually translated as “Frisky”; her given name was Matoaka) had been a famil- iar figure in Jamestown almost from the beginning. In 1607, then only eleven, she figured in perhaps the best- known story of the settlement, her plea for the life of John Smith. Smith had gotten into trouble when he led a small group up the James River in search of a northwest passage. When the English- men trespassed on Powhatan’s territory, the Indians attacked. Smith was wounded and captured. Others in his scouting party were tortured and disemboweled. Smith was marched to Powhatan’s vil- lage, interrogated, and readied for exe- cution. At that point, according to

Smith, Pocahontas made a dramatic appeal for his life, and Powhatan eventu- ally agreed to release the foreigner in exchange for muskets, hatchets, beads, and trinkets.

Schoolchildren still learn the dramatic story of Pocahontas intervening to save Smith. Such dramatic events are magical; they inspire movies, excite our imagination, animate history—and confuse it. Pocahontas and John Smith were never in love. Moreover, the young Indian princess saved the swash- buckling Smith on more than one occasion. Then she herself was captured. In 1614 the Jamestown settlers kidnapped Pocahontas in an effort to black- mail Powhatan. As the weeks passed, however, she surprised her captors by choosing to join them. She embraced Christianity, was renamed Rebecca, and fell in love with John Rolfe. They married and in 1616 moved with their infant son, Thomas, to London. There the young princess drew excited at- tention from the royal family and curious Londoners. But only a few months after arriving, Rebecca, aged twenty, contracted a lung disease and died.

In 1618 Sir Edwin Sandys, a prominent member of Parliament, became head of the Virginia Company and instituted a series of reforms. First of all he inaugurated a new “headright” policy: anyone who bought a share in the company and could get to Virginia could have fifty acres, and fifty more for any servants. The following year the company relaxed the colony’s military regime and promised that the settlers would have the “rights of English- men,” including a representative assembly.



Shown here in European dress, by 1616 Pocahontas was known as “Lady Rebecca.”

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A new governor arrived with instructions to put the new order into ef- fect, and on July 30, 1619, the first General Assembly of Virginia, including the governor, six councilors, and twenty-two burgesses, met in the church at Jamestown and deliberated for five days, “sweating & stewing, and battling flies and mosquitoes.” It was an eventful year in two other respects. The pro- moters also saw a need to send out more wives for the men. During 1619 a ship arrived with ninety young women, who were to be sold to likely hus- bands of their own choice for the cost of transportation (about 125 pounds of tobacco). And a Dutch ship stopped by and dropped off “20 Negars,” the first Africans known to have reached English America.

The profitable tobacco trade intensified the settlers’ lust for land. They es- pecially coveted Indian fields because they had already been cleared and were ready to be planted. In 1622 the Indians, led by Opechancanough, Powhatan’s brother and successor, tried to repel the land-grabbing English. They killed one fourth of the settlers, some 350 colonists, including John Rolfe (who had returned from England). In England, John Smith denounced the Indian as- sault as a “massacre” and dismissed the “savages” as “cruel beasts” whose “brutishness” exceeded that of wild animals. Whatever moral doubts had ear- lier plagued English settlers were now swept away. The English thereafter sought to wipe out the Indian presence along their frontier.

Some 14,000 men, women, and children had migrated to Jamestown since 1607, but most of them had died; the population in 1624 stood at a precarious 1,132. Despite the initial achievements of the company, after about 1617 a handful of insiders appropriated large estates and began to monopolize the indentured workers. Some made fortunes from the to- bacco boom, but most of the thousands sent out died before they could prove themselves. In 1624 an English court dissolved the struggling Virginia Company, and Virginia became a royal colony.

The king did not renew instructions for a legislative assembly, but his gov- ernors found it impossible to rule the troublesome Virginians without one. Annual assemblies met after 1629, although they were not recognized by the crown for another ten years. After 1622 relations with the Indians continued in a state of what the governor’s council called “perpetual enmity.” The com- bination of warfare and disease decimated the Indians in Virginia. The 24,000 Algonquians who inhabited the colony in 1607 were reduced to 2,000 by 1669.

Sir William Berkeley, who arrived as Virginia’s governor in 1642, presided over the colony’s growth for most of the next thirty-five years. The turmoil of Virginia’s early days gave way to a more stable period. To- bacco prices peaked, and the large planters began to consolidate their

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economic gains through political action. They assumed key civic roles as justices of the peace and sheriffs, helped initiate internal improvements such as roads and bridges, supervised elections, and collected taxes. They also formed the able-bodied men into local militias. Despite the presence of a royal governor, the elected Virginia assembly continued to assert its sovereignty, making laws for the colony and resisting the governor’s en- croachments.

Virginia at midcentury continued to serve as a magnet for new settlers. As the sharp rise in tobacco profits leveled off, planters began to grow corn and raise cattle. The increase in the food supply helped lower mortality rates and fuel a rapid rise in population. By 1650 there were 15,000 white residents of Virginia. Many former servants became planters in their own right. Women typically improved their status through marriage. If they outlived their hus- bands—and many did—they inherited the property and often increased their wealth through second and even third marriages.

The relentless stream of new settlers into Virginia exerted constant pres- sure on Indian lands and produced unwanted economic effects. The in- crease in the number of planters spurred a dramatic rise in agricultural production. That in turn caused the cost of land to soar and the price of to- bacco to plummet. To sustain their competitive advantage, the largest planters bought up the most fertile land along the coast, thereby forcing freed servants to become tenants or claim less fertile land inland. In either case the tenants found themselves at a disadvantage. They grew dependent on planters for land and credit, and small farmers along the frontier became more vulnerable to Indian attacks.

The plight of the common folk worsened after 1660, when a restored monarchy under Charles II instituted new trade regulations for the colonies. By 1676 one fourth of the free white men in Virginia were landless. Vagabonds roamed the roads, squatting on private property, working at odd jobs, or poaching game or engaging in other petty crimes in order to survive. Alarmed by the growing social unrest, the large planters who controlled the assembly— generally ruthless and callous men—lengthened terms of indenture, passed more stringent vagrancy laws, stiffened punishments, and stripped the land- less of their political rights. Such efforts only increased social friction.

B AC O N ’ S R E B E L L I O N A variety of simmering tensions—caused by depressed tobacco prices, rising taxes, roaming livestock, and crowds of freed servants greedily eyeing Indian lands—contributed to the tangled events that have come to be labeled Bacon’s Rebellion. The roots of the revolt grew out of a festering hatred for the domineering colonial governor,


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William Berkeley. He had limited his circle of friends to the wealthiest planters, and he had granted them most of the frontier land and public of- fices. He despised commoners. The large planters who dominated the assembly levied high taxes to finance Berkeley’s regime, which in turn supported their interests at the expense of the small farmers and servants. With little nearby land available, newly freed indentured servants were forced to migrate westward in their quest for farms. Their lust for land led them to displace the Indians. When Governor Berkeley failed to support the aspiring farmers, they rebelled. The tyrannical governor expected as much. Just before the outbreak of rebellion, Berkeley had remarked in a letter: “How miserable that man is that Governes a People where six parts of seaven at least are Poore, Endebted, Discontented and Armed.”

The discontent turned to violence in 1675 when a petty squabble between a frontier planter and the Doeg Indians on the Potomac River led to the murder of the planter’s herdsman and, in turn, to retaliation by frontier militiamen, who killed ten or more Doegs and, by mistake, fourteen Susque- hannocks. Soon a force of Virginia and Maryland militiamen attacked the Susquehannocks and murdered five chieftains who had come out to negoti- ate. The enraged survivors took their revenge on frontier settlements. Scat- tered attacks continued on down to the James River, where Nathaniel Bacon’s overseer was killed.

By then, their revenge accomplished, the Susquehannocks had pulled back. What followed had less to do with a state of war than with a state of hysteria. Governor Berkeley proposed that the assembly erect a series of forts along the frontier. But that would not slake the English thirst for revenge— nor would it open new lands to settlement. Besides, it would be expensive. Some thought Berkeley was out to preserve a profitable fur trade for himself.

In 1676 Nathaniel Bacon defied Governor Berkeley’s authority by assum- ing command of a group of frontier vigilantes. The tall, slender twenty- nine-year-old Bacon, a graduate of Cambridge University, had been in Virginia only two years, but he had been well set up by an English father re- lieved to get his vain, ambitious, hot-tempered son out of the country. Later historians would praise Bacon as the “Torchbearer of the Revolution” and leader of the first struggle of common folk versus aristocrats. In part that was true. The rebellion he led was largely a battle of servants, small farmers, and even slaves against Virginia’s wealthiest planters and political leaders. But Bacon was also a rich squire’s spoiled son with a talent for trouble. It was his ruthless assaults against peaceful Indians and his desire for power and land rather than any commitment to democratic principles that sparked his conflict with the governing authorities.

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Bacon despised the Indians and resolved to kill them all. Berkeley opposed Bacon’s genocidal plan not because he liked Indians but because he wanted to protect his lucrative monopoly over the deerskin trade with the Indians. Bacon ordered the governor arrested. Berkeley’s forces resisted—but only feebly—and Bacon’s men burned Jamestown. Bacon, however, could not sa- vor the victory long; he fell ill and died of dysentery a month later.

Governor Berkeley quickly regained control; he hanged twenty-three rebels and confiscated several estates. When his men captured one of Ba- con’s closest lieutenants, Berkeley gleefully exclaimed: “I am more glad to see you than any man in Virginia. Mr. Drummond, you shall be hanged in half an hour.” For such severity the king denounced Berkeley as a “fool” and recalled him to England, where he died within a year. A royal commission made peace treaties with the remaining Indians, about 1,500 of whose de- scendants still live in Virginia on tiny reservations guaranteed them in 1677. The end result of Bacon’s Rebellion was that new lands were opened to the colonists, and the wealthy planters became more cooperative with the small farmers.

M A RY L A N D In 1634, ten years after Virginia became a royal colony, a neighboring settlement appeared on the northern shores of Chesapeake Bay. Named Maryland in honor of Queen Henrietta Maria, it was granted to Lord Baltimore by King Charles I and became the first proprietary colony— that is, it was owned by an individual, not a joint-stock company. Sir George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, had announced in 1625 his conversion to Catholicism and sought the colony as a refuge for English Catholics, who were subjected to discrimination at home. His son, Cecilius Calvert, the sec- ond Lord Baltimore, actually founded the colony.

In 1634 Calvert planted the first settlement in Maryland at St. Marys, on a small stream near the mouth of the Potomac River. Calvert brought Catholic gentlemen as landholders, but a majority of the servants were Protestants. The charter gave Calvert power to make laws with the consent of the freemen (all property holders). The first legislative assembly met in 1635 and divided into two houses in 1650, with governor and council sitting sepa- rately. This action was instigated by the predominantly Protestant freemen— largely servants who had become landholders and immigrants from Virginia. The charter also empowered the proprietor to grant huge manorial estates, and Maryland had some sixty before 1676, but the Lords Baltimore soon found that to draw settlers they had to offer them small farms. The colony was meant to rely upon mixed farming, but its fortunes, like those of Vir- ginia, soon came to depend upon tobacco.


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Far to the north of the Chesapeake Bay colonies, quite different settle- ments were emerging. The New England colonists were generally made up of middle-class families who could pay their own way across the Atlantic. In the Northeast there were relatively few indentured servants, and there was no planter elite. Most male settlers were small farmers, merchants, seamen, or fishermen. New England also became home to more women than did the southern colonies. Although its soil was not as fertile as that of the Chesa- peake and its farmers not as wealthy as the southern planters, New England was a much healthier place to settle. Because of its colder climate, the region did not foster the infectious diseases that ravaged the southern colonies. Life expectancy was much longer. During the seventeenth century only 21,000

Settling New England • 61


0 50 100 Kilometers

100 Miles50



Present-day boundary of Maryland

Original grant to Lord Baltimore



Henrico (1610)

Jamestown (1607)

St. Mary’s (1634)

Chesapeake Bay

Roanoke Island (1580s)

Delaware Bay




Riv er

York River

P otom

ac River

De law


Ri ve


Why did Lord Baltimore create Maryland? How was Maryland different from Virginia? What were the main characteristics of Maryland’s 1635 charter?

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colonists arrived in New England, compared with the 120,000 who went to the Chesapeake. But by 1700 New England’s white population exceeded that of Maryland and Virginia.

Most early New Englanders were devout Puritans, who embraced a much more rigorous faith than the Anglicans of Virginia and Maryland. In 1650, for example, Massachusetts boasted one minister for every 415 persons, compared with one minister per 3,239 persons in Virginia. The Puritans who arrived in America believed themselves to be on a divine mission to cre- ate a model society committed to the proper worship of God. In their efforts to separate themselves from a sinful England and its authoritarian Anglican bishops, New England’s zealous Puritans sought to create “holy common- wealths” that would help inspire a spiritual transformation in their home- land. In the New World these self-described “saints” could purify their churches of all Catholic and Anglican rituals, supervise one another in prac- ticing a communal faith, and enact a code of laws and a government struc- ture based on biblical principles. Such a holy settlement, they hoped, would provide a beacon of righteousness for a wicked England to emulate.

P LY M O U T H In 1620 a band of English settlers headed for Virginia strayed off course and made landfall at Cape Cod, off the coast of Massachu- setts. There they decided to establish a colony, naming it Plymouth after the English port from which they had embarked. The “Pilgrims” who estab- lished the Plymouth Plantation belonged to the most uncompromising sect of Puritans, the Separatists, who had severed all ties with the Church of Eng- land. Many Separatists had fled to Holland in 1607 to escape persecution. After ten years in the Dutch city of Leiden, they longed for English ways and the English flag. If they could not have them at home, perhaps they might transplant them to the New World.

The Leiden Separatists secured a land patent from the Virginia Company and set up a joint-stock company. In 1620, 102 men, women, and children, led by William Bradford, crammed aboard the three-masted Mayflower. Their ranks included both “saints” (people recognized as having been elected by God for salvation) and “strangers” (those yet to receive the gift of grace). The latter group included John Alden, a cooper (barrel maker), and Myles Standish, a soldier hired to organize their defenses. The stormy voy- age had led them to Cape Cod. “Being thus arrived at safe harbor, and brought safe to land,” William Bradford wrote, “they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and fu- rious ocean.” Since they were outside the jurisdiction of any organized gov- ernment, forty-one of the Pilgrim leaders entered into a formal agreement


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to abide by the laws made by leaders of their own choosing—the Mayflower Compact.

On December 26 the Mayflower reached the harbor of the place they named Plymouth and stayed there until April to give shelter and support while the Pilgrims built dwellings on the site of an abandoned Indian village. Nearly half the colonists died of exposure and disease, but friendly relations with the neighboring Wampanoag Indians proved their salvation. In the spring of 1621, the colonists met Squanto, an Indian who spoke English and showed them how to grow maize. By autumn the Pilgrims had a bumper crop of corn, a flourishing fur trade, and a supply of lumber for shipment. To celebrate, they held a harvest feast in the company of Chief Massasoit and the Wampanoags. That event provided the inspiration for what has become Thanksgiving.

In 1623 Plymouth gave up its original communal economy and stipulated that now each male settler was to provide for his family from his own land. Throughout its separate existence, until absorbed into Massachusetts in 1691, the Plymouth colony remained in the anomalous position of holding a

Settling New England • 63

New World Navigation

Sailors on a sixteenth-century oceangoing vessel navigating by the stars.

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land grant but no charter of government from any English authority. The government grew instead out of the Mayflower Compact, which was neither exactly a constitution nor a precedent for later constitutions. Rather, it was the obvious recourse of a group that had made a covenant (or agreement) to form a church and believed God had made a covenant with them to pro- vide a way to salvation. Thus the civil government grew naturally out of the church government, and the members of each were identical at the start. The


Why did European settlers first populate the Plymouth colony? How were the settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony different from those of Plymouth? What was the origin of the Rhode Island colony?

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signers of the compact at first met as the General Court, which chose the governor and his assistants (or council). Later others were admitted as mem- bers, or “freemen,” but only church members were eligible. Eventually, as the colony grew, the General Court became a body of representatives from the various towns.

M A S S AC H U S E T T S B AY The Plymouth colony’s population never rose above 7,000, and after ten years it was overshadowed by its larger neigh- bor, the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It, too, was originally intended to be a holy commonwealth made up of religious folk bound together in the harmonious worship of God and the pursuit of their “callings.” Like the Pilgrims, most of the Puritans who colonized Massachusetts Bay were Congregationalists, who formed self-governing churches with membership limited to “visible saints”—those who could demonstrate receipt of the gift of God’s grace. But unlike the Plymouth Separatists, the Puritans (who referred to themselves as the “godly”) still hoped to reform the Church of England, and therefore they were called Nonseparating Congregationalists.

In 1629 King Charles I issued a charter for the Massachusetts Bay Com- pany to a group of English Puritans led by John Winthrop, a lawyer from East Anglia animated by profound religious convictions. Winthrop, tall and strong with a long face, resolved to use the colony as a refuge for perse- cuted Puritans and as an instrument for building a “wilderness Zion” in America.

Winthrop shrewdly took advan- tage of a fateful omission in the royal charter for the Massachusetts Bay Company: the usual proviso that the company maintain its home office in England. Winthrop’s group took its charter with them, thereby transfer- ring government authority to Massa- chusetts Bay, where they hoped to ensure Puritan control. So unlike the Virginia Company, which ruled Jamestown from London, the Massa- chusetts Bay Company was self- governing.

In 1630 the Arbella, with John Winthrop and the charter aboard,

Settling New England • 65

John Winthrop

The first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, in whose vision the colony would be as “a city upon a hill.”

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embarked with six other ships for Massachusetts. In “A Modell of Christian Charity,” a lay sermon delivered on board, Winthrop told his fellow Puritans that “we must consider that we shall be a city upon a hill”—a shining exam- ple of what a godly community could be. They landed in Massachusetts, and by the end of the year seventeen ships bearing 1,000 more colonists had ar- rived. As settlers—both Puritan and non-Puritan—poured into the region, Boston became the new colony’s chief city and capital.

The Arbella migrants proved to be the vanguard of a massive movement, the Great Migration, that carried some 80,000 Britons to new settlements around the world over the next decade. Fleeing religious persecution and economic depression at home, they gravitated to Ireland, the Netherlands, and the Rhineland. But the majority traveled to the New World. They went not only to New England and the Chesapeake but also to new English settle- ments in the Caribbean.

The transfer of the Massachusetts charter, whereby an English trading company evolved into a provincial government, was a unique venture in col- onization. Under the royal charter, power in the company rested with the Massachusetts General Court, which elected the governor and the assistants. The General Court consisted of shareholders, called freemen (those who had the “freedom of the company”), but only a few besides Winthrop and his as- sistants had such status. That suited Winthrop and his friends, but then over 100 settlers asked to be admitted as freemen. Rather than risk trouble, the ruling group finally admitted 118 in 1631, stipulating that only church members could become freemen.

At first the freemen had no power except to choose “assistants,” who in turn chose the governor and deputy governor. The procedure violated provisions of the charter, but Winthrop kept the document hidden and few knew of the exact provisions. Controversy simmered until 1634, when each town sent two dele- gates to Boston to confer on matters coming before the General Court. There they demanded to see the charter, which Winthrop reluctantly produced, and they read that the power to pass laws and levy taxes rested in the General Court. Winthrop argued that the body of freemen had grown too large, but when it met, the General Court responded by turning itself into a representative body with two or three deputies to represent each town. The freemen also chose a new governor, and Winthrop did not resume the office until three years later.

A final stage in the evolution of the government, a two-house legislature, came in 1644, when, according to Winthrop, “there fell out a great business upon a very small occasion.” The “small occasion” pitted a poor widow against a well-to-do merchant over ownership of a stray sow. The General Court, being the supreme judicial as well as legislative body, was the final au- thority in the case. Popular sympathy and the deputies favored the widow,


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Why did Britons settle in the West Indies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? Keeping in mind what you have read in Chapter 1 about the colonies in the West In- dies, what products would you expect those colonies to produce? Why would those colonies have had strategic importance to the British?

but the assistants disagreed. The case was finally settled out of court, but the assistants feared being outvoted on some greater occasion. They therefore secured a separation into two houses, and Massachusetts thenceforth had a bicameral assembly, the deputies and assistants sitting apart, with all deci- sions requiring a majority in each house.

Settling New England • 67


JAMAICA (Br. 1655)

TOBAGO (Fr. 1677, Br. 1763, Fr. 1783)

TRINIDAD (Br. 1802)




HAITI (Fr. 1640, 1697)





BELIZE (Br. 1648)



Inset area















THE WEST INDIES, 1600–1800


0 300 Kilometers150

150 300 Miles


Port Royal (Kingston)





ANTIGUA (Br. 1632)

NEVIS (Br. 1632)



DOMINICA (Fr. 1632, Br. 1763)


ST. VINCENT (Br. 1763)

GRENADA (Br. 1763)


BARBADOS (Br. 1625)

0 100 200 Miles

0 100 200 Kilometers

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Thus over a period of fourteen years, the Massachusetts Bay Company, a trading corporation, evolved into the governing body of a commonwealth. Membership in a Puritan church replaced the purchase of stock as the means of becoming a freeman, which was to say a voter. The General Court, like Par- liament, became a representative body of two houses: the House of Assistants corresponding roughly to the House of Lords and the House of Deputies cor- responding to the House of Commons. The charter remained unchanged, but practice under the charter was quite different from the original expectation.

It is hard to exaggerate the crucial role played by John Winthrop in estab- lishing the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He had been a man of limited means and little stature who nonetheless, as the new colony’s godly governor, sum- moned up extraordinary leadership abilities. A devout pragmatist who often governed as an enlightened despot, he steadfastly sought to steer a middle course between clerical absolutists and Separatist zealots. Winthrop firmly believed that God had chosen him to create a godly community in the New World. His stern charisma and his indefatigable faith in the ideal of Christ- ian republicanism enabled him to fend off Indian attacks and antinomian insurgencies as well as political challenges. He also thwarted the efforts of powerful foes in England who challenged the infant colony’s legality. An iron-souled man governing a God-saturated community, John Winthrop provided the foundation not only for a colony but also for major elements in America’s cultural and political development.

R H O D E I S L A N D More by accident than design, Massachusetts became the staging area for the rest of New England as new colonies grew out of reli- gious quarrels within the fold. Young Roger Williams, who had arrived from England in 1631, was among the first to cause problems, precisely because he was the purest of Puritans, troubled by the failure of Massachusetts Noncon- formists to repudiate the Church of England entirely. Whereas John Winthrop cherished authority, Roger Williams championed liberty. Unlike the Puritans and the Pilgrims, who asserted that God created a covenant with each congregation, Williams came to believe that the true covenant was between God and the individual. He was one of a small but growing number of Puritans who began to question the seeming contradiction at the heart of Calvinism: if one’s salvation depends solely upon God’s grace and one can do nothing to affect it, why bother to have churches at all? Why not endow individuals with the authority to exercise their free will in worshipping God?

Williams held a brief pastorate in Salem, then moved to Separatist Plymouth. Governor Bradford found Williams to be gentle and kind in his personal relations as well as a charismatic speaker. But he charged that


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Williams “began to fall into strange opinions,” specifically, questioning the king’s right to confiscate Indian lands. Williams then returned to Salem. Williams’s belief that a true church must include only those who had re- ceived God’s gift of grace led him eventually to the conclusion that no true church was possible, unless perhaps consisting of his wife and himself.

In Williams’s view the purity of the church required complete separation of church and state and freedom from coercion in matters of faith. “Forced wor- ship,” he declared, “stinks in God’s nostrils.” Williams therefore questioned the

Settling New England • 69

The Church of England

Religious quarrels within the Puritan fold led to the founding of new colonies. In this seventeenth-century cartoon, four Englishmen, each representing a party in opposition to the established church, are shown fighting over the Bible.

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authority of government to impose an oath of allegiance and rejected laws im- posing religious conformity. Such views were too radical even for the progres- sive church of Salem, which finally removed him, whereupon Williams retorted so hotly against “ulcered and gangrened” churches that the General Court in 1635 banished him to England. Governor Winthrop, however, permitted Williams to slip away with his family and a few followers and seek shelter among the Narragansett Indians, whom he had befriended. In 1636 Williams established the town of Providence at the head of Narragansett Bay, the first permanent settlement in Rhode Island and the first in America to legislate freedom of religion. There he welcomed all who fled religious persecution in Massachusetts Bay. For their part, Boston officials came to view Rhode Island as a refuge for rogues.

Anne Hutchinson quarreled with the Puritan leaders for different reasons. The articulate, strong-willed, intelligent wife of a prominent merchant, she raised thirteen children, served as a healer and midwife, and hosted meet- ings in her Boston home to discuss sermons. Soon, however, the discussions turned into large forums for Hutchinson’s commentaries on religious mat- ters. She claimed to have experienced direct revelations from the Holy Spirit that convinced her that only two or three Puritan ministers actually preached the appropriate “covenant of grace.” The others, she claimed, were godless hypocrites, deluded and incompetent; the “covenant of works” they promoted led people to believe that good conduct would ensure salvation. Eventually Hutchinson claimed to know which of her neighbors had been saved and which were damned.

Hutchinson’s beliefs were provocative for several reasons. Puritan theol- ogy was grounded in the Calvinist doctrine that people could be saved only by God’s grace rather than through their own willful actions. But Puritanism in practice also insisted that ministers were necessary to interpret God’s will for the people so as to “prepare” them for the possibility of their being se- lected for salvation. In challenging the very legitimacy of the ministerial community as well as the hard-earned assurances of salvation enjoyed by current church members, Hutchinson was undermining the stability of an al- ready fragile social system. Moreover, her critics likened her claim of direct revelations from the Holy Spirit to the antinomian heresy, a subversive belief that one is freed from obeying the moral law by one’s own faith and by God’s grace. Unlike Roger Williams, Hutchinson did not advocate religious individ- ualism. Instead, she sought to eradicate the concept of “grace by good works” infecting Puritan orthodoxy. She did not represent a forerunner of modern feminism or freedom of conscience. Instead, she was a proponent of a theocratic extremism that threatened the solidarity of the commonwealth.


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What made the situation worse in the male-dominated society of seven- teenth-century New England was that a woman was making such charges and assertions. Mrs. Hutchinson had both offended authority and sanc- tioned a disruptive self-righteousness.

A pregnant Hutchinson was hauled before the General Court in 1637, and for two days she sparred on equal terms with the presiding magistrates and testifying ministers. Her skillful deflections of the charges and her ability to cite chapter-and-verse biblical defenses of her actions led an exasperated Governor Winthrop at one point to explode, “We do not mean to discourse with those of your sex.” He found Hutchinson to be “a woman of haughty and fierce carriage, of a nimble wit and active spirit, and a very voluble tongue.” As the trial continued, an overwrought Hutchinson was eventually lured into convicting herself by claiming direct divine inspiration—blasphemy in the eyes of orthodox Puritans.

Banished in 1638 as a leper not fit for “our society,” Hutchinson settled with her family and a few followers on an island south of Providence, near what is now Portsmouth, Rhode Island. But the arduous journey had taken its toll. Hutchinson grew sick, and her baby was stillborn, leading her critics in Massachusetts to assert that the “monstrous birth” was God’s way of pun- ishing her for her sins. Hutchinson’s spirits never recovered. After her husband’s death, in 1642, she moved to New York City, then under Dutch ju- risdiction, and the following year she and five of her children were massa- cred and scalped during an Indian attack. Her fate, wrote a vindictive Winthrop, was “a special manifestation of divine justice.”

Thus the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, the smallest in America, grew up in Narragansett Bay as a refuge for dissenters who agreed that the state had no right to coerce religious belief. In 1640 they formed a confederation and in 1643 secured their first charter of incorpora- tion as Providence Plantations. Roger Williams lived until 1683, an active and beloved citizen of the commonwealth he founded, in a society that, dur- ing his lifetime at least, lived up to his principles of religious freedom and a government based on the consent of the people.

C O N N E C T I C U T Connecticut had a more orthodox beginning than Rhode Island. In 1633 a group from Plymouth settled in the Connecticut River valley. Three years later Thomas Hooker led three entire church con- gregations from Massachusetts Bay to the Connecticut River towns of Wethersfield, Windsor, and Hartford.

For a year the settlers in the river towns were governed under a commis- sion from the Massachusetts General Court, but the inhabitants organized

Settling New England • 71

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the self-governing colony of Connecticut in 1637. Two years later the Con- necticut General Court adopted the Fundamental Orders, a series of laws that provided for a government like that of Massachusetts, except that voting was not limited to church members. New Haven had by then emerged as a major settlement within Connecticut. A group of English Puritans, led by their min- ister and a wealthy merchant, had migrated first to Massachusetts and then, seeking a place to establish themselves in commerce, to New Haven, on Long Island Sound, in 1638. The New Haven colony became the most rigorously Puritan of all. Like all the other offshoots of Massachusetts, it lacked a charter and for a time maintained a self-governing independence. In 1662 it was ab- sorbed into Connecticut under the terms of that colony’s first royal charter.

N E W H A M P S H I R E A N D M A I N E To the north of Massachusetts, most of what are now the states of New Hampshire and Maine was granted in 1622 by the Council for New England to Sir Ferdinando Gorges and Cap- tain John Mason and their associates. In 1629 Mason and Gorges divided their territory at the Piscataqua River, Mason taking the southern part, which he named New Hampshire, and Gorges taking the northern part, which became the province of Maine. In the 1630s Puritan immigrants began fil- tering in, and in 1638 the Reverend John Wheelwright, one of Anne Hutchinson’s group, founded Exeter, New Hampshire. Maine at that time consisted of a few scattered settlements, mostly fishing stations.

An ambiguity in the Massachusetts charter brought the proprietorships into doubt, however. The charter set the boundary three miles north of the Merrimack River, and the Bay Colony took that to mean north of the river’s northernmost reach, which gave it a claim to nearly the entire Gorges- Mason grant. During the English civil strife in the early 1640s, Massachu- setts took over New Hampshire and in the 1650s extended its authority to the scattered settlements in Maine. This led to lawsuits with the heirs of the proprietors, and in 1678 English judges and the Privy Council decided against Massachusetts in both cases. In 1679 New Hampshire became a royal colony, but Massachusetts bought out the Gorges heirs and continued to control Maine as its proprietor. A new Massachusetts charter in 1691 finally incorporated Maine into Massachusetts.


The English settlers who poured into New England found not a “virgin land” of uninhabited wilderness but a developed region populated by over 100,000 Indians of diverse tribes. The white colonists considered the natives


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wild pagans incapable of fully exploiting nature’s bounty. In their view, God meant for the Puritans to take over Indian lands as a reward for their piety and hard work. The town meeting of Milford, Connecticut, for example, voted in 1640 that the land was God’s “and that the earth is given to the Saints; voted, we are the Saints.”

Indians coped with the newcomers in different ways. Many resisted, oth- ers sought accommodation, and still others grew dependent on European culture. In some areas, Indians survived and even flourished in concert with European settlers over long periods of time and with varying degrees of ad- vantage. In other areas, land-hungry whites quickly displaced or decimated the native populations. The interactions of the two cultures involved misun- derstandings, the mutual need for trade and adaptation, and sporadic outbreaks of epidemics and warfare.

In general, the English colonists adopted a strategy for dealing with the Native American quite different from that of the French and the Dutch. Mer- chants from France and the Netherlands were preoccupied with exploiting the fur trade. To do so, they built permanent trading outposts and established amicable relations with the far more numerous Indians in the region. In con- trast, the English colonists were more interested in pursuing their “God-given” right to fish and farm. They were quite willing to manipulate and exploit Indi- ans rather than deal with them on an equal footing. Their goal was subordina- tion rather than reciprocity.

T H E N E W E N G L A N D I N D I A N S In Maine the Abenakis were pri- marily hunters and gatherers dependent upon the natural offerings of the land and waters. The men did the hunting and fishing; the women retrieved the dead game and prepared it for eating. Women were also responsible for setting up and breaking camp, gathering fruits and berries, and raising the children. The Algonquian tribes of southern New England—the Massachu- setts, Nausets, Narragansets, Pequots, and Wampanoags—were more horti- cultural. Their highly developed agricultural system centered on three primary crops: corn, beans, and pumpkins.

The Indians’ dependence on nature for their survival shaped their religious beliefs. They believed in a Creator who provided them with the land and its bountiful resources. Many rituals, ceremonies, and taboos acknowledged their dependence upon the gods. Rain dances, harvest festivals, and sacrificial offer- ings bespoke a culture whose fate was dependent upon supernatural powers.

Initially the coastal Indians helped the white settlers develop a subsistence economy. They taught the Europeans how to plant corn and use fish for fertilizer. They also developed a flourishing trade with the newcomers, ex- changing furs for manufactured goods and “trinkets.” The various Indian

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tribes of New England often fought among themselves, usually over disputed land. Had they been able to forge a solid alliance, they would have been better able to resist the encroachments of white settlers. As it was, they were not only fragmented but also vulnerable to the infectious diseases carried on board the ships transporting European settlers to the New World. Epidemics of smallpox soon devastated the Indian population, leaving the coastal areas “a widowed land.” Between 1610 and 1675 the Abenakis declined from 12,000 to 3,000 and the southern New England tribes from 65,000 to 10,000. Governor William Bradford of Plymouth reported that the Indians “fell sick of the smallpox, and died most miserably.” By the hundreds they died “like rotten sheep.”

T H E P E Q U O T WA R Indians who survived the epidemics and refused to yield their lands were often dislodged by force. In 1636 settlers in Massachu- setts accused a Pequot of murdering a colonist. Joined by Connecticut colonists, they exacted their revenge by setting fire to a Pequot village on the Mystic River. As the Indians fled their burning huts, the Puritans shot and killed them—men, women, and children. In less than an hour, all but seven escapees were dead.

Sassacus, the Pequot chief, organized the survivors among his followers and attacked the whites. During the Pequot War of 1637, the colonists and their Narragansett allies indiscriminately killed hundreds of Pequots in their village near West Mystic, in the Connecticut River valley. The magisterial Puritan minister Cotton Mather later described the slaughter as a “sweet sac- rifice” and “gave the praise thereof to God.”

Only a few colonists regretted the massacre. Roger Williams warned that the lust for land would become “as great a God with us English as God Gold was with the Spanish.” With poignant clarity, Pequot survivors recognized the motives of the English settlers: “We see plainly that their chiefest desire is to deprive us of the privilege of our land, and drive us to our utter ruin.” In- deed, the colonists captured most of the surviving Pequots and sold them into slavery in Bermuda. Under the terms of the Treaty of Hartford (1638), the Pequot Nation was declared dissolved.

K I N G P H I L I P ’ S WA R After the Pequot War the prosperous fur trade contributed to peaceful relations between whites and the remaining Indians, but the relentless growth of the New England colonies and the decline of the beaver population began to reduce the eastern tribes to relative poverty. The colonial government repeatedly encroached upon Indian settlements, forc- ing them to acknowledge English laws and customs. At the same time that colonial leaders expropriated Indian lands, Puritan missionaries sought to


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convert the tribes to Christianity. Hundreds of converts settled in special “praying Indian” towns. By 1675 the natives and settlers had come to know each other well—and fear each other deeply.

The era of fairly peaceful coexistence that began with the Treaty of Hart- ford came to an end during the last quarter of the seventeenth century. In 1675 Philip (Metacom), chief of the Wampanoags and the son of Massasoit, who had helped the original Pilgrims, forged an alliance among the remain- ing tribes of southern New England. The spark that set New England ablaze was the murder of John Sassamon, a “praying Indian” who had attended Har- vard and served as a British spy. He had warned the colonists that Metacom was planning to attack them. The officials of the Plymouth colony tried and executed three Wampanoags for the murder of Sassamon. In retaliation the Indians attacked and burned colonial settlements throughout Massachusetts.

Both sides suffered incredible losses in what came to be called King Philip’s War or Metacomet’s War. The fighting killed more people and caused more

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Pequot Fort

The Puritans and their Indian allies, the Narragansetts, mount a ferocious attack on the Pequots at Mystic, Connecticut (1637).

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destruction in New England in proportion to the population than any Amer- ican conflict since. Bands of Indian warriors assaulted thirty towns. Within a year the Indians were threatening Boston itself. Finally, however, depleted supplies and staggering casualties wore down Indian resistance. Philip’s wife and son were captured and sold into slavery. Some of the tribes surrendered, a few succumbed to disease, while others fled to the west. Those who re- mained were forced to resettle in villages supervised by white settlers. Philip initially escaped, only to be hunted down and killed in 1676. The victorious colonists marched Philip’s severed head on a pike to Plymouth, where it sat atop a pole for twenty years, a gruesome reminder of the British determina- tion to assert control over the Indians. King Philip’s War devastated the Na- tive American culture in New England. Combat deaths, deportations, and flight cut the region’s Indian population in half. Military victory also enabled the Puritan authorities to increase their political, economic, legal, and reli- gious control over the 9,000 Indians who remained.


By 1640 English settlers in New England and around Chesapeake Bay had established two great beachheads on the Atlantic coast, with the Dutch colony of New Netherland in between. After 1640, however, the struggle between king and Parliament distracted attention from colonization, and migration dwindled to a trickle for more than twenty years. During the English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan dictatorship, the strug- gling colonies were left pretty much to their own devices, especially in New England, where English Puritans saw little need to intervene.

In 1643 four of the New England colonies—Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven—formed the New England Confederation to provide joint defense against the Dutch, French, and Indians. Two commis- sioners from each colony met annually to transact business. In some ways the confederation behaved like a sovereign power. It made treaties, and in 1653 it declared war against the Dutch, who were supposedly inciting the Indians to attack Connecticut. Massachusetts, far from the scene of trouble, failed to co- operate, greatly weakening the confederation. But the commissioners contin- ued to meet annually until 1684, when Massachusetts lost its charter.

Virginia and Maryland remained almost as independent as New England. At the behest of Governor William Berkeley, the Virginia burgesses in 1649 denounced the execution of King Charles and recognized his son, Charles II, as the lawful king. In 1652, however, the assembly yielded to parliamentary commissioners and overruled the governor. In return for the surrender, the


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commissioners let the assembly choose its own council and governor, and the colony grew rapidly in population during its years of independent govern- ment, some of the growth coming from the arrival of Royalists, who found a friendly haven in Virginia, despite its capitulation to the English Puritans.

The parliamentary commissioners who won the submission of Virginia proceeded to Maryland where the proprietary governor faced particular diffi- culties with his Protestant majority, largely Puritan but including some earlier refugees from Anglican Virginia. At the governor’s suggestion the as- sembly had passed, and the proprietor had accepted, the Maryland Toleration Act of 1649, an assurance that Puritans would not be molested in the practice of their religion. In 1654 the commissioners revoked the Toleration Act and deprived Lord Baltimore of his government rights, though not of his lands and revenues. Still, the more extreme Puritan elements were dissatisfied, and a brief clash in 1654 brought civil war to Maryland and led to the depos- ing of the governor. But Oliver Cromwell took the side of Lord Baltimore and restored his full rights in 1657, whereupon the Toleration Act was reinstated. The act deservedly stands as a landmark to human liberty, albeit enacted more out of expediency than conviction.

Cromwell let the colonies go their own way, but he was not indifferent to Britain’s North American empire. He fought trade wars with the Dutch, and his navy harassed England’s traditional enemy, Catholic Spain, in the Caribbean. In 1655 a British force wrested Jamaica from the Spaniards, thereby improving the odds for English privateers and pirates who pillaged Spanish ships.

The Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 led to an equally painless restoration of previous governments in the colonies. The process involved scarcely any change since little had changed under Cromwell. Immigration rapidly expanded the populations in Virginia and Maryland. Fears of reprisals against Puritan New England proved unfounded, at least for the time being. Agents hastily dispatched by the colonies won reconfirmation of the Massachusetts charter in 1662 and the very first royal charters for Con- necticut and Rhode Island in 1662 and 1663. All three retained their status as self-governing corporations. Plymouth still had no charter, but it went un- molested. New Haven, however, disappeared as a separate entity, absorbed into the colony of Connecticut.


The Restoration of Charles II in 1660 revived interest in colonial expan- sion. Within twelve years the English would conquer New Netherland, settle Carolina, and very nearly fill out the shape of the colonies. In the middle

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region formerly claimed by the Dutch, four new colonies sprang into being: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Without exception the new colonies were proprietary, awarded by the king to men who had re- mained loyal or had brought about his restoration or, in one case, to whom he was indebted. In 1663, for example, he granted Carolina to eight promi- nent allies, who became lords proprietors of the region.

N O RT H C A R O L I N A Carolina was from the start made up of two widely separated areas of settlement, which finally became separate colonies. The northernmost part, long called Albemarle, had been settled in the 1650s by stragglers who had drifted southward from Virginia. For half a century, Albemarle remained a remote scattering of settlers along the shores of Albe- marle Sound, isolated from Virginia by the Dismal Swamp and lacking easy access for oceangoing vessels. Albemarle had no governor until 1664, no as- sembly until 1665, and not even a town until a group of French Huguenots founded the village of Bath in 1704.

S O U T H C A R O L I N A The eight lords proprietors (owners) to whom the king had given Carolina neglected Albemarle from the outset and fo- cused on more promising sites to the south. They recruited seasoned British planters from Barbados to replicate in South Carolina the West Indian sugar-plantation system based on African slave labor. The first British colonists arrived in South Carolina in 1669 at Charles Town (later named Charleston). Over the next twenty years, half the British colonists came from Barbados.

The government of South Carolina rested upon one of the most curious documents of colonial history, the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, drawn up by one of the proprietors, Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, with the help of his secretary, the philosopher John Locke. Its cumbersome frame of government and its provisions for an elaborate nobility had little effect in the colony except to encourage a practice of large land grants. From the be- ginning, however, smaller headrights were given to every immigrant who could afford the cost of transit. The most enticing provision was a grant of religious toleration, designed to encourage immigration, which gave South Carolina a greater degree of indulgence (extending even to Jews and “heathens”) than England or any other colony except Rhode Island and, once it was established, Pennsylvania. South Carolina became a separate royal colony in 1719. North Carolina remained under the proprietors’ rule for ten more years, until they transferred their governing rights to the British crown.


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T H E S O U T H E R N I N D I A N T R A D E The English proprietors of South Carolina wanted the colony to focus on producing commercial crops (staples). Such production took time to develop, however. Land had to be cleared and grubbed, crops planted and harvested. These activities required laborers. Some Carolina planters brought enslaved Africans and indentured servants with them. But many more workers were needed, yet slaves and servants were expensive. The quickest way to raise capital in the early years of South Carolina’s development was through trade with the Indians.

In the late seventeenth century, English merchants—mostly illiterate ad- venturers—began traveling southward from Virginia into the Piedmont re- gion of Carolina, where they developed a prosperous exchange with the Catawba Indians. By 1690 traders from Charles Town, South Carolina, had made their way up the Savannah River to arrange deals with the Cherokees,

Settling the Carolinas • 79


0 100 200 Kilometers

100 200 Miles


St. Augustine (Spanish)


Charles Town






Roanoke Island

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How were the Carolina colonies created? What were the impedi- ments to settling North Carolina? How did the lord proprietors settle South Carolina? What were the major items traded by set- tlers in South Carolina?

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Creeks, and Chickasaws. Thus between 1699 and 1715 Carolina exported an average of 54,000 deerskins per year. Europeans transformed the valuable hides into bookbindings, gloves, belts, hats, and work aprons. The voracious demand for the soft skins almost exterminated the deer population.

The growing trade with the English exposed the Indians to contagious diseases that decimated the population. Commercial activity also entwined the Indians in a dependent relationship that would prove disastrous to their traditional way of life. Eager to receive more finished goods, weapons, and ammunition, the Indians became pliable trading partners, easily manipu- lated by wily English entrepreneurs and government officials. The English traders began providing the Indians with firearms and rum as incentives to persuade them to capture rivals to be sold as slaves.

While colonists themselves captured and enslaved Indians, the Westos, Creeks, and most other tribes willingly captured other Indians and drove them to the coast to be exchanged for British trade goods, guns, and rum. Colonists, in turn, put some of the Indian captives to work on their planta- tions. But because Indian captives often ran away, the traders preferred to ship the enslaved Indians to New York, Boston, and the West Indies and im- port enslaved Africans to work in the Carolinas.


The Broiling of Their Fish Over the Flame

In this drawing by John White, reproduced in an engraving by Theodor de Bry, Algonquian men in North Carolina broil fish, a dietary staple of coastal societies.

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The complex profitability of Indian captives prompted a frenzy of slaving activity. Slave traders turned Indian tribes against one another in order to ensure a continuous supply of captives. As many as 50,000 Indians, most of them women and children, were sold as slaves in Charles Town between 1670 and 1715. More Indians were exported during that period than Africans were imported. Thousands more captured Indians circulated through such New England ports as Boston and Salem. Although the South Carolina proprietors in England expressly prohibited the enslavement of Indians, the traders paid no attention. The burgeoning trade in Indian slaves triggered bitter struggles between tribes, gave rise to unprecedented colonial warfare, and spawned massive internal migrations across the south- ern colonies.

During the last quarter of the seventeenth century, the trade in Indian slaves spread across the entire Southeast. Slave raiding became the region’s single most important economic activity and a powerful weapon in Britain’s global conflict with France and Spain. During the early eighteenth century, Indians equipped with British weapons and led by English soldiers crossed into Spanish territory in south Georgia and north Florida. They destroyed thirteen Spanish missions, killed several hundred Indians and Spaniards, and enslaved over 300 Indian men, women, and children. By 1710 the Florida tribes were on the verge of extinction. In 1708, when the total population of

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Cherokee Chiefs

A contemporary print depicting seven chiefs of the Cherokee Indians who had been taken from Carolina to England in 1730.

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South Carolina was 9,580, includ- ing 2,900 Africans, there were 1,400 enslaved Indians.

The continuing Indian trade led to escalating troubles. Fears of slave raids disrupted the planting cycle in Indian villages. Some tribes fled the South altogether. In 1712 the Tuscaroras of North Carolina attacked German and English colonists who had en- croached upon their land. North Carolina authorities appealed to South Carolina for aid, and the colony, eager for more slaves, dis- patched two expeditions made up mostly of Indian allies—Yamasees, Cherokees, Creeks, and Catawbas— led by whites. In 1713 they de- stroyed a Tuscarora town, exe- cuted 162 male warriors, and took 392 women and children

captive for sale in Charles Town. The surviving Tuscaroras fled north, where they joined the Iroquois Confederacy.

The Tuscarora War led to more conflict. The Yamasees felt betrayed when white traders paid them less for their Tuscarora captives than they wanted. What made this shortfall so acute was that the Yamasees owed debts to traders totaling 100,000 deerskins—almost five years worth of hunting. To recover their debts, white traders cheated Yamasees, confiscated their lands, and began enslaving their women and children. In April 1715 the enraged Ya- masees attacked coastal plantations and killed over 100 whites. Their vengeful assaults continued for months, aided by Creeks. Most of the white traders were killed, including one who had pine splinters shoved under his skin and then lit. Whites throughout the low country of South Carolina panicked; hundreds fled to Charles Town. The governor mobilized all white and black males to defend the colony. Other colonies supplied weapons. But it was not until the governor persuaded the Cherokees (with the inducement of many gifts) to join them against the Yamasees and Creeks that the Yamasee War ended—in the spring of 1716. The defeated Yamasees fled to Spanish- controlled Florida. By then some 400 whites had been killed and dozens of


A War Dance

The Westo Indians of Georgia, pictured here doing a war dance, were among the first Native Americans to obtain firearms and used this advantage to enslave Indians throughout Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas.

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plantations destroyed and abandoned. To prevent another tragic conflict, the colonial government outlawed all private trading with Indians. Commerce between whites and Indians could now occur only through a colonial agency created to end abuses and shift activity from slaving to deerskins.

The end of the Yamasee War did not stop infighting among the Indians, however. For the next ten years or so the Creeks and Cherokees engaged in a costly blood feud, much to the delight of the English. One Carolinian ex- plained that their challenge was to figure “how to hold both [tribes] as our friends, for some time, and assist them in cutting one another’s throats with- out offending either. This is the game we intend to play if possible.” The French played the same brutal game, doing their best to excite hatred be- tween the Choctaws and the Chickasaws. Between 1700 and 1730 the Indian population in the Carolinas dwindled from 15,000 to just 4,000.


N E W N E T H E R L A N D B E C O M E S N E W YO R K King Charles II re- solved early to pluck out that old thorn in the side of the English colonies: New Netherland. The Dutch colony was older than New England, having been planted when the two Protestant powers allied in opposition to Catholic Spain. The Dutch East India Company (organized in 1602) had hired an English captain, Henry Hudson, to seek the elusive passage to China. Sailing along the upper coast of North America in 1609, Hudson had discovered Delaware Bay and explored the river named for him, venturing 160 miles to a point probably beyond what is now Albany, where he and a group of Mohawks began a lasting trade relationship between the Dutch and the Iroquois Nations. In 1610 the Dutch established fur-trading posts on Manhattan Island and upriver at Fort Orange (later Albany). In 1626 Governor Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan from the resident Indians, and a Dutch fort appeared at the lower end of the island. The village of New Amsterdam, which grew up around the fort, became the capital of New Netherland and developed into the rollicking commercial New World pow- erhouse. Unlike their Puritan counterparts in Massachusetts Bay, the Dutch in New Amsterdam were preoccupied more with profits and freedoms than with piety and restrictions. They embraced free enterprise and ethnic and religious diversity.

Dutch settlements gradually dispersed in every direction in which furs might be found. In 1638 a Swedish trading company established Fort

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Christina at the site of present-day Wilmington, Delaware, and scattered a few hundred settlers up and down the Delaware River. The Dutch, at the time allied with the Swedes in the Thirty Years’ War, made no move to chal- lenge the claim until 1655, when a force outnumbering the entire Swedish colony subjected them without bloodshed to the rule of New Netherland. The chief contribution of the short-lived New Sweden to American culture was the idea of the log cabin, which the Swedes and a few Finnish settlers had brought from the woods of Scandinavia.

Like the French, the Dutch were interested mainly in the fur trade rather than agricultural settlements. In 1629, however, the Dutch West India Com- pany (organized in 1623) decided that it needed a mass of settlers to help protect the colony’s “front door” at the mouth of the Hudson River. It pro- vided that any stockholder might obtain a large estate (a patroonship) if he peopled it with fifty adults within four years. The “patroon” was obligated to supply cattle, tools, and buildings. His tenants, in turn, paid him rent, used his gristmill, gave him first option to purchase surplus crops, and submitted to a court he established. It amounted to transplanting the feudal manor to the New World, and it met with as little luck as similar efforts in Maryland and South Carolina. Volunteers for serfdom were hard to find when there was land to be had elsewhere; most settlers took advantage of the company’s provision that one could have as farms (bouweries) all the lands one could improve.

The colony’s government was under the almost absolute control of a gov- ernor sent out by the Dutch West India Company. The governors were mostly stubborn autocrats, either corrupt or inept, and especially clumsy at Indian relations. They depended on a small army garrison for defense, and the inhabitants (including a number of English on Long Island), were hardly devoted to the Dutch government. New Amsterdam was by far the most di- verse of the American colonies. Its residents included Swedes, Norwegians, Spaniards, Sephardic Jews, free blacks, English, Germans, and Finns—as well as Dutch. The polyglot colonists prized their liberties and lived in a smolder- ing state of near mutiny against the colony’s governors. In fact, in 1664 they showed almost total indifference when Governor Peter Stuyvesant called them to arms against a threatening British fleet. Almost defenseless, old sol- dier Stuyvesant blustered and stomped about on his wooden leg but finally surrendered without firing a shot and stayed on quietly at his farm in what became the colony of New York.

The plan of conquest had been hatched by the king’s brother, the duke of York, later King James II. As lord high admiral and an investor in the African trade, he had already harassed Dutch shipping and forts in Africa. When he


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and his advisers counseled that New Netherland could easily be conquered, Charles II simply granted the region to his brother as proprietor and permit- ted the hasty gathering of an invasion force, and the English thus transformed New Amsterdam into New York and Fort Orange into Albany. The Dutch, however, left a permanent imprint on the land and the language: the Dutch vernacular faded, but place-names such as Block Island, Wall Street (the origi- nal wall being for protection against Indians), and Broadway (Breede Wegh) remained, along with family names like Rensselaer, Roosevelt, and Van Buren. The Dutch presence lingered, too, in the Dutch Reformed Church; in words like boss, cookie, crib, snoop, stoop, spook, and kill (for “creek”); and in the leg- endary Santa Claus and in Washington Irving’s Rip van Winkle.

Even more important to the development of the American colonies was New Netherland’s political principles, as embodied in the formal document transferring governance of the colony from the Dutch to the British. Called

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Castello Plan of New Amsterdam

A map of New Amsterdam in 1660, shortly before the English took the colony from the Dutch and christened it New York.

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the Articles of Capitulation, the document provided a guarantee of individ- ual rights unparalleled in the colonies. The articles, which endorsed free trade, religious liberty, and local political representation, were incorporated into the New York City Charter of 1686 and thereafter served as a bench- mark for disputes with Britain over colonial rights.

T H E I R O Q U O I S L E AG U E One of the most significant effects of European settlement in North America during the seventeenth century was the intensification of warfare among Indian peoples. The same combination of forces that decimated the Indian populations of New England and the Carolinas affected the tribes around New York City and the lower Hudson Valley. Dissension among the Indians and susceptibility to infectious disease left them vulnerable to exploitation by whites and other Indians.

In the interior of New York, however, a different situation arose. There the tribes of the Iroquois (an Algonquian term signifying “Snake” or “Terrifying Man”) forged an alliance so strong that the outnumbered Dutch and, later, English traders were forced to work with the Indians in exploiting the lucra- tive fur trade. By the early 1600s some fifty sachems (chiefs) governed the 12,000 members of the Iroquois League, or Iroquois Confederacy. The sachems made decisions for all the villages and mediated tribal rivalries and dissension within the confederacy.


Wampum Belt

The diamond shapes at the center of this “covenant chain” belt indicate commu- nity alliances. Wampum belts such as this one were often used to certify treaties or record transactions.

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When the Iroquois began to deplete the local game during the 1640s, they used firearms supplied by their Dutch trading partners to seize the Canadian hunting grounds of the neighboring Hurons and Eries. During the so-called Beaver Wars the Iroquois defeated the western tribes and thereafter hunted the beaver in the region to extinction.

Iroquois men were proud, ruthless warriors. Participation in a war party served as the crucial rite of passage for young men. They fought opponents to gain status or ease the grief caused by the deaths of friends and relatives. Their skill and courage in battle determined their social status. A warrior’s success was measured not only by his fighting prowess but also by his ability to take prisoners and bring them back alive for adoption or ritualistic execution.

During the second half of the seventeenth century, the relentless search for furs and captives led Iroquois war parties to range far across what is to- day eastern North America. They gained control over a huge area from the St. Lawrence River to Tennessee and from Maine to Michigan. The Iroquois’s wars helped reorient the political relationships in the whole eastern half of the continent, especially in the area from the Ohio River valley northward across the Great Lakes basin. Besieged by the Iroquois League, the western tribes forged defensive alliances with the French.

For over twenty years, warfare raged across the Great Lakes region. In the 1690s the French and their Indian allies gained the advantage over the Iroquois. They destroyed Iroquois crops and villages, infected them with smallpox, and reduced the male population by more than one third. Facing extermination, the Iroquois made peace with the French in 1701. During the first half of the eighteenth century, they maintained a shrewd neutrality in the struggle between the two rival European powers, which enabled them to play the British off against the French while creating a thriving fur trade for themselves.

NEW JERSEY Shortly after the conquest of New Netherland, the duke of York granted his lands between the Hudson and Delaware rivers to Sir George Carteret and Lord John Berkeley (brother of Virginia’s governor) and named the territory for Carteret’s native Jersey, an island in the English Channel. In 1676, by mutual agreement, the colony was divided by a diago- nal line into East and West Jersey, with Carteret taking the east. Finally, in 1682, Carteret sold out to a group of twelve, including William Penn, who in turn brought into the partnership twelve more proprietors, for a total of twenty-four. In East Jersey, peopled at first by perhaps 200 Dutch who had crossed the Hudson River, new settlements gradually arose: some disaffected Puritans from New Haven founded Newark, Carteret’s brother brought a

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group to found Elizabethtown (Elizabeth), and a group of Scots founded Perth Amboy. In the west, facing the Delaware River, a scattering of Swedes, Finns, and Dutch remained, soon to be overwhelmed by swarms of English Quakers. In 1702 East and West Jersey were united as the single royal colony of New Jersey.

P E N N S Y LVA N I A A N D D E L AWA R E The Quaker sect, as the Society of Friends was called in ridicule (because they were supposed to “tremble at the word of the Lord”), became the most influential of many radical


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Why was New Jersey divided in half? Why did Quakers chose to settle in Pennsylvania? How did the relations between European settlers and Native Americans in Pennsylvania differ from those in the other colonies?

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groups that sprang from the turbulence of the English Civil War. Founded by George Fox in about 1647, the Quakers carried further than any other group the doctrine of individual inspiration and interpretation—the “in- ner light,” they called it. They discarded all formal sacraments and formal ministry, refused deference to persons of rank, used the familiar thee and thou in addressing everyone, refused to take oaths, claiming they were contrary to Scripture, and embraced pacifism. Quakers were subjected to intense persecution—often in their zeal they seemed to invite it—but never inflicted it on others. Their tolerance extended to complete reli- gious freedom for everyone, whatever one’s belief or disbelief, and to the equality of the sexes, including the full participation of women in religious affairs.

Settling the Middle Colonies and Georgia • 89

The Quakers Meeting

A Quaker meeting, at which the presence of women is evidence of Quaker views on the equality of the sexes.

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The settling of Quakers in West Jersey encouraged other Friends to migrate, especially to the Delaware River side of the colony. And soon across the river arose William Penn’s Quaker commonwealth, the colony of Pennsylvania.

Penn was the son of Admiral Sir William Penn, who had supported Parlia- ment in the civil war. Young William was reared as a proper gentleman, but as a student at Oxford he had become a Quaker. Upon his father’s death, Penn inherited a substantial estate, including proprietary rights to a huge tract in America. The land was named, at the king’s insistence, for Penn’s fa- ther: Pennsylvania (literally, “Penn’s Woods”).

When Penn assumed control of the area, there was already a scattering of Dutch, Swedish, and English settlers on the west bank of the Delaware. But Penn soon made vigorous efforts to bring more settlers. He published glow- ing descriptions of the colony, which were translated into German, Dutch, and French. By the end of 1681, about 1,000 settlers were living in his province. By that time a town was growing up at the junction of the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers. Penn called it Philadelphia (City of Brotherly Love). Because of the generous terms on which Penn offered land—because indeed he offered aid to immigrants—the colony grew rapidly.

The relations between the Indians and the Quakers were cordial from the beginning, because of the Quakers’ friendliness and because of Penn’s care- ful policy of purchasing land titles from the Indians. Penn even took the trouble to learn an Indian language, something few colonists ever tried. For some fifty years the settlers and the natives lived side by side in peace, in rela- tionships of such trust that Quaker farmers sometimes left their children in the care of Indians when they were away from home.

The colony’s government, which rested on three Frames of Govern- ment promulgated by Penn, resembled that of other proprietary colonies except that the freemen (taxpayers and property owners) elected the councilors as well as the assembly. The governor had no veto—although Penn, as proprietor, did. Penn hoped to show that a government could op- erate in accordance with Quaker principles, that it could maintain peace and order without oaths or wars, and that religion could flourish without an established church and with absolute freedom of conscience. Because of its tolerance, Pennsylvania became a refuge not only for Quakers but also for a variety of dissenters—as well as Anglicans—and early reflected the ethnic mixture of Scotch-Irish and Germans that became common to the middle colonies and the southern backcountry. Penn himself stayed only four years in the colony.


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In 1682 the duke of York also granted Penn the area of Delaware, another part of the former Dutch territory. At first, Delaware became part of Pennsylvania, but after 1704 it was granted the right to choose its own assembly. From then until the American Revolution, it had a separate assem- bly but shared Pennsylvania’s governor.

G E O R G I A Georgia was the last of the British continental colonies to be established—half a century after Pennsylvania. During the seventeenth century, English settlers pushed southward into the borderlands between the Carolinas and Florida. They brought with them their African slaves and a desire to win the Indian trade from the Spanish. Each side used guns, goods, and rum to influence the Indians, and the Indians in turn played off the English against the Spanish in order to gain the most favor- able terms.

In 1732 King George II gave the land between the Savannah and Altamaha rivers to the twenty-one trustees of Georgia. In two respects, Georgia was unique among the colonies: it was set up as a philanthropic

Settling the Middle Colonies and Georgia • 91

Savannah, Georgia

The earliest known view of Savannah, Georgia (1734). The town’s layout was care- fully planned.

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Why did European settlement lead to the expansion of hostilities among Indian peoples? What were the consequences of the trade and commerce between the English settlers and the southern In- dian tribes? How were the relationships between the settlers and the members of the Iroquois League different from those be- tween settlers and tribes in other regions?

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experiment and as a military buffer against Spanish Florida. General James E. Oglethorpe, who accompanied the first colonists as resident trustee, rep- resented both concerns: he served as a soldier who organized the defenses and as a philanthropist who championed prison reform and sought a colo- nial refuge for the poor and religiously persecuted.

In 1733 a band of about 120 colonists founded Savannah on the coast near the mouth of the Savannah River. Carefully laid out by Oglethorpe, the old town, with its geometric pattern and numerous little parks, remains a mon- ument to the city planning of a bygone day. A group of Protestant refugees from Austria began to arrive in 1734, followed by Germans and German- speaking Moravians and Swiss, who made the colony for a time more Ger- man than English. The addition of Welsh, Highland Scots, Sephardic Jews, and others gave the early colony a cosmopolitan character much like that of Charleston.

As a buffer against Florida, the colony succeeded, but as a philanthropic experiment it failed. Efforts to develop silk and wine production foundered. Landholdings were limited to 500 acres, rum was prohibited, and the importation of slaves was forbidden, partly to leave room for ser- vants brought on charity, partly to ensure security. But the utopian rules soon collapsed. The regulations against rum and slavery were widely disre- garded and finally abandoned. By 1759 all restrictions on landholding had been removed.

In 1754 the trustees’ charter expired, and the province reverted to the crown. As a royal colony, Georgia acquired an effective government for the first time. The province developed slowly over the next decade but grew rapidly in population and wealth after 1763. Instead of wine and silk, as was Oglethorpe’s plan, Georgians exported rice, indigo, lumber, beef, and pork and carried on a lively trade with the West Indies. The colony had become a commercial success.


By the early eighteenth century the English had outstripped both the French and the Spanish in the New World. British America had be- come the most populous, prosperous, and powerful region on the conti- nent. By the mid–seventeenth century, American colonists on average were better fed, clothed, and housed than their counterparts in Europe, where a majority of the people lived in destitution. But the English


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colonization of North America included many failures as well as suc- cesses. Lots of settlers found only hard labor and an early death in the New World. Others flourished only because they exploited Indians, in- dentured servants, or Africans.

The British succeeded in creating a lasting American empire because of

crucial advantages they had over their European rivals. The centralized

control imposed by the monarchs of Spain and France got them off the

mark more quickly but eventually hobbled innovation and responsiveness

to new circumstances. The enterprising British acted by private investment

and with a minimum of royal control. Not a single colony was begun at the

direct initiative of the crown. In the English colonies poor immigrants had

a much greater chance of getting at least a small parcel of land. The Eng-

lish, unlike their rivals, welcomed people from a variety of nationalities

and dissenting sects who came in search of a new life or a safe harbor. And

a greater degree of self-government made the English colonies more

responsive to new circumstances—though they were sometimes hobbled

by controversy.

The compact pattern of English settlement contrasted sharply with the

pattern of Spain’s far-flung conquests and France’s far-reaching trade

routes to the interior by way of the St. Lawrence and Mississippi rivers

(discussed in Chapter 4). Geography reinforced England’s bent for the

concentrated occupation and settlement of its colonies. The rivers and

bays that indent the Atlantic seaboard served as communication arteries

along which colonies first sprang up, but no great river offered a highway

to the far interior. About 100 miles inland in Georgia and the Carolinas,

and nearer the coast to the north, the fall line of the rivers presented rocky

rapids that marked the limit of navigation and the end of the coastal plain.

About 100 miles beyond that, and farther back in Pennsylvania, stretched

the rolling expanse of the Piedmont, literally, “Foothills.” And the final

backdrop of English America was the Appalachian Mountain range, some

200 miles from the coast in the South and reaching the coast at points in

New England, with only one significant break—up the Hudson and Mo-

hawk valleys of New York. For 150 years the farthest outreach of British

settlement stopped at the slopes of those mountains. To the east lay the

wide expanse of ocean, which served not only as a highway for the trans-

port of ideas and ways of life from Europe to America but also as a barrier

that separated old ideas from new, allowing the new to evolve in the new


Thriving Colonies • 95

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Bernard Bailyn’s Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of Amer- ica on the Eve of the Revolution (1986) provides a comprehensive view of mi- gration to the New World. Jack P. Greene offers a brilliant synthesis of British colonization in Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Mod- ern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture (1988). The best overview of the colonization of North America is Alan Taylor’s American Colonies: The Settling of North America (2001). On the interactions among In- dian, European, and African cultures, see Gary B. Nash’s Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early America, 4th ed. (1999). See Daniel K. Richter’s The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of Euro- pean Colonization (1992) for a history of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Andrew Delbanco’s The Puritan Ordeal (1989) is a powerful study of the tensions inherent in the Puritan outlook. For information regarding the Puritan settlement of New England, see Virginia DeJohn Anderson’s New England’s Generation: The Great Migration and the Formation of Society and Culture in the Seventeenth Century (1991). The best biography of John Winthrop is Francis J. Bremer’s John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father (2003).

The pattern of settlement in the middle colonies is illuminated in Barry Levy’s Quakers and the American Family: British Settlement in the Delaware



• What we now know about the early settlements sets the stage for the regional differences in social patterns discussed in the next chapter.

• This chapter contained the observation that in founding its American colonies, “the British acted by private investment and with a minimum of royal control.” As we will see in Chapter 4, that situation changed as England began to take control of the American colonies.

• Later relations between colonists and Native Americans, described in Chapter 4, had their roots in the history of these early settlements.

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Valley (1988). On the early history of New York, see Russell Shorto’s The Is- land at the Center of the World (2004). Settlement of the areas along the At- lantic in the South is traced in James Horn’s Adapting to a New World: English Society in the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake (1994). For a study of race and the settlement of South Carolina, see Peter H. Wood’s Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (1974). A brilliant book on relations between the Catawba Indians and their black and white neighbors is James H. Merrell’s The Indians’ New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Re- moval (1989). On the flourishing trade in captive Indians, see Alan Gallay’s The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670–1717 (2002).

Further Reading • 97

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�C O L O N I A L W A Y S O F L I F E3


• What were the social and economic differences among the southern, middle, and New England colonies?

• How did people of different genders, races, and classes fit into colonial society?

• What was the impact of the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening on the American colonies?

The process of carving a new civilization out of an abundantyet violent frontier involved a clash of European, African,and Indian cultures. War, duplicity, displacement, and en- slavement were the tragic results. Yet on another level the process of transforming the “New World” was largely the story of thousands of di- verse folk engaged in the everyday tasks of building homes, planting crops, trading goods, raising families, enforcing laws, and worshipping their God. Those who colonized America during the seventeenth and eighteenth cen- turies were part of a massive social migration occurring throughout Europe and Africa. Everywhere, it seemed, people were moving from farms to villages, from villages to cities, and from homelands to colonies. They moved for different reasons. Most were responding to powerful social and economic forces as rapid population growth and the rise of com- mercial agriculture squeezed people off the land. Many traveled in search of political security or religious freedom. An exception was the Africans, who were captured and transported to new lands against their will.

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The Shape of Early America • 99

America’s settlers were mostly young (over half were under twenty-five), male, and poor. Almost half were indentured servants or slaves, and during the eighteenth century England would transport some 50,000 convicts to the North American colonies. Only about one third of the settlers came with their families. Once in America, many kept moving, trying to take ad- vantage of new opportunities. Whatever their status or ambition, this ex- traordinary mosaic of ordinary yet adventurous people created America’s enduring institutions and values.


B R I T I S H F O L K WAY S The vast majority of early European settlers came from the British Isles in four mass migrations over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The first involved some 20,000 Puritans who settled Massachusetts between 1630 and 1641 and for the most part hailed from the East Anglian counties east of London. A generation later a smaller group of wealthy Royalist Cavaliers and their indentured servants migrated from southern England to Virginia. These English aristocrats, mostly Anglicans, had few qualms about the introduction of African slavery. The third wave brought some 23,000 Quakers from the north Midlands of England to the Delaware Valley colonies of West Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. They brought with them a sense of spiritual equality, a suspicion of class distinc- tions and powerful elites, and a commitment to plain living and high think- ing. The fourth and largest surge of colonization occurred between 1717 and 1775 and included hundreds of thousands of Celtic Britons and Scotch-Irish from northern Ireland; these were mostly coarse, feisty, clannish folk who settled in the rugged backcountry along the Appalachian Mountains. Gener- ally poorer than their English counterparts, the Scots and Scotch-Irish had more to gain by moving to the New World.

It was long assumed that the strenuous demands of the American frontier served as a great “melting pot” that stripped such immigrants of their native identities and melded them into homogeneous Americans. Yet for all of the transforming effects of the New World, British ways of life have persisted to this day. Although most British settlers spoke a common language and shared the Protestant faith, they carried with them—and retained—sharply different cultural attitudes and customs. They spoke distinct dialects, cooked different foods, named and raised their children differently, adopted different philosophies of education and attitudes toward time, preferred dif- ferent architectural styles, and organized their societies differently.

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In gender relations, religious practices, criminal propensities, and dozens of other ways, many American customs today reflect age-old British cus- toms. Of course, such cultural continuity is not unique to British Americans. Enduring folkways are also evident among the descendants of settlers from Africa, continental Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia. Amer- icans thus constitute a mosaic rather than a homogeneous mass, and they share a quite varied social and cultural heritage.

S E A B OA R D E C O L O G Y One of the cherished legends of American history has it that those settling the New World arrived to find an un- spoiled wilderness little touched by human activity. But that was not the case. For thousands of years, Indian hunting practices had produced what one scholar has called the “greatest known loss of wild species” in the con- tinent’s history. The Indians had regularly burned forests and dense un- dergrowth in order to provide cropland, ease travel through hardwood forests, and make way for grasses, berries, and other forage for the animals they hunted. Indians worked the cleared lands for six to eight years, until the nutrients in the soil were depleted, and then they moved on to new ar- eas. This migratory “slash-and-burn” agriculture increased the rate at which plant nutrients were recycled and allowed more sunlight to reach the forest floor. These conditions in turn created rich soil and ideal grazing

grounds for elk, deer, turkeys, bears, moose, and beavers. Nu- trients from the topsoil also fer- tilized the streams and helped produce teeming schools of stur- geons, smelts, and small herrings called alewives. Indian farming practices also halted the normal forest succession and, especially in the Southeast, created large stands of longleaf pine, still the most common source of timber in the region.

Equally important in shaping the ecosystem of America was the European attitude toward the en- vironment. Whereas the Native Americans tended to be migra- tory, considering land and animals


Colonial Farm

This plan of a newly cleared American farm shows how trees were cut down and the stumps left to rot.

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The Shape of Early America • 101

as communal resources to be shared and consumed only as necessary, many European colonizers viewed natural resources as privately owned commodi- ties to be sold for profit. Settlers thus quickly set about evicting Indians; clearing, fencing, improving, and selling land; cutting timber for masts; growing surplus crops and trapping game for commercial use. These prac- tices transformed the seaboard environment. In many places—Plymouth, for instance, and St. Marys, Maryland—settlers occupied the sites of former In- dian towns, and corn, beans, and squash quickly became colonial staples, along with new crops brought from Europe.

British ships brought to America domesticated animals—such as cattle, oxen, sheep, goats, horses, and pigs—that were unknown in the New World. By 1650 English farm animals outnumbered the colonists. Rapidly multiply- ing livestock reshaped the American environment and affected Indian life in unexpected ways. British settlers discovered that they did not have time to feed and care for livestock in pens, as they had in the Old World. Chesapeake farmers, for example, were too busy tending profitable tobacco plants to de- vote time to animal husbandry. So from late spring to harvest time in New England and year-round in Maryland and Virginia, hard-pressed farmers al- lowed their cows, horses, and pigs to roam freely through the woods, clip- ping their ears to identify them. Such free-range husbandry made sense in the short run, since the labor shortage made it too expensive to pen the ani- mals in barnyards or fence them in pastures. In the longer term, however, the failure to constrain farm animals denied the planted fields dung for use as a valuable fertilizer. The fertility of the soil declined with each passing year. The Virginia planter Robert Beverley chastised his neighbors for engaging in such “exceeding ill-husbandry” and for making their hogs “find their own support in the woods.”

Hogs especially thrived in the New World. The animals eat virtually any- thing and breed frequently. In a few years a dozen transplanted English pigs had spawned thousands of hogs throughout the colonies. A sow can give birth three times a year to as many as sixteen piglets at a time. In 1700 a visi- tor to Virginia observed that the pigs “swarm like vermin upon the earth. . . . The hogs run where they want and find their own support in the woods without any care of the owners.”

Many of the farm animals turned wild (feral), ran amok in Indian corn- fields, and devastated native flora and fauna. In New England, rooting pigs devoured the shellfish that local Indians depended upon for subsistence. Colonists often had trouble finding their wandering herds. One Marylander spent three days hunting for stray hogs. Others hired Indians to track them down. As livestock herds grew, settlers felt the need to acquire more land,

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which often meant seizing Indian land. A single cow needed five acres of woodland to subsist. Trespassing livestock and expanding colonial settle- ments caused friction with the Indians, which in turn helped ignite such violent confrontations as King Philip’s War and Bacon’s Rebellion. One his- torian, in fact, has referred to roaming English livestock as four-legged “agents of empire” invading Indian land. As a frustrated Maryland Indian charged in 1666, “Your hogs & cattle injure us. You come too near us to live & drive us from place to place. We can fly no farther. Let us know where to live & how to be secured for the future from the hogs & cattle.”

Roaming livestock exacerbated other environmental problems. European ships brought weeds as well as animals. Native weeds, such as ragweed, goldenrod, and milkweed, were not nearly as tenacious as the weeds that ar- rived from Europe: dandelion, thistle, plantain, and sedge. Their seeds were transported in the hay and grain brought from abroad. As pigs, cattle, and horses ate the hay, the weed seeds passed through their digestive tracts and were deposited in manure wherever the animals roamed. In 1672 a British naturalist reported that he had identified twenty-two English weeds that were flourishing in America. The Indians nicknamed plantain Englishman’s foot because it seemed to sprout wherever the colonists walked. Today biologists estimate that half the weeds in the United States originated in Europe or Africa.

In time a more dense population of humans and their domestic animals created a new landscape of fields, meadows, fences, barns, and houses. Such innovations further altered the ecology of the New World. Foraging cattle, sheep, horses, and pigs gradually changed the distribution of trees, shrubs, and grasses. Because cleared and grazed land is warmer, drier, and more compacted, it floods and erodes more easily. The transformed landscape made such regions as New England sunnier, windier, and colder than they had been before colonization. And many Indians, far from being passive ob- servers in this frenzy of environmental change, contributed to the process by trading furs for metal or glass trinkets. The increased hunting ravaged the populations of large mammals and rodents that had earlier been central to Indian culture—and to the ecological balance. Between 1600 and 1800 the physical environment of the eastern seaboard changed markedly.

P O P U L AT I O N G R O W T H England’s first footholds in America were bought at a fearsome price: many settlers died in the first years. But once the brutal seasoning was past and the colonies were on their feet, Virginia and its successors grew rapidly. By 1750 the number of colonists had passed 1 million; by 1775 it stood at about 2.5 million. In 1700 the English at home outnum- bered the colonists by about twenty to one; by 1775, on the eve of the


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The Shape of Early America • 103

American Revolution, the ratio had fallen to three to one. The prodigious in- crease of the colonial population did not go unnoticed. Benjamin Franklin, a keen observer of many things, published in 1751 his Observations Concern- ing the Increase of Mankind, in which he pointed out two facts of life that dis- tinguished the colonies from Europe: land was plentiful and cheap, and labor was scarce and expensive. The opposite conditions prevailed in the Old World. From this reversal of conditions flowed many of the changes that Eu- ropean culture underwent in the New World—not the least being that good fortune beckoned the enterprising immigrant and induced the settlers to re- plenish the earth with large families. Where labor was scarce, children could lend a hand and, once grown, find new land for themselves if need be. Colonists tended, as a result, to marry and start families at an earlier age than did their Old World counterparts.

B I RT H R AT E S A N D D E AT H R AT E S Given the better economic pros- pects in the colonies, a greater proportion of American women married, and the birthrate remained much higher than it did in Europe. Whereas in England the average age at marriage for women was twenty-five or twenty-six, in America it dropped to twenty or twenty-one. Men also married younger in the colonies than in the Old World. The birthrate rose accordingly, since women who married earlier had time for about two additional pregnancies during the childbearing years.

John Freake, and Mrs. Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary

Elizabeth married John at age nineteen; Mary, born when Elizabeth was thirty-two, was the Freakes’ eighth and last child.

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Equally responsible for the burgeoning population in the colonies was a much lower death rate than that in Europe. After the difficult first years of settlement, infants generally had a better chance of reaching maturity, and adults had a better chance of reaching old age. In seventeenth-century New England, apart from childhood mortality, men could expect to reach seventy and women nearly that age.

This longevity resulted from several factors. Since the land was bountiful, famine seldom occurred after the first year, and although the winters were more severe than those in England, firewood was plentiful. Being younger on the whole—the average age in the new nation in 1790 was sixteen!—Americans were less susceptible to disease than were Europeans. That they were more scattered than in the Old World meant they were also less exposed to disease. That began to change, of course, as population centers grew and trade and travel increased. By the mid–eighteenth century the colonies were beginning to have levels of contagion much like those in Europe.

The greatest variations in these patterns occurred in the earliest years of the southern colonies. From the first century after the Jamestown settlement until about 1700, a high rate of mortality and a chronic shortage of women meant that the population increase there could be sustained only by immi- gration. In the humid southern climate, English settlers contracted malaria, dysentery, and a host of other diseases. The mosquito-infested rice paddies of the Carolina Tidewater were notoriously unhealthy. And ships that docked at the Chesapeake tobacco plantations brought with their payloads unseen car- goes of smallpox, diphtheria, and other infections. Given the higher mortality rate, families were often broken by the early death of parents.

S E X R AT I O S A N D T H E FA M I LY Whole communities of religious or ethnic groups migrated more often to the northern colonies than to the southern, bringing more women in their company. There was no mention of any women among the first arrivals at Jamestown. Males were most needed in the early years of new colonies. In fact, as a pamphlet promoting opportu- nities in America stressed, the infant colonies needed “lusty labouring men . . . capable of hard labour, and that can bear and undergo heat and cold,” men adept with the “axe and the hoe.” Virginia’s seventeenth-century sex ratio of two or three white males to each female meant that many men never married, although nearly every adult woman did. Counting only the unmarried, the ratio was about eight men for every woman.

A population made up largely of bachelors without strong ties to family and the larger community made for instability of a high order in the first years. And the high mortality rates of the early years further loosened family


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The Shape of Early America • 105

ties. A majority of the women who arrived in the Chesapeake colonies dur- ing the seventeenth century were unmarried indentured servants, most of whom died before the age of fifty. Whereas the first generations in New Eng- land proved to be long-lived and many more children there knew their grandparents than in the motherland, young people in the seventeenth- century South were apt never to see their grandparents and in fact to lose one or both parents before reaching maturity. But after a time of seasoning, immunities built up. Eventually the southern colonies reverted to a more even sex ratio, and family sizes approached those of New England.

WO M E N I N T H E C O L O N I E S Most colonists brought to America deeply rooted convictions about the inferiority of women. As one preacher stressed, “The woman is a weak creature not endowed with like strength and constancy of mind.” The prescribed role of women in life was clear: to obey and serve their husbands, nurture their children, and endure the taxing la- bor required to maintain their households. John Winthrop insisted that a “true wife” would find contentment only “in subjection to her husband’s authority.” Even high-spirited women such as Virginia’s Lucy Parke Byrd submitted to their husbands’ absolute authority. The imperious patrician William Byrd II of Westover managed his wife’s estate without consulting her, kept a tenacious grip on his property—even to the point of forbidding his wife to borrow a book from his library without explicit permission—and saw fit to interfere in her own field of domestic management. In his secret diary he recorded their stormy relationship:

[April 7] I reproached my wife with ordering the old beef to be kept and

the fresh beef to be used first, contrary to good management, on which she

was pleased to be very angry . . . then my wife came and begged my pardon

and we were friends again. . . .

[April 8] My wife and I had another foolish quarrel about my saying she

listened at the top of the stairs . . . she came soon after and begged my


[April 9] My wife and I had another scold about mending my shoes, but it

was soon over by her submission.

Both social custom and legal codes ensured that most women, like Lucy Byrd, remained deferential. In most colonies they could not vote, preach, hold office, attend public schools or colleges, bring lawsuits, make contracts, or own property.

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WO M E N ’ S WO R K In the eighteenth century, “women’s work” typically involved activities in the house, garden, and yard. Farm women usually rose at four in the morning and prepared breakfast by five-thirty. They then fed and watered the livestock, wakened the children, churned butter, tended the gar- den, prepared lunch, played with the children, worked the garden again, cooked dinner, milked the cows, got the children ready for bed, and cleaned the kitchen before retiring, at about nine. Women also combed, spun, spooled, wove, and bleached wool for clothing, knit linen and cotton, hemmed sheets, pieced quilts, made candles and soap, chopped wood, hauled water, mopped floors, and washed clothes. Female indentured servants in the southern colonies commonly worked as field hands, weeding, hoeing, and harvesting.

Despite the conventions that limited the sphere of women, the scarcity of labor opened opportunities. Quite a few women went into gainful occupa- tions by necessity or choice. In her role as a paid midwife, for example, Martha Ballard, a farm woman in Maine, delivered almost 800 babies. In the towns, women commonly served as tavern hostesses and shopkeepers and


The First, Second, and Last Scene of Mortality

Prudence Punderson’s needlework (ca. 1776) shows the domestic path, from cra- dle to coffin, followed by most colonial women.

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Society and Economy in the Southern Colonies • 107

occasionally also worked as doctors, printers, upholsterers, glaziers, painters, silversmiths, tanners, and shipwrights—often, but not always, they were widows carrying on their husbands’ trades. Some managed plantations, again usually carrying on in the absence of husbands.

The New World environment did generate slight improvements in the status of women. The acute shortage of women in the early years made them more highly valued than in Europe, and the Puritan emphasis on well-ordered family life led to laws protecting wives from physical abuse and allowing for divorce. In addition, colonial laws allowed wives greater control over property that they had contributed to a marriage or that was left after a husband’s death. But the traditional notion of female subordi- nation and domesticity remained firmly entrenched in the New World. As a Massachusetts boy maintained in 1662, the superior aspect of life was “masculine and eternal; the feminine inferior and mortal.”


C R O P S The southern colonies had one unique advantage: the climate. The warm climate and plentiful rainfall enabled the colonies to grow exotic staples (market crops) prized by the mother country. Virginia, as Charles I put it, was “founded upon smoke.” By 1619 tobacco production had reached 20,000 pounds, and in the year of the Glorious Revolution, 1688, it was up to 18 million pounds. “In Virginia and Maryland,” wrote Governor Leonard Calvert in 1629, “Tobacco as our Staple is our All, and indeed leaves no room for anything else.”

After 1690 rice was as much the staple in South Carolina as tobacco was in Virginia. The rise and fall of tidewater rivers made the region ideally suited to a crop that required the alternate flooding and draining of fields. Annual rice exports soared from 400,000 pounds in 1700 to 43 million pounds in 1740.

In the 1740s another exotic staple appeared: indigo, the blue dyestuff that found an eager market in the British clothing industry. Southern pine trees provided harvests of lumber and key items for the maritime industry. The resin from pine trees could be boiled to make tar, which was in great demand for waterproofing ropes and caulking wooden ships. From their early leader- ship in the production of pine tar, North Carolinians would earn the nick- name of Tar Heels. In the interior a fur trade flourished, and in the Carolinas a cattle industry presaged life on the Great Plains—with cowboys, roundups, brandings, and long drives to the market.

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English customs records showed that for the years 1698 to 1717 South Carolina and the Chesapeake colonies enjoyed a favorable balance of trade with England. But the surplus revenues earned on American goods sold to England were more than offset by “invisible” charges: freight payments to shippers; commissions, storage charges, and interest payments to English merchants; insurance premiums; inspection and customs duties; and out- lays to purchase indentured servants and slaves. Thus began a pattern that would plague the southern staple-crop system into the twentieth century. Planters’ investments went into land and slaves while the profitable enter- prises of shipping, trade, investment, and manufacture fell under the sway of outsiders.

L A N D The economy of the southern colonies centered on the fundamen- tal fact of colonial life that Benjamin Franklin highlighted: land was plentiful, and laborers were scarce. The low cost of land lured most colonists. Under colonial law, land titles rested ultimately upon grants from the crown, and in


Virginia Plantation

Southern colonial plantations were constructed with easy access for oceangoing vessels, as shown on this 1730 tobacco label.

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Society and Economy in the Southern Colonies • 109

colonial practice the evolution of land policy in the first colony set patterns that were followed everywhere save in New England. In 1618 the Virginia Company, lacking any assets other than land, sold each investor a fifty-acre “share-right” and gave each settler a “headright” for paying his own way or bringing in others.

If one distinctive feature of the South’s agrarian economy was a ready market in England, another was a trend toward large-scale production. Those who planted tobacco discovered that it quickly exhausted the soil, thereby giving an advantage to the planter who had extra fields in which to plant beans and corn or to leave fallow. With the increase of the tobacco crop, moreover, a fall in prices meant that economies of scale might come into play—the large planter with the lower cost per unit might still make a profit. Gradually he would extend his holdings along the riverfronts and thereby secure the advantage of direct access to the oceangoing vessels that plied the waterways of the Chesapeake, discharging goods from London and taking on hogsheads of tobacco. So easy was the access, in fact, that the Chesapeake colonies never required a city of any size as a center of com- merce, and the larger planters functioned as merchants and harbormasters for their neighbors.

L A B O R Voluntary indentured servitude accounted for probably half the white settlers (mostly from England, Ireland, or Germany) in all the colonies outside New England. The name derived from the indenture, or contract, by which a penniless person promised to work for a fixed number of years in return for transportation to the New World. Poverty and disease in British cities prompted many rootless vagabonds and petty criminals to board ship for America. Not all the servants went voluntarily. The London underworld developed a flourishing trade in “kids” and “spirits,” who were “kidnapped” or “spirited” into servitude. After 1717, by act of Parliament, convicts guilty of certain crimes could escape the hangman by relocating to the colonies.

Once in the colonies, servants contracted with masters. Their rights were limited. They could own property but not engage in trade. Marriage re- quired the master’s permission. Runaway servants were hunted down and punished just as runaway slaves were. Masters could whip servants and ex- tend their indentures for bad behavior. Many servants died from disease or the exhaustion of cultivating tobacco in the broiling sun and intense humid- ity. In due course, however, usually after four to seven years, the indenture ended, and the servant claimed the “freedom dues” set by custom and law: money, tools, clothing, food, and occasionally small tracts of land. Some for- mer servants did very well for themselves. In 1629 seven members of the

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Virginia legislature were former indentured servants. Others, including Benjamin Franklin’s maternal grandmother, married the men who had orig- inally bought their services. Many servants died before completing their indenture, however, and recent evidence suggests that most of those who served their term remained relatively poor thereafter.

S L AV E RY Colonial America was a land of white opportunity and black slavery. Most immigrants to America were not British or European, and they did not come willingly. During the eighteenth century there were more than three times as many slaves as free immigrants in the British colonies. Black slavery evolved in the Chesapeake after 1619, when a Dutch vessel dropped off twenty Africans in Jamestown. Some of the first Africans were treated as in- dentured servants, with a limited term. Those few African servants who worked out their term of indenture gained freedom and a fifty-acre parcel of land. They themselves sometimes acquired slaves and white indentured ser- vants. Gradually, however, with rationalizations based on color difference or “heathenism,” the practice of hereditary life service for blacks became the


Indentured Servants

An advertisement from the Virginia Gazette, October 4, 1779, for indentured servants. The people whose services are being offered secured a life in America, but at a steep price. Servants endured years of labor before their con- tracts expired and they were granted their freedom.

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Society and Economy in the Southern Colonies • 111

custom of the land. By the 1660s colonial assemblies recognized slavery through laws that were later expanded into elaborate and restrictive slave codes.

The sugar islands of the French and British West Indies and the cane fields of Portuguese Brazil had the most voracious appetite for enslaved Africans, using them up in the tropical heat on average within seven years. By 1675 the English West Indies had over 100,000 slaves while the colonies in North America had only about 5,000. But as staple crops became established on the American continent and as economic growth in England slowed the number of white laborers traveling to the New World, the demand for slaves grew. As readily available lands diminished, Virginians were less eager to bring in in- dentured servants, who would lay claim to them at the end of their service. Though British North America took less than 5 percent of the total slaves im- ported to the Western Hemisphere during more than three centuries of that squalid traffic, it offered better chances for survival, if few for human fulfill- ment. The natural increase of blacks in America approximated that of whites by the end of the colonial period. By that time every fifth American was either an African or a descendant of one. Slavery was recognized in the laws of all the colonies but flourished in the Tidewater South; one colony, South Car- olina, had a black majority through most of the eighteenth century.

A F R I C A N R O O T S Enslaved Africans are so often lumped together as a social group that their great ethnic diversity is overlooked. They came from lands as remote from each other as Angola and Senegal, and they spoke


A newspaper advertisement placed by Ignatius Davis of Fredericktown, Maryland, in 1741, offering a reward for the capture of a runaway slave.

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Mandingo, Ibo, Kongo, and other languages. Still, the many peoples of Africa did share similar kinship and political systems. Not unlike the Native Amer- ican cultures, the African societies were often matrilineal: property and po- litical status descended through the mother rather than the father. When a couple married, the wife did not leave her family; the husband left his family to join that of his bride.

West African tribes were organized hierarchically. Priests and the nobility lorded over the masses of farmers and craftspeople. Below the masses were the slaves, typically war captives, criminals, or debtors. Slaves in Africa, how- ever, did have certain rights. They could marry, receive an education, and have children. Their servitude was not permanent, nor were children auto- matically slaves by virtue of their parentage, as would be the case in North America.

The West African economy centered on hunting, fishing, planting, and animal husbandry. Men and women typically worked alongside each other in the fields. Religious belief served as the spine of West African life. All tribal groups believed in a supreme Creator and an array of lesser gods tied to specific natural forces, such as rain, fertility, and animal life. West Africans were pantheistic in that they believed that spirits resided in trees, rocks, and streams. People who died were also subjects of reverence, because they served as mediators between the living and the gods.

Africans preyed upon Africans. For centuries rival tribes had conquered and enslaved one another, and during the seventeenth and eighteenth cen- turies African middlemen brought captives to the coast to sell to European slave traders. Once selected and purchased, the slaves were branded with a company mark and packed tightly in slave ships, where they endured a four- to six-week Atlantic passage so brutal that one in seven captives died en route. Once in America, they were thrown indiscriminately together and treated like animals. Some slaves rebelled against their new masters, resisting work orders, sabotaging crops and tools, or running away to the frontier. In a few cases they organized rebellions, which were ruthlessly suppressed. “You would be surprised at their perseverance,” noted one white planter. “They often die before they can be conquered.” Captured slaves faced ghastly retribution; many were burned at the stake. After rounding up slaves who participated in the Stono Uprising in South Car- olina in 1739, enraged planters “cutt off their heads and set them up at every Mile Post.”

S L AV E C U LT U R E Slavery in British North America differed greatly from region to region. Africans were a small minority in New England

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(about 2 percent) and in the middle colonies (about 8 percent). Most north- ern slaves lived in cities. In the South, slaves were far more numerous, and most of them worked on farms and plantations. In 1750 the vast majority of slaves in British America resided in Virginia and Maryland, about 150,000 compared with 60,000 in South Carolina and Georgia and only 33,000 in all of the northern colonies.

In the process of being forced into lives of bondage, diverse blacks from diverse homelands forged a new identity as African Americans while leaving entwined in the fabric of American culture more strands of African heritage

Society and Economy in the Southern Colonies • 113























































Principal area of

slave supply


F rom

E a

st Africa

How were Africans captured and enslaved? What were some of the experiences faced by most Africans on the Middle Passage? How did enslaved African Americans create a new culture?

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than historians and anthropologists can ever disentangle. Among them were new words that entered the language, such as tabby, tote, cooter, goober, yam, and banana, and the names of the Coosaw, Pee Dee, and Wando rivers.

More important were African influences in music, folklore, and religious practices. On one level, slaves used such cultural activities to distract them- selves from their servitude; on another level they used songs, stories, and sermons as coded messages expressing their distaste for masters or overseers. Slave religion, a unique blend of African and Christian beliefs, was fre- quently practiced in secret. Its fundamental theme was deliverance: God would eventually free African Americans from slavery and open up the gates to heaven’s promised land. The planters, however, sought to strip slave reli- gion of its liberationist hopes. They insisted that being “born again” had no effect upon their workers’ status as slaves. In 1667 the Virginia legislature


African Heritage

The survival of African culture among enslaved Americans is evident in this late- eighteenth-century painting of a South Carolina plantation. The musical instru- ments, pottery, and clothing are of African (probably Yoruban) origin.

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declared that “the conferring of baptism does not alter the condition of the person as to his bondage or freedom.”

Africans brought to America powerful kinship ties. Even though most colonies outlawed slave marriages, many masters realized that slaves would work harder and be more stable if allowed to form families. Though many families were broken up when members were sold, slave culture retained its powerful domestic ties. It also developed gender roles distinct from those of white society. Most enslaved women were by necessity field workers as well as wives and mothers responsible for household affairs. Since they worked in proximity to enslaved men, they were treated more equally than were most of their white counterparts.

Most, but not all, slaves were fated to become field hands. Many from the lowlands of Africa used their talent as boatmen in the coastal waterways. Some had linguistic skills that made them useful interpreters. Others tended cattle and swine or hacked away at the forests and operated sawmills. In a society forced to construct itself, slaves became skilled artisans: blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, bricklayers, and the like. Some worked as cooks or maids.

Slavery and the growth of a biracial South had economic, political, and cultural effects far into the future and set America on a course that would lead to tragic conflicts. Questions about the beginnings of slavery still have a bearing on the present. Did a deep-rooted color prejudice lead to slavery, for instance, or did the existence of slavery produce the prejudice? Clearly slavery evolved because of a demand for labor, and the English adopted a trade established by the Portuguese and Spanish more than a century be- fore—the very word negro is Spanish for “black.” English settlers often en- slaved Indian captives, but they did not enslave captured Europeans. Color was the crucial difference, or at least the crucial rationalization.

The English associated the color black with darkness and evil; they stamped the different appearance, behavior, and customs of Africans as “sav- agery.” At the very least such perceptions could soothe the conscience of people who traded in human flesh. On the other hand, most of the qualities that colonial Virginians imputed to blacks to justify slavery were the same qualities that the English assigned to their own poor to explain their status: their alleged bent for laziness, improvidence, treachery, and stupidity, among other shortcomings. Similar traits, moreover, were imputed by an- cient Jews to the Canaanites and by the Mediterranean peoples of a later date to the Slavic captives sold among them. The names Canaanite and Slav both became synonymous with slavery—the latter lingers in our very word for it. Such expressions would seem to be the product of power relationships and

Society and Economy in the Southern Colonies • 115

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not the other way around. Dominant peoples repeatedly assign ugly traits to those they bring into subjugation.

T H E G E N T RY By the early eighteenth century, Virginia and South Car- olina were moving into the golden age of the Tidewater gentry, leaving the more isolated and rustic colony of North Carolina as “a valley of humiliation between two mountains of conceit.” The first rude huts of Jamestown had given way to frame and brick houses, but it was only as the seventeenth cen- tury yielded to the eighteenth that the stately countryseats in the Georgian, or “colonial,” style began to emerge along the banks of the great rivers. In South Carolina the mansions along the Ashley, Cooper, and Wando rivers boasted spacious gardens and avenues of moss-draped live oaks.

The great houses of the new colonial aristocracy became centers of sumptuous living and legendary hospitality. In their zest for the good life, the planters purchased products that reflected the latest refinements of London style and fashion, living precariously on credit extended for future crops. Dependence on outside capital remained a chronic southern

problem far beyond the colonial period.

In season the carriages of the Chesapeake Bay elite rolled to the villages of Annapolis and Williams- burg, and the city of Charleston in South Carolina became the center of political life and high fashion. Throughout much of the year, the outdoors beckoned planters to the pleasures of hunt- ing, fishing, and riding. Gam- bling on horse races, cards, and dice became consuming passions for men and women alike. But a few cultivated high culture. Vir- ginia’s William Byrd of Westover pursued learning with a passion. He built a library of some 3,600 volumes and often rose early to keep up his Latin, Greek, and He- brew. The wealthy families com- monly sent their sons—and often


Colonial Aristocracy

This painting from about 1710 portrays Henry Darnall III, a youth from one of Maryland’s richest families, flanked by a slave. In the background are buildings and gardens that attest to the southern preoccu- pation with the trappings of English nobility.

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their daughters—abroad for an education, usually to England, sometimes to France.

R E L I G I O N After 1642 Virginia governor William Berkeley decided that his colony was to be Anglican, and he passed laws requiring “all noncon- formists . . . to depart the colony with all conveniency.” Puritans and Quakers were hounded out. By the end of the seventeenth century, Anglicanism pre- dominated in the Chesapeake region, and it proved especially popular among the large landholders. In the early eighteenth century it became the established (official) church in all the South—and some counties of New York and New Jersey, despite the presence of many dissenters. In the new American environ- ment, however, the Anglican Church evolved into something quite unlike the state church of England. The scattered population and the absence of bishops made centralized control difficult.

It has often been said that Americans during the seventeenth century took religion more seriously than they have at any time since. That may have been true, but it is important to remember how many early Americans were not active communicants. One estimate holds that fewer than one in fifteen resi- dents of the southern colonies was a church member. There the tone of

Society and Economy in the Southern Colonies • 117

Anglicanism in the South

The exterior of St. James Episcopal Church, built in the 1700s in an Anglican parish in Maryland.

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religious belief and practice was different from that in Puritan New England or Quaker Pennsylvania. As in England, colonial Anglicans tended to be more conservative, rational, and formal in their forms of worship than their Puritan, Quaker, or Baptist counterparts. Anglicans tended to stress collec- tive rituals over personal religious experience.


T O W N S H I P S In contrast to the seaboard planters, who transformed the English manor into the southern plantation, the Puritans transformed the English village into the New England town, although there were several vari- eties. Land policy in New England had a stronger social and religious purpose than elsewhere. Towns shaped by English precedent and Puritan policy also fitted the environment of a rockbound land, confined by sea and mountains and unfit for large-scale agriculture.

Unlike the pattern of settlement in the southern colonies or in Dutch New York, few New England colonists received huge tracts of land. The standard system was one of township grants to organized groups. A group of settlers, often gathered already into a church, would petition the general court for a town (what elsewhere was commonly called a township) and then divide it according to a rough principle of equity—those who invested more or had larger families or greater status might receive more land—retaining some pasture and woodland in common and holding some for later arrivals. In some early cases the towns arranged each settler’s land in separate strips af- ter the medieval practice, but with time land was commonly divided into separate farms to which landholders would move, away from the close-knit village. Still later, by the early eighteenth century, the colonies used their re- maining land as a source of revenue, selling townships to proprietors whose purpose, more often than not, was speculation and resale.

D W E L L I N G S A N D DA I LY L I F E The first colonists in New England initially lived in caves, tents, or “English wigwams,” but they soon built sim- ple small frame houses clad with hand-split clapboards. The roofs were steeply pitched to reduce the buildup of snow and were covered with thatched grasses or reeds. By the end of the seventeenth century, most New England homes were plain but sturdy dwellings centered on a fireplace. Some had glass windows brought from England. The interior walls were of- ten plastered and whitewashed, but the exterior boards were rarely painted. It was not until the eighteenth century that most houses were painted, and


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they were usually a dark “Indian red.” New England homes were not com- monly painted white until the nineteenth century. The interiors were dark, illuminated only by candles or oil lamps, both of which were expensive; most people usually went to sleep soon after sunset.

Family life revolved around the main room on the ground floor, called the hall, where meals would be cooked in a large fireplace. Pots would be sus- pended on an iron rod over the fire, and food would be served at a table of rough-hewn planks, called the board. The father was sometimes referred to as the chair man because he sat in the only chair (hence the origin of the term chairman of the board). The rest of the family usually stood to eat or sat on stools or benches. People in colonial times ate with their hands and wooden spoons. Forks were not introduced until the eighteenth century. The fare was usually corn, boiled meat, and vegetables washed down with beer, cider, rum, or milk. Corn bread was a daily staple, as was cornmeal mush, known as hasty pudding. Colonists also relished succotash, an Indian meal of corn and kidney beans cooked in bear grease.

E N T E R P R I S E New England farmers faced strenuous challenges. Simply clearing rocks from the glacier-scoured soil might require sixty days of hard

Society and Economy in New England • 119

Housing in New England

This frame house, built in the 1670s, belonged to Rebecca Nurse, one of the women hanged as a witch in Salem Village in 1692.

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labor per acre. The growing season was short, and no profitable crops grew in that harsh climate. The crops and livestock were those familiar to the Eng- lish countryside: wheat, barley, oats, some cattle, swine, and sheep.

With rich fishing grounds that stretched northward to Newfoundland, it is little wonder that New Englanders turned to the sea for their livelihood. The Chesapeake Bay region afforded a rich harvest of oysters, but New England, by its proximity to waters frequented by cod, mackerel, halibut, and other varieties of fish, became the more important maritime center. Whales, too, abounded in New England waters and supplied oil for lighting and lubrication, as well as ambergris, a waxy substance used in the manufacture of perfumes.

The fisheries, unlike the farms, supplied profitable exports to Europe, while lesser grades of fish went to the West Indies as food for slaves. Fisheries encouraged the development of shipbuilding, and experience at seafaring spurred commerce. This in turn encouraged wider contacts in the Atlantic world and a degree of materialism and cosmopolitanism that clashed with the Puritan credo of plain living and high thinking. In 1714 a worried Puri- tan deplored the “great extravagance that people are fallen into, far beyond their circumstances, in their purchases, buildings, families, expenses, ap- parel, generally in the whole way of living.”


Profitable Fisheries

Fishing for, curing, and drying codfish in Newfoundland in the early 1700s. For centuries the rich fishing grounds of the North Atlantic provided New Englanders with a pros- perous industry.

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N E W E N G L A N D S H I P B U I L D I N G The abundant forests of New Eng- land represented a source of enormous wealth. Old-growth trees were espe- cially prized by the British government for maritime use as masts and spars. Early on, the British government claimed the tallest and straightest American trees, mostly white pines and oaks, for use by the Royal Navy. At the same time, British officials encouraged the colonists to develop their own ship- building industry. The New England economy was utterly dependent on fish- ing and maritime commerce, and this placed a premium on the availability of boats and ships—and shipbuilders. In 1641 the Massachusetts General Court declared that shipbuilding “is a business of great importance to the common good” and therefore care must be taken to ensure that boatbuild- ing was “well performed.” American seaports recruited British shipwrights to emigrate. In 1637, for example, the town of Salem lured William Stevens, a skilled London shipwright, by granting him free land “for the building of Ships, provided that it shall be employed for that end.” American-built ships quickly became prized by British and European traders for their quality and price. It was much less expensive to purchase American-built ships than to transport American timber to Britain for ship construction, especially since a large ship might require the timber from as many as 2,000 trees.

Nearly one third of all British ships were made in the colonies. Shipbuild- ing was one of colonial America’s first big industries, and it in turn helped nurture many businesses: timber, sawmills, iron foundries, sail lofts, fisheries, and taverns. The availability of “all manner of materials for ship building very cheap” allowed New Englanders to keep freight charges low compared with those of other trading nations, thus winning the entire West Indian and North American trade with the exception of products only the English could produce.

Constructing a large ship required as many as thirty skilled trades and 200 workers. The vessel’s hull was laid out by master shipwrights, talented mar- itime carpenters who used axes and adzes to cut and fit together the pieces to form the keel, or spine of the hull. They then fashioned U-shaped ribs for the hull before enclosing the frame with planking and decking boards that had been prepared by sawyers. Carpenters carefully secured the boards with treenails (pronounced—and sometimes spelled—“trunnels”), strong wooden pegs pounded into bored holes. Caulkers made the ship watertight by stuff- ing the seams with oakum, a loose hemp fiber that was sealed with hot tar.

As the new ship took shape, rope makers created the ship’s extensive rig- ging. Rope was made by hand. Workers walked backward, away from a spin- ning wheel, twisting handfuls of hemp into a long coil. The workers were called rope walkers, and the wooden shed where they worked, often 1,000 feet

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long, was called a ropewalk. After the coils of rope were spun, they were dipped in heated tar to preserve them from saltwater rot. Sailmakers, mean- while, fashioned sails out of canvas, laying them out in large lofts.

Other craftsmen produced the dozens of other items needed for a sailing ves- sel: blacksmiths forged iron anchors, chains, hinges, bolts, rudder braces, and circular straps that secured sections of a mast to each other. Block makers cre- ated the dozens of metal-strapped wooden pulleys needed to hoist sails. Joiners built hatches, ladders, lockers, and furnishings. Painters finished the trim and interiors. Ship chandlers provided lamps, oil, and candles. Instrument makers fashioned compasses, chronometers, and sextants for navigation.

Such skilled workers were trained in the apprentice-journeyman system then common in England. A master craftsman taught an apprentice the skills of his trade in exchange for wages. After the apprenticeship period, lasting from four to seven years, a young worker would receive a new suit of clothes from the master craftsman and then become a journeyman, literally moving from shop to shop, working for wages as he honed his skills. Over time, journeymen joined local guilds and became master craftsmen, who themselves took on apprentices. In the colonies the acute demand for skilled laborers and the absence of guilds to regulate work standards and wages by limiting competition resulted in a more flexible labor system. With wages high and land cheap or free, journeymen could often start their own ship- yards with a small amount of capital. The workday in a colonial shipyard lasted from dawn to dusk. Laborers were given breaks, at eleven in the morn- ing and four in the afternoon, for grog, a heated mixture of rum and water.

It took four to six months to build a major sailing ship. The ship christen- ings and launchings were festive occasions that attracted large crowds and dignitaries. Shops and schools would often close to enable workers and stu- dents to attend. All of the workers joined the celebration. The ceremony would begin with a clergyman blessing the new vessel. Then the ship’s owner or a senior member of the crew would “christen” the ship before ropes were cut and blocks removed to allow the hull to slide into the water.

T R A D E By the end of the seventeenth century, the colonies had become part of a great North Atlantic commercial connection, trading not only with the British Isles and the British West Indies but also—and often illegally— with Spain, France, Portugal, Holland, and their colonies from America to the shores of Africa. Out of necessity the colonists imported manufactured goods from Europe: hardware, machinery, paint, instruments for naviga- tion, and various household items. The colonies thus served as an important market for goods from the mother country. The central problem for the


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colonies was to find the means to pay for the imports—the eternal problem of the balance of trade and the shortage of currency.

The mechanism of trade in New England and the middle colonies differed from that in the South in two respects: the lack of staples to exchange for English goods was a relative disadvantage, but the abundance of their own shipping and mercantile enterprise worked in their favor. After 1660, in or- der to protect England’s agriculture and fisheries, the English government placed prohibitive duties on certain major colonial exports—fish, flour, wheat, and meat—while leaving the door open to timber, furs, and whale oil, products in great demand in the home country. New York and New England between 1698 and 1717 bought more from England than they sold there, in- curring an unfavorable trade balance.

The northern colonies solved the problem partly by using their own ships and merchants, thus avoiding the “invisible” charges for trade and transport, and by finding other markets for the staples excluded from England, thus ac- quiring goods or bullion to pay for imports from the mother country. Amer- ican lumber and fish therefore went to southern Europe, Madeira, and the Azores for money or in exchange for wine; lumber, rum, and provisions went to Newfoundland; and all of these and more went to the West Indies, which became the most important outlet of all. American merchants could sell fish, bread, flour, corn, pork, bacon, beef, and horses to West Indian planters, who specialized in sugarcane. In return they got money, sugar, mo- lasses, rum, indigo, dyewoods, and other products, many of which went eventually to England.

These circumstances gave rise to the famous “triangular trade” (more a descriptive convenience than a rigid pattern), in which New Englanders shipped rum to the west coast of Africa, where they bartered for slaves; took the slaves to the West Indies; and returned home with various commodities, including molasses, from which they manufactured rum. In another version they shipped provisions to the West Indies, carried sugar and molasses to England, and returned with goods manufactured in Europe.

The colonies suffered from a chronic shortage of hard currency, which drifted away to pay for imports and shipping charges. Various expedients met the shortage of currency: the use of wampum or commodities, the monetary value of which colonial governments tried vainly to set by law. Promissory notes of individuals or colonial treasurers often passed as a crude sort of paper money. Most of the colonies at one time or another is- sued bills of credit, on promise of payment later (hence the dollar “bill”), and most set up land banks that issued paper money for loans to farmers on the security of their land, which was mortgaged to the banks. Colonial

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farmers began to recognize that an inflation of paper money led to an infla- tion of crop prices and therefore asked for more and more paper money. Thus began in colonial politics what was to become a recurrent issue in later times, the question of currency inflation. Whenever the issue arose, debtors commonly favored growth in the money supply, which would make it easier for them to settle accounts, whereas creditors favored a limited money sup- ply, which would increase the value of their capital. Parliament outlawed legal- tender paper money in New England in 1751 and throughout the colonies in 1764.

R E L I G I O N New England was settled by religious fundamentalists. The Puritans were colonists for God who looked to the Bible for authority and

















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inspiration. They read the Bible daily and memorized its passages and sto- ries. They read it silently alone and aloud as families and in church services, which lasted from eight until noon on Sunday mornings. The Christian faith was a living source of daily inspiration and obligation for most New Englanders.

The Puritans had come to America to create pious and prosperous com- munities, not to tolerate sinfulness in their new Zion. Yet the picture of the dour Puritan, hostile to anything that gave pleasure, is false. Puritans, espe- cially those of the upper class, wore colorful clothing, enjoyed secular music, and imbibed prodigious quantities of rum. “Drink is in itself a good creature of God,” said the Reverend Increase Mather, “but the abuse of drink is from Satan.” If found incapacitated by reason of strong drink, a person was sub- ject to arrest. A Salem man, for example, was tried for staggering into a house where he “eased his stomak in the Chimney.” Repeat offenders were forced to wear the letter D in public.

Moderation in all things except piety was the Puritan guideline, and it ap- plied to sexual activity as well. Contrary to prevailing images of Puritan prudery, Puritans quite openly acknowledged natural human desires. Of course, sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage was strictly forbid- den, but like most social prohibitions it provoked transgression. New Eng- land court records are filled with cases of adultery and fornication. A man found guilty of coitus with an unwed woman could be jailed, whipped, fined, disenfranchised, and forced to marry the woman. Female offenders were also jailed and whipped, and in some cases adulterers were forced to wear the letter A in public. In part the abundance of sex offenses is explained by the disproportionate number of men in the colonies. Many were unable to find a wife and were therefore tempted to satisfy their sexual desires out- side marriage.

The Puritans who settled Massachusetts, unlike the Separatists of Ply- mouth, proposed only to form a purified version of the Anglican Church. They believed that they could remain loyal to the Church of England, the unity of church and state, and the principle of compulsory uniformity. But their remoteness from England led them to adopt a congregational form of church government identical with that of the Pilgrim Separatists and for that matter little different from the practice of Anglicans in the southern colonies.

In the Puritan version of John Calvin’s theology, God had voluntarily en- tered into a covenant, or contract, with worshippers through which they could secure salvation. By analogy, therefore, an assembly of true Christians could enter into a church covenant, a voluntary union for the common wor- ship of God. From this it was a fairly short step to the idea of a voluntary

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union for the purpose of government. The history of New England affords examples of several such limited steps toward constitutional government: the Mayflower Compact, the Cambridge Agreement of John Winthrop and his followers, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, and the informal arrangements whereby the Rhode Island settlers governed themselves until they secured a charter in 1663.

The covenant theory contained certain kernels of democracy in both church and state, but democracy was no part of Puritan political thought, which like so much else in Puritan belief began with original sin. Humanity’s innate depravity made government necessary. The Puritan was dedicated to seeking not the will of the people but the will of God, and the ultimate source of authority was the Bible. But the Bible had to be explained. Hence, most Puritans deferred to an intellectual elite for a true knowledge of God’s will. By law every town had to support a church through taxes levied on every household. And every community member was required to attend midweek and Sunday religious services. The average New Englander heard 7,000 sermons in a lifetime.

The church exercised a pervasive influence over the life of the New England town, but unlike the Church of England it technically had no political power. Thus although Puritan New England has often been called a theoc- racy, the church was entirely separate from the state—except that the resi- dents were taxed for its support. And if not all inhabitants were church members, all were nonetheless required to attend church services.

New England Puritans were assailed by doubts, by a fear of falling away from godly living, by the haunting fear that despite their best outward ef- forts they might not be among God’s elect. Add such concerns to the long winters that kept the family cooped up during the dark, cold months, and one has a formula for seething resentments and recriminations that, for the sake of peace in the family, had to be projected outward, toward neighbors. The New Englanders of those peaceable kingdoms therefore built a reputation as the most litigious people on the face of God’s earth, continually quarreling over property disputes, business dealings, and other issues and building in the process a flourishing legal profession.

D I V E R S I T Y A N D S O C I A L S T R A I N S Despite long-enduring myths, New England towns were not always pious, harmonious, and self-sufficient utopias populated by praying Puritans. Many communities were founded not as religious refuges but as secular centers of fishing, trade, or commercial agriculture, and the animating concerns of residents in such towns tended to be more entrepreneurial than spiritual. After a Puritan minister delivered his


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first sermon to a congregation in the fishing port of Marblehead, a crusty fisherman admonished him: “You think you are preaching to the people of the Bay. Our main end was to catch fish.”

In many of the godly backwoods communities, social strains increased as time passed, a consequence primarily of population pressure on the land and increasing disparities of wealth. “Love your neighbor,” said Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard, “but don’t pull down your fence.” Initially among the first settlers, fathers exercised strong authority over sons through their control of the land. They kept the sons and their families in the town, not letting them set up their own households or get title to their farmland until they reached middle age. In New England, as elsewhere, fathers tended to subdivide their land among all the male children. But by the eighteenth cen- tury, with land scarcer, the younger sons were either getting control of the property early or moving on. Often they were forced out, with family help and blessings, to seek land elsewhere or new kinds of work in the commer- cial cities along the coast or inland rivers. With the growing pressure on land in the settled regions, poverty and social tension increased in what had once seemed a country of unlimited opportunity.

The emphasis on a direct accountability to God, which lies at the base of all Protestant theology, itself caused a persistent tension and led believers to challenge authority in the name of private conscience. Massachusetts re- pressed such heresy in the 1630s, but it resurfaced during the 1650s among

Society and Economy in New England • 127

School Street, Salem, in about 1765

The mansion of a wealthy merchant dominates this street scene, typical of a pros- perous port town.

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Quakers and Baptists, and in 1659–1660 the colony hanged four Quakers who persisted in returning after they had been expelled. These acts caused such revulsion—and an investigation by the crown—that they were not re- peated, although heretics continued to face harassment and persecution.

More damaging to the Puritan utopia was the growing materialism of New England, which placed strains on church discipline. More and more children of the “visible saints” found themselves unable to give the required testimony of regeneration. In 1662 an assembly of ministers at Boston accepted the “Half-Way Covenant,” whereby baptized children of church members could be admitted to a “halfway” membership and secure baptism for their own chil- dren in turn. Such members, however, could neither vote in church nor take communion. A further blow to Puritan control came with the Massachusetts royal charter of 1691, which required toleration of dissenters and based the right to vote in public elections on property rather than church membership.

T H E D E V I L I N N E W E N G L A N D The strains accompanying Massa- chusetts’s transition from Puritan utopia to royal colony reached an un- happy climax in the witchcraft hysteria at Salem Village (now the town of Danvers) in 1692. Belief in witchcraft was widespread throughout Europe and New England in the seventeenth century. Prior to the dramatic episode in Salem, almost 300 New Englanders (mostly middle-aged women) had been accused of being witches, and more than 30 had been hanged. New England was, in the words of Cotton Mather, “a country . . . extraordinarily alarum’d by the wrath of the Devil.”

Still, the outbreak in Salem was distinctive in its scope and intensity. Salem Village was about eight miles from the larger Salem Town, a thriving port. A contentious community made up of independent farm families and people who depended upon the commercial activity of the port, the village struggled to free itself from the influence and taxes of Salem proper. The tensions that arose apparently made the residents especially susceptible to the idea that the devil was at work in the village.

During the winter of 1691–1692, several adolescent girls began meeting in the kitchen of the town minister, the Reverend Samuel Parris. There they gave rapt attention to the African tales told by Tituba, Parris’s West Indian slave. As the days passed, the entranced girls began to behave oddly—shouting, bark- ing, groveling, and twitching for no apparent reason. A doctor concluded that the girls were bewitched. When asked who was tormenting them, the girls replied that three women—Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne—were Satan’s servants.

Authorities thereupon arrested the three women. At a special hearing be- fore the magistrates, the “afflicted” girls rolled on the floor in convulsive fits


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as the accused women were ques- tioned. In the midst of the hear- ing, Tituba shocked listeners by not only confessing to the charge but also divulging the names of many others in the community who she claimed were also per- forming the devil’s work. Soon thereafter, dozens more girls and young women began to experi- ence the same violent contortions. The accusations spread through- out the community. Within a few months the Salem Village jail was filled with townspeople—men, women, and children—accused of practicing witchcraft.

At the end of May, the author- ities arrested Martha Carrier. A farmer had testified that several of his cattle suffered “strange deaths” soon after he and Carrier had had an argument. Little Phoebe Chandler added that she had been stricken with terrible stomach pains soon after she heard Carrier’s voice telling her she was going to be poisoned. Even Carrier’s own children testified against her: they reported that their mother had recruited them to be witches. But the most damning testimony was provided by several young girls. When they were brought into the hearing room, they began writhing in agony at the sight of Carrier. They claimed that they could see the devil whispering in her ear. Carrier declared that it was “a shame- ful thing that you should mind these folks that are out of their wits. I am wronged.” A few days later she was hanged. Rebecca Nurse, a pious seventy-one-year-old matriarch of a large family, went to the gallows in July. George Jacobs, an old man whose servant girl accused him of witch- craft, dismissed the whole chorus of accusers as “bitch witches.” He was hanged in August.

But as the net of accusation spread wider, extending far beyond the con- fines of Salem, leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony began to worry that

Society and Economy in New England • 129

The Wonders of the Invisible World

Title page of the 1693 London edition of Cotton Mather’s account of the Salem witchcraft cases. Mather, a Boston minister, advocated the admission of “spectral” evi- dence in witchcraft trials and warned his congregation that the devil’s legions had been set upon New England.

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the witch hunts were out of control. The governor intervened when his own wife was accused of serving the devil. He disbanded the special court in Salem and ordered the remaining suspects released. A year after it had be- gun, the fratricidal event was finally over. Nineteen people (including some men married to women who had been convicted) had been hanged, one man—the stubborn Giles Corey— was pressed to death by heavy stones, and more than 100 others were jailed. Nearly everybody responsible for the Salem executions later recanted, and nothing quite like it happened in the colonies again.

What explains the witchcraft hysteria at Salem? Some have argued that it may have represented nothing more than a contagious exercise in adolescent imagination intended to enliven the dreary routine of everyday life. Yet adults pressed the formal charges against the accused and provided most of the testimony. This fact has led some scholars to speculate that long-festering local feuds and property disputes may have triggered the prosecutions.

More recently historians have focused on the most salient fact about the accused witches: almost all of them were women. Many of the supposed witches, it turns out, had in some way defied the traditional roles assigned to females. Some had engaged in business transactions outside the home; others did not attend church; some were curmudgeons. Most of them were middle-aged or older and without sons or brothers. They thus stood to inherit property and live as independent women. The notion of au- tonomous spinsters flew in the face of prevailing social conventions.

Still another interpretation stresses the hysteria caused in the late seven- teenth century by frequent Indian attacks occurring just north of Salem, along New England’s northern frontier. The outbreak of King William’s War in 1689 had revived fighting with the northern Indians, and some of the par- ticipants in the witch trials were orphan girls from Maine who had wit- nessed the violence firsthand. Their proximity to such horrific events and the terrifying specter of new Indian attacks exacerbated anxieties and may help explain why witchcraft hysteria developed so rapidly and extensively. “Are you guilty or not?” the Salem magistrate John Hathorne demanded of fourteen-year-old Abigail Hobbs in 1692. “I have seen sights and been scared,” she answered.

Whatever the precise cause, there is little doubt that the witchcraft contro- versy reflected the peculiar social dynamics of the Salem community. Late in 1692, as the hysteria in Salem subsided, several of the afflicted girls were traveling through nearby Ipswich when they encountered an old woman resting on a bridge. “A witch!” they shouted and began writhing as if pos- sessed. But the people of Ipswich were unimpressed. Passersby showed no


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interest in the theatrics. Unable to generate either sympathy or curiosity, the girls picked themselves up and continued on their way.


A N E C O N O M I C M I X Both geographically and culturally the middle colonies stood between New England and the South, blending their own in- fluences with elements derived from the older regions on either side. In so doing, they more completely reflected the diversity of colonial life and more fully foreshadowed the pluralism of the American nation than the other regions did. Their crops were those of New England but more bounti- ful, owing to better land and a longer growing season, and they developed surpluses of foodstuffs for export to the plantations of the South and the West Indies: wheat, barley, oats, and other cereals, flour, and livestock. Three great rivers—the Hudson, the Delaware, and the Susquehanna—and their tributaries gave the middle colonies ready access to the backcountry and to the fur trade of the interior, where New York and Pennsylvania long enjoyed friendly relations with the Iroquois, the Delaware, and other tribes. As a consequence the region’s commerce rivaled that of New England, and indeed Philadelphia in time supplanted Boston as the largest city in the colonies.

Land policies in the middle colonies followed the headright system of the South. In New York the early royal governors carried forward, in practice if not in name, the Dutch device of the patroonship, granting influential fa- vorites vast estates on Long Island and up the Hudson and Mohawk River valleys. These realms most nearly approached the medieval manor. They were self-contained domains farmed by tenants who paid fees to use the landlords’ mills, warehouses, smokehouses, and wharves. But with free land available elsewhere, New York’s population languished, and the new waves of immigrants sought the promised land of Pennsylvania.

A N E T H N I C M I X In the makeup of their population, the middle colonies stood apart from both the mostly English Puritan settlements and the biracial plantation colonies to the south. In New York and New Jersey, for instance, Dutch culture and language lingered, along with the Dutch Re- formed Church. Along the Delaware River the few Swedes and Finns, the first settlers, were overwhelmed by the influx of English and Welsh Quakers, followed in turn by Germans and Scotch-Irish.

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The Germans came mainly from the Rhineland, a region devastated by in- cessant war. (Until German unification in 1871, ethnic Germans—those Europeans speaking German as their native language—lived in a variety of areas and principalities in central Europe.) William Penn’s brochures encour- aging settlement in Pennsylvania circulated throughout central Europe in German translation, and his promise of religious freedom appealed to perse- cuted sects, especially the Mennonites, German Baptists whose beliefs resem- bled those of the Quakers.

In 1683 a group of Mennonites founded Germantown, near Philadelphia. They were the vanguard of a swelling migration in the eighteenth century that included Lutherans, Reformed Calvinists, Moravians, and others, a large proportion of whom paid their way as indentured servants, or “redemption- ers,” as they were commonly called. West of Philadelphia they created a belt of settlement in which the “Pennsylvania Dutch” (a corruption of Deutsch, meaning “German”) predominated, as well as a channel for the dispersion of German populations throughout the colonies.

The feisty Scotch-Irish began to arrive later and moved still farther out into the backcountry throughout the eighteenth century. (Scotch-Irish is an en- during misnomer for Ulster Scots, Presbyterians transplanted from Scotland to confiscated lands in northern Ireland to give that country a more Protes- tant tone.) The Scotch-Irish, mostly Presbyterians, fled both Anglican perse- cution and economic disaster caused by English taxes. Between 1717 and 1775 over 250,000 Scots and Scotch-Irish left northern England, southern Scotland, and northern Ireland for America. They settled in Pennsylvania and the fertile valleys stretching southwestward into Virginia and Carolina.

The Germans and Scotch-Irish became the largest non-English elements in the colonies, but other groups enriched the population in New York and the Quaker colonies: Huguenots (Calvinists whose religious freedom had been revoked in France in 1685), Irish, Welsh, Swiss, Jews, and others. New York had inherited from the Dutch a tradition of tolerance that had given the colony a diverse population before the English conquest: French-speaking Walloons and French, Germans, Danes, Portuguese, Spaniards, Italians, Bo- hemians, Poles, and others, including some New England Puritans. The Protestant Netherlands had given haven to the Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal, and enough of them found their way into New Nether- land to found a synagogue there.

What could be said of Pennsylvania as a refuge for the persecuted might be said as well of Rhode Island and South Carolina, which practiced a simi- lar religious toleration. Newport and Charleston, like New York and Philadelphia, became centers of minuscule Jewish populations. Huguenots


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What attracted German immigrants to the Middle Colonies? Why did the Scotch-Irish spread across the Appalachian backcountry? What major pop- ulation changes were reflected in the 1790 census?

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made their greatest mark on South Carolina, more by their enterprise than by their numbers. A number of Highland Scots came directly from their homeland rather than by way of Ulster, especially after the suppression of a rebellion in 1745 on behalf of the Stuart pretender to the throne, Bonnie Prince Charlie.

The eighteenth century was the period of great expansion and popula- tion growth in British North America, and during those years a large in- crease in the non-English stock took place. A rough estimate of the national origins of the white population as of 1790 found it to be 61 percent English, 14 percent Scottish and Scotch-Irish, 9 percent German, 5 percent Dutch, French, and Swedish, 4 percent Irish, and 7 percent miscellaneous or unas- signed. If one adds to the 3,172,444 whites in the 1790 census the 756,770 nonwhites, not even considering uncounted Indians, it seems likely that only about half the populace, and perhaps fewer, could trace their origins to England. Of the black slaves, about 75 percent had been transported from the bend of the African coastline between the Senegal and Niger rivers; most of the rest came from the Congo-Angola region.

T H E B AC KC O U N T RY Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century became the great distribution point for the different ethnic groups of European ori- gin, just as the Chesapeake Bay region and Charleston became the distribu- tion points for African peoples. Before the mid–eighteenth century, settlers in the Pennsylvania backcountry had reached the Appalachian Mountain range. Rather than crossing the steep ridges, the Scotch-Irish and Germans filtered southward along what came to be called the Great Philadelphia Road, the primary internal migration route during the colonial period. It headed west from the port city, traversing Chester and Lancaster counties, and turned southwest at Harris’ Ferry (now Harrisburg), where it crossed the Susquehanna River. Continuing south across western Maryland, it headed down the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and on into the Carolina and Georgia backcountry. Germans were the first white settlers in the upper Shenandoah Valley, and Scotch-Irish filled the lower valley.


During the seventeenth century the American colonies remained in comparative isolation from one another, evolving distinctive folkways and unfolding separate histories. Boston and New York and Philadelphia and Charleston were more likely to keep in close touch with London than with


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each other. The Carolina up-country had more in common with the Penn- sylvania backcountry than either had with the urban cultures of Charleston or Philadelphia. Since commerce was their chief reason for being, colonial cities hugged the coastline or, like Philadelphia, sprang up on rivers where oceangoing vessels could reach them. Never holding more than 10 percent of the colonial population, the large cities exerted a disproportionate influence in commerce, politics, and culture. By the end of the colonial period, Philadelphia, with some 30,000 people, was the largest city in the colonies and second only to London in the British Empire. New York, with about 25,000, ranked second; Boston numbered 16,000; Charleston, 12,000; and Newport, 11,000.

T H E S O C I A L A N D P O L I T I C A L O R D E R The urban social elite was dominated by the merchants who bartered the products of American farms and forests for the molasses and rum of the West Indies, the manufactured goods of Europe, and the slaves of Africa. After the merchants, who consti- tuted the chief urban aristocracy, came a middle class of retailers, innkeep- ers, and artisans. Almost two thirds of the urban adult male workers were artisans, people who made their living at handicrafts. They in- cluded carpenters and coopers (barrel makers), shoemakers and tailors, silversmiths and black- smiths, sailmakers, stonemasons, weavers, and potters. At the bot- tom of the pecking order were sailors and unskilled workers.

Class stratification in the cities became more pronounced as time passed. One study of Boston found that in 1687 the richest 15 percent of the population held 52 percent of the taxable wealth; by 1771 the top 15 percent held about 67 percent and the top 5 percent held some 44 percent. In Philadel- phia the concentration of wealth was even more pronounced.

Colonial cities were busy, crowded, and dangerous. They

Colonial Cities • 135

The Rapalje Children

John Durand (ca. 1768). These children of a wealthy Brooklyn merchant wear clothing typical of upper-crust urban society.

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required not only paved roads and streetlights but regulations to protect children and animals from reckless riders. Regulations restrained citizens from tossing their garbage into the street. Fires that on occasion swept through closely packed buildings led to preventive standards in building codes, restrictions on burning rubbish, and the organization of fire compa- nies. Rising crime and violence required more police protection. And in cities the poor became more visible than they were in the countryside.

Colonists brought with them the English principle of public responsibil- ity for the indigent. The number of Boston’s poor receiving public assistance rose from 500 in 1700 to 4,000 in 1736; in New York the number rose from 250 in 1698 to 5,000 in the 1770s. Most of such public assistance went to “outdoor” relief in the form of money, food, clothing, and fuel. Almshouses appeared to house the destitute.

T H E U R B A N W E B Transit within and between cities was initially diffi- cult. The first roads were Indian trails, which themselves often followed the tracks of bison through the forests. Those trails widened with travel, then were made into roads by order of provincial and local authorities. Land travel was initially by horse or by foot. The first public stagecoach line opened in 1732. From the main ports good roads might reach thirty or forty miles inland, but all were dirt roads subject to washouts and mud holes. Aside from city streets there was not a single hard-surfaced road constructed during the entire colonial period.

Taverns were an important aspect of colonial travel, since movement by night was too risky to undertake. By the end of the seventeenth century, there were more taverns in America than any other business. Indeed, they became the most important social institution in the colonies—and the most democratic. By 1690 there were fifty-four taverns in Boston alone, half of them operated by women. Colonial taverns and inns were places to drink, relax, read the newspaper, play cards or billiards, gossip about people or politics, learn news from travelers, or conduct business. Local ordinances regulated them, setting prices and usually prohibiting them from serving liquor to African Americans, Indians, servants, or apprentices.

In 1726 a concerned Bostonian wrote a letter to the community, declaring that “the abuse of strong Drink is becoming Epidemical among us, and it is very justly Supposed . . . that the Multiplication of Taverns has contributed not a little to this Excess of Riot and Debauchery.” Despite the objections by some that crowded taverns engendered disease and unruly behavior, colonial taverns and inns continued to proliferate, and by the mid–eighteenth cen- tury they would become the gathering place for protests against British rule.


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Taverns served as a collective form of communication; long-distance communication, however, was more complicated. Postal service in the sev- enteenth century was almost nonexistent—people entrusted letters to trav- elers or sea captains. Under a parliamentary law of 1710, the postmaster of London named a deputy in charge of the colonies, and a postal system eventually extended the length of the Atlantic seaboard. Benjamin Franklin, who served as deputy postmaster for the colonies from 1753 to 1774, sped up the service with shorter routes and night-traveling post riders, and he increased the volume by inaugurating lower rates.

More reliable mail delivery gave rise to newspapers in the eighteenth cen- tury. Before 1745 twenty-two newspapers had been started: seven in New England, ten in the middle colonies, and five in the South. An important landmark in the progress of freedom of the press was John Peter Zenger’s trial for seditious libel, for publishing criticisms of New York’s governor in his newspaper, the New York Weekly Journal. Zenger was imprisoned for ten months and brought to trial in 1735. English common law held that one might be punished for criticism that fostered “an ill opinion of the govern- ment.” The jury’s function was only to determine whether the defendant had published the opinion. Zenger’s lawyer startled the court with his claim that the editor had published the truth—which the judge ruled an unacceptable

Colonial Cities • 137


A tobacconist’s business card from 1770 captures the atmosphere of late- eighteenth-century taverns. Here men in a Philadelphia tavern share conversation while they drink ale and smoke pipes.

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defense. The jury, however, agreed with the assertion and held the editor not guilty. The libel law remained standing as before, but editors thereafter were emboldened to criticize officials more freely.


D I S C OV E R I N G T H E L AW S O F NAT U R E Through their commercial contacts, newspapers, and other channels, colonial cities became centers for the dissemination of fashion and ideas. In the world of ideas, a new fashion was abroad: the Enlightenment. During the seventeenth century, Europe experienced a scientific revolution in which the ancient view of an earth- centered universe was overthrown by the heliocentric (sun-centered) system of the sixteenth-century Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. A climax to the scientific revolution came with Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia (Mathe- matical Principles of Natural Philosophy, 1687), which set forth his theory of gravitation. Newton depicted a mechanistic universe moving in accordance with natural laws that could be grasped by human reason and explained by mathematics. He implied that natural laws govern all things—the orbits of the planets and the orbits of human relations: politics, economics, and soci- ety. Reason could make people aware, for instance, that the natural law of supply and demand governs economics or that the natural rights to life, lib- erty, and property determine the limits and functions of government.

Much of enlightened thought could be reconciled with established beliefs: the idea of natural law existed in Christian theology, and religious people could reason that the rational universe of Copernicus and Newton simply demon- strated the glory of God. Yet when people carried Newton’s outlook to its ulti- mate logic, as the Deists did, the idea of natural law reduced God to a remote Creator—as the French philosophe Voltaire put it, the master clockmaker who planned the universe and set it in motion. Evil in the world, in this view, results not from original sin and innate depravity so much as from ignorance, an im- perfect understanding of the laws of nature. Humanity, the English philosopher John Locke argued in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), is largely the product of the environment, the mind being a blank tablet on which experience is written. The way to improve both society and human nature was by the application and improvement of Reason—which was the highest Virtue (Enlightenment thinkers often capitalized both words).

T H E E N L I G H T E N M E N T I N A M E R I C A However interpreted, such ideas profoundly affected the climate of thought in the eighteenth century.


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The premises of Newtonian science and the Enlightenment, moreover, fitted the American experience, which placed a premium on observation, experi- ment, and the need to think anew. America was therefore especially receptive to the new science.

John Winthrop Jr.(1606–1676), three times governor of Connecticut, wanted to establish industries and mining in America. Those interests led to his work in chemistry and to his membership in the Royal Society of London. He owned probably the first telescope brought to the colonies. His relative, John Winthrop (1714–1779), was a professional scientist and Harvard professor who introduced to the colonies the study of calculus and ranged over the fields of astronomy, geology, chemistry, and electricity. David Rittenhouse of Philadelphia, a clock maker, became a self-taught scientist who was probably the first to build a telescope in America. John Bartram, also of Philadelphia, spent a lifetime traveling and studying American plant life and developed an extensive botanical garden.

F R A N K L I N ’ S I N F LU E N C E Benjamin Franklin epitomized the Enlight- enment in the eyes of both Americans and Europeans. Born in Boston in 1706, he was the son of a maker of candles and soap. Apprenticed to his older brother, a printer, Franklin left home at the age of seventeen, bound for Philadelphia. There, before he was twenty-four, he owned a print shop, where he edited and published the Pennsylva- nia Gazette. When he was twenty-six, he brought out Poor Richard’s Al- manack, a collection of homely max- ims on success and happiness. Before he retired from business, at the age of forty-two, Franklin, among other achievements, had founded a library, set up a fire company, helped start the academy that became the University of Pennsylvania, and organized a debat- ing club that grew into the American Philosophical Society.

Science was Franklin’s passion. His Experiments and Observations on Electricity (1751) went through many editions in several languages and established his reputation as a lead- ing thinker and experimenter. His

The Enlightenment • 139

Benjamin Franklin

Shown here as a young man in a por- trait by Robert Feke.

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speculations extended widely, to the fields of medicine, meteorology, geol- ogy, astronomy, physics, and other areas of science. He invented the Franklin stove, the lightning rod, and a glass harmonica, for which Mozart and Beethoven wrote works. The triumph of this untutored genius confirmed the Enlightenment trust in the powers of Nature and Reason.

E D U C AT I O N I N T H E C O L O N I E S For the colonists at large, educa- tion in the traditional ideas and manners of society—even literacy itself— remained primarily the responsibility of family and church. The modern conception of free public education was slow in coming and failed to win universal acceptance until the twentieth century. Yet colonists were con- cerned from the beginning that steps needed to be taken lest the children of settlers grow up untutored.

Conditions in New England proved most favorable for the establishment of schools. The Puritan emphasis on Scripture reading, which all Protestants shared to some degree, implied an obligation to ensure literacy. And the com- pact towns of that region made schools more feasible than they were among

the scattered settlers of the south- ern colonies. In 1647 the Massa- chusetts Bay Colony enacted the famous “ye olde deluder Satan” act (designed to thwart the evil one), which required every town of fifty or more families to set up a grammar school (a “Latin school” that could prepare a stu- dent for college). Although the act was widely evaded, it did sig- nify a serious attempt to promote education.

The Dutch in New Netherland were as interested in education as the New England Puritans. In Pennsylvania the Quakers never heeded William Penn’s instruc- tions to establish public schools, but they did finance a number of private schools, where practical as well as academic subjects were taught. In the southern colonies


Colonial Education

A page from the rhymed alphabet of The New England Primer, a popular American textbook first published in the 1680s.

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efforts to establish schools were hampered by the more scattered population and in parts of the backcountry by indifference and neglect. Some of the wealthiest planters and merchants of the Tidewater sent their children to England or hired tutors. In some places wealthy patrons or the people collec- tively managed to raise some kind of support for “old field” schools (primitive one-room buildings usually made of logs) and academies at the secondary level.


S T I R R I N G S During the early eighteenth century the currents of rational- ism stimulated by the Enlightenment aroused concerns among orthodox believers in Calvinism. Many people seemed to be drifting away from the moorings of piety. Despite the belief that the Lord had allowed great Puritan and Quaker merchants of Boston and Philadelphia to prosper, there remained a haunting fear that the devil had lured them into the vain pursuit of worldly gain, Deism, and skepticism. And out along the fringes of settlement, many of the colonists were unchurched. On the frontier, people had no minister to preach or administer sacraments or perform marriages. According to some ministers, these pioneers had lapsed into a primitive and sinful life, little dif- ferent from that of the “heathen” Indians. By the 1730s the sense of religious decline provoked a widespread revival of faith, known as the Great Awakening.

In 1734–1735 a remarkable spiritual revival occurred in the congregation of Jonathan Edwards, a Congregationalist minister in Northampton, in western Massachusetts. One of America’s most brilliant philosophers and theologians, Edwards had entered Yale in 1716, at age thirteen, and gradu- ated as valedictorian four years later. In 1727 Edwards was called to serve the Congregational church in Northampton. There he found the town’s spirituality at a low ebb. More people frequented taverns than churches, and Christians, he believed, had become preoccupied with making and spending money. Religion had also become too intellectual, thereby losing its emotional force. “Our people,” he said, “do not so much need to have their heads stored [with new knowledge] as to have their hearts touched.” His own vivid descriptions of the torments of hell and the delights of heaven helped rekindle spiritual fervor among his congregants. By 1735 Edwards could report that “the town seemed to be full of the presence of God; it never was so full of love, nor of joy.” To judge the power of the Awakening, he thought, one need only observe that “it was no longer the Tavern” that drew local crowds, “but the Minister’s House.”

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About the same time, William Ten- nent, an Irish-born Presbyterian re- vivalist, set up a “Log College” in Neshaminy, Pennsylvania, for the ed- ucation of ministers to serve the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians living around Philadelphia. The true cata- lyst of the Great Awakening, however, was a young English minister, George Whitefield, whose reputation as a spellbinding evangelist preceded him to the colonies. Congregations were lifeless, he claimed, “because dead men preach to them.” Too many min- isters were “slothful shepherds and dumb dogs.” His objective was to re- store the fires of religious fervor to American congregations. In the autumn of 1739, Whitefield, then twenty-five, arrived in Philadelphia

and began preaching to huge crowds. After visiting Georgia, he made a tri- umphal procession northward to New England, drawing great crowds and releasing “Gales of Heavenly Wind” that blew gusts throughout the colonies.

Possessed of a golden voice, Whitefield enthralled audiences with his un- paralleled eloquence. Even the skeptical Benjamin Franklin, who went to see Whitefield preach in Philadelphia, found himself so carried away that he emptied his pockets into the collection plate. Whitefield urged his listeners to experience a “new birth”—a sudden, emotional moment of conversion and salvation. By the end of his sermon, one listener reported, the entire congregation was “in utmost Confusion, some crying out, some laughing, and Bliss still roaring to them to come to Christ, as they answered, I will, I will, I’m coming, I’m coming.”

Jonathan Edwards took advantage of the commotion stirred up by White- field to spread his own revival gospel throughout New England. The Awak- ening reached its peak in 1741 when Edwards delivered his most famous sermon at Enfield, Massachusetts (in present-day Connecticut). Titled “Sin- ners in the Hands of an Angry God,” it represented a devout appeal to repen- tance. Edwards reminded the congregation that hell is real and that God’s vision is omnipotent, his judgment certain. He noted that God “holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked . . . he looks upon you


George Whitefield

The English minister’s dramatic elo- quence roused American congregants, inspiring many to experience a reli- gious rebirth.

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as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire.” When Edwards fin- ished, he had to wait several minutes for the congregants to quiet down be- fore leading them in a closing hymn.

Edwards and Whitefield inspired many imitators, some of whom carried evangelism to extremes. Once unleashed, spiritual enthusiasm is hard to control. In many ways the Awakening backfired on those who had intended it to bolster church discipline and social order. Some of the revivalists began to court those at the bottom of society—laborers, seamen, servants, and farm folk. The Reverend James Davenport, for instance, a fiery New England Congregationalist, set about shouting, raging, and stomping on the devil, beseeching his listeners to renounce the established clergy and become the agents of their own salvation. The churched and unchurched flocked to his theatrical sermons. Seized by terror and ecstasy, they groveled on the floor or lay unconscious on the benches, to the chagrin of more decorous churchgo- ers. One never knew, the more traditional clergymen warned, whence came these enthusiasms—perhaps they were devilish delusions intended to dis- credit the true faith.

P I E T Y A N D R E A S O N Everywhere the fragmenting force of the Awaken- ing induced splits, especially in the more Calvinistic churches. Presbyterians divided into the “Old Side” and “New Side,” Congregationalists into “Old Lights” and “New Lights.” New England religious life would never be the same. The more traditional clergy were undermined as church members chose sides and either dismissed their ministers or deserted them. Many of the “New Lights” went over to the Baptists, and others flocked to Presbyterian or, later, Methodist groups, which in turn divided and subdivided into new sects.

New England Puritanism disintegrated amid the ecstatic revivals of the Great Awakening. The precarious balance in which the founders had held the elements of emotionalism and reason collapsed. Thereafter, New England attracted more and more Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and other de- nominations while the revival frenzy scored its most lasting victories along the frontiers of the middle and southern colonies. In the more sedate churches of Boston, moreover, the principle of rational religion gained the upper hand in a reaction against the excesses of revival emotion. Boston ministers such as Charles Chauncey and Jonathan Mayhew reexamined Calvinist theology and found too forbidding and irrational the concept that people could be forever damned by predestination.

In reaction to taunts that the “born-again” revivalist ministers lacked learning, the Awakening gave rise to the denominational colleges that became characteristic of American higher education. The three colleges al- ready in existence had their origins in religious motives: Harvard College,

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founded in 1636 because the Puritans dreaded “to leave an illiterate ministry to the church when our present ministers shall lie in the dust”; the College of William and Mary, created in 1693 to strengthen the Anglican ministry; and Yale College, set up in 1701 to educate the Puritans of Connecticut, who be- lieved that Harvard was drifting from the strictest orthodoxy. The College of New Jersey, later Princeton University, was founded by Presbyterians in 1746. In close succession came King’s College (1754) in New York, later re- named Columbia University, an Anglican institution; the College of Rhode Island (1764), later called Brown University, which was Baptist; Queens College (1766), later known as Rutgers, which was Dutch Reformed; and Dartmouth College (1769), which was Congregationalist and the outgrowth of an earlier school for Indians. Among the colonial colleges, only the University of Pennsylvania, founded as the Academy of Philadelphia in 1751, arose from a secular impulse.

The Great Awakening, like the Enlightenment, set in motion powerful currents that still flow in American life. It implanted in American culture the evangelical crusade and the emotional appeal of revivalism. The move- ment weakened the status of the old-fashioned clergy, encouraged believers to exercise their own judgment, and thereby weakened habits of deference generally. By encouraging the proliferation of denominations, it heightened the need for toleration of dissent. But in some respects the counterpoint be- tween the Awakening and the Enlightenment, between the principles of spirit and reason, led by different roads to similar ends. Both movements emphasized the power and right of individual decision making, and both aroused millennial hopes that America would become the promised land in which people might attain the perfection of piety or reason, if not both.



• This chapter reveals tensions in colonial Virginia society; such tensions would periodically come to a head, as in Bacon’s Rebellion, discussed in Chapter 2.

• During the imperial crisis of the 1760s and 1770s, the ideas of the Great Awakening and especially the Enlightenment helped shape the American response to British actions and thereby contributed to a revolutionary mentality.

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The diversity of colonial societies may be seen in David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (1989). On the eco- nomic development of New England, see Christine Leigh Heyrman’s Com- merce and Culture: The Maritime Communities of Colonial Massachusetts, 1690–1750 (1984) and Stephen Innes’s Creating the Commonwealth: The Economic Culture of Puritan New England (1995). John Frederick Martin’s Profits in the Wilderness: Entrepreneurship and the Founding of New England Towns in the Seventeenth Century (1991) indicates that economic concerns rather than spiritual motives were driving forces in many New England towns. For a fascinating account of the impact of livestock on colonial his- tory, see Virginia DeJohn Anderson’s Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America (2004).

Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum’s Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft (1974) connects the notorious witch trials to changes in com- munity structure. Bernard Rosenthal challenges many myths concerning the Salem witch trials in Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692 (1993). Mary Beth Norton’s In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (2002) emphasizes the role of Indian violence.

Discussions of women in the New England colonies can be found in Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650–1750 (1980), Joy Day Buel and Richard Buel Jr.’s The Way of Duty: A Woman and Her Family in Revolu- tionary America (1984), and Carol F. Karlsen’s The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (1987). John Demos describes family life in A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony, new ed. (2000).

On New England Indians, see Kathleen J. Bragdon’s Native People of Southern New England, 1500–1650 (1996). For analyses of Indian wars, see Alfred A. Cave’s The Pequot War (1996) and Jill Lepore’s The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity (1998). The story of the Iroquois is told well in Daniel K. Richter’s The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization (1992). Indians in the southern colonies are the focus of James Axtell’s The Indians’ New South: Cultural Change in the Colonial Southeast (1997).

For the social history of the southern colonies, see Allan Kulikoff ’s Tobacco and Slaves: The Development of Southern Cultures in the Chesapeake, 1680–1800 (1986) and Kathleen M. Brown’s Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (1996).

Further Reading • 145

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Family life along the Chesapeake Bay is described in Gloria L. Main’s Tobacco Colony: Life in Early Maryland, 1650–1720 (1982) and Daniel Blake Smith’s Inside the Great House: Planter Family Life in Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake Society (1980).

Edmund S. Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (1975) examines Virginia’s social structure, environment, and labor patterns in a biracial context. On the interaction of the cultures of blacks and whites, see Mechal Sobel’s The World They Made Together: Black and White Values in Eighteenth-Century Virginia (1987). African- American viewpoints are presented in Timothy H. Breen and Stephen Innes’s “Myne Owne Ground”: Race and Freedom on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, 1640–1676, new ed. (2004). David W. Galenson’s White Servitude in Colonial America: An Economic Analysis (1981) looks at the indentured la- bor force.

Henry F. May’s The Enlightenment in America (1976) examines intellec- tual trends in eighteenth-century America. Lawrence A. Cremin’s American Education: The Colonial Experience, 1607–1783 (1970) surveys educational developments.

On the Great Awakening, see Patricia U. Bonomi’s Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America (1986) and Frank Lambert’s Inventing the “Great Awakening” (1999). For evangelism in the South, see Christine Leigh Heyrman’s Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (1997).


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The English differed from the Spanish and the French in thedegree of freedom they initially allowed their Americancolonies. Unlike New France and New Spain, New England was in effect a self-governing community. There was much less control by the mother country, in part because the English were unwilling to incur the expenses of a vast colonial bureaucracy. The constant struggle between Parliament and the Stuart kings prevented England from perfecting either a systematic colonial policy or effective agencies of imperial control. After the Restoration of Charles II and the Stuart monarchy in 1660, a more comprehensive plan of colonial administration slowly emerged, but even so it lacked coherence and efficiency.





• How did England’s policies change the political and economic administration of the colonies?

• How were colonial governments structured?

• What were relations like between the English colonists and their neighbors in North America: the French, the Spanish, and the Indians?

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As a result of inefficient—and often lax—colonial administration by the mother country, Americans grew accustomed to loose and often paradoxical imperial policies. For instance, the English government granted home rule to the settlements along the Atlantic coast and then sought to keep them from exercising it. It regarded the English colonists as citizens but refused to grant them the privileges of citizenship. It insisted that the settlers con- tribute to the expense of maintaining the colonies but refused to allow them a voice in the shaping of administrative policies. Such inconsistencies spawned tensions. By the mid–eighteenth century, when Britain tried to tighten control of its American colonies, it was too late. British Americans had developed a far more powerful sense of their rights than any other colo- nial people, and they resolved to assert and defend those rights.


Throughout the colonial period the king was the source of legal authority in America, and land titles derived ultimately from royal grants to individuals and groups. All the colonies except Georgia received charters from the king before the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the crown lost supremacy to Parliament. The colonies therefore continued to stand as “de- pendencies of the crown,” and the important colonial officials held office at its pleasure. The English Civil War, which lasted from 1642 to 1649, led to Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan Commonwealth and Protectorate, and both developments gave the colonies a respite from efforts at royal control.

T H E M E R C A N T I L E S Y S T E M Oliver Cromwell showed little passion for regulating daily life in the American colonies, but he had a lively concern for colonial trade, which had fallen largely to Dutch shipping during the civil war. Therefore, in 1651 Parliament adopted the Navigation Act, requir- ing that all goods imported to England or the colonies be carried only on English ships and that the majority of each crew be English.

On economic policy if nothing else, Restoration England under Charles II followed the lead of Cromwell and all the other major European powers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The new Parliament adopted the mercantile system, or mercantilism, a nationalistic program that assumed that the total of the world’s gold and silver remained essentially fixed, with only a nation’s share in that wealth subject to change. Thus one nation could gain wealth only at the expense of another—by seizing its gold and silver and dominating its trade. To acquire gold and silver, a government had to control


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all economic activities, limiting foreign imports and preserving a favorable balance of trade. This required a mercantilist government to encourage man- ufacturers, through subsidies and monopolies if need be. Mercantilism also required a nation to develop and protect its own shipping and to exploit colonies as sources of raw materials and markets for its finished goods.

The Navigation Act of 1660 gave Cromwell’s act of 1651 a new twist: ships’ crews had to be three-quarters, not just a majority, English, and specified goods were to be shipped only to England or other English colonies. The list of “enumerated” goods initially included tobacco, cot- ton, indigo, ginger, dyewoods, and sugar. Rice, hemp, masts, copper ore, and furs, among other items, were added later. Not only did England (and its colonies) become the sole outlet for those “enumerated” colonial ex- ports, but the Navigation Act of 1663 required that all colonial imports from Europe to America stop first in England, be offloaded, and have duty paid on them before reshipment to the colonies. The Navigation Acts, also called the British Act of Trade, gave England a monopoly over the tobacco and sugar produced in the Chesapeake and the West Indies. The acts also increased customs revenues collected in England, channeled all colonial commerce through English merchants, and enriched English ship- builders. Over time, these regulations meant that the commercial activi- ties of the American colonies became ever more important to the strength of the British Empire.

E N F O R C I N G T H E N AV I G AT I O N AC T S The Navigation Acts sup- plied a convenient rationale for a colonial system: to serve the economic needs of the mother country. Yet enforcement was spotty. During the reign of Charles I, a bureaucracy of colonial administrators began to emerge, but it took shape slowly and incompletely. In 1675 Charles II introduced some order into the chaos when he designated the Lords of Trade to make the colonies abide by the mercantile system and seek out ways to make them more profitable to England and the crown. To these ends the lords served as the clearinghouse for all colonial affairs, building up a bureaucracy of colo- nial experts. The Lords of Trade named governors, wrote or reviewed the governors’ instructions, and handled all reports and correspondence dealing with colonial affairs.

During the 1670s collectors of customs duties appeared in all the colonies, and a surveyor general of customs in the American colonies was named. The most notorious of these, insofar as resentful colonists were concerned, was Edward Randolph, the first man to make a career in the colonial service and the nemesis of insubordinate colonials for a quarter century. Randolph arrived

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at Boston in 1676 and soon demanded that Massachusetts abide by the Navi- gation Acts. He set up shop as the king’s collector of customs in Boston, and within months his efforts to tighten control over commercial activity excited massive resentment. In 1678 a defiant Massachusetts legislature declared that the Navigation Acts had no legal standing in the colony. Eventually, in 1684, the Lords of Trade won a court decision that annulled the charter of Massa- chusetts. The Puritan utopia was fast becoming a lost cause.

T H E D O M I N I O N O F N E W E N G L A N D Temporarily the government of Massachusetts Bay was placed in the hands of a special royal commission. Then, in 1685, Charles II died, to be succeeded by his brother the duke of York, as James II, the first Catholic sovereign since the death of Queen Mary in 1558. James II asserted power more forcefully than his brother had. The new king readily approved a proposal to create a Dominion of New England that included all the colonies south through New Jersey.

The dominion was to have a government named by royal authority; a governor and council would rule without any assembly. The royal governor, Sir Edmund Andros, appeared in Boston in 1686 to establish his rule, which he soon extended over Connecticut and Rhode Island and, in 1688, over New York and East and West Jersey. Andros was a soldier, accustomed


Boston from the Southeast

This view of eighteenth-century Boston shows the importance of shipping and its regulation in the colonies, especially in Massachusetts Bay.

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to taking—and giving—orders. He seems to have been honest, efficient, and loyal to the crown but tactless in circumstances that called for the ut- most diplomacy—the uprooting of long-established institutions in the face of popular hostility.

A rising resentment greeted Andros’s measures, especially in Massachu- setts. Taxation was now levied with- out the consent of the General Court, and when residents of one seaboard town protested taxation without rep- resentation, several of them were im- prisoned or fined. Andros suppressed town governments, enforced the trade laws, and punished smugglers. Most ominous of all, Andros and his lieutenants took over a Puritan church in Boston for Anglican worship. Puritan leaders believed, with good reason, that he was conspiring to break their power and authority.

But the Dominion of New England was scarcely established before the Glorious Revolution of 1688 erupted in England. King James II, like Andros in New England, had aroused resentment by instituting arbitrary measures— and by openly parading his Catholic faith. The birth of a son, sure to be reared a Catholic, put the opposition on notice that James’s system would survive him. The Catholic son, rather than the Protestant daughters, Mary and Anne, would be next in line for the throne. Parliamentary leaders, their patience exhausted, invited Protestant Mary Stuart and her husband, the Dutch leader William III of Orange, to assume the throne as joint monarchs. James, seeing his support dwindling, fled to France.

T H E G L O R I O U S R E VO LU T I O N I N A M E R I C A When news reached Boston that William had landed in England, the city staged its own Glorious Revolution. Andros and his councilors were arrested, and Massa- chusetts reverted to its former government. In rapid sequence the other colonies that had been absorbed into the dominion followed suit. All were permitted to retain their former status except Massachusetts Bay and Ply- mouth which after some delay were united under a new charter in 1691 as the royal colony of Massachusetts Bay.

In New York, however, events took a different course. There Andros’s lieutenant governor was deposed by a German immigrant, Jacob Leisler,

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King James II

English monarch from 1685 to 1688.

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who assumed the office of governor pending approval from England. For two years he kept the province under his control with the support of the militia. Finally, in 1691, the king appointed a new governor. When Leisler hesitated to turn over authority, he was charged with treason, and he and his son-in-law were hanged on May 16, 1691. Four years too late, in 1695, Parliament exonerated them of all charges. Leisler and anti-Leisler factions would poison the political atmosphere of New York for years to come.

The new British monarchs, William and Mary, made no effort to restore the Dominion of New England, but they brought more colonies under royal control through the appointment of governors in Massachusetts, New York, and Maryland. Maryland, however, reverted to proprietary status in 1715, after the fourth Lord Baltimore became Anglican. Pennsylvania had an even briefer career as a royal colony, from 1692 to 1694, before reverting to William Penn’s proprietorship. New Jersey became a royal province in 1702, South Carolina in 1719, North Carolina in 1729, and Georgia in 1752.

The Glorious Revolution had significant long-term effects on American history in that the Bill of Rights and the Act of Toleration, passed in England in 1689, influenced attitudes and the course of events in the colonies. Even more significant, the overthrow of James II set a precedent for revolution against the monarch. In defense of that action, the English philosopher John Locke published his Two Treatises on Government (1690), which had an enor- mous impact on political thought in the colonies. The first treatise refuted theories of the divine right of kings. The more important second treatise set forth Locke’s contract theory of government, which claimed that people were endowed with certain natural rights to life, liberty, and property. The need to protect such rights led people to establish governments. Kings were parties to such agreements and obligated to protect the property and lives of their sub- jects. When they failed to do so, the people had the right—in extreme cases— to overthrow the monarch and change their government.

The idea that governments emerged by contract out of a primitive state of nature is of course hypothetical, not an account of actual events. But in the American experience, governments had actually grown out of contractual arrangements such as those Locke described: the Mayflower Compact, the Cambridge Agreement, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. The royal charters themselves constituted a sort of contract between the crown and the settlers. John Locke’s writings understandably appealed to colonial readers, and his philosophy probably had more influence in America than in England.

A N E M E R G I N G C O L O N I A L S Y S T E M The accession of William and Mary to the English throne led to a refinement of the existing Navigation


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Acts. In 1696 two developments created at last the semblance and, to some degree, the reality of a coherent administrative system for the colonies. First, the Act to Prevent Frauds and Abuses of 1696 required colonial governors to enforce the trade laws, allowed customs officials to use “writs of assistance” (general search warrants that did not have to specify the place to be searched), and ordered that accused violators be tried in admiralty courts (because colonial juries habitually refused to convict their peers). Admiralty cases were decided by judges whom the royal governors appointed.

Second, also in 1696, William III created the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations (the Board of Trade) to investigate the enforcement of the Navigation Acts and recommend ways to limit colonial manufactures and encourage the production of raw materials. At the board’s behest, Par- liament enacted a bounty for the production of ship timber, masts, hemp, rice, indigo, and other commodities. The board examined all colonial laws and made recommendations for their disallowance by the crown. In all, 8,563 colonial laws were eventually examined, and 469 were eliminated.

S A LU TA RY N E G L E C T From 1696 to 1725, the Board of Trade worked vigorously to subject the colonies to a more efficient royal control. After the death of Queen Anne, in 1714, however, its energies waned. The throne went in turn to the Hanoverian monarchs, George I (r. 1714–1727) and George II (r. 1727–1760), German princes who were next in the Protestant line of suc- cession by virtue of descent from James I. Under these monarchs the cabinet (a kind of executive committee in the Privy Council) emerged as the central agency of administration. Robert Walpole, as first minister (1721–1742), deliberately followed a policy toward the colonies that the philosopher Edmund Burke later called “a wise and salutary neglect.” Walpole’s relaxed policy toward the colonies not only gave them greater freedom to pursue their economic interests; it unwittingly also enabled the Americans to pursue greater political independence.

T H E H A B I T O F S E L F -G O V E R N M E N T

Government within the American colonies, like colonial policy, evolved without plan. In broad outline the governor, council, and assembly in each colony corresponded to the king, lords, and commons of the mother country. At the outset all the colonies except Georgia had begun as projects of trading companies or feudal proprietors holding charters from the crown, but eight colonies eventually relinquished or forfeited their charters and

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became royal provinces. In these the crown named the governor. In Mary- land, Pennsylvania, and Delaware the governor remained the choice of a proprietor, although each had an interim period of royal government. Con- necticut and Rhode Island were the last of the corporate colonies; they elected their own governors to the end of the colonial period. In the corpo- rate and proprietary colonies and in Massachusetts, the charter served as a rough equivalent to a written constitution. Over the years certain anomalies appeared as colonial governments diverged from that of England. On the one hand, the governors retained powers and prerogatives that the king had lost in the course of the seventeenth century. On the other hand, the assem- blies acquired powers, particularly with respect to government appoint- ments, that Parliament had yet to gain.

POWERS OF THE GOVERNORS The crown never vetoed acts of Parlia- ment after 1707, but the colonial governors, most of whom were mediocre or incompetent, still held an absolute veto, and the crown could disallow (in effect, veto) colonial legislation on advice of the Board of Trade. With respect to the assembly, the governor still had the power to determine when and where it would meet, prorogue (adjourn or recess) legislative sessions, and dissolve the assembly for new elections or postpone elections indefi- nitely at his pleasure. The crown, however, had to summon Parliament every three years and call elections at least every seven and could not pro- rogue sessions. The royal or proprietary governor, moreover, nominated for life appointment the members of his council (except in Massachusetts, where they were chosen by the lower house), and the council functioned as both the upper house of the legislature and the highest court of appeal within the colony. With respect to the judiciary, in all but the charter colonies the governor held the prerogative of creating courts and naming and dismissing judges, powers explicitly denied the king in England. Over time, however, the colonial assemblies generally made good their claim that courts should be created only by legislative authority, although the crown repeatedly disallowed acts to grant judges life tenure in order to make them more independent .

As chief executive the governor could appoint and remove officials, com- mand the militia and naval forces, and grant pardons. In these respects his authority resembled the crown’s, for the king still exercised executive au- thority and had the power to name administrative officials. For the king those powers often strengthened an effective royal influence in Parliament, since the king could appoint members or their friends to lucrative offices. While the arrangement might seem a breeding ground for corruption or


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tyranny, it was often viewed in the eighteenth century as a stabilizing influ- ence, especially by the king’s friends. But it was an influence less and less available to the governors. On the one hand, colonial assemblies nibbled away at their power of appointment; on the other hand, the authorities in England more and more drew the control of colonial patronage into their own hands.

P O W E R S O F T H E A S S E M B L I E S Unlike the governor and members of the council, who were appointed by an outside authority, either king or proprietor, the colonial assembly was elected. Whether called the House of Burgesses (Virginia), Delegates (Maryland), or Representatives (Massa- chusetts) or simply the assembly, the lower houses were chosen by popular vote in counties, towns, or, in South Carolina, parishes. Although the Eng- lish Toleration Act of 1689 did not apply to the colonies, religious tests for voting tended to be abandoned thereafter (the Massachusetts charter of 1691 so specified), and the chief restriction remaining was a property quali- fication, based upon the notion that only men who held a “stake in society”

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The Boston Statehouse

Built in 1713.

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could vote responsibly. Yet the property qualifications generally set low hur- dles in the way of potential voters. Property holding was widespread, and a greater proportion of the population could vote in the colonies than any- where else in the world of the eighteenth century.

Women, children, Indians, and African Americans were excluded from the political process—as a matter of course—and continued to be excluded for the most part into the twentieth century, but the qualifications excluded few free white adult males. Virginia, which at one time permitted all freemen to vote, in the eighteenth century required the ownership of only 25 acres of improved land or 100 acres of wild land, the ownership of a “house” and part of a lot in town, or service in a five-year apprenticeship in Williamsburg or Norfolk. Qualifications for membership in the assembly ran somewhat higher, and officeholders tended to come from the more well to do—a phe- nomenon not unknown today—but there were exceptions. One unsympa- thetic colonist observed in 1744 that the New Jersey Assembly “was chiefly composed of mechanicks and ignorant wretches; obstinate to the last degree.”

Colonial politics of the eighteenth century mirrored English politics of the seventeenth. In one case there had been a tug-of-war between king and Parliament, ending with the supremacy of Parliament and confirmed by the Glorious Revolution. In the other case, colonial governors were still trying to wield powers that the king had lost. The assemblies knew this; they also knew the arguments for the “rights” and “liberties” of the people and their legislative bodies and against the dangers of despotic power.

By the early eighteenth century the colonial assemblies, like Parliament, held two important strands of power—and they were perfectly aware of the parallel. First, they held the power of the purse strings in their right to vote on taxes and expenditures. Second, they held the power to initiate legislation and not merely, as in the early history of some colonies, the right to act on proposals from the governor and the council. Assemblies, because they con- trolled finance, demanded and often got the right to name tax collectors and treasurers. Then they stretched the claim to cover public printers, Indian agents, supervisors of public works and services, and other officers of the government.

All through the eighteenth century the assemblies expanded their power and influence, sometimes in conflict with the governors, sometimes in har- mony with them, and often in the course of routine business, passing laws and setting precedents, the collective significance of which neither they nor the imperial authorities fully recognized. Once established, however, these laws and practices became fixed principles, part of the “constitution” of the colonies. Self-government became first a habit, then a “right.”


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S PA N I S H A M E R I C A I N D E C L I N E By the start of the eighteenth cen- tury, the Spanish were ruling over a huge colonial empire spanning North America. Yet their settlements in the borderlands north of Mexico were a colossal failure when compared with the colonies of the other European pow- ers. In 1821, when Mexico declared its independence from Spain without firing a shot and the Spanish withdrew from North America, the most popu- lated Hispanic settlement, Santa Fe, had only 6,000 residents. The next largest, San Antonio and St. Augustine, had only 1,500 each.

The Spanish failed to create thriving colonies in the American Southwest for several reasons. Perhaps the most obvious was that the region lacked the gold and silver, as well as the large native populations, that attracted Spanish priorities to Mexico and Peru. In addition, the Spanish were distracted by their need to control the perennial unrest in Mexico among the natives and the mestizos (people of mixed Indian and European ancestry). More- over, those Spaniards who led the colonization effort in the borderlands were so preoccupied with military and religious exploitation that they ne- glected the factors necessary for producing viable settlements with self-sus- taining economies. They never understood that the main factor in creating a successful community was a thriving market economy. Instead, they concen- trated on building missions and forts and looking—in vain—for gold. Whereas the French and the English based their Indian policies on trade (that included providing Indians with firearms), Spain emphasized conver- sion to Catholicism, forbade manufacturing within the colonies, and strictly limited trade with the natives.

N E W F R A N C E Permanent French settlements in the New World dif- fered considerably from both the Spanish and the English models. The French settlers were predominantly male but much smaller in number than the English and Spanish settlers. About 40,000 French colonists came to the New World during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The relatively small French population proved to be an advantage in forcing the French to develop cooperative relationships with the Indians. Unlike the English set- tlers the French established trading outposts rather than farms, mostly along the St. Lawrence River, on lands not claimed by Indians. They thus did not have to confront initial hostility. In addition, the French served as effective mediators between rival Great Lakes tribes. This diplomatic role gave them much more local authority and influence than their English counterparts, who disdained such mediation.

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The heavily outnumbered and disproportionately male French settlers sought to integrate themselves with Indian culture rather than displace it. Many French traders married Indians, exchanging languages and customs in the process of raising families. The French also encouraged the Indians to embrace Catholicism and hate the English. This more fraternal bond between the French and the Indians proved to be a source of strength in the wars with the English, enabling New France to survive until 1760 despite the lopsided disparity in numbers between the two colonial powers.

French exploration began when the enterprising Samuel de Champlain landed on the shores of the St. Lawrence River in 1603 and, two years later, at Port Royal, Acadia (later Nova Scotia). Champlain led another expedition in 1608, during which he founded Quebec, a year after the Jamestown landing. While Acadia remained a remote outpost, New France expanded well beyond Quebec, from which Champlain pushed his explorations up the great river and into the Great Lakes as far as Lake Huron, and southward to the lake that still bears his name. There, in 1609, he joined a band of Huron and Algonquian al- lies in a fateful encounter, fired his musket into the ranks of their Iroquois foes, and kindled a hatred that pursued New France to the end. The Iroquois stood as a buffer against French designs to move toward the English of the middle colonies and as a constant menace on the flank of the French waterways to the interior. In fact, for over a century Indians determined the military balance


Champlain in New France

Samuel de Champlain firing at a group of Iroquois, killing two chiefs (1609).

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of power within North America. In 1711 the governor general of New France declared that “the Iroquois are more to be feared than the Eng- lish colonies.”

Until his death, in 1635, Champlain governed New France under a trading company whose charter imposed a fatal weakness. The company won a prof- itable monopoly of the huge fur trade but had to limit the population to French Catholics. Neither the enterprising, seafaring Huguenots of coastal France nor foreigners of any faith were allowed to populate the country. Great land grants went to persons who promised to bring settlers to work the land under feudal tenure. The colony therefore remained a scattered patchwork of dependent peasants, Jesuit missionaries, priests, soldiers, officials, and coureurs de bois (lit- erally, “runners of the woods”), who roamed the interior in quest of furs.

In 1663 King Louis XIV and his chief minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, changed New France into a royal colony and pursued a plan of consolidation and stabilization. Colbert dispatched new settlers, including shiploads of young women to lure disbanded soldiers and traders into settled matrimony. He sent out tools and animals for farmers and nets for fishermen and tried to make New France self-sufficient in foodstuffs. The population grew from about 4,000 in 1665 to about 15,000 in 1690.

F R E N C H L O U I S I A N A From the Great Lakes, French explorers moved southward. In 1673 Louis Jolliet and Père Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit priest, ventured onto Lake Michigan, up the Fox River from Green Bay, then down the Wisconsin River to the Mississippi and on as far as the Arkansas River. Satisfied that the great Mississippi River flowed to the Gulf of Mexico, they turned back for fear of meeting with Spaniards. Nine years later René- Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, went all the way to the Gulf of Mexico and named the country he explored Louisiana, after King Louis XIV of France.

Settlement of the Louisiana country finally began in 1699, when Pierre Le Moyne, sieur d’Iberville, established a colony near Biloxi, Mississippi. The main settlement then moved to Mobile Bay and, in 1710, to the present site of Mo- bile, Alabama. For nearly half a century the driving force in Louisiana was Jean- Baptiste Le Moyne, sieur de Bienville, a younger brother of Iberville. Bienville arrived with settlers in 1699, when he was only nineteen, and left the colony for the last time in 1743, when he was sixty-three. Sometimes called the Father of Louisiana, he served periodically as governor and always as adviser during those years. In 1718 he founded New Orleans, which shortly thereafter became the capital. Louisiana, first a royal colony, then a proprietary colony, and then a corporate colony, again became a royal province in 1731.

In contrast to the English colonies, French Louisiana grew haltingly in the first half of the eighteenth century. Its population in 1732 was only 2,000

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Where were the largest French settlements in North America? How were they differ- ent from the Spanish and English colonies? Describe the French colonization of Louisiana.

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whites and about 3,800 slaves. The sweltering climate and mosquito-infested environment enticed few settlers. Poorly administered, dependent on im- ports for its sustenance, and expensive to defend, it continued throughout the century to be a financial liability to the French government. It never became the thriving trade center with the Spanish that its founders had envisioned.

“France in America had two heads,” the historian Francis Parkman wrote, “one amid the snows of Canada, the other amid the canebrakes of Louisiana.” The French thus had one enormous advantage: access to the great inland water routes that led to the heartland of the continent. In the Illinois region scattered settlers began farming the fertile soil, and coura- geous priests established missions at places such as Terre Haute (High Land) and Des Moines (Some Monks). Because of geography as well as deliberate policy, however, French America remained largely a vast wilderness traversed by a mobile population of traders, trappers, missionaries—and, mainly, Indi- ans. In 1750, when the English colonials numbered about 1.5 million, the total French population was no more than 80,000.

Yet in some ways the French had the edge on the British. They offered Eu- ropean goods to Indians in return for furs, encroached far less upon Indian lands, and so won Indian allies against the English who came to possess the

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Cities in New France

Quebec in the 1740s, the skyline marked by the spires of cathedrals and seminaries.

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land. French governors could mobilize for action without any worry about quarreling assemblies or ethnic and religious diversity. The British may have had the greater population, but their separate colonies often worked at cross purposes. The middle colonies, for instance, protected by the Iroquois buffer, could afford to ignore the French threat—for a long time at least. Whenever conflict threatened, colonial assemblies extracted new concessions from their governors. Colonial merchants, who built up a trade supplying foodstuffs to the French, persisted in smuggling supplies even in wartime.


For most of the seventeenth century, the French and British empires in America developed in relative isolation from each other, and for most of that century the homelands remained at peace with each other. After the Restora- tion of 1660, Charles II and James II pursued a policy of friendship with the French king, Louis XIV. The Glorious Revolution of 1688, however, worked an

abrupt reversal in English diplo- macy. William III, the new king, as leader of the Dutch republic, had engaged in a running conflict against the ambitions of Louis XIV. His ascent to the throne brought England almost immediately into a Grand Alliance against Louis in the War of the League of Augs- burg, sometimes called the War of the Palatinate or the War of the Grand Alliance and known in the American colonies simply as King William’s War (1689–1697).

This was the first of four great European and intercolonial wars that would be fought over the next seventy-four years, the oth- ers being the War of the Spanish Succession (Queen Anne’s War, 1702–1713), the War of the Aus- trian Succession (King George’s War, 1744–1748), and the Seven


From Laroque’s Encyclopedia des Voyages

An Iroquois warrior in an eighteenth- century French engraving.

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Years’ War (the French and Indian War, which lasted nine years in America, from 1754 to 1763). In all except the last, the battles in America were but a sideshow accompanying greater battles in Europe, where British policy piv- oted on keeping a balance of power with the French. The alliances shifted from one fight to the next, but Britain and France were pitted against each other every time.

Thus for much of the eighteenth century, the colonies were embroiled in global wars and rumors of wars. The effect on much of the population was devastating. New England, especially Massachusetts, suffered probably more than the rest, for it was closest to the centers of French population. It is esti- mated that 900 Boston men (about 2.5 percent of the men eligible for service) died in the fighting. This meant that the city was faced with assisting a large population of widows and orphans. Even more important, these prolonged conflicts had profound consequences for Britain that later would reshape the contours of its relationship with America. The wars with France led the English government to incur an enormous debt, establish a huge navy and a standing army, and excite a militant sense of nationalism. During the early eighteenth century the changes in British financial policy and political cul- ture led critics in Parliament to charge that traditional liberties were being usurped by a tyrannical central government. After the French and Indian War, American colonists began making the same point.

T H E F R E N C H A N D I N D I A N WA R Of the four major wars involving the European powers and their New World colonies, the climactic conflict between Britain and France in North America was the French and Indian War. It began in 1754, after enterprising Virginians during the early 1750s had crossed the Allegheny Mountains into the Ohio River valley in order to trade with Indians and survey some 200,000 acres granted them by the king. The incursion by the Virginians infuriated the French, and they established forts in what is now western Pennsylvania to defend their interests. When news of these developments reached Williamsburg, the Virginia governor sent out an emissary to warn off the French. An ambitious young Virginia militia officer, Major George Washington, whose older brothers owned part of the Ohio Company, a business venture to develop settlement and trade in western Pennsylvania, volunteered for the mission. With a few companions, Washington made his way to Fort Le Boeuf in late 1753 and returned with a polite but firm French refusal. The Virginia governor then sent a small force to erect a fort at the strategic fork where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the great Ohio. No sooner had the English started build- ing than a larger French force appeared and ousted them.

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Meanwhile, the twenty-two-year-old Washington, hungry for combat and yearing for military glory, had been organizing a regiment of Virginians. In the spring of 1754, the tall, muscular surveyor-turned-soldier led his 150 volun- teers and Iroquois allies across the Alleghenies. Their mission was to build a fort at the convergence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers (where the city of Pittsburgh later developed). Along the way, Washington learned that French soldiers had beaten them to the strategic site and erected Fort Duquesne, named for the French governor of Canada. Washington de- cided to make camp about forty miles from the fort and await reinforce- ments. The next day the Virginians ambushed a French detachment. Ten French soldiers were killed, one escaped, and twenty-one were captured. The


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What was the significance of the siege of Fort Necessity? What was the Plan of Union? How did the three-pronged offensive of 1759 lead to a British victory in North America?

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Indians then scalped several of the wounded soldiers as a stunned Major Washington looked on. Washington was unaware that the French had been on a peaceful mission to discuss the disputed fort. The mutilated soldiers were the first fatalities in what would become the French and Indian War.

Washington and his troops retreated and hastily constructed a crude stockade at Great Meadows, dubbed Fort Necessity, which a large force of vengeful French soldiers attacked a month later, on July 3, 1754. After a day- long battle, George Washington surrendered, having seen all his horses and cattle killed and one third of his 300 men killed or wounded. The French permitted his surviving troops to withdraw after stripping them of their weapons. After the Virginia regiment limped home, Washington decided to resign rather than accept a demotion. His blundering expedition triggered a series of events that would ignite a protracted world war. As a prominent British politician exclaimed, “The volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire.”

Back in London the Board of Trade already had taken notice of the growing conflict in the backwoods of North America and had called commissioners from all the colonies as far south as Maryland to a meeting in Albany, New York, to confer on precautions. The Albany Congress (June 19–July 10, 1754), which was meeting when the first shots sounded at Great Meadows, ended with little having been accomplished. The delegates conferred with Iroquois chieftains and sent them away loaded with gifts in return for some

The Colonial Wars • 165

The First American Political Cartoon

Benjamin Franklin’s exhortation to the colonies to unite against the French in 1754 would become popular again twenty years later, when the colonies faced a different threat.

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half-hearted promises of support. The congress is remembered mainly for the Plan of Union, worked out by a committee under Benjamin Franklin and adopted by a unanimous vote of the commissioners. The plan called for a chief executive, a kind of supreme governor, to be called the president general of the United Colonies, appointed and supported by the crown, and a supreme as- sembly, called the Grand Council, with forty-eight members chosen by the colonial assemblies. This federal body would oversee matters of defense, Indian relations, and trade and settlement in the West and would levy taxes to support its programs.

It must have been a good plan, Franklin reasoned, since the assemblies thought it gave too much power to the crown and the crown thought it gave too much to the colonies. At any rate the assemblies either rejected or ignored it. Only two substantive results came out of the congress. Its idea of a supreme commander of British forces in America was adopted, as was its advice that a New Yorker who was a friend of the Iroquois be made British superintendent of the northern Indians.

In London the government decided to force a showdown in America. In 1755 the British fleet captured Nova Scotia and expelled most of its French population. Some 5,000 to 7,000 Acadians who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the British crown were scattered through the colonies, from Maine to Georgia. Impoverished and homeless, many of them desperately found their way to French Louisiana, where they became the Cajuns (a corruption of Acadians), whose descendants still preserve elements of the French language along the remote bayous and in many urban centers.

The backwoods, however, became the scene of one British disaster after another over the next three years. In 1755 a new British commander in chief, General Edward Braddock, arrived in Virginia with two regiments of army regulars. Braddock was a seasoned, confident officer, but neither he nor his red-clad British troops had any experience fighting in the wilderness. Brad- dock viewed Indians with contempt, and his cocksure ignorance would prove fatal.

With the addition of some colonial troops, including a still-headstrong George Washington as a volunteer staff officer, Braddock hacked a 125-mile road through the mountain wilderness from the upper Potomac River in Maryland to the vicinity of Fort Duquesne. Hauling heavy artillery to sur- round the French fort, along with a lumbering wagon train of supplies, Braddock’s force achieved a great feat of military logistics and was on the verge of success when, six miles from Fort Duquesne, the surrounding woods suddenly came alive with Ojibwa and French soldiers in Indian cos- tume. Beset on three sides by concealed enemies, the British troops panicked


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and retreated in disarray, abandoning most of their artillery and supplies. Brave General Braddock had several horses shot out from under him before he was mortally wounded. George Washington, his own coat riddled by bul- lets, helped other officers contain the rout and lead a hasty retreat. More than 900 British and Virginia soldiers were killed or wounded in one of the worst British defeats of the eighteenth century. Braddock died four days later. The overconfident general’s last words were prophetic: “We shall know better how to deal with them another time.” Twelve of the surviving British soldiers left behind on the battlefield were stripped, bound, and burned at the stake by Indians. A devastated George Washington wrote his brother that they had “been scandalously beaten by a trifling body of men.” The vaunted red- coats “broke & run as sheep before Hounds,” but the Virginians “behaved like Men and died like Soldiers.” The French victory demonstrated that back- woods warfare depended on Indian allies and frontier tactics for success.

A WO R L D WA R For two years, war raged along the American frontier without becoming a cause of war in Europe. In 1756, however, the colonial war became the Seven Years’ War in Europe. In the final alignment of Euro- pean powers, France, Austria, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and Spain fought against Britain, Prussia, and Hanover. The onset of world war brought into office a new British government, with the eloquent William Pitt as head of the ministry. Pitt’s ability and assurance (“I know that I can save England and no one else can”) instilled confidence at home and abroad.

A brilliant visionary and a superb administrator, charismatic and supremely self-confident, Pitt decided that America should be the primary theater of con- flict with France, and he sought to bludgeon the French with overwhelming force, on land and at sea. He eventually mobilized some 45,000 troops in North America, half of whom were British regulars and the other half American colonists. Pitt was able to garner such substantial colonial participation by re- versing Britain’s administrative policies. His predecessors had demanded that the colonial legislatures help fund the defense effort. Pitt decided to treat the colonies as allies rather than subordinate possessions, offering them subsidies for their participation in the war effort. The colonists readily embraced this in- vitation to become partners in an imperial crusade, and they contributed key resources and large numbers of men to the war effort.

Pitt’s America-first policy had long-term consequences. The massive fron- tier war with the French and their Indian allies fostered a sense of nationalism among the colonists that would culminate in a war for independence from Britain. Pitt used the powerful British navy to cut off French reinforcements and supplies to the New World—and the goods with which they bought

The Colonial Wars • 167

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Indian allies. Pitt improved the British forces, gave command to younger men of ability, and carried the battle to the enemy. In 1758 the tides began to turn when the English captured Fort Louisbourg in Canada. The Iroquois, sensing the turn of fortunes, pressed their dependents, the Delawares, to call off the frontier attacks on English settlements.

In 1759 the war reached its climax with a series of resounding British vic- tories on land and at sea. Pitt ordered a three-pronged offensive against the French in Canada, along what had become the classic invasion routes: the Niagara River, Lake Champlain, and the St. Lawrence River. On the Niagara expedition the British were joined by a group of Iroquois, and they captured Fort Niagara, virtually cutting the French lifeline to the interior. On Lake Champlain, General Jeffrey Amherst took Forts George and Ticonderoga, then paused to await reinforcements for an advance northward.

Meanwhile, the most decisive battle was shaping up at Quebec, the gate- way to Canada. There, British forces led by General James Wolfe waited out the advance of General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm and his French infantry until they were within close range, then loosed volleys that devastated the French ranks—and ended French power in North America for all time. News of the British victory reached London along with similar reports from India, where English forces had reduced French outposts one by one and es- tablished the base for expanded British control of India.

The war in North America dragged on until 1763, but the rest was a pro- cess of mopping up. In the South, where little significant action had occurred, belated hostility flared up between the settlers and the Cherokee Nation. A force of British regulars and colonial militia broke Cherokee resis- tance in 1761.

In 1760 King George II died, and the twenty-two-year-old grandson he de- spised ascended the throne as George III. The new king resolved to seek peace and forced William Pitt out of office. Pitt had wanted to declare war on Spain before the French could bring that other Bourbon monarchy into the con- flict. He was forestalled, but Spain belatedly entered the war, in 1761, and during the next year met the same fate as the French: in 1762 British forces took Manila in the Philippines and Havana in Cuba. By 1763 the French and the Spanish were ready to negotiate a surrender. Britain ruled the world.

T H E P E AC E O F PA R I S The Treaty of Paris of 1763 brought an end to the world war and to French power in North America. Victorious Britain took all French North American possessions east of the Mississippi River (except New Orleans) and all of Spanish Florida. The English invited the Spanish settlers to remain and practice their Catholic religion, but few


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accepted the offer. The Spanish king ordered them to evacuate the colony and provided free transportation to Spanish possessions in the Caribbean. Within a year most of the Spaniards sold their property at bargain prices to English speculators and began an exodus to Cuba and Mexico.

When the Indian tribes that had been allied with the French learned of the 1763 peace settlement, they were despondent. Their lands were being given over to the British without any consultation. The Shawnees, for instance, de- manded to know “by what right the French could pretend” to transfer Indian territory to the British. The Indians also worried that a victorious Britain had “grown too powerful & seemed as if they would be too strong for God itself.” The Indians had hoped that the departure of the French from the Ohio Valley would mean that the area would revert to their control. Instead, the British cut off the trade and giftgiving practices that had bound the Indians to the French. General Jeffrey Amherst, the British military governor for the western region, demanded that the Indians learn to live without “charity.” British forces also moved into the French frontier forts. In a desperate effort to recover their au- tonomy, tribes struck back, in the spring of 1763, capturing most of the British forts around the Great Lakes and in the Ohio Valley. They also raided colonial settlements in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, destroying hundreds of homesteads and killing several thousand people. In the midst of the Indian

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End of the War

With Quebec in the background, France kneels before a victorious Britain (1763).

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attack on Fort Pitt (formerly Fort Duquesne), General Amherst approved the distribution of smallpox-infested blankets and handkerchiefs from the fort’s hospital to the Indians besieging the garrison. His efforts at germ warfare were intended to “extirpate this Execrable race” of Indians.

Called Pontiac’s Rebellion because of the prominent role played by the Ottawa chief, the far-flung Indian attacks on the frontier forts convinced most American colonists that all Indians must be removed. The British government,



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meanwhile, negotiated an agreement with the Indians that allowed redcoats to reoccupy the frontier forts in exchange for a renewal of trade and gift giving. Still, as Pontiac stressed, the Indians asserted their independence and denied the legitimacy of the British claim to their territory under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. He told a British official that the “French never conquered us, neither did they purchase a foot of our Country, nor have they a right to give it to you.” The British may have won a global empire as a result of the Seven Years’ War, but their grip on the American colonies grew ever weaker.

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How did the map of North America change between 1713 and 1763? How did Spain win Louisiana? What were the consequences of the British winning all the land east of the Mississippi?

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In compensation for the loss of Florida, Spain received Louisiana (New Orleans and all French land west of the Mississippi River) from France. Un- like the Spanish in Florida, however, few of the French settlers left Louisiana after 1763. The French government encouraged them to work with their new Spanish governors to create a bulwark against further English expansion. Spain would hold title to Louisiana for nearly four decades but would never succeed in erasing the territory’s French roots. The French-born settlers al- ways outnumbered the Spanish. The loss of Louisiana left France with no territory on the continent of North America. In the West Indies, France gave up Tobago, Dominica, Grenada, and St. Vincent. British power reigned supreme over North America east of the Mississippi River.

But a fatal irony would pursue the British victory. In gaining Canada, the British government put in motion a train of events that would end twenty years later with the loss of the rest of British North America. Britain’s success against France threatened the Indian tribes of the interior because they had long depended upon playing off one European power against the other. Now, with the British dominant on the continent, American settlers were embold- ened to encroach even more upon Indian land. In addition, victory on the bat- tlefields encouraged the British to tighten their imperial control over the American colonists and demand more financial contributions to pay for mili- tary defense. Meanwhile, a humiliated France thirsted for revenge. In London, Benjamin Franklin, agent for the colony of Pennsylvania (1764–1775), found the French minister inordinately curious about America and suspected him of wanting to ignite the coals of controversy. Less than three years after Franklin left London and only fifteen years after the conquest of New France, he would be in Paris arranging an alliance on behalf of Britain’s rebellious colonists.



• Although the British victory in the French and Indian War brought the colonies and England closer together in some ways, it was also an important factor in the approach of the American Revolution, as demonstrated in Chapter 5.

• One of the great struggles of the Revolution would be transforming the dependent British colonies, as described in this chapter, into independent American states, as described in Chapter 6.

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The economics motivating colonial policies is covered in John J. McCusker and Russell R. Menard’s The Economy of British America, 1607–1789, rev. ed. (1991). The problems of colonial customs administra- tion are explored in Michael Kammen’s Empire and Interest: The American Colonies and the Politics of Mercantilism (1970).

The Andros crisis and related topics are treated in Jack M. Sosin’s English America and the Revolution of 1688: Royal Administration and the Structure of Provincial Government (1982). Stephen Saunders Webb’s The Governors- General: The English Army and the Definition of the Empire, 1569–1681 (1979) argues that the crown was more concerned with military adminis- tration than with commercial regulation, and Webb’s 1676: The End of American Independence (1984) shows how the Indian wars undermined the autonomy of the colonial governments.

The early Indian wars are treated in Jill Lepore’s The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity (1998) and in Francis Jennings’s The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest (1975). See also Richard Aquila’s The Iroquois Restoration: Iroquois Diplomacy on the Colonial Frontier, 1701–1754 (1983). Gregory Evans Dowd describes the unification efforts of Indians east of the Mississippi in A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745–1815 (1992). See also James H. Merrell’s Into the American Woods: Negotiations on the Pennsylvania Frontier (1999).

A good introduction to the imperial phase of the colonial conflicts is Howard H. Peckham’s The Colonial Wars, 1689–1762 (1964). More analytical is Douglas Edward Leach’s Arms for Empire: A Military History of the British Colonies in North America, 1607–1763 (1973). Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766 (2000) is the best history of the Seven Years’ War. On the French colonies in North America, see Allan Greer’s The People of New France (1997).

Further Reading • 173

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Seldom if ever since the days of Queen Elizabeth hadEngland thrilled with such pride as it did in the closingyears of the Seven Years’ War. In 1760 young George III, headstrong and obstinate, had ascended the throne. Three years later the Treaty of Paris confirmed a vast new British Empire spanning the globe. Most important, the Treaty of Paris effectively ended the French imperial domain in North America. This in turn influenced the development of the region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, from the Gulf of Mexico to Hudson Bay in Canada. The maturing mainland colonies began to experience a dynamic agricultural and commercial growth that enormously increased their importance to the British economy. Yet the colonies remained both extraordinarily diverse in composition and outlook and peculiarly averse to cooperative efforts. That they would manage to unify themselves and declare independence in 1775 was indeed surprising— even to them.





• How did British colonial policy change after 1763?

• How did the Whig ideology shape the colonial response to changes in British policy?

• What was the role of Revolutionary leaders, including Samuel Adams, John Dickinson, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson?

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The Heritage of War • 175


The triumph in what England called the Great War saw Americans cel- ebrating as joyously as Londoners in 1763. Colonists were proud of their partnership in British liberty, a supportive Parliament, an ancient and revered constitution, and a prosperity fostered by wartime spending. Most Americans, as Benjamin Franklin explained, “submitted willingly to the gov- ernment of the Crown.” He himself proudly proclaimed, “I am a BRITON.” But victory celebrations masked festering resentments and new problems that would be the heritage of the war. Underneath the pride in the British Empire, an American nationalism was maturing. Colonials were beginning to think and speak of themselves more as Americans than as English or British. With the French out of the way and vast new lands to exploit, they looked to the future with confidence.

Many Americans had a new sense of importance after fighting a major war with such success. Some harbored resentment, justified or not, at the haughty air of the British soldiers, and many in the early stages of the war had lost their awe of British troops, who were so inept at frontier fighting. At least one third of military-age New England men fought in the Seven Years’ War. For them army life was both a revelation and an opportunity. Although they admired the courage and discipline of British redcoats under fire, many New Englan- ders abhorred the carefree cursing, whoring, and Sabbath breaking they ob- served among the British troops. But most upsetting were the daily “shrieks and cries” resulting from the brutal punishments imposed by British officers on their wayward men. Minor offenses might earn hundreds of lashes. One American soldier recorded in his diary in 1759 that “there was a man whipped to death belonging to the Light Infantry. They say he had twenty-five lashes af- ter he was dead.” The brutalities of British army life thus heightened the New Englanders’ sense of their separate identity and of their greater worthiness to be God’s chosen people. It also emboldened Americans to defy British rule, be- cause the colonists no longer needed military protection from the French.

British forces nevertheless had borne the brunt of the war and had won it for the American colonists, who had supplied men and materials, sometimes reluctantly, and who persisted in trading with the enemy. Molasses in the French West Indies, for instance, continued to draw New England ships like flies. The trade was too important for the colonists to give up but was more than British authorities could tolerate. Along with naval patrols, one impor- tant means of disrupting this illegal trade was the use of writs of assistance, general search warrants that allowed officers to enter any place during day- light hours to seek evidence of illegal trade.

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In 1760 Boston merchants hired the attorney James Otis to fight the writs in the courts. Otis lost the case but in the process advanced the provocative argu- ment that any act of Parliament that authorized such “instruments of slavery” violated the British constitution and was therefore void. This was a radical idea for its time. Otis sought to overturn a major tenet of the English legal system, namely, that acts of Parliament were by their very nature constitutional.

The peace that secured an empire in 1763 also laid upon the British government new burdens. How should the British manage the defense and governance of their new global possessions? What should they do about the American lands inhabited by Indians but coveted by whites? How was the British government to pay for an unprecedented debt built up during the war and bear the new expenses of expanded colonial administration and defense? And—the thorniest problem of all, as it turned out—what role should the colonies play in all this? The problems were of a magnitude and complexity to challenge men of the greatest statemanship and vision, but those qualities were rare among the ministers of George III.


In the English government during the late eighteenth century, nearly every politician was a Whig. Whig was the name given to those who had

opposed James II, led the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and secured the Protestant Hanoverian succession in 1714. The Whigs were the champions of individual liberty and parliamen- tary supremacy, but with the passage of time Whiggism had drifted into complacency. The dominant group of landholding Whig families was con- cerned mostly with the pursuit of per- sonal gain and local questions rather than great issues of statecraft. George III, a tall young man with full lips, bulging eyes, and an obstinate disposi- tion, sought at first to eliminate the Whig influence on the monarchy. Whig politicians had dominated his grandfa- ther, and the new king was determined


George III

At age thirty-three, the young king of a victorious empire.

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Grenville and the Stamp Act • 177

to rule in his own right. Thus he ousted the powerful William Pitt as prime minister and established his own inner circle of obedient advisers, known as the “king’s friends.” They exercised influence by controlling appointments to government offices; they retained their influential positions only by ensuring that they did not contradict the cocksure king.

Throughout the 1760s the king turned first to one and then to another mediocre leader, ineffective ministries came and went, and the government fell into instability just as the new problems of empire required creative solu- tions. Ministries rose and fell usually because somebody offended the king or somebody’s friend failed to get a government post. Colonial policy remained marginal to the chief concerns of British politics. The result was inconsistency and vacillation followed by stubborn inflexibility.


In America no sooner was peace formally arranged in 1763 than the problem of the western lands erupted in the form of Pontiac’s Rebellion. To keep the peace on the frontier and to keep earlier promises to the Delawares and Shawnees, officials in London postponed further colonial settlement along the frontier. The king also issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763. That order drew an imaginary line along the crest of the Appalachians, beyond which settlers were forbidden to go and colonial governors were forbidden to authorize surveys or issue land grants. It also established the new British colonies of Quebec and East and West Florida. Yet the proclamation line was ineffective. Hardy settlers defined the prohibitions against intrusions into Indian land and pushed across the Appalachian ridges.


G R E N V I L L E ’ S C O L O N I A L P O L I C Y Just as the Royal Proclamation of 1763 was being drafted, a new British ministry had begun to grapple with the problems of imperial finances. The new prime minister and first lord of the Treasury, George Grenville, was much like the king: industrious, honest, and hardheaded. He was a strong-willed accountant whose humorless self- assurance verged on pomposity. George III came to despise him, but the inexperienced king needed the dull but dogged prime minister because they agreed on basic policies: cutting government expenses, reducing the national debt, and generating more revenue from the colonies to pay for

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their defense. As a colleague said of Grenville, he had “a rage for regulation and restriction.”

In developing new policies regulating the American colonies, Grenville took for granted the need for redcoats to defend the American frontier, al- though the colonies had been left mostly to their own devices before 1754. He also wanted to keep a large army (10,000 men) in America to avoid a rapid demobilization, which would retire a large number of influential officers, thereby provoking political criticism at home. But he faced sharply rising costs for American frontier defense, on top of an already staggering government debt. During the mid-1760s the interest payments on the government’s debts consumed 60 percent of the annual budget.

Because there was a large tax burden at home and a much lighter one in the colonies, Grenville reasoned that the prosperous Americans should share the cost of their own defense. He also learned that the royal customs service in America was grossly inefficient. Evasion by American merchants and cor- ruption among customs officers were rampant. Grenville issued stern orders to colonial officials to tighten enforcement and ordered the British navy to pa- trol the coast for smugglers. He also set up a new maritime, or vice-admiralty,


The Great Financier, or British Economy for the Years 1763, 1764, 1765

This cartoon, critical of Grenville’s tax policies, shows America, depicted as an Indian (at left), groaning under the burden of new taxes.

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Grenville and the Stamp Act • 179

court in Halifax (replacing the ineffectual admiralty courts established in 1696), granting it jurisdiction over all the colonies and ensuring that there would be no juries of colonists sympathetic to smugglers. Under Grenville the period of “salutary neglect” in the enforcement of the Navigation Acts was coming to an end, causing American shippers great annoyance.

Strict enforcement of the Molasses Act of 1733 posed a serious threat to New England’s prosperity. The tax on molasses had been set prohibitively high, not for the purpose of raising revenue but to prevent illegal trade with the French sugar islands. Yet the rum distilleries consumed more molasses than the British West Indies provided. Grenville recognized that the molasses tax, if enforced, would be ruinous to a major colonial enterprise. So he put through the Revenue Act of 1764, commonly known as the Sugar Act, which cut the duty in half. This, he believed, would reduce the temptation to smuggle or to bribe customs officers. In addition, the Sugar Act levied new duties on imports of foreign textiles, wine, coffee, indigo, and sugar. The Sugar Act, Grenville estimated, would help defray “the necessary expenses of defending, protecting, and securing, the said colonies and plantations.” For the first time, Parliament had adopted duties (taxes on imports or exports) frankly designed to raise revenues in the colonies and not merely intended to regulate trade.

Another of Grenville’s regulatory measures had an important impact on the colonies: the Currency Act of 1764. The colonies faced a chronic shortage of money, which kept going out to pay debts in England. To meet the short- age, they issued their own paper money. British creditors feared payment in such a depreciated currency, however. To alleviate their fears, Grenville pro- hibited the colonies from printing money. The result was a decline in the value of existing paper money, since nobody was obligated to accept it in payment of debts, even in the colonies. The deflationary impact of the Cur- rency Act, combined with new duties on commodities and stricter enforce- ment, jolted a colonial economy already suffering a postwar decline.

T H E S TA M P AC T George Grenville had a knack for doing the wrong thing—repeatedly. The Sugar Act, for example, did not produce additional revenue. Its administrative costs were four times greater than the revenue it generated. Yet he compounded the problem by pushing through still an- other measure to raise money in America, a stamp tax. On February 13, 1765, Parliament created revenue stamps and required that they be purchased and fixed to printed matter and legal documents of all kinds: newspapers, pamphlets, broadsides, almanacs, bonds, leases, deeds, licenses, insurance policies, ship clearances, college diplomas, even playing cards. The require- ment was to go into effect on November 1.

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That same year, Grenville completed his new system of colonial regula- tions when he put through the Quartering Act. In effect it was yet another tax. The Quartering Act required the colonies to supply British troops with provisions and provide them with barracks or submit to their use of inns and vacant buildings. It applied to all colonies but affected mainly New York, headquarters of the British forces.

T H E I D E O L O G I C A L R E S P O N S E The cumulative effect of Grenville’s measures raised colonial suspicions to a fever. Unwittingly this plodding minister of a plodding king stirred up a storm of protest and set in motion a profound exploration of English traditions and imperial relations. The radi- cal ideas of the minority “Real Whigs” slowly began to take hold in the colonies. These ideas derived from various sources but above all from John Locke’s justification of the Glorious Revolution, his Two Treatises on Govern- ment. Locke and other Real Whigs viewed English history as a struggle by Parliament to preserve life, liberty, and property against royal tyranny.

In 1764 and 1765 the colonists felt that Grenville and Parliament had loosed upon them the very engines of tyranny from which Parliament had rescued England in the seventeenth century. A standing army was the his- toric ally of despots, and now with the French gone and Chief Pontiac sub- dued, thousands of British soldiers remained in the colonies. For what purpose—to protect the colonists or to subdue them? It was beginning to seem clear that it was the latter. Among the fundamental rights of English people were trial by jury and the presumption of innocence, but the new vice-admiralty courts excluded juries and put the burden of proof on the de- fendant. Most important, English citizens had the right to be taxed only by their elected representatives. Parliament claimed that privilege in England, and the colonial assemblies had long exercised it as their most cherished principle in America. Now, however, Parliament was usurping the assemblies’ power of the purse strings. This could only lead to tyranny and enslavement. Sir Francis Bernard, the royal governor of Massachusetts, correctly predicted that the new stamp tax “would cause a great Alarm & meet much Opposition” in the colonies. Indeed, the seed of American independence was planted by the debates over the stamp tax.

P R O T E S T I N T H E C O L O N I E S In a flood of colonial pamphlets, speeches, and resolutions, critics of the Stamp Act repeated a slogan familiar to all Americans: “No taxation without representation.” The Stamp Act became the chief target of colonial outrage at British greed and arrogance. Unlike the Sugar Act, which affected mainly New England, the Stamp Act burdened all


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Grenville and the Stamp Act • 181

colonists who did any kind of business. And it affected most of all the articu- late elements in the community: merchants, planters, lawyers, printer- editors—all strategically placed to influence public opinion. Through the spring and summer of 1765, colonial resentment boiled over in meetings, pa- rades, bonfires, and other demonstrations. The militants began to call them- selves Sons of Liberty. They met underneath “liberty trees”—in Boston a great elm on Hanover Square, in Charleston a live oak.

One day in mid-August 1765, nearly three months before the effective date of the Stamp Act, an effigy of Boston’s stamp agent swung from the city’s liberty tree. In the evening a mob carried it through the streets, de- stroyed the stamp office, and used the wood to burn the effigy. Somewhat later another mob sacked the homes of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson and the local customs officer. Thoroughly shaken, the Boston stamp agent resigned his commission, and stamp agents throughout the colonies were hounded out of office. Loyalists, those colonists supportive of British policies, deplored the riotous violence, arguing that the American rebels were behaving more tyrannically than the British.

By November 1, its effective date, the Stamp Act was a dead letter. Business went on without the stamps. Newspapers appeared with a skull and cross- bones where the stamp belonged. After passage of the Sugar Act, a move- ment had begun to boycott British goods rather than pay the import duties. Now colonists adopted nonimportation agreements to exert pressure on British merchants. Americans knew that they had become a major market for British products. By shutting off imports, they could exercise real lever- age. Homegrown sage and sassafras took the place of British tea. Homespun garments became the fashion as a symbol of colonial defiance.

The widespread protests involved women as well as men, and the boycotts of British goods encouraged colonial unity as Americans discovered that they had more in common with each other than with London. The Virginia House of Burgesses struck the first blow against the Stamp Act with the Virginia Resolves, a series of resolutions inspired by the fiery young Patrick Henry. Virginians, the burgesses declared, were entitled to the rights of Eng- lishmen, and Englishmen could be taxed only by their own representatives. Virginians, moreover, had always been governed by laws passed with their own consent. Newspapers spread the Virginia Resolves throughout the colonies, and other assemblies hastened to copy Virginia’s example.

In 1765 the Massachusetts House of Representatives issued a circular let- ter inviting the various assemblies to send delegates to confer in New York on appeals for relief from the king and Parliament. Nine responded, and from October 7 to 25, 1765, the Stamp Act Congress, with twenty-seven

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delegates, issued expressions of colonial sentiment: a Declaration of the Rights and Grievances of the Colonies, a petition to the king for relief, and a petition to Parliament for repeal of the Stamp Act. The delegates acknowl- edged that the colonies owed a “due subordination” to Parliament and rec- ognized its right to regulate colonial trade, but they questioned Parliament’s right to levy taxes, which were a free gift granted by the people through their representatives. “The boldness of the minister [Grenville] amazes our peo- ple,” wrote a New Yorker. “This single stroke has lost Great Britain the affec- tion of all of her Colonies.” Grenville responded by denouncing the colonists as “ungrateful.”

R E P E A L O F T H E AC T The storm had scarcely broken before Grenville’s ministry was out of office, dismissed not because of the colonial turmoil but because Grenville had fallen out with the king over the appointment of gov- ernment officials. The king installed a new minister, the marquis of Rocking- ham, Charles Watson-Wentworth, leader of the “Rockingham Whigs,” the “Old Whig” faction, which included Britons who sympathized with the colonies. Pressure from British merchants who feared the economic consequences of the


Opposition to the Stamp Act

In protest of the Stamp Act, which was to take effect the next day, the Pennsylvania Journal printed a skull and crossbones on its masthead.

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Grenville and the Stamp Act • 183

nonimportation movement bolstered Rockingham’s resolve to repeal the act. When Parliament assembled early in 1766, William Pitt demanded that the Stamp Act be repealed “absolutely, totally, and immediately” but urged that Britain’s authority over the colonies “be asserted in as strong terms as possible,” except on the point of taxation.

In 1766 Parliament repealed the Stamp Tax but at the same time passed the Declaratory Act, which asserted the full power of Parliament to make laws binding the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.” It was a cunning evasion that made no concession with regard to taxes but made no mention of them either. It reinforced a distinction between “external” taxes on trade and “in- ternal” taxes within the colonies, a distinction that would have fateful conse- quences. For the moment, however, the Declaratory Act was a face-saving gesture. News of the repeal of the Stamp Act set off excited demonstrations throughout the colonies. In mid-May 1766 Boston church bells signaled the news of Parliament’s favorable vote. Grateful New Yorkers commissioned statues to honor George III and William Pitt. Amid the rejoicing and relief

The Repeal, or the Funeral Procession of Miss America-Stamp

This 1766 cartoon shows Grenville carrying the dead Stamp Act in its coffin. In the background, trade with America starts up again.

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on both sides of the Atlantic, few expected that the quarrel between Britain and its American colonies would be reopened within a year. To be sure, the Sugar Act remained on the books, but Rockingham reduced the molasses tax from threepence a gallon to a penny.


Meanwhile, the king continued to play musical chairs with his ministers. Rockingham soon lost the confidence of the king. William Pitt then formed a ministry that included the major factions of Parliament. The ill-matched com- bination would have been hard to manage even if Pitt had remained in charge, but the old warlord began to slip over the fine line between genius and mad- ness. For a time in 1767, the guiding force in the ministry was the witty and reckless Charles Townshend, chancellor of the Exchequer (Treasury), whose “abilities were superior to those of all men,” according to Horace Walpole, “and his judgement below that of any man.” Like George Grenville before him, Townshend held the “factious and turbulent” Americans in contempt and was determined to force their obedience. The erratic Townshend took advantage of Pitt’s mental confusion to reopen the question of colonial taxation. He as- serted that “external” taxes were tolerable to the colonies—not that he believed it for a moment.

T H E T O W N S H E N D AC T S In 1767 Townshend put his ill-fated rev- enue plan through the House of Commons, and a few months later he died, at age forty-two, leaving behind a bitter legacy: the Townshend Acts. With this legislation, Townshend had sought first to bring the New York assembly to its senses. That body had defied the Quartering Act and refused to provide beds or supplies for the king’s troops. Parliament, at Townshend’s behest, had suspended all acts of New York’s colonial assembly until it would yield. New York protested but finally caved in, inadvertently confirming the British suspicion that too much indulgence had encouraged colonial bad manners. Townshend had followed up with the Revenue Act of 1767, which levied du- ties (“external taxes”) on colonial imports of glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. Third, he had set up a Board of Customs Commissioners at Boston, the colonial headquarters of smuggling. Finally, he had reorganized the vice- admiralty courts, providing four in the continental colonies: at Halifax, Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston.

The Townshend duties increased government revenues, but the intangible costs were greater. The duties taxed goods exported from England, indirectly


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Fanning the Flames • 185

hurting British manufacturers, and had to be collected in colonial ports, in- creasing collection costs. But the highest cost was a new drift into ever- greater conflict with the colonists. The Revenue Act of 1767 posed a more se- vere threat to colonial assemblies than Grenville’s taxes had, for Townshend proposed to apply these revenues to pay governors and other officers and thereby release them from financial dependence on the colonial assemblies.

D I C K I N S O N ’ S “ L E T T E R S ” The Townshend Acts surprised the colonists, but this time the storm gathered more slowly than it had two years before. Once again citizens resolved to resist, to boycott British goods, to de- velop their own manufactures. Once again the colonial press spewed out ex- pressions of protest, most notably the essays of John Dickinson. The son of a Maryland planter, Dickinson was a prosperous Philadelphia lawyer who hoped to resolve the latest dispute by persuasion. Late in 1767 his twelve “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” (as he chose to style himself) began to appear in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, from which they were copied in other papers and in pamphlet form. His argument repeated in greater detail and more elegance what the Stamp Act Congress had already said. The colonists held that Parliament might regulate commerce and collect duties incidental to that purpose, but it had no right to levy taxes for revenue, whether they were internal or external. Dickinson used moderate language. “The cause of Liberty is a cause of too much dignity to be sullied by turbu- lence and tumult,” he argued. “Anger produces anger,” he warned. The colo- nial complaints should “speak at the same time the language of affliction and veneration” so as to avoid “an incurable rage.”

S A M U E L A DA M S A N D T H E S O N S O F L I B E RT Y But the outraged affliction grew, and the veneration waned. British officials could neither con- ciliate moderates like Dickinson nor cope with firebrands like Samuel Adams of Boston, who was emerging as the supreme genius of revolutionary agita- tion. Born in 1722, Adams graduated from Harvard and soon thereafter in- herited the family brewery, which he quickly ran into bankruptcy. Politics, not profit, was his abiding passion, and he spent most of his time debating political issues with sailors, roustabouts, and stevedores at local taverns. Adams insisted that Parliament had no right to legislate at all for the colonies, that Massachusetts must return to the spirit of its Puritan founders and defend itself from a new conspiracy against its liberties.

While other men tended their private affairs, Sam Adams was whipping up the Sons of Liberty and organizing protests at the Boston town meeting and in the provincial assembly. Early in 1768 he and James Otis formulated a

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Massachusetts circular letter, which the assembly dispatched to the other colonies. The letter’s tone was polite and logical: it restated the illegality of taxation by Parliament without colo- nial representation in Parliament and invited the support of other colonies. In London the earl of Hillsborough, just appointed to the new office of secretary of state for the colonies, only made matters worse. He ordered the Massachusetts assembly to with- draw the Adams-Otis letter. The as- sembly refused and was dissolved.

In 1769 the Virginia assembly re- asserted its exclusive right to tax Vir- ginians and called upon the colonies to unite in the cause. Virginia’s royal

governor promptly dissolved the assembly, but the members met indepen- dently, dubbed themselves a convention after Boston’s example, and adopted a new set of nonimportation agreements.

In London, events across the Atlantic still aroused only marginal interest. The king’s long effort to reorder British politics to his liking was coming to ful- fillment, and that was the big news. In 1769 new elections for Parliament fi- nally produced a majority of the “King’s Friends.” And George III found a minister to his taste in Frederick, Lord North, who had replaced Townshend as chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1770 the king installed a cabinet of the King’s Friends, with North as first minister. North, who venerated the traditions of Parliament, was no stooge for the king, but the two worked in harmony.

T H E B O S T O N M A S S AC R E By 1770 the nonimportation agreements in the American colonies were strangling British trade and causing unem- ployment in England. The impact of colonial boycotts on English commerce had persuaded Lord North to modify the Townshend Acts—just in time to halt a perilous escalation of tensions. The presence of British soldiers in Boston had been a constant provocation. Crowds heckled and ridiculed the red-coated soldiers, many of whom earned the abuse by harassing and in- timidating colonists.

On March 5, 1770, in the square before the custom house, a group of row- dies began taunting and hurling icicles at the British sentry on duty. His call


Samuel Adams

Adams was an organizer of the Sons of Liberty.

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Fanning the Flames • 187

for help brought reinforcements. Then somebody rang the town fire bell, drawing a larger crowd to the scene. At their head, or so the story goes, was Crispus Attucks, a runaway mulatto slave who had worked for some years on ships out of Boston. Attucks and others continued to bait the British troops. Finally a soldier was knocked down, rose to his feet, and fired into the crowd. When the smoke cleared, five people lay on the ground dead or dying, and eight more were wounded. The cause of colonial resistance now had its first martyrs, and the first to die was Crispus Attucks. Those involved in the “mas- sacre” were indicted for murder, but they were defended by John Adams, Sam’s cousin, who thought they were the victims of circumstance, provoked, he said, by a “motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and mulattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish Jack tars.” All of the British soldiers were acquitted ex- cept two, who were convicted of manslaughter and branded on their thumbs.

The so-called Boston Massacre sent shock waves through the colonies— and to London. Late in April 1770 Parliament repealed all the Townshend

The Bloody Massacre

Paul Revere’s partisan engraving of the Boston Massacre.

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duties save one. The cabinet, by a fateful vote of five to four, had advised keeping the tea tax as a token of parliamentary authority. Colonial die-hards insisted that pressure should be kept on British merchants until Parliament gave in altogether, but the nonimportation movement soon faded. Parlia- ment, after all, had given up the substance of the taxes, with one exception, and much of the colonists’ tea was smuggled in from Holland anyway.

For two years thereafter colonial discontent simmered down. The Stamp Act was gone, as were all the Townshend duties except that on tea. But most of the Grenville-Townshend innovations remained in effect: the Sugar Act, the Currency Act, the Quartering Act, the vice-admiralty courts, the Board of Customs Commissioners. The redcoats had left Boston, but they re- mained nearby, and the British navy still patrolled the coast. Each remained a source of irritation and the cause of occasional incidents. There was still tinder awaiting a spark, and the most rebellious among the colonists were eager to provide the flame. As Sam Adams stressed, “Where there is a spark of patriotick fire, we will enkindle it.”


Many American colonists had no interest in the disputes over British regulatory policy raging along the seaboard. Parts of the backcountry stirred with quarrels that had nothing to do with the Stamp and Townshend Acts. Rival land claims to the east of Lake Champlain pitted New York against New Hampshire and the Green Mountain Boys, led by Ethan Allen, against both. Eventually the denizens of the area would set up shop on their own as the state of Vermont, created in 1777 although not recognized as a member of the Union until 1791. In Pennsylvania sporadic quarrels broke out among land claimants who held grants from Virginia and Connecticut, whose boundaries under their charters overlapped those granted to William Penn, or so they believed.

A more dangerous division in Pennsylvania had arisen in 1763 when a group of frontier ruffians took the law into their own hands. Outraged at the lack of frontier protection during Pontiac’s Rebellion, a consequence of paci- fist Quaker influence in the Pennsylvania assembly, a group from Paxton, near Harrisburg, called the Paxton Boys, took revenge by massacring peaceful Susquehannock Indians in Lancaster County; then they threatened the so- called Moravian Indians, a group of Christian converts near Bethlehem. When the Indians took refuge in Philadelphia, some 1,500 angry Paxton Boys marched on the capital, where Benjamin Franklin talked the vengeful


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A Worsening Crisis • 189

frontiersmen into returning home by enabling them to present their de- mands to the governor and the assembly.

Farther south frontier folk of South Carolina also had complaints about the lack of protection—from horse thieves, cattle rustlers, and Indians. Backcoun- try residents organized societies, called Regulators, to administer vigilante justice in the region and refused to pay taxes until they gained effective gov- ernment. In 1769 the assembly finally set up six new circuit courts in the re- gion but still did not respond to the backcountry’s demand for representation.

In North Carolina the protest was less over the lack of government than over the abuses and extortion by appointees from the eastern part of the colony. Farmers felt especially oppressed by the government’s refusal to either issue paper money or accept produce in payment of taxes, and in 1766 they organized to resist. Efforts of these Regulators to stop seizures of prop- erty and other court proceedings led to more disorders and the enactment of a bill that made the rioters guilty of treason. In the spring of 1771, Governor William Tryon led 1,200 militiamen into the Piedmont center of Regulator activity. There his forces defeated some 2,000 ill-organized Regulators in the Battle of Alamance, in which eight were killed on each side. Tryon’s men then ranged through the backcountry, forcing some 6,500 Piedmont settlers to sign an oath of allegiance to the king.

These disputes and revolts within the colonies illustrate the fractious diver- sity of opinion and outlook evident among Americans on the eve of the Revo- lution. Colonists were of many minds about many things, including British rule. The disputatious frontier in colonial America also helped convince British authorities that the colonies were inherently unstable and that they required firmer oversight, including the use of military force to ensure civil stability.


Two events in 1772 further eroded the colonies’ fragile relationship with the mother country. Near Providence, Rhode Island, a British schooner, the Gaspee, patrolling for smugglers, accidentally ran aground, and its crew pro- ceeded to comandeer local sheep, hogs, and poultry. An angry crowd from the town boarded the ship, removed the crew, and set fire to the vessel. A commis- sion of inquiry was formed with authority to hold suspects, but no witnesses could be found. Three days after the burning, on June 13, 1772, Governor Thomas Hutchinson told the Massachusetts assembly that his salary thence- forth would come out of customs revenues. Then word came that judges of the Massachusetts Superior Court would be paid from the same source and would

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no longer be dependent on the assembly for their income. The assembly ex- pressed a fear that this portended “a despotic administration of government.”

The existence of the Gaspee investigative commission, which bypassed the courts of Rhode Island, and the independent salaries for royal officials in Massachusetts suggested to the residents of other colonies that similar events might be in store for them. The discussion of colonial rights and parliamen- tary encroachments regained momentum. Ever the agitator, Sam Adams con- vinced the Boston town meeting to form the Committee of Correspondence, which issued a statement of rights and grievances and invited other towns to do the same. Committees of Correspondence sprang up across Massachu- setts and in other colonies. In 1773 the Virginia assembly proposed the for- mation of such committees on an intercolonial basis, and a network of them spread across the colonies, mobilizing public opinion and keeping colonial resentments at a simmer. In unwitting tribute to their effectiveness, a Massa- chusetts Loyalist called the committees “the foulest, subtlest, and most ven- omous serpent ever issued from the egg of sedition.”

T H E B O S T O N T E A PA RT Y Lord North soon provided the colonists with the occasion to bring resentment from a simmer to a boil. In 1773 he undertook to help some friends bail out the East India Company, which had


The Able Doctor, or America Swallowing the Bitter Draught

This 1774 engraving shows Lord North, the Boston Port Act in his pocket, pouring tea down America’s throat and America spitting it back.

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A Worsening Crisis • 191

in its British warehouses some 17 million pounds of tea. Under the Tea Act of 1773, the government would allow the grossly mismanaged company to send its south Asian tea directly to America without paying any duties. British tea merchants could thereby undercut their colonial competitors, most of whom were smugglers who bought tea from the Dutch. At the same time, Lord North ordered British authorities in New England to clamp down on American smuggling.

The Committees of Correspondence, backed by colonial merchants, alerted colonists to the new danger. The British government, they said, was trying to purchase colonial acquiescence with cheap tea. Before the end of the year, large shipments of tea had gone out to major colonial ports. In Boston several thousand irate colonists decided that their passion for liberty out- weighed their love for tea. On December 16, 1773, a group of sixteen men, disguised as Mohawk Indians, boarded three ships and threw the 342 chests of East India Company tea overboard—cheered on by a crowd along the shore. Like those who had burned the Gaspee, they remained parties unknown—except to hundreds of Bostonians. John Adams relished the vigilante action. The destruction of the disputed tea, he said, was “so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible” that it would have “important consequences.”

Yet given a more tactful response from London, the Boston Tea Party might easily have undermined the radicals’ credibility. Many Americans, es- pecially merchants, were aghast at the wanton destruction of property. Ben- jamin Franklin, an American agent in London trying to improve relations with Britain, declared that the destruction of the tea was a violent injustice. He urged his native city of Boston to reimburse the shipowners for their ru- ined cargo. Sam Adams dismissed Franklin’s reservations. “Franklin may be a good philosopher,” Adams said, “but he is a bungling politician.”

The Boston Tea Party had pushed British officials to the breaking point. They were now convinced that the very existence of the empire was at stake. The rebels in Boston had instigated what could become a widespread effort to evade royal authority and imperial regulations. A firm response was re- quired. “The colonists must either submit or triumph,” a furious George III wrote to Lord North, and North strove to make an example of Boston. In the end, however, he helped make a revolution.

T H E C O E R C I V E AC T S In 1774 Parliament enacted four harsh mea- sures designed by Lord North to discipline Boston. The Boston Port Act closed the harbor from June 1, 1774, until the city had paid for the lost tea. An Act for the Impartial Administration of Justice let the governor transfer

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to England the trial of any official accused of committing an offense in the line of duty—no more redcoats would be tried on technicalities. A new Quartering Act directed local authorities to provide lodging for British sol- diers, in private homes if necessary. Finally, the Massachusetts Government Act made the colony’s council and law-enforcement officers all appointive rather than elective, declared that sheriffs would select jurors, and stipulated that no town meeting could be held without the governor’s consent, except for the annual election of town officers. In May, General Thomas Gage re- placed Hutchinson as governor and assumed command of the 4,000 British soldiers in Boston. Massachusetts now had a military governor.

These Coercive Acts were designed to isolate Boston and make an example of the colony. Instead, they galvanized colonial resistance. At last, it seemed to the colonists, their worst fears were being confirmed. If these “Intolerable Acts,” as the colonists labeled the Coercive Acts, were not resisted, they would eventually be applied to the other colonies.

Further confirmation of British “tyranny” came with news of the Quebec Act, passed in June. That act provided that the government in Canada would

not have a representative assem- bly and would instead be led by an appointed governor and coun- cil. It also gave a privileged posi- tion to the Catholic Church. The measure seemed merely another indicator of British authoritari- anism. In addition, colonists pointed out that they had lost many lives in an effort to liberate the trans-Appalachian West from the control of French Catholics. Now the British seemed to be protecting papists at the expense of their own colonists. What was more, the act placed within the boundaries of Quebec the west- ern lands north of the Ohio River, lands that Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Connecticut claimed.

Meanwhile, colonists rallied to the cause of besieged Boston, rais- ing money, sending provisions,


The State Blacksmiths Forging Fetters for the Americans

A British cartoon attacking Parliament’s anti-colonial measures of 1775 and 1776.

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A Worsening Crisis • 193

and boycotting, as well as burning, tea. In Williamsburg, when the Virginia assembly met in May, a young member of the Committee of Correspon- dence, Thomas Jefferson, proposed to set aside June 1, the effective date of the Boston Port Act, as a day of fasting and prayer in Virginia. The governor immediately dissolved the assembly, whose members then retired to the Raleigh Tavern and resolved to form a Continental Congress to represent all the colonies. Similar calls were coming from Providence, New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere, and in June the Massachusetts assembly sug- gested a meeting in Philadelphia in September. Shortly before George Wash- ington left to represent Virginia at the gathering, he wrote to a friend, “The crisis is arrived when we must assert our rights.” Otherwise, he warned, British tyranny “shall make us as tame and abject slaves, as the blacks we rule over with such arbitrary sway.”

T H E C O N T I N E N TA L C O N G R E S S On September 5, 1774, the First Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia. There were fifty-five mem- bers representing twelve continental colonies, all but Georgia, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and the Floridas. Peyton Randolph of Virginia was elected president, and Charles Thomson, “the Sam Adams of Philadelphia,” became secretary. The Congress agreed to vote by colonies, although Patrick Henry urged the members to vote as individuals on the grounds that they were not Virginians or New Yorkers or whatever but Americans.

The Congress endorsed the Suffolk Resolves, which declared the Intolera- ble Acts null and void, urged Massachusetts to arm for defense, and called for economic sanctions against British commerce. The Congress then adopted a Declaration of American Rights, which conceded only Parliament’s right to regulate commerce and those matters that were strictly imperial affairs. It proclaimed once again the rights of Americans as English citizens, denied Parliament’s authority with respect to internal colonial affairs, and pro- claimed the right of each colonial assembly to determine the need for British troops within its own province.

Finally the Continental Congress adopted the Continental Association of 1774, which recommended that every county, town, and city form commit- tees to enforce a boycott of all British goods. These elected committees of vir- tuous citizens would monitor the economic activities of their neighbors to ensure compliance with the boycott. The local committees became in effect the organizational and communications network for the Revolutionary movement, connecting every locality to the leadership and enforcing public behavior. The Continental Association also included provisions for the non- importation of British goods (implemented in 1774) and the nonexportation

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of American goods to Britain (to be implemented in 1775 unless colonial grievances were addressed).

Seven thousand men across the colonies served on the committees of the Continental Association. They developed an effective form of political protest using an economic weapon available to all colonists: refusal to pur- chase British products and sell American goods to Britain. Such economic leverage, it was hoped, would pressure the British government to repeal its hated taxes on Americans. The committees often required colonists to sign an oath to join the boycotts. Those who refused to sign and to abide by the agreements were ostracized and intimidated; some were tarred and feathered.

Such efforts to gain economic self-sufficiency helped bind the diverse colonies by ropes of resistance. In this sense the emerging colonial desire for greater political independence involved concrete economic objectives. Gain- ing economic independence from Britain required not only decreasing imports but also increasing American production. Many colonial artisans, mechanics, and manufacturers recognized the benefits of the boycott move- ment. By cutting off British imports, they could earn greater freedom and long-term prosperity and security. As David Ramsay, a South Carolina physician, remembered, colonists rebelled against Britain’s efforts to make Americans captive consumers in the hope of “increasing the sale of her man- ufactures, and of perpetuating our subordination.”

Thousands of ordinary men and women participated in the boycott of British goods, and their sacrifices on behalf of colonial liberties provided the momentum leading to revolution. As the Boston Gazette observed, “However meanly some people may think about the populace or mob of a country, it is certain that the power or strength of every FREE country depends entirely on the populace.” It was common folk who implemented and enforced the boycott, volunteered in local militia units, attended town meetings, and in- creasingly exerted pressure on royal officials in the colonies. In 1774 over 4,600 militiamen from Massachusetts lined the streets of Worcester and forced royal officials, hats in hands, to walk a gauntlet while recanting their support for imperial policies. The Founding Fathers could not have led the Revolutionary movement without such widespread popular support. As the people of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, declared in a petition, “We have always believed that the people are the fountain of power.”

In London the king fumed. He wrote his prime minister that the “New England colonies are in a state of rebellion,” and “blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country or independent.” British critics of the American actions reminded the colonists that Parliament had absolute sov-


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Shifting Authority • 195

ereignty. Power could not be shared. Parliament could not abandon its claim to authority in part without abandoning it altogether. King and Parliament insisted that there would be no negotiation with the rebellious colonies. Force was the only option.

Parliament declared Massachusetts in rebellion and prohibited the New England colonies from trading with any nation outside the empire. Lord North’s Conciliatory Resolution, adopted on February 27, 1775, was as far as the British would go. Under its terms, Parliament would refrain from using any measures but taxes to regulate trade and would grant to each colony the duties collected within its boundaries, provided the colonies would con- tribute voluntarily to a quota for defense of the empire. It was a formula, said one English skeptic, not for peace but for new quarrels. In Virginia in March 1775, the colony’s leaders met to discuss what had occurred at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. While most of the participants be- lieved that Britain would relent in the face of united colonial resistance, Patrick Henry was convinced that war was imminent. He urged that the militia begin preparing for combat. Henry claimed that the colonies “have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne,” yet such efforts had been met only by “violence and insult.” By this point, Henry had whipped himself into a fury. Freedom, he shouted, could be bought only with blood. While staring at his reluctant comrades, he refused to predict what they might do for the cause of liberty. “But as for me,” he declared through clenched teeth, “give me liberty—” He paused dramatically, clenched his fist as if it held a dagger, then plunged it as if into his heart— “or give me death.”


As Patrick Henry had predicted, events moved beyond conciliation. The king and Parliament had lost control of their colonies; they could nei- ther persuade nor coerce them to accept new regulations and revenue mea- sures. Colonial resistance had become open rebellion. All through late 1774 and early 1775 the defenders of American rights were seizing the initiative. The unorganized Loyalists, if they did not submit to nonimportation agree- ments, found themselves confronted with persuasive committees of “Whigs,” with tar and feathers at the ready. The Continental Congress urged each colony to mobilize its militia units. The militia, as much a social as a military organization in the past, now began serious training in formations,

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tactics, and marksmanship. Royal and proprietary officials were losing control as provincial congresses assumed authority and colonial militias organized, raided military stores, and gathered arms and gunpowder. But British military officials remained smugly confident. Major John Pitcairn wrote home from Boston in 1775, “I am satisfied that one active campaign, a smart action, and burning two or three of their towns, will set everything to rights.”

L E X I N G T O N A N D C O N C O R D Pitcairn soon had his chance to sup- press the rebellion. On April 14, 1775, the besieged military commander and new royal governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage, received secret orders to stop the “open rebellion” in Massachusetts. He decided to capture and arrest leaders of the Provincial Congress and seize the militia’s supply depot at Concord, about twenty miles outside Boston. On the night of April 18, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith and Major Pitcairn gathered 700 red- coats on Boston Common and set out by way of Lexington. When local Pa- triots got wind of the plan, Boston’s Committee of Safety sent Paul Revere and William Dawes by separate routes on their famous ride to spread the alarm. Revere reached Lexington about midnight and alerted John Hancock and Sam Adams, who were hiding there. Joined by Dawes and Samuel Prescott, Revere rode on toward Concord. A British patrol intercepted the trio, but Prescott slipped through and delivered the warning.


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British retreat

British advance

Describe the Battle of Lexington. Why did the Americans’ tactics along the road between Concord and Lexington succeed? Why did the British march on Concord in the first place?

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At dawn on April 19, the British advance guard of 238 redcoats found Captain John Parker and about seventy “Minutemen”—mostly dairy farm- ers and artisans—lined up on the dewy Lexington green. Parker apparently intended only a silent protest, but Major Pitcairn rode onto the green, swung his sword, and yelled, “Disperse, you damned rebels! You dogs, run!” The Americans had already begun quietly backing away when someone fired a shot, whereupon the British soldiers loosed a volley into the Minutemen, then charged them with bayonets, leaving eight dead and ten wounded.

The British officers hastily brought their men under control and led them to Concord. There the Americans had already carried off most of their muni- tions, but the British destroyed what they could. At Concord’s North Bridge the growing American militia inflicted fourteen casualties on a British platoon, and by about noon the British had begun marching back to Boston. By then, however, the narrow road back to Boston had turned into a gauntlet of death as rebels from “every Middlesex village and farm” sniped from be- hind stone walls, trees, barns, houses—all the way back to the Charlestown peninsula. Among the Americans were Captain Parker and the reassembled Lexington militia. By nightfall the redcoat survivors were safe under the pro- tection of the fleet and army at Boston, having suffered three times as many casualties as the Americans. A British general reported to London that the Americans had earned his respect: “Whoever looks upon them as an irregular

The Battle of Lexington

Amos Doolittle’s impression of the Battle of Lexington as combat begins.

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mob will find himself much mistaken.” During the fighting along the road leading to Lexington from Concord, a British soldier was searching a house for rebel snipers when he ran into James Hayward of the Acton militia. The redcoat pointed his musket at the American and said, “You’re a dead man.” Hayward raised his weapon and answered,“So are you.” They fired simultaneously.

T H E S P R E A D I N G C O N F L I C T The Revolutionary War had begun. When the Second Continental Congress convened at Philadelphia on May 10, 1775, British-held Boston was under siege by Massachusetts militia units. On the very day that Congress met, Fort Ticonderoga, in northern New York, fell to a force of Green Mountain Boys under the hotheaded Ethan Allen of Vermont and Massachusetts volunteers under Benedict Arnold of Connecticut. Two days later the colonial force took Crown Point, north of Ticonderoga.

The Continental Congress, with no legal authority and no resources, met amid reports of spreading warfare. On June 15 it named George Washington commander in chief of a Continental army. Washington accepted on the condition that he receive no pay. The Congress fastened on the charismatic Washington because his service in the French and Indian War had made him one of the most experienced officers in America. The fact that he was from influential Virginia, the wealthiest and most populous province, added to his attractiveness. And as many people commented then and later, Washington looked like a leader. He was tall and strong, a superb horseman, and a fear- less fighter. As a Philadelphian explained, Washington “had so much martial dignity in his deportment that you would distinguish him as a general and a soldier from among ten thousand people.”

On June 17, the very day that George Washington was commissioned, the colonials and British forces engaged in their first major fight, the Battle of Bunker Hill. While the Continental Congress deliberated, American and British forces in and around Boston had increased. Militiamen from Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire joined in the siege, as did several freed slaves. British reinforcements included three major generals: William Howe, Sir Henry Clinton, and John Burgoyne. On the day before the battle, American forces fortified the high ground overlooking Boston. Breed’s Hill was the battle location, nearer to Boston than Bunker Hill, the site first cho- sen (and the source of the battle’s erroneous name).

The rebels were spoiling for a fight. As Joseph Warren, a dapper Boston physician, put it, “The British say we won’t fight; by heavens, I hope I shall die up to my knees in blood!” He soon got his wish. With civilians looking on from rooftops and church steeples, the British attacked in the blistering heat,


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with 2,400 troops moving in tight formation through tall grass. The Ameri- cans, pounded by naval guns, watched from behind their earthworks as the waves of British troops in their beautiful but impractical uniforms advanced up the hill. The militiamen waited until the attackers had come within fifteen to twenty paces, then loosed a shattering volley. The Americans cheered as they watched the greatest soldiers in the world retreating in panic.

The British re-formed their lines and attacked again. Another sheet of flames and lead greeted them, and the vaunted redcoats retreated a second time. Still, the proud British generals, led by William Howe, were deter- mined not to let the ragtag rustics humiliate them. On the third attempt, when the colonials began to run out of gunpowder and were forced to throw stones, a bayonet charge ousted them. The British took the high ground, but at the cost of 1,054 casualties. Colonial losses were about 400. Every one of General Howe’s aides had been killed or wounded. “A dear bought victory,” recorded General Clinton, “another such would have ruined us.”

The Battle of Bunker Hill had two profound effects. First, the high number of British casualties made the English generals more cautious in subsequent encounters with the Continental army. Second, Congress recom- mended that all able-bodied men enlist in a militia. This tended to divide the

View of the Attack on Bunker’s Hill

The Battle of Bunker Hill and the burning of Charlestown peninsula.

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male population into Patriot and Loyalist camps. A middle ground was no longer tenable.

In early March 1776 American forces occupied Dorchester Heights, to the south of Boston, and brought the city under threat of bombardment with cannons and mortars. General Howe retreated by water to Halifax. The last British forces, along with fearful American Loyalists, embarked on March 17, 1776. By that time the British forces were facing not the suppression of a rebellion but the reconquest of a continent.

While American forces held Boston under siege, the Continental Congress pursued the dimming hope of a compromise settlement. On July 5 and 6, 1775, the delegates issued two major documents: an appeal to the king known as the Olive Branch Petition and a Declaration of the Causes and Ne- cessity of Taking Up Arms. The Olive Branch Petition, written by Pennsyl- vanian John Dickinson, professed continued loyalty to George III and begged the king to restrain further hostilities pending a reconciliation. The declaration, also largely Dickinson’s work, traced the history of the contro- versy, denounced the British for the unprovoked assault at Lexington, and rejected independence but affirmed the colonists’ purpose to fight for their rights rather than submit to slavery. When the Olive Branch Petition reached London, George III refused even to look at it. On August 22 he declared the American colonists “open and avowed enemies.” The next day he issued a proclamation of rebellion.

Before the end of July 1775, the Congress had authorized an ill-fated attack on British troops in the walled city of Quebec, in the vain hope of ral- lying support from the French inhabitants of Canada. One force, under Richard Montgomery, advanced toward Quebec by way of Lake Champlain; another, under Benedict Arnold, struggled through the Maine woods. The American units arrived outside Quebec in September, exhausted and hun- gry. Then they were ambushed by a silent killer: smallpox. “The small pox [is] very much among us,” wrote one soldier. As the deadly virus raced through the American camp, General Montgomery faced a brutal dilemma. Most of his soldiers had signed up for short tours of duty, many of which were scheduled to expire at the end of the year. He could not afford to wait until spring for the smallpox to subside. Seeing little choice but to fight, Montgomery ordered a desperate attack on the British forces at Quebec during a blizzard, on December 31, 1775. The assault was a disaster. Montgomery was killed early in the battle and Benedict Arnold wounded. Over 400 Americans were taken prisoner. The rest of the Patriot force retreated to its camp outside the walled city and appealed to the Continental Congress for reinforcements.


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The smallpox virus continued attacking both the Americans in the camp and their comrades taken captive by the British. As fresh troops arrived, they, too, fell victim to the deadly virus. Benedict Arnold warned George Wash- ington in February 1776 that the runaway disease would soon lead to “the entire ruin of the Army.” By May there were only 1,900 American soldiers left outside Quebec, and 900 of them were infected with smallpox. Sensing the weakness of the American force, the British attacked and sent the ragtag Pa- triots on a frantic retreat up the St. Lawrence River to the American-held city of Montreal and eventually back to New York and New England. The sick were left behind, but the smallpox virus traveled with the fleeing soldiers. Major General Horatio Gates later remarked that “every thing about this Army is infected with the Pestilence; The Clothes, The Blankets, the Air & the Ground they Walk on.”

Quebec was the first military setback for the Revolutionaries. It would not be the last. And smallpox would continue to bedevil the American war effort. The veterans of the failed Canadian campaign brought home both smallpox and demoralizing stories about the disease, thus spreading the epidemic to civilians and making the recruitment of new soldiers more difficult. Men who might risk British gunfire balked at the more terrifying thought of con- tracting smallpox in a military camp.

In the South, Virginia’s royal governor raised a Loyalist force, including slaves recruited with the promise of freedom, but met defeat in December 1775. In North Carolina, Loyalist Highland Scots, joined by some former Regulators, lost a battle with a Patriot force at Moores Creek Bridge. The Loy- alists had set out for Wilmington to join a British expeditionary force under Lord Cornwallis and Sir Henry Clinton. That plan frustrated, the British commanders decided to attack Charleston instead. The Patriot militia there had partially finished a palmetto-log fort on Sullivans Island (later named in honor of its commander, Colonel William Moultrie), and when the British fleet attacked, on June 28, 1776, the spongy palmetto logs absorbed the naval fire, and Fort Moultrie’s cannon returned it with devastating effect. The fleet, with over 200 casualties and every ship damaged, was forced to retire. South Carolina would honor the palmetto tree by putting it on its state flag.

As the fighting spread north into Canada and south into Virginia and the Carolinas, the Continental Congress appointed commissioners to negotiate treaties of peace with Indian tribes, organized a Post Office Department, with Benjamin Franklin as postmaster general, and authorized the forma- tion of a navy and a marine corps.

The delegates continued to hold back from declaring independence. Yet through late 1775 and early 1776 word came of one British action after

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another that proclaimed rebellion and war. In December 1775 a Pro- hibitory Act declared the colonies closed to all commerce. The king and cabinet also recruited mercenaries in Europe. Eventually almost 30,000 Germans served, about 17,000 of them from the principality of Hesse- Cassel—thus Hessian became the name applied to all of them. Parliament remained deaf to members who warned that the reconquest of America would not only be costly in itself but also might lead to another great war with France and Spain.

C O M M O N S E N S E In 1776 Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense was published anonymously in Philadelphia. Paine had arrived there from England thirteen months before. Coming from a humble Quaker back- ground, Paine had distinguished himself chiefly as a drifter, a failure in mar- riage and business. At age thirty-seven he had set sail for America with a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin and the purpose of setting up a school for young ladies. When the school did not work out, he moved into the political controversy as a freelance writer and with Common Sense proved himself the consummate Revolutionary rhetorician. Until his pam- phlet appeared, the squabble had been mainly with Parliament; few colonists considered independence an option. Paine, however, directly attacked alle- giance to the monarchy, which had remained the last frayed connection to Britain, and he refocused the hostility previously vented on Parliament. The common sense of the matter, it seemed, was that King George III bore the responsibility for the malevolence toward the colonies. Americans should consult their own interests, abandon George III, and declare their indepen- dence: “The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, ’TIS TIME TO PART.”


Within three months more than 150,000 copies of Thomas Paine’s pamphlet were in circulation, an enormous number for the time. “Com- mon Sense is working a powerful change in the minds of men,” George Washington said. A visitor to North Carolina’s Provincial Congress could “hear nothing praised but Common Sense and independence.” One by one the provincial governments authorized their delegates in the Conti- nental Congress to take the final step. On June 7 Richard Henry Lee of Virginia moved “that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.” Lee’s resolution passed on July 2, a date that


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Independence • 203

“will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America,” John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail. The memorable date, however, became July 4, 1776, when the Congress adopted the Declaration of Indepen- dence, a statement of political philosophy that still retains its dynamic force.

J E F F E R S O N ’ S D E C L A R AT I O N Although Thomas Jefferson is often called the author of the Declaration of Independence, he is more accurately termed its draftsman. In June 1776 the Continental Congress appointed a committee of five men—Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut—to develop a public explanation of the reasons for colonial discontent and to provide a rationale for independence. John Adams convened the committee on June 11. The group asked Adams and Jefferson to produce a first draft, where- upon Adams deferred to Jefferson because of the thirty-three-year-old Vir- ginian’s reputation as an eloquent writer.

During two days in mid-June 1776, in his rented lodgings in Philadelphia, Jefferson wrote the first statement of American grievances and principles. He later explained that his purpose was “not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent.” He in- tended his words to serve as “an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.”

The Coming Revolution

The Continental Congress votes for independence, July 2, 1776.

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Jefferson drew primarily upon two sources: his own draft preamble to the Virginia Constitution, written a few weeks earlier, and George Mason’s draft of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, which had appeared in Philadelphia newspapers in mid-June. It was Mason’s text that stimulated many of Jeffer- son’s most famous phrases. Mason, for example, had written that “all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural Rights, . . . among which are the Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing Property, and pursuing and obtaining Happiness and Safety.”

Jefferson shared his draft with the committee members, and they made several minor revisions before submitting the document to the Congress. The legislators made eighty-six changes in Jefferson’s declaration, including the insertion of two references to God and deleting a section blaming the English monarch for imposing African slavery on the colonies (delegates from Georgia and South Carolina had protested that it smacked of aboli- tionism).

The resulting Declaration of Independence constitutes a compelling re- statement of John Locke’s contract theory of government—the theory, in Jefferson’s words, that governments derived “their just Powers from the con- sent of the people,” who were entitled to “alter or abolish” those that denied their “unalienable rights” to “life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The appeal was no longer simply to “the rights of Englishmen” but to the broader “laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” Parliament, which had no proper author- ity over the colonies, was never mentioned by name. The enemy was a king who had tried to establish “an absolute Tyranny over these States.” The “Rep- resentatives of the United States of America,” therefore, declared the thirteen “United Colonies” to be “Free and Independent States.” General George Washington ordered the Declaration read to every brigade in the Continental army in New York. He prayed that the muscular statement of colonial princi- ples would “serve as a fresh incentive to every officer, and soldier, to act with Fidelity and Courage.” An equally excited but sober John Adams recognized that “the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this De- claration” would be immense. Benjamin Franklin acknowledged how high the stakes were: “Well, Gentlemen,” he told the Congress, “we must now hang together, or we shall most assuredly hang separately.”

“ W E A LWAY S H A D G O V E R N E D O U R S E LV E S ” So it had come to this, thirteen years after Britain acquired domination of North America with the Treaty of Paris. In explaining the causes of the Revolution, historians have advanced many theories and explanations: the excessive regulation of


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Independence • 205

trade, the restrictions on settling western lands, the tax burden, the mount- ing debts to British merchants, the growth of a national consciousness, the lack of representation in Parliament, ideologies of Whiggery and the En- lightenment, the abrupt shift from a mercantile to an “imperial” policy after 1763, class conflict, and revolutionary conspiracy.

Each factor contributed something to the collective grievances that rose to a climax in a gigantic failure of British statesmanship. A conflict between British sovereignty and American rights had come to a point of confronta- tion that adroit statesmanship might have avoided, sidestepped, or out- flanked. Irresolution and vacillation in the British ministry finally gave way to the stubborn determination to force an issue long permitted to drift. The colonists, conditioned by the Whig interpretation of history, saw these de- velopments as the conspiracy of a corrupted oligarchy—and finally, they de- cided, of a despotic king—to impose an “absolute Tyranny.”

The individual motives of the Revolutionaries varied considerably. The most frequent explanation for rebelling against British authority was the ne- cessity of preserving rights and freedoms. George Washington, for example, saw in British policies a conspiracy to “fix the Shackles of Slavery upon us.” Yet colonists sought liberty from British tyranny for many reasons, not all of which were selfless or noble. The Boston merchant John Hancock, for exam- ple, embraced the Patriot cause in part because he was the region’s foremost smuggler. Paying British taxes would have cost him a fortune. Likewise, South Carolina’s Henry Laurens and Virginia’s Landon Carter, wealthy planters, were concerned about the future of slavery under British control. The seeming contradiction between American slaveholders demanding lib- erty from British oppression was not lost on observers at the time. John Fletcher, a leading Methodist in Britain, wrote in 1776 that the Americans were “hypocritical friends of liberty who buy and sell and whip their fellow men as if they were brutes, and absurdly complain that they are enslaved.” Even George Washington was not devoid of self-interest in his opposition to British policies. He owned 60,000 acres of land west of the Appalachians and very much resented British efforts to restrict white settlement on the frontier.

Perhaps the last word on the complex causes of the Revolution should be- long to an obscure participant, Levi Preston, a Minuteman from Danvers, Massachusetts. Asked sixty-seven years after Lexington and Concord about British oppressions, the ninety-one-year-old veteran responded, as his young interviewer reported later:

“What were they? Oppressions? I didn’t feel them.” “What, were you not

oppressed by the Stamp Act?” “I never saw one of those stamps. . . . I am

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certain I never paid a penny for one of them.” “Well, what then about the

tea-tax?” “Tea-tax! I never drank a drop of the stuff; the boys threw it all

overboard.” “Well, then, what was the matter? and what did you mean in

going to the fight?”“Young man, what we meant in going for those redcoats

was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They

didn’t mean we should.”



• Revolutionary rhetoric was important not only for fighting the American Revolution; it also provided the framework for the creation of state and national governments after independence was won. This framework will be discussed in the next two chapters.

• The section titled “Discontent on the Frontier” showed the tension between colonists in the more urban eastern areas of several states and those on the western frontier. These tensions will reappear in several chapters—for example, in the Federalist–anti-Federalist debate over ratification of the Constitution (in Chapter 7).


For a narrative survey of the events leading to the Revolution, see Edward Countryman’s The American Revolution, rev. ed. (2003). For Great Britain’s perspective on the imperial conflict, see Ian R. Christie’s Crisis of Empire (1966).

The intellectual foundations of revolt are traced in Bernard Bailyn’s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, enlarged ed. (1992). To un- derstand how these views were connected to organized protest, see Pauline Maier’s From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Develop- ment of American Opposition to Britain, 1765–1776 (1972) and Jon Butler’s Becoming America: The Revolution before 1776 (2000).

Several books deal with specific events in the crisis. Oliver M. Dickerson’s The Navigation Acts and the American Revolution (1951) stresses the change from trade regulation to taxation in 1764. Edmund S. Morgan and Helen M.

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Further Reading • 207

Morgan’s The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution, rev. ed. (1962) gives the colonial perspective on that crucial event. Also valuable are Hiller B. Zo- bel’s The Boston Massacre (1970), Benjamin Woods Labaree’s The Boston Tea Party, 1773: Catalyst for Revolution (1964), and David Ammerman’s In the Common Cause: American Response to the Coercive Acts of 1774 (1974). On the efforts of colonists to boycott the purchase of British goods, see T. H. Breen’s The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped Amer- ican Independence (2004). An excellent overview of the political turmoil leading to war is John Ferling’s A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic (2003). A fascinating analysis of the smallpox epidemic during the Revolutionary War is Elizabeth A. Fenn’s Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775–82 (2001).

Pauline Maier’s American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Indepen- dence (1997) is the best analysis of the framing of that document. For ac- counts of how the imperial controversy affected individual colonies, see Ed- ward Countryman’s A People in Revolution: The American Revolution and Political Society in New York, 1760–1790 (1981), Richard L. Bushman’s King and People in Provincial Massachusetts (1985), James H. Hutson’s Pennsylva- nia Politics, 1746–1770: The Movement for Royal Government and Its Conse- quences (1972), Rhys Isaac’s The Transformation of Virginia, 1740–1790 (1982), and A. Roger Ekirch’s “Poor Carolina”: Politics and Society in Colonial North Carolina, 1729–1776 (1981).

Events west of the Appalachians are chronicled concisely by Jack M. Sosin in The Revolutionary Frontier, 1763–1783 (1967). Military affairs in the early phases of the war are handled in John W. Shy’s Toward Lexington: The Role of the British Army in the Coming of the American Revolution (1965) and in works listed in Chapter 6.

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Part Two

� B U I L D I N G



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The signing of the Declaration of Independence generated greatexcitement among the rebellious colonists. Yet while it was one thing for Patriot leaders to declare American independence from British authority, it was quite another to win it on the battlefield. The odds favored the British: barely one third of the colonists actively supported the Revolu- tion, the political stability of the new nation was uncertain, and George Washington found himself in command of a poorly supplied, inexperi- enced army.

Yet the Revolutionary movement would persevere and prevail. The skill and fortitude of Washington and his lieutenants enabled the American forces to exploit their geographic advantages. Equally important was the intervention of the French on behalf of the Revolutionary cause. The Franco-American alliance proved decisive. In 1783, after eight years of sporadic fighting and heavy human and financial losses, the British gave up the fight and their American colonies.

Amid the Revolutionary turmoil the Patriots faced the daunting task of forming new governments for themselves. Their deeply engrained resentment of British imperial rule led them to decentralize political power and grant substantial sovereignty to the individual states. As Thomas Jefferson declared, “Virginia, Sir, is my country.” Such powerful local ties help explain why the colonists focused their attention on creat- ing new state constitu- tions rather than a na- tional government. The Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781, provided only the semblance of na- tional authority. Final power to make and execute laws re- mained with the states.

After the end of the Rev- olutionary War, the flimsy political bonds authorized by the Articles of Confedera- tion proved inadequate to the needs of the new—and expanding—nation. This realization led to the Constitutional Convention

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in 1787. The process of drafting and ratifying the new constitution prompted a debate on the relative significance of national power, local control, and individual freedom that has provided the central theme of American political thought ever since.

The Revolution involved much more than the apportionment of politi- cal power, however. It also unleashed social forces and posed social ques- tions that would help reshape the very fabric of American culture. What would be the role of women, African Americans, and Native Americans in the new republic? How would the quite different economies of the various regions of the new United States be developed? Who would con- trol and facilitate access to the vast territories to the west of the original thirteen states? How would the new republic relate to the other nations of the world?

These controversial questions helped foster the first national political parties in the United States. During the 1790s Federalists, led by Alexan- der Hamilton, and Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, furiously debated the political and economic future of the new nation. With Jefferson’s election as president in 1800, the Republicans gained the upper hand in national politics for the next quarter century. In the process they presided over a maturing society that aggressively ex- panded westward at the expense of the Native Americans, ambivalently embraced industrial development, fitfully engaged in a second war with Great Britain, and ominously witnessed a growing sectional controversy over slavery.

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Few foreign observers thought that the upstart Revolution-aries could win a war against the world’s greatest empire—and the Americans did lose most of the battles of the Revo- lution. But they eventually forced the British to sue for peace and grant their independence, a stunning result that reflects the tenacity of the Patriots as well as the peculiar difficulties facing the British as they tried to conduct a far-flung campaign thousands of miles from home. The British Empire dispatched two thirds of its entire army and one half of its formidable navy to suppress the American revolt. The costly military commitments the British maintained elsewhere around the globe further complicated their war effort.





• What were the American and British military strategies and the Revolutionary War’s major turning points?

• How did the war affect the home front?

• How was the American Revolution a “social revolution” in matters of social equality, slavery, the rights of women, and religious freedom?

• What factors led to the emergence of a distinctive American culture?

To answer these questions and access additional review material, please visit www.wwnorton.com/studyspace.

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Fighting in the New World was not an easy task for either side, however. The Americans had to create a military force capable of opposing the fore- most army in the world. Recruiting, supplying, equipping, training, and pay- ing soldiers were monumental challenges, especially for a fledgling nation in the midst of forming its first governments. The Patriot army encircling Boston in 1775 was little more than a rustic militia made up of volunteers who had enlisted for six months. The citizen-soldiers lacked training and discipline. They came and went as they pleased, did not salute officers, gam- bled frequently, and drank liquor freely. General George Washington recog- nized immediately that the foremost needs of the new army were capable officers, intensive training, strict discipline, and longer enlistment contracts. He soon began whipping his army into shape. Recruits who violated army rules were placed in the stockade, flogged, or sent packing. Yet the tenacity of Washington and the Revolutionaries bore fruit as war-weariness and political dissension in London hampered British efforts to suppress the rebel forces.

Like all major military events the Revolution had unexpected conse- quences affecting political, economic, and social life. It not only secured American independence, generated a new sense of nationalism, and created a unique system of self-governance; it also began a process of societal defini- tion and change that has yet to run its course. The turmoil of revolution up- set traditional class and social relationships and helped transform the lives of people who had long been relegated to the periphery of historical concern— African Americans, women, and Indians. In important ways, then, the Revo- lution was much more than simply a war for independence. It was an engine for political experimentation and social change.

1776 : WA S H I N G T O N ’ S NA R R O W E S C A P E

On July 2, 1776, the day that Congress voted for independence, British redcoats landed on undefended Staten Island, across New York Harbor from Manhattan. They were the vanguard of a gigantic effort to reconquer Amer- ica and the first elements of an enormous force that gathered around New York Harbor over the next month. By mid-August, Major General William Howe, with the support of a fleet under his older brother, Admiral Richard, Lord Howe, had some 32,000 men at his disposal, the largest single force mustered by the British in the eighteenth century. George Washington trans- ferred most of his troops to New York from Boston, but he could gather only about 19,000 poorly trained militiamen and members of the Continental army—much too small a force to defend New York, but Congress wanted it held. This meant Washington had to expose his men to entrapments from


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which they escaped more by luck and Howe’s caution than by any strategic genius of the American commander. Although a veteran of frontier fighting, Washington had never commanded a unit larger than a regiment. In 1776 he was still learning the art of generalship, and the New York campaign af- forded some expensive lessons.

F I G H T I N G I N N E W YO R K A N D N E W J E R S E Y By invading and occupying New York, the British hoped to sever New England from the rest of the rebellious colonies. They enjoyed complete naval superiority as well as overwhelming advantages in men and weaponry. In late August 1776 the mas- sive British armada of 427 battleships and transports began landing troops on Long Island. Although short of munitions, greatly outnumbered, and leading a force in which one quarter of the men were affected by an epidemic of small- pox, Washington was determined to defend New York. It was a colossal mistake. The new American army suffered a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Long Is- land. British invaders caught Washington’s forces by surprise. The American commander knew early on that his defenses could not hold. “Good God!” he exclaimed. “What brave fellows I must lose this day!” Only a timely rainstorm with strong winds, high tides, and fog enabled the retreating Americans to cross the harbor from Brooklyn to Manhattan under cover of darkness.

Had Howe moved quickly, he could have trapped Washington’s army in lower Manhattan. The main American force, however, withdrew northward to the mainland of New York, crossed the Hudson River, and retreated slowly across New Jersey and over the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. As the ragged remnants of the American army fled across New Jersey, the British buglers giving chase mocked them by trumpeting fox-hunting calls.

At the end of August 1776, General Washington had more than 28,000 men under his command. By December he had only 3,000. The supreme comman- der was disconsolate; the American war effort was in desperate straits. Thou- sands of militiamen had simply gone home. Unless a new army could be raised quickly, Washington warned,“I think the game is pretty near up.” But it wasn’t. In the August retreat marched a British volunteer, Thomas Paine. Having opened an eventful year with his inspiring pamphlet Common Sense, Paine now composed The American Crisis, in which he penned this immortal line:

These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the

sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country;

but he that stands it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and

woman. Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered. Yet we have this

consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the


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Why did Washington lead his army from Brooklyn Heights to Manhattan and from there to New Jersey? How could General Howe have ended the rebellion in New York? What is the significance of the battle at Trenton?

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The pamphlet, ordered read in the American army camps, bolstered the shaken morale of the Patriots—as events would soon do more decisively.

General Howe, firmly—and luxuri- ously—based in New York (which the British held throughout the war), set- tled down with his mistress to wait out the winter. Washington, however, was not yet ready to hibernate. He knew that the morale of his men and the hopes of a new nation required “some stroke” of good news in the face of their devastating losses in New York. So he seized the initiative with a des- perate gamble to achieve a victory be- fore more of his soldiers returned home once their enlistment contracts expired. On Christmas night 1776 he led some 2,400 men across the icy Delaware River. Near dawn at Trenton, New Jersey, the Americans surprised a garrison of 1,500 sleeping Hessians (German mercenaries). It was a total rout, from which only 500 Hessians escaped death or capture. Only six of Washing- ton’s men were wounded, one of whom was Lieutenant James Monroe, the fu- ture president. A week later, at nearby Princeton, the Americans repelled three regiments of British redcoats before taking refuge in winter quarters at Mor- ristown, in the hills of northern New Jersey. The campaigns of 1776 had ended, after repeated defeats, with two minor victories that bolstered the Pa- triot cause. The unexpected victories at Princeton and Trenton may well have saved the cause of independence. Having learned of the American triumphs in New Jersey, a Virginia Tory glumly reported that a few days before, the Revolu- tionaries “had given up the cause for lost. Their late successes have turned the scale and now they are all liberty mad again.” General Howe had missed his great chance—indeed, several chances—to bring the rebellion to a speedy end. Grumbled one British officer, the Americans had “become a formidable en- emy” even though they had yet to win a full-scale conventional battle.

In fact, George Washington had come to realize that the only way to defeat the British was to wear them down in a long war of attrition and exhaustion. As the combat in New York had shown, he could not best the British army in a conventional battle. The only hope of winning the war was not to lose it.

1776: Washington’s Narrow Escape • 217

George Washington at Princeton

By Charles Willson Peale.

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Time became his greatest weapon. Over the next eight years he and his troops would outlast the invaders.


C H O O S I N G S I D E S The American Revolution was as much a civil war as it was a struggle against a foreign nation. The act of choosing sides divided families and friends, towns and cities. Benjamin Franklin’s illegitimate son William, for example, was the royal governor of New Jersey. He sided with Great Britain during the Revolution, and his father later removed him from his will. The passions unleashed by the Revolution erupted in brutalities on both sides. Mobs of Patriots executed Tories (or Loyalists, as the British sym- pathizers were sometimes known), and state governments confiscated their homes and property. One Loyalist, John Stevens, testified that he “was dragged by a rope fixed about his neck” across the Susquehanna River be- cause he refused to sign an oath supporting the rebellion. In Virginia the planter Charles Lynch set up vigilante courts to punish Tories by “lynching” them—which in this case meant having them whipped.

Opinion among the colonists concerning the war divided in three ways: Patriots, or Whigs (as the Revolutionaries called themselves); Tories; and an indifferent middle group swayed mostly by the better organized and more energetic radicals. That the Loyalists were numerous is evident from the departure, during and after the war, of roughly 100,000 of them, more than 3 percent of the total population. But the Patriots were probably the largest of the three groups. There was a like division in British opinion. The aversion of so many English to the war was one reason for the government’s hiring German mercenaries to fight with the British army.

Estimating how many Americans remained loyal to Britain was a central concern of English military planners, for they based many of their decisions on such figures. Through most of the war, the British sought to align them- selves with an elusive Tory majority that the Loyalists kept telling them was waiting only for British regulars to show the flag. Often they miscalculated. Generally Tories were concentrated in the seaport cities, but they came from all walks of life. Governors, judges, and other royal officials were al- most all Loyalists; most Anglican ministers also preferred the mother coun- try; colonial merchants might be tugged one way or the other, depending upon how much they had benefited or suffered from mercantilist regula- tion; the wealthy southern planters were swayed one way by dependence upon British bounties, another by their debts to British merchants. In the backcountry of New York and the Carolinas, many humble folk rallied to


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the crown. Where planter aristocrats tended to be Whig, as in North Carolina, backcountry farmers (many of them recently Regulators) leaned to the Tories.

In few places, however, were there enough Tories to assume control with- out the presence of British troops, and nowhere for very long. Repeatedly the British forces were frustrated by both the failure of Loyalists to materialize in strength and the collapse of Loyalist militia units once regular detachments pulled out. Even more disheartening was what one British officer called “the licentiousness of the [Loyalist] troops, who committed every species of rap- ine and plunder,” and thereby converted potential friends to enemies. British and Hessian regulars, brought up in a hard school of warfare, tended to treat all civilians as hostile.

The inability of the British to use Loyalists effectively as pacification troops led them to abandon areas once they had conquered them. Because Patriot militias quickly returned whenever the British left an area, any Loyalists in the region faced a difficult choice: either accompany the British and leave behind their property or stay and face the wrath of the Patriots. In addition, the British policy of offering slaves their freedom in exchange for their loyalty and service alienated large numbers of neutral or even Tory planters.

The Patriot militia sprang to life whenever redcoats appeared nearby, and all adult white males, with few exceptions, were obligated under state law to serve when called. With time even the most apathetic would be pressed to a commit- ment, if only to turn out for drill. And sooner or later nearly every colonial county experienced military action that called for armed resistance. The war itself, then, whether through British and Loyalist behavior or the call of the militia, mobilized the apathetic to make at least an appearance of support for the American cause. Once made, this commitment was seldom reversed.

M I L I T I A A N D A R M Y American militiamen served two purposes: they constituted a home guard, defending their communities, and they helped augment the Continental army. Dressed in hunting shirts and armed with muskets, they preferred to ambush their opponents or engage them in hand- to-hand combat rather than fight in traditional formations. They also tended to kill unnecessarily and to torture prisoners. To repel an attack, the militia somehow materialized; the danger past, it evaporated, for there were chores to do at home. They “come in, you cannot tell how,” George Washing- ton said in exasperation, “go, you cannot tell when, and act you cannot tell where, consume your provisions, exhaust your stores, and leave you at last at a critical moment.”

The Continental army, by contrast, was on the whole well trained. Unlike the professional soldiers in the British army, Washington’s troops were citizen-

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soldiers, mostly poor native-born Americans or immigrants who had been in- dentured servants or convicts. Many found camp life debilitating and combat horrifying. As General Nathanael Greene, Washington’s ablest commander, pointed out, few of the Patriots had ever engaged in mortal combat, and they were hard pressed to “stand the shocking scenes of war, to march over dead men, to hear without concern the groans of the wounded.” Desertions grew as the war dragged on. At times, General Washington could put only 2,000 to 3,000 men in the field. Regiments were organized state by state, and the states were supposed to keep them filled with volunteers or with conscripts if need be, but Washington could never be sure that his requisitions would be met.

P R O B L E M S O F F I N A N C E A N D S U P P LY Congress found it difficult to supply the army. None of the states provided more than a part of its share, and Congress reluctantly let army agents take supplies directly from farmers in return for certificates promising future payment. Many of the states found a ready source of revenue in the sale of abandoned Loyalist estates. Nevertheless, Congress and the states fell short of funding the war’s cost and resorted to printing paper money.

Congress did better at providing munitions than at providing other sup- plies. In 1777 it established a government arsenal at Springfield, Massachu- setts, and during the war, states offered bounties for the manufacture of guns


American Militia

This sketch of the militiamen by a French soldier at Yorktown shows “one of those ubiquitous American frontiersman-turned-soldiers” (second from right).

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and powder. Still, most munitions were supplied either by wartime captures or by importation from France, whose government was all too glad to help the rebels fight its archenemy.

During the harsh winter at Morristown (1776–1777), George Washing- ton’s army nearly disintegrated as enlistments expired and deserters fled the hardships of brutally cold weather, inadequate food, and widespread disease. Smallpox continued to wreak havoc among the American armies. “The small Pox! The small Pox!” John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail. “What shall We do with it?” By 1777 George Washington had come to view the virus with greater dread than “the Sword of the Enemy.” On any given day, one fourth of the American troops were deemed unfit for duty, usually because of small- pox. Some Americans suspected that the British were practicing biological warfare by sending infected civilians and clothing behind the American lines.

The threat of smallpox to the war effort was so great that in early 1777 Wash- ington ordered a mass inoculation, which he managed to keep secret from the British. Inoculating an entire army was an enormous and risky undertaking. Each soldier had to be interviewed to determine whether he had ever had smallpox. Then those who believed they had never been infected were inocu- lated. The virus was implanted in an incision, usually on the arm or hand. For unknown reasons the resulting smallpox produced less severe symptoms than natural infections—fewer pustules, less scarring, and far fewer deaths. Inocu- lated soldiers had to be quarantined while the virus ran its course, but the in- fected soldiers were thereafter immune to the disease. Washington’s daring gamble paid off. One of the 400 Connecticut soldiers who was inoculated in the summer of 1777 reported its success: “We lost none. I had the smallpox favor- ably as did the rest.” The successful inoculation of the American army marks one of Washington’s greatest strategic accomplishments of the war.

Only about 1,000 Continentals and a few militiamen stuck out the Mor- ristown winter. With the spring thaw, however, recruits began arriving to claim the bounty of $20 and 100 acres of land offered by Congress to those who would enlist for three years or for the duration of the conflict, if less. With some 9,000 regulars, Washington began sparring and feinting with Howe in northern New Jersey. Howe had been making other plans, however, and so had other British officers.

1777 : S E T B AC K S F O R T H E B R I T I S H

Divided counsels, overconfidence, poor communications, and indeci- sion plagued British military planning in the campaigns of 1777. After the

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What were the consequences of Burgoyne’s strategy of dividing the colonies with two British forces? How did life in Washington’s camp at Valley Forge transform the American army? Why was Saratoga a turning point in the American Revolution?

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1777: Setbacks for the British • 223

removal of General Gage during the siege of Boston, “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne took command of the northern British armies. He proposed to bi- sect the colonies. His men would advance southward from Canada to the Hudson River while another force moved eastward from Oswego, in western New York, down the Mohawk River valley. General Howe, meanwhile, would lead a third force up the Hudson from New York City. Howe in fact had pro- posed a similar plan, combined with an attack on New England. Had he stuck to it, he might have cut the colonies in two and delivered them a dis- heartening blow. But he changed his mind and decided to move against the Patriot capital, Philadelphia, expecting that the Pennsylvania Tories would rally to the crown and secure the colony.

Washington, sensing Howe’s purpose, withdrew most of his men from New Jersey to meet the new threat. At Brandywine Creek, south of Philadelphia, Howe outmaneuvered and routed Washington’s forces on September 11, and fifteen days later the British occupied Philadelphia. Washington counterat- tacked in a dense fog at Germantown on October 4, but British reinforcements from Philadelphia under General Charles Cornwallis arrived in time to repulse the Americans. Washington retired with his army to winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, while Howe and his men remained for the winter in the relative comfort of Philadelphia, twenty miles away. Howe’s plan had suc- ceeded, up to a point. He had taken Philadelphia—or as Benjamin Franklin put it, Philadelphia had taken him. But the Tories there proved fewer than Howe had expected, and his decision to move on Philadelphia from the south, by way of Chesapeake Bay, put his forces even farther from Burgoyne’s army. Meanwhile, Burgoyne was stum- bling into disaster in the north.

S A R ATO G A General Burgoyne moved south from Canada toward Lake Champlain in 1777 with about 7,000 men, his mistress, and a baggage train that included some thirty carts carry- ing his personal belongings and a large supply of champagne. Such heavily laden forces struggled to cross the wooded and marshy terrain. Burgoyne

General John Burgoyne

Commander of England’s northern forces. Burgoyne and most of his British troops surrendered to the Americans at Saratoga on October 17, 1777.

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sent part of his forces down the St. Lawrence River with Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger, and at Oswego they were joined by a force of Iroquois allies. The combined force headed east toward Albany.

The American army in the north had dwindled during the winter. When Burgoyne brought his cannon to bear on Fort Ticonderoga, the Continentals prudently abandoned the fort, with a substantial loss of gunpowder and supplies. An angry Congress thereupon fired the American commander and replaced him with Horatio Gates, a favorite of the New Englanders. Fortu- nately for the American forces, Burgoyne delayed at Ticonderoga, enabling American reinforcements to arrive from the south and New England.

The more mobile Patriots inflicted two serious reversals on the British forces. At Oriskany, New York, on August 6, 1777, a band of militiamen re- pulsed an ambush by Tories and Indians under St. Leger and gained time for General Benedict Arnold to bring 1,000 Continentals to the relief of Fort Stanwix. Convinced they faced an even greater force than they actually did, the Indians deserted, and the Mohawk Valley was secured for the Patriot forces. To the east, at Bennington, Vermont, on August 16, New England militiamen, led by Colonel John Stark, decimated a British foraging party. Stark had pledged that morning, “We’ll beat them before night, or Molly Stark will be a widow.” As American reinforcements continued to gather and after two other defeats by the Americans, Burgoyne pulled back to Saratoga, where General Horatio Gates’s forces surrounded him.

On October 17, 1777, Burgoyne, resplendent in his scarlet, gold, and white uniform, surrendered to the plain, blue-coated Gates, and most of his 5,700 soldiers were imprisoned in Virginia. Gates allowed Burgoyne himself to go home, where he received an icy reception. Gates was ecstatic. He wrote his wife, “If old England is not by this lesson taught humility, then she is an ob- stinate old slut, bent upon her ruin.”

A L L I A N C E W I T H F R A N C E In early December 1777 news of the sur- prising American triumph at Saratoga reached Paris, where it was celebrated almost as if it were a French victory. In 1776 the French had taken their first step toward aiding the colonists, sending fourteen ships with crucial military supplies to America; most of the Continental army’s gunpowder in the first years of the war came from that source. The Spanish government added a donation and soon established its own supply company.

Word of the American victory at Saratoga led in early 1778 to the signing of two treaties: the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, in which France recog- nized the new United States and offered trade concessions, including impor- tant privileges to American shipping, and the Treaty of Alliance. Under the


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latter both parties agreed, first, that if France entered the war, both countries would fight until American independence was won; second, that neither would conclude a “truce or peace” without “the formal consent of the other first obtained”; and third, that each guaranteed the other’s possessions in America “from the present time and forever against all other powers.” France further bound itself to seek neither Canada nor other British possessions on the mainland of North America.

By June 1778 British vessels had fired on French ships, and the two na- tions were at war. In 1779, after extracting French promises to help it regain territories taken by the British in previous wars, Spain entered the war as an ally of France but not of the United States. In 1780 Britain declared war on the Dutch, who persisted in a profitable trade with the French and the Americans. The rebellious farmers at Lexington and Concord had indeed fired a shot “heard round the world.” Like Washington’s encounter with the French in 1754, it was the start of another world war, and the fighting now spread to the Mediterranean, Africa, India, the West Indies, and the high seas.

1778 : B O T H S I D E S R E G R O U P

After the British defeat at Saratoga, Lord North knew that the war was unwinnable, but the king refused to let him either resign or make peace. On March 16, 1778, the House of Commons in effect granted all the American de- mands prior to independence. Parliament repealed the Townshend tea duty, the Massachusetts Government Act, and the Prohibitory Act, which had closed the colonies to commerce, and sent peace commissioners to Philadelphia to negotiate an end to hostilities. But Congress refused to begin any negotiations until Britain recognized American independence or withdrew its forces.

Unbeknownst to the British peace commissioners, the crown had already authorized the evacuation of British troops from Philadelphia, a withdrawal that further weakened what little bargaining power they had. After Saratoga, General Howe had resigned his command, and Sir Henry Clinton had re- placed him, with orders to pull out of Philadelphia and, if necessary, New York but to keep Newport, Rhode Island. He was to supply troops for an ex- pedition in the South, where the government believed a latent Tory senti- ment in the backcountry needed only a British presence for its release. The ministry was right, up to a point, but the Loyalist sentiment turned out once again, as in other theaters of war, to be weaker than it had seemed.

For Washington’s army at Valley Forge, the winter of 1777–1778 was a sea- son of intense suffering. The American force, encamped near Philadelphia,

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endured unrelenting cold, hunger, and disease. Some troops lacked shoes and blankets. Their makeshift log-and-mud huts offered little protection from the howling winds and bitter cold. Most of the army’s horses died of exposure or starvation. By February 7,000 troops were too ill for duty. More than 2,500 soldiers died at Valley Forge; another 1,000 deserted. Fifty officers resigned on one December day. Several hundred more left before winter’s end.

Desperate for relief, Washington sent troops on foraging expeditions into New Jersey, Delaware, and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, confiscating horses, cattle, and hogs in exchange for “receipts” to be honored by the Con- tinental Congress. By March 1778 the once-gaunt troops at Valley Forge saw their strength restored. Their improved health enabled Washington to begin a rigorous training program designed to bring unity to his motley array of forces. Because few of the regimental commanders had any formal military training, their troops lacked leadership, discipline, and skill. To remedy this defect, Washington turned to an energetic Prussian soldier of fortune, Friedrich Wilhelm, baron von Steuben. Steuben used an interpreter and fre- quent profanity to instruct the troops, teaching them the fundamentals of close-order drill: how to march in formation and how to handle their weapons. By the end of the winter, the ragtag soldiers were beginning to re- semble a professional army. The army’s morale stiffened when Congress promised extra pay and bonuses after the war. The good news from France about the formal military alliance helped as well.

As General Clinton’s British forces withdrew eastward toward New York, Washington pursued them across New Jersey. On June 28 he engaged the British in an indecisive battle at Monmouth Court House. But the battle was significant for revealing Washington’s temper and leadership qualities. In the midst of the fighting, he discovered that his potbellied subordinate, General Charles Lee, was retreating rather than attacking. Infuriated, Washington swore at Lee “till the leaves shook the trees.” Then Washington rallied the troops just in time to stave off defeat. Clinton slipped away to New York while Washington took up a position at White Plains, north of the city. From that time on, the northern theater, scene of the major campaigns and battles in the first years of the war, settled into a long stalemate, interrupted by mi- nor and mostly inconclusive engagements.

AC T I O N S O N T H E F R O N T I E R The one major American success of 1778 occurred far from the New Jersey battlefields. Out to the west the British, under Colonel William Hamilton at Forts Niagara and Detroit, had incited frontier Tories and Indians to raid western settlements and offered to pay boun- ties for American scalps. To end the attacks, young George Rogers Clark took 175 frontiersmen on flatboats down the Ohio River early in 1778, marched


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through the woods, and on the evening of July 4 took Kaskaskia (in present- day Illinois) by surprise. The French inhabitants, terrified at first, “fell into transports of joy” at news of the French alliance with the Americans. Then, without bloodshed, Clark took Cahokia (opposite St. Louis) and Vincennes (in present-day Indiana). After the British retook Vincennes, Clark marched

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How did George Rogers Clark secure Cahokia and Vincennes? Why did the Amer- ican army destroy Iroquois villages in 1779? Why were the skirmishes between settlers and Indian tribes significant for the future of the trans-Appalachian frontier?

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his men (almost half of them French volunteers) through icy rivers and flooded prairies, sometimes in water neck deep, and laid siege to the aston- ished British garrison. Clark, the hard- ened woodsman, tomahawked Indian captives in sight of the fort to show that the British afforded them no pro- tection. He spared the British captives when they surrendered, however.

While Clark’s captives traveled eastward, a much larger American ex- pedition moved through western Penn- sylvania to attack Iroquois strongholds in western New York. There the Tories and Indians had terrorized frontier settlements throughout the summer of 1778. Led by the charismatic Mohawk Joseph Brant, the Iroquois had killed hundreds of militiamen along the

Pennsylvania frontier. In response, Washington dispatched an expedition of 4,000 men under General John Sullivan. At Newton (near Elmira), New York, on August 29, 1779, Sullivan defeated the only serious opposition and pro- ceeded to carry out Washington’s instruction that the Iroquois country be not “merely overrun but destroyed.” The American force burned about forty Seneca and Cayuga villages, together with their orchards and food supplies, leaving many of the Indians homeless and without enough provisions to sur- vive. The action broke the power of the Iroquois federation for all time, but it did not completely pacify the frontier. Sporadic encounters with various tribes continued to the end of the war.

In the Kentucky territory, Daniel Boone and his small band of settlers risked constant attack from the Shawnees and their British and Tory allies. During the Revolution they survived frequent ambushes, at least seven skir- mishes, and three pitched battles. In 1778 Boone and some thirty men, aided by their wives and children, held off an assault by more than 400 Indians at Boonesborough (now Boonesboro). Thereafter, Boone himself was twice shot and twice captured. Indians killed two of his sons, a brother, and two brothers-in-law. His daughter was captured, and another brother was wounded four times. Despite such ferocious fighting and dangerous circum- stances, the white settlers refused to leave Kentucky.


Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant)

This 1786 portrait by Gilbert Stuart features the Mohawk leader who fought against the Americans in the Revolution.

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In early 1776 a delegation of northern Indians—Shawnees, Delawares, and Mohawks—had talked the Cherokees into striking at frontier settle- ments in Virginia and the Carolinas. Swift retaliation had followed as Carolina forces burned Cherokee towns and destroyed corn. By weakening the major Indian tribes along the frontier, the American Revolution cleared the way for rapid settlement of the trans-Appalachian West after the war.


At the end of 1778, the focus of the British military efforts shifted sud- denly to the South. The whole region from Virginia southward had been free from major action since 1776. Now the British would test King George’s be- lief that a sleeping Tory power in the South needed only the presence of a few redcoats to be awakened. General Clinton decided to take Savannah, on the Georgia coast, and roll northeast, gathering momentum from the Loyal- ist countryside. For a while the idea seemed to work, but it ran afoul of two developments: first, the Loyalist strength was less than estimated, and sec- ond, the British forces behaved so harshly that they drove even Loyalists into rebellion.

S AVA N N A H A N D C H A R L E S T O N In November 1778 a British force attacked Savannah. The invaders quickly overwhelmed the Patriots, took the town, and hurried toward Charleston, plundering plantation houses along the way. The seesaw campaign took a major turn when General Clinton, ac- companied by General Charles Cornwallis, brought new naval and land forces southward to join a massive amphibious attack that bottled up an American force led by General Benjamin Lincoln on the Charleston penin- sula. On May 12, 1780, Lincoln surrendered the city and its 5,500 defenders, the greatest single American loss of the war. At that point, Congress, against Washington’s advice, turned to the victor of Saratoga, Horatio Gates, to take command and sent him south. General Cornwallis, in charge of the British troops in the South, subdued the Carolina interior and surprised Gates’s force at Camden, South Carolina, routing his new army, which retreated all the way to Hillsborough, North Carolina, 160 miles away.

T H E C A R O L I N A S From the point of view of British imperial goals, the southern colonies were ultimately more important than the northern ones because they produced valuable staple crops such as tobacco, indigo, and naval stores (tar, pitch, and turpentine). Eventually the war in the Carolinas

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not only involved opposing British and American armies but also degener- ated into brutal guerrilla-style civil conflicts between local Loyalists and local Patriots.

Cornwallis had South Carolina just about under control, but two subordi- nates, Sir Banastre Tarleton and Patrick Ferguson, who mobilized Tory militi- amen, overreached themselves in their effort to subdue the Whigs. “Tarleton’s quarter” became an epithet for savagery because “Bloody Tarleton” gave little quarter to vanquished foes. Ferguson sealed his own doom when he threat- ened to march over the mountains and hang the backcountry leaders. In- stead, the feisty “overmountain men” went after Ferguson. They caught him and his Tories on Kings Mountain, just inside South Carolina. There, on October 7, 1780, they routed his force. By then feelings were so strong that American militiamen continued firing on Tories trying to surrender and later indiscriminately slaughtered Tory prisoners. Kings Mountain was the turning point of the war in the South. By proving that the British were not invincible, it emboldened small farmers to join guerrilla bands under such partisan leaders as Francis Marion, “the Swamp Fox,” and Thomas Sumter, “the Carolina Gamecock.”

While the overmountain men were closing in on Ferguson, Congress chose a new commander for the southern theater, General Nathanael Greene, “the fighting Quaker” of Rhode Island. A man of infinite patience, skilled at managing men and saving supplies, careful to avoid needless risks, he was suited to a war of attrition against the British forces. From Char- lotte, North Carolina, where he arrived in December 1780, Greene moved his army eastward and sent General Daniel Morgan with about 700 men on a sweep to the west of Cornwallis’s headquarters at Winnsboro, South Carolina.

Taking a position near Cowpens, a cow-grazing area in northern South Carolina, Morgan’s force engaged Tarleton’s army on January 17, 1781. Once the battle was joined, Tarleton mistook a readjustment in the American line for a militia panic and rushed his men forward, only to be ambushed by Morgan’s cavalry. Tarleton escaped, but more than 100 of his men were killed and more than 700 were taken prisoner.

Morgan then fell back into North Carolina and linked up with General Greene’s main force at Guilford Courthouse (near what became Greens- boro). Greene lured Cornwallis’s army north, stretching the British supply lines to the breaking point. The Americans attacked the redcoats at Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781, inflicted heavy losses, and then withdrew. Cornwallis marched off toward Wilmington, on the North Carolina coast, to lick his wounds and take on supplies. Greene then resolved to go back into


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Why did the British suddenly shift their campaign to the south? Why were the battles at Savannah and Charleston major victories for the British? How did Nathaniel Greene undermine British control of the Deep South? Why did Cornwallis march to Virginia and camp at Yorktown? How was the French navy crucial to the American victory? Why was Cornwallis forced to surrender?


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South Carolina in the hope of drawing Cornwallis after him or forcing the British to give up the state. There he joined forces with the local guerrillas and in a series of brilliant actions kept losing battles while winning the war. “We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again,” he said. By September 1781 he had narrowed British control in the Deep South to Charleston and Savannah, al- though for more than a year longer Whigs and Tories slashed at each other “with savage fury” in the backcountry, where there was “nothing but murder and devastation in every quarter,” Greene said.

Meanwhile, Cornwallis had headed north, away from Greene, reasoning that Virginia must be eliminated as a source of reinforcement before the Carolinas could be subdued. In May 1781 the British force marched north into Virginia. There, since December 1780, Benedict Arnold, now a British general, had been engaged in a war of maneuver against the American forces. Arnold, until September 1780, had been the American commander at West Point, New York. Overweening in ambition, lacking in moral scruples, and a reckless spender on his fashionable wife, Arnold had nursed a grudge against Washington over an official reprimand for his extravagances as com- mander of reoccupied Philadelphia. Traitors have a price, and Arnold had found his: he had crassly plotted to sell out the American garrison at West Point to the British, and he even suggested how they might seize George Washington himself. Only the fortuitous capture of the British go-between, Major John André, had ended Arnold’s plot. Forewarned that his plan had been discovered, Arnold had joined the British in New York while André was hanged by the Americans as a spy.

YO R K T O W N When Cornwallis linked up with Arnold at Petersburg, Virginia, their combined British forces totaled 7,200 men, far more than the small American army in the South. The arrival of American reinforcements led Cornwallis to pick Yorktown, Virginia, on Chesapeake Bay, as a defensible site. There appeared to be little reason to worry about a siege, since Washing- ton’s main land force seemed preoccupied with attacking New York, and the British navy controlled American waters.

To be sure, there was a small American navy, but it was no match for the British fleet. Yet American privateers distracted and wounded the British fleet. Most celebrated were the exploits of Captain John Paul Jones. Off Eng- land’s coast on September 23, 1779, Jones and his crew won a desperate bat- tle with a British frigate, which the Americans captured and occupied before their own ship sank. This was the occasion for Jones’s stirring and oft- repeated response to a British demand for surrender: “I have not yet begun to fight.”


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Still, such heroics were little more than nuisances to the British. But at a critical point, thanks to the French navy, the British lost control of Chesapeake Bay. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine an American victory in the Revolution without the assistance of the French. As long as the British navy maintained supremacy at sea, the Americans could not hope to force a settlement to their advantage. For three years, Washington had waited to get some strategic mili- tary benefit from the French alliance. In July 1780 the French had finally landed a force of about 6,000 at Newport, Rhode Island, which the British had given up to concentrate on the South, but the French force had sat there for a year, blockaded by the British fleet.

Then, in 1781, the elements for a combined action suddenly fell into place. In May, as Cornwallis moved into Virginia, George Washington per- suaded the commander of the French army to join forces for an attack on New York. The two armies linked up in July, but before they could strike at New York, word came from the West Indies that Admiral de Grasse was bound for the Chesapeake with his entire French fleet and some 3,000 soldiers. Washington immediately began moving his army south toward Yorktown. Meanwhile, French ships slipped out of the British blockade at Newport and also headed toward Chesapeake Bay.

On August 30 de Grasse’s fleet reached Yorktown, and the admiral landed his French troops to join the American force already watching Cornwallis. On September 6, the day after a British fleet appeared, de Grasse gave battle and forced the British to give up the effort to relieve Cornwallis, whose fate was quickly sealed. De Grasse then sent ships up the Chesapeake to ferry down the allied armies, bringing the total American and French forces to more than 16,000, or better than double the size of Cornwallis’s army.

The siege of Yorktown began on September 28. On October 14 two major redoubts guarding the left of the British line fell to French and American at- tackers, the latter led by Washington’s aide, Alexander Hamilton. A British counterattack failed to retake them. Later that day a squall forced Cornwal- lis to abandon a desperate plan to escape across the York River. On October 17, 1781, four years to the day after Saratoga, Cornwallis sued for peace, and on October 19, their colors cased (that is, their flag lowered, a sign of sur- render), the British force of more than 7,000 marched out as its band played somber tunes along with the English nursery rhyme “The World Turned Upside Down.” Cornwallis himself claimed to be too “ill” to appear. His dis- patch to his superior was telling: “I have the mortification to inform your Excellency that I have been forced to . . . surrender the troops under my command.”

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Whatever lingering hopes of victory the British may have harbored vanished at Yorktown. “Oh God, it’s all over,” Lord North groaned at news of the surrender. On February 27, 1782, the House of Commons voted against continuing the war and on March 20 Lord North resigned. The Continental Congress named a five-man commission to negotiate a peace treaty. Only three of its members were active, however: John Adams, who was on state business in the Netherlands; John Jay, minister to Spain; and Benjamin Franklin, already in Paris. Franklin and Jay did most of the work.

The French commitment to Spain complicated matters. Spain and the United States were allied with France but not with each other. America was bound by its alliance to fight on until the French made peace, and the French were bound to help the Spanish recover Gibraltar from England. Unable to de- liver Gibraltar, or so the tough-minded Jay reasoned, the French might try to bargain off American land west of the Appalachians in its place. Fearful that the French were angling for a separate peace with the British, Jay persuaded Franklin to play the same game. Ignoring their instructions to consult fully


Surrender of Lord Cornwallis

By John Trumbull. The artist completed his painting of the pivotal British surrender at Yorktown in 1794.

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with the French, they agreed to further talks with the British. On November 30, 1782, the talks pro- duced a preliminary treaty with Great Britain. If it violated the spirit of the alliance with France, it did not violate the strict letter of the treaty, for the French minister was notified the day before it was signed, and final agreement still depended on a Franco-British set- tlement.

THE TREATY OF PARIS Early in 1783 France and Spain gave up on Gibraltar and reached an armistice with Britain. The final signing of the Treaty of Paris came on September 3, 1783. In accord with the bargain already struck, Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States and agreed to a Mississippi River boundary to the west. Both the northern and the southern borders left ambiguities that would require fur- ther definition. Florida, as it turned out, passed back to Spain. The British further granted the Americans the “liberty” of fishing off Newfoundland and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the right to dry their catch on the unset- tled Atlantic coast of Canada. On the matter of prewar debts, the best the British could get was a promise that their merchants should “meet with no legal impediment” in seeking to collect money owed them by Americans. And on the tender point of Loyalists whose estates had been confiscated, the negotiators agreed that Congress would “earnestly recommend” to the states the restoration of confiscated property. Each of the last two points was little more than a face-saving gesture to the British.


R E P U B L I C A N I D E O L O G Y The Americans had won their War of Inde- pendence. Had they undergone a political revolution as well? Years later

The Political Revolution • 235

American Commissioners of the Preliminary Peace Negotiations with Great Britain

An unfinished painting from 1782 by Ben- jamin West. From left, John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, and Franklin’s grandson William Temple Franklin.

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John Adams offered an answer: “The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people. . . . This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.” Yet Adams’s observation ig- nores the fact that the Revolutionary War itself served as the catalyst for a prolonged internal debate about what new forms of government would best


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How did France’s treaties with Spain complicate the peace-treaty negotiations with the British? What were the terms of the Treaty of Paris? Why might the ambiguities in the treaty have led to conflicts among the Americans, the Spanish, and the English?

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serve an independent republic. The conventional British model of mixed government sought to balance monarchy, aristocracy, and the common peo- ple and thereby protect individual liberty. Because of the more democratic nature of their society, however, Americans knew that they must devise new political assumptions and institutions. They had no monarchy or aristoc- racy. Yet how could sovereignty reside in the common people? How could Americans ensure the survival of a republican form of government, long as- sumed to be the most fragile? The war thus provoked a spate of state constitu- tion making that remains unique in history.

A struggle for the rights of English citizens in the colonies became a fight for independence in which those rights found expression in governments that were new yet deeply rooted in the colonial experience and the prevailing viewpoints of Whiggery and the Enlightenment. With the Loyalists dis- placed or dispersed, such ideas as the contract theory of government, the sovereignty of the people, the separation of powers, and natural rights found their way into the new state government constitutions that were devised while the fight went on—amid other urgent business.

The very idea of republican government was a radical departure in that day. A republic, it was presumed, would endure only as long as the majority of the people were virtuous and willingly placed the good of society above the self-interest of individuals. Herein lay the hope and the danger of the new American experiment in popular government: even as leaders enthusi- astically fashioned new state constitutions, they feared that their experi- ments in republicanism would fail because of a lack of civic virtue among the people.

S TAT E C O N S T I T U T I O N S Most of the political experimentation be- tween 1776 and 1787 occurred at the state level in the form of written consti- tutions in which the people were sovereign and delegated limited authority to the government. In addition, the states initiated bills of rights guaranteeing particular individual freedoms and fashioned procedures for constitutional conventions that have also remained an essential part of the American polit- ical system. In sum, the innovations at the state level during the Revolution created a reservoir of ideas and experience that formed the basis for the cre- ation of the federal constitution in 1787.

The first state constitutions varied mainly in detail. They formed govern- ments much like the colonial governments, but with elected governors and senates instead of appointed governors and councils. Generally they embod- ied a separation of powers (legislative, executive, and judicial) as a safeguard against abuses. Most of them also included a bill of rights that protected the

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time-honored rights of petition, freedom of speech, trial by jury, freedom from self-incrimination, and the like. Most tended to limit the powers of governors and increase the powers of the legislatures, which had led the peo- ple in their quarrels with the colonial governors.

T H E A RT I C L E S O F C O N F E D E R AT I O N The central American gov- ernment, the Continental Congress, exercised government powers without any constitutional sanction before March 1781. Plans for a permanent frame of government emerged very early, however. Richard Henry Lee’s motion for independence included a call for a plan of confederation. As early as July 1776, a committee headed by John Dickinson had produced a draft constitu- tion, the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. For more than a year, Congress had debated the articles in between more urgent matters and had finally adopted them in November 1777. All states ratified them promptly except Maryland, which insisted that the seven states claiming western lands should cede them to the authority of Congress. Maryland did not relent until early 1781, when Virginia gave up its claims, under the old colonial charter, to the vast region north of the Ohio River. New York had already relinquished a dubious claim based upon its “jurisdiction” over the Iroquois, and the other states eventually abandoned their charter claims as well.

When the Articles of Confederation became effective, in March 1781, they did little more than legalize the status quo. “The United States of America in Congress Assembled” had a multitude of responsibilities but little authority to carry them out. Congress was intended not as a legisla- ture, nor as a sovereign entity unto itself, but as a collective substitute for the monarch. In essence it was to be a plural executive rather than a par- liamentary body. It had full power over foreign affairs and questions of war and peace; it could decide disputes between the states; it had author- ity over coinage, the postal service, and Indian affairs and responsibility for the government of the western territories. But it had no courts and no power to enforce its resolutions and ordinances at either the state or indi- vidual level. It also had no power to levy taxes and had to rely on requisi- tions, which state legislatures could ignore.

The states, after their battles with Parliament, were in no mood for a strong central government. Congress in fact had less power than the colonists had once accepted in Parliament, since it could not regulate interstate and for- eign commerce. For certain important acts, moreover, a “special majority” was required. Nine states had to approve measures dealing with war, treaties, coinage, finances, and the army and navy. Unanimous approval of the


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states was needed to levy tariffs (often called duties) on imports. Amend- ments to the Articles also required unanimous ratification by all the states. The Confederation had neither an executive nor a judicial branch; there was no administrative head of government (only the president of Congress, cho- sen annually) and no federal courts.

For all its weaknesses, however, the Confederation government repre- sented the most pragmatic structure for the new nation. After all, the Revo- lution on the battlefields had yet to be won, and America’s statesmen could not risk the prolonged and divisive debates over the distribution of power that other forms of government would have provoked.


Political revolutions and the chaos of war often spawn social revolu- tions. The turmoil of the American Revolution allowed long-pent-up frus- trations among the lower ranks to find expression. What did the Revolution mean to those workers, servants, farmers, and freed slaves who participated in the Stamp Act demonstrations, supported the boycotts, idolized Tom Paine, and fought with Washington and Greene? Many laboring folk hoped that the Revolution would remove, not reinforce, the elite’s traditional polit- ical and social advantages. The more conservative Patriots would have been content to replace royal officials with the rich, the well born, and the able and let it go at that. But more radical revolutionaries raised the question not only of home rule but also of who should rule at home.

E Q UA L I T Y A N D I T S L I M I T S This spirit of equality found outlet in several directions, one of which was simply a weakening of old habits of def- erence. A Virginia gentleman remembered being in a tavern when a group of farmers came in, spitting and pulling off their muddy boots without regard for the sensibilities of the gentlemen present: “The spirit of independence was converted into equality,” he wrote, “and every one who bore arms, es- teems himself upon a footing with his neighbors. . . . No doubt each of these men considers himself, in every respect, my equal.” No doubt each did.

Participation in the army or militia excited men who had taken little inter- est in politics before. The new political opportunities afforded by the cre- ation of state governments led more ordinary citizens to participate than ever before. The social base of the new legislatures was thus much broader than that of the old assemblies. Men fighting for their liberty found it difficult to justify denying other white men the rights of suffrage and representation.

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The property qualifications for voting, which already admitted an over- whelming majority of white men, were lowered still further. In Pennsylva- nia, Delaware, North Carolina, and Georgia, any male taxpayer could vote, although officeholders usually had to meet more stringent property require- ments. Men who had argued against taxation without representation now questioned the denial of proportional representation for the backcountry, which generally enlarged its presence in the legislatures. More often than not, the political newcomers were men with less property and little formal education. All states concentrated power in a legislature chosen by a wide suffrage, but not even Pennsylvania, which adopted the most radical of the state constitutions, went quite so far as to grant universal male suffrage.

New developments in land tenure that grew out of the Revolution ex- tended the democratic trends of suffrage requirements. All state legislatures seized Tory estates. These properties were of small consequence, however, in contrast to the unsettled areas formerly at the disposal of the crown and pro- prietors but now in the hands of popular assemblies. Much of that land was now used for bonuses to veterans of the war. Moreover, western lands, for- merly closed by the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Quebec Act of 1774, were soon thrown open to settlers.

T H E PA R A D OX O F S L AV E RY The Revolutionary generation of lead- ers was the first to confront slavery and consider abolishing it. The princi- ples of liberty and equality invoked in debates over British policies had clear


Social Democracy

In this watercolor by Benjamin Latrobe, a gentleman plays billiards with artisans, suggesting that “the spirit of independence was converted into equality.”

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implications for enslaved blacks. Before the Revolution only Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania had halted the importation of slaves. After independence all the states except Georgia stopped the traffic, although South Carolina later reopened it.

African-American soldiers or sailors were present at most major battles from Lexington to Yorktown, most on the Loyalist side. When the Revolu- tion began, the British had promised freedom to slaves, as well as to inden- tured servants, who would bear arms for the Loyalist cause. In December 1775 Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, issued such an offer and within a month had attracted 300 former servants and slaves to the British army. Within a year the number had grown to almost 1,000. One of the de- serters was a white servant of George Washington. The overseer of Mount Ver- non reported to General Washington that the rest of his slaves and servants would also leave if they got the chance. “Liberty is sweet,” he explained. Dunmore’s effort to recruit slaves and servants infuriated Washington and other Virginia planters. Washington predicted that if Dunmore were “not crushed” soon, the number of slaves joining him would “increase as a Snow ball by Rolling.”

In December 1775 a Patriot militia defeated Lord Dunmore and the Ethiopian Regiment and forced the British units to flee Norfolk, Virginia, and board ships in the Chesapeake Bay. No sooner had the former slaves crowded onto the British ships than they contracted smallpox. The epidemic raced through the fleet, eventually forcing the Loyalist forces to disembark on an offshore island. During the winter and spring of 1776, disease devas- tated the primitive camp. “Dozens died daily from Small Pox and rotten Fevers by which diseases they are infected,” wrote a visitor. Before the Loyal- ists fled the island in the summer of 1776, over half of the troops, most of them former slaves, had died.

In response to the British recruitment of American slaves, General Washington, at the end of 1775, reversed the policy of excluding blacks from the American forces—except the few already in militia companies—and Congress quickly approved the new policy. Only two states, South Carolina and Georgia, refused to allow blacks to serve in the military. No more than about 5,000 African Americans were admitted to the total American forces of about 300,000, and most were free blacks from northern states. They served mainly in white units, although Massachusetts did organize two all-black companies, and Rhode Island organized one.

Slaves who served in the cause of independence won their freedom and, in some cases, land bounties. But the British army, which liberated tens of thou- sands of slaves during the war, was a greater instrument of emancipation than

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the American forces. Most of the newly freed blacks found their way to Canada or to British colonies in the Caribbean. American Whigs showed no mercy to blacks caught aiding or abetting the British cause. A Charleston mob hanged and then burned Thomas Jeremiah, a free black who was convicted of telling slaves that the British “were come to help the poor Negroes.” White Loyal- ists who were caught encouraging slave militancy were tarred and feathered.

In the northern states, which had fewer slaves than the southern states, the doctrines of liberty led swiftly to emancipation for all, either during the fighting or shortly afterward. The Vermont Constitution of 1777 specif- ically forbade slavery. The Massachu- setts Constitution of 1780 proclaimed the “inherent liberty” of all. In 1780 Pennsylvania declared that all chil- dren born thereafter to slave mothers would become free at age twenty- eight, after enabling their owners to recover their initial cost. In 1784

Rhode Island provided freedom to all children of slaves born thereafter, at age twenty-one for males, eighteen for females. New York lagged until 1799 in granting freedom to mature slaves born after enactment of its constitu- tion, but an act of 1817 set July 4, 1827, as the date for emancipation of all remaining slaves.

In the states south of Pennsylvania, emancipation was less popular. Yet even there, slaveholders expressed moral qualms. Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785): “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” But he, like many other white southerners, could not bring himself to free his slaves. In the southern states anti-slavery sentiment went no further than a relax- ation of the manumission laws, under which owners might free their slaves through individual acts. Some 10,000 enslaved Virginians were manumitted during the 1780s. A much smaller number would be shipped back to Africa


Elizabeth Freeman

Also known as Mum Bett, Freeman was born around 1742 and sold as a slave to a Massachusetts family. She won her freedom by claiming in court that the Bill of Rights and the new state constitution gave liberty to all, and her case contributed to the even- tual abolition of slavery in Massachu- setts. One of Freeman’s great-grand- children was scholar and civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois.

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during the early nineteenth century. By the outbreak of the Civil War, in 1861, approximately half the blacks living in Maryland were free.

Manumission freed slaves by the action of a white owner. But slaves, especially in the upper South, also earned freedom through their own ac- tions during the Revolutionary era, frequently by running away. They of- ten gravitated to the growing number of African-American communities in the North. Because of emancipation laws in the northern states, and with the formation of free black neighborhoods in the North and in several southern cities, runaways found refuge and the opportunities for new lives. It is estimated that 55,000 slaves fled to freedom during the Revolution.

T H E S TAT U S O F WO M E N The logic of liberty spawned by the Revolu- tion applied to the status of women as much as to that of African Americans. Women in the colonies had remained essentially confined to the domestic sphere during the eighteenth century. They could not vote or preach or hold office. Few had access to formal education. Although women could usually own property and execute contracts, in several colonies married women could not legally own property—even their own clothes—and they had no legal rights over their children. Divorces were extremely difficult to obtain.

Yet the Revolution offered women new opportunities and engendered in many a new outlook. The war drew women at least temporarily into new pursuits. Women supported the armies in various roles—by handling sup- plies, serving as couriers, and working as camp followers—cooking, clean- ing, and nursing the soldiers. Wives often followed their husbands to camp and on occasion took their place in the line, as Margaret Corbin did at Fort Washington when her husband fell at his artillery post and as Mary Ludwig Hays (better known as Molly Pitcher) did when her husband collapsed of heat exhaustion. An exceptional case was Deborah Sampson, who joined a Massachusetts regiment as Robert Shurtleff and served from 1781 to 1783 by the “artful concealment” of her sex.

To be sure, most women retained the domestic outlook that had long been imposed on them by society. But a few free-spirited reformers demanded equal treatment. In an essay titled “On the Equality of the Sexes,” written in 1779 and published in 1790, Judith Sargent Murray of Gloucester, Massa- chusetts, stressed that women were perfectly capable of excelling outside the domestic sphere.

Early in the Revolutionary struggle, Abigail Adams, one of the most learned, spirited, and independent women of the time, wrote to her hus- band, John: “In the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary

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for you to make I desire you would re- member the Ladies. . . . Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands.” Since men were “Naturally Tyrannical,” she wrote, “why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with im- punity.” Otherwise, “if particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebel- lion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.” Husband John expressed surprise that women might be discontented, but he clearly knew the privileges enjoyed by males and was determined to retain them: “Depend upon it, we know better than to repeal our Masculine systems.” Thomas Jefferson was of one mind with Adams on the matter. When asked about women’s voting rights, he replied that “the tender breasts of ladies were not formed for political convulsion.”

The legal status of women did not improve dramatically as a result of the Revolutionary ferment. Married

women in most states still forfeited control of their own property to their husbands, and women gained no permanent political rights. Under the 1776 New Jersey Constitution, which neglected to specify an exclusively male franchise because the delegates apparently took the distinction for granted, women who met the property qualifications for voting exercised the right until they were denied access early in the nineteenth century.

F R E E D O M O F R E L I G I O N The Revolution also set in motion a transi- tion from the toleration of religious dissent to a complete freedom of religion in the separation of church and state. The Anglican Church,


Frontispiece from Lady’s Magazine (1792)

“The Genius of the Ladies Magazine, accompanied by the Genius of Emula- tion, who carries in her hand a laurel crown, approaches Liberty, and kneel- ing, presents her with a copy of The Rights of Woman.” The Lady’s Maga- zine reprinted extensive extracts from Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).

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established as the official religion in five colonies and parts of two others, was especially vulnerable because of its association with the crown and because dissenters outnumbered Anglicans in all states except Virginia. And all but Virginia eliminated tax support for the church before the fighting was over. In 1776 the Virginia Declaration of Rights guaranteed the free exercise of reli- gion, and in 1786 the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom (written by Thomas Jefferson) declared that “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever” and “that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.” These statutes and the Revolutionary ideology that justi- fied them helped shape the course that religion would take in the new United States: pluralistic and voluntary rather than state supported and monolithic.

In churches as in government, the Revolution set off a period of constitu- tion making as some of the first national church bodies emerged. In 1784 the Methodists, who at first were an offshoot of the Anglicans, came together in a general conference at Baltimore under Bishop Francis Asbury. The Angli- can Church, rechristened Episcopal, gathered in a series of meetings that by 1789 had united the various dioceses in a federal union; in 1789 the

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Religious Development

The Congregational Church developed a national presence in the early nineteenth century, and Lemuel Haynes, depicted here, was its first African-American preacher.

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Presbyterians also held their first general assembly, in Philadelphia. That same year the Catholic Church got its first higher official in the United States when John Carroll was named bishop of Baltimore.


The Revolution helped generate among some Americans a sense of common nationality. One of the first ways in which to forge a national con- sciousness was through the annual celebration of the new nation’s indepen- dence from Great Britain. On July 2, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress had resolved “that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states,” John Adams had written his wife, Abigail, that future generations would remember that date as their “day of deliver- ance.” People, he predicted, would celebrate the occasion with “solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty” and with “pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations [fireworks] from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, for- ever more.”

Adams got everything right but the date. Americans fastened not upon July 2 but upon July 4 as their Independence Day. To be sure, it was on the Fourth that Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence and ordered it to be printed and distributed throughout the states, but America by then had been officially independent for two days. As luck would have it, July 4 became Independence Day by accident. In 1777 Con- gress forgot about any acknowledgment of the first anniversary of indepen- dence until July 3, when it was too late to honor July 2. As a consequence, the Fourth won by default.

Independence Day quickly became the most popular and most important public ritual in the United States. Huge numbers of people from all walks of life suspended their normal routine in order to devote a day to parades, for- mal orations, and fireworks displays. In the process the infant republic began to create its own myth of national identity that transcended local or regional concerns. “What a day!” exclaimed the editor of the Southern Patriot in 1815. “What happiness, what emotion, what virtuous triumph must fill the bosoms of Americans!”

A M E R I C A’ S “ D E S T I N Y ” American nationalism embodied a stirring idea. This first new nation, unlike the Old World nations of Europe, was not rooted in antiquity. Its people, except for the Indians, had not inhabited it


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over the centuries, nor was there any notion of a common ethnic descent. “The American national consciousness,” one observer wrote, “is not a voice crying out of the depth of the dark past, but is proudly a product of the en- lightened present, setting its face resolutely toward the future.”

Many people, at least since the time of the Pilgrims, had thought of Amer- ica as singled out for a special identity, a special mission. Jonathan Edwards said God had chosen America as “the glorious renovator of the world,” and later John Adams proclaimed the opening of America “a grand scheme and design in Providence for the illumination and the emancipation of the slav- ish part of mankind all over the earth.” This sense of mission was neither limited to New England nor rooted solely in Calvinism. From the democra- tic rhetoric of Thomas Jefferson to the pragmatism of George Washington to heady toasts bellowed in South Carolina taverns, patriots everywhere articu- lated a special role for American leadership in history. The mission was now a call to lead the world toward greater liberty and equality. Meanwhile, however, Americans had to address more immediate problems created by their new nationhood. The Philadelphia doctor and scientist Benjamin Rush issued a prophetic statement in 1787: “The American war is over: but this is far from being the case with the American Revolution. On the con- trary, but the first act of the great drama is closed.”

The Emergence of an American Culture • 247


• The American Revolution was the starting point for the foreign policy of the United States. Many of the specific foreign concerns that will be discussed in Chapters 8 and 9 sprang from issues directly relating to the Revolution.

• Much of what became Jacksonian democracy (introduced in Chapter 10) can be traced to social and political movements associated with the American Revolution.

• The Articles of Confederation, the document that established the first national government for the United States, saw the new nation through the Revolution, but within a few years the Articles were discarded in favor of a new government, set forth in the Constitution.

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The Revolutionary War is the subject of Colin Bonwick’s The American Revolution (1991), Gordon S. Wood’s The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1991), and Jeremy Black’s War for America: The Fight for Inde- pendence, 1775–1783 (1991). John Ferling’s Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution (2000) high- lights the role played by key leaders.

On the social history of the Revolutionary War, see John W. Shy’s A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Inde- pendence, rev. ed. (1990), Charles Royster’s A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775–1783 (1979), and E. Wayne Carp’s To Starve the Army at Pleasure: Continental Army Administra- tion and American Political Culture, 1775–1783 (1984). Colin G. Calloway tells the neglected story of the Indian experiences in the Revolution in The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native Ameri- can Communities (1995). The imperial, aristocratic, and racist aspects of the Revolution are detailed in Francis Jennings’s The Creation of America: Through Revolution to Empire (2000).

Why some Americans remained loyal to the crown is the subject of Robert M. Calhoon’s The Loyalists in Revolutionary America, 1760–1781 (1973) and Mary Beth Norton’s The British-Americans: The Loyalist Exiles in England, 1774–1789 (1972).

The definitive study of African Americans during the Revolutionary era remains Benjamin Quarles’s The Negro in the American Revolution (1961). Mary Beth Norton’s Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750–1800, new ed. (1996) and Linda K. Kerber’s Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (1980) docu- ment the role women played in securing independence. Joy Day Buel and Richard Buel Jr.’s The Way of Duty: A Woman and Her Family in Revolution- ary America (1984) shows the impact of the Revolution on one New England family.

The standard introduction to the diplomacy of the Revolutionary era is Jonathan R. Dull’s A Diplomatic History of the American Revolution (1985).


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In an address to fellow graduates at the Harvard commencementceremony in 1787, young John Quincy Adams lamented “thiscritical period” when the country was “groaning under the intol- erable burden of . . . accumulated evils.” The same phrase, “critical period,” has often been used to label the history of the United States under the Arti- cles of Confederation. Fear of a central government dominated the period, and the result was fragmentation and stagnation. Yet while there were weak- nesses of the Confederation, there were also major achievements. Moreover, lessons learned under the Confederation would serve well in the formula- tion of a new constitution and in the balancing of central and local authority under that constitution.





• What were the achievements and weaknesses of the Confederation government?

• What were the issues involved in writing the Constitution?

• What issues framed the debate over ratifying the Constitution?

To answer these questions and access additional review material, please visit www.wwnorton.com/studyspace.

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The Congress of the Confederation had little government authority. “It could ask for money but not compel payment,” as one historian wrote; “it could enter into treaties but not enforce their stipulations; it could pro- vide for raising of armies but not fill the ranks; it could borrow money but take no proper measures for repayment; it could advise and recommend but not command.” Congress was virtually helpless to cope with foreign relations and a postwar economic depression that would have challenged the resources of a much stronger government. It was not easy to find men of stature to serve in such a body, and it was often hard to gather a quorum of those who did. Yet in spite of its handicaps, the Confederation Congress somehow managed to survive and to lay important foundations. It concluded the Treaty of Paris in 1783. It created the first executive departments. And it for- mulated principles of land distribution and territorial government that guided westward expansion all the way to the Pacific coast.

Throughout most of the War of Independence, Congress distrusted and limited executive power. It assigned administrative duties to its committees and thereby imposed a painful burden on conscientious members. John Adams, for instance, served on some eighty committees at one time or an- other. In 1781, however, Congress began to set up three departments: Foreign Affairs, Finance, and War, each with a single head responsible to Congress.

F I N A N C E The closest thing to an executive head of the Confederation was Robert Morris, who as superintendent of finance in the final years of the war became the most influential figure in the government. Morris wanted to make both himself and the Confederation government more powerful. He envisioned a coherent program of taxation and debt management to make the government financially stable; “a public debt supported by public rev- enue will prove the strongest cement to keep our confederacy together,” he confided to a friend. It would wed to the support of the federal government the powerful influence of the public creditors who had provided wartime supplies. Morris therefore welcomed the chance to enlarge the debt by issu- ing new government bonds that would help pay off wartime debts. Because of the government’s precarious finances, these bonds brought only 10¢ to 15¢ on the dollar, but with a sounder Treasury—certainly one with the power to raise taxes—the bonds could be expected to rise in value, creating new capital with which to finance banks and economic development.

In 1781, as part of his plan, Morris secured a congressional charter for the Bank of North America, which would hold government cash, lend money to


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the government, and issue currency. Though a national bank, it was in part privately owned and was expected to turn a profit for Morris and other shareholders, in addition to performing a crucial public service. But Morris’s program depended ultimately upon a secure income for the government, and it foundered on the requirement of unanimous state approval for amendments to the Articles of Confederation. Local interests and the fear of a central authority—a fear strengthened by the recent quarrels with king and Parliament—hobbled action.

To carry their point, Morris and his nationalist friends in 1783 risked a dangerous gamble. George Washington’s army, encamped at Newburgh, New York, on the Hudson River, had grown restless in the final winter of the war. The soldiers’ pay was late as usual, and experience had given them reason to fear that promised land bounties and life pensions for officers might never be honored once their service was no longer needed. A delegation of concerned officers traveled to Philadelphia with a petition for redress. Soon they found themselves drawn into a scheme to line up the army and public creditors with nationalists in Congress and confront the states with the threat of a coup d’état unless they yielded more power to Congress. Alexander Hamilton, con- gressman from New York and former aide-de-camp to General Washington, sought to bring his old commander into the plan.

Washington sympathized with the general purpose of Hamilton’s scheme. If congressional powers were not enlarged, he had told a friend, “the band which at present holds us together, by a very feeble thread, will soon be broken, when anarchy and confusion must ensue.” But Washington was just as deeply convinced that a military coup would be both dishonorable and dangerous. In March 1783, when he learned that some of the plotters had planned an unauthorized meeting of officers, he confronted the conspirators. He told them that any effort by officers to intimidate the government by threatening a mutinous coup violated the very purposes for which the war was being fought and directly challenged his own integrity. While agreeing that the officers had been poorly treated by the government and deserved their long-overdue back pay and future pensions, he expressed his “horror and detestation” of any effort by the military to assume dictatorial powers. A military revolt would open “the flood-gates of civil discord” and “deluge our rising empire in blood.” Before closing his remarks, Washington paused dra- matically as he produced a pair of eyeglasses. “Gentlemen,” he apologized, “you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but blind in the service of my country.” He then read a letter from a congress- man that explained the nation’s financial plight. It was a virtuoso perfor- mance. When he had finished, his officers, many of them fighting back tears,

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unanimously adopted resolutions denouncing the recent “infamous proposi- tions,” and the so-called Newburgh Conspiracy came to a sudden end.

The Confederation never did put its finances in order. The Continental currency had long since become a byword for worthlessness. It was never re- deemed. The debt, domestic and foreign, grew from $11 million to $28 mil- lion as Congress paid off citizens’ and soldiers’ claims. Each year, Congress ran a deficit in its operating expenses.

L A N D P O L I C Y Congress might ultimately have hoped to draw an inde- pendent income from the sale of western lands. Thinly populated by Indians, French settlers, and a growing number of American squatters, the region north of the Ohio River and west of the Appalachian Mountains had long been the site of overlapping claims by colonies and speculators. Under the Articles of Confederation, land not included within the boundaries of the thirteen original states became public domain, owned and administered by the national government.

As early as 1779, Congress had declared that it would not treat the western lands as colonies. The delegates resolved instead that western lands “shall be . . . formed into distinct Republican states,” equal in all respects to other states. Between 1784 and 1787 policies for the development of the West emerged in three major ordinances of the Confederation Congress. These documents, which rank among its greatest achievements—and among the most important in American history—set precedents that the United States would follow in its expansion all the way to the Pacific. Thomas Jefferson in fact was prepared to grant self-government to western states at an early stage, allowing settlers to meet and choose their own officials. Under the land ordinance that Jefferson wrote in 1784, when the population equaled that of the smallest existing state, the territory would achieve full statehood.

In the Land Ordinance of 1785, the delegates outlined a plan of land sur- veys and sales that would eventually stamp a rectangular pattern on much of the nation’s surface, a rectilinear grid pattern that is visible from the air in many parts of the country today because of the layout of roads and fields. Wherever Indian titles had been extinguished, the Northwest was to be sur- veyed and six-mile-square townships established along east-west and north- south lines. Each township was in turn divided into thirty-six lots (or sections) one mile square (or 640 acres). The 640-acre sections were to be sold at auc- tion for no less than $1 per acre, or $640 total. Such terms favored land spec- ulators, of course, since few common folk had that much money or were able to work that much land. In later years new land laws would make smaller plots available at lower prices, but in 1785 Congress was faced with


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The Confederation • 253

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Why were there so many overlapping claims to the western lands? What were the terms of the Land Ordinance of 1785? How did it arrange for future states to enter the Union?

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an empty Treasury, and delegates believed this system would raise the needed funds most effectively. In each township, however, Congress did re- serve the income from the sixteenth section for the support of schools—a significant departure at a time when public schools were rare.

T H E N O RT H W E S T O R D I N A N C E Spurred by the plans for land sales and settlement, Congress drafted a more specific frame of territorial govern- ment to replace Jefferson’s ordinance of 1784. The new plan backed off from Jefferson’s recommendation of early self-government. Because of the trouble that might be expected from squatters who were clamoring for free land, the


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How did the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 revise Jefferson’s plan for territorial gov- ernment? How were settlement patterns in the Northwest territories different from those on the frontier in the South? How did the United States treat Indian claims to territory in the West?

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Northwest Ordinance of 1787 required a period of colonial tutelage. At first the territory fell subject to a governor, a secretary, and three judges, all cho- sen by Congress. Eventually there would be three to five territories in the re- gion, and when any one had a population of 5,000 free male adults, it could choose an assembly. Congress then would name a council of five from ten names proposed by the assembly. The governor would have a veto over ac- tions by the territorial assembly, and so would Congress.

The resemblance to the old royal colonies is clear, but there were two sig- nificant differences. For one, the ordinance anticipated statehood when any territory’s population reached a population of 60,000 “free inhabitants.” At that point a convention could be called to draft a state constitution and ap- ply to Congress for statehood. For another, it included a bill of rights that guaranteed religious freedom, legislative representation in proportion to the population, trial by jury, habeas corpus, and the application of common law. Finally, the ordinance excluded slavery permanently from the Northwest—a proviso Jefferson had failed to get accepted in his ordinance of 1784. This proved a fateful decision. As the progress of emancipation in the existing states gradually freed all slaves above the Mason-Dixon line, the Ohio River boundary of the Old Northwest extended the line between freedom and slavery all the way to the Mississippi River, encompassing what would be- come the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

The Northwest Ordinance had a larger importance, beyond establishing a formal procedure for transforming territories into states. It represented a sharp break with the imperialistic assumption behind European expansion into the Western Hemisphere. The new states were to be admitted to the American republic as equals.

In seven mountain ranges to the west of the Ohio River, an area in which re- cent treaties had voided Indian titles, surveying began in the mid-1780s. But before any land sales occurred, a group of speculators from New England pre- sented cash-poor Congress with a seductive offer. Organized in Boston, the group of former army officers took the name of the Ohio Company of Associ- ates and sent the Reverend Manasseh Cutler to present its plan. Cutler, a former chaplain in the Continental army and a co-author of the Northwest Ordinance, proved a persuasive lobbyist, and in 1787 Congress voted a grant of 1.5 million acres for about $1 million in certificates of indebtedness to Revolutionary War veterans. The arrangement had the dual merit, Cutler argued, of reducing the debt and encouraging new settlement and sales of federal land.

The lands south of the Ohio River followed a different line of develop- ment. Title to the western lands remained with Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia for the time being, but settlement proceeded at a far more rapid

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pace during and after the Revolution, despite the Indians’ fierce resentment of encroachments upon their hunting grounds. Substantial centers of popu- lation grew up around Harrodsburg and Boonesborough in Kentucky and along the Watauga, Holston, and Cumberland Rivers as far west as Nashbor- ough (Nashville). In the Old Southwest active movements for statehood arose early. North Carolina tentatively ceded its western claims in 1784, whereupon the Holston settlers formed the short-lived state of Franklin, which became little more than a bone of contention among rival speculators until North Carolina reasserted control in 1789, shortly before the cession of its western lands became final.

Indian land claims, too, were being extinguished. The Iroquois and Cherokees, badly battered during the Revolution, were in no position to re- sist encroachments by American settlers. By the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784), the Iroquois were forced to cede land in western New York and Penn- sylvania. With the Treaty of Hopewell (1785), the Cherokees gave up all claims in South Carolina, much of western North Carolina, and large por- tions of present-day Kentucky and Tennessee. Also in 1785 the major Ohio tribes dropped their claim to most of Ohio, except for a chunk bordering the western part of Lake Erie. The Creeks, pressed by the state of Georgia to cede portions of their lands in 1784–1785, went to war in the summer of 1786 with covert aid from Spanish Florida. When Spanish aid diminished, how- ever, the Creek chief traveled to New York and in 1791 finally struck a bar- gain that gave the Creeks favorable trade arrangements with the United States but did not restore the lost land.

T R A D E A N D T H E E C O N O M Y In its economic life, as in planning westward expansion, the young nation dealt vigorously with difficult prob- lems. Congress had little to do with achievements in the economy, but neither could it bear the blame for an acute economic contraction that occurred between 1770 and 1790, the result primarily of the war and separa- tion from the British Empire. Although farmers enmeshed in local markets maintained their livelihood during the Revolutionary era, commercial agri- culture dependent upon trade with foreign markets suffered a severe down- turn. The Tidewater region saw many enslaved people carried off by the British. Chesapeake planters also lost their lucrative foreign markets. To- bacco was especially hard hit. The British decision to close its West Indian colonies to American trade devastated what had been a thriving commerce in timber, wheat, and other foodstuffs.

Merchants suffered even more wrenching adjustments than the farmers. Cut out of the British mercantile system, they had to find new outlets.


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Circumstances that impoverished some enriched those who financed priva- teers, supplied the armies on both sides, and hoarded precious goods while demand and prices soared. By the end of the war, a strong sentiment for free trade had developed in both Britain and America. In the memorable year 1776 the Scottish economist Adam Smith published Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, a classic manifesto against mercantilism. Some British statesmen embraced the new gospel of free trade, but the pub- lic and Parliament would cling to the conventions of mercantilism for many years to come.

After the war British trade with America did resume, and American ships were allowed to deliver American products and return to the United States with British goods. American ships could not carry British goods anywhere else, however. The pent-up demand for familiar goods created a vigorous market in postwar exports to America, fueled by British credit and the hard money that had come into America with foreign aid, the expenditures of foreign armies, and wartime trade and privateering. The result was a quick cycle of postwar boom and bust, a buying spree followed by a money short- age and economic troubles that lasted several years.

In colonial days the chronic trade deficit with Britain had been offset by the influx of coins from trade with the West Indies. Now American ships

The Confederation • 257

Merchants’ Counting House

Americans involved in overseas trade, such as the merchants depicted here, had been sharply affected by the dislocations of war.

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found themselves excluded altogether from the British West Indies. The is- lands, however, still demanded wheat, fish, lumber, and other products from the mainland, and American shippers had not lost their talent for smug- gling. Already American shippers had begun exploring new outlets, and by 1787 their seaports were flourishing more than ever. Freed from colonial re- straints, American merchants now had the run of the seas. Trade treaties opened new markets with the Dutch (1782), the Swedes (1783), the Prus- sians (1785), and the Moroccans (1787), and American shippers found new outlets on their own in Europe, Africa, and Asia. The most spectacular new development, if not the largest, was trade with China. It began in 1784–1785, when the Empress of China sailed from New York to Canton (present-day Guangzhou) and back, around the tip of South America. Profits from its cargo of silks and tea encouraged the outfitting of other ships, which carried ginseng root and other American goods to exchange for the luxury goods of east Asia.

By 1790 the dollar value of American commerce and exports had far out- run the trade of the colonies. Merchants had more ships than they had had before the war. Farm exports were twice what they had been. Although most of the exports were the products of forests, fields, and fisheries, during and after the war more Americans had turned to small-scale manufacturing, mainly for domestic markets.

D I P L O M AC Y The shortcomings and failures of the Articles of Confeder- ation prompted a growing chorus of complaints. In diplomacy there re- mained the nagging problems of relations with Great Britain and Spain, both of which still kept military posts on American soil and conspired with Indians and white settlers in the West. The British, despite the peace treaty of 1783, held on to a string of forts along the Canadian border. From these they kept a hand in the lucrative fur trade and a degree of influence with the Indian tribes, whom they were suspected of stirring up to make sporadic attacks on American settlements along the frontier. They gave as a reason for their continued occupation the failure of Americans to pay their prewar debts to British creditors. According to one Virginian, a common question in his state was “If we are now to pay the debts due to British merchants, what have we been fighting for all this while?”

Another major irritant to U.S.-British relations was the American confis- cation of Loyalist property. The Treaty of Paris had encouraged Congress to stop confiscations of Tory property, to guarantee immunity to Loyalists for twelve months, during which they could return and wind up their affairs, and to recommend that the states give back confiscated property. Persecutions,


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even lynchings, of Loyalists occurred even after the end of the war. Some Loy- alists who had fled to Canada or Britain returned unmolested, however, and resumed their lives in their former homes. By the end of 1787, moreover, at the request of Congress, all the states had rescinded the laws that were in con- flict with the peace treaty.

With Spain the chief issues were the southern boundary of the United States and the right to navigate the Mississippi River. According to the pre- liminary treaty with Britain, the United States claimed a line as far south as the 31st parallel; Spain held out for the line running eastward from the mouth of the Yazoo River (at 32�28�N), which it claimed as the traditional boundary. The Treaty of Paris had also given the Americans the right to nav- igate the Mississippi River to its mouth. Still, the international boundary ran down the middle of the river for most of its length, and the Mississippi was entirely within Spanish Louisiana in its lower reaches. The right to naviga- tion was crucial to the growing American settlements in Kentucky and Tennessee, but in 1784 Louisiana’s Spanish governor closed the river to American commerce and began to intrigue with Indians against the Ameri- can settlers and with settlers against the United States.

T H E C O N F E D E R AT I O N ’ S P R O B L E M S The problems of trans- Appalachian settlers with the British and the Spanish seemed remote from the everyday concerns of most Americans, however. What touched most Americans more were economic troubles and the acute currency shortage after the war. Merchants who found themselves excluded from old channels of imperial trade began to agitate for reprisals. State governments, in re- sponse, laid special tonnage duties on British vessels and special tariffs on the goods they brought to the United States. State action alone, however, failed to work because of a lack of uniformity among the states. British ships could be diverted to states whose duties were less restrictive. The other states tried to meet this problem by taxing British goods that flowed across state lines, creating the impression that states were involved in commercial war with each other. Although these duties seldom affected American goods, there was a clear need—it seemed to commercial interests—for a central power to regulate trade.

Mechanics (skilled workers who made, used, or repaired tools and ma- chines) and artisans (skilled workers who made products) were developing an infant industry. Their products ranged from crude iron nails to the fine silver bowls of such smiths as Paul Revere. These skilled workers wanted reprisals against British goods as well as British ships. They sought, and to various degrees obtained from the states, tariffs (taxes) on foreign goods that

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competed with theirs. The country would be on its way to economic independence, they argued, if only the money that flowed into the country were invested in domes- tic manufactures instead of be- ing paid out for foreign goods. Nearly all the states gave some preference to American goods, but again the lack of uniformity in their laws put them at cross- purposes, and so urban mechan- ics along with merchants were drawn into the movement calling for a stronger central govern- ment in the interest of uniform regulation.

The shortage of cash and other economic difficulties gave

rise to more immediate demands for paper currency as legal tender, for post- ponement of tax and debt payments, and for laws to “stay” the foreclosure of mortgages. Farmers who had profited during the war found themselves squeezed afterward by depressed crop prices and mounting debts while mer- chants opened up new trade routes. Creditors demanded hard money, but it was in short supply—and paper money was almost nonexistent after the de- preciation of the Continental currency. The result was an outcry for relief, and around 1785 the demand for new paper money became the most divi- sive issue in state politics. Debtors demanded the addition of paper money as a means of easing repayment, and farmers saw paper money as an infla- tionary way to raise commodity prices.

In 1785–1786 seven states (Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Georgia, and North Carolina) began issuing paper money. It served in five of those states—Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Rhode Island—as a means of extending credit to hard- pressed farmers through state loans on farm mortgages. It was variously used to fund state debts and to pay off the claims of veterans. In spite of the cries of calamity at the time, the money never seriously depreciated in Penn- sylvania, New York, and South Carolina. In Rhode Island, however, the debtor party ran wild. In 1786 the Rhode Island legislature issued more pa- per money than any other state in proportion to its population and declared


Domestic Industry

American craftsmen, such as this cabinet- maker, favored tariffs against foreign goods that competed with theirs.

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it legal tender in payment of all debts. Creditors fled the state to avoid being paid in worthless paper.

S H AY S ’ S R E B E L L I O N Newspapers throughout the country followed the chaotic developments in Rhode Island. The little commonwealth, stub- bornly independent since the days of Roger Williams, became the prime ex- ample of democracy run riot—until its riotous neighbor, Massachusetts, provided the final proof (some said) that the new country was poised on the brink of anarchy: Shays’s Rebellion. There the trouble was not too much pa- per money but too little, as well as too much taxation.

After 1780 Massachusetts had remained in the grip of a rigidly conserva- tive regime, which levied ever-higher poll and land taxes to pay off a heavy war debt, held mainly by wealthy creditors in Boston. The taxes fell most heavily upon beleaguered farmers and the poor in general. When the Massa- chusetts legislature adjourned in 1786 without providing either paper money or any other relief from taxes and debts, three western counties erupted in revolt.

Armed bands closed the courts and prevented foreclosures. A ragtag “army” of some 1,200 disgruntled farmers led by Daniel Shays, a destitute war veteran, advanced upon the federal arsenal at Springfield in 1787. Shays and his followers sought a more flexible monetary policy, laws allowing them to use corn and wheat as money, and the right to postpone paying taxes until the depression lifted.

The state responded by sending 4,400 militiamen armed with cannon. The soldiers scattered the debtor army with a single volley that left four farmers dead. The rebel farmers nevertheless had a victory of sorts. The new state legislature included members sympathetic to the agricultural crisis. The legislature omitted direct taxes the following year, lowered court fees, and exempted clothing, household goods, and tools from the debt process. But a more important consequence was the impetus the rebellion gave to conservatism and nationalism.

Rumors, at times deliberately inflated, greatly exaggerated the extent of this pathetic rebellion of desperate men. The Shaysites were linked to the conniving British and accused of seeking to pillage the wealthy. Panic set in among the republic’s elite. “Good God!” George Washington exclaimed when he heard of the incident. Although the rebellion had been suppressed, he worried that it might tempt other disgruntled groups around the country to adopt similar measures. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Abigail Adams tarred the Shaysites as “ignorant, restless desperadoes, without conscience or principles, . . . mobbish insurgents [who] are for sapping the foundation” of

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the struggling young government. Jefferson disagreed. If Abigail Adams and others were overly critical of Shays’s Rebellion, Jefferson was, if anything, too complacent. From his post in Paris, he wrote to a friend back home, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Abigail Adams was so infuriated by Jefferson’s position that she would not correspond with him for months.

C A L L S F O R A S T R O N G E R G O V E R N M E N T Well before the out- breaks in New England, the advocates of a stronger central authority had been calling for a convention to revise the Articles of Confederation. Self- interest led bankers, merchants, and mechanics to promote a stronger cen- tral government as the only alternative to anarchy. Gradually Americans were losing the fear of a strong central government as they saw evidence that tyranny might come from other quarters, including the common people themselves.

Such developments led many of the Revolutionary leaders to revise their assessment of the American character. “We have, probably,” concluded George Washington in 1786, “had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation.” Washington and others decided that at any given time only a distinct minority of citizens could be relied upon to set aside their private interests in favor of the common good. Madison and other so-called Federalists concluded that the new republic must now depend for its success upon the constant virtue of the few rather than the public- spiritedness of the many.

In 1785 commissioners from Virginia and Maryland had met at Mount Vernon, at George Washington’s invitation, to promote commerce and eco- nomic development and to settle outstanding questions about the navigation of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. Washington had a personal in- terest in the river flowing by his door: it was a potential route to the West, with its upper reaches close to the upper reaches of the Ohio, where his mili- tary career had begun thirty years before and where he owned substantial property. The delegates agreed on interstate cooperation, and Maryland sug- gested a further pact with Pennsylvania and Delaware to encourage water transportation between the Chesapeake Bay and the Ohio River; the Virginia legislature agreed and, at Madison’s suggestion, invited all thirteen states to a general discussion of commercial problems. Nine states named representa- tives, but those from only five appeared at the Annapolis Convention in 1786—neither the New England states nor the Carolinas and Georgia were represented. Apparent failure soon turned into success, however, when the alert Alexander Hamilton, representing New York, presented a resolution for


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still another convention, in Philadelphia, to consider all measures necessary “to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exi- gencies of the Union.”


T H E C O N S T I T U T I O N A L C O N V E N T I O N After stalling for several months, Congress fell in line in 1787 with a resolution endorsing a conven- tion “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confedera- tion.” By then five states had already named delegates; before the meeting, called to begin on May 14, 1787, six more states had acted. New Hampshire delayed until June, and its delegates arrived in July. Fearful of consolidated power, tiny Rhode Island kept aloof throughout. (Critics labeled the frac- tious little state Rogue Island.) Virginia’s Patrick Henry, an implacable foe of centralized government, claimed to “smell a rat” and refused to represent his state. Twenty-nine delegates from nine states began work on May 25. Alto- gether, the state legislatures had elected seventy-three men. Fifty-five at- tended at one time or another, and after four months of deliberations in stifling summer heat, thirty-nine signed the constitution they drafted.

The durability and flexibility of that document testify to the remarkable quality of the men who made it. The delegates were surprisingly young:

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Drafting the Constitution

George Washington presides over a session of the Constitutional Convention.

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forty-two was the average age. They were farmers, merchants, lawyers, and bankers, many of them widely read in history, law, and political philosophy, yet they were also practical men of experience, tested in the fires of the Rev- olution. Twenty-one had served in the conflict, seven had been state gover- nors, most had been members of the Continental Congress, and eight had signed the Declaration of Independence.

The magisterial George Washington served as presiding officer but partici- pated little in the debates. Eighty-one-year-old Benjamin Franklin, the oldest delegate, also said little from the floor but provided a wealth of experience, wit, and common sense behind the scenes. More active in the debates were James Madison, the ablest political philosopher in the group; Massachusetts’s dapper Elbridge Gerry, a Harvard graduate who earned the nickname Old Grumbletonian because, as John Adams once said, he “opposed everything he did not propose”; George Mason, the irritable author of the Virginia Declara- tion of Rights and a slaveholding planter with a deep-rooted suspicion of all government; the eloquent, arrogant New York aristocrat Gouverneur Morris, who harbored a venomous contempt for the masses; Scottish-born James Wilson of Pennsylvania, one of the ablest lawyers in the new nation and next in importance at the convention only to Washington and Madison; and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, a self-trained lawyer adept at negotiating compro-

mises. John Adams, like Jefferson, was serving abroad on diplomatic mis- sions. Also conspicuously absent dur- ing most of the convention was Alexander Hamilton, the staunch na- tionalist who regretfully went home when the other two New York dele- gates walked out to protest what they saw as the loss of states’ rights.

Madison emerged as the central figure at the convention. Small of stature—barely over five feet tall— and frail in health, the thirty-six- year-old bookish bachelor was de- scended from wealthy slaveholding Virginia planters. He suffered from chronic headaches and was painfully shy. Crowds made him nervous, and he hated to use his high-pitched voice in public, much less in open


James Madison

Madison was only thirty-six when he assumed a major role in the drafting of the Constitution. This miniature (ca. 1783) is by Charles Willson Peale.

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debate. But the Princeton graduate possessed a keen, agile mind and had a voracious appetite for learning, and the convincing eloquence of his argu- ments proved decisive. “Every person seems to acknowledge his greatness,” wrote one delegate. Another said that Madison “blends together the pro- found politician with the scholar . . . [and] always comes forward as the best informed man of any point in the debate.” Madison had arrived in Philadel- phia with trunks full of books and a head full of ideas. He had been prepar- ing for the convention for months and probably knew more about historic forms of government than any other delegate.

For the most part the delegates’ differences on political philosophy fell within a narrow range. On certain fundamentals they generally agreed: that government derived its just powers from the consent of the people but that so- ciety must be protected from the tyranny of the majority; that the people at large must have a voice in their government but that any one group must be kept from abusing power; that a stronger central authority was essential but that all power was subject to abuse. They assumed with Madison that even the best people were naturally selfish, and government, therefore, could not be founded altogether upon a trust in goodwill and virtue. Yet by a careful arrangement of checks and balances, by checking power with countervailing power, the Founding Fathers hoped to devise institutions that could constrain individual sinfulness and channel self-interest to benefit the public good.

T H E V I R G I N I A A N D N E W J E R S E Y P L A N S At the outset the dele- gates unanimously elected George Washington president of the convention. One of the first decisions was to meet behind closed doors in order to dis- courage outside pressures and theatrical speeches to the galleries. The secrecy of the proceedings was remarkably well kept, and knowledge of the debates comes mainly from Madison’s extensive notes.

It was Madison, too, who drafted the proposals that set the framework of the discussions. These proposals, which came to be called the Virginia Plan, embodied a revolutionary idea: that the delegates scrap their instructions to revise the Articles of Confederation and submit an entirely new document to the states. The plan proposed separate legislative, executive, and judicial branches and a truly national government to make laws binding upon indi- vidual citizens as well as states. Congress would be divided into two houses: a lower house chosen by popular vote and an upper house of senators elected by the state legislatures. Congress could disallow state laws under the plan and would itself define the extent of its and the states’ authority.

On June 15 delegates submitted the “New Jersey Plan,” which proposed to keep the existing structure of equal representation of the states in a

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unicameral Congress but to give Congress the power to levy taxes and regu- late commerce and the authority to name a plural executive (with no veto) and a supreme court.

The plans presented the convention with two major issues: whether to amend the Articles of Confederation or draft a new document and whether to determine congressional representation by state or by population. On the first point the convention voted to work toward establishing a national gov- ernment as envisioned by the Virginians. Regarding the powers of this gov- ernment, there was little disagreement except in the details. Experience with the Articles had persuaded the delegates that an effective central govern- ment, as distinguished from a confederation, needed the power to levy taxes, regulate commerce, raise an army and navy, and make laws binding upon in- dividual citizens. The lessons of the 1780s suggested to them, moreover, that in the interest of order and uniformity the states must be denied certain powers: to issue money, abrogate contracts, make treaties, wage war, and levy tariffs.

But furious disagreements arose. The first clash in the convention in- volved the issue of congressional representation, and it was resolved by the Great Compromise (sometimes called the Connecticut Compromise, as it was proposed by Roger Sherman), which gave both groups their way. The more populous states won apportionment by population in the House of Representatives; the states that sought to protect states’ power won equality in the Senate, with the vote by individuals, not by states.

An equally contentious struggle ensued between northern and southern delegates over slavery and the regulation of trade, an omen of sectional con- troversies to come. A South Carolinian stressed that his delegation and the Georgians would oppose any constitution that failed to protect slavery. Few if any of the framers of the Constitution even considered the notion of abo- lition, and they carefully avoided using the term slavery in the final docu- ment. In this they reflected the prevailing attitudes among white Americans. Most agreed with South Carolina’s John Rutledge when he asserted, “Reli- gion and humanity [have] nothing to do with this [slavery] question. Inter- est alone is the governing principle of nations.”

The “interest” of southern delegates, with enslaved African Americans so numerous in their states, dictated that slaves be counted as part of the popu- lation in determining the number of a state’s congressional representatives. Northerners were willing to count slaves when deciding each state’s share of direct taxes but not for purposes of representation. On this issue the Con- gress of the Confederation had supplied a handy precedent when it sought an amendment to make population rather than land values the standard for


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fiscal requisitions. The proposed amendment to the Articles of Confedera- tion would have counted three fifths of the slaves for this purpose. The dele- gates, with little dissent, agreed to incorporate the same three-fifths ratio into the new constitution as a basis for apportioning both representatives and direct taxes.

A more sensitive issue involved an effort to prevent the central govern- ment from stopping the transatlantic slave trade. Virginia’s George Mason, himself a slaveholder, condemned the “infernal traffic,” which his state had already outlawed. He argued that the issue concerned “not the importing states alone but the whole union.” People in the western territories were “already calling out for slaves for their new lands.” He feared that they would “fill the country” with enslaved people. Such a development would bring forth “the judgment of Heaven” on the country. Southern delegates were quick to challenge Mason’s reasoning. They argued that the continued im- portation of slaves was vital to their states’ economies.

To resolve the question, the delegates established a time limit: Congress could not forbid the foreign slave trade before 1808, but it could levy a tax of $10 a head on all imported slaves. In both provisions a sense of delicacy— and hypocrisy—dictated the use of euphemisms. The Constitution spoke of “free Persons” and “all other persons,” of “such persons as any of the States Now existing shall think proper to admit,” and of persons “held to Service of Labor.” The odious word slavery did not appear in the Constitution until the Thirteenth Amendment (1865) abolished the practice.

If the delegates found the slavery issue distracting, they considered irrele- vant any discussion of the legal or political role of women under the new constitution. The Revolutionary rhetoric of liberty prompted some women to demand political equality. “The men say we have no business [with poli- tics],” Eliza Wilkinson of South Carolina observed as the Constitution was

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Slave Trade

This cross-sectional view of the British slave ship Brookes shows the crowded condi- tions that enslaved Africans endured in the international slave trade.

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being framed, “but I won’t have it thought that because we are the weaker sex as to bodily strength we are capable of nothing more than domestic con- cerns.” Her complaint, however, fell on deaf ears. There was never any formal discussion of women’s rights at the convention. The new nationalism still defined politics and government as outside the realm of female endeavor.

The Constitution also said little about the processes of immigration and naturalization, and most of what it said was negative. In Article II, Section 1, it prohibits any future immigrant from becoming president, limiting that office to a “natural born Citizen.” In Article I, Sections 2 and 3, respectively, it stipulates that no person can serve in the House of Representatives who has not “been seven Years a Citizen of the United States” or in the Senate who has not “been nine Years a Citizen.” On the matter of defining citizenship, the Constitution gives Congress the authority “to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization,” but offers no further guidance on the matter. As a result, naturalization policy has changed significantly over the years in response to fluctuating social attitudes and political moods. In 1790 the first Congress passed a naturalization law that allowed “free white persons” who had been in the country for as few as two years to be made naturalized citizens in any court. This meant that persons of African descent were denied citizenship by the federal government; it was left to individual states to determine whether free blacks were citizens. And because Indians were not “free white persons,” they were also treated as aliens rather than citizens. Not until 1924 would American Indians be granted citizenship—by an act of Congress rather than a constitutional amendment.

T H E S E PA R AT I O N O F P O W E R S The details of the government structure embedded in the Constitution aroused less debate than the basic issues pitting the large states against the small and the northern states against the southern. Existing state constitutions, several of which already separated powers among legislative, executive, and judicial branches, set an example that reinforced the convention’s resolve to disperse power with checks and balances. Although the Founding Fathers hated royal tyranny, most of them also feared rule by the people and favored various mechanisms to check public passions. Some delegates displayed a thumping disdain for any democratizing of the political system. Elbridge Gerry asserted that most of the nation’s problems “flow from an excess of democracy.” Alexander Hamilton once called the people “a great beast.”

Those elitist views were accommodated by the Constitution’s mixed leg- islative system. The lower house was designed to be closest to the voters, who elected its delegates every two years. It would be, according to Virginia’s


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George Mason, “the grand repository of the democratic principle of the Government.” House members should “sympathize with their constituents, should think as they think, & feel as they feel; and for these purposes should even be residents among them.” The upper house, or Senate, its members elected by the state legislatures, was intended to be more detached from the voters. Staggered six-year terms prevent the choice of a majority in any given year and thereby further isolate senators from the passing fancies of public passion.

The decision that a single person be made the chief executive caused the delegates “considerable pause,” according to James Madison. George Mason protested that this would create a “fetus of monarchy.” Indeed, several of the chief executive’s powers actually exceeded those of the British monarch. This was the sharpest departure from the recent experience in state government, where the office of governor had commonly been diluted because of the re- cent memory of struggles with royal governors. The president had a veto over acts of Congress, subject to being overridden by a two-thirds vote in each house, whereas the royal veto had long since fallen into complete disuse. The president was commander in chief of the armed forces and responsible for the execution of the laws. The chief executive could make treaties with the ad- vice and consent of two thirds of the Senate and had the power to appoint diplomats, judges, and other officers with the consent of a majority of the Senate. The president was instructed to report annually on the state of the nation and was authorized to recommend legislation, a provision that presi- dents eventually would take as a mandate to promote extensive programs.

But the president’s powers were limited in certain key areas. The chief executive could neither declare war nor make peace; those powers were re- served for Congress. Unlike the British monarch, moreover, the president could be removed from office. The House could impeach (indict) the chief executive—and other civil officers—on charges of treason, bribery, or “other high crimes and misdemeanors,” and upon conviction the Senate could re- move an impeached president by a two-thirds vote. The presiding officer at the trial of a president would be the chief justice, since the usual presiding officer of the Senate (the vice president) would have a personal stake in the outcome.

The leading nationalists—men like James Madison, James Wilson, and Alexander Hamilton—wanted to strengthen the independence of the execu- tive by entrusting the choice to popular election. But an elected executive was still too far beyond the American experience. Besides, a national election would have created enormous problems of organization and voter qualifica- tion. Wilson suggested instead that the people of each state choose presidential

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electors equal to the number of their senators and representatives. Others proposed that the legislators make the choice. Finally, the convention voted to let the legislature decide the method in each state. Before long nearly all the states were choosing the electors by popular vote, and the electors were acting as agents of the party will, casting their votes as they had pledged them before the election. This method diverged from the original expecta- tion that the electors would deliberate and make their own choices.

On the third branch of government, the judiciary, there was surprisingly little debate. Both the Virginia and the New Jersey Plans had called for a supreme court, which the Constitution established, providing specifically for a chief justice of the United States and leaving up to Congress the number of other justices. Although the Constitution nowhere authorizes the courts to declare laws void when they conflict with the Constitution, the power of judi- cial review is implied and was soon exercised in cases involving both state and federal laws. Article VI declares the federal constitution, federal laws, and treaties “to be the supreme Law of the Land,” state laws or constitutions “to the Contrary notwithstanding.” The advocates of states’ rights thought this a victory, since it eliminated the proviso in the Virginia Plan for Congress to settle all conflicts between the federal government and individual states. As it


Signing the Constitution, September 17, 1787

Thomas Pritchard Rossiter’s painting shows George Washington presiding over what Thomas Jefferson called an assembly of demigods.

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turned out, however, the clause became the basis for an important expansion of judicial review of legislative actions.

Although the Constitution extended vast new powers to the national gov- ernment, the delegates’ mistrust of unchecked power is apparent in repeated examples of countervailing forces: the separation of the three branches of government, the president’s veto, the congressional power of impeachment and removal, the Senate’s power to approve or reject treaties and appoint- ments, the courts’ implied right of judicial review. In addition, the new frame of government specifically forbade Congress to pass bills of attainder (criminal condemnation by a legislative act) or ex post facto laws (laws adopted after an event to criminalize deeds that have already been commit- ted). It also reserved to the states large areas of sovereignty—a reservation soon made explicit by the Tenth Amendment. By dividing sovereignty be- tween the people and the government, the framers of the Constitution provided a distinctive contribution to political theory. That is, by vesting ultimate authority in the people, they divided sovereignty within the govern- ment. This constituted a dramatic break with the colonial tradition. The British had always insisted that the sovereignty of the king-in-Parliament was indivisible.

The most glaring defect of the Articles of Confederation, the rule of state unanimity that defeated every effort to amend them, led the delegates to provide a less forbidding though still difficult method of amending the new constitution. Amendments can be proposed either by a two-thirds vote of each house or by a convention specially called, upon application of two thirds of the legislatures. Amendments can be ratified by approval of three fourths of the states acting through their legislatures or in special conven- tions. The national convention has never been used, however, and state con- ventions have been called only once—to ratify the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, which had prohibited “the manufacture, sale, or transporta- tion of ” alcoholic beverages.

T H E F I G H T F O R R AT I F I C AT I O N The final article of the Constitu- tion provided that it would become effective upon ratification by nine states (not quite the three-fourths majority required for amendment). After fight- ing off efforts to censure the convention for exceeding its authority, the Con- federation Congress submitted its work to the states on September 28, 1787.

In the ensuing political debate, advocates of the Constitution, who might properly have been called Nationalists because they preferred a strong central government, assumed the more reassuring name of Federalists. Opponents, who favored a more decentralized federal system, became

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anti-Federalists. The initiative that the Federalists took in assuming their name was characteristic of the whole campaign. They got the jump on their critics. Their leaders had been members of the convention and were already familiar with the document and the arguments on each point. They were not only better prepared but also better organized and, on the whole, made up of the more able leaders in the political community.

Historians have hotly debated the motivation of the advocates of the Con- stitution. For more than a century the tendency prevailed to idolize the Founding Fathers. In 1913, however, Charles A. Beard’s book An Economic In- terpretation of the Constitution advanced the shocking thesis that the Philadel- phia convention was made up of men who had a selfish economic interest in the outcome. Beard argued that the delegates represented an economic elite of speculators in western lands, holders of depreciated government securities, and creditors whose wealth was mostly in “paper”: mortgages, stocks, bonds, and the like. The holders of western lands and government bonds would bene- fit from a stronger government. Creditors generally stood to gain from the prohibitions against state currency issues and the impairment of contract, provisions clearly aimed at the paper-money issues and the stay laws that were then effective in many states. Stay laws prevented people to whom money was due from enforcing their contractual rights to foreclose on debtors.

Beard’s thesis provided a useful antidote to unquestioning hero worship and still contains a germ of truth, but he exaggerated. Most of the delegates, according to evidence unavailable to Beard, had no compelling stake in paper wealth, and most were far more involved in landholding. Many prominent nationalists, including “the Father of the Constitution,” James Madison, had no western lands, bonds, or much other personal property. Some opponents of the Constitution, on the other hand, held large blocks of land and securi- ties. Economic interests certainly figured in the process, but they functioned in a complex interplay of state, sectional, group, and individual interests that turned largely on how well people had fared under the Confederation.

The most notable aspect of the new American republic was not selfish- ness but cooperation. The American Revolution had led not to general chaos and terror but to “an outbreak of constitution-making.” From the 1760s through the 1780s, there occurred a prolonged debate over the fundamental issues of government, which in its scope and depth—and in the durability of its outcome—is without parallel.

T H E F E D E R A L I S T Among the supreme legacies of the debate over the Constitution is The Federalist, a collection of essays originally published in the New York press between 1787 and 1788. Instigated by Alexander


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Hamilton, the eighty-five articles published under the name Publius include about fifty by Hamilton, thirty by James Madison, and five by John Jay. The authorship of some selections remains in doubt. Written in support of ratifi- cation, the essays defended the principle of a supreme national authority, but sought to reassure doubters that the people and the states had little rea- son to fear usurpations and tyranny by the new government.

In perhaps the most famous essay, Number 10, Madison argued that the very size and diversity of the country would make it impossible for any sin- gle faction to form a majority that could dominate the government. This contradicted the conventional wisdom of the time, which insisted that re- publics could survive only in small, homogeneous countries like Switzerland and the Netherlands. Large republics, on the other hand, would fragment, dissolving into anarchy and tyranny through the influence of factions. Quite the contrary, Madison insisted. Given a balanced federal polity, a republic could work in large and diverse countries probably better than in smaller na- tions. “Extend the sphere,” he wrote, “and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens.”

The Federalists insisted that the new union would contribute to prosper- ity. The anti-Federalists, however, talked more of the dangers of power in terms that had become familiar during the long struggles with Parliament and the crown. They noted the absence of a bill of rights to protect the rights of individuals and states. They found the process of ratification highly irreg- ular, as it was—indeed, it was illegal under the Articles of Confederation. Not only did Patrick Henry refuse to attend the Constitutional Convention, but he later demanded (unsuccessfully) that it be investigated as a conspir- acy. The anti-Federalist leaders—George Mason, Patrick Henry, and Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, George Clinton of New York, Samuel Adams and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, Luther Martin of Maryland—were often men whose careers and reputations had been established well before the Revolution. The Federalist leaders were more likely to be younger men whose careers had begun in the Revolution—men such as Hamilton, Madi- son, and John Jay.

The disagreement between the two groups was more over means than ends, however. Both sides, for the most part, agreed that a stronger national authority was needed and that it required an independent income to func- tion properly. Both were convinced that the people must erect safeguards against tyranny, even the tyranny of the majority. Few of the Constitution’s supporters liked it in its entirety, but most believed that it was the best document obtainable; few of its opponents found it unacceptable in its

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entirety. Once the new government had become an accomplished fact, few wanted to undo the work of the Philadelphia convention.

T H E D E C I S I O N O F T H E S TAT E S Ratification gained momentum before the end of 1787, and several of the smaller states were among the first to act, apparently satisfied that they had gained all the safeguards they could hope for in equality of representation in the Senate. Delaware, New Jersey, and Georgia voted unanimously in favor. Massachusetts, still sharply divided in the aftermath of Shays’s Rebellion, was the first state in which the out- come was close. There the Federalists carried the day by winning over two hesitant leaders of the popular party. They dangled before John Hancock the possibility of his becoming vice president and won the acquiescence of Samuel Adams when they agreed to recommend amendments designed to protect human rights, including one that would specifically reserve to the states all powers not granted to the new government. Massachusetts ap- proved the Constitution by 187 to 168 on February 6, 1788.

New Hampshire was the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, allowing it to be put into effect, but the Union could hardly succeed without the ap- proval of Virginia, the most populous state, or New York, which had the third highest population and occupied a key position geographically. Both states harbored strong opposition groups. In Virginia, Patrick Henry became the chief spokesman for backcountry farmers who feared the powers of the new government, but wavering delegates were won over by the same strategem as in Massachusetts. When it was proposed that the convention



Order of Date of Ratification State Ratification

1 Delaware December 7, 1787 2 Pennsylvania December 12, 1787 3 New Jersey December 18, 1787 4 Georgia January 2, 1788 5 Connecticut January 9, 1788 6 Massachusetts February 6, 1788 7 Maryland April 28, 1788 8 South Carolina May 23, 1788 9 New Hampshire June 21, 1788

10 Virginia June 25, 1788 11 New York July 26, 1788 12 North Carolina November 21, 1789 13 Rhode Island May 29, 1790

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should recommend a bill of rights, Edmund Randolph, who had refused to sign the finished document, announced his conversion to the cause.

Upon notification that New Hampshire had become the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, the Confederation Congress began to draft plans for an or- derly transfer of power. On September 13, 1788, it selected New York City as

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Who were the leading Federalists and Anti-Federalists? Why were the Anti-Federalists opposed to the Constitution? How did the Federalists win the ratification of the Constitution?

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the seat of the new government and fixed the date for elections. Each state would set the date for electing the first members of Congress. On October 10, 1788, the Confederation Congress transacted its last business and passed into history.

“Our constitution is in actual operation,” the elderly Benjamin Franklin wrote to a friend; “everything appears to promise that it will last; but in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” George Washington was even more uncertain about the future under the new plan of government. He had told a fellow delegate as the convention adjourned, “I do not expect the Con- stitution to last for more than twenty years.”

The Constitution has lasted much longer, of course, and in the process it has provided a model of resilient republican government whose features have been repeatedly borrowed by other nations through the years. Yet what makes the U.S. Constitution so distinctive is not its specific provisions but its re- markable harmony with the particular “genius of the people” it governs. The Constitution has been neither a static abstraction nor a “machine that would go of itself,” as the poet James Russell Lowell would later assert. Instead, it has provided a flexible system of government that presidents, legislators, judges, and the people have adjusted to changing social, economic, and political cir- cumstances. In this sense the Founding Fathers not only created “a more


Sixth Pillar

An engraving published in 1788 in the American newspaper The Centinel after Massachusetts became the sixth state to ratify the new Constitution. By the end of 1788, five more states would ratify and the Constitution would go into effect. The last two states to ratify were North Carolina in 1789 and Rhode Island in 1790.

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perfect Union” in 1787; they also engineered a frame of government whose resilience has enabled later generations to continue to perfect their republi- can experiment. But the framers of the Constitution failed in one significant respect: in skirting the issue of slavery so as to cement the Union, they un- knowingly allowed tensions over the “peculiar institution” to reach the point where there would be no political solution—only civil war.

Further Reading • 277


• The debate over the nature of the national government and its relationship to the people and the states will reemerge in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions (Chapter 8), the Hartford Convention (Chapter 9), and the nullification crisis (Chapter 11).

• Slavery, viewed by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention as little more than a “distracting question,” would soon become a major political problem, especially after the Missouri Compromise (Chapter 10).


A good overview of the Confederation period is Richard B. Morris’s The Forging of the Union, 1781–1789 (1987). Another useful analysis of this period is Richard Buel Jr.’s Securing the Revolution: Ideology in American Pol- itics, 1789–1815 (1972).

David P. Szatmary’s Shays’s Rebellion: The Making of an Agrarian Insurrec- tion (1980) covers that fateful incident. For a fine account of cultural change during the period, see Joseph J. Ellis’s After the Revolution: Profiles of Early American Culture (1979).

Excellent treatments of the post-Revolutionary era include Edmund S. Morgan’s Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America (1988), Michael Kammen’s Sovereignty and Liberty: Constitutional Discourse in American Culture (1988), and Joyce Appleby’s Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans (2000). Among the better col- lections of essays on the Constitution are Toward a More Perfect Union: Six

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Essays on the Constitution (1988), edited by Neil L. York, and The Framing and Ratification of the Constitution (1987), edited by Leonard W. Levy and Dennis J. Mahoney.

Bruce Ackerman’s We the People, vol. 1, Foundations (1991) examines Fed- eralist political principles. For the Bill of Rights that emerged from the ratifi- cation struggles, see Robert A. Rutland’s The Birth of the Bill of Rights, 1776–1791 (1955).


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The federal Constitution, ratified in 1788, was a bundle of deftcompromises intended to create a more powerful centralgovernment better capable of managing a sprawling—and rapidly growing—new republic. Although the U.S. Constitution has become the world’s most enduring national charter, skeptics in the late eighteenth century doubted that it would survive more than a few years. A Massachu- setts anti-Federalist said that governing such an “extensive empire . . . upon republican principles” was impossible. It was one thing to draft a dramatic new constitution but quite another to exercise such expanded powers. The Constitution’s ideals were profound, but its premises and theories were untested. Creating a “more perfect union” would prove to be a long, compli- cated, and painful process. During the 1790s the new federal government would confront civil rebellions, threats of secession, international intrigues, and foreign wars. In 1789 Americans wildly celebrated the inauguration of George Washington as the nation’s first president. But amid the excitement




• How did the new national government operate?

• What was Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist program?

• How did the first party system begin?

• What were the elements of the Federalists’ foreign policy?

To answer these questions and access additional review material, please visit www.wwnorton.com/studyspace.

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was a powerful undercurrent of uncertainty, suspicion, and anxiety. The Constitution provided a framework but not a blueprint; it left unanswered many questions about the actual structure and conduct of the new govern- ment. As James Madison had acknowledged, “We are in a wilderness without a single footstep to guide us.”


In 1789 the United States and the western territories reached from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River and hosted almost 4 million people. This vast new nation, much larger than any in Europe, harbored distinct re- gional differences. A southerner noted the clashing regional outlooks when he said that “men who come from New England are different from us.” Although still characterized by small farms and bustling seaports, New Eng- land was on the verge of developing a manufacturing sector. The middle At- lantic states boasted the most well-balanced economy, the largest cities, and the most diverse collection of ethnic and religious groups. The South was an


A New Society

An engraving from the title page of The Universal Asylum and Columbian Magazine, (published in Philadelphia in 1790). America is represented as a woman laying down her shield to engage in education, art, commerce, and agriculture.

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agricultural region more ethnically homogeneous and increasingly depen- dent upon slave labor. By 1790 the southern states were exporting as much tobacco as they had been before the Revolution. Most important, however, was the surge in cotton production. Between 1790 and 1815 the annual pro- duction of cotton rose from less than 3 million pounds to 93 million pounds.

Overall, the United States in 1790 was predominantly a rural society. Eighty percent of households were involved in agricultural production. Only a few cities had more than 5,000 residents. The first national census, taken in 1790, counted 750,000 African Americans, almost one fifth of the popula- tion. Most of them lived in the five southernmost states; less than 10 percent lived outside the South. Most African Americans, of course, were enslaved, but there were many free blacks as a result of the Revolution. In fact, the pro- portion of free to enslaved blacks was never higher than in 1790.

The 1790 census did not even count the many Indians still living east of the Mississippi River. Most Americans viewed the Native Americans as those people whom the Declaration of Independence had dismissed as “merciless Indian Savages.” It is estimated that there were over eighty tribes totaling perhaps as many as 150,000 persons in 1790. In the Old Northwest along the Great Lakes, the British continued to arm the Indians and encouraged them to resist American encroachments. Between 1784 and 1790 Indians killed or captured some 1,500 settlers in Kentucky alone. Such bloodshed generated a ferocious reaction. “The people of Kentucky,” observed an official frustrated by his inability to negotiate a treaty between whites and Indians, “will carry on private expeditions against the Indians and kill them whenever they meet them, and I do not believe there is a jury in all Kentucky that will punish a man for it.” In the South the five most powerful tribes—the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles—numbered between 50,000 and 100,000. They steadfastly refused to recognize U.S. authority and used Spanish-supplied weapons to thwart white settlement.

Only about 125,000 whites and blacks lived west of the Appalachian Moun- tains in 1790. But that was soon to change. The great theme of nineteenth- century American history would be the ceaseless stream of migrants flowing westward from the Atlantic seaboard. By foot, horse, boat, and wagon, pioneers and adventurers headed west. Kentucky, still part of Virginia but destined for statehood in 1792, harbored 75,000 settlers in 1790. In 1776 there had been only 150 pioneers there. Rapid population growth, cheap land, and new economic opportunities fueled the western migration. The average white woman gave birth to eight children, and the white popula- tion doubled approximately every twenty-two years. This made for a very

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young population on average. In 1790 almost half of all white Americans were under the age of sixteen.

A N E W G O V E R N M E N T The men who drafted the Constitution knew that many questions were left unanswered, and they feared that putting the new frame of government into practice would pose unexpected challenges. On the appointed date, March 4, 1789, the new Congress of the United States, meeting in New York City, could muster only eight senators and thir- teen representatives. A month passed before both chambers gathered a quo- rum. Only then could the temporary presiding officer of the Senate count the ballots and certify the foregone conclusion that George Washington, with sixty-nine votes, was the unanimous choice of the Electoral College for president. John Adams, with thirty-four votes, the second-highest number, became vice president.

Washington was a reluctant president. He greeted the news of his election with “a heart filled with distress” because he imagined “the ten thousand em- barrassments, perplexities and troubles to which I must again be exposed.” He told a friend as he prepared to assume office in New York that he felt like a “culprit who is going to the place of his execution.” Yet Washington felt com- pelled to serve because he had been “summoned by my country.” A self-made man with little formal education, he brought to his new office a remarkable capacity for moderation and mediation that helped keep the infant republic from disintegrating. In his inaugural address, Washington appealed for na- tional unity, pleading with the new Congress to abandon “local prejudices” and “party animosities” in order to create the “national” outlook necessary for the fledgling republic to thrive. Within a few months the new president would see his hopes dashed. Personal rivalries, sectional tensions, and parti- san conflict characterized political life in the 1790s.

T H E G O V E R N M E N T ’ S S T RU C T U R E President Washington had a larger staff at his Mount Vernon estate than he did as president. During the summer of 1789, Congress created executive departments corresponding to those formed under the Confederation. To head the Department of State, Washington named Thomas Jefferson, recently back from his diplomatic duties in France. To head the Department of the Treasury, Washington picked his devoted wartime aide, Alexander Hamilton, now a prominent lawyer in New York. The new position of attorney general was occupied by Edmund Randolph, former governor of Virginia.

Almost from the beginning, Washington routinely called these men to sit as a group to discuss matters of policy. This was the origin of the president’s


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cabinet, an advisory body for which the Constitution made no formal provi- sion. The office of vice president also took on what would become its typical character. “The Vice-Presidency,” John Adams wrote his wife, Abigail, is the most “insignificant office . . . ever . . . contrived.”

The structure of the court system, like that of the executive departments, was left to Congress, except for a chief justice and the Supreme Court. Con- gress determined to set the membership of the highest court at six––the chief justice and five associates––and it created thirteen federal district courts. From these, appeals might go to one of three circuit courts, com- posed of two Supreme Court justices and the district judge, who met twice a year in each district. Members of the Supreme Court, therefore, became itin- erant judges riding the circuit during a good part of the year. All federal cases originated in a district court and, if appealed on issues of procedure or legal interpretation, went to the circuit courts and from there to the Supreme Court.

Washington named John Jay as the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, and he served until 1795. Born in New York City in 1745, Jay gradu- ated from King’s College (now Columbia University). His distinction as a lawyer led New York to send him as its representative to the First and Sec- ond Continental Congresses. After serving as president of the Continental Congress in 1778–1779, Jay became the American minister in Spain. While in Europe he helped John Adams and Benjamin Franklin negotiate the Treaty of Paris in 1783. After the Revolution, Jay served as secretary of foreign affairs. He joined Madison and Hamilton as co-author of the The Federalist and became one of the most effective champions of the Constitution.

T H E B I L L O F R I G H T S In the new House of Representatives, James Madison made a bill of rights a top priority. The lack of provisions guar- anteeing individuals’ and states’ rights had been one of the anti-Federalists’ major objections to the Constitution. Madison viewed a bill of rights as “the most dramatic single gesture of

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John Jay

Chief justice of the Supreme Court (painted in 1794). Jay favored a strong union and emphatically supported the Constitution.

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conciliation that could be offered the remaining opponents of the govern- ment.” Those “opponents” included prominent statesmen as well as artisans, small traders, and backcountry farmers who doubted that even the “best men” were capable of subordinating self-interest to the good of the republic. They believed that all people are prone to corruption; that no one can be trusted. Therefore, a bill of rights must be added to the Constitution protect the liberties of all against the encroachments of a few.

The first eight Amendments to the Constitution were modeled after the Virginia Declaration of Rights that George Mason had written in 1776. They provided safeguards for specified rights of individuals: freedom of religion, press, speech, and assembly; the right to keep and bear firearms; the right to refuse to house soldiers in private homes; protection against unreasonable searches and seizures; the right to refuse to testify against oneself; the right to a speedy public trial, with legal counsel present, before an impartial jury; and protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

The Ninth and Tenth Amendments addressed the demand for specific statements that the enumeration of rights in the Constitution “shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people” and that “pow- ers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The first ten amendments, which constitute the Bill of Rights, became effective on December 15, 1791. The Bill of Rights provided no rights or legal protection to African Americans or Indians.

R A I S I N G R E V E N U E Revenue was the new federal government’s most critical need. When George Washington took office, the nation’s finances were in shambles. There was an acute shortage of capital. To raise funds, Madison proposed a modest tariff (a tax on imports) for revenue only, but the demands of manufacturers in the northern states for tariffs high enough to protect them from foreign competition forced a compromise that imposed higher tariffs on specified items. Madison linked the tariff to a proposal for a mercantile system that would levy extra tonnage duties on foreign ships, and an especially heavy duty on countries that had no commercial treaty with the United States.

Madison’s goal was to wage economic war against Great Britain, which had no such treaty but more foreign trade with the new nation than any other country. Northern businessmen, however, fearing any disruption in the economy, were in no mood for a renewal of economic pressures. Hamilton, as secretary of the Treasury, agreed with them. In the end the only discrimi- nation built into the Tonnage Act of 1789 was between U.S. and all foreign


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ships: U.S. ships paid a duty of 6¢ per ton; American-built foreign-owned ships paid 30¢; and ships that were foreign built and owned paid 50¢ per ton.

The disagreements created by the trade measures were portents of quar- rels yet to come. Should economic policy favor Britain or France? The more persistent question was whether tariff and tonnage duties should penalize farmers in the interest of northern manufacturers and shipowners. By im- posing a tax on imports, tariffs and tonnage duties resulted in higher prices on goods bought by Americans, most of whom were tied to the farm econ- omy. This raised a basic and perennial question: should rural consumers be forced to subsidize the nation’s infant manufacturing sector? This issue be- came a sectional question of South versus North.

H A M I LT O N ’ S V I S I O N

The tariff and tonnage duties, linked as they were to other issues, marked but the beginning of the effort to get the country on sound fiscal footing. In 1789, thirty-four-year-old Alexander Hamilton seized the initia- tive. The first secretary of the Treasury was a protégé of the president. Born out of wedlock on a Caribbean island and deserted by his ne’er-do-well Scottish father, Hamilton was left an orphan at thirteen by the death of his mother and soon became a clerk in a trading house. With the help of friends and relatives, he found his way, at seventeen, to New York, attended King’s College, and entered the Continental army, where he became a favorite aide of George Washington’s. After the war he studied law, passed the bar exami- nation, established a thriving legal practice in New York City, and became a self-made aristocrat, serving as a collector of revenues and as a member of the Confederation Congress. An early convert to nationalism, Hamilton had a major role in promoting the Constitutional Convention. Shrewd, ener- getic, determined and combative, the red-haired, blue-eyed attorney was con- sumed with social and political ambition. As he recognized at age fourteen, “To confess my weakness, my ambition is prevalent.” The same could be said of most of the Founding Fathers.

During the Revolutionary War, Colonel Hamilton had witnessed the near- fatal weaknesses of the Confederation Congress. Its lack of authority and money almost lost the war. Now, as the nation’s first secretary of the Trea- sury, he was determined to transform an economically weak and fractious nation. To flourish in a warring world, Hamilton believed, the United States needed to unleash the energy and ambition of its citizens so as to create a vi- brant economy driven by the engines of capitalism. He wanted to nurture the

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hustling, bustling, aspiring spirit that he believed distinguished Americans from others. Just as he had risen from poverty and shame to become im- mensely successful, he wanted to en- sure that Americans would always have such opportunities. To do so, he envisioned a limited but assertive government that encouraged new fields of enterprise and fostered invest- ment and entrepreneurship. Thriving markets and new industries would best ensure the fate of the republic, and a secure federal debt would give investors a stake in the success of the new national government. The young Hamilton was supremely confident in his ability to shape fiscal policies that would provide economic opportunity and ensure government stability. His

success in minting a budget, a funded debt, a federal tax system, a national bank, a customs service, and a coast guard provided the foundations for American capitalism and American government.

In a series of brilliant reports submitted to Congress in the two years from January 1790 to December 1791, Hamilton outlined his far-sighted program for government finances and the economic development of the United States. The reports were soon adopted, with some alterations in detail but little in substance. The last of the series, the “Report on Manufactures,” out- lined a program of protective tariffs and other government supports of busi- ness, which would eventually become government policy, despite much brave talk of free enterprise and free trade.

E S TA B L I S H I N G T H E P U B L I C C R E D I T Hamilton submitted the first and most important of his reports to the House of Representatives in 1790. This first of two “Reports on Public Credit,” as the work has since been called, dealt with the vexing issue of war-generated debt. Both the federal government and the individual states had emerged from the Revolution with substantial debts. France, Spain, and Holland had lent the United States money and matériel to fight the war, and Congress had incurred more debt by printing paper money and selling government bonds. State governments


Alexander Hamilton

Secretary of the Treasury from 1789 to 1795.

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had also accumulated huge obligations. After the war some states had set about paying off their debts, but the efforts were uneven. Only the federal government could wipe the slate clean. Hamilton insisted that the debts from the Revolution were a national responsibility because all Americans had benefited from independence. He also knew that federal assumption of state debts would enhance a sense of nationalism by helping the people see the benefits of a strong central government. Finally, the Treasury secretary was determined to shore up the federal government’s finances because he believed that preserving individual freedom and the sanctity of property went hand in hand.

Hamilton’s controversial report on public credit made two key recom- mendations: first, it called for funding the federal debt at face value, which meant that citizens holding deflated war bonds could exchange them for new interest-bearing bonds, and second, it declared that the federal govern- ment should assume state debts from the Revolution. Holders of state bonds would exchange them for new national bonds.

The funding scheme was controversial because many farmers and farmer soldiers in immediate need of money had sold their securities for a fraction of their value to speculators who were eager to buy them up after reading Hamilton’s first report. These common folk argued that they should be reim- bursed for their losses; otherwise, the speculators would gain a windfall from the new government’s funding of bonds at face value. Hamilton sternly re- sisted their pleas. The speculators, he argued, had “paid what the commodity was worth in the market, and took the risks.” Therefore, they should reap the benefits. In fact, Hamilton insisted, the government should favor the financial community because it represented the bedrock of a successful nation.

The report sparked lengthy debates before its substance was adopted. Then, in short order, Hamilton authored three more reports: the second of the “Reports on Public Credit,” which included a proposal for an excise tax on liquor to aid in raising revenue to cover the nation’s debts, a report rec- ommending the establishment of a national bank and a national mint, which were set up in 1791–1792; and the “Report on Manufactures,” which proposed an extensive program of government aid and other encourage- ment to stimulate the development of manufacturing enterprises.

Hamilton’s economic program was substantially the one that Robert Mor- ris had urged upon the Confederation a decade before and Hamilton had strongly endorsed at the time. “A national debt,” he had written Morris in 1781, “if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing; it will be a pow- erful cement of our union. It will also create a necessity for keeping up taxa- tion to a degree which without being oppressive, will be a spur to industry.”

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Payment of the national debt, in short, would be not only a point of national honor and sound finance, ensuring the country’s credit for the future; it would also be an occasion to assert the federal power of taxation and thus instill respect for the authority of the national government. Not least, the plan would win the new government the support of wealthy, influential creditors who would now have a direct financial stake in the survival of the government.

T H E E M E R G E N C E O F S E C T I O N A L D I F F E R E N C E S The Virgin- ian James Madison, who had been Hamilton’s close ally in promoting ratifi- cation of the Constitution, broke with him over the matter of a national debt. Madison did not question whether the debt should be paid; he was troubled, however, that speculators and stockjobbers would become the chief beneficiaries. That the far greater portion of the debt was owed to northerners than to southerners further troubled him. Madison, whom Hamilton had expected to champion his program in the House, advanced an alternative plan, one that gave a larger share to the first owners of govern- ment bonds than to the later speculators. Madison’s opposition to Hamil- ton’s plan touched off a vigorous debate, but Hamilton carried his point by a margin of three to one when the House brought it to a vote.

Madison’s opposition to the assumption of state debts got more support, however, and more clearly set up a political division along sectional lines. The southern states, with the exception of South Carolina, had whittled down their debts. New England, with the largest unpaid debts, stood to be the greatest beneficiary of the assumption plan. Rather than see Virginia vic- timized, Madison held out another alternative. Why not, he suggested, have the government assume state debts as they stood in 1783, at the conclusion of the peace treaty? Debates on this point deadlocked the whole question of debt funding and assumption, and Hamilton grew so frustrated with the leg- islative stalemate that he considered resigning.

The gridlock finally ended in the summer of 1790, when Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison agreed to a compromise. In return for northern votes in favor of locating the permanent national capital on the Potomac River, Madison pledged to seek enough southern votes to pass the assump- tion, with the further arrangement that those states with smaller debts would get in effect outright grants from the federal government to equalize the difference. With these arrangements enough votes were secured to carry Hamilton’s funding and assumption schemes. The national capital would be moved from New York City to Philadelphia for ten years, after which it would be settled at a federal city on the Potomac, the site to be chosen by the


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president. Jefferson later claimed to have been “duped” by Hamilton into agreeing to the “Compromise of 1790” because he did not fully understand the implications of the debt-assumption plan. It is more likely that Jefferson had been outsmarted. He only later realized how relatively insignificant the location of the national capital was when compared with the far-reaching ef- fects of Hamilton’s economic program.

A N AT I O N A L B A N K By this vast new financial program, Hamilton had called up from nowhere, as if by magic, a great sum of capital for the federal government. Having established the public credit, the relentless Hamilton moved on to a related measure essential to his vision of national greatness: a national bank, which by issuance of bank notes (paper money) might pro- vide a uniform currency that would address the chronic shortage of gold and silver. Government bonds held by the bank would back up the value of its new bank notes. The national bank, chartered by Congress, would remain under government control, but private investors would supply four fifths of the $10 million capital and name twenty of the twenty-five directors; the government would provide the other one fifth of the capital and name five directors. Government bonds would be received in payment for three

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The Bank of the United States

Proposed by Alexander Hamilton, the bank opened in Philadelphia in 1791.

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fourths of the stock in the bank, and the other fourth would be payable in gold and silver.

The bank, Hamilton explained, would serve many purposes. Like the na- tional banks of Europe, it would provide a stable and flexible national cur- rency and a source of capital for loans to fund the development of business and commercial development. Bonds, which might otherwise be stowed away in safes, would become the basis for a productive capital by backing up bank notes available for loan at low rates of interest, the “natural effect” of which would be “to increase trade and industry.” What is more, the existence of the bank would serve certain housekeeping needs of the government: a safe place to keep its funds, a source of “pecuniary aids” in sudden emergen- cies, and the ready transfer of funds to and from branch offices through bookkeeping entries rather than the shipment of metals.

Once again James Madison rose to lead the opposition, arguing that he could find no basis in the Constitution for a national bank. That was enough to raise in President Washington’s mind serious doubts as to the constitution- ality of the measure, which Congress passed fairly quickly over Madison’s ob- jections. The vote in Congress revealed the growing sectional division in the young United States. Representatives from the northern states voted thirty- three to one in favor of the national bank; southern congressmen opposed the bank nineteen to six.

Before signing the bill into law, President Washington sought the advice of his cabinet, where he found an equal division of opinion. The result was the first great debate on constitutional interpretation. Should there be a strict or a broad construction of the document? Were the powers of Congress only those explicitly stated, or were others implied? The argument turned chiefly on Article I, Section 8, which authorizes Congress to “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers.”

Such language left room for disagreement and led to a confrontation be- tween Jefferson and Hamilton. Secretary of State Jefferson pointed to the Tenth Amendment, which reserves to the states and the people powers not delegated to Congress. “To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress,” he wrote, “is to take pos- session of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any defini- tion.” A bank might be a convenient aid to Congress in collecting taxes and regulating the currency, but it was not, as Article I, Section 8, specified, necessary.

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whether or not expressly stated. And in a classic summary he expressed his criterion on constitutionality:

This criterion is the end, to which the measure relates as a mean. If the end

be clearly comprehended within any of the specified powers, collecting

taxes and regulating the currency, and if the measure have an obvious

relation to that end, and is not forbidden by any particular provision of the

Constitution, it may safely be deemed to come within the compass of the

national authority.

Hamilton’s sophisticated analysis convinced Washington to sign the contro- versial bank bill. In doing so, the president had indeed, in Jefferson’s words, opened up “a boundless field of power,” which in the coming years would lead to a further broadening of implied powers with the approval of the Supreme Court. Under the leadership of Chief Justice John Marshall the Court would eventually adopt Hamilton’s words almost verbatim. On July 4, 1791, stock in the new Bank of the United States was put up for sale, and it sold out within an hour.

E N C O U R AG I N G M A N U FAC T U R E S Alexander Hamilton’s fertile imagination and his audacious ambitions for the new country were not yet exhausted. In the last of his great reports, the “Report on Manufactures,” he set in place the capstone of his design for a modern national economy: the active encouragement of manufacturing to provide productive uses for the new capital created by his funding, assumption (of state debts), and banking schemes. Hamilton believed that several advantages would flow from the ag- gressive development of manufactures: the diversification of labor in a country given over too much to farming; improved productivity through greater use of machinery; paid work for those not ordinarily employed out- side the home, such as women and children; the promotion of immigration; a greater scope for the diversity of talents in business; more ample and vari- ous opportunities for entrepreneurial activity; and a better domestic market for agricultural products.

To secure his ends, Hamilton proposed to use the means to which other countries had resorted: tariffs (taxes) on foreign goods, or in Hamilton’s words, “protecting duties,” which in some cases might be put so high as to deter imports altogether; restraints on the export of raw materials; government- paid bounties and premiums to encourage certain industries; tariff exemp- tions for imported raw materials needed for American manufacturing; the encouragement of inventions and discoveries; regulations for the

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inspection of commodities; and finally, the financing of improvements in transportation, including the development of roads, canals, and rivers.

Some of Hamilton’s tariff proposals were enacted in 1792. Otherwise the program was filed away—but not forgotten. It became an arsenal of argu- ments for the advocates of manufactures in years to come. Hamilton denied that there was any necessary economic conflict between the northern and southern regions of the Union. If, as seemed likely, the northern and middle Atlantic states should become the chief scenes of manufacturing, they would create robust markets for agricultural products, some of which the southern states were peculiarly qualified to produce. Both North and South would benefit, he argued, as more commerce moved between those regions than across the Atlantic, thus strengthening the Union.

H A M I LT O N ’ S AC H I E V E M E N T Largely owing to the skillful Hamil- ton, the Treasury Department began to retire the Revolutionary War debt during the early 1790s, and foreign capital began to flow in once again. Economic growth, so elusive in the 1780s, was widespread by the end of the


Certificate of the New York Mechanick Society

An illustration of the growing diversification of labor, by Abraham Godwin (ca. 1785).

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century. A Bostonian reported in late 1790 that the United States had never “had a brighter sunshine of prosperity. . . . Our agricultural interest smiles, our commerce is blessed, our manufactures flourish.” But Hamilton’s poli- cies had done much more than revive the economy. Against fierce opposi- tion, Hamilton had established the foundations for a capitalist republic that has since demonstrated its resilience and durability. In the process he helped Americans see beyond their local interests. Hamilton was a consummate na- tionalist. As an immigrant he never developed the intense loyalty to a state felt by most Americans. And during the Revolutionary War he had seen how shortsighted and selfish states could be in refusing to provide adequate sup- port of the Continental army. He dreamed of the United States’ becoming a commercial and industrial empire, a world power remarkable for its ability to balance individual freedom with government power. As he recognized, “Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as by the abuses of power.”

Yet however profound Hamilton’s economic insights were and however beneficial his policies were to the nation’s long-term economic develop- ment, they initially provoked fierce opposition. Hamilton admired the British system of government and professed a cynical view of human nature. People, he believed, were naturally selfish and greedy. The role of govern- ment, therefore, was to channel the public’s “ambition and avarice” into ac- tivities that would strengthen the nation. Like Adam Smith, the Scotsman who wrote The Wealth of Nations, Hamilton believed that private vices could be turned into public virtues through the natural operations of the capitalist marketplace. What he did not acknowledge was that the rich do not always choose the national interest over their own. He persistently displayed a naïve faith in merchants and capitalists. By championing industry and commerce as well as the expansion of federal authority at the expense of the states, Hamilton infuriated a growing number of people, especially in the South. Competition between Jefferson and Hamilton boiled over into a nasty feud between the government’s two most talented men. The concerted opposition to Hamilton’s politics and policies soon fractured George Washington’s cab- inet and spawned the nation’s first political parties.


Hamilton’s ideas became the foundation of the party known as the Fed- eralists; Madison and Jefferson led those who took the name Republicans (also called the Democratic Republicans) and thereby implied that the Federalists

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aimed at a monarchy. Neither side in the disagreement over national policy deliberately set out to create a party system. But there were growing differences of both philosophy and self-interest that would not subside. At the outset, Madison assumed leadership of Hamilton’s opponents in Congress. Madison, like Thomas Jefferson, was rooted in Virginia, where opposition to Hamilton’s economic policies flourished. Patrick Henry, for example, proclaimed that Hamilton’s policies were “dangerous to the rights and subversive of the inter- ests of the people.”

After the Compromise of 1790, which assured the federal assumption of state debts, Madison and Jefferson ever more resolutely opposed Hamilton’s policies: his effort to place an excise tax on whiskey, which laid a burden es- pecially on the trans-Appalachian farmers, whose livelihood depended upon the production and sale of the beverage; his proposal for the national bank; and his “Report on Manufactures.” As the differences built, hostility be- tween Jefferson and Hamilton festered within the cabinet, much to the dis- tress of President Washington.

Thomas Jefferson, twelve years Hamilton’s senior, was in most respects his opposite. Jefferson was an agrarian aristocrat, his father a successful surveyor and land speculator, his mother a Randolph, from one of the first families of Virginia. Jefferson was brilliant. He developed a breadth of cul- tivated interests that ranged widely in science, the arts, and the humani- ties. He read or spoke seven languages. He was an architect of distinction

(Monticello, the Virginia state capi- tol, and the University of Virginia are monuments to his talent), a courtly gentleman who understood mathematics and engineering, an inventor, and an agronomist. He knew music and practiced the vio- lin, although one wit remarked that only Patrick Henry played it worse.

Hamilton and Jefferson repre- sented opposite visions of the charac- ter of the Union and defined certain contrasting philosophical and politi- cal issues that still echo more than two centuries later. Hamilton was a hardheaded realist who foresaw a diversified capitalist economy, with agriculture balanced by commerce


Thomas Jefferson

A portrait by Charles Willson Peale (1791).

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and industry, and was thus the better prophet. Jefferson was an agrarian ide- alist who feared that the growth of crowded cities would divide society into a capitalist aristocracy on the one hand and a deprived proletariat on the other. Hamilton feared anarchy and loved order; Jefferson feared tyranny and loved liberty.

Hamilton championed a strong central government actively engaged in encouraging capitalist enterprise. Jefferson wanted a decentralized republic made up primarily of small farmers. “Those who labor in the earth,” he wrote, “are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts He has made His peculiar deposit for genuine and substantial virtue.” Jefferson did not oppose all forms of manufacturing; he feared that the un- limited expansion of commerce and industry would produce a growing class of wage laborers who were dependent upon others for their livelihood and therefore subject to political manipulation and economic exploitation.

In their quarrel, Hamilton isolated Jefferson as the leader of the opposi- tion to his policies. In the summer of 1791, Jefferson and Madison set out on a “botanizing” excursion up the Hudson River in New York and into New England. The supposed vacation trip was actually a cover for consultations with New York political figures who personally and politically opposed Hamilton. Although the significance of that single trip was blown out of proportion, there did ultimately arise an informal alliance of Jeffersonian Republicans in the South and New York that would become a constant if sometimes divisive feature of the new party and its successor, the Democra- tic party. By mid-1792 Hamilton and Jefferson could no longer disguise their disdain for each other. Jefferson told a friend that the two rivals “daily pitted in the cabinet like two cocks.”

Still, amid the rising political tensions, there was little opposition to George Washington, who longed to end his exile from his beloved Mount Vernon and even began drafting a farewell address but was urged by both Hamilton and Jefferson to continue in public life. In the fragile infancy of the new nation, Washington was the only man who could transcend party dif- ferences and hold things together with his unmatched prestige. In 1792 Washington was unanimously reelected.


During George Washington’s second term the problems of foreign rela- tions surged to center stage, delivered by the consequences of the French Rev- olution, which had begun in 1789, during the first months of his presidency.

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Americans followed the tumultuous events in France with almost universal sympathy, up to a point. By the spring of 1792, the French experiment in lib- erty, equality, and fraternity had transformed itself into a monster. France plunged into war with Austria and Prussia. The French Revolution began de- vouring its own children, along with its enemies, during the Terror of 1793–1794. Thousands of political prisoners were executed, and barbarism ruled the streets of Paris.

After the execution of King Louis XVI, early in 1793, Great Britain and Spain entered into the coalition of monarchies at war with the chaotic French republic. For the next twenty-two years, Britain and France were at war, with only a brief respite, until the final defeat of the French forces under Napoléon in 1815. The European war presented George Washington, just beginning his second term, with an awkward decision. By the 1778 Treaty of Alliance, the United States was a perpetual ally of France, obligated to defend her possessions in the West Indies.

But Americans wanted no part of the European war. They were deter- mined to maintain their lucrative trade with both sides in the conflict. And besides, the Americans had no navy with which to wage a war on the high seas. Neutrality was the only sensible policy. For their part, Hamilton and Jefferson found in the neutrality policy one issue on which they could agree. Where they differed was in how best to implement it. Hamilton had a simple and direct answer: declare the French alliance invalid because it was made with a French government that no longer existed. Jefferson preferred to de- lay and use the alliance as a bargaining point with the British. In the end, however, Washington followed the advice of neither. Taking a middle course, the president issued a neutrality proclamation on April 22, 1793, that de- clared the United States “friendly and impartial toward the belligerent pow- ers” and warned U.S. citizens that “aiding or abetting hostilities” or other nonneutral acts might be prosecuted. Instead of settling matters in his cabinet, however, Washington’s proclamation brought to a boil the feud between Hamilton and Jefferson. Jefferson dashed off an angry letter to James Madison, urging his ally to “take up your pen” and cut Hamilton “to pieces” in the newspapers.

C I T I Z E N G E N E T At the same time, Washington accepted Jefferson’s argument that the United States should recognize the new French republi- can government (becoming the first country to do so) and receive its new ambassador, the headstrong and indiscreet Edmond-Charles-Édouard Genet. Early in 1793, Citizen Genet landed at Charleston, to a hero’s wel- come. Along the route to Philadelphia, the enthusiasm of his American


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sympathizers gave the swaggering Genet an inflated notion of his influ- ence. In Charleston he had engaged privateers to capture British ships, and in Philadelphia he continued the process. He also intrigued with frontiers- men and land speculators with an eye to an attack on Spanish Florida and Louisiana.

In the American capital, Genet quickly became an embarrassment even to his Republican friends. Among other missteps he denounced President Washington’s neutrality policy. Jefferson decided that the French minister had overreached himself when he violated a promise not to outfit a captured British ship as a French privateer—the action could have provoked a British declaration of war against the United States. When Genet threatened to ap- peal his cause directly to the American people over the head of their presi- dent, the cabinet unanimously agreed that the French troublemaker had to go; in August 1793 Washington demanded his recall. Meanwhile, a new party of radicals had gained power in France and sent its own minister with a war- rant for Genet’s arrest. Instead of returning to Paris and risk the guillotine, Genet sought asylum in the United States.

Genet’s foolishness and the growing excesses of the French radicals were fast cooling U.S. support for their wayward revolution. To Hamilton’s fol- lowers what was occurring in France began to resemble their worst night- mares of democratic anarchy. The French made it hard even for American Republicans to retain sympathy, but they swallowed hard and made excuses. “The liberty of the whole earth was depending on the issue of the contest,” the genteel Jefferson wrote, “and . . . rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth devastated.” Nor did the British make it easy for Fed- eralists to rally to their side. Near the end of 1793, they informed the U.S. government that they intended to occupy their Great Lakes forts indefinitely and began to seize the cargoes of American ships trading with the French is- lands in the West Indies.

The French and British causes deeply divided American opinion. In the contest, it seemed, one had to either be a Republican and support liberty, reason, and France or become a Federalist and support order, religious faith, and Britain. The division gave rise to curious loyalties: slaveholding planters joined the cheers for radical revolutionaries who dispossessed aristocrats in France, and they supported the protest against British seizures of New Eng- land ships; Massachusetts shippers still profited from the British trade and kept quiet. Boston, once a hotbed of revolution, became a bastion of Feder- alism. Thomas Jefferson was so disgusted by George Washington’s refusal to support the French Revolution and by his own ideological warfare with Alexander Hamilton that he resigned as secretary of state at the end of 1793.

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J AY ’ S T R E AT Y By 1794 a prolonged foreign-policy crisis between the United States and Great Britain threatened to renew warfare between the two old enemies. Early in 1794 the Republican leaders in Congress were gaining support for commercial retaliation to end British trade abuses when the British gave President Washington a timely opening for a settlement. They stopped seizing American ships, and on April 16, 1794, Washington named Chief Justice John Jay as a special envoy to Great Britain. Jay left with instructions to settle all major issues: to get the British out of the northwest- ern forts and to secure reparations for the losses of American shippers, com- pensation for Southern slaves carried away in 1783, and a commercial treaty that would legalize American commerce with the British West Indies.

To win his objectives, Jay accepted the British definition of neutral rights––that exports of tar, pitch, and other products needed for naval ships were contraband and that provisions could not go in neutral ships to enemy ports––and the “rule of 1756” prevailed, meaning that trade that was pro- hibited in peacetime because of mercantilist restrictions could not be opened in wartime. Britain also gained most-favored-nation treatment in American commerce and a promise that French privateers would not be outfitted in American ports. Finally, Jay conceded that the British need not compensate U.S. citizens for the enslaved people who escaped during the war and that the pre-Revolutionary American debts to British merchants would be paid by the U.S. government. In return for these concessions, he won three important points: British evacuation of the northwestern forts by 1796, reparations for the seizures of American ships and cargo in 1793–1794, and legalization of trade with the British West Indies. But the last of these (Article XII) was so hedged with restrictions that the Senate eventually struck it from the treaty.


Trade Limitations

A 1794 watercolor of Fort Detroit, a major center of Indian trade that the British agreed to evacuate under the terms of Jay’s Treaty.

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Public outrage greeted the terms of Jay’s Treaty. The debate was so intense that some Americans feared civil war might erupt. Even Federalist shippers, ready for a settlement with the British on almost any terms, were disap- pointed by the limitations on their trading privileges in the British West In- dies. But much of the outcry was simply an expression of disappointment by Republican partisans who had sought an escalation of the conflict with the hated Great Britain. Some of it, too, was the outrage of Virginia planters at the concession on old debts to British merchants and the failure to get repa- rations for slaves liberated by British forces during the Revolution. George Washington himself wrestled with doubts over the treaty and delayed mak- ing it available to the public. He worried that his opponents were prepared to separate “the Union into Northern & Southern.” Once he endorsed it, there were even calls for his impeachment. Yet the president, while acknowl- edging that the proposed agreement was imperfect, concluded that adopting it was the only way to avoid war with Britain. Still, the Senate debated the treaty in secret, and without a single vote to spare, Jay’s Treaty got the neces- sary two-thirds majority on June 24, 1795, with Article XII (the provision re- garding the West Indies) expunged. The major votes in Congress were again aligned by region; 80 percent of the votes for the treaty came from New Eng- land or the middle Atlantic states; 74 percent of those voting against the treaty were cast by southerners.

President Washington still hesitated but finally signed the flawed treaty, concluding that it was the best he was likely to get. In the House, oppo- nents, spurred on by James Madison, went so far as to demand that the president produce all papers relevant to the treaty, but the president refused on the grounds that approval of treaties was solely the business of the Sen- ate. He thereby set an important precedent of executive privilege (a term not used at the time), and the House finally relented, supplying by a close vote the money required to carry out the terms of the treaty. The desperate effort to thwart Jay’s Treaty cost James Madison his friendship with George Washington.

T H E F R O N T I E R Other events also had an important bearing on Jay’s Treaty, adding force to the importance of its settlement of the Canadian frontier and strengthening Spain’s conviction that it, too, needed to settle long-festering problems along America’s southwestern frontier. While John Jay was haggling in London, frontier conflict with Indians escalated, with U.S. troops twice crushed by northwestern Indians. At last, Washington named General Wayne, known as Mad Anthony, to head an expedition into the Northwest Territory. In the fall of 1793, Wayne marched into Indian country

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with some 2,600 men, built Fort Greenville, and with reinforcements from Kentucky went on the offensive in 1794.

In August some 2,000 Shawnee, Ottawa, Chippewa, and Potawatomi war- riors, reinforced by Canadian militias, attacked Wayne’s troops at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, south of Detroit. The Americans repulsed them. The In- dians’ heavy losses were exacerbated when American soldiers destroyed their fields and villages. The Indians finally agreed to the Treaty of Greenville, signed in August 1795. According to the terms of the treaty, the United States bought from twelve tribes, at the cost of a $10,000 annuity, the rights to the southeastern quarter of the Northwest Territory (now Ohio and Indiana) and enclaves at the sites of Detroit, Chicago, and Vincennes, Indiana.

T H E W H I S K E Y R E B E L L I O N General Wayne’s forces were still mop- ping up after the Battle of Fallen Timbers when the administration resolved


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on another show of strength in the backcountry, against the so-called Whiskey Rebellion. Alexander Hamilton’s excise tax on liquor, levied in 1791, had outraged frontier farmers because it taxed their most profitable commodity. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries nearly all Americans regularly drank alcoholic beverages: beer, hard cider, ale, wine, rum, brandy, or whiskey. In the areas west of the Appalachian Mountains, the primary cash commodity was liquor distilled from grain or fruit. Such emphasis on distilling reflected a practical problem. Many farmers could not afford to transport bulky crops of corn and rye across the mountains or down the Mississippi River to the seaboard markets. Instead, it was much more profitable to distill liquor from corn and rye or apples and peaches. Unlike grain crops, distilled spirits could be easily stored, shipped, or sold— and at higher profits. A bushel of corn worth 25¢ could yield two and a half gallons of liquor, worth ten times as much.

Western farmers were also suspicious of the new federal government in Philadelphia. The frontiersmen considered the whiskey tax another part of Hamilton’s scheme to pick the pockets of the poor to enrich the pockets of urban speculators. All through the backcountry, from Georgia to Pennsylva- nia and beyond, the tax provoked resistance and evasion.

In the summer of 1794, discontent over the federal tax on whiskey exploded into open rebellion in western Pennsylvania. Vigilantes began terrorizing rev- enue officers and taxpayers. They blew up the stills of those who paid the tax, robbed the mails, stopped court proceedings, and threatened an assault on Pittsburgh. On August 7, 1794, President Washington issued a proclamation ordering the insurgents home and calling out 12,900 militiamen from Vir- ginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Getting no response from the “Whiskey boys,” he ordered the army to suppress the rebellion.

Under the command of General Henry Lee, the army marched out from Harrisburg across the Alleghenies with Alexander Hamilton in its midst, itching to smite the insurgents. But the rebels vanished into the hills, and the troops met with little opposition. They finally rounded up twenty bare- foot, ragged prisoners, whom they paraded down Market Street in Phila- delphia and clapped into prison. Eventually two of them were found guilty of treason, but they were pardoned by Washington on the grounds that one was a “simpleton” and the other “insane.” Although Washington had overre- acted, the government had made its point and gained “reputation and strength,” according to Hamilton, by suppressing a rebellion that, according to Jefferson, “could never be found.” The use of such excessive force, how- ever, led many who sympathized with the frontiersmen to become Republi- cans, and Jefferson’s party scored heavily in the next Pennsylvania elections.

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Nor was it the end of the whiskey rebellions, which continued in an unend- ing war of wits between moonshiners and revenue officers.

P I N C K N E Y ’ S T R E AT Y While these stirring events were transpiring in Pennsylvania, Spanish intrigues among the Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Cherokees in the Southwest were keeping up the same sort of turmoil that the British had fomented along the Ohio. In Tennessee, settlers reacted by burning and leveling Indian villages. The defeat of their Indian allies, com- bined with Britain’s concessions in the north and worries about possible American intervention in Louisiana, led the Spanish to enter into treaty nego- tiations with the Americans. U.S. negotiator Thomas Pinckney pulled off a diplomatic triumph in 1795 when he won acceptance of a boundary at the


Whiskey Rebellion

George Washington as commander in chief reviews the troops mobilized to quell the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.

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31st parallel, free navigation of the Mississippi River, the right to deposit goods at New Orleans for three years with a promise of renewal, a commission to settle American claims against Spain, and a promise on each side to refrain from inciting Indian attacks on the other. Ratification of Pinckney’s Treaty ran into no opposition. In fact, it was immensely popular, especially among west- erners eager to use the Mississippi River to transport their crops to market.


Now that Jay and Pinckney had settled matters with Britain and Spain and the army in the Northwest and the Tennessee settlers in the South had

Settlement of New Land • 303


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Why did settlers in Tennessee start destroying Indian villages? What were the terms of Pinckney’s Treaty? Why was the treaty popular?

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subdued the Indians, the West was open for a renewed surge of settlers. New lands, ceded by the Indians in the Treaty of Greenville, revealed a Congress once again divided on the issue of federal land policy. There were two basic viewpoints on the matter: that the public domain should serve mainly as a source of revenue and that it was more important to get the new country set- tled, an endeavor that required low land prices. In the long run the evolution of policy would be from the first to the second viewpoint, but for the time being the federal government’s need for revenue took priority.

L A N D P O L I C Y Opinions on land policy, like opinions on other issues, separated Federalists from Republicans. Federalists involved in speculation might prefer lower land prices, but the more influential Federalists, like Hamilton and Jay, preferred to build the population of the eastern states first, lest the East lose political influence and a labor force important to the growth of manufactures. Men of their persuasion favored high land prices to enrich the Treasury, the sale of relatively large parcels of land to speculators rather than small parcels to settlers, and the development of compact settle- ments. Jefferson and Madison were reluctantly prepared to go along for the sake of reducing the national debt, but Jefferson expressed the hope for a plan by which the lands could be more readily settled. In any case, he sug- gested, frontiersmen would do as they had done before: “They will settle the lands in spite of everybody.”

For the time being, however, Federalist policy prevailed. With the Land Act of 1796, Congress resolved to extend the rectangular surveys ordained in 1785 but doubled the price to $2 per acre, with only one year in which to complete payment. Half the townships would be sold in 640-acre sections, making the minimum cost $1,280, and alternate townships would be sold in blocks of eight sections, or 5,120 acres, making the minimum cost $10,240. Either price was well beyond the means of ordinary settlers and a bit much even for speculators, who could still pick up state lands at lower prices. By 1800 federal land offices had sold fewer than 50,000 acres under the act. Continuing criticism in the West led to the Land Act of 1800, which reduced the minimum unit to 320 acres and spread payments over four years. Thus, with a down payment of $160, one could buy a farm. All land went for the minimum price if it did not sell at auction within three weeks. Under the Land Act of 1804, the minimum unit was reduced to 160 acres, which be- came the traditional homestead, and the price per acre went down to $1.64.

T H E W I L D E R N E S S R OA D The lure of western lands led thousands of settlers to follow Daniel Boone into the territory known as Kentucky or


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Kaintuck, from the Cherokee name Ken-Ta-Ke (Great Meadow). In the late eighteenth century, Kentucky was a farmer’s fantasy and a hunter’s paradise, with its fertile soil and abundant forests teeming with buffalo, deer, and wild turkeys.

Boone himself was the product of a pioneer background. Born on a small farm in 1734 in central Pennsylvania, he was a deadeye marksman by the age of twelve and would soon become an experienced farmer and an accomplished woodsman. In 1750 the Boone family moved to western North Carolina. There Daniel emerged as the region’s greatest hunter, trading animal skins for salt and other household needs. After hearing numerous reports about the terri- tory over the mountains, Boone set out alone in 1769 to find a trail into Ken- tucky. Armed with a long rifle, tomahawk, and hunting knife and dressed in a hunting shirt, deerskin leggings, and moccasins, he found what was called the

Settlement of New Land • 305

The Emergence of Agriculture

This painting by Edward Hicks shows the residence of David Twining, a Pennsylvania farmer, as it appeared in 1785.

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Warriors’ Path, a narrow foot trail that buffalo, deer, and In- dians had worn along the steep ridges. It took him through the Cumberland Gap in southwest- ern Virginia. For two years thereafter, Boone explored the region, living off the plentiful game. He returned to North Carolina with exciting stories about the riches of Kentucky.

In 1773 Boone led the first group of settlers through the Appalachian Mountains at the Cumberland Gap. Two years later Boone and thirty woods- men used axes to widen the Warriors’ Path into what became

known as the Wilderness Road, a passage that more than 300,000 settlers would use over the next twenty-five years. At a point where a branch of the Wilderness Road intersected with the Kentucky River, near what is now Lexington, Boone built a settlement known as Boonesborough in an area called Transylvania.

A steady stream of settlers, mostly Scotch-Irish from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, poured into Kentucky during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. The backcountry settlers came on foot or horse- back, often leading a mule or a cow that carried their few tools and other possessions. On a good day they might cover fifteen miles. Near a creek or spring they would buy a parcel or stake out a claim and mark its boundaries by chopping notches into “witness trees.” They would then build a lean-to for temporary shelter and clear the land for planting. The larger trees could not be felled with an ax. Instead, they were girdled: a cut would be made around the trunk, and the tree would be left to die. Because the process often took years, a farmer had to hoe and plant a field filled with stumps and trees. The pioneers grew melons, beans, turnips, and other vegetables, but corn was the preferred crop because it kept well and had so many uses. Ears were roasted and eaten on the cob, and kernels were ground into meal for making mush, hominy grits, and hoecakes, or johnnycakes (dry flourcakes suitable for travelers that were originally called journeycakes). Pigs provided pork, and cows supplied milk, butter, and cheese. Many frontier families also built crude stills to manufacture a potent whiskey they called corn likker.


The Wilderness Trail

Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap by George Caleb Bingham.

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By 1796 President Washington had decided that two terms in office were enough. Weary of increasingly bitter political quarrels and the venom of the partisan press, he was ready to retire at last to Mount Vernon. He would leave behind a formidable record of achievement: the organization of a national gov- ernment with demonstrated power, a secure national credit, the recovery of ter- ritory from Britain and Spain, a stable northwestern frontier, and the admission of three new states: Vermont (1791), Kentucky (1792), and Tennessee (1796).

WA S H I N G T O N ’ S FA R E W E L L With the considerable help of Alexan- der Hamilton, Washington drafted a valedictory speech to the nation. His farewell address, dated September 17, 1796, called for unity among the peo- ple in backing their new government. Washington decried the rising spirit of sectionalism; he feared the emergence of regional political parties promot- ing local interests. In foreign relations, Washington said, the United States should show “good faith and justice toward all nations” and avoid either “an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness” for other countries. Europe, he noted, “has a set of primary interests which to us have none or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of

Transfer of Power • 307

Mount Vernon

George Washington and the marquis de Lafayette at Mount Vernon in 1784. Wash- ington enlarged the estate, which overlooks the Potomac River, to nearly 8,000 acres, dividing it among five farms.

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which are essentially foreign to our concerns.” The United States should keep clear of those quarrels. It was, moreover, “our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” A key word here is permanent. Washington opposed permanent arrangements like the one with France, still technically in effect. He specifically advised that “we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.” Washing- ton’s warning against permanent foreign entanglements served as a funda- mental principle in U.S. foreign policy until the early twentieth century.

T H E E L E C T I O N O F 1796 With George Washington out of the race, the United States had its first partisan election for president. The logical choice of the Federalists would have been Washington’s protégé, Alexander Hamilton, the chief architect of their programs. But Hamilton’s policies had left scars and made enemies. Nor did he suffer fools gladly, a common afflic- tion of Federalist leaders, including the man on whom the choice fell. In Philadelphia a caucus of Federalist congressmen chose John Adams as their heir apparent, with Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina, fresh from his tri- umph in Spain, as the nominee for vice president. As expected, the Republi- cans drafted Thomas Jefferson and added geographic balance to the ticket with Aaron Burr of New York.

The increasing strength of the Republicans, fueled by the smoldering re- sentment of Jay’s Treaty, very nearly swept Jefferson into office and perhaps would have but for the public appeals of the French ambassador for his election—an action that backfired. Then, despite a Federalist majority among the electors, Alexander Hamilton hatched an impulsive scheme that very nearly threw the election away after all. Thomas Pinckney, Hamilton thought, would be subject to more influence than the strong-minded Adams. He therefore sought to have the South Carolina Federalists withhold a few votes for Adams and bring Pinckney in first. The Carolinians more than cooperated—they divided their vote between Pinckney and Jefferson— but the New Englanders got wind of the scheme and dropped Pinckney. The upshot of Hamilton’s failed scheme was to cut Pinckney out of both the presidency and the vice presidency and elect Jefferson vice president with sixty-eight electoral votes, to Adams’s seventy-one.


Vain and cantankerous, short and paunchy, John Adams had crafted a distinguished career as a Massachusetts lawyer; a leader in the Revolutionary


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movement; the hardest-working mem- ber of the Continental Congress; a diplomat in France, Holland, and Britain; and George Washington’s vice president. His political philosophy fell somewhere between Jefferson’s and Hamilton’s. He shared neither the one’s faith in the common people nor the other’s fondness for a finan- cial aristocracy of “paper wealth.” Adams feared the concept of democ- racy and considered equality a fanci- ful notion. He favored the classic mixture of aristocratic, democratic, and monarchical elements, though his use of monarchical interchangeably with executive exposed him to the attacks of Republicans who saw a monarchist in every Federalist. Adams was always haunted by a feeling that he was never properly appreciated—and he may have been right. Yet on the overriding issue of his administration, war and peace, he kept his head when others about him were losing theirs—probably at the cost of his reelection.

WA R W I T H F R A N C E John Adams faced the daunting task of succeeding the most popular man in America. He also inherited an undeclared naval war with France, a byproduct of Jay’s Treaty. When John Jay had accepted the British position that food supplies and naval stores—as well as war matériel— were contraband subject to seizure, the French reasoned that American cargo headed for British ports was subject to the same interpretation and loosed their corsairs in the British West Indies, with an even more devastating effect than the British had had in 1793–1794. By the time of Adams’s inauguration, in 1797, the French had plundered some 300 American ships and broken diplomatic relations with the United States. As ambassador to Paris, James Monroe had become so pro-French and so hostile to Jay’s Treaty that George Washington had removed him for his indiscretions. France, grown haughty and contemptuous with Napoléon’s military conquests, had then re- fused to accept Monroe’s replacement, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (brother of Thomas Pinckney), and ordered him out of the country.

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John Adams

Political philosopher and politician. Adams was the first president to take up residence in the White House, in 1801.

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John Adams immediately acted to restore relations with France in the face of an outcry for war from the “high Federalists,” including Secretary of State Timothy Pickering. Alexander Hamilton agreed with Adams on this point and approved his last-ditch effort for a diplomatic settlement. In 1797 Pinckney returned to Paris with John Marshall (a Virginia Federalist) and Elbridge Gerry (a Massachusetts Republican) for further negotiations. After nagging delays the three commissioners were accosted by three French counterparts (whom Adams labeled X, Y, and Z in his report to Congress), agents of France’s unscrupulous foreign minister, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, a past master of the diplomatic shakedown. The French diplo- mats delicately let it be known that negotiations could begin only if the Americans paid a bribe of $250,000.

Such bribes were common eighteenth-century diplomatic practice, but Talleyrand’s price was high for a mere promise to negotiate. The answer from the American side, according to the commissioners’ report, was “no, no, not a sixpence.” When the XYZ affair was reported in Congress and the


Conflict with France

A cartoon indicating the anti-French sentiment generated by the XYZ affair. The three American ministers (at left) reject the “Paris Monster’s” demand for money.

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The Adams Years • 311

public press, the response was translated into the more stirring slogan “Mil- lions for defense but not one cent for tribute.” Thereafter, the expressions of hostility toward France rose in a crescendo and even the most partisan Republicans––with the exception of Thomas Jefferson––were hard put to make any more excuses for the French, and many of them joined the cry for war. Yet President Adams resisted a formal declaration of war; the French would have to bear the onus for that. Congress, however, authorized the cap- ture of armed French ships, suspended commerce with France, and renounced the 1778 Treaty of Alliance, which was already a dead letter.

In 1798 George Logan, a Pennsylvania Quaker and Republican sympathizer, visited Paris at his own expense, hoping to head off war. He did secure the re- lease of some American seamen and won assurances that a new U.S. minister to France (ambassador) would be welcomed. The fruit of his mission, other- wise, was passage of the Logan Act (1799), which still forbids private citizens to negotiate with foreign governments without official authorization.

Amid a nation churning with patriotism and war fever, Adams strength- ened American defenses. Militias marched and mobilized, and a navy began to emerge. An American navy had ceased to exist at the end of the Revolu- tion. No armed ships were available when Algerian brigands began to prey on American commerce in 1794. As a result, Congress had authorized the arming of six ships. These were incomplete in 1796, when Washington bought peace with the Algerians, but Congress allowed work on three of them to continue: the Constitution, the United States, and the Constellation, all completed in 1797. In 1798 Congress authorized a Department of the Navy and by the end of the year an undeclared naval war had begun in the West Indies with the French capture of an American schooner.

While the naval war was being fought, Congress, in 1798, authorized a force of 10,000 men to serve three years. Adams called George Washington from retirement to be its commander, and Washington agreed only on con- dition that Alexander Hamilton be his second in command. Adams relented but resented the slight to his authority as commander in chief. The rift among the Federalists thus widened further.

Peace overtures began to come from the French by the autumn of 1798, before the naval war was fully under way. Adams took it upon himself, with- out consulting his cabinet, to name the U.S. minister to the Netherlands, William Vans Murray, as special envoy to Paris. The Hamiltonians, infected with a virulent case of war fever, fought the nomination but finally compro- mised, in the face of Adams’s threat to resign, on a commission of three en- voys. After a long delay the men left late in 1799 and arrived in France to find themselves confronting a new government under First Consul Napoléon

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Bonaparte. By the Convention of 1800, they won the best terms they could from the triumphant Napoléon. In return for giving up all claims of indem- nity for American losses, they got official suspension of the 1778 perpetual alliance with France and an end to the quasi war. The Senate ratified the agreement, contingent upon outright abrogation of the alliance, and it be- came effective on December 21, 1801.

T H E WA R AT H O M E The simmering naval conflict with France mir- rored a ferocious ideological war at home between Federalists and Republi- cans. Already-heated partisan politics had begun boiling over during the latter years of Washington’s administration. The rhetoric grew so personal and tem- pers grew so short that opponents commonly resorted to duels. Federalists and Republicans saw each other as traitors to the principles of the American Revolution. Jefferson, for example, decided that Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, John Adams, and other Federalists were suppressing in- dividual liberty in order to promote selfish interests. He adamantly opposed Jay’s Treaty because it was pro-British and anti-French, and he was disgusted by the army’s suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion.

Such volatile issues forced Americans to take sides, and the Revolutionary generation of leaders, a group that John Adams had called the band of broth- ers, began to fragment into die-hard factions. Long-standing political friend- ships disintegrated amid the partisan attacks, and sectional divisions between North and South grew more fractious. Jefferson observed that a “wall of sepa- ration” had come to divide the nation’s political leaders. “Politics and party hatreds,” he told his daughter, “destroy the happiness of every being here.”

Jefferson’s combative tactics contributed directly to the partisan ten- sions. He frequently planted rumors about his opponents in the press, wrote anonymous newspaper attacks himself, and asked others to dispar- age his opponents. As vice president under Adams, he displayed a gracious deviousness. He led the Republican faction opposed to Adams and actively schemed to embarrass him. In 1797 Jefferson secretly hired a rogue jour- nalist, James Callender, to produce a scurrilous pamphlet that described President Adams as a deranged monarchist intent upon naming himself king. By the end of the century, Jefferson had become an ardent advocate of polarized party politics: “I hold it as immoral to pursue a middle line, as between parties of Honest men and Rogues, into which every country has divided.”

For his part John Adams refused to align himself completely with the Feder- alists, preferring instead to mimic George Washington and retain his indepen- dence as chief executive. He was too principled and too prickly to toe a party

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line. Soon after his election he invited Jefferson to join with him in creating a bipartisan administration. After all, they had worked well together in the Continental Congress and in France, and they harbored great respect for each other. After consulting with James Madison, however, Jefferson refused to accept the new president’s offer. Within a year he and Adams were at each other’s throats. Adams expressed regret at losing Jefferson as a friend but “felt obliged to look upon him as a man whose mind is warped by preju- dice.” He had become “a child and the dupe” of the Republican faction in Congress, which was led by James Madison.

The conflict with France only deepened the partisan divide emerging in the young United States. The real purpose of the French crisis all along, the more ardent Republicans suspected, was to provide Federalists with an ex- cuse to put down the domestic opposition. The infamous Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 lent credence to their suspicions. These and two other acts, passed in the wave of patriotic war fever, limited freedom of speech and the press and the liberty of aliens. Proposed by extreme Federalists in Congress, the acts did not originate with John Adams but had his blessing. Goaded by his wife, Abigail, his primary counselor, Adams signed the controversial statutes and in doing so made the greatest mistake of his presidency. Timothy Pickering, his disloyal secretary of state, claimed that Adams acted without consulting “any member of the government and for a reason truly remarkable—because he knew we should all be opposed to the measure.” By succumbing to the partisan hysteria and enacting the vindictive acts, Adams seemed to bear out what Benjamin Franklin had said about him years be- fore: he “means well for his country, is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes and in some things, [is] absolutely out of his senses.”

Three of the four repressive acts reflected hostility to foreigners, especially the French and the Irish, a large number of whom had become active Repub- licans and were suspected of revolutionary intent. The Naturalization Act lengthened from five to fourteen years the residency requirement for citizen- ship. The Alien Act empowered the president to deport “dangerous” aliens on pain of imprisonment. The Alien Enemies Act authorized the president in time of declared war to expel or imprison enemy aliens at will. Finally, the Sedition Act defined as a high misdemeanor any conspiracy against legal measures of the government, including interference with federal officers and insurrection or rioting. What is more, the law forbade writing, publishing, or speaking anything of “a false, scandalous and malicious” nature against the government or any of its officers.

The Sedition Act was designed to punish Republicans, whom Federalists could scarcely distinguish from French revolutionary radicals and traitors.

The Adams Years • 313

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To be sure, partisan Republican journalists were resorting to scandalous lies and misrepresentations, but so were Federalists; it was a time when both sides seemed afflicted with paranoia. But the fifteen indictments brought under the act, with ten convictions, were all directed at Republicans.

In the very first case one inebriated Republican was fined $100 for wishing out loud that the wad of a salute cannon might hit President Adams in his rear. The most conspicuous targets of prosecution were Republican editors and a Republican congressman, Matthew Lyon of Vermont, a rough-and-tumble Irishman who castigated Adams’s “continual grasp for power” and “un- bounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice.” Lyon was imprisoned for four months and fined $1,000, but from his cell he continued to write articles and letters for the Republican papers. The few con- victions under the act only created martyrs to the cause of freedom of speech and the press and exposed the vindictiveness of Federalist judges.

Lyon and the others based their defense on the unconstitutionality of the Sedition Act, but Federalist judges dismissed the notion. It ran against the Re- publican grain, anyway, to have federal courts assume the authority to declare


Dispute in the House

Republican representative Matthew Lyon and Connecticut Federalist Roger Gris- wold attack each other on the floor of the House (1798). Lyon soon became a target of the Sedition Act.

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laws unconstitutional. To offset the “reign of witches” unleashed by the Alien and Sedition Acts, therefore, Jefferson and Madison drafted what came to be known as the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. These passed the legislatures of their respective states in 1798, and further Kentucky Resolutions, adopted in 1799, responded to counterresolutions from northern states. These resolu- tions, much alike in their arguments, denounced the Alien and Sedition Acts as “alarming infractions” of constitutional rights. Since the Constitution arose as a compact among the states, the resolutions argued, the states should decide when Congress had exceeded its powers. The Virginia Resolutions, drafted by Madison, declared that states “have the right and are in duty bound to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil.” The second set of Kentucky Resolutions, in restating the states’ right to judge violations of the Constitu- tion, added, “That a nullification of those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done under color of that instrument, is the rightful remedy.”

These doctrines of interposition and nullification, reworked and edited by later theorists, were destined to be used for causes unforeseen by their au- thors. (Years later Madison would disclaim the doctrine of nullification as developed by John C. Calhoun, but his own doctrine of interposition would resurface as late as the 1950s as a device to oppose racial integration.) At the time, it seems, both men intended the resolutions to serve chiefly as propa- ganda, the opening guns in the political campaign of 1800. Neither Kentucky nor Virginia took steps to nullify or interpose its authority in the enforce- ment of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Instead, both called upon the other states to help them win a repeal. In Virginia, citizens talked of armed resis- tance to the federal government. Jefferson counseled against any thought of violence: it was “not the kind of opposition the American people will per- mit.” He assured a fellow Virginian that the Federalist “reign of witches” would soon end, that it would be discredited by the arrival of the tax collec- tor more than anything else.

R E P U B L I C A N V I C T O RY As the presidential election of 1800 ap- proached, civil unrest boiled over. Grievances were mounting against Federalist policies: taxation to support an unneeded army; the Alien and Sedition Acts, which cast the Federalists as anti-liberty; the lingering fears of “monarchism”; the hostilities aroused by Alexander Hamilton’s economic programs; the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion; and Jay’s Treaty. When Adams opted for peace with France in 1800, he probably doomed his one chance for reelection—a wave of patriotic war fever with a united party behind him. His decision gained him much goodwill among Americans at large but left the Hamiltonians angry and his party divided. In 1800 the

The Adams Years • 315

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Federalists summoned enough unity to name as their candidates Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney; they agreed to cast all their electoral votes for both. But the Hamiltonian Federalists continued to snipe at Adams and his policies, and soon after his renomination Adams removed two of them from his cabinet. A furious Hamilton struck back with a pamphlet questioning Adams’s fitness to be president, citing his “disgusting egotism.” Intended for private distribution among Federalist leaders, the pamphlet reached the hands of New York Republican Aaron Burr, who put it in general circulation.

Jefferson and Burr, as the Republican presidential candidates, once again represented the alliance of Virginia and New York. Jefferson, perhaps even more than Adams, was attacked by Federalists as a supporter of the radical French revolutionaries and an atheist. His election, Americans were warned, would bring civil war––“dwellings in flames, hoary hairs bathed in blood, fe- male chastity violated . . . children writhing on the pike and halberd.” Jefferson kept quiet, refused to answer the attacks, and directed the campaign by mail from his home at Monticello. His supporters portrayed him as the farmers’ friend, the champion of states’ rights, frugal government, liberty, and peace.

Adams proved more popular than his party, whose candidates generally fared worse than the president, but the Republicans edged him out by seventy-three electoral votes to sixty-five. The decisive states were New York and South Carolina, either of which might have given the victory to Adams. But in New York former senator Aaron Burr’s organization won control of the legislature, which cast the electoral votes. In South Carolina, Charles Pinckney (cousin of the Federalist Pinckneys) won over the legislature by well-placed promises of Republican patronage. Still, the result was not final, for Jefferson and Burr had tied with seventy-three votes each, and the choice of the president was thrown into the House of Representatives, where Feder- alist diehards tried vainly to give the election to Burr. This was too much for Hamilton, who opposed Jefferson but held a much lower opinion of Burr. The stalemate in the House continued for thirty-five ballots. The deadlock was broken only when a confidant of Jefferson’s assured a Delaware con- gressman that Jefferson would refrain from the wholesale removal of Feder- alists appointed to federal offices and would uphold Hamilton’s financial policies. The representative resolved to vote for Jefferson, and several other Federalists agreed simply to cast blank ballots, permitting Jefferson to win without any of them having to vote for him.

Before the Federalists relinquished power to the Jeffersonian Republicans on March 4, 1801, their lame-duck Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1801. In- tended to ensure Federalist control of the judicial system, this act provided that the next vacancy on the Supreme Court would not be filled, created sixteen


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circuit courts with a new judge for each, and increased the number of attor- neys, clerks, and marshals. Before he left office, Adams named John Marshall to the vacant office of chief justice and appointed Federalists to all the new posi- tions, including forty-two justices of the peace for the new District of Colum- bia. The Federalists, defeated and destined never to regain national power, had in the words of Jefferson “retired into the judiciary as a stronghold.”

The election of 1800 marked a major turning point in American political history. It was the first time that one political party, however ungracefully, re- linquished power to the opposition party. Jefferson’s victory signaled the emergence of a new, more democratic political system, dominated by parties, partisanship, and wider public participation—at least among white men. Be- fore and immediately after independence, politics was popular but not demo- cratic: people took a keen interest in public affairs, but socially prominent families, the “rich, the able, and the wellborn,” dominated political life. However, the fierce political battles of the late 1790s, culminating in 1800 with Jefferson’s election as the nation’s third president, wrested control of politics from the gov- erning elite and established the right of more people to play an active role in

The Adams Years • 317

SC 8

NC 8 4

GA 4

VA 21KY 4




TN 3

PA 8 7

NY 12

VT 4 NH 6

MA 16

RI 4 CT 9

NJ 7 DE 3 MD R

F 5 5

Thomas Jefferson

Aaron Burr



Electoral VoteTHE ELECTION OF 1800



John Adams

Charles C. Pinckney


64* (Federalist)


One Rhode Island elector cast one of his ballots for Jay.

Tie resolved by House of Representatives; Jefferson elected.

* †

Why was the election of 1800 a key moment in American history? How did the Re- publicans win New York and South Carolina? How did Congress break the tie between Jefferson and Burr?

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governing the young republic. With the gradual elimination of property quali- fications for voting and the proliferation of newspapers, pamphlets, and other publications, the “public sphere” in which political issues were debated and de- cided expanded enormously in the early nineteenth century.

The Republican victory in 1800 also marked the political triumph of the slaveholding South. Three Virginia slaveholders—Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe—would control the White House for the next twenty-four years. While Republicans celebrated democracy, they also prospered because of slavery. The tensions between republican ideals and plantation slavery would eventually lead to civil war.

John Adams regretted the democratization of politics and the rise of frac- tious partisanship. “Jefferson had a party, Hamilton had a party, but the com- monwealth had none,” he sighed. The defeated president was so distraught at the turn of events that he decided not to participate in Jefferson’s inaugura- tion in Washington, D.C. Instead, he boarded a stagecoach for the 500-mile trip to his home in Quincy, Massachusetts. He and Jefferson would not commu- nicate for the next twelve years. As Adams returned to work on his Massachu- setts farm, he reported that he had exchanged “honors and virtue for manure.” He told his son John Quincy, who would become president himself, that the American president “has a hard, laborious, and unhappy life.”



• Thomas Jefferson’s Republican philosophy offered a strong alternative to Alexander Hamilton’s Federalism. As the next chapter shows, however, once the Republicans got into power, they adopted several Federalist principles and positions.

• The Bank of the United States and the protective tariff continued to be controversial. The bank’s charter was renewed for another twenty years in 1816, the same year in which the first truly protective tariff was passed (Chapter 10), but in the 1830s the bank was eliminated, and the tariff became a major source of sectional conflict (Chapter 11).

• The foreign-policy crises with England and France described in this chapter will lead to the War of 1812, discussed in Chapter 9.

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The best introduction to the early Federalists remains John C. Miller’s The Federalist Era, 1789–1801 (1960). Other works analyze the ideological debates among the nation’s first leaders. Richard Buel Jr.’s Securing the Revo- lution: Ideology in American Politics, 1789–1815 (1972), Joyce Appleby’s Cap- italism and a New Social Order: The Republican Vision of the 1790s (1984), Drew R. McCoy’s The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy (1989), and Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick’s The Age of Federal- ism: The Early American Republic, 1788–1800 (1993) trace the persistence and transformation of ideas first fostered during the Revolutionary crisis.

The 1790s may also be understood through the views and behavior of na- tional leaders. Joseph J. Ellis’s Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (2000) is a superb group study. See also the following biographies: Richard Brookhiser’s Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington (1996) and Alexander Hamilton, American (1999) and Joseph J. Ellis’s Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams (1993). For a female perspective, see Phyllis Lee Levin’s Abigail Adams: A Biography (1987). The Republican view- point is the subject of Lance Banning’s The Jeffersonian Persuasion: Evolution of a Party Ideology (1978).

Federalist foreign policy is explored in Jerald A. Comb’s The Jay Treaty: Po- litical Battleground of the Founding Fathers (1970) and William Stinchcombe’s The XYZ Affair (1980). For specific domestic issues, see Thomas P. Slaugh- ter’s The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution (1986) and Harry Ammon’s The Genet Mission (1973). The treatment of In- dians in the Old Northwest is explored in Richard H. Kohn’s Eagle and Sword: The Federalists and the Creation of the Military Establishment in Amer- ica, 1783–1802 (1975). For the Alien and Sedition Acts, consult James Mor- ton Smith’s Freedom’s Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties (1966).

Several books focus on social issues of the post-Revolutionary period, in- cluding Keepers of the Revolution: New Yorkers at Work in the Early Republic (1992), edited by Paul A. Gilje and Howard B. Rock; Ronald Schultz’s The Republic of Labor: Philadelphia Artisans and the Politics of Class, 1720–1830 (1993); and Peter Way’s Common Labour: Workers and the Digging of North American Canals, 1780–1860 (1993).

The African-American experience in the Revolutionary era is detailed in Mechal Sobel’s The World They Made Together: Black and White Values in Eighteenth-Century Virginia (1987) and Gary B. Nash’s Forging Freedom: The Formation of Philadelphia’s Black Community, 1720–1840 (1988).

Further Reading • 319

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The early years of the new republic laid the foundation for thenation’s development as the first society in the world orga-nized by the principle of democratic capitalism and its promise of equal opportunity for all—except slaves, Indians, and women. White American men in the fifty years after independence were on the move and on the make. Their prospects seemed unlimited, their optimism unre- strained. As John Adams observed, “There is no people on earth so ambi- tious as the people of America . . . because the lowest can aspire as freely as the highest.”

Land sales west of the Appalachian Mountains soared in the early nine- teenth century as aspiring farmers shoved Indians aside in order to establish homesteads of their own. Enterprising, mobile, and increasingly diverse in religion and national origin, tens of thousands of ordinary folk uprooted themselves from settled communities and went in search of personal ad- vancement, occupying more territory in a single generation than had been




• What were the domestic policies of the Republicans once they were in power?

• How did politics divide the early republic?

• What were the causes and effects of the War of 1812?

To answer these questions and access additional review material, please visit www.wwnorton.com/studyspace.

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The Early Republic • 321

settled in the 150 years of colonial history. “Never again,” as the historian Joyce Appleby wrote, “would so large a portion of the nation live in new set- tlements.” Between 1800 and 1820 the trans-Appalachian population soared from 300,000 to 2 million. By 1840, over 40 percent of Americans lived west of the mountains in eight new states.

The migrants flowed westward in three streams between 1780 and 1830. One ran from the Old South—Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas—through Georgia into the newer states of Alabama and Mississippi. Another wave tra- versed the Blue Ridge Mountains from Maryland and Virginia, crossing into Kentucky and Tennessee. The third route was in the North, taking New Englan- ders westward across the Berkshires into New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. Many of the pioneers stayed only a few years before continuing west- ward in search of cheaper and more fertile land.

The spirit of opportunistic independence affected free African Americans as well as whites, Indians as well as immigrants. Free blacks were the fastest growing segment of the population during the early nineteenth century. Many enslaved Americans had gained their freedom during the Revolution- ary War by escaping, by joining the British forces, or by serving in American units. Every state except South Carolina promised freedom to slaves who fought the British. Afterward, state after state in the North outlawed slavery, and anti-slavery societies blossomed, exerting increasing pressure on the South to end the degrading practice. The westward migration of whites brought incessant conflict with Native Americans. Indians fiercely resisted but ultimately succumbed to a federal government and a federal army deter- mined to displace them.

Most white Americans, however, were less concerned about Indians and slavery than they were about seizing their own opportunities. Politicians sought to suppress the volatile issue of slavery rather than confront it; their priorities were elsewhere. Westward expansion, economic growth, urban de- velopment, and the democratization of politics fostered a pervasive entrepre- neurial spirit among the generation of Americans born after 1776—especially outside the South. In 1790 nine out of ten Americans lived on the land and en- gaged in what is called household production; their sphere of activity was lo- cal. But with each passing year, farmers increasingly focused on producing surplus crops and livestock to be sold in regional markets. Cotton prices soared, and in the process the Deep South grew ever more committed to a plantation economy dependent upon slave labor, New England merchants, and world markets. The burgeoning market economy produced boom-and-bust cycles, but overall the years from 1790 to 1830 were quite prosperous, with young Americans experiencing a “widening scope of opportunity.”

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The colonial economy had been organized according to what Great Britain wanted from its New World possessions. This dependency brought the hated imperial restrictions on manufacturing, commerce, and shipping. With independence, however, Americans could create new industries, pur- sue new careers, and exploit new markets. It was not simply Alexander Hamilton’s financial initiatives and the actions of wealthy investors and speculators that sparked America’s dramatic commercial growth in these years. It was also the efforts of ordinary men and women who were willing to take risks, uproot families, use unstable paper money issued by unregulated local banks, purchase factory-made goods, and tinker with new machines and tools. Free enterprise was the keynote of the era.

While most Americans continued to work as farmers, a growing number of young adults found employment in new or greatly expanded enterprises: textiles, banking, transportation, publishing, retailing, teaching, preaching, medicine, law, construction, and engineering. Technological innovations (steam power, power tools, and new modes of transportation) and their so- cial applications (mass communication, turnpikes, the postal service, banks, and corporations) fostered an array of new industries and businesses. The emergence of a factory system transformed the nature of work for many Americans. Proud apprentices, journeymen, and master craftsmen, who controlled their labor and invested their work with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity, resented the proliferation of mills and factories popu- lated by “half-trained” workers dependent upon an hourly wage and subject to the sharp fluctuations of the larger economy.

The decentralized agrarian republic of 1776, nestled along the Atlantic seaboard, had become by 1830 a sprawling commercial nation connected by networks of roads and canals and cemented by economic relationships—all animated by a restless spirit of enterprise, experimentation, and expansion.


On March 4, 1801, the fifty-seven-year-old Thomas Jefferson, tall and thin, with red hair and a ruddy complexion, became the first president to be inaugurated in the new federal city, Washington, District of Columbia. The city was still a motley array of buildings around two centers, Capitol Hill and the executive mansion. Congress, having met in eight towns and cities since 1774, had at last found a permanent home but enjoyed few amenities. There were only two places of amusement, one a racetrack, the other a theater thick with “tobacco smoke, whiskey breaths, and other stenches.”


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Jeffersonian Simplicity • 323

Jefferson’s informal inauguration befitted the primitive surroundings. The new president left his lodgings and walked down a stump-strewn Penn- sylvania Avenue to the unfinished Capitol. He entered the Senate chamber, took the oath administered by Chief Justice John Marshall, read his inau- gural address in a barely audible voice, and returned to his boardinghouse for dinner. A tone of simplicity and conciliation ran through his inaugural speech. The campaign between Federalists and Republicans had been so fierce that some had predicted civil war. Jefferson appealed for unity. “We are all Republicans—we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” Jefferson concluded with a summary of the “essential principles” that would guide his adminis- tration: “Equal and exact justice to all men . . . ; peace, commerce, and hon- est friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none . . . ; freedom of religion; freedom of the press; and freedom of person, under the protec- tion of the habeas corpus; and trial by juries impartially selected. . . . The

The New Federal City

Plan of Washington, D.C., from 1792.

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wisdom of our sages and the blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment.”


The deliberate display of republican simplicity at Jefferson’s inaugura- tion set the style of his administration. Although a man of expensive per- sonal tastes, he took pains to avoid the occasions of pomp and circumstance that had characterized the Federalist administrations and to his mind sug- gested the trappings of monarchy. Presidential messages went to Congress in writing lest they resemble the parliamentary speech from the throne. The practice also allowed Jefferson, a notoriously bad public speaker, to exploit his skill as a superb writer.

Jefferson liked to think of his election as the “revolution of 1800,” but the electoral margin had been razor thin, and the policies that he followed were more conciliatory than revolutionary. His overwhelming reelection in 1804 attests to the popularity of his philosophy. Jefferson placed in policy-making positions men of his own party, and he was the first president to pursue the role of party leader, cultivating congressional support at his dinner parties and elsewhere. In the cabinet the leading figures were Secretary of State James Madison, a longtime neighbor and political ally, and Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, a Swiss-born Pennsylvania Republican whose


The Executive Mansion

A watercolor of the president’s house during Jefferson’s term in office. Jefferson called it “big enough for two emperors, one pope, and the grand lama in the bargain.”

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Jefferson in Office • 325

financial skills had won him the respect of the Federalists. In an effort to cultivate Federalist New England, Jefferson chose men from that region for the positions of attorney general, secretary of war, and postmaster general.

In lesser offices, however, Jefferson often succumbed to pressure from the Republicans to remove Federalists. In one area he removed the offices rather than the appointees. In 1802 Congress repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801 and so abolished the circuit judgeships and other offices to which John Adams had made his “midnight appointments.” A new judiciary act restored to six the number of Supreme Court justices and set up six circuit courts, each headed by a justice.

M A R B U RY V. M A D I S O N The “midnight appointments” that John Adams made just before leaving office sparked the pathbreaking case of Marbury v. Madison (1803), the first in which the Supreme Court declared a federal law unconstitutional. The case involved the appointment of the Maryland Federalist William Marbury as justice of the peace in the District of Columbia. Marbury’s letter of appointment, or commission, signed by President Adams two days before he left office, was still undelivered when Madison took office as secretary of state, and Jefferson directed him to with- hold it. Marbury then sued for a court order (a writ of mandamus) directing Madison to deliver his commission.

The Court’s unanimous opinion, written by Chief Justice John Marshall, a brilliant Virginian, held that Marbury deserved his commission but then de- nied that the Court had jurisdiction in the case. Section 13 of the Federal Ju- diciary Act of 1789, which gave the Court original jurisdiction in mandamus proceedings, was unconstitutional, the Court ruled, because the Constitu- tion specified that the Court should have original jurisdiction only in cases involving ambassadors or states. The Court, therefore, could issue no order in the case. With one bold stroke the Federalist Marshall had chastised the Jeffersonians while avoiding an awkward confrontation with an administra- tion that might have defied his order. At the same time he established the stunning precedent of the Court’s declaring a federal law invalid on the grounds that it violated provisions of the Constitution. Marshall stressed that it “is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” In other words, the Supreme Court was assuming the right of judicial review, meaning that it would decide whether acts of Congress were constitutional. So even though Marbury never gained his judgeship, Marshall established the Supreme Court as the final judge of constitutional in- terpretation. Since the Marbury decision the Court has struck down over 150 acts of Congress and over 1,100 acts of state legislatures.

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The Court’s decision, about which Jefferson could do nothing, con- firmed his fear of the judges’ partisanship, and he resolved to counter the Federalist influence. In 1804 Republicans used the impeachment power against two of the most partisan Federalist judges and succeeded in oust- ing one of them, District Judge John Pickering of New Hampshire. Picker- ing was clearly insane, which was not a “high crime or misdemeanor,” but he was also given to profane and drunken harangues from the bench, which the Senate quickly decided was an impeachable offense.

D O M E S T I C R E F O R M S Jefferson’s first term was a succession of triumphs in both domestic and foreign affairs. The president did not set out to dismantle Alexander Hamilton’s economic program. Under the tutelage of Treasury Secretary Gallatin, he learned to accept the national bank as an essential convenience, and he did not endorse the bank’s repeal, which more dogmatic Republicans promoted. It was too late, of course, to undo Hamil- ton’s funding and debt-assumption operations but none too soon, in the opinion of both Jefferson and Gallatin, to begin retiring the resultant federal debt. Jefferson detested Hamilton’s belief that a regulated federal debt was a national “blessing” because it gave the bankers and investors who lent money to the U.S. government a direct stake in the success of the new repub- lic. Jefferson believed that a large federal debt would bring only high taxes and government corruption, so he set about reducing government expenses and paying down the debt. At the same time he won the repeal of the whiskey tax and other Federalist excises, much to the relief of backwoods distillers, drinkers, and grain farmers.

Without income from the excise taxes, frugality was all the more necessary to a federal government dependent chiefly upon tariffs and the sale of west- ern lands for its revenue. Happily for the Treasury, both sources of income flourished. The European war continually increased American shipping traf- fic, and thus tariff revenues padded the federal Treasury. At the same time, settlers flocked to western land they purchased from the government. Ohio’s admission to the Union in 1803 increased to seventeen the number of states.

By the “wise and frugal government” the president promised in his inau- gural address, Jefferson and Gallatin reasoned, the United States could live within its income, like a prudent farmer. The basic formula was simple: cut back military expenses. A standing army menaced a free society anyway, Jefferson believed. It therefore should be kept to a minimum and the na- tional defense left, in Jefferson’s words, to “a well-disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace, and for the first moments of war, till regulars may relieve them.” The navy, which the Federalists had already reduced, ought to be


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Jefferson in Office • 327

reduced further. Coastal defense, Jefferson argued, should rely upon land- based fortifications and a “mosquito fleet” of small gunboats.

In 1807 Jeffersonian reforms culminated in an act that outlawed the for- eign slave trade as of January 1, 1808, the earliest date possible under the Constitution. At the time, South Carolina was the only state that still permit- ted the trade, having reopened it in 1803. But for years to come, an illegal traffic would continue. By one informal estimate perhaps 300,000 enslaved blacks were smuggled into the United States between 1808 and 1861.

T H E B A R B A RY P I R AT E S Issues of foreign relations intruded upon Jefferson early in his term, when events in the Mediterranean gave him sec- ond thoughts about the need for a navy. On the Barbary Coast of North Africa, the rulers of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli had for years prac- ticed piracy and extortion. After the Revolution, American shipping in the Mediterranean became fair game, no longer protected by British payments of tribute. The new U.S. government yielded up protection money too, first to Morocco in 1786, then to the others in the 1790s. In 1801, however, the pasha of Tripoli upped his demands and declared war on the United States by the symbolic gesture of chopping down the flagpole at the U.S. consulate. Jefferson sent warships to blockade Tripoli.

A wearisome war dragged on until 1805, punctuated in 1804 by the no- table exploit of Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, who slipped in to Tripoli har- bor by night and set fire to the frigate Philadelphia, which had been captured

Cincinnati in 1800

Though its population was only about 750, its inhabitants were already promoting Cincinnati as “the metropolis of the NorthWestern Territory.”

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(along with its crew) after it ran aground. The pasha finally settled for a $60,000 ransom and released the Philadelphia’s crew, whom he had held hostage for more than a year. It was still tribute, but less than the $300,000 the pasha had demanded at first and much less than the cost of war.

T H E L O U I S I A N A P U R C H A S E While the conflict with the Barbary pi- rates continued, events elsewhere led to the greatest single achievement of the Jefferson administration. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 more than doubled the territory of the United States. It included the entire Mississippi River valley west of the river itself. Louisiana, settled by the French, had been ceded to Spain by victorious Great Britain in 1763 in exchange for West Florida. Since that time the dream of retaking Louisiana had stirred the French. In 1800 Napoléon had secured its return to France. When word of the deal between Spain and France reached Washington in 1801, Jefferson hastened the New Yorker Robert R. Livingston, the new U.S. minister to France, on his way to Paris. Spain in control of the Mississippi River outlet was bad enough, but Napoléon in control could only mean serious trouble. “The day that France takes possession of New Orleans,” Jefferson wrote Liv- ingston, “we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation,” an un- happy prospect for the French-loving Jefferson.

Negotiations with the French dragged into 1803 while Spanish forces remained in control in Louisiana, awaiting the arrival of the French. Early that year, Jefferson sent his trusted Virginia friend James Monroe to assist Livingston in Paris. But no sooner had Monroe arrived than Napoléon’s foreign minister, Talleyrand, surprised Livingston by asking if the United States would like to buy the whole of the Louisiana Territory. Livingston, once he regained his composure, snapped up the offer.

Disease again played an important role in shaping history. Napoléon was willing to sell the territory because his French army in Haiti had been deci- mated not only by a slave revolt but also by yellow fever. Concerned about fi- nancing another round of warfare in Europe, Napoléon decided to cut French losses in the New World by selling the North American property.

By the treaty of cession, dated April 30, 1803, the United States obtained the Louisiana Territory for about $15 million. The treaty was vague in defin- ing the precise boundaries of the territory stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. When Livingston asked about the bound- aries, Talleyrand responded: “I can give you no direction. You have made a noble bargain for yourselves, and I suppose you will make the most of it.”

The surprising turn of events had presented Jefferson with a “noble bar- gain,” a great new “empire of liberty,” but also with a constitutional dilemma.


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Jefferson in Office • 329

Nowhere did the Constitution mention the purchase of territory. Jefferson at first suggested a constitutional amendment, but his advisers argued against delay lest Napoléon change his mind. The power to purchase territory, they reasoned, resided in the power to make treaties. Jefferson relented, trusting, he said, “that the good sense of our country will correct the evil of loose con- struction when it shall produce ill effects.” New England Federalists boggled at the prospect of new western states that would probably strengthen the Jef- fersonian party. They aimed their fire at a proviso in the treaty that the inhab- itants be “incorporated in the Union” as citizens. In a reversal that anticipated many more reversals on constitutional issues, Federalists found themselves arguing for strict construction of the Constitution while Republicans brushed aside their scruples in favor of implied power. Gaining over 800,000 square miles trumped any legal reservations.

The Senate ratified the treaty by an overwhelming vote of twenty-six to six, and on December 20, 1803, U.S. officials took formal possession of the sprawling Louisiana Territory. For the time being the Spanish kept West Florida, but within a decade that area would be ripe for the plucking. In 1808 Napoléon put his brother on the throne of Spain. With the Spanish colonial administration in disarray, American settlers in 1810 staged a re- bellion in Baton Rouge and proclaimed the republic of West Florida, which was quickly annexed and occupied by the United States as far east as the Pearl River. In 1812, upon becoming the Union’s eighteenth state, Louisiana absorbed the region, still known as the Florida parishes. In 1813, with Spain itself a battlefield for French and British forces, Americans took over the rest of West Florida, the Gulf coast of the future states of Mississippi and Alabama. Legally, the U.S. government has claimed ever since, all these areas were included in the Louisiana Purchase.

L E W I S A N D C L A R K As an amateur scientist long before he became president, Thomas Jefferson wished to nourish his curiosity about the vast region west of the Mississippi River, its geography, its flora and fauna, and its prospects for trade and agriculture. Thus in 1803 he asked Congress to fi- nance a mapping and scientific expedition to the far Northwest, beyond the Mississippi River, in what was still foreign territory. Congress approved, and Jefferson assigned as commanders the twenty-nine-year-old Meriwether Lewis, his former private secretary, and another Virginian, a former army of- ficer, William Clark.

In 1804 the “Corps of Discovery,” numbering nearly fifty, set out from the small village of St. Louis to ascend the muddy Missouri River. Forced to live off the land, they quickly adapted to the new environment. Local Indians

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introduced them to clothes made from deer hides and taught them hunting techniques. Lewis and Clark kept detailed journals of their travels and drew maps of the unexplored regions. As they moved up the Missouri, the land- scape changed from forest to prairie grass. They saw huge herds of bison and other animals, which had become more abundant after a smallpox epidemic had wiped out most of the Indian villages in the area. They passed trappers and traders headed south with rafts and boats laden with furs. Six months af- ter leaving St. Louis, near the Mandan Sioux villages in what would become North Dakota, they built Fort Mandan and wintered in relative comfort,


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sending downriver a barge loaded with maps, soil samples, and live specimens such as the prairie dog and the magpie, previously unknown in America.

In the spring, Lewis and Clark added to their main party a remarkable Shoshone woman named Sacagawea, who proved an enormous help as an interpreter of Indian languages, and the group set out westward into un- charted territory. At the head of the Missouri River, they took the north fork, which they named the Jefferson River, crossed the Rocky Mountains at Lemhi Pass, and in dugout canoes descended the Snake and Columbia rivers to the Pacific. Near the future site of Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia, they built Fort Clatsop, in which they spent the winter. The fol- lowing spring they split into two parties, with Lewis heading back by almost the same route and Clark going by way of the Yellowstone River. They re- joined at the juncture of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, returning to- gether to St. Louis in 1806, having been gone nearly two and a half years. Along the way they had been chased by grizzly bears, attacked and aided by Indians, buffeted by blizzards and illness, and forced by starvation to eat their own horses. “I have been wet and as cold in every part as I ever was in my life,” William Clark wrote in his journal. “Indeed I was at one time fearful my feet would freeze in the thin moccasins which I wore.” But the intrepid discoverers had, in their own words, “proceeded on” day after day against the odds.

Jefferson in Office • 331

Exploring the Far Northwest

Captain Clark and his men shooting bears, from a book of engravings of the Lewis and Clark expedition (ca. 1810).

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No longer was the far West unknown country. It would be nearly a cen- tury before a good edition of the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition appeared in print; many of the explorers’ findings came out piecemeal, how- ever, including an influential map in 1814. Their reports of friendly Indians and abundant beaver pelts quickly attracted traders and trappers to the re- gion and gave the United States a claim to the Oregon Country by right of discovery and exploration.

P O L I T I C A L S C H E M E S Jefferson’s policies, including the Louisiana Purchase, brought him solid support in the South and the West. Even New Englanders were moving to his side. By 1809 John Quincy Adams, the son of the second president, would become a Republican! Federalists read the hand- writing on the wall. The acquisition of a vast new empire in the West would reduce New England and the Federalist party to insignificance in political af- fairs. Under the leadership of Thomas Pickering, secretary of state under Washington and Adams and now a U.S. senator, a group of ardent Massachu- setts Federalists called the Essex Junto considered seceding from the Union, an idea that would simmer in New England circles for another decade.

Federalists also hatched a scheme to link New York with New England and consequently contacted Vice President Aaron Burr, who had been on the outs with the Jeffersonians. Their plan, which depended upon Burr’s elec- tion as governor of New York, could not win the support of even the extreme Federalists: Alexander Hamilton bitterly opposed it on the grounds that Burr was “a dangerous man, and one who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government.”

Those remarks led to Hamilton’s famous duel with Burr, in July 1804 at Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton personally opposed dueling, but his ro- mantic streak and sense of honor compelled him to meet the vice president’s challenge and demonstrate his courage—he was determined not to fire at his opponent. Burr had no such scruples. On a grassy ledge about the Hudson River, he shot Hamilton through the heart. Hamilton went to his death, as his son had gone to his in a similar affair, also settled in Weehawken, the pre- vious year. Hamilton’s death ended both Pickering’s scheme and Burr’s po- litical career—but not Burr’s intrigues.

Burr would lose the gubernatorial election. In the meantime the presidential campaign of 1804 began when a congressional caucus of Republicans renomi- nated Jefferson and chose the New Yorker George Clinton for vice president. (By then, to avoid the problems associated with parties running multiple candi- dates for the presidency, Congress had passed, and the states would soon ratify, the Twelfth Amendment, providing that electors use separate ballots to vote for


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the president and vice president.) Opposed by the Federalists Charles C. Pinck- ney and Rufus King, Jefferson and Clinton won 162 of the 176 electoral votes. It was the first landslide election in American history. Jefferson’s policy of concili- ation had made him a national rather than a sectional candidate.


J O H N R A N D O L P H A N D T H E O L D R E P U B L I C A N S Freed from a strong opposition—Federalists made up only one quarter of the new Congress—the Republican majority began to fragment. The Virginian John Randolph—known as John Randolph of Roanoke—initially a loyal Jeffersonian, became the most conspicuous of the dissidents. He was a powerful combina- tion of principle, eccentricity, and rancor. Famous for his venomous assaults delivered in a shrill soprano, the colorful congressman strutted about the House floor with a whip in his hand, a symbol of his relish for contrarian positions. Few colleagues had the stomach for his tongue-lashings.

Randolph became the crusty spokesman for a shifting group of “old Repub- licans,” whose adherence to party principles had rendered them more Jeffer- sonian than Jefferson himself. The Old Republicans were mostly southerners who defended states’ rights and strict construction of the Constitution. They opposed any compromise with the Federalists and promoted an agrarian way of life. The Jeffersonian, or moderate, Republicans tended to be more prag- matic and nationalist in their orientation. As Thomas Jefferson himself demonstrated, they were willing to go along with tariffs and national banks.

T H E B U R R C O N S P I R AC Y Sheer brilliance and opportunism had car- ried Aaron Burr to the vice presidency in 1800. He might easily have become Jefferson’s heir apparent, but a taste for intrigue was the tragic flaw in his char- acter. Caught up in the dubious schemes of Federalist diehards in 1800 and again in 1804, he ended his political career for good when he killed Alexander Hamilton. Indicted for murder and heavily in debt, the vice president fled to Spanish-held Florida. Once the furor subsided, he boldly returned to Wash- ington to preside over the Senate. As long as he stayed out of New York and New Jersey, he was safe.

But Burr focused his attention less on the Senate than on a cockeyed scheme to carve out a personal empire for himself in the West. What came to be known as the Burr conspiracy was hatched when Burr met with General James Wilkinson. Just what Wilkinson and Burr were up to may never be known. The most likely explanation is that they conspired to get the Louisiana Territory

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to secede and set up an independent republic. Earlier Burr had solicited British support for his scheme to sep- arate “the western part of the United States in its whole extent.”

Whatever the goal, Burr learned in early 1807 that Jefferson had ordered his arrest. He tried to flee to Florida but was caught and taken to Rich- mond, Virginia. Charged with trea- son, Burr was brought for trial before Chief Justice John Marshall. The case revealed both Marshall and Jefferson at their partisan worst, and it established two major constitutional precedents. First, Jefferson ignored a subpoena re- quiring him to appear in court with certain papers in his possession. He re- fused, as had George Washington, to submit papers to Congress on the

grounds that the independence of the executive branch would be compro- mised if the president were subject to a court writ. The second major precedent was Marshall’s rigid definition of treason. Treason under the Constitution, Marshall wrote, consists of “levying war against the United States or adhering to their enemies” and requires “two witnesses to the same overt act” for con- viction. Since the prosecution failed to produce two witnesses to an overt act of treason by Burr, the jury found him not guilty.

Whether or not Burr escaped his just deserts, Marshall’s strict construction of the Constitution protected the United States, as its framers clearly intended, from the capricious judgments of “treason” that governments through the cen- turies have used to terrorize dissenters. As for Burr, with further charges pend- ing, he skipped bail and took refuge in France but returned unmolested in 1812 to practice law in New York. He survived to a virile old age. At age seventy-eight, shortly before his death in 1836, he was divorced on grounds of adultery.


Oppositionists of whatever stripe were more an annoyance than a threat to Jefferson. The more intractable problems of his second term


Aaron Burr

Burr graduated from what is now Princeton University, where he changed his course of study from the- ology to law.

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involved the renewal of the European war in 1803, which helped resolve the problem of Louisiana but put more strains on Jefferson’s desire to avoid “en- tangling alliances” and the quarrels of Europe. In 1805 Napoléon’s crushing defeat of Russian and Austrian forces at Austerlitz left him in control of west- ern Europe. The same year, Britain’s defeat of the French and Spanish fleets in the Battle of Trafalgar secured control of the seas. The war devolved into a bat- tle of elephant and whale, Napoléon dominant on land, the British dominant on the water, neither able to strike a decisive blow at the other, and neither re- strained by concerns over neutral rights or international law.

H A R A S S M E N T B Y B R I TA I N A N D F R A N C E For two years after the renewal of European warfare, American shippers reaped the benefits, taking over trade with the French and Spanish West Indies. But in the case of the Essex (1805), a British court ruled that the practice of shipping French and Spanish goods through U.S. ports on their way elsewhere did not neutralize enemy goods. The practice violated the British rule of 1756, under which trade closed in time of peace remained closed in time of war. Goods shipped in violation of the rule, the British held, were liable to seizure at any point under the doctrine of continuous voyage. In 1807 the commercial provisions of Jay’s Treaty expired, and James Monroe, the U.S. minister to Great Britain, failed to get a renewal satisfactory to Jefferson. After that the British interfer- ence with American shipping increased, not just to keep supplies from Napoléon’s continent but also to hobble competition with British merchant ships.

In a series of orders in council adopted in 1806 and 1807, the British gov- ernment set up a “paper blockade” of Europe that barred all trade between England and continental Europe. Moreover, vessels headed for European ports were required to get British licenses and were subject to British in- spection. It was a paper blockade because even the powerful British navy was not large enough to monitor every European port. Napoléon retaliated with his “Continental System,” proclaimed in the Berlin Decree of 1806 and the Milan Decree of 1807. In the Berlin Decree he declared his own paper blockade of the British Isles and barred British ships from ports under French control. In the Milan Decree he ruled that neutral ships that com- plied with British regulations were subject to seizure when they reached Continental ports. The situation presented American shippers with a dilemma: if they complied with the demands of one side, they were subject to seizure by the other.

The risks were daunting, but the prospects for profits were so great that American shippers ran the risk. For seamen the danger was heightened by a

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renewal of the practice of im- pressment. The use of press- gangs to kidnap men in British (and colonial) ports was a long- standing method of recruitment used by the British navy. The seizure of British subjects from American vessels became a new source of recruits, justified on the principle that British citi- zens remained British subjects for life: “Once an Englishman, always an Englishman.” Mis- takes might be made, of course, since it was sometimes hard to distinguish British subjects from Americans; indeed, a flourishing trade in fake citizenship papers arose in American ports. Im- pressment was mostly confined to merchant vessels, but on at least two occasions before 1807 vessels of the U.S. Navy had been stopped on the high seas and seamen removed.

In the summer of 1807, the British frigate Leopard accosted a U.S. naval vessel, the frigate Chesapeake, just outside territorial waters off Norfolk, Virginia. After the Chesapeake’s captain refused to be searched, the Leop- ard opened fire, killing three Americans and wounding eighteen. The Chesapeake, unready for battle, was forced to strike its colors. A British search party seized four men, one of whom was later hanged for desertion from the British navy. Soon after the Chesapeake limped back into Norfolk, the Washington Federalist editorialized: “We have never, on any occasion, witnessed . . . such a thirst for revenge.” Public wrath was so aroused that Jefferson could have had a war on the spot. Had Congress been in session, he might have been forced into one. But Jefferson, like John Adams before him, resisted war fever—and suffered politically as a result. One Federalist called him a “dish of skim milk curdling at the head of our nation.”

T H E E M B A R G O Jefferson resolved to use public indignation at the British to promote “peaceable coercion.” In 1807, in response to his request, Congress passed the Embargo Act, which stopped all exports of American


Preparation for War to Defend Commerce

In 1806 and 1807 American shipping was caught in the crossfire of the war between Britain and France.

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goods and prohibited American ships from leaving for foreign ports. The con- stitutional basis of the embargo was the power to regulate commerce, which in this case Republicans interpreted broadly as the power to prohibit commerce.

Jefferson’s embargo failed from the beginning, however, because few Americans were willing to make the necessary sacrifices. The idealistic spirit that had made economic pressures effective in the pre-Revolutionary crises was lack- ing. Illegal trade with Britain and France remained profitable despite the risks, and violation of Jefferson’s embargo was almost laughably easy. While American ships sat idle in ports, their crews laid off and unpaid, smugglers flourished and the British enjoyed a near monopoly of legitimate trade. As it turned out, France was little hurt by the embargo. The lack of American cotton hurt some British manufacturers and workers, but they carried little weight with the government, and British shippers benefited. With American ports closed, they found a new trade in Latin American ports thrown open by the colonial authorities when Napoléon occupied the mother countries of Spain and Portugal.

American resistance to the embargo revived the Federalist party in New England, which renewed the charge that Jefferson was in league with the French. At the same time, farmers in the South and West suffered for want of foreign outlets for their grain, cotton, and tobacco. After fifteen months of

War in Europe • 337

The Election of 1808

This 1807 Federalist cartoon compares Washington and Jefferson. Washington (left) is flanked by the British lion and the American eagle, while Jefferson (right) is flanked by a snake and a lizard. Below Jefferson are volumes by French philosophers.

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ineffectiveness, Jefferson accepted failure and repealed the embargo in 1809, shortly before he relinquished the “splendid misery” of the presidency.

In the election of 1808 the presidential succession passed to another Virginian, Secretary of State James Madison. George Clinton was again the candidate for vice president. The Federalists, backing Charles C. Pinckney of South Carolina and Rufus King of New York, revived enough as a result of the embargo to win 47 electoral votes to Madison’s 122.

T H E D R I F T T O WA R From the beginning, James Madison’s presi- dency was entangled in foreign affairs. Still insisting on neutral rights and freedom of the seas, Madison pursued Jefferson’s policy of “peaceable coer- cion” by different but no more effective means. In place of the embargo, Congress had substituted the Nonintercourse Act, which reopened trade with all countries except France and Great Britain and authorized the presi- dent to reopen trade with whichever of these gave up its restrictions. The British minister in Washington, David Erskine, assured Madison’s secretary of state that Britain would revoke its restrictions in 1809. With that assur- ance, Madison reopened trade with Britain, but Erskine had acted on his own, and the foreign secretary, repudiating his action, recalled him. Nonin- tercourse resumed, but it proved as ineffective as the embargo. In the vain search for an alternative, Congress in 1810 reversed itself and adopted a measure introduced by Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina, Macon’s bill number 2, which reopened trade with the warring powers but provided that if either dropped its restrictions, nonintercourse would be restored with the other.

This time, Napoléon took a turn at trying to bamboozle Madison. Napoléon’s foreign minister, the duke de Cadore, informed the U.S. minister in Paris that he had withdrawn the Berlin and Milan Decrees, but the care- fully worded Cadore letter had strings attached: revocation of the decrees depended upon withdrawal of the British orders in council. The strings were plain to see, but Madison either misunderstood or, more likely, went along in the hope of putting pressure on the British. The British initially refused to give in, and on June 1, 1812, Madison reluctantly asked Congress to declare war. On June 16, 1812, however, the British foreign minister, facing eco- nomic crisis, announced revocation of the orders in council. Britain pre- ferred not to risk war with the United States on top of its war with Napoléon. But on June 18, 1812, not having heard of the British actions, Congress concurred with Madison’s request. With more time, with more pa- tience, or with a transatlantic cable, Madison’s policy would have been vin- dicated without resort to war.


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T H E WA R O F 1812

C AU S E S The main cause of the war—the demand for neutral shipping rights—seems clear enough. Neutral rights dominated Madison’s war mes- sage and provided the salient reason for a mounting hostility toward the British. Yet the geographic distribution of the congressional vote for war raises a troubling question. The preponderance of the vote came from mem- bers of Congress representing the farm regions from Pennsylvania south- ward and westward. The maritime states of New York and New England, the region that bore the brunt of British attacks on U.S. trade, voted against the declaration of war. One explanation for this seeming anomaly is simple enough. The farming regions suffered damage to their markets for grain, cotton, and tobacco while New England shippers made profits from smug- gling in spite of the British restrictions.

Other plausible explanations for the sectional vote, however, include frontier Indian attacks that were blamed on the British, western land hunger, and the desire for new land in Canada and the Floridas. Indian troubles were endemic to a rapidly expanding West. Land-hungry settlers and speculators kept moving out ahead of government surveys and sales in search of fertile acres. The constant pressure to open new lands repeatedly forced or persuaded Indians to sign treaties they did not always understand, causing stronger resentment among tribes that were losing more and more of their land. It was an old story, dat- ing from the Jamestown settlement, but one that took a new turn with the rise of two Shawnee leaders, Tecumseh and his twin brother, Tenskwatawa, “the Prophet.”

Tecumseh saw with blazing clarity the consequences of Indian disunity. From his base on the Tippecanoe River in northern Indiana, he traveled from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico in an ef- fort to form a confederation of tribes to defend Indian hunting grounds,

The War of 1812 • 339


The Shawnee leader who tried to unite Indian tribes in defense of their land. He was killed in 1813 at the Battle of the Thames.

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insisting that no land cession was valid without the consent of all tribes, since they held the land in common. His brother supplied the inspiration of a religious revival, calling upon Indians to worship the “Master of Life,” re- sist the white man’s liquor, and lead a simple life within their means. By 1811 Tecumseh had matured his plans and headed south to win the Creeks, Cherokees, Choctaws, and Chickasaws to his cause.

William Henry Harrison, the governor of the Indiana Territory, learned of Tecumseh’s plans, met with him twice, and pronounced him “one of those uncommon geniuses who spring up occasionally to produce revolu- tions and overturn the established order of things.” In the fall of 1811, Har- rison decided that Tecumseh must be stopped. He gathered 1,000 troops and advanced on Tecumseh’s capital, Prophetstown, on the Tippecanoe River, while the leader was away. Tecumseh’s followers attacked Harrison’s encampment on the Tippecanoe River, although Tecumseh had warned against any fighting in his absence. The Shawnees lost a bloody engagement that left about one quarter of Harrison’s men dead or wounded. Only later did Harrison realize that he had inflicted a defeat on the Indians, who had become so demoralized that many fled to Canada. Harrison burned the town and destroyed its supplies. Tecumseh’s dreams of an Indian confeder- acy went up in smoke, and Tecumseh himself fled to British protection in Canada.

The Battle of Tippecanoe reinforced suspicions that the British were incit- ing the Indians. Actually the incident was mainly Harrison’s doing. With little hope of help from war-torn Europe, British officials in Canada had steered a careful course, discouraging warfare but seeking to keep the Indians’ friend- ship and fur trade. To eliminate the Indian menace, frontiersmen reasoned, they needed to remove its foreign support, and they saw the province of On- tario as a pistol pointing at the United States. Conquest of Canada would ac- complish a twofold purpose: it would eliminate British influence among the Indians and open a new empire for land-hungry Americans. It was also one place where the British, in case of war, were vulnerable to an American at- tack. Madison and others acted on the mistaken assumption that the Cana- dians were eager to be liberated from British control. Thomas Jefferson had told Madison that the American “acquisition of Canada” was “[a] matter of marchin [north with a military force].” To the far south the British were also vulnerable. East Florida, still under Spanish control, posed a similar threat to the Americans. Spain was too weak or simply unwilling to prevent sporadic Indian attacks across the frontier. In addition, the British were suspected of smuggling goods through Florida and intriguing with the Indians on the southwestern border.


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Such concerns helped generate war fever. In the Congress that assembled in late 1811, new members from southern and western districts clamored for war in defense of “national honor.” Among them were Henry Clay and Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky, Felix Grundy of Tennessee, and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. John Randolph of Roanoke christened these “new boys” the war hawks. After they entered the House, Randolph said, “We have heard but one word—like the whip-poor-will, but one eternal monoto- nous tone—Canada! Canada! Canada!” The young senator Henry Clay, a tall, rawboned westerner known for his combative temperament and propen- sity for dueling, yearned for war. “I am for resistance by the sword,” he vowed. He promised that the Kentucky militia stood ready to march on Canada and acquire its lucrative fur trade.

P R E PA R AT I O N S As it turned out, the war hawks would get neither Canada nor Florida, for James Madison had carried into war a nation that was ill prepared both financially and militarily. The Republican program of small federal budgets and military cutbacks was not an effective way to win a war. And Madison, a studious, soft-spoken man, lacked anything resembling martial qualities. He was no George Washington.

In 1811, despite earnest pleas from Treasury Secretary Gallatin, Congress had let the twenty-year charter of the Bank of the United States expire. A combination of strict-constructionist Republicans and Anglophobes, who feared the large British interest in the bank, had done it in. In addition, many state banks were being mismanaged, resulting in deposits lost through bankruptcy. Trade had dried up, and tariff revenues had declined. Loans were now needed to cover about two thirds of the war costs, and northeast- ern opponents of the war were reluctant to lend money.

The military situation was almost as bad. War had been likely for nearly a decade, but Republican defense cutbacks had prevented preparations. When the War of 1812 began, the army numbered only 6,700 men, ill trained, poorly equipped, and led by aging officers. Most of the senior officers were veterans of the Revolution. A young Virginia officer named Winfield Scott, destined for military distinction, commented that most of the veteran com- manders “had very generally slunk into either sloth, ignorance, or habits of intemperate drinking.”

The navy, on the other hand, was in comparatively good shape, with able officers and trained men whose seamanship had been tested in the fighting against France and Tripoli. Its ships were well outfitted and seaworthy—all sixteen of them. In the first year of the war, it was the navy that produced the only U.S. victories, in isolated duels with British vessels, but their effect was

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mainly an occasional boost to morale. Within a year the British had block- aded the U.S. coast, except for New England, where they hoped to cultivate anti-war feeling, and most of the little American fleet was bottled up in port.

T H E WA R I N T H E N O RT H The only place where the United States could effectively strike at the British was Canada. Madison’s best hope was a quick attack on Quebec or Montreal to cut Canada’s lifeline, the St. Lawrence River, but inadequate preparations, poor leadership, untrained troops, and faulty coordination stymied the American forces—and led to disaster.

The Madison administration opted for a three-pronged drive against Canada: along the Lake Champlain route toward Montreal, with General Henry Dearborn in command; along the Niagara River, with forces under General Stephen Van Rensselaer; and into Upper Canada (north of Lake Erie) from Detroit, with General William Hull and some 2,000 men. In 1812 Hull marched his men across the Detroit River but was pushed back by the British. Sickly and senile, Hull procrastinated in Detroit while his position


The American Navy

John Bull (the personification of England) stung to agony by the Wasp and Hornet, two American ships that won early victories in the War of 1812.

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worsened. The British commander cleverly played upon Hull’s worst fears. Gathering what redcoats he could to parade in view of Detroit’s defenders, he announced, that thousands of Indian allies were at the rear and that once fighting began, he would be unable to control them. Fearing a massacre, Hull surrendered his entire force.

Along the Niagara River front, General Van Rensselaer was more aggres- sive. An advance party of 600 Americans crossed the river and worked their way up the bluffs on the Canadian side. The stage was set for a major victory, but the New York militia refused to reinforce Van Rensselaer’s men, claiming

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that their military service did not obligate them to leave the country. They complacently remained on the New York side and watched their outnum- bered countrymen fall to a superior force across the river.

On the third front, the old invasion route via Lake Champlain, General Dearborn led his army north from Plattsburgh, New York, toward Montreal. He marched them up to the border, where the state militia once again stood on its alleged constitutional rights and refused to cross, so Dearborn marched them back to Plattsburgh.

Madison’s navy secretary now pushed vigorously for American control of in- land waters. At Presque Isle (near Erie), Pennsylvania, in 1813, twenty-eight- year-old Oliver Hazard Perry, already a fourteen-year veteran, was building ships from the wilderness lumber. By the end of the summer, Commodore Perry had superior numbers and set out in search of the British, whom he found at Lake Erie’s Put-in-Bay on September 10. After completing the prepa- rations for battle, Perry told an aide,“This is the most important day of my life.”

Two British warships used their superior weapons to pummel the Lawrence, Perry’s flagship. Blood flowed on the deck so freely that the sailors slipped and fell as they wrestled with the cannon. After four hours of intense shelling, none of the Lawrence’s guns was working, and most of the crew was dead or wounded. The British expected the Americans to flee, but Perry re- fused to quit. He had himself rowed to another vessel, carried the battle to the enemy, and finally accepted surrender of the entire British squadron. Hatless and bloodied, Perry sent to General William Henry Harrison the long-awaited message: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

American naval control of Lake Erie forced the British to evacuate Upper Canada. They gave up Detroit, and when they took a defensive stand at the Battle of the Thames on October 5, General Harrison inflicted a defeat that eliminated British power in Upper Canada. In the course of the battle, Tecumseh fell, his dream of Indian unity dying with him.

T H E WA R I N T H E S O U T H In the South, too, the war flared up in 1813. On August 30 Creeks allied with the British attacked Fort Mims, on the Al- abama River above Mobile, killing 553 people and scalping half of them. The news found Andrew Jackson at home in Tennessee, recovering from a street brawl with Thomas Hart Benton, later a senator from Missouri. As major gen- eral of the Tennessee militia, Jackson summoned about 2,000 volunteers and set out on a vengeful campaign that crushed the Creek resistance. The decisive battle occurred on March 27, 1814, at Horseshoe Bend, on the Tallapoosa River, in the heart of the Upper Creek country in east-central Alabama. With the Treaty of Fort Jackson, the Creeks ceded two thirds of their land to the


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United States, including part of Georgia and most of Alabama. Red Eagle, the chief of the Creeks, told Jackson: “I am in your power. . . . My people are all gone. I can do no more but weep over the misfortunes of my nation.”

Four days after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Napoléon’s empire collapsed. Now free to deal solely with the United States, the British developed a three- fold plan of operations for 1814: they would launch a two-pronged invasion of America from Canada via Fort Niagara and Lake Champlain to increase the clamor for peace in the Northeast; extend the naval blockade to New Eng- land, subjecting coastal towns to raids; and seize New Orleans to cut the Mis- sissippi River, lifeline of the West.

The War of 1812 • 345


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M AC D O N O U G H ’ S V I C T O RY The main British effort focused on a massive invasion via Lake Champlain. From the north, General George Prevost, governor general of Canada, advanced with the finest army yet as- sembled on American soil: fifteen regiments of regulars and Canadian mili- tia, a total of about 15,000. The front was saved only by Prevost’s vacillation and the superb ability of Commodore Thomas Macdonough, commander of the U.S. naval squadron on Lake Champlain. England’s army bogged down while its flotilla engaged Macdonough in a deadly battle that ended with the entire British fleet either destroyed or captured.

F I G H T I N G I N T H E C H E S A P E A K E Meanwhile, however, U.S. forces suffered the most humiliating experience of the war as the British captured and burned Washington, D.C. With attention focused on the Canadian front, the Chesapeake Bay offered the British several inviting targets, including Bal- timore, now the fourth-largest city in America. In 1814 a British force landed without opposition at Benedict, Maryland, and headed for Washington, thirty miles away. To defend the capital, the Americans had a militia force of about 7,000, which melted away in the face of the smaller British force.

The redcoats marched unopposed into Washington, where British officers ate a meal in the White House that had been prepared for President and Mrs. Madison, who had joined other refugees in Virginia. The British then burned the White House, the Capitol, and most other government build- ings. A tornado the next day compounded the damage, but a violent thun- derstorm dampened both the fires and the enthusiasm of the British forces, who left to prepare a new assault on Baltimore in September.

The British attack on Baltimore was a different story. About 1,000 men held Fort McHenry, on an island in the harbor. The British fleet bombarded the fort to no avail, and the invaders abandoned the attack. Francis Scott Key, a Washington lawyer, watched the siege from a vessel in the harbor. The sight of the flag still in place at dawn inspired him to draft the verses of what came to be called “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Later revised and set to the tune of an English drinking song, it eventually became America’s national anthem.

T H E B AT T L E O F N E W O R L E A N S The British failure at Baltimore followed by three days their failure on Lake Champlain; their offensive against New Orleans, however, had yet to run its course. Along the Gulf coast, General Andrew Jackson had been busy shoring up the defenses of Mobile and New Orleans. Without authorization he invaded Spanish Florida and took Pensacola, putting an end to British intrigues there. Back in Louisiana he began to erect defenses on the approaches to New Orleans as the British


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fleet, with some 8,000 European veterans under General Sir Edward Paken- ham, took up positions on a level plain on the banks of the Mississippi just south of New Orleans.

Pakenham’s painfully careful approach—he waited until all his artillery was available—gave Jackson time to build earthworks bolstered by cotton bales. It was an almost invulnerable position, but Pakenham, contemptuous of Jack- son’s force of frontier militiamen, Creole aristocrats, free blacks, and pirates, rashly ordered his veterans forward in a frontal assault at dawn on January 8, 1815. His redcoats ran into a murderous hail of artillery shells and rifle fire. Before the British withdrew, about 2,000 had been wounded or killed, includ- ing Pakenham himself. A British officer, after watching his battered and re- treating troops, wrote that there “never was a more complete failure.”

The slow pace of transatlantic communications during the early nine- teenth century meant that the Battle of New Orleans occurred after a peace treaty had been signed in Europe. But this is not to say that it was an anticli- max or that it had no effect on the outcome of the war, for the treaty was yet to be ratified, and the British might have exploited the possession of New Orleans had they won it. The battle did ensure ratification of the treaty as it stood, and both governments acted quickly.

T H E T R E AT Y O F G H E N T Peace efforts had begun in 1812, even be- fore hostilities got under way. The British, after all, had repealed their orders

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Jackson’s Army Defends New Orleans

Andrew Jackson’s defeat of the British at New Orleans, January 1815.

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in council two days before the declaration of war and confidently expected at least an armistice. Secretary of State James Monroe, however, had told the British that they would have to give up the outrage of impressment as well. Meanwhile, Czar Alexander of Russia had offered to mediate the dispute, hoping to relieve the pressure on Great Britain, his ally against France. Madi- son had sent Albert Gallatin and James Bayard to join John Quincy Adams, the U.S. minister to Russia, in St. Petersburg. They arrived in 1813, but the czar was at the war front, and they waited impatiently for six months. At that point the British refused Russia’s mediation and instead offered to negotiate directly. Madison then appointed Henry Clay and Jonathan Russell to join the other three commissioners in talks that finally got under way in 1814 in the Flemish city of Ghent in August.

In contrast to the array of talent gathered in the American contingent, the British diplomats were nonentities. The Americans had more leeway to use their own judgment, and sharp disagreements developed that were patched up by Albert Gallatin. The sober John Quincy Adams and the hard-drinking, poker-playing Henry Clay, especially, rubbed each other the wrong way. The American delegates at first were instructed to demand that the British aban- don impressment and paper blockades and to get payment for the seizure of American ships. The British opened the discussions with demands for terri- tory in New York and Maine, removal of U.S. warships from the Great Lakes, an autonomous Indian buffer state in the Northwest, access to the Mississippi River, and abandonment of U.S. fishing rights off Labrador and Newfound- land. If the British insisted on such a position, the Americans informed them, the negotiations would be at an end.

But the British were stalling, awaiting news of victories to strengthen their hand. The news of the U.S. victory on Lake Champlain arrived in October and weakened the British resolve. The British will to fight was further eroded by a continuing power struggle with France, by the eagerness of British merchants to renew trade with America, and by the war-weariness of a tax-burdened pub- lic. The British finally decided that the American war was not worth the cost. One by one, demands were dropped on both sides, until the envoys agreed to end the war, return the prisoners, restore the previous boundaries, and settle nothing else. The questions of fisheries and disputed boundaries were re- ferred to commissions for future settlement. The Treaty of Ghent was signed on Christmas Eve of 1814.

T H E H A RT F O R D C O N V E N T I O N While the diplomats converged on a peace settlement in Europe, an entirely different kind of meeting was taking place in Hartford, Connecticut. An ill-fated affair, the Hartford Convention


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represented the climax of New England’s disaffection with “Mr. Madison’s war.” New England had managed to keep aloof from the war and extract a profit from illegal trading and privateering. Both Massachusetts and Con- necticut had refused to contribute militias to the war effort; merchants had continued to sell supplies to British troops in Canada. After the fall of Napoléon, however, the British extended their blockade to New England, oc- cupied Maine, and conducted several raids along the coast. Even Boston seemed threatened. Instead of rallying to the American flag, however, Federalists in the Massachusetts legislature voted in October 1814 for a con- vention of New England states to plan independent action.

On December 15 the Hartford Convention assembled with delegates chosen by the legislatures of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut as well as two delegates from Vermont and one from New Hampshire— twenty-two in all. The convention proposed seven constitutional amend- ments designed to limit Republican (and southern) influence: abolishing the counting of slaves in apportioning state representation in Congress, re- quiring a two-thirds vote to declare war or admit new states, prohibiting em- bargoes lasting more than sixty days, excluding foreign-born individuals from holding federal offices, limiting the president to one term, and forbid- ding successive presidents from the same state.

Their call for a later convention in Boston carried the unmistakable threat of secession if the demands were ignored. Yet the threat quickly evaporated. In February 1815, when messengers from Hartford reached Washington, D.C., they found the battered capital celebrating the good news from Ghent and New Orleans. “Their position,” according to a French diplomat, was “awkward, embarrassing, and lent itself to cruel ridicule,” and they swiftly withdrew their recommendations. The consequence was a fatal blow to the Federalist party, which never recovered from the stigma of disloyalty stamped on it by the Hartford Convention.

T H E A F T E R M AT H For all the fumbling ineptitude with which the War of 1812 was fought, it generated an intense patriotism. Despite the standoff with which it ended at Ghent, the public nourished a sense of victory, cour- tesy of Andrew Jackson and his men at New Orleans as well as the heroic exploits of American frigates in their duels with British ships. Under Repub- lican leadership the nation had survived a “second war of independence” against the greatest power on earth and emerged with new symbols of na- tionhood and a new gallery of heroes. The war also launched the United States toward economic independence, as the interruption of trade with Eu- rope had encouraged the growth of American manufactures. After forty

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years of independence, it dawned on the world that the new Amer- ican republic might be emerging as a world power.

As if to underline the point, Congress authorized a quick, de- cisive blow at the pirates of the Barbary Coast. During the War of 1812, North Africans had again set about plundering American ships. On March 3, 1815, little more than two weeks after the Senate ratified the Treaty of Ghent, Congress sent Captain Stephen Decatur with ten vessels to the Mediterranean. Decatur seized two Algerian ships and then sailed boldly into the harbor of Algiers. On June 30, 1815, the

dey of Algiers agreed to cease molesting American ships and to give up all U.S. prisoners. Decatur’s show of force induced similar treaties from Tunis and Tripoli. This time there was no tribute; this time, for a change, the Bar- bary pirates paid for the damage they had done. This time, victory put an end to the piracy and extortion in that quarter permanently.

One of the strangest results of the War of 1812 and its aftermath was a re- versal of roles by the Republicans and the Federalists. Out of the wartime ex- perience the Republicans had learned some lessons in nationalism. Certain needs and inadequacies revealed by the war had “Federalized” Madison or “re-Federalized” this Father of the Constitution. Perhaps, he reasoned, a peacetime army and navy were necessary. The lack of a national bank had added to the problems of financing the war. Now Madison wanted it back. The rise of new industries during the war led to a clamor for increased tariffs on imports to protect the infant companies from foreign competition. Madison went along. The problems of overland transportation in the West had revealed the need for internal improvements. Madison agreed, but on that point kept his constitutional scruples. He wanted a constitutional amendment. So while Madison embraced nationalism and broad construc- tion of the Constitution, the Federalists took up the Jeffersonians’ position of states’ rights and strict construction. It was the first great reversal of roles in constitutional interpretation. It would not be the last.


We Owe Allegiance to No Crown

The War of 1812 generated a renewed spirit of nationalism.

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Marshall Smelser’s The Democratic Republic, 1801–1815 (1968) pre- sents an overview of the Republican administrations. The standard biography of Jefferson is Joseph J. Ellis’s American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (1996). On the life of Jefferson’s friend and successor, see Drew R. McCoy’s The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy (1989). Joyce Appleby’s Capitalism and a New Social Order: The Republi- can Vision of the 1790s (1984) minimizes the impact of republican ideology.

Linda K. Kerber’s Federalists in Dissent: Imagery and Ideology in Jeffersonian America (1970) explores the Federalists while out of power. The concept of ju- dicial review and the courts can be studied in Richard E. Ellis’s The Jeffersonian Crisis: Courts and Politics in the Young Republic (1971). On John Marshall, see G. Edward White’s The Marshall Court and Cultural Change, 1815–1835 (1988). Milton Lomask’s two-volume Aaron Burr: The Years from Princeton to Vice President, 1756–1805 (1979) and The Conspiracy and the Years of Exile, 1805–1836 (1982) trace the career of that remarkable American.

For the Louisiana Purchase, consult Alexander De Conde’s This Affair of Louisiana (1976). For a captivating account of the Lewis and Clark expedi- tion, see Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (1996). Bernard W. Sheehan’s Seeds of Extinction: Jeffersonian Philanthropy and the American Indian (1973)

Further Reading • 351


• Jefferson’s embargo and the War of 1812 encouraged the beginnings of manufacturing in the United States, an important subject, to be discussed in Chapter 12.

• The Federalist party collapsed because of its opposition to the War of 1812. But as the next chapter shows, Republicans did not prosper as much as might have been expected in the absence of political opposition.

• The American success in the War of 1812 (a moral victory at best) led to a tremendous sense of national pride and unity, a spirit analyzed in the next chapter.

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is more analytical in its treatment of the Jeffersonians’ Indian policy and the opening of the West.

Burton Spivak’s Jefferson’s English Crisis: Commerce, Embargo, and the Republican Revolution (1979) discusses Anglo-American relations during Jefferson’s administration; Clifford L. Egan’s Neither Peace Nor War: Franco-American Relations, 1803–1812 (1983) covers Franco-American re- lations. An excellent revisionist treatment of the events that brought on war in 1812 is J.C.A. Stagg’s Mr. Madison’s War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830 (1983). The war itself is the focus of Donald R. Hickey’s The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict (1989). See also David Curtis Skaggs and Gerard T. Altoff ’s A Signal Vic- tory: The Lake Erie Campaign, 1812–1813 (1997).


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Part Three

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americans during the early nineteenth century formed a relentless migratory stream that spilled over the Appalachian Moun- tains, spanned the Mississippi River, and in the 1840s reached the Pacific Ocean. Wagons, canals, flatboats, steamboats, and eventually railroads helped transport them. The feverish expansion of the United States into new western territories brought Americans into conflict with Native Americans, Mexicans, the British, and the Spanish. Only a few people, however, expressed moral reservations about displacing others. Most Americans believed it was the “manifest destiny” of the United States to spread across the entire continent—at whatever cost and at whomever’s expense. Americans generally believed that they enjoyed the blessing of Providence in their efforts to consolidate the entire continent under their control.

While most Americans continued to earn their living from the soil, textile mills and manufacturing plants began to dot the landscape and transform the nature of work and the pace of life. By midcentury the United States was emerging as one of the world’s major industrial pow- ers. In addition, the lure of cheap land and plentiful jobs, as well as the promise of political equality and religious freedom, attracted hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Europe. The newcomers, mostly from Germany and Ireland, faced ethnic prejudices, religious persecution, and language barriers that made assimilation into American culture difficult.

These developments gave American life in the second quarter of the nineteenth century a dynamic and fluid quality. The United States, said the philosopher-poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, was “a country of begin- nings, of projects, of designs, of expectations.” A restless optimism char- acterized the period. People of a lowly social status who heretofore had accepted their lot in life now strove to climb the social ladder and enter the political arena. The patrician republic espoused by Jefferson and Madison gave way to the frontier democracy promoted by the Jacksoni- ans. Americans were no longer content to be governed by a small, benev- olent aristocracy of talent and wealth. They began to demand––and obtain––government of, by, and for the people.

The fertile economic environment during the antebellum era helped foster the egalitarian idea that individuals (except African Americans, Native Americans, and women) should have an equal opportunity to better themselves and should be granted political rights and privileges.

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In America, observed a journalist in 1844, “one has as good a chance as another according to his talents, pru- dence, and personal exer- tions.”

The exuberant individual- ism embodied in such mythic expressions of eco- nomic equality and political democracy spilled over into the cultural arena during the first half of the century. The so-called Romantic movement applied democ- ratic ideals to philosophy, religion, literature, and the fine arts. In New England, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau joined other transcenden- talists in espousing a radical in- dividualism. Other reformers were motivated more by a sense of spiri- tual mission than by democratic individualism. Reformers sought to promote public-supported schools, abolish slavery, promote temper- ance, and improve the lot of the disabled, the insane, and the impris- oned. Their efforts ameliorated some of the problems created by the fre- netic economic growth and territorial expansion. But the reformers made little headway against slavery. It would take a brutal civil war to dislodge America’s “peculiar institution.”

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A mid the jubilation that followed the War of 1812, Americansbegan to transform their young nation. Hundreds of thou-sands of people streamed westward at the same time that the largely local economy was being transformed into a national market. The spread of plantation slavery and the cotton culture into the Old Southwest— Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas—disrupted family ties and transformed social life. In the North and the West, meanwhile, a dynamic urban middle class began to emerge and grow in towns and cities. Such dra- matic changes prompted vigorous political debates over economic policies, transportation improvements, and the extension of slavery into the new ter- ritories. In the process the nation began to divide into three powerful re- gional blocs—North, South, and West—whose shifting alliances would shape the political landscape until the Civil War.





• What were the elements of the “Era of Good Feelings”?

• How did economic policies, diplomacy, and judicial decisions reflect the nationalism of those years?

• What were the various issues that promoted sectionalism?

• What was the fate of the Republican party after the collapse of the Federalists?

To answer these questions and access additional review material, please visit www.wwnorton.com/studyspace.

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Immediately after the War of 1812, Americans experienced a new surge of nationalism. The young United States was growing from a loose confeder- ation of territories into a fully functioning nation-state that spanned almost an entire continent. An abnormal economic prosperity after the war fed a feeling of well-being and enhanced the prestige of the national government. Thomas Jefferson’s embargo ironically had spawned the factories that he ab- horred. The idea spread that the country needed a more balanced economy of farming, commerce, and manufacturing. After a generation of war, shortages of farm products in Europe forced up the prices of American products and stimulated agricultural expansion—indeed, it induced a wild speculation in farmland. Southern cotton, tobacco, and rice came to account for about two thirds of American exports. At the same time the postwar market was flooded with cheap English goods that planters and farmers could buy. The new man- ufacturers would seek protection from this foreign competition.

President James Madison, in his first annual message to Congress after the war, recommended several steps to strengthen the government: improved fortifications, a permanent army and a strong navy, a new national bank, ef- fective protection of new industries, a system of canals and roads for com- mercial and military use, and to top it off, a great national university. “The


The Union Manufactories of Maryland in Patapsco Falls, Baltimore County (ca. 1815)

A textile mill established during the embargo of 1807. The Union Manufactories would employ over 600 people.

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Republicans have out-Federalized Federalism,” one New Englander re- marked. Congress responded by authorizing a standing army of 10,000 and strengthening the navy as well.

T H E B A N K O F T H E U N I T E D S TAT E S The trinity of economic nationalism—proposals for a second national bank, a protective tariff, and internal improvements—inspired the greatest controversies. After the first national bank expired in 1811, the country had fallen into a financial mud- dle. State-chartered banks mushroomed with little or no control, and their bank notes (paper money) flooded the channels of commerce with currency of uncertain value. Because hard money had been so short during the war, many state banks had suspended specie (gold or silver) payments when redeeming their paper notes, thereby depressing their value. The absence of a central bank had been a source of financial embarrassment to the govern- ment, which had neither a ready means of floating loans nor a way of trans- ferring funds across the country.

Madison and most younger Republicans salved their constitutional scru- ples about a national bank with a dash of pragmatism. The issue of a central bank, Madison said, had been decided “by repeated recognitions . . . of the validity of such an institution in acts of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the Government, accompanied by . . . a concurrence of the gen- eral will of the nation.” In 1816 Congress adopted, over the protest of Old Republicans, a provision for a new Bank of the United States, which would be located in Philadelphia. Once again the charter ran for twenty years, and the federal government owned one fifth of the stock and named five of the twenty-five directors, with the Bank of the United States serving as the gov- ernment depository for federal funds. Its bank notes were accepted in pay- ments to the government. In return for its privileges, the bank had to take care of the government’s funds without charge, lend the government up to $5 million upon demand, and pay the government a cash bonus of $1.5 million.

The bitter debate over the bank, then and later, helped to set the pattern of regional alignment for most other economic issues. Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton predicted that the currency-short western towns would be at the mercy of a centralized eastern bank. “They may be devoured by it any moment! They are in the jaws of the monster! A lump of butter in the mouth of a dog! One gulp, one swallow, and all is gone!”

The debate over the Bank of the United States was also noteworthy be- cause of the leading roles played by the era’s greatest statesmen: John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, Henry Clay of Kentucky, and Daniel Webster of New Hampshire. Calhoun, still in his youthful phase as a war-hawk

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nationalist, introduced the banking bill and pushed it through, justifying its constitutionality by citing the congressional power to regulate the currency. Clay, who had long opposed a national bank, now asserted that circum- stances had made one indispensable. Webster, on the other hand, led the opposition of the New England Federalists, who did not want the banking center moved from Boston to Philadelphia. Later, after he had moved from New Hampshire to Massachusetts, Webster would return to Congress as the champion of a much stronger national power, whereas events would steer Calhoun toward a defiant embrace of states’ rights.

A P R O T E C T I V E TA R I F F The shift of capital from commerce to manu- factures, begun during the embargo of 1807, had speeded up during the war. Peace in 1815 brought a sudden renewal of cheap British imports and generated pleas for tariffs (taxes on imports) to protect infant American industries from foreign competition. The self-interest of the manufacturers, who as yet had lit- tle political influence, was reinforced by a patriotic desire for economic inde- pendence from Britain. New England shippers and southern farmers opposed tariffs, but in both sections sizable minorities believed that the promotion of in- dustry by means of tariffs enhanced both sectional and national welfare.

The tariff of 1816, the first intended more to protect industry against foreign competition than to raise revenue, easily passed in Congress. Both the South and New England split their votes, with New England supporting the tariff and the South opposing it, and the middle Atlantic states and the Old Northwest cast only five negative votes altogether. Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina op- posed the tariff and defended the Old Republican doctrine of strict construc- tion. The power to protect industry, Macon said, like the power to establish a bank, rested on the idea that there were implied powers embedded in the Con- stitution; Macon worried that such implied powers might one day be used to abolish slavery. The minority of southerners who voted for the tariff, led by John Calhoun, did so because they hoped that the South might itself become a manufacturing center. South Carolina was then developing a few textile mills. According to the census of 1810, the southern states had approximately as many manufacturers as New England. Within a few years, however, New Eng- land would move well ahead of the South, and Calhoun would accept Macon’s views on protection. The tariff would then become a sectional issue, with man- ufacturers, wool processors, and food, sugar, and hemp growers favoring higher tariffs while cotton planters and shipping interests favored lower duties.

I N T E R N A L I M P R O V E M E N T S The third major issue of the time in- volved government support for internal improvements: the building of


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roads and the development of water transportation. The war had high- lighted the shortcomings of existing facilities. Troop movements through the western wilderness proved very difficult, and settlers found that unless they located themselves near navigable waters, they were cut off from trade and limited to a frontier subsistence.

The federal government had entered the field of internal improvements under Thomas Jefferson. He and both of his successors recommended a con- stitutional amendment to give the federal government undisputed power in the field. Lacking that, the constitutional grounds for federal action rested mainly on the provision of national defense and the expansion of the postal system. In 1803, when Ohio became a state, Congress decreed that 5 percent of the proceeds from land sales in the state would go to building a National Road from the Atlantic coast into Ohio and beyond as the territory devel- oped. Construction of the National Road began in 1815.

Originally called the Cumberland Road, it was the first federally financed interstate roadway. By 1818 it was open from Cumberland, Maryland, to Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia), on the Ohio River. By 1838 the road

Economic Nationalism • 361

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Why were internal improvements a major point in James Monroe’s first address to Congress? How did the National Road affect agriculture and trade? What were the constitutional issues that limited the federal government’s ability to enact internal improvements?

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extended all the way to Vandalia, Illinois. By reducing transportation costs and opening up new markets, the National Road and other privately fi- nanced turnpikes helped accelerate the commercialization of agriculture.

In 1817 John C. Calhoun put through the House a bill to place in a fund for internal improvements the $1.5 million bonus that the Bank of the United States had paid for its charter, as well as all future dividends on the government’s bank stock. Opposition to federal spending on transportation projects centered in New England and the South, which expected to gain the least from western development, and support came largely from the West, which badly needed good roads. On his last day in office, President Madison vetoed the bill. While sympathetic to its purpose, he could not overcome his “insuperable difficulty . . . in reconciling the bill with the Constitution” and suggested instead a constitutional amendment. Internal improvements re- mained for another hundred years, with few exceptions, the responsibility of states and private enterprise. The federal government did not enter the field on a large scale until passage of the Federal Highways Act of 1916.

“G O O D F E E L I N G S ”

J A M E S M O N R O E As James Madison approached the end of a turbulent presidency, he, like Jefferson, turned to a fellow Virginian, another secretary of state, to be his successor. For Madison that man would be James Monroe.

In the Republican caucus, Monroe won the nomination. In the 1816 election he overwhelmed his Federal- ist opponent, Rufus King of New York, with 183 to 34 votes in the Elec- toral College. The “Virginia dynasty” continued. Like three of the four presidents before him, Monroe was a Virginia planter, but with a difference: his plantation holdings were much smaller. At the outbreak of the Revolu- tion, he was just beginning his studies at the College of William and Mary. He joined the army at the age of sixteen, fought with Washington during the Revolution, and later studied law with Jefferson.


James Monroe

Portrayed as he entered the presi- dency in 1817.

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Monroe had served in the Virginia assembly, as governor of the state, in the Confederation Congress and in the U.S. Senate, and as U.S. minister in Paris, London, and Madrid. Under Madison he was secretary of state and doubled as secretary of war. Monroe, with his powdered wig, cocked hat, and knee breeches, was the last of the Revolutionary generation to serve in the White House and the last president to dress in the old style.

Firmly grounded in Republican principles, Monroe failed to keep up with the onrush of the new nationalism. He accepted as an accomplished fact the Bank of the United States and the protective tariff, but during his tenure there was no further extension of economic nationalism. Indeed, there was a minor setback: he permitted the National Road to be carried forward, but in his veto of the Cumberland Road bill (1822), he denied the authority of Congress to collect tolls to pay for its repair and maintenance. Like Jefferson and Madison he urged a constitutional amendment to remove all doubt about federal authority in the field of internal improvements.

Monroe surrounded himself with some of the ablest young Republican leaders. John Quincy Adams became secretary of state. William H. Crawford of Georgia continued as secretary of the Treasury. John C. Calhoun headed the War Department after Henry Clay refused the job in order to stay on as Speaker of the House. The new administration found the country in a state of well-being: America was at peace, and the economy was flourishing. Soon after his 1817 inauguration, Monroe embarked on a goodwill tour of New England. In Boston, lately a hotbed of wartime dissent, a Federalist paper commented on the president’s visit under the heading “Era of Good Feel- ings.” The label became a popular catchphrase for Monroe’s administration, one that historians would later seize upon. Yet the Era of Good Feelings was very brief. A resurgence of factionalism and sectionalism erupted just as the postwar prosperity collapsed in the panic of 1819.

In 1820 the president was reelected without opposition. The Federalists were too weak to put up a candidate. Monroe won all the electoral votes ex- cept for three abstentions and one vote from New Hampshire for John Quincy Adams. The Republican party was dominant—for the moment. In fact, it was about to follow the Federalists into oblivion. Amid the general po- litical contentment of the era, the first party system was fading away, but ri- vals for the succession soon commenced the process of forming new parties.

R E L AT I O N S W I T H B R I TA I N Fueling the contentment after the War of 1812 was a growing trade with Britain (and India). The Treaty of Ghent had left unsettled a number of minor disputes, but subsequently two impor- tant compacts—the Rush-Bagot Agreement of 1817 and the Convention of

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1818—removed several potential causes of irritation. In the first, resulting from an exchange of notes between Acting Secretary of State Richard Rush and the British minister Charles Bagot, the threat of naval competition on the Great Lakes vanished with an arrangement to limit forces there to several federal ships collecting customs duties. Although the exchange made no ref- erence to the land boundary between the United States and Canada, its spirit gave rise to the tradition of an unfortified border, the longest in the world.

The Convention of 1818 covered three major points. The northern limit of the Louisiana Purchase was settled by extending the national boundary along the 49th parallel west from Lake of the Woods in what would become Minnesota to the crest of the Rocky Mountains. West of that point the Ore- gon Country would be open to joint occupation by the British and the Americans, but the boundary remained unsettled. The right of Americans to fish off Newfoundland and Labrador, granted in 1783, was acknowledged once again.


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What territorial terms did the Convention of 1818 settle? How did Andrew Jackson’s actions in Florida help John Q. Adams claim the territory from Spain? What were the terms of the treaty with Spain?

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The chief remaining problem was Britain’s exclusion of American ships from the West Indies in order to reserve that lucrative trade for the British. This remained a chronic irritant, and the United States retaliated with sev- eral measures. Under the Navigation Act of 1817, importation of West In- dian produce was restricted to American vessels or vessels belonging to West Indian merchants. In 1818 U.S. ports were closed to all British vessels arriv- ing from a colony that was legally closed to vessels of the United States. In 1820 Monroe approved an act of Congress that specified total noninter- course—with British vessels, with all British colonies in the Americas, and even in goods taken to England and reexported. The rapprochement with Britain therefore fell short of perfection.

T H E E X T E N S I O N O F B O U N DA R I E S The year 1819 was one of the more fateful years in American history. Controversial efforts to expand U.S. territory, an intense financial panic, a tense debate over the extension of slavery, and several landmark Supreme Court cases combined to bring an unsettling end to the Era of Good Feelings. The new nationalism reached a climax with the acquisition of Florida and the extension of America’s south- western boundary to the Pacific, but nationalism quickly began to run afoul of domestic crosscurrents that would submerge the country in sectional squabbles.

In the calculations of global power, it had perhaps long since been reck- oned that Florida would someday pass to the United States. Spanish sover- eignty was more a technicality than an actuality and extended little beyond St. Augustine on the east coast and Pensacola and St. Marks on the Gulf. The province had been a thorn in the side of the United States during the recent war, when it had served as a center of British intrigue; a haven for Creek refugees, who were beginning to take the name Seminole (Runaway or Sepa- ratist); and a harbor for runaway slaves and criminals.

Spain, once dominant in the Ameri- cas, was now a declining power unable to enforce its obligations, under Pinck- ney’s Treaty of 1795, to pacify the fron- tier. In 1816 U.S. forces clashed with a group of escaped slaves who had taken over a British fort on the Appalachicola River. Seminoles were soon fighting

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Unrest in Florida

Portrait of an escaped slave who lived with the Seminoles in Florida.

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white settlers in the area, and in 1817 Americans burned a Seminole border settlement, killed five of its inhabitants, and dispersed the rest across the border into Florida.

At that point, Secretary of War Calhoun authorized a campaign against the Seminoles, and he summoned General Andrew Jackson from Nashville to take command. Jackson’s orders allowed him to pursue the offenders into Spanish territory but not to attack any Spanish post. A frustrated Jackson pledged to President Monroe that if the United States wanted Florida, he could wind up the whole controversy in sixty days.

When it came to Spaniards or Indians, few white Tennesseans—and certainly not Andrew Jackson—were likely to bother with technicalities. Jackson pushed eastward through Florida, reinforced by Tennessee volun- teers and friendly Creeks, taking a Spanish post, skirmishing with the Semi- noles, and destroying their settlements. He hanged two of their leaders. He then turned west, seized Pensacola, and returned home to Nashville. The whole episode had taken about four months; the Florida Panhandle was in American hands by 1818.

The news of Jackson’s exploits aroused anger in Madrid and concern in Washington. Spain demanded the return of its territory and the punishment of Jackson, but Spain’s impotence was plain for all to see. Monroe’s cabinet was at first prepared to disavow Jackson’s actions, especially his direct attack on Spanish posts. Calhoun, as secretary of war, was inclined, at least offi-

cially, to discipline Jackson for disre- gard of orders—a stand that would later cause bad blood between the two men—but privately confessed a cer- tain pleasure at the outcome. In any case a man as popular as Jackson was almost invulnerable. And he had one important friend, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, who realized that Jackson had strengthened his own hand in negotiations already under way with the Spanish minister. U.S. forces withdrew from Florida, but ne- gotiations resumed with the knowledge that the United States could retake Florida at any time.

With the fate of Florida a foregone conclusion, John Quincy Adams turned


Andrew Jackson

Victor at the Battle of New Orleans, Indian fighter, and future president.

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his eye to a larger purpose, a definition of the ambiguous western boundary of the Louisiana Purchase and—his boldest stroke—extension of its bound- ary to the Pacific coast. In lengthy negotiations, Adams gradually gave ground on claims to Texas but stuck to his demand for a transcontinental line. Agreement came early in 1819. Spain ceded all of Florida in return for the U.S. government’s assumption of private American claims against Spain up to $5 million. The western boundary of the Louisiana Purchase would run along the Sabine River and then, in stair-step fashion, up to the Red River, along the Red, and up to the Arkansas River. From the source of the Arkansas, it would go north to the 42nd parallel and thence west to the Pa- cific coast. A dispute over land claims held up ratification for another two years, but those claims were revoked and final ratifications were exchanged in 1821. Florida became a U.S. territory, and its first governor, albeit briefly, was Andrew Jackson. In 1845 Florida achieved statehood.


T H E PA N I C O F 1819 John Quincy Adams’s Transcontinental Treaty of 1819 was a diplomatic triumph and the climactic event of the postwar na- tionalism. Even before it was signed, however, two thunderclaps signaled the end of the brief Era of Good Feelings and gave warning of stormy weather ahead: the financial panic of 1819 and the controversy over Missouri state- hood. The occasion for the panic was the sudden collapse of cotton prices. At one point in 1818, cotton had soared to 32.5¢ per pound. The high prices prompted British textile mills to turn from American sources to cheaper East Indian cotton, and by 1819 cotton was averaging only 14.3¢ per pound in New Orleans. The price collapse set off a decline in the demand for other American goods and suddenly revealed the fragility of the prosperity that had begun after the War of 1812.

Since 1815 a speculative bubble had grown, with expectations that eco- nomic expansion would go on forever. But American industry struggled to find markets for its goods. Even the tariff of 1816 had not been a strong enough force to eliminate British competition. What was more, business- men, farmers, and land speculators had inflated the bubble with a volatile expansion of credit. The sources of this credit were both government and the banks. Under the Land Act of 1800, the government had extended four years’ credit to those who bought western land. After 1804 one could buy as little as 160 acres at a minimum price of $1.64 per acre (although in auctions the best land went for more). In many cases, speculators took up large tracts,

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paying only one fourth down, and then sold them to settlers with the under- standing that the settlers would pay the remaining installments. With the collapse of crop prices and, subsequently, land values, both speculators and settlers saw their income plummet.

The reckless practices of the state banks compounded the inflation of credit. To enlarge their loans, they issued more bank notes than they could redeem. Even the second Bank of the United States, which was supposed to introduce some order to the financial arena, got caught up in the mania. Its first president yielded to the contagion of the get-rich-quick fever that was sweeping the country. The proliferation of branches, combined with little supervision by Philadelphia, carried the bank into the same reckless exten- sion of loans that state banks had pursued. In 1819, just as alert businessmen began to take alarm, a case of extensive fraud and embezzlement in the Balti- more branch of the Bank of United States came to light. The disclosure prompted the appointment of Langdon Cheves, a former congressman from South Carolina, as the bank’s president.

Cheves reduced salaries and other costs, postponed the payment of divi- dends, restrained the extension of credit, and presented for redemption the state bank notes that came in, thereby forcing the state-chartered banks to keep specie reserves. Cheves rescued the bank from near ruin, but only by putting heavy pressure on the state banks. State banks in turn put pressure on their debtors, who found it harder to renew old loans or get new ones. In 1822, considering his task completed, Cheves retired and was succeeded the following year by Nicholas Biddle of Philadelphia. The Cheves policies were the result rather than the cause of the panic, but they pinched debtors. Hard times lasted about three years, and the bank took much of the blame in the popular mind. The panic passed, but resentment of the bank lingered in the South and the West.

T H E M I S S O U R I C O M P R O M I S E Just as the financial panic spread over the country, another cloud appeared on the horizon: the onset of a fierce sectional controversy over slavery. By 1819 the country had an equal number of slave and free states—eleven of each. The line between them was defined by the southern and western boundaries of Pennsylvania and the Ohio River. Although slavery lingered in some places north of the line, it was on the way to extinction there. Beyond the Mississippi River, however, no move had been made to extend the dividing line across the Louisiana Terri- tory, where slavery had existed since the days when France and Spain had colonized the area. At the time the Missouri Territory embraced all of the Louisiana Purchase except the state of Louisiana (1812) and the Arkansas


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Territory (1819). The old French town of St. Louis became the funnel through which settlers rushed westward beyond the Mississippi. They were largely from the South—and they brought their slaves with them.

In 1819 the House of Representatives was asked to approve legislation en- abling Missouri to draft a state constitution, its population having passed the minimum of 60,000. At that point, Representative James Tallmadge Jr., a New York congressman, proposed a resolution prohibiting the further intro- duction of slaves into Missouri, which already had some 10,000, and provid- ing freedom at age twenty-five to those born after the territory’s admission as a state. After brief but fiery exchanges, the House passed the amendment on an almost strictly sectional vote. The Senate rejected it by a similar tally, but with several northerners joining in the opposition. With population at the time growing faster in the North, a balance between the two sections could be held only in the Senate. In the House, slave states had 81 votes while free states had 105; a balance was unlikely ever to be restored there.

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What caused the sectional controversy over slavery in 1819? What were the terms of the Missouri Compromise? What was Henry Clay’s solution to the Missouri consti- tution’s ban on free blacks in that state?

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Maine’s application for statehood made it easier to arrive at an agreement. Since colonial times, Maine had been the northern province of Massachu- setts. The Senate linked its request for separate statehood with Missouri’s and voted to admit Maine as a free state and Missouri as a slave state, thus main- taining the balance between free and slave states in the Senate. An Illinois sen- ator further extended the compromise by an amendment to exclude slavery from the rest of the Louisiana Purchase north of 36°30�, Missouri’s southern border. Slavery thus would continue in the Arkansas Territory and in the state of Missouri but would be excluded from the remainder of the area. People at that time presumed that what remained was the Great American Desert, un- likely ever to be settled. Thus the arrangement seemed to be a victory for the slave states. By a very close vote it passed the House on March 2, 1820.

Then another problem arose. The pro-slavery elements that dominated Missouri’s constitutional convention inserted in the proposed new state constitution a proviso excluding free blacks and mulattoes from the state. This clearly violated the requirement of Article IV, Section 2, of the Consti- tution: “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Im- munities of Citizens in the several States.” Free blacks were citizens of many states, including the slave states of North Carolina and Tennessee, where un- til the mid-1830s they also voted.

The renewed controversy threatened final approval of Missouri’s admission until Henry Clay formulated a “second” Missouri Compromise: admission of Missouri as a state would depend upon assurance from the Missouri legislature that it would never construe the of- fending clause in such a way as to sanction the denial of privileges that citizens held under the Constitution. It was one of the more artless dodges in American history, for it required the legislature to affirm that the state con- stitution did not mean what it clearly said, but the compromise worked. The Missouri legislature duly adopted the pledge while denying that the legis- lature had any power to bind the peo- ple of the state to it. On August 10, 1821, President Monroe proclaimed


Henry Clay

Clay entered the Senate at age twenty-eight despite the requirement that senators be at least thirty years old.

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the admission of Missouri as the twenty-fourth state. For the moment the controversy subsided. “But this momentous question,” the aging Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend after the first compromise, “like a firebell in the night awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union.”


J O H N M A R S H A L L , C H I E F J U S T I C E Meanwhile, nationalism still flourished in the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice John Marshall pre- served Hamiltonian Federalism for yet another generation. Marshall, a survivor of the Revolution and a distant cousin of Thomas Jefferson’s, es- tablished the power of the Supreme Court by his force of mind and crys- talline logic.

During Marshall’s early years on the Court (he served thirty-four years al- together), he affirmed the principle of judicial review. In Marbury v. Madi- son (1803) and Fletcher v. Peck (1810) the Court struck down first a federal law and then a state law as unconstitutional. In the cases of Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee (1816) and Cohens v. Virginia (1821), the Court assumed the right to take appeals from state courts on the grounds that the Constitution, the laws, and the treaties of the United States could be kept uniformly the supreme law of the land only if the Court could review decisions of state courts. In the first case the Court overruled Virginia’s confiscation of Loyalist property after the Revolu- tion, because it violated treaties with Great Britain; in the second the Court upheld Virginia’s right to forbid the sale of lottery tickets.


R I G H T S In the fateful year of 1819, John Marshall and the Court made two more decisions of major impor- tance in checking the states and build- ing the power of the central govern- ment. One of them, Dartmouth College v. Woodward, involved an attempt by the New Hampshire legislature to alter

Judicial Nationalism • 371

John Marshall

Chief Justice and pillar of judicial nationalism.

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a provision in Dartmouth’s charter, under which the college’s trustees be- came a self-perpetuating board. In 1816 the state’s Republican legislature, offended by this relic of monarchy and even more by the Federalist majority on the board, placed Dartmouth under a new board named by the governor. The original trustees sued, lost in the state courts, but with Daniel Webster as counsel won on appeal to the Supreme Court. The charter, Marshall said, was a valid contract that the legislature had impaired, an act forbidden by the Constitution. This decision implied a new and enlarged definition of contract that seemed to put private corporations beyond the reach of the states that chartered them. Thereafter states commonly wrote into charters and general laws of incorporation provisions making them subject to modi- fication. Such provisions were then part of the “contract.”

S T R E N G T H E N I N G T H E F E D E R A L G O V E R N M E N T The second major Supreme Court case of 1819 was John Marshall’s single most impor- tant interpretation of the constitutional system: McCulloch v. Maryland. James McCulloch, a clerk in the Baltimore branch of the Bank of the United States, had failed to affix state revenue stamps to bank notes as required by a Maryland law taxing the notes. Indicted by the state, McCulloch, act- ing for the bank, appealed to the Supreme Court, which handed down a unanimous judgment upholding the power of Congress to charter the bank and denying any right of the state to tax it. In a lengthy opinion, Marshall rejected Maryland’s argument that the federal government was the creature of sovereign states. Instead, he argued, it arose directly from the people acting through the conventions that had ratified the Constitution. Whereas sovereignty was divided between the states and the national government, the latter, “though limited in its powers, is supreme within its sphere of action.”

Marshall went on to endorse the doctrine of the federal government’s having implied constitutional powers. The “necessary and proper” clause, he argued, did not mean “absolutely indispensable.” The test of constitutional- ity was, in his view, a practical one: “Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the Constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, are constitutional.”

Maryland’s effort to tax the national bank conflicted with the supreme law of the land. One great principle that “entirely pervades the Constitution,” Marshall wrote, was “that the Constitution and the laws made in pursuance thereof are supreme: that they control the Constitution and laws of the re- spective states, and cannot be controlled by them.” The effort by a state to tax


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a federal bank therefore was unconstitutional, for the “power to tax involves the power to destroy”—which was precisely what the legislatures of Mary- land and several other states had in mind with respect to the bank.

R E G U L AT I N G I N T E R S TAT E C O M M E R C E John Marshall’s last great decision, Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), established national supremacy in regulat- ing interstate commerce. In 1808 Robert Fulton and Robert R. Livingston (Jefferson’s minister to France in 1801), who pioneered commercial use of the steamboat, won from the New York legislature the exclusive right to oper- ate steamboats on the state’s waters. From them in turn Aaron Ogden re- ceived the exclusive right to navigate the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey. Thomas Gibbons, however, operated a coastal trade under a federal license and came into competition with Ogden. On behalf of a unani- mous Court, Marshall ruled that the monopoly granted by the state conflicted with the federal Coasting Act, under which Gibbons operated. Congressional power to regulate commerce, the Court said, “like all others vested in

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Deck Life on the Paragon, 1811–1812

The Paragon, “a whole floating town,” was the third steamboat operated on the Hudson by Robert Fulton and Robert R. Livingston.

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Congress, is complete in itself, may be exercised to its utmost extent, and acknowledges no limitations other than are prescribed in the Constitution.”

The opinion stopped just short of stating an exclusive federal power over commerce, and later cases would clarify the point that states had a concur- rent jurisdiction so long as it did not come into conflict with federal action. For many years there was in fact little federal regulation of commerce, so that in striking down the monopoly created by the state, Marshall had opened the way to extensive development of steamboat navigation and, soon afterward, railroads. Economic expansion often depended upon judicial nationalism.


T H E N O RT H W E S T In foreign affairs, too, nationalism continued to be an effective force. Within two years of final approval of John Quincy Adams’s Transcontinental Treaty, the secretary of state was able to draw an- other important transcontinental line. In 1819 Spain had abandoned its claim to the Oregon Country above the 42nd parallel, but in 1821 the Russian czar claimed the Pacific coast as far south as the fifty-first parallel, which in the American view lay within the Oregon Country.

In 1823 Secretary of State Adams contested “the right of Russia to any ter- ritorial establishment on this continent.” The U.S. government, he informed the Russian minister, assumed the principle “that the American continents are no longer subjects for any new European colonial establishments.” His protest resulted in a treaty signed in 1824, whereby Russia, which had more pressing concerns in Europe, accepted the line of 54�40� as the southern boundary of its claim. In 1825 a similar agreement between Russia and Britain gave the Oregon Country clearly defined boundaries, although it was still subject to joint occupation by the United States and Great Britain under their agreement of 1818. In 1827 both countries agreed to extend indefinitely the provision for joint occupation, subject to termination by either power.

T H E M O N R O E D O C T R I N E Secretary of State Adams’s disapproval of further hemispheric colonization had clear implications for Latin America as well. One consequence of the Napoleonic Wars and the French occupa- tion of Spain and Portugal was a series of wars of liberation in Latin Amer- ica. Within little more than a decade after the flag of rebellion was first raised in 1811, Spain had lost almost its entire empire in the Americas. All that was left were the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico and the colony of Santo


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Domingo on the island of Hispaniola. The only other European possessions in the Americas, 330 years after Columbus’s first voyage, were Russian Alaska, British Canada, British Honduras, and the Dutch, French, and British Guianas.

In 1823 rumors began to circulate that France wanted to restore the Span- ish king’s power over Spain’s American empire. President Monroe and Sec- retary of War Calhoun were alarmed at the possibility, although John Quincy Adams took the more realistic view that any such action was un- likely. The British foreign minister, George Canning, told the American min- ister to London that the two countries should jointly oppose any incursions by France or Spain in the Western Hemisphere.

Monroe at first agreed, with the support of his sage advisers Jefferson and Madison. Adams, however, urged upon Monroe and the cabinet the inde- pendent course of proclaiming a unilateral policy against the restoration of Spain’s colonies. “It would be more candid,” Adams said, “as well as more dignified, to avow our principles explicitly to Russia and France, than to come in as a cockboat in the wake of the British man-of-war.” Adams knew that the British navy would stop any action by the Quintuple Alliance (Austria, France, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia) in Latin America, and he suspected that the alliance had no intention to intervene anyway. The British, moreover, wanted the United States to agree not to acquire any more Spanish territory, including Cuba, Texas, and California, but Adams pre- ferred to avoid such a commitment.

Monroe incorporated the substance of Adams’s views into his annual mes- sage to Congress in 1823. The Monroe Doctrine, as it was later called, com- prised four major points: (1) that “the American continents . . . are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers”; (2) that the political system of European powers was different from that of the United States, which would “consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety”; (3) that the United States would not interfere with existing European colonies; and (4) that the United States would keep out of the in- ternal affairs of European nations and their wars.

At the time the statement drew little attention either in the United States or abroad. The Monroe Doctrine, not even so called until 1852, became one of the cherished principles of American foreign policy, but for the time be- ing it slipped into obscurity for want of any occasion to invoke it. In spite of Adams’s affirmation, the United States came in as a cockboat in the wake of the British man-of-war after all, for the effectiveness of the doctrine depended upon British naval supremacy. The doctrine had no standing in international

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law. It was merely a statement of intent by an American president to Congress and did not even draw enough interest at the time for European powers to ac- knowledge it.


Almost from the start of James Monroe’s second term, in 1821, the jockeying for the presidential succession began. Three members of Monroe’s cabinet were active candidates: Secretary of War John Calhoun, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. Henry Clay, longtime Speaker of the House, also hungered for the office. And on the fringes of the Washington scene, a new force appeared in the person of Andrew Jackson, the scourge of the British, Spanish, Creeks, and Seminoles, the epitome of what every frontiersman admired, who be- came a senator from Tennessee in 1823. All were Republicans, for again no Federalist stood a chance, but they were competing in a new political world, complicated by the crosscurrents of nationalism and sectionalism. With only one party there was in effect no party, for there existed no generally accepted method for choosing a “regular” candidate.

P R E S I D E N T I A L N O M I N AT I O N S Selection of presidential candi- dates by congressional caucus, already under attack in 1816, had disap- peared in the wave of unanimity that reelected Monroe in 1820 without the formality of a nomination. The friends of William Crawford sought in vain to breathe life back into “King Caucus,” but only a minority of congressmen appeared in answer to the call. They duly named Crawford for president, but the endorsement was so weak as to be more a handicap than an advantage. Crawford was in fact the logical successor to the Virginia dynasty, a native of the state though a resident of Georgia. He had flirted with nationalism but swung back to states’ rights and strict construction and assumed leadership of a faction, called the Radicals, that included Old Republicans and those who distrusted the nationalism of John Quincy Adams and John Calhoun. Crawford’s candidacy foundered from the beginning, for the candidate had been stricken in 1823 by some unknown disease that left him half-paralyzed and half-blind. His friends protested that he would soon be well, but he never did fully recover.

Long before the Crawford caucus met in early 1824, indeed for two years before, the country had broken out in a rash of presidential endorsements by state legislatures and public meetings. In 1822 the Tennessee legislature


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named Andrew Jackson as their choice to succeed Monroe. In 1824 a mass meeting of Pennsylvanians added their endorsement. Jackson, who had pre- viously kept silent, responded that while the presidency should not be sought, it should not be declined. The same meeting named Calhoun for vice president, and Calhoun accepted. The youngest of the candidates, he was content to take second place and bide his time. Meanwhile, the Kentucky legislature had named its favorite son, Henry Clay, in 1822. The Massachu- setts legislature named John Quincy Adams in 1824.

Of the four candidates, only two had clearly defined programs, and the outcome was an early lesson in the danger of committing oneself on the is- sues too soon. Crawford’s friends emphasized his devotion to states’ rights and strict construction. Clay, on the other hand, took his stand for the “Amer- ican system”: he favored the national bank, the protective tariff, and a na- tional program of internal improvements to bind the country together and strengthen its economy. Adams was close to Clay, openly dedicated to internal improvements but less strongly committed to the tariff. Jackson, where issues were concerned, carefully avoided commitment so as to capitalize on his pop- ularity as the hero of the Battle of New Orleans at the end of the War of 1812.

T H E “ C O R RU P T B A R G A I N ” The 1824 election turned on personali- ties and sectional allegiance more than issues. Adams, the only northern candidate, carried New England, the former bastion of Federalism, and most of New York’s electoral votes. Clay took Kentucky, Ohio, and Missouri. Crawford carried Virginia, Georgia, and Delaware. Jackson swept the South- east plus Illinois and Indiana and, with Calhoun’s support, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey. All candidates got scattered votes elsewhere. In New York, where Clay was strong, his supporters were outma- neuvered by the Adams forces in the legislature, which still chose the presi- dential electors.

The result was inconclusive in both the electoral vote and the popular vote wherever the state legislature permitted the choice of electors by the people. In the Electoral College, Jackson had 99 votes, Adams 84, Crawford 41, Clay 37. In the popular vote the trend ran about the same: Jackson 154,000, Adams 109,000, Crawford 47,000, and Clay 47,000. Whatever else might have been said about the outcome, one thing seemed apparent—it was a defeat for Clay’s program of national economic development: New England and New York op- posed him on internal improvements, the South and the Southwest on the protective tariff. Sectionalism had defeated the national economic program.

Yet the advocate of economic nationalism now assumed the role of presi- dent maker, as the election was thrown into the House of Representatives,

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where the Speaker’s influence was decisive. Clay had little trouble choosing, since he regarded Jackson as unfit for the office. “I cannot believe,” he mut- tered, “that killing 2,500 Englishmen at New Orleans qualifies for the vari- ous, difficult and complicated duties of the Chief Magistracy.” He eventually threw his support to Adams. The final vote in the House, which was by state, carried Adams to victory with thirteen votes to Jackson’s seven and Craw- ford’s four.

It was a costly victory, for the result united Adams’s foes and crippled his administration before it got under way. There is no evidence that Adams en- tered into any bargain with Clay to win his support. Still, the charge was widely believed after Adams made Clay his secretary of state and thus put him in the office from which three successive presidents had risen. Adams’s Puritan conscience could never quite overcome a sense of guilt at the ma- neuverings that were necessary to gain his election, and his opponents de- cried the “corrupt bargain” between Adams and Clay. A campaign to elect Jackson in 1828 was launched almost immediately after the 1824 decision. The Crawford people, including Martin Van Buren, “the Little Magician” of New York politics, soon moved into the Jackson camp. So, too, did the new vice president, John Calhoun of South Carolina, who had run on the ticket with both Adams and Jackson but favored the general from Tennessee.


The Presidential “Race” of 1824

John Adams, William Crawford, and Andrew Jackson stride to the finish line (on the left) and Henry Clay lags behind (far right).

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J O H N Q . A DA M S John Quincy Adams was one of the ablest men, one of the hardest workers, and one of the finest intellects ever to enter the White House. Yet he lacked the common touch and the politician’s gift for ma- neuver. A stubborn man who saw two brothers and two sons die from alco- holism, he suffered from chronic bouts of depression that aroused in him a grim self-righteousness and self-pity, qualities that did not endear him to fellow politicians. His idealism also ir- ritated the party faithful. He refused to play the game of patronage, arguing that it would be dishonorable to dis- miss “able and faithful political oppo- nents to provide for my own partisans.” In four years he removed only twelve officeholders. His first annual message to Congress included a grandiose blueprint for national development, set forth in such a blunt way that it be- came a disaster of political ineptitude.

In the boldness and magnitude of its conception, the Adams plan outdid the plans of both Hamilton and Clay. The central government, the president proposed, should promote internal improvements, set up a national univer- sity, finance scientific explorations, build astronomical observatories, and create a department of the interior. To refrain from using broad federal pow- ers, Adams insisted, “would be treachery to the most sacred of trusts.”

Whatever grandeur of conception the message to Congress had, it was ob- scured by an unhappy choice of language. For the son of John Adams to cite the example “of the nations of Europe and of their rulers” was downright suicidal. At one fell swoop he had revived all the Republican suspicions of the Adamses as closet monarchists and served to define a new party system. The minority who cast their lot with Adams and Clay were turning into Na- tional Republicans; the opposition, the growing party of Jacksonians, were the Democratic Republicans, who would eventually drop the name Republi- can and become Democrats.

Adams’s headstrong plunge into nationalism and his refusal to play the game of politics condemned his administration to utter frustration. Con- gress ignored his domestic proposals, and in foreign affairs the triumphs that he had scored as secretary of state had no sequels. The climactic effort

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John Quincy Adams

A brilliant man but an ineffective leader.

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to discredit Adams came on the tariff issue. The panic of 1819 had pro- voked calls for a higher tariff in 1820, but the effort failed by one vote in the Senate. In 1824 the advocates of protection renewed the effort, with greater success. The tariff of 1824 favored the middle Atlantic and New England manufacturers with higher duties on woolens, cotton, iron, and other fin- ished goods. Clay’s Kentucky won a tariff on hemp, and a tariff on raw wool brought the wool-growing interests to the support of the measure. Addi- tional revenues were provided by duties on sugar, molasses, coffee, and salt. The tariff on raw wool was in obvious conflict with that on manufactured woolens, but the two groups got together and reached an agreement.

At this point, Jackson’s supporters saw a chance to advance their candi- date through an awkward scheme hatched by John Calhoun. The plan was to present a bill with such outrageously high tariffs on raw materials that the manufacturers of the East would join the commercial interests there and, with the votes of the agricultural South and Southwest, defeat the measure. In the process, Jackson supporters in the Northeast could take credit for sup- porting the tariff, and wherever it fit their interests, other Jacksonians else- where could take credit for opposing it—while Jackson himself remained in the background. John Randolph of Roanoke saw through the ruse. The bill, he asserted, “referred to manufactures of no sort or kind, but the manufac- ture of a President of the United States.”

The complicated scheme helped elect Jackson, but in the process Calhoun became a victim of his own machinations. The high tariffs ended up becoming law. Calhoun had calculated upon neither the defection of Van Buren, who supported a crucial amendment to satisfy the woolens manufacturers, nor the growing strength of manufacturing interests in New England. Daniel Webster, now a senator from Massachusetts, explained that he was ready to deny all he had said against the tariff because New England had built up its manufactures on the understanding that the protective tariff was a settled policy.

When the tariff bill passed, in May 1828, it was Calhoun’s turn to explain his newfound opposition to the gospel of protection, and nothing so well illus- trates the flexibility of constitutional principles as the switch in positions by Webster and Calhoun. Back in South Carolina, Calhoun prepared the South Carolina Exposition and Protest (1828), which was issued anonymously along with a series of resolutions by the South Carolina legislature. In that docu- ment, Calhoun declared that a state could nullify an act of Congress that it found unconstitutional.

T H E E L E C T I O N O F J AC K S O N Thus far the stage was set for the elec- tion of 1828, which might more truly than that of 1800 be called a revolution.


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But if the issues of the day had anything to do with the election, they were hardly visible in the campaign, in which politicians on both sides reached depths of scurrilousness that had not been plumbed since 1800. Those cam- paigning for Adams denounced Jackson as a hot-tempered and ignorant bar- barian, a participant in repeated duels and frontier brawls, a man whose fame rested upon his reputation as a killer. In addition, his enemies dredged up the story that Jackson had lived in adultery with his wife, Rachel, before they had been legally married; in fact they had lived together for two years in the mis- taken belief that her divorce from her former husband was final. As soon as the official divorce had come through, Andrew and Rachel had been remarried.

The Jacksonians, however, got in their licks against Adams, condemning him as a man who had lived his adult life on the public treasury, who had been corrupted by foreigners in the courts of Europe, and who had allegedly delivered up an American girl to serve the lust of Czar Alexander I while serving as minister to Russia. They called him a gambler and a spendthrift for having bought a billiard table and a chess set for the White House and a puri- tanical hypocrite for despising the common people and warning Congress to ignore the will of its constituents. He had finally reached the presidency, the Jacksonians claimed, by a “corrupt bargain” with Henry Clay.

In the campaign of 1828, Jackson held most of the advantages. As a mili- tary victor he projected patriotism. As a son of the West and a fabled Indian fighter, he was a hero in the frontier states. As a farmer, lawyer, and slave- holder he had the trust of southern planters. Debtors and local bankers who hated the national bank also turned to Jackson. In addition, his vagueness on the issues protected him from attack by interest groups. Not least of all, Jackson benefited from a spirit of democracy in which the common folk were no longer satisfied to look to their betters for leadership, as they had

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The Bloody Deeds of General Andrew Jackson

This anti-Jackson handbill, published during the 1828 campaign, depicts Jackson as a merciless frontier ruffian.

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done in the eighteenth century. It had become politically fatal to be labeled an aristocrat.

Since the Revolution and espe- cially since 1800, white male suf- frage had been gaining ground. The traditional story is that a surge of Jacksonian democracy came out of the West like a great wave, supported mainly by small farmers, leading the way for the East. But in the older states there were other forces working to- ward a wider franchise: the Rev- olutionary doctrine of equality and the feeling on the part of the workers, artisans, and small mer- chants of the towns, as well as small farmers and landed gentry, that a democratic ballot provided

a means to combat the rising commercial and manufacturing interests. From the beginning, Pennsylvania had opened the ballot box to all adult males who paid taxes; by 1790 Georgia and New Hampshire had similar arrangements. Vermont, in 1791, became the first state with universal man- hood suffrage, having first adopted it in 1777. Kentucky, admitted to the Union in 1792, became the second. Tennessee, admitted in 1796, had only a light taxpaying qualification. New Jersey in 1807 and Maryland and South Carolina in 1810 abolished property and taxpaying requirements, and after 1815 the new states of the West came in with either white manhood suffrage or a low taxpaying requirement. Connecticut in 1818, Massachusetts in 1821, and New York in 1821 abolished their property requirements.

Along with the broadening of the suffrage went a liberalization of other features of government. Representation was reapportioned more nearly in line with the population. An increasing number of officials, even judges, were chosen by popular vote. Final disestablishment of the Congregational Church in New England came in Vermont in 1807, New Hampshire in 1817, Connecticut in 1818, Maine in 1820, and Massachusetts in 1834. In 1824 six state legislatures still chose presidential electors. By 1828 the popular vote prevailed in all but South Carolina and Delaware and by 1832 in all but South Carolina.


The Man of the People

This 1828 handbill identifies Andrew Jackson with the democratic impulse of the time.

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The spread of the suffrage brought a new type of politician to the fore: the man who had special appeal to the masses or knew how to organize the peo- ple for political purposes and who became a vocal advocate of the people’s right to rule. Jackson fit the ideal of this new political world, a leader sprung from the people rather than a member of the aristocracy, a frontiersman of humble origin who had scrambled up the political ladder by will and tenac- ity. “Adams can write,” went one of the campaign slogans, “Jackson can fight.” He could write, too, but he once said that he had no respect for a man who could think of only one way to spell a word.

When the 1828 returns came in, Jackson won by a comfortable margin. The electoral vote was 178 to 83, and the popular vote was about 647,000 to

One-Party Politics • 383

SC 11

NC 15

GA 9

AL 5

LA 5


MO 3

IL 3

MS 3


VA 24KY 14

TN 11

IN 5


OH 16

PA 28

NY DR 20 NR 16

VT 7 NH 8 MENR 8

DR 1

MA 15

RI 4 CT 8

NJ 8 DE 3 MD NR 6

DR 5

Andrew Jackson 178 647,000

Electoral VoteTHE ELECTION OF 1828 Popular Vote

(Democratic Republican)

John Q. Adams 83 509,000 (National Republican)





How did the two presidential candidates, John Q. Adams and Andrew Jackson, portray each other? Why did Jackson seem to have the advantage in the election of 1828? How did the broadening of suffrage affect the presidential campaign?

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509,000 (the figures vary). Adams had won all of New England (except one of Maine’s nine electoral votes), sixteen of the thirty-six from New York, and six of the eleven from Maryland. All the rest belonged to Jackson.



• Thomas Jefferson referred to the Missouri Compromise as “a firebell in the night.” He was right. The controversy over the expansion of slavery, introduced here, will reappear in Chapter 14, in the discussion of Texas and the Mexican War.

• John Quincy Adams’s National Republicans, who could trace some of their ideology to the Federalists, will be at the core of the Whig coalition that opposes Jackson in Chapter 11.

• Several of the issues on which the nation united during the Era of Good Feelings—the bank and the protective tariff, for example—will become much more divisive, as discussed in the next chapter.


The standard overview of the Era of Good Feelings remains George Dangerfield’s The Awakening of American Nationalism, 1815–1828 (1965). A classic summary of the economic trends of the period is Douglass C. North’s The Economic Growth of the United States, 1790–1860 (1961). An excellent synthesis of the era is Charles Sellers’s The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815–1846 (1991).

On diplomatic relations during James Monroe’s presidency, see Williams Earl Weeks’s John Quincy Adams and American Global Empire (1992). For re- lations after 1812, see Ernest R. May’s The Making of the Monroe Doctrine (1975).

Background on Andrew Jackson can be obtained from works cited in Chapter 11. The campaign that brought Jackson to the White House is ana- lyzed in Robert Vincent Remini’s The Election of Andrew Jackson (1963).

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The election of Andrew Jackson initiated a new era in Ameri-can politics and social development. Jackson was the firstpresident not to come from a prominent colonial family. As a self-made soldier, politician, and land speculator from the backcountry, he symbolized the changing social scene. The nation he prepared to govern was vastly different from that led by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In 1828 the United States boasted twenty-four states and nearly 13 million people, many of them recent arrivals from Germany and Ireland. The na- tional population was growing at a phenomenal rate, doubling every twenty-three years. An extraordinary surge in foreign demand for cotton and other goods, along with British investment in American enterprises, helped fuel an economic boom and a transportation revolution. Textile mills sprouted like mushrooms across the New England countryside, their ravenous





• What was the social and political context of the Jackson and Van Buren administrations?

• What were Andrew Jackson’s attitudes and actions concerning the tariff (and nullification), Indian policy, and the Bank of the United States?

• Why did a new party system of Democrats and Whigs emerge?

To answer these questions and access additional review material, please visit www.wwnorton.com/studyspace.

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spinning looms fed by cotton grown in the newly cultivated lands of Alabama and Mississippi. This fluid new economic environment fostered a mad scramble for material gain and political advantage. People of all back- grounds engaged in a frenzied effort to acquire wealth and thereby gain social status and prestige.

The Jacksonians sought to democratize economic opportunity and polit- ical participation. Yet to call the Jacksonian era the age of the common man, as many historians have, is misleading. While political participation increased during the Jacksonian era, most of the common folk remained common folk. The period never produced true economic and social equal- ity. Power and privilege, for the most part, remained in the hands of an “uncommon” elite of powerful men. Jacksonians in power proved to be as opportunistic and manipulative as the patricians they displaced. And they never embraced the principle of economic equality. “Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government,” Andrew Jackson observed. “Equality of talents, or education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions.” He and other Jacksonians wanted every American to have an


All Creation Going to the White House

The scene following Jackson’s inauguration as president, according to the satirist Robert Cruikshank.

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equal chance to compete in the marketplace and in the political arena, but they never sanctioned equality of results. “True republicanism,” one com- mentator declared, “requires that every man shall have an equal chance— that every man shall be free to become as unequal as he can.” But in the afterglow of Jackson’s electoral victory, few observers troubled with such distinctions. It was time to celebrate the commoner’s ascension to the presidency.


Andrew Jackson’s father had died before Andrew was born, and his mother had scratched out a meager living as a housekeeper before dying of cholera when her son was fifteen. Jackson grew to be proud, gritty, and short-tempered, and he became a good hater. During the Revolution, when he was a young boy, two of his brothers were killed by redcoats, and the young Jackson was scarred by a British officer’s saber. He also carried with him the conviction that it was not enough for a man to be right; he had to be tough as well, a quality that inspired his soldiers to nickname him Old Hickory. During a duel with a man reputed to be the best shot in Tennessee, Jackson nevertheless let his opponent fire first. For his gallantry the future president received a bullet wedged next to his heart. But he straightened him- self, patiently took aim, and killed his foe. “I should have hit him,” Jackson claimed, “if he had shot me through the brain.”

A P P O I N T M E N T S A N D R I VA L R I E S Jackson believed that a man should serve a term in government, then return to the status of private citi- zen, for officials who stayed in office too long grew corrupt. During his first year in office, however, Jackson replaced only about 9 percent of the ap- pointed officials in the federal government and during his entire term re- placed fewer than 20 percent.

Jackson’s administration was from the outset divided between the parti- sans of Secretary of State Martin Van Buren and those of Vice President John C. Calhoun. Much of the political history of the next few years would turn upon the rivalry of the two statesmen as each jockeyed for position as Jackson’s successor. Van Buren held most of the advantages, foremost among them his skill at timing and tactics. Jackson, new to political administration, leaned heavily upon him for advice and for help in soothing the ruffled feathers of rejected office seekers. Van Buren had perhaps more skill at ma- neuvering than Calhoun and certainly more freedom to maneuver because

Setting the Stage • 387

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his home base of New York was more secure politically than Calhoun’s base in South Carolina. But Calhoun, a man of towering intellect, humorless out- look, and apostolic zeal, could not be taken lightly. A visitor remarked after a three-hour discussion with the bushy-browed Calhoun, “I hate a man who makes me think so much . . . and I hate a man who makes me feel my own inferiority.” As vice president, Calhoun was determined to defend southern interests against the worrisome advance of northern industrialism and abolitionism.

T H E E AT O N A F FA I R In his battle with Calhoun over political power, Van Buren had luck on his side. Fate handed him a trump card: the succu- lent scandal known as the Peggy Eaton affair. The daughter of an Irish tavern owner, Margaret Eaton was a vivacious widow whose husband had supposedly committed suicide upon learning of her affair with the Ten- nessee senator John Eaton. Her marriage to Eaton, three months before he became Jackson’s secretary of war, had scarcely made a virtuous woman of her in the eyes of the proper ladies of Washington. Floride Calhoun, the vice president’s wife, especially objected to Peggy Eaton’s lowly origins and unsavory past. She pointedly snubbed her, and the cabinet wives fol- lowed suit.

Peggy’s plight reminded Jackson of the gossip that had pursued his own wife Rachel, and he pronounced Peggy “chaste as a virgin.” To a friend he wrote: “I did not come here to make a Cabinet for the Ladies of this place, but for the Nation.” His cabinet members, however, were unable to cure their wives of what Van Buren dubbed “the Eaton Malaria.” Van Buren, though, was a wid- ower and therefore free to lavish on poor Peggy all the attention that Jackson thought was her due. Mrs. Eaton herself finally gave in to the chill and with- drew from society. The outraged Jackson came to link Calhoun with what he called a conspiracy against her and drew even closer to Van Buren.

I N T E R N A L I M P R O V E M E N T S While Washington social life weath- ered the winter of 1829–1830, Van Buren delivered some additional blows to Calhoun. It was easy to bring Jackson into opposition to federal financing of transportation improvements, programs with which Calhoun had long been identified. Jackson did not oppose road building per se, but he had the same constitutional scruples as Madison and Monroe about using federal aid to fund local projects. In 1830 the Maysville Road bill, passed by Congress, of- fered Jackson a happy chance for a dual thrust at rivals John Calhoun and Henry Clay. The bill authorized the government to buy stock in a road from Maysville to Clay’s hometown of Lexington. The road lay entirely within


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the state of Kentucky, and though part of a larger scheme to link up with the National Road via Cincinnati, it could be viewed as a purely local undertaking. On that ground, Jackson vetoed the bill, calling it unconstitutional, to widespread popular acclaim.

Yet while Jackson continued to oppose federal aid to local pro- jects, he supported interstate pro- jects such as the National Road, as well as road building in the ter- ritories and river and harbor bills, the “pork barrels” from which every congressman tried to pluck a morsel for his district. Even so, Jackson’s attitude toward the Maysville Road set an important precedent, on the eve of the rail- road age, for limiting federal sup- port of internal improvements. Railroads would be built alto- gether by state and private capital at least until 1850.


CALHOUN’S THEORY There is a fine irony to John Calhoun’s plight in the Jackson administration, for the South Carolinian was now midway be- tween his early phase as a war-hawk nationalist and his later phase as a states’ rights sectionalist. Conditions in his home state had brought on the change. Suffering from agricultural depression, South Carolina lost almost 70,000 residents to emigration during the 1820s and was fated to lose nearly twice that number in the 1830s. Most South Carolinians blamed the protective tariff for raising the price of manufactured goods. Insofar as tariffs discouraged the sale of foreign goods in the United States, they reduced the ability of British and French traders to buy southern cotton. This situation worsened already existing problems of low cotton prices

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King Andrew the First

Opponents considered Jackson’s veto of the Maysville Road bill an abuse of power. This cartoon shows “King Andrew” trampling on the Constitution, internal improvements, and the Bank of the United States.

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and exhausted lands. Compound- ing the South Carolinians’ malaise was growing anger over the North’s criticism of slavery. Hardly had the country emerged from the Missouri controversy when Charleston, South Carolina, was thrown into panic by the Denmark Vesey slave insurrec- tion of 1822, though the Vesey plot was quickly put down.

The unexpected passage of the tariff of 1828 (called the tariff of abominations by its critics) left Cal- houn no choice but to join those in opposition or give up his home base. Calhoun’s South Carolina Exposition

and Protest, written in opposition to the new tariff, had actually been an effort to check the most extreme states’ rights advocates with finespun the- ory, in which nullification stopped short of secession from the Union. The unsigned statement accompanied resolutions of the South Carolina legis- lature protesting the tariff and urging its repeal. Calhoun, it was clear, had not entirely abandoned his earlier nationalism. He wanted to preserve the Union by protecting the minority rights that the agricultural and slave- holding South claimed. The fine balance he struck between states’ rights and central authority was actually not as far removed from Jackson’s own philosophy as it might seem, but growing tensions between the two men would complicate the issue. The flinty Jackson, in addition, was deter- mined to draw the line at any defiance of federal law.

Nor would Calhoun’s theory permit any state to take up such defiance lightly. His concept of nullification, or interposition, whereby a state could interpose state authority and in effect repeal a federal law, followed that by which the original thirteen states had ratified the Constitution. A special state convention, like the ratifying conventions, which embody the sovereign power of the people, could declare a federal law null and void within the state’s borders because it violated the Constitution, the original compact among the states. One of two outcomes would then be possible: the federal government would have to abandon the law, or it would have to propose a constitutional amendment removing all doubt as to its validity. The immediate issue was the constitutionality of a tariff designed mainly to protect American


John C. Calhoun

During the Civil War the Confederate government printed, but never issued, a one-cent postage stamp bearing Calhoun’s likeness.

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industries from foreign competition. The South Carolinians argued that the Constitution authorized tariffs for revenue only.

T H E W E B S T E R- H AY N E D E B AT E South Carolina’s leaders hated the tariff, but they had postponed any action against its enforcement, awaiting with hope the election of 1828, in which anti-tariff Calhoun was the Jacksonian can- didate for vice president. Yet after Jackson assumed the presidency in early 1829, neither he nor Congress saw fit to reduce the tariff duties. There the issue stood until 1830, when the great Webster-Hayne debate sharpened the lines between states’ rights and the Union.

The immediate occasion for the debate, however, was the question of public land. The federal government owned immense tracts of unsettled land, and what to do with them set off an intense sectional debate. Late in 1829 Senator Samuel A. Foot of Connecticut proposed that the federal government restrict land sales in the West. When the Foot Resolution came before the Senate in 1830, Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri denounced it as a northern effort to hamstring the settlement of the West so that the East might maintain its supply of cheap factory labor. Senator Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina took Benton’s side. Hayne saw in the issue a chance to strengthen the alliance of South and West reflected in the vote for Jackson. Perhaps by supporting a policy of cheap land in the West, southerners could gain western support for lower tariffs. The government, said Hayne, endangered the Union by imposing any policy that would cause a hardship on one section of the nation to the benefit of another. The sale of public land as a source of revenue for the central government would create “a fund for corruption—fatal to the sovereignty and inde- pendence of the states.”

Daniel Webster of Massachusetts rose to defend the East. Possessed of a thunderous voice and a theatrical flair, Webster was widely recognized as the nation’s foremost orator and lawyer. With the gallery hushed, he denied that the East had ever shown a restrictive policy toward the West. He then re- buked those southerners who disparaged the Union. Webster had adroitly lured Hayne into defending states’ rights and upholding the doctrine of nul- lification instead of pursuing a coalition with the West.

Hayne took the bait. He defended the South Carolina Exposition, appealed to the example of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, and called attention to the Hartford Convention, in which New Englanders had taken much the same position against majority measures as South Carolina now did. The Union constituted a compact of the states, Hayne argued, and the

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federal government, which was their “agent,” could not be the judge of its own powers, else its powers would be unlimited. Rather, the states remained free to judge when their agent had overstepped the bounds of its constitu- tional authority. The right of state interposition was “as full and complete as it was before the Constitution was formed.”

In rebutting the idea that a state could thwart a federal law, Webster defined a nationalistic view of the Constitution. From the beginning, he asserted, the American Revolution had been a crusade of a united nation rather than one of separate colonies. True sovereignty resided in the people as a whole, for whom both federal and state governments acted as agents in their respective spheres. If a single state could nullify a law of the national government, then the Union would be a “rope of sand,” a practical absurdity. A state could neither nullify a federal law nor secede from the Union. The practical outcome of nullification would be a confrontation leading to civil war.

Hayne may have had the better argument historically in advancing the states’ compact theory, but the Senate galleries and much of the country at large thrilled to the eloquence of “the God-like Daniel.” Webster’s closing statement became an American classic, reprinted in school texts and


Daniel Webster

The eloquent Massachusetts senator stands to rebut the argument for nullification in the Webster-Hayne debate.

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committed to memory by young orators: “Liberty and Union, now and for- ever, one and inseparable.” In the practical world of coalition politics, Web- ster had the better argument, for the Union and majority rule meant more to westerners, including Jackson, than the abstractions of state sovereignty and nullification. As for the public lands, the Foot Resolution was soon defeated anyway. And whatever one might argue about the origins of the Union, its evolution would more and more validate Webster’s position: the states could not act separately from the national government.

T H E R I F T W I T H C A L H O U N As yet, however, Jackson had not spoken out on the issue. Like Calhoun he was a slaveholder, albeit a westerner, and might be expected to sympathize with South Carolina, his native state. Soon all doubt was removed, at least on the point of nullification. On April 13, 1830, the Jefferson Day dinner was held in Washington to honor the birthday of the former president. Jackson and Van Buren agreed that Jackson should present a toast proclaiming his opposition to nullification. When his turn came, after twenty-four toasts, many of them extolling states’ rights, Jackson raised his glass, pointedly stared at Calhoun, and announced: “Our Union— It must be preserved!” Calhoun, who followed, tried quickly to retrieve the situation with a toast to “The Union, next to our liberty most dear! May we all remember that it can only be preserved by respecting the rights of the States and distributing equally the benefit and the burden of the Union!” But Jackson had set off a bombshell that exploded the plans of the states’ righters.

Nearly a month afterward a final nail was driven into the coffin of Calhoun’s presidential ambitions. On May 12, 1830, Jackson first saw a letter confirming reports of Calhoun’s stand in 1818, when as secretary of war he had proposed disciplining General Jackson for his invasion of Florida. A tense correspon- dence between Jackson and Calhoun followed, ending with a curt note from Jackson cutting it off. “Understanding you now,” Jackson wrote two weeks later, “no further communication with you on this subject is necessary.”

The acidic rift between the two proud men prompted Jackson to remove all Calhoun partisans from the cabinet. Before the end of the summer of 1831, the president had a new cabinet, one entirely loyal to him. He named Martin Van Buren, who had resigned from the cabinet, minister to Great Britain, and Van Buren departed for London. Van Buren’s friends now urged Jackson to repudiate his previous intention of serving only one term. It might be hard, they believed, to win the 1832 nomination for the New Yorker, who had been charged with intrigues against Calhoun, and the still- popular Carolinian might yet gain the presidency.

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Jackson relented and in the fall of 1831 announced his readi- ness for one more term, with the idea of returning Van Buren from London in time to win the presidency in 1836. But in 1832, when the Senate reconvened, Van Buren’s enemies opposed his appointment as minister to England, and gave Calhoun, as vice president, a chance to re- ject the nomination with a tie- breaking vote. “It will kill him, sir, kill him dead,” Calhoun told Senator Thomas Hart Benton. Benton disagreed: “You have broken a minister, and elected a Vice President.” So, it turned out, he had. Calhoun’s vote against Van Buren evoked popular sympathy for the New Yorker, who returned from London and would soon be nominated to succeed Calhoun as vice presi- dent.

Now that his presidential hopes were blasted, Calhoun assumed public leadership of the South Carolina nullificationists. They thought that despite Jackson’s gestures, tariff rates remained too high and represented an unconsti- tutional tax designed to enrich the industrial North at the expense of the agri- cultural South. Jackson accepted the principle of using tariffs to protect new American industries from foreign competition. Nevertheless, he had called upon Congress in 1829 to reduce tariffs on goods “which cannot come in com- petition with our own products.” Late in the spring of 1830, Congress lowered duties on such consumer products as tea, coffee, salt, and molasses. That and the Maysville veto, coming at about the same time, mollified a few South Car- olinians, but nullifiers regarded the two actions as “nothing but sugar plums to pacify children.” By the end of 1831, Jackson was calling for further reductions to take the wind out of the nullificationists’ sails, and the tariff of 1832, pushed through by John Quincy Adams (back in Washington as a congressman), cut rates again. But tariffs on cloth and iron remained high.


The Rats Leaving a Falling House

During his first term, Jackson was beset by dissension within his administration. Here “public confidence in the stability and har- mony of this administration” is toppling.

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T H E S O U T H C A R O L I N A O R D I N A N C E South Carolinians, living in the only state where slaves were a majority of the population, feared that the federal authority to impose tariffs might eventually be used to end slavery. In the state elections of 1832, attention centered on the nullification issue. The nullificationists took the initiative in organization and agitation, and the newly formed Unionist party was left with distinguished leaders but little support. A special session of the legislature called for the election of a state conven- tion, which overwhelmingly adopted an ordinance of nullification that re- pudiated the federal tariff acts of 1828 and 1832 and forbade collection of the duties in the state after February 1, 1833. The reassembled legislature then provided that any citizen whose property was seized by federal authori- ties for failure to pay the duty could get a state court order to recover twice its value. The legislature chose Robert Hayne as governor and elected Calhoun to succeed him as senator. Calhoun promptly resigned as vice president in order to defend nullification on the Senate floor.

J AC K S O N ’ S F I R M R E S P O N S E In the crisis, South Carolina found itself standing alone: other states expressed sympathy, but none endorsed nullification. Jackson’s response was measured but not rash—at least not in public. In private he threatened to hang Calhoun and all other traitors— and later expressed regret that he had failed to hang at least Calhoun. In his annual message on December 4, 1832, Jackson announced his firm intention to enforce the tariff but once again urged Congress to lower the rates. On December 10, Jackson followed up with his nullification procla- mation, which characterized the doctrine of nullification as an “impracti- cal absurdity.” He appealed to the people of his native state not to follow false leaders: “The laws of the United States must be executed. . . . Those who told you that you might peaceably prevent their execution, deceived you; they could not have been deceived themselves. . . . Their object is disunion. But be not deceived by names. Disunion by armed force is treason.”

C L AY ’ S C O M P R O M I S E Jackson then sent federal soldiers and ships to South Carolina. The nullifiers mobilized the state militia while Unionists in the state organized a volunteer force. In 1833 the president requested from Congress a “force bill” specifically authorizing him to use the army to com- pel compliance with federal law in South Carolina. Under existing legisla- tion he already had such authority, but this affirmation would strengthen his hand. At the same time he supported a bill in Congress that would have low- ered tariff duties substantially within two years.

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The nullifiers postponed enforcement of their ordinances in anticipation of a compromise. Passage of the compromise bill depended upon the sup- port of the Kentucky senator Henry Clay, who finally yielded to those urging him to save the day. On February 12, 1833, he circulated a plan to reduce the tariff gradually until 1842. It was less than South Carolina preferred, but it got the nullifiers out of the corner into which they had painted themselves.

On March 1, 1833, Congress passed the compromise tariff and the force bill, and the next day Jackson signed both. The South Carolina convention then met and rescinded its nullification of the tariff acts. In a face-saving gesture, it nullified the force bill, for which Jackson no longer had any need. Both sides were able to claim victory. Jackson had upheld the supremacy of the Union, and South Carolina had secured a reduction of the tariff. Cal- houn, worn out by the controversy, returned to his plantation. “The strug- gle, so far from being over,” he ominously wrote, “is not more than fairly commenced.”


During the 1820s and 1830s the United States was fast becoming a multicultural nation of peoples from many countries. Most whites, however, were openly racist in their treatment of blacks and Indians. As economic growth reinforced the institution of slavery and accelerated westward ex- pansion, policy makers struggled to preserve white racial homogeneity and hegemony. “Next to the case of the black race within our bosom,” declared former president James Madison, “that of the red [race] on our borders is the problem most baffling to the policy of our country.”

Andrew Jackson, however, saw nothing baffling about Indian policy. His attitude toward Indians was the typically western one: Native Americans were barbarians and better off out of the way. At the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama in 1814, General Jackson’s federal troops had massacred nearly 900 Creeks. Jackson and most Americans on the frontier despised and feared Indians—and vice versa. Jackson believed that a “just, humane, liberal policy toward Indians” dictated moving all of them onto the plains west of the Mississippi River, to the Great American Desert, which white settlers would never covet, since it was believed to be fit mainly for horned toads and rattlesnakes.

I N D I A N R E M OVA L In response to a request by Jackson, Congress in 1830 approved the Indian Removal Act. It authorized the president to give


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Indians federal land west of the Mississippi River in exchange for the land they occupied in the East and the South. By 1835 Jackson was able to an- nounce that the policy had been carried out or was in the process of comple- tion for all but a handful of Indians. Some 46,000 people were relocated at government expense. The policy was effected with remarkable speed, but even that was too slow for state authorities in the South and Southwest. Un- like the Ohio River valley and the Great Lakes region, where the flow of white settlement had constantly pushed the Indians westward before it, in the Old Southwest settlement moved across Kentucky and Tennessee and down the Mississippi, surrounding the Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, and Cherokees. These tribes had over the years taken on many of the features of white society. The Cherokees even had such products of white “civilization” as a constitution, a written language, and African-American slaves.

Most of the northern tribes were too weak to resist the offers of com- missioners who, if necessary, used bribery and alcohol to woo the chiefs. On the whole, there was remarkably little resistance. In Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory an armed clash erupted in 1832, which came to be known as the Black Hawk War. Under Chief Black Hawk the Sauk and Fox sought to reoccupy some lands they had abandoned in the previous year. Facing famine and hostile Sioux west of the Mississippi, they were simply seeking a place to raise a crop of corn. The Illinois militia mobilized to expel them, chased them into the Wisconsin Territory, and massacred women and children as they tried to escape across the Mississippi. The Black Hawk War came to be remembered, however, less because of the atrocities inflicted on the Indians than because among the participants were two native Kentuckians later pitted against each other: Lieutenant Jefferson Davis of the regular army and Captain Abraham Lincoln of the Illinois volunteers.

In the South two nations, the Seminoles and the Cherokees, put up a stubborn resistance to the federal removal policy. The Seminoles of Florida fought a protracted guerrilla war in the Everglades from 1835 to 1842. But their resistance waned after 1837, when their leader, Osceola, was seized by treachery under a flag of truce, imprisoned, and left to die at Fort Moultrie near Charleston harbor. After 1842 only a few hundred Seminoles re- mained, hiding out in the swamps. Most of the rest had been banished to the West.

T H E T R A I L O F T E A R S The Cherokees had, by the end of the eigh- teenth century, fallen back into the mountains of northern Georgia and western North Carolina, onto land guaranteed to them in 1791 by treaty

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with the United States. But when Georgia ceded its western lands in 1802, it did so on the ambiguous condition that the United States extinguish all In- dian titles within the state “as early as the same can be obtained on reason- able terms.” In 1827 the Cherokees, relying on their treaty rights, adopted a constitution in which they declared pointedly that they were not subject to any other state or nation. In 1828 Georgia responded by declaring that after



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June 1, 1830, the authority of state law would extend over the Cherokees living within the boundaries of the state.

The discovery of gold in 1829 whet- ted the whites’ appetite for Cherokee land and brought bands of rough prospectors into the country. The Cherokees sought relief in the Supreme Court, but in Cherokee Nation v. Geor- gia (1831) John Marshall ruled that the Court lacked jurisdiction because the Cherokees were a “domestic de- pendent nation” rather than a foreign state in the meaning of the Constitu- tion. Marshall added, however, that the Cherokees had “an unquestionable right” to their lands “until title should be extinguished by voluntary cession to the United States.” In 1830 a Geor- gia law had required whites in the territory to obtain licenses authorizing their residence there and to take an oath of allegiance to the state. Two New England missionaries among the Indians refused to abide by the law and were sen- tenced to four years at hard labor. On appeal their case reached the Supreme Court as Worcester v. Georgia (1832), and the Court held that the Cherokee Nation was “a distinct political community” within which Georgia law had no force. The Georgia law was therefore unconstitutional.

Six years earlier Georgia had faced down President John Quincy Adams when he tried to protect the rights of the Creeks. Now Georgia faced down the Supreme Court with the tacit consent of another president. Andrew Jackson did nothing to enforce the Court’s decision. Under the circum- stances there was nothing for the Cherokees to do but give in and sign a treaty, which they did in 1835. They gave up their land in the Southeast in exchange for tracts in the Indian Territory west of Arkansas, $5 million from the federal government, and expenses for transportation.

By 1838 some 17,000 Cherokees had departed westward on the “Trail of Tears,” following other tribes on an 800-mile journey marked by the cruelty and neglect of soldiers and private contractors and scorn and pilferage by whites along the way. A few held out in the mountains and acquired title to federal land in North Carolina; thenceforth they were the “Eastern Band” of

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The Trail of Tears

Elias Boudinot (Gallegina Watie), edi- tor of the Cherokee Phoenix, signed the Indian removal treaty in 1835 and was subsequently murdered.

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the Cherokees. Some Seminoles were able to hide out in the Everglades in south Florida, and a few of the others remained scattered in the Southeast, especially mixed-blood Creeks who could pass for white. Only 8,000 of the exiles survived the forced march to Oklahoma.


T H E B A N K ’ S O P P O N E N T S The overriding national issue in the cam- paign of 1832 was neither Jackson’s Indian policy nor South Carolina’s obsession with the tariff. It was the question of rechartering the Bank of the United States. On the bank issue, as on others, Jackson had made no public commitment, but his personal opposition to the bank was already formed. Jackson had absorbed the western attitude of hostility toward the bank after the panic of 1819. He was convinced that the central bank was unconstitu- tional no matter what Chief Justice John Marshall had said in McCulloch v. Maryland.

Under the management of Nicholas Biddle, the Bank of the United States had prospered and grown. It had facilitated business expansion and supplied a stable currency by forcing the 464 state banks to keep a specie (gold or silver) reserve on hand to back their paper currency. The bank also acted as the col- lecting and disbursing agent for the federal government, which held one fifth of the bank’s $35 million capital stock. From the start this combination of private and public functions caused problems for the Bank of the United States. As the government’s revenues soared, the bank became the most pow- erful lending institution in the country, a central bank, in effect, whose huge size enabled it to determine the amount of available credit for the nation.

Arrayed against the bank were powerful enemies: some of the state and lo- cal banks that had been forced to reduce their volume of paper money, groups of debtors who suffered from the reduction, and businessmen and speculators “on the make,” who wanted easier credit. States’ rights groups questioned the bank’s constitutionality, though Calhoun, who had spon- sored the original charter and valued the bank’s function of regulating the currency, was not among them. Financiers on New York’s Wall Street re- sented the supremacy of the bank, which was located on Philadelphia’s Chestnut Street.

Like Jackson, many westerners and workingmen felt in their bones that the bank was, in Thomas Hart Benton’s word, a “Monster,” a monopoly con- trolled by a wealthy few with power that was irreconcilable with a democracy. “I think it right to be perfectly frank with you,” Jackson told Biddle in 1829.


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“I do not dislike your Bank any more than [I dislike] all banks.” Jackson was perhaps right in his instinct that the bank lodged too much power in private hands, but he was mistaken in his understanding of the bank’s policies. By is- suing paper money of its own, the bank provided a stable and uniform cur- rency for the expanding economy as well as a mechanism to control the pace of growth.

Biddle at first tried to conciliate Jackson by appointing a number of Jackson men to branch offices. In 1829, however, in his first annual message, the president questioned the bank’s constitutionality and asserted (whatever the evidence to the contrary) that it had failed to maintain a sound and uni- form currency. Jackson talked of a compromise, perhaps a bank completely owned by the government with its operations confined chiefly to govern- ment deposits, its profits payable to the government, and its authority to set up branches in any state dependent upon the state’s wishes. But Jackson would never commit himself on the precise terms of compromise. The de- fense of the bank was left up to Biddle.

T H E R E C H A RT E R E F F O RT The bank’s twenty-year charter would run through 1836, but Biddle could not afford the uncertainty of waiting until then for a renewal. He pondered whether to force the issue of recharter before the election of 1832 or after. On this point, leaders of the National Republicans, especially Henry Clay and Daniel Webster (who was legal counsel to the bank as well as a senator), argued that the time to move was before the election. Clay, already the presidential candidate of the National Republicans, proposed making the bank the central election issue. Friends of the bank held a majority in Congress, and Jackson would risk loss of support in the election if he vetoed a renewal. But they failed to grasp the depth of public suspicion of the bank and succeeded mainly in handing Jackson a popular issue on the eve of the election. “The Bank,” Jackson told Martin Van Buren in May 1832, “is trying to kill me. But I will kill it.”

Both houses passed the recharter by a comfortable margin but without the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. On July 10, 1832, Jackson vetoed the bill, sending it back to Congress with a ringing denunciation of monopoly and special privilege. Jackson argued that the bank was unconsti- tutional no matter what the Court and Congress said: “The opinion of the judges has no more authority over Congress than the opinion of Congress had over the judges, and on that point the President is independent of both.” Besides, there were substantive objections apart from the question of consti- tutionality. Foreign stockholders in the bank had an undue influence. The bank, Jackson added, had shown favors to members of Congress and

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exercised an improper power over state banks. An effort to overrule the veto failed in the Senate, thus setting the stage for a nationwide financial crisis.

C A M PA I G N I N N O VAT I O N S The year 1832 witnessed another presi- dential election. For the first time a third party entered the field. The Anti- Masonic party grew out of popular hostility toward the Masonic order, members of which were suspected of having kidnapped and murdered a New Yorker for revealing the “secrets” of his lodge. Opposition to a fraternal order was hardly the foundation on which to build a lasting political party, but the Anti-Masonic party had three important firsts to its credit: in addition to being the first third party, it was the first party to hold a national nominating convention and the first to announce a platform, both of which it accomplished in 1831 when it nominated William Wirt of Maryland for president.

The major parties followed its example by holding national conventions of their own. In December 1831 the delegates of the National Republican party assembled in Baltimore to nominate Henry Clay. Jackson endorsed the idea of a nominating convention for the Democratic party (the name Republican was


Rechartering the Bank

Jackson battling the Hydra-headed Bank of the United States.

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now formally dropped) to demonstrate popular support for its candidates. To that purpose the convention, also meeting at Baltimore, first adopted the two- thirds rule for nomination (which prevailed until 1936, when it became a sim- ple majority) and then named Martin Van Buren as Jackson’s running mate. The Democrats, unlike the other two parties, adopted no formal platform at their first convention and relied to a substantial degree upon hoopla and the personal popularity of the president to carry their cause.

The outcome was an overwhelming endorsement of Jackson in the Elec- toral College, by 219 votes to 49 for Clay, and a less overwhelming but solid victory in the popular vote, 688,000 to 530,000. William Wirt carried only Vermont, winning several electoral votes. South Carolina, preparing for nul- lification and unable to stomach either Jackson or Clay, delivered its eleven votes to Governor John Floyd of Virginia.

T H E R E M O VA L O F G O V E R N M E N T D E P O S I T S Andrew Jackson interpreted his election as a mandate to further weaken the Bank of the United States. He asked Congress to investigate the safety of government de- posits in the bank, since a rumor told of empty vaults, carefully concealed. After a committee had checked on the bank’s operations, the Calhoun and

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Verdict of the People

George Caleb Bingham’s painting depicts the increasingly democratic politics of the mid–nineteenth century.

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Clay forces in the House of Representatives passed a resolution affirming that government deposits were safe and could be continued. The resolution passed on March 2, 1833, by chance the same day that Jackson signed the compromise tariff and the force bill. With the nullification issue out of the way, however, Jackson was free to wage his unrelenting war on the bank, that “hydra of corruption,” which still had nearly four years to run on its charter. Despite the House study and resolution, Jackson now resolved to remove all government deposits from the bank.

When Secretary of the Treasury Louis McLane opposed removal of the government deposits and suggested a new and modified version of the bank, Jackson again shook up his cabinet. In the reshuffling, Attorney General Roger Taney moved to the Treasury Department, where he gladly complied with the presidential wishes, which corresponded to his own views, against the bank.

Taney continued to draw on government accounts with Biddle’s bank but deposited all new federal receipts in state banks. By the end of 1833, twenty- three state banks—“pet banks,” as they came to be called—had the benefit of federal deposits. Transferring the government’s deposits was a highly ques- tionable action under the law, and the Senate voted to censure Jackson for it. Biddle refused to surrender. “This worthy President,” he declared, “thinks that because he has scalped Indians and imprisoned Judges he is to have his way with the Bank. He is mistaken.” Biddle ordered that the bank curtail loans throughout the nation and demand the redemption of state bank notes in gold or silver as quickly as possible. He sought to bring the economy to a halt, create a sharp depression, and reveal to the nation the importance of maintaining the bank. By 1834 the tightness of credit was creating distress in the business community. Most likely both sides were exaggerating for po- litical effect: Biddle to show the evil consequences of the withdrawal of de- posits, the Jacksonians to show how Biddle abused his power.

Biddle’s contraction policy, however, unwittingly unleashed a speculative binge encouraged by the deposit of government funds in the pet banks. With the restraint of Biddle’s bank removed, the state banks gave full rein to their wildcat tendencies. New banks mushroomed, printing bank notes with abandon for the purpose of lending money to speculators. Sales of public lands rose from 4 million acres in 1834 to 15 million in 1835 and 20 million in 1836. At the same time the states plunged heavily into debt to finance the building of roads and canals, inspired by the success of New York’s Erie Canal. By 1837 total state indebtedness had soared to $170 m