economic policies would bestserve the infant Republic? How should the nation defend itself against foreign foes? What princi-ples should guide foreign policy? Was America a nation at all, or was it merely a geographic expres-sion, destined to splinter into sev-eral bitterly quarreling sections, ashad happened to so many other would-be countries? After a shaky start underGeorge Washington and John Adams in the 1790s, buffeted by foreign troubles and domesticcrises, the new Republic passeda major test when power waspeacefully transferred from theconservative Federalists to themore liberal Jeffersonians inthe election of 1800. A confidentPresident Jefferson proceededboldly to expand the national territory with the land-mark Louisiana Purchase in 1803. But before long Jef-ferson, and then his successor, James Madison, wereembroiled in what eventually proved to be a fruitlesseffort to spare the United States from the ravages of the war then raging in Europe. America was dangerously divided during the War of 1812 and suffered a humiliating defeat. But a new senseof national unity and purpose was unleashed in the landthereafter. President Monroe, presiding over this “Era of Good Feelings,” proclaimed in the Monroe Doctrineof 1823 that both of the American continents were off-limits to further European intervention. The foundationsof a continental-scale economy were laid, as a “trans-portation revolution” stitched the country together withcanals and railroads and turnpikes. Settlers flooded overthose new arteries into the burgeoning West, oftenbrusquely shouldering aside the native peoples. Immi-grants, especially from Ireland and Germany, flocked to American shores. The combination of new lands andnew labor fed the growth of amarket economy, including thecommercialization of agricultureand the beginnings of the factory system of production. Old waysof life withered as the marketeconomy drew women as well asmen, children as well as adults,blacks as well as whites, into itsembrace. Ominously, the slavesystem grew robustly as cottonproduction, mostly for sale onEuropean markets, exploded intothe booming Southwest.Meanwhile, the United Statesin the era of Andrew Jacksongave the world an impressivelesson in political science.Between roughly 1820 and 1840, Americans virtually inventedmass democracy, creating hugepolitical parties and enormously expanding political participation by enfranchising nearly all adult white males. Nor was the spirit of innovationconfined to the political realm. A wave of reform andcultural vitality swept through many sectors of Ameri-can society. Utopian experiments proliferated. Religiousrevivals and even new religions, like Mormonism, flour-ished. A national literature blossomed. Crusades werelaunched for temperance, prison reform, women’s rights,and the abolition of slavery.By the second quarter of the nineteenth century, theoutlines of a distinctive American national characterhad begun to emerge. Americans were a diverse, restlesspeople, tramping steadily westward, eagerly forging theirown nascent Industrial Revolution, proudly exercising their democratic political rights, impatient with the old,in love with the new, testily asserting their superiority over all other peoples—and increasingly divided, inheart, in conscience, and in politics, over the singlegreatest blight on their record of nation making anddemocracy building: slavery.
Women Weavers at Work (detail)
These simple cotton looms heralded the dawn of theIndustrial Revolution, which transformed the lives ofAmericans even more radically than the events of 1776.