Nationalism: 1815

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Nationalism: 1815

By 1815, peace had come to the United States. American and British officials signed the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814, to end the War of 1812 (1812–15). The treaty halted hostilities and restored U.S. boundaries that existed before the war. Just as important, British troops defeated the army of French emperor Napoléon Bonaparte (1769–1821) in June 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium. Europe at last rested from war and stopped stirring up trouble for America on the high seas. A difficult time in America's early history had come to an end.

Nationalism, a spirit of national unity and loyalty, took hold of Americans. No longer did they think in terms of one state dominating over another. Instead, they thought of the states as bound together in a truly united nation. The war not only shaped America's self-image but taught the young nation the following powerful lessons: The U.S. government needed a strong executive (presidential) branch to run a war and maintain an effective army and navy. It needed a national bank system to handle moneys from increasingly prosperous trade. The nation did not have to rely on foreign trade for needed supplies. It was capable of producing most of these goods at home. Manufacturing industries expanded rapidly during the war, and Americans loved to buy products made in their own country. Sectionalism, inflated devotion to the interests of a particular section of the country, at the expense of other regions, had no place in the new nationalistic America. Americans looked westward and knew vast regions would soon be settled, expanding the country perhaps all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

The Democratic-Republicans, who had been in power since 1801, were no longer reluctant to express nationalistic ideas. They originally favored a limited national government and supported the rights of states. However, between 1783 and 1815 the new republic, the United States of America, had been tested by rebellions from within and challenged by foreign powers. It had emerged victorious from these challenges and the public felt more united than ever before. These events had reshaped the thinking of Democratic-Republican leaders, and they had come to believe that a strong national government could serve Americans well.

Words to Know

nationalism: Loyalty to a nation and devotion to its interests (over the interests of individual states or regions within the nation).

protective tariff: A high tax on imported goods to protect domestic producers against foreign competition.

secession: The formal withdrawal of a state from the union.

sectionalism: Inflated devotion to the interests of a particular section of the country, at the expense of other regions.

Resolve tested

The challenges that tested the ability and resolve of the young nation's residents had actually begun well before its independence from Britain. In the mid-1750s, with the French and Indian War (1754–63), American recruits and British troops together subdued the French and Indian resistance to colonial settlements on new western lands. Growing tired of British control over the colonies, the colonists declared independence from Britain on July 4, 1776. That day, the colonies became states, forming the United States of America. Americans then fought to secure their independence, achieving that goal in 1783 at the conclusion of the American Revolution (1775–83).

The weak young country struggled for its life through the 1780s. In 1787, men of great vision, strength, and the good sense to compromise, known as the Founding Fathers, created a new form of government. The plan for the new government, a republic, was spelled out in the U.S. Constitution. This republic was the first attempt ever to run a country with elected representatives governing for the country's common good. The states ratified (approved) the Constitution in 1788. The nation inaugurated its first president, George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97), and his vice president, John Adams (1735–1826), on April 30, 1789.

For the next twelve years, Americans molded the new experimental republic into a working government. As people aligned with others who thought as they did on certain important issues, political parties developed. On March 4, 1801, there was a peaceful transfer of power from one party (outgoing Federalist president John Adams) to an opposing party (incoming Democratic-Republican president Thomas Jefferson). With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the United States doubled its territory and gained full access to the Mississippi River and the port at New Orleans. But that same year, Britain and France renewed their age-old struggles in Europe, and neither respected America's neutrality (refusal to take sides). Both disrupted U.S. trade by seizing American merchant ships. Britain also captured American sailors and forced them to work on British ships. When America had had enough, Congress declared war on Britain in 1812. Totally unprepared for the war, the United States risked losing territory, any credibility its national government held, even its independence. Yet the country survived, and Americans began to feel very proud that the United States had overcome so many challenges. This feeling of extreme pride led to the rise of U.S. nationalism.

Rise of nationalism

The year 1815 began a period when national interests began to outweigh the interests of individual states. Having just defeated the British in the War of 1812, Americans shared a sense of national unity and loyalty to their country. They felt secure and began to enjoy a booming national economy. With unbounded optimism, Americans looked westward to vast lands that now belonged to the United States—lands they hoped to settle.

The new sense of nationalism emerged for several reasons:

  1. tremendous pride in recent battle victories over the powerful British;
  2. the rejection of New England sectionalism (a feeling among New Englanders that their part of the country was superior to the other regions and ought to leave the union);
  3. less dependence on foreign manufacturers as U.S. industry gained strength;
  4. an overwhelming optimism about settling and developing the western lands;
  5. the construction of a new capitol building and President's House (the original name of the White House) in Washington, D.C., both important symbols of the new powerful nation.

Battle victories, new heroes

Astonishment was followed by great pride as new American heroes fought and won battles against the British during the War of 1812. In the fall of 1813, American naval officer Oliver Hazard Perry (1785–1819) built a fleet of wooden ships on Lake Erie. He defeated a British fleet based at Detroit and nearby Fort Malden. Forced to retreat from these locations, the British were pursued by General William Henry Harrison (1773–1841), a future U.S. president. Harrison and his men defeated the British troops at the Battle of the Thames in October 1813. Shawnee Native American leader Tecumseh (1768–1813), who had been leading Native American resistance against American settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains, was killed in this battle.

One year later, with Napoléon temporarily quieted in Europe, the British began a three-part offensive against the United States, targeting Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, New York City, and New Orleans. The first front opened when a fleet of four thousand British soldiers landed in Chesapeake Bay in August 1814. They quickly marched on the nation's capital in Washington, D.C., and burned the President's House and the capitol building. Then the fleet proceeded to Baltimore and bombarded Fort McHenry. With a heroic stand, American defenders at Fort McHenry forced the British to withdraw. Observing this battle firsthand, Francis Scott Key (1779–1843) felt proud of the American fighters, and he expressed his pride by writing "The Star-Spangled Banner," the song that would become the national anthem of the United States.

For the second part of their attack, the British sent some ten thousand troops to travel down Lake Champlain to the Hudson River, then south to take New York City. A young, determined American naval officer named Thomas Macdonough (1783–1825) fought a desperate battle to halt the British on the lake in September 1814. Just as his cause looked hopeless, he turned his ship around, fired, and hit the British one more time. His victory saved New York.

While the British were conducting their three-pronged assault on the United States, American and British negotiators were already discussing terms for peace in Ghent, Belgium. When news of the British defeats at Baltimore and New York reached the negotiators, the war-weary British compromised. Both sides called a halt to the fighting, and the British agreed to restore U.S. boundaries to their 1812 locations. The Treaty of Ghent was signed in December 1814, but news of the treaty did not reach America for several weeks. Meanwhile, on January 8, 1815, the British attacked at New Orleans, the third front. However, they were soundly defeated by General Andrew Jackson (1767–1845). Jackson became yet another American hero and would be elected the seventh president of the United States in 1828.

Word of Jackson's New Orleans victory reached Washington, D.C., about the same time as news of the peace treaty. Not realizing the treaty was signed a full two weeks ahead of the battle, Americans assumed the great New Orleans victory had led to the treaty. Under the treaty's terms, the United States lost no territory. Most Americans had thought the United States would lose territory, so they were surprised and overjoyed by this news. The Senate immediately approved the Treaty of Ghent.

Americans quickly forgot the many humiliating defeats U.S. troops had suffered during the war. They also forgot that many state militiamen had fled back home as soon as a battle neared, that various states refused to send men or tax money to support the war, and that some Northern merchants defied wartime restrictions and continued their trade with the enemy (see Chapter 9). Most people in the United States saw only the positive side of the war: The American underdogs had again fought the mighty British until the British wanted no more. Even though Washington, D.C., hadburned, the nation had survived, and it had new heroes in Perry, Harrison, Macdonough, and Jackson.

Overall the War of 1812 was a tie, merely restoring conditions that existed prior to 1812. However, everyday Americans saw it as their second major victory over Britain, confirming U.S. independence and strengthening the nation's image worldwide. The war experience enhanced America's self-esteem and spirit of nationalism many times over. No longer did foreign powers dismiss America as weak and unimportant. America's fighting soldiers and naval officers gained worldwide respect, and U.S. diplomats were treated with dignity.

Sectionalism rejected

Sectionalism refers to a particular region of the country engaging in practices that benefit it over the good of the whole nation. New England was the most prosperous region during the war. Longtime pro-British New England manufacturers opposed the war and continued to trade with Britain and Canada even though such trade was prohibited. New England even talked of making a separate peace with Britain and/or seceding (withdrawing) from the United States.

Representatives from the New England states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont met secretly from December 15, 1814, to January 5, 1815, in Hartford, Connecticut, to discuss their grievances over the U.S. government's actions. Three representatives then traveled toward Washington to express those grievances and make demands. They arrived just as the city was hearing the thrilling news of the victory at New Orleans and the favorable peace treaty. Americans began celebrating, and the New England representatives slunk away. They represented only a small minority of New England's population, and to many, they seemed disloyal to their country because they had met secretly and expressed opposition to the government during wartime. From all these events, America had learned yet another nationalistic lesson: Strength was in unity, not in regional separation. There would be no more talk of secession among the states until the South threatened to secede during the American Civil War (1861–65).

Less dependence on foreign manufacturers

The trade disruptions during the War of 1812 made the United States determined to become less dependent on foreign manufacturers. The "Yankees," a nickname for Americans, decided to manufacture needed goods within the country, rather than relying so heavily on foreign imports (goods brought into America from other countries). The previous twelve years had prepared Americans for this undertaking.

New approaches to manufacturing allowed more goods to be produced in a shorter amount of time. In the early 1800s, the development of new technologies to spin raw cotton into thread sparked an industrial revolution in America. The industrial revolution was a major change in the economy, caused by the introduction of power-driven machines and factories that produce goods in large quantities. Swift-flowing water moved large waterwheels that turned shafts and pulleys, thereby powering new machines housed in large factories. The machines combed the cotton, spun it into thread, and wove fabric.

Another key technological advance that contributed to America's industrial revolution was the development of machine-made identical parts called interchangeable parts. Eli Whitney (1765–1825), who had invented the cotton gin in the 1790s, tapped his creativity again to speed the manufacture of muskets, guns used by America's soldiers. He developed machine tools to make identical parts that could be quickly assembled into identical muskets. If a musket part broke, it was easily replaced from a supply of extra parts. This mass production of muskets saved time and money. Previously, craftspeople made muskets one by one from start to finish. Each gun was slightly different, so its parts could not be interchanged with another gun's parts if something broke.

Between 1812 and 1814, over three hundred new factories were built, most of them in the middle Mid-Atlantic states of Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware, and the New England states. They manufactured mostly textiles (cloth) and metal parts, tools, and machines. In comparison, between 1800 and 1812, only about one hundred factories had been established. Throughout the country, Americans took great pride in products made in the United States.

Pride of the Rivers: Steamboats

In the 1810s and 1820s, steamboats became more and more common on the Hudson, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers. Inventor John Fitch (1743–1798) had demonstrated the first steamboat in 1787 in Philadelphia's harbor. Most observers scoffed at Fitch and his boat, butin 1807 Robert Fulton (1765–1815) demonstrated a more efficient steamboat called the Clermont. To build the Clermont, Fulton partnered with Robert Livingston (1746–1813), a New York statesman who helped negotiate the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. In the record time of thirty hours, the Clermont carried passengers up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany.

In 1810–11, Fulton and Livingston built the steamboat New Orleans on the Ohio River near Pittsburgh. The New Orleans, 148 feet long and 32 feet wide, moved down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in 1811 to the port of New Orleans. The journey of the New Orleans proved that steamboats could be used to transport large quantities of goods to markets on the rivers.

In 1816, Henry M. Shreve (1785–1851) developed a steamboat with a flat bottom that could more easily move through the muddy sections of the Ohio and the Mississippi. By the 1920s, steamboats moved up and down America's major rivers and along the Atlantic shore. Steamboats served as the key transporter of goods and passengers before the railroads developed.

Looking westward

Between the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775 and the end of the War of 1812 in 1815, the U.S. population grew from three million to approximately eight million. This steady increase in population virtually ensured that America would continue to expand westward. In Europe, where most of the new Americans came from, land ownership meant wealth, and new Americans were land-hungry. Settlers continued to move into the Northwest Territory, an area between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. As soon as the War of 1812 was over, they flooded into the entire Mississippi Valley south to New Orleans. By 1821, six more states had joined the union: Indiana (1816), Mississippi (1817), Illinois (1818), Alabama (1819), Maine (1820), and Missouri (1821).

When settlements reached the Mississippi River, settlers wanted the Native Americans removed to west of the Mississippi. The U.S. government set out to move the Native Americans, a plan that proved disastrous for all the tribes involved. By the mid-nineteenth century, thousands of Native Americans had been removed from their fertile (productive) traditional homelands to the vast dry plains west of the Mississippi. Some, seeing the inevitable, moved voluntarily through negotiated treaties. Others were forcefully marched to lands set aside for them including the Cherokee in the infamous "Trail of Tears," which led to many deaths due to harsh winter weather conditions along the way. Still others who refused to leave were crushed in a series of military conflicts with the United States.

At war's end, the vast Louisiana Purchase—over 800,000 square miles of land—lay ready for exploration and settlement. So far, only fur trappers and solitary mountain men had followed explorers Meriwether Lewis (1774–1809) and William Clark (1770–1838) into the western wilderness, but the future opportunities seemed boundless.

A new Capitol

After Congress passed the Residence Act in 1790 establishing a new federal city to house the national government, efforts to construct the Capitol, President's House, and other government buildings had been a financial and physical struggle. As the new capital city took shape through the 1790s on the banks of the Potomac River (which had been a wilderness until this time), many questioned its ability to satisfactorily function as a capital. For example, few places were available for visitors to stay. Nonetheless, Congress, the president, and the Supreme Court moved into buildings still under construction in 1800.

Late in the War of 1812, British troops invaded the young city on August 24, 1814, and burned many of the structures, including the Capitol and President's House. Conclusion of the war only a few months later actually led to hope and promise of a grander city than previously contemplated. Noted architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764–1820) took advantage of the reconstruction opportunity and enlarged some features of the Capitol, such as the Senate chamber, and used marble instead of sandstone in some areas of the building. The Capitol was ready for use once again, but in grander style by 1819.

The President's House faced a similar fate. With construction begun in 1792, President John Adams became the first U.S. president to occupy the house in 1800. Only the exterior walls of the residence survived the fire set by the British troops in 1814. Like the Capitol, it was soon ready for use again in 1817.

Changing political parties

After the U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1788, the Federalists played the key role in shaping the U.S. government. The first two U.S. presidents, George Washington and John Adams, thought like Federalists. Federalists believed in a strong national government, promoted industry and manufacturing over agricultural interests, supported building a national military force, favored taxes to support the national government, and created the first national bank. (Federalists were originally called nationalists.) Most Federalists were businessmen living in the Northeast; they were America's wealthiest and most educated citizens. They routinely shunned common Americans, believing that ordinary citizens had little or no ability to make intelligent decisions about developing the new government.

In direct opposition to the Federalists were the Democratic-Republicans. They were led by the nation's third president, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9), and his successor, James Madison (1751–1836; served 1809–17). The Democratic-Republicans traditionally believed in a limited national government that allowed the states to hold a great deal of power. (When the Constitution was still being developed, people who preferred this type of government were called states' righters.) They supported and promoted agricultural interests over industry, opposed a strong national military force, and disliked taxes and the national bank. Democratic-Republicans championed the common people and believed a true democratic nation must be run with input from all citizens. They feared that businessmen in the Northeast, if left unchecked, might eventually control most of the country's wealth and power. From their point of view, such a situation would not be in keeping with a democratic America.

The first twelve years of Federalist rule, from 1789 to 1801, did not produce a wealthy, powerful, dominating elite as Democratic-Republicans had feared. Over the next sixteen years, from 1801 to 1817, the Democratic-Republicans held power. They did not allow the states to dominate the central government, nor did they stunt the growth of U.S. industry as the Federalists had feared. While Democratic-Republicans continued to favor strong state governments, they had gradually adopted many of the Federalist policies. For example, during the War of 1812, they had recognized the need for a strong national army and navy to keep the United States secure and respected in the world. They also began to support U.S. industry. (The war had prompted much industrial growth, something they had hoped America could avoid. Yet industrial independence brought pride to all Americans, and by 1816 the Democratic-Republicans would begin passing import taxes to protect industry.) Also, in 1816 Democratic-Republican president James Madison and Congress would support the formation of a second national bank with branch banks in the states. The Democratic-Republicans had become solid nationalists.

While Democratic-Republicans had incorporated Federalst thinking to strengthen their party, the Federalist Party was disappearing. Its last stronghold was among New England manufacturers. The Hartford Convention (see Chapter 9) had made the Federalists look sneaky and unpatriotic. They were guilty of sectionalism at a time when the rest of the country was feeling great national pride. This led to the complete demise of the Federalist Party.

1816 and beyond

The new nationalist thinking strongly influenced U.S. economic policy in 1816. Democratic-Republican president James Madison and Congress moved to support two old Federalist concepts: a national bank and taxes on goods coming into the United States. In the years before the War of 1812, Democratic-Republicans had opposed these policies. However, after Congress allowed the first national bank to expire in 1811, state banks proved ineffective and divisive for the nation. In 1816, Congress created the Second Bank of the United States, located near where the first had been in Philadelphia. President Madison approved the new bank without raising a single objection about it being unconstitutional (not authorized by the U.S. Constitution). He had disapproved of the first national bank, saying the Constitution did not allow for it. Serving to extend nationalism, the Second National Bank established several branches in other states.

Congress next passed the first protective tariff, the Tariff of 1816. The protective tariff was a tax on goods brought into the United States from other countries. It added about 20 to 25 percent to the price of goods imported into America. Congress passed the tariff because Britain had been delivering an excessive amount of goods to U.S. ports (the goods had piled up in British factories during the War of 1812). The surplus of British goods had caused some new U.S. manufacturers to go out of business, because they could not compete with the cheap British imports. This downturn, mostly affecting New England manufacturers, was short-lived. The protective tariff made British goods more expensive, and U.S. producers quickly recovered. The tariff protected Northern manufacturers and encouraged Americans to buy goods made in the United States.

Election of 1816 and prosperity

In the presidential election of November 1816, James Monroe (1758–1831), who had been Madison's secretary of state, easily defeated the Federalist candidate, U.S. senator Rufus King (1755–1827) of New York. This was the last time the Federalists would enter a candidate in an election. The Federalist Party disappeared soon after the election, and for a time, the Democratic-Republicans were the only political party in the nation. In 1820, Monroe would run for reelection unopposed.

When Monroe was inaugurated as president in March 1817, the nation was at peace, feeling strong, confident, and ready to move forward. The President's House reopened on New Year's Day 1818, and the president and his wife held a reception for the public to celebrate its opening. The country prospered as industry grew. U.S. exports, goods shipped to foreign countries, reached a total of more than $50 million in 1815. Southern farmers exported tobacco, cotton, and rice to markets all over the world. Most U.S. trade was still with Europe, but American shippers extended trade to Latin American countries (countries in the West Hemisphere south of the United States) and to the Asian Pacific such as China and Malaysia, where vast new markets had opened.

Treaties solidify U.S. boundaries

Three new treaties, the Rush-Bagot Treaty in 1817, the Treaty of 1818, and the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, solidified U.S. boundaries north and south and improved relations with Canada. Canada was a British territory. For a short time following the War of 1812, Canada and the United States built up armaments (protection) in the Great Lakes region. The Rush-Bagot Treaty, signed in 1817 by Britain and America, limited armament buildup. Each nation agreed to keep no more than four warships on the Great Lakes.

Soon after the Rush-Bagot Treaty came the Treaty of 1818. This treaty, also between Britain and the United States, allowed American fishermen to fish the rich waters off Newfoundland and Labrador, in the eastern part of Canada. The treaty also fixed the northern boundary of the Louisiana Purchase, a huge tract of land the United States had acquired in 1803. The agreed-upon boundary was to run along the forty-ninth parallel, from Lake of the Woods, at the northern edge of present-day Minnesota, to the Rocky Mountains. Without negating the claims of either the United States or Britain, the treaty also allowed for a ten-year joint occupation of the wild Oregon Country. Together, the two treaties initiated a peaceful coexistence between Canada and the United States.

America's southern boundary sat just above the panhandle of present-day Florida. Spain controlled the panhandle as far west as Mobile, Alabama, and also held the entire Florida peninsula. However, many Americans assumed Florida was destined to become part of the United States. The westernmost part of the panhandle had been seized by American frontier settlers in 1810, and Congress approved the land grab in 1812. Then, during the War of 1812, Spain took the Mobile area.

Most Spanish troops charged with guarding the U.S. border were transferred to South America in 1816 when revolution broke out there. Native Americans and outlaw whites living in Florida began crossing the border and raiding U.S. settlements. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) told Spain to either get the Florida border under control or cede (relinquish) Florida to the United States. Under the Adams-Onís Treaty, signed in 1819, Spain ceded Florida to the United States; Spain also surrendered its dubious claims to Oregon. The United States agreed to pay U.S. citizens any claims they had against the Spanish government up to $5 million. A number of claims for payment for damages had accumulated in recent years. American losses had resulted from Spain temporarily closing the port of New Orleans to Americans, resulting in much produce spoiling, and from Native Americans using Spanish-held territory as a base to raid American settlements across the border. At least for the time being, the United States gave up any claims to regions that included present-day Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah, and portions of Colorado and Wyoming. With the Adams-Onís Treaty, the United States solidified its southern and western borders. The unified nation was now encompassed by undisputed boundaries.

For More Information


Ammon, Harry. James Monroe: The Quest of National Identity. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971.

Cunningham, Noble E. The Presidency of James Monroe. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1996.

Horsman, Reginald. The New Republic: The United States of America, 1789–1815. New York: Longman, 2000.

McDougall, Walter A. Freedom Just around the Corner: A New American History, 1585–1828. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.

Skeen, C. Edward. 1816: America Rising. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003.

Web Sites

"James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library." University of Mary Washington. (accessed on August 3, 2005).

Robert Fulton. (accessed on August 3, 2005).

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Nationalism: 1815

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Nationalism: 1815