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Jeffersonianism and the Era of Good Feelings, 1801–1824 CHAPTER 8 O n March 4, 1801, Vice President Thomas Jefferson walked from his board- ing house to the Capitol to be inaugurated as the nation’s third president. His decision to walk rather than ride in a coach reflected his distaste for pomp and ceremony, which he thought had grown out of hand in the Washington and Adams administrations. The stroll was also practical, for the new capital, Washington, had scarcely any streets. Pennsylvania Avenue was no more than a path cut through swamp and woods (so dense that congress- men got lost in them) to connect the unfinished Capitol with the city’s only other building of note, the president’s mansion. Officials called the place “hateful,” “this abode of splendid misery,” a “desert city,” and the “abomina- tion of desolation.” After arriving at the Capitol, Jefferson was sworn in by the new chief jus- tice, John Marshall, a John Adams appointee whom Jefferson already had begun to distrust. The absence of the outgoing president reminded everyone of the bitterness of the 1800 election, which Federalists had interpreted as a victory for the “worthless, the dishonest, the rapacious, the vile and the ungodly.” Nevertheless, in his inaugural address, Jefferson struck a conciliatory note. The will of the majority must prevail, but the minority had “their equal rights,” he assured the beaten Federalists. He traced the political convulsions CHAPTER OUTLINE The Age of Jefferson The Gathering Storm The War of 1812 The Awakening of American Nationalism 227

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Page 1: Jeffersonianism and the Era of Good Feelings, 1801–1824 · Jeffersonianism and the Era of Good Feelings, 1801–1824 CHAPTER 8 On March 4, 1801, Vice President Thomas Jefferson

Jeffersonianism and the Era of Good Feelings,1801–1824


On March 4, 1801, Vice President Thomas Jefferson walked from his board-ing house to the Capitol to be inaugurated as the nation’s third president.

His decision to walk rather than ride in a coach reflected his distaste forpomp and ceremony, which he thought had grown out of hand in theWashington and Adams administrations. The stroll was also practical, for thenew capital, Washington, had scarcely any streets. Pennsylvania Avenue wasno more than a path cut through swamp and woods (so dense that congress-men got lost in them) to connect the unfinished Capitol with the city’s onlyother building of note, the president’s mansion. Officials called the place“hateful,” “this abode of splendid misery,” a “desert city,” and the “abomina-tion of desolation.”

After arriving at the Capitol, Jefferson was sworn in by the new chief jus-tice, John Marshall, a John Adams appointee whom Jefferson already hadbegun to distrust. The absence of the outgoing president reminded everyoneof the bitterness of the 1800 election, which Federalists had interpreted as avictory for the “worthless, the dishonest, the rapacious, the vile and theungodly.”

Nevertheless, in his inaugural address, Jefferson struck a conciliatorynote. The will of the majority must prevail, but the minority had “their equalrights,” he assured the beaten Federalists. He traced the political convulsions


The Age of Jefferson

The Gathering Storm

The War of 1812

The Awakening of AmericanNationalism


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of the 1790s to differing responses to the FrenchRevolution, an external event whose fury had passed,and he thereby suggested that the source of Americandiscord was foreign and distant. What Americans need-ed to recognize was that they agreed on essentials, that“every difference of opinion is not a difference of princi-ple,” that “we are all republicans, we are all federalists.”

Newspapers added capitals and printed the lastclause as “we are all Republicans, we are all Federalists,”but in Jefferson’s manuscript the words appear as“republicans” and “federalists.” The distinction is criti-cal. Jefferson’s point was not that the Federalist andRepublican parties would merge or dissolve. Comparedto President Adams, Jefferson would play a much moreactive role as leader of his party. Rather, Jefferson hopedthat, since the vast majority of Americans accepted thefederal union (federalism) and representative govern-ment (republicanism), they would develop a more har-monious spirit in politics.

Jefferson’s ideals cast a lengthy shadow over theperiod from 1801 to 1824. His purchase in 1803 of thevast Louisiana Territory, motivated by a mixture of prin-ciple and opportunity, nearly doubled the size of theUnited States. His successors in the “Virginia Dynasty”of Republican presidents, James Madison and JamesMonroe, warmly supported his principle that govern-ments were strong to the extent that they earned theaffection of a contented people. Increasingly deserted byvoters, the opposition Federalist party first disintegratedand then collapsed as a national force by 1820.

Yet the harmony for which Jefferson longed provedelusive. Contrary to Jefferson’s expectation, events inEurope continued to agitate American politics. In 1807the United States moved to end all trade with Europe toavoid being sucked into the ongoing war betweenBritain and France. The failure of this policy led to warwith Britain in 1812.

Foreign policy was not the only source of discord.The Federalist decline opened the way for intensifiedfactionalism in the Republican party during Jefferson’ssecond term (1805–1809) and again during the mislead-ingly named Era of Good Feelings (1817–1824). Repub-lican factionalism often grew out of conflicting assess-ments of Jefferson’s philosophy by his followers. Some,like the eccentric John Randolph, argued that, as presi-dent, Jefferson was deserting his own principles. OtherRepublicans interpreted the often inept performance ofthe American government and army during the War of1812 as proving the need for a stronger centralized gov-ernment than Jefferson had desired. Most ominously, in 1819 and 1820 northern and southern Republicans

divided along sectional lines over the extension of slav-ery into Missouri, much to the dismay of Jefferson, whofound nothing in the Constitution to prevent either slav-ery or its extension.

This chapter focuses on five major questions:

■ How did Jefferson’s philosophy of governmentshape his policies toward public expenditures, thejudiciary, and the Louisiana Purchase?

■ What divisions emerged within the Republican partyduring Jefferson’s second term?

■ What led James Madison to abandon Jefferson’spolicy of “peaceable coercion” and go to war withBritain in 1812?

■ How did the War of 1812 influence American domes-tic politics?

■ To what extent did Jefferson’s legacy persist intothe Era of Good Feelings? To what extent was itdiscarded?

THE AGE OF JEFFERSONNarrowly elected in 1800, Jefferson saw his popularityrise during his first term, when he moved quickly toscale down seemingly unnecessary government expen-ditures. Increasingly confident of popular support, heworked to loosen the Federalists’ grip on appointive federal offices, especially in the judiciary. His purchaseof Louisiana against Federalist opposition added to his popularity. In all of these moves, Jefferson was guided not merely by political calculation but also by his philosophy of government, eventually known asJeffersonianism.

Jefferson and Jeffersonianism

A man of extraordinary attainments, Jefferson was fluentin French, read Latin and Greek, and studied severalNative American languages. He served for more thantwenty years as president of America’s foremost scientif-ic association, the American Philosophical Society. Astudent of architecture, he designed his own mansion inVirginia, Monticello, and spent over forty years oversee-ing its construction. Gadgets fascinated him. He invent-ed a device for duplicating his letters, of which he wroteover twenty thousand, and he improved the design for arevolving book stand, which enabled him to consult up

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to five books at once (by 1814 he owned seven thousandbooks in a host of languages). His public career wasluminous: principal author of the Declaration of Inde-pendence, governor of Virginia, ambassador to France,secretary of state under Washington, and vice-presidentunder John Adams.

Yet he was, and remains, a controversial figure. Hiscritics, pointing to his doubts about some Christian doc-trines and his early support for the French Revolution,portrayed him as an infidel and radical. During the elec-tion campaign of 1800, Federalists alleged that he kept aslave mistress. In 1802 James Callender, a former sup-porter furious about not receiving a government job hewanted, wrote a newspaper account in which he namedSally Hemings, a house slave at Monticello, as the mis-tress. Drawing on the DNA of Sally’s male heirs and link-

ing the timing of Jefferson’s visits to Monticello with thestart of Sally’s pregnancies, most scholars now view it asvery likely that Jefferson, a widower, was the father of atleast one of her four surviving children.

Callender’s story did Jefferson little damage inVirginia, not because it was discounted but becauseJefferson acted according to the rules of white Virginiagentlemen by never acknowledging any of Sally’s chil-dren as his own. Although he freed two of her children(the other two ran away), he never freed Sally, thedaughter of Jefferson’s own father-in-law and so light-skinned that she could pass for white, nor did he evermention her in his vast correspondence. Yet the story ofSally fed the charge that Jefferson was a hypocrite, forthroughout his career he condemned the very “race-mixing” to which he appears to have contributed.

Jefferson did not believe that blacks and whitescould live permanently side-by-side in American socie-ty. As the black population grew, he feared a race war sovicious that it could be suppressed only by a dictator.This view was consistent with his conviction that thereal threat to republics rose less from hostile neighborsthan from within. He knew that the French had turnedto a dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte, to save them fromthe chaos of their own revolution. Only by colonizingblacks in Africa, an idea embodied in the AmericanColonization Society (1816), could America avert a simi-lar fate.

Jefferson worried that high taxes, standing armies,and public corruption could destroy American liberty by

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turning government into the master rather than servantof the people. To prevent tyranny, he advocated thatstate governments retain considerable authority. In avast republic marked by strong local attachments, hereasoned, state governments would be more responsiveto the popular will than would the government inWashington.

He also believed that popular liberty required popu-lar virtue. For republican theorists like Jefferson, virtueconsisted of a decision to place the public good ahead ofone’s private interests and to exercise vigilance to keepgovernments from growing out of control. To Jefferson,the most vigilant and virtuous people were educatedfarmers, who were accustomed to act and think withsturdy independence. The least vigilant were the inhabi-tants of cities. Jefferson regarded cities as breedinggrounds for mobs and as menaces to liberty. Men whorelied on merchants or factory owners for their jobscould have their votes influenced, in contrast to theindependence of farmers who worked their own land.When the people “get piled upon one another in largecities, as in Europe,” he wrote, “they will become corruptas in Europe.”

Jefferson’s “Revolution”

Jefferson described his election as a revolution, but therevolution he sought was to restore the liberty and tran-quillity that (he thought) the United States had enjoyedin its early years and to reverse the drift toward despot-ism that he had seen in Alexander Hamilton’s economicprogram and John Adams’s Alien and Sedition Acts (seeChapter 7). One alarming sign of this drift was thegrowth of the national debt by $10 million under theFederalists. Jefferson and his secretary of the treasury,Albert Gallatin, rejected Hamilton’s idea that a nationaldebt would strengthen the government by giving credi-tors a stake in its health. Paying the interest alone wouldrequire taxes, which sucked money from industriousfarmers, the backbone of the Republic, and put it intothe hands of wealthy creditors, parasites who lived offothers’ misfortune. Increased tax revenues might alsotempt the government to create a standing army, alwaysa threat to liberty.

Jefferson and Gallatin induced Congress to repealmany taxes, and they slashed expenditures by closingsome embassies overseas and reducing the army. They

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placed economy ahead of military preparedness.Gallatin calculated that the nation could be freed ofdebt in sixteen years if administrations held the line onexpenditures. In Europe, the Peace of Amiens (1802)brought a temporary halt to the hostilities betweenBritain and France that had threatened American ship-ping in the 1790s, which buoyed Jefferson’s confidencethat minimal military preparedness was a sound policy.The Peace of Amiens, he wrote, “removes the only dan-ger we have to fear. We can now proceed without risksin demolishing useless structures of expense, lighten-ing the burdens of our constituents, and fortifying theprinciples of free government.” This may have beenwishful thinking, but it rested on a sound economiccalculation, for the vast territory of the United Statescould not be secured from attack without astronomicalexpense.

While cutting back expenditures on the army,Jefferson was ready to use the navy to gain respect forthe American flag. In 1801 he ordered a naval squadroninto action in the Mediterranean against the so-calledTripolitan (or Barbary) pirates of North Africa. For cen-turies, the Muslim rulers of Tripoli, Morocco, Tunis, andAlgiers had solved their budgetary problems by engag-ing in piracy and extorting tribute in exchange for pro-tection; seamen whom they captured were held for ran-som or sold into slavery. Most European powers handedover the fees demanded, but Jefferson calculated thatgoing to war would be cheaper than paying high tributeto maintain peace. Although suffering its share of revers-es during the ensuing fighting, the United States did notcome away empty-handed. In 1805 it was able to con-clude a peace treaty with Tripoli. The war cost roughlyhalf of what the United States had been paying annuallyfor protection.

Jefferson and the Judiciary

Jefferson had hoped to conciliate the moderate Fed-eralists, but conflicts over the judiciary derailed thisobjective. Because the Washington and Adams adminis-trations had appointed only Federalists, not a singleRepublican sat on the federal judiciary when Jeffersoncame to office. Still bitter about the zeal of federal courtsin enforcing the Alien and Sedition Acts, Jefferson sawthe Federalist-sponsored Judiciary Act of 1801 as the laststraw. By reducing the number of Supreme Court jus-tices from six to five, the act threatened to strip him of anearly opportunity to appoint a justice. At the same time,the act created sixteen new federal judgeships, whichoutgoing president John Adams filled by last-minute(“midnight”) appointments of Federalists. To Jefferson,

this was proof that the Federalists intended to use the judiciary as a stronghold from which “all the works ofRepublicanism are to be beaten down and erased.” In 1802 he won congressional repeal of the Judiciary Actof 1801.

Jefferson’s troubles with the judiciary were not over.On his last day in office, Adams had appointed an obscureFederalist, William Marbury, as justice of the peace in theDistrict of Columbia but failed to deliver Marbury’s com-mission before midnight. When Jefferson’s secretary ofstate, James Madison, refused to release the commission,Marbury petitioned the Supreme Court to issue a writcompelling delivery. In Marbury v. Madison (1803), ChiefJustice John Marshall, an ardent Federalist, wrote theunanimous opinion. Marshall ruled that, althoughMadison should have delivered Marbury’s commission,he was under no legal obligation to do so because part ofthe Judiciary Act of 1789, which had granted the Court theauthority to issue such a writ, was unconstitutional.

For the first time, the Supreme Court had declared itsauthority to void an act of Congress on the grounds thatit was “repugnant” to the Constitution. Jefferson did notreject this principle, known as the doctrine of judicialreview and destined to become highly influential, but hewas enraged that Marshall had used part of his decisionto lecture Madison on his moral duty (as opposed to hislegal obligation) to have delivered Marbury’s commis-sion. This gratuitous lecture, which was really directed atJefferson as Madison’s superior, struck Jefferson asanother example of Federalist partisanship.

While the Marbury decision was brewing, theRepublicans had already taken the offensive against thejudiciary by moving to impeach (charge with wrongdo-ing) two Federalist judges. One, John Pickering, was aninsane alcoholic; the other, Supreme Court justiceSamuel Chase, was a partisan Federalist notorious forjailing several Republican editors under the Sedition Act of 1798. These cases raised the same issue: Wasimpeachment, which the Constitution restricted to casesof treason, bribery, and “high Crimes and Misde-meanors,” an appropriate remedy for judges who wereinsane or excessively partisan? Pickering was removedfrom office, but the Senate narrowly failed to convictChase, in part because moderate Republicans werecoming to doubt whether impeachment was a solutionto judicial partisanship.

Chase’s acquittal ended Jefferson’s skirmishes withthe judiciary. His more radical followers attacked theprinciple of judicial review and called for an electedrather than appointed judiciary. But Jefferson merelychallenged the Federalist use of judicial power for polit-ical goals. There was always a gray area between law and

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politics. Federalists did not necessarily see a conflictbetween protecting the Constitution and advancingtheir party’s cause. Nor did they use their control of thefederal judiciary to undo Jefferson’s “revolution” of1800. The Marshall court, for example, upheld the con-stitutionality of the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801.For his part, Jefferson never proposed to impeachMarshall. In supporting impeachment of Pickering andChase, Jefferson was trying to make the judiciary moreresponsive to the popular will by challenging a pair ofjudges whose behavior had been outrageous. No otherfederal judge would be impeached for more than fiftyyears.

The Louisiana Purchase, 1803

Jefferson’s goal of avoiding foreign entanglements wouldremain beyond reach as long as European powers hadlarge landholdings in North America. In 1800 Spain, aweak and declining power, controlled East and WestFlorida as well as the vast Louisiana Territory. The latterwas equal in size to the United States at that time. In1800 Spain ceded the Louisiana Territory to France,which was fast emerging under Napoleon Bonaparte asthe world’s foremost military power. It took six monthsfor news of the treaty to reach Jefferson and Madison butonly a few minutes for them to grasp its significance.

Jefferson had long dreamed of an “empire of liberty”extending across North America and even into SouthAmerica. He saw this empire being gained not by mili-tary conquest but by the inevitable expansion of the freeand virtuous American people. An enfeebled Spain con-stituted no real obstacle to this expansion. As long asLouisiana had belonged to Spain, time was on the side ofthe United States. But Bonaparte’s capacity for mischiefwas boundless. What if Bonaparte and the Britishreached an agreement that gave England a free hand inthe Mediterranean and France a license to expand intoNorth America? The United States would be sandwichedbetween the British in Canada and the French inLouisiana. What if Britain refused to cooperate withFrance? In that case, Britain might use its naval power toseize Louisiana before the French took control, therebytrapping the United States between British forces in theSouth and in the North.

Although Americans feared these two possibilities,Bonaparte actually had a different goal. He dreamed of anew French empire bordering the Caribbean and theGulf of Mexico, centering on the Caribbean island ofSanto Domingo (modern Haiti and the DominicanRepublic). He wanted to use Louisiana not as a base

from which to threaten the United States but as a bread-basket for an essentially Caribbean empire. His immedi-ate task was to subdue Santo Domingo, where by 1800 a bloody slave revolution had resulted in a takeover ofthe government by the black statesman ToussaintL’Ouverture (see Chapter 7). Bonaparte dispatched anarmy to reassert French control and reestablish slavery,but an epidemic of yellow fever combined with fierceresistance by former slaves to destroy the army.

In the short run, Jefferson worried most about NewOrleans. Because no rivers, roads, or canals connectedthe American territories of Ohio, Indiana, and Mis-sissippi with the eastern ports, farmers in the interiorhad to ship their cash crops, worth $3 million annually,down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, a port that did not belong to the United States. TheSpanish had temporarily granted Americans the right topark their produce there while awaiting transfer toseagoing vessels. But in 1802, the Spanish colonialadministrator in New Orleans issued an order revokingthis right. The order had originated in Spain, but mostAmericans assumed that it had come from Bonaparte,who, although he now owned Louisiana, had yet to takepossession of it. An alarmed Jefferson described NewOrleans as the “one single spot” on the globe whose pos-sessor “is our natural and habitual enemy.” “The daythat France takes possession of N. Orleans,” he added,“we must marry ourselves to the British fleet andnation.”

The combination of France’s failure to subdue SantoDomingo and the termination of American rights todeposit produce in New Orleans stimulated two crucialdecisions, one by Jefferson and the other by Bonaparte,that ultimately resulted in the purchase of Louisiana bythe United States. First, Jefferson nominated JamesMonroe and Robert R. Livingston to negotiate withFrance for the purchase of New Orleans and as much ofthe Floridas as possible. (Because West Florida hadrepeatedly changed hands among France, Britain, andSpain, no one was sure who owned it.) Meanwhile,Bonaparte, mindful of his military failure in SantoDomingo and of American opposition to French controlof Louisiana, had concluded that his projected Car-ibbean empire was not worth the cost. In addition, heplanned to recommence the war in Europe and neededcash. So he decided to sell all of Louisiana. After somehaggling between the American commissioners andBonaparte’s minister, Talleyrand, a price of $15 millionwas settled on. (One-fourth of the total represented anagreement by the United States to pay French debtsowed to American citizens.) For this sum, the United

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States gained an immense, uncharted territory betweenthe Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains (see Map8.1). No one knew its exact size; Talleyrand merelyobserved that the bargain was noble. But the purchasevirtually doubled the area of the United States at a cost,omitting interest, of thirteen and one-half cents an acre.

As a believer in a strict interpretation of the Consti-tution, the president had doubts about the constitution-ality of the purchase. No provision of the Constitutionexplicitly gave the government authority to acquire newterritory. Jefferson therefore drafted a constitutionalamendment that authorized the acquisition of territoryand prohibited the American settlement of Louisiana foran indefinite period. Fearing that an immediate andheadlong rush to settle the area would lead to thedestruction of the Native Americans and an orgy of land

speculation, Jefferson wanted to control development sothat Americans could advance “compactly as we multi-ply.” Few Republicans shared Jefferson’s constitutionalreservations. The president himself soon began to worrythat ratification of an amendment would take too longand that Bonaparte might in the meantime change hismind about selling Louisiana. He quietly dropped theamendment and submitted the treaty to the Senate,where it was quickly ratified.

It is easy to make too much of Jefferson’s dilemmaover Louisiana. Believing that the Constitution shouldbe interpreted (“constructed”) according to its letter, hewas also committed to the principle of establishing an“empire of liberty.” Doubling the size of the Republicwould guarantee land for American farmers, the back-bone of the nation and the true guardians of liberty. Like

The Age of Jefferson 233

New OrleansORLEANS


Ft. Clatsop

Columbia R.




















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Louisiana PurchaseGULF OFMEXICO

MAP 8.1. The Louisiana Purchase and the Exploration of the WestThe explorations of Lewis and Clark demonstrated the vast extent of the area purchased from France.

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the principle of states’ rights to which Jefferson also sub-scribed, strict construction was not an end in itself but ameans to promote republican liberty. If that end couldbe achieved some way other than by strict construction,so be it. Jefferson was also alert to practical considera-tions. Most Federalists opposed the Louisiana Purchaseon the grounds that it would decrease the relative impor-tance of their strongholds on the eastern seaboard. Asthe leader of the Republican party, Jefferson saw no rea-son to hand the Federalists an issue by dallying overratification of the treaty.

The Election of 1804

Jefferson’s acquisition of Louisiana left the Federalistsdispirited and without a popular national issue. As theelection of 1804 approached, the main threat to Jeffersonwas not the Federalist party but his own vice president,Aaron Burr. In 1800 Burr had tried to take advantage of atie in the electoral college to gain the presidency, abetrayal in the eyes of most Republicans, who assumedthat he had been nominated for the vice presidency. The

adoption in 1804 of the Twelfth Amendment, whichrequired separate and distinct ballots in the electoral col-lege for the presidential and the vice-presidential candi-dates, put an end to the possibility of an electoral tie forthe chief executive. But it did not put an end to Burr.Between 1801 and 1804, Burr entered into enoughintrigues with the Federalists to convince the Republi-cans that it would be unsafe to renominate him for thevice presidency. The Republicans in Congress rudelydumped Burr in favor of George Clinton.

Without a hope of success, the Federalists nominat-ed Charles C. Pinckney and Rufus King, and thenwatched their candidates go down in complete andcrushing defeat in the election. The Federalists carriedonly two states, failing to hold even Massachusetts.Jefferson’s overwhelming victory brought his first termto a fitting close. Between 1801 and 1804, the UnitedStates had doubled its territory, taken steps to pay off itsdebt, and remained at peace.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition

Louisiana dazzled Jefferson. Here was an immense terri-tory about which Americans knew virtually nothing. Noone was sure of its western boundary. A case could bemade for the Pacific Ocean, but Spain still possessed theAmerican Southwest. Jefferson was content to claim thatLouisiana extended at least to the mountains west of theMississippi. No one, however, was certain of the exactlocation of these mountains because few Americans hadever seen them. Jefferson himself had never been morethan fifty miles west of his home in Virginia. Thus theLouisiana Purchase was both a bargain and a surprisepackage.

Even before the acquisition of Louisiana, Jeffersonhad planned an exploratory expedition; picked itsleader, his personal secretary and fellow Virginian Lieu-tenant Meriwether Lewis; and sent him to Philadelphiafor a crash course in sciences such as zoology, astrono-my, and botany that were relevant to exploration.Jefferson instructed Lewis to trace the Missouri River toits source, cross the western highlands, and follow thebest water route to the Pacific. Jefferson was genuinelyinterested in the scientific information that could be col-lected on the expedition. His instructions to Lewis citedthe need to learn about Indian languages and customs,climate, plants, birds, reptiles, and insects. But, aboveall, Jefferson hoped that his explorers would find a waterroute across the continent (see Technology and Culture:Mapping America). The potential economic benefitsfrom such a route included diverting the lucrative fur

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trade from Canadian to American hands and boostingtrade with China.

Setting forth from St. Louis in May 1804, Lewis, hissecond-in-command William Clark, and about fiftyothers followed the Missouri River and then the Snakeand Columbia Rivers. In the Dakota country, Lewis andClark hired a French-Canadian fur trader, ToussaintCharbonneau, as a guide and interpreter. Slow-wittedand inclined to panic in crises, Charbonneau proved tobe a mixed blessing, but his wife, Sacajawea, whoaccompanied him on the trip, made up for his failings. AShoshone and probably no more than sixteen years oldin 1804, Sacajawea had been stolen by a rival tribe andthen claimed by Charbonneau, perhaps in settlementfor a gambling debt. When first encountered by Lewisand Clark, she had just given birth to a son; indeed, theinfant’s presence helped reassure Native Americantribes of the expedition’s peaceful intent. Additionally,Sacajawea showed Lewis and Clark how to forage forwild artichokes and other plants, often their only food,by digging into the dens where rodents stored them.Clutching her baby, she rescued most of the expedition’sscientific instruments after a boat capsized on theMissouri River.

The group finally reached the Pacific Ocean inNovember 1805 and then returned to St. Louis, but notbefore collecting a mass of scientific information,including the disturbing fact that more than three hun-dred miles of mountains separated the Missouri fromthe Columbia. The expedition also produced a sprin-kling of tall tales, many of which Jefferson believed,about gigantic Indians, soil too rich to grow trees, and amountain composed of salt. Jefferson’s political oppo-nents railed that he would soon be reporting the discov-ery of a molasses-filled lake. For all the ridicule, theexpedition’s drawings of the geography of the region ledto more accurate maps and heightened interest in theWest.

THE GATHERING STORMIn gaining control of Louisiana, the United States hadbenefited from the preoccupation of European powerswith their own struggles. But between 1803 and 1814, therenewal of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe turned theUnited States into a pawn in a chess game played by oth-ers and helped make Jefferson’s second term far less suc-cessful than his first.

Europe was not Jefferson’s only problem. He had todeal with a conspiracy to dismantle the United States,the product of the inventive and perverse mind of Aaron

Burr, and to face down challenges within his own party,led by John Randolph.

Challenges on the Home Front

Aaron Burr suffered a string of reverses in 1804. Afterbeing denied renomination as vice president, he enteredinto a series of intrigues with a faction of despairing andextreme (or “High”) Federalists in New England. Led bySenator Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts, these HighFederalists plotted to sever the Union by forming a pro-British Northern Confederacy composed of Nova Scotia(part of British-owned Canada), New England, New York,and even Pennsylvania. Although most Federalists dis-dained the plot, Pickering and others settled on Burr astheir leader and helped him gain the Federalist nom-ination for the governorship of New York. AlexanderHamilton, who had thwarted Burr’s plans for the presi-dency in 1800 by throwing his weight behind Jefferson,now foiled Burr a second time by allowing the publi-cation of his “despicable opinion” of Burr. Defeated inthe election for New York’s governor, Burr challengedHamilton to a duel and mortally wounded him at Wee-hawken, New Jersey, on July 11, 1804.

Under indictment in two states for his murder ofHamilton, Burr, still vice president, now hatched ascheme so bold that it gained initial momentumbecause his political opponents doubted that even Burr

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Mapping America



[GUIDE]P-08-14 and P-08-15

Writing to Congress in 1777, George Washingtonhad complained that “the want of accurate

maps of the Country” placed him at “a great disadvan-tage.” Treating mapmaking as a public expense, theBritish government staffed its army with surveyors,whose skills were indispensable to making maps. As aresult, the British often had a better knowledge of theAmerican countryside than did Washington’s army.

Washington himself was a surveyor, but Americansurveyors had been employed by land-seeking clients,not governments. This approach to mapping yieldedlocal maps, some of which were biased since the clientshad an interest in the outcome. Existing maps of entirecolonies were compilations of local maps, subject to theall errors that had crept into local surveys and lackingany common geographic frame of reference.

The accurate mapping of large areas that Wash-ington desired required government funding of many sur-vey parties. A typical survey party included several axe-men to clear trees, two chain bearers, two or three staffcarriers, an instrument carrier, and the surveyor. Sur-veyors used several basic instruments, including a table

equipped with paper, a compass, a telescope for meas-uring direction and heights, and an instrument for meas-uring angles called a theodolite. A surveyor first meas-ured a baseline from one point to another, as marked bythe chain bearers. Next he commenced a process knownas triangulation by picking a landmark in the distance,like a hilltop, and measuring its angle from the baseline.A staff man might be standing on the hilltop with a flagattached to his staff. Finally, the surveyor employedtrigonometry to calculate the length of each side of thetriangle, one of which would serve as the next baseline.For every hour spent walking a plot of land, the surveyparty would spend three hours recording their measure-ments on paper.

Washington’s complaint about inadequate maps ledto the appointment of Scottish-born Robert Erskine assurveyor general of the Continental Army and to govern-ment funding of his workers. After the war, the LandOrdinance of 1785, which specified that public lands besurveyed and divided into townships six miles squarebefore auction, again led the national government toemploy survey parties. The Land Ordinance applied only to

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land lying outside any state. The national government didnot take responsibility for mapping the states.

Jefferson’s purchase of Louisiana in 1803 pricked anew popular interest in geography. Mapping thePurchase presented several obstacles. Early explorershad surveyed small portions of it, but the territory’s vast-ness ruled out surveys of the entire Purchase. Spain dis-couraged even local surveys, lest information about thisvaluable possession leak out. Jefferson and others hadto rely on maps compiled from the accounts of travelerswho relied on a mixture of their own observations,hearsay accounts of fur traders, and wishful thinking.

Wishful thinking took the form of the belief,embraced by Jefferson, that the sources of the majorNorth American rivers were near each other. If this weretrue, it would be possible to find a great water highwaylinking the Pacific to American settlements on theMississippi. Such a highway would turn America into acommercial link between the riches of the East—Persiansilks, Arabian perfumes, the wealth of China—andEurope. It would also facilitate the export of Americanagricultural produce.

Eager to ensure the profitability of agriculture, Jef-ferson warmed to this idea. He knew more about geo-graphy than anyone else in the American government,and he collected maps, most of which supported thewater-highway theory. For example, one map publishedin Britain in 1778 showed the major American rivers—the Mississippi, Missouri, Colorado, and Columbia—alloriginating in a small pyramid of high land in present-daySouth Dakota.

By the time Jefferson launched the Lewis and Clarkexpedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase, bettermaps were available. Jefferson saw to it that Lewis andClark carried a recent map by an Englishman, AaronArrowsmith. Arrowsmith’s map showed the RockyMountains, which were often omitted by other maps. Butwhen Lewis and Clark reached the source of the MissouriRiver in June 1805, they found no sign of the Columbia,whose source the Arrowsmith map portrayed as astone’s throw from the source of the Missouri, just “animmense range of high mountains.”

Their expedition established Lewis and Clark asauthorities on the West and stimulated the public’s andstates’ interest in geography. During their expedition,Lewis and Clark had benefited from accurate charts oflocal geography drawn by Indians on the ground withsticks or on hides with charcoal. Settled in St. Louis afterthe expedition, Clark received a stream of explorers and traders who brought him more information about the geography of the Purchase, enough to enable him to draw a manuscript map of the territory. When finally

published in 1814, this map gave ordinary Americanstheir first picture of what Jefferson had bought in 1803. In1816 John Melish, drawing on Clark’s map and his owntravels, published by far the most accurate map yet ofthe United States.

By enabling ordinary Americans to see the vastnessof their nation, Melish’s map subtly reinforced their sensethat the West rightfully belonged to them, not to theIndians or anyone else. The negotiators of the Trans-continental Treaty of 1819, which gave the United Statesa claim to part of the Pacific Coast, relied exclusively onthe 1818 edition of Melish’s map. Melish’s example alsospurred state legislatures to subsidize the drawing ofaccurate state maps.

Hiring Melish in 1816, Pennsylvania became the firststate to finance construction of a state map based whol-ly on “actual survey.” Melish was delighted. He had beeninsisting that “every state should have its own map” andthat such maps should be state property, “subject to thecontrol of no individual whatever.” Taking six years tocomplete, the project cost Pennsylvania $30,000 andexhausted Melish, who died shortly after the map’s pub-lication. But other states were quick to follow Pennsyl-vania’s lead.

Focus Question: We usually think of maps as accuratedepictions of land and water, but the early maps con-tained many inaccuracies. These inaccuracies resultednot just from limits of technology and finance but alsofrom widely held beliefs about what America should looklike. Since Americans acted on the basis of their beliefs,how much did maps actually shape events in the age ofJefferson?

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was capable of such treachery. He allied himself with theunsavory military governor of the Louisiana Territory,General James Wilkinson. Wilkinson had been on Spain’spayroll intermittently as a secret agent since the 1780s.Together, Burr and Wilkinson conspired to separate thewestern states south of the Ohio River into an independ-ent confederacy. In addition, Wilkinson had long enter-tained the idea of an American conquest of Mexico, andBurr now added West Florida as a possible target. Theypresented these ideas to westerners as having the covertsupport of the administration, to the British as a way toattack Spanish-owned Mexico and West Florida, and tothe Spanish (not naming Mexico and West Florida as tar-gets) as a way to divide up the United States.

By fall 1806, Burr and about sixty followers had lefttheir staging ground, an island in the upper Ohio River,and were making their way down the Ohio and Mis-sissippi Rivers to join Wilkinson at Natchez. In October1806 Jefferson, who described Burr as a crooked gun that never shot straight, denounced the conspiracy.Wilkinson abandoned the conspiracy and proclaimedhimself the most loyal of Jefferson’s followers. Burr triedto escape to West Florida but was intercepted. Broughtback to Richmond, he was put on trial for treason. ChiefJustice Marshall presided at the trial and instructed thejury that the prosecution had to prove not merely thatBurr had treasonable intentions but also that he hadcommitted treasonable acts, a virtually impossible taskinasmuch as the conspiracy had fallen apart before Burraccomplished what he had planned. Jefferson was furi-ous, but Marshall was merely following the clear word-ing of the Constitution, which deliberately made treasondifficult to prove. The jury returned a verdict of notproved, which Marshall entered as “not guilty.” Stillunder indictment for his murder of Hamilton, Burr fledto Europe, where he tried to interest Napoleon in mak-ing peace with Britain as a prelude to a proposed Anglo-French invasion of the United States and Mexico. Hereturned to the United States in 1812. In keeping with hisreputation as a womanizer, he fathered two illegitimatechildren in his seventies and was divorced for adultery ateighty. Perhaps the most puzzling man in American his-tory, Burr died in 1836.

Besides the Burr conspiracy, Jefferson faced a chal-lenge from a group of Republicans known as the Quids(from the Latin tertium quid or third thing; roughly, adissenter). They were led by the president’s fellowVirginian, John Randolph, a man of abounding eccen-tricities and acerbic wit. Randolph still subscribed to the“country” ideology of the 1770s, which celebrated thewisdom of farmers against rulers and warned of govern-ment’s tendency to encroach on liberty. Jefferson had

originally shared these beliefs, but he recognized themas an ideology of opposition, not power; once in office,he compromised. In contrast, Randolph remained fro-zen in the 1770s, denouncing every change as declineand proclaiming that he would throw all politicians tothe dogs if he had less respect for dogs.

Not surprisingly, Randolph turned on Jefferson,most notably for backing a compromise in the Yazooland scandal. In 1795 the Georgia legislature had soldthe huge Yazoo tract (35 million acres comprising mostof present-day Alabama and Mississippi) for a fraction ofits value to land companies that had bribed virtually theentire legislature. The next legislature canceled the sale,but many investors, knowing nothing of the bribery, hadalready bought land in good faith. The scandal posed amoral challenge to Jefferson because of these good-faithpurchases, and a political dilemma as well, for somepurchasers were northerners whom Jefferson hoped towoo to the Republican party. In 1803 a federal commis-sion compromised with an award of 5 million acres toYazoo investors. For Randolph, the compromise wasitself a scandal—further evidence of the decay of repub-lican virtue.

The Suppression of American Trade and Impressment

Burr’s acquittal and Randolph’s taunts shattered the auraof invincibility that had surrounded Jefferson in thewake of the Louisiana Purchase and the election of 1804.In 1803 the Peace of Amiens collapsed. As Britain andFrance resumed their war, the United States prosperedat Britain’s expense by carrying sugar and coffee fromthe French and Spanish Caribbean colonies to Europe.This trade not only provided Napoleon with supplies butalso drove down the price of sugar and coffee from theBritish colonies by adding to the glut of these commodi-ties on the world market. Understandably, the Britishconcluded that American prosperity was the cause ofBritain’s economic difficulties.

America’s boom was being fueled by the reexporttrade. According to the British Rule of 1756, any tradeclosed in peacetime could not be reopened during war.For example, France usually restricted the sugar trade toFrench ships during peacetime and thus could not openit to American ships during war. The American responseto the Rule of 1756 was the “broken voyage,” by whichAmerican vessels would carry sugar from the FrenchWest Indies to American ports, unload it, pass it throughcustoms, and then reexport it as American produce.Britain tolerated this dodge for nearly a decade but in1805 initiated a policy of total war against France,

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including the strangulation of French trade. In 1805 aBritish court declared the broken voyage illegal.

In May 1806 the British followed this decision with the first of several regulations known as Orders in Council, which established a blockade of French-controlled ports on the continent of Europe. Napoleonresponded with his so-called Continental System, aseries of counterproclamations that ships obeyingBritish regulations would be subject to seizure byFrance. In effect, this Anglo-French war of decrees out-lawed virtually all U.S. trade; if an American ship com-plied with British regulations, it became a French target,and vice versa.

Both Britain and France seized American ships, butBritish seizures were far more humiliating to Americans.France was a weaker naval power than Britain; much ofthe French fleet had been destroyed by the British at theBattle of Trafalgar in October 1805. Accordingly, most ofFrance’s seizures of American ships occurred in Euro-pean ports where American ships had been lured byNapoleon’s often inconsistent enforcement of his Con-tinental System. In contrast, British warships hoveredjust beyond the American coast. The Royal Navy stoppedand searched virtually every American vessel off NewYork, for example. At times, U.S. ships had to line up afew miles from the American coast to be searched by theRoyal Navy.

To these provocations the British added impress-ment. For centuries, Royal Navy press gangs had seizedBritish civilians and forced them into service. As warwith France intensified Britain’s need for sailors, Britainincreasingly extended the practice to seizing purportedRoyal Navy deserters from American merchant shipsand forcing them into service. British sailors had goodreason to be discontented with their navy. Discipline onthe Royal Navy’s “floating hells” was often brutal and thepay low; sailors on American ships made up to five timesmore than those on British ships. Consequently, theRoyal Navy suffered a high rate of desertion to Americanships. In 1807, for example, 149 of the 419 sailors on theAmerican warship Constitution were British subjects.

Impressed sailors led harrowing lives that includedfrequent escapes and recaptures. One seaman sufferedimpressment eleven times. Another, facing his thirdrecapture, drowned himself rather than spend an addi-tional day in the Royal Navy. Impressment was, more-over, galling to American pride. Many deserters who hadbecome American citizens were impressed on the prin-ciple that once a Briton, always a Briton. The British alsoimpressed U.S.-born seamen, including those whocould prove their American birth. Between 1803 and1812, six thousand Americans were impressed. Although

impressment did less damage to the American economythan the seizure of ships, it was more offensive.

Any doubts Americans had about British arroganceevaporated in June 1807. A British warship, HMS Leo-pard, patrolling off Hampton Roads, Virginia, attackedan unsuspecting American naval vessel, USS Chesa-peake, and forced it to surrender. The British then board-ed the vessel and seized four supposed deserters. One, a genuine deserter, was later hanged; the other threewere former Britons, now American citizens, who had“deserted” only from impressment. Even the British hadnever before asserted their right to seize deserters off U.S. navy ships. The so-called Chesapeake Affairenraged the country. Jefferson remarked that he had notseen so belligerent a spirit in America since 1775. Yetwhile making some preparations for war, the presidentsought peace, first by conducting fruitless negotiationswith Britain to gain redress for the Chesapeake outrage,and second by steering the Embargo Act throughCongress in December 1807.

The Embargo Act of 1807

By far the most controversial legislation of either ofJefferson’s administrations, the Embargo Act prohibitedvessels from leaving American ports for foreign ports.Technically, it prohibited only exports, but its practicaleffect was to stop imports as well, for few foreign shipswould venture into American ports if they had to leave

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without cargo. Amazed by the boldness of the act, aBritish newspaper described the embargo as “little shortof an absolute secession from the rest of the civilizedworld.”

Jefferson advocated the embargo as a means of“peaceable coercion.” By restricting French and espe-cially British trade with the United States, he hoped topressure both nations into respecting American neutral-ity. But the embargo did not have the intended effect.Although British sales to the United States dropped 50percent between 1807 and 1808, the British quicklyfound new markets in South America, where rebellionsagainst Spanish rule had flared up, and in Spain itself,where a revolt against Napoleon had opened trade toBritish shipping. Furthermore, the Embargo Act con-tained some loopholes. For example, it allowed Amer-ican ships blown off course to put in at European ports ifnecessary; suddenly, many captains were reporting thatadverse winds had forced them across the Atlantic.Treating the embargo as a joke, Napoleon seized anyAmerican ships he could lay hands on and theninformed the United States that he was only helping toenforce the embargo. The British were less amused, butthe embargo confirmed their view that Jefferson was anineffectual philosopher, an impotent challenger com-pared with Napoleon.

The harshest effects of the embargo were felt not inEurope but in the United States. Some thirty thousandAmerican seamen found themselves out of work.Hundreds of merchants stumbled into bankruptcy, andjails swelled with debtors. A New York City newspapernoted that the only activity still flourishing in the citywas prosecution for debt. Farmers were devastated.Unable to export their produce or sell it at a decent priceto hard-pressed urban dwellers, many farmers could notpay their debts. In desperation, one farmer in SchoharieCounty, New York, sold his cattle, horses, and farmimplements, worth eight hundred dollars before theembargo, for fifty-five dollars. Speculators who had pur-chased land expecting to sell it later at a higher price alsotook a beating because cash-starved farmers stoppedbuying land. “I live and that is all,” wrote one New Yorkspeculator. “I am doing no business, cannot sell any-body property, nor collect any money.”

The embargo fell hardest on New England and par-ticularly on Massachusetts, which in 1807 had twice theship tonnage per capita of any other state and more thana third of the entire nation’s ship tonnage in foreigntrade. For a state so dependent on foreign trade, theembargo was a calamity. Wits reversed the letters ofembargo to form the phrase “O grab me.”

The situation was not entirely bleak. The embargoforced a diversion of merchants’ capital into manufac-turing. In short, unable to export produce, Americansbegan to make products. Before 1808 the United Stateshad only fifteen mills for fashioning cotton into textiles;by the end of 1809, an additional eighty-seven mills hadbeen constructed (see Chapter 9). But none of this com-forted merchants already ruined or mariners driven tosoup kitchens. Nor could New Englanders forget that thesource of their misery was a policy initiated by one of the“Virginia lordlings,” “Mad Tom” Jefferson, who knewlittle about New England and who had a dogmaticloathing of cities, the very foundations of New England’sprosperity. A Massachusetts poet wrote,

Our ships all in motion once whitened the ocean,They sailed and returned with a cargo;Now doomed to decay they have fallen a preyTo Jefferson, worms, and embargo.

James Madison and the Failure of Peaceable Coercion

Even before the Embargo Act, Jefferson had announcedthat he would not be a candidate for reelection. With hisblessing, the Republican congressional caucus nomi-nated James Madison and George Clinton for the presi-dency and vice presidency. The Federalists counteredwith Charles C. Pinckney and Rufus King, the sameticket that had made a negligible showing in 1804. In1808 the Federalists staged a modest comeback, gainingtwenty-four congressional seats. Still, Madison won 122of 175 electoral votes for president, and the Republi-cans retained comfortable majorities in both houses ofCongress.

The Federalist revival, modest as it was, rested ontwo factors. First, the Embargo Act gave the party thenational issue it long had lacked. Second, youngerFederalists had abandoned their elders’ gentlemanlydisdain for campaigning and deliberately imitated vote-winning techniques such as barbecues and mass meet-ings that had worked for the Republicans.

To some contemporaries, the diminutive “LittleJemmy” Madison (he was only five feet, four inches tall)seemed a weak and shadowy figure compared to thecommanding presence of Jefferson. But in fact, Madisonbrought to the presidency an intelligence and a capacityfor systematic thought that matched Jefferson’s. LikeJefferson, Madison believed that American liberty had torest on the virtue of the people, which he saw as beingcritically tied to the growth and prosperity of agriculture.

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More clearly than Jefferson, Madison also recognizedthat agricultural prosperity depended on the vitality ofAmerican trade, for Americans would continue to enterfarming only if they could get their crops to market. Inparticular, the British West Indies, dependent on theUnited States for much of their lumber and grain, struckMadison as a natural trading partner. Britain alonecould not fully supply the West Indies. Therefore, if theUnited States embargoed its own trade with the WestIndies, Madison reasoned, the British, who importedsugar from the West Indies, would be forced to theirknees before Americans could suffer severe losses fromthe embargo. Britain, he wrote, was “more vulnerable inher commerce than in her armies.”

The American embargo, however, was coercing noone. Increased trade between Canada and the WestIndies made a shambles of Madison’s plan to pres-sure Britain. On March 1, 1809, Congress replaced the Embargo Act with the weaker, face-saving Non-Intercourse Act. The act opened trade to all nationsexcept Britain and France and then authorized Congressto restore trade with those nations if they stopped violat-ing neutral rights. But neither complied. In May 1810Congress substituted a new measure, Macon’s Bill No. 2,for the Non-Intercourse Act. This legislation openedtrade with Britain and France, and then offered each aclumsy bribe: if either nation repealed its restrictions onneutral shipping, the United States would halt trade withthe other.

None of these steps had the desired effect. WhileJefferson and Madison lashed out at France and Britainas moral demons (“The one is a den of robbers and theother of pirates,” snapped Jefferson), the belligerentssaw the world as composed of a few great powers andmany weak ones. When great powers went to war, therewere no neutrals. Weak nations like the United Statesshould logically seek the protection of a great powerand stop babbling about moral ideals and neutralrights. Despite occasional hints to the contrary, neitherNapoleon nor the British intended to accommodate theAmericans.

As peaceable coercion became a fiasco, Madisoncame under fire from militant Republicans whodemanded more aggressive policies. Coming mainlyfrom the South and West, regions where “honor” was asacred word, the militants were infuriated by insults tothe American flag. In addition, economic recessionbetween 1808 and 1810 had convinced the firebrandsthat British policies were wrecking their regions’economies. The election of 1810 brought several youngmalcontents, christened “war hawks,” to Congress. Led

by thirty-four-year-old Henry Clay of Kentucky, who pre-ferred war to the “putrescent pool of ignominiouspeace,” the war hawks included John C. Calhoun ofSouth Carolina, Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky, andWilliam King of North Carolina, all future vice presi-dents. Clay was elected Speaker of the House.

Tecumseh and the Prophet

Voicing a more emotional and pugnacious nationalismthan Jefferson and Madison, the war hawks called for theexpulsion of the British from Canada and the Spanishfrom the Floridas. Their demands merged with westernsettlers’ fears that the British in Canada were activelyrecruiting the Indians to halt the march of American set-tlement. In reality, American policy, not meddling by theBritish, was the source of bloodshed on the frontier.

In contrast to his views about blacks, Jeffersonbelieved that Indians and whites could live peacefullytogether if the Indians abandoned their hunting andnomadic ways for farming. If they farmed, they would

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need less land. Jefferson and Madison insisted that theIndians be compensated fairly for ceded land and thatonly those Indians with a claim to the land they wereceding be allowed to conclude treaties with whites.Reality conflicted with Jefferson’s ideals. (See Chapter 7.)The march of white settlement was steadily shrinkingIndian hunting grounds, while some Indians themselveswere becoming more willing to sign away land in pay-ment to whites for blankets, guns, and the liquor thattransported them into a daze even as their culture collapsed.

In 1809 no American was more eager to acquireIndian lands than William Henry Harrison, the governorof the Indiana Territory. The federal government had justdivided Indiana, splitting off the present states of Illinoisand Wisconsin into a separate Illinois Territory. Harrisonrecognized that, shorn of Illinois, Indiana would notachieve statehood unless it could attract more settlersand that the territory would not gain such settlers with-out offering them land currently owned by Indians.Disregarding instructions from Washington to negotiateonly with Indians who claimed the land they were ced-ing, Harrison rounded up a delegation of half-starvedIndians, none of whom lived on the rich lands along theWabash River that he craved. By the Treaty of Fort Waynein September 1809, these Indians ceded millions of acresalong the Wabash at a price of two cents an acre.

This treaty outraged the numerous tribes that hadnot been party to it, and no one more than Tecumseh,the Shawnee chief, and his brother, Lalawéthica. Late in1805 Lalawéthica had had a spiritual experience after afrightening dream in which he saw Indians who drank orbeat their wives tormented for eternity. Until then, theShawnees had looked down on Lalawéthica as a drunk-en misfit, a pale reflection of his handsome brother,Tecumseh. Overnight, Lalawéthica changed. He gave upliquor, began tearful preaching to surrounding tribes toreturn to their old ways and avoid contact with whites,and quickly became known as The Prophet. Soon, hewould take a new name, Tenskwatawa, styling himselfthe “Open Door” through which all Indians couldachieve salvation. Demoralized by the continuing loss ofNative American lands to the whites and by the ravagesof their society by alcoholism, Shawnees listened to hismessage. Meanwhile, Tecumseh sought to unite sev-eral tribes in Ohio and the Indiana Territory againstAmerican settlers.

The Treaty of Fort Wayne infuriated Tecumseh, whoinsisted that Indian lands belonged collectively to all thetribes and hence could not be sold by needy splintergroups. He held a conference with Harrison that nearly

erupted into violence and that led Harrison to concludethat it was time to attack the Indians. His target was aShawnee encampment called Prophetstown near themouth of the Tippecanoe River. With Tecumseh awayrecruiting southern Indians to his cause, Tenskwatawaordered an attack on Harrison’s encampment, a milefrom Prophetstown, in the predawn hours of November7, 1811. Outnumbered two to one and short of ammuni-tion, Tenskwatawa’s force was beaten off after inflictingheavy casualties.

Although it was a small engagement, the Battle ofTippecanoe had several large effects. It made Harrison anational hero, and the memory of the battle would con-tribute to his election as president three decades later. Itdiscredited Tenskwatawa, whose conduct during thebattle drew criticism from his followers. It elevated Te-cumseh into a position of recognized leadership amongthe western tribes. Finally, it persuaded Tecumseh, wholong had distrusted the British as much as the Amer-icans, that alliance with the British was the only hope tostop the spread of American settlement.

Congress Votes for War

By spring 1812 President Madison had reached the deci-sion that war with Britain was inevitable. On June 1 hesent his war message to Congress. Meanwhile, an eco-nomic depression struck Britain, partly because theAmerican policy of restricting trade with that countryhad finally started to work. Under pressure from its mer-chants, Britain repealed the Orders in Council on June23. But Congress, unaware that the British were contem-plating repeal of the orders, had already passed the dec-laration of war.

Neither war hawks nor westerners held the key tothe vote in favor of war. The war hawks comprised aminority within the Republican party; the West was stilltoo sparsely settled to have many representatives inCongress. Rather, the votes of Republicans in populousstates like Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia werethe main force propelling the war declaration throughCongress. Opposition to war came mostly from Fed-eralist strongholds in Massachusetts, Connecticut, andNew York. Because Federalists were so much stronger inthe Northeast than elsewhere, congressional oppositionto war revealed a sectional as well as a party split. In gen-eral, however, southern Federalists opposed the wardeclaration, and northern Republicans supported it. Inother words, the vote for war followed party lines moreclosely than sectional lines. Much like James Madisonhimself, the typical Republican advocate of war had not

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wanted war in 1810 or even in 1811, but had been led bythe accumulation of grievances to demand it in 1812.

In his war message, Madison had listed impress-ment, the continued presence of British ships inAmerican waters, and British violations of neutral rightsas grievances that justified war. None of these com-plaints were new. Taken together, they do not fullyexplain why Americans went to war in 1812 rather thanearlier—for example, in 1807 after the ChesapeakeAffair. Madison also listed British incitement of theIndians as a stimulus for war. This grievance of recentorigin contributed to war feeling in the West. “The Waron the Wabash,” a Kentucky newspaper proclaimed, “ispurely British. The British scalping knife has filled manyhabitations both in this state as well as in the IndianaTerritory with widows and orphans.” But the West hadtoo few American inhabitants to drive the nation intowar. A more important underlying cause was the eco-nomic recession that affected the South and West after1808, as well as the conviction, held by John C. Calhounand others, that British policy was damaging America’seconomy.

Finally, the fact that Madison rather than Jeffersonwas president in 1812 was of major importance. Jef-ferson had believed that the only motive behind Britishseizures of American ships was Britain’s desire to blockAmerican trade with Napoleon. Hence Jefferson had

concluded that time was on America’s side; the seizureswould stop as soon as the war in Europe ceased. In con-trast, Madison had become persuaded that Britain’s realmotive was to strangle American trade once and for alland thereby eliminate the United States as a tradingrival. War or no war in Europe, Madison saw Britain as amenace to America. In his war message, he stated flatlythat Britain was meddling with American trade notbecause that trade interfered with Britain’s “belligerentrights” but because it “frustrated the monopoly whichshe covets for her own commerce and navigation.”

THE WAR OF 1812Maritime issues had dominated Madison’s war message,but the United States lacked a navy strong enough tochallenge Britain at sea. American cruisers, notably theConstitution, would win a few sensational duels withBritish warships, but the Americans would prove unableto prevent the British from clamping a naval blockadeon the American coast. Canada, which Madison viewedas a key prop of the British Empire, became the principaltarget. With their vastly larger population and resources,few Americans expected a long or difficult struggle. ToJefferson, the conquest of Canada seemed “a mere mat-ter of marching.”

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Little justified this optimism. Although manyCanadians were immigrants from the United States, tothe Americans’ surprise they fought to repel theinvaders. Many of the best British troops were in Europefighting Napoleon, but the British in Canada had aninvaluable ally in the Native Americans, who struck fearby dangling scalps from their belts. The British played onthis fear, in some cases forcing Americans to surrenderby hinting that the Indians might be uncontrollable inbattle. Too, the American state militias were filled withSunday soldiers who “hollered for water half the time,and whiskey the other.” Few militiamen understood thegoals of the war. In fact, outside Congress there was notmuch blood lust in 1812. Opposition to the war ranstrong in New England; and even in Kentucky, the home

244 CHAPTER 8 Jeffersonianism and the Era of Good Feelings, 1801–1824

MAP 8.2. Major Battles of the War of 1812Most of the war’s major engagements occurred on or near the northernfrontier of the United States; but the Royal Navy blockaded the entireAtlantic coast, and the British army penetrated as far south asWashington and New Orleans.



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Put-in-BaySept. 10, 1813

FrenchtownJan. 22, 1813

DetroitsurrenderedAug. 16, 1812

Lundy’s LaneJuly 25,1814

Queenston HeightsOct. 13, 1812

ChippewaJuly 5, 1814

York (Toronto)burned April 27, 1813






Perry 1813

Dearborn 1813

L. Erie

L. Huron

L. Ontario

Thames RiverOct. 5, 1813

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of war hawk Henry Clay, only four hundred answeredthe first call to arms. For many Americans, local attach-ments were still stronger than national ones.

On to Canada

From the summer of 1812 to the spring of 1814, theAmericans launched a series of unsuccessful attacks onCanada (see Map 8.2). In July 1812 General William Hullled an American army from Detroit into Canada, quicklyreturned when Tecumseh cut his supply line, and sur-rendered Detroit and two thousand men to thirteenhundred British and Indian troops. In fall 1812 a force ofAmerican regulars was crushed by the British at theBattle of Queenston, near Niagara Falls, while New Yorkmilitia, contending that they had volunteered only toprotect their homes and not to invade Canada, lookedon from the New York side of the border. A third Amer-ican offensive in 1812, a projected attack on Montrealfrom Plattsburgh, New York, via Lake Champlain, fellapart when the militia again refused to advance intoCanada.

The Americans renewed their offensive in 1813when General William Henry Harrison tried to retakeDetroit. A succession of reverses convinced Harrisonthat offensive operations were futile as long as theBritish controlled Lake Erie. During the winter of1812–1813, Captain Oliver H. Perry constructed a littlefleet of vessels; on September 10, 1813, he destroyed aBritish squadron at Put-in-Bay on the western end of thelake. “We have met the enemy, and they are ours,” Perrytriumphantly reported. Losing control of Lake Erie, theBritish pulled back from Detroit, but Harrison overtookand defeated a combined British and Indian force at theBattle of the Thames on October 5. Tecumseh died in thebattle; Colonel Richard Johnson’s claim, never proved, tohave killed Tecumseh later contributed to Johnson’selection as vice president. These victories by Perry andHarrison cheered Americans, but efforts to invadeCanada continued to falter. In June 1814 Americantroops crossed into Canada on the Niagara front butwithdrew after fighting two bloody but inconclusive bat-tles at Chippewa (July 5) and Lundy’s Lane (July 25).

The British Offensive

With fresh reinforcements from Europe, where Napo-leon had abdicated as emperor after his disastrous inva-sion of Russia, the British took the offensive in the sum-mer of 1814. General Sir George Prevost led a force of ten thousand British veterans, the largest and best-equipped British force ever sent to North America, in an

offensive meant to split the New England states, whereopposition to the war was strong, from the rest of thecountry. The British advanced down Lake Champlainuntil meeting the well-entrenched American forces atPlattsburgh. Resolving that he had to control the lakebefore attacking Plattsburgh, Prevost called up his fleet,but an American naval squadron under Captain ThomasMacdonough defeated their British counterparts on Sep-tember 11. Dispirited, Prevost abandoned the campaign.

Ironically, the British achieved a far more spectacu-lar success in an operation originally designed as adiversion from their main thrust down Lake Champlain.In 1814 a British army sailed from Bermuda forChesapeake Bay, landed near Washington, and met alarger American force, composed mainly of militia, atBladensburg, Maryland, on August 24. The Battle ofBladensburg quickly became the “Bladensburg races” asthe American militia fled, almost without firing a shot.The British then descended on Washington. Madison,who had witnessed the Bladensburg fiasco, escaped intothe Virginia hills. His wife, Dolley, pausing only long

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enough to load her silver, a bed, and a portrait of GeorgeWashington onto her carriage, hastened to join her hus-band, while British troops ate the supper prepared forthe Madisons at the presidential mansion. Then theyburned the mansion and other public buildings inWashington. A few weeks later, the British attackedBaltimore, but after failing to crack its defenses, theybroke off the operation.

The Treaty of Ghent, 1814

In August 1814 negotiations to end the war commencedbetween British and American commissioners at Ghent,Belgium. The American delegation included Henry Clay,Albert Gallatin, and John Quincy Adams. The son of thelast Federalist president, Adams had been the onlyFederalist in the Senate to support the LouisianaPurchase. He later backed the embargo, joined theRepublican party, and served as minister to Russia.

The British appeared to command a strong position.Having frustrated American designs on Canada, theystood poised for their Lake Champlain initiative.Initially, the British demanded territorial concessionsfrom the United States. News of the American naval vic-tory at Plattsburgh and Prevost’s retreat to Canada, how-ever, brought home to the British the fact that after twoyears of fighting, they controlled neither the Great Lakesnor Lake Champlain. Similarly, the spectacular raid onWashington had no strategic significance, so the Britishgave way on the issue of territorial concessions. The finaltreaty, signed on Christmas Eve 1814, restored the statusquo ante bellum (the state of things before the war); theUnited States neither gained nor lost territory. Severaladditional issues, including fixing a boundary betweenthe United States and Canada, were referred to jointcommissions for future settlement. Nothing was doneabout impressment, but with Napoleon out of the way,neutral rights became a dead issue. Because there wasno longer a war in Europe, there were no longer neutrals.

Ironically, the most dramatic American victory ofthe war came after the conclusion of the peace negotia-tions. In December 1814 a British army, composed ofveterans of the Napoleonic Wars and commanded byGeneral Sir Edward Pakenham, descended on NewOrleans. On January 8, 1815, two weeks after the signingof the Treaty of Ghent but before word reached America,Pakenham’s force attacked an American army underGeneral Andrew (“Old Hickory”) Jackson. Already a leg-end for his ferocity as an Indian fighter, Jackson inspiredlittle fear among the British, who advanced into battlefar too confidently, but he did strike enough terror in hisown men to prevent another American rout. In an hour

of gruesome carnage, Jackson’s troops shredded the lineof advancing redcoats, killing Pakenham and inflictingmore than two thousand casualties while losing onlythirteen Americans.

The Hartford Convention

Because the Treaty of Ghent had already concluded thewar, the Battle of New Orleans had little significance for diplomats. Indirectly, however, it had an effect ondomestic politics by eroding Federalist strength.

The Federalist comeback in the election of 1808 hadcontinued into the 1812 campaign. Buoyed by hostilityto the war in the Northeast, the Federalists had throwntheir support to DeWitt Clinton, an antiwar Republican.Although Madison won the electoral vote 128 to 89,Clinton carried all of New England except Vermont, aswell as New York and New Jersey. American military set-backs in the war intensified Federalist disdain for theMadison administration. Federalists saw a nation mis-ruled for over a decade by Republican bunglers. Jef-ferson’s attack on the judiciary had seemed to threatenthe rule of law. His purchase of Louisiana, a measure of doubtful constitutionality, had enhanced Republicanstrength and reduced the relative importance of Fed-eralist New England in the Union. The Embargo Act had severely damaged New England’s commerce. Now“Mr. Madison’s War” was bringing fresh misery to NewEngland in the form of the British blockade. A fewFederalists began to talk of New England’s secessionfrom the Union. Most, however, rejected the idea,believing that they would soon benefit from popularexhaustion with the war and spring back into power.

In late 1814 a Federalist convention met in Hartford,Connecticut. Although some advocates of secessionwere present, moderates took control and passed aseries of resolutions summarizing New England’s griev-ances. At the root of these grievances lay the belief thatNew Englanders were becoming a permanent minorityin a nation dominated by southern Republicans whofailed to understand New England’s commercial inter-ests. The convention proposed to amend the Consti-tution to abolish the three-fifths clause (which gave theSouth a disproportionate share of votes in Congress byallowing it to count slaves as a basis of representation),to require a two-thirds vote of Congress to declare warand admit new states into the Union, to limit the pres-ident to a single term, to prohibit the election of twosuccessive presidents from the same state, and to barembargoes lasting more than sixty days.

The timing of these proposals was disastrous for theFederalists. News of the Treaty of Ghent and Jackson’s

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victory at New Orleans dashed the Federalists’ hopes ofgaining broad popular support. The goal of the HartfordConvention had been to assert states’ rights rather thandisunion, but to many the proceedings smelled of a trai-torous plot. The restoration of peace, moreover, strippedthe Federalists of the primary grievance that had fueledthe convention. In the election of 1816, RepublicanJames Monroe, Madison’s hand-picked successor and afellow Virginian, swept the nation over negligible Feder-alist opposition. He would win reelection in 1820 withonly a single dissenting electoral vote. As a force innational politics, the Federalists were finished.


The United States emerged from the War of 1812 bruisedbut intact. In its first major war since the Revolution, theRepublic had demonstrated not only that it could fighton even terms against a major power but also thatrepublics could fight wars without turning to despotism.The war produced more than its share of symbols ofAmerican nationalism. Whitewash cleared the smokedamage to the presidential mansion; thereafter, itbecame known as the White House. The British attack onFort McHenry, guarding Baltimore, prompted a young

observer, Francis Scott Key, to compose “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The Battle of New Orleans boosted Andrew Jacksononto the stage of national politics and became a sourceof legends about American military prowess. It appearsto most contemporary scholars that the British lostbecause Pakenham’s men, advancing within range ofJackson’s riflemen and cannon, unaccountably pausedand became sitting ducks. But in the wake of the battle,Americans spun a different tale. The legend arose thatJackson owed his victory not to Pakenham’s blunderingtactics but to hawk-eyed Kentucky frontiersmen whoserifles picked off the British with unerring accuracy. Infact, many frontiersmen in Jackson’s army had not car-ried rifles; even if they had, gunpowder smoke wouldhave obscured the enemy. But none of this mattered atthe time. Just as Americans preferred militia to profes-sional soldiers, they chose to believe that their greatestvictory of the war had been the handiwork of amateurs.

Madison’s Nationalism and the Eraof Good Feelings, 1817–1824

The War of 1812 had three major political consequences.First, it eliminated the Federalists as a national politicalforce. Second, it went a long way toward convincing theRepublicans that the nation was strong and resilient,

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capable of fighting a war while maintaining the liberty ofits people. Third, with the Federalists tainted by suspi-cion of disloyalty and no longer a force, and with fearsabout the fragility of republics fading, Republicansincreasingly embraced doctrines long associated withthe Federalists.

In a message to Congress in December 1815,Madison called for federal support for internal improve-ments, tariff protection for the new industries that hadsprung up during the embargo, and the creation of anew national bank. (The charter of the first Bank of theUnited States had expired in 1811.) In Congress anotherRepublican, Henry Clay of Kentucky, proposed similarmeasures, which he called the American System, withthe aim of making the young nation economically self-sufficient and free from dependence on Europe. In 1816Congress chartered the Second Bank of the UnitedStates and enacted a moderate tariff. Federal support forinternal improvements proved to be a thornier problem.Madison favored federal aid in principle but believedthat a constitutional amendment was necessary toauthorize it. Accordingly, just before leaving office in1817, he vetoed an internal-improvements bill.

As Republicans adopted positions that they had oncedisdained, an “Era of Good Feelings” dawned on Amer-ican politics. A Boston newspaper, impressed by the warmreception accorded President Monroe while touring NewEngland, coined the phrase in 1817. It has stuck as a

description of Monroe’s two administrations from 1817 to1825. Compared with Jefferson and Madison, Monroewas not brilliant, polished, or wealthy, but he keenlydesired to heal the political divisions that a stronger intel-lect and personality might have inflamed. The phrase “Eraof Good Feelings” reflects not only the war’s eliminationof some divisive issues but also Monroe’s conscious effortto avoid political controversies.

But the good feelings were paper-thin. Madison’s1817 veto of the internal-improvements bill revealed thepersistence of disagreements about the role of the fed-eral government under the Constitution. Furthermore,the continuation of slavery was arousing sectional ani-mosities that a journalist’s phrase about good feelingscould not dispel. Not surprisingly, the postwar consen-sus began to unravel almost as soon as Americans recog-nized its existence.

John Marshall and the Supreme Court

In 1819 Jefferson’s old antagonist John Marshall, whowas still chief justice, issued two opinions that stunnedRepublicans. The first case, Dartmouth College v.Woodward, centered on the question of whether NewHampshire could transform a private corporation,Dartmouth College, into a state university. Marshall con-cluded that the college’s original charter, granted to its

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trustees by George III in 1769, was a contract. Since theConstitution specifically forbade states to interfere withcontracts, New Hampshire’s effort to turn Dartmouthinto a state university was unconstitutional. The impli-cations of Marshall’s ruling were far-reaching. Chartersor acts of incorporation provided their beneficiarieswith various legal privileges and were sought by busi-nesses as well as by colleges. In effect, Marshall said thatonce a state had chartered a college or a business, it sur-rendered both its power to alter the charter and, in largemeasure, its authority to regulate the beneficiary.

A few weeks later, the chief justice handed down an even more momentous decision in the case ofMcCulloch v. Maryland. The issue here was whether thestate of Maryland had the power to tax a national corpo-ration, specifically the Baltimore branch of the SecondBank of the United States. Although the bank was anational corporation chartered by Congress, most of thestockholders were private citizens who reaped the prof-its the bank made. Speaking for a unanimous Court,Marshall ignored these private features of the bank andconcentrated instead on two issues. First, did Congresshave the power to charter a national bank? Nothing inthe Constitution, Marshall conceded, explicitly grantedthis power. But the Constitution did authorize Congressto lay and collect taxes, to regulate interstate commerce,and to declare war. Surely these enumerated powers, hereasoned, implied a power to charter a bank. Marshall

was clearly engaging in a broad, or “loose,” rather thanstrict, construction (interpretation) of the Constitution.The second issue was whether a state could tax anagency of the federal government that lay within its bor-ders. Marshall argued that any power of the nationalgovernment, express or implied, was supreme within itssphere. States could not interfere with the exercise offederal powers. A tax by Maryland on the Baltimorebranch was such an interference. Since “the power to taxinvolves the power to destroy,” Maryland’s tax was plain-ly unconstitutional.

Marshall’s decision in the McCulloch case dismayedmany Republicans. Although Madison and Monroe hadsupported the establishment of the Second Bank of theUnited States, the bank had made itself unpopular bytightening its loan policies during the summer of 1818.This contraction of credit triggered the Panic of 1819, asevere depression that gave rise to considerable distressthroughout the country, especially among westernfarmers. At a time when the bank was widely blamed forthe panic, Marshall’s ruling stirred controversy by plac-ing the bank beyond the regulatory power of any stategovernment. His decision, indeed, was as much anattack on state sovereignty as it was a defense of thebank. The Constitution, Marshall argued, was the cre-ation not of state governments but of the people of allthe states, and thus was more fundamental than statelaws. His reasoning assailed the Republican theory, bestexpressed in the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions of1798–1799 (see Chapter 7), that the Union was essen-tially a compact among states. Republicans had con-tinued to view state governments as more immediatelyresponsive to the people’s will than the federal govern-ment and to regard the compact theory of the Union asa guarantor of popular liberty. As Republicans saw it,Marshall’s McCulloch decision, along with his decisionin the Dartmouth College case, stripped state govern-ments of the power to impose the will of their people oncorporations.

The Missouri Compromise,1820–1821

The fragility of the Era of Good Feelings became evenmore apparent in the two-year-long controversy overstatehood for Missouri. Carved from the LouisianaPurchase, Missouri attracted many southerners who,facing declining tobacco profits, expected to employtheir slaves in the new territory to grow cotton andhemp. In 1819, 16 percent of its seventy thousand inhab-itants were slaves. By the end of 1819, three slave stateshad been formed out of the Purchase without notable

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controversy: Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Mis-souri would prove different.

Early in 1819, as the House of Representatives wasconsidering a bill to admit Missouri, a New YorkRepublican offered an amendment that prohibited thefurther introduction of slaves and provided for theemancipation, at age twenty-five, of all slave offspringborn after Missouri’s admission as a state. Followingrancorous debate, the House accepted the amendment,and the Senate rejected it. Both chambers voted alongsectional lines.

Sectional divisions had long troubled American pol-itics, but prior to 1819 slavery had not been the primarysource of division. For example, Federalists’ oppositionto the embargo and the War of 1812 had sprung fromtheir fear that the dominant Republicans were sacrific-ing New England’s commercial interests to those of theSouth and West, not from hostility to slavery. For variousreasons, the Missouri question thrust slavery into thecenter of sectional conflict. By the end of 1819 the Unionhad eleven free and eleven slave states. The admission of

Missouri as a slave state would upset this balance to theadvantage of the South. Equally important, northernersworried that admitting Missouri as a slave state wouldset a precedent for the extension of slavery into thenorthern part of the Purchase, for Missouri was on thesame latitude as the free states of Ohio, Indiana, andIllinois. Finally, the disintegration of the Federalists as anational force reduced the need for unity amongRepublicans, and they increasingly heeded sectionalpressures more than calls for party loyalty.

Virtually every issue that was to wrack the Unionduring the next forty years was present in the contro-versy over Missouri: southern charges that the Northwas conspiring to destroy the Union and end slavery;accusations by northerners that southerners were con-spiring to extend the institution. Southerners openlyproclaimed that antislavery northerners were kindlingfires that only “seas of blood” could extinguish. Suchthreats of civil war persuaded some northern congress-men who had originally supported the restriction ofslavery in Missouri to back down. The result was a series

250 CHAPTER 8 Jeffersonianism and the Era of Good Feelings, 1801–1824



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MAP 8.3. The Missouri Compromise, 1820–1821The Missouri Compromise temporarily quelled controversy over slavery by admitting Maine as a free state andMissouri as a slave state, and by prohibiting slavery in the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase north of 36°30′.

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of congressional agreements in 1820 and 1821 knowncollectively as the Missouri Compromise.

The first of these agreements preserved the balancebetween slave states and free states. At the same timethat Congress was considering statehood for Missouri,Maine was seeking admission as a free state. In 1820Congress agreed to admit Maine as a free state, to pavethe way for Missouri’s admission as a slave state, and toprohibit slavery in the remainder of the LouisianaPurchase territory north of 36°30’—the southern bound-ary of Missouri (see Map 8.3). But compromise did notcome easily. The components of the eventual compro-mise passed by close and ominously sectional votes.

No sooner had the compromise been forged than itnearly fell apart. As a prelude to statehood, Missouriansdrafted a constitution that prohibited free blacks, whomsome eastern states viewed as citizens, from enteringtheir territory. This provision clashed with the federalConstitution’s provision that citizens of one state wereentitled to the same rights as citizens of other states.Balking at Missourians’ exclusion of free blacks, anti-slavery northerners barred Missouri’s admission intothe Union until 1821, when Henry Clay engineered anew agreement. This second Missouri Compromise pro-hibited Missouri from discriminating against citizens ofother states but left open the issue of whether free blackswere citizens.

The Missouri Compromise was widely viewed as asouthern victory. The South had gained admission ofMissouri, whose acceptance of slavery was controver-sial, while conceding to the North the admission ofMaine, whose rejection of slavery inspired no contro-versy. Yet the South had conceded to freedom a vastblock of territory north of 36°30’. Although much of thisterritory was unorganized Indian country that someviewed as unfit for white habitation, the states of Iowa,Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kan-sas eventually would be formed out of it. Also, the Mis-souri Compromise reinforced the principle, originallyset down by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, thatCongress had the right to prohibit slavery in some terri-tories. Southerners had implicitly accepted the argu-ment that slaves were not like other forms of propertythat could be moved from place to place at will.

Foreign Policy Under Monroe

American foreign policy between 1816 and 1824 reflectedmore consensus than conflict. The end of the Napo-leonic Wars and the signing of the Treaty of Ghent had removed most of the foreign-policy disagreements

between Federalists and Republicans. Moreover, Mon-roe was fortunate to have as his secretary of state anextraordinary diplomat, John Quincy Adams. An austereand scholarly man whose library equaled his house inmonetary value, Adams was a tough negotiator and afervent nationalist.

As secretary of state, Adams moved quickly tostrengthen the peace with Great Britain. During histenure, the United States and Britain signed the Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1817, which effectively demilitarized theGreat Lakes by severely restricting the number of shipsthat the two powers could maintain there. Next theBritish-American Convention of 1818 restored toAmericans the same fishing rights off Newfoundlandthat they had enjoyed before the War of 1812 and fixedthe boundary between the United States and Canadafrom the Lake of the Woods west to the Rockies. Beyondthe Rockies, the vast country known as Oregon wasdeclared “free and open” to both American and Britishcitizens. As a result of these two agreements, the UnitedStates had a secure border with British-controlledCanada for the first time since independence, and aclaim to the Pacific.

The nation now turned its attention to dealing withSpain, which still owned East Florida and claimed WestFlorida. No one was certain whether the LouisianaPurchase included West Florida. Acting as if it did, theUnited States in 1812 had simply added a slice of WestFlorida to the state of Louisiana and another slice to theMississippi Territory. In 1818 Andrew Jackson, theAmerican military commander in the South, seized onthe pretext that Florida was both a base for SeminoleIndian raids into the United States and a refuge for fugi-tive slaves. He invaded East Florida, hanged two Britishsubjects, and captured Spanish forts. Jackson had actedwithout explicit orders, but Adams supported the raid,guessing correctly that it would panic the Spanish intofurther concessions.

In 1819 Spain agreed to the Adams-Onís (orTranscontinental) Treaty. By its terms, Spain ceded EastFlorida to the United States, renounced its claims to allof West Florida, and agreed to a southern border of theUnited States west of the Mississippi that ran northalong the Sabine River (separating Texas from Louisiana)and then westward along the Red and Arkansas Rivers tothe Rocky Mountains, finally following the forty-secondparallel to the Pacific (see Map 8.3). In effect, the UnitedStates conceded that Texas was not part of the LouisianaPurchase, while Spain agreed to a northern limit to itsclaims to the West Coast. It thereby left the United Statesfree to pursue its interests in Oregon.

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The Monroe Doctrine, 1823

John Quincy Adams had long believed that God andnature had ordained that the United States would even-tually span the entire continent of North America.Throughout his negotiations leading up to the Adams-Onís Treaty, he made it clear to Spain that, if the Spanishdid not concede some of their territory in NorthAmerica, the United States might seize all of it, includingTexas and even Mexico. Americans were fast acquiring areputation as an aggressive people. Yet Spain was con-cerned with larger issues than American encroachment.Its primary objective was to suppress the revolutionsagainst Spanish rule that had broken out in SouthAmerica. To accomplish this goal, Spain sought supportfrom the European monarchs who had organized theHoly Alliance in 1815. The brainchild of the tsar ofRussia, the Holy Alliance aimed to quash revolutionseverywhere in the name of Christian and monarchistprinciples. By 1822 its members talked of helping Spainsuppress the South American revolutions. But Britainrefused to join the Holy Alliance; British foreign ministerGeorge Canning proposed that the United States andBritain issue a joint statement opposing any Europeaninterference in South America while pledging that nei-ther would annex any part of Spain’s old empire in theNew World.

While sharing Canning’s opposition to Europeanintervention in the New World, Adams preferred that theUnited States make a declaration of policy on its ownrather than “come in as a cock-boat in the wake of theBritish man-of-war.” Adams flatly rejected Canning’sinsistence on a joint Anglo-American pledge never toannex any part of Spain’s former territories, for Adamswanted the freedom to annex Texas or Cuba, shouldtheir inhabitants one day “solicit a union with us.”

This was the background of the Monroe Doctrine, asPresident Monroe’s message to Congress on December2, 1823, later came to be called. The message, writtenlargely by Adams, announced three key principles: thatunless American interests were involved, U.S. policy wasto abstain from European wars; that the “American con-tinents” were not “subjects for future colonization byany European power”; and that the United States wouldconstrue any attempt at European colonization in theNew World as an “unfriendly act.”

Europeans widely derided the Monroe Doctrine asan empty pronouncement. Fear of the British navy, notthe Monroe Doctrine, prevented the Holy Alliance fromintervening in South America. With hindsight, however,

the Europeans might have taken the doctrine more seri-ously, for it had important implications. First, by pledg-ing itself not to interfere in European wars, the UnitedStates was excluding the possibility that it would sup-port revolutionary movements in Europe. For example,Adams opposed U.S. recognition of Greek patriots fight-ing for independence from the Ottoman Turks. Second,by keeping open its options to annex territory in theAmericas, the United States was using the MonroeDoctrine to claim a preeminent position in the NewWorld.

CONCLUSIONJefferson’s philosophy left a strong imprint on his age.Seeking to make the federal government more respon-sive to the people’s will, Jefferson moved quickly toslash public expenditures and to contest Federalistcontrol of the judiciary. His purchase of the LouisianaTerritory in 1803 reflected his view that American lib-erty depended on the perpetuation of agriculture, andit would bring new states, dominated by Republicans,into the Union. As the Federalist party waned, Jef-ferson had to face down challenges from within hisown party, notably from the mischief of Aaron Burr andfrom die-hard old Republicans like John Randolph, whocharged that Jefferson was abandoning pure Republicandoctrines.

The outbreak of war between Napoleon’s Franceand Britain and the threat it posed to American neutral-ity preoccupied Jefferson’s second term and both termsof his successor, James Madison. The failure of theembargo and peaceable coercion to force Europeans torespect American neutrality led the United States intowar with Britain in 1812. The war destroyed the Fed-eralists, who committed political suicide at the HartfordConvention. It also led Madison to jettison part ofJefferson’s legacy by calling for a new national bank, fed-eral support for internal improvements, and protectivetariffs. The Transcontinental Treaty of 1819 and theMonroe Doctrine’s bold pronouncement that Europeanpowers must not meddle in the affairs of the WesternHemisphere expressed America’s increasingly assertivenationalism.

Conflict was never far below the surface of theapparent consensus of the Era of Good Feelings. In theabsence of Federalist opposition, Republicans began tofragment into sectional factions, most notably in theconflict over Missouri’s admission to the Union as aslave state.

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Stephen Ambrose, Undaunted Courage (1997). Fine newstudy of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Joseph J. Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of ThomasJefferson (1997). A prize-winning attempt to unravelJefferson’s complex character.

Jan Ellen Lewis and Peter S. Onuf, eds., Sally Hemings andThomas Jefferson (1999). An excellent compilation of cur-rent scholarship on the relationship between Jeffersonand Sally Hemings.

Drew R. McCoy, The Last of the Fathers: James Madison andthe Republican Legacy (1989). The best recent book onMadison.

Merrill Peterson, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: ABiography (1970). The best one-volume biography ofJefferson.

J. C. A. Stagg, Mr. Madison’s War: Politics, Diplomacy andWarfare in the Early Republic (1983). An important rein-terpretation of the causes of the War of 1812.

John Sugden, Tecumseh: A Life (1997). A biography that illu-minates the culture of the western Indians as they foughtthe Americans’ advance.

G. Edward White, The Marshall Court and Cultural Change,1815–1835 (1991). A seminal reinterpretation of theSupreme Court under John Marshall.


Monticello: The Home of Thomas Jefferson

The American War of 1812 website that provides links to many primary sources,including contemporary newspaper articles debatingAmerican entry into the war, accounts of naval battlesand military campaigns in the East and Northwest, andaccounts of the Battle of New Orleans.

Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery website provides timelines and maps of the historic expedition, along with scholars’ assessments of the journey.

For Further Reference 253

CHRONOLOGY, 1801–1824

1801 Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration.1802 Repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801.

Yazoo land compromise.1803 Marbury v. Madison.

Conclusion of the Louisiana Purchase.1804 Impeachment of Justice Samuel Chase.

Aaron Burr kills Alexander Hamilton in a duel.Jefferson elected to a second term.

1804–1806 Lewis and Clark expedition.1805 British court declares the broken voyage illegal.1807 Chesapeake Affair.

Embargo Act passed.1808 James Madison elected president.1809 Non-Intercourse Act passed.

Embargo Act repealed.1810 Macon’s Bill No. 2.1811 Battle of Tippecanoe.1812 United States declares war on Britain.

Madison reelected to a second term.General William Hull surrenders at Detroit.Battle of Queenston.

1813 Battle of the Thames.1814 British burn Washington, D.C.

Hartford Convention.Treaty of Ghent signed.

1815 Battle of New Orleans.1816 James Monroe elected president.

Second Bank of the United States chartered.1817 Rush-Bagot Treaty.1818 British-American Convention of 1818 sets U.S.-

Canada border in West.Andrew Jackson invades East Florida.

1819 Adams-Onís (Transcontinental) Treaty.Dartmouth College v. Woodward.McCulloch v. Maryland.

1820 Monroe elected to a second term.1820–1821 Missouri Compromise.1823 Monroe Doctrine.

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