*** American history the 19th century decade trends

American History: The 19th Century

Figure 1.--The Civil War was a central event in the history of the American Republic. It permanently changed the focus of Americans from their state to their country. It determined America's future: 1) political and economic liberty (democracy and capitalism), 2) dominance of free labors, and 3) Westward settlement by free individuals. It was possible by the fervent patriotism of its freedom-loving people like the boys here. How different they are from the scenes on American university campuses in the 2020s with educated students who hate their country and support a terrorist group opposed to all forms of human freedom. It is staggering to think that these boys, not all of which had even completed primary school, had a better grasp of history and social justice, than the students at Colombia and other elite American universities today. (Click on the image for a sample of what flag many 'highly educated' young Americans fly today.)

Readers can view American history chronologically by decade. This provides more chronological continuity than the more thematic approach. The beginning of the century was dominated by the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and American efforts to stay out of the Napoleonic Wars which engulfed Europe during the first two decades of the century. This effort ultimately failed with the War of 1812, essentially fought to resolve unsettled issues from the Revolutionary War. This was followed by the Era of Good feelings which spanned the 1810s and 20s. The 1830s was dominated by the Jacksonian Era. The Antebellum decades of the 1840s and 50s are often passed over, but of course included the Mexican War (1846-48). The best studied decade is of course the 1860s with the Civil War and Reconstruction which was fundamental in establishing the foundation of the American Republic. This War secured America has set upon a democratic, capitalist future securing the creation of the most powerful nation on earth with immense consequences for the 20th century. It did not, however, resolve the race issue. The rest of the decades do not stand out, but were dominated by two major trends, the industrialization of the United States and the wave of European immigration leaving America a much more diverse country.

The 1800s

Democratic-Republican TYhomas Jefferson defeated incumbent Federalist John Adams (1800). The Presidential election of 1800 was critical in providing for the peaceful transition between parties. President Jefferson took several actions that he had complained about in opposition to a strong national government. He expanded presidential powers by the Louisiana Purchase (1803). He then sent Lewis and Clark West to see just what he had bought. America thus proved to be the great beneficiary of the Napoleonic Wars. The Emperor Napoleon had planned to relaunch the French North American Empire through Haiti and Louisiana. That would have blocked the westward expansion of the United States. When his army perished in Haiti from disease, a cash-strapped Napoleon decided to sell Louisiana at a bargain basement price. The beginning of the century was dominated by American efforts to stay out of the Napoleonic Wars which engulfed Europe during the first two decades of the century. President Jefferson with some difficulty struggled to remain out of the European war. He did use President Adam's Navy, which he had opposed building, to fight a war with the troublesome Barbary Pirates. Jefferson succeed in keeping out of the Napoleonic Wars, although at considerable economic cost. A major step in American law occurred during the Jefferson presidency. The Supreme Court estanlished principle of judicial review in Marbury vs. Masison (1803).

The 1810s

John Jacob Astor formed the Pacific Fur Company, launching the first major American industry of the 19th century (1810). Work began on the National Road, a major step in opening the West (1811). In the same year, William Henry Harrison defeated Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe, creating a military hero. This was another imprtnt step in opening the West. The New Madrid Earthquake struck the Mississippi Valley. Also largely lost to gistory, the Luddites, who were opposed to machines being used in manufacturing, attacked a wool factory in England (1812). The Luddites would ultimately lose out to the Industrial Revolution in Britain. American would be imopacted because it was creating a massive demand for cotton. The news at the time was, however, still dominated by Naopoleonic Wars raging in Europe. The effort to stay out of the Napoleonic Wars ultimately failed with the War Hawks in Congress plunging America into the War of 1812. It was essentially fought with Britain to resolve unsettled issues from the Revolutionary War, but it was Royal Navy impressment of American seamen that made the issues impossible to settle diplomatically. It is a war that few in Britain today are even aware of, but was important in America. Andrew Jackson's victory at New Ormeans created another military hero (1815). The War settled the issue of independence. Until the War of 1812, the British elite were convinced that a democratic republic was destined for failure and the Americans would eventually come to their seances and rejoin Britain. After the War of 1812, the British had to resign themselves to the fact that the American Republic would have to be grudgingly accommodated. And most importantly New Orleans remained in American hands. This was followed by domestic the Era of Good feelings in America which spanned the 1810s and 20s. This was possible because in the 1810s, slavery was not yet of huge importance to the American economy. Eli Witney's cotton gin transformed the American South. At the Constitutional Convention (1787), slavery was generally seen as a dying institution, part iof the reason they were willing to compromise. The cotton gin fundamentally changed that dynamic. Construction began on the Erie Canal, another major step in opening the West (1817).

The 1820s

Slavery first emerged as a major issue in America during the 1820s. Rather than slowly withering away as many had anticipated, the cotton gin had made possible a hugely profitable new crop that required slave labor--cotton. There is a great deal of poor history and economics that has emerged in our modern woke society. We hear comments that constantly appear on PBS such as 'slavery made Mississippi rich'. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cotton and slavery made a small number of southern planters rich, but not the society as a whole. It was the northern free states where people enjoying the benefits of free labor that population as a whole prospered. The South remained a backward agricultural society while the rest of the country prospered. It was in the North that the great engine of industrial society was born and grew, a primary reason why the the North won the Civil War. The Missouri Compromise (1820) managed to paper over the slavery issue by accepting a divided nation, half slave and half free. With slavery on the back burner tariffs and internal improvements became key issues. The election of 1824 had been a disputed election with no clear winner emerging. The presidency eventually went to John Quincy Adams in what Gen. Andrew Jackson called the 'Corrupt Bargain.' Jackson went on to win the 1828 rematch. The Erie Canal opened (1825), in short order turning New York into America';s most imprtant city. The Canal is the reason that New York is now known as the Empire State.

The 1830s

A steam locomotive raced a horse-driven railroad car—and lost after a drive band sliped (1830). Despite the loss, his as the beginning of the Railroad Boom that would reshape the American economy (1830). This was also the era of the great steam-pwered River Boats. The 1830s was dominated by the Jacksonian Era. Jackson was a force of nature. An English-born house painter tried to assassinate him, but Jasckson than attacked the assain and beat him up without the assistance of the Secret Serb=vice which did not yet exist. Jackson launched major changes. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act(1830), leading to the Trail of Tears. President Jackson killed the Second Bank of the United States (1833). This would leave the United States with out a central bank and until the Civil War without national paper currency as it began its transformation evolved from an agricultural to an industrial nation. Jackson's economic policies would lead to America's first depression occurring during the Van Buren presidency. Jackson was one of the most consequential presidents in American history. It is during his presidency that the suffrage was expanded to include basically all white males. Modern woke authors condemn America because blacks and women could not vote. This is of course absurd. Any valid assessment has to be with other countries at the time not with 21st century America. This is a basic principle of historiography that woke thunkers in our major universities have no quams about ignoring. America at the time was virtually the only place where any ordinary citizens had the right to vote or engage in public affairs. Even in Britain, the suffrage was very limited and in many cases even propertied men could not vote. In the rotten boroughs only a handful of men voted. In much of the rest of the world there were no elections of any kind. Texas fought and won a war for independence from Mexico (1835-36).

The 1840s

The Antebellum decades of the 1840s and 50s are often passed over, but of course were of immense importance. The decade opened with the election contest between the Whig candidate William Henry Harrison and Democrat candidate Martin Van Buren. Historians tend to stress demagoguery and moonshine, General Harrison was accused of being too partial to hard cider. In fact, it was the first election determined by economic issues. President Jackson's campaign against the Bank of the United States resulted in a depression and Van Buren suffered the consequences. Harrison was only nominally a Whig and as he died very early in his term, Democrat John Tyler inherited the office. Advances in communications were especially important in making a continental country workable. The telegraph was developed in the 1840s. Canals began to make a impact in the 1830s, but railroads appeared in the 1840s and steamboats on major rivers to open up the country economically. The Abolitionist Movement began to make real inroads in public opinion during the 1840s. The break up of major churches (Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians) into northern and southern factions was the beginning of the unraveling of America at the same time that American pioneers began reaching Oregon and California. Ireland was ravaged by the Potato Famine, spurring the first major ethnic influx to the Unites States, all the more unsettling because the Irish were Catholic. Major international conflicts emerged in the 1840s with Britain and Mexico. American politicians preaching Manifest Destiny felt strongly that the United States should span the continent. This was blocked by Britain in the northwest and Mexico in the southwest. Britain was unwilling to surrender the Oregon Territory. War was a real possibility. The issue was finally settled with the Oregon Treaty (1846). Diplomacy failed with Mexico, Mexico never recognized Texas Independence. American annexation of Texas meant war (1856). Major figures of the Civil War first came to national prominence during the Mexican War. The War was fought over Texas, but resulted in the acquisition of the entire southwest, including California. 【Woodward】 There was opposition to the War, in part because of the potential for expanding slavery. A young Abraham Lincoln was one of those critics. The Abolitionists were the core of the opposition. The Missouri Compromise only covered the area of the Louisiana Purchase. One consequence of the War, was the gold discovered in Califirnia would help fuel the growing, but cash-strapped Ameican economy.

The 1850s

The slavery issue rose to dominate the 1850s. As some had anticipated, the acquisition of the southwest from Mexico only intensified the national debate over slavery. The answer to these increasing tensions was the Compromise of 1850 which Senator Henry Clay helped push through at the end of the decade. Tragically, by abrogating the Missouri Compromise, it only opened new avenues for sectional division. Dramatic debates over slavery resounded in both chambers of Congress. Clay hoped that the compromise on slavery would allow the economic development of the country to resolve the slavery issue over time. The idea was that a developing diversified economy would eventually overwhelm slave-based plantations. The Compromise avoided Civil War, but only temporarily. Provisions of the Compromise, most prominently the Fugitive Slave Law actually exacerbated tensions. Harriet Beecher Stowe pour fuel on the slavery denate embers when she published Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). The Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) breaking the compromises over enslavement brought the first actual bloodletting. Virtually unknown politician Abraham Lincoln debated Stephen A. Douglas, in a series of debates in which slavery was a major issue (1858). The Abolitionist Movement by this time had so affected Northern thinking that an increasing number of Southerners no longer wanted to be part of the same that depised them. John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry convinced others that the South had to secede (1859).

The 1860s

The best studied decade of the 19th century is of course the 1860s with the Civil War and Reconstruction. This finally ended the slavery, but not the race issue. The Pony Express began just before the election that would change everything. The election of Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln (November 1860) led to the secession of the Southern states. Lincoln was not an abolitionist, but he was critical of slavery. the political power of the Southern states would have prevented steps toward abolition. Lincoln's election, however, meant that the south would not be able to expand slavery into the Southwestern territories. The Southern states led by South Carolina began to secede immediately after the election. A key state was Virginia which seceded after Lincoln was elected. Lincoln took no action, except to try to maintain the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter. The War began when Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter. Virginia immediately seceded (April 1861). The best covered battles of the War occurred between Washington and Richmond, only separated by a hundred miles. The War was, however, conducted over large areas of the West. Here the Federal forces secured victory after victory leading to control of the Mississippi and severing the western Confederate states, denying the Confederacy badly needed resources. This was obscured by the Confederate victories in the East, meaning the narrow theater between Washington and Richmond, which received most of the press coverage. Lincoln had trouble finding a competent general in the East. Meanwhile the U.S. Navy as part of the Anaconda Plan blockaded southern ports meaning that the South with little industry was at a serious disadvantage. Lincoln used the War to emancipate the slaves which would be confirmed by the 13th Amendment. Lincoln gave U.S. Grant command of the Federal Armies and he finally forced R.E. Lee and the South to surrender (April 1865). Only Five days after Lee's surrendr, John Wilkes Booth assainates the President. Lincoln had run on a Union ticket. Thus Democrant Andrew Johnson becomes president and complicates serious reconstruction. While the Civil War dominated the decade, other major developments were the Homestead Act (1863) and the Trans-Continental Railway (1867). Scottish naturalist John Muir arrives in Yosemite Valley, California, where he would encounter his spiritual home (1868). Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant is elected president (1868). He makes a serious effoty at Reconstruction. Tragically it would be a lost effort, especially the attempt to permanently enfranchise the emancipated slaves.

The 1870s

Following the Civil War, the rest of the decades do not stand out, but were dominated by two major trends, first the industrialization of the United States and second the wave of European immigration leaving America a much more diverse country. The United States was recovering from the Civil War. The North recovered rapidly. In fact, despite the loss of life, the Civil War promoted industrialization. The 1870 Census found 80 percent of the population still living in rural areas. The South did not recover like the North, not recognized at the time was the subjection of blacks, a substantial pert of the population, was a major reason why the economy in the South lagged the rest of the country. Reconstruction failed because white southerners were determined to deny the emancipated slaves basic civil rights. The result was a legacy of sectional bitterness and racial segregation. President Grant broke the power of the Klan, but was not able in the end to protect the former slaves from the white majority despite adoption of the 15th Amendment--the right to vote (1870). With the creation of the Transcontinental Railway, hunters begin to decimate buffalo herds. John D. Rockefeller formed the Standard Oil company (1870) which would monopolize the oil industry and lead America into the 20th century with a vibrant oil industry. President Grant establishes Yellowstone Park as the first National Park (1872). Andrew Carnegie built the Bessemer steel plant (1872) which would begin America's rise as the world's major industrial power. Corruption was rampant in American politics, but William "Boss" Tweed went yo jail (1873). This ended the corrupt New York political machine "Tammany Hall." Montgomery Ward launched the first mail order catalog that would bring wealth of consumer goods to every corner of the country. Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis patented 'Blue Jeans' (1873). The 'Big Bonanza' silver Comstock Lode was discovered (1873). A Wall Street Panic occurs (1873). Joseph F. Glidden patented modern barbed wire which began fencing the Great Planes for farming. Congress passed the first Civil Rights Act was passed (1875). Gen. Custer is killed by Native Americans at the Little Big Horn (1876). Rutherford B. Hayes is elected in the hotly contested 1876 presidential election, although he did not win the popular vote. He purs an end to Reconstruction. Major technological mile stones occurred. Alexander Grahm Bell demonstrated the telephone (1876). Thomas Edison invented the phonograph (1877). Edison patented the electric light bulb (1878). Woolworth opened its first 5 Cent Store (1879).

The 1880s

European immigration began to increase after the Civil War (1870s). But it is in the 1880s that we begin to see really large numbers. The American Red Cross named Clara Barton president, a post she would hold until 1904. She would lead 19 relief missions. The last hurrahs of the West occurred in the 1880s. Sitting Bull would leave the reservation, but had to surrender. The iconic gun fight was fought at the OK Corral (1881). The outlaw Jessie James was shot (1882). Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion At (1882). Vaudeville was born in Boston (1883). The Brooklyn Bridge was opened, a major tecnological achievement (1883). The Supreme Court finds part of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional, allowing individuals and corporations to discriminate based on race (1883). Railroad comanies in the United states and Canada establish five time zones (1883). The WCTU launched the campaign for Woman Suffrage (1884). The United States led the way at first with actions taken by Western states. American Telephone and Telegraph (ATT) is incorporated in New York City as a subsidiary of American Bell Telephone Company (1885). A general strike was called to promote an 8 hour workday (1886). Three days later the Haymarket riot and bombing occurred in Chicago. This was the beginning of labor battles for that worker rights and the recognition of unions. At the end if the year, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was formed by 25 craft unions (1886). Geronimo and his band of Apaches surrendered to Brigadier General Nelson A. Miles. This was the end of the Indian Wars (1886). The Statue of Liberty, a gift from Mew York, was errected in New York Hrbor (1886). Congress created the Interstate Commerce Commission (1887). The United States leased Pearl Harbor from the still independent Hawaiian Kingdom (1887). The Oklahoma Land Rush began (1889). This began the final closing of the Frontier. Jane Addams opened Hull House (1889). The deadliest flood in American history occured in Johnstown, Pennsylvania (1889). Some 2,200 people perished when South Fork Dam collapsed.

The 1890s

Yosemete, John Muir's dream landcsape, was made the second national park (1890). Congress passed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act (1890). This was fallowed by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and the McKinnely tariff to protect American industry. The Immigration Service opened Ellis Island (1892). Annie Moore from County Cork was the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island. The Homestead Strike which would be a milestone in labor relations (1892). The General Electric company was founded (1892). A Wall Street Panic touched off a serious depression (1893). It would be the most serious and long lasting economic depression of the century.Coxey's Army was seen as a threat and followed by the Pullman Strike (1894). The Monroe Doctrine was announced in 1823, but the United States did not have the naval power to enforce it. It was mostly the British Royal Navy that enforced it. President Lincoln began to address it after the Civil War, but President Cleveland began to seriously apply it against Britain (1895). Wuth the industrialization of the United States , an increasing number of Americans saw the needed for reform. This gave birth to the Progressive Movement which addressed a wide range of social and economic issues. This includedg alcohol, child labor, elections, eugenics, interstate commerce, labor law, monopolies and trusts, poverty, women's rights, working conduitions, and much more. Sadly racial justice was not one of them. The Supreme Court found in Plessy v. Ferguson that racial segregation was constitutional (1896). America unlike the European powers continued to severely restrict military spending. It did begin some naval spending, but made no effort to build and maintain a sunstantial army. The United States annexed Hawaii (1896). By the end of the century, the Census reported that the rural population was down to 66 percent. Theodore Roosevelt emerged as a major national figure (mid-1890s). Even before becoming president, He played a central role in the Spanish-American War, both on and off the battlefield (1898-99). He to grear public acclaim cleaned up the police force in New York City before charging up San Juan Hill (1898). The Republican Party leaders try to sideline him by making him their vice-presidential nominee (1900). It would be the gregarious Roosevelt, however, that would lead America into the new century. The United States had acquired the Philippines and Guam from Spain as a result of the Spanish American War--)making America a Pacific power and launching a small experiment in colonialism. America also acquired Puerto Rico. Colonies became an issue ffom the start. The Anti-Imperialist League was organized (1899)


Woodworth, Steven E. Manifest Destinies (Knopf: 2010), 42p.


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Created: 7:31 AM 12/30/2010
Last updated: 4:27 PM 5/30/2024