Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

America: From Colony to Superpower. Part I: 1776-1876

The War of 1812 had seen almost 300,000 Americans take up arms to maintain independence. It reconfirmed to many that the United States should steer clear of European affairs. For the Native Americans the results were ominous. They saw their strongest ally, Great Britain, withdraw, and they were now at the mercy of a land thirsty American people. The war also harmed the Federalists. Their strongest base had always been New England. They now saw this area’s stronghold on American politics weaken as the West and the South grew in population and strength. These areas were the heart of Republican electoral strength. The Republican government’s success in the War of 1812 only further accelerated the Federalists decline. Following two terms as president, James Madison retired. He was succeeded by another Republican, James Monroe, the third Virginian president between 1801 and 1825. Monroe easily defeated the last Federalist nominee, Rufus King, in the presidential election in 1816.

With the Federalist party in ruins, Monroe ran unopposed as the Republican candidate in 1820, and was re-elected. Monroe’s Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, pushed for American expansion, but aimed for it through negotiation, not war. He also believed that the newly acquired territories must not permit slavery. In 1817 Britain and America agreed to demilitarisation along the U.S.-Canadian border. In 1819 Spain relinquished Florida to the United States. American territorial claims now stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific as the country grew and grew. In 1823 President Monroe presented the Monroe Doctrine, which Adams had devised. It essentially demanded that European nations stay out of the Americas unless they had specific colonies there. In return Monroe pledged non-interference by the United States in European affairs, including those of Europe’s existing New World colonies. The doctrine was obeyed by Europe only because it was backed by Britain, who was determined to keep other European nations out of the hemisphere to protect their dominance in the Atlantic trade.

In 1819 the issue of slavery raised its head. Missouri petitioned Congress for admission to the Union as a slave state. At the time the Union consisted of eleven slave and eleven free states. If Missouri was admitted it would upset this balance. Eventually a compromise was reached with Missouri and the free state Maine both being admitted. But the debate had also awakened wider questions about the morality of slavery, and the power that slavery gave the southern states. The free northern states and the slaveholding southern states began to diverge more and more over slavery. These sectional issues would undermine the Republican party’s unity and eventually divide it.


The period between the First and Second Two-Party Systems- The era of President Jackson, the birth of the Democratic party and the forced resettlement of Native Americans


What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms…?


– President Andrew Jackson, Second Annual Message to Congress, December 6th, 18304

To become strangers and wanderers in the land of their fathers, forced to return to the savage life, and to seek a new home in the wilds of the far west, and that without their consent. An instrument purporting to be a treaty with the Cherokee people has recently been made public by the President of the United States, that will have such an operation, if carried into effect

– From Memorial and Protest of the Cherokee Nation, June 22nd, 18365

During the 1820’s the death of the Federalists and the subsequent fragmentation of the Republicans brought the first American experience with political parties to an end. But from 1824 onwards a new party structure took place, one in which parties and political conflict were seen as inevitable and constructive, unlike before. Two other important developments occurred during this period. From the time of Jefferson, parties had named their candidates in secret congressional caucuses. This system was used for the last time in 1824; by 1832 it had given way to the national nominating convention, which in theory gave the party rank and file a voice in the nominations. The second change was in relation to the actual presidential election. By 1832 all the states, except South Carolina, had transferred the election of presidential electors from the legislature to the voters.

In the 1824 presidential election, although Andrew Jackson led in both the electoral and popular votes, he failed to achieve a majority of electoral college votes, and the House elected John Quincy Adams as the sixth president. This led to the Republican party splitting into the National Republicans (supporters of Adams) and the Democratic-Republicans (supporters of Jackson). Adams and Jackson fought a rematch in the 1828 election, which was an intensely personal and bitter conflict. Jacksonians claimed that he had the presidency stolen from him in 1824. The two camps accused each other of pandering, adultery and murder amongst other mud-slinging comments. Adams won the same states as in 1824 (principally the New England states), but this time the opposition was unified, and Jackson won. The Jackson campaign team had mass-produced badges, medals and other paraphernalia for supporters to wear. Huge money had been spent campaigning and building up a huge support base. The Democratic-Republicans (shortened to Democrats) party became the first well-organised national political party in the United States. Their methods would become the prototype for nineteenth-century American political parties.

Jackson’s supporters saw his victory as a vindication of the common white man. He was the first president not to come from a well-established American family. He was born in poverty to Scotch-Irish immigrant parents in the Carolina back country, and had made his own, becoming a lawyer, land speculator, planter, soldier and now president. In government, Jackson believed in minimal federal action and cautioned against &ldquoencroachments upon the legitimate sphere of State sovereignty.”6 Although President Jackson was quite sincere in his professed devotion to &ldquothe people” and claimed to speak for them, he never had in mind all the people of the United States. He ignored issues of women’s’ suffrage and, being a large slaveholder, the question of black Americans and slavery. But it was the Native Americans whom he caused most discomfort. Jackson, to the delight of land-hungry southerners and westerners, vigorously enforced a plan, initiated by Jefferson and favoured by both Monroe and Adams and approved by Congress, to remove all the Eastern Indian tribes to lands west of the Mississippi.

The Removal Act of 1830 provided Jackson with the legislative measure required to pursue this policy. The infamous Trail of Tears began, on which Indian tribes made the forced journey to the West from places such as Alabama and Mississippi. Jackson ignored Supreme Court decisions such as Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), which ruled that the Indians had an unquestionable right to their lands and couldn’t be forced to give it up. Instead the president coerced Indians by force of arms to vacate lands he deemed belonged to the United States. The forced migration of Native Americans to new lands further accelerated their eclipse. They encountered an alien environment and no longer knew how to live off the land, becoming increasingly dependent on government payments for survival. Jackson coasted to re-election in 1832. He increased his use of presidential veto to block Congressional bills he disagreed with, making the executive now equal in power to Congress. But during his second term the issues of individual states’ rights again reared its head.

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