Early 19th Century

The early 19th Century (the 1800s) was a time of great expansion and exploration in American history, but also a time of warfare, political confusion, and the formation of identity. In 1800, Thomas Jefferson, the man responsible for writing the Declaration of Independence, was elected President.

He viewed himself as a frontiersman, and did much to advance the future of the country. Most notably, he made the Louisiana Purchase, in which 828,000 square miles of land, called the Louisiana Territory, west of the Mississippi River was bought from French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte.

This was a huge amount of land, and gave the nation a lot of room to expand without the need for war, and a large amount of natural resources. This would fuel the idea of Manifest Destiny which grew in the 1840s, which gave Americans a sense that they had the duty to expand to the west and 'civilize' it, regardless of what the native tribes thought. Jefferson sent the famous Lewis and Clark expedition west in 1803 to explore the new territory, and to uncover an easy path to the Pacific Ocean, which they failed in doing.

Another major growth point was the court case Marbury v. Madison in 1803, which defined the powers of the Supreme Court, and enabled them to nullify any decisions or laws made by Congress or individual states which were decided to be unconstitutional.

The young country was faced with its first war since the Revolution-the War of 1812. This conflict broke out because the British, who were fighting Napoleon, were kidnapping American sailors to crew their ships, in a practice known as 'impressment.'

Britain was also supporting Native American tribes which resisted US control. The United States wanted to prevent the British from doing this, and secretly wanted to conquer Canada, which was at the time a British colony, if possible. The war went poorly from the beginning. The British navy blockaded the United States and bankrupted them. The American attacks on Canada gained no ground, and the annexation failed.

The British and Canadians were able to march south to Washington D.C., the capitol, and burn it to the ground. However, a series of battles saw the British driven back, notably at Baltimore, where the national anthem The Star-Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key.

Andrew Jackson was an important military leader in these events, fighting several victorious battles against the British, and conquering the British-supported natives. The war made him a hero and he later became the 7th President of the United States. In the end, Napoleon was defeated in Europe, and Britain did not need to impress sailors any more. Both sides declared peace. Despite nothing being gained by either side, the Americans considered this war a victory, and it was a great boost to national pride.

In the next few decades, the country took great strides. Politics were not as divisive as before, and so it was called the Era of Good Feelings. The Monroe Doctrine was assumed in 1823, which stated that if Europeans tried to meddle in North and South America, the United States would take it as a hostile act, and by the same token the US promised to stay out of European affairs. This would characterize US foreign policy until World War II.

The 1830s saw the Indian Removal Act, which would push the Native Americans further West, off the land that the settlers wanted. This resulted in the Trail of Tears, in which thousands of Cherokees were forcibly moved west in a death march in which thousands lost their lives.

The two-party political system also took shape during this time. The two parties which arose were the Whigs and the Democrats.

And one of the biggest issues in US history, the abolition of slavery, grew in force in the 1840s. The country was divided between people who thought slavery was a sin, and people who thought it was a constitutional right. This division would lead to the Civil War.

A: A huge tract of land bought by America from France
B: A Native American reservation
C: A trade route going through Louisiana
D: A battlefield in the War of 1812

A: The number of justices in the Supreme Court
B: How many times the Supreme Court would meet per year
C: The Supreme Court could not judge whether laws were unconstitutional
D: The Supreme Court could judge whether laws were unconstitutional

A: British impressment of US sailors
B: Americans ambitions to annex Canada
C: British support of native tribes hostile to America
D: All the above

A: A boost in America's national pride
B: American Annexation of Canada
C: A large sum of money paid to the US by Britain
D: All the above

A: US foreign policy which said Europeans should not meddle in the Americas
B: A philosophy that meant Americans had a duty to colonize the west
C: An important Supreme Court case
D: The name of a peace treaty between the US and Britain

A: Thousands of Cherokee were forcibly removed to the west by the US government
B: US soldiers had to march through hostile territory to fight the British
C: Lewis and Clark explored the west
D: The Monroe Doctrine was established

To link to this Early 19th Century page, copy the following code to your site: