Son of President John Adams and the sixth U.S. president. As James Monroe’s secretary of state, John Quincy Adams helped secure the Treaty of 1818 with Britain and was influential in formulating the Monroe Doctrine. In the 1824 presidential election, Adams ran against Andrew Jackson, but neither candidate received enough electoral votes to become president, so the election went to the House of Representatives. Speaker of the House Henry Clay supported Adams, possibly in exchange for the position of secretary of state. This “corrupt bargain” tainted Adams’s presidency from the start and left him politically impotent during his term.
An ardent women’s rights activist from the 1840s to the end of the century. “Suzy B.” spoke out tirelessly against racial and gender inequality and also supported the temperance movement.
President of the Bank of the United States during the 1820s and 1830s. Biddle exerted significant influence over the American economy through his position. Andrew Jackson, however, despised Biddle and the wealthy whom he represented and eventually destroyed the Bank by withholding all federal deposits.
Vice president to both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, who also led the movement to nullify the 1828 Tariff of Abominations. Shortly after Congress passed the tariff, Calhoun wrote an anonymous essay entitled “South Carolina Exposition and Protest” that urged southern legislators to declare the tax null and void in their states. This Nullification Crisis was the greatest challenge the nation had yet faced and illustrated the emerging sectional differences.
A Kentuckian who served as Speaker of the House of Representatives, secretary of state to John Quincy Adams, and later as a U.S. senator. Clay was the father of the American System, which promoted higher tariffs and internal improvements at the government’s expense. He earned the nickname “Great Pacificator” for devising both the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise Tariff of 1833 to end the Nullification Crisis. In 1834, Clay and Daniel Webster of New England formed the Whigs, a new progressive political party favoring internal improvements, limited westward expansion, and reform. Although Clay never served as president (he ran and lost three times), historians regard him as one of America’s greatest statesmen.
A schoolteacher from Massachusetts who spearheaded the campaign to establish publicly funded asylums to help the mentally ill. Dix’s report on the state of the mentally disabled in the state’s prisons convinced legislators to build the first asylums. She traveled tens of thousands of miles to promote her cause.
An American essayist and philosopher who was one of the leading Transcendentalists in the 1830s through 1850s. Emerson’s essays, such as the famous “Self-Reliance,” made him one of the nation’s most popular practical philosophers.
A former lawyer who applied his sharp wit and intellect to preach evangelism throughout the North during the 1830s. Finney’s camp-style meetings put thousands of people into a frenzy during his fifty-year crusade. He encouraged women to lead groups in prayer and railed against the evils of slavery and alcohol.
An American surveyor and explorer who, days after Congress declared war on Mexico in 1846, went about taking control of the territory of California. In January 1847, after only a few minor battles, California surrendered to Frémont. Many accused him of being an agent of President James K. Polk and believed his presence in California to have been more than a coincidence. Frémont later ran unsuccessfully for president in 1856 as the first presidential candidate for the fledgling Republican Party.
A radical abolitionist who advocated the immediate emancipation of all slaves in the United States. Garrison’s infamous magazine, The Liberator , earned him many enemies in the South.
A former governor of Indiana Territory and army general who defeated incumbent Martin Van Buren in the presidential election of 1840. Harrison’s election marked the beginning of the era in which the Whigs and Democrats were the two major opposing forces in American politics. Unfortunately, he died after less than a month in office. Harrison was also the grandfather of President Benjamin Harrison, who was elected in 1888.
A hero of the Battle of New Orleans and the Creek War who entered the national political arena when he challenged John Quincy Adams for the presidency in 1824. After a controversial loss, Jackson ran again in 1828 and won. His presidency was plagued by numerous crises, from the Bank War and the Nullification Crisis to forced Native American removal. Jackson’s presidency has become associated with populist democracy, westward expansion, and a strengthened federal government.
A champion of public education who served as secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education in the 1830s. Mann supervised the creation of many new tax-supported schools and fought for better curriculum, higher pay for teachers, and more teacher qualifications.
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1801–1835. A die-hard Federalist, Marshall generally ruled in favor of the national government over the individual state governments, even after Federalism had died out. His most famous rulings include Cohens v. Virginia, Dartmouth College v. Woodward, Fletcher v. Peck, Gibbons v. Ogden, Marbury v. Madison, and McCulloch v. Maryland.
Inventor of the mechanical mower-reaper, which had an enormous impact on Western agriculture in the 1840s and 1850s. Whereas American farmers had primarily been planting corn, the mower-reaper allowed them to plant wheat, which was a far more profitable crop. As farmers planted more and more wheat, they began to ship their surpluses to manufacturing cities in the North and Northeast.
A Democratic-Republican from Virginia who was elected president in 1816 and inaugurated the Era of Good Feelings. An excellent administrator, Monroe bolstered the federal government and supported internal improvements. The nation was so united under his first term that he ran uncontested in the election of 1820. The good times ended, however, during the Missouri crisis, which effectively split the United States into North and South. Monroe is most famous for his 1823 Monroe Doctrine, which warned European powers to stay out of Latin American affairs.
An expansionist Democrat from Tennessee who was elected president on a manifest destiny platform in 1844. During his four years in office, Polk lowered tariffs, revived the independent treasury, acquired Oregon, and seized California in the Mexican War. Many critics have accused him of provoking war with Mexico simply as an excuse to annex western land.
A New Yorker who founded the Mormon church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) after claiming to have received a new set of gospels from an angel. Smith attracted a large following but was forced to move to the Midwest to escape persecution for the Mormons’ acceptance of polygamy. After he was murdered by a mob, his disciple, Brigham Young, led thousands of Mormons to the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The Mormon Church was one of the more successful new religions to sprout during the wave of revivalism in the first half of the 1800s.
One of the first American feminists. Stanton joined Susan B. Anthony in the mid-1800s to call for social and political equality for women. She helped organize the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and drafted the convention’s Declaration of Sentiments.
A Mexican War hero who became the second and last Whig president in 1848. In order to avoid controversy over the westward expansion of slavery in the Mexican Cession, Taylor campaigned without a solid platform. He died after only sixteen months in office and was replaced by Millard Fillmore.
A former Democrat who became a Whig and then became president upon the death of William Henry Harrison. Tyler joined the Whigs in the 1830s because he couldn’t stand Democrat Andrew Jackson’s autocratic leadership style. Tyler’s political ideologies never really changed, though, and during his four years in office, he consistently shot down most Whig legislation: he refused to revive the Bank of the United States and disapproved of funding internal improvements with federal money. Outraged, the Whigs kicked him out of the party during his term. In his final days as president, Tyler succeeded in signing the Texas annexation bill into law.
Secretary of state to Andrew Jackson who went on to become the Democratic president in 1836. Van Buren’s term was plagued by a depression that arose after the financial Panic of 1837 . Van Buren, believing that the economy had worsened because federal funds were being stored in smaller banks, pushed the Divorce Bill through Congress to create an independent treasury. Van Buren lost by a large margin to William Henry Harrison in the election of 1840 and later ran again, unsuccessfully, as the Free-Soil Party candidate in 18 48.
A senator from New Hampshire, renowned for his oratory and for his ardent belief in the American System. A leading statesman of his day, Webster allied with Henry Clay in 1834 to form the new Whig Party. As Whigs, he and Clay campaigned for progressive new reforms and attempted to limit westward expansion. Webster also served two stints as secretary of state.
Inventor of the cotton gin and the system of interchangeable parts, which dramatically changed the American economy and social fabric. Whitney’s cotton gin (1793) made cotton farming much easier and more profitable for southern planters, who consequently converted most of their fields to cotton fields. This surge in production required more slaves to pick the cotton. Southern cotton and interchangeable parts in turn stimulated the growth of textile manufacturing in the North and the birth of the wage labor system.
A movement spearheaded by Speaker of the House Henry Clay that called for internal improvements, higher protectionist tariffs, and a strong national banking system. The system’s supporters, including Daniel Webster, succeeded in chartering the Bank of the United States in 1816 and creating both the Tariff of 1816 and the steeper Tariff of Abominations in 1828. They also funded the Cumberland Road from Maryland to Missouri and supported the construction of various other roads and canals.
A small-scale 1838–1839 turf war, fought between American and Canadian woodsmen in northern Maine, that almost erupted into a larger war between Britain and the United States. The Aroostook War convinced both countries that settlement of northern Maine territorial disputes had to be negotiated promptly. The dispute was resolved by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, negotiated by Secretary of State Daniel Webster and Lord Ashburton of Britain, which established a permanent border between Maine and Canada.
A private bank, chartered in 1816 by proponents of Henry Clay’s American System, that provided the fledgling United States with solid credit and financial stability in the 1820s and 1830s under the leadership of Nicholas Biddle. Many in the West and South, however, despised the Bank because they saw it as a symbol for aristocracy and greed. In 1832, Andrew Jackson initiated the Bank War by vetoing a bill to renew the Bank’s charter. He eventually destroyed the Bank in the 1830s by withholding all federal gold and silver deposits and putting them in smaller banks instead. Without any reserves, the Bank withered until its charter expired in 1836. Deprived of stable credit, the blossoming financial sector of the economy crashed in the Panic of 1837 .
A conflict between Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay over 1832 legislation that was intended to renew the charter of the Bank of the United States. Clay pushed the bill through Congress, hoping it would slim Jackson’s reelection chances: signing the charter would cost Jackson support among southern and western voters who opposed the bank, whereas vetoing the charter would alienate wealthier eastern voters. Jackson vetoed the bill, betting correctly that his supporters in the South and West outnumbered the rich in the East. Upon reelection, Jackson withheld all federal deposits from the Bank, rendering it essentially useless until its charter expired in 1836.
A brief 1832 war in Illinois in which the U.S. Army trounced Chief Black Hawk and about 1,000 of his Sauk and Fox followers, who refused to be resettled according to the Indian Removal Act.
An area of western New York State that earned its nickname as a result of its especially high concentration of hellfire-and-damnation revivalist preaching in the 1830s. The Burned-Over District was the birthplace of many new faiths, sects, and denominations, including the Mormon church and the Oneida community. Religious zeal also made the area a hotbed for reform movements during the 1840s.
An 1821 Supreme Court ruling that set an important precedent reaffirming the Court’s authority to review all decisions made by state courts. When the supreme court of Virginia found the Cohen brothers guilty of illegally selling lottery tickets, the brothers appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Marshall heard the case and ruled against the family. Though he concurred with the state court’s decision, he nonetheless cemented the Supreme Court’s authority over the state courts. This case was one of many during the early 1800s in which Marshall expanded the Court’s and the federal government’s power.
A tariff, proposed by Henry Clay, that ended the Nullification Crisis dispute between Andrew Jackson and South Carolina. The compromise tariff repealed the Tariff of Abominations and reduced duties on foreign goods gradually over a decade to the levels set by the Tariff of 1816.
A scandal that arose during the election of 1824 that tainted John Quincy Adams’s entire term in office. When neither Adams nor his opponent, Andrew Jackson, received enough electoral votes to become president, the election was thrown to the House of Representatives. Speaker of the House Henry Clay, who hated Jackson, threw his support behind Adams, which effectively won him the presidency. When Adams later announced Clay as his new secretary of state, Jackson and the American people cried foul. Adams was accused of having made a “corrupt bargain,” and the political fallout rendered him politically paralyzed during his term.
A 1793 invention by Eli Whitney that enabled automatic separation of cotton seeds from raw cotton fiber. The cotton gin made cotton farming much easier and more profitable for southern planters, prompting them not only to increase their cotton output but also to increase their demand for slave labor. Along with Whitney’s other innovation, the use of interchangeable parts, the cotton gin stimulated the growth of textile manufacturing in the North and the birth of the wage labor system.
A federally funded road, also known as the National Road, that was completed in 1837 and then expanded several times throughout the antebellum period. When finally completed, the Cumberland Road stretched all the way from Maryland to Illinois. It was a one of the most significant internal improvements made under Henry Clay’s American System.
An 1819 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of private institutions to hold private contracts. When the New Hampshire state legislature revised Dartmouth College’s original charter from King George III, the college appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that even though the college’s contract predated the Revolutionary War, it was still a legal contract with which the state of New Hampshire could not interfere. This precedent asserted federal authority and protected contracts from state governments.
A declaration read at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention for women’s rights. The Declaration of Sentiments mimicked the Declaration of Independence by stating that “all men and women were created equal.” Written primarily by suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton, it is regarded as one of the most important achievements of the early women’s rights movement.
A nickname given to James Monroe’s early years as president (1816–1819), when the Democratic-Republicans were the only political party and nationalist Americans concentrated on improving America. The Era of Good Feelings dissipated after the crisis over Missouri in 1819 and the Panic of 1819.
A canal between the New York cities of Albany and Buffalo, completed in 1825. The canal, considered a marvel of the modern world at the time, allowed western farmers to ship surplus crops to sell in the North and allowed northern manufacturers to ship finished goods to sell in the West.
An 1810 Supreme Court decision in which the Court ruled that the Georgia state legislature could not cancel a contract that a previous legislature had already granted. The decision by Chief Justice John Marshall protected the permanence of legal contracts and established the Supreme Court’s power to overrule state laws.
An 1833 bill that authorized the federal government to use military force to collect tariff duties. The bill demonstrated Andrew Jackson’s resolve to end the 1832–1833 Nullification Crisis in South Carolina.
An order that the House of Representatives, beleaguered by the growing abolitionist movement in the North, passed in 1836 to ban further discussion of slavery.
An 1824 Supreme Court ruling that declared that the state of New York could not grant a monopoly to a company engaged in interstate commerce. Chief Justice John Marshall thus exerted federal power by upholding that only the federal government had the right to regulate interstate commerce according to the Constitution.
An 1840 bill that created an independent U.S. Treasury. The bill established the independent treasury to hold public funds in reserve and to prevent excessive lending by state banks, thus guarding against inflation. The Independent Treasury Bill was a response to the Panic of 1837, which many blamed on the risky and excessive lending practices of state banks.
An 1830 act, supported by Andrew Jackson, that authorized the U.S. Army to evict by force all Native Americans east of the Mississippi River and resettle them in “permanent” reservations in present-day Oklahoma and Nebraska. Thousands of Native Americans died on the “Trail of Tears” to their new and unwanted home. The Army was forced to fight the Black Hawk War and Second Seminole War after some tribes refused to leave.
A system, devised by Eli Whitney in 1797, that allowed machines to mass-produce identical goods. This innovation prompted a boom in new factories in the North during the antebellum period.
A term referring to infrastructure projects, mostly involving transportation, that were key features of Henry Clay’s American System. Scores of canals and roads were dug to link the East with the West during the period from 1816 to 1852. The most famous of these were the Erie Canal and the Cumberland Road.
A party, known formally as the American Party, of nativist Americans who wanted to stop the tide of foreign immigrants from Ireland and Germany entering the United States in the 1840s and 1850s. The Know-Nothings nominated former president Millard Fillmore in the 1856 presidential election. Members of the American Party were so secretive that they often claimed to “know nothing” whenever questioned, hence the nickname.
A northern abolitionist party that formed in 1840 when the abolitionist movement split into a social wing and a political wing. The party nominated James G. Birney in the election of 1844 against Whig Henry Clay and Democrat James K. Polk. Surprisingly, the Liberty Party siphoned just enough votes away from Clay to throw the election to the Democrats.
An 1851 law that prohibited the sale, manufacture, and consumption of alcohol in the state of Maine. The law, a huge victory for the temperance movement, encouraged other states in the North to pass similar prohibitory laws.
A belief, common in the United States in the mid-1800s, that Americans had been “manifestly destined” by God to settle and spread democracy across the continent and perhaps even the entire western hemisphere. To achieve this destiny, thousands left their homes during the 1840s and 1850s and embarked on journeys on the Oregon Trail, on the Mormon Trail to Utah, or to mine for gold in California. Manifest destiny also led many southerners to seek—unsuccessfully—new slave territories in places as far away as Nicaragua and Cuba. Manifest destiny led presidents John Tyler and James K. Polk to annex Texas, acquire Oregon from Britain, and wage the Mexican War to seize California.
An 1819 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States. Chief Justice John Marshall, like Alexander Hamilton, was a loose constructionist who believed that the federal government was authorized to create the Bank even though the Constitution said nothing about it. President Andrew Jackson ignored Marshall’s ruling and vetoed a bill to renew the Bank’s charter in 1832 on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.
An invention by Cyrus McCormick that had a profound effect on agriculture in the West during the 1840s and 1850s. Most western farmers had been planting corn, but the mower-reaper allowed them to plant wheat, which was far more profitable than corn. As farmers planted more and more wheat, they began to ship their surpluses to manufacturing cities in the North and Northeast.
An 1820 compromise, devised by Henry Clay, to admit Maine as a free state and Missouri as a slave state. The compromise maintained the sectional balance in the Senate—twelve free states and twelve slave states—and forbade slavery north of the 36° 30' parallel. It ended a potentially catastrophic dispute and tabled all further slavery discussions for the next couple of decades.
An 1823 policy statement, drafted by James Monroe and his secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, warning Old World colonial powers to stay out of affairs in the Western Hemisphere. The doctrine stated that the New World was closed to further colonization and that European attempts to interfere would be considered hostile acts against the United States. In return, the United States would not interfere in Europe’s internal affairs or with existing European colonies in the New World. Britain, anxious to preserve a hold on its remaining colonies in North America, helped enforce the doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine has had great influence on American foreign policy over the years.
A crisis over the Tariff of 1828 (Tariff of Abominations), which was enormously unpopular in the South. Andrew Jackson’s supporters pushed the tariff through Congress during John Quincy Adams’s term, but when Jackson took office, his vice president, John C. Calhoun, opposed the tariff vehemently. Calhoun secretly wrote and published an essay called “South Carolina Exposition and Protest” to encourage state legislatures in the South to nullify the tariff. Though Jackson personally disliked the tariff, he refused to allow any state to disobey a federal statute. When South Carolina did nullify the tax in 1832, Jackson threatened to use the military to enforce the law. Fortunately, Henry Clay proposed the Compromise Tariff of 1833 to reduce the tariff gradually over a decade.
A financial panic, caused in part by overspeculation in western lands, that slid the U.S. economy into a decade-long depression. Farmers in the West and South were hit hardest, but the depression’s effects were felt everywhere. The panic helped bring an end to the Era of Good Feelings.
A financial panic caused by the default of many of the smaller “pet banks” that Andrew Jackson had used to deposit federal funds when he withheld them from the Bank of the United States in the 1830s. The crisis was compounded by overspeculation, the failure of Jackson’s Specie Circular (which required that all land be purchased with hard currency), and the lack of available credit due to the banking crisis.
A war fought by the U.S. Army against members of the Seminole tribe in Florida who refused to be resettled west of the Mississippi River in the late 1830s.
A convention of early women’s rights activists in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848 to launch the American feminist movement. The convention’s Declaration of Sentiments, penned by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was modeled on the Declaration of Independence in its declaration that all men and women were created equal.
An essay, written anonymously by Vice President John C. Calhoun, that called on the southern states to declare the 1828 Tariff of Abominations null and void. The essay encouraged South Carolina legislators to nullify the tariff, pitting the state against President Andrew Jackson in the most serious internal conflict the nation had yet faced. This Nullification Crisis is regarded as one of the stepping stones that eventually led to Civil War.
Resolutions introduced in 1847 by Congressman Abraham Lincoln, who, unconvinced that the Mexican army had attacked U.S. forces unprovoked, demanded to know the exact spot where Mexicans had attacked. Lincoln’s persistence—and the confusing answers that Democrats gave—suggested that General Zachary Taylor, or perhaps even President James K. Polk himself, had provoked the attack and initiated the Mexican War.
An 1819 act passed by the northern-dominated House of Representatives in an attempt to curb westward expansion of slavery. The act declared that Missouri could be admitted to the Union as a slave state, but only on the condition that no more slaves enter the territory and that its existing slaves gradually be freed. Outraged southern legislators, who wanted to push slavery westward, blocked the act in the Senate, throwing Congress into a logjam. The crisis eventually was resolved by the Missouri Compromise of 1820.
A tariff, passed under the leadership of Henry Clay, that was designed to protect American manufacturing (prior tariffs had had the sole purpose of raising revenue). Whereas northerners loved the tariff, southerners disliked it, for they had little manufacturing to protect but still had to pay higher prices for foreign goods. The tariff was a key component of the American System.
See Tariff of Abominations.
A slight reduction on the “Tariff of Abominations” that was passed as a gesture of good will to encourage South Carolina to end the Nullification Crisis. Most South Carolinians saw the concessions as minimal at best and declared both the Tariff of Abominations and the Tariff of 1832 null and void out of principle.
See Compromise Tariff of 1833 .
A tariff passed by John Tyler that brought duties on foreign manufactured goods down to the level of the Compromise Tariff of 1833 .
See Walker Tariff.
A nickname for the Tariff of 1828 that reflected southerners’ enormous objections to the tariff. Vice President John C. Calhoun’s opposition to the tariff and his publication of the “South Carolina Exposition and Protest” pushed the nation into the Nullification Crisis. When South Carolina’s legislature followed Calhoun’s advice and declared the tariff null and void in their state, President Andrew Jackson threatened to use the military to enforce the tariff. Fortunately, Henry Clay proposed the Compromise Tariff of 1833 , which settled the dispute.
The route by which thousands of Native Americans, primarily Cherokee, were forcibly removed in the 1830s from their southeastern homelands and relocated to new reservations west of the Mississippi. This program of relocation was initiated under Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act. The journey has been labeled the “Trail of Tears” because countless Native Americans, forced to walk hundreds miles under horrible conditions, died along the way.
An American philosophical and intellectual movement of the 1830s–1850s whose followers believed that truth “transcended” the reality perceivable by the five senses. Transcendentalism originated in New England and was especially strong in eastern Massachusetts, where Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau lived. The movement emphasized individuality and strength of character, and most of its members were reformers, abolitionists, and Whigs.
A treaty between the United States and Britain that established a fixed border with Canada from Minnesota to the Rocky Mountains. The treaty also declared that both countries would occupy the Oregon Territory jointly until 1828. Though not highly regarded at the time, the treaty is considered one of John Quincy Adams’s most important achievements as secretary of state to James Monroe.
The extension of voting rights to nearly every white American male during the antebellum period. In the early United States, men had had to meet certain property-ownership and literacy qualifications in order to vote, but during the 1830s and 1840s, more and more states eliminated these restrictions. As more men in the poorer classes were able to vote, the Democrats received a huge boost in popularity.
An 1846 tariff that lowered tariff rates, which had climbed higher and higher after their brief reduction in 1842.
An 1842 treaty between the United States and Britain that established a permanent border between Maine and Canada after the Aroostook War.
A party formed in 1834 under the leadership of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. The Whigs, named after an anti-British party during the Revolutionary War era, promoted a platform of social reform (education, prison, temperance, and so on), abolition of slavery, and limited westward expansion. Several Whig candidates ran and lost against Martin Van Buren in the election of 1836, but the party rebounded four years later when they put William Henry Harrison in the White House.
Fly-by-night banking operations that plagued the West and South during the 1800s. The wildcat banks were highly unstable because they were impermanent, printed their own unregulated paper money, and had almost no solid credit. Whenever there was a financial panic, as in 1819 and 1837, many of these banks went bankrupt.