John Quincy Adams
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 1818with 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.
Susan B. Anthony
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.
John C. Calhoun
Vice president to both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, who also led the movement to nullify the 1828Tariff 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 1833to 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.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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.
Charles G. Finney
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.
William Lloyd Garrison
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.
William Henry Harrison
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 1823Monroe Doctrine, which warned European powers to stay out of Latin American affairs.
James K. Polk
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.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
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.
Martin Van Buren
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 1848.
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.