The 1770s saw one of the greatest and most celebrated changes in the history of the world: the American Revolution. It was a transformation in the minds of a nation of people, who collectively decided to stop being colonists and start being American. They rose up, cast off the political bonds and traditions of 150 years of British rule and charted a new course as a new nation. It had never been done before.
To cement their revolution, they formulated a nation based on ideas, rather than location, and expressed the meaning of America eloquently in a Declaration of Independence, stating for all the world that theirs was a nation in which “all men are created equal.” If ever there was a more stirring and lasting change in human affairs for good, it is hard to find.
However, we are asking you to consider, that for all that changed in the 1770s, perhaps a less celebrated time period, the early 1800s, may have been just as revolutionary or maybe even more so.
During the first 30 years of the 1800s, American business and society was transformed. Household manufacturing was almost universal in colonial days, but Samuel Slaters’ introduction of the first factory in Rhode Island forever changed the way we produced the things we used. In 1804, Oliver Evans of Philadelphia developed a high-pressure steam engine and within a few years it powered ships, sawmills, flourmills, printing presses and textile factories. While horsepower and waterpower were still in use, the age of steam had arrived. New canals and railways transported people and cargo, increasing the size of the American marketplace. Millions of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, and elsewhere satisfied a growing demand for labor. Elected leaders remade the nation’s political parties in response to these changes, and new ideas in education, social reform, philosophy, art, literature and religion spread.
In short, everything from home, to work, to school, to the marketplace and even church changed.
While the 1770s may have brought about political change, especially for the elite few who ruled the nation, the early 1800s touched the lives of nearly everyone.
So, as you learn about what historians sometimes call the Jacksonian Era, consider, was this time more revolutionary than the Revolution itself.