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BIG IDEA: The industrial revolution began in the early 1800s and led to major changes in transportation, communication, manufacturing, and the way the economy worked.

In the first half of the 1800s, the United States experienced a new sort of revolution. This change dealt with transportation, communication, and economics.

New forms of transportation made it much easier to move goods from one part of the country to another. Many canals were built, most importantly the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal opened in 1825 and connected New York City to the Great Lakes. After it opened, many people from New York and New England moved into the Midwest. The expansion of trade through New York City fostered growth and solidified it as America’s largest city and the center of the nation’s trade.

This time in history also saw the construction of the nation’s first railroads. Although they were few in number, railroads later eclipsed canals as the primary means of moving people and products.

American inventors were especially prolific in the early 1800s. The steamboat which allowed ships to move upriver, the horse-drawn reaper that allowed farmers to harvest much larger fields, the riding plow that allowed the tilling of thick prairie soil, and interchangeable parts were all developed at this time.

The first factories developed in the early 1800s. Based primarily in New England near rivers where they could draw waterpower, the early factories produced textiles and employed young women who sometimes lived in company dormitories. The Lowell Mills were the most famous example of these.

All of these changes led to the market revolution. Because transportation was improved, products could be shipped far from where they were produced. Thus, instead of growing one’s own food, or trading with neighbors, Americans could send products far away to sell, and buy things that were imported to their region.

Much of the labor in the nation’s factories and building canals and railroads was done by immigrants. In the early 1800s, many were from Germany and Ireland. The Irish came to escape the Potato Famine and faced intense anti-Catholic nativist discrimination.

It was during this time that Senator Henry Clay proposed the American System. He wanted tariffs to protect American producers, a national bank to support business, and federal funding for roads, canals and other internal improvements that could foster growth. Southerners resisted a tariff signed by John Quincy Adams since it protected Northern producers but made imports to the South more expensive.


BIG IDEA: Romanticism and the Second Great Awakening brought new ideas from Europe to America which were manifested in art, literature, and religious practices. Americans developed their own new philosophy in Transcendentalism.

Romanticism was a new way of thinking about art, music and literature. It emphasized emotion rather than rational thinking. Begun in Europe, Americans embraced Romanticism. Authors wrote stories such as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, novels like Moby Dick, and poems such as The Raven that used the natural world to reveal human experience and emotion. Artists of the Hudson River School painted beautiful pictures of landscapes that followed this same theme.

During the first half of the 1800s a religious revival swept through England and America.  Travelling preachers promised listeners that God would soon be returning and the best way to bring about the second coming was to purify themselves and the world.  In essence, people could bring God back by making Earth more God-like.  They taught that every human had a spark of divinity and should make a personal connection with God.

This movement led to the development of many new religious groups, including the Mormons who eventually moved to Utah to escape persecution. The movement also brought more equality for women in religion since it emphasized individuals over church structure and leadership.

A unique American philosophy developed in the early 1800s called Transcendentalism. Founded by scholars in New England, this movement promoted the idea that people were inherently good and that by rejecting traditional ways of living and thinking people could rise above the distractions of modern life and find happiness and understanding. Thoreau lived in the woods by Walden Pond for a year to test this hypothesis.

Some social reformers believed they could create a perfect society from scratch. Multiple such experiments briefly flourished. Shakers believed in equality between the sexes and celibacy. The Oneida Community rejected marriage. Transcendentalists built Brook Farm. All the utopian communities failed eventually. It turned out that humans are not as perfect as dreamers hoped.


BIG IDEA: The spirit of reform brought about by the Second Great Awakening led to movements to improve many areas of life including temperance, education, women’s rights, mental health, and abolition.

Some serious social reform movements developed in the early 1800s. Women began organizing and advocating for equal rights. This was in part due to the rise of the idea that the Woman’s Sphere was in the home. An outgrowth of the industrial revolution, this idea is still prevalent in American society. The suffrage movement began when reformers met at Seneca Falls, New York to organize. Their Declaration of Sentiments marks an important beginning for the effort by women to win the right to vote.

Dorothea Dix and Louis Dwight worked to improve conditions in mental asylums and jails.

A temperance movement developed to work toward a ban on alcohol consumption. Most members of the movement were practical, but Carrie Nation made headlines by attacking bars with her hatchet and Bible.

Horace Mann worked to reform schools. In the North, common schools were built to use taxpayer dollars to provide basic education for all children through eighth grade. Mann build normal schools to train teachers. Congress allocated funding for land to build universities in each state, the beginning of the public university system.

Much of the spirit of reform at this time was inspired by the Second Great Awakening’s teaching that a pure society full of perfected people would hasten the return of God.


BIG IDEA: After the War of 1812, democracy changed in America.  Instead of the realm of the elite and educated, all White men could vote and when Andrew Jackson was elected president in 1832 the old ways had clearly been swept aside in favor of the common man.

After the War of 1812, that nation experienced a short period in which there was only one viable national political party. Called the Era of Good Feeling, it lasted only one decade before the old Democratic-Republican Party split into the Democratic and Whig Parties.

It was at this same time that democracy expanded in the United States so that all White men could vote, regardless of wealth or property ownership. This was partially a result of the fact that many more people lived in cities and worked in factories. For them, owning land and farming was not a reality. Jefferson’s dream of a nation of yeomen farmers died.

The election of 1828 featured John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson. After a close vote in which no one won a majority, backroom wrangling led Clay to tell his supporters to vote for Adams, who won the presidency. Jackson’s supporters called it the Corrupt Bargain and four years later he roared back and won election outright.

Jackson ushered in the first Democratic administration. His supporters included farmers and workers. He championed the common man. The Whigs were the party of the Eastern elites, the wealthy, and favored small government over Jackson’s expansive use of power.


BIG IDEA: Andrew Jackson was a major force in American politics. As a champion of the common man, he established the spoils system, used his veto power to end the National Bank and ignored the Supreme Court when he ordered the removal of Native Americans.

Andrew Jackson changed the presidency in many ways. First, he rewarded his political supporters by giving them jobs in the government, thus creating the spoils system we are accustomed to today. He was hated by the Washington social class. They saw him as crude, and he hated them back. He believed his wife had died of shame because of their personal attacks.

Jackson reaffirmed the power of the federal government over the states. During his time in office, Senator Calhoun of South Carolina tried to promote the idea that states could nullify laws passed by Congress. In this case, they wanted to nullify the tariff they hated. Jackson won the political argument and Calhoun backed down.

Jackson hated the Bank of the United States, which he viewed as a tool of the elites to control the masses. He used his veto power to destroy the bank, depositing federal funds in banks run by his friends. As critics had warned, Jackson’s action caused a severe recession in the economy, but by then he was out of office and it was Martin Van Buren, Jackson’s protégé who suffered the political fallout.

Sometimes called King Andrew by his critics, Jackson found both legal and illegal ways to get what he wanted. He used his constitutional veto power, such as in the case of the Bank, but also simply ignored the other branches of government when it suited him.

The most egregious case was when he disregarded a Supreme Court decision that had granted the Cherokee Tribe the right to keep its land and sent the army to move them to Oklahoma. The resulting Trail of Tears is rightly remembered as both a human tragedy and a gross violation of presidential power.