Sedition·com (mature content)
History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

«·The National Decisions of Chief Justice Marshall · CHAPTER IX·»

Summary of the Union and National Politics

During the strenuous period between the establishment of American independence and the advent of Jacksonian democracy the great American experiment was under the direction of the men who had launched it. All the Presidents in that period, except John Quincy Adams, had taken part in the Revolution. James Madison, the chief author of the Constitution, lived until 1836. This age, therefore, was the “age of the fathers.” It saw the threatened ruin of the country under the Articles of Confederation, the formation of the Constitution, the rise of political parties, the growth of the West, the second war with England, and the apparent triumph of the national spirit over sectionalism.

The new republic had hardly been started in 1783 before its troubles began. The government could not raise money to pay its debts or running expenses; it could not protect American commerce and manufactures against European competition; it could not stop the continual issues of paper money by the states; it could not intervene to put down domestic uprisings that threatened the existence of the state governments. Without money, without an army, without courts of law, the union under the Articles of Confederation was drifting into dissolution. Patriots, who had risked their lives for independence, began to talk of monarchy again. Washington, Hamilton, and Madison insisted that a new constitution alone could save America from disaster.

By dint of much labor the friends of a new form of government induced the Congress to call a national convention to take into account the state of America. In May, 1787, it assembled at Philadelphia and for months it debated and wrangled over plans for a constitution. The small states clamored for equal rights in the union. The large states vowed that they would never grant it. A spirit of conciliation, fair play, and compromise saved the convention from breaking up. In addition, there were jealousies between the planting states and the commercial states. Here, too, compromises had to be worked out. Some of the delegates feared the growth of democracy and others cherished it. These factions also had to be placated. At last a plan of government was drafted—the Constitution of the United States—and submitted to the states for approval. Only after a long and acrimonious debate did enough states ratify the instrument to put it into effect. On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated first President.

The new government proceeded to fund the old debt of the nation, assume the debts of the states, found a national bank, lay heavy taxes to pay the bills, and enact laws protecting American industry and commerce. Hamilton led the way, but he had not gone far before he encountered opposition. He found a formidable antagonist in Jefferson. In time two political parties appeared full armed upon the scene: the Federalists and the Republicans. For ten years they filled the country with political debate. In 1800 the Federalists were utterly vanquished by the Republicans with Jefferson in the lead.

By their proclamations of faith the Republicans favored the states rather than the new national government, but in practice they added immensely to the prestige and power of the nation. They purchased Louisiana from France, they waged a war for commercial independence against England, they created a second United States Bank, they enacted the protective tariff of 1816, they declared that Congress had power to abolish slavery north of the Missouri Compromise line, and they spread the shield of the Monroe Doctrine between the Western Hemisphere and Europe.

Still America was a part of European civilization. Currents of opinion flowed to and fro across the Atlantic. Friends of popular government in Europe looked to America as the great exemplar of their ideals. Events in Europe reacted upon thought in the United States. The French Revolution exerted a profound influence on the course of political debate. While it was in the stage of mere reform all Americans favored it. When the king was executed and a radical democracy set up, American opinion was divided. When France fell under the military dominion of Napoleon and preyed upon American commerce, the United States made ready for war.

The conduct of England likewise affected American affairs. In 1793 war broke out between England and France and raged with only a slight intermission until 1815. England and France both ravaged American commerce, but England was the more serious offender because she had command of the seas. Though Jefferson and Madison strove for peace, the country was swept into war by the vehemence of the “Young Republicans,” headed by Clay and Calhoun.

When the armed conflict was closed, one in diplomacy opened. The autocratic powers of Europe threatened to intervene on behalf of Spain in her attempt to recover possession of her Latin-American colonies. Their challenge to America brought forth the Monroe Doctrine. The powers of Europe were warned not to interfere with the independence or the republican policies of this hemisphere or to attempt any new colonization in it. It seemed that nationalism was to have a peaceful triumph over sectionalism.


H. Adams, History of the United States, 1800-1817 (9 vols.).

K.C. Babcock, Rise of American Nationality (American Nation Series).

E. Channing, The Jeffersonian System (Same Series).

D.C. Gilman, James Monroe.

W. Reddaway, The Monroe Doctrine.

T. Roosevelt, Naval War of 1812.


1. What was the leading feature of Jefferson’s political theory?

2. Enumerate the chief measures of his administration.

3. Were the Jeffersonians able to apply their theories? Give the reasons.

4. Explain the importance of the Mississippi River to Western farmers.

5. Show how events in Europe forced the Louisiana Purchase.

6. State the constitutional question involved in the Louisiana Purchase.

7. Show how American trade was affected by the European war.

8. Compare the policies of Jefferson and Madison.

9. Why did the United States become involved with England rather than with France?

10. Contrast the causes of the War of 1812 with the results.

11. Give the economic reasons for the attitude of New England.

12. Give five “nationalist” measures of the Republicans. Discuss each in detail.

13. Sketch the career of John Marshall.

14. Discuss the case of Marbury vs. Madison.

15. Summarize Marshall’s views on: (a) states’ rights; and (b) a liberal interpretation of the Constitution.

Research Topics

The Louisiana Purchase.—Text of Treaty in Macdonald, Documentary Source Book, pp. 279-282. Source materials in Hart, American History Told by Contemporaries, Vol. III, pp. 363-384. Narrative, Henry Adams, History of the United States, Vol. II, pp. 25-115; Elson, History of the United States, pp. 383-388.

The Embargo and Non-Intercourse Acts.—Macdonald, pp. 282-288; Adams, Vol. IV, pp. 152-177; Elson, pp. 394-405.

Congress and the War of 1812.—Adams, Vol. VI, pp. 113-198; Elson, pp. 408-450.

Proposals of the Hartford Convention.—Macdonald, pp. 293-302.

Manufactures and the Tariff of 1816.—Coman, Industrial History of the United States, pp. 184-194.

The Second United States Bank.—Macdonald, pp. 302-306.

Effect of European War on American Trade.—Callender, Economic History of the United States, pp. 240-250.

The Monroe Message.—Macdonald, pp. 318-320.

Lewis and Clark Expedition.—R.G. Thwaites, Rocky Mountain Explorations, pp. 92-187. Schafer, A History of the Pacific Northwest (rev. ed.), pp. 29-61.

«·The National Decisions of Chief Justice Marshall · CHAPTER IX·»