This is a quick summary of the history that informed my understanding of past American problems when I was writing the New American Destiny. Most of the information came from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/ , but alot of supplementary information and quotes came from the sources at the bottom.
Hamilton vs. Jefferson
Hamilton and thus the Federalists believed in a strong central government to support an economy based on investment, industry, and commerce with tariffs, subsidies, and public investment. A national bank and a strong central government ensured that the nation would have good credit and the ability to collect and distribute its taxes and protective tariffs .
Jefferson and thus the Republicans (now called the Democratic-Republicans) believed in a limited government and an egalitarian mostly agrarian society. He was suspicious of banks and large manufacturers and did not believe in tariffs. He understood the need for expansion and believed in selling public lands cheaply to the common people.
Early America had huge debts from the Revolutionary War, a highly sectional government, a weakened military, and limited manufacturing capability. The Federalist party, the brainchild of Alexander Hamilton, solved these problems by creating a central bank (1791) and strong currency, the assumption of all the state’s debt, tariffs to support industry, and a whiskey tax to pay the debt.
Whiskey was often the only way frontier farmers could sell excess corn and thus the whiskey tax led to the Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794) whose handling Jefferson criticized heavily. However, the Federalist vision dominated until the Alien and Sedition Acts and the intrusions on civil liberties warned by Jefferson came to pass.
Then the Democratic-Republicans led by Thomas Jefferson took hold of power and immediately slashed government expenditures especially the military, shrunk tariffs, acquired Louisiana, cut the price of public lands to encourage Westward expansion, and encouraged immigration and quick nationalization.
Jefferson’s vision of an egalitarian republic of small producers–of farmers, craftsmen, and small manufacturers–had powerful appeal for subsistence farmers and urban artisans fearful of factories and foreign competition.
Jefferson greatly decreased the size of the government and enacted simple traditions for the president. He encouraged the US to be an asylum for humanity (lowered immigration limits), encouraged agriculture, cut the budget, reduced the military, cut the price of public land and encouraged western settlement, and the transparency of federal government including names of federal employees. He also used an embargo instead of war for handling problems Britain and France, but the embargo tanked the economy and was an abject failure.
The Republican Party later expanded to include more Federalists ideas and based its economic system on “the American System” coined by Henry Clay. This system believed in a tariff to protect American industries, a national bank to support commerce, federal subsidies to support roads and other infrastructure for agriculture, and high public land prices to pay for it all. These views later formed the basis of the Whig Party.
The War of 1812 and the Democrat Split
Although, Jefferson himself was opposed to foreign wars the rest of his party endorsed the War of 1812 seeking to expand to lands held by the British, Spanish, and Native Americans (supported by the British). The slogan of the War of 1812 was free trade and sailors rights and was encouraged by southerners and westerns who wanted to expand to Canada, Spanish Florida, and British protected Indian land.
It was an expensive and costly war for America, but just a footnote for Europe. Nonetheless, it crushed the Indian’s ability to resist American expansion and allowed what the westerners wanted all along free reign to expand into Indian territory and to rewrite its boundaries with Spain. It also helped that the minimum lot size for land was no longer 640 acres costing $1240, but 80 acres costing only $100.
Furthermore, since the Federalists opposed the war refused to pay taxes and threatened secession, their party was ostracized to the point of annihilation. Ironically, in the era of good feelings led by James Monroe the now unopposed Republican’s enacted nationalistic policies that called for a national economic development of schools, finances, tariffs to create new industries, transportation improvements, universities, and military academies. Old Jeffersonian Republicans demeaned this as Federalism, but the new generation seeing the failures in War of 1812 eagerly took this up.
Furthering the irony although British industries were dumping goods in America below cost, the tariffs enacted by a Republican actually hurt farmers who wanted cheap goods and shippers who saw a decrease in trade volume.
Henry Clay along with his 2 contemporaries developed an economic system called the American system which used high tariffs to keep out foreign goods, stimulate the growth of industry, and create an urban market for farmers. And the tariff money would be used to create roads and canals to grow the South and West.
Monroe also embarked on a new nationalistic foreign policy first ending the tributes to the Barbary kingdoms and releasing American prisoners. Cleared up British disputes clearing up borders and economic boundaries and getting joint custody of Oregon territory. Andrew Jackson’s raid into Florida also led to the cession of Florida from Spain. And of course, the Monroe Doctrine basically closed off the Western Hemisphere to all of Europe.
The Panic of 1819 caused by a sudden sharp reduction in trade due to a drop in cotton prices, credit contraction, foreign competition, and hard currency payments for land which caused unemployment to increase, banks to fail, and land values to crumble. This led to the first public attention to urban poverty with severe unemployment the number of paupers exploded and led to the nation’s first programs for shoes and soup to the poor.
The demands for democratic constitutions that ended restrictions on voting and office holding based on property holding (though some existed based on service in the militia) and other political innovations led to the creation of the modern political system. Eventually by 1840 universal white male suffrage existed even for immigrants who were not quite citizens yet. The politics of deference and its terminology were eliminated. This was the first time American politics attacked the elite notably the Masons who had an outsized amount of power and influence.
This also led to widespread attacks on special privilege and aristocratic pretension, churches, the bench, medical and legal professions. This led to the elimination of some licensure requirements for practicing things like medicine and law.
The failed presidency of John Quincy Adams, elected by dubious means, led directly to Jackson the first president of the people who fully endorsed the fundamental conflict between the working people and the non-productive classes. The inequalities in wealth were in his view the direct result of monopoly favoritism and special privileges which entrenched the advantages of the rich.
Andrew Jackson emerged to return power back to the common man and created the Democratic party. The Democratic party supported common man politics, opposition to the elite’s privileges, the destruction of the central bank, hard money (gold and silver, no paper), low tariffs, manifest destiny, laissez-faire economics, and a limited government with a strong executive branch. Under Jacksonian democracy, manifest destiny was coined, Native Americans were removed to make way for Westward Expansion, Texas, California, and other Mexican lands were annexed, and gold and silver became the only acceptable money tenders.
- Webster speech of Liberty and Union One and Forever
- South Carolina nullification act to remove tariffs a precursor to State’s rights and the idea of succession.
- Jackson’s destruction of the banks and regulations might have directly led to the panic of 1837
The Whigs previously part of the Democratic-Republicans supported expansion just like the Democrats, but with an active central government that upheld treaties, such as those made with the Native Americans. Furthermore, they supported corporate charters, a central bank, paper money, high tariffs, and public investment in infrastructure all of which were opposed by the Democrats. Senator Henry Clay, although never elected president, personified all these ideas and wrote an economic system which he called the American system that formed the basis of Whig ideology.
Opposition to the American system led to the creation of the Democratic party based on Jacksonian democracy which draws its name from the first popular president. This system was based on universal white male suffrage, opposition to the elite’s privileges especially their banking monopoly, low tariffs, hard-money, manifest destiny, laissez-faire economics, and a limited government with a strong executive branch.
Manifest Destiny, the Frontier, and the Turner Thesis
For most of America’s first century it had one overarching goal, expansion. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 doubled the size of America. The War of 1812 was fought to weaken British-Indian alliances, lay claim to land British occupied land and Spain’s claims to Florida. It succeeded on all fronts, America now had claims to the Oregon territory, the loss of Tecumseh meant the Indians could no longer oppose American expansion, and Spain seeing the writing on the wall eventually sold Florida. The Texas Revolution, the annexation of Texas, and the Mexican War completed manifest destiny, although it took almost to the end of the century until the western frontier was “closed”.
Jacksons’ Indian policy brings up important points for the immigrant debate. It was a choice between assimilation and removal. Jackson chose for removal and all the human right abuses it accompanies.
In 1854 Horace Greeley, a New York newspaper editor, gave Josiah B. Grinnell a famous piece of advice. “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country,” said Greeley. Grinnell took Greeley’s advice, moved west, and later founded Grinnell, Iowa.
In 1841 Congress passed the recognized squatter’s rights. The Preemption Bill provided that squatters who lived on and made improvements on surveyed government land could have the first option to buy up to 160 acres for $1.25 an acre.
In 1893, three years after the superintendent of the Census announced that the western frontier was closed, Frederick Jackson Turner, a historian from the University of Wisconsin, advanced a thesis that the conquest of the western frontier had given American society its special character. At the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, marking the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the New World, Turner argued that the conquest of the western frontier as the nation’s formative experience, which had shaped the nation’s character and values. Western expansion accounted for Americans’ optimism, their rugged independence, and their stress on adaptability, ingenuity, and self reliance.
In actuality, however, the settlement of the West had depended, to a surprising degree, on intervention by the federal government. The federal government had dispatched explorers to survey the region and cavalry units to confine Native Americans on reservations. It also provided land grants that funded railroad building, and, in the 20th century, support for dams and other waterworks.
In his address on the significance of the frontier in American history, Turner referred to the Census Bureau’s announcement that the frontier was now closed. He speculated that now that the frontier was settled, a crucial epoch in American history was over.
When John F. Kennedy accepted the Democratic presidential election in 1960, he called on the country to enter a new frontier. Since that time, Americans have repeatedly searched for new frontiers–in outer space and cyberspace and even below the ocean’s surface. The frontier remains a potent symbol more than a century after it physically disappeared.
Lincoln and the New Republicans
Missouri Compromise (1820) showed the cracks between slave and free states.
The Republican Party of Lincoln formed as an opposition to slavery, but later combined and inherited its economic policies of the Whigs. The GOP was pro-business, and it supported banks, the gold standard, public investment, railroads, and high tariffs; the party opposed the expansion of slavery.
In 1855 Abraham Lincoln denounced the Know-Nothings in eloquent terms:
I am not a Know-Nothing. How could I be? How can anyone who abhors the oppression of Negroes be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me pretty rapid, as a nation we began by declaring “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it, “all men are created equal, except Negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty-to Russia, for example, where despotism can be taken pure and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.
“Free labor, free soil, free men,” was the Republican slogan.
During the Civil War they created another federal bank, greenbacks the first paper money, taxes bank notes, increased tariffs, expanded excise taxes, and created the first income and inheritance taxes. They also gave land for homesteaders who settled the West and land for the land grant universities.
Some Laws Included:
- Homestead Act of 1862
- Morill Act of 1862
- Legal Tender Act of 1862
- National Banking of 1863
In its analysis of the Civil War’s causes, the London Times rejected the notion that this was a war about slavery. It argued that the conflict had the same roots as most wars: territorial aggrandizement, political power, and economic supremacy. But few Northerners or Southerners saw the war in such simple terms. To many white southern soldiers, it was a war to preserve their liberty and their way of life, to prevent abolition and its consequences–race war, racial amalgamation, and, according to one militant Southerner’s words, “the Africanization of the South.” To many northern soldiers, it was a war to preserve the Union, uphold the Constitution, and defeat a ruthless slave power, which had threatened to subvert republican ideals of liberty and equality.
Corruption, Laisse-Faire, and the Populist Response to the Gilded Age
After the Civil War both parties were embroiled in corruption; favors were bought openly, and the spoils system reigned supreme. The Civil Service Commission eventually reigned in corruption, the interstate commerce act regulated the railroads, and the Sherman anti-trust act theoretically limited trusts and monopolies. Nonetheless, both parties’ platforms remained unchanged and both were very pro-business which included the government break up of labor strikes.
The development of new technology for travel and communication improved trade and caused a shift from an agrarian economy to an industrialized one. Laws changed from doctrines that assumed goods and services had a just price and repealed usury laws. They also gave public lands to corporations and removed penalties for environment and worker liabilities.
The development of better farming methods led to specialization. Household manufacturing which gave rural people some money declined as city manufacturers produced it cheaper. Artisans who had a journeyman and apprentices and cared for them all declined as labor transitioned to a commodity in industrial cities.
Creation of the first labor strikes was because of use of unskilled workers, wage reductions, long hours, and declining standards.
Henry George’s 1879 book Progress and Poverty, argued that poverty and inequality were the product of the unearned increase in land values and that unemployment and monopolies could be eliminated through the abolition of all taxes except for a single tax on land.
Pendleton Act of 1883 (Positions based on Merit not Spoils)
Due to the capital strain on farmers caused by the gold standard the Populist party emerged as a pro-farmer and eventually alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties. They endorsed labor unions, decried long work hours, championed the graduated income tax as a way to redistribute wealth from business to farmers and laborers, a secret ballot; women’s suffrage; an eight-hour workday, direct election of U.S. Senators and the President and Vice President; and initiative and recall to make the political system more responsive to the people. The populist party was short lived, but its ideals were carried out by the Progressives and later the New Dealers.
In the early 20th century, many of the Populist proposals would be enacted into law, including the secret ballot; women’s suffrage; the initiative, referendum, and recall; a Federal Reserve System; farm cooperatives, government warehouses; railroad regulation; and conservation of public lands.
The Realization of Jefferson’s Fears and the Sherman Antitrust Act
The concentration of industry aroused “deep feelings of unrest,” said Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, a conservative Republican:
The conviction was universal that the country was in real danger from another form of slavery…that would result from the aggregation of capital in the hands of a few individuals controlling, for their own profit and advantage exclusively, the entire business of the country.
This led to the passage of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act which was ironically first mostly used to break up the power of unions.
The Progressives and World War 1
Roosevelt, the trust buster, was the first of the Progressive presidents and focused mainly on business consolidation and labor mediation. Later progressives focused on economics with the income tax and creation of the federal reserve and morality with Prohibition.
After World War 1 the nation the nation slipped back into the laissez-faire Republicans until the Great Depression.
In 1931, a journalist named Frederick Lewis Allen published a volume of informal history that did more to shape the popular image of the 1920s than any book ever written by a professional historian. The book, Only Yesterday, depicted the 1920s as a cynical, hedonistic interlude between the Great War and the Great Depression–a decade of dissipation, jazz bands, raccoon coats, and bathtub gin. Allen argued that World War I shattered Americans’ faith in reform and moral crusades, leading the younger generation to rebel against traditional taboos while their elders engaged in an orgy of consumption and speculation.
The popular image of the 1920s, as a decade of prosperity and riotous living and of bootleggers and gangsters, flappers and hot jazz, flagpole sitters, and marathon dancers, is indelibly etched in the American psyche. But this image is also profoundly misleading. The 1920s was a decade of deep cultural conflict. The pre-Civil War decades had fundamental conflicts in American society that involved geographic regions. During the Gilded Age, conflicts centered on ethnicity and social class. Conversely, the conflicts of the 1920s were primarily cultural, pitting a more cosmopolitan, modernist, urban culture against a more provincial, traditionalist, rural culture.
The decade witnessed a titanic struggle between an old and a new America. Immigration, race, alcohol, evolution, gender politics, and sexual morality all became major cultural battlefields during the 1920s. Wets battled drys, religious modernists battled religious fundamentalists, and urban ethnics battled the Ku Klux Klan.
The 1920s was a decade of profound social changes. The most obvious signs of change were the rise of a consumer-oriented economy and of mass entertainment, which helped to bring about a “revolution in morals and manners.” Sexual mores, gender roles, hair styles, and dress all changed profoundly during the 1920s. Many Americans regarded these changes as liberation from the country’s Victorian past. But for others, morals seemed to be decaying, and the United States seemed to be changing in undesirable ways. The result was a thinly veiled “cultural civil war.”
Imperialism and the World Order
The Spanish-American War started the short imperialistic age of America. Hotly contested some American’s thought empire building went against our republican principles, others didn’t want to acquire people from different races and cultures, but a growing consensus among the younger generation believed that it was the United States duty to uplift “backward” societies. The failure of the League of Nations after World War 1 hampered this idea for a bit, but after World War 2 this idea started to gain steam.
Americans resisted expansion for two major reasons. One was that imperial rule seemed inconsistent with America’s republican principles. The other was that the United States was uninterested in acquiring people with different cultures, languages, and religions. But where an older generation of moralists thought that ruling a people without their consent violated a core principle of republicanism, a younger generation believed that the United States had a duty to uplift backward societies.
Alfred Thayer Mahan, a naval strategist and the author of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, argued that national prosperity and power depended on control of the world’s sea-lanes. “Whoever rules the waves rules the world,” Mahan wrote.
The occupation of the Philippines fueled a bitter national debate over U.S. involvement overseas, a precursor to the outcry over the Vietnam War a half-century later. Some who opposed the occupation were motivated by racism, fearful that annexation of the Philippines would lead to an influx of non-white immigrants. One U.S. senator warned of the coming of “tens of millions of Malays and other unspeakable Asiatics.” Many, who considered the occupation immoral and inconsistent with American traditions and values, joined the Anti-Imperialist League.
The conflict helped popularize the concept of the “white man’s burden,” the notion that the United States and Western European societies had a duty to civilize and uplift the “benighted” races of the world. A U.S. senator from Indiana declared: “We must never forget that in dealing with the Filipinos, we deal with children.”
To enforce order, forestall foreign intervention, and protect U.S. economic interests, the United States intervened in the Caribbean and Central America some 20 times over the next quarter century–namely, in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama. Each intervention followed a common pattern: after intervening to restore order, U.S. forces became embroiled in the countries’ internal political disputes. Before exiting, the United States would train and fund a police force and military to maintain order and would sponsor an election intended to put into power a strong leader supportive of American interests. Unfortunately, the men who took power in many of these countries, such as Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, and Francois Duvalier in Haiti, established despotic rule.
Wilson later said that the United States had been created by God “to show the way to the nations of the world how they shall walk in the paths of liberty.”
The Age of the New Deal
From there the New Dealers took hold and while they were heavily influenced by the Progressive reforms, they were more pragmatic and did not believe the government could or should shape moral behavior. This made Americans see government as something who had a responsibility to ensure the health of the nation’s economy and the welfare of its citizens. The New Deal saw the creation of the minimum wage, the 44-hour work week, collective bargaining, unemployment insurance, work programs, food stamps, the GI bill, and social security. The Fair Deal and the Great Society plans followed in this same vein and expanded health care and welfare.
The New Dealers were strongly influenced by the Progressive reformers of the early 20th century, who believed that government had not only a right but a duty to intervene in all aspects of economic life in order to improve the quality of American life. In one significant respect, however, the New Dealers differed decisively from the Progressives. Progressive reform had a strong moral dimension; many reformers wanted to curb drinking, eliminate what they considered immoral sexual behavior, and reshape human character. In comparison, the New Dealers were much more pragmatic.
Apart from their commitment to pragmatism, the New Dealers were unified in their rejection of laissez-faire orthodoxy–the idea that federal government’s responsibilities were confined to balancing the federal budgets and providing for the nation’s defense. The New Dealers did, however, disagree profoundly about the best way to end the Depression. They offered three alternative prescriptions for rescuing the nation’s economy. The “trust-busters,” led by Thurman Arnold, called for vigorous enforcement of anti-trust laws to break-up concentrated business power. The “associationalists” wanted to encourage cooperation between business, labor, and government by establishing associations and codes supported by the three parties. The “economic planners,” led by Rexford Tugwell, Adolph Berle, and Gardiner Means, wanted to create a system of centralized national planning.
In 1939, a Gallup Poll asked Americans what they liked best and what they liked worst about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The answer to both questions was: “The WPA, the Works Projects Administration.”
Early in 1934, Long announced his “Share Our Wealth” program. Vowing to make “every man a king,” he promised to soak the rich by imposing a stiff tax on inheritances over $5 million and by levying a 100 percent tax on annual incomes over $1 million. The confiscated funds, in turn, would be distributed to the people, guaranteeing every American family an annual income of no less than $2,000.
The New Deal’s greatest legacy was a shift in government philosophy. As a result of the New Deal, Americans came to believe that the federal government has a responsibility to ensure the health of the nation’s economy and the welfare of its citizens.
The Republicans abandoned their laissez-faire policies and embraced a progressive conservatism. Still advocating for a limited role in government, but not advocating their responsibility to change and progress. Eisenhauer, Nixon, and Ford embodied this approach.
The History of US Immigration Laws and Customs
Immigration policy was relatively open until the Chinese exclusion act and even then, until the first quotas were instituted with the Immigration Act of 1924. In 1965 those quotas were reversed, and a near equal number of immigrants were accepted from both Western and Eastern Hemispheres. It wasn’t until 9/11 that the American view on immigration shifted dramatically, laws drafted afterward made it easier to discriminate based on suspected terrorist activities and deport illegal immigrants. This is still a big problem as there are many illegal immigrants who while granted temporary reprieve with the DREAM Act remain in a state of limbo.
The Rise of Neoliberalism
The Reagan era defined the modern era of Republican and shifted the democratic party right as well. His major policy priorities were increasing military spending, cutting taxes, reducing federal spending, and restricting federal regulations. Reagan believed that reducing the role of the government would lead to increased economic growth, which in turn would lead to higher revenues that would help pay down the national debt. Reagonomics or “trickle-down” economics created a new neoliberalism outlook that has defined the modern era from the Bushes, Clinton, and even Obama.
The Cold War and its Aftermath
With the emergence of the Soviet Union, a natural rival, it took off in the Cold War. First the policy of containment created proxy wars for ideological supremacy. Then the Space Race started the race for technological supremacy. The willpower for proxy wars died down after Vietnam, but a strong foreign policy was reignited by Reagan. Seeing the United States as “city on a hill.”
Truman’s overarching message described two ways of life that were engaged in a life-or-death struggle, one free and the other totalitarian. The United States would help free people to maintain their free institutions and their territorial integrity against movements that sought to impose totalitarian regimes.
The Truman Doctrine committed the United States to providing aid to countries resisting communist aggression or subversion and provided the first step toward what would become known as the Containment Policy.
Eisenhower warned that the country “must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union exploited the glaring discrepancy between American ideals of liberty and equality and the harsh reality of racial discrimination. During the late 1940s and 1950s, there were strenuous efforts to bring American realities in line with the country’s founding ideals. In May 1948, the Supreme Court ruled that restrictive covenants prohibiting the sale of homes to blacks and Jews are not legally enforceable. Two months later, President Truman issued Executive Order 9981, ending segregation in the U.S. armed forces.
Sputnik’s launch meant that the Cold War competition between the Soviet Union and the United States would take place, not only on earth, but also in outer space. Americans, who thought of themselves as the world’s technology pacesetters, felt vulnerable; a sensation that was reinforced in 1959, when the Soviet Union fired the first rockets to circle the moon and brought back pictures of its dark side. In April 1961, the Soviets launched the first manned spaceship into orbit, piloted by 27-year-old Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. In 1966, the Soviets were the first to land an unmanned vehicle on the moon.
Sputnik led Congress to pass a series of massive federal aid-to-education measures. Science became a priority in schools and universities. Soviet space successes led President John F. Kennedy to tell a joint session of Congress in May 1961 that the United States would land a man on the moon and bring him home by the end of the 1960s.
Bush Sr. wanted to create a New World Order and started the first Gulf War with the support of the UN, he won, but support faded soon after. Clinton by and large tried to avoid foreign affairs save for a few humanitarian issues and of course NAFTA and other free trade deals. Bush Jr. was forced to deal with terrorism and chose to liberate Iraq and Afghanistan a quagmire we are still dealing with today. Obama tried to get out of the Middle East and pivot to Asia to combat Chinese power. The TPP was supposed to build economic trade partners and limit China’s power but was never ratified by Congress and basically reversed by Trump. Trump foreign policy on the other hand is America first by strong arming adversarial states, retreating from old Cold War alliances, examining the benefits of trade deals around the world, and combating China head on via a trade war.