V. The Modern Period, 1789–1914 > H. North America, 1789–1914
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
H. North America, 1789–1914
1. The United States, 1789–1877
a. Overview
The period between the new Constitution and Reconstruction is perhaps the most significant phase of American history. This period not only witnessed the gradual growth of respect for American sovereignty abroad, but also entailed dramatic economic, population, and territorial growth at home, including early industrialization, immigration, and urbanization. Even in rural areas, growing commercialization entailed new motivations and anxieties as well as increased production for the market. Commercialization even affected family roles and values, with growing emphasis in the rising middle class on the home as moral haven. In some sectors the per family birthrate began to drop.  1
Closely intertwined with these demographic, economic, and territorial changes were far-reaching cultural and political transformations: the rise of political parties, universal suffrage for white men, and a plethora of new religious and social movements. Although the nation deepened its economic, social, and political independence during the period, it moved only slowly toward cultural independence from the elite traditions of Europe. At the same time, the removal of Native Americans from western lands to make way for white settlers and the rapid spread of slavery into the Deep South signaled increasing fragmentation along regional, class, and racial lines. These growing socioeconomic, political, and cultural conflicts would culminate in the eruption of the brutal Civil War, followed by the equally painful period of Reconstruction.  2
Following the establishment of the new constitutional order, the U.S. population increased from 3.9 million in 1790 to 9.6 million in 1820. The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 added the nearly 2 million people who occupied the nine new states and three territories west of the Appalachian Mountains. The nation's urban population increased from less than 550,000 in 1820 to 1.8 million in 1840. By 1870, when the U.S. population reached nearly 40 million, about 25 percent of the total lived in cities, as the urban population grew more rapidly than the population as a whole.  3
The U.S. population had not only expanded. It had become more ethnically diverse. The Mexican-American War (1846–48) resulted in the acquisition of California and New Mexico, including present-day Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. The Mexican-American population would grow over time. Nearly 2 million Irish immigrants entered the U.S. during the two decades before the Civil War. German immigrants added another million, supplemented by 750,000 immigrants from Canada and Great Britain. Understandably, immigration played a major role in the nation's population growth. It was during the early 19th century that the U.S. became one of the first countries to undergo the demographic transition—a sharp decline in the number of births in both urban and rural areas. Among the many factors accounting for the falling birthrate were various methods of birth control.  4
The War of 1812 strengthened the nation's claim to sovereignty and expanded its role in the market economy. The financing of banks, transportation, and especially manufacturing enterprises escalated. Although the earlier outwork system (which employed manufacturing workers in their homes) persisted in some industries, American manufacturers turned increasingly toward the factory system as the primary mode of organizing production. By using new technology and reducing the labor requirements of production, early industrialists undermined the independence of craftworkers and opened the way for the widespread use of common waged labor. Although some master craftworkers benefited from such changes by becoming employers, by 1840 an estimated 50 percent of the nation's free workers labored for wages and found it difficult to acquire property, maintain skills, and move up in the socioeconomic system.  5
These demographic and economic changes effected a series of political and cultural transformations. As early as the presidential election of 1796, Federalists and Democratic-Republicans (known as Republicans) had adopted party labels in their quest for public office. The rise of Republicans in the election of 1800 signaled the development of a more democratic polity, which culminated in the establishment of universal white male suffrage during the 1820s and the triumph of the Democratic Party with the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828. New cultural and social movements both reflected and reinforced these changes. The advent of the Second Great Awakening, for example, transformed much of the country into fervent defenders of evangelical Protestantism. Emphasizing piety over theology and education, evangelical Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian denominations rapidly expanded. On the one hand, by promoting the virtues of hard work, thrift, discipline, and temperance, the Second Great Awakening reinforced the beliefs and practices of the expanding middle class. On the other hand, its stress on human will and the capacity of people to change their lives helped to stimulate a plethora of reform movements designed to alleviate inequality and democratize American society. The rise of utopian communities like Brook Farm, the Shakers, and the Oneidas; the women's suffrage movement; workingmen's parties; and the abolitionist movement all aimed to reverse diverse forms of inequality and suffering that had increased under the impact of early industrialization.  6
As the U.S. deepened its socioeconomic and political independence, it also experienced a cultural renaissance during the 1840s and 1850s. With the exceptions of Washington Irving (1783–1859) and James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851), few American artists were known outside the United States before the 1830s; thereafter, however, writers increasingly responded to Ralph Waldo Emerson's (1803–82) call for a declaration of cultural independence from what he called the “courtly muse” of the old western European world. Henry David Thoreau (1817–62), Walt Whitman (1819–92), Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–64), Herman Melville (1819–91), and others reflected the slow growth of independence in American letters. In short, the impact of republican institutions, the expansion of evangelical Protestantism, the gradual emergence of cultural independence, and rising participation in the market economy all helped to define American nationhood during the period from the establishment of the Constitution through the mid-19th century.  7
As in earlier periods, however, America remained divided along regional, cultural, and class lines. The westward movement of white settlers continued to remove Native Americans from the land; southerners expanded their dependence on slave labor with the rise of cotton culture in the Deep South; women remained disfranchised and subordinate to white men; growing numbers of Americans found themselves in the ranks of landless wage laborers; and, as Irish and German immigrants entered the country in growing numbers, significant ethnic and religious differences divided white Americans. Although the nation repeatedly worked out compromises (1820, 1850) and saved the nation, the increasing politicization of slavery, sectionalism, and class interests fractured the nation by the 1860s. The U.S. entered nearly five years of brutal military conflict. The Civil War and the era of Reconstruction that followed would liberate some 4 million slaves and define African Americans as part of the body politic, but it was only a partial victory. Region, class, and race would continue to undermine the democratic promise of America. Even as the North and South reunited through the medium of urban industrialization, the fall of Republican governments in the South, the rise of the coercive sharecropping system, and the emergence of white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan reinforced earlier forms of inequality and opened new challenges to America's democratic institutions.  8
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.