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article number 246
article date 06-25-2013
copyright 2013 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Our Baby Nation Becomes a Strong Country
by Eugene Barker, Henry Commager & Walter Webb

From the 1946 book, The Building of Our Nation.

The purpose of this chapter is to describe the growth of the feeling of union and nationalism. The word “nationalism” means pride in one’s nation and willingness to serve and defend it. It is another word for patriotism.

The Bill of Rights Strengthens Nationalism

THE CONSTITUTION IS AMENDED. The Constitution, you will remember, was a compromise. No one in the Federal Convention was entirely satisfied with it, but it was the best that the delegates could agree upon, and it was certainly better than the Articles of Confederation. Yet there had been a great deal of opposition to its acceptance.

The most common objection was that the Constitution did not have a bill of rights, that is, a promise that the government would respect the rights of the people. Many of the state conventions asked for such a bill of rights, and Jefferson himself advised the convention of North Carolina not to accept, or ratify, the Constitution until a bill of rights was added to it.

No sooner had the first Congress met than it acted upon these demands and passed ten amendments which were soon accepted by the states. These ten amendments together are known as the Bill of Rights. They guarantee to Americans such rights as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right of meeting together to discuss their needs, the right of petition, and the right of a fair trial by jury.

The adoption of the Bill of Rights did much to satisfy those who had opposed the Constitution. It strengthened their faith in the new government, and helped to build up national feeling.

JEFFERSON AND THE DEMOCRATS PROMISE TO SUPPORT THE CONSTITUTION. Some people were afraid that Jefferson and his followers would change the Constitution when they came into power in 1801; but there was no reason for this fear. In his inaugural address, the new President declared that all the people wanted “union and representative government.”

He promised “the preservation of the General Government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad.” This statement meant that Jefferson’s party, like that of Washington and Adams and Hamilton, would rule according to the Constitution.

How the Constitution is amended.

The Courts Strengthen the Union and the Constitution

THE WORK OF THE COURTS. Let us see now how the courts helped to strengthen the Federal government and the spirit of nationalism. The Supreme Court has the final decision in all cases in which a question arises concerning the Constitution. But the Supreme Court never gives its opinion as to whether or not a law is permitted by the Constitution until the question is brought before the Court in a lawsuit.

Then the justices have to examine the law and decide whether in their judgment it is constitutional or unconstitutional. Next the Court hands down an opinion on the case. In this opinion the Court often discusses the meaning of the Constitution. Sometimes it finds that a law passed by Congress or by a state legislature is not permitted under the Constitution. In that case it declares the law null and void.

There was a good deal of uncertainty about the meaning of the Constitution, and the opinions of the Court were very important. It was necessary that the Court should explain the Constitution in the right way. It was equally necessary that the Court should be independent of the other departments of the government, and that it should stay out of politics.

Under Chief Justice John Jay, at the very beginning of the government, the independence of the Supreme Court was firmly established.

Left, Chief Justice John Jay. Right, Chief Justice John Marshall. The portrait of John Marshall is redrawn from George Van Santvoord’s “Sketches of the Lives and Judicial Services of the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States,” 1854. The portrait of John Jay is a copy of the Stuart painting in the Capitol from a photograph by the L. C. Handy Studios.

JOHN MARSHALL AND THE CONSTITUTION. Just a few weeks before President Adams went out of office, he appointed a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This was John Marshall of Virginia. A tall, powerful man, easy-going in manners, Marshall came from the same frontier that had produced his distant kinsman, Thomas Jefferson. Both men were of Scotch and English stock; both had studied law at the same school, under the same teachers. But there the likeness between them ceased.

Marshall was a Federalist and believed in a strong national government. He carried his beliefs with him to the Supreme Court and decided many of the cases that came before the Court in such a way as to strengthen the power of the national government. For thirty-five years he was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and during those years he did more to fix the meaning of the Constitution than any other man has ever done.

THE IMPORTANCE OF MARSHALL’S DECISIONS. Much fault was found with Marshall’s opinions about the Constitution, especially by the followers of Jefferson. Yet it is difficult to see how the Courts could have come to hold the high position that they now occupy without Marshall’s decisions. It is difficult also to see how the government of the nation and the national pride of the people could have developed as they did without Marshall’s explanation of the meaning of the Constitution.

The Growth of the West Strengthens Nationalism

THE WEST AND NATIONALISM. We have seen how the Bill of Rights and the decisions of the Supreme Court strengthened the feeling of the people for the nation. A third influence which increased the feeling of nationalism in the United States was the growth of the West. It was entirely natural for the West to have a strong national feeling. In the first place, the West was new.

The western states had grown up since the American Revolution, since the nation had come into existence, and the settlers of these states came from the older and more settled regions. In a single settlement you could find men and women from Connecticut and Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas.

The people who lived in the West had broken away from their old states and thought of themselves as Americans rather than as Kentuckians or Ohioans, Virginians or Pennsylvanians. The West has been called the melting pot of the nation. It received settlers from many sections of the country and from many nations and “boiled” them all down to one kind of people, that is, American citizens.

Scene at an inn on the old Cumberland Road in the early days when hundreds of Americans were journeying westward. Courtesy, Maryland Historical Society.

Moreover, the new settlements of the West were exposed to dangers from the English in the north, from the Spanish in the south, and from the Indians. They looked to the Federal government for protection. Since they were small and poor, they also looked to the Federal government for the building of roads and for making other internal improvements. For these reasons Westerners were, on the whole, more nationalistic than Easterners.

THE WESTWARD MOVEMENT INTO TENNESSEE AND KENTUCKY. But let us see how the growth of the West began. Even before the outbreak of the Revolution, hundreds of hardy pioneers had pushed across the mountains into the wild country of what is now Tennessee and Kentucky.

There were three places where settlements were made in this western country. The first settlement was along the Tennessee River, in what is now eastern Tennessee. Attracted by the fertile soil and the wonderful hunting and trapping, two great leaders, John Sevier and James Robertson, had led a little band of settlers out to this region as early as 1769 and 1770. Within a few years there were several thousand frontiersmen scattered along the banks of the Watauga, the Clinch, and the Holston rivers.

Another settlement was made along the banks of the Cumberland River in the blue-grass region of central Tennessee. In 1779 the same James Robertson who had helped to make the Watauga settlement led handful of pioneers two hundred miles into the wilderness and founded the town of Nashborough, now Nashville, in the great bend of the Cumberland River.

Soon the rich soil attracted families from other settlements, and in 1780, 256 settlers drew up the Cumberland Compact, or agreement, setting up a democratic government. Nothing better shows the dangers of pioneering in this early West than the fact that of these 256 signers of the Cumberland Compact, scarcely a dozen were alive ten years later, and only one died a natural death!

A third place of settlement in the West was along the banks of the Kentucky River. In 1775, the year of Lexington and Concord, Judge Richard Henderson of North Carolina made a treaty with the Indians whereby he bought most of what is now the state of Kentucky. Once in possession of this large tract of land, Henderson planned to open it to settlement. But first a road had to be opened up from the Watauga country to the Kentucky country.

Boonesborough, Kentucky, named for the famous pioneer scout, probably looked like this in its first years. It was designed to withstand attacks by hostile Indians? Redrawn from George W. Ranck, “Boonesborough,” Filson Club Publication No. 16. By special permission, The Filson Club, Louisville, Kentucky.

Daniel Boone, greatest of the border scouts, was the man to do it. A thin, blue-eyed, yellow-haired young fellow he was, who loved the dangers and pleasures of life in the woods. Boone was a dead shot with his long, clumsy rifle, and he could follow the trail of a bear or a deer better than any Indian.

“Daniel Boone Leading Pioneers Through Cumberland Gap,” a painting by George Caleb Bingham. It was Boone who first blazed the Wilderness Trail over the Appalachian Mountains. Courtesy, Washington University and the City Art Museum of St. Louis.

He had trapped and hunted in Kentucky as early as 1770. In 1775 he blazed the famous Wilderness Trail, up the east side of the Cumberland Mountains, through the frowning Cumberland Gap, and along the Kentucky River.

Soon hundreds of pioneers were pounding along the Wilderness Trail into the beautiful Kentucky country, and little settlements sprang up at Boonesborough, Harrodsburg, and Lexington.

Despite terrible attacks from the Indians, these western settlements grew. Every year saw thousands of hardy pioneers flocking from the old states into Tennessee and Kentucky. When, in 1790, the government made a count of the population in all the states, it was found that there were about 75,000 people in Kentucky and well over 35,000 in Tennessee.

Early routes to the “West”. The Cumberland (National) Road spanned all the way from Baltimore to St. Louis.

THE OLD NORTHWEST. All of these earliest western settlements were south of the Ohio River. There were also many farmers who wanted to settle on the rich lands north of the Ohio, but before these lands could be settled there were two important problems that had to be solved.

In the first place, how were the lands to be opened for settlement? Should they be given away free, or should they be sold in order to provide money for the government? In the second place, how were the new settlements to be governed? Were they to be governed by Congress as colonies, or were they to have self-government?

HOW THE WESTERN LANDS WERE DISPOSED OF. You will remember that Maryland compelled the states to give up their claims to western lands before approving the Articles of Confederation. But Congress found the land problem hard to settle.

First, it sold some land to large companies which promised to bring settlers out to their lands. In the end, however, Congress passed laws declaring that the lands should be surveyed and sold, at auction, to the highest bidder. This policy was laid down in the Land Act of 1785, and it was followed, in the main, for nearly eighty years.

In 1862 the government finally decided that public land should be given away free to anyone who would promise to live on it and cultivate it.

HOW THE NEW SETTLEMENTS WERE TO BE GOVERNED. The matter of government was a very puzzling question. Many Easterners felt that the new western settlements should not have the same rights as the eastern states. But some men remembered what trouble England had had because she wanted to keep her American colonies in an inferior position. So wiser advice finally won out, and it was decided that the new settlements in the West should be treated not as inferiors, but as equals.

THE NORTHWEST ORDINANCE. This liberal policy was written into the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which provided for the government of the territory north of the Ohio River. The Northwest Ordinance was to the western settlements what the Constitution was to the original states.

The Old Northwest Territory of George Rogers Clark.

It provided that when a territory had 60,000 settlers, it should be admitted to the Union as a state; and that when new states came into the Union, they should come in as equals of the older states.

Altogether five states were carved out of this territory of the Old Northwest and admitted to the Union. These were Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

The Northwest Ordinance was important for two other reasons. First, it provided for the support of public schools in the states of the Old Northwest. After the land was surveyed, one section (640 acres) of every township was given to the people to help support the public schools. This meant that the income, either from the sale of the land or from the rent, went to help support education. Second, it provided that slavery should never exist north of the Ohio River.

THE SETTLEMENT OF THE OLD NORTHWEST. The ink was scarcely dry on the Northwest Ordinance before a flood of people began to spill over the mountains and into the Ohio country. Some of the settlers were brought out by the Ohio Land Company and settled along the banks of the Muskingum River; others settled along the Great Miami.

On the Ohio River the town of Cincinnati sprang up and soon became the most important city of the West. In the single year of 1788 almost a thousand boats, carrying over 18,000 men, women, and children, floated down the Ohio River to Ohio and Kentucky. Other thousands painfully made their way into this rich land by foot or by horse.

General Rufus Putnam and his party of settlers stepped ashore where the Muskingum and Ohio rivers join. Here they founded Marietta, the first settlement in Ohio. Across the Muskingum, Fort Harmar had been erected for the protection of public land surveyors and future settlers of the Northwest Territory. Adapted from a painting. Courtesy, Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society.

Amazing was the speed with which the land in the Old Northwest was filled. In 1790 most of the Ohio country and all of the rest of the Old Northwest had been occupied by the Indians. By warfare and by treaty the government got control of first one section and then another, and as fast as the Indians were removed, eager, land-hungry farmers crowded into the newly opened lands.

By 1800 there were over 45,000 people in Ohio. Ten years later this number had increased four and one-half times. By 1820 there were not far from 800,000 people in the Old Northwest.

THE FORMATION OF NEW STATES. This rapid growth of population in the West led to the formation of new states. As early as 1792 Kentucky had been admitted to the Union, and four years later Tennessee became a state. In 1803 the population of Ohio was large enough to permit the organization of a state. Beginning with 1816 a new state came into the Union every year for six years: Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Maine, and Missouri.

New York and New Hampshire had quarreled about who owned parts of Vermont, but the dispute had been settled, and in 1791 Vermont had been admitted.

Within thirty years after the organization of the new national government, there were twenty-four states in the Union; and Jefferson’s purchase of Louisiana had extended the territory of the United States to the Rocky Mountains. The new nation was growing faster than any other had ever grown.

The diagrams on this page explain the so-called “rectangular system” of surveying public lands, which began in the United States with the Land Act of 1785. “Principal Meridians” and “Base Lines” were established as shown at the left. The point where a Principal Meridian crosses a Base Line becomes an “Initial Point” for land surveys.

From each Initial Point, blocks 24 miles square are laid off. Each block has 16 townships numbered north or south of the Base Line, in “Ranges” east or west of the Meridian, as shown at the right. Each township is divided into 36 “Sections,” numbered as below. Parts of a Section are identified as in the lower right diagram. Adapted by permission from C. E. Sherman, “Ohio Cooperative Topographic Survey,” III, 1923.

Troubles with England and the War of 1812 Strengthen Nationalism

TROUBLES WITH ENGLAND AND FRANCE. We have already seen that Washington, in 1793, found it necessary to issue a proclamation of neutrality, warning American citizens not to take part in the European war then going on between England and France. The war continued, and year after year it became harder for Americans to remain neutral.

England, in order to injure France, tried to stop everybody from trading with France. To keep American ships from carrying food and war supplies to France, commanders of English warships stopped American ships, searched them, and took the cargo. France did the same thing. The people of the United States wanted only to be left alone, but European powers would not let them alone.

In addition to other offenses, the English stopped American ships on the ocean, took some of the sailors off, and made these sailors serve in the English navy. Some of these sailors were Englishmen who had deserted from English ships, but many of them were Americans. This practice was called “impressing” sailors. The American government protested again and again against the impressment of American seamen, but England paid no attention to its protests.

Finally, our government had reason to suspect that English agents were stirring up the Indians against American settlers in the West, and were supplying the Indians with guns and powder. In 1811 one of the greatest of Indian chiefs, Tecumseh, formed a union of many Indian tribes, and prepared to resist the advance of American settlers in the Ohio country.

War broke out along the frontier, and at the battle of Tippecanoe the Indians were crushed by General William Henry Harrison. Yet many Westerners believed that the Indian danger would never be entirely removed until the English were taught not to meddle in American affairs.

Launching the ship “Fame,” one of the many vessels that made up the first American merchant marine. It was England’s interference with our shipping interests that led to the War of 1812. Redrawn from photograph of a painting. Courtesy, Peabody Museum, Salem.

THE APPROACH OF WAR. Jefferson, while President, tried to keep out of war and tried to compel foreign nations to give the United States fair treatment. He wanted Congress to pass a law forbidding American citizens to carry on foreign trade. The law, called the Embargo Act, was passed in 1807.

Jefferson’s plan failed, partly because the European countries were able to get supplies elsewhere, and partly because so many Americans paid no attention to Jefferson’s plan and carried on a secret and unlawful trade.

In 1809 James Madison became President. You will remember him from the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He was just as anxious to keep out of war as Jefferson had been, and for the first three years he was able to keep peace. In 1812, however, conditions became so bad that Americans felt there was nothing else to do but fight.

The demand for war came chiefly from the young men of the country, and from the West. Henry Clay of Kentucky was the leader of the war party. It was the Westerners who were most deeply stirred by the idea of nationalism and who were determined on war. Finally in June, 1812, the United States declared war on England.

PURPOSES OF THE WAR. The purposes of the war were: (1) to defend American rights on the high seas, and (2) to put an end to the Indian troubles in the West. In addition, many Americans hoped that the war might give them a chance to conquer parts of Canada and all of the Floridas. This desire for the conquest of more land was particularly strong throughout the West.

THE PLAN OF THE AMERICANS. It was the American hope for the conquest of Canada that determined the plan of military operations. For two years different American armies tried to invade Canada, but none of them was successful. The only real success that the Americans had along the northern boundary was the victory of Commodore Perry at Put-in-Bay on Lake Erie, and Captain McDonough’s victory on Lake Champlain in September, 1814.

On September 10, 1813, Perry met a part of the English naval fleet, and after a fierce battle, succeeded in destroying it. “We have met the enemy and they are ours,” he wrote, and soon the whole country resounded with rejoicing over his heroism. Perry’s victory gave the United States control of the Great Lakes. McDonough’s victory stopped an English advance from Canada.

On the ocean, too, American sailors gave a good account of themselves. At the beginning of the war the English held control of the seas.

The English navy of almost one hundred ships had nothing to fear, so it was thought, from the handful of small American warships. Yet in one naval battle after another the Americans were victorious. Not only did American men-of-war whip the English vessels in single fight, but hundreds of American armed ships, owned by private persons, took to the seas and preyed on English merchantmen.

Yet in the end, the superior power of the British made itself felt. One after another of the American harbors was bottled up, and American commerce was swept from the seas. By 1814 the English were again in control of the seas.

THE BRITISH TAKE THE OFFENSIVE. In 1814 the British decided to take the lead in the war. A triple attack against the United States was begun. One army was to march down the Lake Champlain-Hudson River line; another was to attack New Orleans; and a third army was to capture Baltimore and Washington.

: This is the White House, rebuilt after it was nearly burned to the ground by the British in 1814. The present home of our Presidents is an enlargement and improvement of the one shown here as it looked about 1825. Courtesy, L. C. Handy Studios.

But the English were no more successful in invading the United States than the Americans had been in invading Canada. In the north, as we saw, Captain McDonough met the British forces on Lake Champlain and defeated them so badly that the English beat a hasty retreat to Canada.

In the south, Andrew Jackson took command of the American army and, at the battle of New Orleans, on January 8, 1815, completely crushed the British. Peace had been signed in Europe two weeks before, but the news had not yet reached America. Of course, the Battle of New Orleans had no effect on the war, but it gave the Americans a feeling of great pride.

The British attack on Baltimore and Washington had more serious results. Landing on the shores of Chesapeake Bay, an army of 4,000 soldiers marched on Washington and set fire to the city; the capitol and the White House were both partly destroyed in the flames. Would the naval attack on Baltimore succeed?

On the night of September 13, 1814, a young Marylander, Francis Scott Key, found himself a prisoner on board one of the British ships. All through the night he watched the battle between the British fleet and the American fort, watched the fire spurting from the cannon and heard the deafening sound of shot and shell. When the darkness lifted, he peered through the half-light of the early morning and saw the American flag still waving over Fort McHenry. He took out a scrap of paper and wrote down a poem:

O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed, at the twilight’s last gleaming?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
‘Tis the Star-Spangled Banner; O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Artist’s depiction of Francis Scott Key writing The Star Spangled Banner.

PEACE WITH ENGLAND. Neither the Americans nor the English wished to prolong a war that was so costly. President Madison sent five men abroad to make arrangements for peace. A treaty of peace was drawn up in Ghent, Belgium; it is known as the Treaty of Ghent. This treaty ended the war, but it left a number of questions as unsettled as they had been before the outbreak of the war.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE WAR OF 1812. Many people, especially in New England, were against the war, but this opposition was swept away elsewhere by enthusiasm for the national cause and by the rejoicing over such victories as those of Perry, McDonough, and Jackson.

The War of 1812 was important chiefly because: (1) it strengthened American nationalism by giving the people of the United States a feeling of pride and confidence in their nation, (2) it caused the European nations to respect the United States, and (3) it marked the end of the long period stretching from 1789 to 1815 when the United States was involved in European affairs and European wars.

After 1815 the people of the United States turned, without fear of being stopped, to the development of their own resources, and to trade between the nations. For this reason the War of 1812 has often been called the Second War for American Independence.

The United States Announces the Monroe Doctrine

CAUSES OF THE MONROE DOCTRINE. A chance soon came for the United States to show its independence of the Old World and its power in the New. You will remember that when Columbus discovered America he was sailing under the flag of Spain.

Throughout the sixteenth century it was the Spanish leaders who explored and conquered North and South America. As late as 1800 Spain still owned not only the Floridas and all the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, but also Mexico, Central America, and the whole of South America, with the exception of Brazil.

During the long-drawn-out European wars that began in 1791, Mexico and the Spanish colonies in South America were torn by revolution. These countries followed the example of the American colonies, and revolted against the harsh rule of their European masters.

Just forty years after our quest for independence, Mexico was fighting Spain for theirs.

Naturally enough, our own countrymen felt kindly toward the people of Mexico and South America who were struggling for their freedom and independence. But not so most of the European nations. These had very little sympathy for the people in Mexico and South America who were rebelling. On the contrary, several of the great powers of Europe which had formed a league known as the “Holy Alliance” prepared to help Spain win back her American colonies.

England, however, did not join this Holy Alliance, because the English people had some voice in their government. They did not want to join the harsh rulers in other countries in keeping the people down. The English prime minister suggested that his country and the United States join in an effort to protect the South American states from the Holy Alliance. But the United States, as we shall see, preferred to act alone.

At the very time when the Holy Alliance was planning to win back the Spanish American states, there appeared a new danger. The great Russian nation owned Alaska, and planned, it was thought, to push her trading posts down the Pacific coast and take possession of what is now Washington, Oregon, and California.

PRESIDENT MONROE ANNOUNCES THE MONROE DOCTRINE. It was at this time that President Monroe issued a warning that has come to be called the Monroe Doctrine. This statement was included in Monroe’s annual message to Congress in 1823.

(1) Monroe said that the United States did not want any European nation to increase its territory in America—whether in North, Central, or South America. There were to be no more colonies established, and the boundaries of those already established must not be expanded.

(2) Monroe said that the United States did not want any European power to meddle with governments that American states had set up. The people of these states could change their governments as often as they pleased, and they could adopt any form of government; but they must not be interfered with by European powers.

The Monroe Doctrine was a warning to Europe, saying, “Keep your hands off America.”

Willingly or not, the European powers recognized the force of the Monroe Doctrine. The Holy Alliance made no further effort to re-conquer the Spanish countries in America. Russia gave up her attempt to establish control over the North Pacific coast and agreed to confine herself to the territory of Alaska.

President James Monroe discussing the Monroe Doctrine. Europe would stay out of affairs in the Western Hemisphere.

THE MONROE DOCTRINE STRENGTHENS AMERICAN NATIONALISM. President Monroe had told the European countries to let America alone. This was a very bold thing for an American President to do. Washington and Jefferson had both felt that it would be well if European nations kept out of American affairs and if the United States kept out of European affairs. But before the War of 1812 the United States had not been strong enough to announce or to carry out such a policy.

However, the growth of nationalism after the War of 1812 put a different face on affairs. When President Monroe announced the Monroe Doctrine, it meant that the United States was now beginning to be one of the great powers of the world, and that it could protect its interests. It was by far the best example of the new nationalism that had come up since the War of 1812.

The Nation Becomes Self Supporting

THE RISE OF FACTORIES STRENGTHENS NATIONAL SPIRIT. The War of 1812 helped to make known to Americans the strength of their nation, and encouraged the government to declare the Monroe Doctrine. The war and the troubles preceding the war also proved to the Americans that they could produce, within their own country, nearly everything that they needed to make them comfortable and happy.

As we shall learn more fully in Chapter XI, many factories sprang up in the United States to manufacture cotton and woolen cloth, as well as tools and machinery. As a result of this development, Americans were no longer compelled to import such goods from Europe: they realized that the nation had become self-supporting. This was another reason for calling the War of 1812 the Second War for American Independence.

We would produce our own products.

COMMERCE, IMPROVED HIGHWAYS, AND CANALS STRENGTHEN THE NATION. During these same years of trouble with foreign nations, the different parts of our country were being bound closely together by commerce and carried over a system of improved roads and canals called “internal improvements.”

Canals increased the ease and convenience of travel and transportation, and lessened the cost. As a result, eastern merchants and manufacturers were able to ship their goods to southern and western farms, while farmers in the West and South could send their surplus products to eastern markets.

Many Southerners felt later that their interests were injured by the laws which the government passed to protect and benefit northern factories. But for a time, all sections of the country welcomed commerce and internal improvements, and the national feeling grew.

The National Spirit in American Literature

HOW LITERATURE REFLECTS THE LIFE OF A PEOPLE. The books and poems and articles that a people read and write reflect their ways of living and thinking. We can see in their literature their social life, their manners and customs and habits, their ideals and their interests.

The growth of American literature in the years just before and after the War of 1812 can best be seen in the life and works of Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

WASHINGTON IRVING. Washington Irving was born the very year that the United States won its independence, and his name reminds us of the love which Americans had for the father of their country. When he was a young man, he began to write down some of the legends and folk tales of the country-side in which he had lived—the Hudson River Valley.

In 1809, he brought out ‘Knickerbocker’s History of New York,’ a fun-loving tale of Dutch New York. It was filled with humor and with an understanding of the Dutch fathers of New York. This was the first book of its kind to be published in the United States, and in some ways it may be said to be the beginning of strictly American literature. Within a few years Irving had written those stories that all of us know— ‘the Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’ and ‘Rip Van Winkle.’

Montage: Diedrich Knickerbocker, Washington Irving and Rip Van Winkle.

Irving was the first author to use genuine American material for his sketches, the first to show the richness and the variety and the interesting nature of American folklore and American history. He was, too, in some ways the first American historian. He wrote biographies of Columbus and of Washington, and he told, in other books, the romantic story of the Westward Movement and of the fur trade of the Far West.

JAMES FENIMORE COOPER. Even more thoroughly American than Irving was James Fenimore Cooper. Like Irving, Cooper found the material for his stories not in the stories of the Old World but in the romantic past of American history.

In ‘The Spy’ he told the exciting story of a spy during the American Revolution; in ‘The Pilot’ he wrote about the daring deeds of the famous sea captain, John Paul Jones. But his best known and most popular stories were those which recalled the struggles between the white men and the Indians—the famous ‘Leatherstocking Tales.’

You have probably read ‘The Last of the Mohicans,’ or ‘The Deerslayer,’ or ‘The Pathfinder.’ You know how interestingly Cooper pictures the life of the pioneer and of the Indian fighter and the Indian. Of all American authors, Cooper did most to fix the pictures of the Indian in the mind and imagination of Americans.

Montage: The Pathfinder, James Fenimore Cooper and the Last Of The Mohicans.

Here were the two leading authors of their day, both drawing for their material on American experience. Irving found the legends of Sleepy Hollow just as amusing and interesting as the legends of England, France, or Germany. Cooper found the romance of Indian warfare or of the Westward Movement just as exciting as the romances of old Europe. These two authors, and others like them, expressed the spirit of nationalism, the feeling of union and pride in the nation.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON. In Ralph Waldo Emerson we can see the best expression of the new American spirit in literature. Emerson was not only the greatest American thinker of his time, but the leading literary figure in the America of his day—the forties and fifties of the 1800s. He added a great deal to the thought and to the education of the people. But most important of all was the fact that he brought out the worth and dignity of America, and showed that America had a literature of its own.

In an address on the American scholar, Emerson said, “Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close.” And it was true. It marked the beginning of the literary independence of America. For with Emerson American literature came of age.

Irving, Cooper, and Emerson are merely the outstanding examples of what was very common in the United States in the years after the War of 1812. The interesting thing is to see how widespread among all the people was the new spirit of nationalism. It took one form in the Monroe Doctrine, and still another in the writings of the leading authors.

A national loyalty, a national spirit, was coming into existence.

Montage: Concord Hymn and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
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