SOLUTION: AMH 2010 University of Florida Market Revolution & National Economy Discussion

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Forging the National

The progress of invention is really a threat [to monarchy].
Whenever I see a railroad I look for a republic.
The Westward Movement
he new nation went bounding into the nineteenth century in a burst of movement. New
England Yankees, Pennsylvania farmers, and southern yeomen all pushed west in search of cheap land
and prodigious opportunity, soon to be joined by
vast numbers of immigrants from Europe, who also
made their way to the country’s fast-growing cities.
But not only people were in motion. Newly invented
machinery quickened the cultivation of crops and
the manufacturing of goods, while workers found
themselves laboring under new, more demanding
expectations for their pace of work. Better roads,
faster steamboats, farther-reaching canals, and tentacle-stretching railroads all helped move people,
raw materials, and manufactured goods from coast
to coast and Gulf to Great Lakes by the midnineteenth century. The momentum gave rise to a
more dynamic, market-oriented, national economy.
The rise of Andrew Jackson, the first president from
beyond the Appalachian Mountains, exemplified
the inexorable westward march of the American
people. The West, with its raw frontier, was the most
typically American part of America. As Ralph Waldo
Emerson wrote in 1844, “Europe stretches to the
Alleghenies; America lies beyond.’’
The Republic was young, and so were the people
—as late as 1850, half of Americans were under the
age of thirty. They were also restless and energetic,
seemingly always on the move, and always westward.
One “tall tale’’ of the frontier described chickens that
voluntarily crossed their legs every spring, waiting to
be tied for the annual move west. By 1840 the “demographic center’’ of the American population map had
Forging the National Economy, 1790–1860
crossed the Alleghenies. By the eve of the Civil War, it
had marched across the Ohio River.
Legend portrays an army of muscular axmen
triumphantly carving civilization out of the western
woods. But in reality life was downright grim for
most pioneer families. Poorly fed, ill-clad, housed in
hastily erected shanties (Abraham Lincoln’s family
lived for a year in a three-sided lean-to made of
brush and sticks), they were perpetual victims of
disease, depression, and premature death. Above
all, unbearable loneliness haunted them, especially
the women, who were often cut off from human
contact, even their neighbors, for days or even
weeks, while confined to the cramped orbit of a dark
cabin in a secluded clearing. Breakdowns and even
madness were all too frequently the “opportunities’’
that the frontier offered to pioneer women.
Frontier life could be tough and crude for men
as well. No-holds-barred wrestling, which permitted
such niceties as the biting off of noses and the gouging out of eyes, was a popular entertainment. Pioneering Americans, marooned by geography, were
often ill informed, superstitious, provincial, and
fiercely individualistic. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s popular lecture-essay “Self-Reliance’’ struck a deeply
responsive chord. Popular literature of the period
abounded with portraits of unique, isolated figures
like James Fenimore Cooper’s heroic Natty Bumppo
and Herman Melville’s restless Captain Ahab—just
as Jacksonian politics aimed to emancipate the
lone-wolf, enterprising businessperson. Yet even in
this heyday of “rugged individualism,’’ there were
important exceptions. Pioneers, in tasks clearly
beyond their own individual resources, would call
upon their neighbors for logrolling and barn raising
and upon their governments for help in building
internal improvements.
Shaping the Western Landscape
The westward movement also molded the physical
environment. Pioneers in a hurry often exhausted
the land in the tobacco regions and then pushed on,
leaving behind barren and rain-gutted fields. In the
Kentucky bottomlands, cane as high as fifteen feet
posed a seemingly insurmountable barrier to the
plow. But settlers soon discovered that when the
cane was burned off, European bluegrass thrived in
the charred canefields. “Kentucky bluegrass,’’ as it
was somewhat inaccurately called, made ideal pas-
Opening the West
ture for livestock—and lured thousands more American homesteaders into Kentucky.
The American West felt the pressure of civilization in additional ways. By the 1820s American furtrappers were setting their traplines all over the vast
Rocky Mountain region. The fur-trapping empire was
based on the “rendezvous’’ system. Each summer,
traders ventured from St. Louis to a verdant Rocky
Mountain valley, made camp, and waited for the
trappers and Indians to arrive with beaver pelts to
swap for manufactured goods from the East. This
trade thrived for some two decades; by the time
beaver hats had gone out of fashion, the hapless
beaver had all but disappeared from the region. Trade
in buffalo robes also flourished, leading eventually to
the virtually total annihilation of the massive bison
herds that once blanketed the western prairies. Still
farther west, on the California coast, other traders
bought up prodigious quantities of sea-otter pelts,
driving the once-bountiful otters to the point of nearextinction. Some historians have called this aggressive and often heedless exploitation of the West’s
natural bounty “ecological imperialism.’’
Yet Americans in this period also revered nature
and admired its beauty. Indeed the spirit of nation-
alism fed the growing appreciation of the uniqueness of the American wilderness. Searching for the
United States’ distinctive characteristics in this
nation-conscious age, many observers found the
wild, unspoiled character of the land, especially in
the West, to be among the young nation’s defining
attributes. Other countries might have impressive
mountains or sparkling rivers, but none had the
pristine, natural beauty of America, unspoiled by
human hands and reminiscent of a time before the
dawn of civilization. This attitude toward wilderness
became in time a kind of national mystique, inspiring literature and painting, and eventually kindling
a powerful conservation movement.
George Catlin, a painter and student of Native
American life, was among the first Americans to
advocate the preservation of nature as a deliberate
national policy. In 1832 he observed Sioux Indians in
South Dakota recklessly slaughtering buffalo in order
to trade the animals’ tongues for the white man’s
whiskey. Appalled at this spectacle and fearing for
the preservation of Indians and buffalo alike, Catlin
proposed the creation of a national park. His idea
later bore fruit with the creation of a national park
system, beginning with Yellowstone Park in 1872.
Forging the National Economy, 1790–1860
Population Increase, Including Slaves and Indians, 1790–1860
Increasing European immigration and the closing of the slave trade gradually “whitened’’ the population
beginning in 1820. This trend continued into the early twentieth century.
The March of the Millions
Urban growth continued explosively. In 1790
there had been only two American cities that could
boast populations of twenty thousand or more
souls: Philadelphia and New York. By 1860 there
were forty-three, and about three hundred other
places claimed over five thousand inhabitants
apiece. New York was the metropolis; New Orleans,
the “Queen of the South’’; and Chicago, the swaggering lord of the Midwest, destined to be “hog butcher
for the world.’’
Such overrapid urbanization unfortunately
brought undesirable by-products. It intensified the
problems of smelly slums, feeble street lighting,
As the American people moved west, they also
multiplied at an amazing rate. By midcentury the
population was still doubling approximately every
twenty-five years, as in fertile colonial days.
By 1860 the original thirteen states had more
than doubled in number: thirty-three stars graced
the American flag. The United States was the fourth
most populous nation in the western world,
exceeded only by three European countries—Russia, France, and Austria.
St. Louis
1980 1960
W. VA.
1820 1800 1790
New York
1940 1900
Westward Movement of Center of Population,
1790–1990 The triangles indicate the points at
which a map of the United States weighted for the
population of the country in a given year would
balance. Note the remarkable equilibrium of the
north-south pull from 1790 to about 1940, and
the strong spurt west and south thereafter. The
1980 census revealed that the nation’s center of
population had at last moved west of the Mississippi
River. The map also shows the slowing of the
westward movement between 1890 and 1940—
the period of heaviest immigration from Europe,
which ended up mainly in East Coast cities.
An Influx of Immigrants
inadequate policing, impure water, foul sewage,
ravenous rats, and improper garbage disposal. Hogs
poked their scavenging snouts about many city
streets as late as the 1840s. Boston in 1823
pioneered a sewer system, and New York in 1842
abandoned wells and cisterns for a piped-in water
supply. The city thus unknowingly eliminated
the breeding places of many disease-carrying
A continuing high birthrate accounted for most
of the increase in population, but by the 1840s the
tides of immigration were adding hundreds of thousands more. Before this decade immigrants had
been flowing in at a rate of sixty thousand a year, but
suddenly the influx tripled in the 1840s and then
quadrupled in the 1850s. During these two feverish
Irish and German Immigration by Decade,
decades, over a million and a half Irish, and nearly
as many Germans, swarmed down the gangplanks.
Why did they come?
The immigrants came partly because Europe
seemed to be running out of room. The population
of the Old World more than doubled in the nineteenth century, and Europe began to generate a
A German immigrant living in Cincinnati
wrote to his relatives in Germany in 1847:
“A lot of people come over here who were well
off in Germany but were enticed to leave
their fatherland by boastful and imprudent
letters from their friends or children and
thought they could become rich in America.
This deceives a lot of people, since what can
they do here? If they stay in the city they
can only earn their bread at hard and
unaccustomed labor. If they want to live in
the country and don’t have enough money to
buy a piece of land that is cleared and has a
house then they have to settle in the wild
bush and have to work very hard to clear the
trees out of the way so they can sow and
plant. But people who are healthy, strong,
and hard-working do pretty well.’’
Forging the National Economy, 1790–1860
seething pool of apparently “surplus’’ people. They
were displaced and footloose in their homelands
before they felt the tug of the American magnet.
Indeed at least as many people moved about within
Europe as crossed the Atlantic. America benefited
from these people-churning changes but did not set
them all in motion. Nor was the United States the
sole beneficiary of the process: of the nearly 60 million people who abandoned Europe in the century
after 1840, about 25 million went somewhere other
than the United States.
Yet America still beckoned most strongly to the
struggling masses of Europe, and the majority of
migrants headed for the “land of freedom and
opportunity.’’ There was freedom from aristocratic
caste and state church; there was abundant opportunity to secure broad acres and better one’s condition. Much-read letters sent home by immigrants—
“America letters’’—often described in glowing terms
the richer life: low taxes, no compulsory military
service, and “three meat meals a day.’’ The introduction of transoceanic steamships also meant that
the immigrants could come speedily, in a matter of
ten or twelve days instead of ten or twelve weeks. On
board, they were still jammed into unsanitary quarters, thus suffering an appalling death rate from
infectious diseases, but the nightmare was more
endurable because it was shorter.
The Emerald Isle Moves West
Ireland, already groaning under the heavy hand of
British overlords, was prostrated in the mid-1840s. A
terrible rot attacked the potato crop, on which the
people had become dangerously dependent, and
about one-fourth of them were swept away by disease and hunger. Starved bodies were found dead
by the roadsides with grass in their mouths. All told,
about 2 million perished.
Tens of thousands of destitute souls, fleeing the
Land of Famine for the Land of Plenty, flocked to
America in the “Black Forties.’’ Ireland’s great export
has been population, and the Irish take their place
beside the Jews and the Africans as a dispersed
people (see “Makers of America: The Irish,’’
pp. 294–295).
These uprooted newcomers—too poor to move
west and buy the necessary land, livestock, and
equipment—swarmed into the larger seaboard cit-
ies. Noteworthy were Boston and particularly New
York, which rapidly became the largest Irish city in
the world. Before many decades had passed, more
people of Hibernian blood lived in America than on
the “ould sod’’ of Erin’s Isle.
The luckless Irish immigrants received no redcarpet treatment. Forced to live in squalor, they
were rudely crammed into the already-vile slums.
They were scorned by the older American stock,
especially “proper’’ Protestant Bostonians, who
regarded the scruffy Catholic arrivals as a social
menace. Barely literate “Biddies’’ (Bridgets) took
jobs as kitchen maids. Broad-shouldered “Paddies’’
(Patricks) were pushed into pick-and-shovel drudgery on canals and railroads, where thousands left
their bones as victims of disease and accidental
explosions. It was said that an Irishman lay buried
under every railroad tie. As wage-depressing competitors for jobs, the Irish were hated by native
workers. “No Irish Need Apply’’ was a sign com-
Margaret McCarthy, a recent arrival in
America, captured much of the complexity of
the immigrant experience in a letter she
wrote from New York to her family in Ireland
in 1850:
“This is a good place and a good country, but
there is one thing that’s ruining this place.
The emigrants have not money enough to
take them to the interior of the country,
which obliges them to remain here in New
York and the like places, which causes the
less demand for labor and also the great
reduction in wages. For this reason I would
advise no one to come to America that would
not have some money after landing here that
would enable them to go west in case they
would get no work to do here. But any man
or woman without a family are fools that
would not venture and come to this plentiful
country where no man or woman ever
hungered or ever will. I can assure you there
are dangers upon dangers, but my friends,
have courage and come all together
courageously and bid adieu to that lovely
place, the land of our birth.’’
Irish and German Immigration
An early-nineteenth-century French traveler
recorded his impressions of America and
“I have seen the Indian in his forests and the
Negro in his chains, and thought, as I
contemplated their pitiable condition, that I
saw the very extreme of human
wretchedness; but I did not then know the
condition of unfortunate Ireland.’’
monly posted at factory gates and was often abbreviated to NINA. The Irish, for similar reasons,
fiercely resented the blacks, with whom they shared
society’s basement. Race riots between black and
Irish dockworkers flared up in several port cities,
and the Irish were generally cool to the abolitionist
The friendless “famine Irish’’ were forced to
fend for themselves. The Ancient Order of Hibernians, a semisecret society founded in Ireland to fight
rapacious landlords, served in America as a benevolent society, aiding the downtrodden. It also helped
to spawn the “Molly Maguires,’’ a shadowy Irish
miners’ union that rocked the Pennsylvania coal
districts in the 1860s and 1870s.
The Irish tended to remain in low-skill occupations but gradually improved their lot, usually by
acquiring modest amounts of property. The education of children was cut short as families struggled
to save money to purchase a home. But for humble
Irish peasants, cruelly cast out of their homeland,
property ownership counted as a grand “success.’’
Politics quickly attracted these gregarious
Gaelic newcomers. They soon began to gain control
of powerful city machines, notably New York’s Tammany Hall, and reaped the patronage rewards.
Before long, beguilingly brogued Irishmen dominated police departments in many big cities, where
they now drove the “Paddy wagons’’ that had once
carted their brawling forebears to jail.
American politicians made haste to cultivate
the Irish vote, especially in the politically potent
state of New York. Irish hatred of the British lost
nothing in the transatlantic transplanting. As the
Irish-Americans increased in number—nearly 2 mil-
lion arrived between 1830 and 1860—officials in
Washington glimpsed political gold in those emerald green hills. Politicians often found it politically
profitable to fire verbal volleys at London—a process vulgarly known as “twisting the British lion’s
The German Forty-Eighters
The influx of refugees from Germany between 1830
and 1860 was hardly less spectacular than that
from Ireland. During these troubled years, over a
million and a half Germans stepped onto American soil (see “Makers of America: The Germans,’’
pp. 298–299). The bulk of them were uprooted farmers, displaced by crop failures and other hardships.
But a strong sprinkling were liberal political refugees. Saddened by the collapse of the democratic revolutions of 1848, they had decided to leave
the autocratic fatherland and flee to America—the
brightest hope of democracy.
Germany’s loss was America’s gain. Zealous
German liberals like the lanky and public-spirited
Carl Schurz, a relentless foe of slavery and public
corruption, contributed richly to the elevation of
American political life.
Unlike the Irish, many of the Germanic newcomers possessed a modest amount of material
goods. Most of them pushed out to the lush lands of
the Middle West, notably Wisconsin, where they settled and established model farms. Like the Irish,
they formed an influential body of voters whom
American politicians shamelessly wooed. But the
Germans were less potent politically because their
strength was more widely scattered.
The hand of Germans in shaping American life
was widely felt in still other ways. The Conestoga
wagon, the Kentucky rifle, and the Christmas tree
were all German contributions to Americ …
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