Social problems After winning their independence, Americans governed themselves under the Articles of Confederation. Bur some influential groups found the Confederation government inadequate. Representatives of these groups came together in Philadelphia to create a newer form of government, a new constitution. The ratification of the document produced many disagreements as not all Americans embraced this new Constitution.
However, the Constitution was ratified, and the Americans once again turned to George Washington for leadership, this time as President of the new republic.
Under the presidency of Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) America nearly doubled its size by purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France.
Jefferson’s successor as President, James Madison (1809-1817), one of authors of the constitution, led the new nation through another war with Great Britain. This, of course, was the unpopular War of 1812. This war ended in 1815 and established the role of America in the world.
Americans began to develop a culture and way of life that was truly their own and no longer that of mere colonials.
During this period, the small republic founded by George Washington’s generation became the world’s largest democracy. All adult, white males received the right to vote. The period also saw the emergence of a number of significant political parties, including the Democratic, the Whig, the American, the Free Soil, and the Republican Parties.
Meanwhile, the young republic expanded geographically from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Texas, Oregon, California, and the Southwest became part of the Union. This new expansion, on one hand, gave many white settlers new opportunities in the West; on the other hand their settlement displaced other groups including Indian tribes and Mexicans. In addition, territorial expansion increased the number of African-American slaves and subsequently led to the conflict between North and South.
Democracy and territorial expansion focussed most Americans’ attention on social reforms such as the creation of public school systems, the improvement of the treatment of prisoners, the insane, and the poor, the abolition of slavery, and the request of equal rights for women.
The political climate supporting reform declined in the 1850s, as conflict grew between the North and South over the slavery question.
In 1861, the United States faced their first great crisis. The North had become increasingly industrial and commercial while the South had remained largely agricultural.
More important than these differences, however, was African-American slavery.
Northerners generally wanted to limit the spread of slavery; some wanted to abolish it altogether. Southerners generally wanted to maintain and even expand the institution. Thus, slavery became the focal point of a political crisis.
When the Republican Abraham Lincoln became president in 1860, 11 southern states seceded from the Federal Union in 1861. They wanted to establish an independent Confederacy of states in which slavery would be maintained. Northern Unionists, on the other hand, were ready to use military force to keep the South in the Union.
The result was a costly and bloody civil war.
After four years of fighting, the Union was restored through the force of arms. As most of the war was fought in the South, the region was devastated physically and economically.
The most immediate and difficult problems were to help ex-slaves and to create state governments loyal to the Union
In the decades following the Civil War, the United States emerged as an industrial giant. Old industries expanded and many new ones, including petroleum refining, steel manufacturing, and electrical power, emerged. Railroads expanded significantly, connecting remote parts of the country into a national market economy.
The industrial growth produced a new class of wealthy industrialists, a prosperous middle class and a vastly expanded proletarian working class.
Millions of newly arrived immigrants and even larger numbers of migrants from rural areas formed the new labour force.
American society became was radically changing.
Of couse not everyone shared in the economic prosperity of this period. Many workers were unemployed at least part of the year and the wages were relatively low so many workers to support and join labour unions
Farmers had to face hard times as technology and increasing production led to more competition and falling prices for farm products.
Many young people to move to rapidly growing cities in search of better job opportunities.
The industrial revolution radically changed the ways millions of people worked and where they lived.