Historical and Sociological Scene (1773 – 1861)
After the War of Independence (1773-1783) between England and America, the thirteen states had to face the problem of their boundaries, of the rules for commerce and taxes and of justice. They needed a central government in order to fix a national currency, a system of law and to define the power of each state. In May 1787 there was the Convention in Philadelphia to draw a Constitution.
In 1789, after the ratification of the constitution, George Washington, delegate of the state of Virginia, was elected First President of the U.S.A. till 1797. During T. Jefferson’s presidency England and America were again at war because Napoleon had put a commercial blockade on French commerce with England , so the American commerce received a heavy blow. The war ended in 1815 (Treaty of Ghent) without a real victor.
Meanwhile, new territories were added to the thirteen states: Louisiana, Florida, Texas and Oregon The year 1848 became famous for the well-known Gold Rush.
These new annexations and the new boundaries created were called The Frontier, a term which defined the limit existing between the settlements and the unknown lands and the people living in them.
Another group of people who influenced the American development both economically and socially were the slaves in particular in the Southern states. The division between the industrialised North and agricultural South became more and more evident. as the economy till in 1861 the Civil War broke out under the Presidency of the Republican Abraham Lincoln, a strong opponents of slavery.
This war ended in 1865 with the victory of the North and the abolition of slavery.
After the War of Independence the literary debate moved towards the topic of the constitution of the new nation. The most famous poets were a group called The Connecticut Wits and Philip Freneau (1752-1832).
In the 1800 the first newspapers were printed and schools were opened and a campaign for the education of girls started.
New England, Concord in particular, was the focus also of another more optimistic literary movement, Trascendentalism, based on the Neoplatonic ideas and influenced by the English Romantic poets. They exalted the spiritual world of feeling and intuition against the false reality of the material world: the spirit is the true reality and the means by which to understand life. (Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau).
In Harvard was born a group of poets called the “new England Brahamins” or “Cambridge Poets” who dealt with contemporary politics and anti-slavery problems.
the Civil War determined the social and cultural identity of the U. S. and produced a new national literature.
The most important writers of the period, were Washington Irving (1783-1859)and Fennimore Cooper (1789-1851), who dealt with the conflict between English and American mentality and Indian and white civilization.
In New England. Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864, The Scarlet Letter) revealed his Puritan dealing with the themes of good, evil, sin and guilt both in individuals and in communities and Herman Melville’s (1819-1891, Moby Dick) books are mainly symbolic and allegorical dealing with the vision of man who lives in the “malevolence of Universe”.
A group of regional colourists wrote novels which offered authentic glimpses of local manners, traditions and dialects, depicting on newspapers and journals the idiosyncrasies of provincial America using sometimes a touch of humour and sometimes a note of nostalgia.
Mark Twain (1835-1910), left unforgettable American visions in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Life on the Mississippi (1883).