Early America—Early Republic

1789 to 1850
Constitution ratified to Mexican-American War

Era Summary       Characters       Timeline       Reading Assignments      

Era Summary—Early Republic

Early Presidents—The early years of the new Republic were prosperous and optimistic. George Washington provided leadership and credibility at a critical time, and Alexander Hamilton and others worked hard to resolve contentious economic issues. The first five presidents were all founding fathers, committed to republican ideals, and all sought to increase commerce and keep the nation out of war as long as possible.

The greatest boon to befall the United States in its early years was the Louisiana Purchase. The claim that Napoleon had to the territory was somewhat dubious in the first place, but Thomas Jefferson recognized the importance of establishing the rights of the United States to settle the region, so he arranged the purchase and and sent Merriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the territory as soon as possible.

The United States did fight two wars during its early years, both brought about by the necessity of protecting American shipping and commerce. The first was against the Barbary Pirates of the Mediterranean, who began attacking American ships as soon as they stopped flying under the British flag. The Barbary War was a naval operation lasting almost 14 years that established the United States as an independent sea power.

The second war was the War of 1812 with Britain, in order to oppose trade restrictions brought about by the ongoing continental wars. The official casus belli had to do with British tyranny at sea, but other issues included the British support of northwest Indian tribes who attacked settlers on the American frontier, and disputes regarding the Canadian border. The War of 1812 involved several important naval battles, land battles on the western frontier, and the conquest of Washington D.C. by the British, and was finally resolved by a treaty.

Defense of Boonseborough
Settlement of the Western Frontier—By the time of the French Indian Wars, colonists had settled much of Virginia east of the Appalachian mountains, but it wasn't until Daniel Boone blazed a trail over the Cumberland Gap that pioneers began to establish settlements in Kentucky and Tennessee. The first important settlement west of the mountains was Boonesborough. As soon as the colonies declared independence, the Shawnees in the region made an alliance with Britain, and began to attack forts and settlements in the Ohio Valley, especially those in Kentucky. Attacks on settlers continued even after fighting had ceased on the Eastern front. Once fighting ceased, thousands of white settlers flocked to the region and Virgina was admitted as the 15th state in 1792.

The first American settlement in the Ohio Valley was at Marietta, founded by Rufus Putnam, a Revolutionary War General. Several battles between the settlers and the Northwest Indians were fought over the next ten years, and Ohio became the 17th state admitted to the Union in 1803. Ten years later, Tecumseh, a Shawnee leader, sought to organize the Ohio valley tribes to resist encroachment of the colonists. His cause was lost when the Shawnee were defeated by William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe, but he continued to resist the colonists by joining forces with the British during the War of 1812. He was killed in the conflict, but his honor and courage during the war won him respect among whites as well as Indians.

Trail of Tears
Further south, in Louisiana and Alabama, Andrew Jackson fought the Creek Indians after they united with the British during the War of 1812 and began attacking colonial settlements. The most notorious Indian attack in the region was at Ft. Mims, where over 500 settlers were massacred or taken prisoner. Outrage over the Indian atrocities helped make Jackson, the leading Indian fighter in the region, a folk hero and eventually the 7th President of the United States.

The most resilient of the Southern tribes were the Seminoles, led by the fierce warrior Osceola. The Seminoles were not a purely a native tribe, but were a collection of peoples that included runaway slaves from the southern colonies, Creek Indians who refused to be relocated, and Florida tribes that traded with the Spanish. In 1830, the United States resolved to remove most southern Indian tribes to Oklahoma territory, and during this time Oscoela, who was himself of mixed Indian-Anglo heritage, arose to lead Indian resistance. He led a valiant resistance and beat the Americans in most engagements until he was treacherously captured and imprisoned during "peace talks" with the U.S. Army. The Seminoles fought on for years after the death of Osceola, but were eventually driven from Florida.

Clermont Steam Boat
Invention and Industry—The early republican era in the United States corresponded to the period of the Industrial Revolution in England, and the dramatic changes in manufacture and commerce that occurred during the early 19th century transformed the economies of many American cities. The great difference between the Industrial Revolution in America and that in Britain however, was the condition of the workers: inexpensive land to the west and mobility meant that even the poorest laborers could not be kept in servitude. Most industrial development occurred in the North rather than the south, so the economic foundation of the two regions began to diverge.

While British inventors were responsible for many important inventions of the industrial era, such as the Steam Engine, power loom, and the Railroad, American inventors also contributed. Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, a development that transformed the whole economy of the south. Robert Fulton introduced the first commercial steam-boat in 1807. Samuel Morse oversaw construction of the first telegraph line between Washington D.C. and Baltimore in 1838. And Cyrus McCormick demonstrated his mechanical reaper in 1831. All these inventions, along with dramatic improvements in transportation brought about by railroads and canals, transformed the American economy and brought enormous prosperity to the region in a short period of time.

Mexican American War
Texas and the Mexican War—Between 1790 and 1840, the United States added eleven new states to the union, almost all along the Mississipppi and Ohio rivers. Settlement of the Western-most regions, however, was hindered by both Indians and Spaniards. Eventually several thousand English speaking pioneers made settlements in Texas under an agreement with the Mexican government. Unfortunately the Mexican government was in turmoil, and in 1835 the central government was overthrown and the terms underwhich the Americans had settled changed. This led to the Texas Revolt and the Famous Battle of the Alamo, during which American heroes Davy Crockett, and Colonel Travis were massacred by a Mexican army led by Santa Anna. They were swiftly avenged by Sam Houston and Texas was an independent state from 1836 to 1845, when it was admitted as the 28th state to the Union.

From the earliest years of Independence, many American frontiersmen and ambitious statesmen desired to annex Spanish territories north of the Rio Grande. In the early 1800's vice-president Aaron Burr plotted to start a war with Spain and sieze its territories, but nothing came of the effort. In the 1820's, when Mexico declared itself independent from Spain, American operatives supported the most radical Republican faction, knowing that a divided Mexico would be easier to partition than a country with a strong central government. While U.S. interference cannot be blamed for the chaotic state of Mexican government, disorder south of the border served long-term American interests.

The border incident that set off the Mexican American War was a flimsy excuse for a war that was fought explicity to force Mexico to cede territory. No terms other than surrender of all Mexican claims to territories in the American southwest were considered, and after soundly defeating the armies sent against them in Northern Mexico, the United States sent a Naval expedition and fought its way to the capital city in order to affect an unconditional surrender. Mexico, which had already been weakened by years of civil war, was unable to resist, and in 1848 ceded most of the territory that later became the American states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Characters—Early Republic

Character/Date Short Biography


George Washington
Leader of the Continental Army of the U.S. during the Revolutionary War, and first President.
John Adams
Second President of the United States. Worked tirelessly to help establish the republic on steady footing.
Thomas Jefferson
Third President. Author of the Declaration of Independence. Founder of Democrat-Republican Party.
James Madison
One of the chief authors of the Constitution and writer of the Federalist papers. Fourth President of the U.S.
James Monroe
Fifth president of the United States, and ally of Thomas Jefferson. Acquired Florida and promulgated the 'Monroe Doctrine.'
John Quincy Adams
Diplomat who spent much time in Europe before becoming the sixth U.S. President.
Andrew Jackson
Hero of the Battle of New Orleans, President of U.S., and founder of Democratic Party.
William Henry Harrison
War hero of Tippecanoe and the War of 1812, and briefly, President of the United States.
Zachary Taylor
Military leader who served in various Indian Wars and the Mexican-American War. Twelfth U.S. President.
James K. Polk
U.S. President who followed the policies of Andrew Jackson. President during the Mexican-American War.


Aaron Burr
Controversial American statesman. VP under Jefferson. Killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Accused of Treason.
John Marshall
Very Influential Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Founder of principle of Judicial Review.
DeWitt Clinton
Governor of New York best known as the master-mind behind the Erie Canal.
Henry Clay
Congressman and Speaker of the house of the mid-nineteenth century, associated with Webster and Calhoun.
John C. Calhoun
Important Southern Statesman of the mid nineteenth century. Supported slavery and states rights.
Daniel Webster
Influential Senator from New England. Promoted protective tariffs. Favored compromise on slavery.
Stephan Van Rensselaer
Heir to one of the largest fortunes in the United States, governor of New York, and military Hero.

Soldiers and Sailors

Commodore Preble
Founding member of the U.S. Navy. Led the American Naval blockade of Tripoli in 1803.
William Bainbridge
American naval hero who fought against the Barbary pirates, and piloted the U.S.S. Constitution during the war of 1812.
Stephen Decatur
Naval Hero noted for his exploits during the war Barbary War, and also the War of 1812.
Isaac Hull
American naval hero best known for commanding the U.S.S. Constitution when in took on the HMS Guerrierre during the war of 1812.
Oliver Hazard Perry
Naval Hero, commander of American forces at the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.
General Winfield Scott
Longest serving officer in American history. Served in all major wars between 1812 and the Civil War.

Indian Leaders

Half-breed Seminole Warrior who resisted the settlement of Florida.
Billy Bowlegs
AmerIndian chief who frustrated warred against the United States in the Seminole Wars.
Shawnee Hero. Tried to unify tribes against the colonists. Fought for Britain during War of 1812.
Indian woman who accompanied Lewis and Clark during their explorations of the Louisiana Purchase.
John Ross
Frontiersman who tried (but failed) to help the Cherokees form a nation and protect their rights in U.S. Courts.
Black Kettle
Cheyenne chief who tried to make peace, but was sabotaged by aggressive acts of his own Indians as well as the white settlers.
Shoshone Indian War Chief

Inventions and Industry

John Jacob Astor
First multi-millionaire in the United States. Made his fortune in the fur trade and New York real estate.
Robert Fulton
Inventor of Steamboats. Operated the steamboat Clermont on the Hudson River.
Eli Whitney
Inventor of the Cotton Gin, and also interchangeable parts for rifles.
Samuel Morse
Inventor of Morse code, a system telegraph transmission widely used before the telephone.
Charles Goodyear
Discovered the process for 'vulcanizing' rubber, and making it far more usable.
Cyrus McCormick
Invented the mechanical reaper, which revolutionized agriculture, especially in midwest.

Explorers/Regional Heroes

Nolichucky Jack
Frontiersman and Indian fighter who became the first governor of the state of Tennessee.
Jean Lafitte
Pirate and American patriot who fought for the Americans during the war of 1812.
Stephen F. Austin
Helped found the state of Texas by leading 300 families to settle in the region.
Sam Houston
Founder of the state of Texas, and first governor.
Daniel Boone
Explored the Kentucky and Tennessee Valley. Opened a road for settlers through Cumberland Gap.
Davy Crockett
Tennessee Frontiersman and congressman. Involved with Texas independence. Died at the Alamo.
Alexander Henry Jr.
Canadian Fur Trader, nephew of Alexander Henry the Elder, who kept extensive journasl of his travels in the northwest.

Arts and Literature

Francis Scott Key
Watched the bombardment of Baltimore during the War of 1812, and penned the National Anthem.
Washington Irving
Popular writer of humor and short stories in the early 19th century.
John James Audubon
World renowned painter and collector of birds.
Horace Mann
Advocate of Public education. Induced Massachusetts to adopt the Prussian model of state sponsored education.
Mary Lyon
Established schools and seminaries for women which became Wheaton College and Mount Holyoke College.

Timeline—Early Republic

AD YearEvent

Domestic Developments

1789 George Washington begins serving as the first President of the United States.
1791 Vermont, a disputed territory between NY and NH, becomes 14th state.
1792 Kentucky resolves boundary issues with Virginia and becomes 15th state.
1793 Eli Whitney invents the Cotton Gin .
1803 Louisiana Purchase negotiated by Jefferson.
1804-06 Merriwether Lewis and William Clark lead an expedition to explore Louisiana Purchase.
1804 Aaron Burr shoots Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
1803 Ohio becomes the first state carved out of the "Northwest Territories".
1807 Robert Fulton launches first commercial steamboat on the Hudson River.
1820 Missouri Compromise prohibits slavery north of 36 parallel.
1821 Maine and Missouri admitted to the Union.
1828 "Teriff of Abominations", protects northern manufacturers at the expense of the south.
1829 Jackson becomes President—promotes union, disestablishes National Bank, begins spoils system.
1844 Samuel Morse sends telegraph message from Washinton to Baltimore: "What hath God Wrought?".
1845 Florida Admitted to the Union as 27th State.
1845 Texas admitted as 28th State.
1847 Cyrus McCormick establishes mechanical reaper factory in Chicago.
1849 Gold Discovered at John Sutter's Mill in California.
1844 Joseph Smith, leader of the Mormons, lynched to death.
1847 First Mormon Pioneers arrive in Utah Territory, under the leadership of Brigham Young.

Foreign Wars and Entanglements

1801-05 Barbary Pirate Wars.
Oct 1803 Stephen Decatur leads a daring expedition to sink the Philadelphia in Tripoli harbor.
1812-14 War of 1812: James Madison declares war against British in support of free trade.
Aug 1812 Constitution vs. Guerriere.
Sep 1813 Battle of Lake Erie.
Aug 1814 British invade Washington DC, burn White House.
Sep 1814 Battle of Baltimore—Francis Scott Key Writes Star Spangle Banner.
1823 Monroe Doctrine promulgated in response to independence movements in South America
1835-36 Texas War of Independence .
Feb 1836 Battle of the Alamo—180 defenders massacred, including Davy Crockett and James Bowie
Apr 1836 Sam Houston lead Texans to victory at San Jacinto—Santa Anna is captured and released.
1846-48 James K. Polk declars War on Mexico due to a boundary dispute in Texas.
May 1846 Battle of Resaca de la Palma near Texas Territory.
Feb 1847 Battle of Buena Vista in Northern Mexico.
Sep 1847 Battle of Chapultepec in Mexico City.
Jul 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Cedes large territory to U.S.

Frontier Expanstion

1775 Daniel Boone's family and 50 other settlers settle in Boonesborough, Kentucky.
1788 Rufus Putnam founds the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territories in Marietta, Ohio.
1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers brings Indian War in the Northwest Territories to a close.
1811 Battle of Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison puts down Tecumseh's rebellion in Indiana Territory.
1813-14 Andrew Jackson fights Creek Wars in Alabama.
1835-38 Osceola leads Seminole Rebellion in Florida.

Recommended Reading—Early Republic

Book Title
Selected Chapters (# chapters)

Core Reading Assignments

Guerber - Story of the Great Republic   The Beginning of the U.S to The Mexican War (25)
Marshall - This Country of Ours   Washington in War and Peace to The Finding of Gold (14)

Supplemental Recommendations

Evans - America First—100 Stories from Our History   Nolichucky Jack to Electric Telegraph (23)
Eggleston - Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans   Decatur and the Pirates to A Wonderful Woman (25)
Pratt - American History Stories, Volume III    entire book
Otis Kaler - Benjamin of Ohio    entire book
Otis Kaler - Hannah of Kentucky    entire book
Otis Kaler - Philip of Texas    entire book
Eggleston - Stories of American Life and Adventure    entire book
Baldwin - Conquest of the Old Northwest    entire book
Perry - Four American Indians    entire book
Perry - Four American Inventors    entire book
Sabin - Opening the West with Lewis and Clark    entire book
Sabin - With Lieutenant Pike    entire book
Morris - True Stories of Our Presidents   George Washington to Zachary Taylor (12)
Morris - Historical Tales, Vol I: American   Fate of the Philadelphia to The Electric Telegraph (3)
Morris - Historical Tales: American II   Eli Whitney and Cotton-Gin to Captain Lee and Lava-beds (6)
Drake - Indian History for Young Folks   The Backwoodsmen of Kentucky to War with the Seminoles of Florida (6)

Special Interest - Military

Seawell - Twelve Naval Captains    entire book
Fraser - Boys' Book of Sea Fights   Burning of the Philadelphia to The Strange Disappearance (4)
Sabin - Boys' Book of Border Battles   The Battle of Blue Licks to Resaca de la Palma (9)
Sabin - Frontier Fighters   Five Boy Captives to Through the Enemy's Lines (7)
Sabin - Boy's Book of Indian Warriors   Little Turtle of the Miamis to Strong Medicine of Konate (12)
Sabin - Into Mexico with General Scott    entire book
Ladd - The War with Mexico    entire book

Also Recommended

Southworth - Builders of Our Country: Book II   Chronology to Samuel F. B. Morse (11)
Morris - Heroes of Progress in America   John Adams to Horace Mann (20)
Nye - Comic History of the United States   The Revolutionary War to Befo' the Wah (11)

I: Introductory, II: Intermediate, C: College Prep