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Chapter 14 - Forging the National Economy 1790-1860


Major Theme

Improvements in technology, finance and changes in population had far reaching effects on American society and the United States' role in the world.

Major Question

What is the relationship between the transformative effects of economic and industrial change and the concomitant political changes during this period?


Characterize the American economy and economic structure following independence.



  • Numerous Americans pushed west in search of cheap land and opportunity
  • Immigrants also went west and made their way to fast growing cities
  • New machinery quickened cultivation of crops and manufacturing of goods; workers laboring under new, more demanding expectations
  • Better roads, faster steamboats, farther-reaching canals, and railroads all helped move people, raw materials, and manufactured goods from coast to coast and Gulf to Great Lakes by mid-nineteenth centruy
  • All this led to more dynamic, market-oriented, national economy

The Westward Movement

  • Andrew Jackson exemplified westward march of American people
  • Life was grim for pioneer families: poorly fed, ill-clad, living in hastily erected shanties, victims of disease, depression, premature death, and loneliness(esp. women)
  • Frontier life tough on women and men
  • Jacksonian politics aimed to emancipate the lone-wolf, enterprising businessperson
  • Pioneers were very individualistic except for the occassional tasks that were beyond their own individual resources

Shaping the Western Landscape

  • Pioneers exhausted the land in tobacco regions and pushed on, leaving behind barren and rain-gutted fields
  • "Kentucky bluegrass" thrived after cane in Kentucky bottomlands was burned off-->ideal pasture for livestock and lured thousands more into Kentucky
  • The American West felt pressure of civilization-->1820s:furtrappers setting traplines all over; many animals(bison, beaver, otter) brought to point of near-extinction; exploitation of West's natural bounty
  • However, Americans still revered nature and admired America's beauty and wilderness
  • Wild, unspoiled character of land became distinctive characteristic of U.S. and inspired literature and painting and eventually kindled a powerful conservative movement
  • George Catlin was one of the 1st Americans to advocate the preservation of nature as a deliberate national policy-->led to creation of a national park system, starting with Yellowstone Park in 1872

The March of the Millions

  • As the people expanded westward, population size increased at a dramatic rate.
  • When population increased, so did the problems of slums, feble street lighting, inadequate policing, impure water, foul sewage, rats, and improper garbage disposal.
  • A high birthrate accounted for most of the increase of population, but by the 1840's, immigration was adding hundreds of thousands.

The Emerald Isle Moves West

  • A potato famine swept through Ireland, leaving around 2 million dead. Irish left their homeland for America to start anew.
  • Almost all the Irish settled in large seaboard cities like Boston and New York, becasue they didn't have enough money to go West.
  • Irish immigrants were looked down upon, and many were turned away when they came looking for jobs. (No Irish Need Apply.)
  • The Irish tended to remain in low-skill jobs, but they slowly improved their lot(usually by acquiring modest amounts of property). they soon began to control powerful city machines, like New York's Tamamany Hall. Many became police officers as well (Paddy Wagons.)

The German Forty-Eighters

  • German's came en masse, due to poor farming conditions and seeking political refuge.
  • Unlike the Irish, many Germans possessed a large amount of material goods. most pushed out to the Middle West, and like the Irish, formed an influential body of voters.
  • Germans tended to be more educated than Americans, and strongly supported public schooling.
  • Conestoga wagon, the Kentucky rifle, and the Christmas tree were all German contributions
  • Germans fled from militarism and constant wars of Europe

Flare-ups of Antiforeignism

  • Fear that the immigrants would outbreed, outvote, and overwhelm the old "native" stock led to strong feelings of predjudism.
  • most immigrants were Roman Catholic, and due to the vast amount of immigrants, Catholics became a powerful religious group im America.
  • Older-stock Americans were alarmed by the amount of Catholics, and began the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, or Know-Nothing party. They demanded strict restrictions on immigration and naturalization and for laws authorizing the deportation of alien paupers.
  • Mass violence came about because of the harsh prejudism.

Whitney Ends the Fiber Famine

  • Samuel Slater considered the father of the factory system

The Iron Horse

The Iron Hourse were trains. They were cheap, fast, and relatively reliable. Unlike the first railroad made in 1828, these could be used in all seasons. By 1860 the United States had roughly 30 thousand miles of railroad.

Cables, Clippers, and Pony Riders

  • A cable was stretched between Newfoundland to Ireland in 1858. The cable went dead after 3 months, but a heavier cable laid in 1866 permanently linked the American and European continents.
  • Clipper ships were the fastest ships of the time, built in the 1840's and 1850's. They sacrificed cargo space for speed. They were beat out by the British iron tramp steamers ("teakettles").
  • The Pony Express was established in 1860 to carry mail from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California. Trips could be made in 10 days, in any season or weather conditions. They folded after 18 months.

The Transport Web Binds the Union

During the 1830's and 1840's, new, faster forms of transportation allowing the connection of the east and west. Trade routes shifted more western through Buffalo, instead of New Orleans. The United States economy was split into three sections; Western grain and livestock, Southern cotton, and Eastern machine and textiles. These economic patterns tied the east and the west together.

The Market Revolution

This Revolution changed the way the economy worked. Now people were working for wages and bought what they beeded. This new economic system fuurthered the gap between the rich and poor. Cities were consequently filled with drifters, people who "drifted" around doing thankless jobs for low wages. With all the new opportunity in America, a surge of immigrants was seen. On average, there was a 1% raise of wage for nonskilled workers each year.

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