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1816: America Rising

Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    "The year 1816 found America on the cusp of political, social,cultural, and economic modernity. Celebrating its fortieth year of independence, the country's sense of self was maturing. Americans, who had emerged from the War of 1812 with their political systemsintact, embraced new opportunities. For the first time, citizens viewed themselves not as members of a loose coalition of states but as part of a larger union. This optimism was colored, however, by bizarre weather. Periods of extreme cold and severe drought swept the northern states and the upper south throughout 1816, which was sometimes referred to as "The Year Without a Summer." Faced with thirty-degree summer temperatures, many farmers migrated west in search of better weather and more fertile farmlands. In 1816, historian C. Edward Skeen illuminates this unique year of national transition. Politically, the "era of good feelings" allowed Congress to devise programs that fostered prosperity. Social reform movements flourished. This election year found the Federalist party in its death throes, seeking cooperation with the nationalistic forces of the Republican party. Movement west, maturation of political parties, and increasingly contentious debates over such issues as slavery characterized this pivotal year. 1816 marked a watershed in American history. This provocative new book vividly highlights the stresses that threatened to pull the nation apart and the bonds that ultimately held it together.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5015-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    A claim could be made that every year is unique and that events occurring each year intertwine with strands from the past to weave a new fabric for the future. There are some years where recognizably great events occurred that had a more profound impact than other years. In American history, the years 1776 (Revolution), 1787 (Constitution), 1861 (CivilWar),and 1929 (Great Depression) come readily to mind. A case could also be made that the pivotal importance of some years is not as easily discerned, and the events of that year have had a greater impact than historians have appreciated. This...

  5. Chapter 1 Year Without a Summer
    (pp. 1-16)

    “We have had the most extraordinary year of drought and cold ever known in the history ofAmerica,” Thomas Jefferson wrote on September 8, 1816, to his old friend and political collaborator, Albert Gallatin, who was then serving as the United States Minister to France. The Sage of Monticello went on to elaborate in his usual meticulous manner: “In June, instead of 3 3/4 inches, our average of rain for that month, we only had 1/3 of an inch; in August, instead of 9 1/6 inches our average, we had only 8/10 of an inch; and still it continues. The summer,...

  6. Chapter 2 Legacy of the War of 1812
    (pp. 17-34)

    During forty years as an independent nation, Americans had survived two wars with Great Britain, the Quasi-War with France, and various other threats to the Union. The War of 1812, however, had been the severest test yet for the Union, and the country had barely survived the ordeal. The nation’s capital lay in ruins after being burned by the British in August 1814, and by 1816, repair of the public buildings still had a long way to go. Other areas of the country had also suffered devastation, not just coastal cities but also interior cities, such as Buffalo, New York....

  7. Chapter 3 The Fourteenth Congress Begins
    (pp. 35-52)

    When Congress convened in Washington for the first session of the Fourteenth Congress on December 4, 1815, the city still bore the scars of the British torching of the capital in August 1814. Congress, in fact, was meeting in the cramped quarters of the Patent Office, the only public structure spared by the British. A new building had been erected at a cost of $30,000 to accommodate Congress until the Capitol was ready for reoccupation. The owners asked Congress to contribute $5000 and an annual rent of $1650.Both houses quickly accepted the offer, and the transfer of the sessions to...

  8. Chapter 4 A Tariff and a Bank
    (pp. 53-76)

    Perhaps the most serious questions facing the Fourteenth Congress were in the financial field. The country had emerged from the war with an accumulated debt of $127 million, which needed to be repaid, and the currency was also in disarray. All of the banks south of New England had suspended redemption of their bank notes in specie (gold and silver). The Treasury received notes for payment of taxes that were greatly depreciated from their face value. Congress was faced with the task of encouraging, or forcing, banks to redeem their notes in specie, and there was a strong sentiment that...

  9. Chapter 5 Compensation Act of 1816
    (pp. 77-96)

    One of the most neglected aspects of early American political history is the transition from the deferential politics of the first party system to the popular politics of the second party system.¹ We know that the second party system began to take form sometime after the War of 1812 and before the election of Andrew Jackson, and that it was characterized by being more democratic than deferential in orientation, but historical treatments have lacked precision as to when this shift occurred. William Nisbet Chambers, for example, wrote that the first party system fell into decline, and “sometime around 1817 or...

  10. Chapter 6 Internal Improvements
    (pp. 97-120)

    Just as the federal government was called upon in 1816 to foster and protect infant industries by their tariff policies, it was also urged to facilitate domestic trade and commerce through internal improvements. However, with the major exception of the Cumberland or National Road, the federal government, rather than initiating public works programs during these years, preferred to participate with private enterprise in various road and canal projects. State governments likewise encouraged private enterprises by granting charters, buying stock in canal or turnpike projects, or lobbying for federal support for state internal improvements. Frequently, the issue of state versus federal...

  11. Chapter 7 Fourth of July Celebrations
    (pp. 121-134)

    The Fourth of July was by far the most important American national holiday in 1816. Celebrated by all Americans, no other holiday, not even Christmas, was as widely or wholeheartedly honored. Many newspapers each year printed excerpts from John Adams’s letter to his wife, Abigail, that the anniversary of independence “ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other.”¹ Each year, Americans followed Adams’s advice....

  12. Chapter 8 National Defense
    (pp. 135-150)

    American reliance upon citizen soldiers or militia for defense was given a stern test during the War of 1812. The fear of standing armies was deeply ingrained in Anglo-American thought, and in the Constitutional Convention it was agreed that while a national defense force would be maintained, the main reliance would be placed upon the militia. The result was a shared authority. The national government could call upon the state militia (Art. I, Sec. 8) “to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions,” and “provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia,” but the states were...

  13. Chapter 9 State Developments
    (pp. 151-168)

    Much was happening at the state level during 1816 that would have significant consequences in the future. In addition to important projects begun in the Middle Atlantic states to develop canals and roads in that region, in New England a dispute between the trustees and the president of Dartmouth College would eventually result in an momentous Supreme Court decision in 1819, and the people of Maine were struggling to gain statehood by separating from Massachusetts, which was finally achieved in 1820. There were statehood movements in the South and West, as well as other issues between the states, including border...

  14. Chapter 10 Crime and Punishment
    (pp. 169-188)

    The year 1816 had its share of crime, murder, depravity, and all forms of vile manifestations of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man. Most such acts perhaps rose to public attention briefly and in a transitory way. A few events, however, not necessarily the worst, attracted and held public attention for prolonged periods. American responses to crime and its punishment led to a consideration of its causes and began tenuous movements towards correcting those causes as well as reconsidering the treatment of criminals.

    Perhaps the most sensational trial of the year was the case of Richard Smith for the murder...

  15. Chapter 11 The Humanitarian Impulse
    (pp. 189-210)

    In the years following the War of 1812 there was a great increase in benevolent societies devoted to many various causes. No doubt the general good will that was an outgrowth of the post-war period contributed to this mood of benevolence towards their fellow man, but the evangelical zeal that came out of the Second Great Awakening was probably the primary factor. The great religious revivals that began around 1800 in the West eventually spread all over the country. Concern for the public good and the general welfare of the people was a natural outgrowth of this religious movement, and...

  16. Chapter 12 Election of 1816
    (pp. 211-232)

    Historians have found little excitement during the 1816 presidential campaign. One writer characterized it as “dull as dishwater.” Nor have other historians had much to say about this election; it has been largely ignored.¹ Nevertheless, the race was hardly devoid of interest. Opposition to the mode of nomination by party caucus, which became a major issue in 1824, was strongly articulated in 1816. The caucus in 1816 began and ended in intrigue. William Harris Crawford probably lost his opportunity to be president because he was reluctant to grasp it, while the nomination went to James Monroe, whose primary qualification seemed...

  17. Epilogue
    (pp. 233-236)

    In his inaugural address on March 4,1817, the new president, James Monroe, welcomed the “increased harmony of opinion which pervades our Union,” and he promised that his administration would do everything possible to advance that object. He added, with a touch of hyperbole, “If we persevere in the career in which we have advanced so far and in the path already traced, we can not fail ... to attain the high destiny which seems to await us.”¹ Monroe, in fact, entered the office intending to play the role of a conciliator and unifier. Earlier, in December 1816, he had written...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 237-280)
  19. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 281-290)
  20. Index
    (pp. 291-299)