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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersLiving the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Topic: Predicaments of Early Republican LifeTopic: ReligionTopic: PoliticsTopic: ExpansionTopic: Equality
Topic: Religion
Overview of Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Resource Menu: Politics
Text 1. Government and Liberty
Text 2. Agriculture and Manufacturing
Text 3. George Washington
Text 4. State and Federal Power
Text 5. Thomas Jefferson
Text 6. National Identity
Text 7. The Politics of Foreign Affairs


   Resource Menu

Library of Congress  
Washington's reception, Inauguration Day, April 1789
Washington's reception, Inauguration Day, April 1789

Topic Framing Questions
  •  What core political issues defined themselves in the new republic?
  •  What caused the greatest optimism and anxiety among American leaders?
  •  What do the religious overtones in these political texts express?
  •  What national identity evolved in the three decades from 1789 to 1820?

» RESOURCE MENU Reading Guide Link
  1.  On Government and Liberty in the New Nation
- The Anti-Federalist Papers, #1, 1787
- The Federalist Papers, #51, 1788

Within weeks after the Constitutional Convention adjourned in September 1787, the articles now called the "Federalist Papers" and the "Anti-Federalist Papers" appeared in New York newspapers. Here was a day-by-day debate over the "most important question that was ever proposed . . . to the decision of any people under heaven." Will the proposed Constitution guarantee or destroy liberty? Where will power reside? Who will have it? who can give it? who can get it back when lost?

Writing the "Federalist Papers" in support of the Constitution were Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. The probable author of the "Anti-Federalist Papers" was Robert Yates, one of New York's delegates to the Convention (and who, it is said, stormed out of the convention in protest). Writing under the pseudonyms "Publius" and "Brutus"—to allude to the founding of the Roman Republic—these men penned documents that are classics of American history. In these two selections we read Yates and Madison on whether the proposed Constitution will lead the fledgling nation to liberty or tyranny. (While the stated topic of Madison's article is checks and balances, he soon leads the reader to his philosophy of government and human nature). In excerpts, would be useful to pair in the classroom. 10 pages.

» RESOURCE MENU Reading Guide Link
  2.  On Agriculture and Manufacturing in the New Nation
- Thomas Jefferson, "Manufactures," Query XIX in Notes on the State of Virginia, 1787
- Alexander Hamilton, Report to Congress on the Subject of Manufactures, 1791, excerpts

"Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God" asserts Jefferson in his well-known support of the "agrarian ideal," the conviction that an agricultural society provides the best safeguards for liberty and virtue. In opposition stands Alexander Hamilton (no surprise), who, while acknowledging that "the cultivation of the earth [is] most favorable to the freedom and independence of the human mind," counters that a nation that remains only agricultural will lose ground in the long run—not only in trade but in national security, immigration, expansion, and the optimal use and ingenuity of its citizens.

Jefferson's short piece "Manufactures" is his response to the 19th of 23 questions submitted to all the states in 1780 by the French government. With an evangelist's fervor, he warns of the dangers and deficiencies of manufacturing. In contrast, Hamilton's lengthy report to Congress (submitted in his role as Secretary of the Treasury) lays out a dense economic argument for Congress to promote manufacturing; excerpted here are his rebuttals to the concerns of Jefferson and others. Impassioned writing from both men (even in Hamilton's "dry" rhetoric). 6 pages.

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  3.  George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

Thirteen years after breaking away from Great Britain—years of war and frustrated attempts at nation-building—the United States inaugurated its first president under the new Constitution. George Washington had to make it happen—turn the fledgling and fussing thirteen states into a single "United States." Sobering. He is credited with providing eight years of stable and honest administration and with setting precedents honored to this day. Yet when he delivered his Farewell Address, he voiced more alarm than assurance. He describes his "apprehension of danger" from threats internal and external—sectionalism, political parties, foreign entanglements, and above all, a failure to revere the Constitution as the basis of national unity. The ultimate danger is the weakness of human nature in letting local and personal interests define one's vision. A must-read in the classroom. 8 pages.

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  4.  On the Power of State and Federal Government
- Virginia Resolutions of 1798 to nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts
- Counter-Resolution of Massachusetts, 1799

During the Quasi-War with France in the late 1790s, the Federalist Congress passed the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts, primarily to stifle the protest of Democratic-Republicans who were generally pro-French. Fifteen newspaper editors were prosecuted under the acts, which generated intense opposition. Here, at a time of impending war, was a serious test of the First Amendment and a head-to-head battle over the allocation of state and federal power in the new republic.

In the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, Jefferson and Madison argued that a state could declare a federal law unconstitutional (a position they later reconsidered due to its implication of secession rights). Seven states presented counter-resolutions, some also defending the acts. Both sides claimed to protect the cherished new Constitution. The controversy was pivotal in the 1800 elections in which the Democratic-Republicans became the ascendant party. We recommend that you read the Virginia Resolution and the Massachusetts counter-resolution, skimming those of the other states. 5 pages.

» RESOURCE MENU Reading Guide Link
  5.  Thomas Jefferson
- First Inaugural Address, 1801
- Letter to John Holmes, 1820: "A Fire Bell in the Night"

Four years stand between Washington's Farewell Address and Thomas Jefferson's First Inaugural Address—four tumultuous years under John Adams which saw many of Washington's warnings go unheeded. Constitutional crisis, sectional strife, party politics, foreign entanglements—all were part of the nation's reality when Jefferson became president in the first months of a new century. In his Address he expresses awe at the task of leading a nation "advancing rapidly to destinies beyond the reach of mortal eye." Awe at the precarious future of the new government, the "world's best hope." He calls out to his fellow-citizens to value above all the principles for which the Revolution was fought and to aid him in securing them for future generations.

Nineteen years later, as Congress debated the Missouri Compromise, Jefferson wrote perhaps his most despairing letter. Could it be that the illustrious goals attained by his "generation of '76" would be destroyed by the "unworthy passions of their sons"? Was the nation committing suicide? Would that he would die, he bemoans, before it happens! Useful to pair these documents in the classroom. 4 pages.

» RESOURCE MENU Reading Guide Link
  6.  Forging a National Identity: Six Patriotic Pieces
- 1789  "Ode to the President of the United States"
- 1796  "Liberty. In the form of the Goddess of Youth" (print)
- 1798  "Hail Columbia" (song)
- 1800  "Sacred to the Memory of Washington" (engraving)
- 1812  "The First Great Western Empire" (print)
- 1819  "Song for the Anniversary of American Independence"

A nation's concept of itself evolves as surely as one's personal self-image. In the early years of the republic there appeared in abundance the songs, poems, prints, and other popular creations through which a national "iconography" would develop. Here are six patriotic pieces—three prints, two songs, and a poem—that span the three decades covered in this seminar. What is their purpose? How do they reflect the ideals and anxieties expressed by the "Founding Fathers" in this section? What evolving national identity do they reveal? Other than "Hail Columbia," these pieces are virtually unknown today, and they help us re-create the mindset of citizens in young America. Certainly classroom-friendly. 7 pages.

A few notes. (1) Often called the first national anthem, "Hail Columbia" was written in response to the Quasi-War between the U.S. and France in the late 1790s. (2) Hebe, pictured as Liberty in the 1796 print, was the Greek goddess of youth and served as the cup-bearer to the gods. (3) Notice the phrase at the top of the print "The First Great Western Empire."

» RESOURCE MENU Reading Guide Link
  7.  The Politics of Foreign Affairs: Five Cartoons
- c. 1800  "The Providential Detection" (Jefferson labeled an infidel)
- 1804  "The Prairie Dog Sickened" (Jefferson assailed for secret negotiations)
- 1809  "Intercourse or Impartial Dealings" (Jefferson's land purchases criticized)
- 1812  "A Scene on the Frontiers" (British and Indian atrocities condemned)
- c. 1813  "Columbia Teaching John Bull a Lesson" (U.S. demands on Britain outlined)

America was not alone in the wilderness, of course, as it embarked on nationhood. In 1789 it was surrounded by British, Spanish, and Indian adversaries. Conflicts on the continent and the high seas led to full-scale war with Britain and a "quasi-war" with France. American troops fought Indians on the frontier, British on the Great Lakes, and north African pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. bought land from France, won land from Britain, and negotiated land from Spain. And every move was controversial, spawning vociferous dissent from the populace, politicians, and the press. Yet the faith in freedom of expression was so central to the national vision that even Jefferson, who was viciously maligned by the press while president, wrote that "the only security of all is in a free press. . . . The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure."

In this collection are three examples of that "agitation" directed at Jefferson's foreign policy. The last two cartoons, from the War of 1812, direct their satire at America's European enemies instead of the presidents who direct foreign policy. Highly useful in the classroom. 8 pages (cartoons plus annotations).

Toolbox: Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
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