Topic 46A – Historic configuration of the united states: from independence to secession war. Reference novels: the scarlet letter and the red badge of courage.

Topic 46A – Historic configuration of the united states: from independence to secession war. Reference novels: the scarlet letter and the red badge of courage.

ORIGINS: The discontent of the colonies began to be truly obvious in the war fought between 1689 and 1763. At the end of this war England had acquired from France: Canada and all the land between the Appalachians and the Mississippi, and from Spain Florida.

The war brought about fiscal and administrative problems.

To solve them, a tariff was proposed on sugar, molasses and rum imported into America from the West Indies. The colonies fought against it and won, denying the right of the British Parliament to tax the colonies without representation.

The same happened with the Stamp Act, imposing that stamps be affixed to newspapers, pamphlets, legal documents… the British gov. Repealed the act, but imposes the Declaratory Act asserting the Parliament´s right to legislate for the colonies.

Apart from these financial problems, another source of discontent in the colonies was the presence of the British Army with headquarters in NY and later in Boston. There were many clashes between colonialists and Red Coats. The worst: the Boston massacre in 1770.

In 1767, Townshend Acts, imposing duties on certain imports. Once again the British gov. Had to retreat, but left a tax on tea (The tea Act) to demonstrate that the Declaratory Act was being upheld. By the Tea Act, the East India Company, acquired a monopoly of the tea trade with America. The colonial response was to dump into the water a whole cargo of tea that had arrived to Boston harbour. This episody is known as the Boston tea Party.

The king of England, George III, decides to use the force, and the parliament passes a series of punitive measures, the Intolerable Acts. The result was a closer tie between the thirteen colonies.

September 1, 1774, a Congress was held in Philadelphia, where a boycott of British goods, and a Declaration and Resolves were adopted, declaring the colonists´right to life, liberty, and property.

From this date until July 4, 1776, the Americans fought against the British, not explicitly seeking independence.

July 4, 1776, John Hancock, president of the congress, signed a declaration of independence.

The war lasts until September 3, 1783. A definitive treaty is signed in which United States secure its independence, with the Mississippi as its western boundary, and the right to fish off Newfounland and Nova Scotia.


CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES: A constitutional system based on the consent of the people was established. This constitutions were revolutionary, although based on the colonial charters. The powers of the governor were deeply restricted, and those of the legislature, increased.

All states, except Connecticut and Rhode Island adopted constitutions with this principle.

Massachusetts went even further when it submitted its constitution to the ratitication of the people.

The Virginia constitution added a Bill of Rights, which would be the model for following constitutions.


Property law. Entail (an inheritance life state) and primogeniture (exclusive inheritance by the first-born male) were abolished.

Religious area. Disestablishment of the church of england and the extension of religious tolerance.

Reform of criminal law.


This institution was untouched. The war triggered a movement in the northern states to abolish it, but the southern states were against. Some southerners as Thomas Jefferson and Henry Laurens expressed their opposition to slavery, but the people were not ready for such a change. They had a long way to go, in a nation where half a million people lived in slavery.


The social and economic problems that had become evident after the revolution were an important element in the closer union of the states. In 1786 a meeting was called in Annapolis, Maryland, to resolve commercial difficulties. Only representatives from 5 states came. But the result was the drawing up of the Federal Constitution.

Its main characteristic is the concern for protecting individual rights against the pretensions of authority. James Madison was the principal author of the document. The constitution defined a central authority but maintained the existing structure of state and local authority as a check on the central authority.

Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, ,and James Madison were the man who made possible the establishment of the new government.

In 1778, they sign an alliance with France. In the 1790s, Hamilton wants an open war with France (France and England were supposed not to respect maritime American rights), breaking the alliance. Adams was opposed to the war. Both were of the Federalist Party, but as a result of the disagreement, Hamilton abandones it.

The signing of the Jay Treatment with Britain, divided the public. Two parties emerged: the Federalist (in favour of the treaty) and the Democratic Republicans Washington and Hamilton, they are opposed to the treaty, and to every involvement in European affairs. They try to erase the vestiges of the French Alliance.

When Jefferson becomes president in 1801 he maintains the same position, but when the British and French renew attacks on American shipping, he decrees an embargo on all foreign commerce. The majority was against, and Congress has to repeal the act.

James Madison (1809) renews the embargo and in 1809 America goes to war with Great Britain. At the end of the war, if there is a winner, that is the Republican Party, who claims to have won honourably against a powerful enemy. The Federalists can´t help being considered in the enemy´s part, and disintegrate.

James Monroe comes to the presidency in 1817 and old divisions seem to fade.

When Spain begins to lose its american empire, Both Britain and America hopes to profit from it. England proposes a statement supporting Latin independence. When they back away, the United States decide to do it alone. The result was the Monroe doctrine, which states that the American Continents are not to be considered subjects for future colonization by any European power, and the United States renounces any intention of interfering in internal problems of Europe: the United States had achieved total independence as a nation.


Contradiction: “all men are created equal” <—> 6th of population slaves

Society had been brought up in the conviction that the black race was an inferior one, and even men like Jefferson had their doubts about it. But the ideologies of the 18th century influence the Unites States, and the conflict arises.

The 1st victory of the antislavery agitation occured when Vermont, prohibits slavery in its constitution. One by one, all the northern states followed its example. From this point, the agitation against southern slavery began.

The critical time: 1819. Missouri (in which slavery existed) was to become a state. There existed the idea (fantastic!) of emancipation under the condition of expatriation to Africa, but the blacks belonged to a generation that didn´t even know that continent.

Meanwhile abolitionists in Britain got slavery abolished in 1833.

The struggle becomes violent. In 1836, the Gag Rule, provides that every petitions to congress on the subject of slavery be automatically disregarded. John Quincy Adams, tries over and over to challenge the rule, but everytime is silenced by his fellow members. The gag rule continued to be applied until 1843.

The Methodist, Baptist and Presbiterian church, were split in sections, pro and anti slavery. From the pulpits of all the nation, slavery was denounced by some and justified by others.

The future of slavery was intertwined with the issue of territorial expansion. When Texas revolts against Mexico. The United States supports Them, and the result is its anexation in 1835. The democrat candidat Polk supported following expansion into Oregon, and south into Mexico, which makes him win the election. Later he precipitates a war against Mexico over the issue of expansion, which is won in 1848. This makes the problem bigger, since this expansion also meant the expansion of slavery.

In Clay´s time, a compromise is reached.

Pro slavery anti slavery

Calif. Into Union fee. Utah and New Mexico

Left to local settlers

Strengthened fugitive Slavery trade over

Act was passed in Columbia

Soon becomes dead letter as one northern state after other passes personal liberty laws that made almost impossible to apply the act. North gives back nulification of Gag Rule.

By 1860, the voters went to the polls, the long agitation of the last decades becomes a civil war. Peace was restored in 1865, slavery was removed, but the constitutional sentence still was, and is, in contradiction with the social reality of the United States.