The Nation Takes Shape
by Marcus Cunliffe
published by the University of Chicago Press
Ms. C. Love
February 12, 1998
The period of time from 1789 to 1839 was an age of growth for the United States of America; the United States grew bigger and better in general, it expanded into the West, and its commerce and industry also grew substantially. This is in part because of the great political leaders such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson, but also in part of growing national pride and the yearning to become a successful nation.
America grew larger and improved greatly in the first half century of its life. The territory of the United States tripled in size as America bought large amounts of property from other nations, and the number of the states in the Union doubled. The population doubled twice from around four million people to almost sixteen million people, and by the year 1840 rolled around. American exports also quadrupled in size to about $80 million dollars in profit. The national debt from earlier years was completely paid off in this time period; a feat that has not been accomplished since. An Army and Navy were established to protect the country, and judiciary, legislative, and executive departments of the government were formed with the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America. Transportation became much easier in America by 1840. Approximately 2500 miles of canals and 3000 miles of railroads had been constructed. Harbors, lighthouses, and dry docks had also greatly increased in number to aid the seafarers. In the first fifty years of its history, almost all parts of America grew enormously, from schools to post offices to forts. America was a becoming a stronger nation in a world of giants.
Another area of American growth was the West. As the Constitution was being signed, virtually no one lived on the western side of the Appalachian mountains. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the United States in size, however, and people soon started to expand into the empty space. At first, the thirteen original states argued over land boundaries from the colonial times. Eventually, they all ceded the controversial land to the United States government. The American government soon issued the Northwest Ordinance to deal with the land in the northwest. The ordinance divided up the territory into townships of thirty-six square mile sections. Each square mile would be sold at about $640. The ordinance also set the requirements the territory had to meet to be given a non-voting representative in Congress and to be eligible for statehood. The Northwest Ordinance also outlawed slavery in the Northwest Territory. There were other residents of this territory, however. Many Native Americans were pushed out after Mad Anthony Wayne defeated them at Fallen Timbers. Also, Jay’s Treaty prevented the British from intervening in the Northwest Territory any longer. This eradication of non-Americans left room for many more people to move west and gave them a more secure feeling of safety. There were quite a few more reasons that people wanted to move out west. One of the reasons was because of the lack of farming land in the east. In the Northeast the soil was too rocky and poor to be able to sustain profitable farms. In the middle states, the soil was being eroded away; the tobacco plantations were ruining the soil in the South. Another reason was because the ideal of Manifest Destiny, the belief that the United States should reach from coast to coast, was becoming more popular. For these reasons and more, the population in the West grew rapidly, and the empty territories quickly became states.
Another area in which America grew considerably was in commerce and industry. Before the Revolution, the colonies and Britain had established a relationship in which the colonies would export many raw products to Britain, and Britain would export many finished products to America. After the Revolution, Britain remained the United States’ most valuable trading partner, but America also opened up to some new foreign markets, such as those in Latin America, the Mediterranean, and the Far East, areas economically controlled by major European powers. Between the years of 1793 to 1815, wars raged on in Europe, and both sides wanted American products. After the wars ended, the American market became even more fruitful. The plentiful timber supply and shipbuilding experience made the United States a leading producer in small, inexpensive sailing vessels. As America grew economically, so did its cities. Philadelphia was the largest city in 1790, but around 1820 New York became the largest city in America. New York strived to be the economic capital of America, and it slowly rose, leaving competing cities far behind. With such economic endeavors, America continued to significantly grow in the first half century of its history.
As one can clearly see, one of America’s greatest eras of growth was in its first half century of history. An interesting fact one could find in the book The Nation Takes Shape is that by 1840 the frontier was moving west at an average of seventeen miles a year. Another fascinating point found in this book is that Noah Webster was challenged for including the words locate and location in the dictionary. A third enthralling detail is that many people bought land in small cities in the 1820’s for about a dollar an acre, but by the 1940’s, some of the land, in cities such as Chicago, had jumped to becoming worth over $3000. In conclusion, the first fifty years of America’s history were extremely important, for it was one of the periods of time in which America grew bigger and better in general, expanded into the West, and grew substantially in commerce and industry.