Putting It Together: The Early Republic

The ratification of the Constitution and Bill of Rights created the foundation for the new government, but it would be in the years of early Republic that the nation as we know it today would find its feet. Debates about the scope and power of the federal government would emerge in consideration of a national bank and result in the establishment of the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans as distinct political parties. A nation unified behind President Washington without a political party would give way to one in which partisan divides were rancorous and endemic, as seen in the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Meanwhile, debates over what role the United States should take with respect to the French Revolution would further divide the nation. Federalists supported Britain; Democratic-Republicans supported France.  Dividing lines became even more concrete, and as it became clear that neutrality was not sustainable, the U.S. would be pulled ever closer to war, culminating in the War of 1812.

At home, the Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the nation, allowing, Jefferson hoped, the westward expansion of the nation and the growth of a class of yeoman farmers. The so-called American system would allow those farmers to move their goods to market, and would also make industrial transformation possible. The conclusion of the War of 1812 allowed the nation to focus on those new lands, at the expense of both Native Americans who occupied the land, and enslaved people who would work much of it.  No longer could debates about the institution of slavery be ignored, and slavery’s expansion and the horrors associated with it would dominate national discourse until the Civil War.