The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad

By Walter Lafeber | Go to book overview

3
The First, the Last: John Quincy Adams
and the Monroe Doctrine (1815-1828)

WINDMILLS, CLIPPER SHIPS, AND GOOD FEELINGS

Soon after the peace of 1814, Lord Castlereagh, the British foreign minister, shrewdly observed that Americans won their wars not on the battlefield but "in the bedchamber." He could have made much the same observation about how Americans won much of the North American continent between 1815 and 1850. Freed of European quarrels for the first time in their history, Americans burst westward. Sixteen states existed in 1800, but there were twenty-four by 1824. As early as 1820, as many people lived in the new states formed after 1789 as had inhabited the original thirteen states before the Revolution. These new states formed the springboard for the drive across the continent.

The doubling of the population every twenty to twenty-five years fueled the search for new land, as did basic changes in the economy. Since their early history, Americans had prospered from the carrying and reexport trade—that is, carrying anyone's goods (not just American products) in the efficient ships that worked out of such ports as Salem, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Alexandria, and Charleston. The profits had grown so fat in carrying British goods worldwide that between 1807 and 1814 some New England merchants cooperated more with London's laws than with Jefferson's and Madison's wishes. After 1815, these merchants began to disappear. With peace, British ships were free to carry British goods.

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