Early Republic: People and Perspectives

Early Republic: People and Perspectives

Early Republic: People and Perspectives

Early Republic: People and Perspectives


In a compilation of essays, Early Republic: People and Perspectives explores the varied experiences of many different groups of Americans across racial, gender, religious, and regional lines in the early years of the country.

The American Revolution sparked popular uprisings in France, Ireland, Poland, and elsewhere around the world. Yet only the United States was able to follow the successful overthrow of a colonial oppressor with a stable, lasting republic. Credit for that usually falls to the extraordinary leaders of the time, but what about the contributions of ordinary citizens? How did they affect the country in its formative decades?

In a series of chapters, Early Republic provides vivid portraits of the farmers, entrepreneurs, laborers, women, Native Americans, and slaves who made up the population of the United States in its infancy. Key events, such as the two-party political system, the Louisiana Purchase, the War of 1812, and the expansion into the Ohio Valley, are seen through the eyes of the ordinary citizens who helped make them happen, in turn, making the United States what it is today.


The time of the early American republic (roughly 1783–1830) was an era of tremendous promise and seemingly insurmountable problems, an era of tumultuous changes and remarkable contradictions. During these decades, the United States extended its westward borders as millions of acres came under its control, at the same time new roads and canals bridged distances as never before. The new nation witnessed an expansion in the number of both slaves and slaveholders, even as many states and communities sought to end the institution. Conflicts with Native Americans intensified in many areas, as Indian peoples fled and fought against many of the changes that enveloped their lives. At the same time many Native Americans increasingly became interconnected in a rapidly spreading market economy. During those early years, a professional army slowly emerged, many religions flourished as white and black Americans flocked to new and old evangelical sects, and the nation’s white women used republican rhetoric to create an increasingly public voice. Americans also faced a growing marketplace, one that threatened to transform a nation that was largely filled by independent farmers and craftsmen. Tradesmen organized, workers united, and consumerism increasingly transformed the daily lives of many Americans. As historian William Barney explained: “change was everywhere—in the departure of sons to the West, the growth of cities, the spread of factories, the inundation by immigrants, and the new steam-driven technology—and it was simultaneously exhilarating and frightening” (Barney 1987, 55). In short, the early republic was an era of contradictions and transformations, and Americans from all walks of life tried to control and adapt to the rapidly changing world.

The Traditional Early Republic

For generations, the history of the early republic has been told solely through the political lens. This narrative emphasized the writing of the Constitution . . .

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