Early Republic: People and Perspectives

By Andrew K. Frank | Go to book overview

Introduction

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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