United States History – From Independence to Civil War

The USA, recognized as sovereign over a largely uncolonized territory, extending from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, had weak political institutions. The Continental Congress had only been an organ of political and military coordination of the states and the Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781, had not created a central government; this situation responded to the republican sentiments of the people, who feared a distant and uncontrollable government. Of a different opinion was an elite of new men, formed in the revolution, nationalists and attentive to the role of the USA in a world of great powers. Attempts by France and Great Britain to take over American trade with a neocolonial policy, which tended to divide individual states, convinced them of the need to change institutions. They managed to get the Continental Congress to convene a Convention to amend the Articles and transformed it into a constituent assembly. ● In the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia, Washington, A. Hamilton, J. Madison and B. Franklin guided the Convention towards the drafting of a new Constitution, to be submitted for popular ratification in the States. From the many compromises came an innovative state structure, based on the division of powers, on presidentialism balanced by federalism, on a legislative power in which the Senate was flanked by a House of Representatives elected on the basis of the population, and on an indirect recognition of slavery, mitigated from the fact that trafficking was only allowed until 1808. Between 1787 and 1788 the Constitution was ratified by the States and Washington was elected president of the United States of America. Deep divisions occurred in defining the country’s future, symbolized by the clash between Hamilton, Treasury Minister and strongman of the Washington government, which strengthened the powers of the federal government, and Jefferson, Secretary of State, who considered the Constitution too centralist and oligarchic and in 1791 had the first 10 amendments approved by Congress, to give constitutional guarantees to the rights of citizens. ● Elected president (1801), in 1803 Jefferson inaugurated the policy of territorial expansion of the USA by buying Louisiana from Napoleon. Soon after, a river of pioneers spilled westward beyond the Appalachians, and by mid-century the territory between them and the Mississippi was all divided into states. In the meantime, the rift between the North and the South of the Union deepened. The Southern plantation society strengthened by switching to cotton production to coincide with the English industrial revolution. This resulted in the increase of the slave population which reached 1,500,000 units in 1820 to reach over 4. 000,000 in 1860. In parallel, an ideology developed in the South that no longer considered slavery a necessary evil, but openly defended it as a form of work suitable for the black population and supported planting as an alternative to industrialization. This system, which ended up identifying the South, despite the presence of non-slave peasants, was opposed by Southern ideologues to the ‘industrial slavery’ of the North, which began to extend its effects to the Mississippi Basin, transformed with the arrival of New England peasants in the nation’s grain center, while the transition to industrial production was underway in the North. ● Towards 1840 the railways provided a further boost to the economy, unifying the northern market and making the steel industry one of the engines of development, so much so that in 1860 the North had ended its industrial revolution. The impetuous economic growth led to a social renewal with the breaking of the old social oligarchies and a democratization to the advantage of the individualism of the new men who wanted to have freedom and opportunities to make a fortune. These instances materialized in universal suffrage, found political space with the birth of the Democratic party (1828) and impersonated in the figure of President A. Jackson, hero of the second war against the English (1812-14) and man of the frontier, who with the spoils system favored the democratization of the bureaucracy, fought the privileges of the economic oligarchies linked to the Bank of the USA and guaranteed the colonists territories to cultivate up to Mississippi. Add to this the effects of the ‘Monroe doctrine’, elaborated by Secretary of State JQ Adams and illustrated by President J. Monroe, which enunciated the exclusion of European powers from the colonization of the American continent and placed the USA as the predominant power on the continent (doctrine of ‘manifest destiny’); its first effect had its effect with the war in Texas which led first to the independence of this state from Mexico (1836) and then to the annexation to the Union (1845), which was followed by that of the entire Southwest and California in 1850. ● The Union thus reached the Pacific Ocean, but the enormous central part of the continent remained to be known and colonized. The slavery issue weighed on this expansion (California was annexed as a territory without slavery, but for the other territories the decision was left to local assemblies). An abolitionist movement had formed in the North (WL Garrison and F. Douglass), while the South was agitated by the threats of riots. Kansas that exploded the contradictions between abolitionists and slaveholders, with the birth of the Republican party, opposed to slavery because it believed that democracy and progress were linked to the moral value of work and the individual initiative of free men. In the elections of 1860, when concrete anti- slavery actions had already taken place (such as that of J. Brown at Harper’s Ferry in 1859), the division of the Democratic Party favored the victory of Republican A. Lincoln, an opponent of the introduction of slavery in the new territories in view of a slow but progressive abolition across the Union. ● The exit of South Carolina from the Union and the attack on Fort Sumter led to the Secession of the Southern Confederation (with the presidency of J. Davis) and the civil war (fig. 4) in which a strategy of slow attrition was necessary in the North (naval blockade, war of position), based on the clear superiority of the war industry, against an adversary who counted on great capabilities. strategies of a defensive war and on economic relations with Great Britain, from which, however, he was not supported. In 1863 with the anti-slavery proclamations of Lincoln and the Northern military victories in Gettysburg and Vicks; burg the fate of the South was sealed: the surrender of General RE Lee to his opponent US Grant took place on April 9, 1865.

United States History - From Independence to Civil War

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