Art and literature had flourished in Europe for centuries. Although many early American settlers were well-read and educated, most writings were personal journals or political essays. Folk art, including signs, flags, and quilts were common. America began to develop its own literary and artistic voice in the early-to-mid 1800s.
Idealism flourished in the early 1800s. Several groups, such as the Transcendalists in Massachusetts, formed. Out of these groups came great poets and writers, such as Robert Browning Jr., Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa May Alcott.
People wanted a language and writing style that was distinctly American, different from Great Britain. Noah Webster published Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828. Previously, words’ pronunciations and spellings differed from area to area. In other words, people made up words and wrote them however they liked. Webster’s dictionary made American-English more consistent, as well as unique from Great Britain.
In a time before photographs, people loved to have their portraits painted by folk artists.
Young girls spent hours stitching samplers, which featured scriptures, quotes, or even the alphabet.
Furniture was often painted with elaborate designs. The wealthy had murals painted on the walls of their homes. The murals depicted landscapes or even historical events.
Irving Washington was one of the first American fiction writers to gain fame and earn a living through writing. He wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle.
Idealism: a philosophy of striving for a more perfect environment and world
Transcendentalism: a spiritual philosophy of seeing God in everything and believing in the divine potential of humans
Imagine a world in which almost all your food, clothing, toys, tools, and furniture were grown or made by your own family or a nearby craftsman. Most of your day would be spent working. Because handmade goods were costly and took so much time to make, you’d have only a few clothes and toys.
This was the reality of life for all but the wealthiest for hundreds of years before the Industrial Revolution. From the late 1700s to the mid-1800s, new inventions made it possible for clothing, furniture, and other items to be made quickly and cheaply in factories. Steam engines, along with railways, canals, and better roads, simplified shipping these products. Life was easier in many ways, but these conveniences came with a price.
In England, inventors developed machines to spin and weave thread. These inventions soon came to America, changing life forever. People moved from farms to big cities to work in factories. Women and children were usually hired because they were paid less than male workers. The factory workers worked long hours in dangerous and unhealthy conditions. Still, they thought the factories might give them a better way of life.
Previously, families spent most of their time together. Children were generally schooled at home or in simple one-room school houses. The Industrial Revolution sent families and children out of their homes for long hours every day.
Farmers discovered better ways to grow crops and raise animals. They learned how to take care of the soil by growing clover during the winter or fertilizing with manure. They discovered better ways to manage insects or irrigate the soil. They also had better tools for plowing and cultivating fields. These advancements allowed farmers to grow and raise more food, at lower prices. The food was better quality too.
Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1792. Previously cotton wasn’t a profitable crop because removing the seeds from the cotton took so long. The cotton gin sped up the work by 50 times. Farmers in the south began planting more and more cotton. They sent it to mills in the North.
Miners found more efficient ways of working.
The telegraph was invented, making it possible to communicate quickly with someone far away.
Canal: man-made waterway
Cultivate: to work the soil for planting and raising seedlings
Questions and Answers
Question: Who benefitted most from the Industrial Revolution?
Answer: For the middle and upper classes, the Industrial Revolution meant access to products that made life more comfortable. The middle and upper classes also benefitted financially from their business profits.
Poor factory workers, especially children, suffered during the Industrial Revolution. These children suffered from injuries and disease caused by poor factory conditions. Working long hours, they rarely learned to read and write, making their chances for improving their lives slim.
Slaves also suffered because of the Industrial Revolution. The invention of the cotton gin made cotton growing much more profitable for plantation owners, but they needed more slaves to do the work. Slave trading and owning increased.
Head to Scholastic to learn more about the Industrial Revolution.
The Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s pitted Great Britain against France. America tried unsuccessfully to remain neutral. Both the warring countries harassed U.S. ships, but Great Britain, in particular, stopped American ships, interfering with trade. British fleets even seized American sailors, forcing them to serve the Royal Navy.
Americans were angry. They had struggled hard for their freedom. However, people living in the Northeast wanted peace. Many of these people made their living by trading on the sea. The most vocal advocates for war lived in the South and West.
President James Madison asked Congress to declare war against Britain on June 1, 1812. The U.S. had a navy of only 16 ships and an army of 7,000 men. The country was ill-equipped to go to war.
Madison felt pressure from “war hawks” in the West and South. These groups hoped to take Canada from Great Britain through war. At the time, Britain actively encouraged Indians to wage attacks on frontiersmen. These groups were hopeful that a war would end Britain’s alliance with the Indians once and for all.
Despite a lack of resources, the U.S. won five of the six major battles of the War of 1812. However, the country didn’t achieve its goal of gaining Canada.
The British invaded Washington D.C., burning it to the ground. Dolly Madison, President James Madison’s wife, took valuable paintings and historical papers from the White House before it was burned.
Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star Spangled Banner” as he watched the battle of Fort McHenry.
Harass: bother or intimidate
Interfere: restrict, restrain, or block
Alliance: a partnership or mutual agreement, often between two countries that offers mutual benefits
Questions and Answers
Question: Did the British or Americans win the War of 1812?
Answer: Neither. The United States was running out of money and the British were tired of fighting. On Christmas Eve, 1814 in Belgium, negotiators from both countries signed a peace treaty. This was before telephones or email and word that the war had ended came slowly. General Andrew Jackson hadn’t heard that the war was over and led his troops to fight against a British invasion at New Orleans on January 8, 1815. His army achieved a great victory, which made Americans feel proud.
Thomas Jefferson believed that a strong, free nation could only be maintained by strong, free people. For centuries in Europe, most people had belonged to a class system. Peasants worked on farms or in factories for a few people who owned most of the land and wealth. Peasants had little hope of changing their situation and were dependent on the wealthy for their survival.
Jefferson believed that by expanding the country, more people could own farms and lands, allowing even the poorest to improve their circumstances through hard work. He was very anxious to expand the United States to include more area.
Kentucky became a state in 1792; Tennessee, in 1796. Ohio became a state in 1803.
French emperor, Napoleon, wanted to build an empire in North America starting with a naval base on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea. Toussaint Louverture led an army of free blacks and slaves against Napoleon. This revolution discouraged Napoleon from his original plans.
In 1803, Thomas Jefferson and the Senate approved a plan to buy the Louisiana Territory for $15 million from France. The purchase doubled the United States’ land area, adding about 800,000 square miles of land. More importantly, it guaranteed control of the Mississippi River to the U.S., which Thomas Jefferson believed was necessary for the country’s security. This became known as the Louisiana Purchase.
As the country expanded, farmers needed a way to get their crops to the east to sell. The fastest way to ship their goods was to float them down the Mississippi River on barges to New Orleans. From there, they could be shipped to the east or even across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe.
Peasant: a poor farmer or laborer of a low social class
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Question and Answer
Question: How many people lived in the Louisiana Territory when it was purchased by the U.S.?
Answer: About 200,000 people were living in the Louisiana Territory at the time of the purchase. Most of them were American Indians, Spanish, and French.