Bellarum Americanae, 1780-1815:

The Aftermath of the American Revolution and the War of 1812

 By Erin Klitzke

Ante Bellum

          The French and Indian War was over.  The year was 1763 and the place was the British colonies in America.  Never in all of the history of the colonies had these people ever been so happy to be British citizens, citizens of the most powerful nation in the world, with all the rights and privileges that came with it.  Little did these people know that within the next ten years would come the pivotal period in which their lives changed in severe ways.  Within the next decade, the actions of Parliament would bring upstanding colonists closer and closer to the brink of Revolution.  Through their slip-ups and miscalculations, they forced the hand of the thirteen American colonies and caused the world to turn upside down.

          In 1763, after the end of the French and Indian War, colonists in what would become the United States asked for troops to defend the frontier, where Native American and scattered French still marauded.  The 10,000 troops sent would cost the British government a total of £225,000.  In order to pay for these troops, Parliament decided to tax the colonists through the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act.  The Sugar Act was a rewritten form of the Molasses Act, which taxed French molasses from the West Indies.  The Sugar Act reduced the tax to three pence per gallon on this commodity and projected to bring in about £100,000 per year to pay for the troops.  As it was a tax on good produced outside of the colonies and brought in, it was an external tax.  Now, in the colonies, Parliament’s right to legislate was never questioned.  It was when it came to taxation that problems arose.  Because they had no representation in Parliament, the colonists believed that Parliament should not have to right to tax them.  However, they could do nothing against it in the external realm aside from not buy the molasses, or to smuggle it in, which some did.  The Stamp Act, however, was not external taxation.  It was internal taxation, which was something the colonists vehemently opposed and could oppose with all the anger they felt.  The Stamp Act guaranteed that every official paper product have a stamp, thus securing a sum of £125,000 to pay for the troops stationed on the frontier.  Unfortunately for the British, the Stamp Act would be a failure.

          Due to the fact that the Sugar and Stamp Acts were taxes, colonial response was less than good.  They strongly denounced the Sugar Act, but there was little that they could do about it because it was an external tax and the colonies had no naval power to oppose it.  However, the Stamp Act was well within their power to stop.  Riots ensued over this Act; people suspected of becoming stamp distributors were threatened or beaten.  Some people involved in making the Stamp Act work in the colonies, like Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson and his brother-in-law Andrew Oliver, lost everything they had during these riots.  It was during this crisis that the Sons of Liberty came into being, bringing together farmers, craftsmen, and wealthy businessmen in order to oppose the Stamp Act.  In October of 1765, the Stamp Act Congress met in Philadelphia.  Nine colonies sent representatives.  This was the first time the colonies met to discuss their affairs.  The next time would come in 1775, on the eve of war.

          Although the Stamp Act was not the cause of the American Revolution, it did create a situation where revolution was plausible.  The colonists united in denunciation of the Stamp Acts in a way rarely seen in places with such rigid social strata as England or her colonies.  The colonists also brought themselves one step closer to independence from England by denying Parliament the right to tax them in the internal realm.  This is because in 1766 the Marquis of Rockingham repealed the Stamp Act before it could go into effect, thereby giving up Parliament’s right to tax the American colonies in the internal realm.  The Sugar Act became the Revenue Act, which further reduced the tax on French molasses from three pence to one penny per gallon.  However, at the same time, Rockingham issued the Declaratory Act, which stated that one could not defy Parliament as Parliament has absolute power.  Colonists largely ignored this Act in the coming years, but tensions dropped in the colonies after the repeal of the Stamp Act.  Even the Sons of Liberty disbanded, although upstanding member Samuel Adams advised against it.  It seemed as if they averted a larger crisis.

          Even though things seemed to be calmer due to Rockingham’s actions, the ailing William Pitt replaced him later that year.  However, due to Pitt’s ill health, Charles Townshend was truly the one making policy.  In 1767, he passed the Townshend Acts, which taxed most imports coming into the American colonies.  The colonies were unhappy with this development, but they could only denounce them.  Things did not escalate for another year, and when they did, it was due to the actions of one of the six most noble men of England.

          When Fredrick Lord North replaced William Pitt in 1768, his intentions were to stop a revolution before it began.  North and other noblemen in England saw the colonies slowly slipping out of their grasp and decided to strive to prevent their loss.  His first intention was to force the colonies into accepting the Townshend Acts.  However, in order to understand the ways in which he attempted to force the hand of the colonial legislatures, one must know the tale of the Massachusetts Circular Letter.  The Massachusetts Circular Letter was a letter written by the legislature of Massachusetts denouncing the Townshend Acts.  Seeing this as a step toward revolution, North ordered the governor of Massachusetts to have the legislature apologize for the letter or call new elections.  Other legislatures in the colonies could not discuss the Massachusetts Circular letter or they would face the same fate as the legislature in Massachusetts.  Seeing their legislatures threatened, the colonists reacted swiftly, boycotting the taxed goods in 1769.  Troops began to occupy major cities in an effort to keep peace as committees of public safety came into being in order to protect colonial interests.  The dangerous combination of British regular troops and a committee of public safety was the cause of the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, where five Bostonians died by shots fired by the British troops.  Later that same year, the Tea Act replaced the Townshend Acts; now the only import taxed was tea.  Parliament could not resolve this conflict the way they resolved the Stamp Act crisis because if they completely repealed the Townshend Acts, they would be giving up the right to tax completely, a power they previously held.  Thus, the boycott of tea continued in the colonies and the grumbling in the colonies continued.  A frozen calm ensued for the next three and a half years, where neither side did anything to antagonize the other.

          On a December day in 1773, the frozen calm shattered with the dumping of valuable tea into Boston Harbor by the Sons of Liberty.  They acted in response to Parliament giving the East India Tea Company the exclusive right to provide tea to American colonists, thus driving prices down.  The Sons of Liberty, afraid that colonists might buy this less expensive tea, made the decision to once and for all deny Parliament the right to tax the colonies.  In response to this Boston Tea Party, Parliament acted swiftly and decisively, issuing the Coercive Acts, or the Intolerable Acts, as the colonists referred to them.  The four Coercive Acts were the Boston Port Act, the “Murder Act”, the Quartering Act, and the Massachusetts Government Act.  The Boston Port Act closed the port of Boston, thus cutting off the major port in Massachusetts.  The Murder Act stated that soldiers committing crimes against the colonists would face trial in England or Canada, not where they committed the act.  The Quartering Act forced colonists to build barracks for the troops occupying their cities and countryside.  Finally, the Massachusetts Government Act named General Gage, the head of British troops in the colonies, governor of Massachusetts and declared martial law in the colony.  In May of 1774, in response to the Intolerable Acts, the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia.  The decisions made there are among the final steps they took toward revolution.  The delegates decided that the colonial legislatures should continue to denounce the Intolerable Acts and that the subject will be revisited in one year’s time.  Eleven months later, British troops marched on Lexington and Concord in search of leading members of the Sons of Liberty.  Silversmith Paul Revere warned the citizens in Lexington and Concord of the British approach and on April 18, 1775, the shot heard ‘round the world was fired, thus beginning the American Revolution.  By the time the Second Continental Congress met in May, the decision was clear – the colonies had no choice but to break away from their mother nation and become their own.

Post Bellum

          The American Revolution was over.  The colonies were free.  Suddenly, the question facing the founding fathers was not “How do we show Parliament they are wrong this time?” but “What do we do now?”  The founding fathers looked on the 1780s as a critical period for their fledgling nation.  If the republic they built was to survive, they needed to structure things in a certain way.  Their first attempt at structuring a republic failed miserably.  The founding fathers believed that the people placed in positions of authority should be natural aristocrats – those with talents and skills to lead, as well as their own independence.  It was the responsibility of independent citizens to recognize these men and place them in those positions of authority.  Under the Articles of Confederation, it was not happening.  At the Constitutional Convention, held in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, the leaders of the former colonies scrapped the Articles of Confederation and penned the Constitution of the United States of America.  In the Constitution, they designed a strong national government with checks and balances, hoping that it would be able to address the multitude of post-war concerns, most especially the placement of natural aristocrats in positions of power and the financial situation of the United States.  After the war, many people became impoverished because they received no compensation for the goods and services they provided to troops during the revolution.  The debt certificates they held were worth little, and so many sold them at several cents on the dollar simply so they would have money to survive.  Most of these certificates became concentrated in the hands of wealthy individuals – some of which being natural aristocrats.

          George Washington was the first of the natural aristocrats placed in a position of power.  He became the first president of the United States and assigned Alexander Hamilton to his cabinet as Secretary of Treasury.  Hamilton is important in the rise and fall of the Federalist Party, and so is John Jay, who would act as an ambassador for the administration.  Some good and some bad came of their actions during the 1790s, but it was some of those actions that helped sustain the republic during those first ten years after the inception of the Constitution.

          Alexander Hamilton was a bastard from the West Indies, but he was also a brilliant businessman and a natural aristocrat.  His plans for the United States involved linking the natural aristocracy to the government through the debt certificates they held.  Through a process of funding and assumption, he would accomplish this goal.  In his first Report on Public Credit in 1790, he outlined his funding and assumption plan.  He stated that the government of the United States was not concerned with the history of the debt certificates.  They would pay the current holders of the certificates the amount of the debt.  In order to pay these debts, the government would set aside tax money first to fund the debt, meaning they would deal with the debt first.  However, the holders of the debt would understand that the government would never repay the debt, as it was more lucrative to hold the certificate and collect the interest on the debt.  In this way, the United States government could deal with the state and national debts to citizens that it assumed.  This plan was controversial, but it passed.  Later that year, Hamilton issued his second Report on Public Credit, calling for a Bank of the United States.  He believed that the bank would further strengthen the ties between the government and the natural aristocracy because $6 million worth of stock was set aside for purchase with only debt certificates.  Hamilton got his Bank of the United States, despite protestation that the bank was very much like England’s financial system.  With his plans, Hamilton managed to restore the finances of the United States.

          Hamilton was not finished yet, though.  He believed that the United States needed a strong manufacturing base in order to survive.  He thought that each region would eventually begin to specialize, which would create markets for many types of goods within the United States.  Arising from his ideas concerning manufacturing, which he outlined in his Report on Manufactures in 1791, organizations like New Jersey’s Society for Establishing Useful Manufacturing arose.  These organizations created large manufacturing firms that diversified in the products they produced.  Owners of these firms tended to be natural aristocrats, according to Hamilton, and bounties – direct government grants to produce a certain amount of goods – as well as premiums – rewards from the government if a firm met a particular quota – became incentives to more natural aristocrats to try their hand at such ventures.  The attempt was, in essence, to create monopolies under “good Republican gentlemen.”

          When Hamilton began to pass excises – internal taxes – things began to get ugly.  Many elements within the United States were already unhappy with the way Hamilton handled the nation’s finances.  Some were unhappy because the financial system Hamilton designed reminded them too strongly of England.  Others, like the small craftsmen of New England, wanted protective tariffs so they could find markets for their goods, protective tariffs that they were not getting.  There was no violence, though, until Hamilton passed his Whiskey excise, which hurt northern farmers financially.  The excise sparked the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania, which was a major embarrassment to the Washington administration and especially Hamilton, who took 13,000 men to put down the 7,000 rebels, who seemed to fade away into the wilderness.  The Whiskey Rebellion, however, and Hamilton’s policies were not the only things that led to the downfall of the Federalist Party.

          The Federalists of the 1790s found themselves opposed by the Republican Party, also called the Jeffersonian Party, headed by none other than Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson, John Madison, and others strongly opposed many of Hamilton’s ideas about fixing the public debt and creating the Bank of the United States.  Their power base grew steadily as more and more citizens in diverse sectors of the socioeconomic and political strata of the United States grew dissatisfied with Federalist moves.

          The Federalists made some major political mistakes when it came to the French Revolution and later the war between Napoleonic France and England.  Most citizens in the United States thought that the nation should support France, which was, as they saw, throwing off the chains of a monarchial society, much like they recently had.  However, the Washington administration saw the French Revolution as a state in anarchy, an anarchy they wanted to prevent from coming to the United States.  They saw the nation seemingly losing its collective mind as Democratic Republican Societies sprang up in support of the French Revolution.  As a result, they sent John Jay to England in 1794 to make a treaty with their former mother country.  Called the Jay Treaty, most of the opposition to the Federalist Party saw it as confirming their worst fears – the Federalists were pro-England.  The Federalists saw the treaty as their bulwark against anarchy in the United States.  The next mistake the Federalists made was becoming overconfident after their apparent defeat of their opposing party, the Republicans, following the XYZ Affair, in which they seemingly proved that they could not deal with post-Revolutionary France.  Following the XYZ Affair, the Republican Party seemed to lose support among the people, and so the Federalists believed they could deal a crushing blow to their opposition, thus they passed the Alien and Sedition Acts.

          The Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional from the start.  The Alien Act extended the naturalization process from five years to 14 years as well as allowed the government to imprison or deport aliens who seemed to be engaging in subversive activity without the burden of proof, thus eliminating due process of law.  The Sedition Act made it against the law to engage in critical speech against the government.  The only way a person could speak out against the government was if they could prove what they said was true.  Many Republican newspaper editors found themselves in jail due to the Sedition Act.  Many people strongly denounced the Sedition Acts because they believed that the government should not be able to define truth.  It was due to the Alien and Sedition Acts that the Federalists lost power in 1800, when Jefferson won the election.

Bellum Secundus

          The War of 1812 was still twelve years away when the Republicans came to power with the election of Thomas Jefferson to the presidency.  The men of the Republican Party believed that they finally won the final battle of the American Revolution.  Now these men would have their chance to create a proper republic grounded in the beliefs of their party.  One of the major beliefs of the party was in the concept of country ideology, which was the idea that independent farmers should be able to make political decisions and identify those natural aristocrats among the elite whom could use their power to create more independent farmers.  The type of economy the Jeffersonian Republicans stove to create was agriculture-based.  The major reason these men decided that American society should be agrarian was due to their ideas about the way societies evolved.

          The Jeffersonian Republicans believed that nations went through four stages.  The first stage was hunter/gatherer, where people of a society hunted for their food and gathered wild things to provide sustenance.  The second stage was that of the shepherds, where man domesticated livestock for meat.  The third stage was the domestication of seeds, where man began to farm and flourish.  The fourth stage was agriculture, the stage in which all societies begin their inevitable slide toward death and decay.  The preferable stage to remain in was third stage, which was the stage that these men identified as the stage of the United States.  Representative of a fourth stage society was England.  These men believed this theory and proved it by looking at the example of ancient Rome.  Although this theory would later prove to be incorrect, it was a widely held belief amongst the Jeffersonian Republicans of the age.

          In order to postpone the evolution of the United States to the fourth stage, Jefferson authorized the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.  French lands west of the Mississippi River cost the United States three cents per acre and bought “100 generations” according to Jefferson.  James Madison was more conservative and said it bought the United States another century before it moved into the fourth stage.  The reason they believed that the Louisiana Purchase would buy so much time for the United States was because they believed that the United States could move across space instead of time, therefore postponing the inevitable movement into the fourth stage.  However, the Louisiana Purchase affected more than just the current agrarian society in the American east – it affected the Native American peoples living in the territories just claimed from France.  This did not seem to be a problem for Jefferson, who believed that these native peoples could be “caught up” with the rest of the United States, moving them from first stage to third.  Although he was not entirely correct concerning which stage the cultures were in, it did not seem to be of much concern.  Jefferson had other things to be concerned with, such as access to foreign markets.

          Foreign markets were important to the United States, Jefferson believed, because it would help keep the republic together.  It would keep people working beyond the point of subsistence farming because farmers could sell surpluses at market for profit.  The more people working hard, the less time they would have for causing trouble; the less trouble, the stronger the republic.  Commerce would also encourage more people to become independent farmers, thus increasing the number of responsible citizens in the United States.  However, Jefferson’s attempts to secure foreign markets came at the worst time.

          Two major powers on the oceans during Jefferson’s presidency were England and France, who were still at war with each other.  Neither nation allowed the United States to supply food to the other, as illustrated by the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair.  In 1807, the USS Chesapeake, a trading ship from the United States, attempted to leave the port at Baltimore, bound for France.  It never made it out of port.  The HMS Leopard, a British gunship, destroyed it before it made it out of the harbor.  It was in reaction to incidents like these that the United States passed the Embargo Act in 1807.

          The Jeffersonian Republicans believed that an agrarian nation could beat a commercial nation without military force.  This was because the United States produced necessities, not commodities.  In order to demonstrate how much European nations needed American grain, the United States passed the Embargo Act in 1807.  The Embargo Act cut off all imports and exports in the United States for a full year, until 1808.  The Act seemed to prove that Europe needed American grain, because while prices in the United States did not fluctuate, they did in England.

          In 1808, the Non-Intercourse Act replaced the Embargo Act.  The Non-Intercourse Act was less stringent than the Embargo Act, allowing trade to all nations in Europe except France and Britain.  Britain saw this move as pro-French, because France controlled much of the European mainland at the time.  Thus, the preying of English ships on American merchant vessels continued.

          Younger members of the Jeffersonian Republican Party, some known as the Warhawks, pointed to the Embargo and Non-Intercourse Acts as demonstrating an extreme weakness in the United States.  They believed it showed that the United States was not quite free yet, as it still depended on the outside world for trade.  These men began to push more aggressive policies through Congress; an example of which is Macon Bill #2, which demanded that France and England respect United States commercial rights in one year, or else the United States would declare war.  This was no idle threat, and in 1812, the United States became friendly with France and declared war on England.

          By 1815, when the War of 1812 ended, the Republican Party was ready to move in a new direction.  The younger generation of politicians, including Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and Andrew Jackson, began to guide the party in a direction that seemed to be eminently more effective for building a sustainable society.  The failures of the Non-Intercourse and Embargo Acts proved that the Jeffersonian idea of an agrarian society was not the way to sustain a republic with a strong national government.  This was because they seemed unequipped to fight a war with England every generation, which seemed like it could become the norm for the United States.  With such a heavy dependence on foreign trade, the United States could not hope to survive another war such as the War of 1812.  The nation would need to be self-sufficient and truly independent if the United States was to win the next war.





This document is copyright ©2001 Erin Klitzke.