The history of the United States is the history of a growing nation. Every period of its life is a transitional period, but that from the close of the War of 1812 to the election of Andrew Jackson was peculiarly one of readjustment. It was during this time that the new republic gave clear evidence that it was throwing off the last remnants of colonial dependence. The Revolution had not fully severed the United States from the European state system; but now the United States attained complete independence and asserted its predominance in the western continent. It was in this period that the nation strengthened its hold on the Gulf of Mexico by the acquisition of Florida, recognized the independence of the revolting Spanish-American colonies, and took the leadership of the free sisterhood of the New World under the terms of the Monroe Doctrine.

The joyous outburst of nationalism which at first succeeded the dissensions of the period of war revealed itself in measures passed in Congress, under the leadership of Calhoun and Clay; it spoke clearly in the decisions of Judge Marshall; and in the lofty tone of condemnation with which the country as a whole reproached New England for the sectionalism exhibited in the Hartford Convention. [Footnote: Babcock, Am. Nationality (Am. Nation, XIII.), chaps, ix., xviii.; Gallatin, Writings, I., 700.]

It was not only in the field of foreign relations, in an aroused national sentiment, and in a realization that the future of the country lay in the development of its own resources that America gave evidence of fundamental change. In the industrial field transportation was revolutionized by the introduction of the steamboat and by the development of canals and turnpikes. The factory system, nourished by the restrictions of the embargo and the war, rapidly developed until American manufactures became an interest which, in political importance, outweighed the old industries of shipping and foreign commerce. The expansion of cotton-planting transformed the energies of the south, extended her activity into the newer regions of the Gulf, and gave a new life to the decaying institution of slavery.

From all the older sections, but especially from the south and its colonies in Kentucky and Tennessee, a flood of colonists was spreading along the waters of the west. In the Mississippi Valley the forests were falling before the blows of the pioneers, cities were developing where clearings had just let in the light of day, and new commonwealths were seeking outlets for their surplus and rising to industrial and political power. It is this vast development of the internal resources of the United States, the "Rise of the New West," that gives the tone to the period. "The peace," wrote Webster in later years, "brought about an entirely new and a most interesting state of things; it opened to us other prospects and suggested other duties. We ourselves were changed, and the whole world was changed. . . . Other nations would produce for themselves, and carry for themselves, and manufacture for themselves, to the full extent of their abilities. The crops of our plains would no longer sustain European armies, nor our ships longer supply those whom war had rendered unable to supply themselves. It was obvious, that, under these circumstances, the country would begin to survey itself, and to estimate its own capacity of improvement." [Footnote: Webster, Writings (National ed.), VI., 28.]

These very forces of economic transformation were soon followed by a distinct reaction against the spirit of nationalism and consolidation which had flamed out at the close of the War of 1812. This was shown, not only in protests against the loose-construction tendencies of Congress, and in denunciations of the decisions of the great chief-justice, but more significantly in the tendency of the separate geographical divisions of the country to follow their own interests and to make combinations with one another on this basis.

From one point of view the United States, even in this day of its youth, was more like an empire than a nation. Sectionalism had been fundamental in American history before the period which we have reached. The vast physiographic provinces of the country formed the basis for the development of natural economic and social areas, comparable in their size, industrial resources, and spirit, to nations of the Old World. In our period these sections underwent striking transformations, and engaged, under new conditions, in the old struggle for power. Their leaders, changing their attitude towards public questions as the economic conditions of their sections changed, were obliged not only to adjust themselves to the interests of the sections which they represented, but also, if they would achieve a national career, to make effective combinations with other sections. [Footnote: Turner. "Problems of American History," in Congress of Arts and Sciences, St. Louis, II.]

This gives the clew to the decade. Underneath the superficial calm of the "Era of Good Feeling," and in contradiction to the apparent absorption of all parties into one, there were arising new issues, new party formations, and some of the most profound changes in the history of American evolution.