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.

The men of the time were not unaware of these tendencies. Writing in 1823, Henry Clay declared that it was a just principle to inquire what great interests belong to each section of our country, and to promote those interests, as far as practicable, consistently with the Constitution, having always an eye to the welfare of the whole. "Assuming this principle," said he, "does any one doubt that if New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and the Western States constituted an independent nation, it would immediately protect the important interests in question? And is it not to be feared that, if protection is not to be found for vital interests, from the existing systems, in great parts of the confederacy, those parts will ultimately seek to establish a system that will afford the requisite protection?" [Footnote: Clay, Works, IV., 81, 82; Annals of Cong., 18 Cong., 1 Sess., II., 1997, 2423.]

While the most prominent western statesman thus expressed his conviction that national affairs were to be conducted through combinations between sections on the basis of peculiar interests, Calhoun, at first a nationalist, later the leader of the south, changed his policy to a similar system of adjustments between the rival sections. John Quincy Adams, in 1819, said of Calhoun: "he is above all sectional and factious prejudices more than any other statesman of this union with whom I have ever acted." [Footnote: Adams, Memoirs, V., 361, VI., 75.] But Calhoun, by the close of the decade, was not only complaining that the protective policy of certain sections set a dangerous example "of separate representation, and association of great Geographical interests to promote their prosperity at the expense of other interests," but he was also convinced that a great defect in our system was that the separate geographical interests were not sufficiently guarded. [Footnote: Am. Hist. Assoc., Report 1899, II., 250.] Speaking, in 1831, of the three great interests of the nation - the north, the south, and the west - he declared that they had been struggling in a fierce war with one another, and that the period was approaching which was to determine whether they could be reconciled or not so as to perpetuate the Union. [Footnote: Am. Hist. Rev., VI., 742; cf. J.Q. Adams, in Richardson, Messages and Papers. II., 297; J. Taylor, New Views, 261; [Turnbull]. The Crisis, No. 2.]

We see, therefore, that, in the minds of some of the most enlightened statesmen of this decade, American politics were essentially a struggle for power between rival sections. Even those of most enlarged national sympathies and purposes accepted the fact of sectional rivalries and combinations as fundamental in their policies. To understand the period, we must begin with a survey of the separate sections in the decade from 1820 to 1830, and determine what were the main interests shown in each and impressed upon the leaders who represented them. For the purposes of such a survey, the conventional division into New England, middle region, south, and west may be adopted. It is true that within each of these sections there were areas which were so different as to constitute almost independent divisions, and which had close affiliations with other sections. Nevertheless, the conventional grouping will reveal fundamental and contrasted interests and types of life between the various sections. In the rivalries of their leaders these sectional differences found political expression. By first presenting a narrative of forces in the separate sections, the narrative of events in the nation will be better understood.

A sectional survey, however, cannot fully exhibit one profound change, not easy to depict except by its results. This was the formation of the self-conscious American democracy, strongest in the west and middle region, but running across all sections and tending to divide the people on the lines of social classes. This democracy came to its own when Andrew Jackson triumphed over the old order of things and rudely threw open the sanctuary of federal government to the populace.