The Genesis of King Cotton

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Cotton Pickers. By: William Aiken Walker.

Following the War of 1812, Americans had at their disposal a new 14 million acres that General Andrew Jackson acquired from the Creek tribe in the South. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 125. The expansion of territory, particularly in the South, would have massive ramifications in the coming decades.

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The Defeat of the Bonus Bill

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James Madison. By: Chester Harding.

Following the War of 1812, President James Madison was proudly touting the status of America. It had mobilized its navy to protect trade in the Mediterranean Sea, it had reestablished commercial relations with Britain, and it had pacified the Native Americans. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 80.

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The Beginning of Oppression

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Tenskwatawa. By: Charles Bird King.

For centuries prior to the War of 1812, the Native Americans were able to manipulate the British, French, Spanish, and Americans to sustain themselves. After the War of 1812, the entirety of the land east of the Mississippi River was owned by America, effectively ended the Native Americans’ strategy. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 74.

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The Aftermath of the War of 1812

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Depiction of the Battle of Lake Erie, during the War of 1812.

As news arrived in America on February 13, 1815 that the Treaty of Ghent was finalized and that peace between America and Britain was complete, Americans had a complete change of mind. Rather than dwell on the burning of Washington, D.C. or the humiliation of Britain’s invasion, Americans relished the victory of General Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans and the peace. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 71.

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Wrapping Up the War of 1812

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The Burning of the White House. 1814.

By the end of the War of 1812, President James Madison had weathered what is likely one of the tumultuous years that any president has had to endure. The British had landed a force, marched on Washington, D.C., and burned the White House. President Madison had trusted his Secretary of War John Armstrong when he doubted the possibility of a British invasion, only to be caught off guard when a scouting party, led by Secretary of State James Monroe, located just how close the British were to Washington. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 63-64.

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The Setting Sun of the Founding Fathers

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John Adams.

As the 1800s progressed, the era of the Founding Fathers was coming to an end. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams would outlast most of the Founding Fathers, only to die on the same date: July 4, 1826. The Founding Fathers would leave a profoundly different country than the one they created.

Common Americans had created the sense that the United States was “a land of enterprising, optimistic, innovative, and equality-loving” people. Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 733. The entrepreneurial, ambitious American spirit was born and permeating the entire country.

Particularly after the resolution of the War of 1812, manifested in the Treaty of Ghent, Americans began to feel a permanent independence from Europe and a separation from European ideals. Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 735. Americans began to look at themselves as worthy of analysis, introspection, and recognition.

Thomas Jefferson believed that, as of 1823, America would serve “as a light to the world showing that mankind was capable of self-government.” Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 737 citing Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 4 Nov. 1823, in Ford, ed., Writings of Jefferson, 10: 280. Jefferson confessed that his ideals for America “may be an Utopian dream, but being innocent, I have thought I might indulge in it till I go to the land of dreams, and sleep there with the dreams of all past and future times.” Id. at 738 citing Thomas Jefferson to J. Correa de Serra, 25 Nov. 1817, in L and B, eds. Writings of Jefferson, 15: 157.

Jefferson’s dream of America may not have been achieved in exactly the way he imagined, but the country was becoming a player on the global stage. Americans had shown that they would not be a British colony, twice, and that Americans would create their own spirit which was loosely based on Europe and the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome.

With the success of America increasing, the specter of slavery began to loom over the country. It presented an ideological divide for the North and South, but it also economically divided the country. In retrospect, the Civil War seemed inevitable, but as the sun was setting on the Founding Fathers’ America, there was hope that a major conflict could be avoided.