Part 6. Creating a New Nation

The Boisterous Sea of Liberty

Part 6. Creating a New Nation

The Boisterous Sea of Liberty

A Documentary History of America from Discovery through the Civil War
In Stock, 
Paperback 13/01/2000 ISBN13: 9780195116700 ISBN10: 0195116704 Drawing on a gold mine of primary documents--including letters, diary entries, personal narratives, political speeches, broadsides, trial transcripts, and contemporary newspaper articles--The Boisterous Sea of Liberty brings the past to life in a way few histories ever do.
Here is a panoramic look at early American history as captured in the words of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe and many other historical figures, both famous and obscure. In these pieces, the living voices of the past speak to us from opposing viewpoints--from the vantage point of loyalists as well as patriots, slaves as well as masters. The documents collected here provide a fuller understanding of such historical issues as Columbus's dealings with Native Americans, the Stamp Act Crisis, the Declaration of Independence, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Missouri Crisis, the Mexican War, and Harpers Ferry, to name but a few.
Compiled by Pulitzer Prize winning historian David Brion Davis and Steven Mintz, and accompanied by extensive illustrations of original documents, The Boisterous Sea of Liberty brings the reader back in time, to meet the men and women who lived through the momentous events that shaped our nation.

Cover for 9780195116700



      The Constitution had scarcely been drafted and ratified when political divisions began to emerge over Alexander Hamilton's economic program, which envisioned a political economy that had no place for slavery. Political polarization was intensified by the French Revolution, by France's efforts to entangle America in its war with Britain, by popular protests in western Pennsylvania against a federal excise tax on whiskey, an undeclared naval war with France, and enactment of the Alien and Sedition Acts. For a quarter century, the new nation wrestled with threats to its existence. It faced repeated schemes to manipulate presidential elections, plots to dismember the country, and threats of secession. A former Vice President even found himself put on trial for treason.

      Overseas events carried profound consequences for the new republic. The French defeat by the Haitians in 1803 convinced Napoleon to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States. The prolonged war between France and Britain led both countries to interfere with American shipping. This commercial warfare gradually escalated into the War of 1812, in which the United States waged war with Britain and defeated powerful Indian confederations in the Old Northwest and the South.


      The entire history of the United States encompasses just three seventy-year life times. Seventy years ago, the United States had entered into the Great Depression. Seven decades earlier, the United States was undertaking Reconstruction. And seventy years before that, the United States was just beginning to institute a new system of government based on the U.S. Constitution.

      It is extraordinary how much American society is transformed over the course of a single human lifetime. A person born seventy years ago witnessed the introduction of antibiotics, computers, and television into American life. A person born two lifetimes ago lived through the appearance of the electric light, the telephone, the modern corporation, professional sports, and the movies. And a person born three life times ago witnessed unprecedented urban growth, the first stages of the industrial revolution, the emergence of the first political party systems, and the appearance of the first movements to reform society through collective action. It may be enlightening to ask students which generation witnessed the most profound and far-reaching societal and technological transformations.

    1. What conflicts did the Framers of the Constitution have to overcome in order to design a new system of government?
        Disagreements between larger and smaller states, between advocates of a strong central government and strong state governments, as well as differences over slavery.

    2. How did the Framers try to prevent abuses of power within the central government?
        They adopted a system of checks and balances.

    3. The framers of the Constitution adopted a rule of secrecy. Do you think they were justified in drafting the Constitution in secret?

    4. An impassioned debate erupted following the Constitutional Convention. Federalists defended the Constitution as vital to the nation's survival, while Anti-Federalists criticized it as unnecessary and unrepublican. Why did Anti-Federalists oppose the Constitution?
        They claimed it weakened the states and undermined the peoples' liberties. They felt the new government created by the Constitution was insufficiently democratic and that because the House of Representatives was small, ordinary citizens would find it difficult to influence Congressional decisions. Further, they feared that a president might become a tyrant. Finally, the Anti-Federalists observed that the Constitution lacked a bill of rights, placing clear limits on the central government's powers and specifying the peoples' rights.

    5. Would you have supported or opposed the War of 1812?

    6. Do you think it would have been best for the Indian people of the eastern United States to:
        form alliances across tribal lines and mount armed resistance? move westward, across the Mississippi River? learn the ways of the Americans and become, like them, farmers and traders?

    WHAT IF?

    How would American history be different if:

      Northern delegates at the Constitutional Convention had refused to give in to demands from delegates from South Carolina and Georgia for strong protections for slavery?

      If Congress had voted during the 1780s or 1790s to exclude slavery from all western territories, just as the Northwest Ordinance barred slavery from the Northwest territories?


      Compare the size of the United States in the 1780s to the size of countries in Europe.

      Compare the location of Indian peoples in 1492 and 1840.


    1. Imagine you were a delegate to the Constitutional Convention who opposed slavery. Would you, like George Mason, refuse to sign the Constitution? Or would you, like Benjamin Franklin, sign it?

    2. The cotton gin revitalized the institution of slavery and led to rapid western settlement in the South, all the way to Texas. Should Eli Whitney have thought about the consequences of his invention? Should inventors be held responsible for the consequences of their inventions?

    3. Were missionaries right or wrong to want to share their religion with Native Americans?

    4. Did whites have a right to settle land that the United States owned, even though the land was inhabited by Indians?


    The United States was one of the first nations in history to win independence from colonial rule. It was followed in the late eighteenth century by Haiti, in the early nineteenth century by many of Spain's New World colonies, and in the twentieth century by European colonies in Africa and Asia.

    Unlike most other former colonies, the United States was much more successful in establishing a stable political system and a prospering economy. Nevertheless, the first two decades under the new Constitution were marked by mob violence, threats of disunion, attempts to suppress political dissent, and efforts to manipulate presidential elections.

    The story of the 1790s and the first decade of the nineteenth century is how Americans took an abstract framework of government and put it into practice. In the process, they developed a host of innovations that had not appeared in the Constitution itself, such as a two-party political system and the principle of judicial review.

    Document 2.

      What were the Revolution's consequences for Native Americans? In his 1780 letter, what does Thomas Jefferson regard as the most effective Indian policy?
        The American victory brought a surge of American settlers westward, onto Indian lands. Jefferson rejects the idea of stationing troops on the frontier; instead he calls for removal of Native Americans beyond the Great Lakes and Mississippi River.

    Document 4.

      Why did the Revolution make Americans more sensitive to the issue of slavery--and encourage many states in the North to either emancipate slaves or adopt gradual emancipation schemes?
        The Revolution's promise of natural rights and equality underscored the contradiction between slavery and fundamental American values.
      Why is the Quaker abolitionist James Pemberton hesitant to admit African Americans into membership into the Society of Friends?
        Because of his concern about racial intermarriage.

    Documents 8 and 9.

      Compare and contrast John Adams's and Thomas Jefferson's appraisal of American-British relations immediately following the Revolution. Why do you think they reached such different conclusions?
        According to Adams, the King committed himself to recognizing the United States as an independent power, while Jefferson was convinced that the King and his ministers hated the United States and treated America's trade overtures with derision.

    Documents 10 and 11.

      Why did Massachusetts Governor James Bowdoin issue a proclamation calling on all judges and sheriffs to suppress Shays' Rebellion?
        Because he feared that they would "subvert all law and government,...dissolve our excellent Constitution, and introduce universal riot, anarchy, and confusion...."
      How does Benjamin Lincoln describe the causes and significance of Shays' Rebellion?
        He attributes the rebellion to high taxes, the scarcity of money, and the large number of debtors in the state.

    Document 33.

      On what grounds does Judith Sargent Stevens Murray argue for the equality of the sexes?
        She maintains that women's occupations, such as cooking and needlework, are inadequate to stimulate women's minds and that women's intellectual capabilities are equal to men's.

    Document 37.

      What economic vision did Alexander Hamilton lay out in his "Report on Manufacturers"?
        He believed that manufacturing would ensure the nation's economic independence, which was necessary to secure the nation's political independence.
      How does he respond to those who object to the growth of manufacturing?
        That industry will offer job opportunities to farmers and people who are not yet in the work force; it will encourage foreign immigration and attract foreign capital; it will reduce prices by providing competition for foreign imports; and it will provide an expanded market for agricultural products.

    Document 53.

      Why does Washington refuse to consider running for the presidency in 1800?
        Because politics has grown so partisan that he would not get a single Republican vote.
      How would you describe his attitude toward the Jeffersonian Republicans?
        He considers the Republicans naive in their attitude toward Revolutionary France.

    Documents 75.

      Why did many New Englanders, like J.C. Jones and other citizens of Boston and the Columbian Centinel, oppose the War of 1812?
        Because they believed that the war was unnecessary, was an effort to help France in its conflict with Britain, and hurt the American economy.

    Document 80.

      On what grounds does Niles' Weekly Register defend the war?
        Because peaceful measures, like the embargo, had failed and because Britain had incited Indian attacks and slave revolts.