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The Early American Republic

A History in Documents

Reeve Huston

Publication Date - October 2010

ISBN: 9780195338249

256 pages
8 x 10 inches

An informative telling of the Early American Republic through documents.


The early years of the American republic witnessed wrenching conflict and change. Northerners created an industrial order, which brought with it troubled relationships at work and within families. White southerners extended plantation slavery while the anti-slavery movement grew above the Mason-Dixon line. In the West, Native Americans battled newly arrived yeomen, entrepreneurs, and planters for control over land. Throughout the young nation numerous groups--African Americans, poor white men, women--fought for full citizenship, while others vigorously opposed their bids for equality. The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) marked the end of the period with violence that prefigured the Civil War.

Using such primary sources as diaries, letters, political cartoons, photographs, speeches, engravings, newspaper debates, paintings, and the memoirs of participants, The Early American Republic: A History in Documents recreates the drama of that era. Englishwoman Rebecca Burlend recounts the hardships and victories of her life on the Illinois frontier. In a letter to an ally, Thomas Jefferson explains his Indian policy, while the Native American leader Tecumseh makes his case for Indian unity against white Americans. James Henry Hammond, a wealthy planter, instructs his overseer on how to manage slaves, and Joseph Taper writes his former master about the freedom he enjoys after escaping to Canada. A blackface minstrel tune and Frederick Douglass's account of being beaten up by white ship workers illustrate the emergence of a virulent form of racism. A list of instructions from New York Democratic leaders shows how parties drew ordinary voters into politics, and Congressional speeches reveal the fierce emotions that fueled the sectional crisis. A picture essay explores the complexities of American families in ten group portraits. By weaving these historical documents together, Reeve Huston conveys the challenges and culture of the foundational years of the nation.


  • Tells the story of the drama of the Early American era
  • Features primary sources including diaries, letters, political cartoons, photographs, speeches, engravings, newspaper debates, paintings, and the memoirs of participants

About the Author(s)

Reeve Huston is Associate Professor of History at Duke University. He is the author of Land and Freedom: Rural Society, Popular Protest, and Party Politics in Antebellum New York (OUP, 2002), which was the winner of the 2001 Theodore Saloutos Prize of the Agricultural History Society and the New York State Historical Association's 1999 Dixon Ryan Fox Manuscript Prize.

Table of Contents

    What Is a Document?
    How to Read a Document
    Note on Sources and Interpretation

    Chapter 1: The People Rule, But Who Are the People?
    The Founders' Social Vision
    Poor White Men's Bid for Equality
    Middle- and Upper-Class Women's Bid for Intellectual Equality
    The Attack on Slavery

    Chapter 2: Creating a Political Order
    The Federalists' Political Vision
    An Elite Opposition Emerges
    A Popular Opposition Emerges
    The Clash of Parties
    President Jefferson

    Chapter 3: Expanding the National Territory
    Acquiring the Land
    Indians, White Settlers, and the Federal Government
    Squatters and the Federal Government
    Life in the Western Farm Settlements
    Expanding Slavery
    Beyond the Mississippi

    Chapter 4: The Transformation of the North
    Before the Industrial Revolution
    Economic Innovators
    Religious Innovators
    Innovators in Family Life
    A New World of Wage Labor
    Origins of the American Labor Movement
    The Beginnings of Mass Immigration

    Chapter 5: Masters and Slaves
    The Struggle for Control
    The World of the Enslaved
    Resistance, Repression, and Rebellion

    Chapter 6: Picture Essay: Picturing Families

    Chapter 7: The Triumph of Partisan Democracy
    Creating a White Male Electorate
    Re-creating Party Politics
    Party Issues, Party Principles
    Politics without Parties

    Chapter 8: Race, Reform, and Sectional Conflict
    A New Anti-Slavery Movement
    The Re-emergence of American Feminism
    A Woman's Rights Movement Emerges
    Southern Leaders Defend Slavery
    Anti-Abolitionism and a New Racial Regime in the North

    Epilogue: Becoming a Continental Nation
    Refiguring American Nationalism
    Anglos and Mexicans in the Conquered Territories
    The Sectional Conflict Deepens

    Further Reading
    Text Credits
    Picture Credits

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