A new series from Radio 4 charts the development of the United States, exploring three key themes: Empire, Liberty and Faith. (In three series)
Monday to Fridays - 3.45pm
Omnibus - Friday 9pm
Series 1 - 15 September-24 October
Week 4 - Liberty & Security
War and Terror
America's first decades of independence were entwined with the continuing battle for global empire between Britain and France. George Washington kept America neutral but by the mid-1790s there were divisions between Thomas Jefferson's mainly southern Democratic-Republicans, who were broadly pro-French and Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Party, whose base was in the north and who feared French imperialism.
By 1798 America and France were close to war. Fear of France provoked Hamilton and the Federalists to push through the draconian Alien and Sedition Acts, part of a 1790s war on terror which allowed the President to deport aliens and stifle almost all criticism. Civil war seemed close during the election campaign of 1800 but Jefferson won a narrow victory, and his conciliatory inaugural address helped to defuse domestic tensions. A peace treaty with France prevented America from being dragged into war abroad.
'Remember the Ladies'
The war against Britain mobilized American women. They were drawn into political debate, ran home and family whilst their menfolk were away and, in a few cases, marched and fought with the armies. In the state of New Jersey some women even had the vote for three decades. But this was a false dawn. Despite the rhetoric of independence, wives remained dependants of their husbands - unable to own their own property. The Founders, radicals about liberty in public life, remained strict patriarchs at home.
Jefferson's Western Empire
After independence was won, attention turned to the settlement of America's vast interior, which was populated by Indians and had few European settlers. Jefferson envisioned an 'empire of liberty' - a loose union of states with localised self-government that would spread across the continent.
Guided by Jefferson, Congress established a grid, dividing the interior into townships 6 miles square, subdivided into lots 1 mile square most of which were then further subdivided for sale to settlers. If you fly over the Midwest today, you can still see the squares etched out by roads and fields. The Northwest Ordinance established governance in the west. Once the population in a territory reached 5,000 the people could elect an assembly; above the 60,000 threshold the territory could apply to become a state. Unlike the European empires, the United States established a clear procedure for moving beyond the colonial stage into membership of the Union.
In 1803 this new empire was doubled in size when Jefferson bought Louisiana from Napoleon, pushing the U.S. border from the Mississippi to the Rockies. From this vast area were carved the modern states of Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, plus most of Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas.
Victims of Liberty
Jefferson hoped that the Indians could be converted from nomadic hunters into industrious farmers and be integrated into the American way of life. Some Indian tribes conformed but many were determined to keep their lands and way of life. Indian resistance coalesced around Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief, but after he was killed by U.S. soldiers in 1813 his coalition of tribes disintegrated and westward expansion resumed.
For American black people the Revolutionary era seemed to offer hope. Although the Constitution-makers avoided the issue of slavery, all northern states passed laws to abolish it. In 1808 Congress voted to stop the import of slaves from Africa - it seemed the end of slavery was only a matter of time. However, the halting of slave imports stimulated the internal slave trade. Demand for slave labour increased as the new territories in the west proved to have the ideal climate for cotton, and the invention of the gin facilitated large-scale cotton production for the world market.
And so the empire of liberty consigned Indians to the margins of the empire and denied African Americans their liberty.
The Second War of Independence
The United States tried to stay neutral during the Napoleonic Wars but it eventually got sucked in, declaring war on Britain in 1812 because of British infringements of American trade and their cooperation with the Indians. In 1814 the British burned Washington - a humiliating blow for the new nation - but the American victory at New Orleans was sweet revenge. In 1815 the U.S. and Britain finally agreed a peace treaty which was a final confirmation of American independence.
Quotes featured on this page were voiced by: Peter Banks, Kerry Shale, Alibe Parsons and Regina Reagan. Episode summaries by Victoria Kingston.