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A railroad track inspector checks the track of the White Mountains Railroad 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 5 - East & West

'For Jackson & Democracy'

In 1829 Andrew Jackson from Tennessee was inaugurated as President, the first 'Westerner' to hold the office. His supporters portrayed him as a man of the new democratic West battling against the effete Eastern establishment. The words 'Jackson' and 'Democracy' became synonymous and his party became known as the Democrats. His various opponents combined to form the 'Whigs'. The Founding Fathers had viewed political parties as a threat to liberty but by the 1830s parties were becoming accepted as a fact of political life.

European visitors remarked on the vitality and egalitarianism of American party politics. There were still huge extremes of wealth and the economy of the Southwest depended on slave labour, but by the 1830s in most states all white adult males had the vote - far ahead of anything in Europe.

A Christian Republic?

Democracy was also fundamental to American religion. A series of religious revivals transformed American society in the early 19th century, creating a multitude of egalitarian churches and sects. The Methodists were particularly popular - by 1860 there were 20,000 Methodist churches in America. The greatest moral issue for northern evangelical Protestants was the crusade against slavery. In the south, evangelicals used their faith to justify slavery as a form of Christian paternalism. In response, black people - especially in southern cities - set up their own congregations as statements of independence. Although church and state were formally separate under the Constitution, most Americans thought of their country as a Christian republic.

The Indian 'Trail of Tears'

In the Northeast by the 1820s the remnants of once-great Indian tribes like the Iroquois were confined to reservations but in the Southeast Indian numbers were much larger, probably around 100,000. Americans coveted the land on which these Indians lived.

Jefferson had held out two alternatives for the Indians - adopt the American lifestyle or be sent west. In 1830 Congress passed a bill setting aside 'an ample district west of the Mississippi' for the Indian tribes where they could live under their own governments. The Chickasaw, Choctaws and Creeks nations exchanged their territory for such land but the Seminoles in Florida resisted - it took 6 years for the U.S. Army to crush them. In 1838, the Cherokees finally submitted and were marched west in the 'Trail of Tears', a grim 6-month journey in which one quarter of the 13,000 Cherokees died.

In 1820 about 125,000 Indians lived east of the Mississippi; by the mid-1840s there were a quarter of this number. The way was now clear to develop America's cotton kingdom.

Frontier Values

In 1815 the western border of the USA was effectively the Appalachians, with only one-seventh of the population living west of these mountains. By 1850, half America's 23 million people lived beyond the Appalachians after one of the biggest and most concentrated migrations in history. The government sold off vast tracts of land and thousands migrated in search of a better life. Taming the wilderness became part of national mythology, which celebrated the axe, the plough and, above all, the pioneer with his rugged self-reliance.

'Let Us Conquer Space'

As America moved west, nationally-minded congressmen demanded a massive investment in infrastructure to tie the country closer together. The Erie Canal (opened in 1825) covered New York state, spawning towns along its route, slashing transport costs and confirming New York's commercial dominance in the east.

In 1828, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad started the railway boom. Railroads spread rapidly and by 1860 America had three times more mileage of track than Britain, the railway pioneer. In the 1850s the Illinois Central Railroad made Chicago the transport hub of the Midwest, with federal backing (which the canals had lacked) in the form of a huge land grant.

The railroads gave Americans new freedom and prosperity and in that sense bound the country together. But opening up the West also forced slavery back on to the agenda as North and South vied for control of these vast new territories and the railroad links that would make them profitable.

Quotes featured on this page were voiced by: Morgan Deare, Mark Holden, James Jordan and Bill Hope. Episode summaries by Victoria Kingston.



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