To be an American in the Early 1800’s meant to be independant and having a desire to want to discover new additions to American culture and life. This meant discovering new land on the frontier, writing new themes of literature and creating new systems of politics to unify the country, as some examples. Many Americans during this time were also set on finding new ways to unify the country. This was sometimes a hard task, as communication was slow and stereotypes would separate people of different regions. It would sometimes take weeks for news to travel from one city to another. And although white American men definitely saw themselves as devoted to individualism and equality, their commitment to these values may not have been shared by enslaved African Americans, American Indians, or women. “Many of the country's leaders knew they would have to overcome geographical obstacles and stereotypes to truly unite the country.” (TCI, section 2)
Even though many people from other nations did not believe or think that America had its own culture, especially the British. Americans started to make their own styles of art, which is shown by several artists. For example, George Catlin was an artist who would draw and paint scenes of Native Americans in the frontier setting and other natural settings all around the different american states and settlements. The most common style of art was folk art. “Not all artists were professionals. Ordinary people produced many kinds of folk art (TCI, section 4).” Folk art consisted of unprofessional murals This style was so popular because it was not held to a high standard since it was created for and by the common people. Many Americans were able to express feelings and show their experiences through this type of art.
This is an example of a folk art painting that is very similar to the type that would've been created in the past.
Many americans living in the early 1800’s enjoyed listening and performing the new types of music that were becoming popular during these times. Before this time, the only music heard and performed was during church. Some songs that were just new lyrics to an old, well-known tune. The newer types and genres of music and songs included spirituals and minstrels. Spirituals were created by slaves in the South who combined the songs you would hear at a church and their own african rhythms. They would entertain each other and their owners by performing these. Minstrels were a type of music that would mock black music by painting their faces and performing with over-exaggerated african accents.
This picture shows several slaves playing/performing music for either friends and families or their owners
In 1820, a British writer sneered, “Who reads an American book? or goes to an American play? or looks at an American picture or statue?”American literature was slightly different from English literature. They used themes of Escapism, which was meant to show/prove how much better rural life was compared to city life upstate (and European life) It showed how important the role of nature was in improving your life, or providing an “escape.¨ The writer Washington Irving provides several examples through his writing, such as in his story, RIP Van Winkle. The protagonist is able to escape his hard life after waking up years later in a new era where his nagging wife is no longer there to bother him. The theme of escapism in nature is found in many other pieces of early American literature.
The Davy Crockett Almanac was an exaggerated autobiograpghy that showed him as the most iconic settler one could picture.
The idea of american nationalism was a huge idea during the early 1800’s when American culture was beginning to take form. Politics were also helping the cause of unifying the country. Henry Clay was a man who helped the government take an active role in building the national economy through the American System. This system called for taxes on any imported goods, along with the notion that federal spending should be used for transportation projects such as roads and canals. Henry Clay thought the economic system of capitalism would benefit the country in the sense of uniting it even more. The government would now have a more active role that would contribute to national unity by providing a more standardized currency. This plan would ensure national unity because the currency would be the same throughout the country and make trade between different regions much easier. “Let us act under a settled conviction, and an habitual feeling, that these twenty-four states are one country,” Webster urged in 1825.
This system of canals is similar to the ones the government hoped to build throughout the country
There are several groups of people that would not agree with the idea that it is not the area of good feelings. If you ask any african american (free or enslaved), or native american, they would not have agreed that this was a good time to be living in America. If you were a slave during this period of time, you had absolutely no rights and all of the free african americans were heavily discriminated against, even if they were free. Slaves were considered property and did not have the right to possess anything, get married or even be set free in some states. ¨In law, the slave had no wife, no children, no country, no home,¨ (Fredrick Douglass)
This illustration of a slave plantation shows the slaves doing a vareiety of jobs throughout the image.
All of these examples prove how important finding your own sense of individualism and discovering new aspects to forming a country were to americans of the early 1800’s. Many leaders tried to unify the country through the government and the national currency. Common people shared the enjoyment of expressing themselves through music and through their art, which was not being held at such high standard as before. New music provided a way for everyone, even slaves, to express and perform their feelings. Story-telling and writing was transformed to connect with the common people using themes of escapism and embellishing the rural settings.
This map shows the different states that were established during the early 1800s
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