Being an American in the early 1800s meant being a part of a developing, new culture. Americans were moving away from European influence and forming their own national identity. Americans valued individualism but also had unifying pride in their politics, literature, art and music.
Politics: The Era of Good Feelings and National Unity
The Era of Good Feelings began with the election of James Monroe in 1816. This was a time of national pride and unity. Leaders such as Henry Clay wanted to build a strong national economy. Clay thought that capitalism would help America's future. This is a system where people make a profit producing and distributing goods. He also promoted a plan called the American System which called for taxes on imports and federal spending on transportation projects. Finally, he wanted a new national bank to standardize currency and give credit. In 1824, he spoke to the Congress about his plan saying, “The object of the bill under consideration is to create this home market, and to lay the foundations of a genuine American policy.” Politicians like Clay tried to give the country a strong, unified economy.
American literature helped develop pride in American culture. Davy Crockett 's autobiography is an example of a popular book from this time. He was a real life frontiersman and who said he was "half horse, half alligator". He was uneducated and had no real home but survived in the wilderness on his own. The popularity of his books reflected how much Americans took pride in being self-sufficient and individualistic.
Art in the early 1800s gave Americans unifying pride. The art included folk art made by ordinary people and portraits by professional painters like Gilbert Stuart. Other artists were painters from the Hudson River School, naturalist John James Audubon and artist George Catlin. These artists and folk artists used symbols of the new nation in their work such as the American flag . Artists like George Catlin used Native American life as his subject matter. He said “Nothing short of the loss of my life shall prevent me from visiting their country, and becoming their historian.” John James Audubon was a naturalist who made detailed paintings of American birds. The new nation's artwork had its own flare and represented uniquely American themes.
Americans' unique national identity was also expressed through music. In the South, slaves took the hymns of white churches and used African musical styles to create spirituals which were religious folk songs. Patriotic anthems like “The Star-Spangled Banner" and "America" were based on English tunes, but had American lyrics. Francis Scott Key, wrote the lyrics for The Star-Spangled Banner after watching the British attack Fort McHenry in 1814. He said, "Then, in that hour of deliverance, my heart spoke. Does not such a country, and such defenders of their country, deserve a song?" Minstrel songs like Stephen Foster's "Oh, Susanna" were also uniquely American. White composers from the South like Foster were influenced by African American songs. The new nation created it's own musical traditions.
Federalists: The Era of Not So Good Feelings
The Federalist party faded away during the early 1800s. Federalist president John Adams tried to avoid war with France and was defeated by Jefferson in the election of 1800. Jefferson and the next president, Madison, tried to avoid war with France and England. Eventually, Madison abandoned isolationism and America went war with Great Britain in 1812. Federalists such as John Lowell, Jr., a New England farmer, opposed the war. In a pamphlet he wrote in 1812, he called the war "offensive and ruinous." Lowell gave some suggestions for a "peaceable and constitutional mode of averting that dreadful calamity." A period of great American pride followed the war. Because the Federalists had opposed the war, their party had no support afterwards.
Being an American in the early 1800s meant being a part of a developing, new culture. America's strong central government along with its unique literature, art and music helped create national pride. For example, Davy Crockett's tales of the American frontier, the "Star Spangled Banner" and American Folk Art gave people unity and a cultural identity.
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"Who Was George Catlin?" Learn Educational Resources. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.