My name is Alexis de Tocqueville. I am currently on a trip to the United States of America. Everybody seems to be filled with pride and striving for unity. Based on the observations I've made so far on this trip, being an American in the early 1800s means having pride in your country and being united, as stated by Thomas Jefferson, “The cement of this union is the heart-blood of every American.”
In regards to politics, Americans are trying to promote national unity by doing things such as going on goodwill tours, and promoting nationalist spirit. "The swelling of nationalist spirit was reflected in proposals that the federal government take a more active role in building the national economy." (History Alive!, 246). A leading supporter of this national movement in Congress was Henry Clay. His speeches are persuasive, charming, and intelligent. He believed that America would prosper with capitalism, which is the economic system where people and companies distribute goods for profit. He created what is called the American System, in which he called for taxes on imported goods to protect industry and federal spending on roads and such. He also wanted to create a new national bank to standardize currency and provide credit. Congress has since adopted this bank. Henry Clay's American System attempted to unify the country by having a strong economy. In one of Mr. Clay's speeches that I got to witness, he showed he was for the people by stating, "Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees. And both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people."
There are many different art styles in this time period in America. One such type, called folk art, is an art style where ordinary people drew simple and colorful drawings, such as the American flag. People also drew detailed portraits, or paintings of people. Another art style is called Hudson River School, which consisted of broad, scenic paintings focused on nature. A famous artist of this time period named John James Audubon specializes in finely detailed portraits of different birds. Another famous artist, George Catlin, mainly draws Native Americans, and his paintings consist of rich colors. He likes to paint the Crows, a Native American tribe, stating, "“The Crows are very handsome and gentlemanly Indians in their personal appearance: and have been always reputed, since the first acquaintance made with them, very civil and friendly.“ What is unique about these art forms is that they're all focused on different aspects of the world and made in different styles.
There are 4 popular types of music in America. One type is classical music, played by orchestras in the north. This style of music originated in Europe. Another type is spirituals, sung by African Americans. This genre combines white hymns with African music styles. The topics covered in spirituals are usually religious. Patriotic anthems are songs with lyrics about being proud of being American. Finally, there is minstrel music, sung by whites to mock African Americans. This genre is actually how the phrase "Jim Crow" originated, with the Thomas Dartmouth Rice song "Jump Jim Crow" in 1828. The song contained the famous lyrics "Weel about and turn about and do jis so. Ebery [every] time I weel about I jump Jim Crow." Common instruments used are the violin, drum and banjo. What is unique about music in America is that it is so diverse because it contains various elements from different types of music.
If you thought American music was diverse, wait until I tell you about the literature! America is still finding its cultural place in the world, but they're making splendid progress. Literature is mainly based on frontier life, Native Americans, and folklore. One famous author of this period is Washington Irving, famous for his works "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." These stories were inspired by German folklore, but they took place in Upstate New York. One of the very first American novelists is James Fenimore Cooper, famous for the hit novel, The Last of the Mohicans, writes about frontier life and the adventures of settlers in the wilderness. He garnered international interest for his descriptions of frontier life and American Indians. The work of Davy Crockett is also impeccable. He and his works reflected Americans' sense of individualism by writing about American life from an American point of view. People saw him as the "fictional frontier hero come to life" (History Alive!, 250). I bet Sydney Smith is reconsidering why he asked "Who reads an American book?".
Not everyone would have considered this time period to be an era of good feelings, such as African Americans, because, at this time, they were either slaves, and/or faced heavy discrimination and racism. Their living conditions were not too good, and they were treated as less than people. There were definitely not good feelings coming from the African Americans. Black people were also not fond of the mentality of white folk, because white people believe that the United States is "their country." This racist way of thinking compelled African American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois to ask, "Would America have been America without her Negro people?". However, for people whom had privilege, this was a good time to have pride in your country.
In conclusion, being an American in the 1800s meant being proud of your country. There were many things to be proud of, including the diverse styles art, music and literature. Some people may have not been happy with the United States during this time, but in the end, the majority of the people were happy and proud.
B., Du Bois W. E. Souls of Black Folk. Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1903. Print.
Foster Jr., Stephen D. "30 Of The Greatest Patriotic American Quotes In US History."AddictingInfo. AddictingInfo, 04 July 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
"Henry Clay Quotes." BrainyQuote. Xplore, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
History Alive! The United States Through Industrialism. Madison: Teachers' Curriculum Institute, 2011. Print. History Alive!