United States History I & II
United States History I & II

United States History I & II

Lead Author(s): Sara Eskridge

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Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Roark, Johnson, Furstenberg, Stage, and Igo, The American Promise, 2 Volumes, 8th Edition


Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Visions of America, 2013


Average price of textbook across most common format

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device


Hardcover print text only


Per volume


Digital only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Constantly revised and updated by a community of professors with the latest content

In-Book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost


Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform


Average price of textbook across most common format

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Hardcover print text only


Roark, Johnson, Furstenberg, Stage, and Igo, The American Promise, 2 Volumes, 8th Edition


Per volume


Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Visions of America, 2013


Digital only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Content meets standard for Introduction to Anatomy & Physiology course, and is updated with the latest content

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

In-book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition


Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

About this textbook

Lead Authors

Sara Eskridge, Ph.DRandolph-Macon College, VA

Dr. Eskridge is a Professor of History at Western Governors University. She specializes in Civil Rights, Cold War, Southern, and Cultural History. She is the author of Rube Tube: CBS as Rural Comedy in the Sixties (University of Missouri Press, 2019) as well as several articles and book chapters on southern mediated images during the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War.

Contributing Authors

Andrew WegmannLoyola University

Michael CarverCalifornia Polytechnic State University

Michael FrawleyUniversity of Texas of the Permian Basin

Linda ClemmonsIllinois State University

Angela HessCameron University

Sam NelsonRidgewater College

Volker JanssenCalifornia State University

Lance JandaCameron University

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Chapter 9: The Early Republic, 1800-1815

Chapter Overview

On March 4, 1801, after more than thirty years in politics (and nearly all of them as a member of the opposition), Thomas Jefferson finally had control. He defeated his perennial foe, the incumbent John Adams, and wrestled political control from the Federalists for the first time in American history. As he walked to the new Capitol building in Washington, D.C. to take the oath of office, he wore simple clothing, rejecting the fanfare that had accompanied the inaugurations of his predecessors. He wanted to establish himself as a new kind of president, one more in touch with average Americans—the rural farmers, urban laborers, and unskilled workmen long rejected by the Federalist elite. This was the foundation of his campaign and his political message. As Secretary of State, Vice President, and leader of the Anti-Federalists, Jefferson consistently favored the underdog, challenged centralized power, and protested the formation of a tyrannical political class of urbanites and industrialists. He was the most informed and experienced political outsider and it was his time to take charge.

The story of the Early Republic is one of national adolescence: a time of growing pains, political division, and conflicts of identity. The transition between the administrations of Adams and Jefferson, fraught with ill will and political hijinks, flipped the American political system on its head. The Anti-Federalists, the party that had spent ten years challenging the very existence of the federal government, now controlled it. Still developing as a nation, the United States had never experienced such a dramatic change, and the established system did not make it easy. The new Jefferson administration had to work within the bounds of the Constitution as well as the political structure reinforced by twelve years of Federalist control. 

Figure 9.1: Map of the U.S. in 1800

A “political revolution,” as Jefferson later termed it, could not happen in a day or even a term of office. It required a shift in focus, an expansion of the national definition, and a new vision of the future, both physically and ideologically. By the end of the decade, this so-called “revolution” would reach its crest when a new nationalistic liberalism took hold of the American public. But it came with renewed conflict.

Jefferson and his successor, James Madison, played the politics of the time, abandoning their more radical democratic ideas for more plain-spoken, politically acceptable plans, many of which betrayed their shared vision of an expansive rural republic. Under Jefferson, the executive branch grew in strength, the judiciary became more defined, and the rules of expansion changed altogether. Under Madison, national insecurities led to war with Britain for a second time and the government burned down, rebuilt itself, and became more permanent. In short, the nation did not become a yeoman republic and the government did not shrink, but the United States did change and mature into a nation of the world. It had, by 1815, finally come into its own. 

Chapter Objectives

  • Explore the controversies and complexities of the presidential election of 1800
  • Highlight the changes brought about by Jefferson’s “Revolution of 1800”
  • Follow the development of the Republican Party and the Supreme Court in the first decade of the 1800s
  • Understand the Jefferson presidency and the impact of the Louisiana Purchase and westward expansion
  • Study the causes and logic behind the War of 1812
  • Introduce the Battle of New Orleans and its legacy

9.01 - Level 1

What was the first nation that the United States officially declared war on?









9.02 - Level 1

Seen as a renewal of the American struggle for independence, Jefferson described his election in 1800 as a ___________\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_.

An Election for the New Century

In 1796, John Adams, then serving as vice president, ran on George Washington’s legacy, promising to continue to embolden the federal government, expand westward into Indian lands, and protect the American public from both internal and external threats (Figure 9.2). In his farewell address, George Washington warned the American people of the dangers of party division, the threats of a decentralized government, and the pitfalls of permanent foreign alliances, which could lead to external occupation and colonial tyranny. Adams stood for the presidency as a model of this warning: a proponent of centrality, an enemy of radicalism, and a defender of national interests. He was destined for the job, and the Federalists, it seemed, were destined to rule for decades.   

Figure 9.2. President John Adams, by Eliphalet Frazer Andrews [1]​​

While Adams tried to continue Washington’s legacy, Thomas Jefferson (Figure 9.3) and James Madison developed a platform predicated upon dissent. For every action or idea Adams proposed, Jefferson and Madison had a counter. The election of 1800, then, occurred largely in the public sphere. For the four years following 1796, Anti-Federalist newspaper editors attacked Federalists in some of the most vitriolic, bitter exchanges the nation had ever seen. Jeffersonians spread rumors about Federalists’ families, while Federalists likened Jeffersonians to Jacobins—the radical guillotiners of the French Revolution. When Adams empowered “those loud and enthusiastic advocates of liberty and equality” to one side of the debate, he betrayed the other. The American political system had split into two fields diametrically opposed to each other, and the debate over how the nation should move forward took place in the public eye. 

Question 9.03

9.03 - Level 2

How did Federalist and Jeffersonian editors attack each other in newspapers and the public sphere during the election cycle of 1800? How was this new and different from previous elections?

Click here to see the answer to Question 9.03.

9.04 - Level 1

Which of the follow was specific term Federalists used to describe Jeffersonians in the lead up to the election of 1800?









Scholars have described the 1800 election cycle as the first to involve true campaigns. The Anti-Federalist dissent organized and incorporated rural and unskilled workers, bringing new eyes and ears to politics. Candidates suddenly had to convince the public directly of their credentials for office; it was not enough simply to rely on name, state, and past actions. The future held more meaning than the past, and the United States was at a crossroads.

Leading up to the election, both sides played on fear. The rise of political parties made the electoral process far more pointed. For the first time, voters cast ballots for party tickets rather than individual candidates, providing larger targets for political attacks. Partisan editors printed columns warning of political and social apocalypse. “Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will all be openly taught and practiced,” wrote one New England Federalist, if the people decided to elect Thomas Jefferson to the presidency. Not quite as morally depraved, Jefferson himself wrote that Adams would certainly introduce “another act of Congress, declaring that the President shall continue in office during life,” transferring “the succession to his heirs.” Indeed, an editor sympathetic to Jefferson summed up the election rather plainly as “the contest of liberty against slavery.” While Federalists warned of moral decay, Jeffersonians warned of universal enslavement at the hands of tyrannical Federalists. 

Figure 9.3. Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale [2] ​

The election itself remained close until the end, each ticket dominating in its respective base. As expected, Adams carried the entire northeast, with one major exception: New York. In a shocking turn of events, Jefferson’s Republican Party (having recently adopted a new name to separate itself entirely from the Federalists) mobilized the rural populations outside of New York City and gained enough support to carry all 12 of the state’s electoral votes. Jefferson added this coup to his easy sweep of the South, where he won popular majorities by large margins.

In effect, the election came down to the urban-versus-rural divide. Prior to 1800, politics had taken place almost entirely in urban centers. Jefferson’s newspaper campaign, as well as his calls for a yeoman republic expanding westward on the backs of hardy American farmers, brought rural areas into politics and caught the interest of those who had never before dreamed of voting. At this point, the United States remained a rural nation, even as its government sat in a newly built Federal City. Jefferson knew he had a larger base of support; the problem was getting that base to vote.

When the dust settled, Jefferson had won the popular vote by a wide margin. After Adams’ 25,952 votes, Jefferson received 41,330—a difference of more than 15,000. But two months separated the popular vote from the Electoral College, which actually decided the next president. During the interim, both sides took to the swing states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina to affirm votes they had already received and gain the support of undecided electors. 

Figure 9.4: Map of the election of 1800.​

On February 11, 1801, the Electoral College announced its tally (Figure 9.4). By a margin of eight electoral votes, Thomas Jefferson had won—but so had his running mate, Aaron Burr of New York (Figure 9.5). Both received 73 votes, while John Adams received 65, followed by his running mate, Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, with 64, and John Jay of New York with one. For the first time, the electoral vote had ended in a tie. Never expecting a party ticket system, the writers of the Constitution did not provide for individual votes for president and vice president in the Electoral College. The winner of the election would become president, and the candidate with the second most votes would become vice president. Because the 1800 election was the first to feature a ticket system, no one noticed a potential problem with the distribution of electors’ votes. Thus, in unconscious opposition to Constitutional procedure, Republican electors cast their ballots for the ticket of Jefferson and Burr, not realizing that each vote for the ticket translated into a vote for each of the two candidates. Essentially, then, a vote for the ticket was a vote for both candidates equally. As a result, Jefferson and Burr finished the electoral vote tied for the presidency. 

9.05 - Level 1

According to the official Electoral College vote, who received the most votes for the presidency in 1800?


Thomas Jefferson


John Adams


Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr


John Adams and Charles Pinckney


Thomas Jefferson and John Adams

9.06 - Level 2

Sort the following states by the size of their electoral college, from largest to smallest.






New York



Figure 9.5: Aaron Burr by John Vanderlyn [3]

The Constitution did contain a provision for such a situation. In the case of a tie, the election would go to the House of Representatives—the most democratic of the legislative chambers—with each state casting a single ballot for a single candidate. The winner would become president, and the runner-up would become vice-president. Although both candidates identified as Republicans, Aaron Burr carried a number of states based on the simple fact that he was not Thomas Jefferson, whom many Federalists saw as the worst possible option. Jefferson tried to convince Burr to accept the vice-presidency outright, offering him a larger role in the administration, even referring to it as “your administration” on several occasions. Burr, however, liked his chances, and held firm until the House decided. It took the House 36 attempts to make a decision. On the last ballot, Maryland and Vermont, two states that had not voted in the first 35 tries, joined eight others in casting lots for Jefferson, giving him the presidency and relegating Burr to second place. Before the next election, Congress proposed, passed, and ratified the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, placing each party’s presidential and vice presidential candidates on the same ticket and therefore avoiding the confusing and divisive situation seen in 1800. This amendment went into effect on June 15, 1804. 

Question 9.07

9.07 - Level 5

In your opinion, what problems might arise from the original electoral vote system that the Constitution specified prior to the Twelfth Amendment?

Click here to see the answer to Question 9.07.

Question 9.08

9.08 - Level 2

What problems in the Electoral College system did the election of 1800 uncover? How did the process differ from earlier elections?

Click here to see the answer to Question 9.08.

A "Peaceful" Transition of Power

The heated nature of the 1800 election caused a noticeable bitterness in John Adams. He had, with Jefferson’s victory, become the first president to lose a reelection campaign. Besides embarrassment, the defeat also served as a personal failure to Adams. He had failed to live up to Washington’s legacy and given power to a faction dedicated to reversing most of the last 12 years of policy. Adams was not powerless, however. As out-going president, Adams retained the authority to make administrative and judicial appointments until Jefferson took the oath of office.

By December 1800, word had spread that the Jefferson-Burr ticket carried a majority in the Electoral College. So President Adams, acting well within his rights, set to work creating barriers to Jefferson’s success. On January 20, 1801, with just over a month left in his presidency, Adams nominated the virulent Federalist and sitting Secretary of State, John Marshall of Virginia, as chief justice of the Supreme Court, ushering him through the confirmation process in a single week and officially placing him on the court on February 4. Adams also used his influence in the Federalist-controlled Congress to introduce a sweeping judicial reform bill. Known as the Judiciary Act of 1801, Adams’ bill, passed on February 13, 1801, created six new federal circuit courts, sixteen federal circuit judgeships, and twenty-three justices of the peace for the two counties of the new District of Columbia, all appointed by the president. In all, President Adams had more than 40 appointments to make, all of which would directly affect the new president’s ability to protect legislation through the courts. 

Figure 9.6: Washington in 1801 by William Russell Birch [4]​

Just hours before the end of his presidency, late into the night of March 3, Adams appointed Federalists to all 16 circuit court judgeships and to 35 of 41 justice of peace offices. That same night, outgoing Secretary of State John Marshall, the new Chief Justice, made the appointments official, and prepared them for delivery. With just hours left in his term, John Adams had solidified Federalist control of the judiciary, from the lower circuit courts to the Supreme Court itself. Although the Jefferson administration brought with it a Republican majority in Congress, any new law challenged at the federal level would inevitably meet a judge hostile to Republican intentions. Instead of handing over power with grace and virtue, Adams left Jefferson an executive branch boxed in on all sides (Figure 9.6).

9.09 - Level 1

The much-maligned Judiciary Act of 1801 created 23 new _____________\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_ offices for the two new counties of the District of Columbia.

9.10 - Level 2

John Adams did little to frustrate Thomas Jefferson upon leaving office, handing over the presidency with little bitterness or backroom politics.





The Jefferson Presidency

Thomas Jefferson called his election in 1800 a “revolution.” To him, the past twelve years had led the United States in a direction it never should have gone. Founded on principles of liberty, virtue, and a constant struggle against tyranny, he believed the nation had, under Federalist rule, become a totem of despotism and governmental excess. Both Washington and Adams had succeeded in creating a class of political elites, to and from whom offices were handed like family heirlooms. Hamilton’s centralization of currency, credit, and debt, as well as his investment in industry over agriculture, silenced the rural masses that Jefferson saw as the true political heart of the country. He saw the future he had planned for the United States grow darker with each year of Federalist influence. By 1800, time had not yet run out, but reform needed to come quickly. Without fundamental and aggressive change, Jefferson believed, the original message and intent of the Revolutionary generation would disappear forever.

The great irony of Jefferson’s presidency is that Jefferson had to work within the system he despised in order to change it. Regardless of campaign promises and the best of intentions, the new president could not simply repeal every act passed over the last twelve years. Because of Adams’ “midnight appointments” and the Judiciary Act of 1801, the court system would not help the Republican cause. Although Jefferson had the support of majorities in both houses of Congress, the Federalist contingent remained organized and strong. Any sweeping reform would take work.

Adams’ 41 judicial appointees threatened to derail Jefferson’s presidency before it started, but a stroke of luck met Jefferson on his first day in office. Although Adams made the appointments on March 3, no one had delivered the commissions by the time Jefferson became the new president at noon on March 4. Jefferson immediately took action. That afternoon, he delivered 12 of the commissions, split evenly between Republicans and Federalists, but he kept the rest, leaving the respective seats empty. 

Figure 9.7: “The Happy Effects of that Grand System,” originally printed in a London. [5] ​

Thus began a trend in the Jefferson administration. Because national politics remained deeply divided during Jefferson’s eight years in Washington, he consistently relied on executive orders to bypass Federalist stalling tactics and obstructionism in Congress (Figure 9.7). Indeed, he defined the practice for future generations, serving as a model for many subsequent administrations. In bypassing Congress, Jefferson enflamed the discord between his supporters and the Federalists. Nearly every piece of legislation introduced by Republicans met a defiant Federalist minority, who, taking a page from Jefferson’s book, used every connection, favor, and stalling tactic to fight or delay as long as possible. Although Jefferson’s Republican majority successfully pushed a number of bills through, nothing found his desk on time.

Adams’ “midnight judges” did more damage than anyone expected, largely due to the influence of the Federalist minority in Congress. Hoping to avoid any problems arising from his refusal to deliver the remaining commissions, Jefferson sought to repeal the Judiciary Act of 1801 with his own his piece of legislation reinstating the previous Judiciary Act of 1789. In January 1802, John Breckenridge of Kentucky, a strong Jefferson supporter in the Senate, introduced the Judiciary Act of 1802, which moved to repeal the 1801 Act in its entirety, reinstate the provisions of the 1789 Act, and expand the authority of the Supreme Court as the primary adjudicator of the circuit court system. Proposed on January 27, what should have been a quick majority victory for the Republicans turned into a three-month-long battle between the new administration and the entrenched and defiant opposition. Federalists questioned the constitutionality of the Act, claiming that it expanded the authority of the Supreme Court beyond that allowed by the Constitution. They filibustered, proposed amendments to the Act simply to force an unneeded vote, and took to the press to berate what they called “the under-handed politics” of the whole thing. They knew that they would eventually lose, but they intended to make the Republican victory as unpleasant as possible. The victory came, at last, on April 29, when President Jefferson signed the bill into law with no amendments and little fanfare. Jefferson had won the first battle of his “revolution,” but the war had just begun. 

Question 9.11

9.11 - Level 2

How did Thomas Jefferson deal with the problems John Adams left him? How did Jefferson’s actions seem to contradict a number of the ideas and promises he had made during his campaign, and over the past 10 years as an opposition leader?

Click here to see the answer to Question 9.11.

Marbury v. Madison and the Emergence of John Marshall 

With the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1802, the Jefferson administration thought it had neutralized the threat of the “midnight appointments.” Most of the positions and courts they had filled no longer existed, and the legislation that created the issue had been repealed. Jefferson and his supporters were ready to move on to more pressing issues, like the National Bank and the emerging rumors that Napoléon Bonaparte was looking to sell some land to the west, but the Federalists had other plans. After discovering that his name appeared on one of the undelivered justice of the peace commissions still sitting in Secretary of State James Madison’s office, William Marbury filed a petition directly to the Supreme Court to force Madison’s hand.

Figure 9.8: Chief Justice John Marshall by Henry Inman [6] ​

Marbury, a loyal Federalist from Maryland, sought a writ of mandamus—a superior court order requiring an official to fulfill the duties of his or her office—against Secretary of State Madison. In doing so, he used the provision in the Judiciary Act of 1789 granting the Supreme Court the right to issue such writs to challenge the constitutionality of the new Judiciary Act of 1802, which had reinstated the 1789 legislation. In a brilliant turn of legal logic, Marbury tried to use the Republicans’ own reform against them, nullifying the 1802 Act and reinstating its predecessor from 1801. The key was the writ of mandamus. Because the Supreme Court served as the highest appellate court in the nation, its decisions served as final judgments. If the Court issued a writ of mandamus forcing Madison to deliver the commissions authorized by the Judiciary Act of 1801, not only would Madison have no legal recourse against the judgment, but the constitutionality of the new 1802 Judiciary Act, which replaced the 1801 Act, would also come into question. With a Federalist-heavy Supreme Court led by Adams-appointee John Marshall (Figure 9.8), the Federalists could cripple Jefferson’s presidency and assure Federalist victory in the next presidential election.

The law seemed clear. The Judiciary Act of 1801, the law under which Marbury’s commission was authorized, specifically granted the Supreme Court the right to issue writs of mandamus, altering the constitutional function of the Court as strictly a court of appeals. To this point in U.S. history, no precedent existed to question the Supreme Court’s purpose in the federal judiciary. No one questioned the legality of legislative alteration. In 1803, when the Supreme Court heard the case, the Constitution was just 15 years old. The entire governmental system remained in a state of development. As a result, William Marbury had no reason to expect anything but victory. With the constitutionality of the Judiciary Act of 1802 already in question, the faithful Federalist John Marshall would certainly side with his partisan colleague, issue the writ of mandamus, force Madison to deliver the commissions, and effectively nullify the new judicial legislation.

9.12 - Level 9

Which of the following situations could be addressed by a writ of mandamus?


A county clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses to certain couples


A citizen who is being indefinitely held in prison


An illegal search of a citizen's home


A citizen who refuses to testify at a trial

John Marshall, Federalist though he was, also took the intention of law seriously. A virtuosic jurist, Marshall toed the line between partisanship and legal obligation. He recognized the difference between moral imperatives and legal reasoning, and, perhaps most importantly, he understood the power the Supreme Court could wield without proper definition. This eventually came to define his nearly 34-year tenure as Chief Justice, and it frustrated Republicans and Federalists alike. 

Figure 9.9: One of the pages of the original Marbury v. Madison decision [7] ​

Handed down on February 24, 1803, the decision caused more confusion than partisan victory or legislative effect (). Chief Justice Marshall agreed with Marbury that any legitimate appointee had the legal right to seek justice for any political injury suffered at the hands of executive privilege. The problem, however, was not Madison’s wrongdoing and Marbury’s right to legal challenge. Instead, it was the fundamental powers of the Supreme Court itself. In no uncertain terms, Marshall reminded Marbury that the Constitution, rather than Congress, dictated the powers and authority of the Supreme Court. As a result, Marshall’s court had original authority only over cases involving public officials “in which a state shall be a party.” “In all other cases,” Marshall wrote, quoting the Constitution, “the supreme court shall have appellate jurisdiction.” Marbury’s case, Marshall concluded, was neither a case against a state nor an appeal of a lower court’s decision. The Supreme Court had no authority to act upon any of it. The provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789 granting the Supreme Court the power to issue writs of mandamus stood in contravention of the Constitution, and was thus invalid.

Handed down on February 24, 1803, the Marbury v. Madison decision caused more confusion than partisan victory or legislative effect (Figure 9.9). Chief Justice Marshall agreed with Marbury that any legitimate appointee had the legal right to seek justice for any political injury suffered at the hands of executive privilege. The problem, however, was not Madison’s wrongdoing and Marbury’s right to legal challenge. Instead, it was the fundamental powers of the Supreme Court itself. In no uncertain terms, Marshall reminded Marbury that the Constitution, rather than Congress, dictated the powers and authority of the Supreme Court. As a result, Marshall’s court had original authority only over cases involving public officials “in which a state shall be a party.” “In all other cases,” Marshall wrote, quoting the Constitution, “the supreme court shall have appellate jurisdiction.” Marbury’s case, Marshall concluded, was neither a case against a state nor an appeal of a lower court’s decision. The Supreme Court had no authority to act upon any of it. The provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789 granting the Supreme Court the power to issue writs of mandamus stood in contravention of the Constitution, and was thus invalid.

John Marshall’s opinion in Marbury v. Madison established the fundamental powers of the Supreme Court for the first time. In declining to act on Marbury’s petition and declaring the power granted by the 1789 Judiciary Act unconstitutional, Marshall created what legal scholars call the power of “judicial review” within the Supreme Court. The Court could not force an issue or action that did not appear as legislation. It could only review the constitutionality of laws challenged in lower courts. As a result of checks and balances built into the Constitution, the Supreme Court could not force the president’s hand and change legally passed laws without expressed Constitutional authority. Likewise, Marshall protected the Court from the influence of Congressional and executive powers by rooting its authority entirely in the Constitution itself. Legislation, whether legally passed or not, could not add to or subtract from the powers of the Court. As the final appellate court in the nation, its judgments established constitutional precedent—interpretations of constitutional language that held the authority of the Constitution itself. In a single case, John Marshall had nullified the arguments of both Marbury and Madison, and laid the foundation for the American judicial system that would last for more than 200 years. 

Question 9.13

9.13 - Level 4

If Chief Justice Marshall ultimately ruled against William Marbury in Marbury v. Madison (1803), why do you think it is remembered as a sound defeat for the Jefferson administration?

Click here to see the answer to Question 9.13.

9.14 - Level 1

Although John Marshall served as Chief Justice for 34 of the first 50 years of United States history, he was not the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Which often overlooked Founding Father had that honor?


John Jay


Alexander Hamilton


Benjamin Franklin


Elbridge Gerry

Question 9.15

9.15 - Level 2

Explain the important precedent that Marbury v. Madison established regarding the power and scope of the Supreme Court.

Click here to see the answer to Question 9.15.

Figure 9.10: “A Philosophic Cock” by James Akin [8]

Mr. Jefferson Sails to War 

Having spent nearly a decade as an opposition leader dedicated to a smaller, more rural government, Jefferson suddenly found himself in control of a massive nation set up to grant him power, rather than take it away. One of his chief concerns going into the presidency was the United States’ foreign image, something he firmly believed fell to the authority of the federal government alone. The Jay Treaty, XYZ Affair, Quasi-War, and recurring conflicts with both Britain and France in the Atlantic had complicated the American geopolitical position. He knew that the United States Navy, still rather small and inefficient, could do nothing against its larger neighbors—especially the British, who commanded the greatest navy in the world. He could, however, make a stand against a weaker foe, especially if he could find one that nearly all of European nations disliked for one reason or another. 

Figure 9.11: Capture of the Tripoli by the Enterprise by Thomas Birch [9]​

For more than a century, Berber pirates under the colonial control of the Ottoman Empire had controlled the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, especially along the North African coast to the south. Sicilian, French, and Greek traders constantly battled the corsairs, who plied the southern Mediterranean waters looking for bribes and loot. From the earliest years of the American Revolution, pirates from the Barbary States of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, had targeted the weak and desperate American ships seeking supplies and support in southern Europe.

No correct answers: No correct answer has been set for this question

Point to one of the Barbary States on this map of the Mediterranean World.

Jefferson saw an opportunity to increase American influence in historically European-dominated trade networks while simultaneously helping a series of southern European nation-states. In October 1800, the pasha of Tripoli seized the American merchant ship Catharine. Upon Jefferson’s inauguration in March 1801, the pasha demanded that the new president both respond to a letter he had written President Adams the previous May and pay a bounty of $225,000 for the captured cargo and crew. Provided instead with Jefferson’s immediate refusal, the pasha declared war on the United States, goading the young nation to take action.

Jefferson wasted no time. Gaining the support of Sweden, a kingdom that had several prior engagements with the pirates of Tripoli, Jefferson sent a squadron of naval ships led by the USS Enterprise to the Barbary Coast, both to win back the hostages and neutralize the piracy threat (Figure 9.11). Over the course of four years, the United States battled and rooted out pirate ports in what historians called the First Barbary War (1801-1805), a conflict that ended with the Battle of Tripoli Harbor and a lopsided American victory. The war, though rather long due to the travel time required between the United States and North Africa, stands as the first official multi-national military engagement in United States history, and served as a high point of Jefferson’s foreign policy success. Beyond establishing long-lasting relations between the United States and Sweden, the First Barbary War improved American standing in the south of France as well as isolated Mediterranean states and communities such as Sicily, Naples, Sardinia, Dalmatia, Ragusa, and Greece. It likewise empowered the American political brand in larger European communities. Although it had defeated a second-rate foe, the United States had proven its mettle in international military affairs. It now had a track record of success.

Figure 9.12: “homme des Etats Barbaresques” by Jacques Grasset de Saint-Sauveur shows a wealthy Barbary trader in the late 1790s [10]​

9.17 - Level 2

Click on the nation that strongly supported the United States in the First Barbary War.

Internally, the Barbary War helped Jefferson publicize his vision of presidential limits. In 1801, he acted on the pasha’s demands without immediate congressional approval. In his defense, he stated that the Constitution allowed executive military action only in the case of national defense. Seeking to embody the image of a limited federal government, he argued that the pasha’s declaration of war served as a direct threat to American interests in the Mediterranean (Figure 9.12). As a result, then, he had no reason to seek the approval of Congress. However, Jefferson admitted that his actions tested the boundary between constitutional authority and federal overreach. Therefore, in the following congressional session in 1802, he asked for retroactive approval for the Barbary War, claiming that when questions of constitutionality arise, he was obliged to the power of the American people. Jefferson effectively checked his own authority, but not through forcing congressional action or bringing the issue before the Supreme Court. Rather, in classic Anti-Federalist form, he provided his own restrictive interpretation of the Constitution, and by asking for and receiving congressional approval after the fact, voluntarily placed his actions before the legislative assembly. He was leading by example.

9.18 - Level 1

Sort the following events in the order in which they occurred.


Jefferson sends the U.S.S. Enterprise to the Barbary Coast


Congressional approval of the First Barbary War


The capture of the U.S.S. Catharine by the pasha of Tripoli

A Look Westward: Napoléon, Saint-Domingue, and the Louisiana Purchase

The conflict in North Africa set an odd precedent for Jefferson. Although he sought congressional approval for his actions, he did so only after the fact. With American ships fighting in the Mediterranean, Jefferson was honest with Congress. If Congress had dragged its feet or refused to approve the deployment outright, he claimed, the war would end in American defeat. Everyone, even those who disagreed with the action all along, recognized the damage that would do to the international reputation of the United States. In the end, even though it reinforced his Anti-Federalist roots, Jefferson’s delayed request stood as a brilliant, if underhanded, political maneuver—an active attempt to sidestep congressional authority and fortify the privileges of his office. Success, then, inspired Jefferson, but it also complicated his legacy. Many of the achievements of Jefferson’s presidency rested on this cunning sense of political leverage.

Figure 9.13: Combat et prise de la Crête-à-Pierrot by Auguste Raffet. From Histoire de Napoleon, par M. de Norvins, Illustrée par Raffet. [11] ​

Jefferson’s greatest victory, however, seemed to fall directly into his hands. In 1791, at the peak of the French Revolution, tens of thousands of slaves on the French sugar colony of Saint-Domingue (today’s Haiti) rose up in rebellion against their white masters. Over the next 13 years, racial warfare consumed one of the world’s most profitable colonies (Figure 9.13). France, Jefferson’s ideological home, was a mess. Weighed down by the Jacobin-led “Terror,” the new French Republic lacked the means and the will to reestablish control of its last remaining foothold in North America. By the time Jefferson became president, though, a new power had arrived in France—one Jefferson saw as a welcomed reprieve from the horrors of the French “Terror.”

Having led the French Revolutionary army across much of Europe and North Africa, Napoléon Bonaparte established himself as “First Consul of the French Republic” following a military coup in late 1799 (Figure 9.14). With that, the French Revolution effectively ended, giving way to a makeshift monarchy centered on Napoléon himself. With most of the military behind him, the first consul vowed to retake Saint-Domingue, reinstate slavery on the island, and rebuild the economy of the sugar island. Napoléon did not want to remain on the outskirts of the North American trade economy. Since the end of the French and Indian War (1754-1763), France had retained just a handful of viable colonies in the New World, all located in the Caribbean. With Saint-Domingue in the middle of a horrifying slave rebellion, French trade in the Atlantic came to a standstill. It would take time to rebuild what was lost in Saint-Domingue, and the French needed another option for production to make itself relevant in Atlantic trade networks again. 

Figure 9.14: Premier Consul Bonaparte by Antoine-Jean Gros [12] ​

Meanwhile, following nearly two decades of war, the Spanish government, led by King Carlos IV, was in shambles. Granted the entire western portion of North America following the French and Indian War, Spain controlled the single largest empire in Europe, and one of the largest in the world. By 1800, however, the Spanish could no longer justify such holdings given their financial situation. Napoléon recognized his chance to pounce on Spain’s North American territory, offering a treaty of defense and military allegiance in return for the “retrocession” of Louisiana to France. The Treaty of San Ildefonso, signed on October 1, 1800, made the deal official, and France took legal control of the Mississippi River, and most importantly, the port of New Orleans, the next day. 

9.19 - Level 4

The Louisiana Purchase was only made possible because of which of the following treaties.


Jay Treaty


Treaty of Ghent


Treaty of San Ildefonso


Treaty of Orleans

9.20 - Level 2

Find the French colony of Saint-Domingue, soon to become the independent Republic of Haiti, on this map.

The United States had long ago realized the importance of the Mississippi River. In 1795, the Washington administration negotiated Pinckney’s Treaty, creating an official “friendship” between the United States and Spain and granting American ships the “right of deposit” at the port of New Orleans, free of duties and taxes. It makes sense, then, that when Spanish authorities in New Orleans (where the French had not yet arrived to take official control) publicly revoked docking privileges for all American vessels on the Mississippi River on October 6, 1802, the United States was shocked. President Jefferson called it a “sham” and claimed that Spain was simply delaying the inevitable. “The day that France takes possession of New Orleans,” the president wrote to Robert Livingston (Figure 9.15), his minister to France, “it seals the union of the two nations who in conjunction can maintain exclusive possession of the ocean.” Ever a supporter of France, Jefferson saw French control of New Orleans and Louisiana as a blessing to the United States, an affirmation of the old allies’ dedication to each other, and an indication of the power they could wield together. 

Figure 9.15: Robert Livingston by Gilbert Stuart [13] ​

In early 1802, Napoléon sent 30,000 professional French troops to “reconquer” Saint-Domingue. By November of the following year, no more than 8,000 remained. Decimated by guerrilla warfare and Yellow Fever, the French force had collapsed, and those lucky enough to survive fled the island, leaderless and defeated. Napoléon’s ultimate plan lay in ruins. Unbeknownst to Jefferson, who welcomed French control of Louisiana, the French consul sought to use the land as a launching point for an invasion of Florida and potentially the southern United States, but the plan required success in Saint-Domingue. Some 23,000 casualties later, Napoléon was out of options. Initially approached by an American delegation led by Robert Livingston in the spring of 1801, Napoléon had ignored American offers to purchase New Orleans from the French. If the Saint-Domingue expedition worked, he thought, New Orleans would become France’s most important North American holding. When the expedition failed, however, the Americans’ offer looked more enticing.

9.21 - Level 1

The American delegation led by Robert Livingston, and later James Monroe, traveled to Paris intent on purchasing all of French Louisiana in 1801.





Seemingly at random, at least from Livingston’s perspective, on April 10, 1803, François de Barbé-Marbois, Napoléons treasury minister, sent a proposal to the beleaguered Americans. In return for 60 million francs (roughly $15 million), which included payment for the land as well as debts left over from the Revolutionary War, France would sell the entirety of Louisiana to the Americans—828,000 square miles, nearly doubling the area of the United States at the time. Livingston, now joined by future president James Monroe, pounced on the offer, signing the Purchase Treaty on April 30, 1803. The Louisiana Purchase was complete. Sent by Jefferson in 1801 to negotiate the possible purchase of a single city, Livingston returned to Washington 15 million dollars lighter and in possession of a territory stretching from the mouth of the Mississippi River to the northernmost reaches of the Rocky Mountains.

Figure 9.16: Map of Louisiana Purchase​​

Jefferson had again acted without congressional authorization. The American delegation to Paris signed the Purchase Treaty and promised to hand over the money under the authority of Jefferson himself. Congress did not even know about the deal until Livingston and Monroe returned with news of a purchase. Federalists, and even some Republicans, fumed over such blatant assumptions of power. Fisher Ames, a Federalist from Massachusetts, famously protested that “we are to give money of which we have too little for land of which we already have too much—We expose our want of spirit, and aggravate our want of strength.” Not only had Jefferson overstepped his authority as president by negotiating a treaty without the knowledge or consent of Congress, he had also inadvertently threatened to bankrupt the United States treasury with the addition of tens of thousands of new inhabitants, all of whom suddenly fell under the limited reach of the federal government. “Our[s] are the burdens, theirs are the benefits,” Ames concluded.

9.22 - Level 1

After originally seeking just the port of New Orleans, Livingston and Monroe purchased the entire French Louisiana territory for some $15 million in April 1803. In all, how many square miles did that cover?

As before, President Jefferson asked for retroactive approval of a treaty over which Congress had no input. Although congressional approval would calm many tempers, it remained that most Federalists continued to regard the purchase as unconstitutional, claiming that a purchase of land did not fall under the constitutional definition of a treaty, the negotiation of which would have fallen under the direct authority of the president. They claimed that because $15 million of public funds had changed hands and the United States had become the legal “owner” of a new territory, the president needed direct approval from Congress. If not, they argued, the executive retained absolute power over the nation, and the purpose of the federal government was moot (Figure 9.17).

Jefferson admitted as much. In a letter to John Breckenridge, a fellow Republican and close ally, in August 1803, Jefferson confessed that “the constitution [sic.] has made no provision for our holding foreign territory, still less for incorporating foreign nations into our Union.” Even if his actions did fall under the terms of a treaty, however broad the interpretation, he had added a previously foreign population into the American body politic with the stroke of pen. This was the issue that remained after the Senate retroactively approved the Purchase Treaty 24 to 7, a vote split almost entirely down party lines. Regardless of constitutionality, the United States effectively doubled in size on July 4, 1803, with no plan or precedent to follow. 

Spotlight on Primary Source

Click here to view a transcript of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty from the National Archives.

Question 9.23

9.23 - Level 4

What do you think worried Jefferson’s detractors about the Louisiana Purchase and the tactics by which Jefferson acquired the land? Did Jefferson feel confident about the constitutionality of his actions? Why or why not?

Click here to see the answer to Question 9.23.

Growing Pains: Expansion, Crisis, and Jefferson's Second Term

Gliding to victory over Charles Pinckney in 1804 by 148 electoral votes, Jefferson’s “revolution” continued. The Louisiana Purchase advanced the United States toward the Jeffersonian model. Expanding westward into the open, fertile land surrounding the Mississippi River, the nation suddenly became a haven for humble farmers and rural yeoman. After all the work Federalists put into creating an urban-based economy headquartered in the congested northeast, Jefferson now succeeded in creating an agricultural alternative in the west. At last, mid-American farmers, enticed by land grants and affordable open space, had reason to move away from the Chesapeake and Carolina upcountry, which were becoming increasing expensive and populated. The Mississippi River, controlled at its mouth by the city of New Orleans, provided a commercial highway to the Atlantic trade that bypassed commercial ports on the east coast. For the first time, honest, virtuous American farmers no longer needed Federalists, urbanites, and northerners to draw a profit from trade. Now, they could look to the 90-year-old francophone port to the south and make it their own.

Figure 9.17:“The Prairie Dog Sickened at the Sting of the Hornet; or a Diplomatic Puppet Exhibiting his Deception” by James Akin [14]

9.24 - Level 4

Click on the figure in the political cartoon representing Thomas Jefferson.

This was Jefferson’s plan all along. As early as 1787, James Madison wrote in The Federalist that true republicanism required the expansion of borders and the creation of a massive, open nation. A widespread electorate of honest workers made politics pure. “Extend the sphere,” he wrote, “and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests.” For both Madison and Jefferson, the Louisiana Purchase answered the call and diversified both American society and politics. It created a physical canvas upon which the Republican Party could construct its idyllic republic and finish the movement begun with Jefferson’s election in 1800.

The problem, however, was that the space contained a population that did not entirely fit the model of American citizenship. By 1803, New Orleans, the thriving port city founded by the French in 1718, was home to just over 8,000 people, nearly 1,500 of whom were free people of color. Beyond the 3,000 slaves, who spoke a variety of African languages, nearly all of New Orleans’ inhabitants spoke French as their primary language. Most were Catholic and deeply rooted in the area. Many of the elite families proudly tracked their surnames to French colonial times over more than four generations. They identified themselves either as French or “Creole”—a social and cultural identity rooted in a specific physical locality, often translated as “native.” Generally speaking, they had lived their entire lives as colonists of European monarchs. They were not, and would not soon become, republicans. 

9.25 - Level 2

Which of the following best describes the people of New Orleans, the most populous urban space in the Louisiana Territory?


Very similar to the urban merchants and traders of the Northeast, especially in the realm of religion and ethnic background.


Mainly of Native American descent, resulting from the standard French colonial practice of intermarrying with local communities to create peaceful relations.


Mainly Africans who had rebelled against French sugar planters in the late 1780s and 1790s, establishing their own colony nominally under French control.


French-speaking Catholics who saw themselves more as products of the area itself rather than any single national tradition or identity.

9.26 - Level 1

What was the most widely practiced religion of Euro-American populations living in the Louisiana Territory upon its purchase by the United States?









Incorporating this “foreign” population required caution. The Jefferson administration, already testing the limits of the Constitution, could not simply grant citizenship and expect the best, but neither could it allow a population with such a distinct colonial lineage to create its own terms for membership into the union. Shrewdly, and with an eye to avoid congressional conflict, Jefferson relied on allies on the ground to draw up a system tailored to the people and the land. To this day, Louisiana, which became a state in 1812, retains a legal code based on both British/American common law and the French Civil Code. The language of government had to change from French to English, but the language of commerce and social interaction remained French for decades after the Purchase. Jefferson appointed a territorial governor, William C. C. Claiborne, but the people of the Territory of Orleans could elect their own advisory council. In essence, Jefferson sought to initiate the francophone Catholics of Louisiana gradually into the American body politic, promising them “the free enjoyment of their liberty, property and the Religion which they profess” until statehood and citizenship arrived.

Figure 9.18: Map of Lewis and Clark expedition​

All the while, Republicans in Congress and the administration wanted to shore up control of the new territory both politically and economically. In May 1804, a government-funded “corps of discovery” led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark departed from the frontier town of St. Louis (Figure 9.19). Although Jefferson saw the expedition as a chance to turn American eyes to the area and silence his critics in Congress, its “official” purpose, the president announced, was purely exploratory and scientific—they were to “discover” the natural and biological landmarks of the new western territories, creating, as best they can, a map of the mysterious “Northwest Passage” to the Pacific. In reality, however, the United States sought to establish a claim to the entire western expanse of North America, directly challenging Spanish and British claims beyond Louisiana. Lewis and Clark served as emissaries of American westward ambition, all while producing legitimate measurements and discoveries in the name of the United States.

Figure 9.19: “Lewis and Clark at the Three Forks” by Edgar Samuel Paxson [15]​

Question 9.27

9.27 - Level 5

Why did President Jefferson want to send an expedition out west, especially consider-ing the amount of land it would have to cover, and the obvious danger involved? Do you think it was truly “scientific” in nature?

Click here to see the answer to Question 9.27.

While Jefferson’s gaze turned west, trouble mounted in the east. Although the Louisiana Purchase and the collapse of the French ambitions in the New World eased tensions between the United States, France, and Spain, Britain continued to challenge American interests in the Atlantic. Indeed, part of the Louisiana Purchase involved acquiring an alternative southern port, away from the Atlantic coast, Federalist institutions, and predatory British patrols. For more than two decades, British ships had harassed American traders, claiming that independence did not break their natural allegiance to the British Crown. As a result, American sailors often found themselves forced into service in the British Royal Navy, faced with the painful choice of surrender or treason.

This practice, known as impressment, defined British maritime policy in the Post-Revolutionary era (Figure 9.20). Because King George III, slipping deeper and deeper into madness by the 1800s, refused to recognize American independence even after the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, he declared that all Americans remained subjects of the crown. According the British law, subjecthood followed the lives of each individual regardless of will or want. The allegiance that defined this subjecthood began at birth and continued as a “natural condition” of the individual. Rebellion and denunciation could not nullify what nature bestowed. 

Figure 9.20: “Impressment of Seamen” by Howard Pyle [16]

Unable to challenge Britain’s navy directly, the United States first tried to avoid conflict by signing the Jay Treaty, increasing trade with Britain, and taking a hard stance against Britain’s enemies, especially France. However, the Louisiana Purchase, retraction of the Jay Treaty in 1806, and increased trade with France under Jefferson soured Anglo-American relations more than ever, and reports of impressment reached record levels. In 1803, Britain and France went to war for the second time in five years, one that would last more than ten years. The last of the expansive Napoleonic Wars (1802-1815), this final Anglo-French conflict disrupted more than just European politics. Three years in, each country had placed the other under a strict blockade, banning all trade, foreign or domestic, with its enemy. Two years into Jefferson’s second term, American trade with Europe came to an abrupt halt. France threatened to cut off trade entirely with the United States if it continued to trade with Britain, while the Royal Navy stepped up impressment of American sailors, claiming that any American trade with France would represent true treason against the British crown.

According to some recent estimates, the British impressed more than 6,000 American sailors in 1806 and 1807 alone, occasionally attacking ships just off the American coastline. On June 22, 1807 the HMS Leopard, a Royal Navy sloop, bombarded the USS Chesapeake, killing four American sailors before boarding the ship to search its crew. The attack occurred just several miles from the northern Virginia coast, where, the British claimed, the United States government was housing illicit French traders and Royal Navy deserters in Norfolk. Although it resulted in the impressment of just four American sailors (in addition to the four deaths), the attack broke new ground for targeting an American warship rather than a trader. If any question existed to the legality of impressment, it evaporated with the so-called “Chesapeake Incident,” an event Jefferson and his Republican supporters saw as an act of war.

Rather than invite a naval war with Great Britain, the greatest naval power in the world, Jefferson decided to take the United States out of international waters. In December 1807, he convinced Congress to pass the Embargo Act of 1807, a restrictive trade embargo outlawing the exportation of American-made products to any nation. The Act, driven by Jefferson’s dedication to internal production and agricultural subsistence, was one of the most restrictive pieces of federal legislation in American history. Intended to show both Great Britain and France the value of American trade, it instead produced a gaping hole in the American economy by halting nearly all international trade. Suddenly, American traders and merchants had to construct entirely new networks of production and sale, seeking internal markets large enough and wealthy enough to take on shipments and products intended for European shelves. American exports decreased by 80% within a year as ships from Europe, South America, and the Caribbean started bypassing the entire American coastline. What little international trade existed took place illegally through smuggling and piracy, and often went untaxed. European products multiplied in value, making even the simplest imports into novelties for the most connected, wealthiest tradesmen. 

Figure 9.21: “Sedition! Treason!”—an anti-Embargo broadside from 1809 [17]

To make things worse, neither Britain nor France seemed to mind the loss. With mutual blockades established, the economies of both nations had shifted to colonial productions rather than international trade, making the United States an insignificant partner long before the Embargo Act became law. As a result, instead of stimulating internal production and making the United States more self-reliant, the Embargo Act ruined the American urban economy, causing the closure of dozens of trading firms and merchant houses. It also overburdened the agricultural sector Jefferson so badly sought to support. Americans needed an alternative market in Europe. The northeast and the developing industrial sector in the north could not consume enough of the South’s produce to keep the region viable. Internal trade alone could not support both regions. With less than a year until the next presidential election, Thomas Jefferson had made his worst mistake, passing the consequences to his successor (Figure 9.21). 

9.28 - Level 1

The Embargo Act of 1807 outlawed the __________\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_ of all American-made products to any foreign nation.

Question 9.29

9.29 - Level 2

What was the Embargo Act supposed to achieve? Why didn’t it work as planned?

Click here to see the answer to Question 9.29.

"Mr. Madison's War" 

On March 4, 1809, the last day of Jefferson’s presidency, some celebrated and some mourned. Ever the divisive character, his actions over the last few months had polarized the American public more than perhaps ever. He benefitted from several successful years prior to the 1808, but the fallout from the Embargo Act of 1807 had shaken his support and forced his successor, Secretary of State James Madison, to step back a bit from the outgoing president (Figure 9.22). Recognizing the potential damage to the Republican brand, Jefferson ushered the Non-Intercourse Act through Congress in the fall of 1808, and signed it into law just days before his presidency came to an end. The law did not repeal the Embargo Act. It simply amended it, opening American trade to all nations except Britain and France. Jefferson, even on the outs with his own party, would only concede so much.

James Madison ran on the same message that carried had Thomas Jefferson to victory four years earlier. Promising to keep the powers of government under control and dial back some of the “excesses” of the past, he presented himself as a true Republican in the Anti-Federalist tradition, acknowledging the shortcomings of his beloved predecessor. This message led Madison to a victory over Charles Pinckney, an old-style Federalist who had lost badly to Jefferson in 1804. The American people, it seemed, had not given up on the Republican Party. They had simply recognized Jefferson’s mistakes, and believed Madison would fix them.

Figure 9.22: President James Madison by John Vanderlyn [18]

Madison started well. In 1810, he signed Macon’s Bill No. 2 into law, repealing both the Embargo and Non-Intercourse Acts of the Jefferson administration and threatening to place a new embargo on any nation who interfered with legitimate American trade. The following year, Madison worked with allies and supporters in the Republican-controlled Congress to block the reauthorization of the First Bank of the United States—an institution left over from the Washington administration that Anti-Federalists swore to dismantle whenever possible. He took a strong stance with Britain and France, declaring the United States a “neutral party” to their ongoing war, and asking for their respect as such. To the surprise of Madison and his administration, who expected pushback from the more powerful nations, Napoléon repealed his anti-neutrality orders and sent the new president a cryptic letter implying that he expected “something” in return.

Meanwhile, the British navy continued to impress American sailors and attack American vessels trading with France. On April 4, 1812, President Madison signed a 90-day embargo on Britain, threatening to extend it if impressment did not end. Meanwhile, a new congressional voice had formed, rooted in the old Federalist cabal and led by the Republican Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky (Figure 9.23). Known as “War Hawks,” this brand of Republicans called for war with Britain over the continued interference with legitimate American trade. They used the potential for war to look northward, claiming that an invasion of Canada, Britain’s last remaining colonial holding in the area, would expand American dominance of the region, unite similar populations, and exile Britain from North America once and for all. President Madison, though more tempered than the War Hawks, did not entirely disagree. Indeed, he saw war as a viable solution to a problem that had plagued the United States for more than two decades. He did not, however, want to invade Canada and provoke a full-scale war if another option remained. 

Figure 9.23: Speaker of the House Henry Clay by Matthew Harris Jouett [19]

Madison’s resolve for peace broke when reports arrived describing British colonial agents paying Indians in the west to raid American forts and villages in the new Illinois Territory. Frustrated with American advances into Indian-held lands, members of the Creek and Cherokee nations became increasingly supportive of the British regime to the east, complicating relations with the United States. Great Britain’s apparent alliance with these two major Indian nations, as well as consistent calls from the War Hawks in Congress, convinced Madison and a number of Republicans that the United States needed a chance to show its resolve against the bullying of larger nations. The Louisiana Purchase, as well as the Revolution as a whole, had convinced many Americans that North America fundamentally belonged to them, and that expansion was not only just, but also fated by a higher power. By the summer of 1812, James Madison believed that war could open the rest of North America to the United States and rid the continent of the British pestilence.

On June 1, 1812, just two months after the temporary embargo, Madison presented a declaration of war before Congress. Passing the House by 30 votes (79 to 49) and the Senate by six (19 to 13), the declaration reached the president’s desk within two weeks of its issuance. With Madison’s signature, penned on June 18, the United States declared war for the first time in its history.

Question 9.30

9.30 - Level 2

What led to the American declaration of war against Britain on June 1, 1812? Did President Madison act alone? Did the declaration meet wide support in Congress?

Click here to see the answer to Question 9.30.

The War of 1812

The American declaration took the British by surprise. Not only did they assume the Americans too weak to provoke war, but they also had more important issues before them—most notably the ongoing war with France. Realistically, the United States went to war at the right time. If Britain was to do anything, it had to split its army, diverting forces from the more immediate conflict in Europe to secure its secondary colonial holdings in North America. What the United States did not expect, however, was the dedication of British colonial troops already on the continent, and the willingness of King George III and his government to support the distant war effort across the Atlantic.

The initial invasion of Canada did not go well. Potentially falling victim to the heated rhetoric of the War Hawks, President Madison authorized a march into Canada, convinced that the Canadian colonists would join the Americans in overthrowing British authority in the area. The northernmost border of the United States had never taken form. Farmers and traders technically on one side daily exchanged goods, money, and ideas with neighbors on the other. Families occasionally lived on separate sides of the Canadian-American border without ever knowing which to call home. Having learned of the invasion, militias in a number of border states refused to take up arms against their neighbors and cousins across the St. Lawrence. To make things worse, the urban Canadians, as well as those who lived further inland, did not share this reluctance—and they certainly did not welcome an American invasion.

Figure 9.24: U.S. Capitol after burning by the British by George Munger [20] ​

Met by disaffected, defensive frontiersmen and their Indian allies, the poorly trained, makeshift American militias fell apart at every turn. In August, Detroit fell to a Canadian advance. In October, more than 830 American regulars surrendered to Canadian militia men at the Battle of Queenston Heights. By the following month, the Americans, under the command of General Henry Dearborn, Jefferson’s former Secretary of War, had given up on eastern Canada altogether and turned to the more urban and foreign west, with its centers at York, Montréal, and Québec. What was once a force of nearly 13,000 American regulars had disintegrated into a demoralized and abandoned crew just 6,000 strong. Separated into two main forces, they achieved victory at York and Fort George, but fell miserably to smaller forces at Stoney Creek (where they outnumbered the Canadians more than 4-to-1), Fort Eerie, and thrice at Montréal. By summer 1813, it was clear that the invasion of Canada had failed.

Meanwhile in May 1813, the British navy, largely victorious over their flailing French counterparts in Europe, established a blockade of the eastern coastline, cutting off American trade with much of the world. At the same time, the addition of Austria, Prussia, and Sweden to the united front against Napoléon in Europe freed up thousands of hardened British troops for service in North America. The timing could not have been worse for Madison and the disheartened American army. By the winter, the only notable American successes had come from the wild and belligerent Major General Andrew Jackson against British-backed Indians in Alabama as well as several shocking naval victories in the North Atlantic. Beyond that, battles in Canada continued to go sour for the Americans, and as spring approached, the first waves of British regulars started to arrive in the northeast. 

9.31 - Level 1

Instead of attracting the allegiance of Canadians sick of British colonial oppression, the United States invasion of Canada in 1812 ended largely in disaster, as most Canadians did not take kindly to the invasion and eagerly took up arms against the advancing American troops.





The Americans, though badly beaten in Canada, did not lay down to the British invasion. Journalists and editors published rallying cries of a “Second War of Independence,” a chance to prove American mettle against a superior foe. The reality of the situation became clear rather quickly, but so too did the determination of the Americans to hold on until nothing remained. The value of the American performance in the War of 1812, then, arises from its will to suffer. Landing more than 45,000 troops over the course of 1814, the British marched freely through the American countryside, arriving at the abandoned Washington, D.C. on August 24, 1814. There they burned the Executive Mansion, the Library of Congress, and the unfinished Capitol building (Figure 9.24). They then marched on to the final bastion of the United States government—the city of Baltimore, in whose harbor sat Fort McHenry (Figure 9.25).

Figure 9.25: “A View of the Bombardment of Fort McHenry” by John Bower [21]​

President Madison waited under siege in Baltimore. In September, he sent Andrew Jackson, fresh off victories over the Cherokee and Creek in Alabama, to New Orleans, where everyone suspected the final British invasion would land. Madison knew the war had ended, but he did not know who had won. The British siege of Baltimore had failed. Fort McHenry, under constant bombardment since the British had arrived, still flew the American flag. The British were tired, nearly bankrupt, and suffered from massive internal conflict back home. Neither side wished to continue the fight. Peace talks began in Ghent, Belgium, the same month Jackson moved south. After several months of bitter negotiations, fueled by pride and resentment over the burning of Washington, both sides agreed to a truce and signed the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. The War of 1812 had ended.

Figure 9.26: Provisions of the Treaty of Ghent​

The fighting, though, did not stop. Although Britain had ratified the treaty on December 27, the document did not arrive in the United States for another two months. In the meantime, Andrew Jackson and a ragtag group of “Kaintuck” frontiersmen, Tennessee militiamen, free men of color, pirates, and local French Creoles from New Orleans prepared for invasion. Unaware of the treaty, Sir Edward Packenham, a young virtuoso of high repute, led his army into Lake Pontchartrain north of New Orleans and marched west to the fields of the Chalmette Plantation, some six miles east of the city. On January 8, 1815, as the Treaty of Ghent traveled to Washington to announce the end of the war two weeks earlier, Packenham’s force of 11,000 professional British regulars met Jackson’s makeshift force of 4,500 disparate volunteers. In a matter of hours, the Battle of New Orleans was over. When the smoke cleared, just under 2,000 British soldiers lay dead or dying, including General Packenham, with the bulk of the British force in retreat. Meanwhile, Jackson buried just 55 men and captured nearly 500 Britons (Figure 9.27).

The unlikely American victory sent shock waves across the Atlantic. Although the war had officially ended, the invasion of Louisiana stood as a potential breaking point for the Americans. Had New Orleans fallen, Britain, in all likelihood, would have continued its march northward, ignoring the newly signed Treaty of Ghent. The lopsided nature of the victory, however, quashed any future plans the British may have harbored and served as a unifying moment for all Americans. After constant frustration and defeat in the northeast and Canada, a diverse, disconnected, and largely untrained American force had repelled a much stronger British force in the nation’s newest state. 

Figure 9.27: “Battle of New Orleans” by Jean Hyacinthe de Laclotte [22] ​

The Battle of New Orleans came to embody American victory in the war itself. Although the Treaty of Ghent changed little, restoring the status quo ante bellum, Jackson’s victory at New Orleans turned the moral tide in America’s favor. From that moment, Americans considered themselves the victors of the war and celebrated accordingly. The Siege of Fort McHenry likewise took on a noble character, producing Francis Scott Key’s poem, “The Defence of Fort McHenry” (later renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner”), and serving as an example of American grit and determination. What could have ended in disaster instead unified a nation in triumph. Even if Washington burned and the majority of battles ended in defeat, the United States emerged from the War of 1812, and the Battle of New Orleans, a new, more united nation. The United States had arrived “among the nations of the earth.”

Question 9.32

9.32 - Level 6

Did the United States win or lose the War of 1812? Make a case for both sides.

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The first decade and a half of the nineteenth century inaugurated a “revolution” in American politics. Fixed beneath an established Federalist system, Jeffersonian principles of detracted governmental authority, hardy self-reliance, and westward expansion took hold with abandon. The irony, however, was that to accomplish this revolution, Thomas Jefferson had to strengthen his own case as chief executive of the nation. Through executive privilege, political sway in Congress, and a dedication to a new “Republican” rhetoric, Jefferson became among the strongest, most centralized presidents the United States had yet seen. He did, however, begin what would eventually become the longest stretch of political dominance in the history of the country. For six consecutive terms, Jeffersonians held the presidency as well as Congress. Even as James Madison, Jefferson’s chosen successor, took office in 1809 and went to war with Great Britain just three years later, Jefferson’s message and the image he struck of the honest, virtuous American standard, remained the dominant political themes. The years following the War of 1812 came to embody the Jeffersonian revolution of the preceding decade more than Jefferson or Madison ever did, and it redefined the future of the nation.  

Pre-Class Discussion Questions

Class Discussion 9.01

Class Discussion 9.01 - Level 5

Why was Saint Domingue, and later Haiti, so important to the United States?

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Class Discussion 9.02

Class Discussion 9.02 - Level 2

Who was John Marshall? Why is his judgment in Marbury v. Madison (1803) so foundational to the American political system?

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Class Discussion 9.03

Class Discussion 9.03 - Level 5

Do you think the War of 1812 was a just war? Do you think the United States was in a position to challenge the mighty British? Is it correct to view the war as an American victory?

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Class Discussion 9.04

Class Discussion 9.04 - Level 5

Do you think Jefferson overstepped the bounds of office engaging in the First Barbary War and purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France? If so, what do you think he should have done? If not, do you also think Adams acted within the limits of the presidency with the Alien and Sedition Acts and his “midnight” appointments?

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Class Discussion 9.05

Class Discussion 9.05 - Level 4

With the Louisiana Purchase, the United States received not only land but also the growing port of New Orleans, complete with nearly 10,000 inhabitants, including some 3,000 slaves. How did these people differ from their new American compatriots? Were they and the rest of the inhabitants of Louisiana citizens?

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Suggested Additional Material

Appleby, Joyce. Thomas Jefferson. New York: Times Books. 2003.

Burstein, Andrew and Nancy Isenberg. Madison and Jefferson. New York: Random House. 2010.

Gitlin, Jay. The Bourgeois Frontier: French Towns, French Traders, and American Expansion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 2010.

Kastor, Peter J. The Nation’s Crucible: The Louisiana Purchase and the Creation of America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 2004.

Onuf, Peter S. Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. 2000.

Pasley, Jeffrey L. “The Tyranny of Printers”: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. 2001.

Taylor, Alan. The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2010.

Waldstreicher, David. In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776-1820. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. 1997.

Wood, Gordon S. Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009.

Answers to In-Chapter Discussion Questions

Answer to Question 9.03

The attacks often became personal, even reaching into the home lives of both the candidates and the editors. Often published under pseudonyms in the classical past, essays appeared constantly that accused the candidates of harboring Jacobin sympathies or seeking to curtail the basic freedoms upon which the young United States was founded. Cartoons also started to appear lampooning each candidate and their views as absurd and even dangerous. This was the first time newspapers became a major conduit through which dissent and opposition could find a voice. 

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Answer to Question 9.07

Responses will vary. Most obvious problem is the lack of official presidential and vice-presidential candidates. 

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Answer to Question 9.08

The fundamental problem was the lack of campaign tickets, linking a single vote to two separate candidates rather than to a single ticket of two candidates from two different offices (the presidency and the vice-presidency). In previous elections, the winner of the electoral vote became president and the runner-up became vice-president.

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Answer to Question 9.11

The main contradiction Jefferson exposed through his actions was his reliance on executive privilege and federal power to sidestep and ignore obstacles Adams had left. In this way, Jefferson betrayed his earlier stance against an expanded federal government and unchecked executive power—a major betrayal!

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Answer to Question 9.13

The main way Marbury v. Madison stood as a defeat for the Jefferson administration is that it established the Supreme Court as the sole arbiter on the constitutionality of laws and acts of Congress, creating a major obstacle to Jefferson’s control of Congress, which was now firmly checked by the Supreme Court.

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Answer to Question 9.15

The most important precedent that Marshall’s decision established was “judicial review”: the notion that the Supreme Court could only review the constitutionality of laws challenged in lower courts. It could only hear cases that were appeals or ones where a state was a party. Moreover, it established the notion of constitutional precedent: that the Court’s job was to interpret constitutional language, and no legislation (even legally passed) could change this.

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Answer to Question 9.23

Jefferson had not initially asked Congress for the funds with which he bought Louisiana and never discussed the Purchase Treaty with Congress before it was signed. This worried the opposition because it indicated that Jefferson was willing to bend the rules of governance to achieve his goal.

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Answer to Question 9.27

Possible answers include Jefferson’s plan to challenge Spanish and British claims to Western lands, his support for westward expansion and American dominion across the entire North American continent, and the basic need to establish a presence in the new Louisiana Purchase lands.

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Answer to Question 9.29

The Embargo Act was supposed to support and fuel American internal production and challenge the dominance of foreign markets in the American economic system. The problem was that the United States did not have the facilities or the demand for locally produced goods. The majority of urban production focused on foreign markets, and without those markets, many producers lost a great deal of their customers.  

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Answer to Question 9.30

Chief among several reasons was the impressment of American sailors in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, as well as the interruption of American trade by the British Royal Navy. Behind Madison’s actions stood the “War Hawks,” led by Henry Clay of Kentucky, who led the congressional push toward war. Congress was split on the decision for war with the South supporting it and the North largely opposing it.

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Answer to Question 9.32

1) The case for the U.S. losing the war of 1812 stems from the fact that they lost the vast majority of the actual military confrontations of the war. Not only did their invasion of Canada fail miserably but the British army was able to burn down many buildings in the District of Columbia. 2) On the other hand, the U.S. was much more successful in the western frontier under the command of Andrew Jackson, where they won a number of key battles that made up for the losses in Canada. Furthermore, the grit shown at the siege of Fort McHenry unified the nation and proved that Americans would not roll over in the face of a superior foe.

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Answers to Pre-Class Discussion Questions

Answer to Class Discussion 9.01

The slave revolt in Saint Domingue remains the only successful slave revolt in the western hemisphere. As the Haitian Revolution expanded and became more violent, the French effectively withdrew from the island. Napoléon, however, was dedicated to winning the island back, reestablishing slavery, rebuilding the sugarcane industry, and then launching a potential attack on North America through Louisiana. The defeat of Napoléon’s force in Saint Domingue/Haiti led to famous emperor’s willingness to sell Louisiana to the United States. 

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Answer to Class Discussion 9.02

John Marshall was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for 34 years. Appointed by John Adams in 1801, he held office for Jefferson’s entire presidency, adding a decidedly Federalist bent to the Supreme Court. In Marbury v. Madison, Marshall established the powers of the Supreme Court as final arbiter of the Constitution. Oddly, he restricted the powers of the court in Marbury, but in doing so, he gave the Supreme Court unchecked authority over the constitutionality of legislation. That remains the primary power of the Supreme Court today.

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Answer to Class Discussion 9.03

Opinion-based. The question largely boils down to context. Regardless of ability, some may well consider the war just because of America’s position in the world. The British were, in fact, abusing the navy’s weakness and taking advantage of their past colonial control of North America. As a result, the United States was justified in declaring war on them in an attempt to establish sovereignty and complete independence from their former colonial masters. On the other hand, though, the United States failed at nearly every aspect of the war. The invasion of Canada failed miserably and no one expected the British to land a full force and march on Washington. Tactically, the United States lost the War of 1812 handedly. However, the nationalistic fervor that resulted from the war, fueled largely by the victory at New Orleans in January 1815, painted the war in a positive light for many Americans, especially in the South.

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Answer to Class Discussion 9.04

Opinion-based. The key factor in this is Jefferson’s so-called “retroactive approval” from Congress. In the end, Congress did in fact approve of both moves, only not until after Jefferson had already ordered them. It should have happened the other way around. Naturally, the procedure called for congressional approval well before Jefferson actually told anyone to set sail or sign a document exchanging 828,000 square miles for $15 million. Adams’s action, however, especially concerning the Alien and Sedition Acts and the “midnight judges” sidestepped the issues of procedure and constitutionality as well. The former were clearly abuses of executive power, although they were initiated and granted by Congress. The latter was bitter but not necessarily illegal. Both times he used his influence and the waning days of his administration to pass legal legislation and appointments. Should he have done that? Probably not. But he did, and legally at that.

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Answer to Class Discussion 9.05

The people of New Orleans were an odd bunch. Over nearly 100 years of colonial experience, they had little understanding of the principles of republican government, especially those of representation under the law. To make things worse, almost everyone spoke French and practiced Catholicism, a denomination of Christianity that had not yet made inroads into the United States. There were also a large number of mixed-race people, something both the French and Spanish allowed and even celebrate but that confused and even worried many Americans. For the first several years after the Louisiana Purchase, the white inhabitants of the area were not citizens. It was not until statehood in 1812 that the white population joined its neighbors in citizenship. 

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Image Credits

[1] Image courtesy of the Untied States Navy [031029-N-6236G-00] in the Public Domain.

[2] Image courtesy of New York Historical Society in the Public Domain.

[3] Image courtesy of New York Historical Society, Alexander Hamilton Exhibition in the Public Domain.

[4] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division in the Public Domain.

[5] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division in the Public Domain. 

[6] Image courtesy of the Library of Virginia in the Public Domain.

[7] Image courtesy of National Archives via ourdocuments.gov in the Public Domain.

[8] Image courtesy of American Antiquarian Society in the Public Domain.

[9] Image courtesy of Art Institute of Chicago in the Public Domain.

[10] Image courtesy of Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the Public Domain.

[11] Image courtesy of Histoire de Napoleon, M. de Norvins, 1839, page 239 in the Public Domain.

[12] Image courtesy of Musée de la Légion d'honneur in the Public Domain.

[13] Image courtesy of The Athenaeum in the Public Domain.

[14] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[15] Image courtesy of Tungsten in the Public Domain.

[16] Image courtesy of National Museum of the U.S. Navy in the Public Domain.

[17] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[18] Image courtesy of the White House Historical Association in the Public Domain.

[19] Image courtesy of Transylvania University in the Public Domain.

[20] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division in the Public Domain.

[21] Image courtesy of Google Arts and Culture in the Public Domain.

[22] Image courtesy of The Athenaeum in the Public Domain.