The period between 1820-1850 set the US on a very specific path as a republic. Most republics at that period failed–across Latin America, in France–for a variety of reasons. Yet in the wake of the War of 1812 the US resisted these destabilizing forces and, impressively, expanded geographically and economically. By 1820, Young America was in the midst of the boom in cotton production, had begun rapid industrialization, pushed its boundaries westward to the Mississippi, and announced itself as a power in the Western Hemisphere. In coming decades, it absorbed thousands of immigrants from Europe who hoped to make a new start in the new nation. All the while, states expanded voting for white males which gave the era the nickname “The Age of the Common Man”. The first mass political parties were born, starting with the Jacksonian Democrats and followed by the Whigs.

The nation’s contradictions are also noteworthy: in the midst of the rapid growth of democracy, common Americans feared the rise of an new economic and political elite in both the North and the South. And, a republic based on the rights of man grew wealthy based on the enslavement of African Americans and the seizure of lands of Native Americans. The issues of the period were big, as were the personalities.

This then is fertile ground for study, debate, and reflection as scholars. And as citizens of the US and the world, there is much to be learned about debates and discussions today. 

In the exhibits on this site, students in HST 303 engage with many of these debates during this period through primary source analysis and critical thinking. Feel free to explore!