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Forging the National Economy, 1790–1860

Chapter Themes

Theme: In the era of Jacksonian democracy, the American population grew rapidly and changed in character. More people lived in the raw West and in the expanding cities, and immigrant groups like the Irish and Germans added their labor power to America’s economy, sometimes arousing hostility from native-born Americans in the process.

Theme: In the early nineteenth century, the American economy laid the foundations for industrialization. The greatest advances occurred in transportation, as canals and railroads bound the Union together into a continental economy with strong regional specialization.

Theme: The beginnings of industrialization altered the roles of women, both the minority who worked in the factories and the majority who worked on farms or in the home. Families grew smaller, and the ideal of the “child-centered home” was linked to that of a “domestic feminism” that gave women greater authority within the family.

chapter summary

The youthful American republic expanded dramatically on the frontier in the early nineteenth century. Frontier life was often crude and hard on the pioneers, especially women.

Westward-moving pioneers often ruthlessly exploited the environment, exhausting the soil and exterminating wildlife. Yet the wild beauty of the West was also valued as a symbol of American national identity, and eventually environmentalists would create a national park system to preserve pieces of the wilderness.

Other changes altered the character of American society and its workforce. Old cities expanded, and new cities sprang up in the wilderness. Irish and German immigrants poured into the country in the 1830s and 1840s, and the Irish in particular aroused nativist hostility because of their Roman Catholic faith.

Inventions and business innovations like free incorporation laws spurred economic growth. Women and children were the most exploited early factory laborers. Male wage workers made some genuine gains in wages and hours but generally failed in unionization attempts.

The economic changes brought new roles not only for those women who worked in factories (usually only in their early years) but within the traditional sphere of the home. Families became smaller as well as more close-knit and affectionate, and women gained a larger authority within the home, exerting a kind of “domestic feminism.” Families also became more child-centered, as child-rearing practices changed from authority to nurture.

The most far-reaching economic advances before the Civil War occurred in agriculture and transportation. The early railroads, despite many obstacles, gradually spread their tentacles across the country. Foreign trade remained only a small part of the American economy, but changing technology gradually created growing economic links to Europe. By the early 1860s the telegraph, railroad, and

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