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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

Shaping a Federal Union - Document Overview

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To borrow a phrase from a twentieth-century cartoon character, "We have met the enemy and he is us."1 In the early years of the American Revolution, and on through the War for Independence, revolutionaries distanced themselves from local opponents both in word and action. Calling themselves patriots and Americans while cursing the loyalists as Tories, they tried, and often succeeded, in driving out these enemies. They also focused on and fought fiercely against the external threat: Great Britain and its armies. The necessity of dealing with these threats, as well as a shared idealistic desire to initiate a new civil millennium, tended to steer the revolutionaries through a myriad of political conflicts into consensus on what they wanted to achieve: republican states and nation. Consensus, however, although firmly founded on certain key ideas about rights and government, was in fact a rather fragile construct. Fissures and weak spots soon appeared in the philosophical and governmental systems that the revolutionaries had engineered, and the persons who discovered and exposed these were not outsiders, they were Americans. The Revolution, therefore, did not end with the ratification of the Articles of Confederation and state constitutions; nor did it end with victory in the war. It continued through the 1780s as Americans struggled with themselves over the interpretation and implementation through law and government of such ideas as life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.

At times it may seem that governing in peace is more difficult than governing in war, and so it appeared in the immediate postwar years. That transition from war to peace, from fighting for independence to living with it, proved quite difficult for Americans in the 1780s. There was so much to which they had to adjust, both in personal and political affairs. Issues that had been repressed, ignored, or temporarily compromised upon during the greater emergency now demanded resolution along with the new problems that cropped up. People and events, both foreign and domestic, constantly challenged the plans and programs, including the Articles of Confederation, that leaders had drawn up during the war. While they certainly reflected revolutionary political philosophy, these schemes had also been the result of expediency and speculation as to what the nation and its people would face and want in the future. Once the future became the present, and that present became marked by problems, many—but not all—Americans clamored for amendments.

For people who tended to define pursuit of happiness in economic terms, the financial fiascoes of the postwar era proved especially disconcerting. Americans did not simply want to muddle through the adjustments that had to be made, they wanted solutions—with many demanding that they be democratic ones—that would allow them to prosper. The nation and states struggled to meet those desires as they also strove to ensure the security of the United States.

In the course of trying to cure the nation's ills, some American leaders fostered another one. They prescribed changing the federal compact and government, which raised a fever among Americans. At issue was the degree of change acceptable to the majority at that time. Some Americans wanted to slow down the changes and create a stability in which they could find the time to think things through before taking the next step. Some thought there had already been too much change. There was a fear that their dearly bought win would lead to loss. The heated debates that ensued ranged over the need for radical change versus more moderate reforms, who would lead during and after the change, and how the change would define the nation and people.

1. Pogo by Walt Kelly, 1970 cartoon. (Return to text)

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