Westward Expansion And Regional Differences: Introduction

"Go west, young man, and grow up with the country."
Horace Greeley, 1851
The War of 1812 was, in a sense, a second war of independence, for before that time the United States had not yet been accorded equality in the family of nations. After the treaty ending that war, the United States was never again refused the treatment due an independent nation. Most of the serious difficulties that the young republic had faced since the Revolution now disappeared. National union brought a balance between liberty and order. With only a trifling national debt, and a virgin continent awaiting the plow, a prospect of peace, prosperity, and social progress opened before the nation.

Politically, this was an "era of good feeling," as contemporaries called it. Commerce was cementing national unity. The privations of war had shown the importance of protecting the manufacturers of America until they could stand alone against foreign competition. Economic independence, it was urged, was as essential as political; indeed, political independence was hardly a reality without economic self-sufficiency and, as the Revolutionary War had been fought for the one, so now it was proposed to fight for the other. To foster this self-sufficiency, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, congressional leaders of the time, urged "protectionism" - Imposition of a tariff to foster the development of American industry.

The time was propitious for raising the customs tariff. The shepherds of Vermont and Ohio wished protection against an influx of English wool. In Kentucky, a new industry of weaving local hemp into cotton bagging was menaced by the Scotch bagging industry. Pittsburgh, already a flourishing center of iron smelting, was eager to challenge British and Swedish iron suppliers. The tariff enacted in 1816 imposed duties high enough to give manufacturers real protection. In addition, a national system of roads and canals was being earnestly advocated by those who pointed out that better transportation would bind more closely east and west.

The position of the federal government at this time was greatly strengthened by declarations of the Supreme Court. A convinced Federalist, John Marshall of Virginia, was made Chief Justice in 1801 and held that office until his death in 1835. The court-weak before his administration-was transformed into a powerful tribunal, occupying a position as important as that of Congress or the President. In a succession of historic decisions, Marshall never deviated from one cardinal principle: upholding the sovereignty of the federal government.

Marshall was not only a great judge but also a great constitutional statesman. When he finished his long service, he had decided nearly 50 cases clearly involving constitutional issues.

In one of the most famous of his opinions - Marbury vs. Madison (1803) - he decisively established the right of the Supreme Court to review any law of Congress or of a state legislature. Again, in McCulloch vs. Maryland (1819) dealing with the old question of the implied powers of the government under the Constitution, he stood boldly in defense of the Hamiltonian theory that the Constitution by implication gives the government powers beyond those expressly stated. By such decisions, Marshall did as much as any leader to make America's central government an effective force.