The British Empire's Rough Start
In the nineteenth century, the British presided over the largest empire in history. It was often written around that time that “the sun never sets on the British Empire.” But this was not always the case. As with many success stories, the construction of the British Empire began with a series of failures. During the Age of Exploration, the Spanish were the first to emerge as Europe’s preeminent colonial power. The Spanish were the first to create a permanent settlement in the present-day United States with the founding of St. Augustine in Spanish Florida in 1565.
The first settlement founded in Virginia was named Jamestown in honor of Elizabeth’s successor, James I. The colony, founded in 1607, was the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. This makes 1607 an important turning point in the history of Colonial America, as the English, who would become the dominant colonial power in North America, had finally established a permanent colonial presence.
While Smith’s leadership is credited with saving the colony in its infancy, he soon returned to England. During the winter of 1609-1610, nobody ate regardless of whether they worked or not. Only 60 of over 200 colonists survived the colony’s “starving time.” Unable to keep people alive – much less turn a profit – Jamestown was not on its way to becoming any more successful than the previous venture at Roanoke.
Enter John Rolfe. Although Rolfe is more famous in pop culture for marrying Pocahontas, his agricultural innovations were much more important to the future of the colony. Previously, tobacco had been known to the English, but it had not become popular because they didn’t like how it tasted. Rolfe cultivated a sweeter strain of tobacco that became popular in England, striking “brown gold” that turned Virginia into a profitable colony with an economy driven by the cultivation of tobacco as a cash crop. Sir Walter Raleigh, while imprisoned in the Tower of London, wrote of tobacco, “It was my companion at that most miserable time.”
Tobacco and the Cash Crop Labor Economy
The Virginians and the Powhatan Indians
347 English settlers were killed in this attack, including several people who were in the home of an ancestor of this writer (if he had been home, you would not be reading these lecture notes). Some colonists were luckier than others, able to find safety within the walls of palisaded plantations. The Virginia Colony survived, but the crown was not pleased with the Virginia Company’s management. In 1624, the crown revoked the Virginia Company’s charter and Virginia became a royal colony – a status that it would maintain until declaring its independence from Britain in 1776.
Ever since I was a pre-teen, I was drawn to politics. I grew up in a family that talked politics often and the summer between eighth and ninth grade, when most kids were playing outside, I got my dad to drop me off at a gubernatorial campaign office four days a week. I had a blast and found myself in the midst of a great community of people - most of whom were considerably older than me and took me under their wing. I still keep in touch with some of those people to this day.
Over the years, I continued to be involved in politics and always considered it a civic duty to keep up with the news every day. I never questioned that it was the duty of every American voter to do so. Needless to say, I embraced the drama of the 2016 election as politics became a matter of general interest and presidential debates were looked upon with the same excitement as sporting events. When YouTube and meme culture were added to the mix, the 2016 election cycle was more exciting than any election that had ever happened...
Until it wasn't.
There was a time when the election was fun and games. And then Jeb(!) dropped out and something happened... before that, anyone - no matter what their political leanings - had been able to share a Jeb(!) meme and laugh. But without Jeb(!), that common ground was yanked out from under us and as a Trump presidency began to look like a potential reality, battle lines were drawn between those who saw potential benefits and others who saw a national catastrophe in the making.
A Nation at War with Itself
As someone with a modest internet following, I tried to remain neutral in public for a time, but like others with equally modest and still others with much larger internet followings, I eventually succumbed and joined a camp. When the battle lines are drawn, it's difficult to sit on the sidelines - especially for someone who had always embraced politics and active citizenship as a lifestyle.
I fielded my share of insults from people who didn't even know me personally, though for every insult, there was an encouraging word from someone else. Every insult from without and word of encouragement from within tied me closer to the Trump camp. The election became a distraction from my own projects, such as my YouTube channel and my website, and I became more concerned about what was going on in the political arena than about my life's passion of providing online education to the public.
Don't get me wrong. I met a lot of great people - not just in the Trump camp but also Bernie and Hillary supporters who exchanged good-natured discussions, barbs, and memes with me throughout the campaign. It was a privilege to broadcast live with Trump supporters, Democrats, and third party supporters. Often, I enjoyed the fanfare of the election, although I looked forward to it eventually being over.
But it was never over.
War Without End
Donald Trump's surprise victory was only the beginning as the nation embraced the perpetual campaign. Half a year later, political animosity continues to define relationships between Americans. This animosity has only become more pronounced, if anything, and has prompted me to want to divorce myself from it entirely. I'm beginning to question whether it is truly an American's duty to monitor politics daily - or even to care - when it comes at the expense of personal relationships and one's public standing.
These words have stuck with me ever since. What if I were to live my life on my own terms and aspire to be known for my own values and beliefs rather than my association with religious or partisan groups? Do I aspire to be remembered for my attachment to a political movement or by what I have accomplished with my own life? Now, it is clear to me that I want to be remembered for the latter. If I alienate anyone from this day forward, let it be because of a heartfelt belief that I have expressed or for my twin passions for economic freedom and educational freedom - but let me not alienate anyone by association and let me not ever look at someone with contempt because they belong to a different political tribe.
From this point forward, I want to define my life - and my life's work - by the mirror.
I recently attended an Open Forum for AP Euro Readers where upcoming changes to the exam were discussed. These changes will be effective immediately for the 2017-2018 academic year.
Click here to access my notes in PDF format.
Period 5 focuses on the Civil War and Reconstruction, beginning with the chain of events that led to the war and ending with the Compromise of 1877, which ended Radical Reconstruction twelve years after the war ended.
The Road to Civil War (1848-1860)
The years leading the the Civil War were defined by several debates - mostly concerning the westward expansion of slavery - that sometimes led to violence and escalated sectional tensions. To help review the events and movements that led to the Civil War, I have included a review video that offers a summary of the years between the Mexican-American War and the Civil War as well as some topical videos that delve a bit deeper into key events.
The Civil War (1861-1865)
These review videos explain key events in the Civil War: the Election of 1860, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Gettysburg Address.
The Civil War was followed by a twelve year period of Reconstruction. These videos by HipHughes explain the key concepts of the period: the differences between Congressional and Radical Reconstruction, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Compromise of 1877.
Thomas Jefferson's Presidency
Thomas Jefferson was elected in 1800 after a bitterly contested election, culminating in the first peaceful transfer of political power by democratic means in modern history. While Jefferson referred to his victory as a "revolution," he struggled with the Supreme Court, which continued to be dominated by John Marshall, an ardent Federalist, throughout the entirety of the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian periods. When he had the opportunity to purchase Louisiana from France, Jefferson had to confront the reality of governing while trying to remain as true as he could to his strict constructionist principles.
American Foreign Policy (1800-1848)
American foreign policy in the early 19th century largely dealt with the United States attempting to maintain an independent and separate existence from Europe. Jefferson first tried to avoid armed conflict with Britain with the failed Embargo Act of 1807. The situation escalated to warfare during James Madison's presidency. The War of 1812 was largely a disaster until Andrew Jackson's victory in the Battle of New Orleans ended things on a high note. After the War of 1812, the Monroe Doctrine tried again to distance the United States from Europe by expressing opposition to further European colonial expansion into North America.
The Missouri Compromise (America's First Slavery Debate)
The Missouri Compromise is generally considered to be the beginning of the Antebellum Period in United States history because it was the first debate in Congress over the expansion of slavery. The slavery debate became the most contentious debate in America in the decades leading to the American Civil War. I have included my two part lecture - the second of which focuses on Thomas Jefferson's reaction to the Missouri Compromise - as well as a music video I made with MrBettsClass.
Andrew Jackson, Sectionalism, and Antebellum Reform
The rise of democratic politics in the 1820s brought about the rise of Andrew Jackson, fresh sectional controversies over the tariff, internal improvements, and states' rights, and reform movements, such as abolitionism and women's rights, aiming to create a more equal and just society in the United States.
The Road to Revolution
A solid command of the chain of events leading to the American Revolution, starting with the Proclamation of 1763 and the Sugar Act and ending with the Declaration of Independence is critical for success on the AP US History exam. In this two part lecture, Tom Richey summarizes these events from Parliament's taxes in the 1760s (Sugar Act, Stamp Act, Townshend Acts) to the events leading directly to the Revolution in the 1770s (Boston Tea Party, Intolerable Acts, Lexington and Concord).
The Declaration of Independence
These videos are great for quickly reviewing the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and the ratification of the Constitution.
Early National America: Jefferson vs. Hamilton
The conflicts between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton regarding the Constitution, the National Bank, and Foreign Policy defined the Washington administration.
The AP US History exam requires students to be familiar with the early colonization of the Americas by the Spanish, French, Dutch, and English. The video lectures on New Spain, New France, New Netherland, and the early English colonies will all be helpful in summarizing, comparing, and contrasting the motives and actions of the colonial powers and the Indians they encountered.
The introductory lecture will be helpful in understanding the key characteristics of the Thirteen Colonies and how to compare and contrast the New England, Middle, and Southern Colonies. The additional lectures on the Virginia Colony and religious freedom in Colonial New England will be helpful in reviewing the details about political, economic, and social life in the Virginia and New England Colonies.
Alexander Hamilton had ambitious plans for building a strong central government with an equally strong credit rating. In order to build public credit, Hamilton pushed a plan for the federal government to assume the war debts that the states had incurred during the Revolution. After resisting the measure initially, Jefferson and Madison agreed to the measure in return for an agreement that the federal capital would be moved to a site on the Potomac River on the border of Virginia and Maryland.
Hamilton's Whiskey Tax
After the federal government took on over $20 million in new debt, Hamilton’s next step was figuring out how to pay for it. As is often the case in history, the people who were chosen to pay for this new debt assumption were not the people who benefitted most from it or even supported it in the first place. To fund this new debt, Hamilton recommended a federal excise tax on whiskey. An excise tax is a tax on the sale of a product or on a product produced for sale (in this case, the latter). Hamilton’s whiskey tax is also an example of a sin tax, which is placed on goods that are deemed luxurious – or even harmful (today, taxes on cigarettes are an example).
It’s important to note here that Jefferson wanted to explore ways for wine to become cheaper rather than to raise the price of whiskey through taxation.
A Regressive Tax
Hamilton’s whiskey tax hit especially hard in Appalachia, the region of westernmost settlement at the time, where farmers would distill small batches of whiskey for easier transport across the Appalachian Mountains or down the Ohio River to New Orleans. At the time, it was difficult to transport surplus wheat across such long distances, but a farmer could get a good return on a few barrels of whiskey, making for a profitable side hustle for these farmers. Whiskey also served as currency in these Western regions where precious metals and paper money were scarce.
Because of these economic realities, Western settlers felt targeted by Hamilton’s tax, which hit them harder than it did Americans living on the Eastern Seaboard. To add insult to injury, Hamilton’s tax was a regressive tax that allowed large distillers to pay a flat rate, while small distillers had to pay by the barrel. At this time, President George Washington was the largest commercial distiller in America. Distillers like Washington could pay a single flat fee and produce as much as they wanted with no additional tax, but Western farmers who lacked the resources to operate on that kind of scale had to pay a tax on every single barrel they produced.
The Whiskey Rebellion
Popular discontent spread throughout Appalachia and rose to the point of a full-scale rebellion in Western Pennsylvania – specifically, the area around Pittsburgh. The Whiskey Rebellion, as it is known to history, was the third in a line of major frontier settler rebellions. Bacon’s Rebellion in Colonial Virginia and Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts during the Confederation Period followed similar patterns of armed uprising by frontier farmers against Eastern elites. While the American Revolution had some features of these rebellions, it was a cooperative effort between frontier settlers and the colonial elites who supported it. The Whiskey Rebellion was the last of these armed uprisings in the early history of the United States.
The organizers of the Whiskey Rebellion used a lot of the same rallying cries and methods that had been used a few decades before during the years leading up to the American Revolution. “No Taxation Without Representation,” shouted the disgruntled crowds. Although Western Pennsylvania was represented in Congress, those who protested against the excise tax saw it as similar to the Stamp Act, where an outside government had taxed the colonies without the consent of their colonial legislatures. No one disputed the authority of the new federal government to collect taxes on imports, but the idea of this new government reaching directly into the pockets of citizens struck many people as a repressive throwback to the days of unfair taxation by Parliament. Just as the Sons of Liberty had used tarring and feathering to intimidate tax collectors, the Whiskey rebels tarred and feathered a federal tax collector, forcing him to “ride the rail” through the town in an old humiliation ritual.
Between 1792 and 1794, things escalated as the unrest in Western Pennsylvania went from a raucous protest to a full-scale rebellion. Threats were made, effigies were burned, tax collectors were assaulted, and finally, shots were fired by organized groups of armed militiamen. In 1794, Washington decided that the rebellion was too large to be contained by local authorities and worthy of federal attention and gained authorization from Congress to call up a federalized militia. The federal government raised an army of 13,000 men to put down a rebel militia whose size was estimated to be around 500. Once the federal militia was assembled, Washington showed up to personally inspect the troops. Although one historian refers to this as “the first and only time a sitting American president led troops in the field,” this isn’t strictly accurate, as following his inspection, Washington left the army under the command of “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, a Revolutionary War officer who was then serving as governor of Virginia. It was Lee who would lead the army into Western Pennsylvania to put down the rebellion. Ironically, Lee was the father of General Robert E. Lee, the most famous person ever to lead a “rebel army” in the history of the United States.
The force assembled by the federal government was so overwhelming that it prompted the small rebel militia to disperse before the federal militia even got there. This was viewed as a massive victory for Hamilton and the Federalists, who had sought to demonstrate the power of the new federal government to put down insurrections – an area where the Confederation government had proven to be woefully inadequate while Shays’ Rebellion had raged on for months in Western Massachusetts. In a gesture of clemency, President Washington pardoned two men who were found guilty of treason and sentenced to hang.
Jefferson and the Whiskey Rebellion
Although Federalists hailed this as an achievement of a strong central government against anarchist elements intent on undermining its authority, Jefferson viewed the federal government’s response as an overreaction to a minor uprising. “An insurrection was announced and proclaimed and armed against, but could never be found,” Jefferson wrote to James Monroe. Jefferson and Madison believed that Hamilton used the rebellion to advance his own partisan political agenda, casting the Federalist Party as the party of law and order and the Republican Party as the party of rebellion and lawlessness.
No matter what Hamilton’s motives were, the unceremonious end of the Whiskey Rebellion put an end to a tradition of armed uprisings of disgruntled whites on the western frontier that had spanned over a century. Resistance against federal policies by disaffected whites would be confined to the political sphere until the 1850s, when violence erupted in Kansas in the years leading up to the Civil War.
Sin Tax Error?
The long-term victory would rest with the Jeffersonians, as no Federalist would ever hold the presidency again after John Adams lost his bid for re-election in 1800. In the years since, Americans have continued to have debates about how government policies affect the less fortunate, both in terms of the use of government police powers and of fair and equitable taxation – a debate that has shown itself most recently in the presidential candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Appalachian voters, angry with elites in Washington, were a key part of the coalition that elected Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States.
Politically, Hamilton’s victory proved to be short-lived, as small farmers in Appalachia put aside their bullets and went to the ballot box in protest. Western areas supported Jefferson’s Republican Party overwhelmingly in the elections that followed, leading to a Republican takeover of the White House and both houses of Congress in 1800. As president, Jefferson signed a repeal of Hamilton’s whiskey tax, along with all internal excise taxes, preferring to fund the government through revenue tariffs. “It may be the pleasure and pride of an American to ask,” Jefferson stated in his Second Inaugural Address, “what farmer, what mechanic, what laborer, ever sees a tax-gatherer of the United States?”
Dumas Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty (University of Virginia Press, 1962)
The first two party system in the United States began around 1791 during George Washington's presidency and lasted until the 1816 presidential election following the War of 1812.
Jefferson vs. Hamilton
George Washington's cabinet (which included only four men) was dominated by Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, and Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State. The differences between Jefferson and Hamilton regarding the powers of the central government, the proper interpretation of the Constitution, the economy, and foreign policy quickly degenerated into partisanship as other political leaders rallied around Jefferson and Hamilton. Hamilton favored a strong, active, and energetic central government, while Jefferson advocated for a limited federal government that would respect the rights of the states.
John Adams sided with the Federalists in spite of some personal and political disagreements with Hamilton, while Jefferson was joined by his close friend, James Madison. Madison's alignment with Jefferson is significant because it represented an end to the political alliance between Madison and Hamilton that produced The Federalist Papers. It's important to note here that the first two party system wasn't a simple continuation of the debate over the ratification of the Constitution between the Federalists and the Antifederalists, although there certainly were some correlations. While nearly everyone who had opposed the ratification of the Constitution would have been gravitated toward Jefferson's party, there were those who, like Madison (the "Father of the Constitution), had advocated strongly for ratification, yet saw Hamilton's plans to strengthen the central government as exceeding the powers delegated by the Constitution.
Federalists vs. [Jeffersonian] Republicans
It's important to distinguish Jefferson's Republican Party from the Republican Party that exists in the United States today. The present-day Republican Party was founded in the 1850s after the breakup of the Second Party System. In order to avoid confusion, historians have traditionally referred to Jefferson's party as the Jeffersonian Republican Party, although the "Democratic-Republican" terminology used by political scientists has lately become more common (in spite of its historical inaccuracy).
Strong Central Government vs. States' Rights
The difference between the Federalists and the Republicans concerned the role of the central government. Although the Constitution was drafted and ratified in order to create a stronger central government than had existed under the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution still retained many features of federalism, which limited the power of the central government. In The Federalist Papers, Madison specifically reassured states' rights advocates that the Constitution would not destroy the power of state governments.
"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite." -- Federalist No. 45 (Madison)
The Fears of the Federalists
While Federalists feared anarchy, Jefferson and Madison were much more fearful of tyranny. During Shays' Rebellion, Jefferson wrote to Madison, "a little rebellion now and then is a good thing." Rationally, Jefferson did not see how one rebellion in a single state threatened the existence of the United States, but he feared that a strong central government could place the states at risk of having their rights stripped away as they had been at the outset of the American Revolution. "I am not a friend to a very energetic government," Jefferson wrote, "It is always oppressive." This view of government was behind all of Jefferson's efforts to keep the power of the central government as limited as possible, fearing oppression (which he had experienced) more than anarchy (which he had not experienced).
Strict vs. Loose Construction of the Constitution
In order to limit the power of the central government, Jefferson interpreted the Constitution as a strict constructionist. To Jefferson, the government only had the powers that were enumerated (specifically listed or numbered) in the Constitution. Hamilton, a loose constructionist, advocated for the doctrine of implied powers, claiming that by granting some powers to the central government in the Constitution, the Framers had implied a grant of other powers that will assist the government in executing the enumerated powers.
Constituents: The Support Bases of the Federalists and Republicans
Every political movement in a society with representative government depends highly upon the constituencies being represented by each political faction. Hamilton and the Federalists drew their support largely from Northeastern coastal areas that were highly dependent on commerce. These were the same people who had advocated most strongly for a stronger central government that would have the power to control trade. The Northeast was also cultivating a manufacturing sector, which Hamilton sought to use the power of the central government to promote.
Economic Development vs. Laissez-Faire
Alexander Hamilton believed that the future of the United States as a powerful nation depended on the development of a manufacturing sector on par with that of Britain. He believed that government would be an essential support for building a manufacturing sector that would make the United States an economic and military power. Jefferson, who saw no need for domestic manufacturing when the United States could trade for European manufactured goods, resisted Hamilton's plans to develop a manufacturing sector.
Jefferson advocated for a laissez-faire (let it be) approach by government toward economic involvement. His ideas were influenced not only by his devotion to agriculture, but also by the influence of Adam Smith's recently published book, Wealth of Nations, which advocated laissez-faire and free trade as the best paths to economic growth. Jefferson's "hands off" approach contrasted with Hamilton's "hands on" approach to government's role in the economy.
The National Bank
By far, the most famous disagreement between Jefferson and Hamilton was on the issue of the national bank. Hamilton believed that the establishment of a national bank was "necessary and proper" for helping the government to execute its enumerated powers in the financial sector, such as collecting taxes, borrowing money, and coining money.
Jefferson saw Hamilton's plan for a national bank as an unconstitutional seizure of power by the federal government. At no point does the Constitution ever explicitly authorize Congress to charter a bank. Jefferson also opposed the bank on economic grounds, as he believed that it would increase the central government's role in the economy and work for the benefit of commercial and manufacturing interests. He advised President George Washington to veto the bill that created the First Bank of the United States, but Washington ultimately went with Hamilton's advice on the matter.
To download the primary sources from which I've drawn these quotes, click here.
Protective Tariff vs. Free Trade
In order to help with the establishment of a domestic manufacturing industry, Hamilton advocated for a tariff that was higher than what was necessary to fund the government, known as a protective tariff. A protective tariff would artificially increase the price of foreign manufactured goods in order to encourage Americans to buy more expensive products manufactured domestically, which would help with the growth of domestic manufacturing.
Jefferson opposed protective tariffs for both constitutional and economic reasons. Southern farmers who depended on foreign trade would find themselves paying more for the manufactured goods that they bought from Europe, so Jefferson's laissez-faire approach benefited them most. In addition, the Constitution empowers the government to levy taxes in order to "pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States." Since the objective of a protective tariff meets none of these criteria, Jeffersonians believed that such a tariff was unconstitutional and that only revenue tariffs should be imposed by the central government. The constitutionality of protective tariffs would continue to be a divisive issue in the United States for decades, culminating in the Nullification Crisis following the Tariff of 1828.
Federal Assumption of State War Debts
One of Alexander Hamilton's goals was to build public credit. At the time the Constitution was ratified, the United States government had a massive debt that it was making little progress in repaying. Some states, such as Massachusetts, had similar debt problems as a result of the Revolutionary War. In order to effectively build public credit, Hamilton proposed that the federal government assume the war debts of the states.
Jefferson opposed Hamilton's plan to assume state debts because it would bind the states more closely together and strengthen the central government. Also, as a Virginian, he came from a state that had paid its war debts in full and would have to pay the war debts of other states under Hamilton's plan.
In what is known as the "Dinner Table Compromise" (or the Compromise of 1790), Hamilton got Jefferson and Madison to go along with his plan for the federal government to assume state war debts in return for a promise that the federal capital would be moved from New York (the financial center of the United States) to a site on the Potomac River that separated Virginia from Maryland. Jefferson and Madison believed that this would remove the government from the influence of the financial sector and that this would outweigh the impact of Hamilton's debt assumption plan, but today, the federal government can hardly be considered outside of the influence of New York's powerful financial sector.
Foreign Policy: France vs. Britain
Hamilton and the Federalists did not share Jefferson's enthusiasm for the French Revolution, believing it to be a threat to the stability of Europe. Hamilton was an admirer of the British system of government and saw the French Republic as going far beyond that form of balanced government into something that could degenerate into mob rule.
Jefferson was disappointed when Washington issued his Neutrality Proclamation in response to the war between France and Britain. In spite of this disappointment, Jefferson would later come to appreciate what would become one of George Washington's most enduring presidential legacies and the centerpiece of his famous Farewell Address.
The End of the First Two Party System
The first two party system in the United States lasted through the War of 1812, after which Federalist leaders were branded in the popular mind as un-American due to their role in the ill-fated Hartford Convention. James Monroe's election as president ushered in a brief period of non-partisanship known as the "Era of Good Feelings."
I am a history teacher who creates YouTube videos and instructional materials. I use this blog to publish lecture notes and occasionally to share personal reflections inspired by history, politics, and literature.