The period from1815 to 1861 saw a tremendous array of changes in the national landscape of America. It was an age of revolution characterized by economic growth, nationalism and a growing awareness of a unique American identity.
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The events that took place during the market revolution had helped define the culture, political structure and ideology of Americans. It is without a doubt that each country is shaped by its history, and America is no different, but what makes American history unique is because its history is the history of its people. The American people are a curious mix of different races, origins, faiths and colors and yet through the years they have been able to forge an American identity that places importance on liberty, democracy and prosperity. This paper is going to discuss the events during the market revolution that lead to the formation of our culture, political structure and ideology. The shaping of our culture has been influenced by the economic growth during the market revolution as well as the social reforms following it. In connection with this, the political structure of the American nation was formed in this era due to the rising concerns of domestic problems and issues. Finally, the American ideology came into being during this period as a product of the civil war, wherein democracy and freedom was emphasized as every American's basic right.
Culture has been defined by scholars in different forms, but I believe that culture refers to the shared, learned human behavior, a way of life for a community. In examining how American culture or way of life came into being let us look at the events during the market revolution, starting with the relative peace in 1815 which liberated a great fountain of national optimism in the United States. There was a new awareness of identity as a nation and on the part of many citizens the desire to better their status in life. The postwar years held fresh opportunities for thecitizens of the growing public. Many begun to push westward to the untilled lands west of the Appalachians.
Others struck out on new business ventures in road building, in manufacturing and in overseas trades. Americans rapidly filled the region between the Appalachians and the Mississippi with settlements. Toll roads, canals, steamboats and railroads gradually joined this region with the east, though the journey between the sections remained slow and difficult. Lower prices for western land and more generous terms of purchase provided further incentive for settlement and for land speculation as well. Moreover, easy bank credit fed the fires of the expanding industry. Protected by the higher tariff of 1816 and encouraged by the chartering of the Second Bank of the United States, provided with a labor force that grew steadily with the influx of immigrants, and blessed with new ideas from inventors, industry grew in New England, New York, Pennsylvania and along the Ohio. These events changed the way of life of the American people, for one there arrived the influx of money and profits that lead to affluence and comforts never before experienced by Americans in the same scale. It is also in this period that Americans begun to recognize the value of working hard and material gain from ones labors. If a person desires something, one has to work for it and even go to great lengths to achieve it. In the American culture, this value is desirable and accepted as a way of life.
The economic boom preceding the post war years continued for some decades but another series of events again changed the ways and beliefs of the American people. The decades of the 1830s and 1840s saw a number of reform efforts come into being. It was in this period that certain reformers worked to establish free public education, other pressed for the right of women to vote. There were groups that fought for the rights of the working man and those who led acrusade for temperance. There were the intellectuals Emerson and Thoreau who believed that man must transcend his environment by seeking his freedom within himself and following the dictates of his own conscience but overshadowing all the other campaigns against human injustice, the most important and most far-reaching became the antislavery movement.
These social reforms were brought about by the emphasis placed upon the individual in the era of Jacksonian democracy. Suffrage was rapidly being gained; half of the states have allowed men to vote irregardless of economic status by the time Jackson was elected. As more men gained the right to vote, interest in politics sharpened and more persons became aware of social and economic conditions that affected their part of the country and the nation. This was a changing America. The growth of factories brought new problems to eastern cities. The rise of the Cotton Kingdom fastened slavery more firmly than ever on the south. Seeing the need for social changes that would keep pace with the economy; concerned Americans, as they had in time past and as they would in years to come - set about trying to correct some of the abuses they discovered.
An awakening of conscience became apparent in many facets of life in the United States during this time. Rapid growth of factories in eastern cities had resulted in poor working conditions and poor living conditions for many workers. The need for social and economic reforms that would make a better life available to more Americans became apparent to many persons. Among the many reform movements of the period were efforts to provide new educational and vocational opportunities for women, to improve conditions in prisons and in the care of the mentally ill, and to promote widespread temperance crusade. Of all the reform efforts these decades, none was more intensely fought that the antislavery cause. No part of the country escaped the impact of the slavery issue. All of these developments have lead to the American people's awareness of the plight of other sectors of society.
The desire to change the status quo and call for reforms had always been a distinguishing trait of the American culture. The call for reforms continued and the most controversial of which where the abolition of slavery in the South, which by 1860 had resulted to the secession of the southern states and launched a civil war. Although the civil war did end slavery and unified the Union once again, it brought another host of problems that had not been anticipated like the integration of the Negroes to the society as free individuals. In effect, this legitimized the rights of Negroes as an American citizen and therefore should enjoy the same rights as those of the whites, but through the years and even at present this has been a constant battle.
The American culture or way of life has been shaped and governed by a number of events in this period but nonetheless is not limited to this events, one would rather think of this period as the precursor to everything that is American about us. Indeed our country has had a colorful past and our society is continually evolving but we all know what the American life is and what it is not.
Another aspect of the American life that the events of the market revolution influenced is the political arena of the country. Many of the political events in the periods from 1815 to 1861 had been interrelated to the economic progress the country was experiencing. Nevertheless, it had also shaped the political structure of our country and displays the form of government thatgenerally works for the American people. Between the 1800 and 1816, the Federalist Party gradually expired leaving behind the Jeffersonian Republicans in control of the nation's policies. The emerging sectional differences about 1820 submerged the "Era of Good Feelings" and broke the dominant party into opposing factions; the Democratic-Republicans who supported Andrew Jackson and the National Republicans who opposed him. Andrew Jackson's resounding postwar victory at New Orleans which helped draw the curtains across the war of 1812 which actually had been a close brush with military disaster. In the federal government, the Democratic -Republicans held the reins with little opposition the fact being the party in power had become federally minded as the federalists. For a few years, political alignments commanded little attention on the national scene, thus in effect, the federal form of government works for the American people.
Before the war, the United States had looked eastward to the Atlantic Ocean and Europe. But after the war, the nation became more interested in its own domestic problems, most especially in the vast western regions which were still frontiers or still held by foreign powers. There came the desire of the country for expansion which was called by many as the manifest destiny of the Union, which is to acquire most of the lands in North America. We fast forward to the present and in reality we have succeeded to do just that. Looking back, the need for expansion had been a fulfillment of the country's quest for power and to exercise its power over other countries. However, the approach had not been to go to war immediately, the government had always exhausted peaceful means before resolving to war, but it is also apparent that we tendto rush to help countries that we have good relationships with or unpatriotic it may sound, countries that we can influence in the future.
The other events in this period included the heightened new sectional differences; wherein the North, South, East and West vied with each other for special protection from the federal government. Tariffs, internal improvements, manufacturing, the Bank of the United States, western land prices, slavery, the expansion of the cotton frontier, all these competed for public attention and government intervention. It is in this context that the political strategies of politicians and even opinions of its citizens in general begun to take shape to influence how we perceive the rightness or wrongness of any political decision. Although Marx is right for saying that America is a capitalist nation, indeed our political arena is framed by economic strategies as demonstrated here.
Ideology has been referred to as the collective unconscious of the community and is the underlying motivation of its existence. With the interplay of American values and political structures came the so called American ideology and for me that would be equality, liberty and democracy. The American way of life stresses equality, equal opportunities, benefits, pay, education, occupation etc. and this equality extends beyond the gender, race, ethnicity and religion. Moreover, the civil war had proved our respect for basic human rights and that each person has the right to exercise these basic liberties. The American political structure had always adhered to democracy; we have proven through time that a poor common man can rise to the presidency of the United Sates just as someone who comes from the elite and wealthy part of the society. Americans of all national origins, classes, religious faiths and colors have something in common which is the explicitly expressed system of general ideals in reference to humaninterrelations. Every American is aware of certain truths, that the United States is the land of liberty, the home of democracy and the land of opportunity.
In conclusion, I believe that the events during the market revolution had transformed and shaped American culture, politics and ideology to what it is now. The influence of the events are basic to the identity of the American people and that in more ways than we might acknowledge has dictated how we live our lives, how we respond to challenges and how we preserve our democracy.
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