The Early Republic to the Civil War



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The Early Republic to the Civil War





To Become a Nation: The U.S. Constitution

This module explores the origins, creation, and ratification of the U.S. Constitution during the 1780s. Focusing on the issues confronting the early republic and the arguments made at the Philadelphia constitutional convention in 1787, the module examines the compromises built into the finished Constitution and the way it reflected diverse Americans’ interpretations of the meaning of national government.



Readings

  • The Articles of Confederation

  • The Constitution of the United States (1787)

  • An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution (excerpt)

  • Federalist No. 51

  • Federalist No. 10



Section Questions


  • Settings

  1. How did the Articles of Confederation and the state constitutions reflect republican political principles?

  2. How were political and economic problems interrelated under the Confederation’s structure of government?

  3. How did the issue of slavery reflect broader difficulties that a national government might encounter as it attempted to make legislation for the entire United States?




  1. What were the main philosophical differences between Antifederalists and Federalists?

  2. From what part of the country did Federalists and Antifederalists tend to come and why? Which social classes were most associated with each group, and why?

  3. Why did the ratification of the Constitution meet with more initial success in small states than in large ones?

  4. How did Federalists gradually convince some Antifederalists to back the Constitution?

  • Framers’ Legacy

    1. Why did Jefferson and Hamilton differ over whether the Constitution permitted the federal government to create a national bank?

    2. What larger philosophical disagreements lay behind the Democratic-Republican and Federalists parties’ views of government?

    3. How might the “Great Compromise” have affected later attempts to use the national government for carrying out social reforms?



Module Level Questions


  1. Why did problems of trade among the states, and between the United States and foreign countries, caused economic woes for farmers during the 1780s?

  2. What were the main outlines of the “Great Compromise”?

  3. During the debate over ratification, from where were Federalists and Antifederalists most likely to come?

  4. How did Federalists gradually convince some Antifederalists to back the Constitution?




The Republic Personified:

Symbols of the American Nation, 1765–1820

This module explores how cartoons, paintings, and other media from the period 1765 to 1820 illustrate the related themes of American independence and republican virtue. Contextual discussions, interactive exercises, and thought questions ask users to interpret these images and discover how Revolutionary-era artists used political allegory to create visual definitions of American identity.



Readings


No readings associated with this module.

Section Questions


  • Metaphors of Union

  1. Based on the date of this engraving, to what event do you think this engraving refers? What message does it send about that event?

  2. How does the temple represent American union?

  3. What are the three figures on top of the edifice? What do they represent?

  4. Who are the other figures in the image? What do they represent?

  1. How did the Great Seal change over time? What were the earliest visual motifs included in proposals for the seal, and what was added in subsequent versions?

  2. What symbols represent federalism in the Great Seal, and what is the significance of the ways they are portrayed and arranged?

  3. What symbols represent national power in the Great Seal? What role did they subsequently play in American patriotic motifs?

  4. Overall, what do you think is the main symbolic message conveyed by the Great Seal—republicanism, federalism, national power, or some other concept? Explain your answer.

  • Legacies

  1. What were some of the reasons the image of Liberty disappeared from American coins in the twentieth century?

  2. What do the changing depictions of Indian culture in American patriotic motifs say about American attitudes toward Native Americans?

  3. How does the shift from feminine to masculine images in patriotic iconography reflect a departure from the republican worldview that animated the Revolutionary War?



Module Level Questions


  1. What were some of the reasons that American artists used classical images (Liberty, Minerva, etc.) to represent the values of the American Revolution?

  2. What messages does the Great Seal seem to convey about American nationalism?

  3. How did different patriotic images reflect changing attitudes toward the concept of federalism?

  4. What political purposes did the “cult” of George Washington serve during his lifetime? After his lifetime?





Race to the West:

The Transportation Revolution, 1800–1860

This module presents the technological innovations and internal improvements projects launched in the early nineteenth century to connect the eastern United States with the region across the Appalachian Mountains. The module compares the experience of three regions competing for access to the west and illustrates ways that westward settlement changed American society.



Readings

No readings associated with this module.

Section Questions


  • Settings

  1. What geographical and political barriers to westward settlement existed in North America in the late eighteenth century?

  2. Why did steamboat travel pose a threat to eastern cities?

  3. What levels of eastern society were most likely to want to migrate west?

  • The American System

  1. How did Whigs and Democrats split over the internal improvements issue?

  2. What kinds of changes to society did westward migration cause in the West? In the East?

  3. How did technical advances in transportation spark other aspects of the industrial revolution in America?



Module Level Questions


  1. What geographical and political barriers to westward settlement existed in the United States in the late eighteenth century?

  2. Why did the leaders of New York City in the 1810s feel it was so urgent that the Erie Canal be built?

  3. What were the main reasons the B & O Railroad beat the C & O Canal in the “race to Cumberland”?

  4. What factors caused the growth of entrepot cities in the course of westward settlement?



Utopian Communities in 19th-Century America

This module explores the experiences of five of the best-known “utopian communities” in the United States in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: Shaker villages, Robert Owen’s New Harmony, the Brook Farm settlement, the Oneida Perfectionists, and seven Amana villages. The module uses primary texts, animated diagrams, and interactive exercises to explore the patterns of work, belief, and community that made up the daily life of these utopian experiments.



Readings


No readings associated with this module.

Section Questions


  • Home

  1. What were the main reasons behind the growth of the utopian ideal in the early nineteenth century?

  2. How did utopian groups express social reform ideals more broadly held by Americans at large?

  3. In what ways did utopian communities reflect larger American social trends in the early nineteenth century? In what ways did they oppose them?

  4. How did different utopian groups seek to create a balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the community?

  5. Why was educational reform a key element of several utopian communities?




  • Review/Questions

  1. Which utopian communities were founded on a religious basis, and which on a secular basis?

  2. How were religious and secular communities similar to one another? How did they differ?

  3. Why was an emphasis on work so important to the life of many communities?

  4. How did several utopian communities alter or challenge traditional notions of sexuality or gender roles? How did this affect the sense of community within each group?



Module Level Questions

  1. What were some key reasons behind the growth of utopian communities in early nineteenth-century America?

  2. Why did most utopian communities focus on farming and physical work on the part of all members?

  3. How did different utopian groups seek to create a balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the community?

  4. Why was educational reform a key element of several utopian communities?

  5. How did each community seek to organize members’ expressions of sexuality and gender roles? Why did utopian communities focus on this aspect of human behavior?





Life Under Slavery

This module looks at life under slavery and the institution of slavery through the eyes of those who experienced it firsthand: a slave holder, a young female slave, and an African who endured the Middle Passage, later purchased his freedom, and wrote his autobiography.



Readings

The readings in this module are embedded; questions accompany each specific reading.

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