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The New Nation
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Join, or Die, Artist unknown,
1754. LC-USZ62-9701

At the successful conclusion of the Revolutionary War with Great Britain in 1783, an American could look back and reflect on the truly revolutionary events that had occurred in the preceding three decades. In that period American colonists had first helped the British win a global struggle with France. Soon, however, troubles surfaced as Britain began to assert tighter control of its North American colonies. Eventually, these troubles led to a struggle in which American colonists severed their colonial ties with Great Britain. Meanwhile, Americans began to experiment with new forms of self-government. This movement occurred in both the Continental Congress during the Revolution and at the local and state levels.

After winning their independence, Americans continued to experiment with how to govern themselves under the Articles of Confederation. Over time, some influential groups--and these by no means reflected the sentiments of all Americans--found the Confederation government inadequate. Representatives of these groups came together in Philadelphia to explore the creation of yet another, newer form of government. The result was a new constitution. Not all Americans embraced this new Constitution, however, and ratification of the document produced many disagreements. Even so, the Constitution was ratified, and with a new constitution in place, Americans once again turned to George Washington for leadership, this time as President of the new republic.

Although Washington proved to be personally popular and respected, conflict over the proper functions and locus of governmental power dominated his two terms as president. These disputes soon led to the formation of factions and then political parties that were deeply divided over the nature and purposes of the federal government, over foreign affairs, and over the very future of the new nation. Events during the single term of John Adams, our second president, made these divisions even worse and they continued into the presidency of Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809).

Even so, President Jefferson nearly doubled the size of the new nation by purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France. This purchase also led Jefferson to form the Lewis and Clark expedition to discover just what was contained in the new land. Jefferson's successor as President, James Madison (1809-1817)--one of authors of the constitution--led the new nation through another war with Great Britain. This, of course, was the unpopular War of 1812. This war ended in 1815 and if nothing else it convinced Britain that the United States was on the map to stay. Meanwhile, Americans began to develop a culture and way of life that was truly their own and no longer that of mere colonials.

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The New Nation | National Expansion and Reform