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    HIST 1151 American History to 1877 Primary Source Readings 4: An Expansive Nation

    HIST 1151 American History to 1877 Primary Source Readings 4: An Expansive Nation


    A collection of primary source readings for American History to 1877.

    Letters Between Thomas Jefferson and Eli Whitney (1793)

    The primary source readings in this course align with CSCC's version of The American Yawp, Volume 1, which is derived from the The American Yawp open textbook by Stanford University Press.  While the original The American Yawp is accompanied by its own primary source reader called The American Yawp Reader, the selection of primary sources you will find in this course differ somewhat in that some of the text excerpts are from the same sources but might feature a different selection from the text. Some of the primary sources in this course are in addition to those found in The American Yawp Reader. 

    This collection is a work in progress. As introductions, annotations, and "Questions to Consider" are added, updates will be reflected. Users are also welcome to download the Word version of the reading then add or revise the introductions, annotations, or questions. 

    To take this course for credit, register at Columbus State Community College.

    This work, except where otherwise indicated, by Christianna Hurford at Columbus State Community College is licensed CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0.

    There are not yet introductions to all the readings in this unit,  though we anticipate adding introductions following Autumn 2019 semester. 

    Letters Between Thomas Jefferson and Eli Whitney (1793)

    Eli Whitney


    Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]

    Eli Whitney graduated from Yale in September of 1792. He was penniless and uncertain of his prospects. He contemplated studying law, but accepted a position as a tutor to the children of a Major Dupont in South Carolina to reduce his debts. As he journeyed south, he fell ill and he heard that his employer would meet only half of the promised wage. He was not feeling lucky.

    His traveling companions Catherine Green, widow of the late Revolutionary War hero General Nathaniel Green and Phineas Miller, a Yale acquaintance and Mrs. Green’s estate manager, invited the 23 year old Whitney to stay at Mulberry Grove, her plantation in Georgia.

    Whitney made himself useful on the plantation improvising clever devices. He had been a precocious builder as a youth managing his own nail forge when he was 14. At Yale, a local craftsman whose tools Whitney sometime borrowed had lamented that it was sad to loose such a fine mechanic to the dull world of scholars. So it is no accident that he listened attentively to a need voiced by planters who visited Mulberry Grove.

    Cotton agriculture was snarled in its infancy. Demand for the fiber was growing both in the North and overseas.. Sea Island Cotton’s long fibers were easily separated from its black seeds. But this strain was delicate and would grow only along the coast. Green seed cotton would grow in the vast undeveloped inland regions, but its short fibers clung to the seed. Picking seeds from a pound of cotton by hand was a day’s work for a quick fingered woman. A new cotton engine was essential to the growth of cotton agriculture.

    Mrs Green encouraged Whitney to consider the problem. His mind involuntarily preoccupied with the challenge, he hit upon a solution of elegant simplicity. In just 9 days he would construct a model that mechanically combed out seeds in a fashion that has changed little in 200 years.

    This was not invention of grueling labor. It was a flash of brilliance and serendipity: Whitney was the right person in the right place at the right time. Whitney changed the world almost by accident.

    Whitney took Phineaus Miller as a partner to develop his cotton engine. Thomas Jefferson awarded Whitney his patent in 1794 and so admired the device that he inquired when he might purchase one. But there were snags. Whitney and Miller had promised to produce too many gins, too soon, and at too stiff a price. The planters had opened new fields. A fire devoured Whitney’s Wooster Square factory on March 11, 1795. The fields readied for harvest. The planters realized they could produce their own gins. The brilliant simplicity of Whitney’s gin cost him a fortune. Home-built gins whirred all over the South. Mills opened in the north. Years pursuing lawsuits recovered little financial reward.


    Questions to Consider:


    1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
    2.  Why is Jefferson personally interested in Whitney’s invention?  Significance?
    3.  According to Whitney, how does the machine compare to manual labor in terms of production?  What might be the impact of this?
    4. Why does Whitney goes into such detail outlining the invention of and operation of the machine?
    5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]


    Primary Source



    Your favor of Octob. 15. inclosing a drawing of your cotton gin, was received on the 6th. inst. The only requisite of the law now uncompiled with is the forwarding a model, which being received your patent may be made out and delivered to your order immediately.As the state of Virginia, of which I am, carries on household manufactures of cotton to a great extent, as I also do myself, and one of our great embarrassments is the clearing the cotton of the seed, I feel a considerable interest in the success of your invention, for family use. Permit me therefore to ask information from you on these points, has the machine been thoroughly tried in the ginning of cotton, or is it as yet but a machine of theory? what quantity of cotton has it cleaned on an average of several days, and worked by hand, and by how many hands? what will be the cost of one of them made to be worked by hand? Favorable answers to these questions would induce me to engage one of them to be forwarded to Richmond for me. Wishing to hear from you on the subject, I am Sir Your most obedt. servt

    Th: Jefferson

    P.S. Is this the machine advertised the last year by Pearce at the Patterson Manufactory? [2]

    * * *

    Respected Sir

    I received your favor of the 16th. inst. yesterday and with pleasure take the earliest opportunity to answer your enquiries concerning my machine for cleaning cotton.

    It is about a year since I first turned my attention to constructing this machine, at which time I was in the State of Georgia. Within about ten days after my first conception of the plan, I made a small, though imperfect model. Experiments with this encouraged me to make one on a larger scale. But the extreme difficulty of procuring workmen and proper materials in Georgia, prevented my completing the larger one, until some time in April last. This though much larger than my first attempt, is not above one third so large as the Machines may be made, with convenience. The cylinder is only two feet two inches in length and six inches diameter. It is turned by hand and requires the strength of one man to keep it in constant motion. It is the stated task of one negro to clean fifty Wt. (I mean fifty pounds after it is separated from the seed) of the green-seed cotton Per Day. This task he usually completes by one o’clock in the afternoon. He is paid so much Per lb. for all he cleans over and above his task, and for ten or fifteen Days successively he has cleared from sixty to Eighty Wt. Per day and left work every day before sunset. The machine cleaned fifteen hundred weight in about four weeks, which cotton was examined in N. York, the quality declared good and sold in market at the highest price.

    I have, sir, been thus particular in relating the experience I have had of the performance of this Machine, that you may be the better able to judge of its utility and success.

    I have not had much experience in cleaning the Black-seed cotton. I only know that it will clean this Kind considerably faster than it will the green-seeded, but how much I cannot say.

    After the workmen are acquainted with the business, I should judge, the real expense of one which will clean a hundred Wt. Per Day, would not exceed the price of ten of those in common use.

    I shall have another person concerned with me in carrying on the business after the Patent is obtained. We have not yet determined at what price we shall sell the machines, it will however be so low as to induce the Purchaser to give them a preference to any other. We are now erecting one on a large scale, to be turned by horses, for our own use, and I do not think it will be in our power to make any for sale this winter.

    This, sir, is not the machine advertised by Pearce at the Patterson Manufactory. I never saw a machine of any kind whatever for ginning cotton, until several months after I invented this for which I have applied for a Patent. Some time last spring, I saw it mentioned in a Savannah News-Paper that Mr. Pearce of New Jersey had invented a machine for ginning cotton, but there was no mention made of the construction. I have since understood that his improvement was only a multiplication of the small rollers used in the common gins. This is every thing I know concerning the machine to which I suppose you allude in your Postscript.

    I think the machine is well calculated for family use. It may be made on a very small scale and yet perform in proportion to its size. I believe one might be made within the compass of two cubic feet, that would cleanse all the cotton which any one family manufactures for its own use. The machine itself does considerable towards carding the cotton, and I have no doubt but by leaving out the clearer and adding three or four cylinders, covered with card-teeth, it would deliver the cotton completely prepared for spinning. You will be able to form a more perfect idea of the machine from the model, which will be so complete as to perform the operation of separating the cotton from the seed.

    It is my intention to come to Philadelphia within a few weeks and bring the model myself; but per[haps] it will not be in my power, in which case I s[hall] send forward the model with an order for the patent. I am Respected Sir your very humbl. Servt.

    Eli Whitney[3]




    [1] "Inventing Change: the Whitney Legacy" by Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0


    [2] From Thomas Jefferson to Eli Whitney, 16 November 1793,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019, [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 27, 1 September–31 December 1793, ed. John Catanzariti. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997, pp. 392–393.]


    Primary source is in the public domain.

    [3] “To Thomas Jefferson from Eli Whitney, 24 November 1793,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019, [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 27, 1 September–31 December 1793, ed. John Catanzariti. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997, pp. 433–435.]

    Primary source is in the public domain.


    Image: George Caleb Bingham, “The County Election,” 1854, via Reynolda House Museum of American Art.

    Transcript of Andrew Jackson’s Message to Congress “On Indian Removal” (1830)

    Transcript of Andrew Jackson’s Message to Congress “On Indian Removal” (1830)

    President Andrew Jackson


    Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]

    From the late 1700s, when the United States won its independence from Great Britain, through the 1900s, U.S. leaders focused on westward expansion. A system was created to assimilate or remove Indian peoples from their homelands in order to aid American territorial expansion. Chief Justice John Marshall, in an 1823 Supreme Court ruling, declared that, "based on the Doctrine of Discovery, the European states, and the United States as their successor, secured a superior legal title to Indian lands." 

    The government created new federal offices, agencies, and posts to control trade and relationships between the United States and Indian nations, as well as those between Indian people and settlers. 


    The government's policy of assimilation would drastically alter traditional Indian cultural identities. Many historians have argued that the U.S. government believed that if Indians did not adopt European-American culture they would become extinct as a people.


    This paternalistic attitude influenced interactions between Indian nations and the U.S. government throughout the first half of the 1800s, and its effects continue to be felt today.


    Questions to Consider:

    1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
    2.  How does Jackson describe the policy between the government and the Native Americans?  Significance?
    3.  What are Jackson’s arguments for removal?  Who might agree and disagree with him and why?
    4. What does this document suggest about Jackson’s perception of the identity of both whites settlers and Native Americans?
    5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]



    Primary Source[2]

    Andrew Jackson’s Annual Message

    It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government‚ steadily pursued for nearly thirty years‚ in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation. Two important tribes have accepted the provision made for their removal at the last session of Congress‚ and it is believed that their example will induce the remaining tribes also to seek the same obvious advantages.

    The consequences of a speedy removal will be important to the United States‚ to individual States‚ and to the Indians themselves. The pecuniary advantages which it promises to the Government are the least of its recommendations. It puts an end to all possible danger of collision between the authorities of the General and State Governments on account of the Indians. It will place a dense and civilized population in large tracts of country now occupied by a few savage hunters. By opening the whole territory between Tennessee on the north and Louisiana on the south to the settlement of the whites it will incalculably strengthen the southwestern frontier and render the adjacent States strong enough to repel future invasions without remote aid. It will relieve the whole State of Mississippi and the western part of Alabama of Indian occupancy‚ and enable those States to advance rapidly in population‚ wealth‚ and power. It will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the States; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay‚ which is lessening their numbers‚ and perhaps cause them gradually‚ under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels‚ to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting‚ civilized‚ and Christian community.

    What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic‚ studded with cities‚ towns‚ and prosperous farms embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute‚ occupied by more than 12‚000‚000 happy people‚ and filled with all the blessings of liberty‚ civilization and religion?

    The present policy of the Government is but a continuation of the same progressive change by a milder process. The tribes which occupied the countries now constituting the Eastern States were annihilated or have melted away to make room for the whites. The waves of population and civilization are rolling to the westward‚ and we now propose to acquire the countries occupied by the red men of the South and West by a fair exchange‚ and‚ at the expense of the United States‚ to send them to land where their existence may be prolonged and perhaps made perpetual.

    Doubtless it will be painful to leave the graves of their fathers; but what do they more than our ancestors did or than our children are now doing? To better their condition in an unknown land our forefathers left all that was dear in earthly objects. Our children by thousands yearly leave the land of their birth to seek new homes in distant regions. Does Humanity weep at these painful separations from everything‚ animate and inanimate‚ with which the young heart has become entwined? Far from it. It is rather a source of joy that our country affords scope where our young population may range unconstrained in body or in mind‚ developing the power and facilities of man in their highest perfection. These remove hundreds and almost thousands of miles at their own expense‚ purchase the lands they occupy‚ and support themselves at their new homes from the moment of their arrival. Can it be cruel in this Government when‚ by events which it cannot control‚ the Indian is made discontented in his ancient home to purchase his lands‚ to give him a new and extensive territory‚ to pay the expense of his removal‚ and support him a year in his new abode? How many thousands of our own people would gladly embrace the opportunity of removing to the West on such conditions! If the offers made to the Indians were extended to them‚ they would be hailed with gratitude and joy.

    And is it supposed that the wandering savage has a stronger attachment to his home than the settled‚ civilized Christian? Is it more afflicting to him to leave the graves of his fathers than it is to our brothers and children? Rightly considered‚ the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal‚ but generous. He is unwilling to submit to the laws of the States and mingle with their population. To save him from this alternative‚ or perhaps utter annihilation‚ the General Government kindly offers him a new home‚ and proposes to pay the whole expense of his removal and settlement.



    [1]"The US-Dakota War of 1862: U.S. Government & Military" by Minnesota Historical Society is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0


    [2] "Andrew Jackson "Indian Removal" Message" by Andrew Jackson is in the public domain.



    President Jackson’s Proclamation Regarding Nullification (1832)

    President Jackson’s Proclamation Regarding Nullification (1832)

    President Andrew Jackson



    Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]

    The Tariff of 1828 had driven Vice President Calhoun to pen his “South Carolina Exposition and Protest,” in which he argued that if a national majority acted against the interest of a regional minority, then individual states could void—or nullify—federal law. By the early 1830s, the battle over the tariff took on new urgency as the price of cotton continued to fall. In 1818, cotton had been thirty-one cents per pound. By 1831, it had sunk to eight cents per pound. While production of cotton had soared during this time and this increase contributed to the decline in prices, many southerners blamed their economic problems squarely on the tariff for raising the prices they had to pay for imported goods while their own income shrank.

    Resentment of the tariff was linked directly to the issue of slavery, because the tariff demonstrated the use of federal power. Some southerners feared the federal government would next take additional action against the South, including the abolition of slavery. The theory of nullification, or the voiding of unwelcome federal laws, provided wealthy slaveholders, who were a minority in the United States, with an argument for resisting the national government if it acted contrary to their interests. James Hamilton, who served as governor of South Carolina in the early 1830s, denounced the “despotic majority that oppresses us.” Nullification also raised the specter of secession; aggrieved states at the mercy of an aggressive majority would be forced to leave the Union.

    On the issue of nullification, South Carolina stood alone. Other southern states backed away from what they saw as the extremism behind the idea. President Jackson did not make the repeal of the 1828 tariff a priority and denied the nullifiers’ arguments. He and others, including former President Madison, argued that Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution gave Congress the power to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises.” Jackson pledged to protect the Union against those who would try to tear it apart over the tariff issue. “The union shall be preserved,” he declared in 1830.

    To deal with the crisis, Jackson advocated a reduction in tariff rates. The Tariff of 1832, passed in the summer, lowered the rates on imported goods, a move designed to calm southerners. It did not have the desired effect, however, and Calhoun’s nullifiers still claimed their right to override federal law. In November, South Carolina passed the Ordinance of Nullification, declaring the 1828 and 1832 tariffs null and void in the Palmetto State. Jackson responded, however, by declaring in the December 1832 Nullification Proclamation that a state did not have the power to void a federal law.

    With the states and the federal government at an impasse, civil war seemed a real possibility. The next governor of South Carolina, Robert Hayne, called for a force of ten thousand volunteers to defend the state against any federal action. At the same time, South Carolinians who opposed the nullifiers told Jackson that eight thousand men stood ready to defend the Union. Congress passed the Force Bill of 1833, which gave the federal government the right to use federal troops to ensure compliance with federal law. The crisis—or at least the prospect of armed conflict in South Carolina—was defused by the Compromise Tariff of 1833, which reduced tariff rates considerably. Nullifiers in South Carolina accepted it, but in a move that demonstrated their inflexibility, they nullified the Force Bill.

    The Nullification Crisis illustrated the growing tensions in American democracy: an aggrieved minority of elite, wealthy slaveholders taking a stand against the will of a democratic majority; an emerging sectional divide between South and North over slavery; and a clash between those who believed in free trade and those who believed in protective tariffs to encourage the nation’s economic growth. These tensions would color the next three decades of politics in the United States.


    Questions to Consider:


    1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
    2.  According to this document, what are the concerns of both sides (South Carolina and the Federal Government) in the context of the Nullification Crisis?
    3. What does the author suggest about the unity of the nation?
    4. How do perceptions of identity factor into this debate?  Why is this important?
    5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]



    Primary Source[2]

    Whereas a convention, assembled in the State of South Carolina, have passed an ordinance, by which they declare that the several acts and parts of acts of the Congress of the United States, purporting to be laws for the imposing of duties and imposts on the importation of foreign commodities, and now having actual operation and effect within the United States, and more especially "two acts for the same purposes, passed on the 29th of May, 1828, and on the 14th of July, 1832, are unauthorized by the Constitution of the United States, and violate the true meaning and intent thereof, and are null and void, and no law," nor binding on the citizens of that State or its officers, and by the said ordinance it is further declared to be unlawful for any of the constituted authorities of the State, or of the United States, to enforce the payment of the duties imposed by the said acts within the same State, and that it is the duty of the legislature to pass such laws as may be necessary to give full effect to the said ordinances:

    And whereas, by the said ordinance it is further ordained, that, in no case of law or equity, decided in the courts of said State, wherein shall be drawn in question the validity of the said ordinance, or of the acts of the legislature that may be passed to give it effect, or of the said laws of the United States, no appeal shall be allowed to the Supreme Court of the United States, nor shall any copy of the record be permitted or allowed for that purpose; and that any person attempting to take such appeal, shall be punished as for a contempt of court:

    And, finally, the said ordinance declares that the people of South Carolina will maintain the said ordinance at every hazard, and that they will consider the passage of any act by Congress abolishing or closing the ports of the said State, or otherwise obstructing the free ingress or egress of vessels to and from the said ports, or any other act of the Federal Government to coerce the State, shut up her ports, destroy or harass her commerce, or to enforce the said acts otherwise than through the civil tribunals of the country, as inconsistent with the longer continuance of South Carolina in the Union; and that the people of the said State will thenceforth hold themselves absolved from all further obligation to maintain or preserve their political connection with the people of the other States, and will forthwith proceed to organize a separate government, and do all other acts and things which sovereign and independent States may of right do.

    And whereas the said ordinance prescribes to the people of South Carolina a course of conduct in direct violation of their duty as citizens of the United States, contrary to the laws of their country, subversive of its Constitution, and having for its object the instruction of the Union-that Union, which, coeval with our political existence, led our fathers, without any other ties to unite them than those of patriotism and common cause, through the sanguinary struggle to a glorious independence-that sacred Union, hitherto inviolate, which, perfected by our happy Constitution, has brought us, by the favor of Heaven, to a state of prosperity at home, and high consideration abroad, rarely, if ever, equaled in the history of nations; to preserve this bond of our political existence from destruction, to maintain inviolate this state of national honor and prosperity, and to justify the confidence my fellow-citizens have reposed in me, I, Andrew Jackson, President of the United States, have thought proper to issue this my PROCLAMATION, stating my views of the Constitution and laws applicable to the measures adopted by the Convention of South Carolina, and to the reasons they have put forth to sustain them, declaring the course which duty will require me to pursue, and, appealing to the understanding and patriotism of the people, warn them of the consequences that must inevitably result from an observance of the dictates of the Convention.

    Strict duty would require of me nothing more than the exercise of those powers with which I am now, or may hereafter be, invested, for preserving the Union, and for the execution of the laws. But the imposing aspect which opposition has assumed in this case, by clothing itself with State authority, and the deep interest which the people of the United States must all feel in preventing a resort to stronger measures, while there is a hope that anything will be yielded to reasoning and remonstrances, perhaps demand, and will certainly justify, a full exposition to South Carolina and the nation of the views I entertain of this important question, as well as a distinct enunciation of the course which my sense of duty will require me to pursue.

    The ordinance is founded, not on the indefeasible right of resisting acts which are plainly unconstitutional, and too oppressive to be endured, but on the strange position that any one State may not only declare an act of Congress void, but prohibit its execution- that they may do this consistently with the Constitution-that the true construction of that instrument permits a State to retain its place in the Union, and yet be bound by no other of its laws than those it may choose to consider as constitutional. It is true they add, that to justify this abrogation of a law, it must be palpably contrary to the Constitution, but it is evident, that to give the right of resisting laws of that description, coupled with the uncontrolled right to decide what laws deserve that character, is to give the power of resisting all laws. For, as by the theory, there is no appeal, the reasons alleged by the State, good or bad, must prevail. If it should be said that public opinion is a sufficient check against the abuse of this power, it may be asked why it is not deemed a sufficient guard against the passage of an unconstitutional act by Congress. There is, however, a restraint in this last case, which makes the assumed power of a State more indefensible, and which does not exist in the other. There are two appeals from an unconstitutional act passed by Congress-one to the judiciary, the other to the people and the States. There is no appeal from the State decision in theory; and the practical illustration shows that the courts are closed against an application to review it, both judges and jurors being sworn to decide in its favor. But reasoning on this subject is superfluous, when our social compact in express terms declares, that the laws of the United States, its Constitution, and treaties made under it, are the supreme law of the land; and for greater caution adds, "that the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding." And it may be asserted, without fear of refutation, that no federative government could exist without a similar provision. Look, for a moment, to the consequence. If South Carolina considers the revenue laws unconstitutional, and has a right to prevent their execution in the port of Charleston, there would be a clear constitutional objection to their collection in every other port, and no revenue could be collected anywhere; for all imposts must be equal. It is no answer to repeat that an unconstitutional law is no law, so long as the question of its legality is to be decided by the State itself, for every law operating injuriously upon any local interest will be perhaps thought, and certainly represented, as unconstitutional, and, as has been shown, there is no appeal.

    If this doctrine had been established at an earlier day, the Union would have been dissolved in its infancy. The excise law in Pennsylvania, the embargo and non-intercourse law in the Eastern States, the carriage tax in Virginia, were all deemed unconstitutional, and were more unequal in their operation than any of the laws now complained of; but, fortunately, none of those States discovered that they had the right now claimed by South Carolina. The war into which we were forced, to support the dignity of the nation and the rights of our citizens, might have ended in defeat and disgrace instead of victory and honor, if the States, who supposed it a ruinous and unconstitutional measure, had thought they possessed the right of nullifying the act by which it was declared, and denying supplies for its prosecution. Hardly and unequally as those measures bore upon several members of the Union, to the legislatures of none did this efficient and peaceable remedy, as it is called, suggest itself. The discovery of this important feature in our Constitution was reserved to the present day. To the statesmen of South Carolina belongs the invention, and upon the citizens of that State will, unfortunately, fall the evils of reducing it to practice.

    If the doctrine of a State veto upon the laws of the Union carries with it internal evidence of its impracticable absurdity, our constitutional history will also afford abundant proof that it would have been repudiated with indignation had it been proposed to form a feature in our Government.

    In our colonial state, although dependent on another power, we very early considered ourselves as connected by common interest with each other. Leagues were formed for common defense, and before the Declaration of Independence, we were known in our aggregate character as the United Colonies of America. That decisive and important step was taken jointly. We declared ourselves a nation by a joint, not by several acts; and when the terms of our confederation were reduced to form, it was in that of a solemn league of several States, by which they agreed that they would, collectively, form one nation, for the purpose of conducting some certain domestic concerns, and all foreign relations. In the instrument forming that Union, is found an article which declares that "every State shall abide by the determinations of Congress on all questions which by that Confederation should be submitted to them."

    Under the Confederation, then, no State could legally annul a decision of the Congress, or refuse to submit to its execution, but no provision was made to enforce these decisions. Congress made requisitions, but they were not complied with. The Government could not operate on individuals. They had no judiciary, no means of collecting revenue.

    But the defects of the Confederation need not be detailed. Under its operation we could scarcely be called a nation. We had neither prosperity at home nor consideration abroad. This state of things could not be endured, and our present happy Constitution was formed, but formed in vain, if this fatal doctrine prevails. It was formed for important objects that are announced in the preamble made in the name and by the authority of the people of the United States, whose delegates framed, and whose conventions approved it.

    The most important among these objects, that which is placed first in rank, on which all the others rest, is "to form a more perfect Union." Now, is it possible that, even if there were no express provision giving supremacy to the Constitution and laws of the United States over those of the States, it can be conceived that an Instrument made for the purpose of "forming; a more perfect Union" than that of the confederation, could be so constructed by the assembled wisdom of our country as to substitute for that confederation a form of government, dependent for its existence on the local interest, the party spirit of a State, or of a prevailing faction in a State? Every man, of plain, unsophisticated understanding, who hears the question, will give such an answer as will preserve the Union. Metaphysical subtlety, in pursuit of an impracticable theory, could alone have devised one that is calculated to destroy it.

    I consider, then, the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one State, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which It was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed.

    After this general view of the leading principle, we must examine the particular application of it which is made in the ordinance.

    Fellow-citizens of the United States! the threat of unhallowed disunion-the names of those, once respected, by whom it is uttered--the array of military force to support it-denote the approach of a crisis in our affairs on which the continuance of our unexampled prosperity, our political existence, and perhaps that of all free governments, may depend. The conjuncture demanded a free, a full, and explicit enunciation, not only of my intentions, but of my principles of action, and as the claim was asserted of a right by a State to annul the laws of the Union, and even to secede from it at pleasure, a frank exposition of my opinions in relation to the origin and form of our government, and the construction I give to the instrument by which it was created, seemed to be proper. Having the fullest confidence in the justness of the legal and constitutional opinion of my duties which has been expressed, I rely with equal confidence on your undivided support in my determination to execute the laws-to preserve the Union by all constitutional means-to arrest, if possible, by moderate but firm measures, the necessity of a recourse to force; and, if it be the will of Heaven that the recurrence of its primeval curse on man for the shedding of a brother's blood should fall upon our land, that it be not called down by any offensive act on the part of the United States.

    Fellow-citizens! the momentous case is before you. On your undivided support of your government depends the decision of the great question it involves, whether your sacred Union will be preserved, and the blessing it secures to us as one people shall be perpetuated. No one can doubt that the unanimity with which that decision will be expressed, will he such as to inspire new confidence in republican institutions, and that the prudence, the wisdom, and the courage which it will bring to their defense, will transmit them unimpaired and invigorated to our children.

    May the Great Ruler of nations grant that the signal blessings with which he has favored ours may not, by the madness of party or personal ambition, be disregarded and lost, and may His wise providence bring those who have produced this crisis to see the folly, before they feel the misery, of civil strife, and inspire a returning veneration for that Union which, if we may dare to penetrate his designs, he has chosen, as the only means of attaining the high destinies to which we may reasonably aspire.

    In testimony whereof, I have caused the seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed, having signed the same with my hand.

    Done at the City of Washington, this 10th day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-two, and of the independence of the United States the fifty-seventh.


    By the President

    EDW. LIVINGSTON, Secretary of State.

    (1) Written by Edward Livingston.



    [1] OpenStax, 10.3 The Nullification Crisis and the Bank War. OpenStax CNX. Oct 15, 2018. Download for free at This work is licensed CC-BY 4.0.


    [2] Ford, Paul Leicester.  The Federalist : A commentary on the Constitution of the United States by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay edited with notes, illustrative documents and a copious index by Paul Leicester Ford.  New York : Henry Holt and Company, 1898.

    "President Jackson's Proclamation Regarding Nullification, December 10, 1832" by Andrew Jackson is in the Public Domain.


    Rhode Islanders Protest Property Restrictions on Voting (1834)

    Rhode Islanders Protest Property Restrictions on Voting (1834)


    Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]


    Many poor white men gained voting rights, also known as suffrage, for the first time in the 1830s. These changes in American democracy did not take place without conflict. Voting rights in Rhode Island only changed after poor Rhode Islanders raised a militia and threatened violence. Below is the proposal of many of the men who seven years later took up arms to fight for voting rights.


    Questions to Consider:

    1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
    2.  On what grounds are the author(s) challenging the property restrictions on voting?  Is this a strong argument?  Why/Why Not?
    3.  According to this reading what is the “True American Doctrine” and what does it mean?  Why is this significant?
    4. What identity does this author claim has been falsely put upon men with no property and how does he challenge these notions?
    5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]



    Primary Source[2]

    …We have arrived at the conclusion that government was designed for the protection and perpetuation of rights—not derived from itself, but natural and inherent—in such a way as to promote the greatest good of the whole; and that the question now before us is, not what right of suffrage the government ought to grant as a gift, but with what restrictions, required by this greatest good, suffrage may be claimed as a right by the people of this State. Is it consistent with this general good that the present landed qualifications should be any longer continued…?

    …we should show that the present restriction is, in its operation, inconsistent with republican principles, then we shall secure the aid of all those who consistently hold those principles, in having this restriction removed…

    …whatever course a true patriot might feel himself to adopt in one of the corrupt monarchies of the old world, no such reason can be given for a postponement of political rights in our own country. No privileged orders have ever existed in it, to create a vast inequality which prevails elsewhere between the many and the few. A freedom was brought with the by our ancestors, and has ever subsisted among us…The true American doctrine is, that the majority have not only a right to govern, but that they are sufficiently intelligent and honest to govern; and that, if there be any doubt about this sufficiency, we ought immediately to set to work and build more schools. Men in Europe, who are opposed to any further improvement in government, may talk about the necessity of “barring out the people,” and of “defending themselves against the people.” But this will not do here…

    …the condition of things has changed—the towns have changed; new interests have sprung up, and useful citizens, who own no land, but who contribute by their occupations, and by the payment of taxes to the extent of their means, their proportionate measure to the public welfare. Yet these men have no voice in the government which they contribute to support; being excluded upon the false notion that landed property is the only kind that is decisive of a man’s intelligence and honesty. Look at the hardship of the case of a mechanic, for instance. He has received a common education; he has served as a journeyman, and is now about to commence business for himself with some small earnings of his own; his savings are only sufficient to procure the implements of his trade. After fairly starting in life on his own account, he becomes anxious to provide for himself a home. He marries; he hires a tenement; in the course of time he acquires more money, which his interest demands should be invested in the stock of his trade. He is fully able to purchase one hundred and thirty four dollars worth of land; but it is, in most cases, against his interest to do so, until he can purchase a great deal more. In the mean time, he is debarred from the polls; and if he asks why, the answer must be that the non freeholders are too ignorant and dishonest to be trusted in so important a matter as voting. This we believe is a fair statement of the case of hundreds of mechanics in this State…

    But this restriction is not merely burdensome upon traders and mechanics. How fare the younger sons of farmers? True, a sort of virtue is transmitted from the land-owner, but it reaches no farther than the first-born son… the real question is why either of the sons, or any other person should be exempted from the general law of qualification, whatever it may be. No good reason has been, nor can be, given…

    The majority of lawyers, clergymen, and physicians, as a body, certainly are not landholders, and yet we freely intrust our property, our consciences, and our lives, to men who, the law says, are too ignorant and corrupt to vote for a constable!…

    The existing restriction on suffrage is, then, we think, clearly in opposition to the real intention of our ancestors, and to the spirit of democracy which they established… If it were unjust for our forefathers to be taxes without representation, it is equally unjust for our their descendants to be so taxed by their brethren, as long as they have no vote in determining either the quantity or appropriation…



    [1] Introduction to Rhode Islanders Protest Property Restrictions on Voting, 1834” from The American Yawp Reader by University of Stanford Press is licensed under CC-BY-SA.

    [2] An Address to the People of Rhode Island, from the Convention assembled at Providence, on the 22nd day of February, and again on the 12th day of March, 1834, to Promote the Establishment of a State Constitution (Providence: 1834), 32-34, 38-40, 44-45.

    Primary source is in the public domain.


    Early Factory Labor in New England (1836/1883)

    There is not yet an introduction to this reading, though we anticipate adding one following Autumn 2019 semester.  

    Early Factory Labor in New England (1836/1883)

    Harriet H. Robinson


    Questions to Consider:

    1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
    2.  How were the mill girls treated?  Why?  Impact?
    3.  What was the primary incentive for labor for these girls? Why?  Significance?
    4. How did becoming a mill worker alter the identity of these women in both positive and negative ways?
    5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]



    Primary Source[1]

    In what follows, I shall confine myself to a description of factory life in Lowell, Massachusetts, from 1832 to 1848, since, with that phase of Early Factory Labor in New England, I am the most familiar-because I was a part of it.

    In 1832, Lowell was little more than a factory village. Five "corporations" were started, and the cotton mills belonging to them were building. Help was in great demand and stories were told all over the country of the new factory place, and the high wages that were offered to all classes of work-people; stories that reached the ears of mechanics' and farmers' sons and gave new life to lonely and dependent women in distant towns and farmhouses .... Troops of young girls came from different parts of New England, and from Canada, and men were employed to collect them at so much a head, and deliver them at the factories.

    * * *

    At the time the Lowell cotton mills were started the caste of the factory girl was the lowest among the employments of women. In England and in France, particularly, great injustice had been done to her real character. She was represented as subjected to influences that must destroy her purity and self-respect. In the eyes of her overseer she was but a brute, a slave, to be beaten, pinched and pushed about. It was to overcome this prejudice that such high wages had been offered to women that they might be induced to become mill-girls, in spite of the opprobrium that still clung to this degrading occupation....

    The early mill-girls were of different ages. Some (like the writer) were not over ten years of age; a few were in middle life, but the majority were between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five. The very young girls were called "doffers." They "doffed," or took off, the full bobbins from the spinning-frames, and replaced them with empty ones. These mites worked about fifteen minutes every hour and the rest of the time was their own. When the overseer was kind they were allowed to read, knit, or go outside the mill-yard to play. They were paid two dollars a week. The working hours of all the girls extended from five o'clock in the morning until seven in the evening, with one half-hour each, for breakfast and dinner. Even the doffers were forced to be on duty nearly fourteen hours a day. This was the greatest hardship in the lives of these children. Several years later a ten-hour law was passed, but not until long after some of these little doffers were old enough to appear before the legislative committee on the subject, and plead, by their presence, for a reduction of the hours of labor.

    Those of the mill-girls who had homes generally worked from eight to ten months in the year; the rest of the time was spent with parents or friends. A few taught school during the summer months. Their life in the factory was made pleasant to them. In those days there was no need of advocating the doctrine of the proper relation between employer and employed. Help was too valuable to be ill-treated....

    * * *

    The most prevailing incentive to labor was to secure the means of education for some male member of the family. To make a gentleman of a brother or a son, to give him a college education, was the dominant thought in the minds of a great many of the better class of mill-girls. I have known more than one to give every cent of her wages, month after month, to her brother, that he might get the education necessary to enter some profession. I have known a mother to work years in this way for her boy. I have known women to educate young men by their earnings, who were not sons or relatives. There are many men now living who were helped to an education by the wages of the early mill-girls.

    It is well to digress here a little, and speak of the influence the possession of money had on the characters of some of these women. We can hardly realize what a change the cotton factory made in the status of the working women. Hitherto woman had always been a money saving rather than a money earning, member of the community. Her labor could command but small return. If she worked out as servant, or "help," her wages were from 50 cents to $1 .00 a week; or, if she went from house to house by the day to spin and weave, or do tailoress work, she could get but 75 cents a week and her meals. As teacher her services were not in demand, and the arts, the professions, and even the trades and industries, were nearly all closed to her.

    As late as 1840 there were only seven vocations outside the home into which the women of New England had entered. At this time woman had no property rights. A widow could be left without her share of her husband's (or the family) property, an "incumbrance" to his estate. A father could make his will without reference to his daughter's share of the inheritance. He usually left her a home on the farm as long as she remained single. A woman was not supposed to be capable of spending her own, or of using other people's money. In Massachusetts, before 1840, a woman could not, legally, be treasurer of her own sewing society, unless some man were responsible for her.

    The law took no cognizance of woman as a money-spender. She was a ward, an appendage, a relic. Thus it happened that if a woman did not choose to marry, or, when left a widow, to re-marry, she had no choice but to enter one of the few employments open to her or to become a burden on the charity of some relative.

    * * *

    One of the first strikes that ever took place in this country was in Lowell in 1836. When it was announced that the wages were to be cut down, great indignation was felt, and it was decided to strike or "turn out" en masse. This was done. The mills were shut down, and the girls went from their several corporations in procession to the grove on Chapel Hill, and listened to incendiary speeches from some early labor reformers.

    One of the girls stood on a pump and gave vent to the feelings of her companions in a neat speech, declaring that it was their duty to resist all attempts at cutting down the wages. This was the first time a woman had spoken in public in Lowell, and the event caused surprise and consternation among her audience. . .

    It is hardly necessary to say that, so far as practical results are concerned, this strike did no good.

    The corporations would not come to terms. The girls were soon tired of holding out, and they went back to their work at the reduced rate of wages. The ill-success of this early attempt at resistance on the part of the wage element seems to have made a precedent for the issue of many succeeding strikes.