AP U.S. History Notes: Period 4

April 10, 2024
AP U.S. History Notes: Period 4

Continue your AP U.S. History test prep with APUSH Period 4 study notes from Barron’s. See a timeline of what happens in Period 4 of APUSH and review key exam topics you should know for the APUSH exam. Looking for more APUSH study resources? Check out Barron’s AP U.S. History Premium Test Prep Book and our free AP U.S. History Podcast.

AP U.S. History Notes: Period 4 Timeline

This graphic gives a brief timeline of key events that took place during AP U.S. History Period 4.

APUSH Period 4 timeline - part one.
APUSH Period 4 timeline - part two.

AP U.S. History Notes: Period 4 Overview

The fourth period covered on the AP U.S. history exam took place between the years 1800-1848 and is referred to as “The Meaning of Democracy in an Era of Economic and Territorial Expansion.” The first half of the nineteenth century witnessed a series of economic, territorial, and demographic changes that led to struggles over the definition and limits of democratic control.

Growth and expansion were defining features of the United States in the first half of the 19th century. The economy was rapidly changing and growing, as an older semi-subsistence economy was giving way to a market economy with a national, and even international, reach. The “market revolution” affected various parts of the country differently. Reformers and intellectuals tried to make sense of these changes and entered into debates about the meaning and shape of democracy. The area of land claimed by the United States grew substantially during this period, as the country attempted to fulfill its professed “manifest destiny,” and American Indians resisted and changed in the process. In the northern states the beginnings of industrialization appeared, while slavery grew dramatically in the South on the strength of cotton cultivation. In some ways, the regions of the United States became more interlinked as local economies were drawn into national markets, but at the same time, the issue of free labor versus slave labor pushed the country further apart.

12 Things to Know About AP U.S. History Period 4

1. The first decades of the nineteenth century led to a growth in the importance of political parties, which organized debate around issues of national importance. Also during this time, Supreme Court decisions asserted federal power over state power. Finally, diplomatic actions led to the United States greatly expanding its territory.

2. As the United States acquired new territories, Americans debated whether these new lands should allow slavery or not. Attempts at compromise were made in the first half of the nineteenth century with mixed results. Although efforts were made to create a more cohesive national economy, many political leaders asserted regional economic interests over national concerns.

3. The United States pursued a foreign policy around the goals of expanding its boundaries, increasing trade, and isolating itself from European conflicts. These goals were pursued both through government actions and private initiatives.

4. A series of technological innovations dramatically altered the American economy. Old patterns of economic activity gave way to new patterns of production, distribution, and consumption, changing the nature of agriculture and manufacturing.

5. The market revolution led to new settlement patterns in the United States—encouraging both the movement of immigrants from abroad into the United States as well as the movement of people within the country. In addition, the market revolution dramatically changed American society, drawing more people into its orbit, altering class relations, and redefining gender and family roles.

6. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, states expanded suffrage by reducing or eliminating property qualifications for voting. This led to a growth in the importance of political parties and elections. Observers noted the development of a democratic culture in the United States during this period.

7. The era of President Andrew Jackson (1829–1837), which occurred in the context of the expansion of democratic participation, witnessed the development of a new two-party system as well as intense debates around the extent of federal power. As the United States gained control of additional territory and more Americans migrated into the interior of the country, conflicts with American Indians expanded.

8. During the first decades of the nineteenth century, Americans participated in a variety of cultural movements. Many Americans contributed to the development of a national culture, combining European aspects with distinctly American aspects. At the same time, groups of people in the United States developed cultural forms that reflected the particularities of their own experiences and worldviews.

9. A variety of political, economic, cultural, and demographic issues led to the development of the “Second Great Awakening.” This spiritual awakening inspired other religious movements as well as a host of reform movements.

10. Reform movements and voluntary organizations grew in number and importance in the first half of the nineteenth century. These movements were influenced by the Second Great Awakening religious revival, as well as by liberal European ideas. The Romantic notion of human perfectibility was central to these movements.

11. The changes brought about by the market revolution—most notably, the growth of the national and international market for cotton—led to the dramatic growth of slavery in the antebellum period. Enslaved and free African Americans developed a variety of responses to the expansion of slavery, including rebellions, resistance, political activism, and new cultural patterns.

12. In many ways the South remained distinct from the rest of the country. Ideologically, politically, and culturally, the South developed a regional identity markedly different from the other regions of the country. Cotton and slavery came to be seen as defining features of Southern society.

AP U.S. History Notes: Key Topics in Period 4

The Rise of Political Parties and the Era of Jefferson

  • James Monroe: With the Federalist Party in its death throes, the Democratic-Republican Party candidate, James Monroe, easily won the election of 1816. Four years later, the Federalists made even less of a challenge to Monroe. President Monroe was somewhat of a throwback to the presidents of the eighteenth-century. He was the last president to consistently wear the silk stockings, knee breeches, and powdered wigs of the earlier era. He also adopted President George Washington’s practice of bringing men of differing ideological bents into his administration.
  • The Louisiana Territory: In 1803, the United States was given the opportunity to purchase the vast swath of land beyond the Mississippi River known as the Louisiana Territory. The Louisiana Territory was long held by France, which ceded it to Spain in 1762, at the close of the French and Indian War. France regained the territory in 1801, but the ambitious French leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, in need of cash to fund war with Great Britain, soon was ready to sell the Louisiana Territory. American negotiators quickly agreed to a price of $15 million (1803).
  • The Louisiana Purchase: The purchase of the Louisiana Territory was arguably the most significant act of Jefferson’s presidency. The purchase was important for two reasons. First, it doubled the territory of the United States, adding the fertile Great Plains. This flat area west of the Mississippi would become the most important agricultural region in the United States. Second, the United States gained full control of the port of New Orleans. New Orleans is at the outlet of the mighty Mississippi River, which stretches from Minnesota down the spine of the United States. The impact of the Louisiana Purchase on economic growth was remarkable.
  • The Lewis and Clark Expedition: The Lewis and Clark expedition (1804–1806) increased understanding of the region included in the Louisiana Purchase. President Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, army officers, to explore the territory. They explored and mapped the region, seeking practical routes through the mountains, and established the presence of the United States in the West.

Politics and Regional Interest

  • “American System:” In the nationalist mood that followed the War of 1812, Henry Clay, a leading member of the House of Representatives, put forward a series of proposals to promote economic growth that he later called the “American System.” First, Clay realized that America needed “internal improvements” in transportation in order to grow economically. Second, Clay proposed putting high tariffs on imported goods. He believed that high tariffs on incoming manufactured goods would promote American manufacturing. Third, Clay proposed chartering the Second Bank of the United States in order to stabilize the economy and make credit more readily available.
  • The Missouri Compromise: Controversy arose between the slave-holding states and the free states when Missouri applied for statehood as a slave state in 1818. At the time, there were 11 slave states and 11 free states. The admission of Missouri would have upset that balance. A compromise was reached in 1820 to maintain the balance between free and slave states by allowing for the admission of two new states—Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. The Missouri Compromise also divided the remaining area of the Louisiana Territory at 36°30’ north latitude. Above that line, slavery was not permitted (except for in Missouri); below the line, it was permitted.

America on the World Stage

  • Macon’s Bill No. 2 (1810): In an attempt to revive trade, Congress passed Macon’s Bill No. 2 in 1810. The bill stipulated that if either Great Britain or France agreed to respect America’s rights as a neutral nation at sea, the United States would prohibit trade with that nation’s enemy. Napoleon agreed to this arrangement, and consequently, the United States cut trade to Britain in 1811.
  • The War of 1812: Trade conflicts and pressure from the “War Hawk” congressmen pushed President James Madison to declare war against Great Britain in 1812. The vote on the war in Congress was divided along sectional lines. New England and some Middle Atlantic states opposed it; the South and Midwest voted for it. The vote to begin the War of 1812 occurred just as Britain was making assurances that it would stop interfering with American shipping. The war lasted two and a half years.
  • The Treaty of Ghent: The Treaty of Ghent (1814) ended the War of 1812. Britain had grown weary of war after fighting Napoleon for more than a decade and the United States for two years. The United States realized that it could not achieve a decisive victory over Great Britain. The treaty ended the war where it had begun. The two sides agreed to stop fighting, give back any territory seized in the war, and recognize the boundary between the United States and Canada that had been established before the war.
  • Monroe Doctrine: The major purpose of the Monroe Doctrine was to limit European influence in the Western Hemisphere. The United States did not have the military might to enforce this pronouncement at the time, but it was an important statement of intent. The Monroe Doctrine and Washington’s farewell address became cornerstones of America’s isolationist foreign policy.

The Market Revolution: Economic Transformations

  • Panic of 1819: The easy access to credit from the different types of banks put money into circulation and fueled economic expansion, but also created economic instability, as was evident in the “Panic of 1819.” The interconnected and volatile nature of the emerging “market economy” was also evident in the Panic of 1819. The origins of the economic downturn can be found in both the growing role of the United States as an exporter of farm goods and in the fevered speculation in western lands.
  • Steam power: One of the important technological developments in the first half of the nineteenth century was the harnessing of steam power. Developments in Great Britain in the late eighteenth century led to high-pressure steam engines that could be used for powering ships and locomotives. In the United States, Robert Fulton developed a functioning steamboat, the Clermont, that was demonstrated on New York’s Hudson River in 1807. Within 20 years, steamboats came to dominate commercial shipping, swiftly plying the major rivers and canals of the United States, as well as the Great Lakes.
  • Cotton gin: The invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney (1793) allowed for the rapid processing of cotton. That, combined with insatiable demand in the North and in Great Britain for cotton, led to more and more acres being put under cultivation. Cotton production connected the United States to the global economy.

Market Revolution: Society and Culture

  • “Potato Famine:” The “potato famine” was partly a natural phenomenon and partly the result of British policies. Great Britain controlled Ireland and used the best land to grow wheat and other crops for export, while potato farming was pushed to marginal land. The result was weak potato plants less able to withstand disease. It is estimated that one million Irish starved to death between 1845 and 1852 (out of a population of eight million), while another two million left Ireland – with approximately one million coming to the United States and one million settling in other countries.
  • “Free labor:” The “free labor” ideology, which gained currency among many Americans in the nineteenth century. This ideal held that in the United States it was possible for wage earners to actually own land and become independent of others. It upheld the dignity of work and led Northerners to see their society as superior to that of the South. In the South, physical labor was denigrated and associated with slaves. The “free labor” ideology would become a central tenet of Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party in the 1850s.
  • “Cult of Domesticity:” Commentators in the first half of the nineteenth century tended to see women as intellectually inferior and insisted that their proper role was maintaining the house and caring for children. This “cult of domesticity” insisted that women keep a proper Christian home—separate from the male sphere of politics, business, and competition. This ideal discouraged women from participating in public life.

Expanding Democracy 

  • The Dorr Rebellion: In Rhode Island, conflict over the expansion of democracy resulted in a short-lived rebellion. In 1841, democratic reformers organized a People’s Convention, which wrote a new, more democratic, state constitution. These reformers then conducted an unsanctioned statewide referendum on their constitution, which overwhelmingly passed. They then tried to put this new constitution into effect and inaugurate a new governor, Thomas Dorr. However, none of these moves had official state approval; they were seen as an extralegal rebellion. Federal troops were sent by President John Tyler. Dorr was briefly imprisoned and the “Dorr Rebellion” was quickly put down, but the incident illustrated the strong popular desire for a more democratic governing structure.
  • Democracy in America: Alexis de Tocqueville’s travels and observations led him to produce a broader account of American society, Democracy in America, published in two volumes (1835 and 1840). The book became a classic account of democracy, as well as an insightful description of the United States at the time. Tocqueville was especially interested in why representative democracy had taken hold in the United States while it failed in many other countries. He noted that democracy in the United States meant more than access to voting. He described a democratic ethos that was rooted in American culture.

Jackson and Federal Power

  • “Tariff of Abominations:” A major controversy around tariff rates occurred during the administration of President Jackson and reflected the escalation of regional tensions. The controversy originated with the Tariff Act of 1828, which revised tariff rates on a variety of imports. The act, known by its critics as the “Tariff of Abominations,” dramatically raised tariff rates on many items and led to a general reduction in trade between the United States and Europe.
  • Nullification: A new tariff act, signed by President Jackson in 1832, lowered tariff rates but did not satisfy many politicians in South Carolina. These politicians, led by John C. Calhoun, who had been Jackson’s vice president until he resigned in 1832, asserted the right of states to nullify federal legislation. Under this theory of nullification, a state could declare an objectionable federal law null and void within that state. In actuality, courts at the state and federal level, including the Supreme Court, have consistently upheld the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which asserts that federal law is superior to state law.
  • Whig Party: The opponents of President Andrew Jackson and the Democratic Party founded the Whig Party in 1833. It is difficult to generalize about the constituents of each party. Northerners and southerners, for example, could be found in both parties. Irish and German Catholic immigrants tended to support the Democrats, while evangelical Protestants were more likely to support the Whigs. Many Whigs supported government programs aimed at economic modernization, as outlined in Henry Clay’s “American System” proposals.
  • “Trail of Tears:” By 1838, the Cherokee had exhausted their legal and political challenges to removal. Some cooperated with removal and ceded their lands. However, the majority, led by the Cherokee “principal chief,” John Ross, adopted a policy of passive resistance to remain on their land. Federal troops were dispatched to enforce Georgia’s removal policy. The resulting expulsion of 18,000 American Indians to the Oklahoma Territory, their trek labeled the “Trail of Tears” (1838), resulted in the deaths of approximately one-quarter of the people on the journey.
  • “Indian Territory:” As part of the government’s American Indian removal policy, many tribes from east of the Mississippi River were relocated to a designated “Indian Territory” that existed within the boundaries of present-day Oklahoma. This establishment of an Indian Territory was part of the Indian Intercourse Act of 1834. Many Indian groups resisted relocation to the Indian Territory through legal channels and through armed resistance.

The Development of an American Culture

  • Romanticism: Romanticism, which had its origins in Europe, deeply influenced art, literature, and thought in the United States. The movement was strongest, both in Europe and the United States, during the first half of the nineteenth century. In many ways, romanticism was a reaction to industrialization and to the market revolution – to work becoming more ordered around routines, to the increasing social value attached to wealth accumulation, and to the rationalization of nature.
  • Hudson River School: American form of expression can be seen in the landscape paintings that came to be known as the “Hudson River School” of painting. The Hudson River School, which flourished from the 1820s to the 1870s, is best represented by three artists –Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, and Frederic Church. These artists were inspired by the European tradition of romantic paintings of dramatic landscapes, often featuring the ruins of ancient castles or temples.

The Second Great Awakening

  • “Second Great Awakening:” At the turn of the nineteenth century, many clergy members worried that Americans seemed more captivated by politics—forming and building a new nation – than by God and salvation. Many ordinary Americans also felt a yearning to get in touch with a more immediate religious experience. The result was the “Second Great Awakening.” The movement of large “camp meetings” began in Kentucky early in the 1800s and soon spread to other states. It was especially strong in upstate New York and western Pennsylvania. The growing population centers along the Erie Canal in upstate New York came to be known as the “burned-over district” because of the intensity of the religious revival there.
  • Mormonism: The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, known as the Mormons, was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, in upstate New York, growing out of the Second Great Awakening. It was one of many sects that developed during this period of spiritual ferment. As the Mormons gained more adherents, the group was met by hostility for its unorthodox teachings and practices. The most controversial practice was polygamy – allowing men to have multiple wives (subsequently renounced by the Mormon church in 1890). The group journeyed from New York to Ohio, then to Missouri, and then to Illinois. In Illinois, Smith was killed by an anti-Mormon mob (1844), and a new leader named Brigham Young led the majority of the Mormons to Utah (1847).
  • Transcendentalism: Transcendentalism was a spiritual and intellectual movement critical of the materialist direction the United States was taking in the first half of the nineteenth century. The movement put more stock in intuition than in empirical observation. Henry David Thoreau wrote about the importance of nature in finding meaning. He lived in relative isolation at Walden Pond for two years (1845–1847) and chronicled the experience in the book, Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854).
  • Utopian Communities: Utopian communities were experiments in communal living, usually in rural settings, and structured around a guiding principle. Many of these communities shared with transcendentalism an aversion to the materialistic direction of society. However, whereas transcendentalists focused on the cultivation of the self, utopian communities sought a more collective alternative to mainstream society. The most well-known community was Brook Farm, established outside of Boston in 1841.

An Age of Reform

  • Temperance Movement: The goal of the temperance movement was to limit or even ban the production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Many temperance activists focused on individual self-control; they encouraged people to voluntarily take an oath to abstain from alcohol. Others sought to use the power of government to limit or eliminate the consumption of alcoholic beverages. The temperance movement was the largest reform movement of the first half of the nineteenth century.
  • Abolitionism: The reform spirit of the Second Great Awakening inspired the modern abolition movement. Abolitionism was a minority opinion among northern whites in the antebellum period, but it had a major impact on America, opening up sectional divisions that contributed to the Civil War.
  • American Colonization Society: The American Colonization Society was founded in 1817 with the goal of transporting African Americans to Africa. The motives of the founders of the organization varied. Some sympathized with African Americans and urged them to leave the United States to escape from the ingrained racism of many white Americans. Other founders thought of African Americans as an inferior caste and wanted to rid America of them.
  • White Supremacy: In the South, white supremacy became central to southern white culture in the first half of the nineteenth century, especially after northern abolitionists began to press the cause of antislavery forcibly in the 1830s. Most white southerners held that African Americans were inferior beings. This view justified slavery as an institution both necessary and proper. White supremacy and slavery allowed the main divide in the South to be race rather than class. It allowed even the poorest whites to believe they were part of the superior caste and to feel they had something in common with the wealthiest plantation owners.
  • Seneca Falls Convention: The Seneca Falls Convention (1848) in upstate New York, is often considered the birth of the women’s rights movement. This was the first public gathering convened to raise the issue of women’s suffrage, but the convention went beyond advocating for voting rights for women. It called attention to the entire structure of gender inequality, including issues relating to property rights, education, wages, child custody, divorce, and the overall legal status of women. The convention issued a Declaration of Sentiments modeled after the Declaration of Independence. The document declared, “all men and women are created equal.”

African Americans in the Early Republic

  • Nat Turner’s Rebellion: In 1831, Nat Turner, a slave preacher, organized a rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. He led a band of African Americans, armed with guns and axes, on a bloody revolt that resulted in the deaths of fifty-five men, women, and children. The revolt was finally put down by state and federal troops. More than a hundred African Americans were executed by authorities, and more were attacked and killed by angry mobs in the wake of the revolt. Turner’s rebellion was the largest rebellion in the nineteenth century. It led to increased fears of slaves rebellions in the South and the enactment in many areas of stricter laws governing the behavior of slaves.
  • Frederick Douglass: Starting in the 1840s, the towering figure in the abolitionist movement was Frederick Douglass. Douglass was born into slavery in 1818 and escaped to the North in 1838. He had learned to read and write, hiding his education from his master, who, like most slave masters, wanted to conceal from his slaves the instruments of learning. Douglas became a powerful speaker in the antislavery movement.

The Society of the South in the Early Republic

  • “Mudsill Theory:” Some southern defenders of slavery argued that civilization – in the ancient world as well as in the contemporary South – depended on slavery. For civilization to flourish, it was necessary for a lower class of people to do the menial work so that a higher class could engage in more elevated pursuits. This lower class – in the case of the antebellum South, slaves – was analogous to the mudsill of a grand house. The mudsill was the lowest threshold of a building, which supported the foundation. This theory was popularized by South Carolina senator James Henry Hammond in a speech in 1858. He cautioned that a class of poor, landless people could threaten social harmony and undermine civilization.
  • “Lone Star Republic:” Texans won independence from Mexico, establishing the independent Republic of Texas in 1836. Many Texans were eager for their “Lone Star Republic,” as the Republic of Texas was known, to join the United States; one of the first official acts of the Texas president was to send a delegation to Washington with an offer to join the United States. Democratic President Andrew Jackson, however, not wanting to add to sectional tensions by admitting a large slave state, blocked annexation. It wasn’t until 1845 that outgoing President Tyler was able to push Texas annexation through Congress.