Building the American Republic, Volume 1: A Narrative History to 1877

Building the American Republic, Volume 1: A Narrative History to 1877

by Harry L. Watson

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Building the American Republic combines centuries of perspectives and voices into a fluid narrative of the United States. Throughout their respective volumes, Harry L. Watson and Jane Dailey take care to integrate varied scholarly perspectives and work to engage a diverse readership by addressing what we all share: membership in a democratic republic, with joint claims on its self-governing tradition. It will be one of the first peer-reviewed American history textbooks to be offered completely free in digital form. Visit for more information. 

Volume 1 starts at sea and ends on the battlefield. Beginning with the earliest Americans and the arrival of strangers on the eastern shore, it then moves through colonial society to the fight for independence and the construction of a federalist republic. From there, it explains the renegotiations and refinements that took place as a new nation found its footing, and it traces the actions that eventually rippled into the Civil War.

This volume goes beyond famous names and battles to incorporate politics, economics, science, arts, and culture. And it shows that issues that resonate today—immigration, race, labor, gender roles, and the power of technology—have been part of the American fabric since the very beginning.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226300658
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 01/04/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 51,315
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Harry L. Watson is the Atlanta Distinguished Professor of Southern Culture at the University of North Carolina. He is the author of Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America and An Independent People: The Way We Lived in North Carolina, 1770–1820. His coedited books include Southern Cultures: The Fifteenth Anniversary Reader and The American South in a Global World

Read an Excerpt


First Americans, to 1550

The island's name was Guanahaní. It shimmered in the sunlight of a calm, fragrant sea, and the sailors gazed on its palms and beaches with unspeakable relief. Their commander undoubtedly shared his men's excitement, but he controlled himself in a dry notation to his diary. "This island is quite big and very flat," the admiral reported. "[It has] many green trees and much water and a very large lake in the middle and without any mountains." Allowing his feelings to escape momentarily, he added, "And all of it so green that it is a pleasure to look at it."

Nor was Guanahaní empty. "These people are very gentle," the admiral marveled. "All of them go around as naked as their mothers bore them. ... They are very well formed, with handsome bodies and good faces. ... And they are of the color of the [Canary Islanders], neither black nor white." Certain that he had reached the outer shores of India, the explorer called the people "Indians" and their home the "Indies." His blunder still persists.

It is no wonder that Christopher Columbus rejoiced to see green branches and gentle people on October 12, 1492. Columbus and his crew had been sailing for 33 days, westward from the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa. They traveled in three small ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, and they were searching on behalf of the king and queen of Spain for a western passage to the fabled ports of China. No one had ever done such a thing, and they did not yet know that they had failed at their task, while succeeding at something they had never dreamed of.

The villagers who met the sailors were members of the Taíno, or Arawak, people, who uneasily shared the islands and coastlines of the Caribbean Sea with neighbors they called the Caribs. Their home lay at the eastern edge of an island cluster later called the Bahamas. We cannot know how they felt when the white sails of the little Spanish fleet loomed out of the sea that fateful morning, nor what they thought of the bearded strangers who cumbered themselves with hard and heavy clothing, and busied themselves with puzzling ceremonies involving banners, crosses, and incomprehensible speeches. The Taínos were certainly curious, however, and gathered around the landing party to receive gifts of red caps and glass beads, and to examine the Spaniards' sharp swords. In return, the Taínos swam out to the boats with parrots and skeins of cotton thread, and then with food and water.

Neither the Taínos nor their visitors could know it, but their exchange of gifts that morning launched the beginning of a long interaction between the peoples of Europe and the Western Hemisphere. Interaction would have profound effects on both sides. The Europeans gained new lands, new knowledge, new foods, and wealth almost without measure. Tragically, the exchange brought pestilence, enslavement, and destruction to the Taínos, but Native Americans managed to survive through a tenacious process of resistance and adaptation. Interaction was unequal, but it also produced a multitude of new societies and cultures, among them the United States of America. For the Taínos as well as the Spanish, therefore, the encounter on that fateful October morning was the beginning of a very new world.

Land, Climate, and First Peoples

The Taínos of Guanahaní were among the thousands of tribes and nations who inhabited the continents of North and South America at the time of Columbus's voyages. The Native Americans were people of enormous diversity and vitality, whose ways of living ranged from migratory hunting and gathering to the complex empires of Mexico and Peru. Each people had its own story to explain its origins, but modern anthropologists have concluded that most of their ancestors crossed a land bridge that connected Siberia and Alaska between 11,000 and 15,000 years ago.

From the Land Bridge to Agriculture

The earliest Americans traveled widely, eventually spreading across North and South America as they hunted huge mammals that are now mostly extinct: elephant species called mammoths and mastodons, wooly rhinoceroses, giant bison, horses, camels, and musk oxen. When these animals died out, they turned to other foods, according to their local environments.

Coastal people gathered fish and shellfish. Great Plains hunters stalked a smaller species of bison (often called buffalo), and eastern forest dwellers sought white-tailed deer and smaller game. Women everywhere gathered edible plants and prepared them for meals with special grinding stones. As people adjusted to specific local environments, they traveled less and lost contact with other bands. Individual groups developed their own cultural styles, each with its own variety of stone tools. Linguistic and religious patterns undoubtedly diverged as well, as local populations assumed their own unique identities.

One of the most important adaptations occurred when women searching for a regular supply of seeds began to cultivate productive plants. The earliest Indian farmers grew a wide variety of seed-bearing plants, but those of central Mexico triumphed by breeding maize, or "Indian corn," from native grasses about 3,000 years before the Common Era (BCE). Mexican Indians also learned to grow beans, squash, and other crops — an important improvement since the combination of corn and beans is much more nutritious than either food alone. Knowledge of corn spread slowly north from Mexico, finally reaching the east coast of North America around the year 200 of the Common Era (CE).

Agriculture brought major changes wherever it spread, and often replaced the older cultures based on hunting and gathering. Farmers had to remain in one place, at least while the crop was growing. Village life became possible, and social structure grew more complex. Artisans began making and firing clay pots to store the harvest. Baskets, strings, nets, and woven textiles made many things easier, from storing food to catching fish to keeping warm. Hunters exchanged their spears for more effective bows and arrows. More elaborate rituals appeared as planting peoples made corn the center of their religious life and made the endless cycles of sun, rain, and harvest the focus of their spiritual lives. In Mexico, farming led to village life by about 2500 BCE and supported a major increase in population.

The new tools did not spread everywhere, but Native American cultures became increasingly diverse. California Indians did not adopt agriculture, for example, but gathered bountiful harvests of wild acorns. In the Pacific Northwest, salmon and other fish were so plentiful that the Haida, Tlingit, and Kwakiutl tribes built elaborate and complex cultures based on the sea. The buffalo herds supported hunting cultures on the Great Plains. After the coming of the Spanish, tribes like the Comanche, Lakota (Sioux), Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa acquired European horses to pursue their prey and their enemies, laying the basis for powerful images of American Indians as mustang-riding warriors who lived in teepees made of buffalo skins.

Living very differently from the Plains Indians, four native North American cultures joined the Taínos in bearing the first brunt of the European encounter. All four depended on farming more than hunting, and all lived in permanent settlements that ranged in size from simple villages to impressive cities. The Pueblo villagers of the area that became the southwestern United States met the Spanish explorer Coronado as he wandered north seeking the mythical Seven Cities of Gold. In the future southeastern states, the mound-building Mississippian people resisted the march of Hernando de Soto, another probing Spaniard. The Woodland peoples of eastern North America received the first English explorers, from Virginians to New Englanders. And south of the future United States, the empires of Central America astonished the Spanish with their wealth and sophistication, and sharpened the invaders' appetites for gold.

Puebloan Villagers, the First Townspeople

The introduction of agriculture brought permanent villages, with pottery making and extensive systems of irrigation, to the area that would become the southwestern United States. The earliest American townspeople lived in circular pit houses roofed against the elements, but by 700 CE they were building large, multiroom apartment houses out of stone and mud (adobe) brick. The Spaniards would later call these communities pueblos, or villages, and these Puebloan Indians built the largest residential buildings in North America until the construction of modern apartment houses in nineteenth-century cities.

The ancestral Puebloan people built some of their earliest and most elaborate structures in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, between 900 and 1150 CE. Chaco was a large and well-planned urban community, containing 13 pueblos and numerous small settlement sites, with space for 5,000–10,000 inhabitants. Linked by a network of well-made roads, the people of Chaco drew food from 70 surrounding communities. Farther north, another major Puebloan culture developed around Mesa Verde, in what is now southwestern Colorado. The Mesa Verdeans, perhaps numbering 30,000 people, built elaborate structures under cliffs and rock overhangs and also lived in scattered villages and outposts surrounding the larger settlements.

By 1300 CE, both the Chaco and Mesa Verde communities lay deserted amid evidence of warfare and brutal conflict, but refugees seem to have built new pueblos to the south and west. The Hopi and Zuñi tribes of Arizona and the modern Pueblo people of northern New Mexico are their descendants. One of their settlements, Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, dates to 1250 CE and is the oldest continuously occupied town in the modern continental United States.

Mississippian Chiefdoms

Long before European contact, some North American Indians lived in socially and politically complex societies known as chiefdoms, with hereditary leaders who dominated wide geographical areas. The Mississippian people, as archaeologists call them, built large towns with central plazas and tall, flat-topped earthen pyramids, especially on the rich floodplains adjoining the Mississippi and other midwestern and southern rivers. Now known as Cahokia, their grandest center lay at the forks of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. At its height between 1050 and 1200 CE, Cahokia held 10,000–20,000 people in its six square miles, making it the largest town in the future United States before eighteenth-century Philadelphia. Its largest pyramid was 100 feet tall and covered 16 acres, and over 100 other mounds stood nearby. Other large Mississippian complexes appear at Moundville, Alabama; Etowah, Georgia; and Spiro, Oklahoma.

Mississippian mounds contain elaborate burials of high-status individuals, often accompanied by finely carved jewelry, figurines, masks, and other ritual objects made of shell, ceramics, stone, and copper. Long-distance trading networks gathered these raw materials from hundreds of miles away and distributed the finished goods to equally distant sites. With many similar motifs, these artifacts suggest that Mississippians used their trading ties to spread a common set of spiritual beliefs, which archeologists call the Southeastern Ceremonial Cult. With more ritual significance than practical utility, the cult's ceremonial objects were often buried with their owners for use in the next world rather than hoarded and passed through generations as a form of wealth.

Mound construction clearly required a complex social and political order in which a few powerful rulers deployed skilled construction experts and commanded labor and tribute from thousands of distant commoners. The Spanish conqueror, or conquistador, Hernando de Soto encountered many such chiefdoms in his march across the American southeast between 1539 and 1541. Survivors from his expedition described large towns of thatched houses, surrounded by strong palisades and watchtowers. Borne on a cloth-covered litter, the queen of a major town called Cofitachique showed de Soto her storehouses filled with carved weapons, food, and thousands of freshwater pearls. Almost two centuries later, French colonists in Louisiana described the last surviving Mississippian culture among the Natchez Indians. Their society was divided by hereditary castes, led by a chieftain called the "Great Sun," and included a well-defined nobility, a middling group called "Honored People," and a lower caste called "Stinkards." As in Mexico and Central America, the Natchez pyramids were sometimes the scene of human sacrifice.

Wars and ecological pressures began to undermine the largest Mississippian chiefdoms before de Soto's arrival, and epidemics apparently depleted most of the others by the time English colonizers arrived in the seventeenth century. The survivors lived in smaller alliances or even single towns without large mounds or powerful chiefs, but governed themselves by consensus. They also coalesced in larger confederacies when necessary; Europeans would know them as Creeks or Choctaws.

Woodland Peoples of the East

On the Atlantic coast, Eastern Woodland Indians lived by a combination of hunting, fishing, and farming, and dominated the area when the Mississippians declined. Woodland women had developed agriculture independently, by cultivating squash, sunflowers, and other seed-bearing plants as early as 1500 BCE. They adopted corn around 900 CE and added beans and tobacco.

Woodland Indians practiced a slash-and-burn agricultural technique, in which men killed trees by cutting the bark around their trunks and then burned them to clear a field. Women then used stone-bladed hoes and digging sticks to till fertilizing ashes into the soil and to plant a mixed crop of corn and beans in scattered mounds. When the field's fertility declined, the villagers would abandon it and clear another, returning to the original plot when a long fallow period had restored its fertility. Anthropologists have found that slash-and-burn agriculture is very efficient, generating more food calories for a given expenditure of energy than more modern techniques, but it obviously requires ample territory to succeed in the long run.

Woodland Indians lived in semipermanent villages for the growing season. They made houses from bent saplings covered with bark, mats, or hides, and sometimes surrounded their villages with log palisades. During the fall and winter, men frequently left their villages for extended hunting trips. Spring could bring another migration to distant beds of shellfish or to the nearest fishing ground. Coastal peoples developed complex systems of netting, spearing, and trapping fish later copied by Europeans. With appropriate variations according to climate and other conditions, this way of life prevailed extensively up and down the Atlantic coast, from Florida to Maine.

Woodland villages ranged in size from 50 inhabitants to as many as several hundred. Adjacent villages usually spoke the same language, and several large families of languages prevailed across most of eastern North America: Algonquin on the Atlantic coast and around the Great Lakes, Iroquoian in the Hudson River Valley and parts of the south, Muskogean in the southeast. Europeans usually referred to the speakers of a common language as members of a "nation" or "tribe," but the Indians themselves did not feel the same degree of political unity that the Europeans expected of them. Village chiefs normally ruled by custom and consent, and individual clans and families were responsible for avenging any injuries they received. Related tribes might come together in confederacies, like the League of the Iroquois, or Haudenosaunee, in western New York or the Powhatan Confederacy of Chesapeake Bay, but these loose-knit federations needed charismatic leadership and continual diplomacy to hold them together. Each tribe claimed its own territory for hunting and tillage, and specific plots belonged to different families or clans, but tribes owned their lands in common and individuals did not buy or sell land privately. Like the Mississippians and most other Native Americans, Woodland peoples traded raw materials and finished goods, including strings or belts of shell beads called wampum, over wide areas, and cherished fine objects for their manitou, or spiritual power. These exchanges were not barren commercial transactions but forms of reciprocal gift giving that bound the givers into valued social relationships ranging from loyalty between leaders and their supporters to alliances between towns.

Woodland men were responsible for hunting and war, while women took charge of farming and childcare. Most Woodland Indians practiced matrilineal kinship, which meant that children belonged to the families and clans of their mothers. In contrast to the women of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century European societies, Indian women took an active role in political decision making and often made critical decisions regarding war or peace as well as the fate of military captives.

Woodland tribes fought frequent wars against one another, but usually not to expand their territories. Instead, warriors gained personal honor by demonstrating bravery and avenging old injuries. They might adopt their captives to replace lost relatives, or torture them to death to satisfy the bereaved. Native warfare changed dramatically after the Europeans arrived, as some Woodland tribes fought for favorable positions in the fur trade or sold their prisoners to the colonists as slaves.


Excerpted from "Building the American Republic Volume 1"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Harry L. Watson.
Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


1          First Americans, to 1550

Land, Climate, and First Peoples
From the Land Bridge to Agriculture
Puebloan Villagers, the First Townspeople
Mississippian Chiefdoms
Woodland Peoples of the East
The Empires of Central and South America

The Expanding Nations of Europe
Population Growth and Prosperity
Religious Rivalry and Trade
Portugal’s First Steps

The World of West Africa
The People of West Africa
Sugar and Slaves
The Early Slave Trade

Europe Comes to America
The Voyages of Columbus
Spain’s Rivals and Imitators
The Conquest of Mexico and Peru
Spain in North America

After Columbus
Modes of Conquest
The Columbian Exchange
Understanding America

2          The First English Colonies, 1584–1676

England and the Atlantic
A New Atlantic World
Reformation and Empire
The Price Revolution and Its Consequences

The Enterprise of Virginia
Roanoke and Jamestown
Surviving in Powhatan’s Virginia
Plantations and Bond Servants

Stabilizing the Chesapeake
Indian Wars and Royal Government
Economic and Social Stability
Maryland Joins Virginia
Bacon’s Rebellion

Puritan America
The Puritan Faith
Plymouth’s Pilgrims
Massachusetts’s Great Migration

“God’s Commonwealth”
A Covenanted People
Town, Church, and Colony
The Challenge of Dissent

War and Transition
The English Civil War
The Second Generation
Indian Warfare

3          The Emerging Empire, 1676–1756

Rivals for America
Spain and New Spain
The Dutch and New Netherland
New France and the “Middle Ground”
Caribbean Sugar Colonies

Restoration Colonies
The Two Carolinas
New Netherland Becomes New York
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware
Charity and Georgia

The Operations of Empire
Mercantilism and Trade
James II and the Glorious Revolution
The Glorious Revolution in America

The Empire and the British Constitution
Fighting the French and Indians
The Eighteenth-Century British Constitution
The Opposition Tradition
Balanced Government in the Colonies

4          Colonial Society and Culture, 1676–1756

A Changing Population
Immigrants from Europe
The Expansion of Slavery
Native Americans and Colonial Expansion

The South as a Slave Society
Life in Bondage
Masters in a Slave Society
The Backcountry South

Life in the Middle Colonies
Farms and Rural Life
Towns and Cities
Slaves and Free Blacks in the Northern Colonies

Changes in New England
The Tensions of Trade and Religion
Witchcraft in Salem

Social and Cultural Trends
Free Women and Families
Defining Race
Rank and the Social Order
Reason and the Enlightenment
The Great Awakening

5          The Era of Independence, 1756–1783

Imperial War and Its Consequences
The Seven Years’ War
Pontiac Rises
A Standing Army and Revenue Reform

Imperial Crisis
Resisting the Stamp Act
A Revolution from Below?
Political Theory

The Contagion of Liberty
Protesting the Townshend Duties
Rural Protests
Daughters of Liberty
The Rhetoric and Reality of Slavery

The Conflict Escalates
The Boston Tea Party and the Coercive Acts
The First Continental Congress
Lexington to Virginia

Decision for Independence
The Second Continental Congress
Common Sense
The Declaration of Independence
Liberty, Equality, and Slavery

The Military Challenge
The Continental Army
The British Dilemma
The Loyalists

The Course of War
Fighting in the North
Diplomacy and the Frontier
War in the South
The African Americans’ War
Victory and the Treaty of Paris

6          A Federal Republic, 1783–1789

Revolution and American Society
Gentle and Simple
Black and Free
“Remember the Ladies”
Indians and Freedom

Devising Republican Government
State Constitutions and Governments
The Articles of Confederation
Finances and Foreign Affairs
Land Policies

Conflict in the States
Deference and Ambition
Economic Controversies
Upheaval in New England

The Movement for a Stronger Union
James Madison Comes Forward
Delegates to the Federal Convention
The Virginia Plan
Slavery and Representation
Three Balanced Branches

The Ratification Debate
Federalists and Antifederalists
The Federalist Papers
A Bill of Rights

7          Federalists and Republicans, 1789–1815

Launching the Federal Republic
Creating Precedents
Hamilton’s Plans
Madison’s Response
The First Party System

Trials of Strength
The French Revolution and American Diplomacy
Western and Atlantic Challenges
Washington’s Farewell

John Adams and Party Conflict
The Quasi-War and Republican Dissent
“The Revolution of 1800”

The Jeffersonians in Power
“We Are All Republicans, We Are All Federalists”
A Changing Political Community
The Power of the Courts
Haiti and Louisiana

The Trans-Appalachian West
Whites and Indians beyond the Mountains
The Process of Settlement
The Great Revival

A Second War for Independence?
Commerce and Conflict
Tecumseh and the Red Sticks
The Road to War
The Course of Combat
Protests and Peace

8          Market Revolution in the North, 1815–1860

Technology and the New Economy
The Household Economy
The Transportation Revolution
The Communication Revolution

Public Support and Private Initiative
The Role of Government
Money and Banking
Judicial Support

Markets and Production
Agricultural Improvements
From Artisans to Operatives
Textile Factories
Early Mass Production
Labor Protests

On the Move
Moving West

Society in the Free States
Equality and Inequality
The Burden of Race
A New Middle Class
The Home as Woman’s Sphere

9          Northern Culture and Reform, 1815–1860

The Fate of the Republic
The Postwar Mood
Troubling Symptoms
Revivals in the North

Revivals and Reform
New Denominations and Communities
The Benevolent Empire
Evangelical Reform
Opposing and Defending Reform

The Assault on Slavery
Early Efforts
Black Abolitionists
Antislavery Politics

Women and Reform
From Domesticity to the Public Sphere
Antislavery Women
Women’s Rights
Seneca Falls

A Cultural Renaissance
Rural and Urban Frontiers
Darker Voices
Democracy’s Advocates
The Free Labor Ideal

10        The World of the South, 1815–1860

Southern Contours
The Upper South
The Cotton Kingdom
The Slave Economy

The Peculiar Institution
Working like a Slave
Slave Families
Slave Discipline
Slave Resistance

The South’s Free Society
The Masters
The Mistresses
Nonslaveholders and Poor Whites
Free People of Color

Slavery and Culture
Equality and Inequality
Liberty, Honor, and Violence
The Political Defense of Slavery

11        The Transformation of Politics, 1815–1836

An Era of Good Feelings?
New Leaders, New Challenges
Florida and the First Seminole War
Panic and Its Remedies

Conflict Returns
Missouri Compromise and Monroe Doctrine
The Election of 1824
“The Spirit of Improvement”

Jackson Takes Charge
Reviving the Democratic Party
The Spoils System
Indian Removal
Internal Improvements and Nullification

War on the Bank
The Monster
Deposit Removal and the Party System
The Aftermath

Outside the Party Fold
The “Blessed Spirit” of Anti-Masonry
The Rise of the Workingmen
Wrestling with Slavery

12        Wars for the West, 1836–1850

Democrats, Whigs, and the West
Martin Van Buren and the Panic of 1837
“Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”
The Emergence of Manifest Destiny

The Great West
Geography and Early Peoples
First Colonies
The Arrival of Anglo-Americans
Independent Texas

War with Mexico
Texas Annexation
Polk Takes Charge
Fighting Mexico

The Poisoned Fruits of Manifest Destiny
The Wilmot Proviso Controversy
The Election of 1848
Deadlock Follows Peace
Contending Responses
The Compromise of 1850

13        The House Dividing, 1850–1861

Old Parties Decline
The Fugitive Slave Act
The Election of 1852
The Kansas-Nebraska Act

New Parties Arise
Immigrants and Know-Nothings
The Republican Challenge
The Fire-Eaters Respond
“Bleeding Kansas”
Republicans Reach for the Presidency

Buchanan’s Frustrations
The Case of Dred Scott
Back to Kansas
The Failure of Distractions

Disunion Approaches
Rival Sectional Visions
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates
John Brown’s Raid
The Election of 1860
Secession Winter, 1860–1861

14        “A New Birth of Freedom,” 1861–1865
“And the War Came . . .”
Lincoln’s Inauguration
Fort Sumter and the Rush to War

Fighting Begins
Resources for Combat
Geography, Strategy, and Diplomacy
Bull Run
McClellan in Charge

The War on Slavery
Union Dissent
The Contrabands Move
Proclaiming Emancipation

The Home Fires Burning
The Economy of Victory
The Confederate Home Front
Confederate Dissent
Union-Held Dixie

“This Mighty Scourge of War”
“Grant Is My Man”
The Tide Slowly Turns
“To Finish the Work We Are In”

15        Reconstructing the Republic, 1865–1877

Binding Up the Nation’s Wounds
Freedom and Destruction
Planning for Reconstruction
Land and Labor
Family, School, and Church

Andrew Johnson’s Approach
The Tennessee Unionist
Johnson’s Policies
Republicans React

Congress Takes Charge
The Fourteenth Amendment
The Reconstruction Acts
The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson

Reconstruction and Resistance
The Republican Experiment in the States
White Violence and the Ku Klux Klan
The Fifteenth Amendment

Constructing the West
War in the West
New Settlers
Race and Government

Redeemers Triumphant
Wavering Republicans
The Compromise of 1877

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