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Building the American Republic, Volume 1

A Narrative History to 1877

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.

See also the second volume of Building the American Republic.

Download the free, open-access text at a website for the books.

640 pages | 18 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018

History: American History

Political Science: American Government and Politics


Building the American Republic tells the story of the United States with remarkable grace and skill, its fast-moving narrative making the nation’s struggles and accomplishments new and compelling.  Weaving together stories of a broad range of Americans, drawing from the best scholarship, and writing in a warm and engaging voice, Watson and Dailey have crafted an inclusive history that is a pleasure to read.”

Edward L. Ayers, Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities, University of Richmond

“Learned and inviting, this beautifully realized consideration of the American experience deploys the craft of history to advance a profound account of fundamental themes. By integrating political, social, demographic, and economic understanding, the combination of analysis and narrative power in Building the American Republic will prove stimulating to teachers as well as their students.”

Ira Katznelson, Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History, Columbia University

“Written by two leading political historians, Building the American Republic provides an engaging and accessible narrative of US history that combines a lucid discussion of American political institutions with an analysis of major social movements and cultural developments. Students will find the book an invaluable point of departure for gaining a deeper understanding of the American past.”

Rosemarie Zagarri, University Professor and Professor of History, George Mason University

“Watson and Dailey have authored an engaging two-volume narrative history of the United States appropriate for a year-long survey course at the college level. . . . What these volumes do offer, in addition to very competitive pricing on paperback copies, is one of the first peer-reviewed US history textbooks in free digital format.”


“Most of our teaching materials have morphed into four-color glossy multimedia extravaganzas with interactive features, hot-links, and ‘chat with the author’ interfaces that confront students with a food court of undifferentiated choices. But these new volumes look like and read like books. Without reverting to a pompous omniscience, which so often mars this kind of effort, these books manage to exhibit many perspectives and voices in a narrative that provokes discussion and invites reflection. . . .
This is an extraordinary achievement by a master teacher and writer of American history. Modestly priced in paperback, the e-book (as well as Jane Dailey’s companion volume) is available for free at the University of Chicago Press website. Where can you find a better deal than that?”

Journal of the Early Republic

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

For Further Reading

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