1780–1830: Between Empire and Republic

An American Log-House
An American Log-HouseCollot, Georges-Henri-Victor, 1750-1805
A New Map of the United States of North America
A New Map of the United States of North AmericaCary, John, 1754-1835.
Tens-Kwau-Ta-Waw, the Prophet
Tens-Kwau-Ta-Waw, the ProphetInman, Henry, 1801-1846

>By virtue of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, the new United States of America claimed territory in central North America stretching to the Mississippi River.  A border passed through the upper Great Lakes and Great Plains between Britain’s remaining colonies and its former colonies to the south, but few considered the division of the region a settled matter. Thousands of British loyalists fled their homes in the U.S. to relocate in Canada. Many other Americans would follow out of economic rather than political motives, some carrying republican politics with them.

In its Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the U.S. Congress provided for the creation of self-governing states from its possessions north of the Ohio River. It also banned slavery in the territory and promised to treat Indian communities with respect.  This last promise would prove elusive. As whites moved into the region and laid claim to land that Indian communities considered rightfully theirs, Indians fought back.  Through a series of treaties beginning in 1795, the U.S. government expanded its legal control of the region and pushed Indian communities to the margins. Tribal leaders and ordinary Indians were divided on how to respond to Americans. Some agreed to sell their land and move west where they could live apart from whites. Others, like the Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his brother the prophet Tenskwatawa, advocated united Indian resistance to American power and rejected the culture and religion of whites.

American officials aggressively negotiated the cession of Indian lands and suspected British intrigue was behind Indian opposition to U.S. control. Some Americans even cheered agitation in Canada against British rule. The Great Lakes region was a major battleground in the War of 1812, but the failure of U.S. efforts to conquer British Canada reinforced the permanence of the border between the two societies.