Western Expansion for Kids - Jefferson and the New Republic
For Kids: Creating a new nation 1783-1815
There were three major steps to creating the United States of America. The first step was for the 13 American colonies to obtain independence from England. The second step was to convert 13 colonies into 13 states with a central government and strong states rights. The third, and perhaps the most difficult, was to convince the 13 states to agree to government by the people and for the people - a republic - instead of a monarchy, or rule by king. Not one of these three steps was easy to accomplish.
Step One: Independence from England? Not all the colonists wanted independence. Not only did the founding fathers have to defeat the most powerful, at the time, nation in the world, they also had to convince, ignore, or defeat American colonists who did not want to break from England. We call this struggle the Revolutionary War.
Step Two: The United States did defeat England. The 13 colonies did come together as the 13 states. The first attempt at a constitution, the Articles of Confederation, gave too much power to the individual states, and not enough power to a central government. This first constitution was not a success. The Articles were too weak.
Step Three: The Articles were replaced with the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. The Constitution laid out how the federal government of the United States would operate with three branches - the Legislative Branch (Congress), the Executive Branch (Pres, VP, and Cabinet), and the Judicial Branch (Federal and Supreme Courts.) The power of each branch was clearly stated. The Constitution also included a system of checks and balances, so that one branch would not become too powerful. A Bill of Rights was added, with more safeguards and guarantees of individual and states rights. All 13 states agreed to sign this new Constitution into law. This vision of government not only worked, it is still in place today.
Addition of New Land: Under the direction of Thomas Jefferson (author of most of the Declaration of Independence and the 3rd U.S. President), land was purchased from Napoleon of France, so much land that the United States doubled in size in 1803. We refer to this as the Louisiana Purchase. After the sale, this huge amount of land, now owned by the United States government, was renamed the Federal Territory of Louisiana. After the Lewis and Clark expedition returned from their exploration of this vast new land, full of excitement about what they had found, people began to move west.
In a very short amount of time, under the direction of incredible leaders like Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and many others, the United States was born, organized, and doubled in size.