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The American System

The American System

From 1801 to 1820, agricultural policies championed by the Democratic-Republicans who supported the vision of Thomas Jefferson pushed for an agriculture-based economy for twenty years. By the 1820s, however, industrialization had grown in the northern states, and a push for new federal policies began. The American System was this push and found its champions in Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams. What did the American System do? Why did John Quincy Adams support the American System? And what was the significance of the American system?

John Quincy Adams' Presidency

In the early years of the American republic, there were competing views on policies that would lay the foundation of the American economy. A faction of American politicians pushed for policies promoting agriculture, and another section championed industry. At the time, many saw these economic interests as mutually exclusive because each required different policies to successfully compete with European established markets. And those policies were usually at odds with each other because if they benefited one industry, it might harm the other.

The American System John Quincy Adams StudySmarterFig. 1 John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams was elected as the sixth president in 1825 and will serve one term in office. His term is defined by an aggressive economic and domestic policy of the American System and the ideological divisions within John Quincy Adams's political party- the Democratic-Republicans, which marks the end of the Age of Jefferson as the party collapsed during the election of 1824.

John Quincy Adams' Legacy: The American System

During Adams' presidency, he moved for bold policy and leadership. He wanted to establish a national university, create a uniform system of weights and measures, and fund extensive exploration of the far western territories of the United States.

The American System The American System of Agricultural Education StudySmarterFig. 2 The American System of Agricultural Education

The most significant policy he endorsed was that of Henry Clay's American system of national economic development. Its fundamental principles are:

  • Protective tariffs to stimulate manufacturing

  • Federal revenue for infrastructure to facilitate commerce

  • A national bank to control credit and provide a uniform value in currency

In 1816- before his term as president - Congress passed a tariff on English cotton and cloth and established the Second National Bank of the United States. Adams' used his administration to solidify these institutions and policies and use the revenue to build up the road and canal network to facilitate commerce.

The Pros and Cons of the American System

Manufacturers, entrepreneurs, and farmers in the northern and Midwestern states welcomed Adams' proposals. But his policies won little support in the South, where planters opposed protective tariffs and small farmers feared powerful banks that would force them into bankruptcy.

The American System Andrew Jackson StudySmarterFig. 3 Andrew Jackson

The southern opposition created a block of Democratic-Republican Congressmen who opposed much of Adams' plan. Many of these congressmen, such as Martin Van Buren, joined others who felt that Adams' was moving away from the Jeffersonian core of the party ideology and defeated most of Adams' proposals for national subsidies for roads and canals. Some of the projects that did win approval from Congress were:

  • The expansion and repair of the National Road from Maryland to Ohio

  • The creation of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal

  • The creation of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal

  • The Louisville and Portland Canal

  • The connection between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River

  • The construction of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad

The Battle Over Tariffs

The farthest-reaching battle of Adams' American System proposals came over tariffs. The tariff of 1816 placed a relatively high duty on the imports of cheap English cotton cloth. These tariffs allowed New England textile manufacturers to control the market. In 1824, Adams secured a new tariff that protected northern manufacturers against imports of iron goods, wool, and other cotton products.

Tariffs became a political minefield for the Democratic-Republicans as tariffs adversely affected different sections of their political support. Even politicians who opposed most of Adams' American System policies, such as Van Buren and Andrew Jackson, saw opportunities to gain support in the northern states by supporting these tariffs and even supporting the Tariffs of 1828, which again raised duties on raw materials, textiles, and iron goods.

The American System First use of the Cotton Gin 1869 StudySmarterFig. 4 First use of the Cotton Gin 1869

The new tariffs enraged the South. As the world's cheapest producer of raw cotton, the South did not need a tax to protect its primary industry. In addition, by raising manufacturers' prices, the tariff cost southern planters tens of millions of dollars a year. Planters had to either buy high prices of American textiles and iron goods, which enriched northern businesses, or highly tariffed British imports, which added revenue to the federal government.

The Significance of the American System and The John Quincy Adams Presidency

The divisiveness of the policies of the American System had several significant impacts on American politics and policy.

The American System Sixth President of the US poster StudySmarterFig. 5 Sixth President of the US poster

  • The American System divided the Democratic-Republicans who had dominated American politics since 1801, leading to a split ticket election in 1824 and 1828, with Adams' winning in 1824 through the House of Representatives and Jackson's resounding victory in 1828 over Adams, creating the Democratic Party and the Nationalist Republican Party.

  • The division in the party created by Thomas Jefferson ended the Age of Jefferson. It ended the "Era of Good Feelings" following the War of 1812 and the presidency of James Monroe.

  • The new Democratic Party of Andrew Jackson would control all but two presidential terms between 1828 and 1860 by campaigning against the American System, which was championed by the new Whig Party created by Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. These include the presidencies of Martin Van Buren, James Polk, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan.

  • Through the Democratic administrations and the opposition to the American System, the American political parties became more partisan and increased sectionalism across the nation, galvanizing viewpoints between northern and southern economic policies that would lead to the American Civil War.

The American System - Key Takeaways

  • In the early years of the American republic, there were competing views on policies that would lay the foundation of the American economy.
  • For twenty years, from 1801 to 1820, agricultural policies championed by the Democratic-Republicans who supported the vision of Thomas Jefferson pushed for an agriculture-based economy. By the 1820s, however, industrialization had grown in the northern states, and a push for new federal policies began. The American System was this push, and it found its champions in Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams.
  • The most significant policy he endorsed was that of Henry Clay's American system of national economic development and its fundamental principles.
  • Manufacturers, entrepreneurs, and farmers in the northern and midwestern states welcomed Adams' proposals. But his policies won little support in the South, where planters opposed protective tariffs and small farmers feared powerful banks that would force them into bankruptcy.
  • The divisiveness of the policies of the American System had several significant impacts on American politics and policy.

Frequently Asked Questions about The American System

During Adams’ presidency, he moved for bold policy and leadership. He wanted to establish a national university, create a uniform system of weights and measures, and fund extensive exploration of the far western territories of the United States. 


The most significant policy he endorsed was that of Henry Clay’s American system of national economic development and its fundamental principles

Henry Clay’s American system of national economic development and its fundamental principles: 

  • Protective tariffs to stimulate manufacturing

  • Federal revenue for infrastructure to facilitate commerce

  • A national bank to control credit and provide a uniform value in currency

During Adams’ presidency, he moved for bold policy and leadership. He wanted to establish a national university, create a uniform system of weights and measures, and fund extensive exploration of the far western territories of the United States. 


The most significant policy he endorsed was that of Henry Clay’s American system of national economic development 

During Adams’ presidency, he moved for bold policy and leadership. He wanted to establish a national university, create a uniform system of weights and measures, and fund extensive exploration of the far western territories of the United States. 

The most significant policy he endorsed was that of Henry Clay’s American system of national economic development 

American system of national economic development and its fundamental principles: 

  • Protective tariffs to stimulate manufacturing

  • Federal revenue for infrastructure to facilitate commerce

  • A national bank to control credit and provide a uniform value in currency


It did help create a number of roads and canals, it bolstered the Second National Bank of the United States, but met fierce opposition from th Democrats. 


Final The American System Quiz

Question

Who was the Senator from Kentucky who was a influential proponent of the American System?

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Answer

Henry Clay

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Question

What was the American System? 

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Answer

A collection of political and economic policies 

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Question

Which of the following policies was not a part of the American System? 

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Answer

Levied taxes on subsistence farmers.

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Question

Which president adopted the American System as his economic policy?

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Answer

John Quincy Adams

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Question

Which of the following infrastructure projects was not approved by Congress under John Quincy Adams' American System?

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Answer

A transcontinental Railroad

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Question

Which key policy initiative of the American System caused the most turmoil during the Adams Administration? 

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Answer

Protective Tariffs 

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Question

Who was the Democratic-Republican who ran for president against Adams in 1824 who opposed the American System? 

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Answer

Andrew Jackson

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Question

Who was the congressman who helped lead the legislative opposition to the American System? 

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Answer

Martin Van Buren 

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Question

The divisiveness of the American System split the Democratic-Republican party into which two political parties? 

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Answer

The Democrats 

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Question

During Andrew Jackson's presidency, which opposition party adopted many of the economic proposals of the American System? 

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Answer

The Whig Party 

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