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Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)

The American Revolution (1776-83) did more than secure American independence from Britain. It established a "revolutionary" agenda that has preoccupied Americans ever since. Inspired by transatlantic ideas about natural rights and political authority, the Revolution called into question long-established social and political relationships: It challenged the relationship between master and slave, man and woman, upper class and lower class, officeholder and constituent-and even between parent and child. The success of the Revolution would have far-reaching consequences, affecting people and governments around the globe and inaugurating a new age of freedom and self-government.

Though the Revolution may have created the United States, it was left to the first generation of American leaders to establish the institutional foundations for its system of government. Those foundations--the creation and ratification of a Constitution in 1787-1789--came only after a dramatic ideological debate was played out all across the new nation. The tensions revealed in that debate--about the meaning of the Constitution and the extent of governmental power--continue to be heard today. Meanwhile, the new nation elected George Washington its first president, our two-party political system began to take shape, and the Supreme Court established its judicial power. But while recognized as the most creative era of constitutionalism in American history, the period paradoxically was marked by the expansion of African American slavery and military campaigns against Native American nations.


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