History professor investigates the idea of the American System

by Kathleen McCoy  |   

University of Alaska Anchorage professor Songho HaUAA history professor Songho Ha's recently published book, The Rise and Fall of the American System: Nationalism and the Development of the American Economy, 1790-1837, traces the history of the American System from President George Washington's inauguration to President Andrew Jackson's retirement, and demonstrates the integral role cultural improvement played in the American System.

The American System was a program for the economic and cultural development of the United States which was tried in the post-War of 1812 period. It was espoused by such important politicians as Henry Clay of Kentucky and John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, and was the main political agenda of the National Republicans in 1810s and 1820s and of the Whig Party in the 1830s and 1840s.

Previous studies of the American System discuss it mostly as a package of economic policies, consisting of protective tariff, internal improvements of roads and canals, a national bank and public land policies leaning toward revenue goal.

Ha says, "My book adds to the current scholarship and analysis of a less studied aspect of the American System-its cultural policies, by analyzing the various attempts of the federal government to establish national institutions of higher learning and to promote arts between 1789 and 1837. Ultimately, the American System was the economic and cultural expression of the founding generation's uplifting vision for the new republic: a politically unified, economically prosperous and culturally refined country."

This book is part of a highly detailed and thoroughly documented studies series by Pickering & Chatto Publishers of London.

Ha's next project is The Life of Albert Gallatin, 1761-1849. Albert Gallatin was best known as the U.S. Treasury Secretary under Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, from 1801 to 1814.  He is considered one of the best Treasury Secretaries in American history, ranking with Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.

Gallatin substantially reduced the national debt that he had inherited from Hamilton, while paying for the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803. He was also a diplomat, successfully negotiating the Ghent Treaty of 1814, which ended the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain. It was Gallatin who mediated between two headstrong figures on the American peace delegation, John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts and Henry Clay of Kentucky, as well as working out the details of the final peace treaty with the British delegation.

Despite his importance in early American history in many areas, however, a comprehensive biography has not been published since the release of Raymond Walters Jr.'s biography of Gallatin in 1957. Ha plans to complete writing Gallatin's biography in three years.

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