Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)

View of Independence Hall, Philadelphia, 1780s. Courtesy of National Archives


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 between 1787 and 1789 of a Constitution--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.

Presidents From This Era
George Washington 1789-1797
John Adams, 1797-1801
Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809
James Madison 1809-1817
James Monroe 1817-1825
Objects From This Era
Desk designed and used by Thomas Jefferson
Lamp used by George Washington to write his farewell address
Thomas Jefferson's polygraph
Musket presented to Thomas Jefferson by Ambassador of the Bey of Tunis
Timber from the first White House
Dessert plate used by James and Elizabeth Monroe
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National Museum of American History