America's Demographic Changes in the Early 1800s

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  • 0:01 Demographics
  • 0:34 Colonies Become a Country
  • 1:46 Moving West
  • 3:02 Louisiana Purchase
  • 4:23 Slavery and Indian Removal
  • 6:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
The early 1800s saw the United States quickly grow in size. New immigrants and new land meant a bigger and stronger country. It also meant displacing thousands of Native Americans and the continued spread of slavery.


In the year 1800, the young United States of America was a growing country. Having just won its independence from Great Britain, the United States was looking to grow in both size and strength. Over the coming decades, the United States transformed from a collection of states and a nascent federal government to a rising power, quickly gaining in population, size, and influence. At the heart of this growth were demographics.

Colonies Become a Country

While in future years the United States would become a melting pot for people and ethnicities from all over the world, the early settlers who comprised the original 13 colonies were Europeans, mostly from Great Britain. At the start of the 18th century, there were roughly 250,000 people living in the American colonies. By the time of the American Revolution, that number had increased to nearly 3 million. When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, the largest colonies were Virginia and Pennsylvania. Thus, these were the two colonies which contributed the most to the revolutionary cause, seeing considerable action during the war.

Once the United States had won its independence, the country continued growing rapidly. Immigrants from Europe continued to arrive on the shores of America. The original 13 colonies could no longer contain the population and many began to look west of the Allegheny Mountains. Land speculation and purchasing led to great wealth and opportunity for many. By the end of the 18th century, three more states had been added: Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Moving West

As a part of this westward spread, Congress began passing legislation to manage the territories of the United States. One of the first measures to govern the growing demographics of the country was the Northwest Ordinance, which was passed in 1787. This ordinance set guidelines for how new states could be formed out of United States territories. It also banned slavery in the northwest territory, a significant step for a young nation that was struggling over the future of slavery.

With turmoil in Europe stemming from various wars and the French Revolution, Europeans continued immigrating to the United States. Several thousand people came to America each year, spreading out across the growing country. Many of those moving west into places such as Kentucky and Tennessee were of a Scots-Irish background. Some in New England were moving into what would become the state of Ohio, establishing the Western Reserve in the northern part of that future state. While Connecticut claimed this land as their own, the state ceded its claims on the Western Reserve to the federal government after the American Revolution, as did many other states in exchange for the federal government's help in dealing with the debt from the war.

Louisiana Purchase

In 1803, the United States took an incredibly important step in expanding its borders and its demographics. President Thomas Jefferson seized on an opportunity to acquire a significant portion of land from France. The Louisiana Purchase, containing 828,000 square miles of land, more than doubled the size of the United States. The area acquired would eventually comprise 15 new states. At the same time, it removed France from having so much land so close to the United States, extending U.S. power and allowing Americans to continue spreading west as the population grew. This was extremely important for the continued growth of the country.

With new land, immigration to the country continued to increase. Irish, German, British, and French immigrants added to the country's population, which leaped from over 5 million in 1800 to over 10 million in 1820. As the 19th century progressed, immigration grew each year. By the 1840s, large numbers of Irish immigrants were flocking to the United States, mostly as a response to the Irish famine, which saw widespread starvation and an exodus from the small island nation.

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